The return home (3)

by | 2020-02-22

The conclusion of the North Atlantic crossing aboard the PA-30

All this previous talk about planing was coming to bear. Great weather at Narsarsuak and friendly welcome made for a relaxed atmosphere. Frankly, I would personally have cherished the project of staying a couple of days for some hiking. But as mentioned earlier in the second instalment, a decision had to be made.

Timing is everything

We could fly out IFR to CYFB (Iqualuit “ Frob”) or file VFR to CYZV (Sept-Iles distance 958 nm) with enroute alternate CYYR (Goose Bay). As the clock was running, we had one important detail to clear: customs. Earlier, we were somewhat agreeably surprised to discover that canadian customs service existed in CYZV. So then we called them up to confirm that they could accept our inbound flight. They could as long as we landed within their operating hours closing at 16:30 local or 20:30Z. To be sure, we had 6 hours and 10 minutes of time to cover the 958 nm and we had to make it in the FBO before then. Presently, it was 13:25Z. Considering safe taxi speeds on all three tires at both departure and arrival, we had to make a call.

The progs were holding, satellite observations agreed with this VFR thing, TAF’s were solid. We even had 70 minutes of fuel reserve in CYZV. The extra feature of using neighbouring CYGV (Havre St-Pierre) as “alternate” plus 30 minutes reserve was quite appealing.

As I am writing this in the middle of February, we could make CYZV with 20 minutes reserve.

Proper equipment

The tip tanks on the PA-30 add 30 US gallons to the standard useable fuel capacity of 84 US gallons. Yet they are sold primarily for aerodynamic advantages such as improved climb rate and improved cruise speed above 5000 feet. I can attest on all accounts they are worth their investment for this kind of flying any day! 

So between Math’s dealing with customs agents in CYZV and my working of weather and cruise scenarios we agreed that we had to get our show on the way without any further due. CYZV was the call at 4500 feet.

Moving right along

The engines were started at 13:34Z. Proper runup completed and the departure off runway 24 was recorded at 1404Z. We had a good fighting chance at making customs within regulatory civil service times.

Fjord departure 1

If the beauty of Greenland was not mentioned sufficiently so far, let me add an additional layer here: the Tunulliarfik Fjord, formerly known as Eriksfjord. Even if we had to detour to fly it, the extension would have been worth the effort. It just so happened that the line of flight was perfectly aligned.

Flying outbound on the fjord from Narsarsuak
Outbound from BGBW

This fjord is one immense geological wonder. As I had read before: ”Everybody want’s to fly the fjord approach”! The fjord extends 42 nm (78 km) from Narsarsuak. It is also a legendary approach for BGBW. In the 40’s BGBW was an air force refuelling station for crossing traffic. In the days of no GPS or VOR, the concept of IFR was totally alien to “fancy 21th century” avionics. This is the fabled place Ernest Gann was writing about in “Faith is the hunter”. 

Imagine yourself descending over the water to break clouds at (if you are lucky) 300 feet with murky visibility being tossed around like a caesar salad. Today, heroic types would tell you:”Yeah, been there”… Sigh. Then try to find the fjord entry amongst all identical fjords.  By the way, fjords by definition are all dead end streets. If not enough, one’s fuel situation was nowhere close to comfortable. The metaphors of seeing the needles clicking on the gages left sides due to turbulence comes to mind. 

There exists an immense difference between flying VFR in CAVOK conditions and IFR in mountainous arctic. The word respect was created here.

Thanks but we will fly cool

“Our faith” was nowhere close to aviators of the Gann era! We merrily had to fly out under CAVOK, light and variable wind conditions. Further, one has to be aware that power lines, big power lines, cross the fjord at 600 feet off the water.

Switching from sightseeing to cruise for distance mode we climbed to our modest 4500 feet. Considerable effort in accuracy was spent establishing precise leaning on our set of IO-320’s. Connect the auto-pilot to track direct CYZV.

Calm arctic waters with icebergs
Light and variable winds over the fjord.

Position reports

We entered in the “box” position reports to be made at 50 West, Canadian ADIZ ( air defence identification zone) entry with Gander Center. Under VFR, no such calls were required for us. Nonetheless, using all resources available is good policy. At 50 West, Gander advised to only report at HOIST intersection. Better safe than sorry, simply to avoid F-18 escort.

Along the route, ADS-B was doing its thing. Despite being rather alone, we were picking up copious amount of traffic much higher than us making comm relays an easy alternative should they be required.

Mapping of aircraft above us.
Perhaps we are not alone.

Eventually, we made the Labrador coast approaching Goose. We got our new transponder code and eventually climbed to 6500 feet to get out of convective turbulence. Creature comfort was a growing concern after 5 hours of air time in rustic seating arrangements.

Getting closer to CYZV our planing was holding with an ETA of 20:05Z. 

Are we there yet?

Both of us not being the airshow types, we nonetheless thought pretty cool to make our initial call to Sept-Iles Radio. It went something like this: “Sept-Iles, bonjour, Twin Comanche Golf Delta Sierra Yankee, 30 miles Northeast 6 point 5, estimating Sept-Iles at two zero zero five, VFR Narsarsuak, Sept-Iles”. “Golf Delta Sierra Yankee, Sept-Iles Radio roger, winds are light and variable altimeter three zero one two, report 5 miles”. 

Sound of crickets followed.

We both professionally knew that a well planed flight has to complete itself with no bells and whistles. I still think to this day that no one cares to know the difference between Narsarsuak and Inukjuak!

Touchdown on the numbers!

An uneventful yet welcomed landing was recorded at 20:04Z. Without any notable anticipation or apprehension throughout the crossing. The simple exhilaration of completing such a flight was the reward. After quite a few decades of highly fulfilling jet flying, I still appreciate the extent of that particular leg on the wings of the piston powered light twin.

We were met by the very friendly customs officers. They were indeed curious about our various landings for one reason or another. One of their questions was if we intended to proceed to CZBM (Bromont) our home base that evening. I had no time to reply as Math promptly confirmed that his “6” had its share of low blood flow, therefore grounding himself. I silently agreed, too proud to go public! 

Our layover constituted of proper restoratives followed by a copious seafood dinner. I recall being assaulted by a pillow coming straight in by 20:30 local.

The last leg

As we had “seen” in our pilot crystal ball the day before, the next morning departure was in low IMC conditions. An IFR flight plan was therefore planed, with no issues to Bromont.

We parked in front of the hangar that was left behind 3 months before as if we had just gone out for a quick local flight.

An interesting conclusion followed the arrival. There were various comments issued, most of them not so glorious, about the seating arrangement of the 1963 quasi vintage PA-30. It was hence decided to undertake the interior refurbishing of GDSY. The project has just been completed after 3 months and nearly 275 hours of arts and craft handiwork.

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