Maule ferry flight to Europe
The trip got off to an ugly start. I ran the beautiful, brand new, yellow and blue Maule M7-260 off the runway before we even left our departure airport. Never before in my career as a pilot have I done anything like that.
Phil – the owner of the Maule and an experienced pilot – and I had decided to take the airplane up for a local familiarization flight before departing on the ferry flight from Indiana to England. It was a fairly windy day and on our last landing of the day we drifted off to the left of centerline a bit. I overcorrected with right rudder and at about 30 miles per hour the airplane swerved to the right and into the grass beside the runway. No excuses, I know better. You just don’t step on the rudder like that in a tailwheel airplane, but instinct or dumbassery got the better of me in that instant.
Phil was extremely cool about the entire incident. Nothing got hurt other than my pride. Not everyone is so lucky: on my previous ferry flight a brand new Challenger ran off the runway in Iqaluit a few hours after I landed. I don’t know the details other than the airplane sat beside the runway in the snow for several days until a maintenance team from Bombardier was flown in to get the airplane out of the snow.
I don’t have a picture of my screwup (Phil does), but here’s the Challenger in the snow at Iqaluit:
Over the years I’ve come to realize bad things happen in our industry and they happen to good people. Years ago anytime I would see a mishap or accident, I would think something along the lines of “how on earth could they do that”, unable to believe it could ever happen to me. I’m not saying that even one accident should be considered acceptable in aviation, only that nobody is above making a simple mistake. The best we can do is build in as much system safety as possible, so any one screwup or fault by any one person or piece of equipment doesn’t result in an accident.
After our ominous start the trip was great. We took the scenic route so to speak. Since the airplane was brand new and Phil has family in Saskatchewan, we decided on a shake-down trip from Indiana to Yorkton, SK (Canada) before starting the ferry flight over the Atlantic to England. We cruised VFR along the beautiful Chicago lakeshore to Sheboygan, WI and Duluth, MN (KDLH) on our first day. (Click the images for full size)
In Duluth we completed the aircraft export and all of our outbound US paperwork. We headed to Winnipeg (CQWG) for fuel and inbound Canada customs and then over to Yorkton, Saskatchewan (CYQV). Agriculture is big business around Yorkton and Saskatchewan in general. Phil’s cousin farms about 4,000 acres of land and took us along to the annual farm show that just happened to be taking place in Regina. I only regret that I left my camera in the airplane because there was all kinds of cool guy-stuff at the farm show. Tractors that cost more than airplanes!
After Yorkton we started Eastbound, getting started in earnest on the ferry flight to Europe. We routed from Yorkton to Red Lake (CYRL) and Moosonee (CYMO). In Moosonee we overnighted and ran into a bit of an issue when the hotel reception apparently called 2 cabs for us the next morning when we were ready to leave. Or maybe they just called one and the other happened to be driving by, I don’t know. Both of the drivers claimed that the reception had called them and got into a bit of a contest, with one driver accusing the other of being a drug dealer and corrupting the local youth (who are mostly native Indian). It got a bit awkward before we finally jumped in one of the cars and rode out to the airport.
From Moosonee we turned North and headed for La Grande Riviere (CYGL) and then to familiar Kuujjuaq (CYVP). On the flight from La Grande to Kuujjuaq we ran into lousy weather for the first time along the trip. Conditions were marginal VFR over most of Quebec and since we wouldn’t have been able to climb above the weather we stayed around 1,500 ft AGL below the weather most of the way from La Grande to Kuujjuaq.
We arrived in Kuujjuaq on a Friday and with no hope of crossing the Atlantic before Greenland closed on Sunday we decided to lay over in Kuujjuaq until Sunday morning. Our plan was to get some good rest, set out to Iqaluit on Sunday and get a 3:00 am start Monday morning for the Atlantic crossing.
Speaking of rest, I guess I should mention here just for context that the airplane, while very well equipped with Garmin 430 and Aspen glass cockpit, had no autopilot.
The layover in Kuujjuaq was quite interesting. We chatted up the staff at the only restaurant in town and one of the servers kept making fun of Phil, calling him “the man who talks funny”, because of his British English. We also learned that the native Inuit population refers to us Caucasians as “whities” (obviously) or “oui-ouis” – pronounced “wee-wees” as in the French “oui”. This apparently because most of the Caucasian residents in Kuujjuaq are French Canadians and in conversation they often say “oui oui” (yes yes).
