Mojave Experimental Fly-in - Mojave, CA (KMHV)
April 13, 2019
"Draco", Mike Patey's PT-6 powered super STOL aircraft at KMHV.
Over 100 aircraft flew in for the 7th Annual Mojave Experimental Fly-In (MEFI) on Saturday morning. I enjoyed meeting fellow pilots and displaying "May" at this historic airport. Thank you for the award MEFI.
Stratolauncher, Voyager, SpaceShipOne, Scaled Composites, Rutan.
AOPA Fly-In - Livermore, CA (KLVK)
June 22, 2019
It was a pleasure to meet Robert DeLaurentis, fellow Earthrounder and founder of "Flying Thu Life" at the Livermore AOPA fly-in. He brought along his specially modified Turbo Commander with high altitude long-range fuel cells, for his upcoming Pole-to-Pole flight in November 2019. Good luck Robert on your second RTW flight!
EAA AirVenture - Oshkosh, WI (KOSH)
July 23-27, 2019
The EAA assigned me a prime location to display "May" at AirVenture (Red Oval - Intersection of P-1 and Knapp). Thank you to all the pilots who stopped by to ask questions about the RTW trip. I handed out swag until it ran out.
Staring down the warbirds in Fightertown.
Earthrounders at Airventure
Four Earthrounders showed up to hear Robert DeLaurentis's Pole-to-Pole presentation at the EAA museum. It was gratifying to meet these pilots in person and share a few anecdotes. New Earthrounder, Norman Surplus, just finished an incredible 9 year around the world in his MT03 autogyro.
Other known Earthrounders who were at Sloshkosh 2019:
Brian and Sylvia Foster - (RTW 2017 in a RV10)
Juan-Peter Schulze (RTW 2017 in a Cessna 210)
Matt Guthmiller (RTW 2014 in a Bonanza)
Kitplanes magazine wrote a complementary article about my flight.
Duxford, UK. June 22, 2018. N944JK (RV-9A) and G-GRDV (RV-6) have now both flown around the world; proof that light, experimental aircraft are capable of very long distance flight. Fuel efficiency was often 26 mpg at 150 mph. All credit goes to Richard van Grunsven and Ken Kruger for designing these remarkably efficient traveling machines.
Photo Credit: David Whitworth, Duxford Diary
Ed Neffinger prepares to fly from Duxford to Goodwood in a spitfire. Ed assisted me with flight planning and weather analysis on my around the world flight. Thank you Ed.
The aircraft is now stripped of the heavy auxiliary fuel tanks, survival equipment, spare parts, tools, and HF radio. Svelte May flies again like an RV!
Countries visited: 19 (26: overflown)
Total great circle distance traveled: 23,196 nm, 42959 km
Distance flying over the world's oceans: 14,200 nm
Longest Leg: Hilo, Hawaii to Oakland, CA in 16.5 hours.
AVGAS used: 1225 gallons
Flight Hours: 177
Total pilot flight hours after the trip was completed: 524
Aviation World Records
N944JK established multiple national and world records for "speed over a recognized course". The aviation records are ratified by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale/World Sports Federation and National Aeronautics Association.
Oakland, CA to Oshkosh, WI, class C1b, 245 km/hr over 2,875 km (non-stop)
Hilo, HI to Oakland, CA, class C1b, 225 km/hr over 3,772 km (non-stop)
FAI Circumnavigation Award - Eastbound
May is now recorded in the "Earthrounders" database which registers planes and crew who have flown around the world in light aircraft. N944JK is the only experimental aircraft to fly around the world in 2018.
I would like to thank the following companies and individuals for sponsorship and assistance during my flight around the world.
MCW Associates, Aircraft Spruce, Ameriprise Financial, Classic Aero Designs, Odyssey Batteries, MFJ, Dynon Avionics, and Garmin for funding, equipment, and technical support.
General Aviation Support Egypt for permits, handling, and flight watch. During my fuel diversion in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, G.A.S.E went the extra mile, contacting aviation authorities in multiple countries to re-open the Christmas Island airport and turn on the runway lights.
The Hawaiian Airlines crew who relayed messages back to San Francisco radio during my fuel diversion. I owe you guys a bottle of scotch.
The pilots from Vans Airforce who quickly arranged for a hanger at PHOG as hurricane Hector approached Hawaii. Without their help my plane would likely been destroyed on the ramp in Hilo.
The Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1581, who helped me to repair my plane in Trento, Italy.
RTW enthusiasts who encouraged me along the way. Thank you.
2000+ nautical miles to go!
