Tuesday, June 27, 2006


(The large white patch near Hofn is the VatnaJokull glacier, 8,300 Sq. Kms)

Meeting our flying friends at Keflavik

Leaving Hofn behind, just when the weather was going to get bad for that area, we climbed to 8,000 feet and while doing so, we passed the same glacier lake of VatnaJorkull that we had been to the previous day. The aerial view was really good but the clouds were moving in like a thick blanket and the prognosis for them wasn’t good. Few hours later, we approached Keflavik, beckoning with its wide, long runways, used by the US Air Force and others. Touch down and Copi said “Saar, sexy landing!” Indeed it was and it makes any flying jockey good, to hear those words, even if the co-pilot only meant to butter up.

We taxied into an FBO, an acronym for Fixed base operator called South Air (Way up north, they call themselves South Air!) who was our designated Handling Agent. It was still grey, overcast, blustery day at Kef and we jogged into the terminal of the handling agent. South Air hospitality is well known and they had hot coffee, hot chocolate, cookies, candies and cakes waiting. This is for all flight crew coming in.

We caught up with our German friends who had flown the Scotland to Iceland route with us. They had longer range tanks and they had gone to kef, somewhere near the coast, they had taken a diversion. We had been in touch for a while until we sighted Hofn and went in for a landing.

A Swiss guy, Fritz, flying an old twin Cessna was flying his plane across from Europe to the US, where in South Florida he had a pad of sorts with a pool, a dog and an American wife, poor him. He was going to join our convoy across the Atlantic to Greenland. His airplane being the fastest, would naturally make him team leader and he’d report weather, icing altitudes and such other info. Plus, we all have a common frequency to chat across the Atlantic. This helps bail people out of emergencies, keep the boredom away and generally exchange notes about each other’s airplanes. We’d take off the next day, weather permitting. Fritz, over the period of the trip to Canada, became a good friend. All this talk and I found copi missing. Finally we located him, comfortable on a chair, munching on the cookies and cake and having stuffed enough candies in his pocket to make a bulge on the side.

It stinks

South Air made arrangement for a van for all of us to ride to the hotel at the center of the small township of Keflavik. We all stayed together, in the same place, I mean. We got two separate rooms for tonight and that was nice. In case copi could not manage to sleep again. The same evening, we had Pizza and Beer, with the company of our new found friends, at the only Pizzeria in town that was located just across the hotel. Copi was in a condition, poor fellow, between stuffing his face and falling asleep. It was becoming increasingly dark, heavy clouds blanking out the Sun and that was a good thing as far as Copi was concerned. It also helped that this hotel did not have windows to the outside and kept the darkness firmly in, once you closed the door. Before hitting the sack, I had told Copi not to be alarmed if his shower water stank like rotting cabbage. He nodded, perhaps not understanding what I meant. Next morning, I find Copi at my door saying, “Saar, something wrong with my shower, smells very bad!”

Iceland is sitting on geothermal activity that is tapped so well that most of the electricity requirements of the Country is met by this type of power harnessing. I also learnt that all homes are piped free hot water. Another thing is that the subterranean wells have sulfur and the hot sea water from the famous Blue Lagoon is used to heat the fresh water that is pumped into homes and this smells kind of, well, bad. But, it is very healthy to have a bath in this water. The number one tourist attraction to the Keflavik area is this large Blue Lagoon which is powdery blue in color and maintains a temperature of between 35 to 40 degrees Celsius even in winter. Travelers go to Keflavik Iceland, just to visit this lagoon.

(Photo of the Blue Lagoon)
The Blue Lagoon, no relation to the Brooke Shields movie that came out in 1980, is a geothermal seawater inlet that is actually not natural. In fact, the Blue Lagoon is man made. It is basically the run off from the power plant nearby that pumps hot water from about one mile underground, uses it for heat and generating electricity and the absolutely clean water is let into the lagoon. They have built a Spa, health center and a company that manufactures and sells skin health products such as mud face packs, shower gels, moisturizer and things like that. The products are also sold under the label named, what else, Blue Lagoon.
With Greenland and the weather on our mind, we got prepared for the next leg of our pond crossing effort. I’m afraid that I’d have to stop here for the fear of making this blog too long and to continue the journey in one more episode, a fourth part in the “trilogy”!!
The next part will be the crossing between Iceland and Greenland and then between Greenland and Canada. That was the hairiest part of the entire trip across the Atlantic.

