This is the aircraft in its previous life working as a shuttle between Northern Germany and the Friesian Islands.
The brief was relatively straight forward: Fly the aircraft from the BN facility at Bembridge to the maintenance facility of Fly Montserrat on the island of Anguilla. However, in case you haven't noticed yet,... nothing in aviation is usually as straight forward as it may seem!
And here are your intrepid team from Aerotech, already a day late due to issues putting the aircraft onto it's new registration, but we are heading down to Bembridge anyway, so we don't get stuck on the mainland by the forecast bad weather the following day. When I heard that one of our Aerotech customers had kindly offered to give us a lift, I thought flying down in the Baron would be perfect, however, Stuart arrived at Coventry in his other mount, which as you can tell from Rob in the back, was slightly less roomy!
However, who would ever refuse a flight in a fabulous SIAI Marchetti SF260, even if it is loaded more like a Hercules than an aerobatic thoroughbred. But, here we are, with the BN hangars in the background.
We introduced ourselves to the BN staff and found out the latest info. The aircraft had gone back to its original registration G-BLNG from when it was new in 1984, but in the morning the VP registration and the minor faults listed by the airworthiness surveyor would all have been sorted ready for a lunchtime departure.
Thereafter Rob and I retired to the local Windmill Inn trying not to get too jealous of the equipment fitted to the other Islanders there. You know, minor luxuries such as turbine engines, or even fuel injection come to that. But who needs an autopilot or de-icing equipment anyway, it was not as if it would be needed on the short island hops in the Caribbean. However, there was the small matter of a North Atlantic December crossing in the meantime.
Next day, after the new registration was on and the paperwork was finally complete, we were ready for the first leg up to Prestwick.
After all the delays and false starts of the previous days, it was a great feeling to just get going!
Our routing had us joining the airways at the SAM VOR and then flying North up the spine of the UK. There were some nasty thunderstorms spread across Southern England, which we could hear the airliners dodging on the radio, but without radar we were reduced to asking ATC for info and missing the blackest looking clouds ahead, but this seemed to work well and we finally broke into the clear at FL140 around Oxford and had a free run from there, arriving just after dark, flight time 2:35.
Next morning, we donned our survival suits ready for the first two sea legs to the Faroes and then Iceland.
There are pros and cons to most decisions. Without a ferry tank fitted we would still stay airborne on one engine if needed and would also be able to fly higher to get above icing layers. However, our range would be limited and we would need to make more stops as a result. In this case two 400 nm legs to Vagar and then Reykjavik.
Unknown to us at the time, we were already being tracked, here by an aviation photogapher as we taxied out in the drizzle at Prestwick.
After departure from Prestwick we were routed due West, presumably to keep us clear of Glasgow's traffic, but as soon as they could ATC finally turned us North past Little Cumbrae Island which lies between Bute and the mainland at West Kilbride.
From here we headed straight up over the Highlands and were soon making a straight line towards point OLKER on the boundary between Reykjavik and Scottish FIRs. From here we were cleared direct to the MY NDB, ready for the Localizer approach to R/W13 at Vagar.
We had called up the Tower on the Sat phone much earlier before we were committed to land at Vagar and ATC had confirmed the cloud Few 700, Scattered 1200, Broken 2000. Or in his words "a nice day for the Faroes!"
I was trying to ignore the spectacular scenery out to the side, as I had spoken to Kath Burnham, who instructs on everything old and tricky at Coventry's historic flight and whose sage advice you would ignore at your peril. She had been into Vagar many times on fish runs and warned "fly the localizer precisely, since whereas most places you might get away with being half a dot out, here you will fly into the side of a hill. "
Sure enough you could see why she made that point, when the approach lights came into view between a funnel of high ground.
Now you could clearly see the 14 degree offset between the approach path and the runway.
Certainly looks like an interesting place to visit on a return trip if we ever get time.
As well as the final approach, this shot gives an idea of the departure, where you turn and follow the water to the right between the hills until you reach the exit to the open sea by a waterfall.
The airport itself was busy turning around the BAe RJs of Atlantic Airlines on their schedule runs between Vagar and the Danish mainland.
