The EuroGA Forum organised a fly-in to Roskilde near Copenhagen which my co-owner Rich and I decided to attend. We took Friday and Monday off work to make this a full four day tour. I suggested a route-plan of Gloucester-Antwerp-Groningen-Roskilde-Rendsburg-Bremen-Texel-Gloucester which was what we ended up flying. Rendsburg was included because it has the cheapest fuel in the area; Antwerp and Texel would be our border control entry/exit points for Schengen – no passport checks are required once inside the area, only flight plans when crossing international boundaries.
Since this would involve some long airways legs, I arranged to borrow a portable oxygen set to see how useful that was. Rich hadn’t flown with one before. I booked hotels with short cancellation periods in case our plans changed due to weather or technical issues.
Gloucester to Antwerp
Rich flew the first leg almost entirely VMC above cloud. We got a departure clearance into controlled airspace via BADIM, quickly revised to MALBY once airborne. The filed routing takes you directly over London on the Lima 9 airway, but as usual we were vectored with headings around the south of Gatwick. We arrived into Antwerp with a vectored ILS and were directed to the self-parking GA apron. The immigration police checked our passports thoroughly, and confirmed that we didn’t need to speak to them before departing to Netherlands. The landing fee was paid at the office next door.
We had lunch in the main passenger terminal cafe which was very pleasant, then walked through the normal security channel before being shown out a side door onto the apron.
Antwerp to Groningen
My turn to fly and this would be a standard instrument departure procedure (SID), which I’ve very rarely flown. We briefed this on the plate, and although this would be flown under control of the GTN650 we also tuned in the relevant ground aids where possible. Our departure clearance was to our destination, as filed, including the SONDI4C departure procedure.
I was glad to have Rich keeping an eye on activity and providing useful advice about weather, especially which clouds to avoid. We received higher altitude clearances from approach control once airborne. The routing was pretty much direct, talking to Dutch Mill. I had filed for FL40 but requested FL60 and later FL80 to keep out of cloud layer. We wanted to be able to see any CBs in the area.
As we approached Groningen, Approach asked us if we wanted a shorter track for our vectored ILS or a normal one. I preferred the normal routing since this was unfamiliar territory. Another aircraft reported a storm cell to the north of the airfield which we could see and we were turned onto intercept just before we reached it.
This is a friendly regional airport with GA parking very conveniently next the tower. We took on some fuel (not inexpensively) and a marshaller positioned us for parking. Access to/from the apron was quite easy and accessible. A frequent direct bus service from the front of the terminal took us into town, although there were also plenty of cabs.
This University city in the north of the Netherlands has a fair bit of history and plenty of charming buildings. Our hotel had the typical steep and narrow staircases. There was a funfair in town, plenty of street life. Trip Advisor suggested an excellent Italian Restaurant for us to discuss our plans for the next day.
Groningen to Roskilde
Rich flew us direct to Roskilde on Saturday morning, with an IFR flight plan and almost direct routing. We again flew a SID, this one with fewer ground aids to track, and were quickly handed over to Bremen Control (in Germany). It was good not having to worry about whether danger areas are active or not, that’s just quietly taken care of by ATC when on an IFR flight plan. We didn’t climb that high. Roskilde Approach vectored us nicely into position for the ILS, with the only glitch being the DME dropping out a couple of times until about 6 miles out.
Roskilde is a very active GA airport for Copenhagen, supporting all types of GA traffic. It has an active aeroclub, plenty of hangarage for private aircraft and handles around 80,000 movements/year. The chairman of the aeroclub met us and drove us to the local railway station in town. That’s the one disadvantage of the place – there isn’t much public transport (the nearest bus stop is over a mile away). Once at the station, trains to Copenhagen take about 20 minutes and run every 20 minutes,
It’s quite a nice city. Boat tours are very popular, very low and wide to fit under the low bridges.
A local advised us not to visit in the winter – its pretty cold and windy.
You can also take the train to Sweden – Malmo is only about 30 minutes away.
We had dinner with about 30 other pilots who had flown in from various countries – everywhere from Croatia to Sweden. I met some Dutch pilots of which one was about to take his IR skill test at Lelystad. We shared some stories of our travels and discussed some of the problems of aircraft operation. Many thanks to the local pilots who had hosted us and chosen/booked the restaurant etc. Some stayed on for a day or two, while we only spent the night there.
Roskilde to Rundsberg
A tip-off that there was cheap fuel at a small local airport in Germany close to our planned route was too much to miss. This would be a convenient lunch stop on our way to Bremen.
We took onboard a little more fuel before departure to ensure we had plenty of reserves for our trip (it was cheaper here than in Holland). I had filed IFR but only at FL40 with a view that we could ask for higher if required.
After departure, Roskilde Tower kept us for much longer than I expected before handing us over to Copenhagen Control. We were then in Class E (so a mix of VFR and IFR traffic). I don’t think we were ever outside glide range over water between the islands.
Approaching our destination, I cancelled IFR and descended on track. Our first radio calls got no answer, probably because we were English, but a different voice told us the runway in use and pressure setting. This was an air/ground radio service rather than AFIS or ATC.
