AeroVolga International Circumpolar Flight PIREP
Guest Editorial written by By Sergey Araslanov — Between July 3 and August 14, 2018, AeroVolga in Russia successfully completed the International Circumpolar Flight. Three amphibians-two light eight-seat aircraft LA-8 and an ultra-light “Borey” flew more than 20.000 kilometers, crossed nine countries, three continents and two oceans.
What’s The Use Of It?
This flight drew the attention of the aviation community. And, as it often happens, among the thousands of optimists there was one disbeliever, who declared that in the modern life he does not see the point in such expeditions. Of course, today millions of people fly between the continents, flying, including, and over the North Pole, and for hundreds of years there is no reason to prove to someone that the Earth is round. But do we know much about the Far North? And can there be only one goal for the expedition, in which several different planes and several pilots participate, whose life path is unique?
The Magnificent Seven
This flight united the seven pilots into one team. Two of them have already flown around the Earth thousands of times: a doctor, scientist and astronaut Oleg Atkov spent 236 days in the near-Earth orbit at the Salyut- 7 station, and his counterpart, the president of the flight, cosmonaut Valery Tokarev twice was at the International Space Station and was in orbit of the Earth for a total of 189 days.
Loïc Blaise, a line pilot and hydro-aviation instructor from France, used to fly the unique plane PBY-5A Catalina. Several years ago, he had to face a serious test in his life: multiple sclerosis, which usually means the end of the flight career. And today Loïc devoted his life to fighting the diseases that limit people’s opportunities, initiated Life Odyssey (http://life-odyssey.org/) and PolarKID projects (https://www.polarkid.org).
These projects are designed to draw attention to the problems of people with disabilities, climate change, to intensify the movement for a healthy future of the planet. The board of one of the expedition aircraft, the two-seater amphibian Borey, promulgates the projects of this brave man, in particular, the PolarKID project. Despite the problems, Loïc continues to fly, feeling the support of friends.
Andrey Ivanov, director of the Association of Russian Pilot Owners, is the youngest member of the team. But he has already done a lot for the development of general aviation in his country, for the preservation of the unique equipment and the airfields.
On his initiative, a team of enthusiasts restored the polar version of the Ilyushin Il-14 (similar to Convair 240). Every year Andrey makes long-distance flights, in particular, he flew together with his partner by Cessna 150 from Kamchatka to Moscow, and in 2012 flew on the same plane on the route “Alaska-Siberia” a little less than 9000 km. During the Second World War, the Soviet pilots ferried 8.000 military aircraft on this route from the USA to Europe.
Vladimir Evstafiev, test pilot, the former commander of the flight test team, “Beriev” company, known for their development of amphibian aircraft. One of two professional pilots (the rest of the expedition is private pilots). For him, this amphibian flight in the Far North is of professional interest.
Dmitriy Suslakov is the chief designer of the company “AeroVolga”. Under his leadership, all the planes that participated in the Polar round-the-world flight were designed and constructed. The company produces serially two-engine eight-seat amphibians LA-8 with reciprocating engines LOM PRAHA and Lycoming, as well as single- engine ultralight / LSA “Borey”. Dmitry in this flight took the opportunity to assess the correctness of his design decisions as an engineer and pilot.
Sergey Alafinov, Chairman of the Board of Directors of company “AeroVolga”, private pilot and initiator of the flight, organizes the design, production and sale of serial amphibian aircraft, and is engaged in the development of the material base of the enterprise. For him, like for no other, it was important to check the limit capabilities of the aircraft, to assess their prospects as a product that will provide the company with a confident future.
There are different people, different destinies and different interests. But they are united by the common – the love of the aviation and the desire to make it accessible to the other people. Thanks to Oleg Atkov, scientific research is planned during the expedition: probing of the Earth from low altitudes, studying water in various areas of the Far North, studying the capability of the human body under extreme conditions, interaction of people in small groups in stressful situations and assessing the operational capabilities of the amphibians in the Far North.
But is it possible to exclude from this program a thirst for adventure, the desire to fly, the desire of mature men to test themselves in an extreme situation?
Five years ago the idea of the International Ocean Flight on Amphibians “80 thousand leagues above the water” was born in the company “AeroVolga” (try to find the difference from the title of the novel by Jules Verne and make no mistake with the pretexts, as one TV commentator once was mistaken). During the preparation of this flight, several routes were developed that passed over the both hemispheres, over all the continents, including Antarctica, and the oceans (http://www.oceanicflight.com).
The polar round-the-world flight is one of the stages of preparation for an oceanic flight. The peculiarity of this stage is not only in the route laid in the northern latitudes. The expedition includes a double Borey, which Loïc Blaise has chosen to implement his projects. Flight-technical characteristics of this ultra-light determined the duration of the route and the number of landings. According to the organizers’ calculations, during the flight the planes had to fly about 20.000 km in 45 days. In an LA-8, this route could be traversed in 20 days, and in fact, the expedition lasted for 43 days.
Sergey Alafinov: “Borey” has a different speed, so it either flew earlier for an hour and a half, or arrived later for an hour and a half. We tried to “cover” it on LA-8. One flew earlier and overtook the Borey on the route and the second aircraft flew later. We tried to ensure that on the route or at some important points “Borey” was in touch with us.”
If you compare the initial and actual routes, you can see that they are slightly different. The main reason for the changes is the weather. At three airports, the aircraft were delayed for four to seven days in anticipation of the VFR. To reduce the number of downtime, the pilots analyzed the situation and corrected the route. The weather was not the only reason for the adjustments. A serious factor was the availability of fuel at the airport.
Severe conditions: a polar night that lasts almost six months, fogs, strong winds, weather variability – virtually eliminate VFR flights and private aviation in the Far North. More or less suitable conditions for the flights of the light aircraft and the ultralights most often exist for no more than two months a year. Therefore, many airports do not have gasoline for piston aircraft. In Russia, on some sections of the route, Cessna 182 was used as a “tanker”, which delivered fuel for Borey. Sometimes, as in Hall Beach (Canada), it was necessary to buy fuel from drivers of cars, circling the houses of local residents with cans.
Another difficulty of the route was that many airports in the Far North do not work around the clock, so they do not take airplanes at an inopportune time. Sometimes there was a situation when the favorable weather on the route did not coincide with the mode of operation of the airports and vice versa, the airports operated when it was impossible to fly because of fog or strong wind. These circumstances also determined the choice of the route. The expedition crossed nine countries during the flight. The need for border and customs control also influenced the choice of airports near the borders of these countries.
Some observers were surprised why the amphibians only once made a landing on the water (Nizhnee Gorodische, Perm Krai, Russia). The answer is simple: on the route there were no hydro-aerodromes that could provide the aircraft with fuel, and where there is border and customs services. The rigid flight schedule did not allow for UN-needed landings. Fortunately, there were no reasons for emergency landings on the water. Therefore, practically the whole fleet of amphibians passed through airports for land planes.
Until the end of June, there was no certainty that the flight would take place this year. The expedition and its participants were completely ready, but two circumstances put the possibility of launch into question. Firstly, the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation imposed restrictions on flights of general aviation aircraft for the period of the World Cup until July 17. Since the launch site was in the restricted area, the flight was impossible before obtaining a special permit. The start after July 17 excluded a successful flight in Chukotka, Northern Canada and the Greenland region, where already in the second half of August, difficult weather conditions are set. Secondly, the sanctions that the US and some countries have imposed on Russia have affected the flight conditions that the FAA has established for foreign aircraft, including Russian registration, for flights over the US territory, including Alaska. All of them, regardless of class, had to fly in fog, clouds, around glaciers, sludge (broken ice in the ocean) – natural obstacles in flight or only by reference to instruments. Therefore, they had to equip the aircraft in accordance with the requirements of the FAA. The permission of the aviation administration was obtained when the expedition was already in the North of Russia. Assistance in negotiations with the FAA was provided by COPA Canada and its president Bernard Gervais.