Night flight at 12,500 ft over the eastern Pacific Ocean. I took advantage of the stronger tail winds at higher altitudes but endured temperatures well below freezing. The walls of my cockpit are only 0.040" thick aluminum sheet with no thermal insulation. I am loosing the battle to stay warm and reminiscent of my passage over the Greenland ice cap. No twinkling stars or lights from aircraft above or ships below can be seen. It is a sensory deprived experience. Every 30 minutes or so the blood red moon occasionally is visible through stratified clouds. My hope of seeing the familiar lights of San Francisco are dashed as the fog bank extends hundreds of miles off the coast of California. San Francisco radio, my reassuring communications link across the Pacific, is now booming in to my headset as I approach the North American continent. ETA: 3:30 am, California time.
The longest over water route in the world is the stretch between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. If you run in to trouble, there are no alternate landing locations unless you return to Hawaii or fortuitously land on an aircraft carrier. The flight planning, weather conditions, and readiness of the aircraft and pilot need to be perfect.
I chose to wait, prepare the aircraft, and monitor the forecasts closely for an ideal weather window. According to Air Services Hawaii (ASH), it is common for ferry pilots to wait up to a month before attempting this route. Thursday (August 30) looked like the best day to attempt the flight and the weather forecast predicted 70% tail winds at 10,000 ft. On Saturday, hurricane Miriam would sweep in from the northeast, disrupting the favorable winds at altitude and block my path towards the California.
Thursday morning, after the required agriculture inspection was completed, ASH helped me to load 127 gallons of fuel in to the 5 tanks on board the aircraft. There was barely any room for me to fit inside the cockpit as I was surrounded by fuel tanks. Visibility was blocked to the right of the aircraft as the bulging tanks touched the top of the canopy. I had confidence that it could fly at this gross weight.
PHTO, RWY 8 was chosen as it has a 9800 x 150 ft runway.
On take-off, the airplane accelerated extremely slowly and used 6000 ft of runway (normally 500 ft) before the plane lifted and cleared ground effect. I fought headwinds for 1000 nm and carefully monitored my fuel supply. At the half-way point, the fickle winds changed direction and favorably pushed me towards the fog shrouded California coast. Darkness descended around 9 pm over the Pacific. I flew on for the next 6.5 hours until landing at 3:30 am in Concord, California. The 17 hour journey from Hilo to Oakland/Concord was very exhausting, especially since I had only a few hours of sleep the previous night. Later on I learned that other pilots, tracking my progress across the Pacific that night, did not get much sleep either. Thanks for your support!
Thanks for the "Welcome Home" banner Pete W!
I was hoping for an easy flight from Hawaii to California. Unfortunately, the eastern Pacific was riddled with tropical depressions heading directly for Hawaii. The winds aloft forecast for the Hawaii/California passage did not look favorable for the next three weeks.
"May" located in Hilo - Hurricane Number 1 would approach in a few days. The islanders were preparing for the worst.
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). 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 the right moment to fly the 2000+nm to California.
August 21 - I learned that Hurricane Hector dumped nearly 52 inches (132 cm) of rain on Hilo. To provide a perspective, the distance from the ground to the propeller spinner is about 52 inches. Hilo was littered with debris from the recent flooding. It was the right decision to relocate the plane to Maui.
Moments after arrival at Hilo, BIg Island, Hawaii. Air Services Hawaii welcomes me with a lei and a Kona Longboard beer. Mahalo Tommy B!
RV-9A ready to fly non-stop to California.
I flew with "Blue Hawaiian" helicopters on a volcano tour over the Big Island. It felt great to relax and let someone else be the captain.
Banyan Drive, known as the "Hilo Walk of Fame", is lined with trees planted by celebrities and adventurers, including pilot Amelia Earhart.
Historic photos of aviation in Hawaii.
Sunday afternoon entertainment in Hilo.
Lava destroyed homes in the Vacationland, Hawaii area. I heard from local sources that none of these homes were insured and FEMA provided no post disaster assistance. Many people are still living out of their cars, months after their homes were destroyed.
Dramatic Hilo coastline.
Crossing the windy strait between the Big Island and Maui. I repositioned "May" to a hanger in Maui due to hurricane Lane and Hector approaching Hilo.
A summary of the 2018 Hawaii hurricane season
My route 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 left 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 left of the gps track to avoid the worst of the weather.
The experimental 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 SWR, and minimized drag. I used a Icom mobile ham radio bought on Craiglist and modified to transmit on aircraft frequencies.
1100 nm 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.
I departed Pago Pago at the crack of dawn. My destination was Hilo, Hawaii, 2235 nautical miles away across the Intertropical Convergence Zone, an area of very unstable air and convective activity around the equator. I was carrying a massive amount of fuel and expected very low climb performance on take-off. "May" lifted off at 75 knots. I leveled her at ten feet over the runway to build speed, and climbed slowly over the cobalt blue water along the coastline, and passed by the scenic Pago Pago harbor. Eventually, I climbed high enough to clear the terrain over the island and headed north towards Hawaii.
