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.

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