I’m excited about this trip for many reasons, but mostly because I am in a frame of mind that is unclouded and generally worry-free. It seems that on recent trips I’ve had many ankle-biting issues that seemed to be left undone as the trip started. On this trip I am ready to go.
Ryne is going with me again as I want to subject him to as much international flying as possible. I’d like for him to be able to take a flight on his own one day, and it is a super confidence booster to go 1/2 way around the world as the pilot. Flying internationally will make a better pilot domestically, and he will certainly grow from this experience.
On the airline flight from Houston to Amsterdam I had the pleasure of sitting next to Audrey, a wonderful person who had the most interesting stories to tell of her life. Within 5 minutes of flying we were getting along just fine. She’s an entrepreneur at heart and I am too. She was turning her passion into opportunity, all the while serving others in a unique manner. When flying internationally I always like to have an open seat next to me, but on this flight I enjoyed her company.
Ryne and I killed some time in Amsterdam by shopping and eating local chocolate and then got on the completely full flight to Doha. We wore our pilot uniforms, and the captain of the Airbus noticed us and invited us to the cockpit while the airplane was over Iraq. It was super to see the front of this marvel of aviation. We learned a lot about each others lifestyles. Theirs was impressive, but I’m super-happy doing exactly what I’m doing. They were interested in our story too, for although we are both deeply into aviation, our careers could not be more different. His involved set schedules, seniority systems, large airports, and constant talks of workers unions. My schedule is completely unset, there is no seniority system, I rarely go to large airports, and I loath unions. We enjoyed talks about common interests like the various systems on the airplanes, how to make a good crosswind landing, and which airplanes were our favorites. It was just plain-ole pilot talk, the exact kind I like best.
On my first trip to Oman the customs experience was horrible. Since then I’ve had good experiences, but I’ve worn my pilot uniform on subsequent trips so I think that’s helped immensely. Thanks to a nice customs agent that pulled us out of the longer line, we made it through customs within 5 minutes and then negotiated the taxi for the short drive to the Golden Tulip Hotel. I checked e-mail, took a shower, and was fast asleep in record time.
Breakfast at the Golden Tulip is excellent with many choices and high quality. The only notable omission on the menu was anything made of pork, but they did have beef bacon, which was interesting, but not tasty. It took about 2 hours and $800 to get through the logistical aviation gauntlet at the Muscat Airport. We made it to the airplane and found a dirty but seemingly mechanically sound King Air C90B. As the preflight progressed, the more pleased I became. This was one nice King Air with good engines. After departing Muscat, Oman (OOMS) for Riyahd, Saudi Arabia (OERK), my impressions of this airplane only improved.
The Saudi Arabian Desert is one of the most foreboding places on Earth. There are times in the flight where there is nothing but sand for as far as the eye can see…and I do mean there was nothing but sand. No trees, grasses, buildings, or anything else. The immensity is staggering, even from 5 miles in the sky.
OERK is in the middle of the Saudi Arabian Desert, but it is a large airport with plenty of paved surfaces. Arabasco, the fueling and handling company at many Middle Eastern airports, “served” us in a very typical manner…meaning they were slow, lazy, and unaccommodating. After forking over $1,200 for the “airport service fees”, we got a sandwich, chips, and drink at a small airport restaurant. This meal was far more than I anticipated within Saudi Arabia, so we both were overall pleased.
The flight to Alexandria, Egypt (HEBA) was similar to others I’ve made before. I’m still amazed at the large size of the Red Sea, the inhospitable terrain on both sides of the Red Sea, and the poor visibility that seems to be in one of the driest parts of the world. It was a long flight to Cairo and the L&R NO FUEL XFER lights (meaning the main fuel tanks were empty and the nacelle tanks held the last of our fuel) were ON as we touched down. This was my fifth time to come to HEBA and the same group of about 7 guys showed up to take our money and give us fuel. No food, no toilets, no pictures, and no “service with a smile” was what we got at HEBA, but we did get fuel and no extraneous headaches, so I’m not complaining too loudly. They only took USD for the fuel and “services” and they had no change at all. When going to HEBA it pays to have smaller bills to keep from over-paying for fuel or “services”.
