No announcement yet.

Digits goes North

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

    Digits goes North

    Hallo iedereen,

    na een jaartje stil gezeten te hebben, is het tijd voor nog eens een verhaaltje. Aangezien ik de link zal doormailen naar enkele mensen die enkel Engels spreken, zal het terug een Engelstalig geschreven verslag zijn. Gelukkig heeft iedereen een ELP level 6, zodat dit geen probleem mag opleveren.

    Previously on Digits’ flying adventures…

    The last landing was a smooth one and while we were taxiing to the hanger, we saw that the airport was closing right behind us. The engine was shut down. We were back. We got out of the airplane to push it back, only to feel the rain pouring down. It was only now, in comparison with the other perfectly clean airplanes, that the “damage” of the mud was visible: the bottom of the wings, the bottom of the fuselage, all covered with a muddy brownish color.

    The next day would be spent washing the airplane an restoring it to its clean former glory. And that’s when the dreaming starts again: where to fly to next? Capetown sounds cool. Or what about the North Pole ? Endless possibilities…
    (for the full story, visit:

    And now the conclusion (or at least the next chapter)

    It turned out that finding a copilot for a flight to Capetown was almost impossible. After cancelling possible Romania and Capetown flights the last 3 summers, I did not want to sacrifice another summer and stay grounded. Since I was expecting this would be the last chance I would have in a long time to take a month off from work, before I started applying for a pilot job, I wanted to make a big nice trip. Preferably one I could do by myself, to make sure it would actually happen.

    After some initial research, it became clear that flying to Capetown by myself would be a little dangerous, because of the political situation in a lot of the African countries, as well as the crime threat, which is quite real in Africa. Taken into account that I’m only 24, look like I’m 16 and have the upper body strength of a 12 year old, this would not have been a very safe option. Time to consider the next option on my list: what about the North Pole ?

    As most of you probably know, there are a lot of North Poles on the earth. The most famous ones are the magnetic and the geographical ones. The magnetic one actually moves around, and nobody knows exactly where it is, just the area where it is located is calculated with some fancy computers, and some coordinates are defined. Would be fun to fly to, but it feels a bit like cheating. If you fly to the North Pole, you should fly, well, north, all the way up until you can’t fly north anymore. Which brings us to the geographical North Pole, located at 90°N, where the North Pole is supposed to be. Is it possible to reach the roof of the earth with a single engine airplane ? Or even a small multi engine one ? If you look at it on a map, it’s only a 500 NM flight from the most northern airport in Canada. So that requires a range of 1200 NM, just to be on the safe side. Planes like that do exist, don’t they ?

    Being convinced it’s at least theoretically possible, I started looking on the almighty internet for more information. My first message regarding this trip was this one:

    Hello all,

    I was wondering if it would be possible and (reasonable) safe to fly over the geographical north pole with a SEP airplane.
    Assuming one starts at the most northern airport in Canada, and flies directly towards the pole, it's a 450 NM trip x 2 = 900 NM. Assuming we have an airplane with a range over 1000 NM, this should be theoretical possible.

    Now, what I am curious about:
    * If an airplane is insured to fly in Canada, does this mean you can fly towards the geographical North pole for this ? I read that Canada claimed a piece of the north pole.
    * What about the weather. During summer, is the weather at the north pole rather stable, or very unreliable ? Icing shouldn't be a problem in a CAVOK day. But then again, you are 3-5 hours away from the nearest airport.
    * Rescue services: are there any available in this area ? If so, how to reach them once you are out of range of any radio station ? Especially when flying with a SEP @ FL100 tops.

    This started more as a philosophical kind of question, but I would seriously want to do this someday, depending on the information this thread will provide.

    Kind regards,
    Asking a question like that, resulted in a lot of people having a good laugh, accusing me of being crazy (I took it as a compliment), but, surprisingly well, also a reply from a pilot named Wayne who had done this before, albeit in a fancy Cessna 350 instead of a more affordable Cessna 172 or similar, which would be more in my price range. It was at this moment I actually believed it would be possible. Naïve, you may say. Crazy, irresponsible,… Perhaps, but also a great adventure. Optimism +3 !

    Which route to fly ?

    Living in Belgium caused me to first check out airplanes close to Belgium. Ignoring the range issue for a minute, it became suddenly quite clear, the insurance people would not let me fly a plane across the Atlantic, and especially not to the North Pole. Great. The whole trip via Greenland, Iceland, over the North Pole, to Norway was not going to happen then. Even when ignoring the insurance issue, the trip would quite quickly become very expensive. It became clear why not a lot of European people have done this before. Optimism -2.

    A few e-mails with Wayne soon revealed that in the US, anything is possible. This opened up a whole lot of possibilities, and quite a bit of challenges and new experiences. Before the trip, I had never been outside of Europe. And now I was making plans to rent a plane in the US and fly it over the North Pole via Canada. It had a strange appeal to me and I liked the extra hurdles thrown across my route. It would make the possible reward feel even better. If it ever were to happen of course. With the optimism back on previous levels, I started making a lot of phone calls. It turns out it was indeed possible to insure the plane for this…

    To be continued. Pictures will be added as soon as it's relevant!

    Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, loosely based on a true story. This is not an official report in any way. All rights reserved.[/SIZE]

    Next step would be finding an airplane. Keeping in mind the responses to my first questions on the internet, I decided to rephrase it a bit, and started looking for more information for a flight from the USA to Eureka, a quite well known airfield in the north of Canada. Even for this more realistic trip, I received a lot of useless “it’s impossible” type of replies (which were just annoying), some well-founded “it can’t be done posts” (which were very interesting, but a little depressing) and luckily some “of course you can do it, just remember to …” (which I liked the best).

    Especially the people on the AvCanada forum ( were extremely helpful. I received a dozen personal messages from pilots who live and fly in the arctic region and were very willing to share their expertise, and lots of messages from other people and pilots, willing to support me with survival gear, free housing and much more. It was during this stage of the planning I got to know Kevin, a professional hunter who promised to borrow me a lot of his survival gear. A little skeptical (he had never met me, I never met him, and I was unfamiliar with this level of trust on an internet forum), I accepted his offer . But I’m getting ahead of myself, this will be explained later.

    Another person I got to know, thanks to Wayne’s contacts, was Aziz. He lives in Resolute Bay, which is located in the heart of the Arctic region, and has connections everywhere. He was the guy who could fix you up with anything, including Avgas in the airports where I would need it. All these people were very friendly, and gave my optimism another boost. All that was left to do now, was to find myself an airplane.

    Given the high price of avgas in the Arctic (28 $ / gallon was not unheard of), I was very tempted to haul in as much avgas as possible. This would mean using a ferry tank as a giant jerry can. Well, originally the idea was to fly around with 20 5 USG jerry cans, but I soon decided to abandon this idea as just a little too risky with all the static electricity that could build up. Instead, I could rent a turtle pac tank, which allowed me to carry up to 100 USG extra. This meant the plane had to be able to carry quite a bit of weight (so no cheap Cessna 152), and yet I wanted it to be robust enough to survive some gravel runways without damage. After a lot of searching and cancelled promises, I found a Cessna 172 in New Mexico. The owner, Suzy, was willing to rent it to me, and allowed me to take it to Canada and land on gravel runways if required. This was the 3rd person who promised me something like that. Luckily Suzy was the one who kept her word, and actually did what she promised.

    Finding AVGAS fuel in the arctic area was very hard. Only a handful of people sell it, often at a high price. And a lot of airports just don’t have it. This caused the route to be almost entirely defined by the availability of fuel. Not a lot of planning was spend on flying through the US (since everybody always said it’s much more easier then flying in Europe). This resulted in a route going up north via the west coast of the Hudson Bay, and back south via the east coast of the Hudson Bay. A completely different route than I would actually fly…

    With all of this taken care of, I decided to book my airline ticket to New Mexico. I ordered some extra survival stuff (life raft & immersion suit), and waited very impatiently for the day of departure. In the weeks before the departure, I spend the time with ordering a huge load of VFR & IFR charts, tried to get permission to land in some remote airstrips in a national park, looked for permission to carry a shotgun, and calculated and recalculated all possible weight and balances I could think of.

    5 weeks later, I was on the airline flight to New Mexico.

    [SIZE="1"]Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, loosely based on a true story. This is not an official report in any way. All rights reserved.[/SIZE]


      3th of July: Long day
      Got on the plane in Brussels around noon, after passing by a very suspicious security officer. She emptied my complete bag, and found 2 camera’s, an ELT, laptop, a video camera, a big pile of cash money, a collection of power cables for said equipment and some cell phones, a bunch of batteries. Looking at the mess she created, she apologized and let me alone trying to fit everything back into the bag which looked a lot smaller than at home. The next stop was London Heathrow, where the whole security circus started again. 8 hours of flying later, 19.00 local time, I arrived in Chicago. Again, they scanned my bag very meticulously, and multiple times, to check all the electronics equipment. This only added to my surprise that they missed my bottle of water I bought in London. One national flight later, I arrived in El Paso International, hoping to be in my hotel very soon. That was until I noticed my bag with all the charts and ferry tank equipment was gone… All panicky and frustrated –and being awake for 24 hours didn’t really help either- I filled in some paperwork, while mentally coping with the fact I would probably never see the bag again. I was promised the bag would arrive the next day at my motel. It didn’t.

      My first US taxi was a typical Texas big car (or small truck). The driver had a white Cowboy hat, an dropped me of at my motel. Time for bed.

      4th of July: Welcome
      I woke up at 5 o’clock (and also at 1 and 3 o’clock), and was not tired at all. This must have been the first time I was out of bed before 9 and wide awake. One of the upsides of a jetlag I suppose. The friendly managers of the motel drove me back to the airport, where I got a wide selection of car rental companies to pick from. On the internet, I found a company advertising a small car rental for 5 $/day. I wanted a car for 2 days. With insurance and all kind of taxes they charged me 150 dollars. My first rip off in the USA! But they did let me choose which car I wanted. I could choose between 2 brands I never heard before. The lady at the counter advised me to go for a black Avenger, that would better suit me than a white something-else. I was happy she didn’t advise a pink bicycle, so accepted her offer.

      The first day in El Paso was spent on dropping by at the plane rental FBO, picking up the charts and other stuff I had ordered and getting checked out on the Cessna 172 I had booked. Since I booked the airplane for a month, and was planning to fly about 90 hours, Suzie decided it would be nice to put my name on the plane. Of course I agreed! This was also the 4th of july, which was the reason I was invited to a typical 4th of July picnic on a winery. It was very hard to refrain myself from joining the little children on the water slide. When I arrived back at the hotel, there was still no sign of my bag. Excitement!

