Published on May 13th, 2023 | by FII Reader0
Irish Cessna 172 Above the Arctic Circle
By Michael Traynor
Having been fortunate to have enjoyed pleasure flights to most of the 27 countries of the EU in recent years one area not visited was Scandinavia. Previous trips had included an odyssey of a circumnavigation of the Mediterranean Sea and a couple of crossings of the Alps. It was now time to tick the last box of Europe – Lapland and get above the Arctic Circle.
The aircraft that brought us to those amazing locations was our club aircraft Cessna 172P, EI-ING. Sadly, this aircraft was written off in a crash on 4th August 2018. We replaced it with a similar and slightly younger model of Cessna 172P, G-JONZ that was delivered to the Airport Flying Club on 20th August 2019.
The planning for the Lapland trip was to include stops in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and The Netherlands. As part of the planning process, we established aviation contacts in each of those countries. The only Irish PPLs we discovered that had previously been to that area were a group from Galway including Jarlath Conneely. Were we only the second crew of Irish GA pilots to venture north of the Arctic Circle?
Sixteen national charts were acquired to cover the journey. Other items ‘borrowed’ included a spare handheld transmitter, a GoPro camera, an iPad and holders for Sky Demon and survival/immersion suits for each of us. The Airport Flying Club already has available for members a 4-man life raft, life jackets and flares. An A4 ring binder of printed material was brought as backup in the event the technology failed at any stage. We had fortunately obtained a route forecast for the coming four days from the aviation section at Met Eireann.
Four days after delivery of G-JONZ the journey began. Like EI-ING this aircraft had six-hour range fuel tanks. Departure from our base at Weston airport was at 08.15 UTC on Saturday, 24th August 2019. Our route was directly north to the Shetland Islands, 100 nautical miles (nms) north of Scotland. All times in this journey log are UTC as we passed through three time zones. The weather was CAVOK for most of the met stations en route. Sumburgh was reached 3 hours 40 minutes after leaving Weston. At Sumburgh, we topped up with 105 litres of avgas and donned our immersion suits for the two-hour crossing of the North Sea to Bergen, Norway. At Flight Level (FL) 100 we encountered some icing and descended accordingly.
Bergen was a Customs airport but after waiting for a Customs officer that did not appear the very pleasant police officers cleared us to depart and continue our journey northwards along the west coast of Norway to our planned overnight airport at Molde. This airport is approached along a very scenic fjord and is regarded as one of the more scenic airports in Norway. Night one was spent in a local hotel.
Sunday, as forecast by Met Eireann, would be a challenging day’s flying. Our intention was to fly northwards along the west coast of Norway to Bodo just above the Arctic Circle. However, the weather would not make this possible. The best progress we could imagine would be to route eastbound across the mountain range separating Norway from Sweden. During weak frontal systems, we took the opportunity to cover this journey and were fortunate to achieve almost FL070 at the high points of the mountains. It was bumpy at times but this was to be expected. The Swedish border was crossed one and a half hours after departure from Molde. By the time we reached the east coast of Sweden on the Gulf of Bothnia (the north section of the Baltic Sea), the weather had improved and we landed at Sundsvall in CAVOK conditions. A top-up of 116 litres of fuel and a further check on the weather made our decision to progress further along the east Swedish coast an easy one. It was just one hour and ten minutes to Umea where we arrived with a glorious red sunset having observed thunderstorms west of us—night two in Umea, Sweden.
