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October 2020

Storm flight 25 september 2020

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Friday morning September 25 I noticed some posts on social media about a pilot vessel in the southwest sailing out and expecting galeforce wind. Storm, really? Because the last days were very busy at work we only checked the wind and waveheight forecast for the area in the vicinity of Texel and nothing over 30 knots of wind was predicted. A quick look at the weather maps shows a low pressure area on the North Sea just west of Noord Holland surrounded by a circular windfield. Next was checking the meteo reports and forecasts for Vlissingen, Rotterdam and the P11 platform west of Rotterdam to find out there was a warning for 40 to 50 knots of wind from the northwest in the afternoon, with gusts up to 56 knots. Because of the direction of the wind and the large area I expected a chance for extra high waves.

Within 10 minutes pilot Peter Bos was informed. We decided to go airborne around 1530 for a photo flight of approximately 3 hours to the Noordhinder area.
I continued checking all the vessel movements on marinetraffic, an online tool. Because of the winddirection the best chance to make spectacular stormphotos would be the outbound shipping lane from Rotterdam to Noordhinder. In the other shipping lanes the ships would not sail into the wind and waves. Luckily I spotted a small coaster, the Arklow Clan, approaching Noordhinder on its way from Antwerp to Dundee, sailing straight into wind and waves. That will be our main target!

Just after 1530 we take of from the southeast runway at Texel airport with only about 25 knots of wind to follow the coast from Den Helder to the Maascentre area west of Rotterdam, to start following the outbound shipping lane from there. West of Scheveningen I said to Peter the pilot that there would be a chance the whole event will be a big setback. The weather is grey with many of low clouds around 1000 ft and rain. The wind is northwest but not very strong. After that it seems to clear up a bit with rapid increasing winds approaching The Maascentre area. We started there photographing two large tankers outbound from Rotterdam, but due to their size and slow speed we were not able to make very spectacular photos.

We decided to follow the westbound shipping lane in the direction of Noordhinder to intercept the Arklow Clan. The closer we got to Noordhinder the higher the waves with still increasing winds and turbulence. The visibility is deteriorating again, but the relatively small coaster Arklow Clan was found easily, sailing slowly into the seas with a groundspeed of only 3 knots. In about 20 minutes we were able to make a spectacular series of spectacular photos showing the high waves. The last run we could capture the vessel diving into an extra high wave and we decided we were ready to return to Texel. Flying to the northeast again the weather improved within 15 minutes, with decreasing wind and waves. West of Petten the wind seems to calm down completely and we see an area with clustered showers with lots of rain. That must be the centre of the low pressure area. And then, as icing on the cake, we spotted a very nice waterspout moving southwest.

20 minutes later we landed at Texel on the southeasterly runway, impressed by the forces of nature and a very spectacular and special photo flight.

Cessna 172

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The good old Cessna 172 is still operated all over the world. This aircraft first flew in 1957 and since then 43.000 of them were built! What makes this aircraft very suitable for aerial photography? Firstly its high wing design with good all around visibility. Furthermore there is enough space to move around, especially from the back seats, to use a wide angle for photography. And its performance in slow flight is very good and forgiving in case of too slow flying.

I spent a few thousand photo flying hours in a Cessna 172 since my first photo flight in 1985. Sometimes we even used it’s little sister’s the twoseaters Cessna 150 or 152. Sitting next to the pilot, you can only photograph on the right side of the aircraft, while during photoruns around ships it is often better to photograph on the left side, using the wind to minimize the groundspeed during a photorun. Sitting on the backseats of a 172 gives you the luxury to be able to photograph from either sides of the aircraft. Untill the end of last century we frequently rented Cessna 172’s on airfields as Rotterdam, Hilversum, Lelystad, Den Helder and Texel. Getting busier and busier it became more difficult to find a plane for the job, so I decided to buy one myself. We purchased a Cessna 172M from 1976 with a total flying time just above 3000 hours. This model is slightly lighter than later models with better slow flight capabilities.

Immeditately after the purchase of the aircraft plans were made for customizing the aircraft for our specific job. It lasted a few months until completed, after that we had a perfect workhorse for maritime photo missions. A GPS was installed for navigation, as well as a Marine VHF installation for contacting vessels. Special hatches were made in both doors, to be opened or closed during flight. The range of the aircraft was lenghtened by extra wingtanks, bringing the total amount of fuel to 240 liters, or 7,5 hours of flight with 30 minutes reserve. On top of the cockpit two skylight windows were installed enabling the pilot to keep our target in sight during turns around a vessel. More recent two extra photo windows were installed to be used from the backseats and a fifth hatch was made in the bottom of the aircraft for vertical photography. Both doors are equipped with an emergency release system to be able to escape from the aircraft after ditching in the water. Our aircraft is also equipped with 2 Emergency Locator Transmitters, one with the antenna on top of the aircraft and the other with the antenna under the fuselage. This it to be more sure at least one of the antennas will stay out of the water for a while to transmit after ditching, even if the aircraft flipped over.

Our Cessna 172 PH-PBL is still the most used aircraft of our little fleet, flying several photo missions every week. Maintenance is done in compliance with the highest standards, all according the PART/SPO regulations for aerial work. The Cessna company has provided maintenance protocols for a lifetime of 30.000 flying hours for the Cessna 172. Our PH-PBL recently passed the 7000 flying hours so is not even mid life and many more photo missions can be flown in the future.