Page 2 of the Tale of a Trip - Bonn to Nome
As I approached Greenland seafog developped and clouds over the land forced me around the southern tip of this huge island adding an unplanned 90 minutes to the flight. Once I was around the South end of Greenland clouds in 3000 ft forced me to stay beneath them. It was then that I noticed that I had no VFR maps of Greenland and while I knew the GPS-position of the targed-airport I had no way of knowing which of the countless fjords I had to enter in order to find Narsarsuaq. Fortunately Gander control in Canada was able to reach me on VHF and they passed the GPS-position for the entrance into the correct fjord. Once again the guardian angel had found me and showed me the way home. Flying into the right fjord then was like flying in a tunnel: the walls of the fjord right and left, the water below and the thick clouds above:
Finally I saw signs of life when all of a sudden a farm appeared in sight with a fishing boat between the icebergs. Shortly thereafter the airport (a former US-Airforce Airbase) appeared in sight with the town of Narsarsuaq right besides it (35 permanent inhabitants):
You can tell by looking at the satellite dish how far north we were...
I refuelled the plane and walked to the hotel. As it was true in Island there were no authorities to deal with: No passport control or customs. I was to meet the first officer actually in Detroit, Michigan. In Canada all you do (and the same is true for 2004) is to call 1-800-CANPASS and answer their questions over the phone. You will then be given a CANPASS number which is goodd for the duration of your stay. But back to Greenland where I had a good dinner and a good nights' sleep. I always had good dinners on my flights - first because I usually had no lunches and ... it could always be the last one. Funny how the mind works under such conditions.
I took off early next morning into blue skies for the last leg of the Atlantic crossing.
The weather was clear most of the flight and after 9 hours I reached the North American continent. My life had just become richer. After almost 5 years of building the plane and preparing her for the feat - she had started to pay back. The flight actually was without incidences, all the thrill and moments of terror would follow much later in my quest to fly around the world. With the exception of not having prepared for the navigation towards the airport in greenland everything went as planned and smoother than I had anticipated.
Things looked like this on the screen of my onboard computer which was used to track the flight and give me situational awareness. The software (Fugawi) was later replaced by Jeppesen Flighmap offering a wide-ranging list of navigational tools to the pilot.
The fact that I had done it would take a while to settle into my mind. It literally took others to make clear to me what I just had done. Yet - I was always admiringly looking up to those who had accomplished much more at times when GPS and ocean-spanning communications where not yet avialable to them - foremost Mr. Charles Lindhberg comes to mind (did you know that he was the 72nd person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean ? His feat was to fly solo and nonstop from New York to Paris).
The next goal was to make it to Oshkosh where friends and family were awaiting my arrival. Before me lay long distances and the first encounter with life-threatening conditions... First I flew straight towards civilization over Labrador, New Foundland, the vast St. Lawrence River and Nova Scotia.
In Halifax I met another Europa builder and took him for a spin in mine. In order to accomodate him I removed the things a Europa can carry: two extra fuel tanks, a life-raft, shortwave radio and survival equipment:
I decided to press on the same day and at least make it to Montreal. It was then that desaster almost struck for the first time. I had learned at flight school that as a VFR-pilot one should always remain under the clouds to maintain visual contact with the ground for navigation. I had early in my flying career decided though to rather go on top and enjoy clear air (in most cases one would encounter turbulent conditions under clouds and a smooth ride above). I was at 6500 ft when I noticed that the cloud-top was continuously rising higher, forcing me to climb to 8500 ft and even 10500 ft. On the photo you see how I was trapped between two layers of clouds - the gap getting smaller and smaller.
I felt I would not be
able to remain on top and set the plane up for a descent through the clouds at 1000ft/min and was
prepared to break out and fly VFR under the clouds. The shock came when I actually broke out: I
was flying inmidst a little town - with trees and power cables at my sides. The clouds actually extended
from some 50ft above the ground to 10500 ft ! Had I broken out just a mile further West I would have hit
the trees before even seeing the ground. I held my breath over this incredible luck which saved
my life. At first I flew in rooftop altitude hoping to find an exit, a road perhaps I could follow but soon
decided that with sunset approaching I had only two choices: land off-airport or to climb back into
the clouds and hope for an end. I chose the latter and flew into clouds and nightfall hoping that all
clouds have a silver lining. After almost two hours the clouds spat me out into a stary, crystal-clear
night. The plane was not set-up for night flying at the time which forced me to land at a small unlit airport
as I was fearing that Montreal airport would ground me if I were unable to switch on position and navigation
lights and strobes. I circled the airport and waited for lights from cars that were driving on the nearby road
to give me an idea of the layout of the runway. I landed after three low passes over the runway trying to
get a visual glimpse of it. Being totally exhausted I unrolled my sleeping bag and slept under the port wing.
What were my mistakes ?
(1)I had pressed on after having flown for 10 hours already
(2) I dove into the clouds without a clue about the bottom
(3)I flew into the night without any preparation.
(4) I didn't querry assistance from ATC enroute or for the landing.