John Davy's Latest Great Flying Adventure
John Davy has been a pilot since his late teens…. Aviation is in his blood. During his working career he had many adventures…. Initially flying helicopters with the RAF in Borneo in his early 20s, then flying various (now historic) jets. (He was one of the Red Pelican formation team flying Jet Provosts , the predecessor of the Red Arrows). In the 1980s, he commanded the Search & Rescue Centre at RAF Valley, in Anglesey, training RAF pilots in mountain and marine rescue. When he left the RAF, he sets up several successful aviation and engineering businesses, including training pilots from several Middle Eastern countries.
When he retired, the second time, he focused on owning and flying Historic Aircraft…. including a Dragon Rapide, a single-seat Moth Minor and a 1935 Hornet Moth.
When he and I married, we eventually decided to rationalise our ownership of houses and, eventually,aircraft. After the sale of his Hornet Moth, aviation adventures were restricted to flying my Robin aircraft…. A traditional wood and fabric 4 seat aircraft which I had ‘modernised” by having it built with a diesel engine (it used the same fuel as the “Big Jets”) and a “glass cockpit” (computer screens instead of conventional round mechanical instruments).
We did have a few flying adventures in the Robin…it even went to Norway… all the way to the Arctic Circle in August 2016.
All this changed in November 2016 when I sold the Robin…
What should replace it? There followed lengthy discussions and debate….(the stuff of another article!). But we were eventually persuaded to order a brand new American aircraft… a Cirrus 22 Turbo charged aircraft. Brand new because the 2017 model had a number of refinements… including curly-up wingtips and must faster and clearer avionics (like the difference between terrestrial and HD TV). The latter is important as you get older! It is also visually stunning… (See the photo of “Delivery Day”).
The aircraft is probably one of the most expensive single engine aircraft in production. It is certainly marketed as the safest…It has its own parachute and a number of devices to prevent old bold/young brave pilots doing risky manoeuvres.
The Cirrus is designed to travel long distances (6 hours endurance), quite fast, in comfort….not to pootle around dropping into short grass airfields…
John explains this difference …”I “strapped on” all my previous aircraft…I “sit in” this one… “
Planning The Adventure
Most people in Europe ordering a Cirrus aircraft employ an experienced “Ferry Pilot” to bring the aircraft from the US to their home base. The aircraft are manufactured in Duluth, near Chicago, but, having studied the automotive industry, Cirrus has opened a new Customer Oriented Delivery Centre at Knoxville Tennessee, where the weather is better!
John decided he could do better than this… To fly the aircraft from the US back to Biggin Hill would be a great adventure!! (He had done a similar trip many years earlier in a Lear Jet… a wholly different aircraft with no real fuel management or weather challenges…)
After further investigation, we developed a Plan of Action:
John took an on-line training course to secure his FAA Instrument qualification. This required a written exam (for which he got 90%... most younger pilots scrape a 70% pass), plus a 3 hour oral and a Flight Test.
To pass the Flight Test, John needed flying experience on the Cirrus… (I had owned one in 2006 but needed to update my flying skills). So we spent a month in Miami, flying a 6 month old aircraft, at a very busy and historic Executive Jet airport (Opa-Locka) from which Amelia Earhart departed on her ill-fated round the world flight.
We then drove to Knoxville, Tennessee to take delivery of the aircraft (on April 21st) and learn to fly the new model (“Transition Training”.
For the proposed flight back to the UK, we met the insurance requirement by finding a very experienced Ferry Pilot (Arnim) . He had done the journey 500 times in a Cirrus and many more in the 17 years he had been undertaking such flights. It was agreed that Arnim would be responsible for planning and arranging all aspects of the flight. John would fly the aircraft. Sadly, for weight reasons, there would not be room for me in the aircraft… I would return to the UK by British Airways…
The Flight; Frustrations!
Originally, the return flight was to start at Knoxville on 9th May. The route was to be: Knoxville- Niagara Falls (to enter Canada)- Goose Bay- Greenland- Iceland- Wick (Scotland) to enter the UK- Biggin Hill (the planned home base)
The weather in Canada and Greenland was poor and the Ferry Pilot got stranded in Canada in the snow.. with no hot water !
So John and I flew the aircraft to a small airfield in New Jersey (Morristown) and stayed with my niece until the weather improved enough for the Ferry Pilot to get back to meet John for the flight. I flew back to the UK on 12 May, leaving John kicking his heels and wondering when the real adventure would start!
The Flight… at last!
Arnim the Ferry pilot finally arrived at Morristown on 15 May. The revised route was:
Morristown-Ottawa-Goose Bay-Greenland-Iceland-Wick- Biggin Hill. If the weather was good, the journey would take 3 days. The aircraft had enough fuel capacity to make the various stages without extra tanks…. Always provided there was no significant headwind. Normally at this time of year, the journey from North America to Europe is much shorter since the prevailing winds provide a very useful tailwind. In 2017, the wind direction was reversed having made earlier ferry flights very difficult with several aircraft getting stranded in Greenland, waiting for a change in the wind!
John and Arnim talked through the plan and packed the aircraft, checking they had enough de-icing fluid and oxygen on board: the aircraft would have to fly though the freezing level with some of the flight taking place at 23,000 feet. (The maximum level for the aircraft is 25,000 feet)
Having checked the weather one last time, the flight began on Tuesday 16 May. They set off for Goose Bay, in Canada with a refuelling stop at Ottawa,
arriving there safely: 1050 miles. After a meal, they spent a short night in a fairly basic accommodation
The next morning (Wednesday) they set off for Narsarsuaq airport,on the south west corner of Greenland..…climbing to 23,000 ft. (I was watching on a flight tracking app on my i-Phone…I saw them reach 23,000 ft, then the aircraft disappeared.. I did not pick them up again until they were approaching Iceland, nearly 12 hours later! )
They arrived in Narsarsuaq safely, refuelled and set off for Iceland, flying over the Greenland Ice Cap.
The weather was good for the journey to Iceland… another 4 hours and some 750 miles… John could see the airport from 100 miles away. During this leg of the journey they saw some of the unusual cloud formations due to the very strong winds.
They arrived at Keflavik International Airport in Iceland …in a 50 knot gale…even the Jets were almost hovering when they landed! The airport Handling Agents had to help them get out of the aircraft by holding the doors.. a task made all the more difficult as they were wearing cumbersome survival suits given that so much of the journey was over the sea…After a meal they tried to get some sleep…being exhausted after concentration on the flight and several hour changes en route… in more comfortable accommodation but with the wind whistling around the window frames!
The next morning (Thursday), they set off for Wick and the UK, another 4 hour journey of some 750 miles.
They landed safely in better weather, completed the Customs formalities then set off for Biggin Hill.. another 3 hours and a journey of 500 miles…
Just short of Biggin Hill, the weather changed…. They arrived safe and sound in a thunderstorm at 4pm on Thursday afternoon. Fortunately, I’d arrived at the Shipping & Airline Hangar (where the aircraft is now based) and we opened the hangar doors so that they could get out of the aircraft undercover…
So, three days and 3,800 miles later, the aircraft was emptied and bedded down in a dry hangar.
When asked about the journey, John says it was an experience but the hardest part was staying awake… after all, the aircraft flew itself… he simply had to check the weather and monitor what the aircraft was doing!
But I think secretly, he enjoyed what he says is his last GREAT FLYING ADVENTURE!