Flying the North Atlantic
George has quite a bit of experience ferrying planes across the Atlantic. For me it was the first time. Seven-Lima-Mike is also the largest plane I have flown to date.
7LM already had its ferry tank installed when we arrived. It was a cube-shaped 100-gallon tank made of aluminium, strapped to the floor of the cabin behind the pilots. Two passenger seats had been removed to make place for it. The tank was plumbed into the fuel line from the right wing tank. While flying on the left tank, we could refill the right, using cabin pressure to push fuel up into the wing tank.
We spent the afternoon of Monday April 3 to preflight the plane, fill the tanks, check for leaks and get everything ready for departure at dawn the next day.
George flew on the first day, I operated the radio and did the navigation. Our departing runway was 26, a 920 meter (3000 ft) runway which, given our maximum gross weight, required a short-field take-off. After take off, we discovered that the yellow gear-up light wasn't working.
We were immediately cleared to our cruising altitude of 18,000 feet and had good ground contact initially, but a gradually thickening cloud layer below soon hid the ground so I didn't get to see my home town Amsterdam.
The engine ran somewhat hot when we leaned it according to the book (both EGT and CHT). Our airspeed was a bit higher than book speed, however, and there was a sign on the tachometer `zeigt 100 umdrehungen zo wenig an', so we reduced the RPM to 2400 on the dial and leaned for 2500. This worked well during the rest of the trip as the picture shows.
We filled the right wing tank from the ferry tank for the first time. It appeared to work well, but the tank made funny clunking noises.
The headwinds became stronger over the North Sea and were forecast to increase further. We decided to land in Wick, Scotland, and visit Andrew Bruce, George's buddy at Far North Aviation.
When we lowered the gear, we did not get a green light. Since the gear-up light was already broken, swapping bulbs didn't help. We tried pumping down the gear and immediately met with the resistence consistent with the gear being down already. We also knew that the gear horn was working, so we were not very concerned. Nevertheless, we decided to do a low pass over the runway to have the controller confirm our nosewheel down.
After the fly by, we made a circuit around the pattern and landed uneventfully on a very breezy and cold Wick. Spring had not arrived here.
Andrew immediately pored over our ferry tank and diagnosed a blocked vent tube. This explained the tank's clunking noises. Andrew replaced the fuel cap on the ferry tank and the tank remained silent for the rest of the trip. He also fixed our landing gear light.
With tanks once more filled to the brim and our stomachs too, we departed on our second leg.
On previous trips, at lower altitudes, George always had to ask aircraft overhead to relay his position. This time, we remained in direct radio contact for the whole leg. But we soon lost our navigation by radio beacons.
We caught some glimpses of the North Atlantic below us, but for the most part we had a solid undercast. We were wearing our survival suits up to our middle, and the two-person raft and satellite beacon were at my feet. The statistics show that the survival rate for ditchings, even in the middle of the Atlantic, is surprisingly good, provided the crew manages to prevent hypothermia by wearing survival suits. But, flying over the Atlantic Ocean, three hours from the nearest land, does not make you feel any too comfortable.
The engine purred happily however, and we were soon past the halfway point. We started talking to Iceland Radio who amended our clearance, essentially by adding extra waypoints to our existing clearance. George offered me the approach from the right seat, but I had to give it back to him -- I had never done an approach from the right seat and I hadn't flown a P210 before; I just couldn't get the appraoch stabilized.
George (the real one, not the autopilot) led us down through the clouds on the ILS into Runway 20 at Reykjavik. We broke out roughly at a thousand feet and landed in a mild breeze.
The hotel was immediately behind the FBO and we were checked in by 6:30 local time. We had dinner at a fish restaurant that was recommended to us, called Thrír Frakkar. The white brigade is led by a father-and-son team, while mother and daughter preside over the comfort of the guests. The food was both original and excellent and the service both quick and friendly.
After climbing into our suits, we set of to Greenland. We changed seats on the second day of our trip and George operated radios and did our navigation. We had grown accustomed to flight level 180 and so we filed for it and got it on this leg as well.
Reykjavik was almost sunny when we left it around 8 am and over most of Greenland we had a magificent view of the snow and ice below. we flew directly over Kulusuk (BGKK), which looked very forlorn deep below us. Later, in Søndre Strømfjord, I asked the man who helped us at the FBO what it was like to live there. He told us that nowadays, people live there with their families and that Søndre Strømfjord has a permanant population of 400 or so, 18 children among them. George and I decided that this was not for us, although George did look longingly at the Ice-Patrol aircraft parked at the airport.
As we approached BGSF and reported the airport in sight we nevertheless declined a visual approach to runway 10 because of clouds over the fjords. We took the LOC/DME approach and brushed those clouds lightly on the way down. The last 8 to 10 miles of the descent were, however, in the clear and in wonderful sunshine. Winds were calm; just the way I like them for my first approach in an unfamiliar aircraft.
After parking, the marshals chocked our plane and told us there was no fuel. That got our attention, but then they went on to say that it was only because a Scandinavian Airlines Boeing 767 was parked on top of the fuel outlet. It would leave in an hour and then there'd be fuel again. That was a relief.
We went off in search of a weather briefing, a flight plan form and lunch. We had lunch in the combination airport lounge/airport hotel. Here we discovered that Søndre Strømfjord cannot possibly be famous for its cuisine and that it is nevertheless a popular tourist destination. We did not see what the attraction of coming to this handful of houses in the middle of nowhere could be, but Scandinavian Airways obviously flies 767s there and one assumes they make a profit.