As we set about trying to get turned around as quick as possible, I turned my phone on to find a text from Brian who was organising our ferry trip. It said that he had just watched our approach whilst he was in Hong Kong on the Vagar airfield webcam. Sometimes this new high tech world just amazes me.
We had just enough time to get airborne for the departure over the waterfall whilst it was still twilight. We then had a straight run to Reykjavik being radar identified and cleared direct as soon as we were handed over from Vagar.
We arrived very cold onto the snowy apron of BIRK Flight Services three and a half hours later. It was by now obvious that the Janitrol heater at the back of the aircraft was not able to do anything to combat the minus 20 degree C temperatures other than waste 3 gallons of valuable avgas an hour making a slight smell to indicate it was trying its best. So we resigned ourselves to putting up with the cold and switched it off to save the fuel.
As we enjoyed a post flight beer in the airport hotel bar, we were pleased with the day's 7 hours flying that we had achieved despite the cold and the additional problems we had suffered due to fuel icing on the last leg. We were confident that the IPA (Iso-propyl Alcohol) we would be adding to the fuel on the remaining cold weather legs would solve this issue.
Up to now our plans had been working well, having no de-icing capability, our strategy of flying at FL140 had meant that we had encountered no icing whatever and had been flying on top of cloud for all the trip so far. With our limited range we were unable to make the more direct Narsarsuaq, Goose Bay crossing via the Southern tip of Greenland. However, our more Northerly route via Kulusuk and Sondrestrom to Iqaluit (Frobisher Bay) in Canada did mean that we were well to the North of a set of low pressure systems currently transitting the Atlantic and as such we would be the recipient of some good tail winds, which is not the norm on most west bound crossings.
As we departed Reykjavik the following morning, we were all set for a long 1200 nm day, but at least a tailwind assisted ground speed of 140 knots would help somewhat.
As we climbed out on the standard airway route to Kulusuk (BGKK) we could see the imposing Icelandic scenery behind us.
If the unexpected arrival of this photo is a surprise to you then consider how I felt when I first noticed a large oil leak spraying onto the right undercarriage leg half way between Iceland and Greenland. Due to the strong headwinds that would have prevented a single engine return to Iceland, the safest course of action was to push on with the right engine at idle to land in the quickest possible time at Kulusuk.
Unable to contact ATC due our range and altitude, I called up any airliner on 123.45 and put out a pan call. Immediately a Lufthansa flight answered our call and relayed the situation to Iceland Radio. A US airline pilot chipped in and asked our type. I told him that we were in an Islander twin. "Gutsiest guys I ever knew!" came back in his best John Wayne accent. With these immortal words in our ears, we continued on for another hour and a half until we finally sighted the "welcoming" coast of Greenland.
The cloud below had cleared and we had received regular weather updates on Kulusuk from Sondrestrom Info.
All we had to do now was find the airfield.
Kulusuk is actually one of the small islands situated just off the mainland. The gravel strip airfield was built in 1958 to service the most easterly of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) chain of radar stations known as DYE-4 which was active between 1961 and 1991. The DEW chain stretched from here to Alaska to warn against Russian bomber attack.
There was a Bell helicopter that shuttled people from the airfield to the local communities on the mainland. This was sent up to follow us in from 10 miles and once visual told us the airfield was down on our right.
As we looked down at the sparse facilities, Rob could not help uttering the words: "There's nothing there! Where the hell have you brought us?"
As we turned base leg, the right hand O-540 engine, finally gave up the ghost and as the oil pressure suddenly dropped markedly, we feathered the prop and shut it down before it caused any major damage to itself through lack of oil.
With the 1200m gravel runway directly ahead of us, we made a single engine approach to R/W 11.
As I made the approach, Rob even had the presence of mind to get the unusual shot of a feathered prop in the sunset. Not realising that he had also got the location of old radar station in the shot as well (ringed in red).
Here it is in its former glory, callsign "BIG GUN". No doubt if it had still been operational it would have been tracking us in and talking to us.
At this moment in time, we were still hopeful that it might be something that we could fix fast. Maybe the quick release oil drain had somehow come undone or the oil filler cap or tube had come off.
