I finally have a day off and some sort of internet, (I thought Europe was supposed to have great internet?) so here’s the latest update from the road.
We left Greenland with 6 Epic LT’s in loose trail about 15 minutes apart. The weather along the route was as nice as it has been for the whole trip. No ice, no bumps, no problems. I should’ve known that we’d get tested sooner or later. We were on the way to Wick Scotland to drop off our survival suits and rafts and re-fuel before heading down to England. The forecast wasn’t too bad for the time of our arrival, broken to overcast clouds at 600 feet and moderate visibility. There was a chance of lower conditions but what were the odds of that happening? The first plane landed and reported that the clouds down to about 400 feet and thick. That got our attention because the minimums for the approach were 460 feet. Our turn next.
I was stuck in the back of the plane on this leg because I’ve been hired to help some of the lesser experienced owners make the crossing and there was no sense in me hogging a seat when most of these guys haven’t made an ocean crossing before. My job was to sit in the back and keep the guys out of trouble and I can do that in the back just as well as I can from the front, most of the time. The owner of the plane I was in was flying this leg. He’s a relatively new pilot with just 500 hours total time and only 150 in airplanes, the rest of his time is in helicopters. But despite his lack of experience he’s a pretty good pilot, and a wiz with the glass cockpit. Sitting up front with him was an instructor from the Epic company making his first trans-Atlantic trip as well. They have both been doing well on the trip so far so I wasn’t too worried but I was still in-between their seats looking over their shoulders and monitoring their progress. It’s that old “trust but verify” thing. I was also trying really really hard to keep my mouth shut and not tell them how to fly and as anybody who’s ever flown with me can attest, I’m not really very good at that.
We set up for shooting the VOR approach on runway 31. A VOR approach is a non-precision approach that provides no glide slope information so it really just tells you where the runway is not if you’re going to run into anything on the way there. We were in heavy rain and clouds on final approach when the co-pilot called out runway in sight. I looked over his and could barely make out the approach lights for the runway through the mist and rain. The owner was a little high (but legal. I would’ve been lower and not so legal) and a little fast but I wasn’t worried because the runway at Wick was almost 6000 feet long. As we got a little closer and lower the runway appeared and something looked wrong. Three quarters of the way down the runway there was a red and white barrier across the runway with construction equipment on the other side cutting the usable amount of runway down considerably. I looked at our speed and height above the runway and knew there was no way we could land and get stopped in time. The co-pilot and the tower concurred because they both said “go around go around!” The pilot slapped the gear up and poured the coals to it.
To be continued.
OK everyone, as you can guess I’ve been busy. The following post was written in flight while I was supposed to be doing that pilot shit so please excuse the poor everything. I was going to clean it up and add photos but who am I kidding? I’m just lucky to have time to post anything. It’s currently 3:00 am in Iceland and I’m flying in the morning so you get what you get.
By the end of day one I beginning to get a good sense of how this trip was going to go. After only flying for a little under three hours we got the red carpet treatment at the Pratt and Whitney factory, that’s right I got a hat. Then when I checked into the five star hotel in downtown Montreal I didn’t have to give them a credit card because I was told that everything was covered. Hello minibar! Then it off to a fancy French restaurant for an amazing dinner. This trip is shaping up nicely with short flying days and five star treatment. Now of course no night with Pete Zaccagnino is ever boring so instead of going back to the hotel after dinner to get a good nights sleep Pete “dragged” me out to a bar where a buddy of his was having his bachelor party. I’m not saying that we stayed out too late but the next morning one of the younger pilots on the trip commented on how he couldn’t understand how us old guys could function on such little sleep.
I guess I can fill you all in on a few more details about our trip now. What I’ve
Been hired to do is lend my world traveling expertise in assisting the owners of six amazing airplanes fly them around the world. It’s quite a large crew (27 people!) so half of the challenge is going to herding cats. I can’t tell you what kind of aircraft we are flying but they are all the same kind of plane and they are fast as hell and damn sexy to boot!
We’re heading to Goose Bay and on to Narsarsuaq today so I’ll give you all another report soon.
The gas and go stop at Goose Bay was remarkably fast considering we had six planes or fuel and 27 people to feed. Luckily our wonderful trip organizer Gale had us covered with a box of subway sandwiches waiting for us so it wasn’t a complete cluster. After that it was feet wet over the Davis Strait and the Labrador Sea and east bound to Narsarsuaq Greenland. Now normally this 675 nautical mile leg takes me well over 4 or 5 hours depending on what I’m flying
but we made this ocean crossing in just 2 hours and 12 minutes. Did I mention that I just freaking LOVE this plane!? Well I do. It is just the most fantastic super shit hot incredible flying machine I’ve ever gotten my mitts on. So yeah, I dig it.
