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Friday, 12 April 2013

Static Line

So, what do you do when you don't have the money to start flightschool just yet? You save up, of course! And in the mean time, you do all sorts of other flight-related stuff.

I started to study PPL theory from the books I got for my last birthday (thanks again, everybody!). I also enrolled in a scientific experiment that involves a full-motion Flight Simulator... I visit the social evenings at KLM Aeroclub as much as possible, like the other day with a lecture on meteorology. I'll write about these things during the time I need to get my finances in order, but what I wanted to write about today, is a foundation called "Stichting Hoogvliegers". That would translate to "Highflyers Foundation".
Stichting Hoogvliegers defined their goal as "to make (chronically or terminally) ill, or (physically or mentally) challenged children (age 6 through 16) pilot for one day". They do that by organising flights for individual children, and their accompanists, and group days with flights for 50 to 100 childeren. These flights and days are organised at all airports in the Netherlands (including Schiphol!). April 6th, a group day was organised at Lelystad Airport, hosted by KLM Aeroclub. So I quickly enrolled as volunteer for this day.

Below, a report of my experiences that day.

The day started pretty early, because the programme stared at 8 o'clock with a briefing for the volunteers. But before that, the airfield layout needed to be rearranged. I had offered to start at 7, so I drove off at half past six already.
My function was "attendant static line". There was no mention of that function in the otherwise very comprehensive volunteer briefing document, but I assumed there would be a static display of aircraft, as usually seen on airshows and that my job would be to welcome people to the static line, tell them a little about the airplanes on display, answer any questions they may have, and meanwhile keep a watchful eye on the safety aspects. Luckily, I was right, because it's awesome to be in and around airplanes all day :)

But, first things first. Fencing off the terrain. That way, a sub-division was made between "Land-side" and "Air-side". Visitors could explore Land-side unlimited, but Air-side was reserved for pilots, and the children and accompanying people that were actually going to fly. Of course, that has to do with safety, because safety is the #1 priority in a large scale event like this.
Large scale? Yes! 75 wannabe pilots were invited for the day of their lives, becoming a pilot for one day. The accompanying crowd was at least twice that number, and the volunteers numbered around 50. Then there is the staff, truck drivers, police, singers, dancers, clown, suppliers and the main sponsor with a group of VIPs. All in all I estimate over 300 people visited this day.

During the fencing off of the terrain, some of the Static Line aiplanes were towed to the apron. There already was a Saab Viggen parked at KLM Aeroclub's platform the day before, as well as two AIS airplanes (Jetstream 32 and TB-10 Tobago) at the neighbour's platform. A cirrus was pulled out of the hanger that was going to be used for the entertainment section, and added to the line as well. An F-50, DC-3, F-27, PBY Cataline, and a P-51 Mustang completed the line-up.
Static Line, by Arnoud Raeven for Stichting Hoogvliegers
Then the party could get started :) The first group of children came to Lelystad Airport with their own means of transport. That meant that they did not poor in all at once, like a busload.After checking in (the kids got their very own boading pass!), most of them had some time to visit the static display already. That geve me some time to lead them around, and tell  some stories. The F-50, DC-3, and later also the Catalina were open to visitors. One family had a history in Indonesia that involved frequent DC-3 flying, so that was a nice trip down memory lane for them. Everybody enjoyed the display inmensely.

The second group arrived in style with lots of noise: in a large convoy of trucks, ambulaces, police cars, firetrucks, motors, ... complete with sirens and flashing lights. Awesome!

Apart from the static display, there was a lot to do at the Hoogvliegers terrain. Take a close up look at the police cars, even sit in one of them and play with the radio (and the siren, as one kid found out...). The same for the ambulances, and police motor bikes. Half-way during the morning, the EMS helicopter "lifeliner" visited the event as well, and only left at the end of the day. Main sponsor Leaeweb had brought their aerobatics plane, which gave some demos during the day. There was makeup,  singing, dancing, inflatable cushion, French Fries, police dog demonstrations, a special Hoogvliegers song, shop, ... So much to do, and only one day to do it in ;)
In KLM Aeroclub's clubhouse, there were coffee and sndwiches for pilots and volunteers, so all was well arranged.
Saab Viggen: big fun for everyone
It is quite a feat to get so many flights airborne in one day. In order to keep up with the schedule, some 10 planes per hour had to depart, in addition to regular traffic (Lelystad is one of the busier GA airports in NL). So the foundation devised a clever system (with the boarding passes) to sequentially bring the kids to their planes, accompanied by one volunteer. Like true VIPs! And at the end of the flight, the same volunteer would escort the same kid back to land-side.
Marshallers guide the traffic

There was a special, one-day radio frequency for "Hoogvliegers Ground", and marshallers would guide the traffic flow.

The kids came back with some excellent stories. Like this one girl that got to steer the plane. "You see that church over there? Try to steer the plane in that direction." "OK!" - steering motion to the right - "Be gentle, or your brother in the back will be sick" - yank the yoke - "Whahahaha!!" Se exited the plane with a grin from ear to ear that lasted at least until they left!

As lifeliner left at the end of the afternoon, all the flying was about done.
Lifeliner cleaning the taxiway (and then some ;) )
It was a magnificent day. Lots and lots of impressions, but the one that will stick with me the most is the one of that little 8-year old girl, having the time of her life, saying that she's the lucky one for making her brothers all jealous (and all that becuse she's the one in a wheelchair...)

Then all that remained was to undo all the work of early that morning (fences, tables, chairs). KLM Aeroclub had organised a BBQ for the volunteers, so in the end it was 8PM already before I headed home. Completely broken, but sincerely satisfied. When's the next Hoogvliegersdag?

I would like to express my gratitude to those that made this day possible, and among those especially Cees Ootjers for all the organisational work he put in on  behalf of KLM Aeroclub.

More pictures: at the website of Stichting Hoogvliegers.

Also on their site, a TV news item and the official summary video (both are in Dutch language, though)
*For privacy reasons, I don't display pictures with participating children

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