Friday, 24 November 2017

New tyres

As I was about halfway through my Oshkosh adventure I noticed that the main gear tyres were wearing prematurely. 

I was surprised as I only had about 120 hours on the aircraft and 50 of that was on grass. Even so the main gear tyres were bald on the inside edge. (Those 70 hours do not represent a lot of take offs and landings either as most legs of my journey were quite long).

I decided to carry on with the rest of the trip and monitor them closely. I didn't have any problems with them but was keen to replace them as soon as I got home.

As the rims on the Twister are so narrow - at 4 inches - there are not a lot of options out there for tyres.

I went for the Aero Classic 6 ply and they seem a good option. These are a proper aviation tyre - unlike the factory supplied SAVA brand, which on further discovery I found out are not even rated as a proper aviation tyre (at least not in the U.K. anyway).

I guess the SAVA tyres would be okay if you were only flying off grass but even so I would recommend an upgrade to the Aero Classic. 

BTW the Aero Classic also come in an 8 ply version but that tyre shape is very squared off at the edges and I don't think they would suit the Twister as the main gear splays out at an angle that demands a rounded edge on the tread.

The difference in price is staggering though - Aero Classic are £78 each and the SAVA are £25 each. You get what you pay for I suppose.

Look at how bald and worn the inside edge of the factory tyres is compared to the new Aero Classic on the right.

Monday, 9 October 2017

How to fly the Atlantic in your Homebuilt - Part Two, The Flying Experiences

In Part One I did not go into much detail about the aircraft itself because this guide is intended to be for any type of homebuilt aircraft. You will have to satisfy yourself that the aircraft you use is suitable for the trip.

In saying that I did test all the systems on my aircraft thoroughly before setting off to satisfy myself that they all worked and there were no ergonomic snags or other issues along the way.

This link is also helpful and worth reading - even though it refers to Round The World flights the principles still apply.

The last bit about drinking and being able to urinate does make sense if you are doing very long flights. My longest flight was just under 5 hours. I did not have the ability to urinate with my immersion suit on and done up - it would be virtually impossible to do that in the confines of my cockpit. I just made sure I was well hydrated before setting off and made sure to go to the toilet as close to my departure time as possible. I did also carry a water bottle but would only take small sips from it and that was generally towards the end of the flight when I knew a toilet would be near soon.

Studying the weather - specifically the pressure charts for the North Atlantic (BBC weather was a good source for this) - I noticed a high pressure system forming over Greenland and moving East. It looked like very settled weather for the next few days so I set off to Scotland on Sunday 25th June.

The first leg to Scotland was some of the worst weather for the entire trip but it was as forecast, so not unexpected. I ended up dodging rain showers most of the way through Scotland. Aberdeen control were more than happy for me to transit their airspace to the South West to avoid the clouds right down on the mountains directly on track.

I had already arranged services at Wick airport with Far North Aviation. They are the go-to company for Ferry pilots leaving Europe and making the North Atlantic crossing so are well versed in helping in this area. You could if you wanted to hire immersion suits and life rafts from them. I had heard the boss their, Andrew Bruce, was very helpful but I actually found him stand-offish and he did not approve of my routing. Saying I should not be going to Vagar in the Faroes and instead go direct to Egilsstadir in Eastern Iceland. He also did not approve of me going to Nuuk in Greenland as Kangerlussuaq is the normal preferred stop off point on the West Coast of Greenland. As it turns out both were fine for me and I enjoyed going to different airports and places as this was part of the experience for me.

Wick is controlled during the week but closed for most of the weekend - except for a 2 hr window between 1415 to 1615 on Sundays which is when I arrived. Annoyingly their ATIS is on a VOR frequency so unless you have a VOR you won't be able to listen to it.

Far North Aviation sorted out my fuelling needs and also accommodation for the night at the recommended Norseman Hotel which has good food in the restaurant and a bar for the essential P.F.D. (Post Flight Drink). In this case I had a double Whisky, Old Pulteney, from the local distillers in town.

They also put my plane into a massive old WWII hangar for the night.

The bill for handling, landing fee, hotel and fuel (46 litres) was £242.

The next day I set off for Iceland with a stop in the Faroes for fuel (and a rest).

I filed my flight plans with SkyDemon but the first leg one had not yet gone through so the controller made me hold for 20 minutes while he sorted it out and also to allow some other traffic to arrive. If I had known he would hold me for that long I would have shut down. Anyway I had loads of reserve fuel for this first leg so it wasn't an issue. It may pay to file your flight plans several hours before - or even the night before with SkyDemon to avoid this happening to you. I did not experience the same problem with Foreflight.

Anyway I finally set off and initially climbed to 5,500 ft which is the maximum allowed height on a VFR flight plan as there is Class A airspace above that. After about 20 minutes and noticing some cloud ahead I requested a Special VFR to climb above the cloud layer to 7,500ft. This was, somewhat reluctantly, approved by Scottish Control. After passing The Orkney Islands it was nothing but ocean ahead. Scottish handed me off to Sumburgh (in the Shetland Islands) but I was not able to make contact with them. So I came back to Scottish and stayed with them as long as I could, finally losing contact. I then switched to Vagar which is an uncontrolled information only service. 

It should be noted that if you are on a VFR flight plan then you do not need an Oceanic Clearance and you do not need to submit hourly position reports as required on an IFR flight plan. 

As I was in Class A airspace then any change in flight level would require an approval from a controller - in theory. In practise you are outside of VHF coverage for a good bit of these flights and there is no traffic that low down that you would affect anyway so if safety dictates it then a flight level change is the best thing you can do - with or without approval. If you have a Transponder then anyone with TCAS will see you anyway.

If you get ice and need to descend over the ocean - do so and without delay. Don't wait to ask permission from the controllers there will not be any traffic below you anyway. If by some chance you are still within VHF coverage then once the ice is melted you could give them a courtesy call to let them know your new level and why.

