The return home (1)

by | 2019-10-12

Let’s get this thing back home!

It took some time to return to the keyboard to write the return story. The first item up on arrival was to complete the annual inspection on DSY. Your patience is appreciated.

How cool was it to fly in Switzerland?

Rhône valley
Heading west in the Rhone valley

Every pilot knows that our perspective from above is second to none. One simply has to observe this uncontrollable growth in the drone business. Ahhh drones… Affordable panoramas without the dirty business of risking flight while sitting in the comfort of your lawn chair. Who cares where it lands. I digress.

View from the right of a descending glacier into a narrow valley.
Climbing the valley to Zermatt

Well a good flight planing strategy will allow precisely those great panoramas while being there live. Many years spent hiking, climbing and skying this part of the world has allowed an intimate knowledge of the local geography. At least that is what I thought until flying « my neighbourhood » at close range. Even Google Earth, as good as it is, does not convey with fidelity at close range the existing geomorphology. While on the ground you perceive hills, cliffs, walls et al. with a sort of detached perspective of déjà vu. Get yourself strapped in a PA-30 add 160 KTS and suddenly the same immense shapes of granite and what else for minerals present themselves with utterly huge and very vertical walls, unforgiving bowls, funnelling climbing valleys otherwise tame by car, overwhelming climbing terrain and glaciers. This partly explains, in my book, why this pilot sweats so much when travelling by Vibram souls!

Keep your nose clean by keeping your head up!

Personal knowledge of mountains in general is a must. Serious weather briefings and the ability to handle and anticipate terrain effects while airborne is an asset. We are not talking of overflying at FL390 here. This being said, the thrill of hugging valley walls to progress inland is unforgettable.

It’s all about flight planning

Back in LSGS (Sion) with an aircraft fresh with its early oil change we were all set to leave on Sunday, August 25th with the usual good Valais weather. The prognostics charts for the next couple of days were indicating good over the top weather, lousy weather over Iceland and freezing levels in the 5000 feet range in the area.

The low pressure affecting Iceland was that « self generated » one that always seems to recreate itself southeast of Greenland then slowly move Northeast. A high pressure between Greenland and Baffin Island was pushing an eventual ridge (expanding big ridge) south. Tough we had margins to adjust our departure time and date we also knew that we wanted to make our way to Canada within the reasonable span of a week.

Since Murphy and his unflagging law is part of the equation we deduced that we could not have it as easy heading westbound as we did eastbound. We had to expect some time or another less than tourist conditions.

For the early summer Europe bound sector, I was accompanied by my long time friend Jean-Lou who flew many times with me but has no clue on how to fly. Nonetheless, let it be known, that he did manage quite well the fuel gauges. My better half had given him a very strict briefing on “those rectangle squares with needles pointing between E and F.”

Westbound, I was joined by Mathieu, a Lear 45 pilot who produced remarkable circus contortions of schedule to make this journey. The opportunity, granted, does not happen often.

This time, I was dealing with a very different type of cockpit resource management yet the same type of childish wonder for what was about to unravel. 

Another item worth mentioning is that we left Canada in early June with good preparation completed. Nearly a year and a half of documentation familiarization, weather patterns observation, scenario testing and measurements had set a reasonable level of confidence for this aviator. Yet at the time we had no clue what to expect regarding actual sensation, perception, local rules and habits. For the return portion, the knowledge was somewhat acquired. It drilled in a bit deeper in this thick scull the extent of the seriousness of the journey and possible challenges to face.

Twin Comanche parked facing west at Sion airport Valais. Early morning no clouds in the sky.
PA-30 ready to be loaded.

Oh well, navel-gazing completed, we fired up GDSY on that CAVU morning with Inverness (EGPE) Scotland as a destination. We still cannot figure out why the PA-30 kept landing all over Scotland. We planned a two day layover to understand the issue.

