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"...in 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 day....it'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 :-)