Archive for May, 2019

May 26

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

After a bit of a rest, I suggested a day trip to Edinburgh. Hearing no objection, our crew took a cab to the Glasgow train station for a very pleasant forty-five minute ride through very green countryside, into Edinburgh Waverly. Since only two of us had spent time in Edinburgh, we hopped on a tour bus, hopping off at Edinburgh Castle. It takes hours to appreciate the architecture, engineering, and number of sagas and battles over the centuries resulting in change-of-control of this edifice. Scottish DNA must include a fighting gene, but also a poetry gene. We walked the Royal Mile and sampled “Scottish tapas” with our “flights” of single malts. Several of us shopped for loved ones. The train ride home allowed some to nap, confirming the wisdom of our decision to “stay put” in Prestwick.

May 25

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

The D-Day Squadron arranged rooms at Adamton Country Guest House, Prestwick, on an estate near the airport. How fitting. During WWII this hotel hosted American officers. The grand entrance featured a curving wooden bannister and wide stairs with a period fixture at the landing. Dinner consisted of traditional dishes. Nips and tatties accompanied various forms of protein, though it’s a stretch to characterize haggis as protein. The music system in the bar streamed big band music and rock standards from the British Invasion of the early ’60s. The staff couldn’t have been nicer, but in some conversations I found myself simply nodding when I didn’t understand a single word due to the beautiful brogue.

Saturday brought rain. It didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the visitors to the airport’s open house. We saw a steady cue to gain access to the plane from 10 a.m. until closing at 5 p.m. Conditions made us grateful we arrived the previous day. We closed the retail concession mid-afternoon when the wind kicked up. Later we changed to dry clothes and headed into town for a fine dinner. Everyone on the main street of Prestwick seemed to know what we represent.

Returning to the hotel we learned the radiator heating system had been taken off-line for the summer season. Happily a closet held a second blanket. Rumors of summer’s arrival are premature.

May 24

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

Yesterday we reached Iceland, arriving at about 5 p.m. local time. A total of six c-47/DC-3s graced the Reykjavik tarmac, five from the D-Day Squadron and one, an Iceland Air restoration project now airworthy. Parked in an area separated from airport activity, representatives of the local DC-3 society and the airport asked if we would share our aircraft with the public for a couple of hours beginning at 7 p.m. We figured a few enthusiasts might show up. Social media channels communicated the announcement. Hundreds and hundreds of people streamed through the gates at 7 with a steady influx until 9 when we decided we better close the door of N877MG so we could eat, sleep and fly; our recent routine.

The people were lovely. Most shared a story about a flight early in life, or a relative who had flown or maintained DC-3s.

Icelanders have much to be proud of. The island nation sparkles on a sunny day. We approached over snow-capped mountains on small islands laced with water of many colors from geothermal springs and geysers, glaciers, rivers and the sea. Daring architecture includes many colors, contrasting with the green of summer and white, of winter. Island nations must innovate to prosper. Icelanders pioneer many fields of medicine, agriculture and finance. My new left foot was made in Iceland. The general population reads. Conversations have depth.

Leaving Iceland, we saw breaks in the overcast with some blue sky and sun. Our flight plan took us over some of the most remote parts of the north Atlantic in an arc, checking in hourly by high frequency radio. For most of five hours we flew above a layer of clouds, revealing land only when we reached Scotland. Air traffic control brought us over the City of Glasgow for an instrument approach into nearby Prestwick, a WWII base now used primarily by Ryan Air. On landing, the crew took time to clean the plane for an airport open house the following day. We stored all of our survival gear in a Quonset hangar as we would not need it again until our trip home.

May 23

Monday, May 27th, 2019

After a cafeteria breakfast in the barracks, I negotiated a contract fuel release through World Fuel, a company kind enough to support our mission with pricing advantages and credit at remote stops. We fueled the plane upon arrival. The authorization did not arrive until after midnight. The local BP dealer would not accept an authorization without a reference to the day of fueling. My Internet odyssey, prior to the flight to Iceland, began with World Fuel US, then London, then Dubai (a chap named Moses was most helpful) where BP aviation must approve all European authorizations, finally on to Soderstrum. By the time the new authorization arrived, so had three Air Greenland deHavilland dash eights requiring all hands on deck, including the person who needed to acknowledge my authorization. Perhaps it’s inevitable, even with good planning, that some nuance in the back country will slow you down.

For the first time this trip, we filed a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) departure meaning I could explore the countryside before picking up an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) clearance limiting our freedom of flight to an approved route and altitude. I took the crew around “Sugarloaf,” a peak just east of the airport named by members of the US Air Force, over the ice cap and along transitions between glaciers and moraines. The crew got its money’s worth. Later we paid our respects to a radar station on the ice cap with a landing strip carved out of the snow and ice for US Air Force C-130s. By the time we reached the radar station, we were traveling at 12,000 feet, yet only a couple thousand feet above the radar station. It is a cap, after all, and rises to 10,000 feet in the central part of Greenland which is why during WWII, so many planes were lost in “white outs” when clouds and the rising surface tapered into nothing.

