- 09 Apr 2018
- GA Buyer Europe
Roger Harr talks to AvBuyer about his life-changing experience crossing the Atlantic in his Cirrus SR22. Read his incredible adventure below.
From the Pilot’s Logbook
AVB: It took a while to approve the Cirrus in Europe. How did this impact you?
Harr: I purchased my Cirrus in 2005; it was one of the first in Europe. Cirrus was not approved for purchase until 2007 or 2008, so the only way to fly my new plane was to put it in the American Registry. That’s why I got an American license, and that’s also the reason I registered.
By the time it was possible to register my Cirrus in Europe, I had no reason to change it over. In Europe, the process is much more complicated and expensive than it is in the States.
AVB: What led up to your Atlantic crossing trip?
Harr: At first, I only flew the Cirrus VFR, but in 2008 I made my American IFR rating. I was lucky to have the opportunity to get my American license in France when an FAA examiner living in the UK came to France and administered the exam.
Obtaining the IFR rating opened a whole new world for me. I went through a great deal of training to achieve IFR, which made it possible for me to make longer flights and to fly in really bad weather to the minimums. Prior to this, I had flown only short distances around Switzerland or from time to time to South of France.
AVB: And with your IFR qualifications, you decided to make an Atlantic crossing.
Harr: Yes. With these new flying abilities, the day came when I asked myself: What’s next? And for European pilots, I think the next big thing is crossing the Atlantic. In 2014, I had made my first crossing. I flew to Canada via Scotland, Iceland, and Greenland. It was such a wonderful experience that I wanted to do it once again.
Last year I was my 60th birthday, and my wife and I discussed how we would celebrate. I proposed that I would like to make another Atlantic crossing. I would make a two-week trip, and I’d do it alone. Upon my return from the solo trip, my wife and I would take an airliner to Reykjavik, Iceland. We’d stay there two or three days and then board an expedition ship for a cruise to Greenland. I imagined that it would be a wonderful experience – first to see everything from the air, then to return home and go again with my wife to view the same landscapes from a ship’s perspective on earth.
AVB: What were the initial legs of your trip, and how did it go?
Harr: My first leg was flying from my home base in Bern, Switzerland to Durham Tees Valley Airport in Scotland. From there I flew to Wick, which is at the very northern tip of Scotland, and I spent the first night.
The second day I flew to Reykjavik, Iceland. That’s a three-and-a-half-hour flight over water. From Reykjavík, I made the crossing of the Greenland ice field to Sondrestrom Fjord. When I arrived in Sondrestrom Fjord, I checked the weather again for the next day and it was looking good.
AVB: How was your trip to Canada?
Harr: This is where I came upon some difficulties. Before we left, a friend of mine and I had contacted North Canada several times to see if they have avgas, which could be a big problem in the northern part of Canada. Everything seemed to be right; so, as you know, I proceeded.
From Sondrestrom Fjord, I made a phone call to Aklavik in Northern Canada and no one answered the phone. I tried two other phone numbers and I wrote several emails, but I got no response, nothing at all. Then I checked the notams again. During this time, there were 16 notams in Aklavik, and I read through every one. There was, for example, one regarding the two-mile runway. It said they have construction work on one-third of it, but this is not a problem for me because you could land a Cirrus on the other two-thirds. I also read that the one-instrument approach wouldn’t work because of construction. Also, two of the four taxiways were closed due to construction. And so on. In all of this, there was nothing that said the airport was closed. I decided to try to reach them again the next day.
The next morning I tried to phone again. I wrote several emails, but again, I did not get an answer, nothing at all. Finally, while reading through the notams, I saw that the last one was for medevac flights and medical evacuation. It said it would be possible to open the airport as long as they were informed four hours in advance. And I thought, open the airport? Is the airport closed? I checked all the notams, but there was nothing at all that mentioned the airport is closed.
This prompted me to change my plans. I decided to fly to Ilulissat, which is one flying hour north of Sondrestrom Fjord.
AVB: Tell us about your arrival at Ilulissat, Greenland.
Harr: I flew up to Ilulissat, and when I approached, it took my breath away. It was so beautiful; the dark blue sea and thousands of icebergs. This is where I took so many wonderful iceberg pictures.
On my descent, I came close to an enormous glacier. I’ve never seen anything like it. Never in Switzerland; never even in the Alps. It was enormously huge. I flew with my left hand on the stick, and with my right hand I took pictures.
I landed on the runway, and as I taxied back, I looked out of my right window, and I could see icebergs along the runway. I’ve never seen anything like this.
AVB: What is this picture with all the crosses on the ground?
Harr: This is a cemetery for the people of Greenland that is on the approach path of the airport. If someone dies in Greenland, it’s required that the cemetery has a view of the ocean. It’s necessary to be situated so that the dead can look out into the ocean. It’s a wonderful place. On descent, you overfly the cemetery by 150 feet.
AVB: Did you leg in and spend the night in Ilulissat?
Harr: Yes. I left the plane and I found a hotel. The terrace on my room looked out over the icebergs in the ocean. I knew I wanted to stay here longer than I had planned. The next day I chartered a boat, and I went out in the ocean to take pictures of these wonderful icebergs. There are really several that are very high – some are 300 feet above sea level.
That evening I tried one final time to contact Canada; again, with no luck. I decided instead to stay in Greenland longer, so I checked the long-term weather forecast to plan my flight back to Bern. According to the weather, there would have been two time windows within the next 10 days in which I could fly back across the ice pack of Greenland. One was the next day, and the other would have been on a Sunday. I know that all the airports in Greenland are closed on Sunday. I had to be back home in time to pick up my wife, go back up to Reykjavík with her, and catch our cruise ship. So, my only choice was to fly back the next day.
Once again, I crossed the ice shield. It was such a wonderful day. For about two hours, you’re flying over the snow and ice, and sometimes you can’t tell if what’s below you are clouds or ice.
Suddenly when I looked out of the window I saw something dark in front of me. Coming closer I saw tips of mountains peeking out of the ice. Huge mountains! Back home after my flight, I checked it on Google Earth, and I saw that I had flown over the highest peak of Greenland.
During this flight, you’re all alone there for hundreds of miles. No houses, no streets, no people. Nothing at all. After you cross the ice shield, you’re over the Atlantic once again. In the cold water, you see ice everywhere until you arrive in Reykjavík, Iceland five-and one-half hours later. It really takes your breath away, and I hope you can appreciate what an amazing trip it was.
AVB: Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Harr: I’m a dental surgeon. We have the biggest dental clinic in Switzerland with 30 employees. As you know, I’m married. We don’t have children, but we have a dog, Charlie. He’s is an Irish soft coated wheaten Terrier and he flies a lot with us. He loves flying, and five minutes after takeoff he falls asleep. We spend every second weekend at the French Riviera. It’s a great short trip. It’s one hour-15 to one hour-20 minutes.
I’ll continue to write my blog. There are many pilots thinking about an Atlantic crossing, and the idea behind my blog is to show them that it’s possible.
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