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 a 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 harm's 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.
Vanuatu is located along the "Ring of Fire". During both the approach and departure from this island nation, I had to avoid volcanic plumes, which pose a flight safety hazard, especially for night flights. ... The ash contaminates fuel and water systems, can jam gears, and make engines flame-out.
Lava bombs and Lighting
Mt. Yasur on the island of Tanna is one of the most accessible volcanoes in the world.
After crossing the bone-dry outback of Australia, N944JK headed north-east across the Coral sea. My next stop would be to Henderson Field on the island of Guadalcanal (Solomon Islands).
Most RTW pilots on the classic central pacific route fly from Australia to New Caledonia or Norfok Island, then on to Nadi (Fiji), Pago Pago (American Samoa ), Kiribati (Christmas) (Kiribati), Hilo (Hawaii), Santa Barbara or Monterey ( California).
Graphic credit: omniatlas.com
Navigation waypoints between Cairns, Australia and Henderson Field, Guadalcanal.
I wanted to experience flying over the area hotly contested between the Japanese and American airmen during the early part of WWII and possibly see a few war artifacts remaining on the ground.
Approaching the Solomon islands from the south-west, I encountered considerable cloud build-up which obscured the 9000 ft peaks of Guadalcanal.
This photo was taken after a bumpy descent through a rainstorm and landing on the mist obscured, shortened runway of Henderson Field. 42 years after watching "Black Sheep Squadron" on TV as a youngster, and subsequently reading about military operations in the area, I finally visited the Solomon Islands. The 100% humidity and swarming mosquitoes were the first to greet me. My handler showed up much later at the nearly abandoned airport.
A perfect sunset after landing at historic Henderson field. This airport is really off the beaten path and very few general aviation pilots ever visit.
Henderson field, 1942. American war planes of the "Cactus" air force are dispersed around the frequently bombed air strip.
Badass marines - I can't imagine the hardship these tough guys encountered while fighting the Japanese on Guadalcanal.
Credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine
During WWII, the US military produced a series of posters and comics as part of a propaganda campaign against Malaria.
According to the CDC, the Solomon Islands rank "highest" risk for contracting Malaria. After 48 hours of exploring Honiara and swatting mosquitoes continuously, I abandoned the island.
My IFR departure from Henderson field was at pilot discretion. I climbed up out over Iron Bottom sound in to the thick clouds and turned left over the island of Guadalcanal. No Mitsubishi A6M "zeros" challenged me to a dog fight as I headed south-east toward Vanuatu.
A tribute to VMF 214, Blacksheep squadron and Pappy Boyington.
A ten hour transcontinental flight broken up by an overnight stay in Tennant Creek.
Along the way I flew past many enormous cattle stations (up to 4 million square acres) spread out across the desolate outback.
Oz air traffic control requires pilots to blindly broadcast position reports on shared multi-frequency repeaters located near the cattle stations. I passed by remote landing strips with proper Australian names like Margaret River Station, Halls Creek, Browns Range, Herbertvale Cattleyards, and Century Mine. All those Nevil Shute books I read in my childhood were coming to life.
Perfect weather, moderate winter temperatures, and one content pilot flying at 9500 ft over the outback of Australia. I rode 40 knot tail winds across the entire Australian continent.
The indomitable outback of Australia
Jon Johanson, (a famous Australian aviator and a mentor) who flew around the world three times in his experimental RV4 (east, west, polar) reminded me to not underestimate the outback. If you are forced down, you may never be found if your ELT and PLB are destroyed in the crash. He equated the risk to that of the north Atlantic crossing. My plane carried extra water and survival equipment for polar, desert, and marine environments.
Tennant Creek. A brief stay in an authentic outback town in the northern territory of Australia.
May Koehler admired Australia through books and film. She especially liked the actor Brian Brown in "A town like Alice" and the film "The Man from Snowy River". While May never visited Australia in her lifetime, she finally made it to the land "down under" in spirit. I think she would have loved flying over the outback in a tiny plane.
Bali air traffic control was really "pushing tin". I was given about 30 seconds to take-off, before another 7XX would start it's rumbling roll behind me. I climbed about 500 ft in to the low-level clouds before ATC directed to head south across the Timor sea towards Australia. The clouds eventually dissipated to reveal the most incredibly blue water I have ever seen.