Now direct Reykjavik. The edge of the overcast below is in sight yielding an ocean. Pretty soon we will be over land again and at least for today, retire our ocean survival suits.

May 22

Monday, May 27th, 2019

Conditions and the forecast out of Goose Bay were better this morning. Not Palm Springs, but better. By the time the situation improved above minimums for Instrument Flight Rules (normally we do not take off unless we can legally fly the precision approach at the departure airport (200′ ceiling), allowing for an early problem and quick return), Greenland would be as far as we could go. The airport at Reykjavik closes at 2300 with three time zones crossed en route requiring three hours of the day. The question before us, where in Greenland?

Narssarssuaq and Soderstrum were the two candidates. Narsy had the advantage of a more direct course to Iceland. We prepurchased fuel there at a “discounted” rate. That means we paid slightly less than $10 a gallon. N877MG burns about 100 gallons a flight hour. In defense of the pricing, all aviation fuel must be barged in so the expenses of a Greenland aviation refueler are extremely high. The problem with heading for Narsy was the forecast for the following day. A low pressure system over the North Atlantic spinning out strong winds and severe turbulence in the area just east created the possibility of 40 knot crosswinds for take-off the next morning and 60 knot headwinds in flight. Three aircraft opted for this scenario betting something would change overnight. I and Sherman Smoot, captain of Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber, opted for Soderstrom, a larger airport until 1992, a US Air Force base.

Soderstrom sits above the Arctic Circle. Clear blue skies revealed a fiord to the airport. On landing we were greeted by several locals who share our affection for the DC-3. They arranged hotel rooms (former military housing) and invited us on a tour of the ice cap. Apparently Soderstrom is one of only two places in Greenland (the other being “military only”) where a bus can take you to the edge of the cap. We saw numerous arctic hares and reindeer beside the thirty-seven-kilometer road. After hiking a moraine to the edge of the cap, we cut some ice for a celebratory toast. Late twilight illuminated a warm night as we made our way back to the barracks with a keen lookout around each turn for the bashful musk ox. I slept with the window open, the sunlight merely dim, above the Arctic Circle.

All of the “Goose Bay Five” made it to their destinations by nightfall.

May 21

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

No joy. Another day in Goose Bay.

Recreating a scene out of Lend/Lease WWII, we are stuck in Goose. Icing conditions begin at 500 feet above the ground and continue to above the service ceiling of the DC-3. Ours and many of the Squadron aircraft have been restored without alcohol props, wing and tail de-ice boots, because most of us fly only day sorties at air shows or for riders. De-ice systems are difficult and expensive to maintain. After an hour of study, the crews concluded no clear corridor existed so five aircraft stood down for the day. We receive excellent daily weather briefings from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. The briefers applauded our decision. Like the Blue Spruce pilots of a bygone era, we searched for local excitement.

We shared the company of Norwegian Air engineers dispatched to Goose to repair a 787 Dreamliner with engine issues.

We took a long walk to the military museum. It was my first day with over 10,000 steps since I received my prosthesis. No issues.

And we listened to an afternoon briefing, hopeful that on Wednesday we could visit Greenland, if not Iceland. Most of us tried to catch up on email traffic.

Early taps. Over and out.

May 20

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

The last time I saw Pete Goutierre, he joined our DC-3s cockpit for the flight to San Francisco International to participate in the 75th anniversary celebration of China National Aviation Corporation. Then 99, he assumed the co-pilot seat next to me and held the controls like you would hold a loved-one. I “gave him” the airplane. His eyes widened as his left hand instinctively moved to the trim wheel. After a few moments, I asked him “how does it feel?” When I received “thumbs up” in reply, I unfastened my seatbelt and walked to the galley for a cup of coffee. Pete was once again in command of CNAC #100, N877MG.

For those of you new to the world of Pete Goutierre, in 1944 he ferried N877MG from Miami (where Douglas pilots delivered it to CNAC) to Calcutta for its first service providing supplies to our Chinese allies. As a CNAC pilot, Pete flew our DC-3 on as many as 300 flights in and among the Himalaya Mountains, first delivering military goods, then after WWII flying passenger runs to the villages of the Himalayas.

Seeing Pete, now 104 years young, brought me great joy. He joined us for a scenic flight near Oxford, Connecticut, and was a keynote speaker at our D-Day Squadron banquet. He’s lost a bit of weight and his hearing is in short supply, but the eyes still sparkle and he hasn’t forgotten how to flirt, this time with a New York Times reporter who joined us on the flight. His keynote speech mesmerized a banquet audience of pilots, families, friends, and sponsors. About two hundred and fifty people watched Pete speak without notes for thirty minutes. He expressed gratitude for the richness of his life, especially his career as a pilot, and told stories about his exploits in N877MG during the early days of CNAC. He finished to a standing ovation.

