Pilot Journal
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Transatlantic In A Twin Star

An epic journey, in the footsteps of Alcock and Brown

Sefton Potter and Paul Lomatschinsky cross the Atlantic to commemorate the achievements of pioneering aviators Alcock and Brown.
Early the next morning, we depart VFR to Wick and fly up the spine of Wales, after which Liverpool allows us to join controlled airspace. The journey is uneventful, flying between cloud layers with brief glimpses of stunningly beautiful, snow-covered mountains.

After spending a couple of days in Wick, due to adverse winds and icing conditions, we launch for Reykjavik, Iceland. We’re apprehensive: The flight will be our longest, so far, over water—850 miles over the very rough, near-freezing northern Atlantic. The wind is gale force and gusting, which makes opening the canopy and getting in a bit like preparing to get cut in two by a guillotine. This is made all the more difficult by having to wear a total-immersion suit. Fortunately, the strong winds are straight down the runway, which helps us get the heavily fueled plane up into the cold Scottish sky. But we soon learn that the winds aren’t quite as forecast, and progress is slowed by 50 mph winds blowing on the nose. We periodically activate the deicing system that covers the wings with a comforting coating of fluid, which should combat the ice that has been forming at an alarming rate. After about six hours, we descend through the clouds into Reykjavik. Once parked, we find chunks of solid ice still attached to the underside of the wings.

Early one morning, we plan our oceanic flight to Goose Bay in Canada. We reckon on 9.5 hours for the cold 1,500 miles. A weather check, however, confronts us with a horrible chart: A big red blob represents severe icing conditions covering 450 miles of our route, which would take about three hours to fly through. Our deice fluid would be exhausted after only half an hour. We consider climbing above the dangerous altitudes, but with two people on board, the oxygen would run out before the blob would. This poses a real dilemma. With just one person on board, however, there would be enough oxygen so that most of the journey could be at 20,000 feet—way above the risk of persistent icing. Though temperatures that high would be much lower (down to minus-25 degrees C), the air would be considerably less moist and much safer for our little plane.

We reluctantly come to the conclusion that only one of us can safely make the trip—and a few minutes later, Paul taxis away to take our heavily laden bird to Canada. Meanwhile, I’ll be organizing enough oxygen in carry-on cylinders to allow us to go all the way at 20,000 feet when I join him for our nonstop transatlantic flight. Paul makes the 1,500 miles to Goose Bay International safely, but only by flying above the icy clouds for five hours out of the total nine-hour-and-20-minute flight time. He used more than half the oxygen, confirming that, together, we wouldn’t have made it.


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