On the way to our third EMPOA Mooney Proficiency Training in Erfurt, I started remembering the saying from back in my old glider pilot days: Sahara´s irrigation problems could be easily solved if it would only be made venue of the World Gliding Championships. Too often the World Gliding Championships suffered from bad weathers – no matter where they took place.
With a view to the weather forecast, something similar now seemed to be happening to our Mooney Proficiency Training. The last two times it was also us who had to experience that bad weather had ruined at least one of the three training days and therefore put our entire schedule at stake. The last time, while the rest of Germany had ideal weather, at Donaueschingen air field in the usually sunny Black Forest, we were facing deeply hanging clouds and IMC-conditions. Due to the present Non-Precision-Approach which had dropped below the minima, even IFR-pilots were partially unable to land.
This should not happen to us again this time! Due to the directly at the runway situated hotels and the uncomplicated atmosphere without any safety and security frills, this air field basically was outstandingly convenient. That is why we heavy-heartedly had to say goodbye to Donaueschingen airfield and started searching for another location.
At the beginning of the year Thomas and I traveled all over the republic in order to find alternatives to Donaueschingen. This was not an easy task as the quested place had to have an ILS, a hotel directly situated nearby and regarding security it had to be thus organized that the access to our beloved Mooneys would not become brittle. After many twists and turns the choice fell on Erfurt, because this place offers an ideal infrastructure and because airport, authorities and air traffic control signalized they were going to make a great effort in case we definitely accepted. That was an offer one could not refuse! Nowadays it is rare to grant general aviation such a lobby despite the latent danger anti-aircraft noise groups again would have made life difficult for the Erfurt airport because of so much unusual air traffic.
The choice of venue was made and after the years of 2007 and 2010 the third Mooney Proficiency Training in this year should take place in Erfurt. I even found myself in a completely new role: while the last two times I had the pleasure of receiving deeper and deeper insight instructions on the aeronautical capabilities of this very special aircraft type by extremely experienced Mooney instructors, who in spite of my twenty years aeronautical career extended my personal handling skills with this distinctive machine, I this year was given the honor to be nominated a Mooney instructor myself by the EMPOA and the MAPA Safety Foundation. I now was able to experience all actions from the right side of the cockpit.
But what is that makes the specialized type training at the EMPOA Mooney Proficiency Training this special and differ from the many other courses and safety trainings? As I have already mentioned it is meanwhile the third time the training takes place in Europe. The training is executed by the EMPOA in cooperation with the American MAPA Safety Foundation which was founded 25 years ago when there was a lack of suitable facilities. Its major task is to develop a flight training particularly for the Mooney. Following this, MAPA Safety Foundation has a long history and thus experienced flight instructors who indeed possess profound knowledge of aeronautical and technical issues of this aircraft. Where in Europe do you find pilots who can look back on 5000 hours pure flight time and at the same time, as a result of that, are capable of passing on their well enhanced knowledge?
In order to provide access to this knowledge for European Mooniacs, the EMPOA together with the MAPA Safety Foundation offer this training in Europe and train suitable flight instructors turning them into Mooney-Instructors. The requirements for that are challenging: in addition to the obligatory participation in a Mooney Proficiency Training all new candidates must have at least one instrument flight permission beside their flight instructor license and ideally a CPL. Furthermore they must be owner of their very own Mooney with flight experience between 800 and 1000 hours on all types of Mooneys. This type-specific experience is of great importance in order to be acquainted with the features of this aircraft type so that one can train on a professional basis. Unfortunately it is namely exactly the problem that there are a lot of experienced pilots and flight instructors in Europe, however only a very few have simultaneously profound experience with Mooneys. Go and ask your flight instructor for your Mooney: what is the difference between a M20J, M20K and M20M?
At which points does a Long-Body have to be flown differently than a Short-Body? Probably only a few who intensely focus on the Mooney can tell. But this knowledge is exactly what we want to provide! Far too often fairytales are being told, the Mooney was too difficult to fly but even more difficult to land. I do not wish to offend anybody at this point, but often it is fact that the flight instructor is not sufficiently experienced with this type of aircraft which is why worries and insecurities are transferred to the trainee pilot and in the end a wrong flight technique turns out. Flying it the right way and the technology shown correctly once, the Mooney is an unbelievably sweet-tempered and safe airplane. New trust gained that way does not only positively affect safety but also fun with flying. And that is exactly the Mooney Proficiency Training goal!
