by Klaus Plasa
Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2017 issue
Sven Schlothauer of Eisenach, Germany, hired me to ferry a 1942 Beech C45H across the Atlantic Ocean, which they purchased from retired Northwest Airlines Senior Captain, Don Kiel, of Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
Kiel, who was used to flying as many as 300 passengers in an Airbus A330-300, owned the six to 11-seat, twin-engine, low-wing, tailwheel aircraft for 4 years, and flew it 142.6 hours. N480P was affectionately named “Lady Lynn,” after Kiel’s wife.
N480P was amongst 1,584 AT-11 Kansans manufactured during World War II, and flown by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) to train bombardiers, gunners and navigators. N480P had the famous Norden bombsight up front, a glass dome, and a machine gun turret on the upper fuselage. It is powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-985 radial engines, rated at 450 horsepower each.
N480P was remanufactured in 1954 to the extent that it was considered a new aircraft and certified as a 1954 C45H Expeditor. The aircraft was then used to haul cargo and transport troops.
The C45 flew in the U.S. Air Force until 1963, the U.S. Navy retired its last SNB model in 1972, and the U.S. Army flew its C45s until 1976. Air America used Twin Beechs during the Vietnam War, converting 14 to turboprops.
Modern updates on N480P include a Garmin 430 GPS navcom, audio panel, and digital transponder. Kiel painted the name U.S. AIR FORCE on both sides of the upper fuselage, made and installed all new fuselage side windows, and installed the nose art of “Lady Lynn.”
The aircraft was displayed at many air shows through Wisconsin, at the OSH Round Engine Rodeo, and also Punta Gorda and Sun-n-Fun fly-ins in Florida.
Even though the aircraft was meticulously maintained, Kiel recommended that Nick and Joe Quint at Blackhawk Aircraft Maintenance on Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport, Janesville, Wisconsin, give it a thorough look-through before departing, so that’s exactly what I did.
The plane was ready for the flight, although we had to have a high frequency radio installed, which is still a requirement at low altitudes within the oceanic airspace. No matter what the airport buffs say, if you don’t have a high frequency radio, your clearance may be subject to denial.
At any rate, the high frequency radio came brand spanking new right from the dealer on Friday afternoon, ready to plug in and play. Now, we all know that there is no such thing as a radio that’s ready to plug in and play, but Blackhawk and its avionics master craftsman, made the miracle come true, and had it working by noon on Monday. Great guys…really!
Early that afternoon, Stephan Gottwald, a friend who I once did a pre-buy inspection for, climbed on board for the first and only VFR leg across Lake Michigan to Michigan Regional Airport, departing October 2, 2016.
Only a short hop, but it was enough to build my confidence in the airplane and to begin to learn her language. Every airplane talks and all the pilot needs to do is listen!
We ended the day at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, Toronto, Ontario – not the cheapest, but the sight of the beautiful Toronto skyline was worth the extra dollars. Excellent ATC service, too!
From now on, it was time to leave early every day as we were flying eastbound, “against” the clock, loosing two or more hours local time between takeoff and landing.
After a quick refueling stop at Baie-Comeau, Quebec (French speaking only, please!), we pressed on to Goose Bay, Newfoundland, which always feels somewhat like coming home to me after spending oh so many weeks during military flying exercises.
What was new to me since I last came through a year ago is that the whole area is booming with hydroplant and oil rigging construction sites, so all the hotels were booked, except for the former Airforce BOQs (Bachelor Officer’s Quarters). As I said, home!
The next day we flew to Narsarsuaq on the southern tip of Greenland. I always love the sight of the spectacular coastline and the towering glaciers in the distance.
Even though the plan would have been to top off, turn the airplane around and continue to Keflavik, Iceland the same day, headwinds, and a SIGMET (Significant Meteorological Information) concerning heavy icing along our flight path, told me to better stay and sit it out.
This could have easily led to one, two or more days of delay, but especially over the Atlantic, a pilot better not count on luck.
So we gave the airplane a thorough look-through. We discovered little things, which we didn’t like, such as the warped air intake cuffs, which we simply cut away to prevent them from coming completely loose and choking the engine.
Stephan, who is a VFR private pilot and had big round eyes from all the things that were new to him on this trip, was a great companion to have along, helping to top off oil, pulling props through and pampering the plane, while I focused on all the important stuff, like paperwork and flight planning.
The weather gods were with us the next morning, as we were able to depart and climb through a cloud layer with tops only at 2,100 feet, then through another thin layer up to 14,000 feet, the minimum IFR cruising altitude over the icecap.
“Never touch a cloud from above…it may be solid ice,” was one of the first rules I’ve been told when I started ferrying airplanes almost 30 years ago. Why? Because the cloud tops may look exactly like a smooth icecap!
When we approached the Keflavik area of Iceland, ATIS gave us bad news:
“Runway 11 in use (the other being closed; read the NOTAMs!), wind 200 at 30, gusts to 45.”
With a heavy crab angle, I managed to stay within the indication range, left and right of the localizer.
Breaking out at maybe 1,000 feet AGL, I had to check the runway approach lights through the side window. This is going to be interesting, I thought.
The Airbus 320 guys holding short of the runway, transmitted: “Hey, is this a Lockheed or what?” I hollered back, “It’s a Twin Beech!” Even though I was somewhat fighting with the elements, I thought to myself, better to have a solid yoke to wrestle with, than their rather tiny little side-sticks!
I just had the plane on the ground when the controller asked me to expedite departing the runway at the end, but this time I spared any comment, as the landing would only be completed when the chocks were set. “Sorry airline boys…you’ll have to wait for a minute!”
The next morning, there were heavy headwinds all the way to Scotland, averaging 35 knots! Even with my extremely nice 100USG extra fuel on board, I couldn’t do it with legal reserves. There was only one alternate airport about 70 or so nautical miles offset to the planned track to the Faroe Islands in Denmark with a VFR approach only. Not good enough for my personal safety minimums!
This led me to plan my flight to Egilsstadir, a little airfield with avgas on the east side of Iceland. From there, it would only be 550 nm to Wick, Scotland, my next destination…a solid 100 nm less than the direct route.
What the weather frogs did not tell me is that there was some mixed icing on climb out, but once on top of the overcast and flying eastbound, the sun melted it quickly. A little later, we had ground sight flying at 11,000 feet, but I had to use more and more power to stay airborne.
Mountain waves! I was pushing maximum continuous power at 85 KIAS and still slightly descending! I requested block level 9-11,000 feet and filed a PIREP (Pilot Report). Shortly thereafter, another pilot on the same route raised the warning to SIGMET status!
Refueling at Egilsstadir was quickly accomplished, and we were off heading towards Scotland, where we made landfall at around sunset.
Next day’s journey to the final destination, Eisenach, Germany, was a home run except for the European ATC, which tends to create new waypoints every five minutes. The final landing in marginal VFR conditions brought smiling faces to all of us!
The Twin Beech performed well throughout the trip, never missing a beat in 33 hours of flight, and just under 3,900 nautical miles, and despite the fact that there was no heading bug, no horizontal situation indicator (HSI), no radio magnetic indicator (RMI), and yes, no autopilot (AP). The Twin Beech is such a harmonized and stable platform to fly that it brings pure joy to all of us who love a little challenge!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ferry pilot, Klaus Plasa, lives in Kaufering, Germany.