Ferry Flight - Part 3 Greenland

Martin G. Wendeberg

In part 3 of the ferry flight journey you can follow our pilots when they do their first leg to Greenland and cross over the amazing icecap of Greenland. This is one the most challenging legs our pilots will experience and it is time for them to use the external oxygen system.

>>Read the second part of the journey: Ferry Flight - Part 2 Canada<<

The first "real" passage over the Atlantic

Part 3 of our journey takes us from Iqaluit in Canada over Davis Strait, the first “real” passage over the Atlantic, to Kangerlussuaq on Greenland, also called Søndre Strømfjord in Danish, which is one of the official languages of Greenland.

We had been stuck in Iqaluit during the Sunday since almost all airports on Greenland were closed. We were a bit frustrated by this since we had also been stuck for quite some time in other parts of Canada. When we woke up on Monday morning, the weather in Iqaluit during the planned time of our departure was a little bit worrisome, we had some snow falling and quite low clouds and we were a bit worried about icing during our departure.

Map over Greenland

We needed to depart as early as possible, so we were at the airport starting to prepare and check the aircraft before the airport even opened. This added another challenge, the airport only reports accurate weather reports when the airport is open, so we didn’t know exactly how good or bad the weather was until more or less when we needed to depart.

Departure from Iqaluit

The weather reports we got was decent enough that we decided to give it a careful go, but we were all ready to return to Iqaluit if needed and had the fastest approach available at Iqaluit loaded into our navigation system to easily be able to come back in.

Just as we were getting ready to start taxying however, an arriving aircraft gave us reports that they did not encounter icing during their arrival. This made us comfortable to try and just as reported there was no ice during our departure and climb out. Joel and I in AZA departed first today, and the departure was quite uneventful. We broke out of the clouds during climb through around 4 000 ft and from that point on we had a nice flight above the clouds towards Kangerlussuaq on our cruising altitude at around 10 000ft.

We discussed during the flight that we were almost a bit lucky that there was overcast clouds below, this way we couldn’t see the raging sea below us. We got to see the waves through small gaps from time to time, but we didn’t really get the feeling of being all alone over the sea since we couldn’t see that much of the ocean at a time. Upon reaching Kangerlussuaq the clouds had lifted, and we got a beautiful approach with sun and blue skies into a nice fjord with the airport at the end. Watch video below!

Video: Inbound Kangerlussuaq

After a short fuel stop and weather check we changed pilot flying, I got to do this beautiful departure out of Kangerlussuaq and cross over the large icecap that covers roughly 80% of Greenland, to the east coast. The challenging thing with this leg was that the icecap is very thick and reaches very high, this meant that we could not safely fly at the altitudes that we normally fly these types of aircraft but had to fly higher. Normally we’re limited to a certain altitude, around 10 000ft or 3 000m because the air is thinner at those altitudes and thinner air means less oxygen to breath. For this trip we had brought an external oxygen system that could deliver extra oxygen to us when needed and therefore allow us to climb higher than these 10 000ft.

The oxygen system

The oxygen system consists of five parts, an oxygen bottle, a regulator, two adjusting knobs for oxygen flow, one for each pilot, tubes and two candelas, also one per pilot. We got the oxygen bottles and the system delivered to the factory in the US and our contacts at Cessna was nice enough to help us fill them up with oxygen.

The tubes and candelas connect to the regulator via the adjusting knob. The adjusting knob allows us to adjust the flow of oxygen so that we get a flow suitable for the altitude that we’re intending to fly. The higher we fly the more extra oxygen we need. The tubes have an indicator connected to it that shows how much oxygen is needed for some specific altitudes. The candelas, basically the masks that we’re using is called candelas, because they have two small “candles” on a bladder connected to the tubes and those “candles” goes into our noses and provides us with the oxygen. It looks like you have a nice white mustache when you have the candela on, see the picture below of Joel and I with the oxygen in full operation.

Selfie time Joel and Martin

I found it slightly difficult with the oxygen in the beginning, since the candelas blocks the free flow of air into your nose slightly. I felt like I had a cold with blocked nose and unintentionally started breathing with my mouth instead. This of course, meant that I did not make much use of the extra oxygen supplied when that happened. I had to intentionally think about breathing through my nose despite the extra resistance. I also figured that it was important how you adjusted the candelas them selves to avoid blocking the flow too much and therefore reducing the risk of automatically switching to breathing through the mouth.

If you’re interested in a more in depth go-through of the oxygen system and its operation, see Jespers video recorded before the flight to Kangerlussuaq where he explains and demonstrates the system, see below.

