Part 4 of the ferry flight journey takes our pilots to Iceland where they are met by new challenges and beautiful flights through Iceland. Again, the pilots are forced to re-plan the routes due to weather, which will get them on one of the longest leg across the Atlantic.
Pre-flight planning in Kulusuk
We woke up this morning feeling a little different from previous mornings, this morning we, as I wrote about in the last blog post, didn’t have any internet connection. No big deal, right? Well, we were quite reliant on internet connection to be able to check a lot of things, most importantly the weather, can we fly today or not, but also other information like opening hours of airports, contacts for fuel and other operative stuff like that.
This time, we were not able to get this information as easily. Instead I started very basic, roll up the window blinds and check the weather visually. The first thing that struck me was that there were icebergs floating outside the window, ICEBERGS?! How cool is that? This trip really has been bringing experiences that we’ve never experienced before. It might not have been the biggest icebergs, in fact they were probably very small “icebergs” maybe more like “icerocks” but still!
As you can tell by the picture above, the visibility wasn’t great, the mountain ridge on the opposite side of the water was barely visible, but we didn’t let that take us down. We wanted more reliable sources of weather information before deciding. Luckily, we visit the AFIS guy yesterday when we parked our aircraft, a very friendly Danish guy that told us that he was more than happy to help us with weather checks, planning and other stuff needed before our next flight. So, we headed directly to the airport after breakfast for a visit to the tower.
When we got there, he had already started to look for a good route for us and provided us with some basic weather overview. We were a bit surprised by this amazing service and really appreciated the help. He also gave us a phone and a number to the Greenlandic metrological office. Jesper gave them a call and to our surprise he got to speak to a swede, a girl from Skåne that apparently had moved to Greenland. It was nice to get to hear some Swedish from someone else than the four of us after a few weeks away.
She warned us about a front that crossed our path and advised us to take a more northerly route to avoid that. Said and done, we replanned for a route flying a bit more north and thanks to all the help from the AFIS guy we got that sorted fairly quickly.
Departure from Kulusuk
Due to the interesting terrain around Kulusuk, with mountaintops reaching as high as 2500ft, we decided to depart below the clouds with visual references to the ground until we reached open sea, which was really just around the corner of the island. It was a beautiful departure out over the water with the high mountaintops on both side of our aircraft. We reached open sea without any problems and then climbed up through the clouds to reach our cruising altitude.
We were happy with the functionality of the oxygen system on yesterday’s flight, which you can read about in my previous blog post, and decided to make use of that today as well by climbing up to 18000ft for the cruise. This gives us a better overview and more importantly a bigger chance of flying over most of the weather. To add to the benefit we also would have more time in the air in case the engine would stop, or we would stumble upon any other problems. More time in the air means more time for the rescue team to get to our position.
The front had reached a bit further north than we expected with some cumulative, cumulonimbus clouds, or thunderstorm clouds that we had to navigate around which posed a bit more challenging that we expected. But with some navigating, one of our aircraft actually had to turn back for a short while to find another route between the clouds, we managed to get through the front and was approaching Iceland.
We had to continue navigate our way around the worst clouds all the way to Iceland, but after around 3,5 hours in the air we reached Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland on Iceland’s west coast. This turned out to be only one of a few stops on Iceland despite the relatively small size of the island. Our original plan was to fly from Reykjavik to Vagar on the Faroe Islands, almost half way from Iceland to Norway, but the more we looked into the conditions at Vagar we realized it was probably not a realistic plan.
Fun fact about Reykjavik airport:
Runways are named after what direction they are pointing, a runway pointing in the direction of 180 degrees is named 18, a runway pointing 220 degrees being 22 etc. Since a runway can be used in both directions it will always come as a pair, for runway 18 that will be 36, landing the same runway in the other direction will mean that you are flying 360 degrees, for runway 22 that same procedure would give runway 04, runways are therefore often referred to as for example runway 18/36 or 04/22.
On ICAO´s (International Civil Aviation Organization) recommendation, Swedish authorities among others have decided to not use some combinations due to them being too easily mixed up, for example runway 02/20 and 13/31. On Iceland however there is a runway 13/31 so it was a bit special for us to land on the runway 13 as seen in the movie above.