But even the best plane can bite you if not careful. As we were approaching Narsarsuaq my co-pilot who was flying this leg requested a descent out of 27,000 feet a little late so of course Sonderstrom radio delayed our request a few minutes putting us in a little bit of a bind because while we were waiting for permission to descend we were still smoking along at 360 knots and chewing up miles at a horrendous rate. I know, I know, I don’t usually refer to a high ground speed as “ horrendous” but when you’re quickly approaching the runway you want to land on and you’re still at 27,000 feet high speed can be somewhat of a problem. When we finally received permission to head down we were almost on top of the airport. So it was time to see just how fast this baby can come down. Turns out, pretty damn fast indeed. If you think descending at 7000 feet per minute is fun you’re right. And it’s also kind of fun to corkscrew down into an iceberg filled fjord. Just kind of. Crises averted we cranked in a steep bank to final and put her down on the up-sloping runway and put another ocean leg in the books.
We didn’t get to stay in a five star hotel in Narsarsuaq (because the only hotel is clean but not fancy) but we did get to take a boat ride after dinner. And what a boat ride! We were taken up the fjord into an area packed with icebergs of all sizes. The ice is calved off the glaciers flowing off the ice cap and is a brilliant blue due to it’s being thousands of years old some other science that I’ve forgotten. We pulled some ice onboard to mix in our drinks and then took a stroll on a large iceberg to toast the sunset. It was pretty nice I must say. After that we went back to the hotel bar and had an impromptu jam session with an Inuit band that was touring Greenland. It was a hell of a day.
OK folks here comes the trip you’ve all been waiting for! Well, the trip I’ve been waiting for because someone didn’t bother to post anything on his blog for the last century and we all know who’s fault that is don’t we? Anyway I’ve finally started the trip of a lifetime and took off in a small plane in an attempt to fly around the world! Hmm, maybe the word attempt isn’t very appropriate, let’s just say that I’m flying around the world and leave it at that. There are a few things about this trip that will have to remain secret for the time being but in a few short days everything will be made clear. So for now you’ll just have to be satisfied with the small scraps of information I’m allowed to give you. And like it!
We left from Oshkosh Wisconsin this morning ahead of a nasty line of thunderstorms that had me a little concerned. I needn’t have worried, in 17 minutes we were level at 27,000 and cruising along at a comfortable 360 knots ground speed. And for those of you who are wondering if 360 knots is fast, yes, yes it is. Our first stop was Montreal, where we got lunch, a tour of the factory, and a nice hat. I like the hat. Nuff said. Then they whisked us off to a 5 star hotel where I’m currently sitting drinking mini bar beer and waiting to the nights sponsored dinner then off to a Jazz fest. I’ll let you know if anything interesting happens. Tomorrow it’s off to Goose Bay to fuel up and pick up survival gear and then it’s once again off to conquer the north Atlantic. Wish me luck!
What are you going to do? THAT’S the question. In every pilot’s career he’s (BTWI always use”he” when referring to pilots. It’s not that I’m sexest, my daughter is a pilot, it’s just that I that having to write “he or she” ten times a day.) Anyway, in every pilot’s career he’s going to have to make a tough decision every now and again. You know, go, or no go? Most of the time it’s based on the weather, sometimes it’s that something’s wrong with the plane, or maybe you just drank too much the night before and you’re not feeling one hundred percent. (not that that ever happens to pilots for pity’s sake) Now for most non-professional pilots the decision is usually an easy one. If everything isn’t perfect, just say screw it and head to the bar. Easy. But for pilots who heard pieces of junk through the sky in return for little bits of colored paper (money) there are other factors that come into play. “But Kerry, I thought you weren’t supposed to let outside factors influence your decision making process!” you might say. And I might say to you dear reader that if you believe that bull sh*t you’ll believe anything they tell you in flight school. Remember when they told you that pilots make tons of money, lead lives filled with adventure and that chicks dig them? Well, OK,all that true, but when the mechanic tells you that the plane’s supposed to make that noise, that’s bull. Dang, Where was I? Oh yeah, outside pressures to fly when things aren’t just right. Guys who have people counting on them to make that flight happen might just give it a go when the weather is marginal, one of the radios is acting up or they just feel like hell. It’s called professional responsibility. Also known as “pressure” Of course the real trick is to know when the situation or circumstances are such that you head to the bar despite the pressure. And making that decision correctly, my friend, only comes from experience. And like the old saying goes “Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.”