We had an uneventful flight to Iqaluit on Sunday and got a few hours of rest before starting of on the Atlantic crossing to Greenland. Early Monday morning the weather was perfect for our Atlantic crossing, except for the departure out of Iqaluit. There was an area of weather moving in from the North as well as a larger area to our South that was forecast to move in later. Bottom line, it looked like we would have to toughen up and get out of Iqaluit, or be stuck for at least a day or so and waist a day of perfect weather over the Atlantic.
I felt comfortable with the weather on departure. I could tell Phil had his doubts but he deferred to me for the decision. Iqaluit was reporting 600-800 foot ceilings and models showed 3,000 foot tops with no icing. Only trouble was that the winds were 10 kts from the South, and in Iqaluit the only approach is the ILS to runway 35. I told Phil that if we had to turn back for any reason after takeoff, we would plan on shooting the ILS and circle to land, but depending on the actual ceiling at the time we might have to land straight in with a 10kt. tailwind – not something I’d look forward to doing in a Maule.
When you fly light aircraft in the Artic and over the ocean you have to be very conservative with weather. I never “go” unless the forecasts are well above minimums. Forecasts can change quickly, as I found out on my previous Atlantic ferry flight. Having said that, meteorology is really quite good and the actual observations are generally right on.
We got our clearance and runup out of the way and took off on runway 17 at Iqaluit. Phil was flying and I was watching the altitude as we hit the cloud base. Between 300 and 400 feet we were in solid IMC. So much for the reported 600-800 feet ceilings. Now the decision had been made for us, if we had to turn back we would shoot the ILS straight in and land with a 10kt. tailwind.
Around 3,000 feet we approached the freezing level and were still in solid IMC. Phil was nervous. I told him not to worry because the tops were supposed to be at 3,000 and no icing was indicated on any charts. At 4,000 we were still in IMC and picked up a trace of ice. I started to think about turning back. A moment later we broke out on top in perfect sunshine and miles of visibility. 50 miles further East we were in clear sky all the way to the coast of Greenland, where a cloud deck formed below us again. We shot the localizer approach at Sondre Stromfjord but easily had the field insight from about 5 miles out.
After refueling the conditions at Sondre Stromfjord had improved to the point of severe clear, so we filed VFR over the icecap at 13,500 feet. At this low altitude (the icecap has a mean elevation of about 10,000 feet) we noticed some kind of research station in the middle of the icecap and made about a 10 mile detour just to check out this strange lonely building.
Severe clear weather conditions with light winds continued in Kulusuk (BGKK) and over the ocean to Iceland. On approach to Kulusuk we got some great views of the coast of Greenland. Continuing VFR from Kulusuk to Iceland we managed to land at a reasonable hour in Reykjavic.
In Reykjavic we found out that since my previous trip the LoftLeidir hotel has completed most of it’s ongoing refurbishments. In other words, the bar is open again! Phil decided we’d celebrate a successful day with a double gin-and-tonic for the both of us, but I honestly have to say mine must have been a triple or better. I only made it through half of my drink before I decided to share with Phil as well as an innocent bystander who happened to share our table.
From Reykjavic we flew to Egilsstadir (BIEG) for fuel and then the final overwater leg to Wick, Scotland (EGPC). We overnighted in Wick and completed our U.K. import there the next morning. True to form, the weather over Scotland and England was lousy with low clouds and some strong winds, so we overnighted an extra day in Wick. Another day in Scotland, another 2 Monkey Shoulders
We made our final destination in East Anglia after 3 hours of dodging summer storms the next day. We landed just before a light shower hit our destination airport.
All in all I enjoyed flying the Maule. It’s a good flying airplane but you can’t fly it as if it were a C172 – as I found out. With the big (260HP) engine the M7-260 is quite powerful and leaps off the ground. It’s not as much a STOL airplane as a Super Cub, but still has great takeoff and landing performance. Along with power the big engine Maule has a lot of torque but the big rudder easily compensates.
It’s fun to fly an airplane that’s suited well to flying close in traffic patterns. I think as a pilot you should be comfortable flying a reasonably close pattern, even though few airline pilots do so any more. On numerous occasions in the Maule we had to extend our pattern or slow down for other, faster aircraft that were flying larger patterns – often larger than they really should have been. It happened in Sheboygan behind a King Air, again in Red Lake behind a Saab 340 airliner and by the time we got to Iqaluit and had to slow down again for traffic I just couldn’t help myself on the radio any longer:
“Maule on downwind is slowing down for spacing behind landing Learjet traffic.”
There are only a few Maules in Europe and I know Phil will attract spectators most anywhere he goes.