The main thing was that we were down safe when there might have been other potential outcomes we would not like to dwell on too much.
With only the left engine running, it was too difficult to steer the aircraft on the gravel surface, so the airport team came out and towed us in.
I now had the opportunity to thank Martin the Danish helicopter pilot for flying out to assist us.
I also noticed the nose art on his helicopter, which was a Bell 212 Twin Huey powered by two coupled PT6s. Martin said it was a very capable machine to fly, especially considering the difficult conditions in a Kulusuk winter.
Now we were on the ground we could clearly see the extent of the oil leak.
It is a great testament to the engine that it carried on running for at least an hour and a half in that condition.
Rob got straight into investigating the cause of the problem. It was soon obvious that we were going nowhere in a hurry when he found that the number two cylinder rocker cover had been smashed off by the pushrods, which came through when the rocker shaft lugs had fractured. Something pretty catastrophic had occurred to the cylinder which would need a complete replacement at least.
Our hosts, comprising Danish airport management and local Inuit airport staff were very helpful. After we had explained the situation to them, they warned us that strong winds and snow were expected that evening, so as soon as we removed our survival suits we got the aircraft secured as best we could.
It was a source of great amusement to the local staff that Kulusuk now had the only palm tree in Greenland.
We surveyed our surroundings. No hangarage at the airport, but there was a hotel on the left of the photo next to the living quarters for the Danish staff.
The airport itself had a small terminal building and a tower with a small garage for the firetruck and bowser on the end.
We positioned the aircraft as best we could and managed to tie it down to some concrete blocks.
We then placed a snow plough in front of the aircraft to make a wind break. The local effect of the wind coming from the ice cap regularly reaches over 100 mph. In fact from the days of the radar station the maximum gusts have never been recorded as all the anenometers have been blown away as they increased past 140 knots!
As twilight arrived early (it was only daylight from 9am to 2pm) we got our last bearings of the landscape before heading down to the hotel to make our plans.
Well the first plan, was to toast the Fates for getting us down safely. After a few more toasts and then some more, we were amazed when the barman handed me his phone and said "it's for you!" We had been tracked down again, this time by Adrian from the Flyers Forum, who wanted to check we were fine after my wife had received a call from Brian letting her know that we had had a problem but were ok. If you couldn't escape from the world in Kulusuk then there really is no hiding place!
This is a photo that I took on the balcony of the tower just before sunset showing the weather instruments on their table in the foreground and the runway in the background. If you look at the next photo taken from the same position the next morning,...
You can still see the weather instruments, but it looks like someone has stolen the mountains and the view! There are only 2 flights per week to Reykjavik and they are often cancelled in the winter. The record wait for a flight was over a month and we didn't want to beat that!
Sure enough our Air Iceland flight had been cancelled, but the Air Greenland flight from the West coast capital of Nuuk did make it in and we thought we would try and get to Copenhagen via Nuuk and Sondrestrom.
I was just so relieved that these weren't the conditions that I had been coping with the previous day.
One of the reasons for so many cancellations during winter at KUS is because there is no ground-based de-icing equipment for the aircraft, so they run the risk of getting stuck once they are on the ground.
Just as we were getting ready to board for Nuuk, we heard the unexpected news that our flight had now been rerouted via,.... Reykjavik. What an amazing stroke of luck for us.
We were now the only passengers on the flight to Reykjavik, where the crew would pick up the band "Dr Hook" who had been trying to get to Nuuk to play a concert for over a week!
Our friendly pilots Henrik and Jakob were most sympathetic to our plight and I was very interested in picking their brains of local knowledge about flying in Greenland.
Back at the airport hotel and the very helpful BIRK Flight Services, we now set about resolving our engineering problems in earnest. We had landed in Kulusuk on Friday, got the flight back on Saturday and a new cylinder had been despatched by the aircraft's owner in Canada to arrive on Sunday night. The next flight to KUS was scheduled on Wednesday, but because Air Iceland had cancelled their Saturday flight, a special flight was slated for Tuesday. Things were looking up!
Sunday gave us the opportunity to have a good look around Reykjavik itself as we walked to various shops to find tools and specialist clothing to work outdoors.