The approach to Broome International airport was visually stunning as brilliant sand beaches and turquoise waters welcome you to Australia.
A view of the strikingly dry outback and clear skies of Western Australia
After landing, I was required to taxi to the foreign aircraft quarantine area of (YBRM) Broome International airport. The friendly immigration/agriculture officer handed me a can of insecticide spray with a faulty valve, which instantly filled the tiny cockpit with floral scented insecticide. The can was quickly tossed outside, still ejecting insecticide at full throttle. I hunkered down inside the cockpit for the next 5 minutes (required to kill insect stowaways) using my shirt as a mask. Given a thumbs up from the officer, I opened the cockpit and gulped in fresh Australian air. A month after the completion of the RTW trip, Australia billed me $200 for the small can of insecticide spray. Note to future RTW pilots arriving in Australia: Bring your own spray!
Zen and the art of aircraft maintenance.
The mechanic seeks perfection through the use of high quality parts, standards, checklists, and attention to detail.
I performed a much needed oil change and meticulous firewall forward inspection in one of the cavernous maintenance hangers at the Broome International Airport. "May's" 400 hr experimental Lycoming YIO-320 engine consumed only about 2 quarts per 65 hours of operation, a remarkably low oil burn rate. I started the trip using Phillips 66 20W-50, then switched to Aeroshell 100W in Italy, and Aeroshell 20W-50 in Australia.
A few aircraft waited to be serviced outside, and I was only given about two hours to complete my work. Since I built the kit plane, I knew every rivet, bolt, and wire in the aircraft. My confidence in the airworthiness of the plane was very high. This would be the last maintenance done before returning to my home airport in Concord, California, 8000 nm away.
Photo Credit: Orbx
Almost immediately after departure from Subang International, Air Traffic Control directed me in to towering (CB) cumulonimbus clouds. I requested an immediate modification of the SID (standard instrument departure) but was denied course changes due to the surrounding jet traffic. Preparing for the worst, I slowed down to 90 knots - VA (maneuvering airspeed) to minimize stress on the aircraft. The plane was carrying 2.5x the normal amount of fuel, with a slight aft center of gravity, as I punched through the wall of cloud. Inside the maelstrom, I was slammed with rain and a moderate up/down drafts until passing through the far side of the cloud. Throughout the flight I had to avoid many formidable CB's over the Strait of Malacca and extending south-east all the way to Bali (1100nm away).
Further south of Singapore, I spotted numerous densely populated islands between Malaysia and Indonesia.
These beautiful rice terraces are located within the interior of Bali.
Lush tropical vegetation in a mountainous valley.
Along the way to the rice terraces, my driver and I spent an hour at a coffee plantation sampling a dozen types of coffee including Bali's infamous Kopi Luwak coffee. Kopi luwak is known as the most expensive coffee in the world. The price for a single cup of kopi luwak coffee runs $ 35 to $80 and a one pound bag of beans costs $100 to $600.
UC Silver factory and museum in Denpasar, Bali.
Mount Batur: an active volcano in Bali.
It was necessary to carefully time my arrival and departure from Bali to avoid damaging volcanic plumes from recently active Mount Agung. Hours after my departure from Bali, Mount Agung blew out another plume which disrupted air traffic. This would be the first of three volcanoes that would impact my flight around the world.
My short cut across the Bay of Bengal. The weather was mostly visual flight rules until I reached Indonesia. I could not help but contemplate the fate of MH370 during the flight.
Departing Mattala, Sri Lanka while climbing to 9000 ft. The monsoon weather is finally behind me as May cruises over the Bay of Bengal at 150 knots.
Underneath me lay the 11,000 ft rugged, black spine of the Bukit Barisan mountain range. My route carried me north of the Toba super volcano which produced the largest known volcanic eruption on earth during the past 2 million years.
After crossing the Malacca straight, I joined the heavy jet traffic on approach to Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Malaysia. It felt incredibly satisfying for this low-time IFR pilot to keep ahead of the aircraft and land safely at a busy international airport.
Imagine this view when you open the curtains of your hotel room in the morning! The dome of the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque resembles the top half of a Faberge egg. Capacity: 24,000.
The 140 ft (43m) golden Lord Murugan statue guarding the entrance to the Badu caves in the background. The thieving monkey on the left is looking for his next victim.