So, without further ado. A bad decision.
A long long time ago in a country far far away, I was hired to help ferry an Embraer Phenom 100 from Sydney Australia to Las Vegas. The Phenom is a sleek, sort of fast, business jet that is a ton of fun to fly but has one vital flaw. It has short legs. Not landing gear, range. 800-900 miles is about the limit it can go with out stopping to re-fuel. In the jet world that’s not a lot. But you can’t have everything and when you’re ferrying, you don’t get to choose what planes you fly and how they were designed. You just deal with what you’re dealt. The trip was amazing but due to the short range of the Phenom it had a lot of stops and a lot of legs that didn’t leave us with a lot of reserve. The longest was a leg from Petropavlovsk to Anadyr, or from the southern tip of the Kamchatka peninsula to just shy of the Bering Strait. A little over 900 miles, right on the edge of the Phenom’s range.
When we got to Petropavlovsk our handler (another beautiful but grumpy Russian woman)informed us that the weather forecast for Anadyr wasn’t exactly what we’d been hoping for, in fact it was downright gloomy. She told us that the weather was currently 900 feet overcast with 5 miles visibility, not bad. Unfortunately the conditions were supposed to be worse by the time we got there.
“After that?” we asked, “Worse”
And after that? “Even worse.”
The lower ceilings forecast and visibility were right on the edge of what we could do safely. The biggest problem with going was that if the weather system moved in faster than was forecast we could find ourselves in a pickle with nowhere to go because the only other airport way up there on top of the world was west of Anadyr and that’s where the bad weather was coming from. Nope, we said take us to the hotel and we’ll try and recover from our crushing disappointment by drinking smooth Russian Vodka and chatting up the beautiful but grumpy Russian women. We’ll be fine.
That’s when Natasha (seriously, that was her name and she looked and sounded just like Natasha from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show) informed us that at this time of year when those big weather systems roll in from Siberia the Kamchatka can sometimes be shut down for up to a month.
Well, that certainly puts a different spin on things doesn’t it?
The Captain and I were certainly willing to spend a day or even two chilling at a hotel in exotic Russia. But a month is something altogether different. We poured over the forecast some more, mumbling, hemming and hawing, looking at each other with “what do you think?” eyes. All the while knowing that the longer we waited the closer the bad weather was to Anadyr. The captain was unwilling to make the call alone because even though it was his career on the line it both of our asses. Not wanting to spend a month cooling my heels I suggested we launch immediately and see how things looked enroute. If by the time we got to the point of no return the weather still looked good we’d continue, if it looked like it was going down faster than predicted we’d turn around. Simple, safe, aggressive. OK, it wasn’t simple or safe, but one out of three isn’t bad.
We took off and when we arrived at the point of no return called for a weather update for Anadyr. 500 feet, 2 miles visibility. Not great, but not too bad. They told us that the clouds were dropping and the fog was thickening but very fast. Dang, not a slam dunk either way. Once again we gave each other the “what ya wanna do?” look. In the end we decided to push on rationalizing that at the rate the clouds were dropping it should still be above our 200 foot limit by the time we got there, and besides, we had a great plane with a glass cockpit and a state of the art autopilot that could take us right down to the runway if needed. Onward!
We crossed the point of no return optimistic about our chances. So of course twenty minutes later ATC called to inform us that the conditions at the field had dropped to 400 feet and the worsening trend had increased.
20 minutes after that 300 feet.
Things were starting to get a bit gloomy in the cockpit. We’d made our choice and were committed so the was nothing much to say but our silence said it loudly anyway.
200 feet. 1/4 mile vis.
With 30 minutes left to go the sun went down, which in a low approach situation actually makes it easier to find the runway in the fog. Of course if we couldn’t find the runway and ran out of fuel we’d have no chance of surviving an off airport landing. As we approached the airport we had enough fuel for three or maybe four approaches but we agreed that if the first one was looking good we’d continue down past the missed approach altitude even if we couldn’t see the runway environment. Our reasoning was that the conditions were just getting worse as time went on so we might as well make the first one count. On the approach the captain monitored the autopilot and instruments while I called off the altitude and looked outside for the runway lights. 500, 400, 300, 200, 100…LIGHTS! Throttle to idle, touchdown.
