Day two of our weekend away, and it was one of those times when you review the weather, expect one thing but experience another. You remember I mentioned the Summer Sun a few days ago? Well it's gone on vacation!!
I filed the flightplan to Lelystad as an exact reversal of the route we took yesterday. The weather showed rain showers on the radar moving eastwards. Given the speed they were moving, it was reasonable to expect them to have dissipated by the time we were taking off. But that was not to be the case!!
When we arrived at the airfield, the tower was closed for 30 mins due to a "lunch-break". As we sat outside the cafe we opened the charts and I decided to avoid Dusseldorf on the way back. I didn't want to deal their ATC, so we routed in a westerly direction and avoided their CTR. BUT, and this is were it gets interesting, to the north where I wanted to go, there was low hanging clouds, rain showers and general nastiness to be avoided at all costs.
Malinka didn't seem fazed at all. She figured out the day before that her travel-sick tummy was a result of being dehydrated and flying on an empty stomach. She stocked up on good hearty German cuisine earlier for lunch, and she was happily staring out the window and looking for other aircraft as we trundled along.
I continued my track westwards, passing South of Moechengladbach, eventually turning North over Roermond. Langen had me switch over to Dutch Mil Information and they cleared me to cross the Vokel and De Peel CTR's. But as we passed about 10 NM's east of Helmond, I had to descend due to a lowering cloud base. With the weather deteriorating all around me, and my warm and fuzzy meter rapidly moving towards the red arc, I told Malinka that I was going to declare an Emergency and divert due to the weather.
I declared a Pan Pan Pan with Dutch Mil who immediately swung into action. They asked me which direction I had the better visibility. I could see clearer to the west. The consensus was to divert to Eindhoven, so they gave me a heading to steer. I was also trying to avoid the showers that were ahead of us, but Dutch Mil helpfully obliged by giving steering headings to enable me to intercept the ILS for final to runway 22 at Eindhoven. At one point she asked if I had the airfield in sight, mentioning that they'd turned the runway lighting to FULL to help me find it. It wasn't long before we had the field in sight and I was asked to contact Tower for a smooth landing.
After I landed and taxied off the runway, I got a little confused and I think I called Eindhoven Ground "Lelystad Ground". I guess that my brain had decided to relax after working hard to get us on the ground. We were marshalled to the GA parking and parked NP beside a Canadian AF A300 parked beside us. The Marshaller helped us refuel (at €2.70 a litre, I will NEVER be buying fuel in Eindhoven again) and then he drove us to the Flight Ops Office so we could consult the weather radar and make a decision on when/if to leave for Lelystad.
Malinka and I looked at the weather radar in Eindhoven and decided that the front was passing through and we could be off again in an hour. Eindhoven then tried to charge me €80....YES!!! €80 for a landing fee. Guess who won't be coming to Eindhoven anytime soon!! I told them that I had declared an Emergency and that the fee should be waived....which it was.
An hour later, we were strapped back into "Nippy" and soon on our way again. This time the weather was clearer (a small bit of clag just north of Eindhoven was all we had) and we were edging closer and closer to Lelystad. Malinka wasn't impressed with the landing I made in Lelystad, having given a thumbs up in Koln and Eindhoven and a thumbs down at Lelystad. I guess I was just glad to be back and was not bothered that I didn't pull off a greaser :-)
Lessons learned? Well, my training paid off. But I will ask the FIS for more frequent weather updates next time I come face to face with a lowering cloudbase. Oh, and the quicker you let ATC know, the quicker they can put an action plan in place to help get you out of the predicament you're currently facing.
A HUGE thank you to the girls manning Dutch Mil Info today. Malinka and I truly appreciated your professionalism and help today.