Ferry flying a Risen 912iS microlight from Italy to the far west of the USA is a daunting, yet exciting, undertaking
Words & Photos by Edwin Dekker
12 August 2022
Mark, from Portland, USA, is the proud owner of Risen #23. But the aeroplane was finished at Voghera, Italy, and therefore had to be transported to the US. One possibility was to put it in a container and transport it overseas but this can be difficult with high costs and long waiting times. So we arranged that I will fly it to the USA.
To ferry the aeroplane we need permissions from the UK, Iceland and Greenland. At the beginning of June only the Greenland permit had been received (from Danish authorities) and we were still waiting for the UK and Iceland permit. We hoped it would be within a week. The route chosen was to be Voghera – Breda – Scotland – Iceland – Greenland – Canada – Portland. This is the shortest route, but in Canada we probably would fly south first and then west.
So, I’m to fly a new aeroplane over the ocean. That means I need to know and trust the aeroplane. It is nearly the same as my own Risen, PH-0A0, but with some little differences.
Some switches are in different locations, and the trim is different as this aeroplane has no parachute, which gives the aeroplane another centre of gravity. It also has different brakes/wheels and the autopilot behaves differently (in fact, better!).
The day to travel to the factory in Italy turned out well, as there was a ‘Grigliata Argentina’ at the hangar in Voghera. I was on time for this BBQ lunch and, after the delicious spare-ribs and chimichurri, I made my first flight with Mark’s aeroplane.
Tomorrow, I will discuss some findings of the test flights with Porto Aviation, makers of the Risen, and maybe make some changes to the aircraft, in close consultation with Mark.
The first day of the ferry trip is from Voghera to Reykjavik, Iceland. It starts with a flight to Seppe in the Netherlands, a familiar flight and as it is in the Schengen zone there’s nothing special to arrange.
To exit the Schengen zone from The Netherlands you need to file a Gendec. You can do it via this website. For entering the UK you need to file a GAR. It can be done via the same website, or the UK portal.
From Seppe I made my way to Wick in the north of Scotland. After 15 minutes from Seppe, I reached the North Sea for a 45 minute flight over open water, then another three hours along the UK coast up to Wick. I visited the Far North Aviation office in an old WWII control tower which provided handling. I parked next to a Piper Warrior, which was heading for the Shetland Islands.
“It’s not practical to fly wearing an immersion suit on your upper half. Stick movement is limited and the brakes are difficult to feel”
I got my immersion suit and survival raft from Far North. The company offers ferry services between Wick and Goose Bay (plus pick up on either of those two fields and return on the other). It also offers these services for return flights to Iceland, Norway, Shetlands or Faroe Islands.
The Wick to Reykjavik leg was the first long flight over open water. I had my immersion suit on up to my stomach and the life raft within reach. It’s just not practical to fly wearing the suit on your upper half. It limits the free movement of the stick and it is difficult to feel the brakes.
I flew this leg with different power settings than normal to get a little more range to compensate for unexpected winds. I choose settings for 13 litres/hour that give me a range of 900nm.
Winds were good but there was a lot more rain than I expected. I also underestimated the speed penalty for flying in the rain. I noted five times my speeds, both before and during the rain. On average it drops from 136kias to 122kias at FL055.
After more than 4hr and 20min, I finally saw the coast of Iceland. And it is beautiful, especially after so many hours seeing not much more than cloud layers and sea.
Approaching Reykjavik was also in unexpected difficult weather. The cloudbase was around 1,500ft, which is lower than the hill range on VFR route 6 that I had prepared.
Tower gave me the free hand to fly whatever route I found suitable. I found a way via VRP Kleifarvatn and chose a direct right downwind RW19 approach, as weather on the west side of the field was better.
I arranged handling with the ACO FBO, based at Reykjavik Airport, where I met Jonas and Gylfi of the local ultralight club. They offered to put the aeroplane in the hangar of the local flying school and I could use the office of the flying school for my flight preparation. They also advised on other possibilities on the flight to Canada – one of which would later be of great use.
Next day, poor weather meant I could not fly to Greenland and in the evening there was a meeting of the local flying club at the airfield Heidi-Fisfelag. They offered me transport from hotel to airfield and Gylfi offered me a flight in one of their Savannah STOL aeroplanes. Another member of the club showed me his own build Kitfox 3 that is nearly ready for his first flight. It was an enjoyable evening!
