North Pacific Ferry Flight

I was excited about this one…I’ve flown the NAT (North Atlantic) to Europe and beyond many times, but I’ve never flown the NORPAC (North Pacific).  On this ferry flight I got to fly the mighty King Air 350 from Fargo, ND to China through some of the coldest parts of our planet.  I was especially excited because I got to take Sam (my middle son) on the trip.  It seems that Ben (my oldest son) had so much fun with the last big trip (see this post) that Sam was not going to let a good trip fly by him.  With Sam in college (senior year in college) and home for the Christmas holidays, he was able to come along on this trip and not miss any school.

Also on this trip was Chad Menne (Owner of Malibu Aerospace, KANE).  Chad and I have shared the cockpit many times on overseas flights, but neither of had flown the NORPAC.  Reflecting on this trip, I’m super-glad he came along because the days got very long and the second pilot was really needed (especially on the flight to Seoul, Korea).

We departed Fargo, ND (KFAR) on a cold but clear day for the long flight to Bellingham, WA.  The winds were howling out of the west and we faced a strong 110kt wind for most of the way.  Strong winds were forecast, but they were actually stronger than expected.  Due to fuel, we decided to divert to Helena, MT (KHLN) for a quick tech stop.  Sam was excited about this for he is planning to move to Helena after college.

The (reasonably) short flight to Bellingham, WA (KBLI) was uneventful. We were met with the normal blustery, cool, wet winter day that anyone would expect in the Pacific NW.  We flew the ILS to RWY 16 and were soon on the ground.  The good folks from Holland Aero met us with dinner (a needed sack of sandwiches) and the survival gear we would need for the trip.  Thanks Penny!!  A quick turn-around and we were off on the next leg.

We departed KBLI as the sun was setting, although we didn’t see the setting sun until breaking above about 12,000ft.  It was clear above, but the strong winds persisted on our nose.  We now faced a 130kt headwind for the first two hours.  Soon thereafter, the winds shifted and we began to accelerate over the ground.  It was uncomfortable to look at the “FAD” (Fuel At Destination) number (presented on the ProLine 21) be a negative number (due to the headwinds) for the initial part of the flight…we had to trust the forecasted winds.  It turned out that the weather-guessers were right and we landed in Anchorage, AK (PANC) with just under an hour of fuel remaining.  We were soon whisked off to the Hilton Downtown hotel, had dinner, and then dozed off for a welcome sleep.

Day-2 was to be our longest day, with our final destination to be Japan…but, it got worse.  A bunch of questions arose about overnight parking in Japan.  There was no way to overnight in Russia, so we either had to overnight in Nome (less than ideal, so says my crew who knew the hotel options in Nome to be only one hotel) or plan to fly all the way to Korea.  We opted to fly to Korea and accept the super-long day.  Anchorage had a temp of about 12F but no wind, so it wasn’t bad at all.  We advanced the power levers on takeoff just as the sun was creating a glow on the southeastern horizon.  The King Air jumped off the runway in the low density altitude and we were soon at FL260.

High Noon over Alaska

There were lower clouds below, but we got to see much of the majesty of the snowy Alaskan mountains.  Nome (PAOM) is only about 2 hours away and it felt like a short flight as we made our approach.  Nome is a coastal town, literally right on the water’s edge, and the sea was frozen for as far as the eye could see.

We landed on a snow-removed Runway 22 and taxied on icy (snow not removed) taxiways to the FBO.  The FBO doubles as an airline terminal for Bering Air, which appeared to operate Piper Navajos and Cessna Caravans.  The terminal was unbelievably noisy with lots of families (with young kids and babies) awaiting their flights.  The temperature was about 8F and the sun was at “high noon”, but barely above the horizon.  The lighting from the low sun was gorgeous, casting a multi-colored, comfortable light everywhere.  We consulted with Travis and his team about the permitting through the rest of the day, and thankfully discovered that all was in-place at both Russia and Japan.  Soon we were taxiing on the ice to RWY 22 for takeoff.  I got the feeling that Nome would be a neat place to explore, but that it would take less than a day to complete the exploration.  Small, frozen, yet strangely pretty…I think I’d like to come back one day for a longer visit.