A particular planning situation that we hardly ever deal with in Canada is the composite ICAO flight plans. Those items called « Y » (IFR to VFR) or « Z » (VFR to IFR). Leaving LSGS with an IFR flight plan requires serious turbine assisted climbing capabilities. GDSY is not even equipped with a modest “Rayjay” turbo normalizer, so we merely filled « Z ». We picked up a waypoint over Lac Léman for the IFR transition. 

The Rhone valley is not that wide when measured from 2000 AGL at cruising speed. It is garnished with respectable walls each side. Good VFR is a must over here. Once clear and by Montreux, we got the clearance to 12 000 feet and on we went. Au revoir le Valais.

This time compared to the inbound flight, the routing obtained from Euro Control was straight forward.

Dover and it’s cliffs. All white!
The white cliffs of Dover

Approaching Scotland

200 miles South of EGPE there was a radar failure which required again our selection of level of service. Now We knew how to deal with those request! Cleared out of controlled airspace we flew into a cloudless sky. A beautiful approach on runway 23 (towards THE Lochness) was afforded. The landing stopped the clock after 5 hours and 35 minutes. Again a warm welcome and handling was offered by the Scots, this time at Highland Aviation

The two day layover can certainly be commented on another forum but suffice it to say that the weather was CAVU, yes in Scotland, making distillery tracking a breeze!

Off to BIRK

Departure was planed at 09:00 two days later on August the 27th, non-stop service to Reykjavik (BIRK), Iceland. The work, as it was, began: lots of water to cover. Sure, many will say that the IO-320’s do not know over what surface they are flying. Regardless, as mentioned earlier and realizing the extent of the undertaking, sunk in (pardon the pun) when half-way between Scotland and the Faroe Islands. A vast cloud break on the undercast at 8000 feet made us appreciate the majestic ocean with a lone ship somehow converging on our track. There was immediate help available should it be required. But that was it. Personnel note to myself: try to find various ship position next time. I gather this could be obtained much like the tracking websights for aircraft.

The operation was going well. No dull moments observed as position reports were prepared, weather and fuel management dealings also helped keeping our minds sharp. 


Approaching Iceland from the Southeast (ROSTI intersection to ING) was where Murphy’s reimbursement began. We were progressively entering alto cumulus with OAT in the -7˚C range. Then moderate icing began the minute we crossed the shore. 

Two good options were available: turn around (and where do we go ace?) or descend. We knew that the freezing level was around 5 000 feet. Easy enough, the request was made to the super helpful Reykjavik Control. Minimum altitude that day due to low altimeter setting was 7000 feet. Alright, we still had to descend. But we also held the knowledge of better weather condition to the south. And yes descending over water does not create obstacles difficulties.

So south it was, around the island at 4000’ in class G (out of controlled airspace) where our TAT (total air temperature) was showing a balmy 3 deg. C. The PA-30 is no A330 as far TAT rise is concerned. For the record… leading parts of an airframe will warm up while moving fast. The Twin Comanche’s modest 160 KTS provides an enjoyable 3 degrees rise, to be employed very cautiously. My old love, the A330 would show 35 deg C rise, Concorde 105 (average)!

Approaching BIRK, we renewed contact with Reykjavik Control got radar vectors amidst the beautiful foothills for an uneventful ILS 19.

Banking over Reykjavik Airport
BIRK (Reykjavik)

What a hoot! The weather was lousy but the renewed pleasure of landing somewhere I have been before is invigorating after yet another 5 hours plus flight (5:40). Also, part of the planing, we had a solid alternate as one does not have many choices flying into this island country. The tip tanks that were a must when hunting out this “Twinco” a couple years ago paid for the effort. Splendid range and improved climb rate to boot? No brainer: there was no tedious paperwork to fill for extra fuselage tanks. 

Unable to enter by the scenic route

This time around in Reykjavik we still could not fly a scenic tour on arrival or departure. We concluded that we may as well press on next morning. The focus being either following the approved IFR route (BIRK-BGSF-CYFB) for no HF equipped aircraft (Canada airspace restriction, in 2019 they do not care if you are satphone equipped) or simply filling VFR below FL050.

More on this on the next instalment.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Leave a Reply