Historical aircraft and illustrious guests from all over the world land at the Speyer airfield. They are collected by a yellow and black Mercedes-Benz follow-me Sprinter.
The Speyer airfield is located in the center of the Rhine-Neckar region and offers the ideal starting point for trips to nearby cities such as Heidelberg or Ludwigshafen. "We have roughly 35,000 flights here per year", explains Roland Kern, the Managing Director of the airfield. "Naturally, the majority consists of light aircraft. But there are also about 10 business jets such as this Falcon 2000", explains Mr. Kern and points toward the nose of the parked jet.
Not all of the visitors are aware that the Speyer airfield is one of the world’s oldest landing fields. As early as 1912 a “Rumpler-Taube” landed here – only nine years after the Wright Brothers took to the air in their machine for the first time.“During the war years the airfield was primarily used for military purposes. In the 1950s an aircraft manufacturer settled here and specialized more and more in collaborations with other manufacturers than in developing its own aircraft”, explains Mr. Kern.
For example, the tanks for the Starfighter were manufactured here in Speyer along with components for the US CH-53 helicopter later on. In the mid-1990s the airfield became the property of the Rhineland Palatinate state and the city of Speyer and now offers more than 20 companies the basis for their business transport.
"In the past, prominent politicians from all over the world landed here to visit the ex-Chancellor Kohl in Ludwigshafen", remembers Mr. Kern. "However, we also welcome many illustrious guests attending the Formula One races at the Hockenheim ring. This follow-me Sprinter accompanies larger aircraft to the runway or collects them", explains Roland Kern and opens the Sprinter's sliding door. However, accompanying aircraft is only about 20% of the vehicle's work. "The vehicle's primary tasks consist of delivering and collecting passengers and their luggage. That is why the spaciousness and comfort of the passenger compartment plays an important role for us." The Sprinter provides space for eight people and the driver. In addition to the lighting system and the striking paintwork, the vehicle did not have to be specially converted for its use as a follow-me vehicle.
"All of the employees at the airfield drive the vehicle, from the people in the tower to me", explains Mr. Kern and gets into the driver's cab. "The Sprinter is simply fun. It is great to get behind the wheel", says the passionate aircraft fan. It is obvious to see how much fun he has during our short tour around the airfield. "Ready to take off?", calls out Mr. Kern with a broad grin back toward the rear seats as the van picks up speed and races across the open airfield. "Other rules apply here at the airfield than on the road. The most important rule: aircraft always have right of way! That is why you really have to keep an eye out", explains Mr. Kern and skillfully maneuvers the van around the airfield.
In the past seven years the follow-me vehicle has clocked up 80,000 km here – which equals almost twelve times the flight distance between Speyer and New York.
In the end, Mr. Kern drops us off right outside the entrance to the neighboring technology museum. A service which the airfield employees offer not only the curious MYVAN journalists, but rather all of their guests. "We are a service-oriented company. Politeness and willingness to help are our top priorities", explains Mr. Kern and opens the door for us. That is why the follow-me Sprinter is the ideal support for every small and large jobs here at the airfield. "I am especially looking forward to picking up the Super Constellation with this van next year!" admits Mr. Kern. "It is regarded as the most beautiful aircraft ever and will land here in Speyer for the second time. A Breitling DC-3 will also be there. Speyer will be a busy place then!" says the Managing Director and gives a relaxed wink toward the horizon.
Photos: Aerodrome Speyer