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Hello LISA

Hello LISA

Visibility: about 10k
Temperature: 31°C
Wind: 050°, 5 knots
QNH: 1009 hPa
Location: EDAZ (Schönhagen)
Equipment: „Lisa“, N9920U Grumman AA-5A “Cheetah”

I have not spent as much time with „Lisa“ as I would have liked. She is one of the airplanes of the „Pilot & Flugzeug“ magazine and she is available for readers to rent.

Last summer I got checked out on her and later that year I took her on a little trip to Dessau. But over the winter we did not have a chance to fly together.

Today I have a great excuse. I am taking a friend on a trip over the Big City. We have wanted to do this for a long time and today is the day.


I arrive at the airport early. I want to have time to practice on my own before I take passengers. After my „baby break“ that seems like a good idea. I have refreshed my memory about „Lisa’s“ vital stats (speeds and limitations) and I flew as co pilot on her only a few days ago. I am looking forward to some one-on-one time with her.

„Lisa“ is waiting for me outside the hangar. I do a slow and thorough pre-flight check before I fire the engine up. It has been replaced very recently and starts up at once. Taxiing is a bit of a challenge. „Lisa’s“ front wheel is free swinging and ground steering is accomplished by differential breaking of the main wheels. This strange method makes for some swinging around the center line before I get used to it again.

On the runway I push the throttle all the way forward. „Lisa“ is not a sprinter but the runway is long. Once airborne, It does not take long to feel comfortable again. The Cheetah is a lot of fun and landing her is a dream. Because of the low wing configuration, there is a noticeable ground effect. When the wing gets close to the ground, the air flowing under it can not escape any more. An area of high pressure forms between the wing and the ground. The aircraft „floats“ on this cushion and lands very softly.

Approach to EDAZ

I do a bit of pattern work to loosen up. Then I’m off to the Big City. I want to do a „dress rehearsal“ of the whole trip. I dial in the tower frequency for the international airport. The controllers are also responsible for the sectors of controlled airspace I want to cross. I call and state who I am, where I am and what my intentions are. As always, I am a bit nervous initially. Luckily that dissipates quickly in the routine of the exchange. The controller is friendly and the trip over the city is a real treat.

Waiting for the passengers

Back at EDAZ I wait for my passengers. I have about half an hour and after initial impatience, I pace myself and enjoy the moment of down time before the concentration of a passenger flight.

My friends are full of anticipation and I explain the route for this evening. We go and everything works like a dream. We are cleared to cross midfield over the international airport and fly towards the city center. The view is great and the cameras are clicking.

Over the city

We have some more time and so we decide to take the long way home. A few miles south of the Big City is the largest freestanding building in the world. The former Cargolifter airship hangar is very impressive from the ground and even more impressive when circling it at 1.000 feet.

Cargolifter hangar

Back at EDAZ it is time for a beer. The local watering hole has a terrace overlooking the apron. We watch the last flights of the evening come in and life is good.

To be continued…

Back in the saddle again

Back in the saddle again

Visibility: CAVOK, more than 10k
Temperature: 29°C
Wind: 350°, 5 knots
QNH: 1022hPa
Location: EDAY
Equipment: D-MALJ (Rider MD3)

I am excited. Airplanes in the stomach and all. I know the route very well but I have not travelled it in almost a year.

The flight bag is next to me. I packed it last night. Took the license and log book, checked the batteries in the head set and threw out the old map. It has been outdated for a while.

I walk the short stretch from the train station over to the airport. A glider is soaring in big circles towards an impressive tower of cumulus. Coming closer, I count at least three airplanes in the pattern. The gorgeous weather seems to make for a busy morning.


I took a bit of a baby break and am so ground sick that it hurts. But this morning will tell if I still have what it takes.

I’m at the big flight school first for a coffee and a chat. I need to fly at least 12 hours until next February to stay current. Challenge accepted!

Next stop is the LSA flight school. I can not drink more coffee and I’m getting antsy. So as soon as the instructor and student come through the door, I am out to take possession of the aircraft. My old love „Lima Juliet“ will be the ship today. We go way back together. I passed my very first check ride with her, took her to the island of Rügen and impressed my friends with her.

