The large number of windmills should be a strong indicator that Holland is a country with plenty of wind. In the aftermath of storm Abigail, I flew to the Netherlands from Gloucester for a few days trip. As with many airways IFR GA flights, 90% of the flight was in glorious sunshine with a brief but intensive departure and arrival. The flight achieved two new records for me – the lowest airport elevation (15 feet below sea level) and fastest speed (reaching 218 knots ground speed at one point). It was also my first night cross country since my night rating training course in 2011.
My final destination was in Amsterdam and I was prepared to be flexible about when I arrived and departed. I researched the cost of landing at Schiphol (it was tempting to get it in the logbook) but the 300+ Euro pricetag was difficult to justify. Lelystad is a popular GA VFR airfield, about 30 minutes away. But I settled on Rotterdam which offers a full IFR service and where the local flying club has arranged to cover handling at reasonable cost. (The total price for landing and parking for 3 days was about 100 Euros.)
The Vlieclub Rotterdam have a webpage to apply for landing permission. An email came back about an hour later accepting my request. I was advised to bring two printed copies of their General Declaration form (crew and passenger passport details). I planned the route using Autorouter and submitted the flight plans and UK GAR directly through it. With storm Abigail having just gone through, the weather was my greatest concern but wind was forecast to be 12 knots down the runway at my destination, with cloud tops at most 8000 feet (so no concerns about freezing). The wind at 10,000 feet was extremely favourable, over 50 knots tailwind.
I pondered about which alternates to list and selected Lelystadt and Antwerp. I phoned Lelystadt to check if I need to advise for PPR (their airport notes warn that customs needs 3 hours prior notice). I was told no notice needed – customs doesn’t refer to immigration (as is often confused). My research also found that while Lelystadt is generally VFR, there is capacity for a limited number of IFR flights (it has an NDB/DME procedure which must be flown in full). These are by prior permission only, with slots of 20 minutes allocated and available only after sunset but before closing. I understand ILS and RNAV procedures will be implemented by 2018 as part of the airport’s commercial expansion program.
With full fuel loaded, I was cleared to depart routing to join level at FL100 at MALBY. Gloucester asked if I thought I could reach FL100 on a direct track and granted my request to turn north first and recross overhead at 4000 feet. Knowing that I was pretty unlikely to fly the route filed, I only entered MALBY and Rotterdam into the GTN650 flight plan, intending to add further waypoints as required once airborne.
Once airborne, Approach gave me a procedural service and there were a couple of altitude checks to ensure deconfliction with other aircraft on frequency. The cloud layer was between about 4500 and 6500 feet and fairly quickly passed through into bright sunshine. At FL60 I was handed over to London – squawk ident…. identified… – who first cleared me to enter in the climb up to FL130. When I noted “negative oxygen” this was quickly revised to FL100. Even better, after a few minutes I was given a direct to Westcott (WCO) with a deconfliction service outside controlled airspace well before reaching MALBY. I confess I got distracted looking up the three letter code for Westcott (I did recall it being east of Oxford having spent plenty of time practicing holds there in the past), which meant I overlooked passing through FL100 by a couple of hundred feet. Fortunately, I was still outside controlled airspace at that point.
Breaching the 200 knot barrier
By this time I was fairly whizzing along in the sunshine well above the cloud tops. The thinner air meant my indicated airspeed of around 130 knots translated to a true airspeed of over 150 knots. Add in that 52 knot tailwind and I was well over a 200 knot groundspeed as I entered controlled airspace. Skydemon logged my peak groundspeed at 218 knots. Wow! A new speed record for me and at this rate, I’d be there in no time. Just before Westcott I was handed over and given a direct to Clacton (already on my flightplan so easily found).
After Clacton, I was given a direct to MASLO. I saw relatively few other aircraft but saw a couple of airliners climbing out. Through the odd hole in the clouds, I saw Stansted and coasting out near Clacton. The flight time over the north sea was less than 30 minutes, being handed over to Amsterdam about half way. I struggled to pick up the Rotterdam ATIS (broadcast over their VOR channel) because the main radio channel was very busy. What concerned me was the number of times the ATIS was revised and the high and variable reported winds. Anything between about 230 and 280 gusting between 14 and 34 knots.
A complex approach
I was thinking that the visual landing would be the most challenging part of the flight. I reported having information Uniform but it was already out of date by two revisions. They gave me a direct to RTM (Rotterdam). Just as I was thinking of asking for an initial descent, this was instructed to FL60, then to FL45 (the transition level), and later to 3000 feet. I was told to expect vectors for the ILS runway 24 which I’d planned for. Entering the clouds at about 5000 feet, I was surprised to be able to see the ground intermittently at about 3000 but that didn’t last. The ATIS had reported “light drizzle” but I think the Dutch have almost as many words to describe rain as the Eskimos have for snow. It was certainly wet and windy, but surprisingly not turbulent.
I had the GTN650 set up for a vectored ILS and checked the frequency matched the chart, with the second VOR receiver and DME also manually setup and cross checked. It was all going swimmingly well until I realised that the glideslope wasn’t showing as expected. I double checked that that CDI was set to VLOC mode (and not GPS), a mistake I’ve made in the past, but it wasn’t that. Seeing that I was established on the localiser, Approach handed me over to tower but I confessed I didn’t have the glideslope indication and wasn’t able to descend. These weren’t conditions to bluff your way through by making an unplanned localiser only approach.
