The Flight of Orion Part 2
by Bill Evans
Orion at Nantes, France on the day after delivery from California Nov. 3, 1989
I landed at Sondrestrom air base Greenland on Oct 19.
Time was getting short. I needed to leave for Reykjavik, Iceland the next day before the winter weather over the ice cap moved in. The flight from California to Greenland had been in good weather, and the GullWing had performed without incident. In all, it had been a perfect flight.
Next morning I obtained a good weather report for the leg to Iceland. The airplane had been in a heated hangar so the engine started almost immediately. The generator refused to come on line. Scandinavian Airlines SAS` run the civil aircraft parking and fuel facilities at Sondrestrom. Their lead mechanic removed the generator, and after taking it apart, told me it would have to be replaced. There were no generators suitable for the Lycoming available. I sent a fax to Nantes to the new owner giving him the details and requesting a replacement as soon as possible.
Ten days later, November 1, the new generator arrived.
Meanwhile the SAS people had very kindly let me use their heated hangar free of charge. `As for myself, I spent my time in the airport hotel trying to understand Danish newspapers and magazines. The SAS station manager after admiring the Stinson invited me to his house for dinner. He told me stories of the ice cap and of military and civil aircraft that were still up there.
The lead mechanic fitted the new generator. The weather office predicted good enroute weather to Iceland, and full of hope I started up the engine.
The electric atitude indicator would not erect.
Things were getting complicated. I had to leave or return to the U.S. By chance the SAS flying club had wrecked a small Piper. The atitude indicator salvaged from the wreck fitted in the Gullwing instrument panel. It was now 3 pm, a SAS DC10 was due to arrive in 20 minutes.
I had to leave or the Gullwing would not get to France till the next spring. The weather office had predicted heavy icing conditions for the following day and rest of the week.
My flight over the ice cap and Denmark straight to Iceland would be at night. The cockpit and instrument lighting system in the Stinson was limited. A roof light and two small pencil lights could light up the instrument panel. There was no instrument back lighting.
I decided to make the flight. I took off with maximum fuel and close to all up weight flying to the west. I had to fly down the fjiord to gain height at 300 ft per minute before turning east to the 11,000 ft ice cap.
I reached 11,500 feet, the Gullwing would go no higher till I had used up some fuel. As I reached the ice cap, I flew into a white-out from blowing snow. I was now on instruments. The visibility improved after a short time but now it was dark. As the sky cleared I saw the northern lights and a myriad of stars. I was a 1,000 feet above the cap with it stretching miles ahead of me. The engine was running perfectly and with all my clothing I was not suffering from the low cabin temperature.
I heard the heavies working Greenland radio and thought about shirt sleeves and coffee some 20,000 feet above me and the Stinson. I figured out I was 65 years old the Gullwing 47 years old. A couple of geriatrics in the middle of nowhere.
I lost contact with Greenland radio and was homing onto a very powerful Iceland radio station with the ADF.
After flying over the east coast of Greenland, I flew into cloud. I knew what was about to happen with no pitot heater. Things would happen fast. The airspeed indicator went back to zero. The altimeter became stuck.
Ice was forming on the windshield. This was a case of self survival and not wrecking a wonderful old airplane. I decide to lose height in the hope of getting to warmer air. The manifold pressure gauge would show me losing height as the inches of pressure increased. I kept the wings level with the atitude indicator and kept it indicating a gradual loss of height. Nothing else to do but hope.
Note: Did you miss Flight of the Orion Part 1? Go back and start there, and don't miss the conclusion.
Find 'em, See 'em, Fly,'em! And have a great flight!
Judy and Mark
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