Tale – C172 from
The email from the ferry company read – “Brian - What is your availability in the next 10 days? I have some interesting work, so please let me know ASAP. Now how could I resist? I took the bait immediately.
It transpired that the
company had won a bid to deliver 12 brand new C172s, equipped with Garmin
I was asked to collect the aircraft from Bangor, once it was tanked, fly to St. John’s, then to Keflavik, thence to the UK, where the aircraft would be due for a 25 hour oil change – Prestwick was suggested. With a couple of days to spare, I looked at the overall routing, and considered going the southern route instead, because there were some nasty depressions forecast to affect my flight to Iceland, AND from there to the UK.
Trying to keep the flight
cost-efficient, I looked at the possibility of landing in the
My question about the need
for a visa was answered by a statement from the customer, saying that “Crew
visas can be issued on arrival, no problem”. Hmmm. I
remembered the time that I flew a King Air, with
another pilot, from the
A couple of days later I was
The HF radio and accessories were waiting to be installed. The external antenna was routed from the left wingtip, to the fin, then forward to the baggage door and into the tuner. The 24V/12V converter was spliced into the ferry fuel system pump, and the whole thing powered up. The frequency last used was still in the memory, and some transmissions were being received, albeit with terrible quality, so that was good enough.
The Cessna C172S, waiting for a pilot.
Rear seats removed, 124 US Gallon ferry tank installed, together with HF antenna.
Ferry tank still empty, since the tail is not sitting on the floor.
I got a briefing from the
usual source, by dialling 1-800-WXBRIEF, and was advised there were no NOTAMS
to affect me, the weather was going to be IMC for the most part, and the winds
at my chosen altitude of 9000 feet would be slight headwinds, but nothing out
of the ordinary. The US Customs guys were satisfied with my export documents, I
had phoned the Canadian customs unit (CANPASS) with my ETA for
The flight started out rather
strangely, but nothing compared to what was to come. I was cleared to 9000
feet, but the wonderful G1000 showed that as I climbed, the headwind component
was increasing. Not unusual, except that it was passing 35 knots, and getting
worse – how could the forecast be so wrong? I called ATC and told them I wanted
a lower level, because of the very strong north easterly wind. They obliged,
and kindly asked other aircraft what were the winds aloft in their bit of
airspace. The picture soon arose that if I could get above 6000 feet, the winds
would actually reduce drastically. So, I told
Continuing into the night, and well into Canadian airspace, we finished up in more and more cloud, initially with slight icing, then a very rapid buildup, causing the autopilot to pitch up to a progressively higher attitude, and the airspeed to drop off very rapidly. Enough. I told ATC I was descending, due to ice, I guessed a level that would be below the freezing level. Nice try, but I forgot about the inversion. The temperature rose for a while, but then dropped again, so I had to descend further than I originally thought necessary. Out of the frying pan…..
Below the inversion, the winds were still very strong, and getting pretty violent, so progress was down to 75 – 80 knots groundspeed. ATC kept giving me very useful info about temperatures and flight conditions along my route, by asking other aircraft. It was very clear that I was trapped at about 1800 feet, with a temperature of plus zero, for many hundreds of miles to come. Again, ATC were looking after me, and advised me that I would soon be below minimum radar vectoring altitude as I approached some of the islands. He would feel much happier if I started to follow some of the published airways, rather than route “direct” – which had been accepted, albeit at an intended altitude far higher than 1800 feet.
During the next hour or two, the turbulence became pretty violent, in very heavy rain, and I have to say a word about the excellent autopilot. I never had to take control, but it did come close on a couple of occasions, when the pitch and bank attitudes were getting bizarre. Now. I like a challenge, I am “go-minded”, but you can have too much of a good thing. I asked ATC if the airport ahead on my screen, CYQY, was a customs airport. He said – yes, but it is not 24 hours – and customs may refuse to come out, and I may have to spend the night in the plane, on the ground. Also, I know that they can charge hefty fines, callout charges, overtime, etc. so there was a strong likelihood of being a few hundred dollars lighter, if I did go in there. I told him I’d had enough for one night, and I was going in there anyway, and I asked him if he would inform CANPASS on my behalf, so that they could think about what they were going to do about it.
The controller sounded
greatly relieved! He told me he would give me radar vectors for runway 07 at
A pickup truck was waiting to guide me to suitable parking, and the driver gave me a call on the radio to follow him, and I would be parking on the eastern apron. I positioned exactly where he wanted me, and it could not have been worse. The aircraft was perfectly tail into wind, and with the wind at 30 – 40 knots, it was no-go. “I can’t park the aircraft in this direction. I have to be parked into wind!” To which he replied “Oh – I know – follow me to the western apron then”. Which I did, and he gestured me into the spot – perfectly tail into wind again.
“Look – I still can’t park here – I must have the aircraft facing INTO wind on a night like this”
“Oh – do you want tie-downs then?”