The Faroe Islands often have very harsh weather this time of the year, and there were specific instructions published for Vagar about being very careful in different weather situations, due to the mountains around the airport creating dangerous rotations of the air. We instead started to look for other options. Problem is that in that area of the Atlantic, there isn’t much else than the Faroe Islands.
The next landmass would be the Shetland Island north of Scotland, but it is a much longer flight and it seemed impossible from Reykjavik. Luckily the winds seemed to be turning from the eastern winds we had have during the last few days, giving us headwinds east of Iceland to more westerly winds, instead of giving us a tailwind and increasing our range. The distance was still too big from Reykjavik, but if we could relocate to another airport on the more eastern parts of Iceland, it seemed possible. We spent the night in Reykjavik and the day after we planned for a relocation eastbound.
Replanning the route
Unfortunately, Joel, my crew member that I had been flying with all the way from Independence had to leave us and return home for his regular job as an air traffic controller in Västerås. So, now I was alone in my aircraft.
After some planning we decided to take a flight along the south coast of Iceland to an airport called Hornafjörður next to the small village of Höfn. This positioned us as far southeast as we could possibly get on Iceland and as close as possible to the Shetland Islands. The flight there was really beautiful and Iceland has this really cool nature. The beaches are relatively flat and at least on the south coast there are plenty of agriculture, fields etc., but just a few kilometers inland the mountain starts to rise and there is very sharp peaks and steep cliff edges, the contrasts are immense.
The airport of Hornafjörður is a beautifully located airport on the flat lands close to the sea, but just north of the airport the mountains shot up. Luckily, we had really nice weather during most of the flight and could do the approach into the airport visually, and therefore avoid the procedures otherwise used to avoid the mountains. After parking our aircraft, I walked into the terminal to try to sort out the fuel that we had arranged for via phone in advance. I was greeted by a friendly man who introduced himself as the AFIS guy, he informed me that the guy who handled the fuel was on his way but also had some bad news.
It turned out that Hornafjörður wasn’t an international airport and to leave from here towards another country required extra permissions given by the Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA) of Iceland. This was a bit of a kink in our planning, since the main plan was to go from Reykjavik, one of Iceland’s largest airports we hadn’t really looked into the restrictions other airports might have. We started looking into how to get this permission, sent emails with the forms to the responsible person at the CAA but realized quite quickly that that was going to take too long. We needed to relocate again. It was getting kind of late and we had planned to stay in Höfn, so we decided to stay here for the night and look at a new plan of action for tomorrow.
Hornafjörður - Egilstaðir
The AFIS guy was one of the friendliest we had met during this trip. After we had fueled both aircraft, he drove us into town, gave us a tour of the village and it’s history, showed us some good restaurants that he recommended and even arranged a hotel for us and gave us possibilities to rent a car quite cheaply.
Unfortunately, the weather for the day after didn’t look very good and we still didn’t really know if we could go over the Atlantic from here or if we had to relocate. So, we had to do some research. After having looked through our options and discussed a bit more about the permission required to go from here, we decided to fly a bit northbound to a town called Egilstaðir on Iceland’s east coast. This positioned us a little bit longer from the Shetland Islands, but it was an international airport, meaning we were allowed to depart over the Atlantic from there without extra permissions, and it also provided slightly better opening hours giving us greater flexibility.
The day after the rain was pouring down, the visibility was bad and the cloud base low. Considering the high mountains around us and the ones we had to fly over to get to Egilstaðir, we decided to stay put for the day and instead experience some parts of Höfn. Höfn is a small fishing village that is not only fishing fish, but also lobster, this meant that lobster dishes were more common than elsewhere and also a lot cheaper. We tried both the lobster pizza, lobster salad and more common gratinated lobster, it all tasted delicious. If you’re a fan of lobster I can really recommend visiting Höfn.
The next day the weather had cleared, and we had a beautiful and quite uneventful flight up to Egilstaðir. The weather was really good and we got a great opportunity to really see the nature around us in all its glory. Iceland really is a beautiful place with amazing nature almost everywhere. We got to Egilstaðir and followed our regular procedure, refueled the aircraft to be ready for the next flight, parked and tied them down. The hotel we had scouted out laid quite close to the airport, so we decided to take a walk there. We checked in to a very nice little hotel next to a farm and got to work planning for the next day’s flying.
