North Atlantic Crossing Archive

Around the World–Job Done!

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Well, Air Journey LLC’s escorted around-the-world trip is now fully logged by all 8 of its pilot-participants. As you may recall from my earlier blogs, this saga began back in May at Quebec City, then crossed the Atlantic to Inverness, Scotland and Paris. On July 22, the trip officially finished the home stretch as the airplanes cleared customs in Alaska and then re-entered the good old continental United States. The trip itinerary included stops in Malta, Egypt, Dubai, Oman, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, and Russia. Air Journey president Thierry Pouille declared the trip a success, but admitted that the pilots and passengers were a bit bushed after the two-month-long circumnavigation. Journey director J-P Arnaud took 10 days off to decompress from all those briefings, permits, and reservations he had to manage.

The airplanes on the trip included a PC-12, a TBM 700, a Cessna Mustang, a Royal Beech Duke (a turboprop conversion), and a Cessna Conquest II.

There were only two reroutings due to unanticipated events, Pouille said. The biggest road block came when the group tried to enter the People’s Republic of China. PRC officials denied the group entry, a setback I discussed in a previous blog, so the group forged ahead to Taiwan and South Korea.

As for mechanical problems, there were a few. The Duke needed new vacuum pumps and the PC-12’s AHRS units momentarily lost its bearings in a zone of magnetic anomalies called the “South East Asian Anomaly,” for example. Then its flaps malfunctioned. The biggest mechanical was with the Conquest II. Its landing gear wouldn’t extend, so repairs were made–twice–in Bangkok. Bad idea. The crew had to extend the gear using the nitrogen blow-down bottle three times, and even flew one leg with gear down until additional repairs were made in Hong Kong.

But all’s well that ends well. Want to go on Air journey’s 2009 RTW trip? It’s $68,750 per person, and leaves May 13, 2009 from Bar Harbor, Maine. The stops will be the same as this year’s trip, with the exception that the PRC is crossed off the list. Bali will take its place. For more information, go to the Web site and see blogs of the 2008 trip. With any luck, I’ll be along on a few of the 2009 trip’s legs. Air Journey will also be at EAA AirVenture–in Hangar D, at booth 4095–so you can sign up there and meet the Air Journey staff.

China’s Closed-Door Policy

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

A while ago I blogged about Air Journey’s around-the-world trip. I came back after flying as far as Paris, but the group moved on–until now. Seems that China (the communist one) won’t let the goup in.

This, after weeks painstaking preparatory work by Air Journey’s staff: Overflight permits, visas, entry permits, and much more, had been secured. Nevertheless, the group was stuck in Hong Kong, so the decision was made to fly the airlines to Beijing.

Guess what! When the group went to get their tickets they were denied access again! The reasoning was that since they had crew visas, and were not flying their own airplanes, they couldn’t board an airliner without violating some sort of additional, obscure bureaucratic rule. Catch-22!

Last I heard, the new plan was to hang out in Hong Kong for a few days, then fly to Taiwan for gas. From there, it would be on to South Korea–bypassing Chicom-land altogether.

A Mustang, in the home stretch

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Bunchrew House was a nice stay, what with its dinner in the great room overlooking the Firth, and cozy ambiance. But what’s with the towel heater? Never could figure that out. Yesterday we took a gander at Loch Ness, then went to Cawdor Castle–supposedly the geographic locale in mind when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth. Only banged my head on the door sill once!

Back at Bunchrew, it was time to sit around the coal-fed fireplace and shoot the bull about things aviation. In all, a great stay–just like all the others. And it was the third place the group stayed that wasn’t on the original itinerary; weather and a strike by airport workers at Bergen, Norway kept us from our planned stays. Many thanks are owed to Sophie Pouille–the wife of Air Journey owner Thierry Pouille. She made all the hotel and other changes, sometimes in as little as three hours! And all from Jupiter, Florida.

I’ve gotten quite good at washing in the sink. Who knew that a mini-bar of Heather Vegetable soap could do such a good job on a shirt and some other things? And hey, that towel-heater doubles as a clothes dryer!

Today was my day to accompany Tracy Forrest and and John Hayes in Forrest’s Cessna Mustang for the 580-nm trip to Paris. It took us a mere two hours to make the trip. We cruised at FL410 while burning just 71 gph (both engines). At times our groundspeed reached 335 knots. The G1000’s VNAV functions were put to good use: Forrest loaded the entire route and its vertical profile–while still on the ramp waiting for takeoff from Inverness!

