Ferry Flight - Part 1 USA

WRITTEN BY
Niclas Eriksson
PUBLISHED
21.01.2019

So, there we were. Flight level 390 over the Atlantic Ocean, on-board a British Airways 747 heading westbound. Two months of preparations, planning and waiting were over. We were finally on our way.

After a quick stop at London Heathrow we were now heading towards our next stop at Dallas International Airport. I had just finishing my second movie on the small entertainment screen when I looked out through the window, watching how the condensation trail from the outer right Rolls Royce painted our way through the sky. Far down below us laid the ocean, and I couldn’t help thinking that next time I pass over here I will be piloting a small single engine Cessna 172.

Flight from London to Dallas

Towards Dallas International Airport

Next to me sat Joel and Martin, both asleep since around an hour back. Jesper sat one row back and seemed to be enjoying the entertaining screen as well. I checked my watch, which was reset to Central US time. I thought, “six hours to landing... let’s kill two more with a third movie” and pressed play on Deadpool 2.

Why where we here?

Well, the four of us had been assigned a very special task. You see, since the opening of OSM Aviation Academy’s new base in Norway, new aircraft had been ordered by the company from the Cessna factory in Independence, Kansas. Two of these aircraft were supposed to be ready for flight in just a few days and our job was to receive them and fly them back, across the Atlantic, to Norway. A “ferry flight”, which is the aviation term for it.

As you probably can imagine, it’s not a normal flight. Flying a small aircraft with only one engine over the unfriendly environment that is the Atlantic Ocean certainly has its risks, though thanks to the highly relying aircraft that we were going to fly, our worries were elsewhere. But if theres something I learned during my pilot career, it’s that you always hope for the best but plan for the worst. Meaning that even though the aircraft are relying, we must be fully ready for an emergency landing in the wilderness of Canada, the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean or the mountainous terrain over Greenland and Iceland.

Cessna 172 LZB

The new Cessna 172, LN-AZB

The aircraft, Cessna 172, were equipped with the new improved diesel engine, bumping up the endurance to 7,5 hours which gave us some much-needed range during the trip home. They could be refueled with Jet A1 which is available on a much larger scale then the former AVGAS fuel and had the new G1000 NXI avionic system with an autopilot installed. For a single engine piston, these where some very cool aircraft and we were all extremely excited to be the ones flying them home.

Arriving in Kansas City

After three movies, snacks and dinner we finally landed in Dallas. Here we showed the border control our papers before catching the next flight to our destination in Kansas City.

We arrived in Kansas around 9 p.m, collected our gear and went to the exit. It was dark, the air outside was warm and dry reminding me of arriving for a summer vacation. We were all tired. The bags where heavy, filled with emergency equipment, dry suits and survival gear together with our personal stuff. Fortunately, the hotel taxi picked us up at the terminal and gave us a ride straight to the hotel. It was a good night´s sleep!

“Good morning sleepyheads” Joel said when we welcomed Martin and Jesper to the hotel lobby the day after, one hour after the so called “agreed” rendezvous time. We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast while discussing the American tipping culture. “Was it 10 percent...15?”. This turned out to be the toughest decision so far for a crew consisting of introvert Swedish guys.

We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast while discussing the American tipping culture. “Was it 10 percent...15?”. This turned out to be the toughest decision so far for a crew consisting of introvert Swedish guys.

After checking out from the hotel we went to rent a car. Our ride turned out to be a silver-grey Impala. Automatic gearbox, of course. We strapped in, tried to understand the navigation display, came to the conclusion that we didn’t need the navigation display and hit the road. Before we started the three-hour drive down to Independence, where the factory is located, we had to complement our supplies for the flight. Flare guns, rope, water and food were on the shopping list together with a bunch of other things. Where can you find these things in one store, you may ask? Well, in Walmart, of course! It’s probably the only store where you can find a desk lamp and an assault rifle on the same shelf. Time and space just disappeared in there, but rest assure, we got what be needed. Food for thought: if you need anything, name anything, the first place to look is Walmart.

"Applebee’s for lunch and Taco Bell for dinner. We were living the American dream."

Resupplied and fed up we began the drive to Independence. My thoughts on driving in the states it’s that there´s not much difference from home. But if you like turns there might be a better place for you. The road structure is built in a grid system, so if you want to travel south, you just keep that heading. Oh, and apparently you are allowed to turn right on a red light at certain traffic lights in certain states. That one we learned after a loud traffic horn from the guy behind us. Otherwise, the most interesting thing is the environment. Flat terrain provides at an almost endless horizon, white water towers pups up from the small villages, the mix of colors from the red sunset and the grey stratus clouds. And if you were to get a dollar for every pick-up truck you saw, you could buy your own after a few miles.

Roadtrip to Independence USA

Road trip to Independence, Kansas

The night had set when we arrived in Independence so all we did was to check in to the hotel, unpacked what we needed and went to bed. Tomorrow we were going to the factory.

