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Ferry Flight across the Atlantic (1999)

Map of our flight across the North-Atlantic, from Zürich (Switzerland) to Spruce Creek (Florida)

Our Mission

The Mooney 20L, HB-DHO

In summer of 1999 Andi Kees and I got the chance to ferry a Mooney 20L aircraft from Switzerland over the Atlantic to the US. The owner of the plane wanted to travel around North- and Southamerica with his own plane, but didn't want to ferry it over the Atlantic by himself. What a great opportunity for us!

The Mooney 20L is a single engine 4 seat aircraft similar to the well known Piper airplanes, but faster and with a modern Porsche engine.

The Atlantic is too wide in order to be crossed in one leg by such a small plane, so many fuel stops are needed. There are two routes possible: the northern route via Island and Greenland to Canada or the southern route via Dakar, Capo Verde Islands, S. Pedro Islands to Brasil and all the way up through the Caribbean See to Florida. The southern route is longer but open the whole year around. The northern route is shorter but only doable during summer time. But since we wanted to go during summer time anyways, we decided on the northern route.

Preparations

Such a flight has to be prepared carefully as it can become dangerous quickly. The Mooney has a range of about 8 hours or 1500 km. Imagine a flight 5 hours over the bitterly cold water just to find out, that the only airport is closed due to bad weather or an accident on the runway! There wouldn't be enough fuel to return to the departing point! Therefore it's important to always have several alternatives. Good knowledge of the airplane, particularly its fuel consumption, the weather situation and winds and the airports in the vicinity is required for good planing. So we started reading about arctic flight procedures, did range calculations and started collecting the necessary equipment.

Navigation

The primary navigation was done by GPS. In case of a GPS blackout we had to rely on dead reckoning ("time - heading") over the sea. In in vicinity of airports and over land usually there's radio navigation aids (VOR/DME and ADF) available.

Communication

In inhabited areas and in costal regions VHF radio is avaliable from many different stations, but the range of VHF is limited. On our planned route several VHF black spots existed. An emergency over arctic waters without radio contact could be rather unsettling. Therefore we installed a HF radio with extended range. In addition to that we kept VHF contact with airliners above us, just in case.

For some of the electronic stuff we needed help. Me preparing the antenna which was soon to span from the freight door to the stabilizer and from there to the left wing tip.

Emergency

In case of an emergency over water we were equipped with neoprene drysuits. Over icy waters we wore these suits up to our waist so we wouldn't loose too much valuable time putting them on. In addition to that we carried an inflatable live raft, a hand held VHF Radio and a hand held ELT (Emergency Location Transmitter). This equipment should have kept us afloat for several hours until help would have arrived.

16.7.1999: Southend (England) and Wick (Scottland), 8h 28min, 1873km

On Friday the 17 of July 1999 the journey began. Our first leg was from Zürich Airport to Southend, England. It was great to see the White Cliffs appearing while crossing the English Channel. We arrived in Southend around lunch time.

The second leg took us to Wick on the northern tip of Scottland. It is a beautiful area an people are very friendly. The weather en route to our next stop, Vagar, was bad, so we had to stay for an additional day. We took the opportunity, rented a car and drove around the area looking at the stunningly beautiful landscape.

Our drive took us to many beautiful places. Me looking down the cliffs. Andy hasn't done enough flying yet, he wants to go on. The cows like it here too!

18.7.1999: Vagar (Faroes) and Isafjördour (Iceland), 6h 51min, 1520km

Two days later the weather permitted us to go on to Vagar on the Faroes Islands. There wasn't much to be seen of the islands because the weather still wasn't good. We took some fuel and went on to Iceland. After departure however we had an impressive view at the cliffs.

We could have flown from Scottland to Island directly, but since the weather in the area still wasn't very good we did the stop in Vagar for savety. But now we were full of fuel and so we were able to cross the whole island of Iceland which brought us to Isafjördour on the very north-western tip, close to Greenland. We didn't see much of Iceland because we mostly flew above the clouds, what a pitty.

