After two hurricanes and waiting three weeks for a weather window to open, Thursday (August 30) looked like the best day to fly from Hawaii to California. On Saturday another hurricane would sweep in from the east, disrupting the favorable winds at altitude. The weather forecast predicted tail winds for 70% of the flight. In reality, I encountered 1000 nm of head winds followed by 1000 nm of tail winds towards the California coast.
The 17 hour journey from Hilo to Oakland/Concord was very exhausting, especially since I had difficulty sleeping the night before. Prior to flight, "May" was loaded with 127 gallons of fuel and I was packed in the plane surrounded by fuel tanks up to the canopy top.
Now that I am back home, I will update the blog with entries for all legs from Pakistan back to California.
Due to concerns of potential damage to the plane from hurricane Hector and Lane at Hilo, I relocated "May" to the island of Maui. Thanks to the Van's Airforce community (Ed, Scott, Eric, and Brad) I was able to secure a hanger at Kahului Airport (PHOG).
The winds aloft forecast for the Hawaii/California flight does not look favorable for the next three weeks. I decided to fly home commercially, rest and prepare for the final leg of the trip. When I return to Hawaii around August 21, I will complete work on the aircraft, fly back to Hilo, and wait for right moment to fly the 2000+nm to California.
I woke up at 3:30am, packed quickly and called for a taxi to the airport. After three days at the "fortress", I was ready to continue flying south east towards my next stop, Mattala, Sri Lanka. My handler met me at the airport and rushed me through customs and security, which was surprisingly easy since I was designated as the "Captain/Aircraft crew”.
I purchased drinks and snacks before leaving the departure area of the airport and was shuttled to the plane in the pre-dawn light. I flicked on my headlamp for an inspection of the aircraft and discovered the entire plane was covered with a light brown layer of dust/oil. Since I had only a few clean microfiber cloths left, I decided to clean only the windshield and proceeded with the inspection. Later this residue would be washed clean by the rains of India.
Soon the fueling crew arrived with two barrels of Avgas strapped to the back of a trailer. Half way through fueling the plane from 200 liter barrels, their noisy and dilapidated manual fuel transfer pump broke down. Just my luck. I waited for another 45 minutes while they disassembled and repaired what appeared to be their only AVGAS pump while my departure time slipped. What could be done? There was no benefit to be gained by getting upset.
Once again, I was sandwiched between jumbo jets weighing upwards of 500,000 pounds during taxi to the active runway. I could have easily taxied “May” under the 777 aircraft but kept my distance. I was wary of the powerful General Electric GE90’s, which could have flipped my plane if they gunned the engines. The smell of jet exhaust started to fill the cockpit.
The take-off from Karachi was sluggish since the aircraft was over gross with fuel for the 10 hour flight to Sri Lanka.
I started to feel very ill about 2 hours in to the flight well after I crossed over the border to India. I was flying at 9000 ft in the monsoon rain clouds and realized that I could not continue flying for another 8 hours. Considering all options, I finally declared a medical emergency and requested a vector to Ahmedabad airport. VAAH has a published precision approach and AVGAS, a rare commodity in India.
Not surprisingly, the previous chatty radio traffic fell silent after I declared the medical emergency. ATC provided descents and vectors until I intercepted the final approach to Ahmedabad all while I vomited in to a plastic bag. While descending through the layers of clouds to the ground, intense bands of rain pummeled the canopy along with associated turbulence. This was the most difficult single pilot instrument approach I have ever experienced.
Upon landing at Ahmedabad, I was directed to park right in front of the main terminal of the airport, in full view of all passengers. Once again, I was met by about two dozen people on the tarmac. Military and airport security, a doctor, handlers, and numerous ground crew met me with suspicion as my flight originated from Pakistan. I dragged myself out of the aircraft and continued to heave off to the side of the aircraft. I did not care if I had an audience, just that I was safely on the ground. I would deal with the bureaucracy later.
After determining that I posed no threat to Indian national security, I was asked to re-position the aircraft to the general aircraft area of the busy airport. I was so glad to be back on the ground and not ill in the aircraft in the bumpy monsoon weather.
General aviation tarmac - Ahmedabad, India.
After aircraft tie-down, I spent 4 hours waiting to clear customs, probably due to my unorthodox arrival. My customs paperwork contained at least twenty forms, all needing to be signed and stamped with multiple copies distributed to various departments. The Indians love their paperwork and their bureaucracy is formidable.
I spent the next 4 days recovering in my hotel room, but managed to take a few walks near the hotel. Strong odors, noise from honking tuk tuks, the crush of humanity, and ever rising levels of humidity as the monsoon intensifies - the dirt and air pollution can make visiting urban India overwhelming.
The richly furnished waiting room at the Al Bateen executive airport in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I was offered a very good coffee while standing by for immigration and customs for officials to grant me permission to leave the UAE.
Al Bateen Airport is situated right next to the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque mentioned in my previous blog entry.
From Abu Dhabi, I was cleared to climb up to 13,000 ft over the mountains of Oman. The air quality remained very poor due to dust until I was hundreds of miles out over the Indian Ocean. Like many legs of my journey, I flew above the clouds to my destination.
Two hundred miles from Karachi, Pakistan, I reviewed all the approach plates and confirmed what procedures to expect with ATC. Every instrument approach is different and requires vigilance and attention to detail. By now, the desert crossings were just a memory, as the dry climate had turned to sweltering monsoon. I descended through the clouds to minimums and landed at Karachi international airport. What a busy place! Two minutes after landing, a Boeing 777 landed in my wake.
