Jetprop: Switzerland to USA Ferry Flight

Tom Thomason learned of Elie Vannier’s VERY nice Jetprop (N43CH) that was for sale, and promptly began a pursuit to purchase that ended with our going to Elie’s hometown of Lausanne, Switzerland.  Decked out with great avionics, great paint, and stellar maintenance history, we knew this airplane was going to be nice.  But…the best part of Elie’s Jetprop is the one-of-a-kind ferry tank (designed by John Mariani and installed by Malibu Aerospace) that allows for 66 additional gallons of fuel.  An incredibly simple and brilliant system, this Jetprop has more range than any other Jetprop on the planet.  Being a savvy and super-knowledgeable Jetprop owner, Tom knows a good PA46 deal when he sees one, and bought N43CH.

Tom came to JSO to start our trip together and some friends flew us to Dallas in their nice Beechcraft Bonanza.  We boarded the long flight from DFW to London, and were pleasantly surprised to receive upgrades to bulkhead seats together (with no one sitting next to either of us).  I’m not sure how Tom did it, but he slept the entire flight to London, while I watched two movies and read part of a book (yes, I paid for this later by being VERY tired on the ground!).  We arrived in Geneva, and met Elie face-to-face…which started a good relationship with a great man.

We drove to the GA-side of the Geneva airport and boarded N43CH for the test flight.  Realizing very quickly that this was one super-nice Jetprop and confirming that everything worked properly, the test flight quickly turned into a sight-seeing tour of the Swiss Alps.  If you’ve never seen the Swiss Alps, don’t go to your grave until you do…it’s unquestionably one of the most awe-inspiring places on earth.

Swiss Alps in the Jetprop

Some buy-sell relationships turn adversarial fairly quickly, but this sale was one that can only be described as “mutually beneficial”, friendly, and professional.  We gathered quickly that Elie was a man of tremendous character and cares for aviation to same degree that we do…the feelings were mutual.  For the next day Elie was a tremendous host and showed us the best of Lausanne.  We are indebted to Elie, certainly calling him a friend.

Our departure from Lausanne was normal and the beauty of the Swiss Alps faded to a white undercast below.  Although the weather in ELLX (Luxembourg) was forecast to be acceptable, when we arrived it was downright terrible with RVR being 100m.  We went to our alternate of Liege, Belgium.  The weather was CAVOK (Clear Air, Visibility OK) and we landed uneventfully.  But, this is where the logistical troubles began.  Liege is a huge airport, but it serves big airplanes and mainly cargo airplanes.  The service was terrible, the communication horrible, and we had trouble after trouble with everything from finding a toilet to filing a flight plan to just getting fuel.  We will remember our experience at Liege as one of the worst seen in my 25 years of flying….yes, that bad.  We finally got a modicum of a clearance and (although not understanding every aspect of the clearance) departed for Belfast, Northern Ireland. We clarified the clearance as we climbed and soon were in the smooth air over the English Channel.  Strong winds prevailed, but they were crosswinds.  We popped out of a high overcast on descent and were treated to the green landscape of Northern Ireland.  Despite being February, it was remarkably green and lush. The FBO in Belfast, Northern Ireland treated us very well….I’ll plan to go there again on another trip.

We encountered strong winds along the entire flight to Iceland, and thankfully they were quartering winds that netted a small tail wind component.  Check out the crosswind in the pic below!

We saw Iceland from afar (due to unusually clear weather) and noticed the immense white from the snow.  We didn’t know it when we arrived, but Iceland had a record snowfall on the nighttime prior to our arrival.  There were over 51cm of snow in a 4 hour period.  Literally the entire island was covered in snow….and this is unusual…Iceland is normally not “icy”.  Thankfully, the ground crew cleared the runway of snow quickly and we were the first airplane to arrive to a winter wonderland on a Sunday morning.  Since Greenland is closed on Sunday, and because we arrived around noon in Iceland, we had the better part of the day to spend sloshing around Iceland.  And…a slosh it was…snow was everywhere, but the temperature had risen to 35F.  So, on our walk through downtown Reykjavik we ended up wading through a mix of really slippery ice and melting cold water.  But…Reykjavik is one cool town, and it was fun to just be there.  The locals were excited to see the snow, too, and it seemed that the whole town came outside to play in the snow on a “warmer” no-wind day with piles of snow everywhere.

Reykjavik from the air

The weather was 25F upon our departure on Monday morning, but there was no wind.  Advised that we “must get weather in Narsarsauq before leaving” and because the weather forecaster in Greenland does not get up early, we arrived at BIRK a little later than normal (9am).  We learned that the weather in BGBW was acceptable, but strong winds prevailed and the weather was going to get worse as the day progressed.  We got extra fuel in the installed ferry tank (although we ended up not needing the additional fuel!!) and took off into a perfectly clear blue day.  We checked the ferry tank operation and otherwise had an uneventful flight to the eastern coast of Greenland.

Narsarsuaq (BGBW) is on the western coast of Greenland nestled in the end of a long fjord.  There’s enough well-known aviation-lore for this historic airport that is known by most pilots, so I won’t belabor the “toughness” or “danger” that can be found at BGBW.   I’ve been here many times before, but this day was to test my ability as an aviator.  As we came over the Greenland Icecap we were made aware of a new SIGMET that included BGBW…severe turbulence below 10,000ft.  I had not read about this prior to leaving BIRK, but the SIGMET was right…there was turbulence.

