What best flight?
Day 37. 28/July/2014 What best flight? Kulusuk to Narsarsuaq 431 miles 3:40 hrs
Day score 10.
Oshkosh starts today and I’m 3,075 miles away still. What hope? If you were a betting person, you wouldn’t back me to make it…
I can’t deny, long summer sun or not, with all the ice around, it wasn’t warm. As soon as the airport was open I went in to warm up. In the control tower Jacob welcomed me and had prepared the weather report. I only needed one piece of paper but got about 20 and then he insisted I phoned the weather guy, who was the other side of the country to tell me what I already knew. Poor Iceland, that was a lucky escape, but the deep weather depression over Iceland created a southerly wind here, which might help me quite a bit today. There was a little occluded front 50 miles to the south of Narsarsuaq, but it was allegedly not to get closer. I filed the flight plan, thanked Jacob and set off to pay for the fuel and fees downstairs with Mittarfeqarfiit, the company that runs Greenland’s airports.
“That’s $459.50 sir.” “How much?” “$459.50” I was sure he had made a mistake. I asked this little Inuit guy, “Erm can I have a break down of the costs please?” He said “No you can not and pay now quickly. I have other aircraft to see.” That’s the first time I think anyone has been rude to me since I left England 37 days ago. “Well do I get a receipt?” The guy stormed off to his back office and produced a piece of paper.
I paid on my credit card and walked back to the plane. There were two “N” or American registered, gas turbine powered Piper Malibu’s just arriving. They had six French guys on board of each. They were heading for Oshkosh. I spoke to them in French until they soon realised that there English was a lot better than my French. There next stop was Iqaluit in Canada and then Sault Se Marie in America to clear customs as there was no customs clearance at Oshkosh. The place is just too busy with people and planes for customs to want to traipse round. I wished them “Bon Voyage!” still.
I had a little money left over from Vagar, it was Danish and would work here, so even though my flight plan take off time was imminent, I rushed back to the arrivals lounge to buy some postcards and I bought a little husky dog and polar bear key rings. A Focker 50 arrived with two female pilots on board. It was a shame Bjarki was not flying this route today… The passengers were being escorted to the Hotel bus but since it only held about 10, the other 20 passengers set off by foot like I did down the dusty track and over the hills to the town. I hoped they would not be as disappointed as I was. I wanted to have a quick look in the departure lounge and the shop keeper let me through his shop instead of going through the security gates. The reason for this is that a polar bear had ventured on to the runway last year and they had shot it and the skin was hanging up on the departure lounge wall. So it was. Why they had to kill it I don’t know but still. There was a little bit about the history of Kulusuk airport and pictures of operating in winter where they had piled the snow up 30 ft or 10 meters to jeep the runway clear. There were pictures of aircraft taxing and taking off from the runway with only the top of the fin visible. There was also a “Thank you!” plaque and poster from the crew of ‘Glacier Girl’ a ‘38 Lightning’ twin engined fighter from WW2. Six of them and a liberator were on transit to the UK during the war, but they got blown off course with bad weather and ran out of fuel, so they all decided to land on the ice cap one after the other. The pilots all survived and were rescued, but the planes got covered in Ice and snow. They are worth a bit by now! So a few years ago, they were all found 365 feet below the surface with radar. A crew melted there way down to them but I believe only one aircraft was worthy of rescue and they took it apart 360 feet below the surface and pulled it out. It got rebuilt and is flying today and they called it “Glacier Girl”. Most American aircraft crew during the war called their aircraft something and painted or decorated the nose of the aircraft accordingly. Interesting, but it was time to go.
I jumped in Itzy and taxied down to the far end of runway 29. This was up hill and into wind. Hum a slight headwind on track was not good, but we would see. As I turned round, trying to get the base camera to record through my phone’s wifi system, on the loose gravel I got close to the runway end lights and clonk, I knocked one of them over a bit. Dam. The plane felt ok. I wasn’t going to stop anyway. They could use the $500 I paid them to put it back up if needed.
