Of course, I have been aboard passenger planes many times; there are my annual trips to England, there used be regular work trips to Leipzig and Hamburg, and some other holiday flights in between, the longest I ever had being to one to Florida in 1999 (ten hours). But it is not that often - and has an entirely different feel to it - that I get to be on a small plane.
A bit over 10 years ago, I won a sales contest at the company I worked for back then. First prize was a flight from our small local airfield, Pattonville, on a Cessna, seating four. My Dad and Steve went with me, and it was a great experience.
Apart from that one, all flights I've been on were "big" planes, where you sit in a (relatively) comfortable seat and have a tiny window, and your travelling height is too high up to make out much detail on the ground (when you're not above the clouds, anyway).
This Sunday, I had the chance to fly with a friend who has a pilot license. The weather was perfect, and so was my mood - I was excited and happy.
We went to the airfield early enough for me to have a good look round and then sat in the sun next to the take-off and landing strip, waiting for "our" machine to come back from its first flight after having undergone essential repair and maintenance.
Here are some pictures I took while still on the ground:
Pattonville airfield tower and club house:
Inside the tower. It does not serve as a directing/guiding ground control station, but its main purpose is to inform whoever is flying to or from this airfield, and of course logs are kept. Club members take turns in staffing it regularly on weekends.
Inside one of the big halls. Hmm... this one looks as if something's missing!
Oh, there they are (the wings) :-)
Not all of the planes here belong to one of the three clubs sharing the use of the airfield's facilities, some are privately owned.
This one once belonged to Henry Ford, I was told. It sports fine leather seats and posh wooden panels and a steering wheel like you would see in a classic car. Beautiful to look at, but apparently the engine is not in such good condition.
My friend had arranged for us to have use of this ultra-light two-seater:
This picture is not from Pattonville. I took it at Heubach, where we stopped after a first 20-minute hop. That first short flight served two purposes: First, we needed to refill, and second, we wanted to know how I'd be feeling up there, and whether I'd be ready for a longer flight. My friend has been accompanied on his flights several times by passengers who are not pilots themselves, and most of the time, things went well (not counting the occasional urgent need for a bag). But once, a passenger nearly had a panic attack - something nobody had expected beforehand, least of all the passenger. Therefore, it was good to find out how comfortable I'd be before we'd set off on a longer trip.
It turned out to be no problem at all - I did not feel even remotely queasy, or scared. It was just a really wonderful experience, exciting and relaxing at the same time, and I want to do it again - and soon!
My friend is an experienced pilot, a calm and well-grounded (pun intended) character to begin with, and I trust him 100 %. I knew I was in very good hands there and had no reason to feel anything but safe.
Of course, my camera went up with me. This first set of pictures is all from not too far away from home, taken during that first short flight:
Lighting and reflection from the aircraft's window weren't always easy, but I am mostly content with how the pictures turned out. After refueling, we went further south, where to my suprise there was still a lot of snow about:
The Danube valley makes for spectacular views! I have deliberately not straightened out the pictures, so as to give you an impression of the viewing angles we had.
This is Reutlingen, a city not far from Stuttgart, with the Achalm (the mountain) in the middle of the picture. From here onwards, there was no more snow.
We had requested (and received) permission to fly back to Pattonville across Stuttgart; without that, you are not supposed to enter the air space above a large town or city*. This is the regular airport at Stuttgart-Echterdingen:
Stuttgart's centre, with the railway station and many other landmarks clearly visible:
Coming back in towards Pattonville, we flew above the fields where I so often go to walk and run. The garden centre and nursery you see here is the same one I've showed you here - it looks different from this perspective!
* Addendum: My pilot friend rang me last night, after he'd been reading my blog. He pointed out that I had misinterpreted what he'd told me during the flight, so here is some additional information, straight from Someone Who Knows:
1. Places like Heubach are called aerodrome.
2. Places such as the Stuttgart one are called airport because they provide for scheduled flights (which is not the case in Heubach or Pattonville).
3. Flying above a town or city is not regulated the way I thought - you can actually do that without requesting permission. What IS regulated, though (and justly so), is access to the air space near an airport - that air space is called a control zone. It has check points for flying in and out, where an aircraft has to request permission from air traffic control before entering, and check out with them when leaving the control zone, which is what we did.
Thank you, HJ, for clarifying these points!