Heading towards the Shetland Islands
The flight to Shetland Islands, more exactly Sumburgh, seemed to become the longest leg that we had flown so far. This meant that we were getting close to our limit, regarding fuel. We really needed winds in our favor and pretty good weather to be able to fly this leg, especially close to the destination.
We always plan for the flight to the destination and calculates how much fuel is needed for that part. But we also always plan for a flight from the destination to another airport, an alternate, to ensure that we have fuel to fly somewhere else if the weather on the destination is bad or for example the runway is closed for some reason. This time, we had to use an alternate relatively close to our destination. We didn’t have fuel to fly for that much more than the destination despite our new fuel-efficient diesel engines, this of course means that the weather must be relatively good. If the weather is bad at the destination, it most probably is bad in the direct area around the destination as well.
planning for an Early departure to Sumburgh
The morning after we got up at around 07 local time, the airport was not going to open until 09, but we needed to be there as soon as they did. The flight with the current winds seemed to take around 5 hours, Sumburgh closed at 16 local time since it was a Saturday and Great Britain is one hour ahead of Iceland. So, if we managed to take off at 09:30, we would be able to reach Sumburgh at 15:30 local time. We basically had a one hour window from when the airport at Egilstaðir opened until we needed to be in the air on our way to Sumburgh.
We managed to get the aircraft packed and engines started in time, both aircraft taxied out to the runway and the other aircraft took off. Egilstaðir is, like many of the other airports I’ve talk about earlier, uncontrolled with an information service. This meant that since no one controlled the air around the airport, we were not allowed to take off too close to each other. I taxied out into position on the runway and awaited an okay to take off, when the distance was big enough between us.
Picking up icing
The wind from the west forced air up over the mountains to the east of the valley. Often when air is caused to rise over a ridge like that special clouds tend to form, also today. Unfortunately LN-AZB, the preceding aircraft with Jesper and Niclas on board, decided to fly through one of these to get onto our planned track, but the cloud turned out to be much bigger than we all thought and when the temperature dropped while they were climbing, they started to pick up some ice. This was not good. As you know we were already limited in our fuel reserves, to fly such a long flight with ice on the aircraft would mean that we would use even more fuel due to increased drag. Also, the Cessna 172 is not designed for flight with ice either so to be safe, the crew of LN-AZB decided to turn back to Egilstaðir.
We got back and refueled the aircraft again, the refueling guy noted with a bit of a grumpiness in his voice that the fuel truck used more fuel to drive from the tank to our aircraft and back then what we filled. I think it was 12 liters or something like that, but as you know, we needed all the fuel we could get to be able to make it to Sumburgh.
but as you know, we needed all the fuel we could get to be able to make it to Sumburgh.
Delaying the departure to Sumburgh
Now the window we had to get to Sumburgh had passed, we could not take off now and make it to Sumburgh before they closed. But the time was only around 11 local time and we were all a bit disappointed of how this turned out. At first we decided to go back to the hotel and try to work with some other duties from back home. But the thing was that the weather really started to clear up, the sun was shining and the nature around us seemed so beautiful when we flew in here. I decided that I wanted to rent a car and drive around to see some parts of Iceland. The other guys were a bit against the idea at first, they felt like they had let the project down a bit I think, but after some persuasion I managed to get them to follow for some lunch in one of the fjords to the east.
That drive turned out to be one of the best drives I have ever done, the views were just amazing. We drove through the town and along these serpentine roads up one of the mountain sides. The first stop was at a parking space along the road where we could look back down at the side and look at the amazing views of the valley.
We then continued over the top an found a beautiful little waterfall of in the distance. There were a little dirt road leading towards it, so we decided to follow that and explore. We had to walk carefully over some soft ground and jump over a small stream to be able to get there, but it was so worth it, the little waterfall was beautiful and to get to do something else than just planning flights, eat, sleep and fly that we had been doing for the past weeks really was refreshing for the whole team.