Pilot’s log: Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Origin:Goose Bay Airport (CYYR), Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Destination:Narsarsuaq Airport (BGBW), Greenland
Distance:777 miles

The third leg of our around-the-world adventure is our first flight mostly over water – in this case, hundreds of miles due northeast over the cold Labrador Sea. Put on your wool hat and jacket! We’re getting so far north we’re sure to spot icebergs far below, as March through May is the busiest time of year for large chunks of ice to float south into the North Atlantic. Back in 1912, one such iceberg was hit by the ocean liner Titanic, causing the ship to sink on its very first voyage.

We’re heading for Narsarsuaq Airport on the southwest coast of Greenland. It’s a small airstrip with a big history, and known for being tough to land at because it’s surrounded by mountains and buffeted by harsh winds. You’ll see some of that in today’s flight video.

But first, what do you know about Greenland? For starters, it’s the world’s largest island — anything bigger is a continent, such as Australia. To give you an idea of how big, Greenland is more than twice the size of Texas! But despite its size, Greenland is home to only about 50,000 people, who live mostly along the coast in small towns with names that reflect the area’s Inuit heritage.

Most of Greenland’s interior is covered by a thick layer of ice. In fact, 85 percent of Greenland is buried under the only permanent ice shield on Earth outside Antarctica. The ice, formed by snow that falls but doesn’t melt, is miles thick in some places. It’s so heavy that parts of the ground under it are more than 1,000 feet below sea level.


It’s estimated that if all of Greenland’s ice was melted into liquid water, the world’s oceans would rise by about 23 feet! Although Greenland’s ice shield has receded recently due to climate change, it’s been around a long time. Scientists have extracted ice samples more than 100,000 years old from deep below the surface; this natural record can help us understand planetary weather changes over a very long time.

We’ll approach Greenland from the southwest. First we’ll see clusters of uninhabited islands that make up the nation’s forbidding coast. We’ll fly over the islands, which grow bigger as we get closer to the coast, searching for Tunulliarfik Fiord. This waterway will take us to Narsarsuaq Airport, one of only two airstrips in Greenland that can handle large aircraft such as modern airliners.

The reason it’s here? This remote location was picked out in 1941 as a key supply depot in the “North Atlantic Ferry Route,” used during World War 2 to transport equipment and aircraft (such as our DC-3, or its military cousin, the C-47) from the U.S. to Europe. Known then as “Bluie West One” because the native place names such as Narsarsuaq were considered too difficult to pronounce, the hastily constructed airstrip hosted an estimated 10,000 aircraft being flown to Europe during the war.

After the war, Narsarsuaq Airport continued to have military importance, both for the U.S. during the Cold War and for Denmark, the country that for many years ruled Greenland. The island’s strategic importance is reflected in several offers since the 1800s from the U.S. to buy Greenland. More recently, U.S. President Donald Trump again floated the possibility of buying Greenland, an offer that Greenlanders rejected out of hand. Treaties allow the U.S. military to continue to have a presence in Greenland to this day.

Flag of Greenland

Although Denmark still plays a role in government, Greenlanders have been gradually taking steps to assert their independence. In 2008, citizens voted in favor of self-government of judicial affairs, policing, and natural resources. Also, in 2009 Greenlanders were recognized as a separate people under international law, and Greenlandic was declared the sole official language. (Although Danish and English are commonly used and taught in schools.)

Denmark maintains control of foreign affairs and defence matters; for money, Greenland still uses the Danish krone, and the ceremonial head of state remains Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.

Our next leg is another overwater flight, this time to the most northernly point of our journey so far: to the nation of Iceland, a land of fire and ice, and home to the world’s oldest parliament. See you on Thursday, May 7!

Did you know? Dried cod and whale with whale blubber is a popular lunch and snack food in Greenland.

Resources to learn more about today’s flight:

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