Tom Horne

Bye-Bye BIRK, Hello Scottish Highlands

May 19, 2008 by Thomas A. Horne, Editor At Large

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!


One Response to “Bye-Bye BIRK, Hello Scottish Highlands”

  1. A Real Review of The Venus Factor Says:

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