Although we had been made very welcome in Kulusuk and had been invited into an Inuit family home, it was nice to get back to eating out, walking on pavements and even getting the laundry done!
At least our unwanted setback had given us an opportunity to see far more of Reykjavik than we had planned.
As we walked back carrying our new padded overalls we caught a good view of the airport and facilities from the viewing dome atop the old water towers.
This vantage point also gave good views of the city itself.
Not to mention the surrounding high ground.
The one thing that we thought we might have difficulty finding was a set of imperial spanners and sockets to work on the aircraft. As we suspected, most places only had metric, but we finally tracked down a specialist tool merchants called Fossbergs, which had everything we needed.
So we were all set for a return on Tuesday morning, but as we sat patiently in the Air Iceland terminal, news of bad weather at KUS meant our flight departure was delayed twice as the crew waited to see if there might be an improvement.
But third time lucky we were and after two hours flying we were back waiting for our spares and equipment to be unloaded.
As we checked on the state of the Islander we found it surrounded by a pool of slush and water as the temperature had risen and started to melt the previous dump of snow.
We headed up the tower to find our friend Soren at his desk providing info for the departing Dash-8 returning to Reykjavik. He said that he and the others were most impressed to see us back so soon. They had expected a maintenance team taking much longer to be sent out with spares and by then the aircraft would have been destroyed by the winds.
Early next morning we got straight down to the task of getting the aircraft airworthy again. We laid out our stall and planned to be doing engine runs before dark. (i.e. early afternoon!)
This was the replacement cylinder. Note the lugs surrounding the hole for the rocker-arm shaft to pass through, just to the left of the valves.
Now that you can see the state of the old cylinder, no lugs, the broken spring on the exhaust valve, it was impressive that the engine continued to run on 5 cylinders with no great complaints. The O-540 engine has always had a bullet proof reputation over the years and you can see why.
Again the Fates were shining on us, as the day stayed unusually mild both in terms of temperature and wind strength. This allowed Rob to crack on with the cylinder change, although not without its moments of drama.
You know that feeling when things are going almost too smoothly,...well they were! Unfortunately a certain minor but vital part had been broken during the failure and there was no replacement in the kit.
Behind us the normal Wednesday flight had just arrived from Reykjavik and at that moment Rob turned to me and said in a voice half Napoleon and half scrapheap challenge: "You see this broken item? Unless you can manufacture me a replacement in under an hour, then we are getting on that flight, because the Islander won't fly without this and god knows when the next flight might get in!"
"No pressure, then!" I thought as I headed down to the workshops that maintained the huge snowploughs that kept the airport and roads open during the winter. There I found a Danish mechanic named Over, who used a plasma cutter to roughly shape the right size of steel from a sheet that I found in the corner of the workshop. I was then able to grind the rough shape down to the right dimensions using the broken half of the original item as a template.
I still can't decide whether Rob was impressed or disappointed when I returned with my part, because it seemed to do the job and now we were committed to leaving Kulusuk by Islander rather than Dash.
We were now making really good progress and airport manager Torben and deputy Alf came out to see if there was anything else they could do to assist us.
By early afternoon it started to get dark, but by now Rob was ready to carry out a ground run.
It was great to see the engine fire up and sound fine and having checked for leaks after a low power run, I taxied out to the runway to do some high powered runs, which all went well. We were now all set for a departure tomorrow before the forecast gales appeared.
Next morning as we drove up from the hotel, we could see some blue sky over to the West. It all looked good for our departure to Sondrestrom provided we could safely get airborne out of this low level turbulent wind which was starting to get up a serious head of steam.
The additional problem to the wind was that the melted water on the apron had refrozen into an ice rink. I knew that if I tried to taxi towards the runway with this 40 knot crosswind then the aircraft would simply slide into an object or off into a ditch.
We therefore used the tractor to tow the aircraft out to the runway and face into the wind which was picking up to 50 knot gusts. Twice as we slowly pulled the Islander out on the apron, the wind took hold of it sideways and it was only by all of us hanging on to the wings and struts that its lateral movement was stopped.
We were finally ready for departure from Kulusuk, the aircraft having stayed a week rather than a couple of hours. There was lots of final hand shaking, before we climbed inside to give our repaired engine a most demanding test by crossing the ice cap to Sondrestrom.
