Pilot Journal
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Transatlantic In A Twin Star

An epic journey, in the footsteps of Alcock and Brown

Temperatures in Goose Bay have been down to minus-29 degrees C. Our little bird sits in the freezer-like Canadian winter, snowed upon for nine frigid days. On the ninth day, we manage to start one engine, but the prop on the right side is so iced up that it would’ve shaken the engine to bits if we had tried to start it. We try to taxi with just the left engine running to the area where deicing fluid can be sprayed over the plane, but soon learn (to the amusement of the locals) that taxiing on one engine means driving around in either small or large circles. By the time we’ve deiced, it’s too late to go anywhere, so we head off for caribou steak and chips.

The journey is halted for several days in Goose Bay, Canada, due to minus-29 degree C temperatures.
Goose Bay becomes our home for three more days due to blizzards there and freezing rain in St. John’s, 519 miles away. Finally, we’re able to depart, and the views are spectacular: The land, lakes and sea are all a solidly cold shade of white. Beautifully stark. On final approach for runway 29, the wind is gusting to almost 50 mph and blowing straight on the nose, which makes for a turbulent but otherwise straightforward landing. We collect our oxygen supplies and head off to practice our takeoff for our overweight transatlantic flight. As we climb and circle over the strangely Scottish-looking town and harbor, we realize that we’ve just followed the same route that Alcock and Brown took on the first transatlantic takeoff in 1919. We land and are very pleased with ourselves that we’ve finally reached the start of our journey.

The Journey: Nonstop Transatlantic
We wake the next day expecting to plan the greatest flight of our lives. We check the weather. What?! The wind is blowing in the wrong direction across the Atlantic. Severe icing is forecast. We won’t have enough fuel to battle that headwind, and even if we did, we would’ve been ice-cubed and dropped into the white and salty waters. So it’s another day spent on the ground.

The next dawn brings good news: The forecast is for 60 to 120 mph tailwinds at 18,000 feet to push us all the way to Europe. No icing conditions above 15,000 feet until Ireland, when we can go much lower. It looks perfect! The countdown starts for a 2:30 a.m. departure.

There’s much to do. Fill up the fuel tanks to their 142-gallon capacity. Install the notoriously unreliable 1950s’ technology high-frequency (HF) radio (the sole contents of a large suitcase). Buy a satellite phone in case the HF radio doesn’t work. Check and recheck every system on the plane. Finally, we’ve prepared everything except ourselves—but we’re too excited to fall asleep. At midnight, I begin a lengthy session of dressing in three cotton vests, two shirts, Lycra running leggings, two pairs of socks, one-piece flying overalls and three pairs of boxer shorts—all of which I intend to wear under my zipped-up immersion suit.


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