Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Last flight over the Atlantic for this part of the trip, England to Sweden to visit friends in Lund

We've just had the most wonderful English breakfast. Anyone planning to visit Durham in North England should consider staying at the Cathedral View Town House, if only for the outstanding breakfast!

Durham is lovely. We toured the castle yesterday, which is now used for student residences, if you can believe it. Lucky kids, it's an amazing Norman castle dating back to 1070. The cathedral is right next door, and was described by Bill Bryson as the "most beautiful cathedral on planet earth". Unlike many other cathedrals, it is fully open to the public and no sections are closed off from view. Stunning.

Today I fly my last transatlantic leg of the tour - as I am flying home commercially on the 20th, Eli and our friend Dan have lots of transatlantic travel ahead of them, but this is likely my last day in a survival suit for a while. I've come to kind of like it~! For someone who is perpetually chilly, the survival suit poses less discomfort.

I'm very excited about Sweden, which is one of my favorite places. We will fly into Malmo, close to Denmark, then take the train to Lund, where my dear friends Tomas, Lena, Anges and Edvin live. I look forward to introducing them to Eli, who they have not yet met. We don't see each other enough, but when we do, it is always magical.

After Sweden, we'll likely trundle down to Austria to see Eli's cousin and his family. Then homeward bound!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Final Push: Reykjavik - Vagar - Prestwick (BIRK-EKVG-EGPK)

Eli: Thursday morning we were wheels up from Reykjavik a little later than expected as the fuel truck at Flight Services was making its once a month rounds around Iceland refilling local airport AVGAS depots. We decided to do a combination of visual and instrument flying enroute to the Faroe Islands.

We took off Runway 31 northwest and immediately did a left 270 over the city leveling off at 1,200 ft. just below the cloud deck. The terrain gradually rises east of Reykjavik and for a while I wasn't sure whether our plan to do some low level sightseeing was going to work.

The previous night we had found a gigantic map of the country on the outside of an Icelandic tourist office. Fortunately it was a real map with lat-long markings and we were able to roughly determine the coordinates for a number of significant sights we had wanted to see. We manually entered these coordinates into our GPS and set off for a) Iceland's famous gesyer, b) Thingvillir, the meeting or the North American and Eurasian techtonic plates, that was the inspiration for Jules Verne's Journey to Centre Earth. and c) the massive deep waterfall, Gullfoss, which does look like it flows into the Earth's core.

Iceland is amazingly relaxed about its VFR flying compared to most countries. Air traffic controllers happily kept an eye out for us and we did numerous low level passes and circled overhead. We were able to take some spectaular shots that we'll eventually post on this blog.

After getting our fill of gushing geysers and rushing waterfalls, and as always conscious of our fuel reserve, we picked up our IFR clearance about 40 nm north of the airway that would eventually take us directly to the Faroe Islands. We were cleared to 13,000 feet, through and above all the weather and settled in for a smooth ride across south Iceland, and over the open ocean to Vagar in the Faroe Islands.

The weather in this small Danish holding was forcast to be excellent, which was a good thing since there weren't a multitude of alternate airports should the weather suddenly go down. Our alternate airport was Wick at the tip of northern Scotland, which would have required ultra-economical flying to make it there with a legal fuel reserve if we had to go missed in Vagar. A 15 knot tailwind was an added bonus and helped make up for the fuel we used VFR flying and more importantly added to our mental reserves.

From the air, the Faroe Islands look like a luscious golf course for the Gods with each island being a separate hole with the odd water trap in between. The visual approach into Vagar was probably the most beautiful of the entire trip, as we circled the southern bluffs of the islands, turning northeast at a waterfall and then settling into a valley, the landing strip bordered by lush, groomed grass on either side.

We were met on arrival by the CFO of the airport, who makes it a point of taking a photograph of all private aircraft that arrive in Vagar. Normally we're not big on hanging out in airport terminals but the airport's Danish modern design and furniture, complete with large Lego blocks for the children, made us opt for an indoors picnic (we ate sandwiches made from our hotel's breakfast buffet offerings in Reykjavik!).