In individual accordance to the actual pilot´s skills and experience, the horizon of experience shall widen and under visual and instrumental flight conditions the operational area of this airplane shall be demonstrated. The intended goal is to become more familiar with the limits and performance of this airplane to strengthen confidence and secureness. The training fields are very diverse: beginning with the correct external check of the Mooneys and the neuralgic points (who knows for sure how the Wheel-Well should look like, when a Tail-Shake must be estimated critical and which screw can be responsible for an Inflight-Emergency) following different approach and landing techniques – for short or soft field conditions too, Stalls & Falls, Power Settings & Engine Management, emergency procedures up to recovery from unusual flight situations, Partial Panel under IMC conditions, spiral demonstration and slow flight.
Yes – we the Mooniacs love to fly fast but it is rather more important to handle the Mooneys in slow flights, too. And do they only begin at 100kt? No, it is impressively demonstrated how the Mooney reacts at buffeting and that there are still coordinated turns possible to fly without running into danger skipping to the unwanted and actually very aggressive tailspin. When you know that even below 60kt the Mooney still flies, how it feels and which signals are transmitted to the pilot, next time it will not be necessary to get clammy hands at a speed of 70kt in the final worrying the plane will shortly fall out of the sky.
r who has ever dared to totally leave the Mooney to itself? Taking the hands off the yoke and sitting back and taking things easy, moving the feet from the pedals and putting them on the floor just to see what is going to happen? Even when the Mooney skips to descent and rolls around the longitudinal. And not for only 5-10 seconds but at least over several minutes. Now a queasy feeling is coming up? Especially having your old instructor´s comments in mind, the Mooney can be a really unpredictable airplane? Quite rightly when not knowing what the plane does and what to pay attention to. The opposite of unpredictability and being at the machine´s mercy is the case! Yet every pilot has to experience this her/himself and has to be briefed accordingly, as needless to say there are also limits with this type. The Mooney distinguishes itself from most other General Aviation airplanes, especially because every Mooney is handmade and hence a unique piece each behaving slightly different. But the important message in all these situations is: “You fly the airplane and the airplane does not fly you!”
It is particularly not about adrenaline kicks at the limits and headless harakiri by dare devils but about understanding and recognizing limits properly and in time. It is about enhancing your own skills with the goal of advancing safety. Some people now may think: “I have been owning my Mooney for more than 5 years now and have already flown more than 300 hours with it – what more am I supposed to learn?” All I can say is that, so far, no participant flew home and claimed, food and atmosphere were great but apart from that it was a pure waste of money. With the right attitude everyone can always learn something new or let an experienced pilot confirm your techniques.
In many cases Mooney pilots are ambitious pilots who often want to control and know their own airplanes like tech fanatics and perfectionists. That is why the Mooney pilots´ reputation among air traffic controllers is so good - because these pilots know what they are doing and are reliable in even complex traffic situations. Of course it is not true for all Mooney pilots but for certain the ones voluntarily participating such a training and intending to work on their individual aeronautical and technical skills. However a single participation simply is not enough as both the pilot´s time and also receptiveness are limited. Not least because of training participants we had, who already joined the third time and later reported new training successes. I can only encourage everyone to take advantage of the offer by the EMPOA – because the next training comes for sure!
After this little excursion and the intense insight into contents and goals of the Mooney Proficiency Trainings, we quickly come back to our this year´s event in Erfurt! And so after the choice of venue was made, we of course regularly checked the weather for Thuringia – and we were pleased! Even when there were bad weathers in the south or a storm front distressing the north – weather conditions in Thuringia were mainly flight-friendly! But just not during the 25thcalendar week! At the beginning of the week it was scattered showers or front carrying rains moving across the republic; but on Wednesday a front over Central Europe had developed and also remained over Thuringia.