The flight was, for sure, a test for the people, its organizers and participants. But it was no less a test for the aircraft, which, in general, are not designed for operation under such extreme conditions. First of all, this refers to the Ultralight “Borey”. The aircraft that participated in the flight was designed and constructed in accordance with the requirements of the TP10141 of the Canadian Transport Ministry as an Advanced ultra-light aeroplane. This means that its maximum take-off mass in the standard configuration should not exceed 560 kg. However, “AeroVolga” produces ultralights “Borey” also for Europe.
At the same time, the aircraft was designed for the European market in close contact with DULV, which was one of the initiators of the increase in the maximum take-off weight of the ultralights from 450 kg to 600 kg. Now, when the European Union has approved this proposal (Regulation (EU) 2018/1139 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2018), the maximum takeoff weight of an amphibian can be increased up to 650 kg. And in the design of “Borey” the reserve was initially laid, which allowed during the flight to significantly increase the take-off weight and fuel reserve on board.
This is facilitated by the design of the aircraft: two trunks, front and rear, allow you to increase the load without a significant change in alignment. On the first leg of the route, the maximum take-off weight of the aircraft reached 780 kg, then it was unloaded to 760 kg, before the flight to Greenland the weight was reduced by another 20 kg, to Iceland – another 10 kg were removed and so, with a weight of 730 kg, it completed the rest of the route.
Loïc Blaise: “You know, Valery Tokarev and me had to fly out of Providence Bay in very bad weather to cross the Bering Strait. Valery, for sure, had his cosmonaut’s experience and it did not press him so much. But this little plane withstood the flight perfectly. I’m not the one to be paid for advertising. I do not need it, I do not need to lie about planes. I’ll just tell the truth – they drove me 23 thousand kilometers without failures and problems, through ice, clouds, ocean and mountains. This is the best advertisement that I can ensure them.” I must say that Loïc started flying on Borey last year, when he and Valeriy flew to the North of the European part of Russia during the preparations for the Polar round-the-world flight.
From this flight the participants brought a new idea about the possibilities of “Borey” in long-distance flights. For example, they realized that it is better to take not two single-seat life rafts, but one light two-seater. They also LA-8C-RS in Borovaiy airfield near Surgut (photo by Ivan Urakov, Russia) found out that with a standard fuel tank of 90 liters and an additional of 50 liters, “Borey” can fly 820 km with a headwind of 10 m/s. At the same time, on every section of the route the crew landed, having on board from 30 to 40 liters of reserve fuel, which would be enough for another 1.5-2 hours of flight. This is very important, because sometimes it was not clear what the weather there would be before the approach for landing.
Andrey Ivanov: “In Greenland we had to go over the glacier, this is a six-hour flight with unknown fast-changing weather and wind. “Borey” at strong headwind just would not make it to the point, because the flight was almost at the maximum range. And it was very important for us to know the forecast. Meteorologists told us that there is an eight-hour “gap” and we need to fly out urgently, but we did not know exactly what force the wind would be.”
It would seem that today the pilots are much better informed about the conditions on the route than in the last century and even a few years ago. But in the Far North forecasts are developed, mainly for routine flights. The most difficult were the decisions on the flight from Chukotka to Alaska and from Greenland to Iceland. Here the expedition was rescued by accurate forecasts by meteorologists Vladimir Brovkin from Baikonur and Vladimir Shokin from Nefteyugansk. They gave very accurate forecasts below the lower flight level, while the standard airport data were given with respect to the flight levels. When departing from Greenland, the aircraft at first crossed the glacier at an altitude of 2.5-3 km. And then flew over the ocean with a tailwind at an altitude of 150 m with the height of the icebergs to 300 m, because at an altitude of 600 m there was already a headwind and both meteorologists accurately predicted that there would be such a wind.
And the “Borey” never let down its pilots. The only recommendation to designers, the pilots gave, was to make a higher back of the seats, so that in long-distance flights it was more comfortable to sit.
Andrey Ivanov: “Borey is a very comfortable plane. In it you feel calm. Its low speed makes it possible to set down almost anywhere, and the landing will be safe. In terms of psychological comfort, this airplane is, of course, magnificent. A nice surveillance, though, the backs of the seats needs a bit of effort to support the back. I think this is not a problem.”
