The journey to Switzerland (4)

by | 2019-08-16

From Iceland to Wick

The morning weather in Iceland was a good VFR, only if you remained in the coastal areas. The inland solid overcast prevented flying over the hills and so we were negated a fair closeup of island’s majestic countryside. We also faced forecasted extensive icing up to 13 000 feet over the ocean towards the Faroe Islands (midway between Iceland and Scotland). We planed the flight at 15 000 feet racing a Mooney and catching up to a Cessna Caravan.

In perspective, the troublesome project of carrying oxygen was a must. For one, crossing directly over Greenland was a real time saver, ATC contact was obviously much easier at “high(er)” levels and finally Eurocontrol is much more flexible in route planning when you can go high. More on this shortly.

The symbolic aspect of reaching Scotland in many ways was quite something to pounder. With no issue to speak of during the crossing, it is quite an undertaking following all the planning and water left behind us to acquire visual contact with “mainland”… Yes, the UK is not mainland per say: who cared? The accomplishment of arriving in Wick (EGPC), a former RAF base, was touching.

It is worth mentioning that we received excellent ground support from Far North Aviation. Adrienne is well acquainted with oceanic endeavours and their specific requirements. We spent our first night there and to repair ourselves with proper restoratives.

EGPC Wick: Far North Aviation (“The tree” was planted in 1943 for Christmas by RAF staff. Local authority wants to cut it down, an apparent obstruction…)

The next day was hoped to make Switzerland. First, we thought this was a good plan then like any good plan, it got modified with version B and C … Over Facetime, my spouse was appalled that we were not spending more time in Scotland. This was part of the long time project in the first place. We have had so far excellent momentum moving forward. I explained: “Why stop when being so close to LSGS?”

For one, she was so right as usual. Also, fatigue and its insidious judgment altering function was setting in. We were not flying a race here. All this thing was merely to enjoy the journey. Fair enough, then “it” dawned on me reading the paper. Eurocontrol… June 6, 2019… D Day celebration over the English Channel… Many airplanes… Many public figures… Flight restricted Small crammed airspace… The chance of having a lowly PA-30 sliding by was next to nil. “Nope”, we concurred: we decided to head to Islay (EGPI), home of reputable distilleries and splendid country side.

All that was required was a one hour flight. Excellent forecast for the next two days down there made plan B very attractive. In the meantime, early morning weather in Wick was solid clag. “What do you expect, it is Scotland!”. I would venture to say just like Newfoundland back home and the folks are just as amicable. It is safe to declare that the rougher the climate the more friendly locals are.

Anyway, the pea soup got blown off sufficiently to allow a departure. Sporting events then began. It is the little stuff, minute details that will get you sometimes. Hey, my bad, I simply had to pay more attention at “sovereign AIP’s”. First, Europeans are funny I thought: they will not use your full call sign like we do in order to abbreviate transmission time. Here in Canada for example, we use full call sign on initial contact then use the last 3 letters for the rest of the comms. Same thing over there BUT they (wisely) use instead the first letter and last 2 letters of your call sign to abbreviate. So our DSY always became CSY. Mix in the local controllers accent and this leaved this pilot wondering what were they talking about, how can they consistantly miss the call sign?

Too tired to fetch the information and wondering why were THEY missing out on our “proper” call sign, I finally had to ask the ground controller in EGPC what was the deal. An easy and rational (I like rational) explanation was offered. Many countries, many different sovereign letters. C: Canada, G: UK. F: France, H: Switzerland. I must right here send an appreciative tip of the hat to Scottish controllers patience on the issue. In fact all controllers in the UK are incredibly patient. I have flown quite a bit in other parts of the world and patience at rush hours sometimes is a scarce resource.

Another good one in the UK is the level of service offered by ATC. “CSY state your level of service required”.

“Say again?”