Going to the Cessna factory

The alarm from my iPhone was slowly increasing in volume as I woke up for the third day since we left Sweden. I had to think for a second or two where I were. “Oh right, Independence”. I pulled up the curtain and looked out over the little part of the town that I could see. The most buildings where low in height. Only the towns white water tower and large antenna reached above the treetops.

Today we were going to the Cessna factory to meet up with our customer agent and hopefully receive one of the airplanes. I put on a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of training shorts and went down for breakfast. Since we were very limited in weight for our return flight we couldn’t pack a lot of personal clothing. So a pair jeans or a nice shirt was down-prioritized for more comfortable and warmer clothing to wear in the sub-arctic climate in Greenland. I know, the sacrifices we had to make, right. Anyway, Joel was already enjoying a bagel and some yogurt when I got down to the breakfast area. I joined Martin in the food line and Jesper joined up shortly behind. The on-time performance on the crew were outstanding. We were all excited to go to the factory.

Cessna Factory Independence

The Cessna factory in Independence, Kansas

Just after ten minutes car ride we could see the factory facilities at a distance. A cluster of white hangars with an airfield on its western side floated in the green fields that surrounded the complex. We parked the car, enjoyed the view for a couple of seconds and then went in. The entrance had a big sign over it with the name “Cessna” together with the companies blue and red lines above, forming the outlines of an aircraft in between.

The lady at the front desk welcomed us and showed us to our room. The desk in the room was prepared with peanuts, beverages and candy and on the wall hanged pictures with different Cessna aircraft. Through a window you could see straight into the delivery hangar. A couple of Caravans with different paintjobs stood ready on the right side and on the opposite wall hanged a big American flag. We all stood with our noses pressed against that window, looking for our Cessna.

“Good morning” said a firm voice with a clear Southern American accent. Leland stepped into the room, shook our hands and welcomed us to the states. Jesper had have some e-mail conversation with Leland before but this was the first time we got to meet our delivery agent in person. Leland also had brought with him Jake, a younger man from Texas to help us with all the details and questions about the delivery. In the middle of the small talk between us Leland asked us to check outside the window again. The hangar door where open and through it rolled a Cessna 172 in. The big Norwegian registration letters, LN-AZA, on the side of the fuselage quickly reviled that this where our bird.

The hangar door was open and through it rolled a Cessna 172 in. The big Norwegian registration letters, LN-AZA, on the side of the fuselage quickly reviled that this where our bird. 

As we walked out of the hangar the red carpet had been rolled out in-front of the aircraft and a photographer was setting up his cameras and lights. “This is the big moment”, Jake said as we were walking towards the aircraft. “Time for one of you to receive the keys to your aircraft and of course we are ready to save the moment” Jake continued, pointing towards the camera. The honor was mine. Me and Jake lined up on the red carpet in-front of the aircraft. He pulled up the keys from his pocket, shook my right hand while giving me the keys with his left while we both smiled into the camera. A big moment for both OSM Aviation Academy and myself. Unfortunately, the only thing running through my head was that I probably should have brought a nice shirt and that I most definitely shouldn’t have picked my training shorts on this day…

Keys for the Cessna 172

Receiving the keys to LN-AZA

After the photos had been taken we got a chance to check out the aircraft. The “new car smell” was amazing when you opened the cockpit door. The first thing that caught my attention was the leather seats. How fresh they looked, how good they felt and how flawless the movement of them were. My pilot sense was tingling like never before. I couldn’t wait to fly it!

For Martin, that wish was soon to be granted. Next up was the acceptance flight which is a shorter flight with one of Cessna’s test pilots to make sure that everything was running smoothly. Martin and Joel were the lucky men to do it while me and Jesper took a look at the paper work.

The other aircraft, LN-AZB, had been slightly delayed so we had to wait until the next day before receiving it. Instead, the afternoon was spent with a factory tour around the facilities. We were all amazed to see the assembling line and all the people involved in the making of the aircraft. Besides the Cessna 172 and Cessna Caravan the factory also produces the Cessna Citation jet. Seeing how the green parts were put together piece by piece was a fantastic experience and I of course had to buy a Cessna coffee mug at the gift shop. Jesper took it one step further and bought a Cessna clock.

Test flights and paper work

Next day was devoted to paper work. I’m not going to bore you with the details here but converting an American aircraft to a Norwegian one is much more demanding than just switching the letters under the wings and on the fuselage.

The highlight of the day was when LN-AZB rolled into the delivery hangar and placed side by side with the first aircraft, Zulu Alfa (ZA). The two aircraft had arrived. The acceptance flight for Zulu Bravo was to be flown by me. Finally, it was my turn to fly.

As we lined up on the runway I slowly pushed the throttle to full power, hearing the new diesel engine give its best. We accelerated and when the speed looked good, I slowly took the yoke backwards. The wheels lifted of the ground and we climbed out over Kansas flat terrain. The aircraft performed beautifully. The two large LCD displays providing me flight, system and navigation information were fast and responsive. The controls where smooth and the auto pilot worked like a charm. “There are worse ways to cross the Atlantic” went through my mind as we returned for landing.

