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.

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