Monday, June 26, 2006


<-- Hofn town, VatnaJokull Glacier background

The Sun’s up at midnight!

Icescapades: No such word in the dictionary but sounds about right. An escapade in Iceland. Sure I’d been to Iceland before, landing at Reykjavik, near the main City of the same name, Capital of Iceland. My previous visit was a brief two day affair and I did not get beyond the little city. I would categorize it as the cleanest, neatest and prettiest city compared to any other and I’ve been around to compare. Normal ferry flight includes a landing at either Rey or at the nearby Airport of Keflavik with longer runways and better handling facilities.

It was summer that time as it was now, June 2001. Don’t be fooled, summer here does not mean tee shirt and shorts kind of weather for the likes of you and me, although for the pale Icelanders, this is as balmy as it gets. The best part is that the Sun stays up all day and all night during summer. I remember the previous landing I made at Rey around 0100 in the morning and the sun was still up. I remember the Loftleider Hotel on the Airport has rooms with no windows looking out and many hotels in Iceland, I was told, had windows looking into the passageways inside. That’s because it is tough to sleep with the Sun up all the time during summer and the sun down all winter! The same goes for most of Northern Europe, Northern Canada, and Russia et al. I was somewhat familiar with his, but my poor co-pilot, I’ll call him copi; boy did he have a tough time sleeping.

A brief weather description. Temperature between 10 and 12 degrees Celsius at the warmest. Longest length of sunshine 24 Hrs 00 Minutes. Length of Day: 21 Hrs 03 Minutes. All real data. You get the picture.

Hofn? What’s there to stop for?

To begin at the beginning, after sloshing around in the chemical that was supposed to sanitize our boots, Customs Iceland came over and stamped out passports and asked where were going. I told him that it was going to be Keflavik next after re-fuelling and depending on the weather, go across the drink to Eastern Greenland. Customs chap told me it was too bad that we’d had to sit out the weather in Keflavik because the weather was very poor between Kef and Kulusuk (Eastern Greenland) and we should expect a couple of days delay, what with our primitive instruments, lack of weather radar, nothing to say about the de-icing system that we did not have in the first place.

Customs second guy mentioned that it would have been worth staying here in Hofn for a couple of days and slipped in a piece of information that they had the largest glacier in Europe. And that we could visit it too. OK, I don’t need any more incentive. Kef is nice but jut plain, boring, flat and we’d be holed up in the Hotel with nothing to do, here’s a better alternative. “Saar, lets stay here and visit the glacier”, said my co-pilot. The weather was fine in Hofn, perfect for an outing. That’s what we did and let me tell you, this was the best decision I had made all through this trip, except for the one I made to shut up and not throw tantrums when we facing Gen Mushy guns on the tarmac at Karachi, sneaking into Pakistan without a transponder, as they accused, trying to fly low and low over Pasni and Gwadar (Naval Air Stations). That’s another story and I’ll come to that some time.

Back to the Iceland story. So, we moored the plane and went off to town in a cab and the cab guy also said that he was a travel guide and that he operated one of those big wheeled, high sitting All Terrain Vehicles that did the tours of the sulfur springs, volcanic areas with lava flows and all that. Sold, we told him, come back and pick us up in an hour. He dropped us off in the Hotel, this one had windows, real large ones in every room and due to our sudden arrival, they could manage a double room and copi and I had to share the same. Fine by me, just watch out for the loud snoring, I told the first mate.

Air Attack!

Cabby came back and picked us up and said we’d have a long drive of a couple of hours to get to the glacier located at a place called Vatna Jorkull. He started talking, nice chap with the gift of the gab and a mean streak to him which will come out soon. Hofn, he said, meant harbor. They were seafaring people, what else and probably descended from the Vikings. They’ve got the looks and I can’t contest that. The drive was among the most scenic ones I have ever taken. Picture this, lush green fields, neat farm houses and Icelandic horses running around. The horses are really beautiful with long manes that hang down their shoulders like a long haired girl, with the hair swirling in the wind. Real beauties, these horses and same goes for the local girls!