The main aircraft in the Polar round-the-world flight was an eight-seater twin-engine LA-8C-RS. This is an experimental aircraft specially designed for long-distance flights. The basic aircraft LA-8C was launched in series production in 2006. Since then, two dozen aircraft have been constructed. LA-8C-RS was manufactured in 2015. With two Czech piston engines LOM PRAHA M337C-AV having takeoff power 235 hp, this aircraft can be in the air for 20 hours. LA-8C-RS is equipped with a set of flight- navigation instruments, allowing to perform flights in difficult meteorological conditions.
To control the altitude on board, two heated air receivers (heated pitot), which are connected to three independent indicators, and a static pressure system from the cockpit, were used. From radio engineering means of CFIT prevention, the aircraft is equipped with a radio altimeter with two indicators, and the instrument landing system is displayed on three independent indicators from two independent ILS receivers. For absolute altitude determination, GPS is used: (MSL and GND altitude), which are – two on-board systems (GTN-650) and a removable GPS of the 600 series, as well as a removable iPad with efficient software. Approach patterns at the airports are connected to and displayed on two independent systems (G-500 and GTN-650).
Also, on the left screen of the flight display a synthetic terrain view can be displayed, generated in 3D format from the navigation system database, which facilitates the determination of the spatial position in poor weather conditions. On board, the TAWS system warning about dangerous closure with the ground is installed, the information of which is displayed on the left and right displays of the G500. To prevent collisions in air with other aircraft, an active TAS (traffic advisory system) system is used, which independently activates the responders of other aircraft and displaying the information on the background of the map on the right G500 display. Moreover, the aircraft is equipped with the ADS-B in & out system and the transponder, mode “S”; if necessary it can be duplicated.
In the power plant of the aircraft the propellers with the thrust reverser are used. Therefore, for ease of taxiing backwards a video camera with a G-500 screen is installed. All main devices have emergency power supply on an independent bus from a backup battery designed for 30/60 minutes of flight.
Entering by the aircraft of the stalling mode is prevented by a heated critical angle detector installed on the left wing. The dangerous mode alarm is indicated by a bright red flash lamp with a simultaneous warning signal from the loudspeaker and intercom.
To reduce the probability of falling into adverse weather conditions, the aircraft is equipped with either Stormscope (all the models) or a meteorological radar. The de-icing protection includes the electrical heating systems of the full pressure receiver, the critical angle of attack detector, the left pilot’s windshield; in the advanced model the heating of the propeller and the leading edge of the wing and tail is provided for.
The use of M-337C-AV engines with compressors and distributed fuel injection eliminates such a dangerous phenomenon as the icing of the engine’s intake system.
The failures of all systems are indicated on the special signalling panel by red and yellow lamps with brightness, which allows to detect the failure even in the sunlight of the cabin. Panoramic mirrors are installed on the floats, which allow not only visually to monitor the position and condition of the chassis, but also to ensure the observation of practically the entire body of the aircraft. Inside the cabin a mirror is also installed, which allows to monitor the condition of passengers, cargo and the entrance hatch. For the use of exterior mirrors in the dark on the floats special lights are installed for the zones of the chassis and entrance hatch. These same headlights are used to facilitate landing and disembarkation at night.
The failures of pitch, roll and heading control are compensated by the trimmer system and engine power variation. The aircraft is equipped with a computer-speed analyzer, which is designed to prevent the reverse engagement at a speed of more than 100 km/h, as well as landing gear retraction at a speed of less than 100 km/h. When extending or retracting the landing gear at low speeds (for example, on water or when servicing), it is necessary to switch off the interlock with a special switch.
The maximum flying altitude of LA-8C-RS as an airplane with a leaky cabin according to aviation regulations is limited to 3000 m. However, individual oxygen devices for the crew and passengers can be installed on board, in this case the aviation rules allow operation up to the altitude of 4.500 meters. The emergency rescue equipment is represented by a radio transmitter and an emergency hand-held VHF radio station. On board there is a set of rescue equipment, which includes a first aid kit, an emergency wood chopper, a fire extinguisher, life jackets – according to the number of seats, a rescue raft for six people, a sealed floating battery lantern, masks for the crew in the event of smoke LA-8 is equipped for IFR in the cabin. The cabin is equipped with a ‘CO’ detector.
