European flying adventures – Part 1

After two largely boring days hanging around in Dortmund, Germany (not the most scintillating place at the best of times, and a ghost town on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday), we were raring to go on Wednesday morning when the weather cleared and we planned to fly our new aeroplane the hundreds of miles back to our home airfield. We hadn’t slept well because of the anticipation, and we’d arranged for the gliding club treasurer to pick us up from our hotel at 9.45am to take us to the airfield to make ready for our departure. He had said in a text that he wouldn’t be able to let us take off until the bank transfer we’d initiated on Sunday had cleared, but that he had spoken to the bank who’d said it would be cleared by noon. This was a bit of a set-back, as we’d hoped to make an early start to get away while the good weather lasted. Still, we arrived at the club and the weather was beautiful, with no wind.

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We got the aeroplane out of the hangar, which took four of us as it was crammed in and barely fitted.

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We loaded all our luggage into the plane…

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…including some all-important in-flight snacks!

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We also did all the other final preparations, such as programming the GPS. It was 11am by the time we’d done all that, but there was no sign of the bank transfer yet, even though it had left our account the previous day. We had nothing to do but walk up and down the runway, look up at the sky and pick blades of grass. Noon passed – still no transfer. They called the bank and they said 2pm. 2pm passed – still nothing. By that point we were getting pretty cheesed off, as the plane was packed ready to go, we had nothing to do and we were missing the good weather. Massive, towering cumulonimbus clouds were forming and the first rumbles of thunder started. It was beginning to look as though we wouldn’t be able to leave that day. Here we are after several hours of waiting:

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They phoned the bank again and this time the bank claimed to have no idea about when the transfer would happen. We phoned our own bank and they said it would go through, but it could be Friday before it did (no good to us given the weather forecast). We thought we overheard the treasurer of the club saying to the chairman, “can’t we just let them go?” But no – the management had decided that we weren’t to be allowed to take off until the money cleared and that was that. It didn’t matter how much we stressed how important it was for us to get off the ground before the weather turned. Various solutions were proposed, such as driving to the local town to get 4,000 Euros out of our account in cash as a deposit that they would pay back (to which I said no way, because why should we trust them to pay us back, when they wouldn’t trust us to pay them – even though the money had already left our account, they’d seen our bank statement saying as much, and we’d signed a contract). EVENTUALLY, after lengthy phone discussions with other committee members and an entire wasted day, they came up with the solution that they would take copies of Lee’s passport and the aircraft documents and then let us go. To be fair, they were clearly frustrated at the situation too and in the end just gave up. But not before they’d kept us waiting seven hours in blazing sunshine with virtually nothing to eat or drink and wasting the perfect weather window. We were so upset and angry!

By the time we finally left at 5pm the thunderstorms had gone, but we only had enough time to make it to our first stop, Aachen, near the border between Germany and Holland. Here’s a picture as we left:

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Here’s a picture of us when we were finally airborne (I would have got one of us on the ground about to leave, but we just wanted to get out of there!).

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This first stage of the flight took an hour. Lee flew the plane and I navigated, acting as a back-up to the GPS so that we would always know where we were on the map if the GPS packed up, as well as a second pair of eyes to watch out for other aircraft, tall masts etc. On the way we saw this vast quarry:

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And quite a few power stations:

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We landed at Aachen with no difficulties. Someone there was doing circuits in a Boeing Stearman biplane, but other than that it was a quiet little airfield.

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We went to check in at the airfield office and the guy in there kindly found us a local hotel and booked us a taxi. We didn’t even know the name of the hotel or where it was; he just told us to wait outside and we would be collected. We unpacked the plane and did as instructed.

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When the taxi arrived the driver didn’t know where we were going and nor did we, so he had to go and ask the office guy! We had a moment of wondering what on earth we were doing in this surreal situation.

The taxi took us to a rather random little hotel about five minutes away, in which the reception desk was directly opposite the bar, in the same room, and surrounded by tables.

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The room was nice, but we couldn’t help feeling frustrated by the fact that we could have been in England by that point had we not had a day of waiting. Unfortunately that day of waiting in the sun had taken its toll, and I had a terrible migraine complete with horrendous nausea. Thinking we ought to eat something, having had nothing all day, we went down to the bar where I ordered the simplest thing on the menu (tomato soup), but I could only manage a few spoons before feeling so ill that I had to go back upstairs and lie down in the dark. It was so horrible, and when Lee came up he put a cold flannel on my head and comforted me while I cried my eyes out!! It was a bad end to a bad day (I don’t think you will have quite understood the depths of our despair from this post!), and all we could do was hope I’d be feeling better after a good sleep. We had a long day of flying ahead of us if we were to make it home before the bad weather rolled in.

Coming up in my next post: Aachen to Calais and the daunting Channel crossing…

2 Comments on European flying adventures – Part 1

  1. Anny
    April 27, 2014 at 1:48 pm (5 years ago)

    What a business! I know it’s frustrating enough when it’s just the weather you’re waiting for, but you must have been very stressed. I can sympathise with the migraines, I have that T-shirt too. But looking forward to seeing Wilhelm make it back to his new home.

    • Rachel McCombie
      April 27, 2014 at 1:51 pm (5 years ago)

      Thanks for your comment and the sympathy, Anny! Migraines = evil. Part 2 coming up later today :)