Never had this request before when I was coming in here professionally. Well, in uncontrolled airspace (low level and North) ATC offers basic, traffic and deconfliction service while under IFR flight plan. A different approach to class E and G airspace. Be prepared to reply, I suggest “deconfliction” (a must). It provides separation with radar observed targets with 5 nm and 3 000 feet. This in perspective is not such a bad idea. Here in Canada, ATC does not care about you in class G. You are basically flying in “Far West” conditions. Anyone can fly IMC with no flight plan or anyone supervising this.

Hug a Scott today!

Landing in Islay, we found a wonderful bed and breakfast just by the airport: the Glenmachrie House. Dinner in Bowmore, within crawling distance, was interesting. At the end of dinner we realized we were sitting a few tables away (small world) from a couple living nearby my home in Canada. The amusing part, (hey were pilots) is listening to the great vacation they were having and how long it took them to get here including the long time reserved ferry crossing. We were asked where we were in the morning: “In Wick, I guess we arrived here at 9 o’clock.”

The Glenmarchrie House
Mr and Mrs White’s Glenmachrie Guesthouse

Airplanes are so cool.

We managed not to get tarred and feathered prior departure and made our way next morning to Norwich (EGSH) in Norfolk (Northeast of London) after a compulsory wave of our wings to Mrs. White in her backyard of the Glenmachrie House. Arriving at EGSH we promptly fuelled up and got ourselves airborne to cross the Channel with 40 kts headwinds. It must be said that the routing we obtained with proper negotiation (nearly 90 minutes of work) was not too bad. In fact it was quite decent since all options the day before allowed only a detour of over 400 nm over Germany.

A blistering storm was hitting France on the Bordeaux coast and we were to get continuous light to moderate turbulence 15 000 feet, no chance at directs at lower (and smoother) levels in this part of the world. We figured that once crossed we could entertain with Paris Control lower levels and hopefully better winds.

Eventually, we managed to get lower but also we were outflying the nasty low pressure system. Our next challenge was approaching. We needed to get down into VMC (Visual Meteorological Condition) to proceed over Lac Léman, Switzerland. When IFR over the Alpes, letting down for an approach is an undertaking which begins at high level. In Sion (LSGS), our destination, the RNAV starts at 17 000′ and allows one to descend into a rather narrow (beautiful) valley.

Finally: “Les alpes”!

The Rhone "outlet" arriving in Valais
Arriving at the Rhone, approaching le Valais

The TAF for LSGS was agreeably not bad but broken to overcast nonetheless at 11000 feet. Playing in our favour was the intimate knowledge of the geography, landmarks and yes mountains that we knew (really) by their names. We descended into VMC, overflew Montreux and the nearby Chateau de Chillon and headed via direct into the Rhone outlet. The journey, long time dreamed and planned was developing before us as a most splendid feast for the eyes. Some call these kind of moments gut wrenching, I would qualify this as another job well done and yes immense happiness afforded yet again from the solid relationship between aviator and aircraft.

Over Martigny we made a circling climb to continue into the Dranse valley in order to overfly les Planards in Verbier (home for Jean-Louis) then waved our wings at the folks at the Croix de Coeur.

Le Valais within the Rhone
Arriving in le Valais

Now for the visual approach in LSGS starting from our position: the right hand base was anything but standard for the C-GDSY (CSY if you may). We needed to lose something like 8000 feet. This is a normal procedure for the nimble local helicopters, not for a PA-30 who should have approached humbly from the Rhone inbound. Nothing that serious: the controllers are used to this. They cleared us to a published letdown point. We selected gear down, flaps 27 (full that is all you get on a PA-30 and yes it floats a lot on landing) and watched for shock cooling.

That is all there is to it. Standard landing, standard post flight duties and bags of material to offload. Home we were. For the story, the pilot did kiss his aircraft.

Yes sometimes it is good airmanship to kiss the airplane.
Merci Daisy!

The return to Canada will now be contemplated at the end of August.

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