Route: Earls Colne, UK (EGSR) to Ostend, Belgium (EBOS).
Aircraft: Aerospatiale TB
Seat: Row 1, Seat A
This flight was with Airliners.net members Leezyjet and Shamrock_747 (3 of us on board).
We had originally planned to fly to Le Touquet in France - a favourite destination for British pilots - but last week, Leezyjet suggested we try Ostend. The flights would have both taken exactly the same time according to my planning, and since I had already been to Le Touquet many times, we decided on Ostend. The lure of sharing a runway with an An-124 was too strong for me!
I will explain the flight to Ostend in as much detail as possible and only cover the important points of the return trip.
Most people don't realise how much planning goes into a day like this. First I took a quick trip to the Transair Fairoaks pilot shop to buy a map covering the English Channel area. None of the pilot shops could sell me a 'trip kit' with all of the airfield charts etc so I downloaded the Ostend 'plate' from the Belgian AIP from the internet. It took about 2 hours to prepare the route and do the paperwork.
Since we were departing from a non-customs airfield, I also had to complete a 'General Aviation Report' with our passport details and fax it to the customs people. The flight plan was fairly standard and that was faxed to the Heathrow Flight Briefing Unit. Both of those had to be done the day before.
The aircraft is based at Earls Colne (EGSR), a small friendly airfield about 15 miles east of Stansted in Essex. It has one runway, 06/24. It is grass but with a hard insert on one side.
We arrived at the airport at 0900, checked the TAFs, METARs and synoptic chart. The chart showed a weak front passing over eastern England at about mid-day. None of the TAFs indicated any problem. No significant cloud predicted, and a small probability of less than 10km visibility. In reality the visibility was about 7km for the whole day. The only time we got away from the hazy sunshine was on the beach in Ostend where the sky cleared up nicely.
After checking the technical log, signing out the aircraft and getting authorisation from one of the club instructors, we headed out to the hangar to prepare the aircraft.
G-TZEE is an Aerospatiale TB
-10, serial number 727 manufactured in 1987. It is configured with 5 seats, 2 in the front and 3 in the back. Most TB
-10s are only configured for 4 seats. It has a standard 180 HP
engine, constant speed propeller and fixed undercarriage.
The interior is spacious and comfortable unlike many popular light aircraft. Leezyjet and Shamrock_747 can explain more about it from the passenger point of view, but from the pilot's seat, it's very nice! (more pictures later)
Those two loaded the aircraft while it was refuelled and I did the external preflight checks. We selected full fuel for the trip. Weight and balance would not be a problem with 3 passengers, full fuel and no luggage. Everything looked perfect so at 0945, exactly on time, we started the engine, did the initial checks and called for taxi information.
Arriving at the holding point for runway 24 we completed the power checks, then called "Ready for departure". Since EGSR is an uncontrolled airfield, we were given the surface wind only, no takeoff clearance as only a full ATC service can give that clearance. The approach was clear, the runway was clear, final checks completed and at 0951, First Officer Leezyjet smoothly advanced the throttle and we accelerated down the runway.
65 knots, gentle back pressure on the controls, and we were airborne. Best rate of climb airspeed is 75 knots which gave us a shallow climb due to being fairly heavy. At 300 feet, flaps up. A power reduction is next, 25" manifold pressure, and 2500 RPM (constant speed prop - very nice!)
At 700 feet we started a slow climbing left turn to join the crosswind leg of the circuit. Climbing past 1000 feet we turned right to exit the circuit, heading 180 directly for Southend airport (EGMC).
5 miles to the south of Earls Colne we were called on the radio to confirm that our flight plan had been activated and were passed to Southend Radar on 130.775.
I made the standard freecall radio message and requested only a Flight Information Service (FIS). We were advised that the two local danger areas were both active but our route took us clear of them anyway. We passed directly over Southend airport at 2200 feet. Lots of Bae146s on the ground, a few 727s, 707s and the Heavylift Belfast.
After passing over the south side of the river Thames we tuned in the Dover VOR and tracked directly towards it. We were passed on to Manston Radar 126.35 who also gave us just the basic FIS. Overhead the Dover VOR I selected the 120 radial and turned out over the English Channel, directly over the famous white cliffs of Dover.
We stayed on the 120 radial from DVR (the Dover VOR) until 14 DME
, the boundary between the London and Paris FIRs. I called Manston to report at the FIR boundary who then passed us to Calais Tower 118.1.
Now the fun could really begin (French ATC!!!). I had the usual drama of calling them on the wrong frequency (???), asking them to repeat several times, etc etc... anyway, we passed overhead Calais-Dunkerque airport LFAC and turned left to follow the coast for the remainder of the flight.
