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Day 5 - Tuesday, 31 July 2007 - World Record Flights - Vancouver, BC, Canada to Duluth, MN, USA

The length of each day's flights was getting longer - today's flight came out at 1533 miles after a diversion into Canada to miss a line of severe storms in North Dakota.

The flight started from Bellingham, WA and Steve had a leisurely get-off as the plan was to arrive at Duluth shortly after nightfall. It may seem strange to delay the departure to almost 4 hours after sunrise but Vancouver was the starting point for an international transcontinental world speed record from Vancouver in Canada to Bangor in the USA. Steve looked at the possibilities, which included flying through the night over some questionable terrain, and decided that with summer storms around it made more sense to have a least some sleep midway in what would otherwise have been a very lengthy 3276 mile flight. Duluth, MN was chosen as the ideal stop-over location and Monaco Air kindly offered to host Steve for his overnight stay in their first class FBO at Duluth International. Monaco Air has a 24 hr operation, year round, so their superb facility is fully equipped with a snooze room, and much more!

Before leaving Bellingham, Steve had looked at the weather in detail which promised a healthy tailwind for the entire flight across the entire continent, and so was able to delay his start by over 2 hours yet still arrive at Duluth at dusk. He would then get some well earned sleep and depart from Duluth at daybreak the next day. In this way he hoped to get some favourable speeds for the record from Vancouver to Duluth, and for the record he planned to set from Duluth onwards.

Having used his oxygen supply a number of times on the journey so far, Steve decided he would fill the bottle at Bellingham just in case he needed to fly above 12500 ft on the journey eastwards. This was a good decision as Goofy's cruise altitude for the first sector to Malta in Montana was 13000 ft! This added tension to the start as the FBO did not open its workshop until 9.00 am, so by the time the bottle was filled it was 9.30 and Steve needed to be underway as soon as he could.

forest fires

It seemed strange turning north to Canada once more but this was necessary as Steve needed two start points on the Pacific coast, one in Canada and the other in the USA, so he could attempt to set TWO international transcontinental world speed records -

* Vancouver, BB, Canada to Bangor, ME, USA
* Seattle, WA, USA to Halifax, NS, Canada

The weather was perfect for the start of the flight and this time Steve had selected CYNJ, Langley Regional Airport - http://www.langleyairport.bc.ca/html/c_05_a.htm - as the start point for Vancouver. It appears that Langley has some interesting aircraft based there as Steve could see as he flew overhead. Langley is just 7 miles from the US border although Steve flew further into Canadian airspace so he could do a leisurely 360 degree turn and be timed when 'Goofy' was heading south once again. This also allowed Steve to get a great view of the snow covered Canadian Rockies which climbed rapidly up from the fertile valley only a short distance north of Langley.

Snohomish County Airport (KPAE - Paine) at Everett, WA was the starting point for Seattle on the second international transcontinental record which Steve was attempting. The route from Langley took 'Goofy' directly overhead Bellingham International, but Steve was now climbing to an altitude of 8000 ft in to try to get into the favourable tailwinds as soon as possible. He had agreed with Seattle Approach that they would relay the time overhead Paine to the tower who would then certify the start. Once again 'Goofy' passed abeam its birthplace at Arlington, just 8 miles away to the east of the flight route to Paine. To the west was the sparkling waters around the San Juan Islands

Immediately Steve was overhead Paine he made a sharp climbing left turn to head north eastwards across the northern Cascade Range towards his planned fuel stop at Malta in Montana. Steve had a number of options in mind for crossing the Cascade's and the Great Divide, depending on the weather on the day. Back in 2005 he had visited the GlaStar factory at Arlington in the morning and left there after lunch as he had only a three hour flight to his overnight stop-over at Kalispell. There was a strong tailwind at the time and Steve experienced severe mountain wave and turbulence during this flight, which was perhaps the result of crossing the mountains during the afternoon. This time, Steve resolved to climb to 13000 ft, a good eastbound IFR flight level, as he now had oxygen on-board. The flight was so smooth Steve could have dozed off if it were not for the spectacular views unfolding all around. For IFR flying 'Goofy' is fitted with a TruTrak Digiflight II autopilot, complete with ! altitude hold and vertical speed control. This really takes the load off the pilot in IFR conditions, and allowed Steve to fully appreciate the beauty of this flight whilst 'Goofy' flew itself ever onwards.