I was warned by Eddie Gould from GASE to expect a large crowd forming around the plane upon engine shutdown. Nevertheless, it was a bit overwhelming trying to keep track of twenty people touching the plane and all asking questions at the same time. Once I passed through customs, I was whisked to the heavily guarded and fortress-like hotel. I would have liked to explore Karachi, but was advised by many people that it was too dangerous to leave the compound.
I was lucky up to this point with my health. Whether it was the air, the exotic food, or just the anxiety of being in such a strange place, I would not feel well for another 3 weeks until passing through Australia.
Crossing the Saudi Arabian desert.
24 hours prior to departure a sand storm was raging over the central and eastern Saudi Arabian desert. I encountered the remnants of this storm as I headed east during the last 3 hours of flight. Visibility dropped to 1 nm. I hoped that that the K&N air filter was doing its job.
Manama, Bahrain. N944JK prior to departure.
Visibility varies from marginal VFR to IFR during the summer due to constant dust storms. Temperatures were 118F (48c) so I paid to park the plane inside an air conditioned hanger. I worried that the canopy would melt if the plane was left outside.
Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE is the world's tallest building (828m or 2717 ft)
Sail shaped Burj Al Arab Jumeirah - The world's most luxurious hotel.
My route across Egypt, Suez canal, Sinai peninsula, and Jordan.
Crossing the Egyptian border near Alexandria.
At Cairo, ATC vectored me to about 25 miles east of the Great pyramids. From there I crossed the Suez Canal and climbed to 13,000 ft for terrain clearance over the Sinai peninsula. I never could imagine the height of the mountains and associated late afternoon turbulence along this route. I was the only arrival at Aqaba International airport and was given an extraordinary reception upon landing.
Wild camels along the King's Highway.
Wadi Rum in the distance as viewed along the King's Highway.
The entrance to Petra. Note: water channels were carved by the Nabataean people to collect every drop of moisture running off the canyon walls.
First glimpse of the "Treasury" in Petra.
Remarkably well mannered camels in front of the Treasury.
El Dier ("The Monastery").
Conflicting feedback. Should I have taken this photo?
The interior of one of the Royal tombs carved out of solid rock.
The proposed route from Trento, Italy to Iraklion, Crete. The weather deteriorated over the boot of Italy as I progressed further south. I had to fight for improved vectors multiple times as ATC kept directing me in to cumulonimbus weather. I will assume they did not have radar as position reports were required every 10 minutes.
Somewhere off the coast of Italy.
Dodging the big boys.
A dizzying hold at 1500 ft off the coast of Crete. I was getting low on fuel and ATC required me to wait 15 minutes at this position. Finally, I was released to land at Iraklion.
Secure in Iraklion, Crete. Time for dinner and a cold beer.
During the first oil change and maintenance inspection of the trip, Luca and I discovered corrosion damage to the high current electrical bus and associated components. The corrosion damage was caused by a leak of the primary 12V battery mounted to the firewall and over the electrical components. The likely cause of failure of the battery: flight through extremely low temperatures causing the battery case to crack.
Luca networked with his fellow RV builders in the area and obtained a new battery, main relay, starter relay, Silicone boot, and fabricated a new #2 battery cable within 8 hours. I had a spare shunt in my parts bag. We spent 15 hours repairing the electrical system to like new condition and tested the engine and electrical system. Thank you Luca for all of your help, resourcefulness, attention to detail, and great network of friends.
Luca is the president of the EAA, Chapter 1581 in Trento, Italy and DAR/A&P.
View from Luca's hanger in Trento, Italy
1/2 of CREWRV8, Luca's formation team.
This 735nm leg would be the most complex I have ever flown. The flight would require transiting the air space of 5 countries and a climb to 14,000 ft over the Alps to Italy.
Crossing over the English channel.
Despite my best efforts with flight planning and weather analysis, I picked up ice on the wings over the Italian Alps. The plane slowed 20 knots due to induced drag.
Flying through the clouds with higher terrain on either side of the airway was a real test of my avionics and accuracy of the charts.
After landing and clearing customs in Bolzano, Italy, my friend Luca Perazzolli and I flew formation back to his hanger in Trento. What a beautiful valley in the Italian Alps.
Luca's post on Van's Airforce, page 5:
Video of the flight:
After a brief stay in Wick, Scotland I flew south along the east coast of England to Duxford. The "high" mentioned in my previous post pushed "May" along at 160 knots as temperatures rapidly rose.
Irregular property lines make for interesting viewing from the air.
G-GDRV. Manuel Queiroz flew his RV6 around the world in 2006. I read his engaging book "Chasing the Morning Sun" (www.chasingthemorningsun.com) and corresponded with him prior to my trip. Thank you Manuel for sharing trip preparation and technical information with me.
During my approach to Duxford, I shared the sky with a Spitfire and Tiger Moth. What a treat for any pilot!
An iconic flying Spitfire located at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England. (www.ifm.org.uk). IMF Duxford hosts an incredible collection of aircraft and museums open to the public.
Thank you Allan,Peter, and Chris for assisting me during my stay in Duxford. Allan was instrumental to help me plan my flight across the complex European air space from England to Italy.
A "slightly" faster aircraft than the Spitfire.