Bright and early saw us off the runway as the sun was coming up. There were a few thunderstorms in the area but we really didn’t know where they were because the teenage girl in the Met office didn’t have access to radar. She did have a TV with the latest Greek soap opera on it though. Jack hand flew the takeoff and climb to altitude and did a passable job of it seeing that he hadn’t flown IFR in the clouds for many years. Once on top we were greeted to a beautiful morning for flying with the clouds hanging low over the islands and the mountain tops sticking through and once clear of the weather we had a ringside seat for a tour of the Greek islands. Not a bad way to spend the morning. We weren’t allowed to spend the night in Santorini but we were allowed to stop for a quick fuel stop. Once again we were teased by a beautiful island paradise that we could only get a tiny taste of. Santorini is now on my list of places I need to go back to. During flight planning our route was changed by Brussels and the man filling the flight plan asked us if we objected to flying over Israeli airspace. We didn’t see why not and accepted the new routing to Aquaba Jordan. Back into the air with Stuart flying it looked like we were in for a nice sunny low key day of flying over the Mediterranean. Shortly after takeoff the tower called and told us that the man who’d filed the flight plan had misread our call sign and had filed us as 45B instead of 4SB. She told us that she could try and change it for us but it might take a while, could we stand being 45B for the next 4 hrs?. Sure, no problem. Or maybe big problem.
“45B, Athens Control, Tel Aviv has denied your flight through their airspace. Do you have another routing preference?”
Great. We’d been flying for two and a half hours and were in the middle of the Mediterranean headed for Israeli airspace when the rug got pulled out from under us. I asked for our original routing and was denied. I asked for a second option and was again denied. It looked like we would have to fly south to Cairo. The problem with that was that we didn’t have that much fuel to spare and flying that way would be cutting it close. No other option though so south we went.
“45B, Cairo control, what’s your overflight permission number?”
Great, Not only weren’t we planning on over flying Egypt but I had no idea that you needed one. As a matter of fact I was pretty sure you didn’t. But none of that mattered to the guy on the other end of the radio so he put us in a holding pattern while Stuart got on his sat phone and called our handlers to find out just what the hell to do. Did I mention that we really didn’t have the gas for this bullshit? Oh, and the language barrier didn’t help either. At one point they asked what our diplomatic mission number was and after getting a big ????? from us they asked us to confirm our call sing. Ah, that might be the problem. Due to the mistake made in our call sign the Israelis had probably looked us up prior to letting us into their airspace and when it came up wrong that’s when they denied us access. I gave the Cairo controller the correct call sign and hoped for the best.
After about half an hour of turning circles over the pyramids they suddenly gave us a new heading and routing to Jordan, must have just gotten sick of us. I was cool that they took us right over Cairo international airport and I got a great picture of some old jet in the middle of their terminal.
Finally made it up the Red sea and landed in Aquaba Jordan where we spent the evening on the hotel’s pool deck drinking beer and watching the cars wreck themselves on he street below. Seriously, there was some kind of oil slick on a curve right below where we were sitting and there were 4 accidents in about and hour and a half. This actually ended up being bad for us because it was so entertaining, and the beer was so cheap, that we stayed too long, which led to another late dinner, which put us in bed at about 12:30 am local with a wake up of 5:00. Ugh. It gets hard to catch up on sleep flying east and losing 2-3 hours to time zones each day. The beer doesn’t help either.
We got a late start this morning due to problems filing our flight plan to Corfu Greece. Just five days prior the European Union had changed their online filing system and as you can guess it was going smooth as silk. I won’t bore you with the details but we left about 3 hours later than we were intending to. Right after takeoff we ran into the most icing we’d encountered so far one the trip as we climbed up to 18,000 feet to cross the Alps. Stuart turned on the TKS system which did a fairly good job of clearing the wings and struts of the ice that had built up there. (In case you’re not familiar with the TKS system it consists of a 20 gallon tank full of de-icing fluid that is pumped into the wings, struts, and prop and through thousands of microscopic holes in the leading edges) After clearing the alps, which were disappointingly hidden by clouds, we flew down the Italian coast then across to the beautiful Greek island of Corfu. I stopped at Corfu last year on my way to Bangkok and immediately fell in love. It has the warm air and picturesque harbor you would expect from one of the Greek islands. After fueling I headed up to the tower to file the flight plan to Crete only to find out that due to it being high season they were full. That’s right, the huge international airport in Crete was full and had no parking spaces left for us. The guys in the tower helped me look for another airport to land for the night but had no luck. Every island within range was full. Oh well I tried, I guess we will have to spend the night in Corfu and head out early to make up for lost time. A quick dash to the hotel was made followed by the traditional after flight libation in paradise. Unfortunately we only had time for a quick dinner by the bay before it was back to the hotel for another long 4 hours of sleep before getting up at 5:30. Sometimes being a ferry pilot is just a tease.
