I seem to be quite busy instructing these days which more than satisfies my demand to keep airborne, but also remain keen to continue with some touring around Europe in my shared TB20. My wife and I booked a couple of weeks off at the beginning of May, and I confirmed that my co-owners had no problems with me taking the plane away for that time. I had developed Plans A, B, C and D in different directions to cater for almost every weather option, so we could just fly to wherever there was good weather.
Plan A was quite an ambitious tour of the Nordic and Baltic countries, taking in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia, and I was really pleased when the forecast indicated it would be possible. A high parked over the Baltic sea made it look like we would have blue skies and sunshine most of the time. Quite a change from the recent dreary rain and mist in England. We were able to fly most of the plan but had to miss out Norway due to bad weather, and we had a fairly major diversion through Lithuania and Poland because much of south-east Swedish airspace was closed for military exercises for a month.
Gloucester to Texel, Netherlands
Our first overnight stop would be Wilhelmshaven in northern Germany. We last visited our friends there ten years ago on my first European tour in the TB20. As before, we stopped in Texel (a small island in the north west of the Netherlands) for lunch and to enter the Schengen zone. The rules have changed since my last visit here, and our passports must now be physically inspected and stamped by immigration officers to check we are not outlasting our stay in the EU. This remains possible in Texel, with two officers taking the ferry over from the mainland and driving up from Den Helder. I used the free gendec.eu website to submit the required GAR forms to both UK and Dutch authorities, and copied the special REMARK text into my flight plan so they could be linked and allow Dutch border officials to check our progress. I chose to fly VFR at 5,000 feet and then at FL50 in Dutch airspace, which kept me high enough to avoid any cloud and in smooth air, but below controlled airspace above.
It was a bit hazy on departure from Gloucester, so I requested a Traffic service from Brize and then switched to London Information around Daventry. They asked where I would coast out and noted that parachute dropping was active at Charteris and Beccles. I didn’t speak to them again until crossing the FIR boundary into Dutch airspace.
Amsterdam Information identified me and asked me to fly at FL50 – their transition level was FL40 and today’s high pressure required a short climb. The FISO also asked if I was aware of the TMA altitude ahead – this always causes a small amount of consternation about whether you’ve missed something. In fact the 1,500 ft upper limit only takes effect at the Texel shoreline – other restrictions did not apply because it was the weekend. Switching to Texel in good time, I was asked to report at point Charlie for a straight in to runway 03.
The approach description asks you to remain at 1,500 feet until in the circuit, while the TMA starts at 1,500 feet, so you have to be fairly accurate with your altitude monitoring. There was another aircraft downwind in the circuit, and he orbited until he had me in sight then followed. It was very easy to pick out the runway ahead, compared with a downwind join where the grass runway just melds into the other grass and crop fields on the island.
As always, Texel is a delight to visit and even more so on a sunny day. The border officers walked out to meet us as we shut down and quickly dealt with the formalities. The parachute school was very active with drops, and it was fun to watch that from the restaurant during our lunch.
Texel to Wilhelmshaven
During the weekend, the danger areas are inactive so it’s quite easy to fly north and then east, passing close by the Friesan islands. These are spectacular on a sunny day, with glorious wide sandy beaches, compact settlements and narrow deeper channels for the ferry traffic. There are bird sanctuary areas lower down, so I flew around 2,500 to 3,000 feet between the mainland and islands soaking up the views, with a simple Flight Information service from Dutch Mil.
Germany has RMZs (Radio Mandatory Zones), which are similar to the Listening Squawks found in the UK. The difference being that you are strongly encouraged if not obliged to tune in and squawk when inside a zone, actively switching from the regional Flight Information service. I remained outside and stuck with Langen Information.
While I could have taken a shortcut, I flew down the main estuary and approached Wilhelmshaven from the east. The tower mentioned there was one other aircraft in the circuit, and I joined late downwind and followed him in. The circuit height is only 800 feet and there are some noise abatement villages to avoid, but really it couldn’t be much easier. I was able to vacate at the first exit and taxi to the pumps to refuel. Our AirBP card was accepted although you can pay by card at the tower. I tried out the Aerops App here, which allows you to pay for your landing fees quickly and easily (and also for fuel here too), avoiding the need to climb up to the top of the tower.
Our timing was very good, because our friends arrived just as we had finished extracting our luggage and putting the covers on. It was so nice to see them again after such a long time (ten years), but we quickly caught up and had a very enjoyable evening and short tour of the area the next morning. It would appear that many Germans feel their politics are quite dysfunctional at the moment, just as we do in the UK, but they are rectifying some oversights very quickly. For example, Wilhelmshaven can now import liquid gas using a new terminal built in record time, and there are many roadworks in progress to repair and rebuild old road bridges. There are staff shortages in the hospitality and old people’s care industries after COVID, but their quality of life looked good to me especially considering the lower cost of housing in this part of the country.
PIC time today: 3:10
Total PIC: 2024:40
Total TIme: 2256:55