After 10 years flying throughout North America,
Scientific Aviation is heading to Europe
Follow along with us as we transit our single-engine Mooney across the Atlantic and embark on the next exciting chapter for SciAv
Scientific Aviation is partnering with UN Environment, through its Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) initiative, and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to undertake a first-of-its-kind group of studies that will provide top-down quantification of methane emissions from the energy sector in Europe and North Africa. The initial three projects are set to occur in the Norwegian North Sea, Romania, and Algeria over the next 6 months. We anticipate that these projects will mark the beginning of a global partnership working together towards a sustainable future.
Scientific Aviation operates single-engine light aircraft, so getting the plane to Europe is no small feat. CEO & Founder Stephen Conley, along with his partner Sonja, will follow a 7-leg ferry route that will take them through Canada, Greenland, and Iceland, on their way to Norway. You can follow along with their progress here and through our social media channels, and track their flights live on the map below!
Live Flight Tracker
POSTCARDS FROM THE FIELD
Trans-Atlantic Ferry, Day 1
Boulder, Colorado to Grande Rivière, Quebec
Today was a long trek – approximately 1500 miles in total. Our departure from Boulder was uneventful with calm winds and comfortable temperature. Denver approach was kind enough to clear us through their airspace and we climbed to 15,000 feet. N728VM is an animal! At 13 gallons per hour, our true airspeed was just over 180 knots, but when I pushed it up to 16 gallons per hour – we jumped to 200 knots! With our tail wind, our speed over the ground was AWESOME, around 230 knots!
We had to make frequent course changes to accommodate those pesky mid-west thunderstorms that seem to be a persistent feature this time of year, and when we landed at Sault Ste. Marie one of those storms was just a few miles from the airport. It was a bit alarming when we got out of the airplane and could find no sign of human life, save for the frequent and loud gun shots we could hear (still not sure where those were coming from). After walking from building to building (all with signs advising us to not enter), we found the FBO and filled up the tanks for our next flight.
We departed IFR from Sault Ste. Marie heading north. There is no radar coverage for most of the route to Grande Rivière. Ontario Center handed us off to Montreal Center, but it was at least 30 minutes before we were able to reach them. Of course, it was during that 30 minutes that we ran into some icing conditions and I was grateful for the TKS system. After that, we were able to descend to get into some warmer air, which avoided any further risk of icing, but also provided us with some spectacular views of the marshy tundra landscape nearing Hudson Bay.
Now we are flying over Hudson Bay, a place of legend to me. I’ve heard about the polar bears on Hudson Bay since I was a kid and, now, we’re actually flying over it! There are no polar bears in sight unfortunately, or fortunately (in case we had an engine failure and had to land on the shore of the bay). In a few minutes, we’ll be landing in Grand Riviére, Quebec for our first overnight stopover on this trip. We’re looking forward to some delicious poutine and a good night’s sleep before heading out again tomorrow!
Signing off for now,
Steve & Sonja
Trans-Atlantic Ferry, Day 2
Grand Riviere, Quebec to Iqaluit, Canada
Ok, so we didn’t find Grand Riviere to be a super enchanting place. It’s actually a lot like Kenedy, Texas with the work boots left outside the hotel rooms, parking lots filled with white work pick-up trucks..you know the place? Weather for our planned departure time was low IFR with a 200 foot ceiling (I always hate to take off from a place where I can’t land if something goes wrong), so we delayed our departure until 10:30 when the ceiling had lifted to a generous 400 feet!
We experienced more of that IFR in uncontrolled airspace today. Clearance actually specified the order “Maintain 7,000 when in controlled airspace”; however, 90% of the flight wasn’t, so I was free to fly wherever I so desired. Of course, where I desired was straight ahead to our next stop: Baffin Island.
This flight included our first significant water crossing, about 100 miles over Hudson Straight. We never actually saw the water because the overcast deck was below us, but my iPad wouldn’t lie about a thing like that, right? Of course, as soon as we were over the water, I was very conscious of every bump and bit of turbulence. Things that don’t bother you so much over land become much more concerning when you know that you are outside of glide distance to the nearest land. In the end, we made it to our destination with no issues, and have put the first water crossing behind us.
