Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Return To Goose Bay

There’s nothing so constant as change. Trouble is, change is hard to come by in the far north.

xcWhen I returned to Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada, in early December to complete the delivery of the world’s brightest Marchetti (yellow and red with blue stars, formerly owned by an air show pilot), I was hoping it was cold enough that ice season was pretty much over. It was, but not without a few dying gasps.
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Manipulating charts and flashlights while contending with gloves and a parka is always a challenge. Drop a flashlight, and you need to first find your backup light so you can see the original, then somehow manage to contort enough to reach it, meanwhile struggling with heavy clothes and heavy boots and cursing profusely. It’s a task made all the more difficult in a two-seat airplane with a ferry tank in the rear and essentially no room to move.

Most radio controls won’t accommodate gloves, so you’ll usually need to remove them to work the avionics and GPS. For all those who believe ferry flying is a high-paying job that’s romantic and glamorous, try it in a tight two-seater in the dark of winter, and you may revise your opinion. If you’re looking for the end of the rainbow, you have to be willing to put up with the rain.

Reykjavik, Iceland, is the pearl of the North Atlantic, but the residents would just as soon keep that a secret. Most of the big airplanes fly into the old Cold War–era U.S. Air Force Base at Keflavik, 30 miles west of the city, but little guys are welcome at the short downtown runway in the heart of town. Icelandair does operate a fleet of F-27 commuters into Reykjavik, but the runways are too short for Boeings.

I’ve made perhaps 100 trips through Reykjavik, and if you have to be stuck somewhere in winter, Reykjavik is a good place. Directly across the street from the Flight Services office is the Loftleidir Hotel where most of us stay during overnight transits. Operated by Icelandair, the Loftleidir faces the ramp, so you can monitor your airplane as it’s slowly transformed into a snowbank with wings.

Sure enough, the weather closed in, and I was forced to once again postpone departure. As I mentioned in last month’s column, the Marchetti is a magnificent aerobatic sportplane, but flying the ocean isn’t what it does best.

Reykjavik is one of those locations with incredibly dynamic meteorology in winter. It’s the old cliché that if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes. During my delay, I watched conditions deteriorate from severe clear to half-mile in heavy snow, then improve back to blue skies, all in the 20 minutes I spent talking to Pilot Peggy in California. A series of small storm clouds assaulted the city for most of the day, lasting no more than a half-hour each.

My weather window finally opened, and the remainder of the trip was anticlimactic, with only a touch of ice. I headed for Wick on the north coast of the United Kingdom, where the famous Scottish winds were waiting. Again, the Marchetti proved itself the master of the situation and allowed me to perch long enough to refuel and continue on to my destination of Coventry.

Weather rules all on the North Atlantic. When it’s bad, which is much of the time in winter, there’s no choice but to wait until it isn’t. Remember that you can’t defend yourself at the hearing if you’re not there.

Bill Cox is in his third decade as a senior contributor to Plane & Pilot. He provides consulting for media, entertainment and aviation concerns worldwide. E-mail him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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