Monday, March 28, 2011

Transair....they're not always greedy buggers

It's a pretty widely accepted opinion amongst the piloting community in the UK and Ireland, and to some extent those on the continent, that if you're ever going to buy anything that's aviation oriented, then you should steer clear of Transair, based in the UK.

My own experiences have not been negative, and on the few occasions I happened to buy something it arrived on time and at a reasonable price. However, that was limited to about two or possibly three instances. The rest of the time I would either buy when I was in the U.S. or buy online (ebay, Sporty's etc) and then either have it shipped direct (it it was under the Customs threshold) or brought over by a visiting work colleague. And failing the US option, there was also "The Pilot Shop" for charts etc based at Lelystad airport.

That is until recently however. The EPIRB/PLB that I had for the Robin ATL had suddenly sprouted legs and walked. It's location is to date still unknown and given there is a legal requirement to carry on onboard at all times, I had to replace on pronto.

I carried out the usual scouting around in the U.S. first, then took a look at "The Pilot Shop" and then finally looked at Transair's online store. Long story short, by the time I factored in the shipping and import costs from the U.S., Transair was by far the cheapest place to buy it. I was surprised at first, so I went to compare some other items, and found that they were also equally priced compared to the shipping from U.S. option and better priced than TPS. This isn't the case on all items of course, TPS is cheaper on certain products they carry.

I guess the whole point of me writing this is to advise my fellow pilots to take the time to shop around. Flying is already an expensive hobby, and reputations precede some organisations, but they're not always true.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bloggers Fly-in

We're level at 1,200ft overhead Enkhuizen and the warm and fuzzy meter is well into the green. Ouen is at the controls and doing a very nice job at keeping "Nippy" straight and level, tracking course nicely and listening to me explaining the FREDA check (Fuel, Radio's, Engine, Direction, Altitude). This is a check I was taught, and continue to use today, whenever I'm doing a cross-country flight. 

We're on our way over to Texel to meet some fellow flying bloggers for one of the twice annual get togethers they organise. This is the first time I've been able to attend myself, with either the weather or life getting in the way, so I'm looking forward to it.

The weather has already started to brighten up, with the sun poking through a layer of haze. Ouen was quizzed by his wife before leaving because it was drizzling when I picked him up in the morning. But the TAF's for the day matched the weather picture we saw on the trip up to the airfield.

Ouen is sitting in the P2 seat, and he's jabbering on about how he cannot feel the rudder. In his opinion, the rudder is very light and non-responsive. But I keep reminding him that he's not yet got the feeling, and that given time, he'll figure it out. I was the same in the beginning and the important thing to check is the ball in the Slip Indicator.

His take-off was good, keeping centred on the centreline and he applied constant and steady back pressure to help get us airborne. But he started tracking right of the runway, which I had to help with some application of rudder, so I'm not surprised about his comments on the rudder...he's just not gotten used to it yet.

On the way over the water to Enkhuizen I asked Ouen the "what if.." question my instructors asked me ALL the time. "What of the engine quit right now, what would you do". He's a quick learner, because he said he'd set-up for best glide speed (which he remembered from our last flight), aim towards the dike (the Houtribdijk) and then try and land. So I expanded on that and said once he'd set-up for best glide, his next priority should be to look for a field, then run through the "Engine Out" checks, and while doping that to get out a Mayday call.

We were doing quite nicely as went "Feet Wet" past Enkhuizen on the next water section towards the Afsluitdijk on our way to Texel. I'd been walking through the idiosyncrasies of getting the plane trimmed. Using the simple acronym of PAT (Power, Attitude, Trim) Ouen was beginning to get the hang of applying small gentle inputs to the controls to feel-out the plane, letting her settle and then adjusting the trim wheel.

The fun, speed and flurry of checks soon arrived when we begin our Pre-Landing checklist. runway 04 is in use today, which means after the reporting point ALPHA we'll need to avoid the town of Oosterend keeping it on our left to join the DOWNWIND leg halfway. I asked Ouen to feel me through on the controls for this landing so he can get a feel for the control inputs. By the time we turn final, I'm still a little too high. So I explained to Ouen that I'll side-slip to lose some height and then put in the last few stages of flaps once I know I can make the field.

When we landed, Ouen remarked on how impressed he was at how quickly we had lost the excess height and were still able to pull off a very gentle landing. So I explained the aerodynamic principles to him over lunch. Our fellow bloggers arrived and we had a lot of fun chatting with them and exchanging stories, but time was ticking and we both had to be back in Amsterdam by early evening.