Video blog: The Oxygen System

After a longer climb compared to what we were used to we reached the higher altitude that oxygen made available, AZA crew decided to settle for 17 000ft for this leg. Worth noticing here is that not only the oxygen was important for this leg, most of the Cessna 172 today have a naturally aspirating, that means without turbo, petrol engine. Without a turbo the engine struggles to produce enough power as the air gets thinner and this makes it hard to reach an altitude much higher than 11 or 12 thousand feet.

These new 172’s that we were flying are equipped with a diesel-powered engine with a turbo. This meant that the engine could continue to produce almost the same power as at sea-level and therefore had no problem at all to get us this high. From this high altitude, we got an amazing view of the massive icecap. The ice almost looked like a cloud from that altitude and it was actually hard to tell the ground and the sky apart sometimes.

View from above

When over the ice it almost felt like we were over the ocean again, all you could see in every direction was this white and wavy ice. It was extremely beautiful, but also felt a bit uneasy, if something would happen that requires us to land here, there would be many miles to anyone able to help us. The ice around here is probably as unhabituated by human as the oceans and in some of these areas I think no man have ever set foot due to the inhospitable conditions and extreme distances. You really feel small in situations like these and you kind of realize how massive the world is.

Approaching Kulusuk

After around 2,5 hours in the air we started the descent for the final destination of today’s journey, Kulusuk, a very small village on a small island on eastern Greenland. The airport had a gravel runway around 1200m long. 1200m is still much longer than what the Cessna requires, but it was shorter than what we were used to, we had also only landed on gravel one time before during this trip and both times it felt wrong to bring down these brand new beautiful planes on the dirty gravel runways with risk of chipping the propeller or causing dents on the stabilizer.

Night approach

The approach itself was very beautiful. Coming from the icecap we flew out over the coast where there were icebergs floating around, and the island around us had sharp and steep mountainsides crashing straight into the water. This was a different kind of beautiful, but it also looked like a different kind of dangerous. Kulusuk is an uncontrolled airport with what is called an AFIS, Aerodrome Flight Information Service. They give information about other aircraft, runway condition etc, but doesn’t give any clearances like we normally get from an air traffic controller.

During our approach we had information about a third aircraft also approaching Kulusuk. It was a Bombardier Dash-8, a passenger aircraft carrying up to around 35 passengers, from Air Greenland. He decided to join in for an approach after us two Cessna’s as number 3. This put a little bit of pressure on us. Our aircraft is much smaller than the Dash-8, so we needed to keep our speed up, also Kulusuk runway 11 which we used today, requires us to taxi back along the runway after landing to get to the parking.

This put a little bit of pressure on us. Our aircraft is much smaller than the Dash-8, so we needed to keep our speed up ...

So, not only did we need to get to the airport quickly, we needed to land on as little distance as possible to reduce the time we needed to taxi back. Just after AZB had taxied off the runway the Dash-8 landed. It was really cool to see an aircraft of that size land on a relatively short runway, even more so on a gravel runway. After the dash had parked, the captain came over to us, he was Norwegian and was really intrigued by hearing Norwegian registered aircraft on the radio, especially small single engine ones. I think he was a bit disappointed though that none of us where actually Norwegian.

We had a chat with the captain for a few minutes before he had to return to his aircraft and shortly after they started up their engines and taxied out for take-off again.


An unusual airport

We parked our aircraft for the night. Tied the aircraft down since the airport was a bit open to winds, refueled the aircraft so that we could be ready to go again tomorrow morning, and suddenly there was a car parked just by our aircraft, a minivan, it turned out to be our hotel shuttle. As you have probably experienced airports are normally quite a restricted space, not everyone is allowed in and to get in you most often must pass through some sort of security check.

Apparently this was not really the case with Kulusuk. There was no fence around the airport and the road up to the airport was connected to the apron, the area where the aircraft is normally parked. Our airport shuttle could basically drive straight up to were our aircraft was parked, so we could load up our heavy bags to the car directly and we didn’t have to walk through the terminal, which on the other hand wasn’t very big either.

We got to the hotel, a nice and quite small hotel with a Danish guy at the front desk, it was nice talking to someone you could understand without speaking English. We had dinner, a buffet of some meat and veggies and other stuff, understandably a bit limited due to the remote location of the hotel. All food is shipped in and from what I could understand they only have a few ships arriving every year, but still quite good. The best part in my opinion was the locally caught fish.

We went to bed that night without really knowing how the weather looked for tomorrow, due to the remoteness of the village, the only internet available was satellite based and therefore very expensive, so we couldn’t get online to get a preliminary weather report.

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