Life is not quite as exciting today. Our Squadron leadership concluded not all the planes could leave Goose Bay in one day so we divided into two groups. The weak link is the refueling operation at Narssarssuaq Airport. With about ninety minutes on the ground for each aircraft (the FBO has one truck), it is impossible for the Squadron to reach Reykjavik before the airport closes at 11 p.m. N877MG drew the Tuesday flight giving us a day to enjoy the sights of Goose Bay. Our first stop was the airport to fuel and service the aircraft for an early Tuesday departure.

May 19

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

It’s time to fill the sky with C-47s. Our goal today is Goose Bay in Labrador, Canada. Conditions were marginal on the way to Presque Isle, Maine, where the town suggested a Squadron visit for “cheap fuel and lunch.” Indeed, it will be the best fuel price we see for at least a week.

The people of Presque Isle were magnificent. They applauded, listened to stories about D-Day and the Berlin Airlift, and thoroughly enjoyed their tours of the aircraft. This former Army Air Corps base has affected virtually every local family through employment, experiences, or simply as a centerpiece for municipal pride. As the first American town reached by returning European wounded in WWII, it provided medical care and rest. Our visit attracted people with their own, rich stories of DC-3s, WWII, planes with radial engines and the history of the base, particularly during the Cold War when it hosted advanced missile defense systems.

Their appreciation was real. Two of our pilots left the airport to update a data card and perhaps acquire some thermos bottles for coffee. An enterprising member of the town council learned of their whereabouts and agenda, purchased the thermoses and filled them with coffee from a friend’s business, Dunkin Donuts, then returned the pilots to the airport in a limousine from his car collection. I love small towns.

Another example of generosity should be shared. One of our ride patrons at Oxford seemed to be especially impressed by what HFF offers and our D-Day mission. This patron gave my brother an envelope with a request that it be delivered to me once we had left the area. In addition to a nice note, the envelope contained several thousand dollars raised by a small group the evening before. I am beginning to understand the importance of our mission.

May 18

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Showtime. Opening Day. Blue skies over the Big Apple.

Having briefed and warmed-up, the D-Day formation took-off for New York City. The lead aircraft headed north, then turned east allowing two three-ship victory formations to form with other DC-3s in trail. Also with us today are two formations of T-6s, the advanced fighter trainer from WWII, still very popular for flight training and warbird flying.

New York air space is very complicated. With Oxford on the north, other airports we would see or planned to fly over included Westchester County, LaGuardia, Kennedy, Newark, and Teterboro. Details of our flight were coordinated on a regional basis with great support from the Federal Aviation Administration. We were assigned the flight designation “D-Day 44.” N877MG became “Omaha 3” with most of our flying as left wing in the second victory formation. The first victory formation featured C-47s painted in authentic WWII olive with D-Day stripes.

With the Statue of Liberty as our destination, flight planners stipulated 1100 as the time-over-target. We headed west as a formation picking up the Hudson River just south of West Point. Flying at 1,500 feet along the west bank, we soon crossed over the Verrazano and George Washington Bridges. Passing on the west side of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the T-6 formations opened their smoke generators as a special salute. Throughout the flight, an authorized photo plane danced within the formation like a water bug. Those are the shots and video I hope to find on the Internet.

Turning left over the bay with the Jersey shore on our right, we passed on the east side of Lady Liberty before turning right to follow the edge of Manhattan abeam the new World Trade Center on our way to Central Park. We next flew a dogleg over Westchester County Airport before heading north toward Oxford.

In contrast to the previous day, the debrief of our special D-Day 75 salute to New York City was a joyous affair.

May 17

Monday, May 20th, 2019

The theater world hopes for a substandard dress-rehearsal leading to a stellar opening night. The D-Day Squadron fulfilled the first half of the sequence.

Names, tail numbers are not important. We’re all in this together. The kafuffle began with a call-out for a break-up and rejoin with the lead continued its turn to 240-degrees, challenging geometry and turning toward planes trailing in the formation. “Knock it off” was called, a phrase used in formation flying to indicate abandonment of the maneuver in the interest of safety. Any member of the formation has license to call “knock it off.” Formation procedures were followed allowing disbursed aircraft to first create a trail, then return to their assigned positions in the formation. There were other points in the debrief but nothing even bordering on safety of the flight. The experience reminded all of us that executing the game plan once (yesterday) is no guaranty we will execute it as well in the future.

To punctuate our several opportunities for improvement, we encountered very strong and gusting crosswinds for our landings. One DC-3 left the runway into the safety area (no damage to the aircraft) and another went around, not liking conditions on short final approach.

Repairs of N877MG have been limited to replacement of a bolt and a magneto lead. This speaks volumes about the quality of the restoration of N877MG and the ongoing maintenance it receives.