Why this site
The idea to set up this website originated with me working in the Brooklands Museum (see below). Especially during the first two projects a lot of work was spent on the museum's VC10. I became interested in the aircraft as a type as it represents some very innovative technical breakthroughs, coupled with a troubled past. Because of this past it never became a hit with the airlines, and therefore after the type was withdrawn from airline service only the memories remained. When I went to search for information about the type on the internet I was surprised to find very little, and so I figured I might as well do something about this.
The long story about me and planes
How do you get involved in aviation? A good question to which I still don't know the answer. I became interested at an early age, but at that point you can't do much more than pore over every book you can find in you local library and visit some air shows when funds permit. At some point, when I was about 17 an acquaintance got me in touch with the Duke of Brabant Air Force (DBAF). They are an association dedicated to preserving (and flying) Dutch aviation history in the form of one B-25 Mitchell and several light aircraft. After the first visit I had trouble staying away of course, and ended up in the club's technical team working on the Mitchell and helping out wherever it was needed. I did this for two years and got severely bitten by the aviation bug during this time. I went along to air shows, tried to fly along in any aircraft that had an empty seat, etcetera.
Inspired by my experiences I decided to study Aeronautical Engineering but as this involved moving I had to give up the DBAF, I am still a member but not a very active one. After the first two years of my study I had to do a traineeship, and I ended up working for KLM powerplant engineering for six months. While at KLM I managed to look around a lot, and did my best to get as close to the action as I could manage, this included working as a ground engineer on 747s for a week. KLM is a very good company for trainees in my view as they don't just keep you busy, but also provide lots of opportunities to see other parts of the company. While at KLM I heard, through my school, about summer projects in the United Kingdom for aeronautical engineering students and became interested. I had a firm interest in aviation history by now plus some experience in restoration through my involvement with the DBAF and as I had only paid two brief visits to the UK, and wanted to spend some more time over there, the option of working in an aviation museum seemed very attractive. In the end I stayed on at KLM for three more weeks on an extra project but at the end of this I cleaned out my desk on a friday, and took a flight to London Heathrow that sunday morning.
The project I got involved in was the first Brooklands Museum Summer project in 1998. This was conceived by a few volunteers and employees at the museum to serve a double goal: provide European students with practical skills through working on the exhibits, and provide the museum with a task force that could handle some larger projects over a period of several weeks. To get an idea of what we did at the museum have a look here.
On that first project I spent four weeks at the museum, and as I enjoyed it tremendously I went back in 1999 to help out the next group of students. While I was at the museum in 1999 I was still looking for a place to do my next traineeship, which would be the final project for my degree. When my original plans fell through I had to do some last minute arranging as I was supposed to start the project within two weeks of the end of the museum project. Having worked at the museum worked out pretty well as through people I met there I managed to find a place with British Airways in the powerplant engineering department (yes, same department but different airline). On quite short notice I managed to find a place to live near Heathrow Airport, and two weeks after leaving Brooklands I was back in the UK and working for the world's finest airline. I worked there for six months on engine life management, removal planning and simulation, and of course while I was in the neighborhood, kept in touch with the Brooklands museum during the weekends.
I finished my project at the end of February 2000, and went back to The Netherlands to finish off the last bits for my degree. By the time the summer came around I of course (the tale is getting boring) went off again to the Brooklands Museum for two weeks to get the project started again with a new group. Just before I went to work for British Airways I had applied at the KLM Flight Academy to see if they would take me on. Living in the UK meant that I had to wait a bit before I could go through the selection process, but I did this after I got back and actually got through all of the tests. So this is where I am now, back to being a student (just when I was ready to start earning money instead of just spending it) in class 00-6. The course here should take about 21 months with the first year spent just on theory. After this we go to Florida to the Pan Am Flight Academy for five months to do the single engine part of the course on the Piper Archer and Arrow. The last part is back here at the school flying the Beechcraft Bonanza simulator, Beechraft Bonanza, Beechcraft Baron (twin engine) and Airbus 310 full flight simulator.
So what's the answer to the question I asked at the start of this story? As I said before: I don't know. In my case I figure it was partly luck, but also I've tried to seize all the opportunities I was given. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. For someone who has only spent a quarter of a century on this planet I just hope these opportunities will keep on coming along.
JH, Summer 2001
What am I doing right now? Good question, I will try to keep you informed. My school has decided that the practical part will look like this (the actual hours flown are added as each stage is completed):
July 2002: At this point in time the score is ±160 hours as by now I have spent 5 months in Florida at the Pan Am Flight Academy, and have flown both the Piper Archer and the Arrow there. During my time at Pan Am I made sure everybody could keep track of what I was doing by visiting the website I set up for this purpose: The Florida Files. Now that I'm back I'm not updating it anymore and the site should actually have dissappeared a while ago as I'm not paying the hosting site anymore, but it took them 7 months before they remembered to remove it!