En-route to Hilo, the head winds were stronger than expected. My calculations showed that I would arrive in Hilo short of fuel, so I decided to divert to Christmas Island.
Now my challenge was to contact Christmas Island to open the airport after hours. All means of communication were used: my handlers from G.A.S.E. (Eddie and Ahmed), San Francisco radio (transoceanic communications), e-mails to all known airport staff at Christmas Island, and commercial aircraft overhead on the guard frequency. For many hours, all attempts to contact Christmas Island failed. It looked like I would approach the island three hours after dark, with no open airport, no lights, and in marginal VFR conditions. Not an ideal situation. I was thinking - stay calm and work the problem. My plan "B" was to orbit the island at 1500 ft to wake up the airport staff to turn on the lights for landing (RNAV approach aided by geo-referenced charts and synthetic vision). Currently, there is no pilot controlled lighting at Christmas Island. The procedure for night operations is to start up the airport generator ten minutes before aircraft arrival to provide power for the marginally visible runway lighting. I would have happily accepted smudge pots or flashlights guiding me in for a landing at decidedly dark Christmas Island.
As I approached the equator, my HF radio link was weak and I could not hear SF radio on any frequency. A Hawaiian Airlines flight, somewhere in my proximity and overhead at 30,000 ft, was able to relay position reports on my behalf to ATC.
300 nm south-west of Christmas Island
The last transmission from a Hawaiian airline crew to N944JK on the guard frequency was:
Hawaiian airlines: "San Francisco radio is unable to reach Christmas Island to turn on the landing lights. (pause)... How many souls on board?"
Hawaiian airlines: "Good luck to you Sir."
I appreciate their effort to relay messages. I started to work out plan "B" details as I flew on in the darkness.
100 nm south-west of Christmas Island:
To my great relief, G.A.S.E. was able to reach Christmas Island by phone. In the dark at 9000 ft, I finally heard the welcome radio call, "N944JK, ... Christmas Island" over the static of my VHF radio. I approached the island from the west and descended down through the rain, following instrument procedures to land at dimly lit Cassidy International. After landing, I gratefully thanked the airport manager and ground staff for turning on the lights and opening the airport.
My original route was to fly directly from Pago Pago to Hilo. My fuel diversion to Christmas Island is shown in the map on the upper right.
Christmas Island from space.
Photo credit: The Living Moon
The existing Cassidy International terminal building. A new terminal building is under construction as of July 2018.
Photo Credit: ZOXEXIVO.com
Christmas Island, Kiribati: The world's largest atoll is very remote, situated at the mid point between Australia and the United States and just 2 degrees north latitude.
In the 1950's the British dropped multiple nuclear bombs above the island which produced high amounts of radioactive fallout. . Many additional nuclear tests were carried out in the surrounding waters. Grapple tests.
Britain's first nuclear test explosion at Christmas Island took place on 15th May 1957
Photo Credit: http://www.janeresture.com/christmas_bombs/
An interesting video about the nuclear tests detonated above the island.
Christmas Island in 2018. Low radiation levels?
An interesting article about life on Christmas Island - www.salon.com/2008/08/31/christmas_island/
The spartan Captain Cook hotel, my base for the next few days, was a bit rundown. The hotel, however, did have it's advantages: it was close to Cassidy international, it had a stocked bar, friendly staff, and it had a relatively nice beach. Visitors could either select between a cinder block hotel room or grass roofed "bure" closer to the beach. Water service was shut off between 11pm and 6 am, so forget a late night shower. My cinder block room featured a rusting, incredibly loud air conditioner, which sounded like a bulldozer tearing itself apart. In order to get some sleep, I wore my Bose noise cancellation headset to bed to drown out the racket.
Inside the main dining area, photographs of fly fisherman proudly holding up giant Trevally adorn the walls of the communal dining area. Christmas island is famous for it's world-class bonefish and trevally fishing. Both sport fish are off limits for eating to preserve the stock. Catch and release only - fly fishing is taken very seriously here!
I spent the next two days driving around the island and withdrawing cash (in increments) from the only functioning ATM on the island. The landing/parking fees and fuel all needed to be paid in Australian dollars. The only fuel supplier (Kiribati OIL) cached 1000 liters of AVGAS, recently shipped from Australia. I was truly fortunate to obtain fuel as I heard of one RTW pilot stuck on the island for months awaiting fuel.
Typical landing and parking fees at Cassidy International. Flying around the world in a small plane is not cheap!