Bren and I ascended to the control tower to file our flight plan for the final leg of our trans-atlantic crossing. The routing, which to our surprise was immediately accepted by Eurocontrol ATC in Brussels was:


Setting out from Vagar, Bren and felt much like rider wearing the yellow jersey on the final leg of the Tour de France. We could taste the finish line and as long as we kept our cool and did nothing stupid, victory would be ours.

After reaching Stornoway, Scottish ATC intiated "deconfliction" service and cleared almost directly to Prestwick. We set up for a nice long ILS glideslope final approach into Prestwick, the runway lights sparkling in the twilight. Just to add a bit of drama to what had otherwise been a very uneventual series of flights, we had avoid a flock of seagulls just 300 feet above the runway, directly on the glideslope. It was a good thing I was manually flying the approach.

We landed in Prestwick without incident and settled in for a night of celebration in the nearby seaside town of Ayr, post-landing beers, local curries, and karaoke with the locals!.

Anyway that's it for now. It's been a fabulous journey totalling about 33 hours flight time over the course of nine days. Thanks for sharing our trip with us. Bren will write more later.

Vancouver Sun posts wrap up story on us arriving safeley.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Flight Log August 10 2009: Greenland to Iceland

Eli: Monday morning I double and triple checked the weather before our ssetting off first across the massive Greenland icecap, and later the Denmark Straight to Iceland.

We were originally cleared to 12,000 ft. but held soon after takeoff at 5,300 as we waited for an incoming Greenland Air flight to pass off our left. It was amazing that in an area of such open expanses, two planes could still pass so close.

At flight level 120 the winds were still light and variable and the temperature about -10C, just warm enough for a little frost to form on our wings as we passed through the top of some small clouds. A quick call to ATC, a climb to 13,000 and we had no further cloud encounters until we landed in Kulusuk.

Our transition altitude to Kulusuk was 8,000 ft. As you'll see later from the photos, Kulusuk is at the base of huge fjords with the accompanying high mountains. I decided to stay relatively high until I was over the Kulusuk non-directional beacon, at which point I performed the full procedure NDB teardrop approach It provided me with a great way lose altitutde and also an excuse for more fantastic scenery both outbound and inbound.

Unlike Stony Rapids, Kulusuk is a real gravel runway so my most gentle landing techinque possible was employed. As we back-tracked to the terminal, a large Fokker had already taken its position on the strip, it's pre-takeoff lights staring directly at us.

When it was time to leave, I was directed up to the Control Tower where to the controller had already prepared a draft flight plan for me, complete with enroute time estimates and updated weather. After getting my sign-off, he entered my plan with Reykjavik Oceanic Clearance. Of course all this service comes at a price.

First, on the subject of fuel, the good news is that I didn't have to buy it by the drum. A small trailer pulled up to the plane and a mechanical pump topped off the tanks in no time. The bad news is that it cost just about as much as if I had bought a drum or two. In addition to my mile high fuel bill was added a variety of handling and service charges. Still I was just glad to have the fuel and services available. Still, the peace of mind of taking off across a large stretch of open water knowing you've got full tanks is worth it. It wasn't that long ago that being able to find Avgas at any price was difficult.

Our sequence of hand off from Greenland to Iceland was: Kulusuk AFIS-Sondrestrom Information-Iceland Radio-Reykjavik Approach-Reykavik Tower. At the point of crossing from Greelandic into Icelandic airspace we had difficulty getting a message to Iceland ATC. An Air New Zeland flight along with a private ferry pilot graciously offered to relay our position and enroute waypoint estimates through the Oceanic air-to-air frequency of 123.45.

The weather held wonderfully for our descent into Reykjavik. Just a little bit of cloud at 4,000 ft. offshore with a couple of rainbows thrown in for good measure while skies were clear over the airport itself. When we pulled up to the general aircraft terminal, we were marshalled by an attractive redhead in a mini-skirt and high heeled boots. As Bren said "We're not in Kansas anymore - Welcome to Iceland".

