Six Days to Takeoff
0000 FLIGHT HOURS
We’re hoping for about six of these. The good news is Nick Baratta has joined up as photographer. He will travel from New York on the 26th to brief with the flight crew in Duxford on the 27th. If weather cooperates, Grumpy will leave Duxford on the morning of the 29th with a bit of ceremony from the locals and the RAF. The destination that day will be Reykjarvik, Iceland (BIRK). Subsequent planned stops include Goose Bay (CYYR), Dryden (CYHE), Cutbank (KCTB) and Paine Field (KPAE). In Canada, a stop or two may be added to honor groups of WW II aviation veterans. It should be a good trip provided Hurricane Bill lives a short life.
Tomorrow’s the Day
Ignoring jet lag, the crew assembled to consider ditching on water and ice. Quite an ice breaker. Morale is high. The weather today suggests autumn but prospects for tomorrow are good. A bit of convective activity robbed our wee hotel of its internet capability so we have migrated to nearby Cambridge and reliable resources. The immersion suits fit so we need not visit the RAF supply house tonight. Tomorrow we rendezvous at 8 a.m. for a 9 a.m. departure. The runway length at Duxford is minimal given our takeoff weight, so we’re skipping dessert. For the first two-plus hours, we will fly above England and Scotland with Kirkwall in Orkney being a point to consider fuel burn rates and range. The total flight time to Iceland will be just short of seven hours. Without intending to offend the Weather Gods, we have booked hotel rooms in Iceland.
Once the airplane checked-out and the crew had its time together, we took possession of the Pooley Sword and looked about the magnificent projects around Duxford Airport (including a certain Mk. IX Spit bound for Seattle next Spring). Take a look at the Photo Gallery and share the love. The crew of Grumpy wishes all of you a safe and warm Saturday.
Day 1 (Flight Time: 6.2 hours)
I’m reflecting on a special day. It began eighteen hours ago with preparations for take-off from Duxford. At the appointed hour, families and friends of the Duxford-based crew members appeared in happy anticipation. It was as close to a carnival mood as immersion suits would allow. Thanks to all of you who have given so much to make this trip possible. Following takeoff into a clear blue sky, we flew a couple of photo passes before heading for the Highlands. The English countryside was summer glorious until Liverpool when the North Sea weather we expected began to fulfill our expectations. Scotland lived up to its reputation. In dodging clouds we went as low as 1,000 and tried to get above at 5,000, somewhat successfully. There’s about a two hour interval in the North Atlantic when you’re outside the radio range of air traffic control unless a friendly airliner agrees to pass along a position report. For us, this period concluded with the clear words “Iceland Radio.” As if reading the same script, the clouds got thinner and the seas, calmer. By the time we reached our destination the day was crystal clear and the headwinds had gone on holiday. One unfortunate episode occurred shortly after landing. A taildragger pilot taxied to see the B-25 without noticing a police car in its path. On impact, the wooden propeller turned to toothpicks. Happily, the only other loss was pilot pride. I guess Grumpy is quite a distraction. Pilots and crew to bed. “Goose” tomorrow (Goose Bay). Enjoy the pictures.
Day 2 (Flight Time: 7.1 hours)
Today began with a spectacular sunrise over Iceland. A gathering of aviation enthusiasts traded part of Sunday for our takeoff.
A note about our aircraft as you may have an interest in engineering and operations. Thus far, the aircraft has performed very well. During the first day’s flight of six hours’ duration, the right engine required three gallons more oil than the left while burning cooler than the left. We’re monitoring the situation today in the seven-plus hours it will take us to get to Goose Bay. It may not be anything (each engine holds 28 gallons of oil), but the asymmetry deserves attention.
Crew compatibility might be better, but I’m not sure how. All five of us have a passion, four for aviation and one for photography. When you lose track of time, you know passion. Conversations touch on loved ones, aircraft for sale and “characters we have known.” There’s a fair bit of humor and occasional, casual brilliance.
The coast of Greenland provided this day’s highlights. Five votes in favor. The forecast for tomorrow suggests a delay in our departure. Environment Canada has an excellent web site if you want to learn our situation. Whatever the weather, tomorrow will be good because we have reached the stage of the trip when we can pack away our water-ditch survival gear.
