2020 has not been a great year for my personal flying. My company was – and still is – affected by the global travel restrictions of the Corona pandemic and I have been a bit reluctant to go out and fly. As a result I am very rusty. On paper (my last log entry is 10 months old) and also in my head.
Private pilots have do do a check ride with an instructor every other year. Usually that is a pretty relaxed affair. An hour or so to make sure that the pilot has not developed too many bad habits. My Biannual check ride is due and for the first time, I did not fly the required number of hours in the 12 months prior to the check ride. That means that the check becomes a bit more formal and a bit more intense. It is now more about making sure that I have not forgotten too much.
I arrive at the flight school looking forward to flying as well as the obligatory coffee & gossip. I will be flying with an instructor I have not met before. We go through the preparations and he asks many questions to assess what I still remember and what I might have forgotten. I instantly like his quiet, methodical style.
Our chariot of fire today is “Foxtrot Mike”. A Cessna 152 from the 1970s. We both go way back. My first ever international trip was on “Fox Mike” as a navigator, before I even had my license. Later I did my night rating on her and the first trip with my wife to the coast was on “Fox Mike” as well.
We are getting her ready and talk about every step on the way. When we finally take to the skies, three three hours of intense flying begin. Navigation training, touch-and-goes, air work, emergency drills. The instructor lets me sweat like I have not sweated in an airplane in a long time. The training is hard work for me and much appreciated. When we are finally back at the home base, I am exhausted.
I am current again and I spent a great day in the air. But more flying on a regular basis still beats the crash course!
Visibility: about more than 10 miles, low hanging clouds
Wind: 260°, 4kts
Equipment: Cessna 152 (D-EMFM)
The weather has been variable all day. The sun has been busy chasing clouds away and whenever she was not looking, they threw a few rain showers into the mix. I have been eying them nervously. Rain tonight would be bad.
I arrive at the airport in the dusk. “Kilo Sierra” is being loaded on the apron as I walk by. “Fox Mike” is sitting next to her, waiting for me. I’m flying with Klaus this evening. I have not seen him since my light sports training and having him on my right seat is a pleasant surprise.
From the fall to the spring, the airport offers extended night operation hours once a month. I have started to train for the night VFR endorsement well over a year ago. Then I missed a season for my baby break and this winter has been grey and cloudy. Not great for night flying either. Today is the last chance of this season.
Fox Mike“ is a tiny Cessna 152 with minimal equipment. I like her and night VFR is legal with her, but she is pretty much as simple as it gets. The instrument panel is iluminated by a small red light mounted on the ceiling above my head. The radio is very basic and the single VOR receiver makes for very limited cross referencing capabilities. Quite a difference to the high tech ship “Alpha Hotel” that I have been flying recently. But that is all part of the training.
The plan for tonight is to pick-up where I have left off a year and a half ago. We go north to the Friedland VOR, then back to Finow for a bit of pattern work before we return home. I enjoy flying at night. The air is calm and the lights are magic.
Klaus has a hand held GPS in his lap. He is double checking my navigation and tells me stories to every single light on the ground. I have a feeling he does not really need the GPS. He has been flying in the area for a while.
The trip is pleasantly uneventful. On the way back we run into isolated rain showers. Since we did not see the clouds at night, we have to fly a pretty abrupt evasive maneuver. After all we don’t want to fly into the clouds. Almost immediately the controller comes on the radio to check on us. Nice to know we are being watched over.
We are almost abeam the airport before we spot the runway in Finow. I adjust speed and altitude on the down wind leg. When I turn final, I am still a bit high. For experienced pilots it is very hard to judge the height above the ground corectly at night. For this junior aviator it is almost impossible.
The runway has lights on the right and on the left. Some more lights at the end and a pretty big aray of lights at the threshold. For the approach we have a set of four lights to the left of the runway. This line forms the “Precision Approach Path Ilumination” (PAPI) – always helpful and crucial at night.
The papi lamps change their colour depending on the viewing angle. On my first approach I come in too high. All four lights are white. As I am adjusting my glide path, the right light becomes red, shortly after that the second light from the right also looks red too me. “Two red, two white – you’re alright”, I’m right on the glide path. Holding this rate of descent will take me to the runway.
At the end of the night I have enough hours for the rating. And I get why being current at night flying matters. Looking forward to the next trip after dusk already!
Visibility: about 2 miles
Wind: 290°, 4kts
Equipment: Cessna 152 (D-EMFM)
I have booked a small Cessna for this afternoon. The sky is grey, the ceiling is low. When I call the flight school around noon, they tell me to come later rather than sooner.
The airport is calm. A LSA is getting ready as I preflight my old friend „Fox Mike“. She is yellow and must have been pretty spiffy at some point. Memories of the Czech Republic and of the coast are connecting me with her.
The ceiling is very low today. But there is not a clear cloud base. The haze is just getting thicker with altitude. These are very dangerous conditions for VFR pilots. It is very easy to loose sight of the ground.
I climb out to the east and set course 080 direction EDON. The weather to the east is a bit better. After a few touch & go’s, I feel right at home with „Fox Mike“ again.
I don’t see much improvement. So I leave the pattern to the south and do some quick navigation training with the FWE VOR. Before long I have reached my way point and change my course back to EDAY.The GPS is on and I enjoy knowing it is there as a back-up. But I don’t need it.
Back at EDAY I see the runway when I am about 2 miles away. This is legal but on a day like today I would not feel comfortable flying somewhere new.
Visibility: about 5 kilometers
ceiling: inversion with clouds at about 3.000 feet
GAFOR: “C” clear skies!
Wind: 240, 20 knots
Location: EDAY (Strausberg)
Equipment: “Foxtrot Mike” (Cessna 152)
One of the great things about being a pilot is the ability to go places. The term “day trip” gets a whole new meaning.
