Mike Vickers' Blog

March 10, 2012

A flight to Munich – well to Oberpfaffenhofen 20 kms away

Filed under: Personal — derryvickers @ 8:55 pm

I was working some years ago with ESA, the European Space Agency, in Darmstadt near Frankfurt and we worked closely with DFVLR at Oberpfaffenhofen (I remember it with a different name but clearly it is the same place East of Munich).  One day, one of the senior staff members Dr K suggested that we go to Oberpfaffenhofen in his plane.  I of course agreed – the car or train took quite a long time and the plane sounded an experience and it was.

The plane was a two seater and I sat in the co-pilot’s seat.  Dr K explained to me that he had not only a daytime pilot’s licence but a full navigation licence.  This is necessary to fly professionally.  And you have to supply a flight plan before you can fly in the commercial navigation lanes.  And I soon found out why.  Dr K was extremely thorough before we took off checking everything.  Our departure from a small airport in Frankfurt was under local ground control but as soon as we reached our planned cruising height we were picked up by our allocated ground support who spoke perfect English – I found out that English is the universal language for ground control – well it may have changed since then.  The flight continued and we were passed from control to control and were directed to change course from flight lane to flight lane and to change height where necessary – just as a normal commercial aircraft would be so instructed.

Ultimately we approach our destination, Oberpfaffenhofen, and we were back under local control – well we thought we were – but it was not quite that simple – there was low thick cloud and the two seater was not equipped with all the modern automatic landing equipment and as we were approaching ground I was looking out of one side and Dr K was looking out of the other;  at last I said to Dr K that I could see the autobahn and that was a good  sign that we were on the right flight path and as we dropped below cloud level there was the runway right below and we were on the ground safely.

On the return flight half way home and I was now enjoying the flight and the sheer experience of being in a small aircraft under the control home by excellent ground support when it was clear that we were heading straight for a black thunder cloud.  I was not worried but afterwards it was clear the Dr K was.  He asked ground control for a different height path which was granted and even so the flight through the cloud was quite an experience.

A flight to remember.  I didn’t fly with Dr K again and after a further flight to Paris, ESA high command issued a statement that none of its staff were in future allowed to fly on ESA business.

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