At the same time Thomas and I wanted to fly to Erfurt on that very day to make preparations and to especially welcome our American Mooney friends of the MAPA Safety Foundation. After studying the weather chart it became clear to us: This is going to be tough! Although the sun was shining at our place in Bremen, there was solid IMC around noon in Erfurt. In order to prevent our time schedule from being jeopardized, we decided to let Thomas take the train to Erfurt ahead of us to be on the safe side. With better weather conditions later that evening I would take my Mooney to catch up. It didn´t come off – instead of the promised improvement, the evening in Erfurt had rather CATIII conditions. Live from Erfurt Thomas reported even the tower in EDDE partially vanished in mist. So up to the next day we console us with the hope the weather would thus improve.
But even the Americans were facing unexpected difficulties during their travel to Erfurt: due to a missed connecting flight in the USA they only arrived in Erfurt in the late evening - however without their baggage, which was somewhere left behind en route. Now this was supposed to be the start into a successful weekend? Nevertheless we are happy to welcome again the successful instructor team from the last training program in Europe: for Bud Johnson, John Pallante, Bruce Jaeger, Jack Napoli and Richard Lytle there was no way too far to significantly support us here in Germany with the training.
The next morning the weather had only slightly improved, although for that day the first program for the new EMPOA instructors was scheduled. It was even more gratifying that they straight away had to prove their special qualifications and despite difficult weather conditions arrived on time. The team of the European flight instructors was completed by Leonard van Linschoten, Matthias Winkler and Alexander Haselmann.
But before the program could start, anyway the basic needs had to be satisfied first. Without toothbrushes, underwear, toiletries and no assured prospect of the lost baggage to arrive, a certain concern within the group was noticeable. That is why everybody went to the nearby shopping mall to provisionally equip for the next few days.
Around noon I registered my IFR flight plan after EDDE and took off. The flight was uneventful as I was flying to Erfurt under visual flight conditions with bright sunshine. But after monitoring the ATIS, it became clear the approach on Erfurt was going to be slightly more challenging: around 100 ft above minimum in approx. 300 ft AGL I was coming out of the clouds when I saw the runway lightnings in front of me – on that day a VFR flight to Erfurt was definitely not what you want to do!
When I arrived at the hotel I found our American and European instructors cheerfully having lunch together. Impressions and experiences were exchanged and everybody was happy about the reunion. Right after we walked the few steps over to the airport which right away put us up in its VIP room to carry out the “Train-a-Trainer´s” briefing.
We had booked one whole day because different to our last trainings this time three German flight instructors were about to join, who had to be briefed with the MAPA Safety Foundation philosophy and structure. We had planned it that way, as for one thing 6 instructors could not have coped with the upcoming 30 participants and for the other thing we especially intend to establish our own capacities of qualified instructors in Europe and within the EMPOA in cooperation with the MAPA Safety Foundation. We therefore took the entire afternoon to discuss the laws of the game and the philosophy of the American training. I was very impressed by this briefing! I know the Americans with their penchant for drill and ready-made training programs. American instructors are very experienced and pragmatic – nonetheless they tend to become set on the compliance of detailed program guidelines. None of this was noticeable whatsoever. It was only insisted on not doing any “Touch-and-Gos”, but to taxi back to the starting point after each landing, to tidy up the airplane, to perform a short debriefing on the taxiway and then to take off again. This was not discussable but it was referred to the fact, that good experiences were made with that procedure before and that we had to align ourselves. It was not just about us but also about the MAPA Safety Foundation´s reputation. These trainings have been made for more than 25 years now and not a single accident happened – and it should stay that way!
This argumentation was convincing enough and the following discussion revealed that for the foundation it is not vital to run through ready-made programs, but rather to develop individual aeronautical competences. To get to the heart of it: it is not about drill, but our American friends eloquently explained that it is about eliciting the Mooney pilots to leave their familiar procedures behind by experiencing limits and understanding how to use the systems of a Mooney.
This skills-based approach was mostly convincing! But this can only be postulated by someone who is familiar with the systems and capable of training skills-based. Anyway this is not our American friends´ weak spot. Someone who absolved 16,000 hours in a GA-airplane, mostly in a Mooney, can say something like this and also judge. I think it is great! Although I do not have such an exorbitantly high flight experience like our American fellows – but this is exactly the philosophy in which I have grown into over the last decades and as a flight instructor it is what I believe in. You can only impart the knowledge to others which you have experienced and thought through yourself and which has made you grow. But that is why we are doing this.