The air-frame of the aircraft is made of fiberglass and is designed to withstand the impact loads that occur when landing on water. Therefore, at emergency landing on land the passengers and crew are protected by a powerful hull of the boat. In addition, the composite materials of the fuselage have an increased coefficient of energy absorption during destruction, which provides additional protection for the people inside the amphibian.
The landing gear of the aircraft allows you to fly from unpaved runways, asphalt, concrete and snow. Seaworthiness allows the aircraft to operate at a wind wave height of up to 0.6 m. The minimum length of the runway is 400 m. The height of the aerodrome from which the LA-8C-RS can take off is 1500 m.
In 2015, two LA-8C-RS aircraft were manufactured, which were thoroughly tested. The future participants of the flight made long-distance flights from the Volga to the The landing strip in Faroe Iceland Lake Baikal, to the North of the European part of Russia, one aircraft participated in the AERO-2016 exhibition, flew from the Volga through Central Europe to the Adriatic and back.
Despite the fact that the LA-8C-RS proved to be excellent, before the Polar round-the-world flight one plane was converted – instead of piston engines LOM PRAHA M337C-AV, two turboprops were installed – TP-100 of the Czech company PBS. This decision was dictated not only by the desire to test the aircraft with a new power plant. One of the main goals was to reduce the need for the gasoline on the route. The plane was piloted by professional test pilot Vladimir Evstafiev and Sergey Alafinov.
For sure, the LA-8s are more adapted to flying in extreme conditions than the ultra-light Borey. Nevertheless, flying them retained some risks. For example, in the design of amphibians there is no anti-icing system on the wings and tail surfaces. Therefore, on the route pilots carefully assessed the risks of getting into the icing. A certain risk was associated with the fact that the new power plant with turboprop engines had not previously been used on LA-8 aircraft. And several legs of the flight were over the ocean, ditching on which in an emergency situation was excluded, since the entire surface over many hundreds of kilometers was filled with ice slash, broken ice or ocean waves.
Nevertheless, during the entire circumpolar flight, the crews had no complaints about the technology. It behaved flawlessly and showed that in the skilled hands of the pilots it is suitable for safe operation in the most extreme conditions. It’s a good result not only for the pilots and participants of the expedition but also for the company that is engaged in the serial production of these aircraft.
Obviously, the impression of the pilots from the flight can not be described in a short article. Moreover, even from the photos they sent daily, it was clear that each of them has his own view on reality (https://www.facebook.com/Borey.amphibian/). In addition to the daily portion of adrenaline from flights, they enjoyed the stunning views of the harsh nature of the Far North, especially attractive in summer. Some admired the bright colors of sunsets and sunrises, others were surprised by the unexpected flowers in the tundra among the rocks, the third were taken by the excitement of the delightful fishing in the northern rivers and lakes. But there were general observations.
Sergey Alafinov: “From the West to the East and in Russia, and in North America and in Greenland, the nature becomes tougher. While in the West the nature is more friendly, there is grass, then in the East there are bare stones and ice. And in Greenland in the west there is green vegetation, in the East there are almost no settlements, and in the places where they do exist, they are located on bare ground and in ice. Why did nature make like this, I do not know.”
It is interesting that the most mind-boggling impressions were caused by the most severe places, first of all, Greenland. In the west of this island-continent, the expedition was accompanied by the landscapes worthy of the brush of Rockwell Kent. In the East of Greenland, the pilots were really shocked by the endless glaciers that, like frozen rivers, moved to the ocean, giving birth to giant icebergs on its shore. Sometimes it was necessary to fly at low level below their peaks, since already at an altitude of 600 m a strong headwind was raging. From a bird’s eye view, it was possible to see whales in the ocean, capture bizarre forms of icebergs, unfriendly rocks and crevices of glaciers, treacherous ice on the surface. In Iceland, the pilots flew over sleeping volcanoes and geysers, which turned the surrounding area into what appeared like impressionist paintings.
And, for sure, the participants of the expedition were excited about meetings with the people who reside in the North. In some villages, especially in the North of Canada, where we had to stop, there are several hundred people living.
