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“Four Friends Cross* the Atlantic in a Single-engine DHC-2” …or “A Declaration of Love for an Airplane!”

Beaver N930AJ on tarmac in Narsarsuaq, Greenland

Seattle, WA to LSZF (Switzerland) in Beaver N930AJ

Submitted by Jvan Aeberli (co-credit to Anna Maag), from Eglisau, Zurich, Switzerland

*that was in the year 1990 – still in the pre-GPS time!

From Idea to Decision

The only alternative to a transatlantic flight was transporting in a 40-foot container. However, we did not want our newly restored Beaver to be dismantled and rebuilt by a specialist company. In addition, the thought of having crossed the Atlantic in a single engine at least once in our lives appealed to us more and more.

The decision was already made when we ordered our De Havilland: we — Anna Maag, Marco Montanari, Werner Röschlau and myself — will fly the Beaver from Seattle, WA to Switzerland. We are all in possession of a pilot’s license, although with different levels of experience. Werner is a flight instructor and airline pilot with over 7000 flying hours.

The whole rebuild work at Kenmore Air Seattle on our Beaver ordered on 30.9.89 — hence the registration N930AJ — took over nine months, so we had plenty of time for the preparation work. But how does the planning of such a big, adventurous trip work out?

A valuable and professional guide for a transatlantic crossing was given to us in the Stafford-Ivanovic transatlantic seminar in St. Moritz, Switzerland, which we attended in winter. Here one learns from competent ferry pilots what is important.

 The preparations could be divided into the following parts:

– Equipment of the airplane

– Chart material, AIP/Jeppesen Trip Kit

– Technical knowledge and emergency procedures

– Route preparation

We were fortunate to have Werner Röschlau, a professional pilot friend, with his vast experience to assist us and also accompany us on the actual flight. Several factors influence the success of such a trip, especially the meteorological conditions that can cause a failure. That is why we chose the high summertime of August for the transatlantic flight. The pressure of deadlines can also be dangerous, you have to take your time and not want to be home on a certain date.

The Adventure Begins

After an exciting crossing of the American continent over mountains and endless agricultural areas, we now fly along the great lakes, over the obligatory Niagara Falls, a thousand feet above the St. Lawrence River from Toronto, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec, up to Moncton, New Brunswick.

Here we are registered for the transatlantic check required by the Canadian Government. The aircraft’s navigational equipment is inspected, the emergency equipment is checked and the expertise of the PIC in charge is verified.

The Canadian authorities (Transport Canada) have only recently made this Moncton test mandatory because simply too many crews have been lost. The control in Moncton is not at all harassing but on the contrary very cooperative, helpful and supportive.

Our controller, himself a passionate DC-3 pilot for Transport Canada, takes great pleasure in our well-equipped Beaver shining in the evening light. But of course at that time no GPS on board — just standard IFR equipment and a short wave radio.

With the good feeling to have prepared everything correctly and competently, we fly in the most beautiful evening atmosphere the same day from Moncton to Goose Bay also called Happy Valley – however, we do not see a happy valley anywhere after arrival – the last stop on the American continent.

Soon it becomes night, and we can only guess the beginning of loneliness below us. Along the St Lawrence Gulf, over Anticosti-Island we take a direct course to Goose Bay. Only rarely a lonely light below us, the night is clear and cold. Around midnight we experience strange light phenomena: the aurora borealis*.

*Note from the dictionary

Aurora borealis (also called aurora), northern and southern light, a cold glow of the air on the night side of the earth, most often about 10° from the geomagnetic poles. The height of the aurora is 100-120km, but also up to 80km resp. 1200km. The aurora is caused by currents of electrically charged particles emanating from the Sun and deflected in the Earth’s magnetic field, which excites molecules and atoms to glow when they enter the atmosphere. The aurora is observed in a wide variety of forms: Arcs, bands, curtains, clouds, and rays. The luminosity is often variable, irregular or pulsating. Colour: mostly yellowish green but also red or blue to grayish violet.

We are fascinated by this celestial phenomenon! In front of us on the horizon is a twitching band, more luminous and eerie than our weather glow, which we can often observe in summer. The dimensions are imposing, one has the subjective feeling that the whole northern hemisphere is illuminated by the twitching light.

At 01:10 local time we land in Goose Bay, a strange atmosphere welcomes us to this large military airfield. US Army planes, which are on their way to the Persian Gulf (Kuwait war), are taking off and landing non-stop. We are in the middle of August 1990, and big B52 bombers and other fighter planes are shaking our already not quite calm, last night before the first big oversea water leg.

We then also learn a very strange story that had happened immediately before: on the runway aircraft parts were found that could not be identified. No aircraft could be identified which had lost these sheet metal parts. Apparently, a crew was travelling with an aircraft that had lost a piece of the outer skin.

Early in the morning, we inquire about en-route weather to Narsarssuaq (South Greenland), a seven-and-a-half-hour flight east from Goose Bay. Not exactly rosy forecasts: a front from the north is approaching and will influence the weather for the next three or four days; at our planned flight level wind from NE with 10-15 knots. We decided together after detailed consultation to take off immediately. So, we fill up with fuel — but full to the brim (we had an extra fuel tank for four hours in the cabin) — and file the flight plan, jump into the rented survival suits and report «Ready for departure».

As the owner of the Beaver, I have the honour of flying the first leg. At 4000′ altitude, we fly over the uninhabited mainland towards the Labrador Sea. It is a thrilling feeling when we leave the coast and fly out into the open sea!

