Welcome to Fly The Impossible


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: http://flytheimpossible.com/category/adventures/romania-2010/)

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…

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 (http://www.avcanada.ca/) 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.

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