Interior of the Badu caves.
My route over India as recorded by Garmin Inreach.
Report: Ahmedabad, India
I woke up in my hotel room in Ahmedabad contemplating - the aircraft that I had built in my garage had transported me halfway around the world to exotic India. Incredible. Thank you Van's aircraft for helping me to fulfill my dream.
The day before departure from India, Dr. Pravin Dave visited my hotel room and provided me with a "fit to fly" document required by customs prior to departure. This was the first time in my life that a doctor paid me a visit at a location convenient to me for a health checkup. I was very grateful for the excellent medical care I received while in India.
Upon reaching the airport, my transit through customs and immigration took only 45 minutes before my handlers dropped me off at the plane for pre-flight inspection. I was quickly given a clearance and taxied to the run-up area past Airbus and Boeing giants. Again, "May" was the smallest aircraft on the entire airport.
Taking off under instruments from Ahmedabad international, I climbed up through the clouds and proceeded south to a way-point directly over Mumbai, a city of nearly 19 million people. My passage over India would take approximately 9 hours flying through monsoon weather. Indian air traffic control provided no weather avoidance services nor was ADS-B (weather or traffic) available. I pressed on, following the assigned IFR route with slight deviations away from the "darker" parts of the sky. Once underway, I had no advanced warning of embedded thunderstorms along my route within the clouds.
While crossing over the expansive Indian subcontinent, it was hard to imagine that the land below supported 1 billion people. Towards the mountainous southern part of India, large areas appeared to be undeveloped.
As I crossed over the southern tip of India, I noted that I had plenty of fuel remaining. I increase my speed to 150 knots over the strait between India and Sri Lanka. It felt satisfying to fly fast again after sluggish performance earlier in the flight to preserve fuel and minimize stress on the heavily loaded aircraft.
Colombo ATC directed me to climb to 11,000 as twilight descended over this beautiful Island. The approach in to Mattela (VCRI) required flying past a 9,000 ft mountain, followed by an instrument descent to a DME ARC and ILS intercept in the darkness. To avoid spatial disorientation, I did not dare to look out the window until the final crossing fix, with the approach lighting guiding me to the long runway. Once again, like at Aqaba, Jordan (OJAQ), they opened an entire international airport for my sole aircraft. It started to rain lightly as I was directed to my parking space.
The airport staff was out in force, with 20 handlers and a ground transportation bus that could have held 75 passengers. There were even a few very beautiful women from Sri Lankan airways waiting to greet me as I entered the airport arrivals lobby at this late hour. Inside the spacious arrival area, a giant Buddha instilled peace and I relaxed immediately. Furthermore, customs took 5 minutes to process my paperwork, a remarkable and welcome difference than that of India.
During the late night 30 minute taxi ride to the resort, I spotted a few wild elephants walking slowly along the side of the nearly empty road. The resort was situated on the south-eastern side of the Sri Lanka, with rough sea conditions, not suitable for swimming during my stay. There were only two guests staying at the beach resort - the benefits of low season travel.
I rested one day at the nearly empty resort before tackling a shortcut across the Bay of Bengal to Subang Jaya, Malaysia. I was fortunate my flight over the bay was largely VFR, as this passage is notorious for especially severe Monsoon conditions.
Main lobby of the Mattala International Airport. It has been called "the world's emptiest international airport" due to its low number of flights despite the large size of the airport.
This beach on the south-eastern coast of Sri Lanka was struck by a wall of water 10 m (30 ft) high during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The 500 mph tsunami traveled 850 nautical miles across the Bay of Bengal in 1h 45m. My hotel room was about 300 m from the beach.
I woke up at 3:30 am, packed quickly and called for a taxi to the airport. After three days at my fortress like hotel, I was ready to continue flying southeast towards my next stop, Mattala, Sri Lanka. My handler met me at the airport entrance 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 over India.
Soon the fueling crew arrived with two barrels of Avgas strapped to the back of a trailer. Halfway 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 into 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 the 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 was retching into 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 approach I have ever flown and showcases the risk of single-pilot instrument flying.
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.
The newspaper account of events as translated by Google in to English. It seems that I started my trip from Colombia!