I taxied the plane to the run-up area and Ouen handled the take-off. When he got her airborne I said "My Plane" and kept her in ground effect until the speed built up to 90kts, and then I said "watch this" and pulled straight up at about 60 degrees. The speed dropped as we climbed altitude and when we were at 65kts I said "Your Plane" and he continued the climb-out....albeit a little giddily :-)

On the cruise across to Lelystad Ouen had pretty much mastered keeping "Nippy" trimmed and was doing his FREDA checks every fifteen minutes or so. There was the funny moment though when he confessed that he was using a sailing boat as a reference point to try and determine the wind effect....we both let out a chuckle.

This time I am quite happy to let him set "Nippy" up for the approach and see how he handles it...maybe he'll get a landing today. He takes her nice and steady to BRAVO, turns inbound and gets the "Pre-Landing" chacks out of the way. I show him the reference points for turning DOWNWIND, and explain the power-settings he needs to set when abeam the threshold and again for turning onto BASE. We start descending a little when we turn BASE and adjust the power again for FINAL. We're a little high, not much, but when I said "Throttle to FULL idle, we're a little high" he said maybe "you should do this one? Your plane". So I slipped a little and got the speed right back. I was teaching Ouen to aim for a specific point on the runway (the threshold, the numbers etc) and try to keep that spot in place on the windshield during the entire descent and to aim passing the threshold with 60kts and ready to flare. I landed on the numbers and slowed us down all within 180 metres. I still think that Ouen could have managed his first landing. Maybe our next trip will be across the border and we can do some touch and go's so he can pop his "landing" cherry :-)

All in all a really great day....we met some nice fellow pilots, enjoyed some gorgeous Texel sunshine and had a very good training session. 

And I'm looking forward to the tulip fields returning to their full splendour in a week or two :-)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Not easy getting in or getting down

Have been debating whether or not to pop this AIRPROX report form into the postbox or not. Maybe I'm over-reacting, or maybe I'm justified?

It wasn't the best starts to the day either. I had picked up a friend who is interested in either buying a share of "Nippy" or at the very least, using her on a regular basis. We've been trying to arrange a date to complete the check-out for the best part of three months. Maintenance, bad weather and worser scheduling conflicts have resulted in the series of delays in getting together to do the check-out flight. When we arrived at the airport there were road blocks at every road leading into the airport. Everyone was asked to exit their cars and both people and cars alike were searched. Unfortunately, a rather plump middle-aged policeman bodysearched my friend and I, whilst the car was given a once over by a rather nice young looking blonde female officer. 

Arriving at Polder was a little like arriving at the scene of a police raid. The instructors were panicking and asking their students if they'd remembered to bring the Weight & Balance docs and a copy of the NOTAM's with them. It seems the police were airside too, checking all arriving pilots. Interesting....first time I've ever seen such a thing in all the years I've been flying in the Netherlands.

We rolled "Nippy" out of the hanger and I showed my friend the in's and out's of the walk-around for the Robin ATL. We topped off her oil and headed out to the run-up area. I suggested that we head over to Texel, do a few practice landings, have a spot of lunch and then head back to the training area and do some slow flight, stalls etc. By the time we'd get back, the "Rozzers" would have gotten bored and buggered off. 

Since it was a check-out flight, I elected to sit on the right hand seat. This was a first for me. My friend climbed in next to me and we walked through the idiosyncrasies of starting up "Nippy" on a cold morning. She's a bit finicky and there's the added curve ball of using the choke. She spluttered into life and we quickly closed the choke and headed off to the run-up area. It was quite a busy morning, and even though we were last to join the run-up area, we were ready quite quickly and managed to jump the queue a wee bit. The Dutch pilots were probably grumbling into their headsets :-)

We lined up on runway 23 and my friend advanced the throttles forward. He was a bit unsure of the rudder and when we lifted off he had a bit of trouble negotiating the crosswind we had on take-off. I heard a "Interesting" from him in my headset and asked if that was god or bad. He replied "good" and commented on how nimble and almost "fighter like" the handling was. We weren't climbing as fast as I would like and reminded him to set the trim and climb at Vy to get the best climb performance out of "Nippy". 

We exited the circuit and headed for Lelystad city and I had my friend dial up Amsterdam Info and ask them for a FIS (Flight Information Service) for our trip to Texel. He hadn't flown since November, and even then it was in the UK so he was a bit unsure of what the say etc. Also, given the fact that he is used to flying Tiger Moths in uncontrolled airspace with no radio, and you can soon see how he was a bit hesitant about using the radios. But after the first two or three exchanges with AMS INFO he soon got the knack again.

