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The Eclipse flight :-) Gamston to Stornoway

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The Eclipse flight :-) Gamston to Stornoway

Old 22nd Mar 2015, 20:46
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Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: Leeds, UK
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The Eclipse flight :-) Gamston to Stornoway

On the 19th March, myself and two good friends set off on a bit of an adventure (perhaps an understatement!) to view the Eclipse from the air. Our plan was to head up to Stornaway (PPR booked in January incase it got a bit busy!), have a good nights kip then depart early morning and head out to the RATSU triangle (61N 10W) and view the Eclipse from there.

As people will be aware, the best place to view it this year was in the North - some people opting to head to the Faroe islands would have been in for a disappointment due to cloud cover on the actual day. We thought we would play it safe and, other than some high level cloud, we should have been in for a great session.

The aircraft of choice for this mission was the trusty PA34-220T Piper Seneca III.
Although I had an MEP and had flown many different types (DA42, DA42 NG, Cougar, Duchess etc) - I had never flown anything with a conventional turbo in it! So a few days before the trip, I completed my turbo differences training and went up with Ray (the owner) for a briefing on the aircraft.

The beast is on it's original engines now and, though they are on condition - they perform very very well if you treat them nicely :-)

My check flight completed and our plans drawn to conclusion, we set off to Stornoway.
Ray's son was involved in this trip - he is a HUGE astronomer and was dead excited to be as involved as possible on this trip too!

Using some Nasa web pages, we knew in advance the timings of first contact, start of totality and end plus the angle of the sun in the sky and the bearing for the sun.

Our plan was to head as close to 61N 10W without busting Shanwick OCA and, being in class G, we could do pretty much as we wanted.
Knowing the sun was due to be at 129, we opted to intercept flying 040 to maximise totality and get the best view perpendicular to the track. It also meant that the shadow which travelling at 600mph would "chase" us as we headed north east :-)

Our trusty aircraft! Not forgetting the hi-viz of course!!! :thumleft:

On the climb out from Gamston. The aircraft is fitted out with TCAS and weather radar plus EPGWS, flight into known icing conditions etc plus as it was on public transport, is fitted out with a full suite of instruments from the P2 side where I was on the way up.

Our route on the way up was very easy - out to Gainsborough and overhead Durham, Newcastle, Dundee, turn at Inverness under the airways and track to the Stornaway VOR. This would all be conducted under the privileges of an IR(R).

VMC on top at 10,000ft and a nice wind pushing us along at 173kts GS!

Plenty of room in the back of the Seneca - needed for all of our gear!

Approaching Dundee from the south - we could see it was starting to get a little mirky ahead.

Snow was still present as we approached the highlands. The prop de-ice was on at this point as the OAT was showing nearly -20c - and the heater wasn't performing very well either!!

Having turned at Inverness and approaching the higher ground, the wind was now on our port side and, as we could see on both the weather radar and out the window, it was going to get choppy. We descended once over the sea to 3000ft (at 1500fpm) due to massive updrafts and downdrafts - this but was NOT pleasant!

On approaching Stornaway, we received the ATIS and noted clouds few 600ft broken at 1200ft. The controller on initial contacted cleared us to join left downwind runway 18 (we assumed the weather was improving for this!) - however, down at 600ft and STILL in IMC we called to confirm the weather where he then told us to position overhead STN for for the procedure.

Both of us up front being rated (Ray is a 1300 hours IR) both assumed they would want us to perform the BEST procedure available (i.e. NDB DME LOC RWY18). There was a Saab outbound from the SAY NDB (west of our position).

We were asked to climb to 3000ft and report on the 329 radial. So we positioned to intercept, a little confused as to why that was requested. We were then asked to report out position (we were overhead the STN). The controller asked us to make an immediate 180 due to traffic in the overhead. Again - we headed out to see on the 150 radial and asked to position once again for the 329. This got us both into a bit of a flap. We then heard the Saab pilot giving the controller some grief about confliction and that his intentions were not clear. He then stated he was expecting us on the INITIAL APPROACH for RWY18 (we assumed with the information given he wanted to fly the circle til visual approach - lesson here - ASK FOR THE PROCEDURE!). We requested to head to the NDB to fly the procedure which we were approved to do. This all went smoothly and we became visual at 680ft 1 mile out on RWY18.