An interesting site coming into Iqaluit (Baffin Island): icebergs! It’s August and yet the bay is full of them. I assume that means I really don’t want an engine failure in this water! But it was totally worth the flight – this place is super cool. The cemetery gate is made of two giant whale bones, 20-something feet tall. The FBO at the airport has a giant polar bear skin and head hanging on the wall. Best of all, when the tide went out at 7 P.M., Sonja and I walked out onto what was formerly the bay, to touch the icebergs that were now marooned on the wet sand.
Now, it’s time to spend a little more effort on tomorrow’s flight plan, our first “real” ocean crossing as we set our sites on Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.
Steve & Sonja
Trans-Atlantic Ferry, Day 3
Iqaluit, Canada to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
What can I say about today? Wow. Spoiler alert – Greenland is the most amazing scenery EVER!
The day started off as expected, we donned our immersion suits and life vests, got into the airplane and had an uneventful departure from Iqaluit. The route was planned at 15,000 feet, affording us an impressive view of the Canadian shoreline. Soon enough, we were over the deep ocean, well beyond glide range of land! The most impressive scene over the water was an iceberg that still looked huge from 15,000 feet! I remember kayaking the Grand Canyon and learning the painful lesson about how much larger waves look when you’re in the water looking up than when you’re on the shore looking down. Yet this iceberg still looked like a monster from 3 miles away. Clearly it was the T-Rex of icebergs.
It was a little surreal to be talking to Nuuk Radio – like we’re really here, in Greenland! Shortly before crossing the coastline we were handed off to Sondrestrom Approach (which is also the tower controller at Kangerlussuaq). As we descended lower, the views just got bigger and more spectacular. Giant wide rivers guarded by steep canyons and filled with the bluest water I’ve ever seen. It was an act of will to keep my attention on the flight and not the scenery! Given the beautiful weather today (clear skies, temperatures in the 60’s), the controller cleared us for the visual approach to what seemed like the longest runway I’ve ever seen. And, just to further ensure that I couldn’t get into trouble with a long landing, it’s uphill! Once on the ground, we were met at the airplane by the FBO employees who guided us to park, and then by the Customs official who stamped our passports. Everyone we have encountered here (including in the ice cream shop where we indulged) has been warm and friendly.
The hotel is a few hundred feet from the FBO so we checked into the room, put on shorts and went for a 5 mile hike. It sure felt nice getting out of those immersion suits! Sonja (who knows someone in every country) had friends in town, so we had dinner at the airport restaurant. It was “grill” night so they had grilled musk ox and reindeer. The musk ox didn’t work for me – but the reindeer sausage was wonderful.
Tomorrow, we head for Iceland!
Steve & Sonja
Trans-Atlantic Ferry, Day 4
Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to Reykjavik, Iceland
Imagine an ice cube that stretches for hundreds of miles, then imagine the 7-11 Big Gulp big enough to hold it…. Pure heaven, right? On departure from Kangerlussuaq, we climbed to 15,000 and within minutes we were flying over the famous Greenland ice sheet. To keep things in perspective, if the Greenland ice sheet were to melt tomorrow, sea level around the globe would rise by 24 feet! That’s a lot of ice! Three miles up in the air, and as far as the eye can see, ice and more ice. As we flew eastward, we would periodically see deep blue pools of water and all I could think was “burrrrrr that must be REALLY cold!”
As we left the east coast of Greenland, we were again greeted by an ocean we couldn’t see. Clouds below us had Sonja questioning if that ocean really exists. Could it just be something from Lord of the Rings where you tell me about this cold ocean with icebergs big enough to take down cruise liners? Fortunately, the question was settled as the clouds began to break up and we were able to see the cold blue water, and yes, the icebergs.