This King Air had only 18 hours AFTT when we picked it up at KFAR, so it was really nice.  It had a bunch of equipment from Weather Modifications, Inc added in the back, but otherwise was a stock-350, which meant that it was nice.  If I could be “king for the day” and make some changes in Wichita to the King Air 350, it would be with the cockpit seats and avionics.  Although spectacularly appointed, King Air seat does not lean back very far, and everyone felt that the cushioning was less-than ideal.  I grew to hate that seat more and more as the trip progressed.  And, although the ProLine 21 avionics suite is OK, it’s not spectacular.  As a guy that flies just about every avionics suite imaginable, I can testify that the ProLine 21 is not as user-friendly as compared to some others.  We were able to make it work properly, but it was always a pain.  To me, you can take just about any airplane on the market and add a Garmin 750/G500 combination and you’ll have all the avionics you’ll ever want.  But, the King Air 350 in every other way is a spectacular airplane, and I cannot think of another airplane (in the small, cabin-class market) that I’d rather trust to fly across the inhospitable expanse below us.

The mighty King Air 350 launched us to FL280 with ease. and soon we were over the North Pacific enroute to Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka (UHPP), or what we began to simply call “Petro”.  We flew over open water for a while, but it seemed that Russia came into view soon (as compared to any portion of a North Atlantic trip).  We paralleled land, remarking often about the number and beauty of the volcanoes that dot the landscape.  We began to receive reports of “moderate turbulence” from ATC, but we only experienced smooth air at FL280.  Soon after descent though, it began to get rough.  As we made our approach to UHPP it was definitely moderate turbulence.  We fought to fly the airplane with accuracy and tried to enjoy the view of Russia below.

We did not expect the immensity of the mountains in the UHPP area, and especially the local volcanoes.  UHPP appears to be a combination civil/military base with clusters of ill-kept, probably un-airworthy airplanes nested in bunkered parking spots.  We were impressed to see these airplanes (for we never see them in any other part of the world), but they were clearly not used much.  The civil parking ramp had a good number of airline-size airplanes along with about 20 (or so) smaller transports.  We parked and were greeted by about 10 people (3 refuelers, one lady, and the rest were very official-looking “police” or “customs guards” equipped with the Ushanka Hats with the Red Star) who appeared “serious”, with very little smiling.  Anna (the lady) was certainly the most helpful and guided us through the process of getting fuel.  She spoke nearly perfect english and we peppered her with questions about Russia, making friends quickly.  It was clear that we were not going to be invited indoors and we stood in the 30F temps (with a 15 kt wind) to watch the refueling.  After the nearly 4 hour flight all of us wanted to use the bathroom, and Anna negotiated with the serious policemen to have a van brought out to take us to a facility.  All of us loaded up in the van to travel to a small building (not the main terminal) where we were allowed to “go”.  We felt as if we were “out of place” and “not wanted” by the males “protecting us” at UHPP with Anna being the only one that enjoyed our presence.  She sadly seemed to be interested in our way of life, but knew that she had zero chance of ever seeing it with her own eyes.  Upon leaving Russia, Sam said it best when he described Russia to be “exactly as he expected it would be”, and that he was “surprised that it was so” for his expectations were low.  It’s hard to describe, but all the while Russia was interesting to us.  I would like to one day see more of Russia, but I suspect that will be as hard as anticipated, and probably not ever going to happen.  Russia is simply not a good vacation spot.

New Chitose, Japan (RJCC) was our next destination and soon we were back up to FL280.  I keep mentioning that we “we were back up to FL280 quickly” in this article as if that’s a strange thing…I think what I’m trying to impress is the power of the King Air 350.  We easily saw at least 2000fpm climb all the way up to FL280 on every departure.  It was impressive to see the raw power of the King Air as we flew each leg.  FL280 just seemed to come quickly every climb.  We had a low layer of clouds below us for 90% of the flight to RJCC, so there was nothing spectacular about this leg of the journey.  With rather easy navigation and plenty of time for us to talk, the crew traded seats often, chatted about a myriad of topics, and noted the low sun (because we were flying directly towards it the entire flight).  The sun was just going down as we came upon Japan’s northern coastline and the low clouds disappeared.  Japan in the long dusk was beautiful with the lights of the cities contrasted with the snow-topped mountains around.  We made approach to the huge RJCC airport and were instructed to taxi to a huge apron.  What made this stop unusual was the fact that we could not remain overnight.  They told us we could not because “snow removal operations” were in effect and there was not room on the tarmac.  But, there was enough room on the tarmac to park a hundred King Air aircraft. And, there was not much snow to remove.  I think it highlighted the fact that flying internationally is often difficult because of so many variables.   Nevertheless, we were met by a nice group of people that contrasted starkly against the Russians.  We were taken to a bathroom, escorted through security, and brought to the “food court” at RJCC where we were able to purchase dinner.  This was to be Sam’s step-off point (as he did not have clearance to get into China), and the Japanese handlers bent over backwards to help Sam find a hotel and ground transportation.  I thought I was going to be nervous about leaving Sam in Japan alone, but those feelings quickly faded as I saw how well the airport handlers were helping him along (postscript…Sam did have a great time in Japan and navigated his way through their culture quite well…it’s one of the safest countries to visit and Sam enjoyed himself immensely).

