2050 nm. 16.5 hour flight.
Cabin configuration for transpacific flight.
Night flight at 12,500 ft over the eastern Pacific Ocean. I took advantage of the stronger tailwinds 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 losing 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 into my headset as I approach the North American continent. ETA: 3:30 am, California time.
John Koehler - journal notes
The longest over-water route in the world is the stretch between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. If you run into 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% tailwinds 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 California.
On the morning of departure, agriculture officials inspected my aircraft and ASH helped me to load 127 gallons (762 lbs) of fuel into the 5 tanks on board the aircraft. Most of the fuel was stored in the cockpit surrounding me on three sides. There was little room to move inside the cockpit, so I would need to perform exercises to avoid DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) during the expected 17 hour flight. Visibility outside the aircraft was blocked to my right as the bulging tanks touched the top of the canopy. This would clearly be the most dangerous flight of my life.
To ensure a successful departure, Hilo International Airport RWY 8 was chosen as it has a 9800 ft long by 150 ft wide runway.
As I started my take-off roll, the airplane accelerated extremely slowly and used over 6000 ft of the runway (normally 500 ft) before the plane lifted and cleared ground effect. The climb rate eventually reached 500 feet per minute all the way up to 10,000 feet. Not a bad climb rate considering that the plane was 20% over gross.
After reaching cruising altitude, I switched to my aft fuel tank (22g, 4 hours), then the bladder tanks #1 (22g ( 4 hours) and #2 (50g (7 hours)), and main tanks (5 hours).
The next challenge was to establish communications with San Francisco radio (controller of the eastern Pacific) on the high frequency radio. Without a positive communications, Hawaiian ATC would not let me leave their airspace and I would be required to return to Hawaii and burn off 15 hours of fuel before landing. Thank god, I finally contacted SF radio about 200 nm off the coast of Hawaii as VHF communications started to fade. The little HF radio bought second hand on craiglist and connected to an experimental antenna outside the plane was actually working despite the marginal propagation to the west coast of the United States.
For the first 1000 nm, I fought 10 knot headwinds and carefully monitored my fuel supply. At the half-way point, the fickle winds finally 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. It was a relief knowing that my flight was being tracked by many people in the event of an emergency.
Thanks for the banner Pete W! "May" is safely back home at Buchanan field surrounded by her experimental aircraft friends: a GlassAir II and III , RV8, Volksplane, and a P-40 replica.