It was 748 miles to Reykjavik and we managed the entire flight without going through one cloud – YAY! We got to do an air-air relay for a low flying aircraft unable to reach ATC. That made us feel superior sitting up at 15,000 feet until an airliner checked in at 39,000 feet and we were again just the little people.
The approach to Reykjavik doesn’t have the dramatic coastline of Greenland; it’s actually fairly flat. Reykjavik has lots of buildings, and even construction zones on final approach. It looks a lot like a city you might see in the US. Our touch down today was less than stellar – I’m blaming the gusty wind. One minute we were flying, the next we were on the ground, without the graceful flare and gentle dance between runway and Mooney I’ve come to expect. Oh well, we’re on the ground now!
We had a great 4 mile hike around Reykjavik – a beautiful trail along the bay – and within walking distance of the hotel airport. To our surprise, a fitness zealot was actually swimming in the bay! Isn’t this the cold water that prompted us to wear these ridiculous immersion suits? Something about survival time being measured in femtoseconds? Yet, he swam, without any suit at all (savefor the traditional summer bathing suit. Oh, and a cute shower cap!)
Weather may be throwing a wrench into the rest of our journey. Thunderstorms are in the forecast for Bergen, Norway tomorrow. Thunderstorms in Norway? Isn’t that too far north for that? Now global warming is messing with me personally! We’re considering some options – we might go to Wick, Scotland instead, or maybe stop in the Faroe Islands if we can find a place to stay.
More tomorrow, I hope!
Steve & Sonja
Trans-Atlantic Ferry, Day 5
Reykjavik, Iceland to Wick, Scotland
Well, as predicted, the weather on the Norwegian coast complicated our arrival, so instead we flew to Scotland. Today’s flight was a bit less spectacular than the last two days (remember Greenland), with mostly just blue water and clouds below us. Leaving Iceland, we were treated to some amazing views of the Iceland glacier and black sand beaches. At about the halfway point, we passed 30 miles south of the Faroe Islands, where we actually had considered stopping until reading about the crazy turbulence at the airport caused by the inhospitable terrain.
We did have a bit of a complication with time zones today. Wick airport is only open for two hours on Sunday, 1415 – 1615 UTC time. Now, with Wick being just 3 degrees west of Greenwich, one assumes it’s on Greenwich Mean Time, right? Turns out we were wrong: they’re actually UTC + 1. As we’re sitting in the airplane ready for engine start, the phone rings, and it’s the FBO at Wick warning us that our flight plan has us arriving an hour before they open. Arghhhhhh. So we had to take off the immersion suits again and sit in the FBO for a while until we could takeoff.
Well, that wasn’t the end of it. Once we got airborne, it quickly became obvious that the tail winds were MUCH larger than expected, about 20 knots faster. So, once again, we were going to arrive early. Instead, we powered back the mighty Mooney until it was barely airborne and our speed was just right for us to arrive right at 14:15 UTC. As we approached, another issue unfolded: if people are allowed to land at 14:15, then the controllers need to be there at 14:00 to “control” us, right? Wrong again. So the kind fellow from Scottish “oceanic control” called the airport and they agreed to get someone in the control tower a few minutes early so we could land precisely at 14:15, which we did.
Once we descended below the clouds, we were treated to lush green scenery as far as the eye could see, (which given the clouds, wasn’t really all that far). The runway sits right at the edge of the ocean, so when turning base and final you’re actually back over the water, making for a truly scenic approach. Hospitality in Wick is second to none, and before we were out of the airplane, the fuel truck was in front of us, chocks deployed and ready to help. They even booked us at the nearby Norseman Inn and drove us over. At the inn, Sunday is “carvery” night, which is Scottish for ‘buffet with lots of meat’. It didn’t disappoint and I estimate we ate a week’s worth of food tonight. Can I just keep telling myself that I need the energy for these flights?
We’re hoping to finish the transit tomorrow with a short hop over to Norway, but we’ll need to wait and see what the weather does. I suppose being stuck in Scotland for a few days isn’t the worst thing in the world!