We didn't climb too high, just bimbled across at 1,200ft. I gave him the lay of the land and pointed out the key landmarks. It was on the short hop across that he noticed how light "Nippy" tends to be, especially when you have your head inside the cockpit setting the radios. He ended up doing the same thing I did in my early flights...the plane would slowly start banking left or right. It's a habit he will learn to correct for, as have I.

About 20 mins later we were setting up to call Ed & Michael in Texel. I helped run through the BEFORE DESCENT and BEFORE LANDING checks. It was hard for my friend to spot the grass airfield in amongst all the many farmers fields. We were set-up for Downwind, turning Base when I asked my friend to drop some flaps as we were a little high. He struggled to get the Robin down and keep the plane from overspeeding on the descent, so he side-slipped a little to lose height and traded the excess speed off in the flare. We landed (a fairly decent attempt even though it was fast) and taxied back. He was sweating a wee bit and offered up to him my own first landing, which was also too fast. We said hello to Ed and Michael and then had lunch and a debrief at the restaurant on the airfield. 

On the way back we uplifted fuel and planned to do some airwork north of the polder. But we noticed on the climb out from Texel that the ammeter showed it was discharging. I quickly set about unplugging and switching off all non-essential items, but nothing happened. As we flew on, we decided to skip the airwork and head straight back to Lelystad. As we drew nearer to Lelystad city, lo and behold, the ammeter was showing fully charged. We reckon it must be a loose connection. Michael from VOT will take a look at it next time I bring her over.

So we tracked eastwards so I could show my friend where the VRP (Visual Reporting Point) of BRAVO is. This is a mandatory VRP used by all VFR traffic into Lelystad. We descended to 700ft and called overhead. Pre-landing chacks complete we were turning right for downwind for runway 23. This meant the sun would be in our eyes on final. As we turned final, I made the call to Lelystad Radio. My friend was again trying to control the speed and lose height (slightly high again) when all of a sudden some idiot rolls onto the runway without making a radio call, when were only about 300m from landing at the threshold!! I glanced quickly over to the right (the dead-side of the runway) to make sure nobody was using the microlight runway, just in case we needed to take avoiding action from this idiot.

Thankfully he was in a powerful airplane that he was able to clear the runway and climb away, but needless to say it had our hearts going. When I landed I asked for the tail number of the plane and the pilots name as I wanted to file an AIRPROX report. Strangely the guys in the tower were a little hesitant to give the details at first. If I wasn't so cynical, I'd half imagine they knew who this person was. 

And so endeth another fun filled day in the wild blue yonder. My friend is now checked out on the Robin, and I decided....the AIRPROX is in the mail.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Sunshine and Schnitzels

A week of glorious weather has held out all the way through to the weekend. Which meant my friend Ouen and I were able to take Nippy out for a bimble. Ouen is like myself, an avid aviation enthusiast, and would gladly join me for a quick bimble across the Dutch countryside in search of some nice airfield food. So we're sitting in the German sunshine, bathing in the sunlight like two Galapgos Iguana's enjoying our Schnitzels. Sadly no beer though :-(

"Nippy" had been tucked away in the hangers of Polder since her ferry flight over from Texel, and it was about time she was let out to experience some Spring sunshine. I had a look at the charts a few nights beforehand and settled on a little airfield just across the Dutch/German border call Nordhorn-Lingen (EDWN). I saw on their website that they had a restaurant on the field, so the choice of destination was a no-brainer. That, and the fact that they charge those wonderfully low German landing fees I have come to love so much.

With it being a little less than an hours flight away, I figured that on the way back we might make a quick stop in Holland somewhere. I soon put that thought out of my head when I compared the landing fees in Germany (€3.00) versus the ridiculous prices in Holland (€18.50 for Hoogeveen for example). This has indeed become a recent bane in my side about flying in Holland and is indicative of what one has come to expect LIVING in Holland. The Dutch are simply greedy buggers. They fleece you for everything....the cost of parking your car in Amsterdam is the highest in Europe, you pay health insurance for shitty, non-existent medical care, and the price of a dinner for two is approx 3-4 times higher in Holland than the equivalent in either Belgium or Germany, AND you get way better service in those two countries than anywhere in Holland. But I digress...needless to say, you can get an idea on what the topic of conversation was on our wee cross-country.

