Flying across the polar regions in a Mitsubishi MU-2B turboprop

Read the story of test pilot and engineer Ron Renz, who was recently tasked with ferrying a Mitsubishi MU-2B from the United States to Germany...

Flying via the North Pole, how did Ron succeed with international lockdown coming into force along the way? Check out his story in this interview with Aircraft Guaranty Corp, reproduced for GA Buyer Europe...

AGC: How long have you been a pilot? What made you decide to become one?

Ron: I have been flying since 1974 – 46 years. It all started when my boss paid for me to take a pilot familiarization flight at the local flight school. I was instantly hooked.

AGC: What do you like best about flying?

Ron: The freedom to explore the world. I have been fortunate to fly in and between many countries around the world. Experiencing those cultures and different rules has been fascinating.

AGC: What do you do for a living?

Ron: I am an aerospace engineer and experimental test pilot. I manage airplane modification flight test programs for my clients. It is the best job in the world as I get to fly some really cool airplanes.

AGC: Can you tell us about the aircraft on this trip?

Ron: I was hired as a pilot to ferry the airplane for the new owner. He bought it to be used in his air charter operation in Germany. It is an Mitsubishi MU-2B Marquise airplane. I am proud to be a member of the Mitsubishi factory support team.

AGC: Will you share the story of how you flew the plane from South Carolina to Germany, just in time for the global lockdown?

Ron: We left one Thursday morning, from Aiken, South Carolina. Our next stop was Bangor, Maine for outgoing customs clearance (this was required as the airplane was being permanently exported to Germany).

After refueling we were off to our next stop in Goose Bay, Labrador for an overnight stop. It was cold, windy and stormy, with no hangar space, so we had to use the airplane covers I brought along to keep the snow and ice off the wings.

After an early morning start we were airborne, heading to Narsarsuaq, Greenland, our next fuel stop. 

The weather was perfect for the arrival after the first ocean leg of the trip, and we flew up the fjord below the cliff tops – one of the most beautiful flights I have ever had.

Next, we were off to Reykjavik, Iceland for an overnight stop. We were ready for another early morning start, but the airplane did not co-operate – there was no flap extension that morning. Fortunately I am also an A&P mechanic, so with loaned tools from a local mechanic and telephone tech help from a colleague at an MU-2 service center in Tulsa, I was able to get the problem fixed with only a half day delay.

Once fixed, we were off again on the next leg to Wick, Scotland, for another overnight as we landed about 30 minutes before the airport closed for the night. My friends at the FBO in Wick had also arranged for us to pick up a few bottles of the local Single Malt, and a nice local hotel for us to stay. With another early morning start, we were airborne to Erfurt–Weimar Airport in Germany, our final destination.

AGC: Did the lockdown have any effects on you or your trip? 

Ron: As mentioned, we left on a Thursday morning – but on the Wednesday night, the President closed down all air travel from Europe to the US because of Covid-19. I was not sure how I would return home, but I had contracted to do this flight and knew I would find a way to return.

When we landed in Iceland (we had just been in Narsarsaraq, Greenland to refuel) the FBO indicated that a few hours ago Greenland had closed its airspace to all foreign airplanes because of Covid-19.

Then, when we landed in Germany, the customs officer informed us that Germany had closed all its land borders to travel because of Covid-19. So, we were lucky. I had planned to visit some good friends in Berlin prior to returning home, so I did that, originally aiming to return home on the Thursday.

I had visited all the friends that I could, and so decided that instead I would fly home on the Wednesday. That turned out to be fortunate, as I was on the last non-stop United flight from Berlin to Newark. After that, United stopped all its flights to and from Berlin. The world literally closed down behind me this whole trip.

AGC: What is your dream airplane?

Ron: Number 1, my Christen Eagle: This is an experimental home built airplane. It is fully aerobatic with full inverted systems, capable of pulling up to +7 and -5 g’s in aerobatic maneuvers. For me, the airplane fulfills several important roles. Its primary role is a ‘keep me alive’ training tool.

As an engineering test pilot, I need to be ready for any eventuality. Sometimes when testing an airplane, they do not do what you expect. At times like that it is vital to understand what to do without thinking about it. Flying aerobatics helps with that training reinforcement roll.

I can truly say that I know what to do when an airplane is upside down, in a fully developed inverted stall, in a spin, inverted or right side up, while tumbling, etc., as that is what I practice when I fly this bird. So far it has worked, and I have successfully recovered from two unanticipated airplane upsets during test flights of new airplanes.

Secondly, this airplane is a pleasure to fly. The control harmony is almost perfect, and the airplane teaches me something every time I fly it.

I have been fortunate to own two of these wonderful birds over the years.

Number 2 is the MU-2 twin-engine turboprop. Well, I do not own an MU-2… yet! I keep trying to justify one, but my CEO (my Wife Roberta) keeps reminding me of practical roadblocks to this. But, I am fortunate to regularly fly these wonderful birds on a somewhat regular basis as part of the work I do for Mitsubishi.

I am part of the airplane product support team, assisting with engineering evaluations, test flying, product improvement developments for the airplane, FAA liaison support, as well as having hosted several pilot safety webinars on behalf of Mitsubishi, focusing on the MU-2.

Number 3: My 1997 Piper Seneca V. This is my transportation machine. I have owned this airplane since new and have recently overhauled the engines and updated the avionics with new Garmin GTNs. This airplane has allowed me to fly to almost every corner of North America, in support of my business.

AGC: Are you using your plane for work or fun?

Ron: I fly primarily for work, but because I love to fly it is always a pleasure.  My wife of almost 40 years (she is also my business partner) often travels in the airplane with me, and the airplane allows us to do this safely and – as it turns out – also properly socially distanced and isolated, even in this crazy Covid-19-ravaged world.

It’s much safer than travelling on the airlines.

AGC: What has been your favorite trip? And what would be your dream trip?

Ron: There have been so many. Our Honeymoon to the Bahamas in a Cessna 210. An Alaska vacation in a King Air 90. Exporting a Husky and a Pitts to New Zealand, and then I got to go there to reassemble them, and had to test fly them both.

Flying in New Zealand is fabulous – as was a trip to Indonesia exporting a Pitts. I could go on. The one that I am on at the time is always my new favorite trip. It is so amazing what airplanes allow us to do, and I am so lucky that I can fly these great inventions.

AGC: Please share a little more about yourself: your family, where you live, what you do for fun.

Ron: My wife Roberta and I live in Lawrence, Kansas, but we both grew up in Winnipeg, Canada. We both enjoy travelling, hiking, snow skiing, and most outdoor activities.

I was raised by German parents and speak German as well as English. This has allowed me wonderful opportunities to work all over the world, as knowing more than one language helps you even when you do not know the local language. We both love to travel and have been on all the world’s continents.

I always advise kids to pick something that you love as a career choice. Then they will never work a day in their life. But, that comes with a proviso… it doesn’t mean that they won’t work hard. They will work even harder!

I have been one of the lucky ones, as I have never worked a day in my life, I play, and people pay me to do that. It doesn’t get any better that that, and I am able to share it with my wonderful wife Roberta.

AGC: Why, and when, was the MU-2 registered in trust?

Ron: When you are exporting airplanes, trusts are so important. They significantly simplify the export logistics, issues of ownership, registration etc. Trusts allow the new non US owner to take possession of the airplane, fly it home, and then deal with the import requirements at home on their local turf where they know the rules, the people, and the process to have the airplane properly imported and registered.

This airplane was registered under trust in March 2020, specifically to accomplish that goal. I have managed many of these transactions, and a good trust company is a good ally to have for this process.

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