Steve & Sonja
Trans-Atlantic Ferry, Day 6
Wick, Scotland to Bergen, Norway
We had a little indecision this morning, what with more thunderstorms over the Norwegian coast. In a perfect bit of getting around to it, we decided to go have a big fat breakfast and then decide. I wouldn’t have minded staying in Wick for a few days, but Sonja was somewhat anxious to get to Bergen since our instrument was soon to arrive there waiting for us. Secretly, I think it was a race for her, and she was committed to beating the instrument’s arrival time! Unfortunately, the time change blew the race. We landed at 1:48 P.M., and the package was delivered at 1:45 P.M. In the race from Boulder to Bergen, our Picarro won by 3 minutes. If only I’d cranked up the power on the way over the North Sea!
This flight was nearly entirely flown by instruments. We were in the clouds from shortly after takeoff until we descended through 600 feet on the ILS approach to Bergen. They say Bergen is the most beautiful airport in the world, but I wouldn’t know. Because of the clouds, all we could see by the time we got there was the end of a runway that looked a whole lot like every other runway. The surrounding area, however, had little islands off the shore that we saw in the last 30 seconds of the flight. They looked pretty spectacular, and I hope I’ll get a better view of them during flights over the coming days.
Once we landed, the marshal guided us first to the fuel island where we needed to self-serve, but it wasn’t immediately clear how to activate the machine and the marshal seemed really uninterested in leaving the comfort of his truck. Eventually, we found the credit card machine (located just far away enough to practically necessitate its own zip code) and the fuel machine came to life. Once fueled, we followed the marshal to a parking space away from anywhere, and he left. With us still in the airplane. In the rain. After 10 minutes or so, Sonja called the FBO here (GA Partners). Eventually, a huge airport bus came to get us, but as we were loading our luggage, the GA Partners van showed up in response to Sonja’s call. So we unloaded the bus, loaded the van, and we were off. After some negotiations and a visit to passport control, we were driving into downtown Bergen, to stay in what I believe is the swankiest hotel I’ve ever stayed in.
So, after 6 days and nearly 4500 miles, our grand adventure crossing the North Atlantic is complete and (in case it wan’t obvious) we survived. For all the nervousness I felt before beginning the trip, it really wasn’t that much different from flying at home. Some subtleties like requesting permission for engine start, some different terminology here and there, but ultimately an ILS approach in Denver looks a lot like an ILS approach in Bergen, at least until you break out of the clouds.
For pilots seeking adventure, the North Atlantic crossing won’t disappoint. You’ll see places and things in a way few people are able. For me, the highlight was definitely Greenland, and images of fjords and the ice sheet seem to visit my dreams each night. There was also something absolutely thrilling about coming into view of Scotland after so many miles of ocean. And on top of all that, we got to meet some truly wonderful people.
Now, we just need the weather to clear so we can do some science flights!
Until the next adventure, this is Captain Steve, First Officer Sonja and Mighty Mooney N728VM signing off.
Our First European Project is Complete!
After 26 days in-country, the Norway project is complete.
Note to self- Don’t schedule projects in the rainiest city in Europe (Bergen, Norway) during the rainiest season of the year (Fall). If you do, you might find yourself hiking in the rain because you just can’t fly. Last weekend ended up making it all worthwhile – beautiful sunny skies, perfect conditions for an off-shore flight.
On the bright side, I had enough time in Norway to really get to know the place. Took the light rail each day to the airport, hiked all over the place, even took the train to Flåm and the 5 hour ferry ride back through the Fjords.
I landed on Monday afternoon after measuring our final set of facilities, about 100 miles off-shore. Next step was to pack up and get ready for the next phase of this trip – Romania.
I’m grateful to have been a part of this, I’ve seen things few people get to see. Now I can look forward to flying over the Romanian castles, and with any luck I may even see Dracula.