Soren in the tower was watching the ebb and flow of the wind strength and advised us of a lull. That was all we needed and we were airborne in no time at all with the forty knot head wind. We had prepared ourselves for some turbulence off the local hills, but it was not too bad.
Soon we were climbing up to our cruising altitude of FL 140 passing the spectacular scenery of the coast before it turned into the flat barreness of the ice sheet across the centre.
Both of us could not help the odd glance across at the right hand engine, but it kept its standard Islander deafening note without missing a beat as if to say "What are you looking at !?"
It was not long until we had to say our farewell to Soren on the radio prior to changing to Sondrestrom Information. Martin in the Twin Huey also called us up to wish us well on our journey.
The minimum flight level for crossing the ice cap varies due to the conditions and today it was FL120. The ice cap itself rises to over 9000ft on this route which is the relatively short leg from BGKK to BGSF of 340 nm especially compared to the next leg to Iqaluit which would be the longest of the trip at 480 nm.
As we headed further inland to the centre, the ice rose up covering the rock below until gradually it lost its undulations.
As we crossed the ice sheet it was hard to tell where the land met the sky. However, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a completely odd shape, whose straight edges did not look like anything belonging in Nature. I told Sondrestrom our position and asked what was out here. It could only be the abandoned DEW radar site was the reply. So we were in fact flying along the former DEW line having already passed Kulusuk's sister site at DYE-3, and this was DYE-2, callsign Sea Bass. Presumably this is where you got posted in the USAF after you had an affair with the CO's wife.
With another helping hand from a tailwind, we were soon approaching a Gatwick sized airfield at Sondrestrom or Kangerlussuaq as it is now called. It had taken us under two and a half hours and we were both pleased to be back in the saddle making progress again Westwards.
I had been cleared for a visual approach and let down in a gentle arc over the fjord that points like a long finger towards the runway just out of shot on the right.
Kangerlussuaq had been built as one of the WW II ferry airfields to enable US aircraft to reach Britain, it was known as Bluie West 8. Even more famous was the busier Bluie West 1 at Narsarsuaq. Even Kulusuk had a ferry field just to the north of it known as Bluie East 2 from where the rescue of the crews of 2 B17s & 6 P38s was mounted after the whole gaggle crash landed on the ice cap in 1942.
Deceptively the ground looks flat from above in the white format, but the surrounding high ground is 2000 feet above the 160 ft airport elevation.
On approach it looks like someone has cut and pasted a huge airport cut-out onto a remote winter scene.
As we taxied off to our apron, one of the Dash-7s was waiting to depart. Obviously neither Jakob nor Henrik were flying it, because I am sure that they would have said hello.
We fueled up, filed our flight plan for Iqaluit and rang Canadian customs as quick as we could before hurrying back out into the freezing cold ready for a glorious departure into the sunset.
We flew over some idyllic scenery on the West Greenland coast in the moonlight before heading across the Davis Strait to Baffin Island. Although this Canadian map shows that there are plenty of airfields listed, the majority are small gravel strips serving the local Inuit communities. The only place for us to clear customs was at Iqaluit, formerly Frobisher Bay, another wartime airfield around which the town had grown. With its long runway but harsh winter climate it is invarably used for cold weather trials by aircraft manufacturers and had recently hosted the A380 on its cold soaks.
As we awoke the next morning we could see why it was so popular for cold weather trials, it was freezing and with a wind that cut straight through you.
As we headed up to the airport we thought it would be a good idea to escape South to warmer climes. Also being so remote, everything from a hotel room to a cup of coffee seemed priced to an extortionate premium.
At the airport things just got more frustrating, despite the cold clear weather here, there was a band of heavy snow showers and icing to the south.
Talking to the Nav Canada met service which was very helpful and thorough, it seemed that heavy snow and low visability would preclude any attempts to make an approach (invariably NDB) to the few airfields available to us on our direct route.
As we considered the various options such as routing around the weather much further to the East, the consequences of doing our own cold weather trial at Iqaluit started to come home. Firstly as illustrated by the heated jackets around the engines of this First Air 748, up here everything needs extra work against the cold, takes a lot longer and costs a lot more.
