Planning a European mini-tour
I had already negotiated the new TB20 share-o-plane for a week’s touring during the initial discussions when buying into a share. The option for touring is one of the main objectives (and benefits) of the group, and something that all members could expect to enjoy during the year. The ability to take a plane away and not worry about it sitting unused at the airport for a week isn’t usually possible with rented club aircraft, where naturally the owners are keen to maximise hours used.
The group (not just me) had flown quite a few hours during late June and July after a full Annual service mid June, so it was already becoming due for a 50 hour service and even with an 10% extra dispensation would not be quite enough for my trip. Fortunately, other group members quickly organised a plan which also included fixing the broken auto-pilot switch. These 50 hour services can be done and signed off entirely by owner/pilots flying their own private aircraft – something not possible with club planes or anything involving commercial use. After the service, another member made a landaway (test flight) on Saturday before we went and confirmed all was working well.
My plan was to fly with the family (wife and children) to visit two different sets of friends in Germany, staying for a few days with each. Our schedule wasn’t fixed, and my family knew that this would be a “moveable feast” that was somewhat dependent on the weather. It may be quite a capable aircraft, but I am only licenced for VFR abroad. We arranged time windows of 3 days at both start and end to give the option of changing the route and which set of friends we visited first.
Deciding the route
My initial schedule was to fly to Le Touquet in France, stay overnight and then proceed on to Braunschweig in Germany. We’d stay there for a few days with one set of friends then fly north west to Wilhelmshaven to stay with another friend for a couple of days, returning in one day with a lunch-stop in Texel – a scenic island in the north of the Netherlands.
After researching the weather, I reversed the route completely and decided to fly first to Wilhelmshaven in North Germany at the earliest opportunity, stopping in Texel for lunch and to “clear customs”. (Actually, it’s really a passport control/immigration check rather than goods, despite the misnomer.) This would clear us into the Schengen zone, from which we would not need any further border checks until departing back to the UK. Then after a couple of hours on the ground, we’d make a second shorter flight to Wilhelmshaven.
Both airports had their own websites, and my email enquiries were quickly answered. For Texel, I only had to provide the number and nationality of passengers 24 hours in advance. For Wilhelmshaven, they didn’t need any prior notice – just call up on the radio when inbound. Braunschweig was in the middle of a major construction project and (unusually for them) required assignment of a landing slot time at least 24 hours in advance.
Double checking the weather
After my disastrous abandoned cross channel trip the previous Monday, I wanted an expert opinion to confirm my interpretation of the forecast and the choices I’d made. I spoke with Simon Keeling, of WeatherWeb.net, who researched the forecast for our proposed route and then called me to talk it through late Saturday afternoon. He encouraged us to leave promptly on Sunday morning, expecting a deteriorating cloudbase of 2,000 feet at Gloucester, rising to 5,000 feet or higher on the East coast, giving predictions of the wind direction and strength both aloft and for our landings. This also included a view of the situation 3 days later, when we planned our subsequent leg to Braunschweig.
Filing the paperwork
On Sunday morning I lodged two VFR flight plans through Skydemon which was very quick and simple to do. I’d read of some problems with this method elsewhere recently, but encountered none on the day. I also filled in and emailed a GAR form to Gloucester airport, for advice only – no GAR is needed when leaving the country, only the return. I’d emailed our details to Texel 24 hours in advance, giving them the option to spot check us if they wanted.
Leaving the dull weather behind
When we arrived at Gloucester airport, the weather was as expected – miserable, dull and raining, with dark clouds to the west. I could see no aircraft movements anywhere. After packing the luggage carefully, refuelling to the brim with UL91 (it’s cheaper here than Holland or Germany plus this qualifies for duty drawback – a partial refund of the tax on exported fuel), we departed into a rain shower but soon there were few clouds and it became brighter. My wife said she was very pleased I’d spoken with a professional weather forecaster, giving her confidence that we would leave this bad weather behind.
I continued to climb up and on top of the clouds, manually flying around the cloud tops and only going through one or two. At the higher altitude, we had a strong tailwind, giving us a cruising speed of 140KIAS and a ground speed of 165knots or more.
I spoke to Brize, then Coventry (whose radar wasn’t working), Lakenheath (with a relaxed American controller who quickly identified us on Radar) and then switched to London Information when overhead Wyton. By then I was at 6,000 feet and continued climbing to FL75 as we coasted out just south of Great Yarmouth. There was little horizon to distinguish, but the autopilot didn’t seem to mind. In good time, London told me that Amsterdam wouldn’t accept VFR traffic above FL55, [due to the Dutch Class A airspace above that] so descended in the cruise which added another 20 knots to our speed – now about 180 knots over the ground. We were given a squawk to use with Amsterdam Information and handed over just before the FIS boundary at LAMSO. Even flying VFR, I think it helped to route via IFR waypoints at the FIS boundaries/international borders.
Arrival into Texel
After making radio contact and being reported “identified” by Amsterdam, we heard others en-route to Texel and that the Danger Area to the west was inactive, and also that De Kooy (pronounced De Koy) airfield was closed. Making a gentle descent down to 3000 feet as we closed on the coast, I was warned of parachuting in progress at Texel and then switched to the Texel tower frequency. They were expecting me, and told me simply to join downwind for runway 22 at 1000 feet. I routed via VFR waypoint Charlie and avoided the main town. We saw a parachute aircraft take off in front of us as we were about to enter the circuit, which then climbed quickly and turn above our path, avoiding us by a good margin.
It was quite difficult to pick out the grass airstrip from the other green fields on the island, but the airport buildings and other activity were easier to spot. Thereafter, we made a straightforward circuit and good landing, taxi-ing quickly to parking.
Our friendly controllers had already closed our flight plan, charged a modest landing fee, and made the whole process very easy. The on-field restaurant was quite large and busy, had good service, a choice of traditional Dutch fayre (so it was Uitsmeiter for me, salad for my wife, and chips etc. for my daughters). They declined the pindasaus (hot peanut butter sauce for the French fries), but very much enjoyed the ambience, with plenty of activity on the airfield including parachuting and general aviation. There was also a museum which we didn’t visit, reasonably priced at 4 Euro.
So far so good – it had been a pleasant and relatively uneventful flight, leaving the bad weather behind in favour of some glorious sunshine.
Flight time: 2:05