Norway to Romania, Day 1
Bergen, Norway to Hamburg, Germany
Remember Greenland? The beautiful fjords? Okay, supersize that, oh and change it to fjørd (what the Norwegians call it). Departing Bergen, we turned south and went over some of the most beautiful scenery I could imagine…. More fjords, and the glacier. Our enjoyment was short lived, as we quickly entered the clouds and spent much of the next 3 hours looking at nothing but white…
We had our last big water crossing today (about 65 miles over North Sea between Norway and Denmark). Of course it was hard to tell we were over water, the view below us stayed pretty much the same (white). Once we got into Denmark, the view improved and we were struck by just how vulnerable the low lying coastal regions of Denmark are to climate change. From the air it looked as though the smallest sea level rise would flood much of the country. No wonder the Danes take climate change so seriously!
The final treat of the day was the approach into Hamburg. Listening to ATC is like a Sotheby’s auctioneer, you better listen fast, because instructions are coming at you whether you’re ready or not. The controller is constantly adjusting everyone’s speed, November 728 Victor Mike, reduce speed to 150 knots, November 728 Victor Mike reduce speed to 140 knots. I can only assume that the mighty Mooney was just coming in to hot and catching up with the 787’s inbound from Asia. We had an uneventful touchdown, and then off for a culinary adventure of German cuisine. Ever had a curry bratwurst? YUMMY.
We still didn’t have the flight authorization for Romania, so no reason to hurry to get there. So the next day we decided to make a stop in Poprad, Slovakia.
Norway to Romania, Day 3
Poprad, Slovakia to Bucharest, Romania
Taking off from Poprad was another beautiful treat. The mountains, the clear air, Slovakia truly has some of the world’s best scenery. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long, as we entered Hungary, the air became much more hazy, a blanket of pollution that stretched as far as we could see. It was pretty exciting when we were handed off to Budapest Radar – who would have ever thought I would be flying over Hungary talking to Budapest Radar???
The approach into Bucharest was uneventful. Skies were clear but we did the ILS approach because that’s what they gave us! Upon landing, things got a little different. Tower told me to “precisely” follow the follow-me car. I was never quite sure what that meant, were there men with guns pointed at us in case we deviated from the path of the car? He lead us to the customs clearing area where we were met by more vehicles and a very nice woman named Alexandra. She ordered fuel and oxygen for us, then took us into the terminal to clear customs. After customs, we paid our bill, then she had to make a “boarding pass” for us to get back onto the ramp. Actually needed to go back through the metal detector to make sure we weren’t bringing anything onto the airplane that we shouldn’t.
Oddly enough, the follow-me car was also back at our airplane and instructed me that he would lead me to the runway. I called ground, received my code and then my taxi clearance to the holding point for runway 7. At that point, the follow-me car began leading me the 100 feet to the holding point, and sat there in front of us until tower cleared us to line up on runway 7. I don’t fully understand the purpose of the car leading airplanes to the runway, but perhaps it provides another level of security.
The flight to Strejnicu was only 15 minutes but turned out to be the most difficult of the entire trip. On my first call to tower there was no response. After a few calls, someone else asked what my “message was”. I replied that I was landing. Still nothing. Then another airplane came on frequency (speaking in Romanian) and I tried calling tower again. This time tower told me to call him when I had the runway in sight. After a few minutes, I saw the 2500 foot runway (I really prefer those 10,000 foot long runways) and notified tower. He told me I was clear to land behind the training airplane currently on final. Unfortunately, that training airplane was very slow and it quickly became clear that we would be too close behind, so we executed a go around. Second time around, we landed and were met by another follow-me vehicle (this time unmarked) that lead us across some off-road terrain to the INCAS hangar.
Several people guided us into the hangar – which I must admit was pretty cool. I’ve never taxied into a hangar before so that was fun. The INCAS hangar is absolutely beautiful, and the people who work there are wonderful and helpful. Sam even gave us a ride to the hotel. Of course, as would be expected, we needed to make two trips back to the airport to retrieve forgotten items from the airplane. Now we’re on a train headed to explore the legend of Dracula in Transylvania.