Not a good for viewing the Alps.
Stuart doing good on O2 even with the crappy fitting mask.
So what can you do when you have a day off in Greenland? As it turns out, not much. We checked into the hotel because they finally had rooms, shoped for some cheap crap, finally finding something worth buying, and had dinner, a lovely fusion of Musk Ox and Thai food, and spent the rest of the day talking with the boys about the weather and bad things that can happen to those who go flying when they should have stayed on the ground. We our decision not to fly but hey, we’re still alive aren’t we?
I’m sure the look on our faces said it all while we listened to the Danish weather briefer give us the scoop. The weather crossing the icecap was forecst to be goodbut once again Iceland was supposed to be crappy. Not as bad as the last two days but still on the scary side. The forecast was for low clouds and strong winds at the time we should arrive. The clouds were supposed to be around 500 feet, low but doable. What was giving us the sour face was that 3 hours after, the fog was supposed to come back in and possibly close the airport down. If the forecast was accurate we should be having after dinner drinks by the time that happened but if the fog came early we might be screwed. So it was decision time. Go for it and risk being forced to fly a zero zero approach if the fog came early or stay put and risk getting stuck in Greenland for god knows how long. The one ting we had going for us was that there was a small airport with a gravel strip on the east coast of Greenland that we could possibly land at if we got into trouble called Kulusuk. We’d have to call Iceland for weather and make a decision before we got to far from Greenland because once we hit the point of no return we’d be commited. It was a tough call but none of wanted to be stuck in Greenland any longer. So we took off over the icecap and headed for Iceland, caution to the winds and all that. I love to tell you a harrowing story of how we pulled out every trick in the book in order to get into Reykjavik after fog covered the airport but the flight over the icecap was smooth as silk and even though there were low clouds over Iceland the glass cockpit and auto pilot in the Caravan made the approach a non-event.
Good weather and tailwinds made the flight to Wick a pleasant one. One the ground I introduced Stuart and Jack to my old friend Andrew (the Bruce). Andrew runs Far North Aviation and has been providing survival suits, rafts, fuel, and advise for ferry pilots for 25 years. His biggest pet peeve are impatient pilots who have a deadline to meet and don’t stay on the ground when they should. He should know because an average of 3 pilots a year go down in the north Atlantic and most of them were either flying to or leaving Scotland. Stuart asked Andrew if he had any of the TKS anti-icing fluid that the Caravan uses and was promptly informed that TKS fluid was a rip-off and that he made his own brew which he sold half the price. Stuart was dubious but having no other choice bought five gallons. After pouring the counterfeit TKS fluid into the Caravan we took off for a quick 4 hour flight to St. Gall Switzerland, a beautiful little city located at the base of the Alps. It was another beautiful flight over central Europe and whenever I’m there I can’t help but remember that just 70 years ago those sky’s were filled with thousands of bombers and fighters.
We left Iqaluit in the rear view mirror at the unusually early time of “still morning” and headed for Greenland, OK we don’t have a rear-view mirror but get what I mean. As we flew across Baffin Island we flew over a manned weather station in the middle of nowhere. I looked down and counted my blessings that I didn’t have to work there. Control had us climb 1000 feet because we were overtaking traffic and it wasn’t long before we saw our new friends sloging along in their Twin Otter below us.(Suck it slow pokes!) We had our survival suits handy but we not wearing them crossing the Davis Straight to Greenland because if we lost our engine at 13,000 we’d have 20 minutes or more before we went swimming. With that amount time one pilot could fly while the other got ready to ditch. When I fly solo over the ocean I wear the suit. It wasn’t long before we saw the mountains of Greenland appear over the horizon. I love the mountains of the Greenland coast because they’re so tightly packed and sharp. Looking at them made me happy that we were flying up a wide fjord enroute to the airport.