Old friend

„Lima Juliet“ is comfortable like an old pair of shoes. I was a bit worried but we get along just fine. She is light and the thermal up draft from the fields is playing with her even at 2.000 feet.

We go over to Eggersdorf for some pattern work. My landings are very acceptable and I am glad. I try different flap settings and approaches and the landings are pretty consistent. Not all greasers, non real bad ones either. Glad to be back!

To be continued…

Navigation training

Navigation training

Winter is time for training. With low visibility and unpredictable weather, long trips in VFR are uncertain business. Staying on the ground is not an option, staying close to the airport is a compromise. I’m using the occasion for some navigation training. My plan today is a simple triangle to a near by VOR and back.

The air is cold and the plane is light. “Kilo Sierra” is eager to get of the ground.

The first leg is easy. I have dialed in the VORs frequency in the navigation radio. On the “Omni Bearing Indicator” (OBI), I turn the dial until the indicator needle moves into the center at around 140°. That is the course to the VOR.

03 Anflugkarte

The way is not very far and after about 15 minutes I am near the VOR. Directly over it, there is no reception. The NAV flag on the instrument comes up to indicate bad reception, so I know that I have reached the waypoint.

Now comes the second part. I turn the OBI to my new course, bank “Kilo Sierra” to the left and watch the directional giro turn slowly. The “to” flag on the OBI switches over to “from” and I am on my way. On this leg I don’t have a physical way point. I will request my bearing from the airport to determin the turning point.

I’m flying a triangle. From the airport I flew south-east to the VOR. From the VOR I’m flying north-east to my next way point. And from there I am planning to fly south-west, heading 230° for approach into runway 23. So my next turning point will be when my bearing to the airport is 230° (or a bit before as the airpane needs time to turn).

Todays flight is a training mission. I know the area and I have a pretty good idea of where I am. After the calculated time I see the town that is close to the mark on my map for the turning point. I start calling the airport “Delta Kilo Sierra, requesting QDM”.

“QDM” means the the magnetic heading from the aircraft to the airport. There are many “Q-codes”. Their origin is marine morse code, when brevity was key. The most common one for aviation is “QNH” which is the local atmospheric pressure calculated to mean sea level.

“270″ is the somewhat expected answer from the tower. I am 40° away from my desired course. After a few moments I ask again. “262″ is the instant reply. The radio operator at the airport has a large display for “QDM” and its counter part “QDR”, the magnetic heading from the station. With every transmission from an aircraft, the display lights up and shows the direction the aircraft is in. A very helpful tool for the small airport which does not have radar vectoring.

I am close to the airport so the degrees go fast. I decide to start my turn onto the desired course of 230°. When I am on course, I ask again for the “QDM” to confirm the heading. “226″, almost perfect.

Back on the ground I taxi to the apron and park “Kilo Sierra” next to another Cessna. An instructor I know is near by, his student is doing the pre flight. He smiles at me “I was wondering who it was requesting ‘QDM’ on a clear day like today”. I smile back “It was hard work trying not to see the airport from where I was”. The instructor looks at his student “Beautiful day for some navigation practice, don’t you think?”

To be continued…


(originally posted on March 13, 2014 by tilbo at

Flying with the jets

Flying with the jets

Visibility: CAVOC, more than 10k
Temperature: 23°C
Wind: 140°, 6 knots
QNH: 1028hPa
Location: EDFE (Egelsbach)
Equipment: D-EFRV Cessna 172P

There is a lot of moisture in the early morning air but the sun is bright and the day promises to be nice. I am on my way to EDFE, Egelsbach. The airfield is one of the busiest for general aviation in the country. What makes it more demanding than others is its proximity to the very busy Frankfurt International Airport and the fact that corporate jets and piston single trainers co-exist here.

I’m in the area for a few days and decide to take an introductory flight with a local flight instructor. Who knows, I might come back here by air some day and a head start can’t hurt. It has been since the fall that I last flew a 172. But when I sit down I feel right at home. The instructor goes through the check list with me, we start up and go. The airport is not hugh but even this early it is buzzing with activity. There is even a seperate radio frequency for the ground traffic. I have never seen that at an uncontrolled airfield.

