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.

More Oops

Oh my God this makes me sick.  Two Twin Otters were damaged last week in Florida when one of the planes spun around on the ramp and hit the other.  The rumor is that the pilot of the offending Otter missed seeing that the circuit breaker for the hydraulic system had been pulled for maintenance the night before.  In the Twin Otter if you don’t have hydraulics you don’t have steering and possibly no brakes.  I haven’t heard for sure what happened but my guess is that the pilot started the right engine first and when she took it out of feather it just spun right into the second one which was unfortunately also running at the time.  Now if it had been me, and thank God it wasn’t, I hope I would’ve been quick enough to pull the engine back into feather and if that didn’t stop it pull it all the way into beta or reverse thrust. Either way it must have happened very quickly and I can’t imagine the horrible sound it made when those two engines ate each other.  I’m good friends with the owner and feel sorry for him because it sounds like they won’t be fixed in time for the skydiving season this spring. What a bummer. I can totally see how this can happen though.  Flying skydiving aircraft is a unique job. Most of the planes have some of the original equipment removed either to save weight or because it’s not necessary for hauling skydivers in VFR conditions .  This often results in circuit breakers that are pulled so that the unneeded, broken, or missing item doesn’t draw any power.  The usual procedure is to put a collar or zip tie around the pulled circuit breaker so the pilot knows that the circuit breaker is out intentionally and doesn’t accidentally push it back in.  But that makes it all the more important to check the circuit breaker panel very carefully, otherwise, well, you see what happens.  Jump pilots do a whole lot of takeoffs and landings in the same plane day after day and that can lead to complacency which can really bite a pilot if he’s not careful. Ask me how I know.

Quazy’s Flight

I mentioned an incident in a post a short time ago about a friend of mine having to land on a country road after being forced down by thunderstorms.  It’s a great story and a lot of lessons can be learned from the decisions that were made, both right and wrong.

In 1990 I was out of the property management game and running full speed into the aviation/skydiving world.  Yes, in a previous life I was employed as a commercial property manager in charge of 17 office buildings with a company car, secretary, and a two piece suit as a uniform.  It was horrific. I don’t like to think about that dark period of my life so please don’t bring it up again. Anyway I started out in my new life of adventure by working for a small skydiving school in western Wisconsin owned and run by Pat “Quazy” Quashnick.  One of the most experienced skydivers in the nation at the time, Quazy had over 3000 jumps and a world record hanging on the wall but was, on the other hand, only a moderately experienced pilot with under 300 hours and no instrument rating. Quazy had given me my first flying job hauling jumpers to altitude off a short dirt strip in his beat up 1956 Cessna 182.

One day Quazy walked up to me while I was manning the phones and taking reservations for his skydiving operation and asked me to take a look at the aviation weather forecast for western Minnesota and North Dakota.  He was going to take his jump plane, a 1956 Cessna 182, and go visit his mother in Fargo North Dakota and he was a little concerned about a line of thunderstorms that were being reported along the route.  Now this was way back in the olden days of aviation and we didn’t have have the internet to give us real time radar images so we had to do it the old fashioned way by calling an FAA weather briefer who would look at his radar screen and tell us what he saw.  When I called the local briefer he painted a grim picture of heavy but isolated thunderstorms in a line blocking Quazy’s route but good weather at his destination.  After I hung up I told Quazy what the briefer had told me and that I wouldn’t make the trip if I were him.  But like my wife asking my opinion about what color to paint the bedroom he ignored my advise and said he was going anyway.  I tried to point out that his plane didn’t have an artificial horizon or a working turn coordinator so if he accidentally found himself in the clouds he would be in real trouble. Quazy countered by reminding me that he didn’t have an instrument rating anyway so the missing instruments wouldn’t be an issue.  I shook my head at that line of reasoning and continued to try an convince him no to make the trip but Quazy just told me that if he got into trouble he would just fly low under the weather and scud run through the line of storms.  It sounded like a great plan to me.  Not.

Two hours after he climbed into his beat up skydiving plane and took off the phone rang and instead of someone wanting to book a tandem skydive it was Quazy on the other end and he sounded a little shook up.  He told me that he needed me to drive out to central Minnesota and get his plane.  When I pressed him for details he told me that when he encountered the line of thunderstorms he’d stuck to his plan and had dropped down to treetop level and tried to pick his way between the cells.  He said it looked like he was going to make it until the clouds and heavy rain forced him to turn around and when he did he found that the clouds had closed in all around him.  Quazy was almost crying as he told me about thinking he was going to die before a country road miraculously appeared in front of him.  He said he chopped his power and slammed the plane onto the road just as the the thunderstorm rolled over him with all it’s fury.  Just telling me what happened was hard on him so said not to worry about the details and I’d be right there.

