Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lost My Wingman

No, I haven't put him away somewhere safe and now cannot find him, nor (Thank God) is he six feet under, but he is leaving and heading South, to South Africa to be exact.

Ouen and his wife, Wi, are heading home, and their departure is more than just being about losing dear friends, it's about me losing my Wingman.

You see, Ouen and I are kindred spirits....we can wax lyrical about the planes we love, talk shite in the bar afterwards about aviation accidents, lessons learned from our previous flight, which is better....tail or nose-wheel, and about future flights and destinations we'd take together.

Sadly though, those future flights together will have to wait. One of the things Ouen did promise though was his determination to get his PPL when he returns to SA. Which means that when M and I head to SA to visit them, the four of us can putter about the skies and across the vast African bush. I made a promise in return....that when we move down to SA and live in Cape Town, we will buy a share together in this little beauty.

So my wing man is flying solo, 4,800nm South, to where the skies are almost always cerulean blue, and the $100 burgers are always interesting.

Ouen, you were the best Wingman I've ever known, and I'm going to miss you in the cockpit next to me. But I wish you and Wi the very best of luck with your move back home, and I cannot wait to get back in the cockpit with you when we meet up again soon.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Indian Summer

I had never really understood the phrase "Indian Summer"as a child until a geography teacher explained the weather patterns in India one day at school. That's when the penny dropped and when I understood where the phrase originated. But it still didn't help when I was stuck in a classroom in September, those first few weeks back to school, looking out the window at the sunshine taunting us to come out to play. As a kid I hated Indian Summers, but as an adult, I relish them because it's our last chance to enjoy the last rays of the summer sunshine. The warmth waning as we slip into Autumn and start our longing for Spring to return again.

And with Indian Summers come flying weather. It's been a pretty shitty Summer all-round. According to the Dutch Met Office, it's been the wettest Summer on record since 1906...that's over a hundred years ago!! My goodness. 

The destination for today was Ameland. I had been put off going to Ameland for a while, simply because of the exorbitant landing fee they charge. Not only are they the most expensive GA airfield in the Netherlands, but they also charge a "tourist tax" for every occupant of the plane. As if I don't pay enough taxes in Holland already! But my friend "H" had suggested it a few times before, and this time I agreed, so I plogged a route and loaded it into the GPS.

Ameland is one of the West Frisian islands, situated 15NM North of the Frisian city of Leeuwarden. There's not much to do on the island. It's popular amongst Dutch and German tourists as a holiday spot, and with the wide and varied flora and fauna on the island (around 60 different bird species nest on the island throughout the course of the year), it's a popular spot with nature lovers. Aside from tourism and farming, that's pretty much it. It's about 12NM long and 2.5NL wide at the widest point. It's got a quarter the population as Texel (the largest of the West Frisian islands) and only half the land mass as Texel. 

We were wheels up at 1pm and with two heavy men and full fuel, Nippy was feeling the hurt. We climbed very slowly and I started a shallow 180 degree turn to the North. The routing I had planned was a Northerly course out over the Ijsselmeer, passing east of the town of Urk, and then following the western coast of Friesland to Harlingen. We climbed up to 3,000ft and settled into the cruise, admiring the Frisian countryside. On our way North, "H" spotted a Mig fighter parked in some children's playground in the village of Sexbierum. (You've got to love Frisian names....."sex", "bier" & "rum" :-) LOL. Overhead Harlingen we made a dog leg turn to the North East to join the westerly corridor and then commenced our descent towards Ameland.

There are two "corridors" that they insist on using, so as to not disturb the wildlife in the nature reserves below. And depending on the corridor being used, they have various joining instructions for entering the circuit. Our route, which used the Western Corridor, meant that we should stay above 1,500 over the wetlands and aim to drop to 700 feet (circuit height in Holland) by the time we neared the lighthouse. We would then join the Base Leg for Runway 09 or continue along the back of the island to join the Downwind for 27. Today they were using 27, so I carried on heading East. I asked for a wind-check when I noticed I had to use a lot of right rudder, and was told it was blowing 8-14 knots from 210. Hmmm...a bit of a crosswind

Feeding in flaps gradually, I aimed to pull off a greaser, even with a crosswind, but I was hampered by the really shitty runway conditions. I'm not kidding...there were potholes and chunks missing all along the runway. It was in terrible condition. Not only that, but the taxiways were even worse. The grass was so long, and damp, that I had to use almost full power just to keep us from bogging down. And Nippy's small wheels don't do well in long wet grass either. We eventually came to a halt and parked up next to a visiting C172.

Fish was the menu choice and "H" spotted a restaurant on the beach, fifteen minutes walk from the airfield. But when we arrived, the only "fish-dish" on the menu was a salmon salad. Not exactly pushing the boat out, were they? I mean, what kind of restaurant, situated at the beach on an island does NOT serve fish? I settled for an uitsmijter and reasoned that the BBQ that M and I had planned for later in the evening would fill my belly.

"H" standing next to "Nippy" at Ameland
Tummies full, we walked back to the airfield and made our preparations for the return leg. Seats swapped (I was PNF), "H" taxied out to the threshold and did his best to avoid the multiple rabbit warrens and potholes. Lined up on 27 and after applying full throttle it seemed like an age before "Nippy" started to build up any speed. The long grass was having an effect. When we finally did build up a head of steam, the plane visibly slowed down as we drove through an area of wet mud. I suggested pulling her up into ground effect and build up speed to climb out, which "H" did. As we climbed out over the coast, "H" proffered that we could have done with using some flaps to help counteract the effects of the grass.

What I don't understand though is why an airfield who insists on fleecing you with exorbitant landing fees prefers to line their own pockets rather than investing it into the airfield and facilities. Take Texel for instance. Ed and Mike run a top notch facility there. Both airports have grass fields, but Texel's is as smooth as a billiard table, built on top of lava stone they laid the sod top of to help with drainage. The poor condition of the runway, expensive landing fees and the lack of fish on the menu will mean it'll be a long time before I make a return visit to Ameland.

The return leg was uneventful, up until we were on the inbound leg from BRAVO to join the circuit. The boys in Lelystad tower let us know of a Fokker 50 en route. The F-50 crew would call when they were 2 mins out on long final. So "H" kept the speed us to ensure we would not get caught out in the circuit with a F-50 up our jacksie. He did an excellent job pulling the speed back and dealing with a crosswind, bringing Nippy down for a gentle landing. As we were tucking Nippy back into the hanger, we stopped to admire the F-50 come roaring past us on its way back to the Aviodrome. Her roaring Pratt & Whitneys humming nicely.

"Nippy's next flight will most likely her flying over to Texel for her annual renewal. Is it that time of year again already?

"Nippy" looking "surprised"....the screen's giving the impression of eyes