Monday, August 10, 2009

After picnicing in the most beautiful place I have ever seen, we flew safely to Iceland and are now at our Hotel in Reykjavik.

Bren: We have just arrived in Iceland. After we shower and unpack, we are off to explore the restaurants and night life a bit. We'll be here for two or three days, and hope to go trekking on Icelandic ponies, as well as getting out to see the geysers and hot springs Iceland is famous for. However, we've not yet told you about the most wonderful place we visited today, Kulusuk Greenland.

Kulusuk is a small stop over on the East Coast of Greenland. No one had mentioned it's beauty to us before we arrived there, and as we approached, we were in complete awe. We flew over the icepack, and on the edge of the giant glacier, where it meets the sea, are the most stunning moutains and clear artic blue water. There are icebergs everywhere. These are the first icebergs we've seen on the trip, and they were shockingly beautiful in the variety of shapes and sizes they took. Some were as large as football fields, others the size of Eli's smart car. After an impressive "vietnam style" landing on the gravel runway, we parked MDS with a gas attendant and walked to the fjord at the end of the runway to have a picnic amongst the icebergs. It is truly the most beautiful place I have been, and I felt both in awe and greatly priveledged to be there. I took 200 photos today, and of those I hope a few will capture at least some of this unique and pristine scenery.

As we were eating our sandwich and gatorade, I stared to consider the liklihood that a polar bear could be in the area. It was a perfect setting for one - he could swim from iceberg to iceberg hunting seals, or perhaps the rare tourist picnicing on the edge of the fjord. That thought ended our picnic rather abruptly, as we decided to make our way, swiftly, back to the airport.

The flight to Iceland was without incident.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Of Feast and Planning

Bren: Tonight we took part in a traditional Greenlandic feast. It was scrumptious, with some surprising new tastes that might need to grow on a person to fully enjoy them. I think the polite terminology would be "an acquired taste". Here are some of the items served: poached trout (as big as a coho), many types of salmon, halibut, scallops and muscles, muskox and reindeer carpaccio, three types of whale (including 'white whale' and 'Greenlandic whale'), with a wild Greenlandic blackberry cake for dessert. I think we'd call these blackberries huckleberries or wild blueberries in the pacific northwest. I declined to the whale, but did enjoy trying the other unique offerings.

Earlier in the day we went on a Muskox viewing tour but were shut out. There is a large group of people who arrived on a small cruise ship earlier in the day and our guide theorized that the sheer number of tours may have driven the muskox further into their range. It is hard to describe the enormity of the landscape here - if you think the "big sky" images you may have of Montana, where the mountains and valleys and ranges continue for as far as the eye can see, it is a similar scope. However the scenery itself is so unique, I have a hard time relaying words to descirbe it. I could imagine a brontosaurus wondering on the hills outside our hotel and it would completely suited to its landscape.

We spent some time this evening doing our pre-flight inspection of MDS. We're pleased to note that we've been burning on average a litre of oil every six hours of flight. We topped it up tonight for our long journey tomorrow. Tomorrow we fly to the other side of Greenland, fuel up and strech our legs, then push onwards to Iceland. I will try to post as soon as possible when we arrive, given the unreliability we have been experiencing with SPOT, and how that has risen the blood pressure of a few of our friends and family. Here is our plan for tomorrow. We'll be wheels up at 9am local time. We expect a low pressure system in Iceland to be clearing in the early afternoon.

Sandrestromfjord to Kulusak (343 Kt m) + Kulusak to Reykjavik (408 Kt m) = 751 kt m
Routing: Sonderstromfjord (BGSF) to Kulusak (BGKK) via W28. Kulusuk (GBKK) to DA (Waypoint) to 65N30W to Gimili to Reykjavic (BIRK).

Next blog from Iceland!