We came up on a clearing and cabby stopped the car. He said he had a surprise for us. We followed him lamely, hands deep in our jacket pocket to keep off the chill and came up on a depression in the ground. The depression had matted dry grass and contained two largish grey-brown colored eggs! Before I could draw in my breath at this wonderful sight, I spied cabby taking off in the direction of the car while copi and I gazed. Next thing I know is that I hear a high pitched shrill scream; I look up and see a large bird diving at me. A whack on the head with its wings and I was on the ground, looking to scramble away. The first bird was joined by its mate in the aerial attack. Copi had run to the car meanwhile and locked himself up.

I am a nature lover, animal freak and so on, that made me bring out my camera from my jacket pocket and while the bird was diving, I took a photograph! I have saved all this, including the eggs and the bird diving and the entire trip on film and I hope to get these published soon. Anyways, back to the birds, I managed to evade anymore of the hits and made it back to the car with grass all over me. Cabby was laughing and thought it was very funny. Indeed, I had fun and copi’s face had turned white. The birds, I was told, come from the spitfire family (what a name!) and they are seabirds, like sea eagles. I’d be better off not messing around with them. Apparently mama and papa bird guard their eggs and jointly raise their young.

My Names Bond, James Bond

We reached a water body; a large lake formed by the melting glacier, with large and small ice pieces floating by, turns into a stream and empties itself into the cold Atlantic. This is the famous glacier lake, made more famous by the James Bond movie “A View to a kill” starring Roger Moore as 007 and Grace Jones, who comes up in a mini submarine in the glacier lake, chasing Bond with obvious intent to kill him. Roger Moore stayed in Hofn during the shoot and this gets mentioned to everyone who makes it to the VatnaJokull glacier. While we were there, we could see pieces of the glacier break and fall into the lake with a loud splash.

There were little ducks in the water near us, with ducklings. I picked up a piece of ice to chew on and copi borrowed my camera, took my picture eating ice, tripped on a small rock and lost control. The camera went out of his hands and fell on another piece of rock. Tough things these Nikons, it cracked a bit near the film counter window and not much else happened to it, lucky me, didn’t want to loose photos of the spits diving at me trying to make a hole in my head. Copi dropped my camera twice on this trip and I had to bandage it after the final one with brown duct tape. A small shack with a wooden patio served some excellent coffee and with the warming sunshine, we basked around like fur seals for a while before heading back to town. That night copi could not sleep, even with the curtains drawn, there were minor gaps through which sunlight filtered through and that kept him awake. Kept me awake too, with all his tossing and turning through the night, no scope for me to snore. He had the blanket over his head as well and when I asked him, he said “I can’t sleep during daytime saar”. Daytime indeed, it was 0300 AM.

Copi’s survival

The next day we spent wandering around, looking for something non-Icelandic to eat. With all due respects, Icelandic food is very funny to taste and takes getting used to (to put it mildly). Copi thought he’d die if he had to stay here longer. His last statement after last evening’s dinner had been “Saar, everything I put in I feel like puking out”. Although a fish and meat lover, there wasn’t anything on the buffet spread last night that he could stand. He stuck to breads and butter and a bit of soup and only a little bit of that. I managed to sample everything but did not enjoy any of it, not even the desert. We found, in the town of this size, we can’t have anything else other than Icelandic.

If you thought McDonalds, Pizza hut are all over the World, forget it, I’ll show you places where they have not even heard of such things. Indian food? Forget it, this is one the many places they had never seen an Indian before until copi and I landed up. Went to a Bank, changed some money to some more funny ones and hearing that the weather may clear up over the Greenland area in the next day or so, we decided to fly to Keflavik to better food and copi’s survival.

Friday, June 23, 2006


I was recalling some of my earlier flights with a friend recently and thought I’d pen a few things about those trips. In a mini series sort of way, I will write about the North Atlantic crossing in some three parts I think. Somewhat like the Star Wars prequels, myself Luke Skywalker (my father’s no Darth Vader, though, his voice is not deep or raspy enough) will attempt to tell this true story of a crossing that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Fairly recent actually, about six years back but it does feel like it happened in the distant past! This is the first part of that trilogy of sorts.