I preferred to fly above any cloud layer if I could and did so on most legs. 

I generally cruised between 7,500 and 9,500ft over the oceans.

Vagar in the Faroes has a notorious reputation for bad weather but on the day I arrived it was fine. There was still a layer of stratus and some light rain on the approach though, this soon cleared after I landed. It's the wind that you need to watch out for here as the windshear on the approaches is legendary as being some of the worst in the world.

It was fun to fly the 'Waterfall Approach' which takes you over a waterfall that is spilling out into the sea, a spectacular sight.

The ground drops away steeply on both approaches to Vagar so it can fool you into approaching too low. Ignore the ground cues and watch the PAPI lights and you'll not go wrong. After landing it may feel like you've got a flat tyre but don't be alarmed it is just the deep cuts in the runway surface to drain water away (and to limit ice forming on the surface too I guess) that makes a funny noise from your tyres. 

I requested AvGas from the tower and the refuelling truck came right away. I paid him direct and then he took me over to the Customs area to pay my landing fee. The Customs officers just wanted to know if I was staying in the Faroes and when I said no then they said "we don't need to see your passport".

I short walk over to the Terminal area and I had a rest and some lunch. I planned for 2 hours turnaround and this seemed a good amount of time to get everything done and have a rest and a bite to eat.

I paid with card for everything so didn't need to get any Danish Kroners out. Although in hindsight some cash would have been useful as they use the same currency in Greenland. As it turns out on the outbound trip I could use a card for everything so it wasn't a problem.

The landing fee was a reasonable £23.45 but the fuel was an eye watering £136.10 for just 43 litres of AvGas.

The next leg to Reykjavik was fairly uneventful. After leaving Vagar's frequency you are handed over to Reykjavik Control East whose radio coverage is very good. There were the usual cloud layers which I climbed above. Reykjavik being happy for me to cruise at 9,500ft.

I found the Icelandic controllers to be very good, helpful and accommodating. 

Upon approaching Iceland there was a stratus layer covering most of the country so I opted to descend below it while still out at sea and then hug the coast all the way in to Reykjavik. I lost radio coverage when I did this so when getting closer to Reykjavik I climbed above the cloud layer and made contact again before another descent back down below it being careful to do this well before the rising ground which is South East of the airport so I was visual all the way in.

Upon landing I was directed to Ace FBO. All they really did for me was call the Customs officers to check my passport. They then charged €150 for that. If you wanted to avoid paying this fee then I guess you have to organise yourself a bit better than I did and choose not to use the FBO.

The Customs officers were pleasant and I only had to sign one form and have my passport stamped then I was on my way. I stayed 2 nights in Reykjavik as the weather was not the best the next day and I felt I needed a rest anyway.

I stayed at Guesthouse Anna which was a 10 minute walk away so I didn't bother with a taxi. Iceland is expensive. It was £170 per night for the accommodation and this was one of the cheapest places to stay. It did include a good breakfast and the location is excellent so I can recommend it.

Reykjavik is a nice place to spend a day or two. It's pretty compact and I felt I walked around most of the city in one day.

I left the next morning after a rain shower and with an overcast layer which I soon climbed above.  

After leaving Reykjavik you are soon handed off to Reykjavik Control and the VHF coverage is very good stretching almost all the way to Greenland.

When you cross the FIR you are requested to call Sondestrom info on 120.3 who soon hand you off to Kulusuk when you are about 30nm out.

Kulusuk is non controlled and is an information service only but Hans in the tower is very professional and helpful.

The main traffic in this area are helicopters which constantly ferry passengers from the airport to the nearby settlement of Tasiilaq. 

There was a Bell 212 arriving as I was making my approach and he got there well before me. It was actually a fore-warning as to the weather as I overheard him saying the fog had got much worse. It was CAVOK on the TAF before I left Reykjavik but that was nearly 4 hours beforehand and the coastal fog had come in since then, as it does in this area. Weirdly just a few miles north of Kulusuk it was clear all the way to the ice cap with no fog but Kulusuk has a little mini-climate of it's own and there was fog alright with Hans reporting a base of 100ft.

There was also a thin broken layer of cloud at about 500 ft so I descended below that first and hugged the granite as I made my approach.

Both GPS sources were giving very accurate information and sure enough they led me to finals for the gravel runway - even though I didn't get visual with it until about half a mile out. The PAPI lights were the first thing visible. There is a marked upslope after half way when approaching from the East.

The stones from the gravel runway caused my tailplane some damage on the return journey but did not do any damage this time round.

There is no security or customs in Kulusuk. I was told just to go up to the Tower which I did. Hans was there to offer coffee and cake! He also wanted to know if I was continuing on that day. I told him I would stay the night and attempt the ice cap crossing the following day.

There was talk of the Polar bear which got too close to the Village in the early hours of that morning and so was shot by the locals. Then the talk turned to what Polar bear meat tastes like... nothing is wasted in the Arctic.

The hotel in Kulusuk - there's only one - is about a 10 minute walk from the airfield. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the hotel was, fast WiFi (which you have to pay for by the hour - £25 for 2 hours) and excellent food in the restaurant.

After dinner and a rest I went for a walk around the bay area between 10 and 11pm and it was still very light as the sun did not set until 1am and then rose again at 2am so it did not get dark at all (bring your airline eyeshades if you want to get a good nights sleep). On that walk I did not see a single soul or car or any sounds other than the dripping of water from the slowly melting icebergs in the bay and the odd sea bird call. A very serene and peaceful place.

The next day looked promising with a high pressure over the southern part of Greenland and tailwinds too. It doesn't get much better than this for a flight across the ice cap.

This is the met chart handed to me by Hans that morning.

Kulusuk is BGKK and Nuuk is BGGH.

