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CT goes to the Arctic

By Harro Lorenz

On June 22, 2004 above the North Atlantic between Iceland and the Faroe Islands on the air to air frequency, the following radio communication took place between Lufthansa 492 and CT D-MBHL:

"Do you speak German?"

"D-MBHL - affirm"

"Well, D-HL, if I read your call sign correctly, you are a microlight? "

"D-HL , that is correct."

"And you are flying in the area of Iceland? …my absolute respect for you, please tell me what are you doing here?"

 

To answer this question I had to go far afield:

In 1992 - 93 I had the oportunity to take my first steps on trekking trip in Greenland. I always liked the Northern countries, but Greenland was a new experience. It´s landscape, climate and the remoteness of the region left an unforgettable impression on me.

Back at home I learned to fly microlights. At this time the microlights were very simply constructed and the performance was not very good. At the end of the 90s the microlights were fitted with 4 stroke-engines and the range and performance were noticeable improved.

One of these modern planes was the CT built by Flight Design. My friend Rolf Bausewein and I purchased this plane together.

My dream was to fly over the Northern countries. In 2002 we flew to the North Cape in Norway. Included in our itinerary was a pass  over the Baltic Sea - for us at that time a big challenge.

One year later we travelled around the North Sea via Norway, the Shetland Islands, Fair Isle and the UK. During this flight I started to feel a strong desire to fly to Iceland and, if possible, further to Greenland.

Rolf needed two months before he would agree with the idea. The following months were filled with preparations and testing. For example, in January we jumped into icy water to check our dry suits. At the end of May 2004 we and our CT were ready to take on this challenge.

On June 1, 2004 we took off from Germany and headed towards the North. We crossed the Baltic Sea, passed Sweden and the next day we continued our flight to the Størd airfield, located on the west coast of Norway.

Like the year before, we wanted to cross the North Sea from here. Our destination was Wick – placed on the north eastern tip of Scotland. But the weather over the sea was not good flying and we had to wait out a front coming from the UK.

Two days later the metoffice was expecting clouds over the sea at a height of 1,000 and 2,000 feet.  Yet north of our course line the weather was worse. Nevertheless we decided to fly.

We coasted out south of Størd and found many low clouds at a height of 1,800-2,200 feet. At 4,000-5,000 feet there was a cloud layer. We had to fly 506 km to Wick.

By the time we reached the oil platforms of Ringhorne/Balder the lower clouds had disappeared. After passing the FIR borderline to Scotland many low clouds appeared again and the bottom part of the cloud layer hovering over us dropped towards us. We decided to descend, before being entrapped by them.

This decision was made just in time. A moment later the lower cloud layer was completely void of any holes – it was now a single layer. Between our plane and the North Sea were now only 1,000 feet.

On our right the clouds lay low and blocked our vision. On the left the visibility was better and later the coastline northeast of Inverness could be seen. We contacted Wick and 30 km before coasting in, the low clouds had disappeared almost instantly and we could see all of Scotland before us. After 3 hours and 40 minutes we landed in Wick -  half an hour later it began to rain.

The next day we checked our engine – we always do this before flights over the open sea. In the evening we read a British article about flying to Faroe. The result was a restless night. Next day the weather conditions seemed to be good enough to fly this leg. The weather forecast for Wick was also good. This is important because it will allow us to fly back in case landing in Vagar became impossible due to bad weather.

The distance between Wick and Vagar is 463 km. After passing the Scottish shoreline, only coastlines of the Orkney-Islands were in sight. The rest of the islands were covered by clouds. However, conditions were better over the sea. We found a broken lower cloud layer near the Faroe Islands. We flew on top and before we reached the southern cape of Faroe, we descended to 1,600 feet.

Now the wild cape and steep mountain slopes were visible - but the peaks of the mountains were in clouds. Near the coastline the sea was very restless. We approached Vagar via Sörvagur after a 3 hour 31 minute flight.

The people there were surprised because our plane was the smallest they had ever seen at their airfield.

The next morning the sun was shining over the Faroe Islands. We filed our flightplan, put on our dry suits, left Vagar via waterfalls and turned towards Höfn, located on the east coast of Iceland.

Over the sea we found excellent weather conditions: blue sky, a little tail wind and few clouds. Only one ship crossed our course line on the whole flight.

Halfway there we came across some big cloudbanks. Sometimes we flew under them. Quickly (for me too quick) we reached the coastline of Iceland. The land was covered with a thin cloud layer. It was a majestic view. How long did we dream about it? About 40 km from the coast we saw two whales.

