Kiribati to Hawaii through the ITCZ
The Intertropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ, is a belt of low pressure which circles the Earth generally near the equator where the trade winds of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres come together. The area receives the highest amount of heat energy from the sun, which causes moisture to condense quickly in to clouds. The rising air in the ITCZ cause frequent thunderstorms and heavy rainfall. Circular typhoons often form along with the highest recorded winds on the planet.
For months I had been dreading the flight through the ITCZ. Like mariners facing an unpredictable passage around Cape Horn, pilots face the ITCZ with trepidation as the weather is nearly always stormy. Unlike a jet, which can fly above the weather, "May" would fly from 8,000 to 12,000 ft down in the clouds and unforgiving turbulence. To maximize my chance of success, I decided to fly through the ITCZ only during the daylight hours, so that I could see and avoid the worst of the weather.
Reviewing the satellite weather charts from Christmas Island the night before the flight, suggested that flying just to the west of the 1100 nautical mile direct line path to Hawaii would avoid most of the weather. Like previous legs of the around the world flight, my friend Ed Neffinger assisted with weather interpretation and route planning.
On the morning of departure, my anxiety level was elevated. I knew that the aircraft was prepared for the flight and I just needed to trust my experience and training.
I diverted west of the gps track to avoid the worst of the weather though the ITCZ. Many of the cloud tops around me exceeded 40,000 ft and demanded great respect and a wide berth.
About 200 miles off the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, in-cockpit traffic and weather data started to display on the EFIS (glass panel). This was quite a welcome surprise, and the first ADS-B services received since leaving the continental US nearly two months ago.
The experimental high frequency (HF) antenna attached to the wing tip is used to transmit hourly position reports back to San Francisco radio. I built and tested four antenna prototypes before selecting one that maximized radiated power, low reflected energy, and minimized drag. I installed a used Icom mobile ham radio bought on Craiglist and modified to transmit on aircraft frequencies.
Slalom course around towering CB's
7 hours of terror. The pucker factor was high on this leg of the trip.
Volcanic Navigation Waypoint
This was the strangest navigation waypoint I have ever used while flying. The entire Big Island appeared to be on fire 100 miles out from Hilo. Steam rose 25,000 feet in to the atmosphere due to the torrent of magma pouring in to the Pacific ocean from the Kilauea volcano .
I passed through the ITCZ unscathed but landed at Hilo 72 hours prior to the arrival of Cat 4 hurricane Hector. There was not much time to recover and come up with a new game plan.
Moments after arrival at Hilo, BIg Island, Hawaii. Air Services Hawaii (ASH) welcomes me with a lei and a local Kona Longboard beer. A fellow pilot from my local airport at Concord, CA tracked my flight progress across the ITCZ from Chirstmas Island, called the two FBO's in Hilo, and arranged for the reception. Thanks Tommy B.