Emergency Landing in Pilot of Ahmedabad
- Started World Travel from Colombia from June 2018
John Kohler's health suddenly deteriorated with a single plane
Ahmedabad. July 6, 2018, Friday
John Kohler's flight to travel around the world by private aircraft had to be landed on priority basis at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad today. John Kohler, who had gone on a trip alone with the plane, had asked for permission to land at Ahmedabad Airport.
According to the information received in this regard, a message was received at 12.18pm on the Air Traffic Control Tower (ATC) of Ahmedabad that the International Private Flight N944JK flight is about to be delivered to Ahmedabad Airport. Because John Kohler's health, who is on a single trip with this plane, is unhealthy.
ATC-Ahmedabad has urgently allowed the aircraft for landings. Crash fire tenders, ambulances, medical facilities were also deployed when the aircraft landed at 12:30 pm at the Ahmedabad Airport. The passenger was treated at the airport by a doctor.
According to sources, the passenger did not have to enter the hospital as he had a general health problem. John Kohler started his world tour in Colombia in June 2018. Till now, he has visited Bahrain, UAE and Pakistan. He was currently going to Karachi from Karachi to Multan.
Emergency Landing in Pilot of Ahmedabad
The general aviation tarmac - Ahmedabad, India. The ground staff patiently waited two hours for me to secure the aircraft. I was extremely weak and further affected by the midday heat and humidity. This was the low point of my trip.
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 - visiting urban India can be overwhelming.
Dare to cross a road in India? I hope that you have a life insurance policy.
Local pilots from the Concord, CA EAA branch (chapter 393) tracking my flight progress over breakfast. Ed Neffinger and Maurice Gunderson provided updates to the group.
The richly furnished waiting room at the Al Bateen executive airport in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
On final approach to the Al Bateen airport, you pass the spectacular and blindingly white Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Photo Credit: Sam Chui
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. To the north of my flight path lay Iran and Afghanistan, two countries that would not welcome a visiting pilot from the United States.
Two hundred miles from Karachi, Pakistan, I reviewed all the approach plates and confirmed what procedures to expect with air traffic control. 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. One fellow grabbed a screwdriver from his pocket and pried off my freshly painted fuel cap to check on the fuel level. Another guy was the entertainer and told non-stop jokes and another stared at me with his obvious hatred of Americans. It was a bit unnerving to take all of this in while securing my aircraft.
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.
I flew within 1 nm of the Isreal border and their hyper-vigilant air defense system.
An American infidel flies over the empty wastes of the Saudi Arabian desert.
"Far below me, a yellow haze hid the desert to the east. Yet it was there that my fancies ranged, planning new journeys, while I wondered at this strange compulsion which drove me back to a life that was barely possible....I knew instinctively that it was the very hardness of life in the desert which drew me back there - it was the same pull which takes men back to the polar ice, to high mountains, and to the sea. To return to the Empty Quarter would be to answer a challenge, and to remain there for long would be to test myself to the limit....It was one of the very few places where I could satisfy an urge to go where others had not been....in those empty wastes I could find the peace that comes with solitude, and, among the Bedu, comradeship in a hostile world." - Across the Empty Quarter, Wilfred Thesiger
24 hours prior to departure a sand storm was raging over the central and eastern Saudi Arabian desert. I endured the remnants of this storm as I progressed east during the last 3 hours of flight. Visibility dropped to less than one mile as I flew through the brown haze. I hoped the engine intake filter was removing the dust/sand particles before it contaminated my engine oil.
Manama, Bahrain. At 118F, I was cooking in my nomex flight suit prior to departure.
Visibility varies from marginal VFR to IFR during the summer due to constant dust storms. Temperatures were so extreme I paid to park the plane inside an air conditioned hanger owned by a local sheikh. I worried that the canopy would melt if the plane was left outside. Eddie from G.A.S.E told me about one RTW trip that was halted in the middle east due to failing avionics and a melted canopy.
My iPad, running Foreflight, crashed several times in flight due to the unbearable heat. The panel avionics worked flawlessly throughout the entire trip with the OAT -15c to +48c. My iPhone 7, a backup to the iPad for all approach charts, did not appear to be impacted by the heat.
The magnificent Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
The columns are covered with gold leaf and inlaid with semi-precious stones and mother of pearl.
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. I could not believe the display of wealth in the United Arab Emirates.