At about FL380, the air temperatures started moving to the ISA +2- to 3-degree Celsius level. For such a small rise in temperature, there was a big effect on climb rate. In the mid-30’s, where temperatures were just below ISA, the Mustang was climbing at a healthy 1,000 fpm at an indicated airspeed of 160-170 knots. But at FL380, climb rate sank to 400 fpm, and to keep that we had to fly at 140 KIAS. Even so, we made it to FL410 in 27 minutes. Not bad at all. This is how one becomes spoiled.

We landed at the Pontoise, France, airport (LFPT) and Thierry was there to greet us. But first, it was time for lunch at the Pontoise Flying Club’s restaurant (this is France, after all). I had the duck confit and a boilermaker–just kidding!! Yes, there was wine, and when in Rome…. besides, for Hayes and me this would be our last leg with the group, so it was a celebration of sorts. 

The Pontoise club has 450 members, by the way. A whole flock of Cessnas were parked near the club restaurant, and on weekends I’m told that the place is a popular destination for pilots and non-pilots alike. There are even swing sets for kids. After taking a look at some of the planes based here, we took cabs to Paris.

Right now, I’m in the Hotel Plaza Athenee in downtown Paris. Like I said, this Air Journey trip is first-class all the way. (It should be, at some $55,000 per head for the “Around The World Trip” participants). I have a doorbell and a suite of three rooms, and pretty soon I’m going to jump on the Metro and go down to St. Germain des Pres.

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So it’s no more North Atlantic blogging for me… I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And please don’t be jealous, I’ll be back tomorrow at my more mundane duties. This means changing planes at London Heathrow–one of the worst fates that can happen to a traveler. There’s a new terminal there (terminal 5). They spent millions and millions on this thing, and still you have to wait to go through security (again! The concept of a secure side for connecting passengers apparently evades the British mind), then hike like a maniac to change airlines. If you don’t have two or more hours between flights, you won’t make your connection.

But while my work here is finished, Air Journey moves on. The group goes to Gibraltar in a few days, then Marrakech, Morocco, then …. well, check their website for details and blogs from the participants. The trip doesn’t end until July 20, when the pilots and their passengers finish up by going to EAA’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

And the RTW trip isn’t the only iron in Air Journey’s fire. There’s another group in Gautemala now, another trans-Atlantic trip in June, and a trip to Alaska as well. That’s a lot of work for the company’s three employees! Next time you feel like some adventure with a minimum of flying and travelling risks, check out Air Journey–even if you use them solely for lodging arrangements. They know general aviation, and they know their way around the world.


Bye-Bye BIRK, Hello Scottish Highlands

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Yesterday was our day to be tourists in Iceland. I hesitate to advertise this great island’s many attributes, out of fear that more tourists will come and inevitably ruin the place. But this is the spot to see some great geologic sights, and Iceland is most certainly a unique blend of the cosmopolitan and the very rural. The main outing of the day was a tour of the Thingvellir, and a visit to some geysers. The Thingvellir is considered the convocation site of the first parliament–way back around 1000 A.D. It’s a long cliff of volcanic rock accretions, stacked in huge broken blocks. The idea, our guide said, was that the rock wall served to amplify the voices of the speakers (“it was the first public address system,” the guide joked). As for the geysers, they were very willing to spout steam and spray at about three minute intervals. As I took pictures and video, one of them got me good. I was IFR in a sulfurous steam bath. Not too hot, though.

Downtown Reykjavik is a mixture of small-town scale with big-city attractions. Seems like everything is within a few blocks . Like bars, restaurants (excellent seafood), and shopping? You’ll love Reykjavik. But don’t tell anybody. I don’t want to show up here some day and find a boatload of 4,000 camera-toting, loudmouthed tourists screwing it up.

Late in the day, Jean-Pierre made an announcement: ATC has gone on strike in Norway! And here I thought France was the only nation that scheduled its strikes for tourist season. So Air Journey headquarters in Jupiter, Florida came up with a plan B in a matter of three hours–we were going to Inverness, Scotland, instead.

Early today, after going through the rigamarole of filing the flight plans, engines were started and the first callups made. Guess what? ATC had no record of the flight plans! So it was shut down, go back in to refile, then finally launch on a newly-concocted clearance. Our route was as follows: BIRK ING (the Ingo, Iceland  VOR) RATSU intersection (at 60N 10W) STN (the Stornoway, Scotland VOR), then  direct to the Inverness airport. We made the trip in 2 hours 30 minutes, helped by a strong tailwind component announced by a short bout with moderate turbulence.

