Day 1: EBKT-EGPC-BIEG-BIRK – Along the Blue Spruce Routes to the USA

The previous blogpost discussed the preparation of the trip. Now we depart !

Flight 1 : Kortrijk – Wick

After a nervous night, we got up very early so we could take off to the west as soon as our home airport Kortrijk (EBKT) opened (at 06:00L). I had arranged with the airport police that we could pass by there from 05:30L onwards (after having done the GenDec), and we had prepared most of the airplane upfront, including fuel. Also the evening before we had done an interview for the local aviation publication RateOne.

The plan was to fly Kortrijk (EBKT) – Wick, Schotland (EGPC) – Reykjavik, Iceland (BIRK) – Kulusuk, Greenland (BGKK) in one day. Boy, little we knew that plan would change sooo fast …

So after having past customs & immigration, we only had one thing to do: depart ! Westbound !! Towards Oshkosh !!! Over the Atlantic Ocean !!!! So that’s what we did … They conveniently gave us runway 06, and off we were, carefully noting our fuel situation as a general repetition of things to come.

Our routing called to remain mainly east from the british isle without coasting out over the North Sea too much: pretty much a straight line to the north of Scotland while still mostly over water so we donned our life vests.

After Brussels Departure, we got to talk to Amsterdam Radar, followed by London Control and than Scottish Control. It was very quiet and easy and we mostly saw windmills and oilrigs. We stayed low mainly due to too much wind at altitude.

After almost 3h55 Aberdeen made us contact Approach and we got a RNP 31 approach onto Wick (EGPC) from over the sea.

And so we landed without any issue and taxied via Charlie to the Apron, arriving at the first location of the Blue Spruce Routes because we saw all the old WW2 hangars in various state of repair or disrepair … Wick is a classic stop-over for ferry pilots in both directions.

We immediately spotted a small Grumman Cheetah airplane with two people onboard: they were staring up to also fly to Reykjavik on their way to Oshkosh ! We politely said hello in the best German we had.

This is a stock photo of the Grumman Cheetah I found on the internet (not mine)

We had made an appointment with Far North Aviation who served us coffee, a full tank of Avgas and most importantly loaned us two immersion suits. The immersion suits keep you warm if you ended up ditching in the Atlantic Ocean. Also it is imperative to wear them (without shoes) while flying because it is impossible to don them in the aircraft while going through the emergency. So we wore them on every flight where we crossed significant water.

Ok, so this first flight was good practice … so let’s start doing the real work: our first oceanic crossing !

Flight 2 : Wick – Egilsstadir : In-air Emergency & Diversion

We took off from runway 31 in Wick and were cleared to climb to FL060 (6000ft), an altitude carefully chosen to remain under icing layers and to have the least influence from the headwinds. We took careful note of our fuel situation at take-off and our fuel consumption in the climb as we knew that this one is critical !

IFR clearance was direct to DEVBI while we knew we could pick up our oceanic clearance (my first ever !) after DEVBI with Iceland Radio. Rest of the flightplan was than RATSU – ALDAN – ASRUN – EL – BIRK.

My son Toby was complaining about a whistling sound from our right cockpit door, and when established in the cruise, the first miles into the Atlantic Ocean, he saw that there was a gap between the door and the airplane fuselage, creating that sound and letting cold air in. In our debugging of that problem, we actually opened the door and to our surprise, we found out that we could not close it again !! Here we had an in-flight emergency ! No way we would fly our the Atlantic Ocean when fuel critical with an opened door … So I was considering to turn back to Wick to close the door on the ground and to refuel, eating the loss of time and swallowing our pride… but then I remembered that in the emergency checklist of our Piper, I had added a section on an open door emergency:

So we slowed down the aircraft below 90 knots, opened the small storm window to my left, and my son was able to fully close the opened door … ! Oef ! So we could continue to Iceland. The noise was not gone but later on the ground in Reykjavik, Toby re-glued the rubber door seal in place, solving the air gap problem properly.

So we continued towards Reykjavik in basically shitty weather at the very economic fuel setting of 47% power as calculated. After passing DEVBI, Scottish Control passed us to Reykjavik Control who told us to pick up our Oceanic Clearance with Iceland Radio on 127.850. As expected we got cleared to BIRK via above routing.