A smart looking black citation jet is starting up next to us. It is right behind us on taxiway Alpha to runway 09. The controller asks us if we can take the last but one ramp onto the runway (Foxtrot) and let the much faster jet pass and take-off before us. We are more than happy to comply and enjoy the front row view of the sleek beauty roaring past us and taking to the skies.

Cap at 1.500 feet

The traffic pattern at Egelsbach is in a relatively small box of airspace that is cut out of the controlled airspace of Frankfurt International Airport. The approach is routed through a set of compulsory reporting points and the maximum altitude is a mere 1.500 feet. The field itself is at 385 feet, so there is not a lot of safety margin over a woody area with hills rising to the south. It feels tight in a Cessna and I have to salute the jet pilots making this approach.

We leave the Egelsbach-box via Echo, turn south-west to pass Kilo and approach again via Delta 1 & 2. The base leg into runway 09 is very close to the controlled airspace and the instructor makes very sure we do not penetrate it.

We repeat the exercise a few more times until I start feeling comfortable. It was a good idea to do this with a local instructor and I am looking forward to my next visit – flying!

To be continued…


(originally posted on July 19, 2013 by tilbo at

summer solstice

summer solstice

Visibility: light haze in the red dawn of the morning
Temperature: 16°C
Wind: 250°, 6 knots
QNH: 1021hPa
Location: EDAY (Strausberg)
Equipment: D-MALJ Rider MD3

The shortest night is one of the shortest nights for me. Last night we sat together at the BBQ telling stories about flights past, covertly glancing at the clock and not wanting to turn in just yet. The room in the pilots lounge is very comfortable. A shame that the bed will be used for a short nap only.

The morning is calm the breeze is gentle. The pilots are giddy like a bunch of school boys. The moment of truth is at 4 am. There is a draw for the honor of the first flight amongst the pilots. But then we find out that one of us has his birthday today. So he gets the first flight and the rest just finds buddies and airplanes.

Sunrise is at 4.43 am today, VFR flying is legal from sunrise -30 minutes. We are #3 aloft at 4.17 am (2.17 UTC for the log book). The morning is very calm and the flight is incredibly smooth. The sun is slowly coming up on the horizon when we turn back. There are other pilots waiting for their turn.

After touch down, we don’t taxi to apron but hand the aircraft over right there. A bunch of the others are by the side of the runway, chatting and taking pictures. Its quite a sight and I realize I have never walked on the pavement of the landing strip.

Breakfast is served at 6 am. We all have been up for hours and coffee and food is most appreciated. We conclude the morning with a group picture. On the way back, the roads are empty and I am home making coffee as the wife awakes.

Dear summer, I hope you stay for a long time after this welcome!

To be continued…


(originally posted on June 29, 2013 by tilbo at

Ferry flight

Ferry flight

Visibility: CAVOC, more than 10k
Temperature: 26°C
Wind: 250°, 30 knots
QNH: 1012hPa
Location: EDCE (Eggersdorf)
Equipment: D-MAKT – Flightdesign CT

Ferry pilots are the toughest breed of pilots. They master weather and distances in small aircraft with nothing but experience and intuition to guide them. Other pilots pay for their drinks just to sit with them and hear stories of marginal conditions over the north Atlantic, finding Cessna spare parts on a jungle airfield in the hinterlands of Brazil or bribing corrupt customs officials in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Today I join the ranks of this pilot elite. I will fly my first ferry flight, on my own, only man and machine. The route is not quite the north Atlantic crossing and I will not need additional ferry tanks. But every hero has to start somewhere.

My flying buddies rocket ship “Kilot Tango” has been at the maintenance shop for the annual inspection. He asked me to pick it up for him and fly it south to his work place. He gets the aircraft back, I get to fly for free!

The day starts with a train trip. I bought a folding bike and have yet to test its usefulness and see if it will actually fit into the aircraft. The airport is about 4 miles away from the train station, a good distance for a first test. It folds open quickly and the luggage is strapped securely onto it. Looks promising – and just a bit geeky. The morning is warm, the bike is single speed and I am happy that I picked a short distance for the test.