I waited for some early morning fog to clear and then set off at 11am but not before paying my bill at the airfield which came to £270.60.

I chose to fly to Nuuk because it made the next leg to Iqaluit in Canada (which was the longest leg over water at 450nm) shorter by 50nm than if I went to Kangerlussuaq. The weather further north was not perfect in any case and Nuuk was a better option that day - the winds also favoured Nuuk too.

The departure was to be my first ever intentional downwind take off. The reasons for this were that firstly the wind was only about 5 knots, the downwind runway direction was also downhill and finally behind me in the other direction was a lingering freezing fog with high ground hidden beneath it. In the downwind direction it was clear sky and no rising ground so it made sense to take off this way.

Then began the long slow climb to 12,000ft - the minimum height as instructed by Sondestrom.

As I found out later on my return crossing, this so called 'perfect' weather for crossing was not really perfect at all. It was CAVOK and not a single jet trail was seen on the entire flight. This made for a 'white out' below and 'blue out' above. I can now understand how those WWII pilots flew into the ice cap as there is no depth perception when the sun is this bright on the snow. There was nothing to aim at for a heading either so I ended up having my head down and concentrating on the EFIS for most of the flight. This was very tiring as the C of G was quite rearward and subsequently I was having to hand fly an unstable aircraft on instruments. All the while the reflection from the ice cap is extremely bright and almost gives you a bit of snow blindness.

So although the weather may have seemed perfect to a newby like me in reality it is much easier if you have a thin cloud layer well above your cruising level to cut out the sun reflecting on the ice cap. I found this out on my return journey which had a high layer of cloud and this was much less tiring and also done in an earlier part of the day too so the sun was lower in the sky anyway. Something to bear in mind. Although if you have an autopilot then it's not really an issue.

I suppose the good thing about the blue above was the solar heating through the canopy which kept me quite warm despite the minus 20 C temperature outside. My Twister does not have a cockpit heater and frankly does not need one as I was rarely cold on this trip. The composite sandwich fuselage and then the safety cell inside that (also composite sandwich) must be good at insulating from the outside air. Wearing the immersion suit obviously helped. I would want a cockpit heater in a conventionally constructed metal aircraft though.

You lose radio coverage over the ice cap and there is a long period of feeling well and truly alone on this flight.

Radio coverage at Nuuk is poor to the direction I was arriving from so I didn't make contact with them until I was about 15nm out despite being requested to contact them by Sondestrom at 30nm. Nuuk is also an uncontrolled airport - despite being an international airport of the nations capital city. 

I spent the night in Nuuk and went for a walk around the compact 'city' (pop just 17,000). The coastal fog closing in that evening. 

The next day was virtually perfect weather for the longest leg so far of 450nm crossing to Iqaluit in Canada. Canada would be the fifth country in 6 days of travelling.

Before departing I visited the control tower to make sure my flight plan had gone through and to phone Can-Pass, the Canadian customs system for entry. Upon phoning them and giving the required information I was then asked what my ETA number was. I replied with my ETA - Estimated Time of Arrival in ZULU time. They continued by saying that was not the number they were looking for and much confusion continued until they explained that a new system was in place and that I must have an eTA number Electronic Travel Authorisation number before I would be allowed to enter Canada. So I had to apply online and pay the money - I got a receipt via email that the money had gone through and waited for the eTA to arrive via email. After 1 hour I decided to phone them back and spoke to a helpful lady at Can-Pass. I explained the situation and that as I had the receipt for payment then the eTA was clearly being processed and I had been told by the previous person that it was normally done in a matter of minutes and I had been waiting for over an hour and that I really needed to depart soon. She reluctantly agreed that it would be okay for me to depart even though that was strictly not the procedure, so I was on my way.

The eTA system was only put in place 6 months beforehand and no mention was made of it on the Can-Pass website anywhere which I pointed out to her was poor and had led to my error in not applying for it in advance.

As the wind was only about 3 knots and across the runway I taxied out at Nuuk and decided to take the runway that favoured the direction of my destination so back tracked making blind calls as I did so. An Air Greenland Dash 8 came on the radio and questioned my choice of runway and said it would be a confliction with them as they were approaching for the other runway - but were still 10nm out. I said I would be airborne in 30 seconds and on my way and out of there way. They still thought there would be a confliction and continued by berating the guy in the tower saying he should not have let me choose that runway. I reminded the Air Greenland flight that as it was an uncontrolled airfield that it was the pilots discretion as to the runway to use and it was my decision and nothing to do with the guy in the tower. After take off I turned onto my heading to Canada and could easily see the Dash 8 from about 5nm away as it entered the downwind. So no harm done. They have so little traffic in Greenland I guess the pilots are not used to sharing the air with anyone else. Maybe they should spend some time at Heathrow?!

After a short while it was nothing but water ahead and I spotted a white dot many miles away. Was it a ship? As I got closer it was clearly not a ship but an iceberg. I saw a few random icebergs like this as I crossed until they eventually formed into a 'sea' of ice. 

Random icebergs in the middle of the Atlantic.

I soon crossed the Greenland FIR and was instructed to contact Gandar but even after trying them several times as I made my way across the ocean I never got a response from them and I never heard them transmit either - although I did hear one aircraft talking to them. So again you are on your own here for some hours unless you have HF radio.

About 50nm out from the coast the icebergs became an ice sheet that covered the water. Thoughts now entered my mind about what to do in the event of a ditching/forced landing? Should I go for one of the larger icebergs? Or try for a landing in one of the slivers of water that remained? As I found out later the iceberg is the better option. Although they did not look like they had a smooth uniform surface so it would be a rough landing and would most likely wipe the undercarriage off.

A short while after that the east coast of Canada came into view. A rugged and desolate landscape with not a sign of life anywhere. Opportunities for forced landings were almost non existent until further across this peninsula that forms the eastern edge of Frobisher Bay.

