The baron in flight

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ON TOP OF THE WORLD! 19th April 2011
Douglas reached the geographic North Pole just after 5pm Alaska time (0100 GMT) and said he felt "great. Fantastic – it’s really good fun." Not content with reaching the North Pole, Douglas proceeded to turn the Baron in a circle – to clock up his second round-the-world flight. "I’m turning a circle around the North Pole, going through 24 time zones in two minutes," he said via satellite phone.

- Update 1.25am (0925 GMT):
Douglas returns safely from the North Pole! After just under 15 hours in the air, landing on the ice 30 miles from the Pole (updated position) at a Russian ice camp, minor upsets with the GPS and a plane door which refused to close before take-off, the Beech Baron touched down at Barrow in the Arctic twilight. "I am delighted that it all went smoothly and somewhat relieved that we got the door shut and I didn’t have to consider abandoning the Baron at the North Pole!"

- Bound For Barneo 7.20pm (0320 GMT):
Having reached the magnetic and geographic North Poles, Douglas has touched down at the Russian Barneo ice camp some 30 miles away and is now on his way back to Barrow, Alaska. It’s been a smooth trip so far, though on reaching the Pole the GPS systems went haywire and navigation became a bit of a challenge.  "Two out of three of my GPS failed. I couldn’t even punch in any coordinates, but I managed to find my way to Barneo by using the sun," Douglas said. On top of that, after landing at Barneo one of the airplane doors would not close. "I had visions of being stuck at Barneo for a while," he joked, adding that the staff at Barneo helped resolve the problem. "It was terrific at Barneo – they were really hospitable." Douglas is expected to touch down in Barrow by 3am Alaska time (1100 GMT).

– Magnetic North Pole Approach; 19th April 2011
Just 24 more nautical miles to go until Douglas reaches the magnetic North Pole! As of 3pm Alaska time (2302 GMT), the Beech Baron has covered 841 nautical miles and is cruising along at a groundspeed of 162 knots, 7,500 feet above the hard-packed Arctic ice. "It’s nice and beautiful and sunny,” said Douglas as he flew in temperatures of minus 22°C. "Everything’s going to plan."

– En-route to Magnetic North Pole; 19th April 2011
1.03pm Alaska time (2103 GMT): Douglas is almost half way to the magnetic North Pole! "It’s beautifully sunny above stratus level," he reports, just over four hours into his flight. Temperatures are at -20°C with 22 knot head winds. 537 nautical miles down, 327 to go.

– Barrow, Alaska; 19th April 2011
Just over two hours and 276 miles into his journey, Douglas’ first missive en-route to the North Pole came in at 11.06am Alaska time (1906 GMT): great weather at a bracing -19°C and views of extensive ice cover stretching under pristine blue skies. The Beech Baron was cruising at 131 knots groundspeed against strong headwinds of 23 knots.
Douglas is expected to take another 4 hours and 27 minutes to reach the magnetic North Pole and 6 hours and 23 minutes to get to the geographic North Pole. After that, it’s an all-clear to land at the Russian Barneo ice camp. "I spoke to Barneo and they have reported that there’s 900 metres of runway available, so I’m going to make an attempt," he said via satellite phone.
The plane fuel situation looks good: so far 46 gallons used with 370 gallons left, which is good for another 18 and a half hours if needed. As for human fuel – as in Douglas’ blood glucose levels – control is good with the last reading coming in at 97mg/dl (5.4mmol/L).

– Barrow, Alaska; 18th April 2011
An exciting 24 hours - had to divert en-route Barrow yesterday due to bad weather, landing at Wainright, 90 miles along the coast westwards. At 1 am (still twilight at this Arctic Circle latitude), eventually woke up the only town's hotel manager and after a quick sleep cleared both aircraft of ice from freezing fog. At time of writing it's 2 pm and waiting for weather to improve before setting off.

- Update 10:30pm Alaska time
In Barrow ready to go. Planning to depart for north pole at 7am Alaska time (4pm UK time) Tuesday 19th.
That is all for now...