Monday, 26th August 2019 brought CAVOK conditions for a flight to the Arctic Circle. We were relieved. Met Eireann aviation forecaster Aisling Butler had predicted it and she was correct. The departure from Umea was at 09.08 UTC (11.08 local). The area of the Baltic Sea was clear and calm as we were over water at FL080 with an outside air temperature of zero degrees for the one-and-a-half-hour overwater crossing. We were aware that the Baltic Sea contains 31 species of shark! We crossed the coastline at Torino on the border of Sweden and Finland. Our destination airport in Finland was Rovaniemi which is north of the Arctic Circle. Fifty minutes later we were on the ground. The airport is an active military air base where Finnish Air Force F-18s were evident training during our short stay there. We were 77 nautical miles from the border with Russia (a similar distance as Weston to Waterford). Rovaniemi is renowned as the home town of Santa Claus. There was no snow present but that was due in November and would last until about May. We met our contact who had been an Air Traffic Controller at Rovaniemi for 31 years. His advice proved invaluable. His suggestion was to fly down the Baltic coast of Finland and depending on our journey time there were options on locations for that night. We reached Bromma Airport Stockholm after a non-stop flight of five hours and ten minutes from Rovaniemi in ideal weather conditions. Our newest acquisition aircraft used 152 litres for the journey with a fuel burn of less than 30 litres per hour and left a surplus of 1.5 hours in the tanks. Arrival at Stockholm was at a glorious sunset evening. We were greeted by three Swedish Customs officers as our arrival was not logged from Finland. All was sorted in a short while. Night three in a hotel beside the airport in Stockholm.
Our final day, Tuesday, 27th August, required an early alarm call at dawn. The forecast for our arrival at Weston was a deteriorating weather situation which could last a number of days. It was a case of a dash for the finish line or be stranded somewhere in Western Europe. We decided to give it our best shot! Departure was 05.35. The 30-minute fuel stop was at Halmstad at 07.51, an airport in the southwest corner of Sweden. From there we overflew, using VORs, to southern Denmark and through northern German airspace from Langan to Texel. Texel is an island airfield northwest of Amsterdam with a grass runway at sea level and very active for parachutists. We landed at Texel at 12.26 after a four-hour flight from Halmstad. A fuel fill of 129 litres and a detailed check of the weather for the North Sea crossing to England took an hour. Again we donned our immersion suits.
Departure from Texel was at 13.25 UTC where the ground temperature was 30 degrees. G-JONZ performed magnificently as it lifted off and headed westbound on the final leg at FL055 until clear of Amsterdam airspace. As expected we encountered hazy visibility and varying cloud base levels across the North Sea. We crossed The Wash at 15.10. Thunderstorms were forecast for areas across England along our intended flight path. We obtained regular weather updates and METAR reports from air traffic controllers and this helped us to determine our flight path across the country. Thunderstorms were evident both north and south of our track. Fortunately, the information we were receiving allowed us to avoid these areas. We routed south of the Manchester area and headed for the north Wales coast via Hawarden at 16.10 having crossed England in one hour. We passed abeam Holyhead at 16.52 and our crossing of the Irish Sea was as anticipated to involve deteriorating weather conditions.
As we approached the Irish coastline we could see the poor weather off the coast of County Wicklow. Our routing from the Pidgeon House chimneys to Weston was a relief although the raindrops were appearing on our windscreen and the tops of the Dublin Mountains were covered in clouds. The Met Eireann detailed route forecast had been accurate to the last leg of our journey. We touched down at Weston with 15 minutes to spare before ATC closing time on a long day of flying totalling 10 hours 42 minutes flying time covering 1,014 nautical miles. Target achieved and box ticked. I wish to sincerely thank my son Dáire for making this odyssey and journey very much a possibility.
Some statistics. Total flying time was 29 hours and 25 minutes. The distance covered was 2,946 nautical miles. Flight time overwater was 11.5 hours (38% of our flying time). Fuel uplift was 921 litres. We reached 66.5 degrees north and 26 degrees east. All boxes ticked! The newest acquisition aircraft G-JONZ performed magnificently. The pilots were Michael Traynor and his son Dáire. Thank you to the Airport Flying Club for making this possible. www.airportflyingclub.com
A video of our flight to Lapland is available on YouTube if you search ‘Irish Cessna 172 in the Arctic‘.
Main photo: Dáire Traynor donning his immersion suit prior to the two-hour North Sea crossing to Bergen, Norway.