GEAR UP

A TRIP THAT DE­FIES DE­SCRIP­TION

Flying - - CONTENTS - By Dick Karl

Fly­ing Europe in a Cessna M2

What would you call a trip to Que­bec City; Bluie West Eight, Green­land; Reyk­javik, Ice­land; Stra­vanger, Nor­way; Am­s­ter­dam; Cannes on the French Riviera; Ljubl­jana, Slove­nia; Salzburg, Aus­tria; Lucerne, Switzer­land; Tallinn, Es­to­nia; Stock­holm; and Ed­in­burgh, Scot­land? A trip of a life­time? What if it were in a pri­vate jet? How about if you were the copi­lot, in­vited by the owner and his wife? What if, for good mea­sure, these ridicu­lously gen­er­ous peo­ple in­vited your wife to come along too? What would you call all that? Never mind the heli­copter ride to the vine­yard in Cotes de Provence and the pri­vate Mozart din­ner in Salzburg. Just the fly­ing bit is all we have time to con­tem­plate here.

Let’s start by ad­mit­ting that such an ex­pe­ri­ence beg­gars all de­scrip­tion — that pre­vi­ous em­ploy of su­perla­tives that might have been used to en­thuse about a sun­set boat cruise, now be­come hack­neyed and in­suf­fi­cient when at­tempt­ing to set down what this en­tire 25-day, life-al­ter­ing event was re­ally like. And, I should point out, I learned a few life lessons too.

It all started when Pete DeSoto emailed me and asked if I’d be in­ter­ested in the trip. His in­surance wanted an­other pi­lot along on this itin­er­ary in his al­most brand-new (less than 800 hours on it) Cessna M2. Then he in­vited my wife, Cathy. By the time the trip came around, Pete had found other cov­er­age that did not de­mand two pi­lots, but was kind enough not to re­scind the of­fer.

And so it was that I found my­self sit­ting in a con­fer­ence room in the el­e­gant Chateau Fron­tenac in Que­bec City in late May, lis­ten­ing to our brief­ing for the next morn­ing. Our plan was to fly from Que­bec to Goose Bay, New­found­land and Labrador, re­fuel and set out across the Davis Strait to Green­land — specif­i­cally to Kanger­lus­suaq, also for­merly known as Son­dre Strom­fjord and, dur­ing World War II, as Bluie West Eight. This route would re­pro­duce with fi­delity the trek made by hun­dreds of air­planes in the 1940s as they fer­ried weapons, parts and sol­diers to the Euro­pean The­ater. If you’ve read Ernest K. Gann’s book Fate Is the

Hunter, you ap­pre­ci­ate learn­ing all about this route when flown with­out the ben­e­fit of jet en­gines and GPS nav­i­ga­tion. His de­scrip­tion of find­ing the field at Narsar­suaq, Green­land, raises the pulse rate.

Pete and his wife Shardel’s friends, Charlene and Roberto, com­pleted our happy man­i­fest. Our de­par­ture from Que­bec and ar­rival at Goose were all rou­tine and flown on top of a be­nign cloud layer. I quickly be­came ac­cus­tomed to Pete’s tail num­ber, as I was the “pi­lot not fly­ing,” run­ning the ra­dios. It was on our de­par­ture from Goose Bay that the enor­mity of the trip be­came clear. It is 875 nau­ti­cal miles to Kanger­lus­suaq, and the flight plan called for some in­ter­est­ing fixes. Af­ter “PRAWN,” we were to fly to N60W057, then to N64W055, and on to “SF,” the bea­con called “Son­dre Strom­fjord” on the LOC Zulu, to Run­way 9 at our des­ti­na­tion. We would be mak­ing po­si­tion re­ports on VHF. We were out of radar con­trol over the ocean. As we ap­proached the first

THE DOORS FLEW OPEN, AND 12 CLIMATE SCI­EN­TISTS BURST IN. THEY HAD BEEN IN THE FIELD, AND THEY SET UPON THEIR DIN­NER AS IF THEY WERE SHACKLETON’S CREW AR­RIV­ING AT SOUTH GE­OR­GIA IS­LAND.

lat-long fix, I prac­ticed the cor­rect phras­ing for po­si­tion re­port­ing: “Gan­der Ra­dio, A/C Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, po­si­tion, at time (zulu), al­ti­tude (FL 410), es­ti­mat­ing SF at time (zulu), BGSF (des­ti­na­tion), next.” The re­ply came in­stantly, re­peat­ing the re­port ex­actly in a com­pletely bored tone. Of course, this type of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is ev­ery­day for this guy.