I took off easily with the cold air helping power from the engine and creating lift, and climbed out over the town. Undeniably beautiful! That combination of colours and extreme rock formations. But I had something else to look at. The rapidly rising oil temperature. I didn’t think the oil cooler made much of a difference. I was wrong. I had to throttle back and cruise climb. The cylinder heads were at 105 degrees Celsius, but so was the oil.
A direct route took me out to sea, but I was still high enough to glide back to shore. The best option would be to ditch in a lake on top of some of the surrounding, not so vertical hills. I’d be soon on dry land.
The ski was clear and the sun burning. I covered my nose with a bit of white bodge tape, having no sun screen and my white hat I use to keep my head cool under the canopy didn’t reach to prevent the sun on my nose.
Again I say once more. This is and was going to be the most beautiful flight I’d make. Watching the glaciers swirl down, like melting soft whip ice-cream off a cone, following the curves they cut into the mountainsides before breaking off into the sea. There was indeed no way of ditching close to the shore due to the car sized icebergs covering the shore line area. The bigger ones seemed to float away. You could see the flow of water as it swirled around these gentle giants. They can weigh millions of tonnes, so the flow of North Atlantic drift swirled fast around them and downstream as the icebergs slowly accelerated up to speed and floated out to sea.
I wanted to turn and look all the time. This flight was going too fast, yet I wanted it to be over because it’s just so dangerous. The oil temp came down a little but I was now at 7,000ft and the outside air temperature was minus 12. I also had the nausea feeling again. Keeping flying Itzy straight and level when your head is spinning was not easy. I’m not sure if it is the sensation of flying, the fumes from the fuel, being dehydrated, being just ill, tiredness or the smell from the bodge tape glue that’s stuck to my nose. Its not the lack of horizon as there is a clear one today. Ice is white sky is blue. I forced myself to drink almost frozen water. It must be cold in here, I have no heating, but I’m in my thermal layers inside my immersion suit, so I’m relatively warm. The water helps a little.
My direct route took me on land now and over the ice cap. Siggi had told me to do this. Apparently, at the southern tip of Greenland there are two mountainous rocky areas that protrude through the ice cap and can be seen many many miles away. If you fly between them, that is the start of a major glacier that flows for about 40 miles but leads directly to Narsarsuaq airfield. If you follow the coast around the bottom of the ice cap, you then have to fly inland through the fjords to find the airfield and many people had taken the wrong turning in the maze of valleys and disappeared. I would do as Siggi suggested, but that required climbing to 8,000 ft. I’d transferred all the fuel by now and still had 3 hours left, with only 180 miles to go.
Picking out how high you were is n
ot easy. Trying to look at the most crazed part of the ice for some type of visual reference, its whizzing past the wing quite quickly. But how high is that. It could be 5,000ft it could be 500ft. No wonder people crash. I thought it best to climb to 9,000ft. Better safe than sorry. But that’s not ice down there anymore. That looks like mist, then fog and then cloud with little cumulous tops. Well I’m several thousand feet above the cloud, so lets continue on and hope the cloud brakes before Narsarsuaq.
There are more than just two sets of rocky outcrops. The GPS is telling me the way. The compass is all but useless being this close to the North Pole without me realigning it. It still thinks it’s in Britain.
Only 50 miles away now. Nothing has been heard or said on the radio for a while since I relayed my last estimate for Narsarsuaq at 16.45 zulu or GMT via N3RD.
The cloud ends, the cloud definitely ends. Even if I have to go out to sea, descend and come back in under it, the cloud definitely ends.
I call up Narsarsuaq radio and he responds loud and clear. I fly between the two outcrops of rock and I can see the airport, through gaps in the cloud I can see the airport and the glacier running down to it. Now only 20 miles away and I’m still at 9,000ft with a cold engine, if I power back and descend to quickly I’m going to super chill the engine and it won’t like that. Narsarsuaq radio call, “Golf Bravo Yankee LimaPappa, the runway is clear, you are free to land at your discretion.” But it’s going to take me 15 minutes to come down slowly from this height. I tell them that I’m going to stay 10 minutes to the north, just to re-calibrate an engine control. This confuses them and they don’t object.