      Still fighting with the jet lag I went to bed early. Hoping to sleep a bit longer than 4 hours in a row.

      5th of July: Paperwork
      One more or less normal night later, I drove over to the Albuquerque FAA office to get my restricted FAA PPL + IR license. Apparently, receiving an e-mail from the facility manager stating that “sure, you can drive by, shouldn’t be a problem”, does not constitute an appointment, which as it turns out is legally required. A few discussions, half an hour of paperwork and a few autographs later, I left the building with my brand new FAA license. Total cost: $ 0. A small difference with the 178 EUR they charge in Belgium. On the way back, I bought some extra supplies including lots of water for a few hours flying over a desert.

      The technician put some extra oil boxes in the plane, some spare light bulbs for night flying (which, in the end, was a bit silly if you fly to a place with 24 hours of sunlight). I admired the plane which was now carrying my name, made some pictures, and drove back to the motel in the 35°C hot desert landscape. Back at the motel, I found my missing back waiting in the lobby. I was completely ready for take-off the next day !

      [SIZE="1"]Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, loosely based on a true story. This is not an official report in any way. All rights reserved.[/SIZE]


        Leuk verhaal Digits!

        En bij de 650 pageviews die je al hebt durf ik erop te gokken dat iedereen ademloos zit te wachten op je vervolg...


          Excuses voor de vertraging. Werken, werk zoeken en wegdromen bij elk zin die ik schrijf zorgt voor wat vertraging :)


          The rental car suiting my personality

          On my way to pick up the license

          Personalised airplane

          The airplane


            6th of July: First day of flying

            After getting up around 5.30, Suzie introduced me to a typical American Mc Donalds breakfast: some chicken burger and a very greasy disgusting kind of potato mix. I got introduced to the default weather system that is available in almost every American FBO, found a website to file a flight plan, and to the plane washed. By the amount of dirt that came off the plane, I was convinced I would get 10 kots extra speed. A little bit too optimistic perhaps, because after all it was still a Cessna 172. Slow, but strong and (supposedly) reliable.

            The last supplies were put in the airplane. By now the apron was empty again: Suzie and the other instructors were gone flying, the mechanic was working in the hangar, and everyone else was looking for a place in the shade. It was around 10 o’clock local time, and the sun was getting up to full strength again. I took a deep breath and realized this was the start of a flying adventure. Disregarding the outcome, I would have been flying for a month, which by itself was already something to look forward too. Full with optimism and energy I crawled (literally crawled, the seats were set to the most forward position to be able to put all the gear inside in an orderly fashion) into the captain’s seat. This felt good. After a thumbs up from the mechanic, I engaged the starter and the engine veered to life. I was still getting a bit used to the high density altitude (4000 ft AMSL and 35°C), and leaned the mixture for taxi, to get a smooth running engine. While remembering all the little ATC differences Suzie told me about the day before, I got the plane airborne after a long take-off roll from Santa Teresa airport (5T6). Taking the plane straight towards the 7000 ft mountains on my flight path, I was about to find out how good the performance really was. I was happy to be actually able to reach 8000ft without too much trouble, and a little disappointed in the 75kts airspeed (IAS) that accompanied that climb at a whooping 200 ft/min.

            The first planned stop was Lea County (E26). Once I was clear of the isolated high mountain (with a friendly reminder of ATC “N, are you aware of the high terrain on your direct route ?”), the flight was very uneventful. The dessert kind of looked the same the whole flight. After 2 hours of flying, I had Lea County in sight. A strong crosswind, a little bit of winds hear, an unusually small runway and my willingness to survive at least the first day without damage to the airplane, forced me to abort the landing after a one wheel bouncer and divert to the next stop on my list: Abilene.
            While switching to the tower frequency on final, I had to suppress a big laughter when I heard the typical south-texas-american-redneck-simpsons accent that delivered my landing clearance. As soon as I was parked on the apron, two line guys from the local FBO came rushing towards me to secure and fuel the plane in a very quick way. Although it is very common in the US airports to be treated as a king/prince/emperor, even in a small airplane, it turned out that Abilene was in retrospect one of the best FBO’s I visited during the trip. The cookies were fresh, the lemonade and water icy cold, the fuel affordable (if one is expecting 38 $ /USG later on the trip, one is not really concerned about paying 5.65 or 5.85 $ / USG, one of the upsides of bloody expensive fuel) and the lounges (yes, plural) very well equipped.

            I was not really checked out on the US phone systems, so it took me a 10 minute crash course on how to reach the free flight plan number to file my first IFR flightplan. The first time I called the phone number, and also the worst operator I would ever speak to. Once he realized I was not the seasoned US pilot filing his 258th flight plan, but quite new to the system, he only managed to hide his impatience and disdain just a teeny little bit.

            About an hour had passed and I jumped back into the heat. My first IFR flight in the US was not that hard. A little overwhelmed by the experience and the slightly different way of handling IFR traffic, I arrived safely in Dallas Executive (KRBD) thanks to the VFR only GPS that provided a big help to locate the IFR reporting points that were VOR’s popping up all over the place. Unaware of the time difference between Santa Teresa and Dallas (or at least, being aware of it too late), Wayne had been waiting for me an hour, luckily in an air-conditioned room.