Glacier Peak, at 10560 ft, passed gracefully by to the north and perhaps a hundred miles to the south the magnificent Mt Rainier dwarfed the snow covered peaks of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, themselves some distance away. The vista from 13000 ft was truly spectacular. Shortly afterwards 'Goofy' had reached the Columbia Basin where Electric City stood out close by the Grand Coulee Dam where the Columbia River has formed Lake Roosevelt, the largest lake in Washington State and over 150 miles long. Electric City even has its own airport named Grand Coulee Dam!

Over the Rocky Mountains and onwards across the Cabinet Mountains and past Snowshoe Peak, 8738 ft, 'Goofy' was now over Montana and heading towards Kalispell where, in 2005, Steve had received a great welcome from the local EAA Chapter during his first 'four corners' flight. This time the flight conditions were smoother but now avoiding massive forest fires was the challenge of the day!

North West Montana had been hard hit with forest fires, many of which had been burning for months, and from 13000 ft Steve could clearly see the effect these fires were having on the local environment. Smoke from the fires covered huge areas of the state, with the fires fanned by the strong westerly winds. Beyond Kalispell the fire hazard become worse with 'Goofy' having to weave its way between the TFRs (temporary flight restrictions) which had been created over the burning areas. The highest of the restrictions was 11500 ft but 'Goofy' was flying at 13000 ft so in theory Steve could just ignore the restrictions. However, the thought of flying through the billowing smoke was not very inviting so a route was chosen, with ATC approval, which meandered around the fires. In the distance the long trail of smoke fanning out over miles of Montana countryside could clearly be seen, and a 'mountain wave' effect was clearly visible in the top later of smoke.

Hungry Horse Dam and the Great Divide with the Lewis & Clark Range and its 8873 ft Pentagon Mountain passed by shortly before the worst of the fires was reached. Last time 'Goofy' was here Steve had stayed overnight at a small grass strip of Ferndale (53U), south of Kalispell, which at 3060 ft altitude was some 4500 ft below the start of the Great Divide under 5 miles to the east. Steve then had to make climbing 360 degree turns in 'Goofy' for almost 15 minutes to clear these mountains. This time, at 13000 ft, Steve flew quietly by over 5500 ft above the peaks!

The Great Divide is relatively narrow from west to east so Steve was quickly over these jutting mountain peaks and flying above the plains of Montana, which at almost 4000 ft above sea level just beyond the Great Divide shelved slowly down all the way to the Great Lakes, hundreds of miles to the east, and Steve's final destination of the day, Duluth. But first there was a fuel stop at Malta (M75) to attend to. Hays MOA (military operations area) suddenly become 'hot' and 'Goofy' was to be diverted miles to the north to Havre City to maintain IFR clearance from the MOA boundary. Swiftly, Steve cancelled his IFR flight plan which allowed him to navigate visually and use his GPS to just skirt the MOA boundary on an almost direct course for Malta and its welcome fuel.

Actually 'Goofy' had used so little fuel thanks to the altitude and tailwinds that Steve could have continued for many miles before needing to stop for fuel. But with Duluth over 700 miles beyond Malta, even the 50 kt tailwinds would not get 'Goofy' there without a fuel stop. Fuel was relatively cheap at Malta so it made sense to stop there, and as it turned out it was a wise choice. Flying across Montana Steve only heard two other aircraft and one was approaching Malta from the east at the same time as Steve flew in from the west. The other aircraft was 8 miles out when 'Goofy' was 10 miles away so it looked like 'Goofy' would not get to the fuel first, with perhaps a 20 minute delay waiting to use the pump. Steve need not have worried as he had the advantage of a 20 knot tailwind at ground level which was an equivalent headwind for the Cessna. The transition from a strong tailwind to a crosswind to a headwind was certainly challenging as Steve made a close-in curved approach to ! land. But there was a twin engine aircraft at the fuel pumps with no one about!