It was ok for the locals such as the Twotters who were well accustomed to this life, but for us our day steadily went pear shaped. Firstly there was no avgas bowser, only 200 litre drums. However, to taxi to the drums we needed to preheat the engines to enable the fuel to vaporize to burn (did we mention it was -35 deg C in that wind!).
There is no FBO at Iqaluit and handling is done by the local airline First Air. Although they were as helpful as they could be, we always had to wait until their own airline priorities were done first, so everything took a while. However, once the Herman preheaters had worked their magic on the engines, we taxied down to find that the mobile pump for the drums was broken and would need fixing. With the weather forecast to clear through on our route tomorrow, we therefore decided to bin the flying and concentrate on ensuring that everything was primed and ready for a really early morning departure and a major flying day to reach the US border.
Sure enough, next morning our First Air crew chief Scott, whose team worked a 12 hour shift pattern for a solid 3 weeks on then 3 weeks off (!!) had preheated the engines for us and we said our good-byes. As we taxied out both Artificial Horizons were just lolling about aimlessly, no doubt affected by the extreme cold, perhaps creating crystal blockages in the line. So we taxied back to heat up the aircraft in a hangar, now that their precious airliners were being pulled out & there was room. "You do realise that the cost is 250 dollars an hour for a minimum 6 hour block in the hangar?" enquired Scott. "What? 1500 dollars to sit in the hangar for half an hour? No way! Any chance we could try sticking a Herman tube under the instrument panel?" "Well, they're a bit fume laden for you" replied Scott, "but I have something less powerful, but should do the job without you getting high!" And sure enough within 20 minutes all the gyros were back fine!
We already had a long day ahead without the frozen instruments delay. The weather was forecast to improve, but our first fuel stop at Schefferville (CYKL) still had a METAR with the cloud on the deck, so we planned to cross the Hudson Strait and get a weather update. Then if necessary we could divert into Kuujjuaq (CYVP), refuel and push on to Sept-Iles at the top of the St Lawrence, before the final leg to St Jean on the US border.
Airborne in the early light, we did manage to get blurry shot of Iqaluit, but it does show how isolated and dependent the local community is on the airport itself.
However, despite being in the back of beyond, we ourselves still could not avoid prying eyes, as we were now available to all and sundry on the flightaware tracking system. Thus, as soon as we picked up the continuing bad weather from Schefferville and diverted to Kuujjuaq our Ops team, families, forumites and Uncle Tom Cobbly knew the score immediately.
As we flew South for mile after mile the texture of the surface remained very much the same, a real wilderness.
Rivers were frozen over and it was obvious that surviving a forced landing would only be the start of an even harder battle to stay alive.
Kuujjuaq weather had always been wide open for us and as we turned final it looked a good alternate choice. This was airbase Crystal 1 during the last war, a handy staging post for flights to and from Crystal 2 at Frobisher Bay on the Crimson ferry route. It was just as useful today for us as it was 68 years ago.
This was now a main hub serving the Inuit communities in the area, busy with Twin Otters and Dash 8s.
We had rang the previous day to check that they had avgas available, no doubt in drums again, but that wasn't a big deal,..... was it?
As we taxied into the main apron we could see the sleek terminal building and everything looked like it was working out very well again!
It was only as we shut down next to the fuel pumps and spoke to the heavy set, bearded and smiling refueler that we realised that we weren't in Quebec, we were now in Armenian Bandit country!
"Bonjour! We need 2 drums of Avgas please."
"You got your own pump?"
"Sorry? Do we have what?"
"We do not have pump, only the barrels."
"Well, there is a cargo lifter over there, all we need is some hose and we can syphon the fuel in."
"Non! The airport will not allow use of hose, too dangerous!"
"Well, what do you suggest?"
"Actually, the men in the cargo shed have a hand pump that they may lend you, but it will cost you!"
"I see,... what a surprise!"
And so it came to pass, that once I had dug out the fuel drums and manhandled them onto a forklift, all we had to do was hand pump the contents in the freezing temperatures and pay these guys 60 bucks for the pleasure of fleecing us!