            Wayne introduced me to the friendly manager and employees of the Dallas Jet Center FBO. He then drove me over to a nice hotel, invited me to my first US steakhouse and gave me some last minute advice on the trip and some contact that were nice to have. I added “Buy chips, salsa and chocolate for the people in Resolute Bay” to my to-do list, and went for a good night sleep. No flight preparation tonight. Just sleep.

            To be continued ...

            Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, loosely based on a true story. This is not an official report in any way. All rights reserved.[/SIZE]


            Turning final in Abilene

            Hotel in Dallas


              7th of July: Heading north

              After a refreshing good night sleep, I was picked up by Wayne. He offered me breakfast at another drive through fast food restaurant (and was surprised when I just wanted a bagel with cream cheese, no chicken or greasy potatos). A quick tour through his office later, we were on our route to the airport. To finish my tourist crash course of Dallas, we went to see the place where John F. Kennedy was shot down. Luckily, there were no shooters that day, and I survived the car drive to the airport.

              Wayne gave me his ferry tank, accompanied by all the packages I delivered at his house. This included an immersion suit, a life raft and some small supplies. It took a while to squeeze all this extra equipment into the airplane. Wayne and I said goodbye, and we hoped to see each other again in about a month…

              I filed an IFR flight plan (via the internet, so no impatient controllers on the phone) and informed the tower I was ready for an IFR flight direct to Clark-Taney County (KPLK). The tower replied with a series of unknown reporting points and numbers. Apparently it was the name of an SID and referred to a certain chart. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find these SID’s in their respective airport divisions in the published terminal procedures. After a fruitless 5 minutes of searching, I decided to set aside my pride and asked the tower where I could find the SID chart. His reply was that they were in the terminal procedures booklet, which was laying in front of me. He was afraid that I didn’t have the booklet, and was about to modify my clearance. I assured him I had the booklet on board, I just couldn’t find the page the SID was published on. He looked it up while I taxied (very slowly to gain more time). It turned out all the SID’s were published in a little introduction before the first airport diagrams. He gave me the page number and I could now finally get airborne with my mind at ease.

              Thanks to a very strong tailwind (20 – 30kts), it was soon clear that I would have enough fuel on board to fly directly to my final destination of that day: Spirit of Saint Louis (KSUS). After 2.5 hours, I informed ATC of my diversion, and proceeded direct to Saint Louis. The weather reports of the airports in the vicinity were not very promising (thunder storms, low clouds, …), but KSUS maintained good VFR weather so I kept drilling holes through the isolated layers of clouds.
              After a normal landing I was asked by the tower to which FBO I wanted to taxi. Since this was not my planned stop for that flight, I did not really look into the possible FBO’s. I told him I needed fuel, to which he replied that all the FBO’s had fuel available. That didn’t really narrow it down. So I asked him where the cheapest fuel was available; information which he claimed he didn’t have, and even if he did know that, he was not at liberty to tell me. Getting a little bit frustrated I taxied to the FBO that was right in front of me. Later that day I would find out it was the second cheapest on the airport, so it was a good gamble. Again I was greeted in a very professional way, and offered free refreshments and cookies. The friendly lady at the counter looked for a hotel.

              While waiting for the shuttle to pick me up, it was time to do some fuel calculations. I had flown for 2 days now, and the average fuel consumption was 8.5 GPH, quite a bit more than the 7 GPH one could find in the manual. This would require a slightly altered plan in the Canadian part of the trip, to maintain a sufficient safety margin. But that was a problem for later. Now it was time to go to the hotel.

              The hotel had a free snack buffet, which saved me the time, money and trouble to find a restaurant, which was nice. A thing that was not so nice, was the toiled that got clogged an which I had to de-clog myself because the maintenance guy was not available. Not really what you expect if you pay for a hotel room. I guess it’s the very nice Belgian mentality and attitude not to make a problem of this.

              I turned down the air-conditioning which had caused the temperature to drop to somewhere around freezing point, and went to bed.

              To be continued ...

              [SIZE=1]Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, loosely based on a true story. This is not an official report in any way. All rights reserved.[/SIZE]



                Dallas Skyline

                Me cruising

                Thunderstorm a few minutes after landing


                8th of July: fuel shower

                The next morning I was planning another IFR flight plan. Not because the weather was bad, but because my VFR charts of the Chicago area weren’t delivered in time. I loaded up my belly with another batch of free cookies, watched a few minutes of an enormously subjective report of a famous trial about some killing mother, enjoyed the last launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, and got in the plane.

                An uneventful 4 hour flight later, I arrived in Lansing (KLAN). This time, I did my homework and I knew there was a cheap manual fuel pump on the field. This would be the ideal moment to check out my ferry tank, to confirm there were no leaks in the tank. The fuel pump looked like a relic from better days a long, long time ago. It did accept credit cards however. Only problem: you had to guess how much fuel you needed in advance. There was no “top up” option, which resulted in some orders from 20 USG and 5 USG to fill up the main tanks. Filling the ferry tank was a bit harder. The plastic ferry tank had been stored air tight for a while. This meant the fuel cap was very difficult to remove, and because of some curves in the hose attached to the tank, the fuel had some trouble flowing through. Using the high pressure pump at maximum power to blow it into the tank was not the best idea. The fuel just bounced of the tank and a few gallons was spilled in the airplane and gave me a fuel shower myself. Interesting sensation. The whole bottom was wet and the plane smelled very badly. By the time I found a rag in the baggage compartment, all the fuel had already vaporized. This saved me the trouble of cleaning up the airplane, but made the smell only worse. By now, some white dead skin had formed on my arms. Thanks to the heat, the fuel vaporized before it could cause any further damage on myself.