Tonight the crew voted to include Edmonton on our itinerary as a group of dedicated B-25 fans based there needs a boost for a museum and B-25 restoration project. After that we hope to head south and share Grumpy with those who live in Western Washington.
Several pictures have been added to the “Photo Gallery” including a few crew favorites Nick took yesterday.
Day 3 (Flight Time: 10.9 hours)
The support we received at Goose Bay was first rate. Preparing to leave, we decided to attempt Edmonton rather than spend Monday night in Dryden. Our intermediate fuel stop, Churchill, does not pump aviation gas from a fixed location as many of the aircraft in the North have converted to turbine power (requiring jet fuel). Consequently, when we arrive Churchill we will be afforded a teambuilding opportunity in filling a Mitchell from drums. More shades of WWII.
Weather out of Goose was marginal. We carried ice for the first hour as it was impossible to dodge all the clouds. Grumpy gave up about 20 mph due to additional weight, change of wing shape and reduced engine performance; all in all, not bad. She didn’t miss a stroke. Then, as conditions improved, the ice fell off, some of it hitting our tail. No doubt anti-aircraft explosions provided similar jolts.
My English friends are impressed by the beauty and enormity of Canada, now that we can see it. They wonder why more people have not settled the North. I reminded them of certain small aviators at lower altitudes, and the average annual temperature. One pilgrim was fishing next to his de Havilland Beaver, noticed us, and called us on his radio. He properly identified us as a B-25 Mitchell. And he thought he would enjoy solitude! We then crossed the Hudson Bay in well over two hours (about 500 miles).
Landing in Churchill, we executed a fueling of eight barrels in less than an hour. This year when the weather turned warm following a wet spring, the no-see-ums, black flies and sand bugs all joined the world at once. They created the only dark clouds in the sky. So we really didn’t see much of Churchill, looking about for polar bears and whales as we overflew the grain terminal defining that settlement’s architecture. Perhaps we will explore the area again some day, before or after bug season.
Setting course for the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton, we witnessed the remarkable transition from the Hudson Bay waterways to the farms of the prairie. John Romain attempted to rationalize from the air, cabin location decisions every 50 miles or so when we saw someone’s favorite get-away. There’s a connection one feels with the planet in such a flight as this. The astronauts speak about it. Of course they ponder in relative silence while we contemplate life between what sounds like two happy jackhammers.
On entering Edmonton air space, the tower at Edmonton International Airport requested a low pass. We delivered. Then we made another low pass at City Centre Airport to be greeted by a large crowd of enthusiasts and media. Tuesday we will work with the Alberta Aviation Museum to advance its agenda. Photos as soon as the Photography Department awakens.
Day 4 (Flight Time: 0 hours)
This day was spent with the wonderful staff of the Alberta Aviation Museum. We viewed their B-25 restoration and the many excellent displays. Executive Director Tom Hinderks exudes the kind of infectious enthusiasm necessary for a vintage aviation institution to thrive. Our arrival gave a boost to the volunteer corps. The evening meal at the most wonderful Coast Hotel gave us an opportunity to present pictures and tales of our journey to a distinguished audience of Edmontonians. We also displayed the Pooley sword we have carried in honor of the lost bomber crews. The visit was featured on the CBC “National” news.
In the afternoon, a distinguished gentleman (Tony Cashman) asked if I would visit a B-25 pilot who at 89 had suffered a fracture of a back bone and was consequently hospitalized. It was a pleasure later that afternoon to meet Mr. Stout. Despite his pain, he flashed a truly brilliant smile. He had been waiting all day in his hospital bed to meet a member of Grumpy’s crew. He told stories of the three B-25s he ferried to Europe during WWII along with five other bombers, presumably B-17s but I can’t say for sure as we never got beyond talking about B-25s. Apparently planes were in such short supply that he returned home by ship after each flight, no doubt anxious about the U-boats that might get in the way. This explains why Stout ferried only eight bombers in two years. A contributing factor was the weather. He spent the entire month of January, 1945, in Goose Bay when nine feet of snow covered the first floor of his barracks. We exchanged ideas about how to fly the B-25 and he and his friend Tony (who joined me) related to one another as the best friends they are. While I’ve had more than my share of visits to hospitals, this one was truly gratifying. What a wonderful gentleman. I told him we would be taking off at 10 sharp on Wednesday morning and would dogleg over his hospital room so he could hear Grumpy. (Since the hospital is directly beneath the flight path, I knew we would deliver.) He will be in my thoughts during the flight to Abbotsford on Wednesday.
