(continued from Atlantic Crossing…) At 7am we were eating breakfast at the hotel restaurant in Goose Bay, Canada and then were on our way to the FBO. Determining the weather at the various destinations in Greenland occupied about 30 minutes of our time at the FBO prior to takeoff. The weather in Narsarsuaq was forecast to be excellent, so we took off hopeful for the ability to land there. According to Margrit, Greenland historically has been the most “ify” part of an Atlantic crossing weather-wise.
The instrument approach into Narsarsuaq only takes you down to about 3000‘MSL due to the mountains, so if any IFR conditions exist, you have to fly under the overcast and risk the mountains or else fly to another destination, which is a long way away, stretching fuel reserves. The enroute portion of the Goose Bay to Narsarsuaq flight was uneventful. A large area of weather obscured the North Atlantic underneath us for much of the flight. But then, about 150 miles from Greenland, the skies opened up to nearly perfectly clear and it was not long before the snow covered mountains of Greenland came into view.
They looked like distant clouds to the uninitiated. Margrit saw them first and the excitement began to build as the mountains came more clearly into view. The ocean below us was seemingly smooth and deep blue. Icebergs floated sparsely in the southern waters, but became more prevalent as we approached the shores, especially in areas where the glaciers calved into the waters. The was as beautiful as it was sparse. Rugged mountains poked through the snow covered valleys and emptied into the ocean along finger-like fjords.
Narsarsuaq is also called Bluie West 1 from its time as the stop-over point for transatlantic flights during WWII. Many pilots flew up the wrong fjord and ended up in a place where they could not out-climb the mountains and also did not have enough distance left or right to turn around. We had no such trouble because the weather was so nice. The nice weather also afforded an opportunity to take some pictures along the fjord.
Coming out of Narsarsuaq is a piloting challenge as well. Although the runway is long, the prevailing winds, slope of the runway, surrounding mountains, and aircraft climb capabilities create opportunities for poor choices with disastrous results. Merely selecting the wrong takeoff direction can be deadly. The runway slopes upwards away from the water to a such a degree that it must be considered for proper performance planning. Also, with the terrain ascending quickly on the east side of the runway and with mountains on either side, a takeoff to the north is inadvisable unless conditions demand is so. To make a takeoff direction selection, one must also factor in the winds. The prevailing wind at Narsarsuaq tends to flow down the glacier from the north to the water. This makes landings easy for usually you have strong headwinds, an upslope, and minimal terrain to deal with. For takeoff, the winds can be the deciding factor. For our takeoff, the winds were 20 kts from the east, right down the runway from the wrong direction. Normally takeoffs are made to the west, but with the strong winds, we decided to takeoff to the east. Another factor helping us make the decision is the strong climbing capability of the King Air C90. The cold air and low density altitude mean that the performance will be excellent. We felt that we could climb out and clear the terrain and certainly did not want to take off with a 20 knot tailwind, even with the downhill slope helping us accelerate. As long as the engines developed full power, we would be just fine. If one or both were to fail during climb, we might not have enough radius to turn without impacting the terrain. Since it was perfectly clear, we felt comfortable with the eastbound takeoff. Had there been a cloud layer obscuring the mountain, we would have taken off west and braved the tailwind, or simply have been stuck in Narsarsuaq until conditions changed.
The flight from Narsarsuaq to Keflavic, Iceland was most enjoyable while flying over the Greenland island. The expanse of ice was nearly unimaginable. The waters on the eastern coast held many more icebergs and really neat to see.