“Kilo Tango” is waiting for me at the airport already. The friendly technician walks me through the list of the maintenance items that they performed. Then comes the moment of truth: Will the bike fit on the passenger seat?

30 knots of head wind

The day is windy and the strong head wind that almost catapults Kilo Tango off the ground on take-off, will stay on the nose for the flight. The first part of the trip takes me on the scenic tour right over the Big City and through the controlled airspace of the international airport.

After I leave this crowded area behind, I try different altitudes to see if I find a layer with more favorable winds. Puffy white clouds are sunning themselves on a bed of blue. And I get to play with them up here! Unfortunately the head winds are consistent, I do not find a layer with less than 30 knots on the nose. I swear I see the time to destination counter on the GPS go up not down. But I took enough fuel and I brought music. So the spirits are high.

After a long flight, I wish the friendly controller a good evening and descend into the green hills below. Finding an airport can be difficult. The airport I am looking for is a hardly marked grass strip in the middle of fields. From above, the hangar building looks just like another barn. With the GPS I need two circles before I spot it. Without it, I’m not sure I would have found it at all.

The way home is by train again. The bike is folded up in the baggage compartment and while I have dinner, I look up at the clouds.

To be continued…


(originally posted on June 22, 2013 by tilbo at



Visibility: CAVOC, more than 10k
Temperature: 16°C
Wind: 250°, 6 knots
QNH: 1021hPa
Location: EDAZ (Schönhagen)
Equipment: N9920U Grumman AA-5A “Cheetah”

I read several magazines about aviation on a more or less regular basis. But there is one that I never miss an issue of: “Pilot und Flugzeug“. The magazine itself is in a small format and does not look as glossy as some. But the content is the best I have seen. A lot of it is over my head but I am inspired by it every month.

The other great thing about “Pilot und Flugzeug” is the fact that they operate three aircraft. Two are single engine four seaters and one is a pressurized turbine twin. And all of them are available for readers to use!

Today I will be checked out on “Lisa Berlin”. She is a Grumman AA-5A “Cheetah”. LISA is a light four seater, not unlike the Cessna 172 I have been flying. But her low wing configuration gives her a sleek look compared to the trusted but bulky Cessna. I have read the flight manual, passed a small online check-out, mailed copies of my license and the rental agreement to the publisher and today I get to meet LISA in person.


LISA is stationed at Schönhagen. A busy and well organized airfield south of the big city. I am early and a friendly clerk hands me log book and the keys. I have time for a walk around on my own.

When the friendly instructor arrives, we start with some formalities and ground school. Then follows the briefing in the aircraft. LISA was born in the 70s but has been equipped with modern avionics, including a Bendix KFD 840 “Primary Flight Display”. This integrated flight instrument requires some training before it is mastered.

Off we go

I’m ready for some action and so is LISA. The steering on the ground is done by differential breaking which requires practice. We take off and fly out of the pattern to do air work. As a low wing aircraft, LISA has a higher roll rate than the high wing Cessna, the climb qualities are similar.

We do a few turns, stalls, slow flight with flaps and without, and a basic introduction to the auto pilot. I like the little cat right away. She feels lighter on the controls than the Cessna and is still more stable than the agile but nervous Light Sport class.

After about half an hour of air work, we turn back to the airport for some landings. On to the next challenge!

Ground effect

I have almost no experience with low wing aircraft. Close to the ground, the flow of air under the wings can build up so that the aircraft “floats” on this waive. This “ground effect” is a much bigger factor in low wing aircraft, as the wings are much closer to the ground.

The instructor has told me to not worry too much and just cut the power a bit earlyer that I usually would. So I bring the engine to idle, flare and grease her to the ground. The stall horn chimes (as it should) and LISA sits down in the middle of the touch down zone. Wow, that was easy!

Beginners luck – the next two approaches are a bit bumpier. But all in all LISA handles well on approach and lands easily.

