I drove from Frankfurt airport to the Poppenhausen/Wasserkuppe area to visit the Alexander Schleicher (AS) glider factory.
I had the pleasure of a detailed tour of the factory courtesy of Uli Kremer, who runs the company, and Bernard Eckey (a friend from Adelaide who is in Germany for a few months and who also happens to be the Australian agent for the company).
But first… I had to get out of Frankfurt! Avis allocated me a shiny new manual VW diesel car.
To be clear, it was a very nice car, but the ‘user interface’ took me a while to get the hang of! Maybe it was partly a function of jet lag (hint: excuse!), but I sat there in the carpark for quite a while, feeling a tad dumb about how to make the thing ‘go’!
First, I had to work out how to adjust the seat forward. All the other controls were electronic but that one was a nearly hidden physical knob under the seat front.
Ok, now I could start the car. Insert the electronic key into a slot on the dashboard and nothing happened. So its time to start looking for the ‘start’ button. Nope, there isn’t one.
Hmmm. Eventually I had a brainwave… its a manual car. I pushed the clutch down – bingo, the engine started by magic.
Next question – the park brake is on, but I can’t find the park brake lever. Another significant amount of searching later, I spied a little button near the gear level marked with a ‘P’. Ah hah!
Later, I figured out that you actually just ignore the park brake and start to drive the thing – and the park brake magically de-couples as you engage the car into gear. It magically re-engages to hold the car (and stops the engine) if you come to a halt and disengage the transmission. Touch the clutch and it starts again. All quite nifty, once I figured it out!
After this rather unedifying start, I headed out down the highway toward Poppenhousen, using my trusty TomTom iPhone app to good advantage.
Germany highways are… fast. More about that in another blog post.
Once at the factory, I arrived to the sights and smells of a country village (including cows). The factory buildings work their way up a hillside.
AS is the oldest still-operating glider making company in the world. Its situated not far from Wasserkuppe, the birthplace of gliding (more about that in another blog post as well), and indeed Alexander Schleicher was one of the pivotal figures in the early development of gliding.
I really enjoyed the tour, and I must say that the ASH30Mi (the current state of the art ‘open class’ two-seat motor glider that AS have just started producing) looks fabuous, as does the ASH29, their current high end single seat racing machine.
The deep impression gaine, is of a company that hand builds tremendously well made aircraft, with amazing amounts of stuff hidden away below their gleaming fibreglass surfaces. Almost everything that goes into these aircraft is manufactured on site, and there is a great deal of highly skilled labour required to build each one.
The manufacturing staff, who all start work very early, take their lunch breaks and then have a siesta before returning to work. As our tour run through into lunchtime, we wound up threading our way past sleeping staff members, each one laying back in a reclining deck chair beside their respective work areas.
After the tour, Bernard and I went out for lunch to a restaurant at Wasserkuppe. You can see our typical German healthy restaurant choices in the last few photos below.