When I showed up at the hotel he was staying at I found a much more composed man than the one I’d talked to on the phone hours before.  Quazy had had time to calm down a bit in the time it had taken me to drive across the state and seemed much better.  He told me that after landing he killed the engine and just sat in the middle of the road as the thunderstorm pounded the little Cessna.  When the storm passed He’d started up and taxied the plane to a small turn off leading to a farmers field, parked it and hitched a ride into town from a passing farmer. After having a chance to calm down a bit he had me drive him out to the scene of the crime because he wanted to get his plane out of there before the FAA found out what had happened. When we arrived at the Cessna Quazy and I looked at the paved country road and decided that the best direction to take off was the one that had a slight hill in the middle of it. Because he wouldn’t be able to see what was coming from that direction he told me to drive to the top of the hill to check for oncoming traffic and wave my arms when the coast was clear. I hopped in the car and started to drive up the hill but halfway up I saw a single power line crossing the road that we hadn’t noticed. I pulled over and hopped out to warn Quazy but was horrified to see that he hadn’t waited for me to get into position and was already moving. I frantically waved my arms to try and stop him but the Cessna kept coming. In a last ditch attempt to prevent disaster I bravely, it’s my story after all, moved into the middle of the road as the plane broke ground and pointed at the power line blocking Quazy’s way. Finally seeing what I was pointing at the Cessna bobbed up and down as Quazy tried to decide weather or not to try and go over or under the power line. At the last second he dove back down at the road and swooped under the offending line with his tail missing it by just a few feet. And of course, because timing is everything, at the exact moment the plane was passing under the power line a car came over the crest of the hill headed right for it causing Quazy to yank back on the yoke pulling up quickly and once again missing the obstacle, this time a car, by mere feet. Where was I while all this happened? Why standing right under the power line of course. I had a ring side seat for the whole show. After Quazy cleared the oncoming car and roared off the driver of the car slammed on the breaks and looked over at me with eyes as big as saucers. I just smiled and waved before jumping into my car and getting the hell out of there.

Lot’s of mistakes to learn from here.

1. Listen when more experienced pilots tell you you shouldn’t go flying. In this case the more experienced pilot was me so rule #1 can be amended to “Always listen to Kerry.”

2. If you’re going to scud run you should be capable and have the ability to climb into the clouds and continue the flight in instrument conditions.  This means having an instrument rating, sort of current maps, and a plane with the instruments needed to fly in the clouds.  I scud run A LOT! I love it and think in many conditions it’s the safest way to go. Like trying to punch through a line of imbedded thunderstorms. But when I do it I always have the ability to switch to IFR flight if I get into trouble.

3. When scud running always leave yourself an escape route, weather it’s the ability to go IFR or keeping track of the conditions behind you in case the conditions in front of you get a little too scary.

4. If you’re going to attempt a takeoff on anything other than a official runway always do a careful check of said makeshift runway. Check for holes, ditches, livestock, and of course power lines. Oh, and always WAIT FOR MY DAMN SIGNAL! (See rule #1)


More Oops

Pilots are dumb.  OK, they are also highly trained, sort of, professionals who can do some amazing things and provide a valuable service to mankind.  They are also little boys with very expensive toys that they sometimes abuse for their own personal amusement.  When you hear of pilots goofing off and buzzing things and people you usually think of military pilots. But the Air Force has really cracked down on that kind of tomfoolery and if you really want to stop flying that hot jet just buzz the tower one more time Maverick.  So where does a pilot with superior skills go to show the rest of us just how good he really is?  The skydiving world that’s where.  Just hop in a jump plane and show us your stuff.  And when you’re dropping meat bombs there is the added challenge of buzzing the jumpers who you just dropped.  I love doing a hard wingover  as soon as the last jumper leaves and waving to them as we both head down.  But I always make sure to give them plenty of space and when I’m the target I like an even bigger buffer because I don’t want to end up on YouTube.

Arnaud 025That’s more like it.

Drop And Give Me Twenty!