After an hour the instructor has seen enough. He signs my log book and I am officially qualified to fly PIC in the Grumman AA-5A. EDAZ has a nice restaurant with a terrace overlooking the apron. This is where I conclude the flying day with a large beverage on the table in front of me. I can’t wait for the next time I see LISA!

To be continued…


(originally posted on May 8, 2013 by tilbo at

Pipeline flying

Pipeline flying

Visibility: Clear in the north, less so in the south
Temperature: 15°C
Wind: 270°, 2 knots
QNH: 1015hPa
Location: Finow (EDAV)
Equipment: D-MAKT (FlightDesign CTLS)

My flying buddy has a day job. Part of that is aerial documentation of pipelines. On occasion I will go on a job with him. He gets to take better shots, I get to fly for free.

Todays construction site is more than two flight hours away. There is a mountain range about half way there and we are not sure if the weather on the other side is going to be good enough. So we make a quick stop for fuel and a weather update at one of the mountain airfields.

The spring sun has started to lift the clouds and burn-off the mist on the other side of the mountains. So we fuel-up and venture forward. The route of the pipeline plays with a highway, a train line and a river, all competing for space in the narrow valley.

We set flaps and trim the aircraft for slow speed. Then we sink to the legal limit into the valley. He opens the photo window and I follow the windy path of the pipeline as slowly as possible, always looking ahead for raising terrain. After a few moments I get used to the strange sensation and “Kilo Tango” almost feels like a helicopter.

After about half an hour we are done and the memory cards of the camera are full with the days work. We turn towards home and through a large hole, we climb above the clouds. The sun is bright and powerful up here and the air is smooth. On the way home we might even get a tan!

My friend has a long night of driving ahead of him. So he just jumps out and I take “Kilo Tango” to bed. She is stationed at an old military airfield now. The hangars were constructed as bunkers for the fighter jets of the cold war area. Now they are the safest space imaginable for a peace time photo ship.

To be continued…


(originally posted on April 30, 2013 by tilbo at

High-tech and sunshine

High-tech and sunshine

Visibility: CAVOC, more than 10k
Temperature: 2°C
Wind: 240°, 4 knots
QNH: 1022hPa
Location: Crussow
Equipment: D-MAKT (FlightDesign CTLS)

My flying buddy calls to tease me (“Just wanted you to know that the bird is out of the hangar”). The sky is blue and the sun is shining for the first time in weeks – and I have to work.

But there is flexibility in my job and I can swap with a colleague. The morning is mine, the roads are empty and the Bavarian straight six accommodates my eagerness to get to the airport.

I have not flown “Kilo Tango” since the fall. I am pretty rusty with her. So we plan to start the day with a bit of pattern work. After the first take-off however, she climbes out of the small pattern like a homesick angel*. So I reconsider and do some air work to loosen up.

After a bit of that, we approach the runway for a touch-and-go. The FlightDesign CT is aerodynamically very clean. She excelerates and climbes fast and it requires conciderable effort to slow her down. After pulling back the throttle, she keeps going for a long time. A big adjustment from the Cessnas I have been flying over the winter. Pulling the throttle on the 172 feels like throwing an anchor in comparison.

It takes six approaches before I have three decent touch-and-goes. I have to learn to be more ahead of the aircraft, plan the approch and fly very exact speeds and altitudes. There is not a lot of cheating possible.

Time for some flying

We climb to 4.000 feet and set course for an airfield we both have not been to. The sun warms our faces and the view is gorgeous. The snow on the fields has melted but most of the lakes are still frozen.

The air up here is smooth and I have time to get deeper into the glass cockpit. I read the manual of the Dynon D100 and D120 EFIS but it takes practice to make use of all the functions and information available.

What was science fiction 20 years ago can now be found in the cockpit of a light sport aircraft. On the main screen, I get attitude, altitude and speed at a glance together with the trends. Actual heading and planned course are displayed as well as the engine instruments. In addition to that I get wind direction and speed, angle of attack and outside air temperature. We live in great times.

On the way back we have kind of a quiet moment. A beautyful day, a great aircraft, a good friend and the freedom to just go and fly. What a sweet day!

To be continued…

*yet another term I borrowed from the greatly missed Captain Dave!


