Where have you been? What have you seen?
I was booked to speak at a conference for the Society of Flight Test Engineers which was being held in Delft at the end of May. This looked like an ideal trip to make use of the shareoplane so I booked it and set-about researching the practicalities. There was a slight wobble at work where the idea of private flying for a work trip raised eyebrows but not for long.

In the week up to the departure on bank holiday Monday the advance forecasts looked good so I decided to go for it rather than make a late Eurostar or Easyjet booking. In fact, come the day, the weather in Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire was not good but it looked fine for the rest of the route. I had booked handling with the Rotterdam flying club on Thursday (see link below); filed the flight plan and gendec on Sunday; then filed the NATS form for a Stansted crossing on the day (they cannot be done in advance). The direct route from Turweston to Dover crosses Luton at what looks like an inconvenient angle for a transit so I had planned a slightly longer route via Barkway which involved transits of Stansted and Southend at more convenient angles.

Departure from Turweston was into poor VMC and an 800 feet cloud base so it was straight up through the cloud to VMC on top at about 3200. This led me to reprogram SkyDemon and the installed Garmin to avoid Stansted (I assume that IFR / VMC on top transit was not available) by routing via KEMPY. However, around Cranfield, the cloud below me started to break and I soon had a reasonable if murky view of the surface so it was back on track for BKY and call Essex radar. It took them a few moments to find my filed request but I was not held and was straight across on a standard above and behind the landing 737 basis.

Back into class G, climb to 3200 and call Southend. They asked me to drop below 2500 and make an orbit OCAS. I suggested that they let me back to 3200 so that I could transit good VFR rather than at 2400 which would have been poor VFR / IFR. They accepted this and through I went. Southend provided a LARS service until about ten miles from DVR when it was over to London information for the crossing. By this time I was at 6000.

Over the channel, I experienced the goldfish bowl haze which made me glad to be an instrument pilot. Handed to Lille information at RINTI, I started a very gentle descent to work along the coast at 5000. To Oostende Approach somewhere around DUNKY then across Belgian Class C for Koksijde AFB and south of Oostende airport. Interestingly, I had planned to follow the VRPs on the basis that is what would be would be required (if I got a transit at all, which I now realise is UK thinking) . In fact the controller sounded surprised that I was doing such a thing but I stuck with my plan. The sky was getting murky in that high pressure way and ahead were signs of some energetic clouds so I dropped to 4000 then 3000. I exited the zone at BOSSY and turned north east for Rotterdam.

Dutch mil were not answering so I went to Amsterdam information and maintained 3000 until level with Midden Zeeland from where I began a gentle drift down. AMS Info called a couple of opposite direction traffic but nothing seen. Rotterdam approach put me on the Hotel VFR route then at point Victor gave me "It's all yours, clear land, contact tower". I landed short to exit early so as not to hog the runway. At Rotterdam the AVGAS pumps are not at the flying club so I asked to go to the pumps first. Tower cleared me to the pumps but then sent a Follow Me which took me straight to the flying club without fuelling. Recreational handling at Rotterdam is done by the flying club ( http://www.vliegclubrotterdam.nl ). A more helpful bunch with a nicer set of facilities would be difficult to find. Landing fee 22 euro; handling fee 30 euro; parking 17 euro per day (noting that Monday afternoon to Thursday morning is four days). Taxi into Delft, a delightful place BTW, was about 33 euro.

The conference was two days with an optional third day to visit RNLAF Leeuwarden. I tried getting permission to land there but no joy so decided to skip it and try for home on Thursday. Tuesday and Wednesday had been hot days with stormy nights. Thursday was forecast to get stormy rather earlier but I decided that it was worth setting out, there being plenty of diversion options along the route. First problem was fuel, the pay-at-pump tries to pre-authorise 1500 euro which my bank visa credit card declined. Luckily, I carry a second MasterCard credit card which comes out of my other half's account and that was accepted. Airborne at just after 1000 local and cleared VFR out of the zone. Climbing above the surface murk, I turned southwest to retrace my steps home. Twenty miles from Rotterdam, the murk cleared below and I could see clearly along the coast. Five minutes later, what I could see along the coast was thick black clouds with a lot of rain falling out of them. I told AMS info' that I was diverting to Midden Zeeland. I got to about five miles from there but was at 500 feet over water with horrible rain ahead so turned back towards Rotterdam and climbed into VMC on top. Oh and the GTN which had performed perfectly on the way to Rotterdam, decided to stay completely dark leaving me with NDB and DME but no VOR / ILS. I explained this to Rotterdam and asked for vectors to final. These were beautifully provided, including dodging me (and at least one other light aeroplane) around local storms. Anyway, all was well, visual at 1000 feet on a long final. A challenging but safe flight even though it got me nowhere. I spent the day writing my report on the conference (and getting my credit card unstopped) then spent the night in an airport hotel.

Friday started murky but was forecast to clear during the morning. This applied for the whole route. However, I put the NDB-DME plate for Oxford on my kneeboard so that I could get down near Turweston. After refilling the fuel tanks, I was airborne just after 0930 local. Surface visibility was about 3000 metres so that meant special VFR in the zone. Once established on the VFR route, ATC did clear me to 1500 (it is published at 1000) which made the visibility much better. Out of the zone, I took myself to 4000 and headed south west. Rotterdam approach kept me to about 20 miles then handed me to AMS info'. Somewhere around the same time, the surface cloud / fog had closed up and I was firmly VMC on top (again in a goldfish bowl). Handed to Oostende approach to cross their class C, they were very casual about what route I took, not surprising as I don't recall hearing anything else on frequency. I climbed to 6000 for the crossing and at KONAN turned right for Dover. I asked London Information to coordinate with Southend for a traffic service for me to descend through cloud which they duly did. However, I could not get below cloud above the MSA, not even by heading for the Thames estuary so it was back to VMC on top and arrange with Southend for a SRA to two miles (I did offer to do a NDB-DME). On reflection, perhaps I should have stuck to plan A and gone VMC on top (via KEMPY) to a NDB-DME at Oxford. However, I had become focussed on getting VFR below so took the SRA. I had in mind to go missed and continue to Turweston but when I didn't break cloud until perhaps 800 feet (my minimum for SRA I had set at 600) I decided to land and rethink.

Southend splits CAT from everything else with a red line on the apron, a very pragmatic policy which I have also seen used at Humberside. Once marshalled onto the north apron, you walk to the C along various lines painted on the apron. DO NOT CROSS THE RED LINE. I enquired about food and drink. I was told that the terminal is a long walk (looks to be maybe 500 metres) and that the landslide cafe might not be open. I was recommended to use the bar of the much closer Holiday Inn. This turned out to be rather decent.

I was away in less than two hours which meant that when I called the next day to pay, it was just £24 for the landing. Bargain given the service received. I suppose I might have argued Strasser but I am not convinced that would have been reasonable of me.

It was then a quick trip to Turweston via HEN. Weather at Turweston was excellent.

A challenging and educational trip. I certainly pushed myself but never felt that I was putting myself in danger.