We quickly went to the apron after the briefing. Our event obviously had caused sensation as a photo session with the local press was awaiting us. But the weather remained bad which is why the parking positions had not been filled any further. Despite everything Thomas opened the gate of the little hangar provided by the Erfurt airport directly inside the security zone as homebase for this event. The hangar was already prepared for the arrival of 25 Mooneys. A red carpet and flags were lining the entrance, tables and banquettes were standing ready for the arrivals and a little buffet with cake and Thuringian bratwurst along with black beer and champagne were the welcome greetings. But unfortunately for nothing – the weather had scotched that and only 3 more Mooneys arrived at Erfurt airport on that evening! So alternatively we took our seats at the tables and banquettes to at least snack on the provided supplies. But the initial slightly melancholic atmosphere during bratwurst and beer quickly changed when Paul Diestelkamp showed up at the briefing, member of the German air traffic control staff of the Erfurt tower. This packed a punch! Paul Diestelkamp presented a detailed concept which did not only include the NOTAMS secured training spaces for our training around Erfurt - exclusively for us Mooneys – but also a concept showing how the IFR approaches were supposed to get split up on Leipzig and Erfurt with the assistance of additional supervisors in Munich. Our American friends were flabbergasted! In the USA temporarily closed airspaces are only possible for the American President or the Military. John Pallante, former tower controller in New York and Philadelphia, today working as a consultant for the American Federal Aviation Administration, could hardly believe it and promised to submit the briefing document to the FAA, so that they might get something similar done in the USA. Germany, a role model of aviation – truly not very common! Additionally Paul Diestelkamp explained the specifically for the event defined circling approaches and inculcated us with the areas which were not permitted to overfly due to reasons of noise control. Slightly astonished the Americans took note of the especially pointed out main cemetery south of the air field. Quietness over the cemetery – they only know such thing from spiritual indigenous people who care for the blessings of the spirits living there! Complicated noise protection orders such as these and disputes with local residents are simply unknown in the Land of the Free (flying). It is rather about allowing each other the uniqueness of life. Probably the Germans are a bit different!
That was how the day ended and we all hoped the nightly storm front would bring the desired weather change. And that is what happened! Friday started with bright sunshine. Right after breakfast we hurried to the apron to welcome the arriving Mooneys. To our joy they actually came! In rapid succession more than 20 Mooneys overran EDDE and soon impressively populated the large apron of Erfurt airport. The crews were greeted and welcomed and were guided to the neighboring airport hotel so that the Ground-Course could begin with a two hour delay.
All day long the 30 participants were listening to the amusingly competent talks about “Fly by numbers“, “Emergency Procedures“, “Decision making“ and “Maintenance“ which specifically focused on the Mooneys. On that day it was my pleasant job to perform a Pinch-Hitter course on the Mooney for 3 female co-pilots. In the morning theory was scheduled for the ladies and after lunch it went on with practical flying. Each female participant was supposed to learn how to handle a Mooney´s basic functions, how to fly turns on defaulted headings and how to organize an approach together with a descent onto a fixed “Aiming-Point”. At the end each participant was supposed to be able to perform an approach including landing on her own. Unfortunately this time we did not reach this ambitious goal due to a strong and bumpy crosswind, which made this task impossible. However, during each of the two flying lessons every participant acquired the essential basic skills to control a Mooney and – almost more important – to trust this airplane. We - the pilots - often underestimate how much our joining female co-pilots feel being at the airplane´s mercy – especially when we do the entire job without including them into the flights. Then you just do not understand what is happening around you, which hand gear and which noise are responsible for what and what purpose does a procedure such as traffic pattern serve.