He then lead me to a grass area, with tie-downs. The orientation of which were all … tail into wind. Another go at trying to get the message across, and I finished up parking facing the wind which seemed to confuse him, since all the other resident aircraft were tied down in the opposite direction. The trouble was, the centre of gravity with the 80% full ferry tank was so far aft, it was almost inline with the main wheels, and gusts of wind would send the tail crashing down into the ground. So, we drove round looking for something to help secure the aircraft – in the end, I found a concrete barrel-type tiedown weight, which we manhandled to the tail of the aircraft, and fastened the rear ring to that, with lots of protective packing material. To be fair to the driver, he was not part of a handling agent organisation, he was a “commissionaire” – his job is to provide security for the airport, look after the car park, etc, so he was not to know the finer points of airmanship with regard to mooring aircraft.
It was raining so hard that I was already soaked to the skin, but to get my bag out of the back would have meant pulling out all kinds of other stuff, so I thought – sod it, I am going to the hotel in what I am standing up in, and will come back in the morning – expecting to find the aircraft had sunk up to its axles anyway.
My first phone call was to Canpass – were they going to be hard-nosed, and tell me to
stay in the aircraft until they called someone out? No, they knew all about me,
and entered me into their system as having landed in
I next phoned a hotel in town. As per usual, the restaurant would close before I could get there (but the bar would be open, if I needed a drink), giving me no chance to get a meal. However, I asked to speak to the restaurant, and persuaded them to prepare a club sandwich which I would pick up in the bar, in about half an hour. A taxi duly came to take me to a hotel, but when I asked if he took credit card, he said – negative, but he would be happy to take me to a cash dispenser. Three good credit cards, all of them refused. He said – don’t worry, the hotel will give me cash to pay him, and put it on my bill – which they did. In the bar, the good news was that the sandwich was waiting for me, and the really good news was – they served Guinness.
The day after landing at
The rain had stopped, and the aircraft had not sunk into the mud overnight, after all.
The first two legs.
Normally one 6 hour flight,
The next morning I checked
the weather, and the cyclone was still going to give me grief, so I decided I
would stay another day. I had chance to get a cab to the airport, check for
damage (none), retrieve my bag of clothes, toothbrush, razor, and make preparations
for the next day. Asking the cab drivers about the town of
The other thing I did was to talk to Halifax Flight Briefing, about the current and forecast weather conditions. I had to ask him about the phenomenon that I had experienced on the previous journey, because nothing in my met knowledge could explain it. He said – that’s not a mystery. You were in an LLJ. “I don’t understand. What is an LLJ?”
In a few minutes, I was very
much wiser. LLJ stands for low level jet(stream).
Every pilot knows about jetstreams – they occur near
the tropopause, where there is a very strong pressure
gradient, giving high velocity winds. What I have never heard of, is jetstreams at ground level and
above, caused by strong pressure gradients, and also an inversion. He faxed me
some of their standard briefing charts, all of which were excellent, and one of
which was clearly marked with an area “LLJ”. From this day on, I will always
call the Canadian weather briefing service before leaving
The weather had vastly
improved for the hop over to
Inside the office, I looked
at the Atlantic charts for the next few days. The low pressure that had caused
me the problems on the first flight was now tracking towards Iceland, and was
perfectly positioned to give very strong headwinds and turbulence all the way
to Keflavik, and then just as bad, if not worse, routing to the UK. It really
seemed to have my name on it. It had got me once, but was not going to do so again.
I filed a flight plan to go direct from
I checked into the airport
hotel, and booked a wakeup call. “What?? You are going to get up at 2 am? It’s
not worth going to bed!” Oh yes it is. The flight is a long one, and I like to
The hotel courtesy bus dropped me off at the handling agent’s, who were expecting me, and the show was quickly on the road. Working Gander Radio, they asked me to confirm that I was HF equipped – I said yes. They gave me the primary and secondary frequencies of 2899 and 8891, which I duly wrote down, and read back. At this point I should confess something. I have no intention at all of USING the HF radio – I don’t even turn it on. The reception is always lousy, the transmissions are generally unreadable, and the whole thing is a waste of time. However, there are two reasons why I go to the trouble of installing it and testing it. One is because it is a legal requirement to have HF radio on the direct crossings, and the second one is for additional safety – in the very unlikely event that both VHF radios stopped working, and my hand-held radio also didn’t work.
Gander told me that I was
about to lose two-way VHF contact, and that I should report every hour, on the
hour, “Operations Normal”, using HF, or relays from other aircraft via VHF. At
“Any aircraft, any aircraft
on 123.45, this is N51795, request radio relay to
Usually it takes 3 or 4 calls before getting a response, but it generally works. Virgin 24 answered my first call, and passed all the necessary information. After that, there were two occasions when there was no reply at all, so we then change to plan B.