The weather was good VFR all the way along the 670-nm route from BIRK to EGPE (Inverness). What an oddity! I flew with Butch and Diane Stevens in their 1992 TBM 700A, which Butch claims cruises at 318 knots true at FL270. That’s faster than your average TBM 700, a fact that Butch attributes to his removing the wing-mounted radar pod–and the installation of a beefier compressor wheel. 

During the flight, I noticed that Butch and Diane had stashed their clothing in a bunch of clear-plastic Rubbermaind/Tupperware containers. There was a lot. Each bin was labelled: short-sleeve shirts, long-sleeve shirts, pants, dress clothes, and underwear. Another airplane on the trip has pallets–really!–of water, clothes, food, and who knows what else. Me, I have a single roll-aboard, a laptop, and a camera bag. Last night I ran out of clean clothes. Washed me dirties in the tub.

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All landed uneventfully, and then each airplane’s owner payed a $140 landing charge, a $41 parking charge, and a $228 ground handling charge (the purpose of which–apart from pure profit–no one can explain). Sound high? BIRK’s fees were approximately double that.

Then we were driven to the Bunchrew House Hotel and Restaurant in Inverness. What a fantastic place! It’s on the shores of the Beauly Firth, and looks like some viscount’s mansion. Next, we’ll go looking for the Loch Ness Monster and attend a whisky tasting. This involves checking out some 117 different single-malt Scotches. I’ll drink to keeping the U.S. user-fee free!

Tom – Tom adventures

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Well here I am (me blogy postress) posting Tom Horne’s colorful Trans-Atlantic crossing adventure as he deftly submits blogs from Quebeque, Canada, Goose Bay, Labrador, Nuuk, Greenland, and Reykjavik, Iceland.

I’m not moderating–mind you–just monitoring and looking for additional links, and embedding Google Maps and such; the stuff reserved for lowly blogy deck-hands on such a spectacular ocean voyage.

But let’s not digress. It’s not just one Tom but two Toms (Haines and Horne) who have answered the Trans-Atlantic Sirens.

Call me jealous, but, for once, I too would like to put on a Gumby suit, and sit behind the controls of a PC-12, or a TBM 700 or 850, and fly it across the Atlantic to Europe. But nooo, I’d have to start at the bottom…fly a souped-up Cessna 172 with extra fuel tanks in the cabin, shivering above the chilly waves…oh well, a girl can dream. My day may come.

Meanwhile, why not checkout “the Toms’ stories.” Don’t be envious like me–it’s really great reading. Here are the links, and bon voyage:
TBM 700
TBM 850

School’s out — and Crossing the Icecap

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

It’s easy to intellectualize the idea of northern latitudes having longer days this time of year. It’s something else to live in them. When you arrive in Nuuk, Greenland, on the last day of school, the hotel bar and restaurant are packed chock-a-block with somewhat frantic, posing, overdressed teenagers, chugging away at both drinks and cigarettes non-stop. Luckily, Jean-Pierre, our tour guide, wangled our group a private room where we dined on reindeer, breathing non-toxic air.

This town of 14,000 lives by…well, I don’t know what it lives by. Maybe the government, since Nuuk is the capitol of Greenland. Both most certainly not its capital. I went down a hill to the water’s edge. There, three locals urged me to join them in drinking beer, which they yanked out of a large paper bag. Meanwhile, children played under the supervision of their bleary eyes. Paradox. All this great natural beauty of Greenland, and the natives appear to be hooked on a variety of toxic habits. I know, being judgmental is frowned upon these politically-correct days. But it’s hard to avoid when you draw in the crystal-clear air up here, and enjoy such tremendous scenery and visibilities. When the weather is good, that is. Which it is. It’s severe clear, in fact.

Back to the school theme. I waddled from the dinner table to go to bed. It was still light outside at 11p.m. Fell asleep anyway. Awakened at 3 a.m. by a racket that sounded like a combination of fighting, drunken yelling, and two-stroke motorcycle racing. Seems the school year had just ended. The partying had commenced. It died down by 6 a.m. But so what? I’d been awake since 4 a.m. Maybe it was the noise, maybe the sun piercing the gap in the curtains.

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I flew again with Bill Anastos and Dottie Thompson in their Conquest II. It took a while to get our IFR oceanic clearance, which we never got on the ground. Instead, we were cleared to depart into uncontrolled airspace (which goes to 19,500 feet), then contacted Sondestrom radio for the clearance. Now, this is one thing if it’s severe clear (which it was), but it would have been something else if the weather was down. Think of it–launching into a non-radar environment, in icing conditions, with mountains nearby.

