Sunday, 18 November 2012

5. The Blue Spruce Routes

The plot of “The Blue Angels” demands that two reluctant characters be smuggled into the US from the UK using small business jets. I had an idea that these tiny craft might lack the range for a direct crossing and wondered how it might be done. After all, as David Lloyd George once remarked, “there is nothing more dangerous than to leap a chasm in two jumps.” It was time for more research. First, I had to decide which type of plane Joshua Hayle, the novel’s “villain”, might own, or be able to dragoon into service at short notice. Hayle is a man of means and connections, and is not someone to whom compromise comes easily. It seemed to me that the iconic Lear Jet, beloved accessory of rock and movie stars, would be the obvious choice. After some research into this area, I decided on the Lear Jet 85, a new member of the Lear Jet line. I did not intend to name the plane in the novel, but it was vital that I had sufficient reference material to enable realistic descriptions of it and its interior, and to calculate likely flight times. I downloaded brochures and technical specs from the Bombardier Aerospace web site and discovered that the plane’s maximum range was 3,455 NM, give or take. This sounded sufficient but, given the number of provisos attached to this figure, I had doubts. I consulted a number of on-line forums to see if it was possible and, in doing so, “discovered” the eponymous “Blue Spruce” routes. These transatlantic routes, which pass over vast stretches of boreal forest and which land in a number of unfamiliar destinations en-route, felt perfect for a clandestine operation. I picked one and researched it so that I could describe what a passenger travelling one of these routes might see from his window.

The route I chose begins in Prestwick in southern Scotland. This airport’s main claim to fame is as the only patch of the United Kingdom upon which Elvis Presley set foot. Rumours persist of a day in London in 1958, guided by Tommy Steele, but Prestwick can boast photographic evidence from 1960 when Elvis’ army transport plane touched down to refuel on its way home. From Prestwick, my chosen route lands in several exotic locations.

Reykjavik, Iceland

 Iceland is firmly on the tourist map these days and its colourful houses are readily recognisable.
Iceland's Colourful Houses
Reykjavik Aiport from the Air
The airport is still an impressive sight from the air however.

From Iceland, and its relative familiarity, the route continues to Greenland, a vast, apparently empty landmass that has captured my imagination since I was a child. 

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

One of the most surprising things about Greenland is the fact that is owned by Denmark. I don’t know the history; that’s something for another day. Another surprise is that Greenland is home to a permanent civilian population, numbered in the tens of thousands. If you look at a map of it in any reasonable world atlas, you will see several settlements indicated around its south coast, many of which bear names that are redolent of Inuit culture. I was vaguely aware of these facts already, but I had no idea that Greenland also hosts a number of international airports, one of which is at Kangerlussuaq. I found a travelogue that was posted by a group of friends who had made the journey eastward. In one picture, one member of the group is seen sitting in a tee-shirt, in a comfortable and modern-looking departure lounge, about to tuck into a huge burger, just like any traveller in any airport in the developed world. The difference here was that the burger was of musk-ox meat.

Kangerlussuaq Airport, Greenland
That traveller’s tee-shirt got me thinking about temperatures. He may have been travelling in the height of summer, but “The Blue Angels” is set in October. He was also prepared for his journey; my characters are not. A further search revealed that average daily temperatures at this airport for that month range between -2C and -10C. That’s cold - especially for someone who is dressed only in thin clothing. I imagined how such a passenger might abandon a spur of the moment escape bid to a distant terminal in favour of the warmth of a second plane should a changeover be required in such temperatures.

Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada

The final exotic location on my chosen route is Iqaluit, with its bright canary yellow airport terminal.
Iqualuit Airport, Nunavut, Canada
Nunavut is Canada’s newest province and is known as “the homeland of the Inuit people”. The daily average temperature here in October is a cool -5C.

The Onward Journey

From Iqaluit, westbound planes may take individual routes, as the Atlantic is now behind them, and landing and refuelling sites are much easier to find.


I had never given any real thought to the problem of crossing the Atlantic in anything other than an Ocean liner or a huge passenger plane. I had also assumed that Greenland and the northern reaches of eastern Canada were untamed wilderness. Now, thanks to the research that I have undertaken for “The Blue Angels” I know different. I also have an idea for a very different holiday.

One day.


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