I really enjoyed this course because flight by flight I could watch my trainees´ confidence into their own capabilities grow and how they more and more took control over the airplane. It was really bad we did not make it to the landing exercise as I really had some great trainees who were concentrated and encouraged. Under calm weather conditions we would have made it – I am sure about that since it was the same last time! But regardless of that, they understood a lot that can deepen and strengthen their knowledge as passenger or co-pilot. The reason why we will keep offering the Pinch-Hitter course as an integral element for our program in the future, is the safety aspect which well harmonizes with this event – even though it is not very popular among the Americans. Bud Johnson told me that these types of courses were offered within the MAPA Safety Foundation, but it did not go down well. Obviously for the American soul it is very hard to imagine handing over airplane and woman to other pilots.
Due to the delayed beginning of the course I was flying till the late evening and missed the touristic highlight. But I was told the participants were picked up at the airport by a historical tram from the old GDR times to be going around the city of Erfurt. A guided sightseeing tour through the historical town of Erfurt was part of the excursion and did not only impress our American guests. Of course each of us knows the name Erfurt, but who really is familiar with its history – Erfurt has one of Europe´s oldest universities where once Martin Luther studied. The historical town with its amazing cathedral is also unexpectedly impressive. So we properly completed the day with a delicious medieval dinner in the historical vaults of the “Lutherkeller” restaurant. We were so isolated (no mobile reception) that some of our participants even had to walk up again and again to check on the score of the European Football Championships´ quarterfinals Greece - Germany.
Saturday was flying day! Though it was windy the weather was good. The crews moved to the apron early in the morning where already 25 Mooneys were waiting. Always an impressive image! A short while later the airport really became alive. As each time 9 Mooneys wanted into the traffic pattern or into the training spaces in order to perform their exercises. This meant a great deal of work for the controllers who professionally organized the field traffic on three frequencies together with Ground, Apron and the tower. All day long you saw Mooneys departing and approaching, crew changes and briefings in the apron neighboring hall, where tables and banquettes were offering seats and a great selection of refreshments, beverages, coffee and cake for the breaks. The airspace over Erfurt was firmly in the hands of the Mooneys that day and only occasionally traffic was interrupted by charter flights. “What is going on here?” several times surprisingly transmitted over radio on that day. ATC did an awesome job! I was in the air myself for 6 hours on that day and was simply excited by the controllers´ flexibility and attention.
Flying with my “students” also was so much fun, I could introduce “my” Mooniacs to flying exercises, which usually are not listed on their exercise program, but noticeably increase confidence with this type of aircraft. There is nothing better for a flight instructor when inputs such as these are being received and accepted. So I spent most of the day in airspace over Erfurt until the late afternoon when preparations for the next highlight, the gala-dinner, began.
The Americans started off with inviting the present company of 54 to “social-hour” in the hotel lobby, where deep conversations with cocktails took place before everybody went to the banquet hall together. The restaurant had prepared a nice menu with lots of beer and vine. After the main course, Thomas introduced the roundelay with a few personal words and an acknowledgment to all participants. Each pilot received a certificate of participation and a souvenir from Erfurt accompanied by a presentation of the attending Mooneys and the ladies were delighted by the presented bouquets. Maurice Lohrke, airport representative, was also invited to be honored for his commitment and support. What the airport and its staff provided for the performance of our event was simply not for granted. As usual the Mooneys were sitting together for some more time and it was hearable the conversations were not only about the Mooneys.
Sunday it was flying again. Today nine crews simultaneously took off into the sky of Erfurt in order to absolve part 2 of the program, which in most cases consisted of IFR exercises. Here again, ATC supported exemplarily again! Almost the entire day there were up to 6 Mooneys in Stack over VOR Erfurt in order to execute approaches from there on Erfurt and the parallel runway of Leipzig. From time to time the controllers including the trainees had their hands full. But every time John Pallante was sitting in the cockpit, they noticed that this guy was not only doing a good job as a flight instructor, but at the same time he was keeping excellent track of the general situation and partially could give very helpful advises from the air. This made an impression! This day was packed with plenty of training flights and unlike the other two training events at Donaueschingen, this time weather and time allowed all participants to smoothly run through their programs. In the afternoon the wind started to pick up and as if by order 21-30kt sidewinds provided ideal and challenging training conditions for the Mooneys to cope with and exercise under. For a lot of us this was a new experience.