Our clearance turned out to be the following: climb to 19,000 feet; go direct 65N 45W; then the DA NDB; then 65N 30W; then direct Gimli intersection, direct RK NDB (which is at BIRK). Our final altitude was 31,000 feet, and the trip took 2 hours, 44 minutes. There were some great views of the ice cap along the way, but then it was a continuous undercast. For the landing, we used BIRK’s runway 13. The weather was: few 1500, overcast 3800, with rain showers–but visibility unrestricted beneath the ceiling.

There was enroute drama involving the turbine Duke. At one point the crew felt it might not have enough fuel to land at BIRK with adequate fuel reserves. (The wind had changed, slowing the airplane’s groundspeed). Even worse, the alternate, Kulusuk (it’s on the east coast of Greenland), had gone below landing minimums. But bottom line: the Duke made it with gas aplenty. It did require some power reductions to reduce fuel consumption, however. That’s tough to do when you’re in the middle of the ocean with 400 miles to go. Pilot Jeff Yusem likened his dilemma to those he faced as a paymaster in the Army. “We payed in cash,” he said. “So I had this stack of bills and I doled it out to a huge line of soldiers. After a while you could see that the pile of cash was not tall enough to take care of the remaining soldiers.”

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After landing, we had a tour of the nearby Reykjavik control center–an ATC facility that often handles 650 or more ocean-crossing flights per day. It controls the airspace from the Arctic Circle to just north of Scotland, and from western Greenland to the North Sea. A shift manager, Hordur Ariliusson, showed us the workstations and displays. Huge screens were the rule, and here’s something we all noticed immediately: the room was well-lit. No dungeon-like darkness of the kind seen in U.S. ARTCCs.

Right now I’m kicking back in Reykjavik’s Hotel Borg. One more bottle of Icelandic glacier water, and it’s off to dinner. Tomorrow is a non-flying day. I’ll visit some of Iceland’s glaciers, volcanos and geysers. Should be fun, which is the whole idea, right? Wish you were here.

Make that Nuuk’ed, not BIRK’ed

Friday, May 16th, 2008

The Hotel North in Goose Bay, Labrador, is a Spartan place. Narrow bed, a basket of candy, canned mini-sausages and kippered herrings sit atop a mini-fridge. No closets, just a cubby. One TV channel–something about Canadians playing poker in Vegas. A crank-out window looks out on a vast expanse of sand, illuminated by a sun that shines all but three or so hours a day this time of year. This made it easy to get up this ayem.

Then it was back and forth again with the wx. BGBW (Narsarsuaq, and that’s THE last time I spell it) is forecasting fog in the vicinity with a chance of 400 scattered. BIRK (Reykjavik, and that’s the last time I spell it) says it will be 500 and 1 1/2. This is not good. Air Journey holds to conservative weather minimums, and one rule is that if ANYONE is concerned about pressing on, then the group stops until the issue is resolved.

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This particular issue was resolved by our flying to Nuuk, Greenland, instead of BGBW. This is where I am now, in the Hotel Hans Egede. The view is colorful. Red, blue and yellow houses carved into rock walls. Snow-covered hills behind it all. We’ll be here one night and move on to BIRK tomorrow if the wx improves. Let’s hope it does. For a good lowdown on our weather, check Air Journey’s around-the-world weather website.

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I flew into Nuuk–a 3,100-foot-long strip hard by a cliff–with Bill Anastos and Dottie Thompson in their 1981 Conquest II. We came over at 29,000 feet doing 300 KTAS and burning 240 pph per side. The weather here was severe clear for the arrival. You could see snow-capped mountains from 75 miles out.

Heard around the dinner table: “I wouldn’t fly anything older than the women I date”… don’t expect a comment from me.

And the trip is just beginning! This group is already getting a little salty …

Stay tuned for more!

Herding Cats in Goose

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Well, the staging leg of the Trans-Atlantic portion of Air Journey’s “Around the World 2008″ trip went uneventfully.

I rode shotgun in Jeff Yusem’s turbine-converted Duke, and we flew two hours at an average groundspeed of 316 knots and burned 138 gallons of Jet-A to get from Quebec to the Goose Bay-Happy Valley Airport. Almost immediately, a weather crisis popped up.