We only needed 2 hour and 54 minutes for this leg of 475 km. The people from customs services in Höfn were likewise astonished by the kind of aeroplane we arrived in from Vagar. The rest of the day we enjoyed the feeling of having arrived in Iceland. 

On the next day we undertook our first flight over Iceland. We flew around and over the top of the Vatna glacier, the biggest glacier in Europe. The landscape of Iceland was simply unbelievable. Every single view was fantastic.

Within a three-hour flight we had seen one-fourth of the country. When we returned to Höfn we were greeted by a strong crosswind – the other face of this region.

We decided to try a flight to Greenland. This decision was not easy – because this leg would be very dangerous!

First we flew across Iceland to Isarfjodur. Fortunately, the weather during this flight was fine and we saw many glaciers, rivers, lakes and mountains. The inner part of Iceland looks like a dessert.

The Approach in Isafjordur was very impressive. The town lies very nicely in a fjord between steep mountains. We checked the weather for the next day and it did not look so bad for a flight to Constable Point (CP) in Greenland. But before we landed in Isafjordur we saw a fog bank covering the open sea towards west. What now?

We called to CP and asked if they had fuel for us. They found 500 litres – enough for our CT to fly us around Greenland.

The next morning we saw what had happened: the westerly wind had blown the fog into the fjord. We checked the weather to see if there was any report about fog in the TAF, however,  there was nothing! Greenland had VMC for 14 days! What should we do? If we could not land in Greenland we would have to return to Iceland. Therefore we needed also fine conditions in Isafjordur.

The distance to CP from Isafjordur is 525 Km. In the case of flying back we would have to cover 1050 km. That would mean 8 or 9 hours under those conditions, and no one would have been able to say how the weather in Iceland would be after several hours.

We decided to stay another night in Isafjordur. The risk just seemed too big. One hour later the first blue holes in the clouds were visible. The fog was burning off.

We checked the TAF again. The forecast predicted no bad conditions. So, we called CP again and made an opening request, because we would land when the airfield is closed. We filed our flightplan, jumped into the dry suits and checked our survival equipment a last time. This leg would be the most dangerous! In case of emergency we had to stay perhaps a long time in our dingy.

After take off we climbed up on top of the broken layer of fog. We could see the last peaks of the mountains. From Reykjavik we were advised to report our position every hour. The minutes were slowly running. Was it a dream or reality?

How long I had dreamed about this flight and how long we had prepared it? What might still happen during this flight? The voice of Reykjavik ended my daydream: we should contact Iceland radio.

Meanwhile the cloud layer had completely closed. The engine was running fine! The outside temperature at 4,500 feet was above freezing level. After 40 minutes flight I said to Rolf: “Take a look to the northwest. There you can see the coastline of Greenland.”

He answered: ”You can´t be serious!” But then he realized that I was right! The distance to the shoreline was still about 200 km! What clear air! Now it was time to pass my first position report.

We flew and flew towards the coastline but it seemed that it was not coming closer. 90 minutes after take off there were some holes in the cloud layer. Through them we could see our first real icebergs during this flight!

We had reached the limits of the pack ice and this view was really fantastic. It was like a dream! The outside temperature started to descend slowly. Now we were at 4,800 feet with a temperature of +2 degrees Celsius. Slowly we approached the coastline.

The holes in the cloud layer increased. Eventually there were no clouds between us and the shoreline. The Mountains stood very high and steep and many glaciers lay among them. We passed our last position report to Iceland at a distance of 330 km. The quality of the radio connection was fine.

In 1 hour we would land in CP if everything ran according to plan. In front of us was Cape Brewster and behind it the Scoresby Sound appeared. What a feeling! How often had I read this name in books? Scoresby Sound… And now we were here in our own plane!

We contacted CP at a distance of 120 km and a voice clearly answered. The first 10-15 km of the Sound were free of ice. We flew into the Hurry fjord. It was completely frozen. The surrounding mountains were covered with snow and ice.

We reached the settlement of Igtaralivit and after a further 40 km we arrived in Constable Point – an oasis  in this frozen dessert. “No reported traffic” sounded from the tower. I smiled - who would ever consider flying here?

Regular traffic from Iceland flies to this remote area only two times  per week. We landed and parked our plane near the tower. Five men welcomed us but with serious faces. “Are you crazy flying this small plane to Greenland?” – that was the first question. What should we have answered? We were crazy.

Later in the evening we were invited to drink a beer with the crew of CP. It was a long night after that eventful flight!