Cessna 172 cockpit

The cockpit in the Cessna 172

The aircraft was in place but not the paper work. After a drive down to Tulsa in Oklahoma on Friday to visit the Norwegian consulate, all we had to wait for was the permission to fly from the Norwegian CAA. This was to arrive early Monday which gave us the weekend to prepare for the flight home. We drove back to the factory to load the extra emergency equipment, oxygen bottles and dry suits in the aircraft. The last thing we did before the trip was to put on our dry suits, placing ourselves in-front of one of the aircraft and taking one of the most awesome pictures of the whole trip. On Monday, we were going to head north!

Preparing for take off

The planned route was made of ten stops to refuel and rest. First, we had to go north towards Sault St Marie in Canada via Des Moines in Iowa, then continue up through Canada towards the Baffin Island stopping in La Grande Riviére, Kuujjuac and Iqaluit before jumping across the ocean towards Greenland. Due to the high ice mass over Greenland we needed some extra altitude, hence the oxygen equipment to maintain consciousness at higher levels where the oxygen pressure is lower. On Greenland we planned two stops. One on the west coast at a place called Kangerlussuaq and one on the east coast in Kulusuk. And no, I’m not making these names up… From Greenland we had to fly towards Iceland where we had range to reach the Vagar on the Faroe Island and from Vagar we could reach Norway.

Simple, right? Well, you must also consider the strong winds, icing, weather fronts, lack of maintenance, gravel runways etc. It was going to be a challenge, we knew that. But that was part of the experience. Part of the fun. We were ready.

Monday morning arrived. Everything was packed tight and strapped in. The aircraft were fueled, and the paperwork was complete. Only one thing wasn’t with us. The weather. During the morning a large area of inland thunderstorms had moved in over Iowa, making it very difficult to fly a 172, if you want to deliver it in one piece. Fortunately for us the thunderstorms moved away far enough during the morning for us to make an attempt. Martin and Joel jumped into AZA while me and Jesper took AZB. I handled the flying on this flight while Jesper took care of the communication with the controllers. As we lined up on the runway I couldn’t help myself thinking “here we go”, “I’m going to take this aircraft, fly it over the Atlantic, fly it over places I could never believe myself visiting”. Yes, I was a bit sentimental, sue me. This was big! Shortly after take-off we entered the cloud layer. Passing pockets in the cloud layer revealed Independence below.

We had spent five days there, so it was nice to say one last goodbye before the cloud layer got thicker end everything around us turned grey. On the radio Joel reported that they had broken through the cloud layer and had clear skies. On our navigation screen the traffic advisory showed them ahead of us, 2300ft further up. A couple minutes later it was our turn. No matter how many time you've done it, it’s always a special feeling. The grey and milky outside first starts to get whiter and whiter, the sun ray starts to peek through and all the sudden white color turns blue as you break through the cloud tops. Nothing but fresh blue sky above and white fluffy clouds below.

Lined up for departure

Lining up for the first leg of the trip

The first leg to Des Moines International Airport

The route to Iowa was calm. The autopilot kept a northerly track and Jesper had set up the AUX cable, so that we could listen to Spotify. The weather link on the navigation display showed that the convective thunderstorms had moved away from our route but that the visibility at our destination was a bit low. Closing in to Des Moines the visibility had gone down even further due to fog around the airport. We started our preparations for the instrument approach when we heard that Joel and Martin began their final approach. After they had landed they reported that they could see the approach lights right at the minimum altitude. After a couple of laps in the holding to wait for better visibility it was Jesper and my turn to start the approach. The visibility was a bit better but far from optimum. We started the approach and descended into the clouds again.

 Video: Approach at Des Moines International Airport

My eyes were focusing on the instrument, making sure that we were following the glide slope and localized. Jesper focused his eyes outside the aircraft, looking for the strong approach lights from the extended runway to burst through the clouds. 300 feet to minimum, 200 feet to minimum. Both myself and Jesper were quiet, fully focused on our respective task. My right hand was resting on the throttle, ready to give full power and climb up again if we didn’t see the lights. 100 feet to minimum. “Contact”, said Jesper just as he saw a white flashing light coming up in-front of us. I looked up to confirm. More and more lights got visible and at last the green light bar showed us the threshold. I slowed down the aircraft and touched down on runway 5. “LN-AZB, Taxi via Romeo 3 and Romeo to the FBO”. Jesper responded the towers taxi clearance on the radio and we followed the signs until we saw AZA parked at the apron. We parked next to it, shut down and told the refueling personnel to fill up the tanks.

The first leg of the trip had been made and to celebrate we had a nice meal at the hotel restaurant before we started to plan for the next flight. Tomorrow, we were flying to Canada!

Niclas and Jesper in the Cessna

Selfie time: Niclas and Jesper

>>Read the next post now where we follow the pilots on their journey to Canada!<< 

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