The journey to Switzerland (1)

by | 2019-06-23

The wall

« A lifetime planning for the journey » Chris de Burgh

Well it seemed that way. Certainly we are far from the heroics of the pioneers who could not depend on much more than a compass, dead reckoning on flimsy charts and weather reports based on a fledging science. No, the project to cross the North Atlantic aboard a most dependable the PA-30 powered with lycoming’s finest is merely an extended journey with a few tech stops from my home base CZBM (Bromont, Quebec) to LSGS ) Sion, Valais.

The planning on the other hand was serious business. Aside from all the precautions, the various countries regulations, safety and survival equipment and weather, there were customs, FBO’s, hotels just to name a few. As I wrote last October ( many items had to be considered one of them Greenland. Over or around? Being accustomed to zooming by in a 330, the issue to undertake this particular piece of ice from the low levels in a non-pressurized, non-deiced aircraft is quite different.

I spent most of the previous 12 months studying weather patterns in the morning. All that stuff you are taught about weather prognostics, air masses et al. became quite fascinating. Really. I was not so much thrilled by a standing low (very low) pressure system parked for weeks just southeast of Greenland. This system was generating counterclockwise airflow pumping warm and humid air from the south directly against the eastern face of THE glacier. Very high glacier, I may add. The result of course is moderate icing over 150 NM wide extending 400 NM north and south. This no place to be in a Twin Comanche. One might call this a wall. Of course, the other option was to fly around low level and VFR in 4 to 5 degrees Celsius air. The amount of flight time would be increased by 2,5 hours in order to make to BIKF (Reykjavik, Iceland). At face value, this is not too bad considering the 7 hours autonomy at 160 KTAS afforded by C-GDSY.

Nevertheless, efficiency would take a beating and fatigue would needlessly become a factor. There is no HF on the PA-30. Transport Canada has created a smart rule back in the early 70s I suppose, for people like me. They allow IFR flight over the North Atlantic with no HF only on the CYFB-BGSF-BIKF-EKVG-EGPC routing. Class A airspace starts at FL050 over the Pound. You want to fly direct and save time, fuel, etc? Get yourself an HF. Yes that scratchy radio influenced with all sorts of phenomena: sunrise, sunset, northern lights, sun spot activity, you name it. We are in 2019, so a satphone is going to be the norm, right? We use them on airliners all the time because HF fail to work a lot of times. Well no. I have attempted to obtain a form of relief with precise risk assessment research provided to our regulator to allow for a one time permission to cross on direct routing. No joy. 22 emails, phone calls and messages went sinking in the water faster than a « simonized » cement block. Another form of wall.

Think about this one. They allow people to fly no problem VFR (below FL050) with no HF nor satphone on direct routings. Iceland and Denmark have no problems to replace HF by satphone for IFR trafic, by the way. Well, risk management obliges, having issues with authorities no matter how unresponsive they are is not my thing. Planning would be direct to Iqualuit (CYFB), Frob and Sonde (BGSF) as we used to call these places back in my Dewline days.

The Arctic Rat was going back to his old neighbourhood.

The date was set for the first week of June with the hope that the rotten Spring we suffered and that pesky low would disappear. My friend, Jean-Louis, non pilot and world traveller who has endured our friendship over the last 40 years got himself a one way ticket from Switzerland to Montreal. Well it was a return ticket. The one way was twice as more expensive. I cannot criticize the industry who afforded me decades of a joyful career. But at the same time I need some form of explanation on this one !

From his arrival we got much of the equipment together. Arctic survival and oceanic survival. The rental life raft is a starter. By the way, do not go over the Pound with a single channel raft. They are good for the Caribbean waters. The good 4 place raft weight about 35 pounds. Proper understanding on their operation is a must. We got ourselves a personnel ELT (SPOT), warm clothing, countless number of items required by law and more not so required but necessary. Proper catering and of course the equipment to substitute the missing relief tubes. I also changed the oil on both engines. The right engine was fresh out of overhaul and got a good run the previous month as my sweety and I went over to Arizona for the Easter holiday. Confidently, I could attest that the aircraft was in absolute top shape. No snags to report. The thought of having any doubt on reliability was a non-starter. No risk to be taken. The risk one can mitigate should be removed. There are enough unforeseen events out there that can bite you in the six o’clock as it is. Not a pound overweight to report.

And on the sunny morning of June the 3rd, We departed runway 23 in CZBM on route to our first stop: CYKL (Schefferville) burdened with a slow moving low that plummeted our regions during the week-end. Long distance flying is great you get away from bad weather. But you also catch up to it. Never a dull moment.

The crossing
The crossing team: Jean-Louis, Marc and DSY (Daisy)
Wings over CZBM: Next stop CYKL.
Perhaps we will see alot of this in the next few days…

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