By the time Chad and got back in the cockpit, it was completely dark and we were tired (having had already flown over 11 hours that day).  For many reasons (good pilot, good friend, easy to share a small cockpit over long flights) I was happy to have Chad along on the flight, but the biggest reason was he was really needed on the flight to Seoul, Korea (RKSS).  The weather was poor in Korea and I was very tired.  We fought a 80+kt headwind for much of the flight and I fought to stay awake.  Small-talk, rechecking flight instruments, and a gulp of no-dose were all required to stay awake.  I’d have never tried this flight without Chad being along to share the piloting.  We flew over 15 hours that day by the time we landed in Seoul, and it felt like it.  Chad masterfully flew the ILS approach in some steady ice down to a 400 OVC, 1/2 mile, snowing conditions.  RKSS is a huge airport with wonderful lighting and we saw the airport with ease despite the low conditions.  It was 10pm (local) when we landed, which was also the handlers time to be off work.  It didn’t take them long at all to have us sitting in a taxi on our way to the hotel.  I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.  It had been a long day of flying.

Chad really wanted to spend New Year’s Eve in Tokyo, Japan and he decided to leave me in Seoul and airline back to Japan.  This was fine with me because the hard part of the whole trip was over.  I was so happy to have Chad along for the trip and appreciate his willingness to come along.  I woke up the next morning to discover that my flight (which was supposed to happen at 3pm) could not be changed to an earlier time (due to permitting).  So, I had the whole morning to myself in Korea.  I went for a walk, found some breakfast, and generally enjoyed my free morning in my old stomping grounds.  I was stationed in Korea in 1997-8 with the US Army and enjoyed seeing it again.  It has been noted many times that the olfactory system can bring back a memory faster than any other, and this was so true for me.  Korea has a certain smell and I remembered so many aspects of my experience 20 years ago as I walked around.  Korea has changed much, though.  There was construction happening everywhere and my impression was that the Koreans are doing quite well.

All alone, I arrived at the RKSS Airport to prepare for the flight.  The handlers gave me the paperwork, escorted me through security, and I arrived at my airplane 2 hours before departure time.  Fortunately,  I was able to depart 30 minutes early so the wait at the airplane (in the cold but clear weather) was not too terrible.  On climb out I was able to see the immensity of the growth in Korea…the night before was terrible weather, but I was now in the clear on climb out so I could see everything below.  Seoul is an impressive city from above.  I climbed westward over the Yellow Sea enroute to China, catching glimpses of North Korea to my north.

As I came to the geographic center of the Yellow Sea (near the intersection AGAVO), I was changed to Chinese controllers.  China uses metric altitudes for cruise flight, and this was my first experience to operate in meters.  Fortunately, the ProLine 21 will convert to meters and it was no trouble for me at all.  There were lots of low clouds below but as I flew westward they began to dissipate.  Where the clouds began to dissipate, something else began to increase…smog.  I was mildly expecting the smog, but it was more prevalent than I anticipated.  As I came upon the China coastline I could only see the ground by looking straight down, even though there were no clouds at all.  The whole fight to Taiyuan (ZBYN) was characterized by this dingy, thick smog.  The smog is one of the big reasons that China anticipated the arrival of this King Air.  The equipment on this King Air is known “cloud seeding” equipment, which is able to assist a cloud to produce rain.  The rain subsequently is effective at “washing” the atmosphere of the smog.

I was vectored for the ILS 31 and came over the densely populated Taiyuan.  I landed long and rolled out to the end of a very long runway and then taxied to a more remote part of the airport, far away from the airline area.  The sun was just setting as I arrived and was greeted by a bunch of people with cameras and warm wishes.  Clearly, they had been anticipating my arrival for some time.  I exited the airplane to be greeted by snapping cameras, and felt like a movie star.  They gave me warm handshakes and a bouquet of flowers.  We took pictures and everyone milled around looking over the airplane.  It was a nice greeting and a very pleasant ending to a long trip.