Meetings on the way
The poor vegetation and severe climate deprive these settlements of bright colors. But the greed of nature is compensated by the Northern hospitality of these people. In the North of Russia, the participants were sometimes greeted, as dear guests, with literary folklore performances. In many villages on the route in all countries there are museums that tell of the recent past and present of the northern peoples. Sometimes the general meetings were followed by family meetings, fishing. Not every village has hotels, sometimes pilots had to spend the night in the office rooms in the waiting rooms of the airports, even in the tents.
In Fort Yukon, the local Sheriff and several hunters and fishermen spent the whole night at the fire with the expedition members, treated pilots to local salmon and venison. In Inuvik we met the heirs of Mike Zubko, who in 1946 organized the first airline company in the Far North of Canada, a public service carrier.
In Paulatuk the weather allowed the most seasoned to swim in the Arctic Ocean, and the water in it was warmer than in the Pacific. In Cambridge Bay, the local community invited pilots to participate in public hearings of the project to install in the waters of the island of special microphones to record signals exchanged in the ocean by cetaceans. In Kulusuk we honored the memory of the crew of the amphibian, who perished in 1942 during the rescue operation of one of the warships. This memorial is dedicated to the memory of servicemen who died in Greenland during the Second World War. This is a little-known episode of that global tragedy. Sometimes the pilots had to take the mission of people’s diplomats.
Sergey Alafinov: “Almost at all points of the Arctic in North America, we were the first citizens of Russia. Not the first Russians, they are now spread all over the world, but the first citizens of Russia. And almost everywhere where we were, we were the first from Russia, who flew on their small aircraft. For the local population this was surprising, because there is practically no private aviation in the Arctic. The conditions for it there are not suitable. It’s almost impossible to keep a small plane there, because it’s dark there for half a year.”
There were also difficult days, when waiting for the weather we were to delay for several days. Such delays promised anxiety about the prospects of not having time to complete the flight in the time allotted to the plans. For most participants of the flight, this was a problem, since participation in the flight was their personal initiative, for the participation in the flight they took leave from their main jobs. It was not easy to make a general decision to fly, when it was not clear what the weather would be on the route during the flight, because it often changed.
Vladimir Evstafiev: “We are one team, so some crews can not fly, leaving the others. Risk assessment is probably the most difficult thing in making a general decision to fly. A lot of “spears were broken”, I will not say that it came to any scandals, but it was sometimes hard to make the decisions, because every member of the team always has his own view, based on personal experience and the possibilities of technology.”
Undoubtedly, both the team and the equipment survived the severe tests due to the good preparation, the huge experience of the pilots and the trouble-free technology. But the Polar round-the-world flight was also accompanied by luck. One of the observers who followed the flight wrote to the facebook: Finish. At home! – I was interested to read that they had to wait only four days to fly across the Bering Strait. From what I have heard that area has very difficult weather – between fog, high winds, icing. Apparently pilots say that there are only four VFR days a year along the Aleutian Islands.
The first results of the Polar round-the-world flight are obvious – it was successful. The amphibious aircraft of the company “AeroVolga” fully justified the hopes of their creators. The results of scientific experiments conducted during the flight will be known later, when they are processed. Dozens of congratulations to the expedition members came from different parts of the world.
Libairty Club: «Un Amphibie ULM visiblement abouti et bien pensé, Bravo!» Luke Howard: «Dream trip!» Sergio Ramos: «Felicitaciones para todo el equipo» Frank Hofmann, Aviation Consultant and the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA) representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO): «Congratulations to the whole team, especially to all the crew in the aircraft. Such a venture is made much more difficult because of the remote locations. It would not have been a trip for someone inexperienced, so that the trip was a success has to be credited to the resourceful, determined and experienced team. Bravo to all.
It seems that the Borey was in good hands. The Arctic is such a beautiful region and I appreciate that one of the goals of the Circumpolar Flight was for Loïc to draw attention to the needs of our environment. I hope that people will understand, having seen the photographs, how important it is to preserve the quality of our Arctic regions. Again, congratulations to all».