The North Crossing

As a ferry pilot the question I get asked the most is how do I get a single engine piston airplane across the Atlantic ocean?  My first response is usually some smart a** comment like “very carefully” but if the questioner looks like they can stand a long boring and drawn out lecture I’m always happy to oblige. There are three ways across the Atlantic.  The first and most direct is to take Lindbergh’s route which is basically to just go for it, straight across the middle.  To take this route you need both a plane with extra ferry tanks installed to give you extra range and a good tailwind because the leg from St. Johns Newfoundland to Shannon Ireland is over 1700 nautical miles and there isn’t jack squat in between.  I’ve made that crossing 4 or 5 times and twice made it all the way to Paris from St. Johns non-stop due to strong tailwinds.  This route is the quickest way from North America to Europe but it’s also the most dangerous because that’s a whole lot of ocean to cross and if something goes wrong, like running into a headwind instead of a tailwind, or problems with your ferry tank, like I had one long night many years ago, you could be in real trouble. I don’t take that route anymore.

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  The second way across is the head south out of St. Johns east and head for the Azores.  This route is shorter, 1400 NM, and offers the advantage of having a few islands 300 closer in case of trouble and it’s warmer so icing isn’t as much of a problem.  This route also requires ferry tanks and a tailwind wouldn’t hurt either.  Back 20 years ago, when I worked for Orient Air, this was the route we took the most because we had our own ferry tanks and a lot of our planes were going to Africa and the Middle east.

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The final way across is to take the North Crossing. This way is the most commonly used route because it has the shortest legs and that appeals to a lot of pilots because you can make it without ferry tanks or an HF radio which saves you a lot of money.  There are two routes to chose from when taking the North Crossing.  The one with the shortest legs is to go from Goose Bay Labrador, up to Iqaluit on Baffin Island, then across the Davis Strait to Sondre Stormfjord, 467NM, then across the Greenland icecap to Kulusuk, 331NM, then finally to Reykjavik, 389NM. Like I said, this way has the shortest legs, but it is the most expensive due to the landing fees at the additional stops, very expensive fuel at Kulusuk (all the airports in this part of the world have expensive fuel but Kulusuk is the worst) and longer distance burning that expensive fuel.  The second way to make the North Crossing is to head out of Goose Bay and make just one stop in Narsarsuaq Greenland before continuing on to Reykjavik.  The two legs are longer, about 650 MN each, but it saves you 500 miles of flying, 2 stops and at least one night in a hotel. That plus the pilot’s pay =$$$$$ and when ferrying planes overseas that’s the name of the game.  The North Crossing does have its dangers though.  As you might have guessed flying above the Arctic Circle can be somewhat chilly.  So if you go down on land either in Canada or on the ice cap be sure you packed your long johns.  If you go down in the ocean…….well, just so you know, there isn’t much in the way of rescue resources in that part of the world so you might be waiting in your raft for a long time before anyone can get to you, so there’s that. Hope you brought a good book.

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Anyway now you know how to fly a small single engine airplane across the Atlantic. Give it a try sometime! Good luck.

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