Private Aircraft Pre-Flight Preparation

In 2016, Roger Harr made his second North-Atlantic flight crossing in his Cirrus SR22. Roger spoke to Aircraft Guaranty Corp about his experience, which you can read in our Q & A post. In this guest post, he shares the importance of preparation for such a trip. Pilots planning trips can take away potentially life-saving information, whether you’re traveling to Greenland, throughout Europe, or across the United States.

Guest Blog by Roger Harr

When you plan a flight like this, it’s very, very important to know all that you can. You must prepare for everything.

Flight Plans and the Weather

Before my first Atlantic crossing three years ago, I studied the weather for two months prior to the trip. Every morning, I studied the weather charts of the North Atlantic. I wrote down if the weather would allow me to fly the leg from A to B on that day or not. In the evening, I checked the weather again, to see if the decision I had made that morning was correct. This was an effective and accurate training exercise that helped me to understand the weather situation in the North Atlantic. It’s certainly not the same as it is back home.

Your Aircraft and the Weather

Crossing Greenland is the most difficult part of a North-Atlantic flight crossing. Most people know about Greenland’s ice coverage, but it’s not common knowledge that the ice is two-miles thick. The ice at several places is so heavy that it presses the ground underneath it to sea level. When crossing Greenland, you must be absolutely sure that you can fly either higher than the clouds or below them. When the clouds are lying on the surface of this ice shield, it results in negative degrees Celsius. I know that it’s impossible to do this for hours with a Cirrus. So, be sure to understand the North Atlantic weather, and also understand the capabilities of your plane.

Crossing the Water

The water in the North Atlantic is between 2° to 4°C. Without a survival suit, you would have perhaps 1 to 2 minutes to board a life raft. If you’re unsuccessful, you don’t have any chance of survival. I took special survivor training in Germany in an indoor pool where they simulated waves, wind, and darkness. We practiced everything, such as how to ditch from an upside-down plane, how to get out of the plane underwater, making it to the surface, and boarding the life raft. I learned quite a lot about the different types of survival suits and life rafts. This is critical knowledge for pilots planning such a trip.

Long-Distance Aircraft Communications

Make sure you understand communication capabilities along your flight path. For my trip, I learned the following. There is a corridor North Scotland: Iceland – Kulusuk – Sondrestromfjord – Iqaluit, where you usually have radio contact if you are flying on FL 140 or more. Iceland and Greenland accept satellite phones. When flying from Narsarsuaq to Goose Bay below FL 250, you need to have an HF radio. I had three different satellite datalinks which provided weather information and let me contact my family with text messages while underway. I also was equipped with a portable satellite beacon that could contact rescue teams via text messages in case of an emergency.

Often there is no radar coverage over the ocean for the low flight levels, but oceanic controllers must still make sure all the aircraft are safely separated by distance and altitude. Since they can’t “see” the aircraft, controllers rely on pilots to report their position at regular intervals. A position report provides an aircraft’s location, speed, and altitude so the controller can build a 3D picture of all the traffic. Pilots are required to report their position by radio every 10° longitude.

Fuel Planning

Alternates are rare in Greenland, so I prepared and planned with this knowledge. Pre-flight planning must include calculating a Point of No Return (PNR). The PNR is also known as the Point of Safe Return (PSR).  This is the furthest point along a track that you can fly towards the destination and have sufficient fuel to divert to an alternate, with safe reserves on arrival.  In other words, it is your last chance to assess the prospect of a successful approach and landing at your destination and to decide whether to go on or to divert.  If any doubt exists, divert to the alternate.

In North Canada, there are problems with the availability of AVGAS. During my first Atlantic crossing in 2014, I paid $1,300 for a 54 Gal AVGAS drum. A bit further to the south, they were even asking $2,000! Phone around to find the best solution for your trip. For flights like this, I have a manual fuel pump and filters in my equipment box.

Aircraft Icing Procedures

It’s important to fully understand the icing systems for your aircraft. The G2 TKS inadvertent ice system on the Cirrus SR22 is not approved for flights into known icing. It’s certified as a “No Hazard” system for normal operations only; therefore, no determination has been made as to the capability of the system to remove or prevent ice accumulation. The Cirrus SR22 G2 Wing anti-icing system does not cover the entire wing. The TKS titanium panel does not deliver coverage on a portion of the beginning wing root and the outer wing tip. Coverage was later increased on the Cirrus SR22 G3 Wing.

If icing is inadvertently encountered, the pilot must decide on the most appropriate TKS operating mode. The system allows a pilot to start delivering anti-icing fluid to the wing leading edges, stabilizer and prop blades. Normal mode should be selected when conditions for icing are encountered and before ice accretion.

The Cirrus SR22 G2 Wing TKS system operating time while in “normal” mode is up to 60 minutes. If ice has accreted to flight surfaces, the pilot should select TKS maximum mode. The Cirrus SR22 G2 Wing TKS system operating time while in “maximum” mode is up to 30 minutes. Cirrus pilots are cautioned not to operate the TKS system for an extended time in clear air, at high altitudes, and very cold temperatures. Doing so can result in “flash” evaporation of water and alcohol from the de-icing fluid. Flash evaporation will result in a glycol rich fluid that can become “gel” like on wing and windshield surfaces. De-icing fluid capacity on the G2 TKS system is 2.9 gallons. I knew I had to stay out of clouds when the temperatures were below freezing level.

Contingency and Emergency Planning

As pilots, it’s ideal to always know where we are along our flight planned track relative to our departure and destination points. If we don’t know where we are, how do we know what the best plan of action would be should there be a problem during flight? Equal time point (ETP) is the point along the planned track where the flight time would be the same forward to the destination as it would be to track back to the departure. Obviously, the wind plays a big part in determining the location of the ETP as it determines our ground speed. In nil wind, the ETP will be the distance-wise halfway point. When wind is introduced, the ETP will move towards the destination.

Other Flight Items

Here are additional supplies you should not overlook when stocking your plane for a trip:

  • I had 2 external GPS, 2 IPAD’s and paper charts for the whole route
  • Emergency food and water for 4 days
  • Polar survival equipment for the eternal ice of Greenland
  • My camera was a SONY Cyber Shot DSC-RX100 IV: One of the best available compact cameras. Important: You have to be able to take pictures with one hand and you get the best quality with a collapsible rubber lens hood you can press on the window to avoid reflections.

Aircraft Guaranty thanks Roger for sharing this potentially life-saving information. Contact us if you have a story to tell, and be sure to visit Roger’s blog for more on his adventures.


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