It can be a long lonely crossing when you are flying a non pressurised piston twin and don’t fancy sitting at higher altitudes with oxygen cannula tubes stuck up your nose for hours on end.
My work has introduced me to a new experience this past couple of weeks – oceanic crossings. That is where you fly a set track across the ground with a preset speed and altitude, due to lack of radar coverage over vast expanses of ocean. Normally one would also use HF radio frequencies instead of the more usual VHF ones, but it can be achieved without. For those interested in knowing more THIS will be of interest.
Crossing over 700NM of water can be a stressful affair. The carriage of a decent life raft, lifejackets and survival equipment is essential. The carriage of an Emergency Locator Transmitter is mandatory and usually there is one fitted to the aircraft, as well as at least one carried by a crew member. A point of no return is also calculated, in case of unforecast winds which mean that you would not make your destination, so turn back to your departure point.
At lower levels it is very difficult to be heard at times and on the second radio unit in the aircraft we always keep the international distress frequency of 121.500 tuned in case we need to make a MAYDAY call. This will get picked up (hopefully) by an overflying airliner and relayed to the nearest appropriate agency so that Search & Rescue action can be actioned as appropriate.
We crossed the Santa Maria Oceanic Area several times over the last fortnight and also entered the neighbouring Gander (American) Area. Much of this, due to the nature of our work, was done at low level, as low as 4500′, where the airliners sit at 35,000′ to 40,000′.
It can be pretty lonely sat down there. We saw just one vapour trail(as pictured above) in our entire time making these crossings. The game of I Spy gets a little predictable after a while and as we hand fly it can be difficult to keep the concentration at an optimal level, so conversation with fellow crew members helps pass the time of day; amazing what you talk about during a 4.5 hour water crossing!