Coming Around Full Circle -

Flying in The Netherlands

by Akky Mansikka

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My neighbourhood

Castle below

Eindhoven's town center

Evoluon in Eindhoven

Henry & Akky

Heusden

Modern buildings below

In the years following the Second World War, in the Netherlands, is where my curiosity in flying was aroused. As a six year old, I would gaze beyond our back yard, across the dark green fields where cows sauntered and chewed on lush long grass that grew faster than it could be eaten. Ours was the last street of red tile-roofed row houses in a brand new subdivision next to the fields. The rise in terrain beyond the flat fields was the Beatrix Canal. My dad and I would walk there after dinner to pick dandelion leaves and other greens to feed our rabbits. It marked the end of the world to me. Beyond the canal was the unknown, mesa incognita, and the mysterious air force base surrounded by a high barb wire fence.

I could see and hear the planes taking of and coming in. Through the haze of time I remember sometimes a plane not making it back to the airport and landing short in the farm fields behind our house. Sometimes there would be a crash, and a plume of black smoke would rise up from the fields. We were not allowed to investigate. As a child I wondered how all that metal could stay up in the air in the first place. I wondered about the brave, fearless young men who faced death, to fly these planes. How exciting it was to hear the roar of the engines and the smell the fumes. Never did it enter my mind that one day, I too would be a pilot.

Today, over fifty years later, there is no barb wire fence around the Eindhoven Airport. It is open to civil aviation, even though it is still a military airfield. My husband, Henry, and I drove into the main terminal. There was no sign of the old military base. It looked like a busy modern airport with, as in so many places, the terminal under expansion. New office buildings and warehouses were also being constructed.  We had lunch on the out door observation deck, where we watched mostly charter planes taking off for holiday destinations and on the far side of the field gliders soaring great circles. A Boeing 747 with “Royal Netherlands Air Force”, parked nearby was the only sign of a military presence.

After lunch I asked at the information about flying there myself. This would bring my flying full circle. There was an Aero Club, aviation enthusiasts, and one of them might take me flying. Probably similar to my flying club, the Buttonville Flying Club. Their number was 040-2529091 for any of you who might ever go there. There was also a flight school and charter service called “Rainbow Aviation” 040-2515515. That is where we went. It was in a building beside the main terminal. In the entrance way was a picture of a plane in a farmer’s field beside a tractor and hay stacks, probably taken over 50 years ago, just as I had remembered from so long ago. Right away it felt familiar…. the dispatch desk, students coming and going, others being briefed and doing pre-flight planning. The price list for rentals was on the wall as at Buttonville. An Introductory Flight in a Cessna 172, including theory and a 30 minute flight cost 157.50 Euros and theory and a one hour flight were 250.00 Euros. Quite a bit more than back in Toronto! Henry and I decided on a C172 for an hourly rate of 170.00 plus 35.00 Euros for the instructor and a landing fee of 25.00 Euros.

As we waited for the return of the C172 by the previous renter, our assigned instructor came over to have a chat. His name was Ton van Sleeuwen. He had done his flight training in Arizona. His English was perfect and he was very familiar with the North American ways. He flew in the Middle East for the oil companies and when not there, did instructing at his home airport. A friend of his, an air force pilot, stationed in Eindhoven, joined us. As we were exchanging stories and comparing licenses (the Dutch ones were much prettier) the plane pulled up in front of the window overlooking the ramp. It was a new looking C172, white with a rainbow swooping from the cowling up to and behind the rear window. The call sign was PH-EHN Ton explained the N for Netherlands was taken up by the Americans so The Netherlands were stuck with PH for the start of their registration numbers.

Ton asked if I wanted to do the walk around but I was sooo excited about flying here and reliving old memories and dreams that I thought he better come and do it with me. A flight plan had been filed earlier as this was a military airport. The confirmation, along with the transponder code assigned to us, was on a computer print out that Ton handed to me.

We took off from EHEH (Europe, Holland, Eindhoven Airport) towards the west, with me in the left seat and Henry in the back. The visibility was 10 miles but better towards the north. The ceiling was 1200 feet which seemed low to me for a cross country trip but Ton assured me that was no problem, with airport elevation of 8 feet, we would be flying at 1000 feet or lower in uncontrolled airspace once out of the airport control zone. The 172 was airborne on less that the first quarter of the long runway. The ATIS and all communications were in English. I only heard English (with no accents) on the frequency and it was so similar to Toronto that Ton asked if I would like to make the calls. Circling over the village of Veldhoven where my cousin Joan van Duin lives with his wife Hennie, we headed east towards Eindhoven, and in no time we were over my old neighbourhood. I could spot the rows of red tiled roofs. My old house was no longer in the last row of town houses but in the middle of a large urban sprawl. I could spot my house even with the large obscuring trees lining the street. When I grew up there had been no trees. The little park in front of our house was still there but it was no longer the neighbourhood of my memories. The streets were narrower, houses older and much smaller. The farm fields behind our house were now part of a subdivision, although some were converted into a park and a children’s farm. We circled a few times with control handed over to Ton in the right seat, so I could get a good look and take pictures. With me at the controls once more, on we went towards the city center. There was the Evoluon, the science center, the Philips factories and the large green patch where the Philips’ home was located, the football stadium, and my Aunt Ria and Uncle Tiny’s (he is anything but tiny) neighbourhood where we were staying.  We circled over the twin peaked St Catharina Cathedral with a large white tent in front of it, housing an archeological dig. Earlier we had spoken to the archeologist on the site who explained that the dig located in the cemetery, was trying to link the burials from the 13th century to the 1800’s to present inhabitants through DNA. Many of the deaths were due to the plague and the theory was that the plague might have not been due to disease carrying rats but a virus similar to Aids. This research could possibly help with finding a cause and cure for Aids. If you are interested the website is www.archeologie.eindhoven.nl. I could spot the red brick pedestrian center of the city where Henry and I accidentally drove into with our car and the difficulty we had in getting out with the crowds and barricades at street entrances to keep cars out. Everyone wondered how we got there in the first place…we did too!

We headed north towards my grandfather’s village of Acht, which now is a suburb of Eindhoven. I had difficulty spotting his house and needed to circle a few times. There was the wind mill of Acht to help orient myself but there was now a highway in front of his house. The village center and café “Het Hofje van Brabant”, next to his old house, were on an adjacent service road. The village had become somewhat like Unionville. It consisted mostly of the old “historical” center and “American” houses or single family homes.

After taking pictures, I took control again and headed north to the capitol of the province of Brabant, The city of Den Bosch. Passing the artificial lake and recreation area called, “de IJzeren Man”, the Iron Man, I remembered swimming there as a child. We reached the modern government buildings set in the middle of landscaped ponds, then on to Den Bosch’s medieval center. After circling, the town square and cathedral, we headed north west to the Maas River and the medieval fortified town of Heusden. The town still existed in its original state surrounded by star shaped earth works and moat connecting to the river. Spectacular, I thought to myself. On the way back we passed windmills, canals, castles, and a golf course with residences built in the shape of a medieval fortress with the apartments located in the wall of the fortress, facing inward to a courtyard. We floated by ancient villages, modern mimicking the old, and ultra modern buildings. Near Eindhoven, we got the ATIS and announced ourselves 5 minutes before entering the zone still squawking the same transponder code. We were to call at the inner reporting point. From there we could see the airport and were cleared direct to the threshold. We taxied back to Rainbow Aviation to finish one of my most memorable flights. To Henry, it was the high light of our trip to European.

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