Didn’t get killed….again.
Now that Charles is all wrapped up and comfy in his space blankets and rain poncho it’s time to go through the DO NOT LOSE! bag and see what else he might that might come in handy in the quest to not die. (If you don’t know just what in the heck I’m talking about look back a few posts to catch up)
You might remember that the DO NOT LOSE! bag is the small survival kit that I bring with me on every international ferry flight (Ocean crossing) and most other flights where I’m flying over terrain that might be challenging to survive in if I’m forced down. On ferry flights I also have additional supplies and gear in the plane with me that I’ll bring with if I can when exiting the aircraft in and emergency but the DO NOT LOSE! bag is the first priority. If I’m ditching the bag gets zipped inside my survival suit before hand so there’s no chance of losing it and I have my hands free for the raft and maybe my secondary bag of supplies.
So without further ado here’s what’s in my DO NOT LOSE! bag.
OK, from left to right (sort of) top to bottom.
Chem light: Just a good emergency light or tie it on the end of a line and twirl it over your head as an emergency beacon.
Lazer pointer: Excellent signaling device. Just shine it in at an aircraft and the cops will come and arrest you. Saved!
Space blanket with electrical tape.
Large military dressing with duct tape wrapping: No not the bandaids. Thanks US ARMY!
More bandaids and iodine wipes.
Bandage tape with strong rubber bands
Cloths pins: In case you need to do some laundry. Honestly I don’t remember why they are in there.
Tweezers and large safety pins
Military heat tabs: Good fire starter.
Magnesium block with sparker. Good fire starter.
Waterproof lighter and matches
Good luck charm
Swiss Army knife, large and small
More knife, you never want to run out of knife.
Super glue, Good for patching holes in a raft or your body.
Drugs. Mostly ibuprofen, I don’t think the little blue pills are viagra but I’ll take them last, just in case.
Army power bar
More bandage tape
Rubber gloves. Mostly for keeping hands warm.
Raft patch kit
PLB (Personell Locator Beacon)
Gerber multi-tool. Probably on my belt
As I said I change this kit to fit the part of the world I’m flying over or when I think of something new. Like why don’t I have any booze in it? Hmmmm, guess I’ll have to go to the store.
In case there is anyone out there who hasn’t been following the trials and tribulations of Charles, our unlucky fictitious ferry pilot I’ll try and bring you up to speed. Chuck was hired to ferry a small single engine airplane from the US to Europe in the middle of winter. Since then he’s made a lot of serious mistakes. Number one, agreeing to ferry a small single engine airplane over the north Atlantic in the winter time. Somewhere off the coast of Greenland his plane suffered some sort of mysterious mechanical malfunction, no, he did NOT run out of gas! He’s not THAT much of and idiot. He then managed to ditch the plane without flipping it of knocking himself unconscious, exit the plane wearing his survival suit before it sank, (the airplane, not the suit) inflate and climb into his life raft, and make contact with a passing airliner. Now that you are up to speed, please pay attention because I’m NOT going to do this again!
So where was I? Or should I say where was Chuck? Oh yeah, in his raft trying to play solitaire with soggy cards while waiting for help to arrive, It turns out that being bored might be the least of Chuck’s worries because although he was smart and wore the proper layers of clothing under his survival suit it still might get a little chilly in the wet rubber room after a few hours. My instructors in Iceland told me that the biggest loss of body heat won’t be from the cold air, provided your raft has a good cover on it, but from the rubber floor of the raft. Seeing the the water temperature of the North Atlantic in the winter is…….hell, it don’t know exactly. All I know is that it’s damn cold and that it sucks the heat from anything that touches it for any length of time. Like your butt. I know this for a fact because a few years ago I flew one of my Cessnas up to Alaska with my father and number one son for a week long raft trip down the Kobuk river. It was an amazing trip but one thing we noticed was that the floor of the raft was so cold that it your feet froze even through your tennis shoes. we finally had to put some cardboard down to set our feet on. sort of an insulating barrier. It wasn’t much, but it worked. The problem is that there isn’t much extra junk laying around a life raft in the middle of the Atlantic. All you have is what you bring with you.