Around for a second attempt
The controller was reassuringly professional and suggested that perhaps I might have set the wrong frequency – there is a co-located VOR/DME which I’d used instead. (Tip: VOR frequencies have an even first digit after the decimal point, where ILS have an odd one). Entering the correct ILS frequency immediately resolved the issue, and the approach controller helpfully re-vectored me around for a second attempt. The public (government) approach plate I’d studied the night before had the ILS frequency tucked away in a corner, unlike the standard and clearly understood Jeppesen plates. This might be why my IR instructor strongly prefers them, although I baulk at the cost when used only a handful of times per year.
The powerful runway lights were clearly visible as I popped out of the clouds a couple of miles out – the ATIS reported cloudbase was lower that I found, but conditions were changing frequently.
On short final, there was a VFR training aircraft downwind who couldn’t see me although I could see him – probably because I’d turned off the strobes when in cloud – which the tower instructed to orbit for spacing. After all that, the landing itself was a non-event. The tower instructed me to exit next left (at Victor 3) where there was a follow-me vehicle that guided me down the remarkably narrow looking taxiway Lima into the flight club parking area. Someone came out in the rain to ask me to manually push back into a parking bay since I was staying for a few days.
A wet Airport Apron
Border police welcomed me as I entered the flight club and dealt with the formalities. I gave them both copies of the General Declaration that you are advised to print out beforehand, later finding that the club also require a copy (hint, take 3 copies next time and sign one). The club room is modern, friendly and serves a range of snacks although was sold out of the speciality Applecake and cream. The “Vlieclub” gave all the impression of being healthy, lively and fun – good to see and I’m sure must be heartily supported by the airport management.
Autorouter’s flight tracker was very reassuring for those at home who could track my progress. FlightRadar24 was even more detailed, showing my go-around in full technicolour. As you can see, the actual route flown was almost direct – much better than as filed, and NATS controllers accommodated the flight much more efficiently than in some of my previous airways flights.
I took public transport to Amsterdam which cost about £10 and took 90 minutes. Travel from Lelystad would have taken a similar time. The website 9292.nl is very useful for route options. The OV chip card (similar to London’s Oystercard and many others) makes travel on buses, metro and train seamless. Just ensure you have 20 Euros loaded before embarking on a train…
A wet and dark return leg
It was a wet and dull day when I returned to the airport a few days later.
The weather had been very windy and stormy during the days of my trip, but looked quite feasible for flying home. I had filed for 15:00UTC (so 4pm local). Gloucester normally closes at 19:30UTC and I expected the flighttime would be about 2:30, so I had up to two hours flexibility. I arrived at the airport in very good time at about 3pm, and got slightly damp preflighting and preparing for departure then returning to review the weather. Border police again came to check me out (another printed copy of the GenDec was useful) and didn’t really fully understand why I might choose not to depart if the weather wasn’t suitable.
It was still raining, sometimes fairly heavily, and the RainAlarm App showed the rainclouds would pass through in about an hour. I delayed departure by 45 minutes and chatted to a local instructor who had just made a short VFR flight without difficulty.
Departing into the twilight
It was getting dark by the time I taxied out to the runway and took off. I was given the REFSO1B departure as filed and an initial climb to FL50. As I entered the cloud, there was little turbulence and I concentrated on ensuring I was flying the correct track. Initial groundspeed in the climb was 65 knots, which increased to 85 in the cruise (Indicated airspeed was about 130). I was asked which Even flight level I wanted to cruise at, and replied FL100 (as filed). With such a strong headwind, perhaps I should have requested FL80 but in practice it would have made little difference.
It seemed to take an age to cross the North Sea – about an hour and a half – and I did recalculate my estimated landing time several times to check I wasn’t going to be arriving after Gloucester closed. I was handed over to London Control quite early – on first contact they asked where I was (about 20 miles east of REFSO and very much still in Dutch airspace). I had kept a careful eye on the icing situation and saw a thin layer starting to build, so descended to FL80. London expedited efficiently with a direct routing to Clacton, later to Brooklands Park and then direct to Gloucester. As I coasted in above Clacton it was reassuring to see the town lit up below me. I was between cloud layers and there was a little icing on the wings – outside temp was about -4C which is when icing can start to build up. A quick squirt of prop de-icer reassured me by not resulting in a sudden blast of ice lumps on the windscreen. I suspected there was some icing on the windscreen but couldn’t tell in the dark.
The clear night view of London as I overflew Stansted and Luton was stunning. This time I could easily identify many commercial aircraft around me, accompanied by the voice of a busy controller firing out a constant stream of instructions. I was now achieving a a groundspeed of 95 knots but it took another half an hour before I sped up to more like 110 closer to home. The flight averaged 94 knots overall.
The photos below really don’t do the view justice.
The controller let me continue on my current heading and then decided to let me route “own navigation” direct to Gloucester, pretty much maintaining my current track. I was handed over to Brize Zone for a traffic service on exiting controlled airspace – somewhat unusual and very much appreciated since Brize LARS service closes after 5pm. They also co-ordinated my straight in ILS approach request with Gloucester, making it a seamless and straightforward arrival sequence.
On taxying back to the hangar, I was welcomed by the pleasant sight of my co-owner Rich who had kindly opened up the doors and marshalled me to a stop – perhaps we should invest in some bright yellow marshalling sticks for such occasions. The cover was so wet that water poured out of its bag as we pulled it out to hang up and dry.
A debrief in the flight club with an Indian take-away was a good way to wind down after what was quite a challenging flight.
I uploaded a compressed video of the outbound flight (8x realtime, music audio only) which you can view below. Although the altitude shown is correct, the groundspeed is very erratic and certainly didn’t capture my 218knot speed record.
Flight durations: 1:50 outbound; 2:50 return (of which all after sunset)
Total PIC: 325:20
Total Time: 459:30