On 16 June, I finally could go to Narsarsuaq, Greenland. This was the flight I was really looking forward to – and it proved to be the most beautiful flight I have ever made. I estimated the flight to take up to six hours. The plan was to make use of the wind and not to fly a straight line. That’s because there was a low pressure area lying between Iceland and Greenland… best make use of the winds around the low pressure area. From Reykjavik I flew west until winds turned to the south. This way I managed to keep a tailwind until reaching the south coast of Greenland. I had good visibility above a layer of broken clouds.
As this was the longest leg with a planned length of 813nm I chose power settings that should give me a 1,100nm range with a fuel burn of 12 litres/hour. However, in the end I flew only 768nm due to flying closer around the centre of the low pressure area and I was able to fly over the southern point of Greenland. I managed to use only 71 litres of fuel at 13 l/h at an average speed of 142kt.
The final 90 minutes of this part of the flight was fantastic! Suddenly I saw a strange white flat area. What was that? Low overcast? It took me some time to realise that I observed a large area of sea ice. I’d never seen sea ice before – and discovered there would be much more to come! A few minutes later I clearly saw Greenland!
Approaching land, the overcast cleared and I could ease up on the weather-navigation and start enjoying the views. It would be an unforgettable 90 minutes! After nearly five hours of flight I saw the first sign of life: a boat.
At this point I had to prepare for the landing. That was a bit difficult as I had to plan the approach/descent pretty close to the terrain. There is an option to circle down above the airfield but I preferred a normal approach. It worked out well and the landing was easy.
Narsarsuaq is a very small town. You have the airfield, a hotel and some houses. Between 100 and 200 people live in Narsarsuaq. As it was still early (around 4pm), and I would not be departing until the next day before 8am local time, I treated myself to a landing beer. After the beer (with lunch) I went for a walk on a small trail heading into the hills, which was welcomed after more than five hours sitting in the aeroplane.
To fly directly to Goose Bay from Naarsarsuaq was not possible due to 60kt headwinds. Someone from the flying school in Reykjavik suggested going via Iqaluit from Narsarsuaq because the weather in the northern part of the Labrador Sea is in general better. This was useful advice. The winds were good but there was a large area of rain, and I had to pass a cold front. The freezing level was very low in the area of Iqaluit and clouds were to be expected, consequently I had to make sure I stayed out of icing conditions.
I also had a plan B: flying over the clouds in the warm air to Hudson Bay and then from there to Iqaluit. This would cost me an hour extra but I was sure I had enough fuel for that. I discussed this plan with two other pilots I know and whose opinion I respect. Both agreed this was a safe plan B. It then came to discipline in the flight and stick to the plan, and respect the limitations you choose in flight preparation for plan B. I was way within those margins and it is really a great feeling if, and when, everything works out exactly as planned.
I arrived Friday around 1300 local time in Iqaluit. The only problem with Iqaluit is the fuel. It does have avgas but only in gallons. I needed only 75 litres, but I think they charged me for 190 litres (…the bill is still to come!).
Weather for the next leg to Goose Bay was good but midway it was Marginal Visual Flight Rules (MVFR) for about 50nm. However, the weather forecast for the next day was even worse, so I chose to push on with the flight to Goose Bay a few hours after arriving in Iqaluit.
The plan was to leave at 1900 UTC, but the flight plan had not been not received. So I had to get out of my aeroplane, back to the FBO and file the flight plan via the phone, which took me 45 minutes. My one hour reserve before dark had been reduced to 15 minutes.
This flight would be the first flight where the weather was worse than expected. The MVFR was not 50nm but 200nm and IMC for half an hour. I tried to fly out of the IMC but this was unsuccessful. A midway alternate field was inside this IMC area so I felt it best to continue at altitude MSA + 2,000ft (4,500ft). As I had no radio service I set the QNH based on GPS altitude.
Arrival in Goose Bay was also worse than expected. Wind was 30kt with stronger gusts – normally a no-go, but this time there was no alternative as it was getting dark. I chose to land with just take-off flap to maintain a higher speed. In the end, the landing was easy with just a strong headwind, no gusts.
I had Woodwards FBO as a handling agent. It also arranged a hotel and cared for the transport to the hotel and helped me drop off the survival equipment at Irving Aviation.
After arriving in Goose Bay the weather turned bad and stayed that way for three days. The aircraft’s new owner, Mark, arrived Saturday evening, which was the first time we met. We had enough time to get to know each other as it turned out we could not leave before Tuesday.