The following days were filled with flying, walking, talking and making a trip to the Inuit settlement of Scoresby Sound. We made two local flights. During the second one we explored the longest fjord in the world stretching to a length of 360 km.

We covered Scoresby Sound to its end and continued the flight until we reached the end of the Nord-Vest Fjord and than up to the icecap. What we saw on this flight is simply indescribable, and there are no words which could express our feelings when we saw this northern nature.

There were only stones, water, ice, snow, mountains and glaciers in sight. Nowhere could we see a sign or a trace of human activity. It was so completely remote that we understood how small the humans are compared to the immensity of nature.

Iceland´s landscape was great and impressive, Greenland´s natural wealth is even bigger and more spectacular. Never will we forget these rare moments and impressions.

But even the best of times has to come to an end. After 4 days of staying in CP, we had to say good bye. We checked the weather and it did not look so bad for the flight back. We were expecting a cloud layer at 4,000-5,000 feet. We wanted to fly above it and hoped there would be enough space between the clouds and the upper limit for VFR-Traffic. So we said good bye to the people in CP, but it was not easy to go.

The Hurry fjord was still cloudless. We flew over the Scoresby Sound for the last time and reached Cape Brewster. East of the cape there were many big icebergs. After having passed this cape a cloud layer appeared. We climbed to 4000 feet.

Sometimes the layer was a little bit broken and we could see the pack-ice below us. Greenland´s coastline moved slowly away. At the FIR-borderline we contacted CP for the last time. However we could not establish contact with Iceland.

We reached a Lufthansa airliner that passed our position to Iceland. Meanwhile the cloud layer had completely closed. But the upper clouds were at 4,000-4,500 ft, so we had enough space to fly above them.

The shoreline of Greenland had already disappeared into a distance. One hour later we contacted Iceland successfully and reported our position directly. Iceland was completely covered with clouds. But near the northern coast we found a hole through which we were able to descend. We flew into the Isafjardhardur fjord and 10 minutes later we landed safely on the strip of Isafjordur after a flight of three hours and forty minutes.

Our flight to Greenland was now a part of history. That was hard to accept.

On the next few days we landed on small airfields in Iceland. Lastly, we went on a short flight to Vestmannaeyjar. The time flew by quickly. We flew back to Höfn. The weather forecast for the next few days didn’t look good. For that reason we prepared our flight back to Faroe faster.

On the way back to Faroe we came upon a thick cloud layer and we flew under it at 1,000 feet. During the flight we enjoyed some small talk with a Lufthansa airliner – already described in the beginning. One hour before arriving in Faroe the clouds had disappeared completely. However, when we got closer to Faroe we saw that its islands were completely covered by clouds. During landing in Vagar raindrops ran down our windows.

If we were not going to fly the next morning to the UK, we would have to stay for some days. We rejected our plan to fly to Wick due to bad weather along this route. The next morning we had decided to fly to Stornoway.

Visibility was not so good and we found ourselves among many clouds on the way. Mostly we had a broken cloud layer above us and we flew at 4,000 feet. The waves on the sea were sometimes covered with foam. When we reached the area between Scotland and the Outer Hebrides we had a near miss with a jet fighter. But it seemed that the pilot had seen us in time. He made a circle around us and flew away.

On the water there were many warships. After our landing in Stornoway we discovered that a little to the east of our route a military exercise was being performed. Great! And Stornoway was the base for the jets.

We decided to leave this busy area and flew to Plocton on the same day. Here we could enjoy the landscape and silence. The next day we flew back via Oban to Beccles. We crossed the North Sea before a front was coming from the west and landed in the Netherlands. From there  we flew back to our home airfield Eggersdorf, east of Berlin.

Before our flight from Iceland to CP we only knew the name and the VFR-Approach chart of this place. We did not know what to expect when we arrived there. After a few turbulent days there we could only guess what Constable Points means.

We met nice people in a small oasis in the middle of nowhere. Friendly people who helped us to make our stay in Greenland and the whole flight unforgettable – to make this flight the finest we would ever experience.

I want say thank you to my friend Rolf for coming with me on this long trip and to all the people we met in the countries we visited and who helped us to make this dream a reality.

Last but not least, we want say thank you to our sponsors – Flight Design and Ultraleicht Flugbetriebsgesellschaft. Our aircraft, CT,  went through some hard situations during flight –  but without any trouble. It was very easy and convenient to fly, needs little fuel and has great performance.

We searched a long time for a plane for our trips and now we are able to say that the CT was the right decision.