After landing both crews were informed that the main hotel was fully booked and that we’d have to spend the night in the hostel, wonderful. Not wanting to hang out in our cells the 5 of us headed to the disco/pizzeria/Thi food joint for the usual post flight briefing where we all agreed that we were indeed magnificent pilots for having crossed such and difficult part of the world. As a matter of fact the more we discussed it the more we were impressed with ourselves. Before going to the hostel we’d looked at the next day’s weather and saw that Iceland would still be blocked by the same strong low that had been in our way the day before. That meant that we couldn’t fly the next day. It also meant that we didn’t have to fly the next day, and you know what that means.
It was a fun night with the boys filled with pool, darts and bullshit. I traded winter camping tips with an eskimo from Virginia with a degree in English literature who ran tours on the ice cap and spoke fluent Dutch and fended off an old lady who’s boyfriend was “out of town” Like I said, A fun night.
I’ll have more pictures later when I get better WiFi and arent? Isnent? Not so damn tired.
I don’t know what it is about the morning of a day I don’t have to fly but I always feel like shit when I wake up. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that if I don’t have to get up early and fly I tend to stay out a bit later working on public relations. After dinner last night Stuart, Jack and I headed of to go visit the blind and read to the poor but somehow we ended up at a bar, I hate when that happens. Well, one thing led to another and before we knew it we were playing pool with the locals who had recognized me from Dangerous Flights, (if you don’t know what that is you must live under a rock, or have a life.) Anyway I’m a pretty big deal in Goose Bay and that means autographs and photos with my fans, which is hard work, which makes a third rate reality TV star thirsty, which leads to a fuzzy head the next morning. Where was I? Oh yes day 3. Anyway we managed to get in touch with a mechanic who fixed our flat tire with the spare tube Stuart was smart enough to bring along. He actually has the plane filled with spare parts which is smart because getting parts in remote areas can be a challenge. I’d love to say day 3 was filled with more exciting adventures but that pretty much covers it.
We arrived at the Goose Bay airport all raring to go to Narsarsuaq Greenland only to get a weather report that wan’t all that hot. The charts showed a low pressure system off the coast that was forecast to give us low clouds and strong winds in Greenland. That’s usually considered a bad thing when trying to get into Narsarsuaq due to it being nestled deep in a fjord surrounded by steep mountains. Strong winds create severe turbulence and low clouds could prevent you from making it in at all. Also a bad thing when there is no where else to go. There was another flight crew there trying get to the same place and we bounced ideas off each other for a while before deciding that it was just too dangerous to make an attempt at Greenland. To make matters worse it looked like that low pressure system was going to make flying to Greenland and then on to Iceland very difficult due to the thick clouds that would undoubtedly contain a moderate to severe icing hazard. As nice as Goose Bay is none of us wanted to be stuck there for the next week so we saddled up and headed north to Frobishure Bay and the equally lovely town of Iqaluit on Baffin island. Our evil plan from there was to fly across the Davis Straight to Sonderstrom and follow the Arctic circle across to Iceland thus avoiding the crappy weather. That was our plan anyway. When we landed in Iqaluit (Ill a qwat) I saw a good looking blond pilot of the female variety in a rather warm looking flight suit stepping out of a Twin Otter with “BRITISH SURVAY” stenciled on the side. It turns out she works for the company that flies the Twin Otters that haul around and supply the British scientists that study the Antartctic so of course I asked her if they needed any pilots. “Always” She said. That made suspicious. “Why is that?” “Because it’s a six month contract in Antarctica and that gets kind of long.” She had a point but I think I’d love flying a Twin Otter on skis in Antarctica, maybe not for six months, but still………..I had her write down the necessary information for applying for the job……………………. Don’t tell my wife.
I have a TON of great photos to post but the WIFI has been really poor the last few so please stay tuned.