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Day 6 - World Record Flights - Duluth MN, USA to Lewiston ME, USA via Halifax NS, Canada

The Longest Day - 1743 miles!

Wednesday 1 August 2007 was to be a perfect day, weather wise, for the long long flight from Duluth, Minnesota in the USA, across Canada to Ottawa and Montreal, then back into the USA to Bangor, Maine and onwards into Canada to Halifax, Nova Scotia and back to Bangor then to the final destination of Lewiston, Maine.

Steve's plan had been to snatch a few hours sleep at Monaco Air's facility at Duluth International following his arrival late the previous night after the 1533 mile flight from Vancouver in Canada. During this flight Steve passed through two times zones and 'lost' 2 hrs of daylight as a result. Today's flight would also pass through two time zones - Eastern Time and Atlantic Time - before returning to land in the Eastern Time zone. With the flight timing requirement of the FAI being Zulu time (UTC or Universal Coordinated Time, or GMT Greenwich Mean Time) the change of time zones was not a problem for the start and finish timings for the world speed records.

Up before dawn, Steve had already prepared 'Goofy' the night before ready for the long flight so that he could depart as daybreak came. Official civil twilight at Duluth on 1 August was 5.13 am, with sunrise coming at 5.48 am. Despite Steve's attempts to get airborne at daybreak, the final checks and flight plan filing took longer than anticipated and 'Goofy' lifted off Duluth's runway 27 at 10:26:56 Zulu or 5.26 am local time. No fog this morning was a good sign and the sunrise over Lake Superior shortly after take off was truly spectacular taking on different dimension from the air.

The forecast for the day was good weather but with a very strong westerly wind - great for the majority of the flight but not good for the final legs of the flight. Originally Steve's plan was to have three fuel stops as he did not want to land in Canada since this would mean clearing both Canadian and US customs with the speed record clock ticking by all the time. The first fuel stop would be at Luce Co airport at Newberry, Michigan, some 322 miles east of Duluth and 50 miles west of the Canadian border at Sault St Marie where Lake Superior and Lake Huron meet. Fuel was cheap at this small airport and when Steve arrived unannounced early that Wednesday morning the place looked totally deserted. However, minutes after landing a very friendly airport manager arrived to greet Steve. It turned out that this guy also ran the local radio station so it was a good opportunity to promote Flying Scholarships for the Disabled and Steve's record setting flight around the 'four corners' of America.


A quick turn around meant that 'Goofy' was soon back in the air with Steve picking up his IFR clearance to KOWK, Central Maine Airport at Norridgewock, 50 miles west of Bangor. The reason for flying on an IFR flight plan was twofold - firstly a flight plan and transponder code was needed to over-fly Canada and return to US airspace, and secondly being in constant contact with ATC was beneficial from a safety viewpoint and importantly for Steve it would allow him to be timed overhead both Ottawa and Montreal for the world speed records.

Unlike the start of the previous day's flight where the landscape was truly spectacular today was a complete contrast, flat but still interesting. Steve's flight path took him along the northern shore of Lake Huron for over 160 miles and even with the strong tailwind he was able to enjoy the ever changing coastline for almost an hour. The 'bubble' door window on the GlaStar gave Steve a great view directly down to the numerous inlets and small islands which dot the northern shore of the lake. However flying at 11000 ft, or over two miles high, meant that the detail was lost as the ground elevation was around 600 ft above sea level, unlike when passing over the Cascades where the mountain tops were over 9000 ft high and much closer to Goofy's 13000 ft altitude.

The landscape changed once Lake Huron had been left behind, starting with miles of uninhabited land and transitioning into lush farmland the closer Steve flew to Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. Steve was attempting to set two international world speed records involving Ottawa - from Duluth to Ottawa and from Ottawa to Bangor. The timing point at Ottawa was overhead Macdonald Cartier International airport to the south east of the city and Steve arrived there 5 hrs 19 minutes after leaving Duluth. This time included the fuel stop at Newberry and the climb out to altitude. Even so the average speed of almost 150 mph was impressive, but with the tailwind not as strong as the previous day at least the fuel burn of around 6 galls per hour would help Steve in his plans to set a good time for the records to Bangor - perhaps on two fuel stops would be needed.

At just over 90 miles, the distance between Ottawa and Montreal was covered quickly with Steve noticing the regimented layout of the farms two miles below him. Up until now all the radio transmissions by ATC had been in English, the standard aviation language throughout the world. Suddenly Steve started hearing transmissions in French, but not a dialect he could understand as it was French-Canadian or Québécois. Of course the reason was that Montreal is in the province of Quebec and is Canada's second largest city after Toronto, and the province of Quebec is home to the French-Canadians who comprise around 23% of the Country's population. Montreal is also known as the French gastronomic center of North America, although Steve did not find out about this until later otherwise he might have been tempted to land!

