The journey to Switzerland (2)

by | 2019-06-30

The Arctic

Nobody said it would be easy and even tough the voyage is one of no real significance to human kind, why bother?

Well, one thing is certain, our planet is rich of wonderful landscapes that only wait to be admired. The Canadian arctic is such a place.

During the early career I have had the privilege to fly 7 years out there. Northern Quebec based out of Kuujjuak (CYVP) serving all of the Ungava and Hudson Bay coasts. Then out of Cambridge Bay (CYCB) and Cape Parry (now closed CYUE) serving all the northern continent Distant Early Warning Radar stations known as the DEW line from Alaska to Greenland.

Anybody thinking that the Arctic can be flown in sneakers and t-shirts has got some caribou steak to eat in the morning ! Much like the Alps, the Arctic commands respect and understanding. One must be prepared and so we were.

Leg #1 of the routing took us to Schefferville (CYKL). The initial plan was to reach Goose Bay (CYYR) fuel up and head to Iqualuit (CYFB). An immense high was adorning the ocean between Goose and Narsarsuak (BGBW). This would have been a golden opportunity to cut the corner VFR and save 2,5 hours on route to Iceland. But we were catching up to a low that was slowly making its way eastbound and wrapped Goose and everywhere around in low ceilings. VFR flying finally got washed out. So direct CYKL it was. We refuelled in moderate rain, 3 ˚C with 12 to 20 kt winds. I did mention « prepared ». The exercise turned out to be the worst of the crossing.

Schefferville, lost a lot of its shine from the days when it was a burgeoning iron mining town. Many services were available, it is not the same anymore. In this day and age, communication is all the rage. No Internet on the airport, a simple land line phone that allowed calls to Flight Services but a helpful Air Inuit staff that considered these touristy guys with a funny look!

A pilot working on a 45 gallon drum of fuel in the back of a pick up truck in 3 deg Celsius rain with 20 knots winds.
Fuelling from a 45 gallon drum.

Pumping fuel out of a 45 gallon drum with a modern aviation funnel that retains water is great. Only the darn thing does not allow great volumes of 100 LL to filter through per minute. An hour and 15 minutes of constant and sloooow, pumping was required. Despite the fact that there is regular railway service to Schefferville, the cost of fuel was more expensive than Greenland or Iceland. My Swiss counterpart was not impressed. Who cares when you are having fun! Our first stop was just that, a stop. With the fuelling complete, It was off to the blue yonder of CYFB after vacating the ugly weather spitting from that low.

Weather clearing ahead
Punching through: finally out of the nasty low (pressure area).

The grandiose breath of the undertaking started to sink in. We were heading due north and the fast approaching the immense Hudson Strait. This made me realize that there was a remarkable quantity of ocean to overfly before enjoying the ear tickling of bagpipes in Scotland. At that point I also realized a well documented video would have been nice to provide this fast media world. The « wow » stuff always grabs attention but in no way it would convey the feeling and descriptive of the unbelievable void ahead. Can’t wait to see 105 on the DG.

We made our way back to 9000 feet but approaching Baffin Island, why would we stay so high? Down we went to 1000 AGL. I could not do this in my previous life: my passengers would have been far too impressed. Well same result this time except that there is no SMS (safety management system) to write! What a hoot, sorry to say that flying is just this with a touch of caution involved, of course.

By the time we reached the southern part of Ungava Bay, we started to get decent flying conditions. The favourable progs were confirmed by a good PIREP from an Air Inuit Dash 8. We  got clear out of an onset of moderate icing at 7000 feet (we had to let down to warmer air).  Then the world opened up. As I mentioned earlier, flying fast and over long distances does get you away from nasty weather. Then, the agreeable sight “moved in”: « Home », like that ugly critter kept saying in that Spielberg movie. Kuujjuak, Kangiqsualujjuaq (George River) not to be confused with Kangerlussuaq (Sondrestrom, Greenland), the Torngats: all visual. We approached Akpatok Island, a huge piece of tundra parked there for our enjoyment. We used to land charters there in the summer to observe the midnight sun. Same sun by the way, its just seen differently.

We got our clearance to enter CYFB airspace, got our visual approach on to runway 16 after slowing down to permit a Dash 8 backtracking for departure.

And so we terminated our first day of flying in severe CAVU weather. Apparently the first Spring day on that June 3rd. We had completed 1156 NM and 6,9 hours air time. Time to fuel up prior heading out to the hotel.

Avgas in CYFB is an issue. It is also delivered out of 45 gallon drums but at least they have a pump and filter system unlike CYKL’s self service. The problem is that fuel in limited quantity cannot be purchased in advance. First come first served.

High situational awareness.
Primary instruments of relative help. Right seat occupant’s main navigation function!

That is the extent of the project. Reasonable planning is the norm and this always provides alternatives. Dinner and night to be spent in town. An eye-opener for Jean-Louis, this guy runs along those bell dangling cows and Little Heidi, you get the picture. I was trashed. He headed out for discovery, I went belly up at 21:00 local. Departure time 08:00, flight details yet to be produced. 

First iceberg
First iceberg sight. Many more to come!
Iqualuit airport
CYFB old terminal building
PA-30 cooling down in CYFB.

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