Over the Atlantic

We are happy about the reliable humming of our Pratt + Whitney R985 nine-cylinder, no malfunction, all gauges in the green area, everything runs like clockwork. Fuel consumption is 18 gallons per hour. Our total fuel capacity, including the ferry cabin tank, is 177 US gallons, enough for 9 ½ hours of flying.

Our shortwave radio from YAESU type FT-757 GX2 proves excellent, we have mostly clear communication on the way with our low altitude no radio communication is possible unless you find a nice airliner which can then function as a relay station. A few times we make use of this possibility and always meet extremely friendly radio operators, who then also behave very helpfully and send our message, e.g., a position report without grumbling further into the æther.

Suddenly, the speed display collapses, 80, 70, no more display! After a few anxious seconds, we notice an icing of the pitot tube. Half so bad, «Pitot heat» on and the problem is solved. A later check of the wings, however, is not very reassuring: icing on the wing nose. Already 3-4 cm of ice can be seen from the comfortably heated cockpit, tendency increasing! Also, the struts and the landing gear are completely covered with ice. Snowfall has started, and the outside thermometer shows around zero degrees Celsius.

Our only chance to get rid of the annoying ice including the unpleasant feeling in the stomach area is a descent to 2000′ AMSL. Now we also see the sea surface more clearly. High foam-capped waves are coming from the north, and an infinite gray-blue depth makes our souls shudder. Down here we would simply be lost! We are glad not to be over the ice cap of Greenland now because then sinking into warmer air masses would not be possible!

After half an hour the ice has thawed (thank God), and we climb again to a reasonable altitude. Now it’s time for a fortifying snack! A few cheese sandwiches and some chocolate can taste wonderful! We turn on a classical CD on our intercom and enjoy the indescribable atmosphere on board. Everyone is busy with himself and the long way ahead of us. Our journey is an experience of the gigantic dimensions of our earth, a feeling that can never arise in a jet plane. But in a small airplane, which moves forward with 120KTS, is where one experiences how large the distances actually are.

After five more hours of flight, suddenly the NDB indicator moves, and we receive a signal on 265 kHz from Julianehaab, a radio beacon at the southwestern tip of Greenland. (60°70’North 46°10’West, variation 35° West).

Yippee, we are right on course! A small correction and we are heading straight for the middle of the three fjords off Narsarssuaq. But we have to be patient for another hour of flight until we turn into the actual fjord and make the last stretch to Narsarssuaq.

A severe headwind up to 30 KTS awaits us and extends our last leg. Approach and landing at BGBW work out fine. Relieved, tired and satisfied we climb out of our faithful ‘little Beaver’, as we tenderly call our flying machine. We even treat our DHC-2 to a 50-dollar parking place in the hangar of GROENLANDSFLY. In the only, yet cozy hotel we now must hold out for a few nights and days. The wind conditions are unfavourable and finally, we learned at our seminar that a ferry pilot should never accept a forecast headwind.

Daily extended walks to the icebergs, across barren meadows with actual mountain flora. Beautiful unknown loneliness after leaving the few houses around the airfield. From time to time, one finds remains from earlier times when the Americans during the second world war used this plot of earth and rubble.

Iceland in Sight

Then on the fourth day of our stay, the wind forecasts are a bit better. We plan our leg to Reykjavik in such a way that if our groundspeed is insufficient, we could divert to Kulusuk (East Greenland) to refuel. To be honest, however, we are not very happy about refuelling in Kulusuk at a gallon price of 7 dollars, given our already strained wallet. Besides, it’s the weekend and landing costs a few hundred dollars extra!

The destination for the day is Reykjavik: an 8-hour flight first over the ice cap, then over drifting icebergs and the sea to the green island of Iceland. Our mood on board is excellent, and the snack tastes delicious. Cross bearings with NDB Kulusuk result in sufficient groundspeed so that we can continue on a direct route.

On the way, we have contact with several airliners, and fortunately, we encounter good en-route weather. An unbelievably colourful evening atmosphere with shining rainbows and a freshly washed atmosphere (the rain had just stopped) welcomes us to Iceland. We fly over the huge army airfield Keflavik and prepare to land in Reykjavik.

Coming Home

Now we’re already sniffing European air, although there’s still a nice bit to cover. We plan our next leg to the Faroe Islands and on to Norway. The following day, a refuelled Beaver greets us in bright sunlight. Our weather briefing assures us that we will encounter decent weather along the way. Along the south coast of Iceland, we enjoy the foreign landscape with its volcanic features. Again out into the open sea with course to Vagar/Färoer Island!

During 350 days a year, bad, rainy weather is supposed to prevail here on these sleepy islands. But when we arrive, the sun is shining and the lush meadows make us think of flower mats in our homeland.

The place is located behind a rock and is quite sloping. We are glad to have nice weather and thus a top view. Landing IFR here between the mountains does not seem very pleasant to us.

After a late lunch in a nearby restaurant, we learn that en-route to Norway the weather conditions are not the most optimal. The forecasts are even far less enticing. An immediate departure is in order. Now the transatlantic flight is already mentally behind us anyway. We want to get home as soon as possible, greet our friends, take care of the Beaver, be at home, and be happy about the good success.

On Friday we will introduce the Beaver to our new home and fly them over the Swiss mountains and passes to Birrfeld/LSZF for the first time. We receive a great welcome, dear friends together with our parents await us with champagne.

Truly it was an unforgettable experience! We happily completed our first transatlantic flight without any problems under the competent guidance of our friend Werner Röschlau after more than 71 flying hours. The common experience of such a journey connects us four friends especially. We trusted our flying machine, a ‘58 DHC-2, often affectionately called «Beaverli», completely. Perhaps that is why it has never let us down. It is now being treated and cared for in the best possible way.

Closed - July 1st.

In observance of Canada Day.