Koblenz, Germany

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April 28, 2008

When Gordon Horscraft approached me in ‘The Squadron’ at North Weald Airfield several months ago and asked if the North Weald Flying Group would be interested in joining a couple of other aircraft on a weekend trip to Koblenz in Germany it only took a nano second for me to say ‘yes’, and thereby volunteered the group for our most ambitious fly out and overnight stop to date. It set into motion weeks of hard work and planning, most of which was thankfully done by Gordon who even prepared a very comprehensive briefing pack for each of the aircraft going. As expected the ever enthusiastic North Weald Flying Group – Fly Out – members quickly staked their claim to places. It was then a case as always, of getting the right mix of experience, body weights and sizes into our aircraft given the length and likely complexity of the trip.

 

As most of the group had not really ventured much further than the usual trips to Le Touquet or the Channel Islands when the charts of France/Belgium and Germany arrived and I saw the mass of controlled airspace, danger areas and high ground on the route, I did begin to wonder if we had taken on a little more than we were ready for. Staying in close contact with Gordon over the final couple of weeks and getting regular updates allayed some of the initial trepidation, as did the very well attended briefing evening at North Weald on the Wednesday before the trip. All we needed now were two days of good weather and we would be fine. The crews of nine North Weald based aircraft (four from the North Weald Flying Group) gathered at ‘The Squadron’ at 08.30 on the Saturday morning for the final weather update and brief.

 

The flight plans, customs forms and advance notices had all been filed the day before thanks to a great deal of assistance from Alan Couchman (who was a little upset that he wasn’t coming due to the North Weald Air Race). With a scene reminiscent of so many wartime flying films, it was to nervous laughter and banter that the crews donned their lifejackets for the Channel crossing and made their way to their respective aircraft clutching headsets, charts and bags. All we needed was a sad looking black Labrador standing at the door of North Weald’s Naafi and some appropriate music to complete the scene. The initial routing was to be via the Dover (DVR) VOR to Calais and clear customs there.
From Calais, the planned route to Koblenz was going to avoid the most congested airspaces and the numerous Danger Areas by tracking four VORs, (LEQ, GSY, LGE and NOR), although this still involved crossing four TMAs and CTRs, including hopefully being permitted to route through the overheads of three major regional airports, Lille, Charleroi and Liege. After Liege there was an option to cut the corner from Aachen direct to Koblenz, as opposed to flying to the Norvenich VOR and then routing SE. This short cut would be entirely weather dependant due to the high ground and numerous obstructions en-route. All of the participating aircraft were away from North Weald in a fifteen minute window between 09.35 and 09.50.

 

Although it wasn’t long before we heard the Cherokee Six G-OEVA turning back due to the loss of it’s ASI. (They did manage to get it fixed and joined us later that evening). Visibility once again was not the best with an average of about 10 miles, although this deteriorated quite dramatically as we approached the Channel. We were all with London Info and could hear the various aircraft coasting out at different heights. Changing at the FIR boundary and calling Calais Tower we were told to report crossing the coast and report the field in site. This was easier said than done as we couldn’t see the coast and no easy task whilst looking for the other aircraft, the whole area being covered in fast moving scattered grey cloud at 800-1000ft as well as the poor vizibility.

All got safely in with Alex Potter and girlfriend Vicky being last down with the puffing and wheezing C150 G-BRBH that had been battling against the brisk headwind. With not even a cup of coffee, let alone food available in the terminal building, landing fees and fuel bills were paid and at least there was a slightly brighter, if still hazy sky above us as we walked out for the next leg estimated at around 2.5 to 3hrs. We were soon all off and right turning out towards the Lille (LEQ) VOR. Apart from some minor difficulty in understanding the Lille controller and a couple of us being sent to frequencies only to be returned to the original, and in ‘NS’s’ case having warning of a twin at 12 o’clock as it flashed out of the haze and passed three hundred feet below us the transition through all of the three airports airspace and overheads was really quite straightforward with very helpful ATC.

 

Only ‘MM’ and ‘NS’ being routed slightly further south of Charleroi to avoid some inbound ILS traffic. One little experience to note when flying by GPS is don’t rely on it totally. Whilst in controlled airspace and at one of the highest workload times of the flight in relation to ATC etc my trusty Garmin suddenly bleeped and a large ‘?’ appeared in the screen together with the words ‘satellite reception lost’. Fortunately we already had the VORs/DME tuned in and set to the relevant radials with Kieran following the route on the chart, so we just reverted to the ‘old fashioned way’ of navigation without any dramas.