                I tried to vent the plane as much as possible. Since I was still parked at the fuel station which made it impossible for anyone else to fuel, I needed to taxi to the General Aviation apron. This meant I had to engage the battery and starter switch, something one isn’t really enthusiastic about when the whole plane is drenched in fuel…

                Luckily the plane didn’t explode and I was parked at the apron a few minutes later. Again, the friendly FBO people looked up a hotel for me. I enjoyed my –for the next weeks- last US restaurant and tried to get all the paperwork in order for the border crossing the next day. This was remarkably straightforward and –dare I say it- easy. It involved filling in an online form to keep the US people happy, and calling a friendly border inspector to keep the Canadian people happy (no less than 2 hours before departure).

                My Canadian contacts did not reply on my phone calls, so I left some messages, which worried me a bit. After all, I’ve only had internet and email contact with them…

                If all went well, I would sleep in Canada the next evening.

                To be continued ...

                Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, loosely based on a true story. This is not an official report in any way. All rights reserved.[/SIZE]


                  Last edited by Thermiekvogel; 21-02-2014, 12:37.



                    One of the FBO's at KSUS

                    To Lansing !


                    9th of July: crossing the border

                    I share a shuttle back to the airport with the crew of a regional airline. They told me their favorite activity is to watch people in the airport. To each his own I guess…

                    The lady at the FBO handed me the bill for the overnight parking, and for a moment I felt like I was in Europe again. I would learn later that they would probably have waived the costs if I got fuel from them instead of the cheap fuel station. Trying to be a cheap bastard doesn’t always pay off. Too bad.

                    The previous evening, I had to give an ETA for my arrival at Muskoka airport (CYQA) in Canada. I underestimated the efficiency of the shuttle van, so I had to kill some time in the airport waiting for my estimated time of departure. I felt like a real airline pilot already!

                    Flying from Lansing to Muskoka didn’t pose a problem. Crossing the border over Lake Huron was stunning. It also cause a little bit of discomfort: being 15 minutes away from either shore line, what if the engine would quit ? I then realized I was planning on flying 10 hours over ice water, so 15 minutes shouldn’t be too much of a problem, or should it ? Once the lake was behind me, I could see the scenery change from the US style (houses, fields, roads) to the more Canadian style (water, forest, lakes, small hills).

                    Half an hour later, I spotted Muskoka airport, made a smooth landing, and taxied to Craig’s hangar (the technician I was supposed to meet). It took a while to find the correct hangar because there were no signs on the airside, only at the roads on the other side of the fences. I took a guess and found a locked down hangar. Nobody to see. Strange. I then realized it was a Saturday, which might explain why people aren’t working of course…

                    To give you an idea of the airport layout: the hangar was at the other end of the 1800m runway as the apron. There was no road, so I had to walk through the high sticky grass, which is very nice if you have soft shoes that suck up all the seeds and your hay fever pills are somewhere deep down in the airplane. I did remember to bring my passport, because the custom officers should be around the airport as well somewhere. One soul was working on a Saturday on the airport, and confirmed I was parked at the correct hangar. I continued my long journey under the hot sun, and reached the air-conditioned apron building. First I tried to sort out the customs problem. I called the same number as the night before, and a friendly voiced told me the customs officers should be there anytime. I was to stay in the airplane at all times. So I informed her I didn’t have a phone in my airplane. This turned out to be no problem, if I would stay very close to the airplane. At this point, I didn’t mention the airplane was alone and almost 2km away from my present position. I had to look for the customs officers, as they were supposed to be on the apron. I waited patiently in the building, and they were waiting at the entrance of the door. Thanks to the door having a window next to it, this stupid situation was resolved without too much irritation on either side. A friendly smile, some routine questions and one stamp in my passport later, I was welcomed to Canada. The fact that my plane was at the other end of the airport wasn’t a problem. I must have a trustable face.

                    The next step was finding Craig. The people at the airport building didn’t know him personally, but they did know his father. I got another phone number for my collection, and called his father. He heard something about me, and would come and pick me up. Normally they don’t work on a Saturday, but that was no problem. He drove over, put my plane in his hangar and promised to take a look at it first thing on Monday. He then continued to look for a hotel for me, and with the words “you need something to drive” gave me the key of his truck. A real cool big American truck. Ow yeah! A little bit stunned with this kind of hospitality, I accepted his offer and drove to the motel. I explored the city, bought some supplies (food, jerry cans) and enjoyed the Canadian roads.

                    When the sun finally set, I went to sleep. My first night in Canada. The first of many to follow, much more than anticipated…

                    To be continued ...

                    Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, loosely based on a true story. This is not an official report in any way. All rights reserved.[/SIZE]


                    Approaching the border.

                    Canadian airspace!

                    Canadian Lakes

                    Airplane hangar

                    'My' truck


                      Mooi verhaal! Ik kijk uit naar het vervolg.


                        10th of July: Tourist day

                        This day was spent driving around the Muskoka area. I learned that Muskoka is not a town or city, just an area. I was actually in Gravenhurst. Always nice to know where you are.

                        Dave, the friendly mechanic from the day before, also attached a map to his fat-ass truck which allowed me to find the last fully operational steam boat. I enjoyed the Canadian highways, the beautiful lakes and a nice museum telling the story of the Muskoka lakes.