Flying on the sea-side of the coast, we had an excellent view of the town and port of Dunkerque, then just after passing the port we were advised to contact Koksijde Tower (an airforce base in Belgium) on 122.1. We were still in French airspace but the Koksijde zone extends into France by about 5 miles.
In contrast to the French, the Belgian air traffic controllers spoke clearly and slowly and were as easy to understand as the British ATCOs. We were cleared through the Koksijde zone at altitude 2200, given a squawk code and told to report passing the Koksijde AB
. We saw it clearly on the right side as we flew along the beach, and soon after were told to contact Ostend Approach on 120.6. By that time I had altered course to fly along the coast one mile inland to avoid an active danger area as advised by Koksijde.
Ostend Approach didn't need the standard freecall radio message as they had my flight plan so we were given the QNH and told to report when the airfield was in sight. We could see it already so they passed us to Ostend Tower 118.17. Tower told us to join a left hand circuit, runway 26, and to descend to 1000 feet.
I joined the circuit downwind, completed the pre-landing checks and reported when on 'Final'. I flew the approach high and touched down slightly to the left of the centre line but as the runway is wide enough to take an An-225, I didn't care too much.
We vacated to the right, and taxied to the GA
parking area on apron 3. Approaching apron 3 we had the follow-me car and were marshalled into position. There was only one other light aircraft and an old DHL 727 (with one engine missing) in our area. Total time from brakes off at EGSR to brakes on at EBOS: 1 hour 30 minutes.
An Atlantic L-188 Electra was doing training circuits all day which was very impressive to watch.
The marshaller left us to get unpacked and came back after about 10 minutes. He gave us an 'airside pass' each and then drove us to the "C" office. There was a lot of paperwork to do. I had to complete a form with the aircraft owner's details and pay the landing fee of 58 Euros!!!
The flight plan for the flight home took a long time to file by computer. For some reason it would not accept my route so I called the helpdesk in Brussels who were extremely helpful. The man I spoke to didn't know why it wasn't being accepted either so in the end he copied all of my details and filed it for me (wow, great service!!). I was still very shocked at the landing fee.
We took the bus to the Ostend central railway station to go and explore the town....
...went to the beach in search of nice young ladies...
…but most of them looked like they would leave footprints like this:
There were a few nice ones around... but none of those were topless, just the old ones! We decided to sit down and relax with a beer or two (guess which one belongs to the pilot).
We sat outside for lunch at a place in the town where a local teen band were playing. It took 40 minutes for our food to come, but was worth the wait.
Soon it was time to head back to the airport for a 1900 departure (local time). Customs and immigration was very informal and friendly. Our airside passes and passports were checked and then we were driven to the aircraft - about one hour early. I took my time with the preparations, we had a look around the old DHL 727, then at exactly 1900 I started the engine and called for taxi clearance.
The Tower instructed us to taxi for runway 26. We lined-up at intersection C1, half way along the runway. That gave us about 1600 metres of usable runway - more than enough. Climb-out was very steep since we were so light (Leezyjet didn't fill up the hold with booze as we planned!).
We followed the same route back, over Koksijde AB
, but when I contacted Lille Approach on entering French airspace, I was advised not to fly over the nuclear power station near Calais (that we flew over on the way to Ostend!). My map shows a prohibited airspace area over the station extending only up to 1000 feet AGL. From what I could understand, he was telling me that the zone is much bigger and higher than what I have on the map (6000 feet??). I agreed to avoid the area by flying inland. We followed a canal parallel with the coast, about 6 miles inland until passing abeam Calais airport, turned to fly overhead, then intercepted the DVR 120 radial again and headed out over the channel. First Officer Shamrock_747 flew us home, letting me concentrate on more important thing like taking pictures:
I reported mid-channel and was handed over to London Information. They are always very busy and of little help so I was happy when they told me to contact Manston Radar. We kept them on frequency while we flew over Kent, then changed to Southend again for the flight over the Thames and Essex.
A small diversion to the left of our planned route took us over the beautiful and picturesque Canvey Island, home of the famous a.net photographer 'Airplanepics'.
Here Shamrock_747 is flying us over Canvey Island (pointed out on the map):
Nobody was at the airport when we arrived so we made a standard non-radio overhead join for runway 24. The approach was high again for noise abatement reasons but the TB
-10 descends quickly with the power at idle. I landed on the very narrow hard insert to the grass runway. Total time for the return flight was 1 hour 40 minutes.
Here I am approaching home:
The view of Earls Colne as we join overhead. The hangars and terminal are in the top right hand corner and you can see the hard (narrow) insert in the grass runway 24/06.
Total flying time for the trip was 3 hours 10 minutes. The aircraft hire rate is £115 per hour. Landing fee at EBOS was £38.84 so total cost for the flight was: £403.01. Maybe not as cheap but much more fun than Ryanair!
If anyone wants me to explain anything about this report in more detail, please just ask.
So who is coming with me next time?