Having options available is a great safety enhancement and confidence builder. Then and only then flying becomes a solid operation. Solid operations are good!
Flight planing out of BIRK
On the morning of August 28th, Iceland was still covered by the low pressure system. This forbade any hope of a scenic flight once again.
We therefore concentrated on getting ourselves across to Greenland where two options would probably develop. This is where prognostic charts are a must. Much preflights are done with a simple look at TAF’s. When a decent plan is required with an outlook or the big picture, the progs offer excellent environmental situational awareness.
The « picture » for us was simple. That low over Iceland with a freezing level around 5000 feet, a ridge over the Atlantic between Greenland and Baffin Island and an approaching low pressure system inbound from northern Manitoba.
Depending on our progress we hoped to leave Narsarsuak (BGBW) VFR below FL50. Yep, no HF. High quality comms afforded by satphone is worth nothing for government transport regulators In North America. No HF equipment on board means one must fly below FL50 or use the standard approved IFR route spanning BGSF-CYFB. This would take 2 hours and change, extra time for us. The journey was a hoot, who cared, right? I will always aim for efficiency as some may attest hence my renewed protest at obsolete regulation.
Math, my flying partner provided good insight in the preparation, especially for customs planning into Canada. We knew, should we take the VFR direct routing, we could make Goose Bay (CYYR) or Iqaluit (CYFB) with no issue regarding customs operating hours.
Talking about efficiency we boldly tossed the idea of clearing customs in Sept-Iles (CYZV) of all places. That was a 958 nm leg! But CYZV customs closed at 16:30 local. The morning wx briefing indicated almost no headwind at low level. Heading west in this hemisphere with no wind is considered a bonus. I will let you crunch the numbers leaving BIRK at 09:00 local. This PA-30, full fuel and loaded will initially cruise at 157 kts and after 2 hours will easily show 160 kts.
As an esteemed colleague stated recently: « She performs great, take care of the old (mature) Indian lady » (I do actually, quite a bit). Please do not get upset by those comments refering to some form of elderly minority. Many Piper aircraft names paid tribute to American natives. In top shape, this indian lady delivers. Most Comanche owners stand behind this statement.
We both agreed that a decision would be taken at BGBW. The point was not wasting too much time in order to remain within the decision window.
It always seems that when you plan long trips, you always wind up with a busy day somewhere. Today was the day.
Departure out of BIRK was 08:33 local. IFR to 4000 feet was uneventful and out of icing. Agreeably we were also between layers for most of the time. After about an hour, we got in IMC but we could also observe clearing skies above as we were moving westbound out of the low pressure system.
And this is where we were…
Ignorance is bliss. Pushing along at our not so bad 155 kts groundspeed, we kept busy recalculating and making accurate our critical point, crossed checked weather and fuel, fine tuning the mixtures. We definitely took time for an elaborate lunch. Our crew meals, by the way, far exceeded the quality of what I had been trained to absorb over the decades. We could almost quietly say that we were comfortable, engines running appropriately I may add like Swiss clocks.
One definition of situational awareness (SA) being thought is: “When perception equals reality”. After a while, cloud breaks would occur in the undercast permitting a clear view of what was reality in the middle of a cold North Atlantic garnished with waves breaking with very distinguishable spray. The waves were not modest by any standard. Eastbound at FL150 we did not get the chance to fathom the respect required of the area. At 4000 feet, SA became appreciative of those two lycomings, one of which was overhauled 75 hours prior the eastbound portion. A measurable expense, well appreciated at that very moment.
Winds were light, what the heck, we asked for a climb to FL120. Reykjavik control was happy to accommodate with no HF reported on board. VHF works fine in that part of the world. Then further on with satphone.
As we approached the East coast of Greenland, 3 hours into our airtime, CAVU (oops, we cannot use this anymore… CAVOK) conditions were prevailing.
A mirage, not a wall…
And like a distant mirage in a not so dry desert, the coast of Greenland made its way up the windshield. At 42W our Y flight plan advised the we planned to proceed VFR right up to BGBW. And majestically, did we ever!
Approaching the coast, we descended to join the glacier at a leisurely altitude that allowed for a responsible sight seeing of the area.
Speaking of desert earlier, a lot of people will conjure to you that one has to see the Sahara desert once in a lifetime. I certainly concur when I look at some pictures of friends trips. Well, what was unravelling before us was nothing else than gut wrenching immense beauty. The contrast between sky, rocks (big rocks) and flowing glaciers was unforgettable.
Over the last hour of flight time we became wide eyed, jaw dropping picture and video takers. Notwithstanding the fact that we were immersed in observation, we just had to “steal” and bring back home some of those panoramas.
“Yeah, we gotta land this thing!”
Approaching BGBW, we made contact with the airport ops. Usually they expect (we were told) reasonable aircrew on a calm day to make the direct visual for runway 24. The key word here is reasonable.
We elected with proper advice and briefings that we would “slide down” the glacier at 185 kts take the left down the eastern fjord (4000 feet on the left side 3000 feet on right) to 1000 feet. A broken layer of altocumulus covered the far end making a rather stimulating tunnel approach into reality. We lost radio contact with the airport 4 nm away. An Air Greenland Dash 8 was also inbound. We let the working crew get in first, contouring the fjord to establish ourselves final for 06. This was 4:56 of flight time out of BIRK.
We were greeted by warm and friendly personnel. Refuelling was as civilized as any respectable airport in the world. A huge difference from our experience in next time to be mandatory overflown CYKL (Schefferville)
For newbies in the area, the locals probably had a good laugh staring at us (they did). Two tourists stepping out of a « small airplane » staring all around as Neil and Edwin did on their own journey. What the heck, we were gazing at archeological wonders from World War 2 Transport Command. We were parked in beautiful yet barren land basking in the sun.
Up in the “tower” the operator offered a welcomed real coffee and let us admire a sort of wall of fame adorned by a myriad of stickers ranging from various world military squadrons, survey or aircraft ferry outfits, charity collecting funds flights, etc. And there we were, two aviators just flying our PA-30 because it was just that: flying.
Two sips later, SA started kicking in: a call had to be made.
Standby for the rest of the journey on “The return home (3)”.
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