747 pilot battles icy world to keep critical supplies flowing

February 09, 2021
747 Pilot
A 747 pilot battles an icy world to keep critical supplies flowing.

Christiaan van Heijst a 747 pilot takes up the story.

“Winter, summer, storms, or snow, 747s are flying around the globe filled with fresh food, medical supplies, and other goods to keep the world alive. Twentyfourseven, all year round. Virus or not.
“Thirteen hours aloft, crossing endless scenes of snow, ice, and history with a vigorous headwind.
“Keeping a keen eye on the forecasts for western-Europe throughout the flight, we notice the rapid deterioration in weather as the hours tick away. Runways closing down here and there, heavy snow showers, plummeting visibility.
“We’re in for a ride, but I’m not paid to be a fair-weather pilot; the aviation-equivalent of a Sunday driver.
“Two hundred miles from destination, time to descend. A thick layer of monotone grey separates the blue sky above from the world, far below.
“A few wisps of clouds shoot by, obscuring the sun momentarily before we dive into the abyss. ‘That’s the last bit of sun we’ll see for quite a while.’ comments my colleague.
“The immeasurable blanket of clouds swallows us up. Traces of ice build-up around the window edges and wiper in front of me within minutes as vapor instantly freezes upon impact.
“Nacelle- and Wing Anti Ice selected on; hot air from the engine core heating forward edges of the engines, wings, and tail to prevent them from accumulating dangerous amounts of ice. But there are limits to what the plane can handle.
“Two thousand feet, gliding along invisible radio signals towards the runway, relying entirely on instruments.
“Three hundred feet above the ground, I spot a row of glowing lights in the mist, surrounding a grey and white runway. Autopilot disconnect, manual thrust, manual flight.
“Correcting a bit for the gusting wind from the right. Drifting snow on the runway gives the false illusion that we’re straying to the left, stay vigilant.
“50.. 40.. bit less bank, bit more rudder.. 30… 20.. I close the thrust-levers and raise the nose while keeping the wings level…10… a shudder through the airplane as all sixteen main wheels touch the icy asphalt.
“Speed brakes up, full reverse. Quite the finale of a fourteen-hour duty.
“Only the most challenging part to go: driving home through this blizzard. But even that ended well; time for some proper rest now.”

Christiaan is one of the world’s leading aviation photographers and more of his work and more close encounter (s) can be found here.

You can follow Christiaan on Instagram here: @jpcvanheijst