The sun was just going below the horizon as we climbed out over the Egyptian Coastline. The strong headwinds slowed us down, but it was a fairly short flight to Iraklion, Greece (LGIR) on the Island of Crete. We arrived around 9pm local and immediately went to the hotel, threw our stuff into the hotel room, and walked to the downtown area of Iraklion. There were literally many hundreds of teenagers mingling about a large park/pavilion area near the center of town. It was a cool, young, nightlife sort of feel that was quite enjoyable. We ate a sandwich and had some ice cream, and then returned to get some shut-eye.
Climbing out of Iraklion was enjoyable because of the incredible views. The Island of Crete is simply gorgeous with large mountains coming out of the very blue sea below. In fact, the whole flight to Podgorica, Montenegro (LYPG) was stunningly beautiful. The Greek Isles followed by the mountainous areas further inland were easily seen in the perfectly clear morning. The approach into Podgorica was particularly lovely as it is a city that is nestled among a picturesque mountain scene. We were in and out of Podgorica within 45 minutes, and this included our being able to get some lunch, which was again, an unexpected pleasure.
The clouds obscured most of the trip from Podgorica to Luxembourg (ELLX), except for the time that we were over Bosnia. I really enjoyed seeing my old stomping grounds from the air. I do hope the Bosnian people are returning to a life of normalcy. It is an incredibly beautiful country from the air. We were on top of the clouds most of the time, and it was generally smooth, but I missed seeing the Italian/Swiss Alps, which is one of my favorite views in the world. Luxembourg seemed to come into view quickly, but it was a 4+ hour flight. We landed on the gargantuan runway (13,000+ft long) and had the tanks topped off for the next leg of our journey…Wick, Scotland (EGPC).
There were more clouds for most of the flight to Scotland. It is nice to hear the the voices and dialects of the air traffic controllers on “Scottish Radio”, a welcome sound in this part of the world. We landed just before sunset, parked the airplane, and were driven by one of the line-guys at Far North Aviation (FBO at Wick) to the Askergill Tower, a legitimate castle that is right on the coast. It is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been for lodging. Being on the extreme north of Scotland, it is a bit away from the “tourist traps” that are found elsewhere in the world. The grounds are stunning, the interior of the castle wonderfully appointed with pictures and other decorations from the castle’s history, and the view of the ocean is marvelous.
I smoked Ryne at a game of snooker before dining in one of the coolest dining rooms ever. The service was excellent and the surroundings even better. It is true Scottish luxury that takes you back to a time long forgotten by most. I highly recommend this castle to anyone visiting this area.
The winds howled on the way from Wick, Scotland to Keflavik, Iceland (BIKF). With a 240+KTAS our ground speed was only 185 kts for much of the flight but the weather was generally clear. Whitecaps were easily visible from 18,000ft and I knew the waves were probably over 20’ high. The North Atlantic can be a very angry sea. Iceland came into view as the visibility was super. Snow covered much of the mountain peaks but the lower elevations were clear. The approach into Keflavik was easy, except for the surface winds which were gusting to 38mph. I ran inside and began the long process of downloading the GPS fills for North America as the fills that were in the onboard GPS only contained fills for Europe. I knew it was going to take a while, and it did…almost an hour. I was bummed because I wanted to move on westward.
The winds abated some on the flight from Keflavik to Sondestrom, Greenland (BGSF). I saw ground speeds of 220kts for most of the flight. The eastern coast of Greenland is one of the more beautiful scenes on Earth, in my opinion. Large icebergs floated in the blue water and the rugged mountains jutted out giving an ominous presence. It looks uninhabitable, and probably is except for the most rugged of personality.
The Icecap of Greenland is also immense, and quite beautiful in so many ways. The vast open expanse of pure white expands the imagination, even opens previous limitations. What was once vast in my perception pales in comparison after flying over Greenland, even after having done so dozens of times. Greenland is certainly beautiful.
We landed in Sondestrom, Greenland with only about 45 minutes to spare. The airport closed at 5pm with stiff fines for departing after 5pm. We ran to the airline terminal for a quick sandwich and drink, filed my flight plan, paid for fuel, and (thankfully) Ryne remembered to call Canpass to advise of my next flight to Canada. We departed Sondestrom in nearly perfect weather and hugged the fjord at low level on the way westward.