– Anchorage, Alaska; 16th April 2011
Latest News - Saturday 16th April - An excellent day of preparations in Anchorage; renting satellite telephones, organizing maps and charts for the cockpit, and packing the Baron with survival equipment (including a shotgun for any hungry polar bears) while Ron Sheardown's Cessna 185 which will be bringing Karl up to Barrow tomorrow, was also prepared. Departure for the North Pole is planned for 7 am local time on Monday 18th April (4 pm UK time). The weather forecast is promiing with minus 10°C in Barrow (warmest), and stratus with 2000-foot cloud bases - althought weather can change quite rapidly!


Ice-Landing Training – Lake Wien, Fairbanks Region, Alaska; 21 March, 2011
Today's flying was definitely some of the most exciting and enjoyable flying I've done – a stunning flight by Mt McKinley, a low pass at 200 mph at Lake Wien’s 2,200-foot ice strip, and straight up into a circuit pattern and steep approach to avoid trees, and after a rather solid landing (i.e. not smooth!) we slowed down in good time.

Everything looked good at this stage, having visited Lake Wien the day before with Ron Sheardown flying a ski-clad Cessna 185 single-engine aircraft, and measuring out the strip at 2,200 feet with solid sheet-ice or a thin layer of hard-packed snow atop the ice.

However, as we turned around at the end of the strip before parking, the Baron’s nose wheel dug into deeper hard-packed snow and we ground to a halt, despite revving up to almost full power. Oh oh! Stuck in an extremely remote spot, with nobody around! I got digging (Ron appropriately delegated here) behind the nose wheel, and after some energetic heaving and rocking we eventually pushed the Baron back, a few feet at a time, onto thinner hard-packed snow. With a final hard push against one wing tip, the nose skidded around to face hard-packed snow and ice again. Phew!

At no time did I despair or think that we wouldn’t get the Baron back out, but I did have a few contingency plans buzzing away just in case. Despite the predicament and hard work, it was a truly terrific place to be - a beautifully serene, remote location, with Mt McKinley glinting over us in the distance.

On restarting and taxiing the Baron back down the strip, it was initially tough at times to keep the Baroness in a straight line with different depths of snow meaning one wheel would pull while the other was uninhibited. Then at the end, with sheet-ice and a very tight turning spot, a sharp burst of power to the right engine helped turn us to the point of skidding around, and the only way to stop us spinning too much was to power-up the left engine and arrest the pirouette. This was without doubt complete beginners luck, but we ended up being quite nicely positioned for take off. Ron seemed pretty happy with all this, and I kept quiet as if this had been anticipated.

Now, a 2,200 foot runway is more than enough under normal conditions (1400 feet is normal take-off roll for a Baron), but the hard-packed snow resulted in a slower pace of acceleration, and those trees at the end of the runway were looming quite large as we lifted off. As we climbed away, a touch of right bank helped us clear the tallest trees plus a high aerial positioned between two cabins. A good thing!

Both Ron and I were very happy to get this done today, and on chatting after take off it was good to learn that today’s landing and maneuvering was more difficult than expected on the Polar ice, where a refrozen "lead" of ice (a stretch of water that opens up in summer and refreezes at winter) offers a smooth, solid sheet of ice. Also, any drifts will be cleared by Ron plus another pilot, both of whom will land 8 hours beforehand in a lighter single-engine Cessna. Overall it is very good indeed to be working with Ron, an extremely experienced hand at Arctic flying who has landed eight times at the North Pole.

Immediately after Lake Wien, Ron and I flew to Fairbanks and met with Art Mortvedt, another tremendously experienced Arctic aviator with considerable flying time in Antarctica, and who has already been to the South Pole in a lovely Cessna 185 as part of scientific research projects ( It was a real pleasure to meet Art, who is also flying to the North Pole next month, and we very much hope to meet again up there.

So the ice landing training in the Baron is complete and it's now admin and preparations galore for the rest of the week In Anchorage. More flying is also in store, hopefully including a quick recce trip up to Barrow if weather permits.

More later….