Archive for July, 2019

Crossing America

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Arriving Friday in Bangor we were greeted by friends who had tracked our trip and insisted we accompany them to a lobster dinner. The next day we flew over the Adirondack Mountains, avoiding Boston and New York air spaces. We filed a flight plan for Columbus, Ohio, to once again visit the home of DC-3 pilot Bill Mnich. These cross-country journeys have spontaneous aspects, weather permitting. We were treated to a family BBQ at the home of Bill’s brother, Matt, who had joined us in June for the Normandy segment.

Sunday (the 21st) was decision day for Oshkosh. We hoped to make an appearance with the D-Day Squadron before passenger and pilot commitments prompted continuation of our westbound journey. Mother Nature interceded. The Saturday conditions included wind gusting to 60 MPH and hail. Pity the tent campers. By Sunday the organizers had closed all grass parking due to soggy conditions and allowed hard surface parking only for aircraft with reservations. Small aircraft arrivals were suspended so many crews clustered at airports within a couple hundred miles. While the forecast is good for the coming week of Oshkosh, it has suffered a rugged beginning. For many aviation enthusiasts, this pilgrimage is a highlight of the season. But we decided not to enter such an unsettled realm.

Did I mention there are sometimes surprises on these journeys? Our FBO at Columbus ran out of 100LL after pumping 205 gallons into DC-3 N877MG. It holds 1,200 gallons. And Greenland had fuel to spare! Go figure. We stopped in Cedar Rapids due to our range limitation. Dodging storms, we next flew to Rapid City, home of Ellsworth Air Base and a B-1 squadron with ties to the Doolittle Raiders. After so much recent practice, the stiff prairie crosswind did not alter our good mood.

Later today we will circle Mt. Rushmore before heading to Spokane Felts Field for a tour of the HFF hangar project. Tomorrow we will visit Pasco to inspect our B-25. A serious engine problem last Friday forced a landing there. We should reach Paine Field by 2 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday afternoon.

It will take some time for this trip to spool down. Each day held rich events. In polling the crew over the weekend, each of us recalled a different best experience. The pilots performed well and acted as a team. The other crews bonded with us and we with them. The people who flew with us were exceptional. The memories will become like favorite books on a shelf. Every so often I will pull one down, dust it off and read a chapter.

Thanks to many supporters, followers, maintainers, visitors and friends. Let’s change the oil, fix the leaks, wash off the bugs, and plan our next adventure.

Crossing the Atlantic

Friday, July 19th, 2019

Three weather gods decide the fate of any vintage, unpressurized aircraft making an Atlantic crossing. One resides in and around Iceland, another Greenland, and a third in Labrador, around Goose Bay. On the 17th, we enjoyed a good relationship with two of three with the unsuitable destination being Greenland. So we toured Iceland for a day. As is often the case in outback flying, our patience was rewarded. Yesterday, Greenland delivered blue sky as we flew a fiord between mountains above icebergs on our way to Narsarsuaq. Later in the day it was necessary to fly an instrument approach into Goose Bay, but visibility was good once we dropped below the last layer of clouds. Yesterday, we flew approximately 1,500 miles. We will lighten up a bit today and don’t have a plan at this writing. The “breakfast summit” convenes in an hour.

I expect the word “Oshkosh” will enter the conversation.

July 16

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

Our Prestwick hotel remains trapped in WWII Scotland under rationing. A nuanced expression of Scottish frugality, the hot water tap is so tightly screwed that one must commit both hands to liberate warmth. You had better travel with a bar of soap and shampoo. But it’s not the five-star hotels I remember. It’s these wonderful places. Breakfast choices included various parts of a pig, baked beans, stewed tomatoes and of course, porridge.

The weather challenge today may be icing. Satellite images suggest scattered clouds for most of the trip with a bit of rain and mist in Reykjavik. We like the summer temperatures. With 55-59 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface of the sea, we expect above-freezing temperatures at our cruising altitude. Having achieved consensus among the pilots that the risk of icing is manageable, we head for the airport.

Fuel in Prestwick is bloody expensive. The chap assigned to clear our account had the most fascinating, and unintelligible, brogue of any airport staff. He could star in a sequel to the famous SNL Scottish ATC skit still available on YouTube. The comedy began when I asked to pay over four thousand pounds in cash derived from air show retail sales, mostly t-shirts. The denominations were twenties, tens and fives. He admitted to never having seen so much cash before. It builds confidence when your air traffic controller makes an admission suggesting he never dealt drugs. Twice he broke away from counting the stacks of bills to land a C-17, then a P-8.

We have now flown over Scotland on our way to Iceland. The crew has donned “Gumby” survival suits. Happy Halloween from a plane-full of big pumpkins.

The vast expanse of the North Atlantic shares its haunting beauty through gaps in the clouds. Significant intervals separate call-in points with no assurance of a response. We layer to keep warm, though 28 degrees in the cockpit exceeds by ten the temperature endured in the American crossing back in May. A cloud-deck below creates a plateau from which the towering cumulus form what appear to be snow-capped mountains. We yawn, not because we are tired, but because at 10,000 feet the air thins. Excuse me as we descend into Reykjavik.

July 15

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

After bidding farewell to old and new friends at the Flying Legends Air Show, today we briefed a new passenger complement and headed for Prestwick, Scotland. I must have been tired after the air show ended. While (or to use local parlance, whilst) yet in my flight suit at 9 pm, upon return to the lobby bar at the hotel, I spotted friends who invited a conversation. Excusing myself momentarily to change clothes, I sat down in our hotel room to collect my thoughts. At 1 a.m. I woke up, still in my flight suit. One expends quite a bit of energy at an air show.

We are now in the full-time business of down-line logistics. Coming over, the excellent staff of the D-Day Squadron took care of the details. We’re now solo. Prestwick and Reykjavik were easily sorted, but we wonder about Narssarssuaq, Greenland. Predecessors en route reported various dramas with the fuel truck. Since we have the range to theoretically fly non-stop to Goose Bay from Reykjavik, assuming favorable or at least neutral winds, we certainly would avoid landing without some assurance of fuel.

Last December, the D-Day Squadron imposed a deadline (and a litmus test for participation) for a wire transfer of approximately $8,000 for 700 gallons of 100 low lead aviation fuel at Narssarssuaq. “100LL” has become a boutique fuel in the north, having been replaced by Jet A. This bulk purchase allowed the Squadron to enjoy some savings. Yes, the cost could have been higher. The fueler hired a small ship to transport the inventory for fifteen DC-3s. We wondered whether anyone remembered inclusion of N877MG in the purchase. This now has been confirmed though we are not yet certain of the condition of the fuel truck. I have fueled big twins from 55-gallon drums. It’s a job. We will do it if we need to. The full-on puzzle requires we not fuel to the maximum in Reykjavik to preserve room for 700 gallons in Narsy since the trip to get there requires less than 700 gallons unless we skip it altogether to fly non-stop Goose Bay, in which case we want fuel dripping from the caps and vents.

And we have a tail wind heading west! Go figure! The source is the center of a low-pressure system heading northeast spinning counter-clockwise winds around it. This may be the dominant weather factor all the way to Narssarssuaq.

The crew is good. They now know more than necessary about immersion suits and rafts.

It brings me pleasure to spell the names of these places. The trick is to convince the spell checker to leave them alone!