                        The evening was spent preparing everything for the flight the next day. Thinking the check-up on the plane would be routine, I went to bed. Still optimistic.

                        To be continued ...

                        Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, loosely based on a true story. This is not an official report in any way. All rights reserved.[/SIZE]


                        The steam boat

                        Engine room

                        The big ovens, old school!


                          11th of July: Mechanic day

                          Full with optimism I loaded the truck with all the extra supplies I bought. I arrived early at the mechanic so I wouldn’t lose a single second as soon as the plane was finished. Craig took his tools and started analyzing the plane.

                          Now, imagine being on a trip that will take you across roughly 4500 NM and hopefully back. Through isolated areas and rough terrain, where the nearest suitable maintenance facility is literally up to 2000 NM away. One would want his plane to be in perfect shape, ready for the adventure, very strong, unbreakable and extremely reliable.

                          So when I heard the verdict “your main oil line is about to burst, your muffler is cracked”, my optimism soon made room for frustration. From a mechanical point of view, it was a miracle I made it to Muskoka without an engine failure or bursting into flames. Thanks to the ingenuity of Craig & Dave, the airplane could be repaired the same day. While they were fiddling around with screws, oil and all kind of tools I’d never seen before, I tried to fit in the ferry tank in a secure way. When a 100 USG tank would start rolling in flight, there’s a big change you’ll end up in the news papers.

                          Because the tank was round (one of the characteristics of a cylindrical tank), it was very difficult to keep the outlet at the bottom while fuelling. In the late afternoon, the engine of the plane was fixed, and Craig took a look at my fuel tank struggle. We filled the tank, saw that it started moving a bit, and subsequently emptied it again. Emptying a 100 USG tank while trying to save the precious fuel, is not as easy as one might think. This was however the ideal moment to test the fuel pumps attached to the tank. Tip: an empty battery won’t power a fuel pump. And attaching a starter to the pumps directly won’t work either… Ah electricity, thy are mysterious! After an hour of pumping, the tank was empty, ready for a second attempt.

                          Dave decided the best course of action was to build a rudimentary strong wooden construction that would keep the tank from rolling. He would build that this evening, so I could leave the next day in the morning. If everything would go as planned I’d be out of Muskoka by noon. A very big if…

                          To be continued ...

                          Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, loosely based on a true story. This is not an official report in any way. All rights reserved.[/SIZE]


                          Airplane being repaired


                            12th of July: Getting it up

                            The next morning Dave surprised me with his finished wooden construction to keep the tank in place. I studied the performance graphs a few times again, and was a little worried about the forecasted 28°C outside temperature and the airport elevation (about 1000 ft).

                            It was still morning, and very cloudy. Because of this, the temperature was not yet too high, and it was an ideal situation to make a quick circuit and check the performance of the plane. I started to taxi with the full ferry tank, but no luggage. It was time for the run up now. Following the checklist as a crazy man, not to forget anything –after all, this would be my last stop with a decent mechanic in the neighborhood- I was a bit too enthusiastic and inadvertently switched off both magneto’s at run up power. A loud bang and red cheeks were the consequence of that.

                            The rest of the run-up, the plane behaved normally, and I had no problem controlling it. Because of the low clouds, I filed a special VFR flight plan for one circuit. Another one of my firsts ! Applying power, I started the take off roll. The airspeed indicator slowly came alive, and t he controls were still responding nicely. No problem with a center of gravity close to the aft limit. I slowly rotated the plane and got a decent 500 feet per minute climb out of it to circuit altitude. Staying below the clouds was not too hard, and the sun started to break through them. Everything was looking perfect for the trip this day. I turned final and started to slow down, again paying special attention to the COG. The elevator trim was still within limits, again putting my mind at ease. I made a smooth landing, and taxied back to the mechanic.

                            I asked him if my little magneto bump (which they all heard) would cause any trouble, and was assured that as long as I wouldn’t do it every time, there would be no problem. I spent the next hour stuffing all my stuff in the plane. Although it were a lot of small bags, collecting them all took a while, and I had the vague idea they would be heavier than expected. I also loaded the survival equipment: arctic tent, sleeping bag, gun with ammunition, life raft for one person and a bright red immersion suit. The plane was ready to go, and it was time for a group picture. If everything would go well, I would be back in about two weeks.
                            The plan was to fly to Nakina (CYQN), about 450 NM from Muskoka. With an average fuel flow of 8 GPH (about 45 USG on board connected to the engine) and a planned groundspeed of 100 kts, this would not be a problem. I said goodbye to Dave and his crew, and started the engine. This time, the airplane behave a little bit more vividly, which made me think the COG has shifted a little bit more to the back, but should still be within limits. This time runway 36 was in use, which meant I had to taxi a little bit on the runway, and then leave it again to ask permission to enter the runway for take-off. Basically, taxiing was uncontrolled, but take-off was a controlled action. Which makes you wonder what would happen if an airplane cleared for take-off would meet a legally taxiing uncontrolled airplane during his take-off roll…

