Around Iceland, almost…
Day 30. 21/July/2014 Around Iceland, almost… 1,067 miles 9:20 hrs
Day score 10.
I’d given up looking at the forecast. But when I awoke at 6, it was clear skies, no rain, low cloud but no fog…
Looking at the weather, it looked possible to fly around the whole coast today. There were still lots of issues with the weather with weather fronts, warm and cold, lying close off shore to the south and to the north, but still. This looked like my one and only chance. I would have to give up the idea of attempting this and head for Greenland next weather slot or I would miss Oshkosh completely for sure. The weather on route to Greenland was very poor, so I had nothing to loose today, and everything to gain. If I didn’t get around, at least I could say to myself that I had a go. No attempt then no entry into the 50th Dawn to Dusk Competition.
The plan was to take off with 90 litres of fuel in the main tank and 40 litres in the extra tank sitting in the passenger’s seat. This gave 6:30hours of flight. I planned a 5 hour flight running around the south of the island along to my first stop in Egilsstadir, where I had enteredIceland on the 4th of July. That flight was 461 statute miles. I would refuel only the main tank as the next stop was going to be to Akureyri which was only 283 miles along the coast and I could do that in 3 hours and there were 4 hours in the main tank. At Akureyri I again would fill only the main tank as the next flight to Isafjordur and its famous bent approach to their runway along the side of the Fjord was 281 miles. Back to Reykjavik was then just 306 miles and easily reachable with just a full main tank. Total distance for the day of some 1,330 miles, 1,109 nautical miles or 2,200 kilometers and a flight time of some 14 hours or so.
I had my fine pitch prop fitted for the trip around the world. It gave me better take off performance and climb rate, needed for such a journey in some circumstances, but it was no good for a high cruise speed. A comfortable 110knots was all that was possible and I didn’t want to thrash the engine at max continuous rpm as it was hopefully going to take me all the way around the world and the next flight would be across 4 hours of 2 degree Celsius Atlantic Ocean. So pushing the engine was not on the cards…
Ok so their was a little seismology over night but no new volcanic activity with zero ash in the air, not that it would affect my piston engine like it does the jet engines anyway.
I would go anti-clockwise around as I did when encircling Great Britain, this was
so I could see the coast line clearer from my left side of the cockpit. There was a small low pressure centred over the north of the island with air circulating anticlockwise around it, so I could expect light tail winds. The rest of the Atlantic surface pressure chart analysis was full of every type of front imaginable. But the way that they would progress through the day and I would hopefully progress, meant that there could be a window of opportunity of no fronts to be flown through all the way around. We would see.
The next item to check was the road condition Web Cams. They are situated all over Iceland and they are primarily to check on road conditions. Normally three web cams, one looking left, one looking directly down onto the road next to a snow depth gauge and one looking to the right. The clever thing about these web cams is that they can show the proceeding few hours in 15 minute intervals. Looking at these images you can clearly see the cloud base, but more importantly if it is rising or falling. My area of concern was around the Gardur peninsular and the nearby Keflavik International Airport, which always seemed to be fogged in during the morning. It was clear also and the Metar and TAF for Keflavik were not good, but not bad, with some cloud at 800ft. There was some sun shining on some of the Web cams which considering the recent weather, was a bonus…
I put on my immersion suit and life jacket as during the day, some of the flight would require a sea ditching if the engine stopped. The water on the east of the island was a barmy 8 degrees Celsius and 3 degrees on the west coast. That gives you about 15 minutes to climb into your life raft before loosing use of your hands. Without an immersion suit, you are incapable of climbing into your life raft after about 4 minutes and then you would be dead within the hour.
Even though it had been daylight since 2am, the airport did not open till 7am local. By the time I had satisfied myself that the morning fog around Keflavik would not develop, climb on board, taxi out, call my flight plan over the radio, complete run up checks and taxi to hold short of their runway 13, it was just before 8am.
Airborne on the hour Reykjavik cleared me low level via the coast and he said he would get on to Keflavik to let me do the same. Keflavikwere not busy so that was no problem for them and they told me to report Gardskagi Light house. I’d been there in the car and recognised it easily. The steam from the famous hot spa pools of the Blue Lagoon just disappeared into low cloud inland and there was a fog bank way below a few miles off shore.
Hum, 20 minutes later and I was already forced down below 500ft near Porlakshoen. There was skud cloud hanging everywhere, occasionally the fog sea fog would role onto the shore or the ground fog would drift out to sea. There was lenticular cloud up high over the volcanoes inland, layered stratus at several layers, too many to count or see.
The newly formed islands of Vestmannaeyjar peered out the murk and fog 5 miles off shore while the black beaches from the ash from the latest eruptions of Eyjafjalla-Jokul whizzed by just below my Kr2’s left wingtip. The unpronounceable Eyjafjalla-Jokul was the volcano responsible for closing down most of Europe’s airports and airspace as it jettisoned clouds of ash tens of thousands of feet into the air and it is a relatively small volcano. If it’s neighbour Myrdals-Jokull or the vast Vatna-Jokull erupt, it will be a sight to see… But not this close… Myrdals is looking like awakening. There is constant seismic activity there now and a mass outflow of glacial melt water flooded the highway just last week causing evacuations, but it seems to have calmed down a little.