As this was a “zero flight time” day, we will share more of the pictures already taken. Nick takes about 600 pictures per day.
Day 5 (Flight Time: 3.3 hours)
We decided to fly to Abbotsford as issues linger concerning reimportation of an ex-military bomber. The weather forecast indicated morning fog in the valleys with burn-off likely. On arriving at the airport, we were again honored by aviation enthusiasts and members of the media. We departed on schedule at 10 a.m., proceeding south over Mr. Stout’s room in the general direction of Calgary. Generally avoiding air space issues around Calgary, we followed charted roads and railroad tracks into the mountains via Banff, Lake Louise, Golden, then on to Kamloops.
For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing the provincial border area (Alberta/British Columbia), it is hard to imagine a more spectacular landscape. His confidence in the pilots now at a high point, photographer Nick spent the entire flight in the nose taking wonderful pictures, occasionally sharing his enthusiasm over the intercom. Leaving nothing to chance, John Romain and Lee Proudfoot also drew small cameras from pockets in their flight suits and began clicking away. It was my job to spot mountain goats and sheep as we flew near the majestic peaks. Memories of climbing and skiing expeditions north of our flight path returned to the present tense. As you will see in the pictures, only a small area of the overfly area was covered in clouds during our late morning crossing. Expectations of turbulence in the Fraser River canyon did not deter Grumpy, and were not realized, though the combination of mountains and deep valleys around the aptly named towns of Hellsgate and Hope looked like a full recipe for bumps. We descended quickly out of Hope heading west as a ceiling of 2,000 feet was reported at Abbotsford.
On arrival, we executed our last low pass (again requested by the tower… good attitude) and landed to a welcome by the President, Air Boss and staff of the Abbotsford Air Show. Aircraft of Historic Flight Foundation routinely perform at the August show, so a reunion of friends included an outdoor lunch. Feelings of conclusion touched all of us. After lunch we off-loaded the entire aircraft and sorted those items that might be returned directly to Duxford, perhaps avoiding Customs issues. These included the satellite phone, immersion suits and other survival gear. Each of us then posed with Grumpy one last time before leaving her in the temporary care of the Abbotsford Air Show staff. The last leg to Paine Field will be flown when that airport reopens following the current closure to repair the main runway.
Greg Anders, President of Heritage Flight Museum in Bellingham and P-51 formation mate, took us to that facility for a personal tour. We continued to the Puget Sound area for a wonderful welcome with friends and supporters, and then to a Pacific Northwest seafood dinner.
As we end our flying phase, in honor of my fellow crew members, I would like to share a poem by Robert Service entitled “To the Man of the High North.”
My rhymes are rough, and often in my rhyming
I’ve drifted, silver-sailed, on seas of dream,
Hearing afar the bells of Elfland chiming,
Seeing the groves of Arcadie agleam.
I was the thrall of Beauty that rejoices
From peak snow-diademed to regal star;
Yet to mine aerie ever pierced the voices,
The pregnant voices of the Things That Are.
The Here, the Now, the vast Forlorn around us;
The gold-delirium, the ferine strife;
The lusts that lure us on, the hates that hound us;
Our red rags in the patch-work quilt of Life.
The nameless men who nameless rivers travel,
And in strange valleys greet strange deaths alone;
The grim, intrepid ones who would unravel
The mysteries that shroud the Polar Zone.
These will I sing, and if one of you linger
Over my pages in the Long, Long Night,
And on some lone line lay a calloused finger, Saying:
“It’s human-true — it hits me right;”
Then will I count this loving toil well spent;
Then will I dream awhile — content, content.