Avartek completes Europes first international cargo flight between Hanko and Haapsalu flight in rainy and windy weather.
Tuesday morning on August 16th, 2016 the weather is not looking too good neither in Haapsalu or Hanko. We are attempting to cross the baltic between these two cities over international waters and open seas. The distance between Hanko and Haapsalu in Estonia is 108 km. The total distance flown will be closer to 150 km with all approaches and manoeveurs to reach the reserved BVLOS flight corridor. We have arranged for closed airspace and to be able to fly at 2000 ft.
Takeoff is approaching and Ronald and Mikko have the AR3000 ready to go on its catapult. Some last minute checks and they are ready to launch. Weather is still heavily overcast and clouds approximately at 150 metres. Showers and more showers. Wind is also blowing 15 m/s from North. Weather is bad enough to cancel all VFR flights and ground all Cessnas at Hanko airport.
Ronald is getting the Hanko end ready for launch with Mikko Mäkinen and me, Patrik Raski, with Sami Juola are preparing the receiving end. The ground stations are key components on this flight and we have two of them. One in Hanko and one in Haapsalu. Both ground stations have specialty Yagi style antennas directed carefully at each other mounted on Super-High Overhead cinema-stands rented from Angel Films in Helsinki. These 8 metre stands are excellent for this purpose and allow for the antennas to reach each other.
Once Ronald and Mikko got the AR3000 ready on catapult it was time for launch. Cargo was already in its wing mounted cargo container tube. This multipurpose payload housing tube is made of glass fiber and can take approx. 3 litres of cargo. Cargo could be basically a sensor, deliverables or even fuel.
Mikko was ready to start the engine and Ronald would launch the plane on its journey. Weather was bad enough to ground the VIP crews VFR flights from Hanko Täktom airport to Haapsalu Kitlsi. But our mission was BVLOS and the weather itself was not an issue even it was rainy, windy and cloud ceiling was very low approx. 100m above ground. After launch Ronnie had programmed a flyby over the Hanko harbour and then it was sent on its way to the reserved airspace to fly the mission to Kiltsi, The “tunnel” was 3 km wide, had a ceiling of 2000 feet and was a straight corridor from Hanko airport to Kiltsi Airfield. Basically the mission was very simple. Fly from point A to point B. But we had opted to take off from the Hanko harbour for a more media and spectator friendly show instead of the Hanko airport which is a local airfield without any services.
The tail wind was heavy. 15m/s constant breeze gave the AR3000 a groundspeed of nearly 180 kmh. The flight from Hanko to Haapsalu went very quickly. Much faster than was anticipated. We had the mission programmed for an airspeed of 135 km/h. We had anticipated maybe for moderate southerly winds as is much more typical than the northerly storm that was delivered. The total flight distance of 150 km was flown in less than an hour and fuel consumption was 0,7 litres of gasoline. This of course did not affect the mission by anything but we had originally planned for a nearly two hour flight.
The crux of the mission was the switching of ground station midway. Team Hanko would let the AR3000 fly all the way across the Baltic and once their modems started to indicate weakening signal on telemetry modems we would switch. Switching went well and in a few minutes we were already approaching Kiltsi under Team Haapsalu (Patrik Raski and Sami Juola) ground station control. Unfortunately the cloud ceiling was very low so we could only hear the plane approaching us. At the final waypoint the plane dove thru the cloud cover and a few seconds later the engine stopped and parachute was deployed. AR3000 landed in its predetermined location. The brisk northerly wind caught the open parachute at the ground for final tumble and roll on the ground but AR3000 is built to take a few hits so this was non eventful.
AR3000 and the mission received after a lot of media interest. Minister Liisa Oviir was at Kiltsi out of interest towards this ground breaking international cargo flight between Finland and Estonia.
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