Sunday in late September. The morning is a bit hazy but promises to be nice. The kid is with the grand parents, the wife is with the pilot. The island of Usedom is the goal for the day. We will meet up with friends there who also travel by air.
The visibility is not great but we climb “on top”. Here, above the clouds, we enjoy the sun and the calm air.
Never trust the fuel gauge
When we arrive, our friends are there already. We start talking about each others ride. His flying club’s Cessna 172 is from the 90s – practically new in general aviation terms.
There are bikes available at the airport and we ride to the near by town. Fish for lunch and chatting in the sun. Time flies and before we know it, the afternoon is over.
Climbing out of Peenemünde
On the way back, we climb to FL65. Visibility is still not great, especially as we are flying towards the sun now. But spirits are high and we enjoy the rest of our pick nick. Sure beats airline food.
Back at home
Back at home the sun is hanging low already. The shadows are long and the day on the beach comes to an end. We have some of the days fresh catch with us for dinner. A very nice conclusion to a very nice day.
To be continued…
(originally posted on September 17, 2012 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/day-trip-to-the-beach/)
Visibility: about 8 kilometers under a blue sky (inversion)
QNH: 1022 hPa
Equipment: Cessna 152 (D-EMFM)
A friend of mine is collecting hours for his commercial pilots license. In order to do so, he is taking trips. And he asked me if I wanted to come with him!
Friday morning, we meet at the airport, he is here by motorbike. The weather is good. A bit of haze below a blue sky (inversion). We take our time to prepare the flight. It is about the learning experience and we are in no hurry. I am going to be the navigator. I take a copy of the flight plan and fold the map so that it will be easy to turn pages in the confined space of the cockpit.
We are flying to Jihlava in the Czech Republic today. My friends brother is working there.
The flight will be about two and a half hours. We will head south via the cities of Cottbus and Görlitz were we will cross into Polish airspace. After about ten miles we will cross another border into the Bohemia region of the Czech Republic. We will fly over the city of Liberec in the western foothills of the Riesengebirge mountains.
Our course continues south and lets us pass the capital city to Prague at a safe distance to the right. Jihlava is a mid size industrial town, about 130 kilometers south east of Praque. The airfield is small and does not have a paved runway. It could be a challenge to find it.
After preparing the route and submitting our flight plan, we go out to the aircraft. “Foxtrot Mike”, a yellow Cessna 152 is going to be our ship for the trip. I do the outside check while my friend gets his GPS ready as a back-up.
We take off to the west. Before we can climb over the misty weather, we have to clear the controlled airspace of the near by international airport. We go south and navigate by the lakes and highways and eventually start climbing. The inversion is higher than we thought but nothing keeps us from going higher. So we climb all the way to flight level 75 or almost 2.5 kilometers (7500 feet). This is the highest I have been in a small aircraft. The sun is shining up here, we are playing with the clouds and the air is silky smooth.
Air traffic control
We are flying Visual Flight Rule (VFR) in uncontrolled airspace. But it is still a good idea to use the flight following service. We call the “Flight Information Service” on the radio, tell them who we are, were we are traveling from and what our destination is. The controller provides assistance like warnings about approaching traffic as well as information about restricted air space and other security relevant information.
On todays trip we start with the controller in Bremen center. Before we cross the border to Poland, we are handed over to Munich center. They are able to clear us for the short cut through Polish air space (very convenient) and hand us over to Praha center right away.
The Czech controller is friendly, professional and not very busy. He gives us information about restricted air space (we are cleared to cross) and hands us to the controller of the military airport of Caslav, over which we would like to cross.
As we are in the airspace of Caslav, we listen to a military pilot with a technical problem. His gear did not deploy as it should. First he performs a low pass to give the tower a chance to visually inspect his gear. Then he goes around and lands. I can see him touch down successfully and I see the fire trucks that had been waiting next to the runway. Very intense experience.
Caslav is close to our destination. And before long, we see a town that can only be Jihlava. The airfield is not far from the highway and much easier to find than we had feared. We fly over the airfield once to get an idea of the area and then my friend lands the little Cessna on the grass strip. What a trip!
The Czech people are known for uncomplicated hospitality and an appreciation for all things technical. We are greeted by friendly aviators and everything is easy at the small airport.
There and back again
The next day starts with a quick breakfast at the local bakery. No coffee as we are planning our trip without potty break. At the airport we are submitting our flight plan. We say good bye to our friendly hosts and take off. The weather is similar to the previous day and we climb up to 8500 feet today. We both like the high altitude. The world looks calm and quite and being up with the clouds is a spectacular feeling.
Of course we are highly concentrated but we are also more confident than yesterday. We know that the controllers are friendly and the navigation is doable.
About an hour before our destination, we are over the Lausitz region of Germany. There is a lot of open-cast mining in this area. The ground looks like the moon, a very sad sight. We are both looking at the map and confirming our position as the engine suddenly changes its pitch. That grabs our attention!
The RMP have dropped by 200 and they do not come back with more gas. We diagnose the problem as carburetor icing and I pull the leaver for the carburetor heating. After a few seconds, the RPM start going back up and the engine sounds normal again.
We have fixed the problem but we are still alarmed. So we sink to a lower altitude with warmer air.
Not so long after our icing experience, we have to begin our decent into our destination. We are welcomed back by the flight instructor. He is eager to hear how our trip was. When we tell him about the carburetor icing he looks at us with a blank expression. He explains that of course we have to use the carburetor heating in regular intervals at these altitudes. Had he told us before, we would have been less shocked. But neither one of us will ever forget this experience!
To be continued…
(originally posted on April 3, 2012 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/international-flying/)