Freedom Expedition updates brought to you by Nic Rodgers, who recently joined Freedom as a newly-qualified PPL. He is part of a 15 man, 5 aircraft flying contingent making their way from Kemble to Romania and back in 5 days!
The Freedom Summer Exped to Romania has begun! After 6 months of planning, 15 of us met at Kemble bright and early for a final briefing and the obligatory group photo. Most of the hard work was done Friday night, with everyone cleaning the aircraft and loading up spares, so it wasn’t long before we were airborne and heading for Oostend.
All five of Freedom’s Warriors are making the trip. With that comes a great mix of people – a student PPL, a handful of recently qualified PPLs (including me!), PPLs with hundreds of hours, instructors and even a military pilot! We had planned 3 legs for the day and with 3 people in each Warrior we decided it’d be best if we stay in the same aircraft all day, taking it in turns to fly each leg.
We left Kemble in lovely sunshine, routing towards Gatwick and Lydd before coasting out towards Calais. As we approached London, the sunshine disappeared and the weather deteriorated. We had to fly a fairly tight and specific route around the congested London TMA. Being VMC meant keeping an extra good lookout for other traffic.
We all flew within a mile of each other, enabling us to use a Formation callsign on the radio. This was a first for me. We had a designated leader (the aircraft at the front), who was responsible for all our radio calls. This actually made the whole experience much easier for everyone, controllers included, as it saved on repeated radio calls.
Before long, Gatwick airspace was behind us, the clouds parted above us, and the sun was glaring down once more. We climbed to a high altitude for our Channel crossing, giving us an amazing view of the ships below. We must have seen at least 100 ships on the short 20 minutes crossing – no wonder the English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
In no time at all we were overhead Calais turning North East to follow the coastline all the way to Oostend.
Just less than 2 hours after leaving Kemble, we were on final approach to Ostend, with its 2850 metre runway seeming to stretch on and on beyond the horizon. Plenty of room for a Warrior!
After landing at Oostend, we were greeted by a ‘Follow Me’ marshall car, who drove along the taxiway showing us to the apron. We all de-planed and went through security. The customs hall was empty – just the 15 of us – so we breezed through in no time. You don’t get that at Heathrow!
Security cleared, time to head back to the aircraft for a quick turnaround. Apart from needing a crew change, Ostend served as our Schenegen entry point. Now we’d cleared customs, we could fly to Germany and Prague without needing to show our passports again.
Crew change complete, we were back airborne by 1130. This leg would take us to the German airport Meschede-Schuren, with a flight time of 1 hour 50. The first 40 minutes or so was in lovely weather – bright blue skies with the sun shining. We passed over Antwerp, and Eindhoven, with a strong tail wind, helping to boost our speed.
It was all going too well, as the weather ahead us started to deteriorate – from great to good, then good to marginal. At this point, we had to divert from our planned track to maintain VMC. After a while, it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to continue to Meschede-Schuren, so we decided to divert to Kassel where the weather was much better.
Upon landing, we realised we had arrived at the home of the Piper factory, where our Warriors were originally built! After a quick refuel, we were bussed in a huge 50-seater behemoth to the deserted crew terminal. Upon checking the weather, it was clear that the bad weather was due to pass shortly so after a quick coffee stop we were heading back out towards the planes.
Next stop Dresden. Castle country. Some really amazing scenery on this leg. In addition, three of the planes decided to fly in close formation. This means flying much closer than normal – within 25ft of each other. Pretty close! The pilots briefed the formation flight on the ground, and it’s something you should not do without instruction! I highly recommend you try formation flying though – it’s totally amazing!
Before we knew it, we were nearing Dresden’s controlled airspace and getting ready for our landing. Dresden has a fair amount of commercial traffic with big jets all over the place, which made for a really great approach mixing with the big boys.
From Dresden, our final leg took us to Letnany, a wonderful grass airfield on the outskirts of Prague. The short 40-minute hop was CAVOK the entire way, with amazing views of the surrounding hills and valleys. Letnanay is famous for it’s close proximity to a military airfield, with planes frequently landing at the wrong airfield and getting into trouble! As always, planning makes for a safe trip, so everyone was fully briefed and maintained a sharp lookout. We were all parked up by 1830. Easy!
What an incredible first day it’s been. Great flying, brilliant company, amazing airfields and an experience we’ll all remember for a lifetime. And it’s only day 1! Now it’s time for dinner, before we go to bed, wake up tomorrow morning and do it all again. Next stop – Ro3mania!