I have done a few North Atlantic ferry flights both ways, in small piston engine short range Aircraft as well as turbine powered Aircraft able to make the hop across without stopping over in Greenland in between. The general air route from Canada usually takes place between Goose bay, Labrador region of Canada, over flying Greenland and landing in Reykjavik or Keflavik in Iceland and then on to the United Kingdom. The alternate jump off point is St. John, Newfoundland in Canada and going the same way. Goose Bay weather is better than St. John, most of the time and is my usual choice for a jump off point across the pond.

On this occasion, I was flying a small, ten seat Britten Norman Islander twin engine piston Aircraft, non-pressurized and with no heating, on a delivery flight across the North Atlantic the other way, which is crossing from the U.K. to Canada. The Aircraft, made in the U.K., had a very short range, in that it had limited fuel capacity and hence could fly a limited distance before re-fuelling. Authorities would not allow the installation of temporary additional fuel tanks and since there was no time to get new drawings approved by Authorities and to get the work done, the easiest way was to find the shortest stopping route across. Easier said than done, in this case.

Stopping every 400 nautical miles (1NM=1.852 Kilometers) means limited possibilities across the vast stretch of freezing North Atlantic water. Reading the manual about the North Atlantic waters is not very comforting, it says that in case of ditching the Aircraft in the ‘drink”, one would die of hypothermia within minutes, even in summer, if proper precautions were not taken. So, yours truly had to rent orange colored immersion suit, a big bulky overall type of clothing made of rubber compounds, including gloves. Wearing this contraption is not very comfortable, your movements are restricted and you can’t even feel the control column in your hand because of the insulating material. I had to rent a raft with signal flares, potable water maker, tent covering, rations to survive floating around till the search and rescue chaps came along and so on.

On this trip up from India, stopping at Pakistan (yes, you got that right), Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, France and the U.K. before hopping across the pond (as we’d like to call the Atlantic). I had reached the far north of the U.K. at a place called Wick. Now, if I started writing about the trip previous to the crossing of the pond, which would make a small novel perhaps. Maybe another day, another blog piece. Mr. GVK would say, I think, that one day this entire collection of musings can be collated to form a book. It could attract a few readers, some of them living with me.

What comes after Wick? The U.K. pretty much stops at the Ornkey islands, just a little North of Wick. As far as mainland U.K. is concerned, you go no further than Wick. Neat pretty little town with friendly people who you get used to very fast. Needless to say, me and my young co-pilot (who had never gone abroad before this trip!) were the only non-white chaps. Kind of know what Vidya feels like in rural Japan, but not quite, at least in Wick they spoke English (or what sounded quite like it, Scott’s accents not so easy).

I had rented all this survival equipment from a company called, what else, but Far North Aviation. A friendly guy runs it, even now, going by the name of Andrew Bruce who told me that I had made history and was going to make some more (this will come up in the sequel to this prequel), by being the first Indian Aircraft at that Airport. The Air Traffic Control told him so, who knows, they don’t have previous records that mention any other!

Back to the trip. I had a few problems with the Airplane on reaching Scotland. She had behaved very well till then on this trip. The problem was with carburetor heat. Without this, the carburetor could freeze up, freezing the fuel and stopping my engines. That would not be nice for me except for a bunch of hungry Orca that may be watching me come down with smacking lips. Andrew set out on the task of making repairs, he has many talents and this is one of them. What got us stuck for nearly a week was the lack of spare parts. Meanwhile we enjoyed the lovely weather (better than England, it does not rain everyday in Scotland).

On the appointed day, I took off in poor visibility and cloud conditions (that’s how it is most of the time anyway) from Wick, and keeping us company was a German crew in their small airplane who we met up at Andrew’s office a day before. It is always a good idea to go out together and be in radio contact throughout so that one can relay distress radio calls if the other has problems along the way. Next stop was to be the eastern part of Iceland, a place I was unfamiliar with, called Hornafjordur (nobody said Icelandic names were easy!) also mercifully called Hofn, for short.

The Germans nearly ended in a disaster, trying to fly below the cloud base, thinking that visibility is better than being in the clouds. I thought otherwise and climbed up to 10,000 feet. Mind you, this airplane only goes up to 11,000 feet altitude. I broke through the clouds at around 9,000 feet and found the lovely sun, blue skies above that. I radioed the Germans who by now, had anticipated badly and at that point had gone so low, that they were reported to skimming the waves. So low that Scotland radio could not reach them. I told them that, at my altitude, things were fine and sunny. At their level, the thick overcast clouds appeared to meet the sea. Long story short, they made it up, without becoming a meal for the Orca (killer whales).

