Michael McCafferty - European Biplane Tour

Leap of Faith

Copenhagen, Denmark

Jessica Brinkmann joined Mattias and I for breakfast, then came to my room to see the photo I took of her (the one you have already seen in the email). And then I showed her some of the other photos from the previous two months on the road. Soon it was her time to practice, and Mattias and I had to get in the air again, so it was time to say goodbye, but not after I stopped in to her practice session one more time to listen to this angel sing. She warmed up with a rendition of Das Pilgrims auf Mecca by von Gluck and then just blew me away with Ah Spiegarti, Oh Dio by Mozart. At the end of her performance a tear of joy squeezed itself past my defenses. She has an awesome gift.

We said goodbye again, traded addresses and promised to write, and hugged. As the taxi pulled away, I could still hear her golden voice trailing off in the distance.

It wasn't until later that I finally realized what it is about Jessica that seems so familiar. She reminds me a lot of my youngest sister Eileen.

At the airport at Borkum, there was no fuel. The truck hadn't made it across from the mainland yesterday, so we had to figure a destination within range of what we had left in our tanks. And speaking of fuel tanks, a minor miracle has happened. For the first time since the plane was reassembled in Paris over 45 days ago, the left fuel tank gauge has decided to start working again. It is a float type device, and was stuck solid. No amount of hammering would free it, and it has always been a minor pain to see it not working, even though any pilot in his right mind knows to never trust any fuel gauge. In any case, it is nice to see it working again.

What has decided to stop working is the radio. It hasn't quit altogether, but there is an awful lot of noise which seems to be caused by interference from the engine. When I turn off the right magneto, the noise stops. I'd rather have the magneto working and put up with the noise, but I'm going to be looking for some repairs here soon.

With the limited fuel on board we decided to head for St. Michaelisdonn, Germany, a 90 mile jaunt skipping over a series of 10 islands in the North Sea along the north coast of Germany. We took of from the grass runway at Borkum and took a non-standard right turn to the coastline to avoid a large dark and very active rain cloud passing nearby on our left. There were a lot of cumulus formations along the island chain, but the air was relatively smooth. What was really surprising was the tailwind which pushed us along at over 120 knots.

When the last of the islands slipped past my wing, there was still about 30 miles to go across water with no landfall possible. This is the great leap of faith. If the engine stops, the plane will be a total loss. And I will get very wet and cold, at best. There is something about crossing large bodies of water that spooks me. I know it shouldn't, it isn't rational. The engine has never quit on me, yet. The weather is clear and not likely to change during the crossing. So what's the problem? It's all in my head, of course, just like any problem. So I focus on the instruments, checking everything to be sure it's set right. Mixture leaned just right. Throttle set at 2000 rpm. Artificial horizon set in harmony with the vertical speed indicator, just in case that gray/blue mass in front of me is a fat cloud instead of haze obscuring the other shoreline. Check that the life preserver is still stowed by my right shoulder. Alternator still working. Radio check. Compass heading and HSI in agreement. Nothing much to do except relax. I just let it go and enjoy the scenery. That big freighter pulling into the North Sea from the Elbe River, those whitecaps breaking on a sandbar, that buoy marking the channel. The other shoreline. And then it's all over. The engine never even coughed. The plane never knew the difference between over water and over land, it only knows it's in the air. It just kept on doing its job.

The tailwind delivered us to St. Michaelisdonn with such efficiency that we had enough fuel to keep on going. We decided to go straight north, for Flensburg, the northernmost airport on the mainland of Germany, just a stone's throw from the Denmark boarder. The decision to continue flying was made in the air, on the fly, so to speak. It always adds a bit more interest to a flight to land someplace other than where you planned when you started.

Mattias was in the lead going into Flensburg, but he got screwed up somehow and wound up across the boarder into Denmark, heading for an abandoned airfield when he discovered his mistake and found his way back to the real Flensburg. This was the first time Mattias has shown any flaw, no matter how slight, so it was good to see he is human after all! The winds were really howling by now, and the controller assigned us to runway 29, but the winds were coming from 250 degrees at 22 knots, gusting to 29. I noticed that there was a runway 22 and asked for that instead, thereby giving us 10 degrees less crosswind to deal with.

