It’s Not Easy Flying In Greenland


CAVU circumstances are rare in Greenland. As we speak, that’s precisely what I’ve in northeast Canada and the enormous ice cap continent. Three hours ago, once I departed Goose Bay, Labrador, with the forecaster’s promise of clear skies and tailwinds spelled out in the weather package deal, I was more than slightly dubious that Mother Time and Father Nature would relinquish their grip on Southern Greenland only for me.

Thankfully, the tailwinds have been there, and the standard weather wasn’t. Now, the GPS suggests I’m 90 miles out from my vacation spot of Narsarsuaq, and, positive sufficient, I’m nicely ahead of my how-goes-it, flight-planned time en route. From 17,000 ft, I can see all the best way right down to the southern tip of Greenland and properly north toward the capital metropolis of Nuuk. If the Earth have been flat, I might in all probability see the Eiffel Tower within the distance.

Slowly, the ice-capped mountains of Southern Greenland begin to materialize within the distance. Icebergs dot the water under, turning into more numerous and distinct as I slowly achieve on the mountains of compacted snow. My God, this place is magnificent, and I’m far south of the very best part of the ice cap.

A few years in the past, on my first journey to Europe, I was wanting down from 35,000 ft, and the view of Greenland was nothing however white on white. I was eastbound in a 747 on my method from Los Angeles to Paris to cowl the Paris Air Show. The pilot had just announced that we have been crossing the Labrador Sea and ought to be over the western coast of Greenland in a few minutes.

Hassle was, the clouds under have been confused layers of cirrus that merged completely with the ice cap. Even in early summer time, the weather that far above the Arctic Circle was marginal, obscuring practically every little thing under 20,000 ft. 

At that time, I couldn’t probably have guessed that I might be visiting Greenland maybe 50 occasions within the subsequent 30 years. Opposite to in style perception, Greenland isn’t outdoors the vary of many common aviation plane, and its weather isn’t as dangerous as it is in Northeastern Canada. There are a selection of blue-sky-and-sunshine days in each summer time and winter.

In case you’re contemplating an Atlantic crossing to Europe by the milk-run route via Labrador, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland, you might want solely about 700 nm range plus reserve. It’s true the survival gear requirements for such a visit are strict and vital, however you possibly can lease cold-water survival- go well with rafts and a lot of the other gadgets in Bangor, Maine, the final stop inside the U.S.

From the tourist’s perspective, Greenland features some belongings you gained’t see anyplace else, until you possibly can afford a visit to Antarctica. When you keep on with the underside half of the “green” continent, you’ll miss any potential encounters with the polar bears of the northern cap, however you’ll have to surmount an enormous accumulation of ice, over 10,000 ft tall, that grows out of the North Atlantic. 

A friendly controversy up north is that Greenland is usually ice, and Iceland is usually inexperienced. In reality, Greenland is actually a ring of mountains which have steadily crammed with ice over the millennia. 

Narsarsuaq, Greenland, resides close to the underside of the island continent—okay, it’s not officially a continent, but why it’s not is extra historic than geographical—and it’s probably the most fashionable stops on the excessive street to Europe. The airport was built by the U.S. Army within the early years of WWII as a refueling stop for plane headed for the European Theatre and was designated as Bluie West One. That’s the rationale its official airport code remains BGBW (B for North Atlantic, G for Greenland and BW for its unique identify).

From a pilot’s viewpoint, there are 4 main airports in Greenland, Narsarsuaq, on the southwest coast, close to the southern tip. The three others are: Gothab, the capital of this territory of Denmark, lately renamed Nuuk, 200 miles north, also on the west coast; Sondrestrom Fjord (also called Kangerlussuaq), 200 miles north of that; and Kulusuk, on the east coast, straight throughout from Sondrestrom Fjord.

At present’s airport, BGBW, was constructed at the end of a 42-mile-long fjord close to the southwest coast of Greenland. The runway, 7-25, begins practically at water’s edge and slopes steeply uphill toward the ice cap. Mountains encompass the airport on three sides, shut enough that the IFR minimal MDA is 1,800 ft and 6,000 meters visibility. Eighteen hundred and three.5 miles is hardly a typical IFR strategy minimum. Bear in mind, that’s the bottom minimal, relevant to a 100-knot plane. At 135 knots, the MDA rises to 2,400 ft. Narsarsuaq is not any place for amateurs.

Commonplace process at BGBW is to strategy and land uphill towards the east and depart to the west to avoid the ice cap.

For that very cause, a standard apply during marginal climate was to descend VFR (type of) under the clouds whereas nonetheless properly out over the Labrador Sea, monitor inbound to the Tunulliarfik Fjord, designated by an NDB and comply with the fjord on the south aspect of the beacon because it winds inland to the airport. There was a half-submerged ship several miles into the fjord to reassure pilots that they have been in the right fjord.

Hassle was, there was one other fjord on the north aspect of the NDB that may lead you simply as far inland but would terminate in a strong mountain wall. If the climate have been low, you’d have to retrace your steps again to the beacon and fly up the right fjord to seek out the airport, adding 84 miles to your trip. 

