Finally the time has come for me to fly to Europe. Today is the first day of the year 2004 and I am flying to a new continent. This flight was one of the few in which I will push the limits of my 182 (the limits of its range that is). I was very nervous about this flight because according my flight plan I was supposed to use almost all the fuel in my tanks and land with less than 10 gallons left. That does not leave me with very big margin for error. Encountering the head wind or a storm in the way, would result in me running out of gas somewhere over the Norwegian Sea. Not a very pleasant thought.
After taking off from Nerlerit Inaat, I've set the autopilot to maintain the heading of 063, the direct route to Svalbard and started searching for the best altitude for this flight. I was not able to find any good tail wind (which I was really hoping for, and even counting on), so after trying everything between 5,000 and 14,000 ft. I've decided that more is better and chose 14,000 (I had moderate tail wind there). Throughout the flight I was keeping my eye on ground speed and fuel flow to make sure I will still be able to make it. My whole flight was over the water (Greenland Sea and Norwegian Sea) so once past the half way point, I was committed and had to continue towards Svalbard no matter what. There were no alternative airports I could have landed on. Before reaching the half way mark, I could have still decided to turn back to Nerlerit Inaat, and wait for better weather conditions.
Once I was at 14,000 ft. I calculated it will take about 65 gallons of fuel to reach Svalbard if nothing changes which gave me plenty of breathing room (in case of bad weather etc.). Then, about 1.5 hours into the flight, something changed. The tail wind became head wind. That was not good at all and now my calculations have shown I needed total of over 80 gallons of fuel to get to Svalbard. I had to slow down further until the fuel flow was about 9 gallons per minute. At half way point, 368 nm from Svalbard, I had about 58 gallons of fuel left and estimated that if conditions stay the same I will use about 40 gallons for the remainder of the trip. That should have still left me with comfortable 18 gallons for emergencies so I decided to keep going. Svalbard or bust. At about 340 nautical miles from Svalbard I was treated to a fascinating Aurora display, and at the same time the wind shifted again. Once more it was blowing from the West. Taking that into consideration I've calculated it will only take 25 gallons from there to Svalbard. About 90 nautical miles from Svalbard, the wind started shifting yet again, but now I was not worried as I had about 35 gallons left, and I was still at 14,000 ft. Some 70 nm from Svalbard, I started slow descent, and prepared for the final approach and landing at runway 10. The weather was cooperating and at 22:25 local time I was on the ground, parked and ready for a deserved rest.
This was by far the most nerve racking, nail biting flight so far. I am sure there will be more flights like this to come though.
Other than that, there was little to see or do during this flight (so I was able to catch up on lot of scientific reading). As I was leaving Greenland around 13:00 local time it looked like the sun wanted to peak over the horizon, but I knew that it would not. At this latitude and this time of the year, the Sun only plays the tease game, making it almost past the horizon, but not quite. You can see that in the screen shots below.
Preflight check at Nerlerit Inaat, getting ready for a very long flight
Leaving Nerlerit Inaat airport
Sun almost made it over the horizon
Leaving Greenland, it is only water from here to Svalbard
Half way point, still have more than 5/8 of the fuel left
Aurora Borealis brought another wind change
Final approach to the long year airport
On the ground, ready for a long rest
List of countries: