Plane & Pilot
Saturday, May 1, 2004

The Fascinating North Atlantic

Still a thrill after countless of crossings

Each summer for the last half-dozen or so, I’ve had the privilege of flying the North Atlantic with one or two clients. Last summer, I made two such round trips, the first in a Turbo Arrow to Versailles, France, and the second in a Cheyenne IIXL turboprop to London. For most pilots, the trip is a long-term dream, something they’ve been planning for a year or more.

One pilot, Dr. Bill Grider, had been planning every detail of his trip for eight years. Other pilots, such as Jeff Brausch of Cleveland have used the trip to set point-to-point speed records, and Brausch and I now hold 18 of them in his Cheyenne. A few years back, I flew across in a 340 with Dr. Phil Reames, the friendly, neighborhood Los Angeles gynecologist, and Phil let me do all the flying while he shot over 100 rolls of 35mm film. Phil photographed everything from the tops of clouds, white ice caps and white glaciers to people, dogs, airports, churches, hotels, pretty girls in bikinis (yes, even in Iceland) and anything else that would hold still long enough. Essex, Conn., pilot Rives Potts was similarly dazzled by the North Atlantic from the right seat of his Aerostar 700 on our trip to Paris.

Though summer isn’t always the season of plenty in the Far North, it does provide more civilized weather, calmer winds, sometimes better fuel availability and generally more civilized flying conditions. These are important benefits for pilots who’d just as soon not contend with blizzards, temperatures well below zero and a wide variety of other meteorological miseries common to northeastern Canada eight months of the year.

There certainly are no guarantees, and I’ve seen snow in August at places such as Goose Bay, Labrador; Sondre Strom Fjord, Greenland; and Reykjavík, Iceland, but most of the time, the summer season allows pilots who wouldn’t even consider such a trip in winter to realize a fantasy. Distances aren’t that demanding for most airplanes, and while in-flight icing can be a problem year round, purely VFR tours are possible and even likely in summer.

Even if your airplane has limited range, it may be possible to make the trip without supplemental fuel. You can reduce the longest leg to a mere 500 nm by flying the northern route, from Goose Bay to Iqaluit, Nunavut, then the big leg 500 nm across the Davis Strait to Sondre Strom Fjord, above the Arctic Circle, 400 nm more to Kulusuk on the island’s east coast and finally another 400 nm across the Denmark Strait to Reykjavík. From there, you can route through Vagar, Faroe Islands, to either Norway or Scotland with hops of under 400 nm.


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