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Get this: ADDS (NOAA’s Aviation Digital Data Service) reported VFR conditions for both Greenland and Iceland (I’m getting tired of writing Narsarsuaq and Reykjavik)–BUT, the Danish weather service gave a forecast of rapidly lowering ceilings and visibilities in fog and low stratus. Who to believe? The group almost flew off in different directions in an attempt to get to Iceland asap. One pilot wanted to go north to Iqualit or Kujuaq in Labrador. Another thought about going to Kangerlusuaq (Sondestromfjord). Finally, the group opted to stay in Goose.

So here I am in Hotel North, one of many warehouse-looking buildings in this aging NATO air base town. A British Vulcan bomber is parked in front of one building complex (the same type of bomber used in the Falklands War, and in the “Thunderball” movie).

Tonight it’s dinner at Trapper’s, down the street. There, you cook your own steak. You know it’s done when the smoke detector goes off.

Tomorrow, Iceland–we hope! The system is supposed to move to the east, away from Reykja…well, let’s use ICAO-speak and call it BIRK. Check out our Trans-Atlantic wx. Don’t worrry if you don’t speak Danish–it’s pretty intuitive. I wouldn’t hang my hat on ADDS for Atlantic wx after this experience.

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Coming up: A long flying day

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

The group’s decided to make a three-leg trip tomorrow.

The first will go from Quebec, Canada, to Goose Bay, Labrador (578 nm). The next will be from Goose Bay to Narsarsuaq, Greenland (677 nm), and the last leg will be from there to Reykjavik, Iceland (675 nm).

The idea is to minimize our time in Greenland at a time when low clouds and icing conditions may well move in from the west. If we spent a night in Narsarsuaq we might be stuck there. So it’s going to be a full day of flying for Jeff Yusem, group leader Jean-Pierre (“JP”) Arnaud, and myself in Yusem’s turbine Duke.

In picture left to right: Tom Horne, Jeff Yusem, and journey director Jean-Pierre Arnaud.

We’ll be the first out of Quebec in the morning. Butch Stevens, of Port Orange, Florida will probably go next in his TBM 700. A Cessna Mustang piloted by Tracy Forrest of Winter Park, Florida, and John Hayes of Tucson, will follow. Bill Anastos in his Cessna 441 Conquest II will go non-stop from Goose to Reykjavik. The airplane has the range and speed to easily make the 1,200-plus nm trip. The weather in Reykjavik is supposed to be VFR for all our arrivals.

An around the world kickoff

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Lucky, lucky me. After years of waiting I’m off on a  trip around the world. Well, part way around , anyway. I’ve joined up with Air Journey LLC, a well-known purveyor of very high-end, guided general aviation tours, for the first few legs of their first-ever around-the-world voyages.

As you might suspect, the participants in this tour all fly turbine airplanes. How else could they fly with a greater degree of safety and comfort on such daunting and exotic legs as those taking them to India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Peoples Republic of China?

As I write this, I’m in the Chateau Frontenac Hotel in Quebec City. It’s one of the chain of hotels set up by the Canadian Pacific railroad, back in the early part of the last century. It’s right on the Saint Lawrence river.

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So far, a few participants have shown up. There’s my ride, Jeff Yusem’s Beech Duke, which has the “Royal Turbine” modification–it has a pair of 550-shp PT6As. Yusem’s from Aspen, Colorado. A TBM 700, a PC-12, and a Cessna Mustang are to arrive later today. The Duke does 290 knots true at FL270, burning just 66 gph (that’s for both engines).

Our first daily briefing is set for 4 p.m. today. We’ll be discussing the weather for what looks like (things can always change) our next two legs. The first will go to Goose Bay, Labrador. The next goes from Goose to fabled Narsarsuaq, Greenland. A north-south occluded front is now stalled over Narsarsuaq, and we’re hoping the forecast for it to move east will hold up. There’s another weather briefing before takeoff tomorrow.

I’ll keep you posted along the way. For me, this trip (I’m getting off at Paris) represents a huge contrast to the crossings I’ve made before. All of those were deliveries–driven by pressures to get through on a rigid schedule, and often decidedly non-luxurious. On this one, Air Journey has done all the yeoman’s work of transfers, reservations, flight plans, and clearances.

But blue water is blue water. We all have our rafts and our portable emergency transmitters. And I once more–sigh–have my Gumby suit. It’s a big floppy orange thing that keeps you warm should you ditch, and even keeps you afloat. My SPOT satellite personal tracker should transmit my position, superimpose it on a Google earth map, and deliver it to me trusties at AOPA, but perhaps we’re too far north for the satellite to read it. I’ll keep trying.

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