It was a 06:30 wake up call; still a little dark outside, but the first rays of sunshine lit up the clear sky as fire. Today’s agenda was packed. It would be a whole day of photo flying for different clients from all over Western Europe; a flying adventure that already sounded great, yet in reality exceeded all expectations that I could’ve ever had.
On my bike ride to the airport I enjoyed the crisp air. The visibility was near perfect and there was a slight North Easterly wind that would later on drastically increase our ground speed as we hopped over the pond to the UK. The trusty little PBL was already parked outside and Herman, the owner and photographer at “Flying Focus”, was busy putting on his immersion suit. These suits are great, but man they’re a pain to put on!
Both looking like giant carrots, we stepped into the fully fueled 172 and departed from the freshly cut grass strip. Turning southwards after take off, we spent a short half hour flying down the west coast of the Netherlands towards Rotterdam. This is a route that I’ve flown many times before on my way to Midden Zeeland; passing De Kooy and Amsterdam CTR, but on this early morning there was almost no traffic in the area along the coast.
Near Rotterdam we changed heading towards the west for our first target in the North Sea, a ship just south of Dungeness for a Danish client. The vast body of water seemed to stretch out endlessly and it would be another hour of flying before we’d see the coast of Dover. Flying over the sea with no land it sight has something beautiful to it. Maybe it was the survival suit and life jacket that made me feel invincible, I mean it’s a pretty dangerous trip, but the tranquil seas were calming. There was nothing to see for miles, only slow ships and little candy-floss clouds.
As we passed the cliffs of Dover and approached the target ship I began the descend to 100 ft. It was the same ship we photographed the day before in Rotterdam, but looked even bigger out here in the open waters. The flight turned into a frenzied dance, as Herman instructed me to fly parallel past, swoop in behind and intercept in front of the moving ship. At a couple of meters distance, I maneuvered around the boat for the best aerial shots. Like a mosquito I buzzed around, low and slow, with the most breathtaking sight being the morning sunshine reflecting off the waveless water.
Target 1 completed, and off we went towards Calais. We were welcomed into the French airspace with some low clouds and rainfall, but variation is always good. It keeps you alert, and as we all know; after rain there’s always sunshine. Before I knew it, we were already at the next target, a windmill farm in the middle of the sea. This time the photo runs were a little higher; I flew parallel to the massive windmills at 400 ft, watching the blades cut through the air aggressively. I kept the speed just over 70 kts, to fight against the wake turbulence of the turbines and give myself a safety margin for some steeper turns away from target if necessary.
When we finished off the photo series I turned onto a direct heading towards Midden Zeeland. Here we filled both the main and tip tanks to the brim, since we were only halfway through our flying adventure and needed enough fuel to reach the German border next. It was good to be back at this cute little airport; the place where I had already made some good memories dropping skydivers this summer.
Before we made our way to the 3rd target in Eemshaven, near the German border at Borkum, I held a quick orbit overhead Scheveningen for some shots of the harbor, and then flew directly to Ameland. Since our next target would be photographed at 1600 we had some time to kill, and decided to have a coffee break at the airport. It’s crazy how at home I am beginning to feel at these places. The general aviation community is small; everyone knows each other, and I absolutely love being a part of it. It really is a shared common interest; a passion for aviation and adventure, and doing what you love, that creates such a strong bond between people. I feel like I’m surrounded by people who admire what I do, are happy to see me flourish, and know that I see the best in them as well.
Sunbathing time was over; the next target was ready and there was no need for the immersion suits. We crossed over the Waddenzee towards Eemshaven, where I saw a row of windmills and a brand new Helipad surrounded by cars. Bingo, that was the location for the next photoshoot. It was an opening event for the new landing spot and all the spectators were ready for the dutch Minister Wiebes to arrive at the ceremony. The scene wasn’t complete yet and I was asked to orbit twice around the northern section of the location. In my second orbit I heard a voice over the radio calling in as the the WIKING F1, arriving at the spot with 4 minutes delay. I had 4 minutes to line up into the right position; I had no idea what was coming for me. Before I knew it, I was flying side by side in formation with an airbus H145 helicopter! In my peripherals I saw the rotor blades spinning besides my tail on the starboard side, slowly inching closer for the ultimate air to air photograph. The formation flight took us closer to the landing spot, where the helicopter broke right and I orbited around the spot for some final landing shots. First helicopter/fixed wing formation completed. My heart was racing and I couldn’t believe it was already over. This is why I fly.
After this absolute madness I had a chance to cool down on the slow flight back to Texel. The “Wadden Zee” was more beautiful than ever; low tide and a hundred shades of blue and green. The final part of this photo flight was an easy freestyle shoot off the coast of the mainland. I did a couple of orbits and steep turns for the aerial shots. As Herman is focussed on the spots I get small heading corrections such as “slight left, descend 100 ft, slower speed, quick bank right”. This is what you call real ‘stick and rudder’ flying. It’s when you get to know the plane so well you become a part of it. You know what these corrections feel like, without having to look at any instruments. You feel no fear in taking your plane to it’s limits, because you know exactly what you’re doing. And that is exactly why I fly.