ACROSS THE POND. Logbooks at Bangor and Goose Bay tell the stories of ferry flights past.
There's a sign-in guestbook in the pilot's lounge at Avitat in Bangor, Maine, that contains the names and missions of most of the international ferry pilots who have come through here in the last 30 years. Leaf through it, and you'll see signatures of pilots such as Don Kerby, Clark Woodard, Don Holmes, Ken Dawson, Tom Willett, Tony Vallone, Jon Egaas and several hundred others. I'm in there, too, a hundred or so times, not as often as the old pros above, but my entries start in about 1979 and continue, sporadically, to the present day. Many of the pilots above aren't with us any more.
Come to think of it, perhaps I've been doing this too long. Of the aviators listed, only Jon Egaas and I are still delivering airplanes, Egaas primarily in Ayres crop dusters, and me in whatever.
I can't help reflecting on that fact as I sit in the airport hotel, looking out the window of my room with my trusty B&L binoculars. It's about a half mile between the terminal and the GA ramp where "my" 2007 Columbia 400 waits patiently in the cold.
It's a capable little airplane, but deice equipment is almost nonexistent. It consists of a hot prop and pitot heat. How many times over the last 30 years have I sat here watching the rain slant horizontally across the tarmac, or the snow blot out all visibility? I should have learned better by now. I make enough mistakes all by myself, never mind what Mother Nature throws in my path.
No discredit to Bangor. The biggest little city in America's far upper right, the jumping-off spot for most trans-Atlantic ferry flights, enjoys beautiful weather much of the time, but you might want to make your trip of discovery between late April and November rather than in mid-March.
Today, the rain is no worse than a slight mist, but the outside temperature is right at freezing, so in-flight icing is a good bet a few thousand feet up.
The day I arrived, the Bangor Daily News reported a light aircraft had crashed into a forest on a short 90-mile flight because of in-flight icing. And that pilot was a local.
It's that time of year again, when much of New England is plagued by rain, snow and ice, not quite winter and not quite spring. This time, I've been waiting in Bangor for three days, and not much has changed. Fortunately, the forecast is for improving weather, and with any luck at all, I'll fly to Goose Bay the day after tomorrow in preparation for the Atlantic crossing.
Icing conditions offer a perfect reason to employ the aviation adage, "When in doubt, don't." No question there's a difference between benign snow and icing. Some pilots in cold climates fly all winter without problems. My first flights in a Civil Air Patrol Super Cub out of Anchorage, Alaska, were flown on skis, and we often plodded through light snow both in flight and on the ground.
It's also true other aviators, knowledgeable in the ways of icing and flying well-equipped airplanes, can dodge the frozen bullet with a combination of experience, knowledge and bravado, but even most of them are cautious about flying in true icing conditions.
When I slogged down runway 15 ILS into Bangor two days ago, the Columbia had nearly an inch of ice on the wing-leading edge. The airplane didn't seem to mind, but I wasn't exactly happy about it.
Icing doesn't pay much attention to the equipment you fly. Several years ago, a California construction company decided to fly their King Air 200 to Anchorage, Alaska, on business. The crew was highly experienced in the King Air, but not in icing conditions. The trip north went well, but when it was time to return to the Lower 48, the captain and copilot were briefed on the possibility of severe icing conditions.
The captain made a comment to the briefer that, "I'm flying a King Air 200, so a little ice shouldn't be a problem."
Less than 10 minutes after departing Anchorage for Ketchikan, the King Air struggled back down the PANC ILS, covered with ice and nearly out of control. The pilot planted the airplane back onto the runway at Anchorage, appropriately humbled by his first experience with severe icing.
Fortunately, that's more the exception than the rule. Icing isn't the only problem that can delay an international delivery flight. Some pilots believe the biggest hazard of ferry flying is continued flight without continued fuel. In truth, most of us build in such natural reserves that running out is an unlikely option. On the West Coast-to-Hawaii run, the easy rule is simply to wait for better winds. Waiting is often the better part of valor.
The good news is that it nearly always gets easier after Hawaii. Santa Barbara to Honolulu is one of the longest ferry legs in the world, 2,160 nm, and the next leg to Majuro is only 1,985 nm. Then, it's a mere 1,600 nm if you're headed for Guam, or an easy 1,200 nm to Honiara, Solomons, if your destination is Australia or New Zealand.
I've had to answer for a number of delays over the years, everything from mechanical glitches that others might have considered insignificant, to adverse winds, to a bad cold that grounded me (in Bangor, coincidentally) and caused me to lose a Navajo Chieftain delivery to Stockholm. Still, I've learned that he who hesitates is usually correct.
You never know what to worry about and what to ignore, so most ferry pilots try not to ignore anything. Jon Egaas and I delivered a pair of Cessna 402s from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, to Guam a dozen years back for a new Continental Airlines commuter service around the Marianas Islands. Since it was my contract, I had first choice of airplanes, and I chose the newer, better-equipped Businessliner.
At least, so I thought. On the first overwater leg from Santa Barbara to Honolulu, I detected a strange vibration that asserted itself about once every five minutes. I could see the evidence of vibration in the glass of the instrument faces, and I assumed it was a rough engine. Jon was in loose formation with me, so I snuggled up to him, and he looked me over but couldn't see anything obvious.
As we burned off fuel, the instrument faces settled down, and by the time we were four hours out of Hawaii, everything was smooth. We landed in Honolulu without incident, and I had Bryan Koki, then service manager at Air Service Hawaii, check everything he could. He found no problems.
On the next leg down to Majuro, the same thing happened. And again on the last leg over to Guam. We finally guesstimated that the problem was aerodynamic rather than mechanical, and related to the 1,500-pound overload of ferry fuel, stressing the airplane in unusual ways.
I've always remembered what instructor Gary Meermans told me quite a few years ago. "If you don't go, there might be some inconvenience and added expense, but I can absolutely guarantee the airplane will not be damaged, and no one will get hurt."