That’s why I carry two cheap mylar space blankest and one or two thin plastic rain ponchos in my DO NOT LOSE! bag. I can unwrap and sit on them or wrap them around my body to help keep my core warm. (pictured below)
“But Kerry, I only see one space blanket and no rain ponchos” Oh, you noticed that? That’s because when I opened up my DO NOT LOSE! bag they were missing! Yes, I lost things out of my DO NOT LOSE! bag. That’s because I use the items in the bag for other things and trips other than ferry flying and sometimes they don’t get put back. Grrrrrrrrr. You might also notice that I have some electrical tape wrapped around the space blanket because you never know when that will come in handy. I’ll have to remember to change that tape because I put it there over two years ago and it tends to get funky.
You might also have read that those cheap mylar space blankets aren’t all they are cracked up to be. That’s true, they are not some magical item that will keep you warm no matter what. They are about one atom thick, tear SUPER easy, and give you almost no insulation. But they block the wind a little, trap air a little,(that’s also what the tape’s for, I use it to seal the gaps) and when you wrap two of them around you and then add a cheap plastic rain poncho on top of that it will do something. Better than nothing, and if you don’t bring them that’s what you’ve got, nothing.
Ok then, so poor Chuck is still lost at sea after, what is it? 6 weeks? I really should finish this up and rescue the guy. Maybe next month. Anyway, so Charlie figured out some way to mount the PLB on the outside of the raft giving it a clear view of the sky but until the Love Boat shows up to give him a ride he has no way of knowing if it’s working. What’s next? Why, grab your hand held aviation radio and call someone who cares of course. I won’t go into the whole operating a small electronic device encased in two or three Ziploc bags while wearing oven mitts, (survival suit) thing again. So let’s assume that he got it turned on and had the foresight to have it pre-tuned to 121.5, the emergency channel that every pilot is supposed to monitor while flying over the ocean known as guard.
“MAYDAY MAYDAY! Anyone on guard, this is November 6384 Alpha MAYDAY MAYDAY!”
“84 Alpha this is United 123 on guard, can I be of assistance?”
It worked! Your heart leaps with joy at the sound of another human voice. It’s been a lonely and scary ten minutes in the raft but now that you’ve made contact with someone from the outside world you know your chances of getting out of this mess have increased dramatically.
“Thank God, United! This is November 6384 Alpha, I lost my engine and was forced to ditch.” (At this point is it really appropriate to identify yourself by your plane’s N number? I mean the plane itself is sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic. You’re really the captain of a boat at this point.
“Roger 84 Alpha. What’s your position?”
“I’m reclining in the center of the raft.”
Sorry. Even in a life or death situation Chuck’s a smart ass.
But he’s not a complete idiot. He knows that Captain wonderful of United 123 can’t help him much unless he can tell him where he is.
Here’s where we get to the meat of the issue because you don’t want to give your position as “about 200 miles west of Greenland, give or take” The ocean is a big place and if I’m sitting in a raft freezing my ass off I want SAR (Search And Rescue) to know PRECISELY where I am. I know, I know, what about the PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)? Isn’t that supposed to give SAR a continuous GPS location? Yes it should but I’m a belt and suspenders kind of guy (not literally, that would be weird) and the whole point of bringing a hand help radio is so you can tell people where you are. And you can’t tell people where you are, UNLESS YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE!
The first you should do when you know for sure that you’re going swimming is to get out an accurate position report and then make that your ditching point. Because it’s more important to let everyone know EXACTLY where you are going down then to glide as far as you can, unless you’re almost within range of land based helicopter rescue or trying to reach a ship you passed happen to be close to. Next, you need to write that position down so you can have it with you in the raft. I’d probably write it down on a piece of paper, put it in the same Ziploc bag that’s protecting the radio, and stick it in my DO NOT LOSE! bag. You could also use a pen and write it down on the palm of your hand but I don’t think it would last very long in a wet survival suit.
So there you go, problem solved. Ditch your plane, get into the raft, pull out your radio and tell everyone you can get reach where you are. Easy peasy. But what if you can’t get anyone to answer your Mayday call until hours, or days later? How far have you drifted? Did you ditch precisely at the point you wrote down or were you miles off? Remember it gets busy in the cockpit when you’re getting ready to ditch and you might have your hand full just controlling the aircraft while getting into the survival suit. That’s why I always have a small hand held GPS with me. That way I can not only tell SAR exactly where I am but how fast and in what direction I’m drifting. It would also come in handy if I go down on land and I need to know where the nearest liquor store is.
So Charles is sitting pretty. He’s safe in the raft Warm in his survival suit. His Personal Locator Beacon is broadcasting his position, and he’s given his position to a passing airliner. Nothing left to do but wait for the calvary. Of course it helps if he’s still alive when they get there.