Isafjördour is quite a special place. The airfield is located at the border of a narrow fjord with steep slopes on both sides. During the approach you fly into that fjord, turn around 180 degrees at the end and right after the turn you have to land on the tarry gravel runway, just meters away from the sea. There isn't much of a final approach. And still there are daily commercial flights with 30 seat turboprop planes!

The village itself is very small, but nice and quiet. It was the time of the big summer break and so we found a room in a residential school, since most rooms where empty at that time. There is a single road into the village and a short circular path around the block. During our dinner in one of the few restaurants we saw the local teenagers in their tuned cars with open windows and loud music crusing around that single circular path over and over again. Funny sight :-)

The cliffs leaving Vagar. Andi having a banana. Approaching Isafjördour. Me unloading the plane.

19.7.1999: Kulusuk (Greenland), 2h 54min, 648km

Our next stop was Kulusuk in Greenland. Weather still wasn't very good and it was hazy when we reached the coast. But we saw our first big icebergs! We were very excited.

First sight of Greenland. Our plane beeing refueled. The Inuit vilage. The harbor bay.

The eastern part of Greenland is almost deserted. Kulusuk itself is an Inuit village, picturesque from afar and shabby and dirty at a closer look. It's hard to interact with the Inuit, we figured they want to be left alone. They fish and hunt, but they also get subsidies from the danish government. The Inuit hunt seals for their huskies and keep them fresh in the icy water at the piers. Very practical, but it's a view that needs some getting used to.

A little outside there is a gravel runway, hard to find from above, some large fuel tanks and a small hotel for all the foreigners. That's where we stood for the night.

Me, looking at the Inuit village, racks for drying fish at the shore, the front yard of an inuit house and the back yard ...

After a lengthy walk we returned to the hotel and had a funny evening with very strange people from all over the world. (Or who else ends up in a place like this? ;-)

Some more impressions from Kulusuk: A little boy watching these strangers suspiciously, summer time in Greenland, a Husky in its natural environment, Husky food in the refrigerator, small flowers between the rocks.

20.7.1999: Narsarsuak (Greenland), 3h 8min, 684km

Initially we had planned to cross Greenland from east to west over the 3000 meter high glacier plateau, make a stop in Nuuk (Godthab) on the west coast and then cross the Labrador Sea to Iqualuit, Canada. But for a few days already there was a low pressure system over western Greenland, damed up by the high glacier plateau, providing hash icing conditions and prohibiting visual flight in that area. On a cloudy or hazy day it is impossible to see the horizon over such a flat, white plateau because the white of the snow blends perfectly with the white from the sky. Also, snowy plains sometimes have no contours or contrasts what so ever, making it impossible to judge the altitude above ground visually.

Since the low pressure system didn't seem to move away any time soon, we decided to follow the eastern coast to Narsarsuaq on the very southern tip of Greenland. We didn't regret that decision, because this was the most beautiful flight of our trip. Blue sky, white snow and all sorts of green and blue of the glacier ice in the fjords. We sat up there in our little plane, overwhelmed by the beauty of that sight for the full three hours of flight.

Some impressions of this terrific flight from Kulusuk to Narsarsuaq along the eastern coast of Greenland.

Narsarsuak itself is more of a supply station than a village. It was mostly built up during the second world war as a fuel stop for ferry flights from the US to Britain. Most of the US bombers and fighter airplanes that where engaged over Europe passed through here. Later it served as an alternate airport for commercial twin engine airliners flying ETOPS. That's why there's still a huge runway. It also serves as a rearch and rescue and "iceberg watch" base for commercial freight ship routes.

We stood for two nights in a small hotel and kept an eye on the bad weather up north. On the second morning Nuuk was still not good but the weather in the south-west cleared up. So we decided to go directly to Goose Bay. We were glad to be able to go on, because there wasn't much to do here except for hiking, and we wheren't equipped for that because of weight reasons.

Upon arrival we refuel the Mooney. Note the red neoprene drysuits. Theres another ferry flight, it turned out, he went the other direction. These two guys went swimming, notice the icebergs in the background!

