Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Always The Weather
Fall, not winter, is the tough time in some parts of the world
|If there’s one absolute truth about flying the North Atlantic in normally aspirated piston aircraft, it’s ice. Those pilots who’ve been flying the ocean at low level for a few years recognize airframe icing as perhaps the most dangerous threat. |
|FRIGID FALL FLYING. Out in the cold and snow at minus-20 degrees C, the Marchetti is prepared to cross the North Atlantic. |
If there’s one absolute truth about flying the North Atlantic in normally aspirated piston aircraft, it’s ice. Those pilots who’ve been flying the ocean at low level for a few years recognize airframe icing as perhaps the most dangerous threat.
It doesn’t matter much if your airplane is certified for icing. Standard pneumatic deice boots can provide a slight edge, and you probably have a little more advantage if your airplane is equipped with full TKS, but icing is an equal-opportunity killer. In various forms, it has brought down airplanes of all sizes and descriptions, and it continues to account for two or three airplanes each year on the ferry run from Labrador to Greenland to Iceland to Europe.
As I sit here in Goose Bay, Labrador, watching the snow fall and occasionally glimpsing the green/orange November glow of the aurora through breaks in the clouds, I can only dream of continuing across the ocean. Most of Southern Greenland is down and out with fog and icing conditions, symptomatic of late fall. So far, I’ve been stuck for six days, waiting for a break in the weather, listening to the occasional wolf howl in the local forest and “enjoying” the brisk minus-10 degree C weather.
On this trip, I’m flying a Marchetti SF.260, an Italian sportplane. Under normal conditions, the Marchetti is a magnificent aerobatic airplane, used by dozens of foreign governments as an entry-level military trainer. In keeping with its Italian lineage, the Marchetti is an athletic performer, possessed of almost sensuous handling. I’m also told it’s notoriously intolerant of icing in any form. I’d rather not find out about that.
The Marchetti comes standard with fuel tanks everywhere, four altogether, a pair of 11-gallon main-wing containers and two 18-gallon tip tanks. I have an additional 32 gallons of ferry fuel installed behind me in what would normally be the kid’s seat, but the placard limits that tank to 80% capacity, or 26 gallons. (If I was feeling brave, I could go to the full 32 gallons and risk being slightly outside the aft CG limit. I’ve flown airplanes beyond the aft limit before. I’m no longer brave/stupid [choose one].) This brings total fuel to 84 gallons. At a typical burn of 14 gph, I have exactly six hours to exhaustion.
The leg across the Labrador Sea to Narsarsuaq is 680 nm, exactly four hours at the Marchetti’s typical 170-knot cruise. In other words, I have a two-hour reserve—not much in the far north. It had better be enough. It would be difficult to fit the SF.260 with more fuel, as the left passenger seat is filled to the roof with survival gear, charts, emergency rations, bottled water and my one concession to comfort, a CD player. Flying diagonally across the United States from Santa Monica, Calif., to Bangor, Maine, and on to Goose Bay, the sounds of Bergeron, Goodwin, Kubis, Ferguson and Kenton have helped keep me awake.
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