Pilot Journal
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Transatlantic In A Twin Star

An epic journey, in the footsteps of Alcock and Brown

11:30 a.m.: The winds have picked up exactly as forecast, adding the predicted 120 mph to our groundspeed. Nature is being kind to us today.

2:30 p.m.: We see Ireland! It’s 9.5 hours after takeoff, and everything looks perfect. But then Shannon ATC gives us the weather for Swansea: cloud base 100 feet with dense fog. There’s a stunned silence: We can’t land in those conditions. Cardiff is similar. If we get to Wales and can’t land, we’ll be on emergency fuel. Visions of Alcock and Brown’s crash-landing in an Irish bog flood my head.

3:40 p.m.: We gingerly descend through the cloud, south of Swansea, down to 1,000 feet, but it’s as if a white sheet has covered the plane…no land, no sky, just white. We climb back to 1,500 feet and overfly Swansea at 100% power so our welcoming party knows that we’ve arrived in Wales. We can almost hear them cheer. We head to Cardiff.

4:00 p.m.: Cardiff reports that the cloud is variable with a base of just 100 feet. We have to give it a go.

4:02 p.m.: We hold our breath as we slide down the ILS, popping out of the cloud just above our legal minimum. Seconds later, we touch down for our arrival in Europe! Three minutes later, the airport is closed as the cloud is well and truly on the deck. We’re directed to taxi and park next to a 747.

I rapidly go by car back to Swansea where family and friends are waiting to celebrate our successful flight. The journey had taken 12 months to plan and wouldn’t have been possible without the support of loved ones, who knew of the potentially lethal dangers lurking above the vast Atlantic. The fact that the trip is still so hazardous in a small plane that has benefitted from a century of aviation technology makes Alcock and Brown’s first transatlantic flight in 1919 seem less like a human achievement and more like a miracle.

Tips For Crossing The Atlantic In A Small Plane
1. Make sure you have enough fuel—ferry tanks are vital. Plan for a two- or three-hour reserve rather than a one-hour reserve.
2. Wait for the right wind. A 100-knot tailwind gets you there fast; a 50-knot headwind means your last landing will be in the Atlantic.
3. Wait for nonicing conditions; even then, it’s best to fly high because, surprisingly, airframe ice forms much more slowly at temperatures below minus-20 degrees C.
4. Plan on at least 11 hours if you’re flying nonstop. (Don’t drink too much!)
5. Take easy-to-eat snacks.
6. Wear a total-immersion suit. It’s very uncomfortable, but the only way to survive for more than 10 minutes if you have to ditch in the near-freezing Atlantic.
7. Wear many layers of clothing under the immersion suit—you may need it.
8. Carry a GPS personal locator beacon (PLB)—the Atlantic’s a big place, and the chances of being found in an emergency without a PLB are pretty slim.
9. Get an ocean-rated life raft and learn how to use it before you go.
10. Unless you plan to do a solo crossing, choose your copilot carefully because you’ll be spending a long time very close to him (or her). Also, remember that your ferry permit may preclude carrying passengers in the overgross condition.
11. You legally need to have a long-range HF radio, but it may not work.
12. Get a satellite phone that will work anywhere on the planet.


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