I suppose we should be thankful that at least the avgas was not as expensive as Kulusuk where it was £2.80 per litre as opposed to "only" £1.90 per litre here.
However, we were on our way once more and one of the benefits of flying IFR in such a remote part of the world was that all clearances seemed to instantly dissolve into a direct to destination. Also, useful had been the way that I had been able to simply refile a new flight plan off the top of my head on the radio to Quebec as I taxied in on the diversion.
We had of course kept a very watchful eye on all the engines' vital signs since our previous problem, but the only issue for us was the cold, which undoubted the engines seemed to enjoy. With the winds now changing to a more westerly direction at the higher levels, we were forced to cruise lower down at 10000 feet for the best ground speeds, but the temperatures inside the cockpit still remained steadfastly minus 20 deg C.
One of the few joys of being human in that environment remained the cracking views and the glorious sunsets.
With the sun on our right at least we were still heading south like birds migrating to the warmer climes.
Finally after the second 3 hour stint in the air, we could see the expanse of the St Lawrence in the distance past a curling frozen oxbow lake in the making.
As I turned final towards the PAPIs of Sept-Iles in the white circle ahead, all we had to do was grab another tank of avgas, this time from a bowser (heaven!) and then gird ourselves against one last 3 hour cold soak down the St Lawrence to Montreal and the border.
Well it's only the next morning at St Jean (CYJN), but so much has happened since that last photo. The wind Gods finally got tired of helping us and as we struggled over Quebec city at 80 knots ground speed, we thought we'd be up there freezing all night. We also picked up the only bit of icing on the trip so far in the descent when the right prop started banging on the right fuselage by slinging ice at Rob. The left prop obviously slings its deposits outboard.
We landed around 9pm to find Brian (he who had watched us on the Vagar webcam from Hong Kong) asleep in his hire car beneath the tower. The three of us then dashed across to the border to toast meeting up with a few beers near Brian's downroute HQ FBO at Burlington (KBTV). He was carrying on Eastbound on a single-engine ferry to the UK that day whilst I continued South to Burlington to clear customs and sort out the transit paperwork.
It's only a 30 minute flight from CYJN to KBTV, but whilst Brian has escaped early off to Goose Bay, I can see snow arriving in from the West.
I head straight down Lake Champlain on which Burlington lies on the eastern bank about half way down. Rob is driving back to Burlington in the hire car and I find it strange being on my own in the aircraft for the first time on the trip. Who's going to fly whilst I sort out my charts and maps? But having flown this far without an autopilot, I've just about got the hang of trimming it !
It is only a few months since I was flying around this area on holiday with my wife and friends in a couple of Cessnas. We had landed then at Ticonderoga which is just at the southern end of Lake Champlain.
There's quite a strong Southerly wind that's picked up, so I land on the shorter R/W 19 which lets me turn off straight onto the Heritage FBO ramp to meet up with my organised customs reception.
Nice to get the red carpet treatment, that never happens back home.
Having cleared customs we check the weather to see how farther south we might get that afternoon. However, having managed to fly either above cloud or above the freezing layers on the whole of the trip so far, it is quite obvious that we would be pushing our luck in our carburetted, non-deiced aircraft to fly straight down through the very active frontal system along the Eastern seaboard.
A look at this icing chart confirms that once again, the best course would be to retire to the hotel and then make the most of a good day's flying tomorrow after the front has moved away eastwards overnight.
Snow is forecast to start falling shortly, so we refuel and put the aircraft safely away in the hangar.
Next morning the skies look promising as advertised.
All we have to do is go from the Canadian border to Southern Florida in a day. Unfortunately due to the cylinder change delays, I am running out of time and am due back to work soon. We won't have time to get all the way to Anguilla, so a pilot from Montserrat will fly up and meet us in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow to take over the aircraft.
It's just over 1200 nm and as we cracked that off in Canada the other day from Iqaluit to St Jean, I don't see any problem, other than some lingering weather from the previous day which seems to be giving low cloud in the Southern States.
So we're off and initially enjoying the view out towards the Adirondack mountains on our first leg which is to Hagerstown KHGR.
We also passed some interesting cloud streets.