Finally Iqaluit radio was heard and I listened to the latest weather, at the end I was initially confused by the number until I realised that the pressure settings are still done in Inches of Mercury there - despite Canada being otherwise fully metric. So I changed over my setting on the Dynon.

Over this peninsula I experienced some moderate turbulence and this alluded to the strong surface wind from the north which frequently funnels down the valley that leads into Frobisher Bay.

Sure enough on landing it was gusting to 35 knots - thankfully almost straight down the runway so I basically 'hovered' into land.

Unfortunately I was marshalled in by a clueless guy from Touch Down Services FBO who parked me exposed out on the apron with an angle which meant my canopy was vulnerable to the wind gusts.

Avoid using Touch Down Services they are a waste of time!

My attention was taken by the two Customs ladies which wanted to see my passport immediately after landing and although I closed the canopy I did not lock it (which I would normally do in such a strong wind). With my back turned and within 20 seconds one of the Customs ladies pointed behind me and said "Your bubble has blown over". I turned to see the canopy blown right over with the perspex touching the wing surface, the securing wire having been ripped out of it's place and the canopy hinges over centred and cracked in several places.

This was to be the only real damage caused on the entire trip and was thankfully repairable.

I had previously made contact with 'The Polar Pilots', two local ex pilots who like to meet and greet any travellers passing through Iqaluit. My contact was Bert Rose who I met in my hotel for dinner and an aviation chat. He was good enough to give me a guided tour of Iqaluit and then sorted out some hangarage for the repair to the canopy with Air Nunavut. He also drove me around the next day to source some 5 min epoxy for the repair. A top bloke! You can contact him on this link:

So the next few days I was 'stuck' in Iqaluit with this canopy repair. Actually it was a blessing in disguise as the weather in the southern part of Canada where I was planning to head to was atrocious. Also it was Canada day and the 150th anniversary of Canada's formation so there were events going on in town which made it a more interesting place to be than usual.

After 4 days the weather was good enroute and the canopy was all fixed and cured so I headed south to Schefferville. The longest leg of the trip at 541nm. The flight plan was pretty straight forward with a direct to destination and no turn or way points along the route.

Before departing I bought my drum of fuel and told the guys to save it for me as I would use it again on the way back. After my return fill up the unused remaining fuel (approx 100 litres) would end up in the refuellers snowmobile - that's what he told me would happen with it.

I also filed a flight plan for this leg (which was wholly sensible given the remote country I would be passing over) this is also a legal requirement in Canada when you are flying any further than 25nm from your departure airport.

I enjoyed good tailwinds of approx 15 knots on this leg. The weather was good for most of the flight until approaching Schefferville where there were some thundershowers developing. These were isolated so I just flew around them.

Schefferville is a one horse mining town and in a bad state of disrepair. I later named it Shitterville. There is not a lot to recommend it as a destination other than it's runway and AvGas availability. There's also a plague of mosquitos there in the summer months as I found out when I went for a walk that evening to the one and only 'restaurant' in town. The hotel although being modern and in good condition did not offer a restaurant. Everyone speaks French here.

I will leave the travelogue at this point as from here I had a sightseeing tour of Canada and the USA rather than heading straight for Oshkosh. I'd been lucky with the weather to make such good progress and had several weeks now to 'kill' before Oshkosh.

If you were to head straight to Oshkosh from Schefferville then I'd recommend Timmins and then Sault Ste Marie as stopping off points on a more direct track to Oshkosh. You could be at Osh in just a day using this route if you pushed it but two days is probably a better idea. Sault Ste Marie is also handy for Customs as there is a US Customs based on the US airfield just over the border here.

I crossed the border into the USA at Buffalo just near Niagara Falls. By far the most red tape and 'hassle' of any border crossing on the trip.

Before setting off from Toronto I had to file an eAPIS report, stick the customs 'decal' to the outside of the aircraft, phone Customs in Buffalo (they rejected my first request to arrive within 1 hour as they said I must give a minimum of 2 hours notice before arrival so I had to delay my flight plan and departure by 1 hour). I was also instructed to file an ESTA - which is an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation - only to find out when I got to Buffalo that as I had a B1/B2 visa then there was no need to also file the ESTA (as described in Part One of this blog post you are better off getting a Visa in advance especially if you want to do multiple entries into US territory). 

Upon landing in Buffalo I requested a taxi to the FBO and Customs office. I parked up and shut down and was told by the marshal that he would call over a Customs officer. You are not allowed to open your canopy/door, let alone get out of the aircraft, until instructed to do so by the Customs officer. Luckily it was overcast and not a really hot day otherwise I would have overheated as I had to wait for 10 minutes for the officer to turn up. They then walked around my aircraft with a black box scanning for radioactive material! And the officer started to question me through the DV panel and it was ridiculous as I couldn't really hear what she was saying and she couldn't hear me either so finally instructed me that it was ok to open my canopy. After a few more questions I asked if I could get out and she said ok. I was then instructed to walk with her to the office for 'processing'. I asked what I had to bring and she said 'everything'. So I took all the paperwork I had. They looked at everything too, insurance, license, decal, passport and visa. Took fingerprints and a facial picture. Then came a long line of questioning about what I was doing where I was intending to go etc.  After a while they seemed to bore of asking me questions and it went quiet. I asked "So am I good to go?" and they said "Yeah... you're good to go". As every T was crossed and every i was dotted they had nothing on me so had to let me on my way but it was by far the most thorough border crossing of the whole trip. 

When departing the USA from Seattle back into Canada on the return journey I was still obliged to fill out another eAPIS but that was it. I did not even have to leave from a customs airfield and departed directly from Bremerton to Canada.

