Mike's Log

99-07-23

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Mike's Pilot Log: South to South Adventure

What an amazing sight, what an amazing place!

We were up and drinking coffee at 6:30am. Somehow it seemed early there was no movement anywhere outside yet. We packed and as we stepped outside Johnny, the Inuit community manager at Quaqtaq, arrived to give us a lift to the hangar. It was very cold. At Johnny's office, I called the weather office in Quebec, the weather office in St John and also the tower at Iqaluit. The weather forecast for Iqaluit was: wind from 280 degrees true (at 42 degree variation here, that would make it 322 degrees magnetic) at 15 knots (about 28 km/h), broken cloud at 700ft AGL and strato-cumulus cloud at 4,000ft, with scattered light rain showers. At Quataq, where we were, the sky was quite open, the wind was blowing at about 10 knots but ground mist was forecast for the next 6 hours. No sign of the mist yet. The one forecaster said that he didn't feel the weather was good enough for us to fly today, but we are slowly getting to know the Arctic weather and would decide for ourselves when it was best for us to fly. Provided there was no chance of us getting iced up in flight or flying into a "white out" or flying into complete instrument flying conditions like mist right down to the runway and hills, we would be OK to go. Olivier and I discussed the weather and decided that we should prepare ourselves and the survival gear and our aircraft and then check the weather again. In this part of the world the weather changes so quickly. We have asked quite a few pilots and local hunters and fisherman what they thought the weather would be like in the next few hours or the next day and the answer has always been the same "I cannot say, the weather changes here so quickly, it's not possible to predict ." OK!

The weather looked good enough to fly, but we were not ready to go yet. Ahead of us lay our first long sea crossing the Hudson Straits where we were, was 140 km of open water and icebergs  and the water is very cold, so we had to be well prepared. In the garage where we had the trikes parked, we started to do some re-packing and reorganising of our survival gear.

We took out the life rafts and fitted the CO2 bottles and attachment ropes. At the end of the attachment ropes we fitted a caribiner, which was attached to a hook on one leg so that at least we would not be separated from the raft in the water. We placed the life rafts into plastic bags, which we could tear open when we needed them.

Next we positioned the life rafts and our gear so that we could jump off the aircraft before it hit the water. All of this planning related to the very unlikely event of an engine failure over the water. We practised getting clear of the aircraft with the life raft held in our laps. We both agree that it would be far safer jumping out of the aircraft before it hit the water we could not predict what would happen if we stayed on board, especially with our very heavy trikes. We remember the story of the English pilot who drowned in the English Channel, because he could not get out of his slowly sinking trike in time. The secret here is to judge the height exactly not too low and definitely not too high. Over calm water it is very difficult to judge the height to the surface it's like trying to land on clear glass. Float plane pilots sometimes drop a stone into the water where they want to land and then on finals to land they can see the ripples on the surface. I suppose I could drop my luggage that should make a huge splash.

I adjusted the oil pressure relief spring on Olivier's engine while he checked the plugs and carburettor rubbers.

By 1 pm we were ready to go but the mist was thick and so we decided to go for lunch back at the house where we had been staying. We borrowed a quad bike (here they are all called Honda's even if they are a Yamaha) and raced down the hill in the cold to the shop and the house. Bacon, eggs and toast for lunch! After lunch we slowly packed the last things and waited for the mist to clear. At 4 pm it started to clear and we decided to go. I checked the weather at Iqaluit it had not changed much and the forecast indicated a shift in the wind and even possible clearing of the clouds.

We lifted off the gravel runway at 5.05 pm and immediately headed out over the water. I could see icebergs everywhere. Our airspeed went down to 65 km/h, which is not what I expected because the forecasts indicated a westerly wind. I checked the ETA to find that at 65 km/h we would arrive 30 minutes after sunset. I suggested to Olivier that we climb to about 9,000 ft where the winds were supposed to be light. We climbed slowly. I watched the temperatures and oil pressure. The engine stayed very cold I must remember to tape up the oil and water radiators more. Olivier was flying slowly and very steadily which was very unusual for him. I realised that he probably had a bit of a problem with the cold and so I let him set the pace and I flew around him. At one stage we went up to 10,500 ft and I called Olivier over the radio and suggesting we descend a bit as my engine temperatures, my feet and my hands were getting a bit on the cold side.

After 30 minutes I could see the far shore. There were white horses on the water below. I counted 14 icebergs. The icebergs were such a brilliant white colour when looking at them with the sun behind and an almost transparent blue colour when looking into the sun.

Over the far shore there were broken clouds at about 5,000 ft, which we stayed above. By now we had descended to 7,000 ft ASL. I called a pilot that was just taking off from Iqaluit and enquired about the weather to be told that it was almost completely open. Good! The cloud cover underneath us slowly became more and more closed with very few holes. When we were about 120 km from Iqaluit, I couldn't determine where the open space in the clouds was and radioed the tower for an updated weather report. In this short space of time it had become completely overcast at 4,000 ft over Iqaluit and so Olivier and I chatted about the situation and decided to fly the rest of the way under the clouds.

We turned back to where we had seen the last hole in the clouds and I advised Olivier to go through the hole and I would follow. So many times in the past we had flown through or around clouds and lost each other and then it sometimes takes us ages to find each other again. In this harsh world we needed to stay within sight of each other for security.

It was an amazing sight watching Olivier circling down through the fluffy grey and white hole in the cloud. I too, circled around and around loosing height quickly through the hole before it closed, keeping Olivier in sight the whole time. It was one of those moments on this trip when I have said to myself 'what a sight, what an experience!'

The world under the clouds was like being on another planet. Ahead lay black snow speckled mountains with a gap of about 700 ft to the base of the dark clouds. Slightly to the left of our track it was raining and looking in the distance on our right we could see a few open areas and sunlight. Underneath us lay black rocks and patches of snow and dark green ice-covered lakes. There was no vegetation at all - the last tree we had seen had been 400 km to the south.

We moved off to the east slightly as the rain threatened to get us. I kept looking down at the world below us what an amazing sight, what an amazing place! We flew the last 40 km across Frobisher Bay directly towards the airport, which looked just 5 km away in the incredibly clear air.

There was a Twin Otter and a Beech aircraft that arrived at the airport at the same time as us, so we circled near the town while they landed. The town is now the capital of Nunavik, with about 6,500 inhabitants. There are absolutely no trees or large plants at all. The wooden houses are all painted in different colours and the town looked cheerful from above. We landed at 9.05 pm the flight was exactly 4 hours and since changing the needle jet setting the fuel consumption had come down by about 10% which made both of us very happy. Isn't it great how such little things can please us so much!!

We soon found Adamee who invited us to stay at his house. After placing the wings on the ground near to the hangars and storing the undercarriages in the First Air maintenance hangar, we headed off to Adamee's house and sleep. At midnight it was fairly dark but it would still be possible to fly safely and then it starts to get light again. That's the summer here of course in mid-winter there is only about 4 hours of light.


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