Mattias was still in the lead, and flew the right hand pattern for runway 22, which was grass, and a lot shorter than the other main runway. Mattias calls his turn to base, then final, and then "Hotel Bravo Uniform Papa Zulu, I can't see runway 22, and I'm going around to land on 29". That's the first time Mattias has gone around! What could be wrong? I could have sworn that I saw a runway aligned with 22 as I was turning downwind, how come he couldn't see it?

I soon found out as I turned toward final. Runway 22 starts out as a grass strip, then an asphalt taxiway cuts into it and becomes an integral part of it for a few hundred feet, then leaves the runway in another direction, and then the runway becomes all grass again. It is the weirdest looking runway I have ever seen from the air, and I'm really not sure I want to land on it, but the wind feels real strong, and I know I'm going to have more trouble on 29 than on this one, so I go for it, drop the biplane right on the approach end and roll out to a stop in no time at all, helped by the high headwind. I'm on the ground and stopped while Mattias is still coming down final on 29, so I watch him come in for a very nice landing. Piece of cake! I guess it didn't make any difference which runway we used, but I think I had more fun on the weird runway.

We got a lift into town from another pilot, had some lunch, and walked back to the airport to refuel and file a flight plan for Copenhagen, Denmark. There were lots of billowy cumulus rainclouds in the sky, and the wind was really strong, but it was a shame to miss out on this strong of a tailwind going our way, so we decided to go for it.

The flight to Copenhagen was similar to the last leg, smooth and fast, but we had plenty of rainshowers to keep us company this time. The big visual treat of this trip was looking down on the huge new suspension bridge being built between Nyborg and Korsor which will finally connect the major land masses of Denmark for rail and auto traffic.

As we neared our destination airport of Roskilde, we were racing a long line of rainshowers. I felt we would get around in front of the rain and be able to land, but thought we would quickly get drenched while tying the planes down and dealing with baggage. We were lucky, never caught a drop of rain!

On final at Roskilde, there was a major crosswind and I had to keep almost all the right rudder I could manage just to stay straight. But what is this? It looks like there are some papers blowing across the runway, from right to left. But that doesn't make sense because the wind is blowing from the left. My visual clues, and my physical senses are not agreeing with each other. And then, bingo! That's not paper, they are birds! Birds can do what they want, paper goes with the wind. Problem solved. The landing went smoothly, at first, but when I got on the ground the crosswind pushed me all the way to the right of the runway before I could get it stopped. Good practice!

We arrived at Roskilde a bit early. The town is having its 1000th (one thousandth!) birthday, next year. This town was a favorite place for Danish kings and queens to be buried, there being 38 of them lying in various places in town. It looks like a really nice place to visit and I would like to spend some time here someday, but right after we landed all I wanted to do was get a taxi to Copenhagen and get a shower and a good meal.

The best dinner in Copenhagen wound up on my plate tonight, I'm sure. The Danish have something in common with the French: great sauces! I highly recommend the restaurant named Leonore Christine at #9 Nyhavn.

And what's going on with the spelling of these city names anyway? These people spell their city "Kobenhavn" not Copenhagen. So why do we spell it the way we do? Of course they also put a funny little slant through the "O" in Kobenhaven, and I'm not so sure why they feel the need for that. Oh, well, new country, new money, new Internet access number, new customs, new language, etc.

And speaking of customs: As I was building my breakfast at the buffet table this morning in Borkum, a lady was giggling and laughing and having a grand old time, all the while talking German to me and pointing to the toaster I was using. I told her I didn't speak German, only English, and since she didn't, she just went away laughing. When I got back to the table, Jessica started laughing too. It seems that I was stupid enough to toast brown bread. It just isn't done in Germany!

Return to Table of Contents - European Tour
Return to Home Page