If a small volcano further north erupts it’s not really a big deal, but if the volcano is high enough to be capped in snow and ice, then when the magma rises closer to the surface, this glacier melt sending millions of gallons of water down to meet the molten lava coming up. These two don’t really mix too well and the water boils, building steam pressure like a steam train except there is no ‘blow of safety valve’. So when the top cap finally comes off the volcanoes crater, it goes with a bit of a bang.
At Dyrholaey there is a famous outcrop of lava that stands firm and leads out into the sea. It has collapsed with sea weathering and at the moment has created an arch that the pilots are having fun flying through. Its about 60 feet across and 30 feet high. So so tempting. The only cause for concern is sea birds and as I fly over the arch, not under it, I made a wise choice… There were seagulls everywhere.
On shore the land is covered in cloud and 2 miles off shore there is an endless bank of fog. But the coast is clear and I’m blasting down it now with quite a tail wind.
I’ve been transferring fuel in little stages any time I can get more into the main tank. As this moves the CofG further forward the aircraft slows down, but it is nicer to fly and not so twitchy. That’s about all in the front tank now. I’ve pumped through the 40 litres.
At Jokulsarlon a lake has formed as the coast line is backed up by the sea. The lake is fed from Breioamerkur-Jokull and as the glacier breaks into the lake icebergs float off. They then follow the flow of the lake to the outlet but get
blocked by its size and back up into the lake also. They main ring road ‘Highway 1’ passes over the river right next to where the icebergs float. It’s a great tourist spot and I can’t count the tourist coaches parked up there.
But now I’m not feeling so great, almost nauseas and disorientated. I’m not sure if its just tiredness, the lack of horizon, the continual requirements for pitch, role and yaw adjustments, but I’ve never suffered from this before. Maybe it is the smell of the venting avgas from the tank sitting next to me, but I have the fresh air vent blasting fresh air in my face? I don’t know but it’s not pleasant. I tried drinking a lot of water in case I was dehydrated. I think it helped.
As the sun rises cumulus cloud is now forming on land with some cumulorockus too embedded in there.
As I turn up the east coast fjords the see fog clears. The sun is out and altocumulus and upper cirrus is now the order of the day. But the altocumulus is only at the end of each fjord, so I can safely climb and fly over it as it is only in 5 mile wide bands.
The cloud clears completely further north and I get a clearer look at the mountains I nearly collided with when arriving in Iceland a few weeks ago and the fjord I couldn’t pass through. Strange, I could fly straight there today on my way to Egilsstadir but now I have to follow the coast again. I remember the path I took, but last time I was down at 300ft this time, at 3,000ft I feel a lot more comfortable.
I fly inland for the first time to head for my first refueling stop. The wind is from the south so I can fly straight in for their runway 22 and I land 4:12 after taking off, some 45 minutes below my ETA, excellent.
As I pulled up to the taps I’m confronted by another ‘G’ registered aircraft, a CT microlight. The pilot is Ed McCallum. He has flown to Oshkosh, I had read about him and now he is on his way back… Well well well. He is in a rush. He asked me if I had any narrow escapes so far? “Yes.” I said. He replies that he had been down to 300ft crossing to Kulusuk twice due to weather fronts and is he mad? I would have to say “yes!” personally, I won’t fly through warm or cold fronts, especially on such a dangerous flight anyway. He jumps in and taxi’s off on his way to Wick Scotland. Wow! What a coincidence… I refuel and jump back in
I only need 32 litres to refill the main tank. I pay for the fuel with Jhoan. I know him well since chatting the last time I was here. No one can forget that quite yet…
Airborne again at 13:06, that was almost an hour on the ground. But chatting had been nice and I can easily get around today weather permitting and even though I’m trying to set a record, it does not warrant being hasty with people.
The north east of Iceland is quite flat really and the flight goes well before reaching the mountains around Akureyri. There is a strong southerly airflow now and I know its going to be rough flying downwind of the mountains before entering the Eyjafjord. Wow, as I round the final teeth jerking mountainside I’m confronted with a five mile long role cloud. It has no flat base, it’s just a cone of cloud spinning around and I’m not going to get anywhere near that severe turbulence. As the cloud narrows to a point I can see the end spinning.
I approach Akureyri and I’m told to report ‘Down wind right hand for runway 01.’ That’s north, but I’ve just been flying into a strong southerly headwind. This will be landing down wind. But nope. I’ve heard of this before. You can have the wind blowing different ways on each end of the runways as the air masses converge over the airfield. I’m number three to land. You can’t miss The Foker 50 as it touches down but where is the new number one that I am to follow. I extend down wind. Oh it’s a tiny micro-light, no wonder I couldn’t see him down there. I landed at 3:34pm after 2:28 of flight, ahead of schedule again. Great.