On the ground we refuelled, we were apologised to and got a taxi to our hotel.
Fuel was 1.96 per litre for info and landing fees plus nav charges (and overnight parking) were 48.81.

The next morning at 05:55, we were up and inputting the wind data into our custom made spreadsheet. This would give us the time to the waypoint, track/drift and allowed us to see exactly what time we had to depart to ensure we could hit the waypoint BEFORE totality.

The wind was forecast to be 290/45 at 10,000ft which as you can see gave us a 2 hour outbound leg and then 1.2 hour return leg. The ideal take off time was 07:36.

Myself and Ray decided (using the data from here) to head out a little lower than 10,000 (7000ft) to have less of a headwind component.
We also opted to depart at 07:10 and throttle back (watching the ETA on the GPS incase the winds were stronger than planned). We have 5 hr Endurance

LeeP-PA28 is offline  
Old 22nd Mar 2015, 20:46
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Cloud was forecast between 3000 and 6000 local to Stornoway with some high altitude clouds in the vicinity. More towards the waypoint it would clear up...

That seemed to tie in!

Here we were at 6000ft so the reports all seemed to be correct. Nothing overhead too!

Coasting out.

I was in the back for this section of the flight, armed with my cameras and go-pro and good old trusty skydemon (keeping a second eye on the ETA).

Position of the sun on the way outbound - I used this time to get my camera settings right

Bloody cold in the back again!


SkyOx - portable oxygen for pilots (used on all of my trips successfully!).

PLB handy along with the life raft and my grab bag complete with sat phone!

Level at 7000ft and flying 25 in / 2400rpm at 8us per engine to hit the target on time.

First contact came and I was getting better results now with my Nikon D4 and 400mm lens setup.
For info - F40, 1/8000sec, -5.0ev and ISO50!
LeeP-PA28 is offline  
Old 22nd Mar 2015, 20:47
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As totality chased us in - we could see an artificial sunset taking place behind us.

An eery silence fell over all of us as we turned 040 2 minutes before totality - captured here on the iPhone for effect!

I tried to capture as much as my hands would permit. I had my GoPro on the gimbal between my legs and then trying to get closeups and then some wide angle shots to show the effect over the cloud

Moment of totality captured on the GoPro.

Just after beading and the diamond ring effect

Here was the moment captured on my GoPro Hero 4 in 4K of totality. Ray banked to the right so he could also get a view - sadly it started to bead thus he had to turn back to 040.

As soon as the majority had passed, we returned to Stornoway with a 60kt tailwind in just over an hour! We were all buzzing from the experience - but we still had a lot of flying to do!

We got on the deck, quickly reviewed our pictures and video, fuelled up and shuffled seats around. For the last leg, I was to fly back and , having never explored the Western Isles before setup a route to take us to the Stornoway VOR, over the Isle of Skye, Glenforsa, Oban, MAC VOR, DCS, a run down Windermere then over to Harrogate before a final buzz of my home airfield (Sherburn) before returning to Gamston. Ray being an IR pilot (and spends all of his time in the airways - and not flown true VFR for many years) was looking forward to seeing this from the right seat too. We had to climb to 5500ft initially due to a restricted area but as soon as we had cleared that, we descended down to 1500ft and flew down the valleys / Loch's, Jura etc all low level and taking in the breathtaking views.

I was also enjoying my time hand flying the Seneca (the flight director and auto-pilot had gone US on the way up to Stornaway on the first day, so it was all hand flown).

As we approached land near DCS, it was evident (as forecast) the the weather wouldn't play ball and I had to hand fly the remainder of the route in IMC till we got to Sherburn's overhead. They reported 2400ft cloud so we descended, gave them a fly past then made a transit of Doncaster Class D to Gamston.

All in all an AMAZING trip, some 1000nm in 2 days covered and quite frankly, some of most breathtaking scenes I have ever witnessed.
The planning all worked out - we all enjoyed the trip and now planning a trip to the US in the Seneca!!!!

Hope you enjoy the photographs and the video clip
LeeP-PA28 is offline  
Old 22nd Mar 2015, 20:59
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Great shots man! Loved the photos.
squidie is offline  
Old 22nd Mar 2015, 21:07
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Brilliant !

