May 22

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.

John Sessions