The scenery was bare, blue skies above and grey clouds below. If anything had happened to the engines at this point, we’d have to go down into the clouds and grope around for gaps in the cloud formation and, hopefully, find the Faeroe Islands. Look up the map, you’ll see how remote they are. Normally these Islands are always covered by low clouds and these Islands have treacherous coastlines with fjords running all along the coast line. Not a hospitable area, really, and you don’t want to be in a position where you have an emergency and are looking for the small airports on the top of the hills, making an approach in from the fjords. If I saw dragons in between the clouds, I was not hallucinating!

Anyway, since I am here to write this piece, we made it OK, by the skin of our teeth and low on fuel because of the unanticipated head winds directly in our path. Coming in on the coast of South East Iceland can be very pretty. We sighted the gravel airstrip at Hofn and made a nice landing. The tower asked us to stay in the airplane while a bunch of people, wearing space suits came with a large tub, poured chemicals into it and we were asked to alight into the tub and slosh around, while still in our immersion suit and then we had to get out those and continue sloshing in our shoes that we were wearing under the suit! It seems that they did not want “Mad Cow” disease in their rather fragile environment. We assured them that we had never visited a farm in the U.K. and then we were let in. The only "Mad" thing in our cockpit were the two of us flying jockeys. We did not feel bad sloshing around, cleansing oursleves, they did this to Prince Charles when he went to New Zealand (or was it Oz?), and he had to slosh around in his boots when he arrived from the U.K. before he set foot on the soil! No one above the law.

The second part of the trilogy will be about Hofn, Iceland in general and my experiences across Greenland. Meanwhile, actually, Iceland is not all icy and Greenland is not green, by and large it is covered with Ice all year round.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


This article is a continuation from the previous one on Seletar Airport. I have been reading Alexander Fraters book called ‘Beyond the Blue Horizon” as mentioned in my earlier blog on this book and he mentions a few things about Aviation history with respect to Singapore and Seletar. I have also added my research into this subject. For aviation history buffs, this is an interesting piece.

According to history, a French chap flew a biplane on a demonstration at Farrer Park Race Course. At the same venue, the first overseas Aircraft landed, flying in from the Britain after making numerous stops along the way, of course, in small biplanes. Later on, KLM and Imperial Airways (later became BOAC and later still British Airways) used to do the England to Australia flights with a stop over in Singapore.

The early records state that the first Imperial and KLM flights used to touch down in RAF Seletar after it was completed in 1929 and opened in 1930. RAF is for Royal Air Force and some old RAF buildings still stand and some are in use after passing down to the Singapore Air Force and subsequently in Civilian hands. In 1937, the operations moved to Singapore Marine and Land Airport at Kallang. This place was closed down in 1955 and the new Airport at Paya Lebar came into operation in that year. It seems that Singaporean Government decided that Paya Lebar would not suit the ultimate goal of a large Airport that would make Singapore a prime destination for World travelers and Changi then came into being and is what it is today.

Changi International Airport opened on 29th December 1981. Terminal 2 was added in 1990 and it has now been re-done, section by section, without anyone noticing the work and without any disruption to the flying public or Aircraft operations. Something worth emulating, in India, if ever this is possible. The Airport is equipped with Long Range radars and these are the things that show how that Government is serious on getting things done right, in advance, the first time around. Now, who can teach our politicians to the same? Are they educated enough, you think? Mrs. Vidya’s comment on my last blog prompts me to write more about development issues with respect to Singapore and I have managed to cover some of those things in a longish reply to her comment. Thank you Mrs. Vidya and I hope we can get some more anecdotes of your stay and life in Singapore.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


I am sure that a lot of people don’t know that the tiny city-state of Singapore with around 4.5 million residents has more than one Airport. In fact it has several of them. Most visitors to Singapore only know about the one that is called Changi International Airport and is a gateway to this country. Older generation people, who have been to Singapore in the 70’s and 80’s will remember that they used to get in and out of the Country from an Airport called Paya Lebar. Well, that is still there, although not used for civilian flights anymore.

