A 675 nm hop over the Timor sea to Australia
The approach to Broome International airport was visually stunning as brilliant sand beaches and turquoise blue waters welcome you to Australia.
A view of the iron rich soils 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 immigration/agriculture officer handed me a can of insecticide spray with a faulty valve, which filled the cockpit with floral scented insecticide within seconds. 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 the signal from the officer, I opened the cockpit and gulped fresh Australian air. A month after the completion of the RTW trip, Australia charged me nearly $200 for the experience.
The land down under. I spent a few hours in one of the hangers performing an oil change and maintenance on the RV.
Photo Credit: Orbx
ATC directed me in to a (CB) cumulonimbus cloud during climb out from Subang International. I requested a modification of the SID (standard instrument departure) but was denied a course modification due to the surrounding jet traffic. I slowed 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 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. The signage was unnecessary.
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.
An incredible facade on the UC Silver building 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 route across the Bay of Bengal. I could not help but contemplate the fate of MH370 during the flight above this treacherous body of water.
Departing Mattala, Sri Lanka while climbing to 9000 ft. The monsoon weather is finally behind me as May crosses the Bay of Bengal at 150 knots.
The 11,000 ft rugged mountains of the Bukit Barisan range. My route carried me to the north of the Toba super volcano which produced the largest known volcanic eruption on earth during the past 2 million years.
My after dark arrival to the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Malaysia required precise flying in a crowded air space. 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.
My actual 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.
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 Bombay. My passage over India would take approximately 9 hours flying through the monsoon weather. Indian air traffic control provided no weather avoidance services nor was ADSB (weather or traffic) available. I pressed on, following the assigned IFR route for the next 9 hours, and steered clear of the worst of the monsoon.
While crossing over the expansive Indian subcontinent, it was hard to grasp that the land below supported 1 billion people. Even more astonishing, was the observation, especially over the mountainous southern parts of the country, that there were still wilderness areas with no visible impact from humans.
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 spacial 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 a 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. Again, it was a bit overwhelming for them to open the entire airport just for my incoming flight. 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 windward side of the Island, with rough sea conditions, not suitable for swimming. There were only two guests staying at the beach resort - the benefits of low season travel. Several large monitor lizards lorded over the grounds and would not move even if approached within a few feet.
I rested one day at the resort before tackling the hop across the Bay of Bengal to Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang Jaya, Malysia.
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.
A wind swept beach on the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
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 over 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 was retching 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. The ground staff patiently waited for me to tie down the aircraft.
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.
Dare to cross a road in India? I hope that you have a life insurance policy.
The richly furnished waiting room at the Al Bateen executive airport in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
The final approach to Al Bateen Airport is located adjacent to the spectacular 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. 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.
A close call. I flew within 1 nm of the Isreal border and their hyper-vigilant defense system.
An American infidel crosses over 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 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. 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 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. 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 due to the extreme heat. The Garmin and Dynon avionics worked flawlessly throughout the entire trip with the OAT -15c to +48c.
The Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE built at a cost of $550 million USD.
The 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.
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 excited to visit the middle east for the first time. I flew past biblical Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Crossing over the Red Sea/Gulf of Aqaba, I turned north towards Aqaba International airport (Jordan) and was given an extraordinary reception upon landing. The entire airport was opened for my arrival. The next day I drove past Wadi Rum and toured Petra.
Wild camels along the King's Highway.
Wadi Rum in the distance as viewed along the King's Highway.
Wadi Rum. A Mars on Earth experience.
Photo credit: sunrise-travel.eu
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 represents the best in experimental aviation and is the president of the EAA, Chapter 1581, Trento, Italy.
View from Luca's hanger in Trento, Italy
1/2 of CREWRV8, Luca's formation team.
Luca's spotless hanger and workshop.
Photo credit: Luca Perazzolli
Departing for Greece from Trento, Italy.
Photo credit: Luca Perazzolli