Sunday, June 5, 2016

A little Deutschland flying in a Mooney

Plane: Mooney M20
Route: EDLN, Local 
Weather: Haze, 81 degrees, wind 350 degrees at 5 knots

After ten days of crazy work leading up to and kicking off the big trade show, it's time for vacation. Gina flew over a couple days ago and this afternoon - after spending a few hours seeing the show as tourists - Rainer, a coworker and fellow pilot, took us up in his Mooney. He and I have talked airplanes and aviation plenty of times when he's in the US; it was great to finally experience general aviation in Germany.

Our route over North Rhine-Westphalia

He shares his Mooney with four other pilots. They base it at Düsseldorf Mönchengladbach Airport, which is about 10 miles outside the city. Today the airport serves purely GA traffic, however it has been served by some commuter and budget airlines in the past. It's towered and the security reminds me of air carrier airports in the US as key cards and badges are required to access the tarmac through the terminal.

Mooneys, Mooneys everywhere (and some other planes, too)

The now-unused passenger terminal at Mönchengladbach Airport

No moving your own airplane - have to wait for the FBO staff with the tug

Rainer finishing his preflight

Rainer called the FBO while we were driving to the airport to request that the airplane be pulled out of the hangar. As you can see above, they're rather expertly arranged inside. In fact, owners aren't even allowed to move their airplanes until they're outside.

Once the preflight was complete we all climbed onboard. He got the ATIS and we got situated, then he started the engine and things proceeded much as they do on this side of the Atlantic. The whole international standardization of aviation is quite handy at times. The tower controller cleared us to taxi to the end of Runway 31.

Lots of nice electronic goodies in the cockpit

Taxiing to the runway

Although Rainer is a CFI, I was still a little surprised when he asked if I wanted to take off and fly for a bit. Obviously most of us pilot folk don't turn down a chance to pilot an airplane. Once I reminded him I don't do much complex flying (i.e. none) and he still thought I was capable, that was that. I taxied us to the runway and - cleared for takeoff - I advanced the throttle and soon lifted off and into the blue German sky. He managed the propeller and I believe I retracted the gear upon his instruction, though I honestly don't recall the latter.

Takeoff - not bad for my first in a retract, if I do say so myself

There's a surprising amount of farmland not that far outside of town

There's a specific departure route to avoid the airspace and arrivals at Düsseldorf Int'l. While on the ground he had pointed it out on the map and the controller gave further instructions. Once airborne, I followed it by essentially following a freeway and remaining below a specific altitude until we were about 5 miles west of the airport.

Once in more open airspace and leveled off, he helped me trim out the airplane (the electric trim is on the pilot's yoke) and pointed out some local sights. They have a radar datalink on one of the screens; he updated that to keep tabs on some developing storm cells to our southwest. I did my best to keep us reasonably level while taking in the view.

Looking at the latest radar on the panel, I believe

The trees along the road here caught my eye

As we flew away from the city we ran into some showers...

...eventually turning around to avoid this thunderstorm to our southwest

Eventually, with the weather continuing to trend towards the iffy category, I turned around and we headed back towards Düsseldorf. The visible cloud-to-ground lightning bolts may have also contributed to the decision. Now, it really was just a pop-up cell, but it was in our way (Rainer had hoped for us to fly further that direction, towards the mountains and better scenery) and going around it wasn't a great option. So instead we headed back northeast.

We saw plenty of windmills as you may expect 

Cologne from 20 miles out - you can spot the famous cathedral if you look carefully

Düsseldorf from the south, with the main airport visible in the distance

The Rhine River snaking southward from Düsseldorf 

Seems like all large German cities have a tall tower with a restaurant on top

The terrain becomes more hilly as you continue eastward 

One final view of Düsseldorf before we turned back to land

We flew past the city on the south side, enjoying seeing all the spots I've spent the better part of the past ten days - the Altstadt, the parks along the Rhine, and the Messe - from above. Cologne (where we'll be heading tomorrow) was also visible from 20-25 miles away through the summer haze.

As we made one final 180 to head back to the airport, Rainer requested a practice approach, which the controller granted. He engaged the autopilot, which precisely flew the approach back to Runway 31. Disengaging on final, he brought us down for a very soft landing after about 45 minutes in the air.

Once everything was shut down and packed up, we wandered back through the mostly-deserted terminal and Rainer drove us back to our hotel. Obviously our thanks go out to him for the awesome airplane ride; I seriously owe him a Cub ride next time he's in Dayton! It was really fun and interesting to compare how things work at home versus overseas - and to see a foreign city from a familiar perspective. User fees aside, everything honestly felt just about the same. Well I suppose we speak a tad less German to the line guys, too.

Thanks as always to Gina putting up with me sitting up front while she takes photos in the rear! :)