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Saturday, 12 April 2014

Hoogvliegersdag Lelystad 2014

Busy times, with practical RT (Radio Telephony - talking to the tower) on Tuesday evenings, and still my theory course (one more lesson Meteorology, then Human Performance and Limitations) on Thursdays, plus the occasional flying lesson in between. I really hope to gt through these two exams OK, that'll leave only one - Air Law... RT takes a bit of preparation, but especially lots of practice, so that takes time as well.
Still, I wanted to be a volunteer again at the annual "Hoogvliegersdag" at my home field, Lelystad airport. That's a day, organised by the Hoogvliegers foundation, during which chronically ill or disabled children get to be a pilot for a day. They are antertained thoughout the day, and at some moment during the day, they get to fly in a real airplane. If their illnes or handicap allows it, they even get to steer the plane around a bit! That way, those children forget all their troubles for a day, and get to be a child again :)

Just like last year, the Hoogvliegersdag was organised by Cees Ootjers en Aloys Bodewes of KLM Aeroclub (my flying club), but this time in close cooperation with Rob Hoogboom of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF). So I joined the crew of volunteers, and was assigned the static line, like last year. That's a nice assignment, because you get to see the children marvel at those majestic planes. Most of them are in that age where all they want to be when they grow up is fireman, policeman, or pilot, so a line up of static aircraft is always very exciting :)
The day started early. My wife and I stayed at the camping over night, so it was only half an hour's drive for me. But still, getting there at a quarter to seven means getting up early! It started out misty, that morning, but the forcast was that things would clear up soon, and even get sunny by the end of the afternoon. And we first had to park some planes, put up some fences, unfold some tables and benches so that all 65 children, 130 companions (family, care-takers), and 125 volunteers would be able to sit down somewhere...

The first children arrived well in time. The official opening would be at 09:00, but the first ones came in at 08:30 already. No problem, there was plenty to do and see for them already! First, the children go to the check-in counter, where they put on a special T-shirt, and a cap, yo indicate that they are the pilots of today. They get a goody bag, and their ticket, of course! On the terrain, there is a bouncing castle, a clown, music (with live singing) french-fries, make-up, colouring, food and drink, the Hoogvliegers souvenir shop, and of course the static line.
The RNLAF put a Fokker 50 of theirs on the static line, which could be seen from the inside as well. They also brought a truck with two F-16 simulators, for the children to show off their magic Top Gun skills :)

They also came flying in with a low pass of an Apache combat helicopter, and the Royal Chopper (Alouette). They stood on the static line for all to come look up close for the major part of the day, and flew off late afternoon. A mighty sight, sound, and air displacement! ;)

But what it was all about in the end: they got to fly an airplane!
There were a lot of people assigned to the static line, and there was a shortage of airside companions (if that is the correct English word for it), so I changed assignments to that function. I got myself aone of those high-visibility vests, and an airside authorisation, so I could help people accross. Everybody that wanted to go to or from airside, needed to be accompanied by someone familiar with the field, and aware of the risks of walking in between moving aircraft, with hyper-excited kids. That would be me, sir!
My first job was to accompany the film crew of a local news television station. They wanted to catch André Kuipers (Dutch astronaut) who piloted one of the first planes of the day. How cool is that, if you can say at school that you flew an actual Dutch astronaut through Dutch skies! After the film crew, I got to walk the children and their families to their air planes, stow the wheelchair (if applicable), and accompany the non-flying remainder of the family back to "landside". And, of course, when they came back, I did all that in reverse, picking up the children after their flight.
It is truely amazing, how much emotion you encounter during those walks to and from the air plane. On the way to the plane, it's mainly nervous anxiety. Especially with the family, by the way :) When they return an explosion of joy and exitement, when a kid tries to explain to his family what all happened while he was away. They try to tell about a one hour rollercoaster ride in one sentence; a wonderful sight!
Emotional moments too. Like with the little girl, that apparently expressionless entered the airplane, and came out wide-eyed and smiling into her crying mother's arms. There's just no words to describe the avalange of emotions that overwhelm you at that moment.
Or the little brother, all hyper from his own flight an hour earlier, telling his sister everyrhing she can expect, and needs to know, for her flight. Who is happy that his sister is now flying because now, finally, he can sit in that wheelchair...
Airside companion is such a rewarding "task", because you get to experience all the emotion this day is all about, first hand, but as a by-stander. I'm already sure I'll sign up fot this task next year.

The RNLAF had one more surprise up their sleev: all children got to fly a tour in another Fokker 50 they brought along. As this was the last flight of this air plane in service of the RNLAF, and the "retirement flight" of the captain, the Lelystad Airport Fire Brigade welcomed the flight back with a water curtain :)

And, as icing on the cake for me, flying buddy Barry proposed to take "our" plane out for a spin, end of the day. We did three orbits around the camping, and then asked if we could cross the Schiphol Control Zone (CTR). We got a reply to call back approaching Victor, which is the entry point of the CTR for VFR traffic. We still had some 15 minutes to fly to get there, so we weren't sure yet (clearance to cross depends on traffic density at the time of the crossing). But as we approached Victor, we soon got clearance to report over Bravo (the second compulsary reporting point) where we go a clearanc to pass the threshold of rwy24 (which was the active take-off runway), and then turn right in front of the tower, and leave the CTR through the Amsterdam sector.
Marvelous sight, those 737s, and even a 747, forming a line before the runway, and being able to overfly that so close. And ehhh, flying over Amsterdam is also something one doesn't do every day either ... :)
We made a couple of turns over Barry's house before exiting the CTR towards Lelystad again.

Here's a GPS track of our flight, or at least until the battery of my phone went dead ;) So the last bit to make it a closed loop, you have to imagine that for yourselves ...

Link to KML file

I had an incredibly wonderful day! Completely buggered, but so worth it ...
Next year, I'll do it all over again :)

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