The Chinese treated me well when I arrived, but that was just the beginning.  I was soon introduced to Jennifer, the lady who was to be my guide while in China.  She spoke perfect English and literally guided me the whole way along.  She took me through security, found ground transportation, and found a nice hotel.  I had some guidance about the logistics of my return to the USA from Travis and his team, but nothing was firmed.  She really helped. The next morning Jennifer found the best flights, negotiated shipment of my survival gear, and arranged for ground transportation to the airport.  My previous planning had me leaving Taiyuan at 0800, which would have required my departure from the hotel at an uncomfortable 0600.  She found a better flight later in the morning, but one that required that I land at a different airport in Shanghai.  She then figured out how to arrange for ground transportation in Shanghai, which was no small feat.  It’s not that she had a big plan and then executed that plan…I threw her curveball after curveball, and she just seemed to know how to “work the system” and make things happen.  I cannot over-emphasize the impact Jennifer had on my China experience.  If I ever go back to China, I assure you who will handle my logistics!

The immensity of China cannot be overstated.  China has more growth, construction, and people than can be illustrated in writing.  I leave China with the remembrance of smog and smoke, but also of growth and friendliness.  I’m sure everyone treated me well because of the status of the King Air I brought to them, but I encountered many that did not know me and they treated me well too.  Much of this probably is because of the work that Jennifer did, but still I felt that the Chinese people wanted me there and were proud of many aspects of their country.

As I write this I’m again sitting in 1st-Class on the Boeing 767 (now over the Canadian wilderness), and I have Travis to thank for getting me an upgrade. I thank the folks at Holland Air for their continued excellent support, the other good folks at Weather Modifications (Fargo, ND), and look forward to the next time I get to “take a long trip”.

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M600 Initial thoughts

In a nutshell, I REALLY like the M600!!  I think Piper hit an absolute home-run with this airplane and I am already a big fan.  Would I recommend buying one?  You can bet your (tax-depreciated) bottom-dollar I would!

With the new purchase of an M600, the owner will receive training at the Piper Factory (I’ve not given an “initial training” in an M600 yet, although I bet that day comes soon!).  So, I’ve only been able to see the M600 from afar until recently.  Now that the first M600’s are approaching one year old, I’ve had customers come to me for Recurrent Training.  I’ve (as of this writing) conducted 4 M600 Recurrent Training events in the last month (NOV-DEC 2017), so I feel like I’ve now gained the ability to give my thoughts with some credibility.  To those owners that came to me with their first recurrent event…thank you!!  You honor me with your selection of instructor!

The M600 is a super-well thought out airplane that takes the PA46 lineage and moves it to the next level.  Not just an “overgrown Meridian”, this airplane solved some of the biggest complaints against the Meridian while bringing along all of the good aspects that Meridian owners enjoy.  I suspect the M600 will have a long lifespan and owners should be justifiably proud of their purchase decision.  I think the M600 will be the backbone of Piper’s profits for years to come.

Since most M600 buyers will be former Meridian (M500) owners, it seems a good approach to contrast the two while highlighting the M600.

Wing: The biggest difference is the wing.  Clearly Piper went to the drawing board and started with a clean sheet.  The wing is MUCH wider at the root, has a MUCH thicker chord, is WAY more robust (thick skins, beefy spar), and carries a LOT more fuel than any other PA46.  It looks bigger and feels stronger.  The bigger, stronger wing translates into a bunch of value-added results such as:

* Higher Vmo: When starting a descent, the power can be left at cruise.  In fact, in cruise speed, there’s so much available room on the airspeed indicator that Vmo doesn’t even show up on the G3000 display until a descent is started and the speed builds.  The higher Vmo translates into LOTS of safety and strength.

* Greater fuel capacity = range:  Holding 260+ gallons of fuel translates into the M600 having MUCH higher range than the Meridian.  From my home airport in Texas (KJSO), I can reach either the east coast or west coast with reserves.

* More solid feel: The ride in the M600 is more stable while on the ground and in flight.

* Small Ailerons, big flaps: The ailerons are smaller, and this results in less-than-robust roll rates.  This is totally fine because the airplane is built for stable, cross county, fast operation, and I found the airplane to have good control harmony.  The flaps are REALLY long, taking up nearly 3/4 of the span of the wing.  When flap position is changed it has definite impact on performance.  The performance change is notable especially on approach and landing.  There are only 3 flap settings: UP, T/O, and Landing.  The Landing Vfe is 112 KIAS, which requires an approach to be flown slightly different than other PA46’s, but the “approach flow” is easy to learn and fly.

Cool winglets: I’m not sure what the winglets do insofar as increased performance, but sure look cool and make the M600 distinctive on the ramp.

Beefy Landing Gear: Another welcome addition is the beefy landing gear.  The tires are much larger, the braking system more effective, and the feel on the ground is solid.  As an aside…the M600 tire is tubeless, so this eliminates the tube failure problems that have been a nuisance to the other PA46 airframes.