We received a Pilot Report (PIREP) from the German Cheetah that they were flying at FL100 in the clear, while we were in shitty weather. Also, we noted that our fuel consumption was significantly higher than calculated due to headwinds which were 10 to 15 knots higher than forecast, giving us a ground speed of about 120 knots. I was starting to worry about our fuel state. This was the longest over-water leg. We had the opportunity to deviate to Vagar (EKVG) on the Faroer Islands but the weather was not good and that airport is notorious for windshears on final … so better to avoid unless really in trouble.

Also, through our InReach satellite transceiver, I was monitoring the METAR weather situation in Reykjavik and I started noticing that there was BR (brume = mist) coming up in Reykjavik. That got my attention ! So we started discussing our options: (1) returning to Wick, (2) divert to Vagar, (3) continue to Reykjavik. None of these options was appealing: returning would require us to decide soon as we were getting closer to our Point-of-Safe-Return as calculated beforehand. Vagar was not a good idea due to above. And Reykjavik entailed the risk of go-around due to mist in a low fuel situation. Hmmm … here we were above the Atlantic Ocean !

Than we heard that the German Cheetah aircraft decided to divert to Egilsstadir (BIEG) in the east of Iceland. From my preparation I knew that this airport had customs & immigration and avgas and was closer to us than Reykjavik, so I checked the weather at Egilsstadir via my InReach: it was CAVOK (ceiling and visibility OK) ! So perfect weather. Toby and me discussed a little and we agreed that the safest option would be to also divert to Egilsstadir. We also understood that we could not end up in Kulusuk (Greenland) today but I had seen already that the weather was not good enough there anyway.

So after having made our decision to divert, I called Iceland Radio but they were unable to hear me due to my low altitude of FL060. Luckily there was a Lufthansa airliner above us (“Lufthansa 7MU”) and talking to the same controller, so we asked if he could relay our decision to divert to BIEG to Iceland Radio, and he did that. Through the Lufthansa airliner, we got a new clearance: from present position direct ES and than BIEG. So we turned somewhat more north direct to ES near Egilsstadir. They later asked us to climb to FL080 due to terrain, which put us directly under the icing layer.

After a while, the weather cleared up and we saw our first glimpses of land !

We passed the shoreline of a very rugged yet extremely beautiful part of Iceland and followed a gletscher carved valley towards our diversion aerodrome. Soon we captured the ILS signal of Egilsstadir and we entered a lush green valley with a lake with blue shores: like in the Efteling.

We made a soft landing with still 34 G fuel on board (28%) after 4:36hrs of flight: we just made our first ocean crossing… and it was the longest over-water crossing of the trip !

We were able to pass immigration and customs (“Passports, please”). I also had to fill in a pre-printed GenDec form I had taken from home. The refuelling was difficult as the avgas pump was giving troubles. While filling-up, the German Cheetah airplane also arrived, and because of the headwinds their fuel situation was also less optimal as calculated.

We had to go the innards of the terminal to pay our fees.

Flight 3 : Egilsstadir – Reykjavik

With a full tank of fuel and plenty of new courage, we decided to continue to Reykjavik (at the other side of the island of Iceland), flying VFR. I selected SkyDemon as the navigation app, which is my favourite for VFR flying. I had informed the FBO in Reykjavik of our changed plans and they helped us out with booking a hotel too.

We took off from this lovely romantic valley as took a western course all the way over the island. The landscape below us was wonderful: rugged, rough, rivers extending from gletschers which extended themselves from large icecaps. Volcano mounds. Peaks and valleys. Iceland is beautiful from the air ! So it must be beautiful from the ground.

After a while, however, the cloud deck started to block our views and we had a decision to make: above or below. Below entailed the problem that we could get blocked between clouds and terrain, so we decided to climb above and the view temporary was gone.

We even had to request a change from VFR to IFR because that clouds creeped to to above FL100 and we didn’t want to put our oxygen system on. We kept at FL090 so icing was above us.

Near Reykjavik and in the descent, the area cleared again and we got back our views on the ground: Iceland was still gorgeous ! We did a sloppy RNP-A approach to runway 31 at BIRK (Reykjavik city airport) and we taxied to the avgas pump. The FBO gave us a parking spot on the busy airport and a lift to the hotel: what a great first day !

In the hotel we saw images of the erupted volcano so we planned to fly over it the next day … Cheers !

Next blogpost is about Day 2: how we were blocked in Reykjavik due to bad weather over Greenland… but we made the best of it: further flight and airplane preparation, a visit of the city and a nice natural history museum.

Stay tuned and all reactions welcome !

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