“Any aircraft, any aircraft
on 121.5, this is N51795, request radio relay to
Setting a nominal 75% power (good for the engine, when new), the TAS was around 110 knots, but the ground speed was showing generally between 135 and 145 knots, so the plan was working well.
The Long Crossing
Showing the route, and the
reporting points, to be relayed to
The Primary Flight Display
Just passing 50N 30W (see inset)
The route I had chosen was a
simple one, to ride along 50 North until it was time
to break left to
After landing, and parking the aircraft into wind, just one gentleman asked to see my passport, then there was no-one in the customs hall, so I walked outside to the airport hotel, promising myself the best grilled steak their restaurant could manage, and I would go to sleep content. The steak was awful, but I slept well anyway.
The MFD, with 18 minutes to
The straightest line I
could make, en-route to
Once the bill for the oil change and 250 litres of fuel had been paid, it was off into the night again. More headwinds, slow progress, very little traffic around. ATC and I took it in turns to check up on each other, after every 15 - 20 minutes of silence. Into bed around 0130 local, with a wakeup call booked for 0530, to allow time to get the weather and notams for the penultimate major leg, before calling a taxi for the airport.
No fuel required, I should have enough to make it to
to break cloud, and a follow-me car to a hard standing, left over from the cold
war days. It was important to now
fly the aircraft to another grass airfield nearby, so that it could be put into
a hangar, and the FAA certified mechanics could de-tank it, ready for the
morning. That was a short “VFR” flight, and after meeting the owner of the
field, I was shown around. He has the first, and so far, only private airfield
The Penultimate Leg
Ferry tank out, seats in
Ready for the hop over to
The hotel nearby had a
pleasant restaurant (but no Guinness), where I at last enjoyed some good beef –
in Stroganoff form, but that was OK. On picking up my emails, I was told to be
at the main
I had my wakeup call, logged
onto the internet to find what the weather had in store, and drafted out an IFR
flight plan, then down to breakfast. The airfield owner picked me up, and
thankfully the aircraft was now back to its original
certified state, minus ferry tank and HF antenna, and rear seats properly
installed. The main tanks were filled to capacity. Voldemars,
the owner, let me use his phone to call the flight plan office, for a “VFR”
That all worked well, and
once on the ground, I was taken to the VIP lounge where my passenger was
waiting. Over a cuppa, I told him that the freezing level was at 5000 feet, the
minimum flight level for crossing the border into
Initially, there was no problem with ice, since we finished up just between layers, so I briefed him on how the icing would typically form. The early warning is the windshield, which frosts up on the outside. After that, it would be seen to grow on the leading edges of the strut and the wings. We were not in a bad situation if that happened, since it would only be necessary to descend to 5000 feet or below, to positive temperatures, and it would disappear. My trigger for taking that action would be when the autopilot started pitching to a progressively higher nose attitude to maintain the decreasing lift, and the indicated airspeed started falling significantly.
Well, the ice did start shortly afterwards, but I said I wanted to hang on until we crossed the border, if at all possible, before going down (because of the required FL110 crossing level). It worked, and once we were over the wall and talking to St Petersburg ATC instead of Tallin, I felt comfortable that I could insist on going down, for safety reasons – there was no way they could send us back to the border then.
The next thing we encountered was snow, and very heavy at that. I reassured Alexander that I didn’t mind (dry) snow too much, since it was very light, frozen crystals that would just flow over the airframe without sticking. It was when the RPM dropped by about 250, and unable to be restored using more throttle and changes in the mixture, that I remembered that there was a little more to it than that. The air filter gets completely blocked with the stuff, and the power drops accordingly. Since there was no alternate air control on this model of C172, I have to assume that there is an automatically operated door that opens with the suction from the manifold, to allow air to continue flowing.
The final journey
The welcoming committee
Finally, the aircraft picked up proper icing, and my criteria were met, with deciding to descend. No problem at all with ATC, they cleared me down to 2100 metres, then 1500 metres, where conditions stabilised, the ice started to break off, and we were getting close to final destination. Alexander was extremely impressed with the G1000 and the autopilot, and how it brought us down the glideslope, seeing intermittent ground contact, then approach lights at 250 feet, then 2 reds and 2 whites on the PAPIs, until I took over and landed.
The reception committee included customs officers, who wanted to see the aircraft, and the invoice for it. All this was done under the wing, sheltering from the rain, until I asked him if we could please do it in his nice warm car, instead of out in the cold. I had someone take my customary photo at the end of such flights, that is me shaking hands with the new owner, handing over the keys. A handling agent took my passport and a spare passport photo that I had, and did the necessary, such that when we went through immigration, my one-time visa was already waiting for me.
All in all, a very satisfying ferry trip, with some new interesting airport entries for my logbook. I took the opportunity to go round the city, but could not possibly do it justice in the time available. The booklet about the city, that I bought as a little present for Eileen on my return, was well received. So much so, that I am now told it is a place we must visit together, on holiday, sometime soon.
Brian Mellor October 2009