Saturday, January 19, 2013

Winter Wonderland

Usually at this time of the year, I am getting cabin fever (or the aviation equivalent) because the Weather Gods decide not to play nice and forcefully ground me with wave after wave of low pressure systems.

But this year has been somewhat different. A large high pressure system coming from Eastern Europe extended all the way across western Europe as far as the UK, which meant lots of cold Arctic air, and snow. Lots and lots of snow. The great thing about this type of weather pattern is that when the snow passes, you are left with gin clear days, and a new take one the countryside below....i.e. a Winter Wonderland.

So I decided not to pass up such an opportunity and make the most of it. My buddy, Aleksey, and I arranged with our respective better halves to get a hall pass for the weekend and we headed off to do some winter flying.

"Nippy" was snuggled up in a warm hangar, so there was no need to worry about de-icing, and the moisture levels in the air meant that icing aloft would not be a factor. It was also Aleksey's first time in a small plane, so he was pretty excited to say the least. When we got to the hangar, "Nippy" was buried at the back, so we had to wheel out two other planes before we could free "Nippy" from the hangar. I was also clever enough to have her fuelled after the last time I flew, so I didn't have to waste time at the fuel dump.

A quick pre-flight and safety briefing and we were taxying out to the runway. I offered the take-off to Aleksey, telling him not to worry, I would follow-through on the controls in case anything went wrong. Before we knew it, we were taking off and climbing away over Lelystad (EHLE) heading for Texel (EHTX).

The original idea was to fly over Amsterdam, but given the transponder (TX) is acting up and needs replacing, I knew if it didn't work properly in Amsterdam's Class C, then we'd be either not allowed in in the first place, or in a shit load of trouble if we ventured in there in the first place with a dodgy TX. So I elected we just head straight to Texel for some lunch.

It was pretty quiet in the air, and we were the only aircraft anywhere near Texel when we arrived. I suggested to Aleksey that we do some touch and go's, so he could film it on his iPhone. The nice thing about Texel is that they have a 1000ft circuit, which is normal height used in the UK and US, but for some reason, the rest of the Netherlands uses 700ft, which really mucks up my approaches sometimes. I'm used to certain power and flap settings, and if you are entering a circuit at a lower height, then you need to delay these settings somewhat. But the touch and go's were great practice.

On the last touch and go, I kept "Nippy" in ground effect after we lept into the air and built up the speed to allow me to pull hard and climb vertically. Aleksey was whooping like an excited 5 year-old in the co-pilot seat.

When we landed and went to pay the landing fees, Mike told us that Lelystad was reporting diminished visibility. This meant we would have to skip lunch and get a wiggle on to get back. As we climbed out from Texel and headed back towards Lelystad, I asked Amsterdam Info fpr an update on Lelystad's status. The reply I got wasn't good. They had low cloud ceilings to 500ft and visibility of only 2km's. This is below minimums for me. I took a look at the chart to weigh up my options. Schiphol was open, but after my last visit I wasn't so keen of shelling out a ton of cash, especially if there was a much cheaper option. I asked Amsterdam Info about Hilversum  (EHHV), and they came back with a "CAVOK". Nice one. Hilversum it is.

I've never flown into Hilversum, so trying to figure out where a grass airfield, which is now covered in snow, is relative to the city was a bit of a challenge. I first aimed for the Pampus VOR, and then picked up the TV antenna that dominates the Hilversum skyline. 

When I was near, I dialled up the folks in Hilversum tower and asked if I could join overhead at 1000ft and then let down on the deadside of the airfield so I could avoid conflicting with other planes in the vicinity. The boys seemed OK with that. We spotted the airfield and I started in on the circuit, coming upwind, then joining the downwind leg and reducing power. It wasn't long before we kissed the snow covered grass of Hilversum airfield, with a suitably impressed Aleksey applauding the gentle landing.

The lovely folks in Hilversum's tower helped us verify that Lelystad airport had now closed to all flight operations. That meant we were stuck here. And it's -8C outside, so I was worried about the well-being of "Nippy". But Jerome, the airport manager helped save the day. He knew of a Mooney that had left earlier for it's annual. It would be gone some time and offered to put "Nippy" up in the hangar, FREE OF CHARGE. My word, such wonderful generosity. On top of that, he waived the landing fees because we diverted to Hilversum AND he offered us a lift to the train station. What a gentleman. He was so enamoured with "Nippy" that he said he's even keep me informed if any hangar space becomes available, which would be nice, since it's much closer to home that Lelystad.

We tucked "Nippy" away in her guest digs and then headed for the train. A few days later I was lucky to get another weather window to let me pick "Nippy" up and ferry her back home to Lelystad.

So my first Winter flight in my log book, some new friends made and another experience where I was able to put my training to the test.

I can't wait for Spring :-)