(originally posted on March 3, 2013 by tilbo at

O Airport Where Art Thou?

O Airport Where Art Thou?

Visibility: not great, about 3k
Temperature: -2°C
Wind: 070°, 7 knots
QNH: 1020hPa
Location: EDAZ (Schönhagen)
Equipment: D-EKKS (Cessna 172N)

My new license has arrived more than a week ago and is still unused. The sky has been gray for weeks and I am ground-sick. Today the clouds are slightly higher and there is only moderate snow in the forecast for the afternoon. So I am off to the airport to see what is possible.

The target for the day is EDAZ, Schönhagen. It is a nice airfield south of the big city and about 40 minutes away from the home base. I do a quick flight plan-gestimation and am off. The visibility is not great, the ceiling is at about 2500 feet. There are patches of blue visible every now and again.

The radio beacon in Fürstenwalde (FWE VOR) is my waypoint. I fly on its radial 250° towards Schönhagen. The ground is snow covered. Lakes are frozen, from above it is difficult to tell them from meadows. Navigation by ground reference is very limited.

I use radial 305° of the KLF VOR as cross reference. The airport should be at the intersection of the two radials. EDAZ is located north of a little village and surrounded by forrest. I watch the needle of the second VOR slowly move to the middle and start looking for the airport. I have drifted a bit to the south but how bad can it be, really.

When I think I should see the airfield any minute now, I call in and announce my location, altitude and intention. Runway 07 is in use, there is not much going on on the Schönhagen frequency.

A few more moments pass and I still don’t have the airport in sight. The KLF needle is in the center now and the FWE needle is about 2 degrees to the right. Not a big deal as I want to enter the traffic pattern from the south anyway. I look ahead and to the right and I can only see gray sky and white ground. I turn a bit to the north and keep looking. I don’t want to accidentally get too close to the traffic pattern. I watch for a runway and wrestle down a slight feeling of uneasiness.

A few more minutes pass. The needle of the KLF VOR has moved out of the center again. I start thinking about options. What if I don’t find the airport?

I have fuel for about three hours – no problem here
Engine instruments are looking good – no reason to worry
I can simply fly back to the FWE VOR and go back home from there – safe exit strategy
I don’t have to pee – no need to hurry

Aviate, navigate, communicate

My situation is annoying and a bit embarrassing but not dangerous. I am at a safe altitude and I have enough fuel. So I start checking my map for a good point of reference. I did not take the approach chart with me and I start regretting the hasty flight planning already, when I see a city in front of me. The only larger city close to the airport is Luckenwalde, about 5 miles south. Could I be off my course by so much?


I decide to follow the town to an intersection directly south of the airport and try to shoot straight up from there. I keep looking and before long I see the black of the runway through the mist. What a relieve!

I am one of only two guests at the airport restaurant in Schönhagen. I order a big glass of juice – my mouth is just a bit dry…

Incident investigation

Back home at my desk I try to figure out what went wrong. I start with my map. I gestimated a course of 250° from the FWE VOR to Schönhagen. The actual course should have been 252°, so that is a error of 2°.

Next I check the GPS log on CloudAhoy. From the VOR I flew a pretty straight line at first. Then, there is a slight change of course, about half way between the VOR and Schönhagen. Not much, maybe another 3° or 4°.

I am surprised to see how far this little deviation brought me from my course. How many miles does 5° translate to?

The distance from the VOR to Schönhagen is about 38 nautical miles. Remembering high school geometry, 2\pi x 38 miles gives me a circle of 239 miles. Divide that by 360 degrees and the distance per degree deviation in Schönhagen was about .66 NM.

So 5 lousy degrees – clearly within the margin of error of the junior aviator – translates into a miss of more than 3 nautical miles (3.5 statute miles or 5.5 kilometers)! Well beyond the visibility of the day.

Add the inaccuracy of the VOR indicator (the scale is analog and pretty approximate) and it becomes clear what has happened.

My Instructor smiles knowingly when I tell him the story. “Feels pretty bad if you can’t find the airport, doesn’t it?”

To be continued…


(originally posted on February 26, 2013 by tilbo at