How to Prepare for an Atlantic Crossing
In 2016, Roger Harr made his second North-Atlantic flight crossing in his Cirrus SR22. Roger spoke to Aircraft Guaranty Corp about his experience.
When you plan a flight such as an Atlantic crossing, it’s very, very important to know all that you can in advance. You must prepare for everything as highlighted by Roger here…
Flight Plans and the Weather
Before my first Atlantic crossing three years ago, I studied the weather for two months prior to the trip. Every morning, I studied the weather charts of the North Atlantic, writing down if the weather would allow me to fly the leg from A to B on that day or not.
In the evening, I’d check the weather again to see if the decision I had made that morning was correct. This proved to be an effective and accurate training exercise that helped me understand the weather situation in the North Atlantic. (It’s certainly not the same as it is back home!)
Your Aircraft and the Weather
Crossing Greenland is the most difficult part of a North-Atlantic flight crossing. Most people know about Greenland’s ice coverage, but it’s not common knowledge that the ice is two-miles thick. The ice at several places is so heavy that it presses the ground underneath it to sea level.
When crossing Greenland, you must be absolutely sure that you can fly either higher than the clouds or below them.
When the clouds are lying on the surface of this ice shield, it results in negative degrees Celsius. I know that it’s impossible to do this for hours with a Cirrus.
So, be sure to understand the North Atlantic weather, and also the capabilities of your airplane.
Crossing the Water
The water in the North Atlantic is between 2°C and 4°C. Without a survival suit, you would have perhaps 1-2 minutes to board a life raft. If unsuccessful, you don’t have any chance for survival. Thus, I took special survivor training in Germany in an indoor pool where they simulated waves, wind and darkness.
We practiced everything, such as how to ditch from an upside-down airplane, how to exit the plane underwater, making it to the surface, and boarding the life raft. I learned quite a lot about the different types of survival suits and life rafts. This is critical knowledge for pilots planning such a trip.
Long-Distance Aircraft Communications
Make sure you understand communication capabilities along your flight path. For my trip, I learned the following:
I had three different satellite datalinks which provided weather information and let me contact my family with text messages while en route. I was also equipped with a portable satellite beacon that could contact rescue teams via text messages in case of an emergency.
Often there is no radar coverage over the ocean for the low flight levels, but oceanic controllers must still make sure all the aircraft are safely separated by distance and altitude. Since they can’t “see” the aircraft, controllers rely on pilots to report their position at regular intervals.
A position report provides an aircraft’s location, speed and altitude so the controller can build a 3D picture of all the traffic. Pilots are required to report their position by radio every 10° longitude.
Alternates are rare in Greenland, so I prepared and planned with this understanding. Pre-flight planning must include calculating a Point of No Return (PNR). The PNR is also known as the Point of Safe Return (PSR), the furthest point along a track that you can fly towards the destination and have sufficient fuel to divert to an alternate, with safe reserves on arrival.
In other words, it is your last chance to assess the prospect of a successful approach and landing at your destination, and to decide whether to go on or to divert. If any doubt exists, divert to the alternate.
In North Canada there are problems with the availability of AVGAS. During my first Atlantic crossing in 2014, I paid $1,300 for a 54Gal AVGAS drum. A bit further to the south, they were even asking $2,000! It’s worth phoning around to find the best solution for your trip. For flights like this, I have a manual fuel pump and filters in my equipment box.
Aircraft Icing Procedures
It’s important to fully understand the icing systems for your aircraft. The G2 TKS inadvertent ice system on the Cirrus SR22 is not approved for flights into known icing. It’s certified as a “No Hazard” system for normal operations only. Therefore, no determination has been made as to the capability of the system to remove or prevent ice accumulation.
The Cirrus SR22 G2 wing anti-icing system does not cover the entire wing. The TKS titanium panel does not deliver coverage on a portion of the beginning wing root and the outer wing tip. Coverage was later increased on the Cirrus SR22 G3 wing.
If icing is inadvertently encountered, the pilot must decide on the most appropriate TKS operating mode.
The system allows a pilot to start delivering anti-icing fluid to the wing leading edges, stabilizer and prop blades. Normal mode should be selected when conditions for icing are encountered and before ice accretion.
The Cirrus SR22 G2 wing TKS system operating time while in “normal” mode is up to 60 minutes. If ice has accreted to flight surfaces, the pilot should select TKS maximum mode. The Cirrus SR22 G2 wing TKS system operating time while in “maximum” mode is up to 30 minutes.
Cirrus pilots are cautioned not to operate the TKS system for extended time in clear air at high altitudes and very cold temperatures. Doing so can result in “flash” evaporation of water and alcohol from the de-icing fluid. Flash evaporation will result in a glycol rich fluid that can become gel-like on wing and windshield surfaces. De-icing fluid capacity on the G2 TKS system is 2.9 gallons. I knew I had to to stay out of clouds when the temperatures were below freezing level.
Contingency and Emergency Planning
As pilots, it’s ideal to always know where we are along our planned flight track relative to our departure and destination points. If we don’t know where we are, how do we know what the best plan of action would be should there be a problem during flight?
Equal time point (ETP) is the point along the planned track where the flight time would be the same forward to the destination as it would be to track back to the departure.
Obviously, the wind plays a big part in determining the location of the ETP as it determines our ground speed. In nil wind, the ETP will be the halfway point distance-wise. When wind is introduced, the ETP will move towards the destination.
Other Flight Items
Following are some additional supplies you should not overlook when stocking your airplane for a similar trip:
Aircraft Guaranty thanks Roger for sharing this potentially life-saving information. Contact us if you have a story to tell, and be sure to visit Roger’s blog (http://n138cr.ch/atlantikueberquerung-2017/) for more on his adventures.