I found that it was time to celebrate something. Twenty-two years of aviation passion and photography and living thirty-five years on Earth…
In these lockdown times chances to go out and make new material has proven to be hard for me. But most accessible is “my back garden” aerodrome Twente Airport. With my connections there the thought came to me to take to the skies locally and treat myself for my birthday. Why not?
After being greenlit shooting all parked aircraft at the airport from the air and arranging friend and pilot Bob Fischer the undertaking would go ahead. Initially I asked Birdman99 Manager Dennis de Vries to take the back seat but he graciously wanted his father to go as he had his birthday one day earlier.
The year 2020 saw the start and rise of the CoVID-19 pandemic hitting the world. It has had a tremendous, mostly devastating, effect on aviation as well. Airlines grounded their fleets the world over by the power of governments trying to contain the virus from spreading.
Twente Airport saw a good business opportunity here to offer long-term parking availability. Deutsche Lufthansa became interested to store six of their aging passenger Boeing 747-400 Jumbo jet airliners as their routes were discontinued indefinitely. Indefinitely, because nobody knew how long it might take before service would pick up again. Also to do so with the wide-body, four engine, machines (that where scheduled to go out of service in the upcoming years anyway). A long-term storage at Twente Airport against a fee of some €10 000,- per wide-body per month looked like a good outcome against other options, keeping the uncertainty in mind of possibly bringing all or some back into service. Scrapping them all together was a bridge too far at the time.
That said, scrapping, or taking them out of service for disassembling and recycling for parts is what the CEO of Twente Airport gambled for. With the on-site partner Aircraft end-of-Life Solutions having processed five 747’s in the years recently it must have seemed like a sure end-of-life solution for more of the same.
It turned out quite a bit different. With many more airlines hastening the phasing out of their 74-fleet due to the decline of their usage against their relatively high operational costs the global market for parts of them declined with it. So, AELS wasn’t too keen on acquisition. A larger buyer in Arizona, USA was, though. That meant all six would need to fly away again on their own power. No problem as they were maintained in fly worthy condition.
That said however, the airport did not have their affairs in order to conduct departures of wide-body aircraft. Something that was highlighted by a governmental institution that investigated the matter which led to somewhat of a scandal in the media for the airport’s CEO at the time.
Eventually though the matter was settled and exceptions were issued to have the six massive jets depart again, be it with limited fuel for a short hop to Frankfurt-Main only. From there they could take on more fuel for the final leg to North-America. Three have since left that way but the remaining three are still parked and awaiting their faith until somewhere in June 2021 as is expected.
So for my 35th birthday I decided to take to the skies again, it had been way too long.
Because of CoVID-19 restrictions he could only fly with two passengers.
Initially I asked Birdman99 Manager Dennis de Vries to take the back seat but he graciously wanted his father to go as he had his birthday one day earlier.
Friend and pilot Bob Fischer would pilot the photo ship, a Cessna 172P, but guided us around first. He told us about the concrete shelters and club building and how they used to be home of the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). RNLAF pilots and crew used to sleep here in their flight suits to launch fully armed F-16’s in a hurry.
Something I myself used to see happen in the last few years of the airbase era.
Those hydraulically lifted or lowered thick metal doors are now permanently at ground level and we all had to push aside the new slide-aside doors ourselves to get our photo ship out in the open.
The –lovingly called- “Tango Whiskey Mike” was pulled out of the shelter for our local scenic, and my special -B-day-, ride and a pre-flight check.
The route was pre-arranged with Bob and me to fly over certain ground targets such as the parked aircraft on the C-apron and at AELS.
Not only did we see my own house and that of my parents, but also that of Dennis’ parents. It’s always great fun to be able to say: “I can see my house from here!”.
The weather was perfect during the first half of the flight (glad that involved most of my targets met) with sunny spells and smooth air (so no turbulent). Halfway our half an hour flight, the sky became overcast a bit. All the more time to enjoy the experience more myself, without holding a camera in front of my face.
Bob flew us around excellent like I’m used to from him. He was a bit hesitant to do a fly-by along the shelters and spotters hill because “there are no spotters present”. But let’s not forget about Dennis!
So we made an approach and did a go-around especially for him (although Hans and I were smiling big time because of the banking manoeuvre after all that smooth and steady flying). After a very neat landing and recovery we disembarked with big smiles on our faces.
Hans had never flown in a small plane like this before and thought it was amazing to see everything from above. Bob finished a job well done and I got the photos I wanted but above all (pun intended): I finally got to fly again! Perhaps a bit sad that Dennis had to stay on the ground but respect to him that he’d offered his seat to his dad. Next time he’s game though!
Special shout out to Bob Fischer, Dennis de Vries, Hans de Vries, Vliegclub Twente and Twente Airport!