Once in the USA no-one cared a bit about who I was - I was just another 'Experimental' - and free to fly everywhere and without filing any flight plans - which is what I did (except for that flight back into Canada as mentioned above, across a border, which is a legal requirement). The ATC were very helpful and provided Flight Following when requested. Most airfields I visited were Unicom with no control tower, so just blind calls on the frequency are all that is required. Most airfields also have an ASOS - automated weather frequency which you can listen to on approach. All the FBO's I dealt with in the USA were helpful and friendly and provided a good service with refuelling. A few were self-serve with fuel also with just a credit card needed for payment at the pump. Also there is no such thing as a landing fee in the USA.

Flying in Canada was similarly easy and straightforward with only the aforementioned flight plans being compulsory. If you land at a non-controlled airfield then you will have to phone to close your flight plan yourself, try to do this as soon as you land. ATC were also very helpful although some were a bit more strict especially with regards to flight levels when VFR and following the Semi-Circular rule. Some of the controllers were a bit baffled by my rego though with several asking for confirmation that it indeed did start with a G and not a C as they were used to. I guess they do not get many small aircraft from across the pond flying around in Canada. There were landing fees at the larger airports I visited, namely Sept Iles £15, Quebec International £15 and Labrador City £23. Also when I got home I received a bill through the mail for ATC services which was £50. The landing fee and FBO charges for parking were expensive at Toronto Billy Bishop airport but I knew that before I went there.

Although I arrived into Canada on a VFR flight plan - on my return journey when I was leaving from Iqaluit to Kangerlussuaq I filed as usual with Foreflight but this time it was rejected by Foreflight as it said I must file IFR when departing Canada (which is a legal requirement). So I filed IFR and had the idea to cancel it and revert to a VFR plan when I first spoke with the controller. This did not work out and the controller said "I don't know how to do that" which seemed strange to me and insisted that I depart as IFR and call Montreal Center after departure and sort it out with them. Sure enough I did call Montreal Center once in the climb and asked to cancel IFR and make it VFR - they reminded me that on a VFR flight plan I would only be able to climb to 5,500ft due to the Class A airspace above. I asked for a special VFR to climb higher and they refused it so I stayed on my IFR flight plan. Theoretically I should have been making position reports every hour on the hour but before the top of the first hour had passed I had already lost comms with Montreal Center. On approaching Greenland I had already switched frequencies to Sondestrom and heard an Air Greenland aircraft that was airborne relaying a message that could I call Sondestrom or if no joy to relay a position report to them. This I did and once I got closer to Kangerlussuaq and the runway was in sight I cancelled IFR for a VFR approach.

I hope these blog posts have dispelled some of the myths and mystery surrounding a Trans Atlantic crossing in a homebuilt.

If you have any ambition to do a similar trip yourself then I can wholly recommend it as a great life experience. Just be well prepared with your equipment and allow enough time to 'complete the mission' so you can fly in good weather. Also it will be expensive so allow enough funds to do the trip - my trip ended up costing just under £15k.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section below and I will try to answer them as best as I can.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Pics and videos of my Oshkosh Adventure

These pics should help you to visualise the Part Two of my 'How to' post which is coming soon.

Taxiing in after displaying at Oshkosh as part of the Home Builders Parade.

How to fly the Atlantic in your homebuilt - Part One, Planning and Preparations

As I was researching flying the Atlantic I found lots of information. Unfortunately most of it was out of date or did not apply to what I was planning on doing.

In the interests of sharing knowledge I've decided to put down everything I found out and my experiences along the way. I hope this uncovers the 'mystery' surrounding crossing the Atlantic.

This Part One covers the planning and preparations and Part Two will be the actual flying experience.

First of all - is it possible to fly a homebuilt across the Atlantic? If every letter of every rule book is followed then the answer is "No". But as you will find out below nobody is checking anything so you are free to fly across the same as you would be in a Certified Aircraft.

Where to start?

Well it's good to have a goal in mind and in my case it was to get to Oshkosh before it started.

The aim was to fly into Oshkosh on Friday 21st of July, to avoid the extremely crowded skies that happen the next day. 

Working back from that I wanted to allow a full calendar month to get there (more about that later) which meant leaving around Friday 23rd June.

So I had a start date to aim at and also an end goal to aim for, Oshkosh.

Next up came planning out the route.

For me that meant short(ish) legs and the 'Northern Route'. 

To fly the 'Southern Route' - Reykjavik to Narsarsuaq to Goose Bay - you are required to have HF radio, which I didn't, plus the legs are quite long and out of my comfort zone with the limited range I had. 670nm and 676nm respectively.

So that settled it - I would fly the Northern Route. I would also minimise my time in Greenland (to avoid getting stuck with weather) by flying across the ice cap rather than going all the way down to Narsarsuaq and back up to Nuuk or Kangerlussuaq as some people have done before me.

Speaking of the HF radio requirement there are two ways around it if you have the range for the Southern Route. One is to do what I was told a French ferry pilot did on leaving Goose Bay. He filled out his flight plan marking that he was HF radio equipped but he didn't even have an HF radio installed let alone operating. As I said above nobody is checking anything. I guess he could always say it was faulty and not working when airborne and then just use VHF. This trick is probably only good to use once, after that the authorities may get suspicious.  The second way around the requirement is to fly above FL200 - that way you will always be in VHF contact the whole way across Ganders Oceanic airspace. Not many homebuilts have a service ceiling that high though.

The other thing I did not like about flying the Southern Route was the reputation of Narsarsuaq, it closes in with coastal fog at a moments notice. There are no alternates when flying there. The nearest airfield is 250nm away. The approaches to it are also sketchy with a glacier at one end of the runway and a series of mountains at the other end.

See below for the route I planned (and flew) on the outbound legs of my trip.

This was done on Great Circle Mapper. A free and excellent website.

This route was also determined by availability of AvGas. The only airfield I had to really worry about was CYFB, Iqaluit. Where they get a delivery of 300 drums of AvGas once a year and when it's gone it's gone. Best to phone ahead and see what the availability is before setting off. They had good availability so I didn't need to pre order a drum. You must buy a whole drum - which is 210 litres. I ended up using about half of that on both my outbound and return legs.