When the 767 left, the marshals guided us to the pumps and we had all the tanks filled for a relatively short hop to Frobisher Bay (Iqaluit). We didn't really want to land there but customs insisted.
The flight to Iqaluit is relatively short, the weather was perfect and we made a visual approach to Runway 18. Customs formalities took just moments so we topped off the tanks and were soon off again to the south.
We picked La Grande Riviere as our final destination for the day. Its pretty name and its location en route to Waterloo, Iowa made it the ideal destination for the day.
Our clearance took us on a series of hops from one NDB to the next. We really got to fly those NDBs because two out of three GPSs refused to see a sufficient number of satellites while the third suffered from a European rather than an American database. Good excercise.
Our position reports did not appear to be heard by anyone, so we called on planes overhead to relay them for us. The second time we did this, we managed to get a controller again -- at Umiujaq or Kuujjuarapik, I forgot to write it down -- who relayed not only our position, but also our request for hotel rooms in La Grande Riviere.
When we arrived after a flight that seemed to take for ever, it was dark. It was also bitterly cold. A friendly refueller filled our tanks and then drove us to the hotel which was in town, a thirty-minute drive over partially icy roads at speeds around 100 km/h. When we got to the hotel -- around ten pm -- all restaurants had closed (if there were as many as two). We went to the bar where, it was suggested, we could order eggs and sausages. Sounded good.
Both eggs and sausages turned out to be pickled and virtually inedible. We managed to wash them down with beer and peanuts and went to bed.
George got back in the left seat on day three. It was very cold still and the engine didn't start right away. But we did get it going without outside help and we gently let it get a bit warmer before take off. On climb out, we punched through a low thin layer of clouds to our cruising altitude of 16,000 feet.
On the way to MSP we were in and out of very thin clouds or very thick haze that, for the most part, allowed us to see ground as well as sun, but no horizon. After passing Duluth, we were let down to 5000 feet where we met with the first (very light) turbulance of the trip; We were cleared for a visual approach to runway 30R at MSP, flying to it on a long base leg from the northeast to a half-mile final.
We asked and got progressive taxi to customs. After clearing customs, George set off on his last leg to Waterloo by himself, while I caught a commercial flight back home.
Total flight time form EDTX to KMSP was 25.9 hours, of which 3.5 hours
in instrument conditions. Total (flight-plan) distance was 4327 nautical
miles (great-circle distance from EDTX to KMSP is 3882 miles). Average
ground speed 167 knots. TAS at 18000 feet was close to 180 kts.
We had a light tailwind until the North Sea and light headwinds (or a headwind
component) pretty much all of the remainder of the trip. We made six landings.
We could have flown every leg without using the ferry tank (but that is
not to be taken as encouragement to try this without one).
We flew there from Morristown Muni, NJ (KMMU) in one of the club's 172s. Naturally, when there are two CFIIs on board, the non-instructor (i.e., me) gets put in the left seat, hooded and heckled all the way.
The course started with an hour or so of theory and reviewing survival equipment. The emphasis was, of course, on survival in very cold water. We learned that in a good survival suit your body temperature will go down no more than 2°C after 6 hours in water of 2°C. We then tried on three different suits.
The three suits all had hoods and attached boots. One had integrated gloves. All suits also were well insulated, two of them by a removable liner on the inside. The hoods have a seal that leaves only the face exposed. They are quite uncomfortable under the chin. The suit I wore during flight has a neck seal and leaves the head free. Having worn both styles, I think the neck seal is better, because it can actually be worn during flight. The hooded suits are just too uncomfortable. Our instructor demonstrated a separate hood, much like divers wear.
We tried the suits in the pool and had a great time practising getting into and out of the raft, turning the raft right-side up, being hoisted out of the water in a basket or a horse collar and climbing a rope net. Then we had lunch and after lunch we went out to sea.
We were all apprehensive about this. The water of the Long Island Sound is only 5°C in April and there was a strong wind. We set out in a fast boat and got to try out some flares and smoke signals before we were dumped overboard. We were assigned positions along the 60-yard lanyard of the raft and went overboard.
The surprise of the day was that it was not in the least cold to be in the ocean wearing a good survival suit. We splashed around very comfortably. George started pulling the lanyard out of the raft and Ken and I stayed at the end of the line. When George had collected the remaining 50 yards, he gave a tug and the raft inflated -- right side up. He started climbing into the raft and let go of his 50 yards of lanyard. Immediately, the wind carried the raft away from Ken and me and we had to haul in those 60 yards to get back to the raft.
We all climbed in and were joined by the instructor who proceeded to explain how seasick his clients always became. In fact, he positively bragged that he had never had a group without someone getting sick. He then managed a vivid description of the smell of vomit sloshing around in the bottom of the raft and didn't stop before one of us had to put his head over the side. After that, we were allowed to climb out on top of the tent and felt much better.
The instructor explained the survival gear on board: knife, water desalination kit, seasickness pills, rations, etc. He stretched the explanation to an hour or so, presumably to make us realise that survival at sea isn't fun. I don't think any of us believed that anyway.
All in all, the course was very useful and has given me a much better idea what to look for in survival equipment and how to prepare for long overwater trips.
For more information, you have to look at Doug Ritters survival page Equipped to Survive. It has loads and loads of excellent information.