Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Transatlantic In A Twin Star
An epic journey, in the footsteps of Alcock and Brown
TransAtlantic Twin Star
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic by pioneering aviators Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown (in 1919). They flew most of the way through thick clouds, in an open cockpit, with ice forming on the wings and in their hair. It’s almost unbelievable that they found their way to Ireland with only a wobbling compass to guide them. They crash-landed, but got out of the aircraft with only minor cuts and bruises. In order to commemorate their amazing achievement, Paul Lomatschinsky and I made a flight across the Atlantic from Alcock and Brown’s departure point, St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Ireland and then onward to Wales, U.K. Our flight covered nearly 2,200 miles and demonstrated that flying the Atlantic in a small plane still poses some very real challenges. But first, we had to get our aircraft from its base in France to Newfoundland…
Getting There: Cannes To St. John’s
Our first leg is from Cannes, France, to Cardiff, Wales. We taxi our nearly new Diamond Twin Star to runway 30 at Cannes. The sky is strangely overcast, quite different from the usual blue skies of the Mediterranean. We hold on the brakes before accelerating down the runway and rotating at 75 knots. At 3,000 feet, we enter stratus and see the temperature dropping rapidly below freezing. At 8,000 feet, we’re still in the clouds, and at minus-10 degrees C, we begin to see a rapid buildup of ice on the leading edges and the engine air intakes. A quick squirt of deicing rapidly clears the leading edges. At 11,000 feet, we break through the clouds, and for the rest of the journey, stay on top. The highlight is a glorious sunset as the enormous orange ball sinks into the clouds, illuminating them from beneath as if they’re on fire. The last 90 minutes are at night, with incredibly brilliant stars.
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