A freighter was being unloaded by some smaller boats as we flew over. Within 10 minutes we were climbing out into the 9000ft OVC and soon was on top in the clear blue on the way to Iqaluit, Canada (CYFB).
The flight to Iqaluit was rather mundane as there was clouds below the whole time. We lost communication with Iceland Radio soon and had radio silence for about an hour. As we approached the Canada landmass communication with Montreal Center welcomed me to the far reaches of North America. Although the weather was forecast to be good for our arrival, and then decrease as the evening progressed, the weather got progressively worse to the point that an ILS approach was required. Ryne flew the approach with excellence and the King Air broke out of the clouds around 500‘AGL with about 3 miles visibility in snow. On the ground the snow was a mixed bag of precipitation fluctuating from snow to light rain. It was quite miserable weather-wise. As usual, the Canadian Customs were thorough but friendly.
After a long day of flying the hotel sounded really good, but the more pressing need was dinner. I stayed at the Discovery Hotel and there is a super-nice restaurant in the hotel. Although incredibly expensive, it was really good food. I had “surf and tundra” (local fish and caribou) and it was excellent. I crashed in bed early and slept soundly all night.
My greatest worry for my departure was the potential for ice build-up on the King Air’s wings. Ice can destroy lift and is a real hazard to flight. I put about 45 minutes extra time in my schedule in case I needed to find de-icing services. Our schedule was going to very tight as we had an airline flight from Fargo back home on the same day, so there was no room for delays. When we got to the airplane it was completely free of ice, and I was thrilled. However, the batteries were too low to start the engines. Evidently the cold had sapped the power (these batteries had not seen cold temps ever!). Fortunately, a guy (whose name I cannot remember) that worked for Canadian North helped me with a GPU start. His willingness to help and quick response will be remembered for a long time. Within 5 minutes he had us started and on our way. Again…he was a super guy that helped WAY more than he knew.
The winds at altitude on the way from Iqaluit to LeGrande Riviere (CYGL) were just howling at over 130mph. Fortunately, they were howling from 90 degrees right of our course, so we lost only about 15 KTAS. About halfway to CYGL the sky opened up and we got a great view of the wilderness below. This part of the world is spotted with untold thousands of lakes. If Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 lakes”, this area of Canada is the “Land of 100,000 lakes”. One day I’d like to go on a long camping trek through these woods on a quasi-vacation. It is a truly remote area that must be incredibly beautiful on the ground too.
The strong winds aloft translated into strong winds on the ground. Unfortunately, the wind was a direct crosswind at about 18 knots with gusts up to 24. The wind sock stood straight out as Ryne greased on the left tire, then right, then nose wheel. We paid the $15 landing fee, got $20 worth of crappy food out of the vending machine (we missed breakfast in Iqaluit!), paid for our fuel, and left within 30 minutes, a definite record fast stop at CYGL.
The clear skies remained for much of the flight to KFAR. Hudson Bay is enormous on a map, and even bigger from 24,000ft. We got a good opportunity to look at the area because our ground speed was less than 200KTAS, a headwind component of over 40 knots. After Hudson Bay, the endless Canadian wilderness rolled below us. It is similar in appearance to the wilderness that is north of LeGrand RIviere, except that there’s a lot more trees as we flew southwestward.
As we approached the US/Canadian border, the familiar sounds of increased radio traffic and American voices came to our ears. I’m sure it’s the same for every citizen of a respective country, but it feels good to be near “home” when you’ve been far away. Ryne and I were chatty as the trip ended. Ryne flew the ILS to RWY 18 at Fargo International Airport and parked at the Fargo Jet Center. The new owners came to see the airplane, and I gave a good report. This really was a quality King Air. It flew us from the heat and sand of the Middle East through the cold and snow of the North Atlantic and Canada. The King Air is a special airplane to me, and this one was a great example of its kind.
I’m now on the airline flight back to Texas and pondering the weeks’ trials and pleasures. It never ceases to amaze me that an airplane can be flown anywhere in the world with great safety and comfort. Although some are easier than others, there are no “unreachable” places on our globe. Even more amazing is that the God I serve has seen fit to allow me to have an “office that moves”, to be able to behold His vast creation with my own eyes from a perspective that people have only been able to perceive in the last 100 years, and realistically, only the last 70 years. I am blessed more than I deserve, and I look forward to doing it again soon.