Communications with the outside world
Cell/Internet communications on the island is still in it's infancy, with spotty, slow links. Sending video was out of the question, but text and small photos could be shared back home. The Garmin Inreach seemed to have trouble sending and receiving texts with Christmas Island positioned only a few degrees above the equator.
I definitely will return someday to Christmas Island to fish for torpedo-fast bonefish and wily giant trevally (GT). The video below captures the excitement of fly fishing for 100 lb GT.
After two days of enjoying scenic Port Vila, I headed to the airport the next morning at 5:30am. The very capable airport manager arranged customs, fee payment, and fueling surprisingly quickly. Around me, the pilots and ground crew were laughing nervously as I started up the engine and obtained my clearance. I gave a thumbs up to my new friends as I taxied between the tightly spaced aircraft to the run-up area. The airport was quickly coming to life and I was fortunate to be one of the first aircraft granted permission to take-off. I back-taxied and zoom climbed away from the airport. At 9000 ft and 50 miles off the coast of Vanuatu, I diverted south in a giant arc to avoid another volcanic plume which had drifted south-east from Vanuatu.
While planning for this trip, I was warned of the $3000 landing/parking fees at Nadi, Fiji, so I bypassed the island and continued east between cloud layers towards American Samoa. I was disappointed to not see the many tropical Fijian islands below me. I crossed over Bligh Water, made famous when cannibalistic local Fijian tribes chased Captain Bligh through this passage in 1789.
Fuel consumption notes. Approaching overcast Viti Levu, Fiji.
The sun drops quickly down toward the horizon near the equator. Explanation. On approach to Pago Pago, I requested ATC to switch on the airport landing lights. To my horror, my landing/taxi lighting illuminated hundreds of frogs crawling over the 10,000 ft runway. I worried about a frog prop strike and reduced braking. It was a miracle I did not run over any as they panicked and hopped out of the way of my rapidly slowing aircraft.
Welcome to American Samoa.
Isolated Pago Pago, American Samoa in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Precipitation on Rainmaker mountain in the background exceeds 200 inches (5 m) a year and contributes to a large frog population. I suspect French Polynesia has the same problem...
The 10,000 ft sea level runway at NSTU, Pago Pago, American Samoa.
Photo credit: Pinterest
Upon landing at Pago Pago, I was informed my reserved AVGAS was not available. I needed to scramble to find an alternative fuel source unless I wanted to remain in surprisingly expensive American Samoa for months awaiting fuel shipped from overseas. The only other fuel supplier in American Samoa sold me 110 gallons of questionable AVGAS for $31/gallon. I was in a predicament, felt ripped-off, and my budget was completely blown.
Due to the uncooperative nature of the primary fueler, we were not allowed to use their pump located at the airport. With the extraordinary assistance of Prichard Airport Services , 110 gallons of AVGAS was slowly siphoned in to the aircraft tanks using a fork lift, Baja fuel filter, and 1" vinyl tube bought that afternoon at Ace Hardware. The three hour messy ordeal required re-priming fuel multiple times without the use of a manual fuel transfer pump. I opted to not to use auto fuel as it had not been tested with my engine and fuel delivery system. One can only take such setbacks in stride and consider them part of the adventure.
Photo credit: Prichard Airport Services
Solomon Islands to Port Vila, Vanuatu. Hard IFR departure, rain, and overcast skies for the entire flight. Starburst fruit chews and bottled water sustained me until touch down at Port Vila.
The flight off the west coast of Vanuatu required a diversion around the Ambae volcanic plume. The grey-brown colored plume was visible at my flight level and extended well off the coast line. I did not take chances with ash clogging the air filter and engine.
My destination, Port Vila airport (NVVV), has a single runway and very compact terminal area. Because of the limited parking area, flight schedules are tightly controlled and ground staff constantly choreograph aircraft movement. Many operators based at Port Vila fly to Tanna Island for overnight volcano tours. At the end of each day, the terminal area is packed with planes both on the pavement and grass overflow areas. May was tucked way in a corner, adjacent to the operations office and out of harms way.
The ground staff and pilots at Port Vila were the most enthusiastic I experienced on my trip. May received considerable attention and photos, and I was asked many questions regarding the trip and modifications to the RV-9A for long range flying. The last known experimental aircraft to land in Vanuatu (Luganville, Espiritu Santo) was B-KOO, Hank Cheng's RV-8, on his around the world trip in 2016.
Photo credit: Red – Vanuatu
Beautiful Port Vila harbor, Vanuatu.
Mt. Yasur on the island of Tanna is one of the most accessible volcanoes in the world. Brave hikers can experience an active volcano from the crater rim and occasionally dodge lava bombs. I did not have time to see the volcano, but will return to Vanuatu someday for this incredible experience.