Tom is a great writer, and here’s his perspective of Narsarsuaq:

“The most impressive place we landed was Narsarsuaq. It  had an almost medieval  quality. Tall dark granite cliffs partially covered in low thick vegetation giving the appearance of a great castle.  Surrounded by high snow-covered mountains and a huge moat of  angry grey green sea filled with whitecaps, dark foreboding torn clouds were racing down from the mountain, firing cannons of turbulent air that rocked our ship and incessantly tried to push us back or throw us into the sea.   Even after landing, the taxiways had a doorkeepers riddle of ice and strong winds that we had to figure out before we could finally pull up to the entrance to the FBO of Narsarsuaq.
However, once we got there the line crew was excellent and the young woman “NaSu”, a native Greenlander was very pleasant and helped us immensely as we made  all the arrangements for our next flight to Goose bay. She even served us smoked lamb, that she had made herself from the herd that her husband owns on their farm. The tower operator had many stories of flying sea planes and helicopters in Greenland during his past 30 years. A very fascinating Swede who loved the land. Leaving Narsarsuaq was a chance for the Jetprop to really show its capabilities.  Climbing at a high “angle” of ascent, allowed  us to clear the surrounding mountains on the departure procedure. They were totally hidden to our eyes by clouds, but revealed to us by synthetic vision on the G500…” Tom Thomason

The weather was forecast to only get worse, and if we delayed too much longer we’d have to stay in Greenland a few days.

Greenland from the air


Strong winds at Narsarsuaq

I called Travis Holland for some wisdom about departing.  As a trusted North Atlantic veteran, I knew Travis would shoot straight with me about the tough weather.  I was nervous about departing back into the wind, but sensed that the only real threat was the strong surface winds.  If they subsided, I was comfortable.  By the grace of God, the winds did subside…if you call a 35kt wind subsiding.  After preparing for the flight, we jumped at the chance to leave BGBW and took off for Goose Bay (CYYR).  The visibility was predominantly 5 miles or better, but areas of heavy snow dropped the visibility down to 1/4 mile or less. The Synthetic Vision in Tom’s Jetprop made us very comfortable climbing above the amazingly rugged and beautiful Greenland below. The powerful Jetprop made short work of the climb and we were at FL260 in no time, battling the HUGE crosswinds at the upper-levels.

Over the Labrador Sea


Eastern Coast of Canada with huge winds pushing the ice out to sea

Tom and I both marveled at the beauty of the Labrador Sea.  The ice floes and immense amount of white below was laced with slivers of blue that revealed the depths of the water.  This was no place to have airplane problems, and we carefully calculated fuel, made appropriate radio calls, and monitored the airplane systems.  The Jetprop is singularly outstanding…easily one of my favorite airplanes…and I was happy to have this Jetprop as my steed.  With the mighty PT6 up front I never worried about the danger that lurked below.  We landed at Goose Bay (CYYR) in a strong wind (35kts) about 30 degrees from the right.  Tom again showed off his mastery of the crosswind landing and we were soon forced again to deal with the greatest threat of the day…taxiing on the slippery ice.  The ramp at Goose Bay was nothing more than a sheet of ice.  We crept along at a snails pace into the parking spot feeling the wheels slide every now and then.  To confirm our worries about the slippery ice, there was a big Dash-7 (Dehavilland Airplane, big…4-engines) parked on the ramp. We later learned that (while sitting chocked on the ground) a gust of wind pushed it along the ice and slammed it into another vehicle.  The slipperiness of the icy ramp was the real-deal, and I’m glad we got out of there with no incidents.



The third leg of the trip seemed to go on forever.  We had already flown 7+ hours that day, and we had another 4 hours staring us in the face.  The weather was favorable (smooth, clear, nice view of the ground), but the winds were certainly not…we had 70+ knots right on the nose the whole leg.  Interestingly, to fly from CYYR to CYMX (Montreal) the St.Lawrence River was underneath us seemingly the whole way.  We marveled at the immensity of the St. Lawrence River overall, and the isolation of the more northerly portions of that river.  Northern Canada is a place of incredible beauty, but also few people.  It is an unmolested wilderness that is truly beautiful.  We finally landed in CYMX (Montreal, Canada) just after dusk, and settled into a long, welcome sleep at the hotel.

Tom’s one time to relax in the back…he piloted 99% of this ferry flight

The next morning found us departing to KPTK (Pontiac, MI).  We spent most of that flight in solid IMC and a huge headwind.  The US Customs experience was pleasant and short, and soon we refueled and departed for the second leg of the day…KEVI, Indiana.

Upon landing in Michigan

We got lunch at a local sandwich shop and enjoyed being back in our own culture.  We wanted to get back in the air quickly as we knew we were going to face headwinds.  With 90 knots right on the nose, the forecast was right.  It took nearly 4 hours to fly from Indiana to Texas, and we were both tired upon landing.

At the end of the trip at KJSO, Cherokee County Airport, Texas

Tom stayed the night in my “Pilot Bunk Room”, and I went home for the evening.  The next morning Tom departed for his hometown in New Mexico.  As I reflect upon the trip, I’m continually amazed at the Jetprop.  Through all of the difficult weather the Jetprop (and PT6 up front) never missed a beat.  Also, I can’t help but think of how nice it was to fly with Tom.  Switzerland to Texas is a LONG way to sit in a small environment with one person, but Tom made it enjoyable the entire route.  It was a great experience that I hope to do again.  Congrats on your purchase, Tom!

About Joe Casey

ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, CFI-G Commercial Pilot - SE, ME, Rotorcraft, Glider US Army AH-64 Pilot and UH-60 Instructor Pilot and Instrument Flight Examiner
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