February 2003: After a waiting period caused by planning problems at school
I have flown the Bonanza Simulator. This is a fixed simulator with a full visual
system on which I got to practice my IFR skills. After this (and of course a
brief wait) I moved on to the BE36 Bonanza. Fortunately the aircraft's flying
qualities do not resemble the sim too much (as the sim can be a real pig to
fly!), the Bonanza is a lovely beast. It has plenty of power, is very stable at
all speeds and responds very well. As I'm typing this I'm back home again as
obviously no switch from one type to the other could be done without a couple of
weeks waiting period in between. The good news has arrived though: with a bit of
luck I'll be back in the air later this week (it's early February now). This
will be a new challenge: no more single engine, I will have to keep my eyes on
two rows of engine instruments now! Flying the Bonanza has wetted my appetite
for the Baron, after all those single-engine hours I'm looking forward to the
added complexity actually. Another new item on the Baron will be the auto-pilot,
although designed to give us a rest, learning to deal with the system
(especially in a two man crew) will be interesting.
Flying in the Netherlands sure produces some different sights compared to Florida:
April 2003: Two months later, the wintery skies have all gone, summer seems to be upon us, and flying has taken on a new complexity. I guess an update is in order:
Since the last time I've updated this page I've started flying the Beechcraft Baron, and finished that part of the course too. With two 300 Hp engines the Baron is not quite short on power, and this became immidiately clear during the first excersise which consisted of some taxiing to get used to the aircraft (especially taxiing with differential power) and the procedures, and a rejected take-off. Soon after that the flying began in earnest and after the second flight during which we shut down an engine for real to see what that was like (at a safe altitude right over the field of course) the engine failures started turning up regularly. After the first part of the course the navigation flights started, and for the first one me and my crewmate (with instructor of course) headed for Berlin. I landed the airplane on Berlin Tempelhof Airfield at the end of the afternoon, and we stayed in a hotel on the Kurfurstendamm, leaving Berlin again the next morning to fly back via Hannover. Officially we were crewed with three students and one instructor, but one of us couldn't make the Berlin flight, to enable her to catch up again we rearranged the other flights a bit, which also meant more navigation trips for us. And so with all four aboard we flew a trip around The Netherlands and Belgium, landing at Maastricht and Antwerp, and the week after a trip through Denmark which was marred by low clouds which meant that the sightseeing part was a bit dissappointing, but the interesting approaches (with a strong gusting wind) at Aalborg and Odense made it a great trip for me.
Once the navigation flights were done we started flying locally again, increasing the workload until I was deemed ready for the exam. This happened on 25 March, and on that day I started my exam, only to find out after 30 minutes flying that the 'gear in transit' light wouldn't go off. This meant a real emergency as this could mean that one of the gear legs was hanging down. Recycling the gear gave us three green lights, but it still wouldn't go up completely. I made the decision to go back to the field and after a single engine ILS approach (that way the examiner could cross out another item as 'completed') we made an uneventful (fortunately) landing. In the end it was only a switch that had failed, but still....
I flew the second half of the exam the next
day and passed, which added a Multi-engine class rating and an Instrument rating
(ME and SE) to my CPL. The next step would then logically be the Airbus A310
simulator at the school, and so I started studying the AOMs, while waiting for
the next guy to finish on the Baron as the sim is flown as a crew of two. He got
delayed, which was unfortunate, but after a week of studying and waiting, I got
a call telling me that instead of the Airbus I would go to Brussels to fly the
737-300 simulator there! This meant exchanging the Airbus AOMs for Boeing AOMs,
restarting the studying effort and more waiting, which wasn't such a bad thing
with the sudden change of plans. The 737-300 capacity was booked to cater for
delays on the Airbus sim, but after a few weeks there weren't enough students
graduating from the Baron which meant that any students that did finish should
go to Brussels as those slots had already been paid for. So here I am, the
simulator that we're using is at the Sabena
Flight Academy on Brussels International Airport, and I'm staying in an
apartment in Evere, which is at the north-east side of Brussels. The initial
session was interesting, as always the procedures and calls will not spring to
mind readily if you haven't flown a type before, however much you studied them.
Fortunately the second flight brought lots of improvement already, so I'm sure
we'll get through this!
June 2003: For the next update to this story I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I have completed the course on the 737 simulator which also means that I've completed the entire course with the KLM Flight Academy! The bad news is that this leaves me as one of the many unemployed pilots in the world....
So what happened? The simulator course consisted of several modules, devoted to several aspects of flying and managing an airliner. As we passed each module the next step would be a bit more complex, and the last module consisted of (restricted) Line Oriented Flight Training (or LOFT) sessions, leading up to the exam.
