Saturday, October 22, 2011

Return And Renewal

Entrance to the new GA terminal building at Schiphol
"Nippy" has been living it up at Schiphol this past week. After diverting to Schiphol last weekend on the way back from Bremen, it was time to pick her up and fly her back to Lelystad. When I went to pay the bill, I was expecting to suffer heart failure at the sight of the bill. But thankfully the landing and handling fees were less than I had anticipated, and it turns out it's cheaper to park your plane at Schiphol than your car. Parking fees cost only €1.60 per day, versus the €20+ euro's a day they charge at the long-term parking!! A bargain :-)

The lovely people at KLM Jet Centre whizzed me over in the limousine to where I had parked "Nippy" the previous Sunday. The canopy was full of condensation, so I opened it up completely and began the walk-round. Once the checks were completed,  I settled into the cockpit and got all the charts and paperwork in order and closed up the canopy. This being Schiphol, I was not allowed start up the engine without permission from Schiphol's "Clearance Delivery". So I tuned in to the ATIS for the latest weather update and then checked in with Delivery mentioning that I had the latest weather, was ready for departure and would like permission to start-up. I was hoping they'd be quick about it because the battery on a small GA plane doesn't last very long without the engine turned on. But they replied back quite promptly with start-up permission and I was asked to contact Ground once I had reached a specific taxiway.

"Nippy" parked at the stand in EHAM. Schiphol Tower in the background
"Nippy" started up immediately and I was soon holding at taxiway GL and waiting for permission to taxy to the runway.....runway 22, the same one I landed on the week before. The skies were glorious and I was in my element listening to the Big Iron on the same frequency I was on. Before I knew it I was told to taxy to the holding point of runway 22 and contact Tower when I got there. I was the only airplane using runway 22, so I was cleared for take-off and up in the air in no time at all. The route called for a brisk climb out and then a left turn to intercept the church at Amstelveen. Once over the church, I then need to fly towards the north eastern corner of the lake at Vinkeveen and to report clear of the CTR. I stayed level at 1,000 feet and then when calling clear of Schiphols CTR asked for permission to "resume own nav" and told them I'd change over to Amsterdam Info. 

"Nippy" parked in the morning sun at the GA terminal. KLM ground equipment in the background
The route on the way up was completely uneventful and I was on the ground in about 25 minutes. When I landed, filled up the tanks and called Reuben, my instructor/examiner who I'd planned to meet for my 5 year licence revalidation check-ride. I was a little late, having been held up sorting out the bill in the Jet Centre earlier, so Reuben knew I'd be a wee bit late. When I arrived, he had the coffee on and we sat down for a chat and a prep over todays flights.

Reuben had never flown in the Robin ATL before, so it was something fun for him too. I went through the various speeds, such as the clean stall speed, Vy, Vx, Vs, Vs1 and Best Glide. He told me we'd practiced some PFL's (Practice Forced Landings), some precautionary landings, steep turns, stall recovery and anything else I wanted. We settled into "Nippy" and I ran him through the safety briefing, the speeds once again and the general cockpit layout.

Reuben had me head towards the low flying practice area, which allows us to get down to 100ft of the ground (an instructor has to be on board though) to practice out engine failure drills. The first thing I did was demonstrate an engine failure. I set best glide speed (60 knots) trimmed the plane, looked for a suitable field, ran through the emergency drills, demonstrated a mayday call and aimed to set us up for the filed I elected. Everything went off without a hitch. I was slightly higher than I liked, but I dumped the flaps at the last minute and that sorted out the height issue. Once Reuben was happy, I put the power back in and slowly pulled in the flaps. It was at this point that I noticed that we were lower than the windmills which were right beside us....COOL!!

Next thing we practiced was a precautionary landing. A precautionary landing is a controlled landing which you choose to make as a pilot in the event that you're running low on fuel, there's something up with the engine, you have an ill passenger on board or the weather is turning sour on you. It can be at an airfield, or it can be at a field somewhere. The point of this exercise was the latter. To pick a suitable field, check the condition of the field and see if it's long enough and then set up for a landing once you're happy.

Some of the windmills near the Low Flying Practice Area at Lelystad
So I picked what looked like a nice long field. Reuben had mentioned that when picking a field, it's wise to make sure that there's nothing large at either end that could affect the landing or take-off when you go to leave again. This field had only small shrubs and trees and was so long that they wouldn't be an issue anyway. With a tailwind, I dropped down to 200 feet, throttled back to 60 knots and counted off 20 seconds. That worked out to be about 500 metres long, which is more than enough to get down and fly back out. The condition of the field was also excellent, so we climbed away to 500 feet and did a teardrop turn and counted again with a headwind, and I got up to 28 seconds....wonderful. This time I climbed up and performed a standard circuit and brought us over the field at 100 feet before putting the power back in and climbing out again towards Haarderwijk.