The pilot of a Bellanca Viking 300 made precisely this error many years ago. He flew up the mistaken fjord, rotated and tracked back to the beacon, found the right fjord and started again toward Narsarsuaq. The Viking ran out of gasoline only about 2 miles from the airport. The pilot ditched his Bellanca close to a ship in the fjord, walked out on the appropriate wing and stepped into the boat practically with out getting moist. Relieved of carrying gasoline, the two wing tanks have been now filled with air and served as big pontoons that stored the airplane afloat. Because the wings have been constructed of Sitka spruce, the airplane floated simply advantageous in the clean, semi-fresh water of the fjord. 

When it turned obvious the airplane wasn’t going to sink, the boat proprietor threw a line around the prop and towed the Viking to shore immediately abeam the edge of the airport’s runway 7. The pilot climbed back into the cockpit, extended the gear, and a four-wheel-drive truck hauled the Viking out of the water onto the seashore.

The story goes that there was little or no injury to the Bellanca, and the avionics by no means acquired moist. Water injury was minimal, because the inside fjord was fed by water runoff from the ice cap moderately than the salty North Atlantic.

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Nevertheless you arrive in Narsarsuaq, the individuals are great, the service is superb, and there’s even a cushty Scandinavian-style lodge on the airport for those who determine to remain over. Once, a number of years again, I stayed there for 5 days ready for weather to clear so I might make the subsequent leg to Reykjavik. I was flying a brand new Maule M6-260 on amphibious floats that accumulate ice such as you wouldn’t consider, and IFR was out of the query.

Oh, sure, one different thing about Narsarsuaq and most other Greenland airports: Gasoline prices $17/gallon.

One other function of the Greenland ice cap is the Distant Early Warning radar community, better recognized within the ’60s and ’70s as the DEW line. It was established in the course of the Chilly Warfare. There have been three radar stations constructed out on the cap, code-named Sea Bass, Sob Story and Huge Gun. These dome-shaped, top-secret radar amenities have been built near or above the 10,000-foot degree of the cap and appeared predominately north towards Russia across the North Pole. They have been resupplied by ski-equipped Lockheed C-130s and helicopters staged primarily out of one other U.S. base at Sondrestrom Fjord, 400 miles north of Narsarsuaq, also on Greenland’s west coast. All three radars have long been decommissioned.

It’s onerous to imagine what manner of conduct might earn a G.I. an extended keep at any of those amenities, however being stationed on prime of the Greenland ice cap should have been considered probably the most boring, if not necessarily the hardest, obligation within the army.

One other fascinating sidebar to the Greenland story is the saga of a P-38 Lightning being ferried across the Atlantic to Europe in the early days of WWII. The airplane was part of a flight consisting of six P-38s and two Boeing B-17s. The group departed Sondrestrom, vacation spot Reykjavik, and encountered severe fog and poor weather circumstances over the Davis Strait. All eight aircraft turned again toward Greenland, only to find the climate had closed completed behind them. With little other selection, all eight airplanes have been pressured to land on the ice cap.

No one was harm within the pressured landings on the flat floor of the ice, and all pilots and crew have been rescued a number of days later. When the struggle ended, there was no incentive to salvage the airplanes, in order that they have been deserted out on the cap. All eight warbirds have been regularly entombed by the years of storms and shifting ice. 

Inevitably, someone determined to deliver up one of many P-38s, and the recovery finally succeeded, as I wrote for this magazine in 2007: “Warbird expert Bob Cardin led a team of adventurers onto the ice to recover one of the airplanes. The 10th expedition to make the effort, Cardin’s group battled blizzard conditions and minus-20 degrees F temperatures and finally succeeded in retrieving a partially crushed P-38 from 266 feet below the surface of the ice. The team transported the disassembled airplane by ski-equipped DC-3 to the Greenland port of Kulusuk and shipped (the P-38) to Savannah, GA.”

The complete story of the restoration, transport and eventual restoration of that P-38 might fill the remainder of this journal, however San Antonio oilman Rod Lewis ultimately purchased the airplane, named Glacier Woman, and decided to complete the journey to Duxford, England, for the Flying Legends Airshow. Duxford was the unique vacation spot deliberate in 1942. 

I joined Rod Lewis’ trans-Atlantic staff because of my association with Steve Hinton, a well known check pilot, unlimited race pilot and owner of the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California. On the time, Hinton was the only pilot insured to fly Glacier Woman, and he felt the workforce wanted somebody alongside who knew a bit of about flying the ocean. Since I knew as little as anybody, I was hired as a marketing consultant.

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Duxford on that trip. Dangerous climate in England intervened, and I wound up flying residence from Reykjavik. As we speak, it goes a lot better, and we arrive safely within the surprisingly friendly circumstances.

However, for all you wannabe warbird house owners on the market who have a number of million dollars to spend, be suggested that there are nonetheless two B-17s and 5 P-38s simply ready to be retrieved from 250-300 ft of glaciated snow and ice on prime of the Greenland ice cap.

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