Posts Tagged ‘Tom Horne’

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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Thielerts across the sea–Smelling the RAT

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

A few weeks ago I got an interesting phone call. Would I like to fly a Thielert-powered Cessna 172 from the United States to Europe? (This was just a few days before the Thielert bankruptcy was announced.) Seems that several TAE-powered Cessnas were being prepared for the big/slow journey. But there was a problem. The route would go from St. John’s, Newfoundland to the Azores, then on to the European Continent. That first leg’s a beaut, a real bladder-buster. We’re talking about some 1, 300 nm, and maybe, maybe 11 hours in the air. On a good day. So let’s be conservative and say that these Skyhawks, Thielert-powered though they be, make just 100 knots over the ground, err…water. That means something like 13.5 hours in the seat.

Which brings us to the phone call. The caller said the trip wouldn’t take place right away. Some engineering had to be done. Since the Thielert engine relies on FADEC and electronic ignition, an alternator failure would result in a deafening silence up front–after the battery gives out in 30-45 minutes. So, my caller was shopping around for a small Ram Air Turbine (RAT). One that could be deployed out the Hawk’s side window. Sigh. I let him go on with the story …..

See, first you’d get the warning lights, meaning the alternator’s gone on vacation, then you’d pop open the window, grab the RAT off the seat next to you, then set it in some sort of bracket–I suppose. The RAT’d start spinning, the electrons would flow anew, and you…err… I’d be on my merry way. The engine would keep on a’ turnin’….

Round about now I’m asking myself, do I have an autopilot? Don’t know. Is the installation FAA-approved? Not yet. Will the RAT keep on working? Don’t know…. I doubt if there will be much in the way of function and reliability tests. How cold would it be outside? About 25 degrees F at 6,000 feet this time of year. Add a wind chill/blast factor of 120 knots, and you/I could have an interesting time mounting Mr. RAT.

And there’s another question: Why are these TAE Skyhawks going eastbound? Has a fleet operator returned his fleet to the sender? Don’t know. Did a bunch of customers catch the early stench of bankruptcy?

For the time being, I’ll mull over the decision to fly one of these RAT-birds o’er the ocean. It’s serious business–very serious in such a limited airplane as a Skyhawk–but this deal makes me laugh every time I think about it. It’d make a good story though. But would it be as wise as it could be fun? Don’t know. I’ll let you know more if/when things move ahead.

X-Wind technique–It all depends

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

It depends on what I’m flying. The smaller the plane–the lighter the wing loading, more to the point–the more I’m apt to crab it in, then kick out the crab and land it in the wing-low, opposite rudder move.

Heavier airplanes, or airplanes with higher wing loadings, seem to handle crosswinds better. So I’ll slip these usually as the runway draws near, then sort out the landing technique just before touchdown.

Also, the strength of the crosswind component is important, of course. I just landed a Lear 60XR in 40-knot winds blowing 45 degrees off the runway heading. Not much control deflection was required, but the timing was more critical because things are happening much faster–final approach speed was 140 knots (owing to the gust factor).

Light planes make you work harder because your speeds are slower and so you spend more time in the flare.

In another big difference, heavier airplanes stay put when they land. Lighter planes can reach flying speed in strong winds!

Airshow gawkers–the horror!

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Some people make lousy airshow visitors. During our flight from Tampa to Wichita, Hawker Beechcraft’s Brady Stewart spun some shocking yarns about his experience standing duty with airplanes on display. Here’s a partial list of some of the things people have done to some VERY expensive airplanes:

Opening cowlings. Smoking near the wing tanks. Wanting their pictures taken in the cockpit, but getting stuck so that they couldn’t get turned around and properly seated (“one guy got his butt stuck in the control yoke”). Kids throwing toy gliders and frisbees into turbine intakes. Raising the gear handle (!!). Spinning the props to show how easy it is to move a free turbine engine (“the Wheel of Fortune” spin). Standing on the wings! (This trick is especially popular in Russia, where the (non-pilot) participants are usually drunk, I was told).

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the chart-topper: CHANGING A BABY’S DIAPER IN ONE OF THE AIRPLANE SEATS. No, I’m not making this up.

Shuttling with Hawker-Beechcraft

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

I was luckiest with my departrure from Sun ‘n Fun. I hitched a ride with Hawker Beech’s Trevor Blackmer, Brady Stewart, and two other HBC employees aboard a Premier IA and a King Air B200GT. The Premier flight took us to HBC’s service center at Tampa Intl. From there, it was on to Wichita in the B200. Like the C90GTi I recently flew (look for the full story in June’s AOPA Pilot) the B200 now has the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite.

The leg from Tampa to Little Rock was three hours–headwinds were large, maxing out at 117 knots at our cruise altitude of FL260. True airspeeds were 282 knots under warmish (-28 degrees C, or ISA +8 degrees) conditions.  The restaurant in the Little Rock FBO served what it calls “The World’s Greatest Aviation Burger,” and, yes, I ordered one up. This massive slab o’ beef overwhelmed me and, in a first, I walked away from half of this bovine artery-buster.

One more hour put us in Wichita. What a capable airplane! It flew seven and lotsa bags … to meet our weight limits all we had to do was trade 1,000 lbs of fuel for pax. Best of all, I got to learn more about the Pro Line 21.

Now I’m dreading the airline flight back to BWI–it’s an American flight, and it launches at 6:55 a.m. from ICT. Seven hours later, I’m home. That’s three hours more than the trip from TPA to ICT. I’ll take GA any time over the airlines.


Thursday, April 10th, 2008

I went strolling and polling today.

Here’s the big consensus: Foreign sales have switched places with domestic sales. Five years ago, 70-80 percent of sales went to the U.S. market. The rest went overseas.

Today, 70+ percent of sales–piston and turbine–are now to foreign customers. And domestic sales seem to have slumped.

Sure Cessna sells a lot of piston singles, but how many are to Europe and Asia? And how long will it be before their demand for lightplanes is sated?

The pull across the oceans is increasing. Diamond has built a factory in China. Cessna’s SkyCatchers will be also be built in the Middle Kingdom. Russia will build Eclipse jets. Eastern European nations and the Ukraine are home to many light sport designs.

Is the U. S. losing its GA mojo?