At Harderwijk we practiced steep turns, power-off stalls, approach to stall in full landing config and some slow flight. Reuben then asked what the gliding characteristics of Nippy were and I had to confess that I had not really tried it out much in her. SO he suggested that we climb to 3,000 feet and do a simulated forced landing and aim to land at Lelystad!! Cool. The tailwind would help us out a lot, so I called up Lelystad and asked if they'd be OK with that, which they replied back that they had no problem. 

We both kept an eye out for traffic below us, and there was only one aircraft heading towards the field for landing which would be much quicker than us given they were flying with full power on. I called overhead BRAVO at 3,000 feet and pulled the power off, trimming the plane for 65 knots best glide speed. We seemed to just hang in the air losing very little altitude at all. By the time we'd reached the turn for "Downwind", we were still at 2,500 feet or so!! Rueben started joking that at this rate we could make it all the way to the A6 motorway if we wanted. I was not 100% sure about when I should start the turn for "Base", knowing that as soon as you dump the flaps you start to sink a lot. I made the error of turning a little sooner than I should have, and then tried to compensate and lose height by dumping flaps and side-slipping on Final. In the end I was about 200ft too high over the threshold. I could probably have landed, but it would have been WELL DOWN the runway :-) But it was a very useful lesson....I now have the confidence of gliding Nippy in from a very long distance.

We practiced a few touch and go's, the last one being a test from Reuben to see if I could land where I wanted to land. He picked the spot where taxiway BRAVO meets the runway. So I mastered the speeds and RPM, dumping flaps gradually and floating the plane over the runway, kissing the ground exactly where he asked me to land. This time was even more rewarding because I was not fighting the crosswind with the aileron like I had done earlier. Instead I used the rudder and kept the ailerons neutral just using the elevator to adjust the rate of decent to float her in. 

We taxied back, tucked her in to the hangar and went inside for a debrief and some more coffee.

I'm really pleased with the flight today, and as is always the case when I fly with Reuben, I came out of the cockpit more confident in my own abilities and a wee bit wiser from his excellent tuition and experience.

The paperwork has now been sent off to the CAA in the UK, so I cannot fly solo until I get it back in a few weeks. I just hope that it's raining between now and then and that I'm not tormented by the wonderful Autumnal weather we've had this past month.

Short Wave radio transmitter antennae near Zeewolde

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bremen And The Brothers Grimm

The weather Gods have been kind to us this weekend. A large high pressure system has sat over Holland and Germany for the last few days pushing the jet-stream north over Denmark and Sweden. Which has meant gin-clear days, perfect for flying, and even better for a last minute day-trip to Bremen.

When I pushed "Nippy" out of the hangar and taxied to the fuel station, I was met by one of the guys from Lelystad tower. He wanted to let me know that the airport closed at 19:00 local and to make sure that I got back in time. I should have known that minute that I was cursed, but I thought nothing of it, told him I'd be leaving with plenty of time to spare and I'd see him later.

M and I jumped in after filling "Nippy's" tanks and we headed off to Bremen, in a more or less direct routing, just south of Hoogeveen airfield, towards the city of Emmen and crossing into Germany direct to Bremen. I was a little nervous about arriving in a large airport that served everything from KLM and Ryanair to little GA flights like mine, but the call I made to Bremen Ops earlier before taking off put me at ease, with the folks telling me I would be "more than welcome".

We had quite a good tailwind on the way over, with "Nippy" clocking up over 100 knots over the ground. Mal sat back, eyes closed and dozed off as I brought us up to FL050 and then throttled back, leaning out mixture and keeping an eye out from any traffic. About an hour into the flight we were asked by ATC to begin our descent and asked which routing into Bremen we'd prefer. I initially told them I wasn't fussy, whichever worked for them, eventually being told to steer towards reporting point WHISKEY. As I pulled back the throttle, Mal woke and asked if we were there yet :-)

As we began our descent, I tuned in to the ATIS at Bremen and found that the runway in use was  09, winds were calm and visibility was excellent. Bremen Info passed me over to Bremen Tower who asked me to report overhead WHISKEY and to then continue inbound following the highway. He told me he would call when I could turn onto baseleg for runway 09. I continued my descent down to 1000ft agl and followed along the highway, spotting the the airport in my 11 o'clock.

Before we knew it we were turning left to join baseleg and then turning onto final. I managed to pull off such a smooth landing that Mal started clapping in approval :-) I called the folks on Ground and they gave us instructions to the GA ramp where we were met by a minibus and driven to the GA terminal. I paid for the landing fees, which amazingly were only €20, given it's an international airport, and returned to the minibus which would drop us off at the exit gates. Exiting the terminal was as simple as walking out the security gates with instructions to return via the same gates when we wanted to flay back home.