With no other traffic on frequency, I planned a straight in approach, self announcing at several points. It is strange not getting a landing clearance (even the “land at your discretion” that an AFIS provides). We taxied around taking slightly the wrong route before filling up with over 200 litres.
Lunch was very enjoyable outside in the sunshine, talking to the three Dutch pilots we had met the previous evening and who had taken a similar route home. They had hired a PA28 dry (ie not including fuel) so were enjoying the lower price too.
Rundsberg to Bremen
I had not really considered submitting a flight plan for the short 30 minute flight into Bremen, but Rich was keen we do this. For one thing it does mean you can fly IFR (where the choice to do so isn’t as flexible as we have in the UK). For another, it meant we were more likely to get an IFR approach into Bremen itself. The radio operator at Rendsburg said she would open our flight plan after departure, and when we contacted Bremen Approach they seemed to know about us.
Although the ATIS said to expect vectors for the ILS, I requested and was granted an RNAV. This is one of the very few LPV200 approaches in Europe, with a decision height of 200 feet (the AIP plate states an OCH of 145 feet but you have to round up to the system minima). I was offered the choice between procedural (self positioned) or vectored, and took the latter. This meant I could activate the approach when some 40 miles out. The LPV annunciator came on immediately. The autopilot flew the headings as directed by ATC, intercepting and tracking the inbound leg then the glideslope with little input from me.
After switching to ground frequency on landing, we were directed to a follow-me car and marshalled onto parking, then ferried to the pilot exit gate.
Bremen is the “city of trams”, so you can either take one directly into town (every 20 minutes) or hop in a taxi.
Again our budget hotel was in the city centre. We walked around the older parts of town, enjoyed some of the local cuisine (and a beer or two) before retiring early.
Bremen to Texel
Rich’s turn to fly this relatively short leg. The reported weather prior to departure sounded much worse than it was, with cloudbase of 300 feet. In practice this was a mist layer clearing and we found little visibility problems throughout. Again a SID departure procedure (we’re getting good at these). The clearance from ground was as published, with a 4000 feet maximum. As we taxied to the hold, this was revised to 3000 feet. After take-off, approach re-cleared us to FL60.
We weren’t entirely sure how much we would have to deviate to keep south of the Danger Areas to the west of Groningen. As we passed abeam, we were cleared direct (which would take us south of them), and subsequently told they weren’t active until later in the day. Rich kept an eye on when he’d like to descend, so as not to leave it too late. As we crossed the coast, we were talking to Dutch Mil when he cancelled IFR and switched to Texel Radio. There was no other traffic to affect us, so we joined left base for a straightforward VFR arrival.
The cafe was closed, but the welcome from the airfield manager was flawless. He even made a fresh pot of coffee for us and left us in the briefing room with free Wi-Fi to check the weather. We had already considered making this a short stop so had already bought sandwiches.
As I walked out to the aircraft to conduct pre-flight checks, a man came up to me and explained he was from the Dutch authorities and would like to inspect my documents. This wasn’t the immigration police, but a different department. I was being ramp checked for the first time. It was all very polite and efficient. I had my pilot licence and medical (and passport) with me, and got the aircraft document folder from the aircraft. We sat down in the airport office and went through them, found they were all in order (although he did comment that the ARC was due to expire in a couple of weeks), then wished me a good flight. I guess if the documents hadn’t been in order, then that might have been another story. There was no physical check of the aircraft itself or the equipment we carried.
I would encourage any private pilots planning to venture abroad to ensure they have personally checked that their own and aircraft documentation is all in order prior to departure – don’t rely on anyone else to do this.
Texel to Gloucester
We had expedited the return because of some impending weather coming in from the West. A warm front would reduce visibility. Since this was a VFR flight plan, we had to remain below FL55 until clear of Dutch airspace. Amsterdam Information suggested we stick at FL40 which kept us VMC. On reaching the FIR boundary, we were handed over the Anglian Radar, given a traffic service but told this would only be available up to FL60. Higher than that would mean changing to London Information with a Basic Service only. FL60 suited us, kept us out of cloud (mostly) and below the freezing level.
Anglian handed us over to Norwich Approach, then seamlessly over to Lakenheath Radar. When exiting their area, it’s a snappy “Squawk VFR, Frequency Change Approved” and you are on your own. I spoke to London Information and was one of only two aircraft in the whole country (the other almost in Scotland) using their service – it wasn’t the weather for much private activity.
I asked Gloucester for a self-positioned or radar vectored ILS and was told to report at 10 miles with localiser established. The was a strong crosswind and I was offered runway 22, but thought 27 would be more convenient. The cloudbase was reported at 1200 feet on the ATIS. It was fairly convective prior to descending on the glideslope and the autopilot kicked off, which always happens when you least expect it. When we popped out of the cloud it was still quite bumpy, so a circle to land on 22 seemed like a good idea. This was quickly approved with a revised landing clearance.
We flew almost exactly the same amount each on the trip overall, around five hours airborne time. A great expedition and I learnt (and remembered) a lot about IFR procedures. Rich passed on a lot of useful practical knowledge about interpreting weather and cloud patterns, and we both revised our knowledge on instrument departures.
Total time flown this trip: 6:10
Total PIC: 473:50
Total Time: 612:15