Monday, April 25, 2011

The magic that is Holland in the Spring

It's been a busy few days this past week. I've not flown this much in such a short space of time since flight school!! This is the time of year that Holland looks her best, and especially when viewing Mother Natures majesty from above. It's as though she has cast her wand over this wind swept flat land and turned it into a carpet of colour, each one individually exquisite. But the life of a Dutch tulip is short lived because man soon comes along to chop it's pretty little head off. 

For those of you who are aghast at this inhumane treatment of the poor defenceless tulip, fear not. It's because of the decapitation that the plant can put its energies into making the bulb grow fatter, rather than spending it on the high maintenance energy hungry flower. And the tulips growing in the fields will be harvested and sold to you and I so we can grow them and enjoy them in our own gardens.

But today was all about admiring their beauty from above. It's one thing to cast your eye across a tulip field from the ground, and quite another to see them from the air. And I had the pleasure of doing this pretty much all weekend long. I took a colleague up in Nippy first. He's new to flying in light aircraft, but had dabbled on Flight Sim before, so he had an idea of the basics. I let him steer us over towards Amsterdam whilst I negotiated with the boys at Schiphol Tower to let us into the Amsterdam sector for a spot of "I can see my hotel from here" before moving on to the delicate procedure of passing overhead Schiphol itself en-route to Lisse.

The negotiations successfully concluded, we carried out a few orbits of the city and then headed over towards Schiphol. I was asked to fly towards the threshold of runway 24 (I assume to avoid runway 18C which was being used by landing traffic, and therefore to keep clear of them in the event that they boltered and carried out a missed approach) and to wait for their call for heading change. Eventually the call came to route direct Lisse which meant I managed to fly right over my house :-) Yes, I let out a "I can see my house from here" to my colleague sat next to me :-)

By the time we arrived on station over Lisse, my colleague was struck in awe. I heard lots of "wow" and "amazing" in between his clicking away at the camera. Schiphol asked me to keep clear of their airspace as the lunchtime rush was now in full effect. So that meant routing North along the coast and across the Noord Holland peninsula back to Lelystad. The fun bit was mixing it up with the big iron which were about 1000ft above us descending into Schiphol.

The next flight was Easter Monday. A new photographer had found this very blog and the photo's from last year and asked me if I could take him up on Easter Monday. He was driving up from Belgium with another friend of his, so I booked a C172 for the mission and agreed on a time. That time came and went sadly, due to a Numpty who was late leaving, then went to the wrong fuel dump to refuel and decided to eat into MY booked flying time just because he was late and got lost of the airfield. I was allowed extend my flight by 30mins to make up for the time I lost, so without haste we were off.

A call to Curtis, my photographer friend from the US and the man in the know when it comes to all things tulips told me the night before to avoid Lisse and head for Anna Paulowna and Julianasdorp...."Clay it's wall to wall tulips there all the way to the coast" he told me in his inimitable Louisiana accent. Well, that would certainly avoid the Schiphol CTR headaches, on the other hand, I still have a military airbase to contend with. I called them up the day before and was told it shouldn't be a problem.

The GPS decided right before our flight to run out of power, and as luck would have it, the 172 I was flying had not cigarette power adaptor. So I was going to have to do this the old fashioned way....VOR beacon and the Mark 1 eyeball to figure out where I was.

We were soon overhead Venhuizen and Normann was giving me directions on where he wanted to go. This meant of course that the navigation was going to be a challenge. I not only had to know where I was in relation to De Kooy's class CHARLIE airspace, but I knew of a gliding club and an ultralight airfield all within close proximity to each other and where I was currently at. Damn you GPS!!!

Once I was happy we were clear and safe from traffic, I dropped down to 700ft and slowed down to about 70-80kts. The boys opened the windows up to stick out their lenses and began snapping away feverishly. Their tulip field fix being met :-) I gave Dutch Mil a call to let them know I wanted to enter De Kooy's control zone. We stayed south of the airport and remained in and around the areas of Schagen and Anna Paulowna.

With the boys happy and their cameras full to bursting with Mother Natures splendour on show, we climb back up to 1,200ft and powered up to 110kts for the flight back to Lelystad. Curtis, was right on the money. And the season's not over yet!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

In a fix, Squawk 76

We're level at 1,000ft just past Hoofddorp and I'm setting the plane up for low and slow flight overhead Lisse....when it happens. The radios made a "plink!" noise and they're all dead. The transponder was still working, so I dial in 7600 to let ATC know that I have no radios.

I'm in a bit of a bind now because today's mission was to take the Internal Auditors who were over from the U.S. auditing my company up to see the beauty of the tulip fields from the air. But now I'm right on the fringes of Schiphol's CTR with no radios.....and now no Transponder....that's just gone and died too.

OK, first things's first.....I need to get us out of Dodge and quickly. Once clear we head west to the coastline. I'm going to have to take the long way round to get back. Even if the radios come back alive, I doubt that Schiphol Tower will let me back in in case they died again, and I also don't trust them to stay alive. I have full fuel tanks so it's a no brainer to decide on the safest route along the coast and cut across the north end of Schiphol's approach.

Much earlier, I was thinking about the last time I transitioned from "Nippy" to a Cessna 172. I remember the senstation that the Cessna was like flying a truck with wings when comparing it to "Nippy". But amazingly this particular C172 is VERY light on the controls. Not sure which version it is, but looking at the log book she's an old bird....almost 10,000 hours logged on her. But she's it great shape and well looked after.

I've checked all the fuses, nothing has blown or tripped, I have no "low voltage" warning light and all the fuel gauges and giros are it's not an electrics problem. It's isolated to the avionics. This particular C172 has the Garmin GNS 430, which means that the GPS and radios are coupled. It has a spare back-up radio, but neither of them are working. OK....I'll try recycing the avionics.....nope, still nothing. OK, nevermind.

We're abeam Ijmuiden and I can see the steelmill below me to the right. A quick look at the chart and I could zip under Schiphol's CTR here are 1,000ft....the base of the Class "C" is 1,200. But I opt to continue north a wee bit further until I'm well clear. Since the transponder doesn't work, I do not want to risk tangling with a 737 on finals for Schiphol.

Since most pilots are stubborn and never give up, I continue to recycle the avionics....and eventually my stubborness pays off....first the transponder returns to life, followed by the navigation instruments and the the Garmin and back-up radio......PHEW!!

Amsterdam Info informs me they can hear me loud and clear and they welcome me back. They must have seen me on their primary radar the whole time, but the voice of a familiar controller is music to my ears. I explained to her what had happened and told her I was routing to Lelystad.

Passing south of the field, I called overhead "BRAVO" and set us up for the circuit. My head has the power and speed settings for the 172 instructor would quiz me on the speeds every morning when he picked me up for flight lessons. So it was a matter of slotting into the circuit and pulling off a smooth landing. Sadly, the landing was a little laboured, and we hit with a bit of a bump....I just hope that's not reflected in the results of the audit :-)