I am located temporarily at another civilian Airport in Singapore called as Seletar Airport. There are some charter and scheduled flights to nearby destinations from this Airport and it also has a small immigration and customs counter. Those of my readers who read my earlier blog called “Fast Jet from Oz” will know that I flew the Premier 1 “sexy jet” (as a pilot magazine has called it) from Sydney to Singapore, alighting at Seletar Airport.

The Airport is located towards the north of the Island of Singapore. As one takes off towards the straits, the Malay Peninsula comes up immediately. The runway and Airport complex is surrounded by two Golf courses; one of them is a public course. At one end, near the terminal is the Seletar Reservoir, a large lake caused by a dam built across a river and this reservoir is one of the primary sources of drinking water to Singapore. The scenery is green and fabulous, in this entire area. I have seen water monitor lizards casually walking across the greens and some of the arterial roads around here as well. Very cool!

The latest news about Seletar is that the Singapore Government has announced that this place is going to be made into an Aerospace hub attracting massive investments, Aircraft hangar and maintenance facilities and creating around 15,000 new technical jobs. Singaporeans are confident that projects that are announced by the Government are taken up expeditiously and this one, with new buildings, new roads, runways extensions, tarmac expansions and many civil works will be completed in two years. Well, I can’t say we can compare with anything in India with this; India’s pace of doing things is pathetic and poor quality to say the least. I have heard that Singapore plans everything 10 years in advance. We in India plan 10 years from now what we needed ten years back. C’mon, everyone knows this, even die-hard, chest beating, flag waving patriots.

Anyway, back to Seletar, there are a few Aircraft Maintenance facilities here at the moment and they are also set to expand. Just yesterday, I came across a small company with vintage Russian AN-2 biplanes and AN-12 cargo Airplanes standing on the tarmac. It seems this company flies around the Indonesian archipelago, collecting fish for import into Singapore. They fly fish in biplanes!! Fantastic, the scope of business and ideas that can come up in the business of aviation. Biplanes, for those who are not initiated into aviation, is an Aircraft that has two sets of wings, mounted parallel to each other. Most of the First World war and earlier warbird were Biplanes. Even Wright Brothers first design, the “Flyer 1” was a Biplane. Monoplanes are what we have in the World today.

Seletar has a bright future, so does Singapore. Wish we had farsighted officers in India who put action into their words and make such facilities for aviation in India. If Mysore can get half of what Seletar is going to get in two years, we should all be having a party to celebrate.

Monday, June 05, 2006


My readers, who have always encourage me on my blog, have been asking me if I have taken a hiatus from writing. One of my blogger friends, in an e-mail to me, has even described my intermittent writing as “deficit monsoon”! Actually, I have been a bit tied up with some of the projects that I have on hand and have not been able to sit down and put some of my thoughts together. One thing that happened was that my trip back to the US got delayed to the first week of July. That prevented me from writing about the T-28 Trojan that I wrote about in an earlier piece.

One of my blogger friends who keeps encouraging me with his comments is Mr. Govindraj Ethiraj who has a blog of his own: http://datelinebombay.blogspot.com/
He is a journalist and writes about current issues on his blog. He mentioned to me once, in a comment on my blog, about a book called “Beyond the Blue Horizon” written by Alexander Frater. I have Frater’s book in my collection called “Chasing the Monsoon” which was also made into a TV Documentary. Beyond the Blue… is a travelogue of sorts, based on the old Imperial Airways of the U.K. and their overseas routes. I had been traveling around, as normal and began visiting book stores everywhere to find this book that had been recommended by Mr. Govindraj. Finally, running out on time, I placed an order with a book store here in Singapore who then kindly proceeded to import the same for me. Two weeks later, I have it with me.

“Beyond the Blue…” is actually Alexander Frater trying to follow the original Imperial Airways route from London to Brisbane in Australia. The original Imperial Airways flew out of Croydon instead of Heathrow and Frater seems to make the trip as close to the original route, landing in rather interesting places. I just started to read the book and I know I am going to have fun going through it. Some of the interesting places, I have been to, and some of them I have seen from the air while flying. Some, I have been chased away from (Gwadar and Pasni in today’s Pakistan, earlier called Baluchistan during Imperial times). That’s a whole different story! I will blog a little more about the book as I go along and also on other matters that may come up in my little field. Thanks for the continued support from readers.