Greenland Ho …
South Air called and said the weather was going to clear up somewhat and this was the window of opportunity that we were all waiting for, piling into the van, we rode off to the Airport, a quick pre-flight inspection in the blustery weather, flight plans filed for all of us, weather maps printed out and we were all starting engines. Fritz leading the way, first to take off, followed by the Germans and us. The Germans were heading for the Southern Tip of Greenland and they would fly up to Nuuk, the Capital of Greenland. Fritz and we were to take the shorter route to Kulusuk, Eastern Greenland and do the’ Polar Ice cap hop’ across to Nuuk. The Germans thought we were crazy and they thought it was safer to go along the coast should something fail and we thought otherwise, that it was a waste of fuel.
(Above picture is of Ice filled North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland/Greenland/Canada in summer!)
Uneventful crossing, bidding the Germans farewell along the coast line when they made their turn South and Fritz having landed earlier at Kulusuk The weather by the time we got there half an hour later, was really closing in and we could not see the airport area well. Thick dark clouds obscured the peaks around the airport. Tower guy just gave us the clearance to land and not much else in terms of guidance. Too late to turn back and Fritz was on the ground guiding us in with his Aircraft’s radio, asking us to make one way turns to descend, the other side would have had us running smack into a mountain. The Airport has primitive landing systems and gravel-dirt runway leading to a concrete tarmac and small terminal. Fritz’s ground based visual reference was so good that he got us lined up for the runway.
(The Author with the plane, Kulusuk Airport, Greenland)
A couple of Eskimos came up to the Aircraft to re-fuel and while they did that, we visited the Control tower. The officer was a nice guy and he said” Welcome to Greenland, you guys chose a rather nice day to come into Kulusuk!” We thought he had gone mad. Looking out of the tower is Kulusuk runway with high mountains hugged by thick clouds that you see in the picture on one side and the cold Atlantic, on the other.
The Atlantic waters looked quite dark and there were lots of ice floes floating around, with an intense blue color reflecting off of them. To say that that was a pretty sight is an understatement. ATC guy said “We don’t expect ice today over the ice cap, so, go for it boys”. We took that as the gospel truth and jumped back in the Airplane, wet suit and all dragging in behind us. We must have looked funny to the Eskimos, Indian chaps wearing flaming red bulky suits. They had never seen Indians before and didn’t know of any that had come across their neck of the ice. Most ferry flight go through the South where the Germans were going, we just wanted to be a bit different.
(Glacier Ice picture taken at Glacier Lake, Iceland, by the Author) ----------->
We took off and as we climbed, the weather on top did clear. We had to coax the old girl to climb to 11,000 feet, its maximum service ceiling. Since large part of the ice cap has mountains of 10,000 feet covered in ice, the minimum enroute altitude over the ice cap is 10,500 feet. So, we were scraping bottom, five hundred feet above the ice, looking absolutely blinding white. The landscape was desolate and as we crossed over the mountains, lost Kulusuk radio as well. Fritz kept sending back radio messages to us mentioning about the dismal icing conditions that he was encountering at 14,000 feet with Oxygen. He was going to come down to our altitude since the icing wasn’t so severe where we were. The tower guy had said no ice at any altitude!
When ice accumulates over the wings, it spoils the aerodynamic design of the wing and renders it un-flyable. It is capable of building up so much as to freeze the control surfaces and even cause imbalance. In other words, without wing de-ice equipment installed, we’d be pretty soon diving for the ice and hunted by Polar Bears for lunch. What we were encountering were thin wispy fog-cloud type that I had not seen before. These clouds were tiny crystals of ice and they were wrapping around our wing, tail surfaces and also on the spinning propeller.
Somehow, I wrestled with the airplane to keep her straight and level, with occasional “whump, whump” sound of ice lumps hitting the side of the airplane, thrown by the spinning propellers. Wasn’t a nice feeling, let me tell you. I kept my eyes on the ground, just five hundred feet below, looking always for an emergency place to land in case we had a real emergency. That’s what we are trained to do, anyway.
Copi was busy, confident that I was flying the airplane and all he had to do was work the portable GPS to get a precise location of our Aircraft. What I saw, bang in the middle of Greenland, was a cluster of polar style domed buildings, all in white to blend with the surroundings. They were concrete structures and seemed that no one was around. This is where they keep the flying saucers fro outer space and imprison aliens, I thought as we flew slowly on top. “Let’s keep this place in mind if we have to make a turn around, if we have an emergency”, I told Copi while he watched, saucer-eyed, the building pass below. In this strange environment, the engine sounded different to us or was it our mind playing games or was it a higher power setting at this altitude? Were we going to make it across without incident?
To be continued …