After fueling in Wick I moved into the right seat of a beautiful Epic LT owned by a Texas businessman who we’ve given the call sign “Tex” we’re nothing if not original. Our next stop was Chamberly England (EGLK) a small airport west of London and located in one of the busiest airspaces in the world. My job was going to running the radios and translating what the controllers say for Tex. I know, I know “don’t they speak english in England? Well, sort of. They speak english, not american. And when a controller is rattling off instructions a mile a minute (actually the Epic travels 5.41 miles a minute. But I digress) it can be very embarrassing to ask them to repeat what they said because you can’t understand their accent. The weather in southern England was forecast to be OK so I was looking forward to a nice relaxing flight. Busy but relaxing. Wrong. OK, sort of wrong. I’ve been through London’s airspace dozens of times and handling the radio traffic has always been challenging but fun but in the Epic LT you’re traveling so fast you don’t get much time to relax, let alone eat the tasty snack you snitched from the crew lounge in Wick. But it was still lots of fun and Tex had a blast. We landed in Chamberly and were taken to the Four Seasons Hotel, a gorgeous hotel and property that was the site where Henry the Eight’s brother met his wife who later became Henry’s first wife after his brother died, or something like that. Another awesome day of flying in the books.
So when I left off I was kneeling in-between the pilot and co-pilot of an Epic LT while they were doing a missed approach during bad weather in Wick Scotland desperately trying to keep my mouth shut and not tell them what to do. We blasted back up away from the runway and the controller said to prepare for an immediate return for an approach to runway 13. Now normally a pilot will take a few minutes to pull up the approach plate (chart) study it, set up the frequencies, dial in the approach on the auto pilot, and make sure he’s ready for it. Having a controller switch runways on you like that is crazy. As we banked away from the airport I looked back and could see the runway in a break in the clouds. “Runway in sight! Ask for a quick visual approach!” I’d managed to hold my tongue for almost ten minutes, a new personal best. The owner steepened his bank, cranked the big Epic around, dove through the crack in the thick clouds, and put her on the runway. Nice.
After we landed the next plane in our group shot the approach but was forced to go missed due to low clouds. Then the rest of the group showed up and were stacked up every thousand feet in a holding pattern over the runway while the plane tried to land a second time. 35 minutes later the last of our Epics were on the runway after another of our planes was forced to go around when a VFR plane landed ahead of him but didn’t clear the runway in time. Why was a VFR plane landing in such horrible conditions you ask? Because the Europeans charge huge fees to fly IFR and some guys just fly in the clouds and lie. The whole thing was kind of a cluster but we managed to get everybody on the ground and didn’t bend any airplanes. Twenty minutes after the last plane was on the ground the first one was back in the air and on the way to England.
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.