Malta airport is in the middle of nowhere and nobody appeared to be around. But by the time Steve had shut down 'Goofy' a pilot appeared from who knows where. It turned out that the twin was a medivac aircraft awaiting an accident victim and the approaching Cessna was the co-pilot arriving from another airport. Fortunately, when Steve explained about his world speed record flight, the pilot allowed 'Goofy' to refuel first.

Leaving Malta after a quick turnaround 'Goofy' continued east climbing this time to 9000 ft where the tailwind was strongest. About 10 minutes later Steve heard the medivac aircraft calling for clearance so obviously the casualty must have arrived only minutes after 'Goofy' had left.

Now the flight from Malta to Duluth should have been simple and straightforward. After all the terrain was not a challenge, just 738 miles across the flat plains of Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota. Up to Malta Goofy's ground speed had been spectacular thanks to the strong tailwind. Normally a ground speed of 140 mph would be considered reasonable at a fuel burn of less than 6 galls per hour. On the flight across Washington, Idaho and into Montana 'Goofy' was streaking along at over 180 mph and even reached a speed over the ground of almost 220 mph on the descent into Malta. Of course the indicated airspeed was much less, but such were the effects of a 60+ mph tailwind!

The strong tailwind continued as 'Goofy' flew onwards into North Dakota. Steve saw town names he knew well from his Yorkshire homeland - York and Leeds - and then the fun started. Lighting up the Nexrad on-board weather radar was a string of strong storm cells rapidly developing right across Steve's flight path. Airliners were diverting around the storms and Steve knew that he too would have to do something. Even at almost 200 mph ground speed there was time to decide which way to go - north, south or through the middle. This latter choice did not seem too good an idea as the hole could suddenly close. So the question was which end of the storm line was developing the slowest. It was nearly equal but Steve decided a turn north into Canada was the way to go as this as Canada was in the clear whilst the southern portion of North Dakota was more prone to storms and anyway had MOA's to contend with. The sky was darkening all the while and, with lightning clearly visible ahead, Steve m! ade a turn to the north towards Canada and clearer weather. Of course the storms seemed to follow Goofy's track, but in reality even moving along approaching 200 mph everything happened in slow motion. In the end Steve had to divert an extra 100 miles into Canada to pass around the northern edge of the storms. Right in the middle of all this the Approach Controller told all aircraft under his control that his own weather radar had gone down so he could not advise any airplane which way to turn to avoid the storms. It was comforting for Steve to be able to tell the controller that he had on-board weather radar, and it certainly saved the day here!

The controller was anxious, however, to know just how far into Canada Steve would have to fly. It turned out that 'Goofy' paralleled the Canadian / US border for quite a distance, perhaps 30 miles into Canadian airspace and crossed over the International Peace Garden in the Turtle Mountain Provincial Park. Once clear of the storm line the rest of the flight was uneventful until Steve reached Duluth. Dusk came about an hour out from Duluth so it was totally dark when 'Goofy' did its high speed pass overhead the airport to record the finish for a Vancouver to Duluth record. Cleared to land Steve thought he was home and dry, and could relax. But a landing is not complete until the engine stops and as 'Goofy' was turning onto short final there was a sudden and violent wind shear. So much so that one minute 'Goofy' was pointing at the runway and then the next minute after descending perhaps 200 ft the nose was suddenly at right angles to the runway. The key thing was to fly the airplan! e, and 'go around' if necessary. Then, just as suddenly as it started, the wind shear stopped and Steve was able to turn 'Goofy' back towards the runway. Sure, the landing was further down the runway than planned but with 10152 ft to play with this was not a problem, and with the runway pointing directly into the strong westerly wind the landing was then uneventful.

Monaco Air was expecting Goofy's arrival and the line guys were out on the ramp waiting to fill the fuel tanks as soon as the engine stopped. They were in shorts as the temperature was at its record high for July, but talking to them Steve found out just how cold it can get in winter at -4 F and this does not take into account the wind chill. International Falls is supposed to be the coldest place in the US, but Duluth seems like it comes a close second!

The end of another great flying day, only spoilt by having to divert into Canada which slowed the speed for the Vancouver to Duluth record. In reality it did not matter for the transcontinental records as the diversion only meant that Steve would have less sleep before setting off again at dawn the next day for the longest flight on the whole 'four corners' flight - 1743 miles in a single day.

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