22.7.1999: Goose Bay (Canada), 6h 32min, 1250km

This leg over the Labrador Sea is the longest distance over water on our flight, namely roughly 1100km. This is quite at the limit of what is possible with this aircraft without additional fuel tanks. Right at the beginning of the flight we flew into a warm front. We hit icing conditions while climbing into it. Within 20 seconds the windshield was plain white! We descended to a warmer altitude for the ice to melt away and stood there, until we had passed the warm front.

We did fuel calculations frequently, measured the correct wind speeds and calculated our exact "point of no return". This point of no return luckily was after the front when we only had good weather ahead all the way to Goose Bay and we now could fly on the optimal crusing altitude.

By the way: keeping track of your water intake can be very helpful on long flight like this one, there's no toilet ;-)

Finally we where in North America!

Canada! First sight of the North American mainland, after more than five hours of water. Andi and me in Goose Bay. Lars, a doctor from Norway was stationned for one year in Texas and he took his plan with him. He's on his way back to Norway, putting on the mandatory dry suit.

23.7.1999: Caribou (USA, Maine) and Gardener (USA, Massachusetts), 6h 30min, 1472km

Deserted woodlands between Goose Bay and Caribou.

The next hop on the following day took us across the St. Lorenz river to Caribou in the US. Interestingly, this was our most risky leg of the whole journey, because we had to fly low below the clouds and there was mainly forest beneath us, no good places for emergency landings and not much time to react.

So far customs wasn't a problem, but in Caribou it was. We arrived on time but the customs and immigration officers weren't there yet. We left the plane, bought ourselves a coke and sat down in the shade of the airport building, because it was hot. Half an hour later the two officers arrived and were quite clearly displeased to see us there. We shouldn't have set foot on US ground without their permission, we should have waited in the sun without a drink and without a toilet. Great.

But from now on everything went smooth, as usual when flying in the US.

24.7.1999: Chapel Hill (North Carolina), 4h 27min, 1024km

After Caribou the landscape changed quickly, soon we saw the hazy skyline of New York, passed the Philadelphia and Washington DC area.

Chapel Hill is a university town and obviously they have a medical faculty, because on the airport there is a whole fleet of aircrafts ment for patient and donor organ express flights.

Internet access was a problem during the whole trip so far, sometimes we found a library where they allowed us some time online. But here there where so many libraries ... and they thought we were students too, so we were able to finally catch up on our e-mail. And there's a couple of good pubs too!

We enjoyed our stay in Chapel Hill the whole next day and took off shortly before sunset. This way we had a nice night flight.

The planes for medical transports on the airfield of Chappel Hill. Loading our bagage and getting ready for the night flight to Alma.

25.7.1999: Alma (Georgia), 2h 51min, 624km

Our last stop over before we reached our destination. It was an interesting night flight, because we had to fly around thunderstorms. Here the stormscope came in handy, so we knew where those CBs were.

26.7.1999: Spruce Creek (Florida), 1h 52min, 384km

We arrived at our final destination. Spruce Creek is a funny place. At the heart there's the airport with its runways. The taxiways run like a web to the surrounding houses. Most houses have their own hangars just beside of their garages. "Honey, do we take the car or the plane?" :-) A couple of famous people like John have Travolta houses here. We put the plane into the hangar of a friend of the plane owner.

Now we needed to do the paper work, clean the plane in and out and pack our stuff. The emergency equipment was send back home since it was rented. Then we went seperate ways to enjoy Florida.

Spruce Creek from above. Only one runway is active, the rest is used as tarmac. The Houses are located around the airport. Taxiing through the backyards of the neighbours. Finally hangaring "our" Mooney at its final destination.

Conclusion

After finishing all of the paperwork we got a total of 43 hours and 33 minutes of flight covering a distance of roughly 9479 kilometers or 5118 nautical miles over 10 days.

We've seen arctic icebergs and tropic thunderstorms, a lot of water, deserted woodlands and the skyline of New York, we've met Eskimos, adventurers, immigration officers and lot of other people.

I am very fortunate to have been given such an opportunity, it was a great experience. Also I want to thank Andi for his efforts in making this possible and for his good company on our journey. It was an unforgettable 10 days!