Today we did a couple of small hops around the Northeastern shores of Iceland, continuing the trip of the EU Commission experts around the island, checking airports and NDB beacon conditions.
The first short flight would take us from Norfjörur (BINF), where we ended the last flight, to Egilsstaðir (BIEG), which is about 20 nm away. Then we planned to fly North to órshöfn (BITN), but stopping along the way at Vopnafjörur (BIVO). In total, we planned to cover around 70 nautical miles.
I started by checking the weather for the airports we would be visiting. Weather appeared to be fine for all of them, with scattered clouds ate about 6000 feet and calm winds. There were some 12-knot winds predicted for our arrival at Vopnafjörur, but it wasn’t a problem. Actually, I was a little more worried about the cloud bases. Our route for the day included overflying some mountain ranges, which would top at nearly 4000 feet, not leaving a lot of margin for a VFR flight below the clouds. Still, the weather was obviously fine, and the flight was a GO. If we had any problems with the clouds, we could have to navigate around them, or even turn back, but there was no reason not to go flying.
I also remembered to check the airport informations to check which ones had fuel. We hadn’t refueled the trusty Britten-Norman Islander since leaving Reykjavik, so we had to start thinking about it. I found that the only airport that had suitable fuel available for us was Egilsstaðir, so I planned to refuel there.
Leg 1 – Norfjörur to Egilsstaðir
After all the preparations were completed, we boarded the plane, started the engines and taxied to our runway. I took a little more time doing some engine checks before take-off, since this was the first flight of the day. Having checked that there weren’t any problems, we took off from runway 26.
During climb out, my concern was getting high enough to clear the mountain range to our West, on the way to the destination. That proved to be no problem for the plane, but then I started watching out for clouds. It appeared that we would have to climb above the cloud base, and so dodging the clouds became something I had to think about. Luckily, there were no clouds in our flight path, so we did not have to change course and could fly directly to the destination.
We cleared the mountains and I could immediately see the Lagarfljót river valley, where the Egilsstaðir is located. We were at cruise altitude just for a few minutes before we had to start our descent. Since we had just crossed the mountains, we were quite high to join the traffic pattern, so I decided to fly northbound while descending and then turn back to land in runway 22. I called traffic to advise everyone of my intentions.
Turning back to the airport, we could see that we were just about on glideslope for a nice straight in approach, which we concluded with a soft landing. I taxied to the parking area, left my team of EU experts to inspect the airport while I went to refuel the aircraft.
Leg 2 – Egilsstaðir to Vopnafjörur
Thankfully, the EU experts were fast enough inspecting the airport, and soon we were on our way again. This time, we had to go 27 nm to get to Vopnafjörur. Same problems with mountains and cloud bases were expected, as well as being high when overflying the airport due to the surrounding terrain.
On a curious note, while we are at the airport, fueling the plane, I noticed the wind sock had turned quite a bit, and wind was not blowing from the north. Not very strong winds, but I still liked the change. It meant we could take off without having to back track to the opposite side of the runway, and we would also be nicely lined up on our course right after departing.
Engine start, taxi, take off (now on runway 04) were all pretty uneventful.
We reached cruising altitude of 6500 feet pretty quickly and I was happy to notice that the cloud bases here were a bit higher. We could now squeeze our airplane between the clouds and the ground safely, while maintaining VFR flight.
Just before reaching Vopnafjörur there are some mountains, which meant we could not descend normally into the airport. Once again, I had to fly over the mountains, and then descend over the airport. I decided to run a pretty wide traffic pattern and line up for landing at runway 23. There was a slight crosswind from the left, but we had a very nice landing, left wheel first.
However, we were in for a nasty surprise. The runway is a rough gravel strip, but we did not expect it to be as rough as it is. A few seconds after landing, we hit three or four bumps in the runway that made everyone bump their heads on the ceiling! I actually had to carefully inspect the plane after we stopped to make sure nothing was broken. These planes are sturdy though, and everything was ok. Leg 2 was complete.
Leg 3 – Vopnafjörur to órshöfn
The third and final leg for today would also be the longest — nearly 35 nm. Still, not a very long flight.
The sun was coming down, and shadows from the mountains were already covering a significant part of the valley. I tried to hurry those EU experts, telling them I would prefer to arrive at our destination before sunset. Once again, they were pretty swift in their inspections, and we were on our way in no time.
On take off, we would probably experience the same bumps as we had on landing. Because of that, I decided to try something that is not in the manual. I selected full flaps, dialed my trim wheel a couple of notches back, and hoped this would get us into the air and out of the bumps before we could gain much speed. It worked nicely. I lifted the nose wheel off the ground a few seconds after starting our take off roll. The mains were still on the ground, and we did hit some bumps, but then we were flying and everything was smooth again.
Since mountains would not be a problem, I decided to cruise a bit lower, at 4500 feet, avoiding any problems with clouds. This also provided us with a nice view of the landscape around the Bakkaflói, when arriving at our destination.
I radioed my company controller to check the weather — calm winds, few clouds, visibility more than 10 miles. Since winds would not be a factor, and no planes appeared to be in the air near the órshöfn airfield, I opted to approach runway 02. I turned left a few degrees to intercept the 020 course inbound on the NDB located on the field. Yes, this was no IFR approach, but I hoped it would get me nicely lined up for a straight in approach. And it did!
This was another gravel runway, but it was actually pretty smooth, no hard bumps. This was good news, after the landing gear had taken a beating on departure again.
I taxied to parking, retracted flaps and shut everything down.