A short tram ride later and we were in the city centre. It's a gorgeous little city, with many historical buildings, references to the Brothers Grimm and the old city has a myriad of little narrow streets. There was a small carnival in the main square with lots of Ghluwein, pretzels, beer and all sorts of meat and sausages cooked on big open grills. Our mouths began to water at the first site of the grills. I ordered a bratwurst for myself and Mal had one of those grilled pork sandwiches. As luck would have it, the bar also sold non-alcoholic beer!! Happy days. With the Autumnal sun beating down on us and our bellies warmed from the good German fare, we were ready to explore the city.

I think my favourite part of the city is the Schnoor quarter....very old, very narrow and lots of character. But Mal preferred the Boettcherstrasse, which was more artistic and had a beautiful Glockenspiel playing every hour. But sadly the time whizzed by, as it always done when you're having fun, and we had to make our way back to the airport.

We arrived at the GA security gates and jumped into the minibus which drove us back to "Nippy". And this is when I cocked up royally. I knew I used up just over 1/3 of the fuel on the way over. But I had underestimated the strength of the winds, which had picked up a fair bit since the afternoon. On the climb out, I asked for FL060, which took forever to get up to. And all the while the engine is guzzling fuel and we've not made the German border yet! I looked at the fuel gauges and the stopwatch and I was seriously doubting we'd make it back on the fuel remaining. On top of that, it was starting to get dark...the sun was beginning to make it's descent and turn from an amber orb to a blood red ball as it dipped lower and lower.

I decided that rather than risk landing in a dark field with no fuel, I'd stop off and top up the tanks. So I let the folks know at Dutch Mil that I was diverting to Hoogeveen for fuel. When I landed, I pulled right up to the tanks and waited for what seemed an eternity for the old codgers working there to turn them on. When I finally filled "Nippy" to the brim, I had to wait even longer for him to write out the receipts, which I was happy to not bother with, but was told I needed to wait for. The guy must have been to calligraphy classes or something because he took forever to write them out in the best handwritten script I have even seen. Just as I had lept into the air, Hoogeveen called me to tell me that I would probably not make Lelystad before they closed for the night and I should stay there. Hmmmmmm. According to the GPS I'd make it maybe 2 mins after 7pm, the time EHLE said they'd be closed. I elected to press on and informed Hoogeveen that Amsterdam Schiphol was my designated alternate.

As I rounded the north of the Flevopolder, I called up Lelystad Radio, who curtly told me that if I was not in the circuit in the next three minutes, then I could not land there! I was 7 minutes out at this stage.....I would be four minutes "late" other words, the airport was closed and I was buggered. My pleading fell on deaf ears, and I was told in no uncertain terms that if I insisted on landing at Lelystad after having been told it was closed, then they would be obliged to call the authorities.....i.e. piss off or we'll have your licence.

Message received and understood. I told Mal that we would have to land at Schiphol. I called up Amsterdam Info, told them that I was diverting to Schiphol and would like to land on the GA runway, which is runway 22. Amsterdam Info were more than happy to help me out and passed me over to Schiphol Approach....first time I ever spoke to these guys. Schiphol Approach gave me headings to steer so I could intercept the localiser for runway 22. The approach would have us come in right over the city of Amsterdam. The only problem I had now - and this is the second lesson learned today - was that the light was disappearing and I only had my sunglasses in the cockpit. My normal glasses were in the car at Lelystad. D'oh!!

After following directions from the guys in Approach, I was lined up on a 15NM final for runway 22, fully established on the localiser and asked to switch over to Schiphol Tower. As I flew overhead the centre of Amsterdam, I was cleared to land on runway 22. The landing this time was not so good because of the fact that my dark glasses made it harder to see the surface of the runway, which had no centreline lights. A single bounce and a firm landing later, we were soon off the runway and calling up Schiphol Ground asking for progressive taxi instructions to the GA terminal. It was my first time as a pilot landing in Schiphol and I was not familiar with the airport, as huge as it is. No worries...the GA terminal is right next to the runway we landed on. Before we knew it we were following a "Follow Me" van to our parking stand and shutting "Nippy" down.

We were taken care of by the wonderful people at KLM Jet Centre. But the VIP treatment came with a hefty price. The 4 minutes I was late at Lelystad cost me the guts of €200!! Damn!! Had I refuelled at Bremen, I'd have made it without any issues. But having an alternate such as Schiphol saved the day in the end.

It'll be next weekend before I can move "Nippy" back to Lelystad. Thankfully, parking your plane at Schiphol is a helluva lot cheaper than parking your car. Parking rate for your plane is €1.60 per's more like €20 a day for your car!! I'm just bummed that I have to schlep all the way out to Lelystad to pick up the car now. Oh well, at least I can get my glasses :-)