I bought one drum and paid $318 Canadian Dollars for it which makes it 91p a litre. They make no money on it and the Govt subsides the delivery of it.

Everywhere else they sell it by the litre, but do check ahead in places like Greenland and Schefferville as I have heard that they run out there from time to time also.

As a backup, if you are flying behind an engine that takes MoGas then you can always get that from a service station in the towns near the airports, although you'll need something to transport it in.

For navigation I used SkyDemon in Europe and Foreflight in Canada and the USA as SkyDemon does not cover Canada and is not a complete service in Greenland. I had two backups to the iPad running this software. One was my iPhone running the same software and the other was a Garmin Aero 500 GPS in my panel.

Both SkyDemon and Foreflight will give you excellent airport data, including availability of AvGas and other facilities, although as I said above you are best to phone directly and check if you are in any doubt.

As you can see my route into Canada was not directly to Oshkosh. Indeed once you get to Schefferville you could start heading in a south-westerly direction and be in Oshkosh in 2 days if so desired. As I'd never been to Canada before I wanted to explore some of the cities hence heading for Quebec (which is lovely BTW) and then onto Toronto. The plan had then been to head for New York but that didn't work out so I headed south to visit the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC instead. Then across to Dayton for the USAF museum and finally north to Oshkosh from there.

I was only able to do this as I 'got lucky' with the weather and was able to cross to Iqaulit in only 6 days. 5 of which were flying days and one rest day in Reykjavik for weather.

As much as I would like to have spent longer in all the stopover places along this route I had to take the good weather when it presented itself.

Study the pressure maps and watch the trends, Greenland does get the occasional high pressure build over it and the same goes for Iceland, although I found the weather window was short (particularly in Iceland) so it's best to get moving and fly in the best weather while you can.

It almost goes without saying - but I'll say it here - the Weather should be your primary and main concern throughout such a journey. Particularly in the Atlantic crossing part of it. You should have a fully 'shaken down' machine with all your equipment functioning as it should. You should also have multiple backups in the event of navigation failure.

I had a long range fuel tank which I made myself and this gave me a theoretical still air range of 800 nm. The longest leg I did was 542 nm. So I had a good reserve should I need to loiter at my destination or if headwinds became more than forecast. So I had a 6.5 hr endurance and the longest flight was just under 5 hours.

I had heard lots of stories about exceptionally strong winds in the Arctic region - someone even said 120 knots. Well the worst headwind I encountered on my entire trip was 20 knots and the best tailwind I got was also 20 knots.

In this day and age there is no excuse for not thoroughly checking out the weather before setting off.

To this end I mainly used

Which is free, has global coverage and is brilliantly accurate.

Even so I would still cross check with other weather sources to confirm Windy was accurate. There are also multiple sources within Windy so you can cross check within that site - they range from 4km to 22km accuracy with a 9km intermediate source. The 4km source is only good in central Europe BTW - it's coverage drops off north of Scotland.

Try to avoid flying through any kind of 'front'. Even a trough in the Arctic will bring crappy weather. Obviously a nice big high pressure system is the best. Think about the coriolis effect and where you will be flying so you avoid the worst of the headwinds. 

The air flows in a counterclockwise direction around a low pressure system and in a clockwise direction around a high pressure system. So heading north from the UK you would be ideally placed if a low was coming in from the West (but hadn't arrived yet) and a high was just moving off to the East.

I didn't get so lucky with my flights and accepted a headwind on most of the outbound legs - the worst being 15 knots.

Don't believe the myth that you will only get headwinds heading West though - I got a couple of tailwind flights on my way over. Notably on the outbound crossing of the ice cap where I had a good 15 knots tailwind.

I also got headwinds coming back across Canada heading East on a couple of legs.

Regarding Ice - I was also given information that ANY cloud in the Arctic would contain ice. This was just not true and so long as you can descend (ie nothing to hit below you) then any icing in flight is not a deal breaker, despite this I still avoided icing as best I could and only suffered from it once and that was over the ocean so I was able to descend to melt it off. This is clearly not an option over the ice cap so that leg must be done with no chance of icing - therefore no cloud at the levels you wish to fly at. At the end of the day it's all about freezing levels - check that before you fly and you can determine if you're able to descend to melt it off or not, indeed it will give you a good idea of where to expect icing if you have to fly through some cloud.

What about flight permissions for a non-certified aircraft?

I followed the rules on the outbound leg and got a special flight permit to fly in Iceland. This was expensive - £220 - and a bit painful to get, taking some weeks and having to chase the lady in charge of issuing this permit several times. Eventually I went up a level and contacted her superior and sure enough the next day I was issued with a permit. On the return leg I decided not to bother and see what would happen - sure enough no one is checking - so I was able to fly through Iceland without this permit.

For the Iceland permit they asked if I was "IFR capable" and I replied that I was - even though the aircraft I was flying was clearly not IFR Certified and I did not have an IFR rating. Although I was in my mind IFR 'capable' and had an EFIS, and indeed I did fly IFR for several hours on some of the legs of this trip.

You're also supposed to have a heated pitot tube for Iceland requirements but I didn't have one of those either.

For Greenland (and the Faroes) you are supposed to get permission from the Danish CAA but nobody checks so I didn't bother.

For Canada you are supposed to get special authorisation from their CAA - I only found out this afterwards as the information I had was old and did not mention this so it may be a relatively new requirement. Anyway same as Greenland no body checks this so you could go without it as I did.

For the USA I attempted to get a SFA (Special Flight Authorisation) as that is what I understood I needed for a permit based aircraft. The FAA official I was dealing with told me in writing that I did not need a SFA and instead needed a TSA. So I contacted the correct agency and attempted to get a TSA - lots of form filling here. Only to have that rejected as I was told I did not need a TSA either.