Montreal Pierre Elliot Trudeau International airport is headquarters to Air Canada and as Steve flew overhead he could clearly see many of the company's aircraft sitting at the gates. Normally Steve likes to listen to other ATC transmissions as it gives a clue on what is going on in the airspace in general. Around Montreal even some of the Air Canada pilots were speaking in Québécois and this made it difficult to get an early indication of potential traffic conflicts. Sometimes one has a 'sense' of something happening and sure enough Steve's sense was that the Airbus departing Montreal-St Hubert airport was heading his way. Eventually the controller did call the traffic in English but at that time the Airbus was just off Goofy's left wing giving Steve a chance to wave at the pilot, so close was the jet in its climb out!

Steve had planned a variety of options for the second fuel stop, the first of which was KFSO - Franklin Co State airport - to the south east of Montreal and just across the border in the USA. With the tailwind, the stop Steve had decided on today was KOWK, Central Maine Airport some 160 miles east of Franklin Co. As Steve flew eastwards towards Maine the landscape changed once again with the mountains of northern New Hampshire visible in the distance through the haze. The visibility was deteriorating even though there was not a cloud in the sky. The haze layer had been getting progressively worse since Otttawa and although the forward visibility was poor, looking down the air appeared clearer and Steve got a good view of the ski slopes at Dixville Notch in northern New Hampshire, with its runs cut out of the surrounding forests and winding down towards the ski station. Not a hint of snow now, but in the winter its a different story.

Condor One MOA (military operations area) was not active otherwise Steve would have been diverted a long way around by ATC to miss the 7000 ft to 17999 ft off-limits area. Staying at 11000 ft meant 'Goofy' was flying in smooth air rather than the more turbulent air closer to the mountain tops, and the tailwind was better too. All the time Steve was calculating the distance to Bangor to see if he in fact needed to stop for fuel. The choice was simple - fuel would be needed to fly the remaining legs and whilst a stop at Norridgewock would be quicker than at Bangor it would add time to the three records finishing at Bangor. As the fuel burn had been much less than anticipated for an impressive speed it made sense to continue straight through to Bangor. Changing the IFR flight plan destination to Bangor, Steve could see the visibility rapidly improving towards the Atlantic coast and soon it was time to start a high speed descent to land at Bangor International airport some 50 miles away. The descent was started over 50 miles out so that a steady 500 ft per min descent rate could be held with a ground speed approaching 180 mph, higher than normal thanks to the tailwind.

To save time Steve was able to agree with Bangor approach control and the tower that he would fly a high speed pass overhead the airport before flying a pattern to land on the huge 11440 ft x 200 ft runway 33. Built for military and trans-Atlantic flights the size of this runway is impressive and makes for a challenging landing in a small airplane like 'Goofy' as the perspective when approaching the ground is totally different to shorter narrow runways. The time overhead Bangor was 17:58:40 Zulu, or just before 2.00 pm local time. The 2514 direct miles from Vancouver to Bangor had been flown in 25 hrs and 38 secs at an average speed of 100 mph. However, the true distance flown was longer as Steve flew down to Seattle and diverted around forest fires in Montana and into Canada to miss storms, landed for fuel twice, flew overhead Ottawa and Montreal, and of course spent 7 hours on the ground in Duluth. But the FAI rules require the distance to be taken from the direct great circle route and the clock never stops ticking until the finish point is reached. The great circle distance was 2497 miles but 'Goofy' flew around 2700 miles, and taking out the fuel and overnight stops the 'in the air' flight time was under 16.5 hours giving a 'true' average speed of over160 mph - not bad when burning under 6 galls per hour!

Bangor International was the last of the 'four corners' airports to be visited, but today's flight was far from over for Steve as there was still the challenge of a 520 mile round trip flight to Halifax in Nova Scotia, and then another 90 miles to fly from Bangor to the overnight stop at Lewiston. Over 600 miles to fly before nightfall and the ground stop at Bangor took longer than expected at 45 mins thanks to a computer failure at the FBO. Undaunted Steve was timed out overhead Bangor at 18:47:41 Zulu and the challenge now was to get to 11000 ft as quickly as possible and benefit from the strong tailwind. The views across the myriad of lakes to the Atlantic Ocean were stunning as Steve flew yet again into Canadian airspace just beyond the most easterly airport in the USA, the uncontrolled airfield at Eastport standing out alone on its island yards from the international border and linked to the US mainland by a narrow causeway.