So it was settled. I picked Ouen up from the train station and we drove to the airfield, rolled-out "Nippy" into the morning's sun and fired her up. We had to contend with two really slow pilots taking their sweet-time filling up their Piper Archer at the fuel pumps. When they'd done filling up, it took them about 10 minutes just to climb into their plane and start it up. Off to our left and also waiting for fuel was a young idiotic PPL student who was there to log some solo time. I knew who he was because I was chatting to his instructor earlier in the morning. But I wasn't impressed with him because while we were both waiting he was revving the bejesus out of his engine. Typically one would keep the plane revving in idle, with the occasional increase in revs or use of carb heat to avoid carb-ice. But his revving was idiotic. So bad in fact that someone from the control tower made his way over to the guy and told him to shut down the engine, and then invited him out of the cockpit for a bit of a bollocking. So it was a learning day for the young pilot. 

Fifteen minutes later and we were lining up on runway 05 for a right turn departure to the East. Ouen gingerly advanced the throttles and I scanned the engine instruments as the speed built up. At 55kts we were airborne, although not in the usual manner of a homesick angel....more like that of a slightly obese angel whose flying at max all-up weight :-) Still 700fpm wasn't bad. I reminded Ouen a few times to maintain a climb out speed of 60kt's in order to climb out at Vy (best rate of climb) and to level off at 1200ft. After take-off checks complete I dialled up Dutch Mil and asked them to climb to FL55. There was a small patch of Cu (Cumulous) clouds on our path, so we kinked left to avoid them and climbed above them. Once past them, it was blue skies all the way to the German border.

The airspace was surprisingly quiet today, given the good weather, and about 15 minutes out of EDWN we requested to descend to 1,500ft. About 10 minutes out, I dialled up Nordhorn Information and asked for the airfield information. It was at this point that I then took the reigns and steered toward the VRP, whilst Ouen and I kept a sharp lookout for both traffic and the airport itself. Which was easier said than done. The airfield is hidden behind a dense forest of evergreen trees, which are quite high. Before we left, we had a look over the Jepp plate for the destination airfield and I noticed the displaced threshold for runway 06. But it never occurred to me that the trees that created the need for the displaced threshold would be so high as to obscure the airfield when inbound from the VRP. We were told the circuit was clear to allow for a straight in approach to runway 06, so it was now only a matter of finding the damn field. I eventually spotted it and set "Nippy" up for the approach. That's when I noticed how tall the trees were. :-)

Landing fees paid, we decided to explore the airfield a little bit. We noticed an An-2 in a hanger off to the distance and were told by the locals that there were THREE inside, and we were welcome to go take a look. We wandered around talking to some of the local pilots and doing what most in the GA community do best....talking about planes, fuel prices and landing fees....and of course where the best restaurants can be found. 

Strangely, this joie de vivres and affinity with fellow pilots, it has to be said, is sorely lacking amongst the Dutch aviation community...certainly in GA circles. I've flown in the US, Finland, France, Belgium, Germany, UK, Ireland and Ukraine, and every pilot whom I've ever met would gladly talk flying given any chance they can get. It could start off with someone admiring someone else's plane, or commenting on a landing, or over some beers after a days flying...and the conversation is almost always easy going and a collection of the grey haired wizened ones advising the youngsters through the telling of tall tales and the like. However, not so in the Netherlands. I've wondered why this has always been the case ever since I started flying here, and I think Ouen helped hit the nail on the head. Our theory goes like this:

Most pilots (including a lot of European ones) have gone overseas to someplace where the training costs are lower and the weather better. This has meant that the average Joe (especially the case in the US) has been able to afford attaining their wings. With so many average Joe's, there are very few snobs about, and the ones that are there confine themselves to the expensive FBO's where the red carpet is rolled out upon arrival. Which means that the GA community I've been exposed to is full of normal, ordinary (and somewhat humble) people.

However, there is still a large clique of Dutch pilots who have gotten their wings at home. Given that it's, at best, around three times more expensive to get your licence in the Netherlands, it seems that this has bred an exclusive community of snobs. Since they're quite content to pay, on average, three times the price for their training, they seem to have this "I'm better than you" chip on their shoulder. Looking at the average car park and you'll see it's full of the usual Dutch "Ralph Lauren" wearing tosser mobiles in the guises Audi's, BMW X5's, Alfa's and the occasional Porsche or two. Now, match that "chip on your shoulder, do you know who I am" attitude with someone on the airfield and you end up with a fraternity found uniquely here in Holland, namely the "Tit who calls himself a pilot".

On our way back, we decided to do a little airwork. I had Ouen practice some steep turns, slow flight and some stalls and stall recovery. His execution of the steep turns was phenomenal....almost hitting our wake every time when he rolled back straight and level. He needs some more practice with slow-flight, but made a damn good effort in "Nippy" this time 'round.

And so it was....two and a half hours in the air spent on airwork and life's observations. And of course two well fed tummies. Ouen's already hatching some time to get back up in the air....with weather like today, I can't say I blame him.