The problem was caused by the unit overheating on the top of the instrument cowling due to the very hot sun through the windshield, once it had cooled and was shaded by a map it was back to it’s normal self. We passed over the various towns and cities en-route whilst maintaining around the 3,500 ft mark with one controller actually instructing MM to ‘Just follow NS’ The weather improved the further west we went and at Aachen we turned right to cut the corner and soon the picturesque forest covered hills were coming up to meet us as were numerous gliders. At one point we counted ten in one towering column riding a thermal over the forests. Apparently there are more gliders in Germany than the rest of the world put together.

 

I think at least half were out that afternoon! Maintaining our height and heading we began to reach our destination. Having been directed to join left base for R/W 06 the airfield was very hard to see as it was obscured by a large wooded area. As it came into view however it was worth the wait, at 640ft amsl it sits on a plateau above the town of Winningen and the steep banks of the Mosel, absolutely stunning. If personal pride had not required a ‘greaser’ from the Brits in front of the assembled team of pilots and diners at the airfield restaurant, it was almost worth going around just to get another opportunity to fly the approach!

We all regrouped in the restaurant after refreshing our thirsty aircraft with fuel and proceeded to refresh ourselves with an unknown quantity of excellent beer whilst recounting our trip and waiting for the others to arrive. KK arrived sometime later which had allowed even more beer to be consumed as they had put in an additional stop at Liege so that the four crew all got a decent leg to fly over the two days. They had also had to take a longer routing around the Lile zone because of a defective transponder. On arriving they told of stories of landing long in Leige in between Airbuses and TNT 747’s, and having the Liege landing fee sent as an invoice by post (which turned out to be 5 Euros plus a small tax per passenger).

 

But the real hero of the trip must be Alex Potter in the C150, flying and navigating, together with all the ATC work required and control zones to cross with a non pilot passenger deserves a special mention and admiration (he did however blot his copy book on the Sunday morning whilst we were all loaded and waiting in the mini bus outside the hotel). Well past our departure time to return to the airfield a text revealed that he had become ‘temporarily unsure of his position’ somewhere in the city and had to do a very impressive run back to the hotel with Vicky in tow (or was it leading).

Koblenz is an excellent airfield, beautifully maintained with excellent facilities and a very warm welcome. With the AT3 G-SPAT and a Jodel already there and with ‘VA’ joining later we had a very impressive 11 aircraft on the well mowed line.

Twenty four of us lined up for the group photo before heading off to town, our respective hotels and yet more beer and food later that evening in the city centre. The Sunday morning was spent exploring in the bright and very warm sunshine in small groups before those that were departing that afternoon headed back to the airfield for lunch before departing at around 14:00 local time. Gordon and some of the others were staying until Monday but all came up to see us off.

Climbing out from 06 and looking back at the slowly disappearing EDRK there was a feeling that this is what GA flying should be about, new destinations, new challenges, a great sense of achievement and a weekend of great company with plenty learnt.

The return followed the route reversed in similar conditions, but even more gliders! Once again all the ATC units were enormously accommodating and helpful. After flying through four countries and a time zone, for once we were back into North Weald in plenty of time.

Thank you to all the participants and a big thank you to Gordon and the others for making it such an enjoyable trip. You will be pleased to know we have already started to discuss the next one!

Below are the NWFG Fly out crews and the other aircraft involved in this epic production;

G-AVNS PA28 Paul Bazire Kieran Hardiman
G-CDMM C172 Andrew Hutson Paul Hutson Jason Shepherd (1st fly out)
G-DCKK C172 Julian Mitchell John Strong Alex Kenning Tony Norman
G-BRBH C150 Alex Potter ‘VC’ and girlfriend Vicky
G-BOYP C172 Ian Brierley James Martin and wife Alex
G-CCZX Robin G-GEEP Robin G-UKAT AT3 G-SPAT AT3 G-OEVA Cherokee Six + a Jodel reg unknown

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Contact us

North Weald Flying Group operate out of the Squadron at North Weald Airfield.

The airfield is 10 miles south of Stansted and can be seen from the M11. Follow signs from the A414 and on entrance to the field, follow the perimeter track all the way around the field until you arrive at the distinctive Squadron building.

email: paul.bazire54@gmail.com
phone: 01992522090