I drop down below the clouds with the glacier valley below. I then descend in the valley itself, it is so wide, looking up at vertical black rock with the glacier still thousands of feet below. At 2,000 feet I start my approach, the engine is no cooler but no warmer either. I have to side slip and drop still further to get on the correct glide slope but call 2 miles finals and get the runway clear message again back.
I flare to touch down, but there is quite a slope down towards the sea on their 25 runway and it takes me half the massive 1.2 mile 1,800 meter runway to bring Itzy to a halt. A short back taxi and I exit at Bravo to pull up next to a Cessna Citation or Mustang, the only other aircraft being an amphibian little flying boat.
I shutdown the engine as the refuelling guys turn up. Its only a 3 hour flight back up to the capital of Nuuk where I would like to stay tonight, so I only top up the main tank with 42 litres of fuel. I have a look at around the aircraft to see if I damaged it when running over the light at Kulusuk. Oh yeah, it hit the wheel spat and marked the aileron, but nothing much.
Helicopters arrive, Bell 242’s I think of Air Greenland, with the two blades whopping and chopping at the air loudly. They are American and date back to the Korean war. I’m sure these don’t but as they land and their blades come to a halt, all sorts of people jump out from the sliding doors. Business men, back packers, Inuit family. Its how they get to the near by villages that don’t have runways, and they are busy, as new passengers climb on board and they wind back up and depart pronto.
An Air Greenland Dash 8 turns up in the same red and white livery as the helicopters. Loads of people jump off that and again, every type of person.
I head in to the control tower. On the second set of doors is a famous sight. The doors are plastered, without room for any more stickers of all the aircraft that have been through Narsarsuaq. It is the main stop off for Trans Atlantic Flight of virtually all small aircraft and quite a few large ones too. If I had a sticker saying KR2 Worldtour, I’d have found some space. Coventry Atlantic Group sticker is there, next to the Ratheon sticker and some Air Squadron from where I have no idea.
The stickers and business cards continue up the stairs to above the office desks. I ask if I can pay for the fuel now and it is agreed. Fuel with landing costs, $420.38. Wow… I ask again if this is correct and the lady produces very politely the data sheet of charges and indeed it is all correct.
I rise to the tower and meet Hens, Kesper, Alex and a well spoken Semion.
I group of joggers goes by the one and only road in town past the airport. Apparently the king and queen arrive here tomorrow. Their royal yacht and accompanying naval frigate are in the harbour and that is the ships crew trying to keep fit. Some of them had failed seemingly.
Because the airfields close so early in Greenland, then there was no chance of arriving in time in Nuuk, so here I would stay. Ok, not so good, but it could not be helped.
I walk back down to the plane and start checking things over. It is quite warm and pleasant and I strip to a smelly T’shirt for the first time in months. Taking the cowls off, wow… The engine has breathed a lot of oil into the collector bottle. What is in there is indicative of normally 20 hours of flight. That was only 3. I put it back in the engine, its good oil, it’s just been breathed out. Then I wish I hadn’t as a lot of water has collected in the bottom and pours in to the engine filler as well…
An old long grey haired guy walks out towards me. I wave and say high. He explains that he has to move his amphibian aircraft as apparently it’s in the way. I tell him it’s not in my way and he barks on about how ridiculous things are getting here. This seems interesting and I ask some more. The guy is from South Africa, lived in England, came up here, loved the freedom and stayed. Yet his says the freedom is no longer here and that the bureaucrats are invading with their stupid rules. I try to appease him by explaining that it’s the same everywhere. He agrees, but it still miff’s him. I ask if he need a hand, but he says he’s ok. Not long after the Amphibian fires up and taxies around to the back of the Air Greenland hangar. He walked back and we continued the banter of two clever chaps who have seen a bit of the world. His phone rings and he answers it. He tells me that there is a phone call for me upstairs. I tell him it can’t be important. It can only be for something I have done wrong, so it can wait. We chat for another 10 mins having a laugh until his phone rings again and he tells me, you better go and ring this number. We walk inside, shake hands and he disappears.