So I ended up not getting a permit for the aircraft in the USA either and guess what - nobody checks anything. 

As it turns out I found out that Canadian experimentals visiting the USA are required to have an SFA so strictly speaking I should have had an SFA issued but in practical terms it was not a problem as no one is checking you have it.

Visa and entry requirements:

As a British passport holder I did not have to get a visa for any of the countries visited.

I did get a B1/B2 visa for the USA though as that was what I understood I needed - old information told me so. As you are not arriving on a commercial aircraft then the usual visa waiver does not apply and you must have a visa already in your passport. When visiting the US embassy in London I was asked why I didn't just use their waiver system and apply online. As I'd already paid the money and filled out numerous forms and stood in the queue for 2 hours I wasn't about to stop the visa process going ahead. Then on arrival in the USA at Buffalo I was again asked why I had filled out the waiver form online if I already had a visa, I replied that is what I was told to do by the official on the phone I spoke to before leaving Canada.

As it turns out it was a good thing to have the Visa as I found out later on a couple in a home built from South Africa arrived in the USA a few weeks after me and had problems. When they arrived in Bangor the customs officers said that they could not use the visa waiver programme as they had not arrived on a commercial flight. They were told they had two options, fly back to Canada or apply for a one off visa waiver for 585 USD each. After quite a while a senior officer got involved and decided to waive the fee and let them in but they were then not able to leave and re-enter the country - this was a one time deal - so their plans to fly down to South America and the Caribbean and then return back through the USA to Hawaii were scuppered.

So if you want less hassle and expense at the border to the USA then I would suggest getting a B1/B2 visa in advance. It's good for 10 years once issued too.

You also need to buy a customs 'decal' for your aircraft and stick it to the outside near the cockpit entry point before you enter the country.

US Customs 'decal' 

You also need to be set up with the eAPIS website before applying for an entry to the USA. Do this before you leave also. 

As it turns out Canada changed their legislation on me and you now have to apply for an eTA (Electronic Travel Authorisation) before you enter the country. They had only changed this rule about 6 months before I tried to enter but had not update their entry website with this important piece of information! So apply before you go. It costs 50 Canadian dollars and is usually issued within 24 hours.

I will cover more of the entry experiences in part two of this post.

Insurance requirements:

To cross Greenland you will need a special addition to your insurance. I was told this would be circa £3,000 - as it turns out I was able to get it added to my policy for £1400 and this included Canada and the USA also. Obviously I highly recommend getting insurance but the only country that checked I had it was the USA so you may be able to fly without it but that seems a silly risk to me.

Survival equipment:

As you will be flying over lots of cold water the main requirement is that you can survive a ditching and survive long enough to be rescued in this environment.

Without an immersion suit you will be dead in about 20 minutes in Arctic Water. Well before that you will lose the use of your hands (that happens in about 2 mins). So not wearing an immersion suit is not an option. Also that suit should be fully zipped up. I have seen many a ferry pilot flying along with the top half of their immersion suit undone and pulled down to the waist - for 'comfort'. These suits are hard enough to get on when outside of a cockpit and on the ground let alone when in a seated and cramped cockpit and with a certain emergency to deal with. I consider this practise potential suicide.

You can hire an immersion suit from Far North Aviation in Wick, Scotland but they want you to drop it off at Goose Bay typically and then you'd have to fly back through their to pick up another different suit on the way back. I decided to buy my own suit as it was only £200 and well worth having as I know it fits me properly and is not damaged or worn out as the hired ones may be.

With an immersion suit on you have 1.5 hours in Arctic water (outside of a liferaft) so this gives plenty of time to get into your liferaft and crucially does not let your body temperature drop before you do so.

The next most important piece of survival equipment is the life raft.

Again this could be hired but I chose to buy my own as it had to fit into a compact space - behind my back where my parachute would normally be. And I could see myself using it again on other trips. I used a simple nylon tie down to strap the life raft to me - across my chest and under the life jacket straps - so in the event of a ditching the life raft would come out with me and not become separated.

The life raft I bought is a one man covered type with an inflatable cavity in the bottom that gives air insulation so is good for cold water operations.

As far as I know it is the lightest and most compact life raft made for Arctic conditions at just 4.4kg and 320x225x90mm. It also contains fresh water pouches and signalling flares.

I bought it direct from the manufacturer and saved over £100 on the retail price.

See for more details. The model I bought was the HELP Survival Pack.

I also had neoprene gloves and hood which I would don in the event of a ditching (the hood most likely after the ditching). The neoprene gloves actually came in handy to keep my hands warm while flying on several occasions.

I also had a woollen beanie which would be put on in the event of ditching to keep my head warm until I had donned the neoprene hood.

I wore a lifejacket and a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) was attached to that.

The PLB is of the GPS type giving a very accurate location for the search and rescue to find you easily.

I had a SPOT Tracker mounted behind my head on the top of the headrest as it needs a good view of the sky to get GPS coverage and send out it's 'ping' every 5 mins to the internet. The tracker itself is not that expensive but the subscription is but as a backup means of locating me this was an essential piece of kit. It also has an SOS function which alerts SAR of your distress and gives them an exact GPS location.

Despite it being a legal requirement I did not have an ELT. Frankly they do not work most of the time in a crash and I had multiple means of alerting the SAR should I need to anyway.

Also strapped to the liferaft were two waterproof bags containing a portable VHF radio, food rations, an LED torch, 2x space blankets and water purifying tablets.

In the baggage compartment I carried a metal billy can that contained fire lighting equipment. I also carried a roll of duct tape and had a Gerber multitool which has a saw, knife and various other useful functions.

It is also essential to read the North Atlantic Flying Manual which gives specific legal requirements and general information about flying in the region. You can download it from here:

Although if you follow it to the letter then you'll never go so take it with a pinch of salt and add some common sense where you don't meet regulations.