As I mentioned before Number One Son has done me proud by joining the Minnesota Army National Guard to become a UH-60 Blackhawk crew chief and eventually a pilot.  But before he get to wander around the wild blue yonder, wait, that’s the Air Force, he has to make it through Army basic training.  Now I have no doubt that NOS will be able to handle the rigors of basic, mostly because he’s my son and I raised him right, but also because it seems that the PC powers that be have made basic too easy and essentially turning it into a 9 week summer camp.  At least that’s what I’ll be saying whenever NOS tries to tell me how hard basic was. “Back in my day we had to march uphill, both ways, through knee deep snow, in the dark, all day,  just to get yelled at” Actually I loved basic training.  I was 17 at the time, in great shape, soccer, track, skiing, so the physical training part wasn’t a problem, but by far the hardest part was not laughing at the drill Sargents.  No I don’t mean laughing “AT” the drill sargents, I mean trying not laugh while they yelled, screamed and made fun of us poor trainees.  Because if they caught you laughing or even smiling while standing at attention you were in deep shit.  And let me tell keeping a straight face while those guys did their thing was HARD!  Oh my God those drill Sargents were funny.  It was like standing at attention in the front row of a stand up comedian competition.  And if they caught you smiling they jumper on you like Joe Pesci in Good Fellas.   “I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown? Do I amuse you?” Ya, that smile disappeared pretty damn fast, especially when you found yourself beating your face from the front leaning rest position.  I don’t remember too many of the comments, it was 1979 after all, but one of the best was when a drill Sargent walked up to a group of idle trainees, pointed at the ground and screamed, “What the hell is all that dirt doing in my hole?!” hilarity ensued.  Not the best story in the world but that’s what the internet is for.


French-Canadian Mr. Fluffy, by Gadarn

One of the first days in basic a guy in my platoon was standing at attention while having his room inspected by the instructor.

It didn’t matter how nice his room was because there was a large piece of fuzz/fluff on his shirt that immediately drew the sergeant’s attention.

Imagine a female, French-Canadian, sergeant with this accent.

“Recruit Bloggins! What is that on your shirt?! Is that a fluffy!?”

“Yes sergeant!”

“Why is there a fluffy on your shirt, Bloggins!?”

“I must have missed it, sergeant!”

“Missed it? It is so huge, how did you miss such a big fluffy!?”

She picks it off of him. “Hold out your hand.”

He holds out his hand and she places it in his palm.

“This is Mr. Fluffy. Find a home for him, like a pill bottle or something. From now on, whenever I want to see Mr. Fluffy you must bring him to me.”

And so, for the rest of basic, every time the sergeant found a piece of fuzz she would yell out, “MR. FLUFFY!” and Bloggins would have to march over to her and present Mr. Fluffy and she would formally hand him the new piece of fuzz to add to Mr. Fluffy. There was hell to pay if he didn’t have Mr. Fluffy with him at all times.

Sweeping sunshine, by BenSavageGardenState

There was a time when we made a private sweep all the sunshine off the sidewalks. It took the poor guy all day.

“You’re a ghost now, you can’t talk,” by CrashnCashen

Marine Corps boot camp, one kid on firewatch failed to notice the drill instructor coming on deck (which means you immediately salute and report your post), so the DI ran up to the rifle rack, smacked it, and yelled “BAM! You’re dead.” He tried to respond, but was cut off by the DI: “You’re a ghost now, you can’t talk. Go act like a ghost.”

Then the kid had to wander around the squad-bay for the rest of his two-hour firewatch acting like a ghost, and he took that responsibility with a stride. Plenty of ridiculous “oooOOOOOoOOOOo i’m a ghooOOooost” noises and f—ing with people’s racks. We were all laughing our asses off for the next hour till our senior drill instructor got pissed.

Replacing the oxygen he stole from everyone else, by Tain01

A service member was a total f—up, to put it gently. Couldn’t be on time, couldn’t show up dressed to standards, constantly forgot professional courtesies, so on. When he was on his last straw, his squad leader pulled him aside and more or less started yelling, then stopped himself.

“No. You know what? I’m done yelling at you. It doesn’t work. Stay right here; don’t go anywhere.” He stormed off into the company building. The phrase, “stay right here, don’t go anywhere” is typically the precursor to something horrible happening when said in anger. The squad leader eventually emerged carrying a small-ish potted tree, which he handed to the service member.

“You will keep this tree alive. You will carry this with you wherever you go in uniform. You will take it to PT, you will take it to chow, you will take it to work. If anyone asks you why you’re carrying this f—ing tree around, you will tell them, ‘It’s to replace the oxygen I stole from everyone else.’ “

Probably the funniest punishment I’ve ever seen, and we’ll never see it again (because you’re not allowed to do that).