Nice report and Pictures / Video .....Thanks for sharing !
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Old 22nd Mar 2015, 21:45
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A great read, thanks for sharing. I had a PA28 booked and wanted to go up but as you know the wx in London killed my chances, and in fact the whole experience.
YODI is offline  
Old 23rd Mar 2015, 09:35
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Excellent adventure Lee. Thanks for the great write-up.
Dark Helmet is offline  
Old 23rd Mar 2015, 12:33
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Brilliant - thank you!
Sam Rutherford is offline  
Old 23rd Mar 2015, 16:13
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Great write up Lee, looked like a great adventure!
thing is offline  
Old 23rd Mar 2015, 17:09
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Excellent stuff Lee - real adventure.

I could see from FR24 there was a flotilla of high level stuff chasing the eclipse, but did you have any other traffic in the area at your sort of level during the eclipse doing the same?

Suzeman is offline  
Old 23rd Mar 2015, 19:06
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Great trip. Excellent photographs. Fantastic write-up.

Thanks for sharing.
Jetblu is offline  
Old 23rd Mar 2015, 22:49
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Not at all - we had the place to ourselves at our level other than another Seneca at FL65 doing the same as us.

There were 4 aircraft that departed Stornoway in the morning. Though as I understand it, there were quite a few 'Eclipse' chasers in the Shanwick OCA on designated routes (commercial).

I actually expected there to be tonnes of flights in and around the area, alas it was very quiet indeed!
LeeP-PA28 is offline  
Old 24th Mar 2015, 12:06
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I was there in a Robin
Romeo Tango is offline  
Old 24th Mar 2015, 12:59
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Great pics, but more interesting was the write-up of your planning. Thanks!
glum is offline  
Old 24th Mar 2015, 15:26
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" I was there in a Robin "

Indeed you were Sir, I remember speaking to you on the Apron when we got back and were obtaining Fuel.

I know you were one of the few other Aircraft loitering up there along with us, I think the other 2 probably went to Vagar or straight back to somewhere other than Stornoway.

I was amazed when you told me that this was your 4th Eclipse, you surely must have some interesting stories and/or photographs about the other trips.
Ray_A is offline  
Old 26th Mar 2015, 19:10
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Join Date: Sep 2000
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There was the time that Gorbachev and Reagan decided to go to Reykjavik the same weekend I went to see an eclipse west of there ..... the men in dark glasses did not understand it at all.

Also I ended up marrying the girl I took with me.
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Old 27th Mar 2015, 02:47
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Nice write-up and video. Looks like it was an amazing flight.
captain_flynn is offline  
Old 30th Mar 2015, 07:30
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Ooooh - mountain wave...

Having turned at Inverness and approaching the higher ground, the wind was now on our port side and, as we could see on both the weather radar and out the window, it was going to get choppy. We descended once over the sea to 3000ft (at 1500fpm) due to massive updrafts and downdrafts - this but was NOT pleasant
You'd be surprised at how those massive updrafts and downdrafts are manna from heaven for glider pilots. Hours of fun and hundreds of kms flying to be had in wave.

Thank you for the write and photos of your trip - what a great experience you must have had.
ANOpax is offline  
Old 30th Mar 2015, 08:52
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Well done you

A lovely read and some great photos, thanks for sharing with us.
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Old 30th Mar 2015, 20:02
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Oh happy memories! On the day, I realised that I did not have any specs to examine the sun as the eclipse started. Solomnley, my wife opened a little used dressing table drawer and produced two of the sets of sun viewing specs we used in 1998 (or was it '99). In that year I carried out the same exercise in a trusty Partenavia with four others heading to the Cornish peninsula. All the danger areas were promulgated inactive so I had a free reign. Up to FL 100 and I made the cloud tops - just. I was dead lucky, an occluded front aligned N/S over Dublin had produced a very thin layer above me, much higher than I could reach, but as I approached Lands End an N/S break was seen in the sheet above so I turned south putting the almost totally eclipsed sun in the centre. We saw the lot - it is so eerie as darkness descends but being able to see the cloud sheet fully lit in the distance. As digital photography was not available I only have a movie of the entire experience so I have no photos to show, but when I divided the cost of hiring the aircraft between the five of us, it was much cheaper than a Concorde ticket. Calculation shows that at the probable speed of Concorde chasing the eclipse they got totality for only a few seconds longer than us and I couldn't enjoy the Champagne that the rest of my party did but it was an unforgettable once in a lifetime experience.

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