Pilot’s log: Thursday, May 7, 2020

Origin:Narsarsuaq Airport (BGBW), Greenland
Destination:Reykjavik Airport (BIRK), Iceland
Distance:767 miles

Today we fly northeast from Narsarsuaq, first over the snow-covered southern tip of Greenland and then across the North Atlantic to our next destination: the island nation of Iceland!

We’re coming in for a landing at Reykjavik Airport, an historic airfield very close to the city and today used only by small airlines, private aircraft, and “ferry” flights such as ours. All of Iceland’s international airline flights operate out of bigger Keflavik Airport, another historic field about 30 miles south.

You might not guess by flying over Reykjavik, but Iceland is a land of striking contrasts. It boasts frozen glaciers and active volcanoes, barren lava plains and lush green meadows, hot geothermal geysers and ice cold rivers that rush off steep coastal cliffs, creating magnificent waterfalls. Vistors come from around the world to marvel at the wild display of the Northern Lights overhead.

If it didn’t exist, you’d think Iceland’s landscape was made up for a fairy tale. And that may explain something Iceland is famous for: the traditional “saga,” or historical tales of great exploits from long ago, handed down over the generations.

Iceland does exist, however, due to geological activity deep under the ocean. As the Eurasian and North American Plates slowly drift away from each other, an unstable area under the Atlantic Ocean resulted. Only in Iceland has this undersea activity reached the surface.

Flag of Iceland

As a result, frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions built Iceland starting about 20 million years ago, and continue today. Visitors to Iceland can see the dividing line between the two continental plates as it runs across the landscape. Geothermal energy is used throughout the country for heat and to generate electricity.

Iceland is located just below the Arctic Circle – so far north that at certain times of the year, day and night are very strange. Around Christmas time, the sun never quite rises, leaving everyone in darkness all day long. And from mid-May to mid-July, the sun never quite sets, meaning it’s still daylight at midnight. Can you explain why this is so?

Despite being so far north, for most of the year Iceland has a climate not unlike New England in the U.S.A. This is because of the Gulf Stream, a current in the North Atlantic Ocean that brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico north and east toward Iceland and Europe.

Because of its location (about half-way between Greenland and England), Iceland became a key link in the early days of trans-Atlantic air travel, when aircraft (such as our DC-3) had limited ranges. That was especially true during World War II, when the United States and many other nations created air bases.

Reykjavik Airport, where we’re landing, was the site of Iceland’s first airplane flight in 1919; in 1940, with war already underway in Europe, the British converted the area to a military air base, although it still had only a grass runway. In 1946, the base was turned over the Icelandic government, which operates it today.

Larger Keflavik Airport, about 30 miles to the south, played a more significant role during World War II and for decades afterwards. Built by the U.S. military in 1942, it emerged as a key strategic base during the Cold War, with U.S. troops stationed up until 2006.

Iceland is home to the world’s oldest parliamentary governing body, the “Althing,” which began in 930 by Viking settlers and continues to this day. For many centuries Iceland was ruled by Denmark and Norway, but eventually declared full independence in 1944.

Iceland today has a population of about 360,000 people, with about two-thirds living in the Reykjavik area. Iceland is about the same size as the U.S. state of Ohio.

Did you know? The hands-down favorite snack of Icelanders is the local version of the hot dog. It’s made with Icelandic lamb meat and served with raw onions and a mustard-like condiment called “pylsusinnep.”

Our next leg is another overwater flight – the final leg of our “North Atlantic Ferry Route” will bring us to Prestwick Airport in Scotland, the main arrival point for European-bound troops and aircraft during World War 2, and today a busy commercial airport. See you on Saturday, May 9 when we wing our way to Europe!

Resources to learn more about today’s flight:

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