Chibougamau, ON, Canada to Goose Bay, NL, Canada
The day in Chibugamau (pronounced “shee-boo-ga-moo” by the French Canadians, and “Chi-boogs” by my esteemed copilot) dawned much as expected; decent weather in the local area, with low cloud, showers and icing over the high ground to the east of us (and all kinds of horrible conditions north between us and the original planned destination of Iqaluit. We therefore selected plan B, a flight to the southeast followed by tracking the coast up towards Goose Bay, and better weather. This would subsequently present us with a longer ocean crossing to Greenland.
After a breakfast in a local cafe, where Mike made the bold decision to drink three cups of coffee before a 5+ hour flight, we waited for the opening time of the sporting goods store across from the hotel. I had managed, maybe due to the great weather when leaving Pittsburgh, to forget any kind of jacket. Not great when it was still snowing up here! I bought a nice bright red one, just in case rescuers would have to spot it one day. Mike contemplated wetsuit boots to wear with his survival suit, but decided in the end that they were probably of limited value.
We set off across the low ground towards our first way point of Roberval, and to the left the cloud could clearly be seen reaching all the way down to envelop the higher ground that would have been on our direct route. As if a switch had been flicked, the terrain below changed from wilderness (with a heavy serving of forestry) to housing and agriculture. We skirted Lake Saint-Jean, which was still frozen over, despite the feeder river now being mostly clear and flowing with snow-melt. We followed the Riviere Saguenay towards the sea, cutting left across it and over the coastal hills as soon as the weather allowed, direct to Goose Bay. We passed the pleasing named “Riviere du Ha! Ha!”, the only proper name in the world to feature exclamation points. Strong winds over the river gave such turbulence that we had to slow to maneuvering speed to eliminate any risk of over-stressing the aircraft.
As we continued towards Goose Bay, the cloud started to thicken, so we chose to climb on top. We entered cloud, but after 5,000ft of climb through thick overcast we still weren’t nearing the top, and were starting to gather a little ice. Plan B; down to warmer air! As we descended, the cloud started to diminish and the ground returned to view; we flew the rest of the way to Goose Bay lower down, and half an hour or so out the cloud had almost entirely disappeared. We made our final approach in beautiful weather, landing shortly after a German Air Force A400M transport, and being greeted on the ramp by officers from the Canada Border Agency. They quickly lost interest in seeing our passports when they heard we’d come in from Quebec, and instead wanted to chat about the flight!
We secured the aircraft, and the excellent Woodward Aviation FBO gave us a lift to the Hotel North. The next day, the crossing to Greenland…
…or not, as the case may be. Once again the weather stepped in, and the morning conditions were less than a mile of visibility and 200ft cloud ceilings. The forecast said it would stay like this all day, and we wanted to be aloft by 9am at the latest to be able to arrive in Greenland before 5pm, taking into account the time change and the long flight. Why 5pm? That would be because Greenland airports close at 5pm and if you arrive later they’ll charge you $1,000.
We decided, therefore, to take it easy for the day, re-organise the contents of the airplane ready for the crossing, and do some tourist activities. We breakfasted in the same restaurant as we’d eaten at the night before, and set off on the 50 minute walk to the airport. Naturally, by the time we arrived the weather was absolutely perfect with bright blue skies; so much for the forecast. Better to take the path of discretion however, as an incident nearby the previous week had shown (the owner of the aircraft we leased for the Africa 2013 flight had flown into a mountain near Goose Bay at 2,000ft in mysterious circumstances; he luckily survived, his passenger/client did not).
We spent a while re-organising the aircraft and prepping the survival equipment, and also discovered that the pump assembly for the ferry tank would fit on the floor under Mike’s legs. This allowed us to use the ferry tank even with a passenger on board (normally the pump assembly goes on the passenger seat), and we therefore added 50 gallons of fuel in order to expand our diversion options on the flight the next day, and slightly defray the absurdly high fuel costs in Greenland.
This done, we met a friend of a friend who took us to the nearby Goose Bay airport museum, showing a bit about the history of the airport and the vital role it has played in military and civilian aviation. For the remainder of the afternoon, we rented a car, and drove up to North River for some sight-seeing and a visit to the native interpretation/visitor center; it was fascinating to hear about the first people who had moved into these areas.
The next day, we hoped, would be our chance to reach Greenland…
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