Oscar the Grouch reports the time, by Sgt_Slate

Marine Boot camp.

We had a guy that somehow got his watch through the indoc (They take all your crap when you first get there). Well, the Drill Instructors found out he had it when they saw him wearing it one day, so they put him in the squad bay trashcan and put the lid on it. Every time they walked by and kicked it he’d pop out with his watch and yell, “SIR THE TIME ON DECK IS ZERO-NINE-FORTY-FIVE!” and then go back into his can like the freakin’ grouch from Sesame Street.

It was really, really hard not to laugh at that.

The Eagle Scout, by V_E_R_S_E

A recruit in Marine corps boot camp thought he was special because he was an eagle scout. The Drill Instructor picked up on this and during Physical Training took him into the woods and made him build a nest. Then he had to squat over it in order to keep his eggs warm.

The basic training omelette, by lgmeister

Week 1 in Army Basic Training we had a soldier ask for an omelette in chow line (which was not allowed because there was absolutely no time to make custom omelettes for every single basic training soldier). The cooks started making the omelette when a drill sergeant asked what the hell was going on. The basic training soldier replied “go around, drill sergeant, I’m waitin’ on an omelette”. Needless to say, this was the wrong thing to say and do week one in basic training. Our platoon motto was henceforth “go around, drill sergeant, I’m waitin’ on an omelette” and the basic training soldier was henceforth named PVT Omelette.

Full-Body waiver? You can still smile, by XApparition

Saw a guy on a full-body waiver for exercises. The instructor gave him 1,000 smiley-frownies… (smile, then frown is 1). The hardest/easiest exercise ever.

Edit: for those who don’t know, a full-body waiver is something to the degree of: Cannot lift objects, no walking for more than 200 meters in one setting, no strenuous activities, etc. Basically making all normal physical activities out of the question.

The “suicidal” private caught messing with a girl in basic, by epochellipse

I was in a gender-mixed company in basic. The third floor of the barracks was split with females on one half and males on the other. Males were not allowed in the female half and vice-versa. My platoon was out back practicing throwing grenade bodies and a window on the female side of the third floor opened and a male snuck out of the window onto the ledge. It was immediately obvious to everyone, including our drill sergeant, that he had been in there messing around with a female and another drill sergeant must have come down the hall, forcing him to get out on to the ledge so he wouldn’t get caught. Our drill sergeant looked at the guy for a minute and then yelled really sarcastically, “don’t do it private, you have lots to live for.” Then they put him on suicide watch, and made him hand over his belts and tie and shoelaces and everything that he could hang himself with, and made him drag his newly bare mattress out into the hallway next to the fire guard desk and sleep out there every night until we graduated four weeks later. And they made his battle buddy sleep on the floor next to him for the first week.

“Beat your face,” by NotAnnoyingPerson

My brother told me that when he was in basic, a Drill Sergeant yelled at this guy to “beat his face”, meaning to do push-ups. Said guy had no clue it meant that, and promptly punched himself in the face, really, really hard, and fell to the ground. The Drill Sergeant had to walk that one off and my brother said you could hear him laughing hysterically as he walked behind a building. Not totally relevant, but I figured I’d share.

Would you like fries with that? by gagauz

Navy Basic Training. All of us are doing pushups. When the instructor says “down”, everyone counts. When the instructor says “up”, one guy in particular (the screw-up) is told to shout, “WOULD YOU LIKE FRIES WITH THAT?!” The instructor told him to get used to it cause that’s what he’s gonna be saying for the rest of his life.

Inst: Down!

Us: One!

Inst: Up!


Inst: Down!

Us: Two!

Inst: Up!


There was a pool of tears from laughter on the floor below me.

Dance partner, by Shiny-And-New

I saw a guy be forced to slow dance with a mop for one hour straight.

How Good Is/Was The Mig 29?

I know I know, I’ve been pretty damn lazy on the posting front for the last few months and for that I apologize.  I do have a few stories in my back pocket that I will be putting out in the next few days but until then enjoy this great write up by an Air Force aggressor pilot who got lucky enough to be assigned to Germany to get checked out in the Mig-29.  It’s a long but great read.

How To Win A Dogfight: Stories From A Pilot Who Flew F-16s And MiGs


How To Win In A Dogfight: Stories From A Pilot Who Flew F-16s And MiGs