                            Taxiing very slowly and trying to avoid as many bumps as possible, I made it to the threshold. A few minutes later, I got my IFR clearance. The weather had cleared up a lot already, but there were some isolated low level clouds that I wanted to cross. The temperature had climbed from about 22°C to 28°C. As I did two hours ago, I lined up on the runway (albeit in the other direction). The runway was clear and take-off power was applied. The engine veered to live and it took the airspeed indicator just a little longer to come to life. I took the stick back and became airborne slowly. Very slowly. The indicated rate of climb was about 200 feet per minute. I slowly cleared the trees at the end of the runway and was flying over the forest. Not being very comfortable with this rate of climb, I remembered my ATPL courses and realized that I had to lose the flaps to get a better rate of climb. So that’s exactly what I did. Only problem, even though I was flying for a few minutes, I only made it to 400 ft AGL. Retracting the flaps required me to put the nose down to keep up the speed and to avoid a stall. Not a very smart move at that time if you look back on it. The trees suddenly started to grow again. I lost 100 ft before I got enough speed to risk climbing again. After 15 minutes I made it to 4000 ft and informed ATC I would not be going any higher (I filed 7000 ft). I even had to fly full throttle to keep this altitude.

                            Since this take-off, I decided to manually switch the fuel tanks every half an hour, to keep better track of my fuel consumption. It soon turned out I would probably not make it to my destination due to the hot weather, low altitude and a 15kt headwind. The fuel consumption was also a lot higher (I calculated it had been 10 – 11 GPH after the flight). The EET for Nakina kept going down, and for a moment I thought I would make it. I made the last switch of the tank 30 minutes before I estimated the tank would go dry. I kept looking for alternative airports in the vicinity, while continuing to Nakina. After 35 minutes of flying on the tank, the indicator indicated the tank was completely empty. Because I wanted to know the accuracy of the indicater, I kept flying on the tank, holding my hand on the fuel tank switch. Every little vibration made my heart skip a beat, only to see that nothing happened and it was probably just a little bit of wind. I watched the GPS screen.

                            “1h15 to go… If the tank would be empty now, I wouldn’t be able to make it.” “1h to go… If it would be empty now I might make it, the other tank should be a little bit fuller, or not ?”… “50 minutes to go, if it keeps going like this I’ll make it...” “45 minutes to go, hmm, border case, I’ll probably make it, but what if the airport would have a problem or a closed runway and …” . Suddenly there was a sputtering engine and silence. Even though it was expecting it, an engine failure does surprise you and it took a few moments to realize that this time it was no wind and the engine did indeed quit. I turned the fuel tank switch and was happy to see the engine come to life again within seconds. A lot less than the 30 seconds Cessna documented in their manual. I checked my watch and noticed I had at least 50 minutes of fuel left. Time to check the options: would I make Nakina? Probably yes, especially if you include the descend which would make the fuel consumption even less than the previous 50 minutes. It was only a 40 minute flight at this point. The closest airport which looked like a descend place was Manitouwadge (CYMG). I didn’t want to end my adventure running out of fuel due to a fuel calculation, so I decided to divert to Manitouwadge, which was only 10 minutes flying away.

                            I tried to inform ATC of my diversion, but I was in an area not covered by any control frequency. They were not expecting me for another 50 minutes anyway, so I diverted quietly. I tried calling Manitouwadge (I just love writing this name, Manitouwadge! ) but received no response. Flying overhead I noticed the wind sock, and proceeded to my best choice of runway for the final approach.

                            Now, when I looked into the manual of the Cessna, emptying the main tanks would cause the COG to move a little bit forward. I was thus expecting no problems for landing. On final however, I noticed I needed full forward trim and still had to push the elevator forward a bit. Not wanting to stall or spin in these conditions, I made a fast approach, floated over half the runway, and made a smooth landing in Manitouwadge. The airport was totally isolated. Completely dead. I had a sparkle of hope when I tried the door of the airport building and it was open, only to found the second door locked. The first door gave me access to the phone so I could close my flight plan. The friendly Canadian lady at the other end of the line didn’t even know where Manitouwadge was located, which gave already a little hint of my situation. There were some signs on the wall for fuel services, all jet fuel. Time for my plan B: crack open the ferry tank and start pumping some fuel in the main tanks.

                            I installed the pumps and tubes, sticking everything together with duct tape. At that moment, a dark cloud was floating by over the airport. It was then, all by myself on that airport, messing around with the airplane, in the chilly weather (the temperature had dropped to +- 16°C and I was still in full summer clothes), that I first felt lonely. I was only at 49°N (even more south than Belgium), and I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. What if the plane broke down here ? What if the tank started to leak ? What if I would get robbed ? All questions I had answered to myself before the trip, but the answers didn’t sound too convincing at this time. Not having a lot of options, I continued on my task at hand so I could make it to Nakina. They were expecting me there, and assured me they had plenty of fuel and were open all day.

                            My optimism soon returned when I first switched on the fuel pumps, and I noticed the fuel gauge going up very slowly. I tested it for a minute, and then decided to start the engine to avoid an empty battery. I was sitting there in the airplane, standing stationary, running the engine and burning fuel, just to put more fuel in the tanks. The irony made me smile, and at that time the sun evaporated the dark cloud over the airport. My optimism was back and I was going to the North Pole. Yay !