Back in the offices I am led to a phone. Maybe I climbed into controlled airspace as I did climb to 9,500ft, but it is explained that controlled airspace doesn’t start till 19,500 feet, 10,000ft higher in Greenland. Ok, it wasn’t that then. I dial the number and it is Jacob on the phone. He explains that they notice that one of the runway end lights has been knocked down, but his voice seems even weirder, as if that’s not the issue. I thought I’d say I didn’t notice anything. He then said “Look Colin, you were rude to the gentleman who you needed to pay. We don’t like your attitude!” I interrupted him and told Jacob that he had been very short with me when I inquired about the price. Jacob replied that this was not his version of events. I replied “Well it wouldn’t be would it!” Jacob then said “Colin, we are telling you that we don’t like you and you are not welcome here again!” Wow! I thought I would apologise for my behaviour, not that I thought I needed to and just for the sake of it and with little else coming back, I said “Goodbye.” and put the phone down. How weird?
I walked out through the arrivals lounge about 4pm local and grabbed a map of the town. I walk along to the Narsarsuaq Museum. I look at the daunting closed state of the wooden
huts, but people pass by and go in, so I join them. They walk down a wooden hallway, but past the museum entrance. It was so many Kronna, $5 USD or €4 to enter. I have $5 and place it in a box and rip off a ticket.
Is this going to be worth it I wonder and yes it is! The displays show ancient history of who was here first but then soon enters into the airports history. It was set up by us Brits again for the war effort but soon the American’s turned up and turned it into a huge air force base. At one point, waiting for weather they had over 120 aircraft parked up outside waiting to go and help with the repatriation of Europe. There are countless photos of the war effort. The first year what they had built got blown away in a storm, so when they returned they returned with vigour and built up some impressive facilities. The director came to close up but said I could stay a little longer, I asked if that would be ok, because it was my only chance to take it all in.
Ok, next down the road to the harbour. I had put my running shoes on, just to get out of my boots for a change and jogged down to the generating station. How ever well silenced it was, it just stood there in a converted military workshop, thumping away. The icebergs in the bay were impressive, there was one which had almost split in two and as the sun reflected between the two halves on the water, it was very photogenic.
The naval frigate was maneuvering out in the bay and its Lynx helicopter kept buzzing around it. Some of the guys of the royal yacht were enjoying some fishing and you could get close to the yacht in the tiny quayside or harbour. It impressed me that the whole airport and facilities had been brought in once upon a time through this one and only war time quay.
That was one end of town now back to the other. Past massive tanks with Jet A1, Avgas and Heavy Oil written on them. Top end of town sort of fizzles out so I decided to climb the adjoining hillside. It’s about 800ft high and the buzzards had been soaring it earlier in the day. The path around the back fizzled out to, but I made it to the old radio station on top then eventually worked to get close at the top to the near vertical face and I can look down on Itzy. To the left is the naval ship still going around and around the icebergs, the runway and old dispersal areas, now much more understood from the museum photos ahead and to the right the valley with the glacier winding or sliding, more correctly, down it.
I run back down and come out near the airport. I go back to Itzy to prepare him for tomorrow. Locals keep turning up to take pictures through the fence and tourist walk aimlessly up and down the road as there is nothing else to do or see.
I was actually quite comfortable last night and just decide to sleep in the plane once more. It just saves a lot of hassle.
Thought for the day: That’s really annoyed me that call from Jacob. Obviously they are so desperate to exist there and need the money. I come through not, wanting to pay extortionate rates for a hotel or for none existent handling. The fuel price was much higher than normal. That was the first time anyone has been short with me and I get told off for it… Ok, I’ve done some maths. The fuel was £3.25 a litre instead of £2.00 at home. Handling was £94.60, parking overnight £16.40 and a departure fee of £32.30… So I suppose the prices are not that extortionate and it’s consistent at all the airfields in Greenland. So maybe I was rude to ask for this break down of the costs, but still. What a lame threat! “Colin you are not welcome here again!” Why the hell would anyone want to return???