Again the wind wasn't in our favour, but after 3 hours we had arrived at our first pitstop.
Just after we arrived a flight of four Black Hawks flew in to our FBO as well.
We had finally got rid of that snow and might even be able to fly a leg without freezing our toes off, we'd frozen off those other items of the anatomy that you usually use for comparison long ago!
At last we could take off those padded romper suits that had served us so well.
Before we departed from the Ryder FBO, I had got an update on the latest weather further South. It appeared that there was still widespread fog and low cloud over many of the Southern States and I doubted whether the cloud at our planned next stop of Whiteville North Carolina would really lift as forecast above its NDB minima. There were only two airports in the whole area that looked reliable. They were both on the coast and one Wilmington already had a 500ft overcast and rising for its ILS approach, so we were off.
And so it was that the farther we headed South the more the cloud closed in below us. The helpful people on the Weather Watch service 122.0 confirmed that Wilmington was the best option, so we diverted direct from the Raleigh area to get vectors for an ILS and picked up the runway at about 700ft.
We hadn't deviated much off our routing, it was just that the fuel was not as cheap as Whiteville.
Again checking ahead on the weather towards our next stop at Ormond Beach, it appeared there was a band of thunderstorms working their way across Georgia eastwards , but it looked like we could skirt along the coast down to Florida before they reached the Atlantic.
On the ramp behind us I noticed this Douglas A-26 Invader. It was aircraft like this that had been crossing our ferry route during the war without any GPS systems like us. However, we did feel a close affinity to the crews for being so cold!!
Again just to show how we were being tracked, I received this screenshot from Rob Lees after we got back, showing us departing Wilmington and trying to get to Ormond Beach before the weather just south of Atlanta cuts us off at the coast. ATC were very helpful in keeping us abreast of the weather and in one instance Savanah Control even gave an airliner a vector so that he could paint a clearer picture on his radar to advise us. With service like that we had no problem getting into Florida, only to find that Ormond Beach was unexpectedly fogged out! Time for another diversion, this time St Augustine just south of Jacksonville, where we called it quits for the night.
Next morning there was still some fog around, but it soon lifted at St Augustine. We were due to hand over the aircraft mid-morning, but it should only take a couple of hours to fly the last leg down to Fort Lauderdale Exec KFXE.
Rob prepped and tidied the aircraft up ready for the handover, whilst I knocked up the flight plan on the DUATS system online. I had been using the duats website for all our legs in the States and I found it really works well.
So this was it. Our final day!
As we passed over buildings pushing up through the fog, we doubled checked the weather at KFXE, as we had an appointment to keep and didn't want any more diversions!
Somewhere under there was an airfield.
But as we got closer to Fort Lauderdale, we could see that that there was lots of Cu bubbling up, so little chance of fog there.
All we had to do was dodge any big build ups and wait for nice ATC to vector us in.
As we broke out of the cloud on the ILS, unbeknown to me, back in Blighty, Ian Seager (Flyer Magazine) was even listening to me talking to ATC on the web! I'm surprised he didn't chip in ;-)
So here we were, finally! The cylinder change and weather delays had stretched the trip to 14 days. What's more we never made Anguilla, but what the hell, it wasn't bad considering the challenges we had faced crossing the North Atlantic in mid-winter in our old bus.
As we had a last photo taken, I wondered if soon any German tourists on holiday in the Caribbean would be flying in VPMNT oblivious that it was the same aircraft that used to shuttle them around the Friesian Islands.
We headed into the Banyan FBO to find Fly Montserrat chief pilot Nigel and complete the handover to the airline.
Soon after, we were watching it start up for its final legs to Anguilla.
We then had plenty of time to catch a cab to Miami airport for our return flight to the UK. Travelling back, we realised it was taking the Jumbo less than 10 hours to do what
had taken us a fortnight ! But the pilots up the front would forget this flight as soon as they got home, whereas the memories for us would last a lifetime.
The route as it eventually turned out. Around 4900nm covered in just over 40 hours flying time, which is an average speed of 120 knots. Sounds about bloody right !!
Would we do it again? Well after that, I think Brian owes us the next one in a nice warm King Air or PC12 !