That first flight with Mark as passenger to Dolbeau St Felicien, not far from Quebec, was uneventful with fine weather. However, that didn’t last for the next leg to Kapuskasing in northern Ontario, Canada.
Originally we chose a route to the south to avoid clouds but when we looked at the weather there were thunderstorms all over the place in the south. Going straight west looked the best choice but we had a lot of clouds with a low cloud base.
As the temperature would be way above zero and we expected to be able to stay VFR we elected to go straight west to Kapuskasing. The weather was a bit worse than expected. Cloud base was lower and broken was more like overcast but we were mostly MVFR. We refuelled and the fuel operator drove us to town for lunch.
We didn’t hang around for long before taking off for Thunder Bay, a beautiful flight, but a rather monotonous landscape, made up of a lot of little lakes – and the rest seemed to be woods. A bit like Finland. The last part was more spectacular along the coast of Lake Superior, which is the largest lake on Earth.
Thunder Bay was quite busy as we arrived, but it seemed that the controller was not having a good day. When we were on right base, he said: “I-X021, plans changed, turn left downwind.” As this is a rather unclear instruction I asked to confirm if he wanted me to join a right downwind. He did not answer as he was too busy talking to other traffic.
The landing was not easy with a strong crosswind with gusts. We touched down beyond taxiway alpha and his instructions – even before we landed – were to taxi via alpha (he did NOT say backtrack to alpha).
After landing I said we were unable to taxi alpha and suggested taxi via Runway 07 (that was closed but available for taxi as I had read in the Notam). His answer was something along the lines of: “Do whatever you like. You do that anyway.” Mark’s wise advice to me was to just taxi to the fuel and don’t reply to the tower.
This was a big day of flying with 1,201nm covered in 9hr 38min in the air, an average speed of 124.7kt. Welcome to your new aircraft, Mark!
We planned a slightly easier flight for the next day. We had already come quite far but we knew we could not make it to Portland in just one day. So, our first stop would be Morden in Manitoba where the land was as flat as the Netherlands. Weather was fine, only approaching Morden was an area of scattered clouds.
The last leg of the day took us to Shaunavon in south-west Saskatchewan – still as flat as The Netherlands but with roads exactly east-west and north-south. We followed one specific road for about 200nm (more than one hour!) and crossed some oil fields.
Shaunavon is a nice town with lots of greenery. But it is in the middle of nowhere and very small. At the hotel we met Jamie and Dave. They worked at a company in the area and invited us to watch an ice hockey game.
It was one of the finals of the Stanley Cup Championship between Colorado and Tampa Bay. Luckily for me, we were given a good explanation of ice hockey, as I know little about the game.
The next day I found a present that Jamie left us – a pair of ice hockey gloves that we should take around the world when we flew! Thank you, Jamie!
We originally planned to cross the Canada-US border at Creston but the weather in the northern part of the Canadian Rockies was not so good. We chose to avoid risk and go for a short flight to Lethbridge, Alberta – more flatlands but cultivated this time – and then a longer flight to Portland.
After refuelling we asked the local flight club where we could lunch. This was not possible at the airfield but one of the student pilots overheard us and offered us a lift into town. This was just yet another example of Canadian hospitality that we frequently encountered.
Our final lap was upon – and it would turn out to be a remarkable one. We planned a flight to cross the Rocky Mountains just south of the border from East Glacier Park Village to Flathead Lake, but there was severe turbulence.
We had no oxygen so we could not cross at FL120. We decided it was not safe to choose this valley and went south to Great Falls and tried to cross to Missoula, in western Montana. This was a 1.5 hour extra flight and a lot of extra fuel. We made a calculation and should be safe, but our very comfortable reserve of 300 nm/two hours extra was gone.
The flight was difficult as we had severe turbulence all the way south. After passing Great Falls the turbulence subsided, which meant we could safely cross the mountains. Due to the turbulence I don’t have photos from the east side of the mountains, but managed some of the west side, after passing the highest range.
After the mountains we crossed the border from Montana to Idaho and not much later to Washington, cultivated but still a beautiful scene. After a long flight and a great experience we landed at Portland-Hillsboro Airfield.
As Mark imported the aeroplane there was some paperwork to be done with customs, which all went smoothly. Last thing to do was to taxi Risen #23 to the hangar and say goodbye to a wonderful aircraft that has done so well… all the way from Italy.