The first exam (yes we had to do a second exam!) was a bit of an anticlimax as although we had flown a good flight according to ourselves and our instructor, the examiner was not satisfied with our performance. This meant a few extra sessions and a re-exam which went according to plan. So after a total of 77:45 hours of (simulated) 737 flying I finished my course at the KLM Flight Academy.
The immediate future for low-time pilots like me is not very bright. The big airlines around this part of Europe are not hiring right now so I am looking for a non-flying job to keep me busy for the next couple of months.
April 2004: I guess another update would be nice as it has been some time since I've written anything on this page. The situation hasn't changed much since almost a year ago. I still haven't got a flying job, I did find that non-avation job and it did keep me busy for a while, but now that I've finished that job I'm also glad to be moving on again, as it wasn't really in my line of work. Next priority is to find another job to keep me busy for the next few months.
The good news is that I'm one step closer to getting a job with a large airline. My name has been put forward by my school, along with 11 others, and I'm awaiting a job interview which will probably happen sometime in June. If that goes according to plan I'll start training within a few months and then my flying career can really take off! But that is still in the future. Currently I'm staying current by renting Cessnas from Flight Center Lelystad. This friendly company provides a discount to us ex-KLS students, which many of us really appreciate. So the view from my cockpit window looks something like this these days:
June 2004: Had an interesting first day of this month. As it is nearly a year since I received my license it became time to renew my ME and IR ratings, so I had arranged to do this at my old school. Me and a classmate of mine were assigned an examiner and aircraft for this purpose, so we both turned up on time, completed all the planning and paperwork, and awaited the examiner who was still flying with someone else. We were supposed to meet him for a briefing at 11:00.
Shortly after 10:00 an Airbus A321 started its take-off run, swallowed a couple of birds through the left engine and decided to call it a day, leaving the airplane standing almost exactly at the crossing of the two runways at Eelde airport, thereby blocking all the traffic. This meant that the airplane with our examiner in it had to divert to its alternate, which was Bremen, Germany. After the commotion died down the passengers on the Airbus were offloaded on the runway, brought to the terminal in small vans (the only transportation available at that time, although a larger bus did turn up later), and after that the crew taxied the airplane to the apron on one engine. This meant that the airport was open again, but the crew that was in Bremen now had to file a flightplan (which takes some time to move through the system) and make their way back to Groningen, completing their exam along the way. A fair bit of waiting later they did turn up, and we arranged a briefing for 14:15, giving us half an hour to get the airplane refuelled while the examiner finished debriefing his candidate.
So after all this my classmate was the first to taxy out in Beech Baron PH-BYC around 15:00. That wasn't the end of the mishaps of course, as 25 minutes later they were back again. They had gone through all of the checklists up to the point where they were standing at the runway ready for departure, and then a red light had been staring at them, announcing an alternator failure. After a bit of checking the only thing for them was to taxi back and turn the airplane over to maintenance. Fortunately another Baron was available, so as quickly as possible they were taxiing again, this time in PH-BYB (after changing the flight plan and a quick walkaround). Surprise, surprise this time the flight went without a hitch, so after waiting for the entire day, I got my chance and at 17:45 left to do my flight. Now I hadn't flown a Baron for over a year, so a bit of rustiness was expected, but to my own surprise everything fell in place without thinking about it much. Allright, my circuits could best be described as sloppy, but in the end I flew them within the limits and that's what counts. The end result is that my license is good again for another year, and I had fun flying the Baron again!
December 2006: It has been a while since I wrote anything on this page and in the meantime my career has taken a few twists and turns that I had not foreseen. To make a long story short, I didn't get the airline job and there weren't many alternatives available at the time.
In the meantime I have found a job which seems to fit me a bit better than I had expected, teaching at a local university for an aeronautical engineering course. After taking it on as a temporary job I realised recently that I like it just a bit too much to just give it up again, and as there are not that many other options open to me right now it looks as if I'll continue doing this for the time being.
That still leaves me with a flight crew license which is gathering dust. I still keep it current, but what was meant to be a career is now just an expensive hobby so I really should find a way to earn some money with it. I've got some ideas on that but this will take some time to work out and we'll have to see how that turns out. So stay tuned!
June 2008: Regularly people ask me if I've found a job as an airline pilot yet. The short answer is no, but to be honest I'm not looking that hard either. Teaching is something that I'm enjoying a lot more than I thought I'd do when I started and because of this I recently added the FI (flight instructor) rating to my license and started as an instructor with the Stella Aviation Academy. I'm doing this part-time next to my teaching job at the university which basically provides the 'best of both worlds'. I'm still teaching and next to that I'm flying too!
Over time I may well look at an airline job again but for now I've got too many challenges that I'd like to tackle with these two jobs. Perhaps in a few years time!
Scrolling through this page I realise that the updates get shorter each time. That's not because I've got no interesting things to talk about but mainly because I'm too busy working to devote much time to this site. And when I do I try to add interesting things about VC10s, not ramble on about my strange career ;-)