Tom Horne

A TBM crosses: Keflavik to Narsarssuaq to Sept Iles

October 24, 2011 by Thomas A. Horne, Editor At Large

Greenland landfall

Making landfall on the western coast of Greenland.

The Keflavik airport used to be a U.S. Navy base back in the day, but no more. Even so, this misconception today keeps many GA pilots away from BIKF. Sure, it remains Iceland’s major international airport, but GA is welcome. The FBO there–South Air–is great. Thanks to Kef’s two 10,000-foot runways–and the four ILS approaches that serve them (thanks, Navy!)–Keflavik makes sense when the winds are up and the clouds are down. That’s one reason why we chose to land N600YR there.

For the next leg, the winds were forecast to be relatively light for the cruising altitude of FL280, so there was some thought as to whether the TBM could make it to Goose Bay (CYYR) non-stop. Problem was, the forecast at Goose (also known as the Happy Valley Airport) was for a chance of low-IFR conditions. If N600YR had to hold, then fuel could get tight. And night would be falling, along with temperatures and dew points. So the decision was made to make an intermediate stop at Narsarssuaq, Greenland (BGBW).

Narsarssuaq airport

View of Narsarssuaq airport from the tower. Runway in distance slopes down to the fjord, from right to left.

Yes, the storied Narsarssuaq, forever enshrined in aviation history by Ernest K. Gann’s Fate Is The Hunter. But unlike the white-knuckle rides that Gann (and thousands of other pilots serving in World War II, by the way) endured into what was then called Bluie West One, skies were clear for our arrival.

I have landed at Narsarssuaq many times, always using runway 7. Today I’d be flying a straight-in to runway 25. Winds were calm, an oddity here. Normally this procedure would be no big deal. But the issue was runway 25’s radical downhill slope, at two degrees. Doesn’t sound like much, but the runway drops 100 feet in elevation from threshold to stopway. I punched off the autopilot, rounded a ridge that identified the glacier that terminates near the approach end of the runway, and descended to final. I tried to grease it on, but flaring for a soft touchdown wasn’t a good technique. The more I floated, the more the runway dropped away, and I landed almost at midfield. Now that downhill slope is helping me roll toward the iceberg-strewn fjord at an alarming rate. Stand on brakes! Pull max reverse thrust! Finally I stopped the ship and taxied in for fuel. Lesson learned: major downhill runways can be bad news. Especially if you’re flying at 90-95 knots. And the AFM says to fly at 85. Best to plant the airplane early and firmly, then use everything you’ve got to stop. ATE from Kef to BGBW: 2+25.

Ice under the fuel cap.

Chunk of ice retrieved from strainer beneath a fuel cap.

During the fuel stop a lineman called us out to the plane. There in the strainer basket beneath the fuel caps was a small chunk of ice. It was a first for everybody on the scene. Guess that’s what happens when the temperatures at FL280 run -50 degrees Celsius. And yes, we used Prist, so who knows what caused the ice.

The winds, weather, and a fresh fuel load (292 gals) argued for the next leg to be a long one–about 800 nm to Sept-Iles, Quebec (CYZV). The chancy weather at Goose was avoided, and we’d be that much farther down the road. Interested in the routing? Get out your North Atlantic and Canadian charts, because here it is: BGBW – 59N50W – Loach intersection – Foxxe intersection – direct CYZV. After leaving uncontrolled airspace passing through 10,000 feet, the clearance had us going straight to FL280, which we did in just 18 minutes. It would have been less, but using the engine’s inertial separator for the climb through clouds deprived the PT6 of doing its best.

Narsarssuaq tower controller

Narsarssuaq tower controller. You can reach him on 119.1.

At altitude the ritual power setting was made: 95 percent torque–for a fuel burn of 53 gph. About halfway into this 3+50 leg both Margrit and I were feeling fatigued. It would end up being a 6.5-hour flying day, after all. Candy bars helped, though, and soon we were on the ILS for runway 9 with good (few 800, few 10,000, 2,800 overcast) weather. Then it was a tiedown at Trans-Sol Aviation, a visit with Customs, and a ride to the Hotel Gouverneur for a well-earned sleep-in. This would help me reset my biological clock to eastern daylight time, I hoped. (I used to use melatonin to enable a sleep-enforced time-zone change, but the wild dreams got to me.) Tomorrow: Back in the U.S.A.!

Water, water everywhere. The G1000 MFD shows the situation enroute to Narsarssuaq

One Response to “A TBM crosses: Keflavik to Narsarssuaq to Sept Iles”

  1. Charles R.Wirt Says:

    Thanks for the comments on BIKF, brought back memories. I was stationed there as a station pilot R4D-8 (Super DC-3) & R6D (DC-6), what an adventure around the south side to BIHN (Hofn/Hornafuodr) to supply one of the USAF radar sites. Some days you taxied a bit, stopped & held posit til you could see a bit, etc. We left 4 R4D’s up there, 3 crashes & 1 monument. Actually miss it!

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