Flight of Orion Conclusion
by Bill Evans
Orion at Nantes, France on the day after delivery from California Nov. 3, 1989
I had no accurate indication of my altitude. I needed to break out below the cloud base at a rate of descent less than 500 feet per minute in case the cloud base was low over the Denmark straight. If I was losing height at say 1500 fpm, I would have little time to pullup and could possibly fly into the sea with little or no chance of survival.
I could see nothing out of the windshield owing to a film of ice. I decided to open a side cockpit window. The side windows on the GullWing roll down like a car window. I shone my flash light, holding it outside. I was no longer in cloud but there was still ice on the wing struts. I pointed the flash light beam down and saw white caps which I calculated were around 2000 feet below. I still had no flight instruments.
I decided to descend lower in the hope of a rise in temperature above freezing level. Just as I was wondering if I could fly the next 200 nms keeping level on the attitude indicator gaging my altitude by shining my flash light on the ocean, ice started to break off the windshield and wing struts.
Then to my intense relief the ASI came alive, and the altimeter indicated 2900 feet. I leveled out just under the cloud base at 3000 feet. I don't think in my 40 years as a pilot I had ever been in a similar situation. I was helped by a very stable airplane.
After I settled down to straight and level flight cruising at 110 knots, I needed to know my position. I started receiving Iceland radio, they had picked up my transponder and informed me I was 180 nms west of Reykjavik. They requested my fuel state. They were unable to read my transmission so by telling me to select a given code if I had two hours or more endurance I was able to let them know I had at least two hours fuel.
After an hour I saw lights ahead . ATC gave me the runway in use at Reykjavik airport. I had been hand flying for eight hours, most of the time in darkness. I was getting tired and had to concentrate hard on my flying. After a seemingly endless approach Orion touched down. It was mid night.
A small gathering of antique aircraft enthusiasts were waiting. They told me Icelandair had two GullWings on floats just after WW2.
After clearing customs I tied down the GullWing and booked a room at the airport hotel. I slept for 10 hours.
Next day I called my family in Colorado saying I was safely in Iceland. I taxied the GullWing over to a maintenance hangar where they changed the oil and a television crew took some video of the airplane.
The next day Nov. 4, a snow storm and high wind gave me another day's rest .
Next day, on a perfect morning, I took off for Glasgow Scotland.
In good visibility I followed the Iceland coast and then started the North Sea crossing. After overflying the Fair Isles I crossed the Outer Hebrides and landed at Glasgow airport after an 8 hour flight as dusk was gathering.
After a night stop, I filed VFR for Nantes France. The good weather held. As I approached the English channel I had to avoid one or two build ups. I never realised the amount of shipping that used the channel. When I was working Guernsey radio they asked me where I had flown from. I said California the reply was " You must be kidding".
I landed at Nantes airport mid afternoon after a 5 hour flight. The new owner and the local flying club produced a bottle of champagne. They had built a special hangar
Next day I had to make a short flight for the local television.
After leaving Nantes, I rode the high speed rail to Paris. It felt as tho' I was moving faster than my 72 flying hours flight in the GullWing.
It took three weeks to deliver the airplane and the Lycoming radial never missed a beat, A tribute to the mechanics in Van Nuys California who had rebuilt the engine.
The years went by and the flight of Orion faded into the past. Then 22 years later last summer I received an e mail from an Air France Captain telling me he had bought Orion in Nantes.
The old airplane was in need of restoring. The Captain had traced my flight from the airplane log books. He wanted to know details of the flight as he said his friends would not believe the Gull Wing had been flown from California. I am 87 years old and gave up flying 12 years ago but that e mail made me feel good. Next week the restoration will be completed, and Eric, the new owner hopes to test fly the 70 year old Gull Wing.
Note I hope to send a couple of pictures soon.
This is a flying story in 3 parts.... Did you miss Flight of the Orion Part 1
? Go back and start there, and don't miss Flight of the Orion Part 2