For the ones who had already finished their training, interesting presentations and talks took place all day long in the little hangar by the apron. Bruce Jaeger, owner of Jaeger Aviation, offered a workshop directly on the machines about Mooney Maintenance. On the day before, there already were a number of concomitantly presentations and experience reports by EMPOA members: it was talked about a journey with the Mooney to Africa, about the latest de-icing methods, about the use of modern avionic and medical discoveries and there even was a company representative of TopMeteo, who especially came to this event presenting his new aeronautical meteorological system “Wetter-Jetzt.de” to the curious pilots.
In the early afternoon the apron began to clear up. Those who had finished their program started off home as a new badweather front was gathering, which had already arrived in the north of the republic. The sooner to get away, the better. Thus in the evening, it was only our Mooneys and two more left on the apron who intended to leave the next day. After the last participants had departed it was time to tidy up. While the caterer was moving the tables and banquettes, Paul Diestelkamp came down from the tower one more time to say goodbye. We were talking about the event and Thomas calmly noticed the first arrival messages coming in. Paul Diestelkamp spontaneously invited us to his tower, where he and John talked shop and both were surprised over the similarity with the American systems.
On the way back to the hotel the forecasted front reached Erfurt with sudden rain – the weather had just caught us! How lucky!
We met the remaining people at the hotel for dinner and held our résumé: the Americans right away pointed out, that with its infrastructure and support Erfurt had been the perfect location for this training. You even had to search the USA for something similar. The Americans also were very impressed by the development of our EMPOA training: in 2007 we started with 10 Mooneys, 13 participants and 3 instructors, in 2010 there were already 21 Mooneys with 24 participants and 6 instructors, while this time there were a total of 25 Mooneys, 30 participants with 9 instructors. This would mark an impressive increase and also indicated European Mooniacs consider safety serious. But our American friends also said how much fun they had with the training and the whole stay, and that this training would have probably been the best one in history and that they wanted to come back. First plans were hammered out so that a new edition of the Mooney Proficiency Training will just be a matter of corresponding participation.
Later we were sitting around the table for a while, exchanged pictures and told stories about flying – but we also noticed how tired and exhausted each of us was after these exciting and eventful days. So it was time to go to bed earlier than usual.
Next morning I took Bruce Jaeger and Leonhard van Linschoten to Münster/Osnabrück airport in our Mooney. Both wanted to continue to Seppe airfield in the Netherlands in order to bring forward the next project of American-European cooperation. In association with EMPOA “Weep no more!” LLC – the fuel tank repair specialist from Minesota– is planing to bring its process of sealing leaking wing tanks to Europe, so that European Mooneys will be able to benefit from this technology. The process was developed under the guidance of Bruce Jaeger. With the Mooney clearly faster than a train from Erfurt, the short flight took us a step closer. It was a beautiful flight over northern Germany, but in rough weather. Particularly striking was that our Mooney probably never had so much Mooney competence at once on board. Or can anyone remember ever flying with a crew that together gathers at least 10,000 hours of pure Mooney experience? You probably can hardly imagine how unique this flight was and under the watchful eyes and the advices from the other old-timers, poor Leonhard had to pilot the Mooney towards EDDG.
After this flight, I said goodbye to the Americans and thus to a Mooney event, which will surely leave a deep mark in my memory. Not only because of the extremely successful event, but in particular because of the many incredibly positive encounters these days and knowing to be part of an exceptional and unique community! It has once again shown that Mooniacs are a large, worldwide family and incredibly interesting people! And so I herewith take the opportunity to say thank you to our American friends, that they have already helped us for the third time to provide such a training and perform it successfully! I thank my Pinch-Hitter female co-pilots for the trust and fun and the participants for your commitment and your support through your participation and constructive feedback - I hope you have taken with you a lot and learned some good flying and collected a lot of new personal experience. Finally, I thank the Erfurt airport and the German ATC for the really outstanding support. And - last but not least – thank you to my son Thomas for preparing and organizing this event. Without his drive and extraordinary talent of organizing such beautiful things, this event would have not taken place this way. For this he deserves respect from all over the community! Up close, I could see how much effort the preparation and realization of such a complex event take, but at the same time I was able to see how much joy it is for him to support the Mooney pilot community and that the EMPOA is near and dear to him. A true Mooniac and we can be grateful to have him on board!