Pilot’s log: Saturday, May 9, 2020

Origin:Reykjavik Airport (BIRK), Iceland
Destination:Glasgow Prestwick Airport (EGPK), Scotland, U.K.
Distance:843 miles

Today is our last hop before finally making it all the way across the Atlantic! Along the route, we’ll see some unusual scenery and learn a lot of new things. Buckle up and let’s go.

We take off from Reykjavik, where we’ve been the last two days. While in town, did you see any puffins? The North Atlantic Puffin is a seabird that flocks to Iceland in May, when the breeding season begins. About 60 percent of the world’s population of puffins inhabits the waters around Iceland. This time of year, you can see colonies even in Reykjavik harbor!

More about puffins: they’ve earned the nicknames “sea parrots” or “clowns of the sea” thanks to their funny appearance! They change color throughout the year, developing their brighter colors in the spring. At the end of the breeding season, their feathers will change color from white to dark grey.

The North Atlantic Puffin

By the way: did you notice Iceland has almost no trees? Why do you suppose this is? (You can find the answer in our links below.)

We’ll head east over Iceland’s interior, which is home to 130 active volcanoes. Eruptions are frequent and predictable: in 2010, one with the tongue-twisting name of “Eyjafjallajökull” spewed ash miles into the sky, disrupting trans-Atlantic airline traffic for weeks.

Iceland is home to 130 active volcanoes

Iceland’s volcanos sometimes erupt under the island’s glaciers, causing especially dangerous flash floods called “jökulhlaups” when ice rapidly melts. But overall, Icelanders live in harmony with their geologically active island, using geothermally heated water for public baths and pools.

We now fly south for the last leg over water before reaching Scotland, today’s destination. Approaching Scotland, we’ll first pass over islands known as the Outer Hebrides. Although we’re still quite far north, the Gulf Stream keeps the climate here relatively mild year-round; we’ve seen the last of snow until we reach high mountain ranges such as the Alps.

A bucolic scene on Scotland’s Isle of Skye

The north of Scotland is wild and sparsely populated country; many residents earn their living from the land, often by raising sheep and cattle. Fishing is important, too. People on the islands live in small communities and must take a ferry or airplane to reach mainland Scotland. The chief language of the islands is Gaelic, with English a distant second.

What’s the Roman Colosseum doing in Scotland?

We’ll cross low over the Isle of Skye, a large island featuring a dramatic mountain range. Then we’ll fly over Oban, a harbor town with a striking landmark: an large unfinished replica of the Roman Colosseum that looms over the town. Locals call it ‘McCaig’s Folly.’ Can you found out how it came to be?

Now we’re approaching our destination: Glasgow Prestwick Airport, which has been welcoming flights since 1938. During World War II, this airfield was a key base for the British Royal Air Force and served the original “end point” for the North Atlantic Ferry Route; a tremendous number of aircraft passed through here to help the Allies battle Hitler’s war machine. The photo shows Prestwick’s ramp in 1943.

Prestwick Airport

Today Prestwick Airport continues in use as a commercial airport (although not a busy one) serving Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city. There’s been talk of closing Prestwick in favor of closer-in Glasgow Airport, but its large size and layout of a former military base make it a prime candidate in recent years to be named the United Kingdom’s first “Space Port.”

The Scottish Flag

About Scotland: the land known as Scotland had a long and proud history of independence prior to joining with England in 1707 to create what’s now called the “United Kingdom,” which also includes Wales and Northern Ireland.

In recent years, this relationship has been tested by a growing movement in Scotland to reassert independence. With the U.K.’s recent “Brexit” departure from the European Union, there’s renewed interest in Scotland going its own way, possibly to rejoin Europe.

Resources to learn more about today’s flight:

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