I refueled with 52 litres of fuel and made a sandwich, as I’ve not really eaten yet.
Ok, back in the air by 4.25pm with only another 2:30 hour flight. This is on. I can get round… Hum… My artificial horizon hasn’t erected. It sometimes does this if you run it back up before it stops completely, then it takes some time to re-gather its thoughts, but I was on the ground for about 40 minutes. It should have stopped completely. I can’t feel any rotation from the tired bearings on the glass front and it shows no life at all as I swing the aircraft around. Oh well…
Ok, around the Trollaskagi mountain range, across the Skaga-fjord. Layers of cloud again but no real worries. The Skagaheidi peninsula as flat, hardly above sea level about 30 miles long, 10 miles wide and there is cloud on the horizon. I can see across the peninsular at this height and the sun is shining on Hunafloi,a massive 40 mile wide expanse of sea that separates Iceland from the North West Fjords, the most spectacular apparently. They must be pretty impressive as what I have seen so far is pretty good.
I’m diving down now as an unbelievably straight line of cloud is rolling in as far as I can see. Down at 500ft, dam this isn’t cloud, it’s a fog bank the likes I have never seen. It has a wall which is as straight as a die each way out of site and it is heading inland. I’ve got to get around the peninsular before it engulfs it. No worries, I am but 3 miles from the top, then I can turn west for some 8 miles and can head south again away from the fog bank. I fly into the fog at Skgata point. The sun is still shining on the sea inland on the other side of the flat peninsular. I just need to get around the headland at Selvikurtangi and I’ll be ok. I’m doing 130knots, pushing the engine like I said I wouldn’t, but it won’t be for long. I’ll soon be back out of the mist. Hang on, the visibility is getting worse. I turn Selvikurtangi, wave at the people outside the hotel at Hafoif, the only building on the peninsular, but now I can see down better than I can see ahead and I’m only at about 50ft. What is going on? This fog bank isn’t travelling at 120knots or I would be doing 250knots across the ground, but yet I’m loosing sight of the ground now. How can this be? Then it dawned… This fog isn’t travelling faster than I can fly, it’s being created, it is forming faster than I can fly… That’s bad news. I have no option an no artificial horizon either, but to pull up and aim for the sun and keep it in the dame place in the canopy. At a vertical speed of 120knots I pope dot of the fog in about 30 seconds of climbing. My god, it was miles ahead of me now!!! I headed south as quick as I could, sorry engine…
The fog bank slowed as it came up against the outflow off the highland area south of the Huna-fjord and I got ahead of it. I looked back at the North Eastern Fjord land, the mountains sticking out the cloud and fog. Dam dam dam dam dam!!!!
Scuppered again. Am I not allowed to achieve anything in life… I was getting close but no, it was taken away from me again. I circled around a few times…
Options, fly around the Fjordland using GPS to continue my around the coast attempt, hoping the fog may abate and not be covering my final fuel stop of Isafjordur or go home… Argh!
Home didn’t look too clever either, there was no way to fly direct on route, it was really black in land and high! Hum, I’ve got 2 hours of fuel left to do something.
I headed south anyway and up the Hruta-fjord. As I looked west it looked brighter out to sea… I’d rather fly over the sea than get caught out over land. The Fjordland aught to be causing a barrier to the poor weather coming down from the north. I’d go for it and I followed the
road over the highlands to Budardalur, there was an airfield there I could put down on as well. It got a bit narrow and low but I was soon through to the ocean and the Breioa-fjord. Now to head south…The Snaefellsnes peninsular was in rain as far as I could see so there was no point in going around it. To the north the sun shone on a thousand islands and it looked beautiful but lets just go home and call it a day. Again through a valley toped by cloud, it looked brighter, so again I followed the road over the hills over the Heydalur pass and out over a lava flow to the sea. It was brighter and now I could hear and callReykjavik as they were now in line of site. I called up the approach frequency and got my safety flight plan that was opened when leaving Akureyri to Isafjordur modified for a divert back to Reykjavik. It was quite clear now and I climbed back up to 2,000ft, which seemed quite high for the day. I was asked to call passing Akranes and to Squark 2127. My approach to Reykjavik would be via the VFR route 1 then following the coast for a left base for runway 13, the one I had took off from. I was back by 7.05pm… very very disappointed. That was possible if I only had the weather.
Ok so now it was time to check over the plane and load it up ready for the flight to Greenland. I’d flown 9:20 hours today. That would almost have seen me in Canada. Thurther turned up. I shook my head… He knew. I spent a few hours chatting to all the other pilots. Not that I needed to gain their respect, but hearing what I had tried to do certainly did. I was now seen as an equal fellow Icelandic pilot. The weather looked good tomorrow, but I had no working artificial horizon. It’s simply not safe to do what I’m doing without one. So I’m going no where till I can fix it.
Thought for the day: I’m deemed to not be allowed to complete anything. I had done some of my best flying, made the best decisions and done the hard bits, but the weather gods still took it all away.