From his vantage point at 11000 ft Steve could clearly see Nova Scotia in the far distance, and off Goofy's right wing was the Canadian island of Grand Manan with its airfield bang in the center of the island. As he flew over the Bay of Fundy Steve was talking to Moncton approach control, and remembered that Moncton was a stopping point for all general aviation aircraft before they started the long trans-Atlantic crossing. At one time the Canadians would not let small aircraft depart their territory eastbound without a stop at Moncton to check for essential safety gear and radio equipment. Now this requirement has been relaxed, possibly thanks to GPS navigation and EPIRB safety beacons, and as long as an international flight plan is filed the Canadians are happy.

A band of cloud was visible towards Halifax and it was clear that an Atlantic weather system was impacting the weather to the east of Halifax. Still, this did not matter as Steve knew he wanted to descend to 2500 ft to fly overhead Halifax. One reason was to gain speed during the descent for faster records into Halifax, and also to be at a lower altitude for the return flight to Bangor where the headwind should be less. Of course Halifax tower did not know about the record attempts despite Steve having faxed the tower before leaving Florida. More explanations and a plan of action agreed, 'Goofy' would fly overhead the airport at 2500 ft to be timed inbound to Halifax and then do a quick 180 degree turn to be timed overhead outbound for Bangor. The air low down was bumpy and with the increase in speed during the descent this was of concern to Steve so he would not over-stress the airframe.

At 20:29:19 Zulu, or 17.29 local time Steve was overhead Halifax International for the first time to complete the second of the international transcontinental world speed record from Seattle to Halifax, as well as the speed records from Duluth to Halifax and Bangor to Halifax. Two minutes later 'Goofy' was again passing over the airport in the opposite direction on the final record flight of the day, from Halifax to Bangor. The transcontinental flight from Seattle to Halifax has taken just under 27 hours, including a 7.5 hr stopover in Duluth. The world speed including the stopover time and three fuel stops was 102 mph, some 2 mph faster than the transcontinental record speed from Vancouver to Bangor, thanks to the strong tailwind from Bangor.

The return flight from Halifax to Bangor was flown at 4000 ft, an IFR altitude for westbound flights. Flying the exactly same route was interesting as the vista was markedly different from 4000 ft compared to the 11000 ft of the eastbound flight. Strangely the expected headwind appeared to have changed into a slight tailwind as the average speed of 145 mph was good bearing in mind that Steve needed to conserve fuel to make it non-stop back to Bangor and avoid the hassle of inbound customs. Flying westbound Steve gained an hour of daylight back as he went from the Atlantic Time zone of Nova Scotia to the Eastern Time zone of Maine, but of course Zulu time remained the same. The vista of Nova Scotia unfolded ahead of 'Goofy' as Steve flew the 1 hour 48 minute flight from Halifax to Bangor. Visibility was deteriorating over the Atlantic coastline as the haze layer had pushed in from New Hampshire, but still Steve had a good view of Grand Manan island and the many lakes in eastern Maine. Communications was difficult at this lower altitude and Steve lost touch with both Moncton Approach and Boston Center. But Goofy's transponder was still working so the airplane was visible on Radar, which is just as well since Steve would not have liked to be escorted into Bangor by an F16 for interrogation.

By 6.00 pm local time Steve was 50 miles out from Bangor and soon would be speaking to Bangor Approach control ready for his overhead pass of the airport. As he had landed at Bagnor earlier in the day to complete the 'four corners' flight Steve did not need to land again as long as 'Goofy' had enough fuel left to get to Lewiston. Being on a flight plan from one US airport to another US airport without landing in Canada meant that, even though 'Goofy' had been flying in Canadian airspace for over 2 hours, there was no need to involve US customs (Steve learnt afterwards from Bangor tower that the controllers there had a tough time convincing Customs that no landing was necessary!).

Finally at 22:19:43 Zulu 'Goofy' was once again overhead Bangor International after a long day of record setting. But the day was far from over as there was still the 90 mile flight to Lewiston where Steve had been invited to use the excellent crewroom facilities of Silver Wings Aviation. Arriving at Lewiston shortly before sunset Steve was surprised to see the aircraft landing immediately ahead suddenly veered off the runway onto the grass. A student pilot perhaps? However just when 'Goofy' was about to touch down a sudden wind gust caught the wings and Steve's landing, whilst still on the runway centerline, was interesting to say the least!

Maurice Roundy, the manager of Silver Wings Aviation has two Super Constellations ready for restoration alongside his home at Lewiston airport. These aircraft rank alongside Concorde as the most beautiful airliners ever to fly. As Steve had to prepare 'Goofy' for the next day's flight over to Hillsboro in Ohio, via Niagara Falls and Detroit where he would set two more world speed records, he did not have time to take a tour of these wonderful aircraft. A good night's sleep was called for after a long long day . . .

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