                            I taxied and took off, all in one fluent motion and had Nakina in sight half an hour later. It started to become cloudier every moment, and I made a landing in the grey airport. I was worrying this would be a second Manitouwadge scenario, but then I saw a local guy popping up in the door, asking me what I needed. I told him I needed a full tank of AVGAS. When he asked me where the fuel caps were, I realized that even here, only a few hours flying away from the US border, a Cessna 172 was already considered a peculiarity. I told him they were on top of the plane. With a friendly smile he started to fuel it. My first idea was to camp at the airport to save some dollars (which wasn’t a problem according to his colleague I spoke to the day before on the phone), but when he told me he chased away bears this week and there was a motel just next to the airport, it was an easy choice. It wasn’t even expensive, a little unexpected in an isolated village as Nakina.

                            The temperature had gone down even more, and it was time to switch to my autumn clothes. The lady owner of the motel gave me directions to the only restaurant in town. While walking (it’s not far, but then again, nothing is far in Nakina) I passed the friendly airport employee who was just finishing his shift. He offered me a ride to the restaurant. I was not even seated yet before he friendly but firmly ordered me to buckle up. Which I did. Of course. I learned he was born in Nakina and adopted a few local children. Two minutes later we were in front of the restaurant.

                            After the good meal (where they thought I was French, what an insult to my Flemish heritage!), I walked back to the motel in the slight rain. I enjoyed the scenery and the isolated area. Being the last village connected to the road network does mean one doesn’t get a lot of passing traffic.

                            Back in the motel, I went to bed early, to process everything that happened that day. I slept well.

                            To be continued ...

                            Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, loosely based on a true story. This is not an official report in any way. All rights reserved.[/SIZE]


                            Say hello to my little friend

                            Ferry tank

                            To Nakina/Manitouwadge

                            Friendly local airport employee in Nakina


                              13th of July: Fire

                              Today I once again realized the emptiness and isolation was once again getting closer and closer. The lines on the map were not crossing any road or cities anymore. The next destination, Churchill (CYYQ), was only connected to civilization by one railroad, a harbor, and of course my favorite: the airport.

                              For breakfast I went back to the same (and only?) restaurant as the night before. It was a beautiful day today, and the weather forecasts looked good. Some towering cumulus were expected during the late afternoon in Churchill. Just to be on the safe side, I filed an IFR flight plan again. Filing the plan by phone was similar to what I’d done before. What was new today, was activating the flight plan. There was no ATC present in Nakina, and there was no guaranteed reception of an ATC frequency, so I had to call ATC by phone 10 minutes before my departure. The clearance I got was “Contact Churchill Center 70 NM from your destination”. This was for a 573 NM long flight ! I did get an extra list of frequencies I might or might not receive at my altitude.

                              With a little help from the colleague of the friendly employee the day before, I managed to pull the airplane back on the apron (the plane was place a few centimeters behind to secure it). A thorough preflight check later (no bear damage) the engine was once again started. One track direct to Churchill.
                              It was during this flight that the scenery changed enormously. The vast woods made room for lower vegetation, grass, rivers and a lot of swamps. Every now and then, I tried to make contact on a frequency without any success. The international emergency frequency (121.5) was always active, just in case. 5 hours later, I crossed the magic 70 NM border and started to enjoy the chitchat with Churchill Center. The weather was apparently changing a bit faster than expected. There were isolated thunderstorms in the vicinity, and the clouds were moving in over Churchill.

                              With this weather report in mind, I thought a strange phenomenon in the distance was a huge cloud or heap of fog. When I was approaching, and about 15 NM away from Churchill, I saw some orange glow in the fog. Turned out this fog was a forest fire, eating its way through the landscape. The naïve side of me informed ATC about this, but of course they already knew, and were quite relaxed about it. It wasn’t threatening the city yet, so why not let it burn ?
                              The closer I got to Churchill, the more rainy clouds were visible at the horizon. For the moment, I was only flying through some very light drizzle, and was hoping to keep it that way. I spotted the airport and, as was written in the notams, the main concrete runway was under repair. This would be my first gravel runway landing ! Not really sure what to expect, I saw a rectangular piece of brown dirt, positioned in such a way that it should be the runway. While turning final, lots of rain started to pour down. Once on final, I saw some lights through the rainy windshield (wipers, my kingdom for windshield wipers!) and figured it were the runway centerline. At 300 ft, I suddenly saw another line of lights appear through the rain. There should only be one runway… A few seconds later it looked as if the lights were floating above the runway, and were in fact the runway edge lights. Floating over the threshold, I noticed the edge lights were about half a meter high. It would not have been healthy to land on that. By now the raindrops had thickened even more, and although the visibility was quite good, the windshield became unusable. In the distance you could see some lightning strikes. Using the view from only the side windows, I managed to make a rather smooth landing.

                              At the moment I left the runway and entered the taxi way, the heavy rain was replaced by the light drizzle again. I tried to locate a living soul on the airport. This took a bit longer than expected, but eventually someone showed up. Some heavy concrete boulders were moved so I could tie down the airplane. The guy moved the first boulder and told me to move the second one myself. What a service!

                              I got picked up by 2 lovely ladies I got to know via . A must-visit website for any traveler! They drove me around in their corner of the world. Once of the local attractions was ‘Miss Piggy’, an airplane wreck just lying around there, a few meters from the airport. Another source of amusement were the new polar bear warning signs that were put up all around town. This got me optimistic to actually see a polar bear. So far, no luck…

                              To be continued ...

                              Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, loosely based on a true story. This is not an official report in any way. All rights reserved.[/SIZE]


                              Beautiful morning in Nakina

                              Changing scenery

                              Forest fire!

                              Rainy rain

                              When the rain is gone...

                              Warning, polar bears

                              Miss Piggy