I also carried oxygen for the ice cap crossing in Greenland which is conducted at 12,000ft. So whilst not strictly a legal requirement (only above 12,500ft in the UK and 15,000ft in the USA) it is sensible as it keeps your brain 'fresh' and helps you make good decisions.
Stay tuned for Part Two - the flying - coming soon.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Aerobatic Contest

On Saturday I competed in my first aerobatic competition.

I said many months ago I expected to finish last.

As it turns out I finished 8th from 14 who competed in the final judged sequence.

The conditions were challenging to say the least with a 30 knot crosswind straight across the display axis. Actually the judges were just being lazy as by all rights they should have moved to another position which was 90 degrees to the wind. This also made for some challenging conditions to land in with many people making go arounds and second attempts - myself included as the wind changed on my approach and I now had a tailwind component as well as the 30 knots of crosswind. I saw I was going to run out of runway and decided to go around and land in the other direction.

Another thing that was a curve ball was the sequence itself - which they had published in February when I first signed up for the comp and in the meantime they had changed to a different sequence - without telling anyone who had already signed up! So on the morning of the competition I had to delete two manoeuvres and add a brand new one to my sequence I had been practising for the last few months! The new manoeuvre was a Chandelle which I had never flown in the Twister before so had to learn that in the 10 mins practise I had in the morning before my first sequence flight in the box.

As you can see from the scores below I scored much higher in the morning sequence (not counted for points unfortunately) but was marked much more harshly by one of the judges in the afternoon (there were only 2 judges) despite me thinking that I actually flew better in the afternoon. 

I've just found out that I scored 1st from all those who flew in the morning sequence so that is some consolation. What a shame that did not count towards the final judged sequence points!

Anyway even in the afternoon sequence I beat 4 Extra 200's so that says something.

A quote from the BAeA website who did a write up on the event said:

"Although not really a contest, the leader in the scores after the first round was Andy McKee flying a lovely Silence Twister. Not a common aeroplane at our events but it was flown very well and presented beautifully. Lovely slow, crisp, deliberate aerobatics." 

All in all an excellent experience. I have not been put off and will enter another one - perhaps next year.

Chris Burkett was there in the afternoon and gave me some excellent advice and pointers - thanks Chris!

A cold front passed over with lightning, thunder and a rain shower before we got underway for the first practise sequence.

Weather had brightened up by the afternoon. The pilot in the red Pitts was the eventual winner.

Organisers Dave Farley and Nick Buckenham on the left with the 1st to 3rd placed competitors on the right.

My scores from the first practise sequence which turned out to be the best score from all the mornings entries - of which they were 15. One dropped out in the afternoon.

And the scores from the final Judged afternoon sequence. At least my positioning was better.
Final results.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Propeller Dynamic Balance

On Monday I visited Gloucester Airport to get a Dynamic Balance done on the propeller by RGV Aviation.

I had been meaning to do this since getting the full permit but what really motivated me was a vibration which I didn't seem to remember when I first flew it. I put this down to being more familiar and picky with the aircraft the more I flew it - but as you will discover below I was not imagining it after all.

The procedure starts with the top cowling coming off first then two sensors are attached. One is measuring the RPM very accurately and does so by 'seeing' a reflective piece of tape which has been applied to one prop back face. The other sensor measures the vibration in Inches Per Second - IPS. This is mounted to the front of the engine as close to the prop as possible.

The engine is then run up to full static RPM - in this case 2700rpm (with the top cowl off I get 100 more rpm out of the engine as the air is colder going into the air filter).

When full static is achieved the ACES unit is set to measure the vibration which only takes about 5 seconds or so.

The first reading was 1.26 IPS - which is BAD!

Typically they try to get the IPS down to 0.07 or less. Adam the mechanic said the worst they have ever had was 1.6 IPS so mine was quite bad and the ACES machine called for a 45 gram correction weight which is beyond the 30 gram limit.

Another more senior mechanic came out to look at it and suggested to take the prop off and turn it through 180 degrees before fitting it again on the backplate.

So we did that and lo and behold the next reading was only 0.15 - which is nearly a 10 fold reduction in vibration! 

I think I must have had the prop this way round when I first installed it - then at the 15hr service I must have put it on the other way. There is no right way as such - theoretically the prop should be the same either way but it must be heavier on one side and this just happens to cancel out the vibration or accentuate it depending on which way round it is fitted.

The next 4 runs were done after putting test weights where the ACES machine told us to. And when the 2nd to last run came up with an IPS of 0.02 Adam was satisfied that we had nailed it. The final weight was then fitted permanently to the backplate and it was just 3.4 grams of correction needed. A final reading after that showed it back up to 0.07 so work stopped there. 0.07 is the figure they work to and Adam explained that the final weight is tricky to get in the right place to retain the IPS we had previously.

Anyway the proof was in the test flight back home - turbine smooth now compared to before. 

My wallet is now £300 lighter but this was well worth doing and I would recommend it. Not only is everything subject to less vibration but it is also much more relaxing to fly when things are smoother.

This also explains why I lost the cowling screws on my France trip as the extra vibration must have worked them loose.

Adam fitting the sensors.

Vibration sensor mounted to the front of the engine.

Both sensors in place - the yellow sensor taped on the plenum is the RPM sensor.

The ACES machine displaying the first reading after switching the prop around. As you can see it calculates a 'solution'. Which is a weight and degrees from datum to fit it.

A protractor is then used to figure out where to place the correcting weights.

A test correcting weight using one of the spinner holes.

The 4 readings after switching the prop around.

The final correcting weight - just 3.4 grams - consisting of a screw with a small washer and nyloc on the other side. BTW this is where the ACES machine said to put the final weight - it calculates the position taking into account you are not putting it in the same place where the test weights were put.