As a glider pilot with about 220 flying hours, I finally decided to take the jump and start my Private Pilot training in June 2018. In this series, I share my experiences of getting my Private Pilot License in Belgium. From preparing for my first lesson, to my first solo flights and ultimately my checkride. I hope these articles will be able to help you get the most out of your own flight training!
By now, I have done quite a few dual cross-country flights already. We have visited the airfields of Zwartberg, Leopoldsburg, and Grimbergen and have done some radio navigation using VORs.
I love these cross-country flights; not only do you learn how to be a better and safer pilot, you also get to fly over new terrain and visit these nice little airfields. Because I have been a glider pilot for about 10 years now, I have flown over most of Belgian's northern/eastern regions at one point, but landing on these smaller airfields for some coffee is something I wasn't very used too. After all, we always try to land at our departure airfield in gliding!
For this flight, I had prepared a dual navigation flight to the beautiful airfield of Spa-Francorchamps. If this name sounds familiar to you, you probably know it from its world-famous Formula 1 racetrack. The airfield is located in the south of Belgium, where the terrain starts rising, just south of the city and airport of Liege.
Spa airfield has a beautiful new paved runway, large grass fields for the parachutists and nice bar/restaurant overlooking the airfield. On sunny Sundays, this airfield can get quite busy, mostly because of the many parachutists on weekends.
I mentioned before the original plan for this flight would be to do a dual cross-country, but because of an instructor's meeting at our flying club planned around the time of our flight (I was unaware of that), my instructor signed me off for my first solo cross country!
I had been to Spa once before with a friend about a year ago, so it wasn't completely new. The fastest route to get there is to overfly Liege airport directly overhead the big airport, so I had to get clearance from Liege Tower for this. Again, I had done this with a friend before, so I knew it wouldn't be very hard (if the controller would allow me to do this, otherwise I'd have to go around the CTR).
After turning the engine heater on for about 15 minutes, it was time to leave for my first solo cross-country flight!
As a way of practice, I created and filed a flight plan, which I later activated in-flight with Brussels Information. Before reaching Romeo, the entry point for the Liege CTR, I changed frequencies to Liege TWR and requested to cross their CTR from Romeo to Oscar, which would bring me directly overhead the airport.
Liege airport is a mostly cargo airport, with most of its traffic being cargo aircraft ranging from the 737 Classic to 747 Jumbo jets. Apart from cargo, the airport has some business aviation traffic as well, but is mostly quiet during the day, especially on Sundays. So I wasn't expecting any issues about overflying the airport and the controller cleared me from Romeo, overhead the airport to Oscar, below 2000 ft, resulting in some cool pictures!
The airfield of Spa is only 40nm from my home airfield Goetsenhoven, so flight time each leg would only be around 30 minutes. After leaving the Liege CTR, I was already closing on the Spa region and contacted Spa information to let them know I was approaching from the North-West. I wanted to check in with them as early in possible since it was a beautiful Sunday with undoubtedly a lot of Sunday traffic and jumpers.
I joined the right hand downwind for RWY 05 and overheard the Cessna Caravan pilot announce he was about to drop parachutists overhead the airfield. I checked in with the AFISO on the ground whether I could safely continue my circuit, 'Affirm' he replied, so I continued the approach.
As I was turning final, most jumpers had already landed on the large grass field left of the runway, so it was safe to continue. After landing, I taxied to the apron, parked the aircraft uphill (chokes are mandatory!) and got to the navigation office to close my flight plan and pay the landing fees.
After a short sanitary break and a coffee, I departed again back home, just in time for the next person's booking.
An unexpected but great first solo cross-country flights. Couldn't have wished for better weather or a nicer destination!
What's next? Preparing for my 150 NM solo cross-country flight!