The clouds gave way. Ocean was all you could see. Finally, the hint of a huge cheese­cake ap­peared in the dis­tance at our 2 o’clock. The brown crust was moun­tains; the cheese fill­ing was ice cap. It grew larger. Snow and rock de­scribed the craggy sur­face. We were turned over to Son­dre­strom Ap­proach while still over wa­ter, and told to de­scend. The LOC Z chart de­clared the min­i­mum safe al­ti­tude to be 5,300 feet. The air­port is 100 feet msl. I was grate­ful that the weather was clear. The missed-ap­proach climb gra­di­ent re­quired a min­i­mum of 5 per­cent. Tran­si­tion al­ti­tude was 7,000 feet, not 18,000. The small print on the ap­proach chart stated: “CAU­TION: Ad­here strictly to the pre­scribed pro­ce­dure due to high sur­round­ing ter­rain. Ex­pect mod­er­ate tur­bu­lence on fi­nal ap­proach with winds in ex­cess of 20 KT.”

We headed for the NDB and started down. Pete said, “I thought there was an ILS here, but not any­more.” We got jos­tled, but Pete set her down nicely and we danced out of the air­plane, shiv­er­ing and ex­cited, chat­ter­ing like third-graders. We put on the pitot and en­gine cov­ers, grabbed the lug­gage, and hopped in the van that took us across the field to the “of­fice.” Af­ter some pa­per­work, some plan­ning for fuel, some mi­nor cus­toms in­quiries and some pleas­antries, we were stum­bling out the front door, drag­ging our lug­gage to the ho­tel, lo­cated just 100 yards away. I was told the ho­tel was once the bach­e­lor of­fi­cers’ quar­ters when this place was busy dur­ing the Se­cond World War, and later when the United States had a larger pres­ence here dur­ing the Cold War.

We checked in. Each room had black­out cur­tains. There is very lit­tle dark of night at these lat­i­tudes in May and June. The rooms were not to be mis­taken for those of a Ritz-Carl­ton, but they were clean, and we were ex­hil­a­rated, tired and hun­gry. One catch: The ho­tel restau­rant was closed. The pop­u­la­tion of Kanger­lus­suaq is posted as less than 500, mak­ing the like­li­hood of mul­ti­ple restau­rant choices un­likely. Shardel asked, “Is the row­ing club open?” Mirac­u­lously, it was. We would be picked up at 6 for a ride to the row­ing club.

What fol­lowed was un­like any pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence in my life. A school bus picked us up at 6 sharp, and we lurched across a land­scape that I associated with the moon. Af­ter 15 min­utes, we pulled up to some out­build­ings. Three trees that had been planted the pre­vi­ous year were pointed out to us. They were still alive.

Inside was a scene out of a sci-fi movie. Ta­bles were set in what ap­peared to be an­tic­i­pa­tion of a large group. The wait­ers moved and spoke with author­ity. I found my­self glee­fully or­der­ing musk ox tar­tar (fab­u­lous), lump­fish roe (ditto), rein­deer (not so much) and had­dock, di­rect from the ocean (amaz­ing). And this was just day one of our trip.

Soon, the doors flew open, and 12 climate sci­en­tists burst in. They had been in the field, and they set upon their din­ner as if they were Shackleton’s crew ar­riv­ing at South Ge­or­gia Is­land. Soon we were all in noisy con­ver­sa­tion. We drank wine in giddy recog­ni­tion of our where­abouts; not just where we were at that moment and not just with whom we shared the moment, but where ev­ery­one was in life.

Spot­ting Green­land from over the Labrador Sea.

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