Engine: The engine on the M600 is the identical engine that is found on the Meridian, except that the limits (ITT, TQ, etc) are higher which allows the engine to create more horsepower (600 HP).  This is a compliment because the PT6-42A is an excellent engine that is a perfect size for the M600 airframe/wing.

Payload Capability: With the strong wing, strong gear, and powerful engine come the ability to haul more.  The MGW jumped up significantly allowing for the pilot to have full fuel plus a nearly full cabin.

Ice protection: One of my big complaints against the traditional PA46 tail is the “unprotected gap” at the elevator horn.  If flown in icing, ice bridging can occur which can hinder movement of the elevator and cause the pitch trim servo to cycle.  The M600 has a heated element on the elevator at the gap on the elevator horn which eliminates this dangerous bridging.  All other aspects of the icing on the M600 are robust, making the M600 an excellent platform in icing conditions.

G3000: I really like the G3000.  For those that are coming from a G750-equipped airplane, the transition will be super-easy.  The G3000 is more robust and offers a myriad of “niceties” that are found on no other PA46.  Expect a article from me soon discussing the advantages, but suffice it to say that the G3000 is super-robust and easy to use.

Ultra-nice interior:  Piper has improved the M500 interior tremendously over the years, and the M600 continued that upward trajectory.  It’s absolutely gorgeous with fabulous leather, wonder appointments, and lighting that is second to none.

Needed improvements: Now, having made this article sound like an advertisement for Piper (Nope…I really don’t get any benefit from them at all…), you are probably wondering what I think Piper could do better in subsequent improvements to the M600.  Well, I do think there’s a few things that could be improved:

  • Add a baggage compartment:  The M600 requires weights to be added to the front of the M600 to ensure proper balance…it’s sightly tail-heavy  Most owners REALLY don’t like adding additional weights, and I don’t either.  It seems to me that Piper could have moved the engine forward slightly (to move the CG slightly forward) and allowed for a small baggage area. Even a small baggage area would be immensely popular and helpful.  I’m betting this will be a part of the next generation of M600’s.
  • Created a new name:  I get it…the M350, M500, and M600 are named after the available horsepower in each airframe.  But, they could have come up with a better name that could be used in aircraft callsigns.  It is clearly an “M-Class” airplane, so they could have selected any name that starts with “M”.  Most M600 pilots use the callsign “Meridian” when talking with ATC, but most don’t like using that name because it REALLY is a different airplane compared to a Meridian.  A minor point, but hey…it would be very easy to accomplish.  I’d have called it “Magic”, “Maestro”, “Marvel”, “Mentor”, “Meteor”, “Myriad”, or “Maximum”…anything would be better for use on the radio.  With the new M-number designations, the only airplane without a “proper name” is the M600 (M350 = Mirage; M500 = Meridian).  I think they could boost sales by coming up with a cool name.

I’m super-pleased with with Piper for bringing the M600 to the market.  It translates into Piper being healthy for the next 2-3 decades and that is great news for every Piper airframe owner.  A healthy Piper is good for all Piper owners.  I predict the M600 really will sell well for decades.  For any M600 prospective buyer that is contemplating a purchase, you’ve got my “green light”…this is one well-thought-out airplane that does a great job of retaining the best of the M-Class series while adding a wing that changes the game.

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Shock Cooling in a PA46

We’ve all heard it said…”reduce the throttle by no more than 1-inch every minutes to ensure you don’t shock-cool your engine”.  Does this advice apply to a PA46 engine?  Can a PA46 engine (Lycoming 540 or Continental 520/550) really be shock-cooled?  How should the engine temperature be managed?

Metals expand and contract with temperature, and the various metals in an air-cooled aviation engine expand and contract at a different rates.  Shock-cooling supposedly occurs when the engine changes temperature quickly and the different metals in the engine cool (and therefore change shape) at different rates.  When the change occurs dramatically supposed scoring, rubbing, and marking of the metal can occur, which can cause catastrophic results.

So, let’s back to the original question…can a PA46 engine suffer shock-cooling and should a pilot operate the engine so as to avoid shock cooling?  Simply put, I’ve never seen nor heard of any piston PA46 engine suffer shock-cooling.  In 5000+ hours flying the piston PA46 and 16 years of flying/managing/training in the Malibu/Mirage/Matrix, it simply has not happened to me nor anyone I know.  Does it mean that it cannot happen or has never happened?  No.  But, it is certainly not a prolific threat to our fleet.

Should the owner/pilot operate the engine with a cautious eye cast toward the potential of shock cooling?  Well, sort of…but, let’s flesh this out.  My suggestion is that a pilot should operate the engine with conservatism in movement of temperature, but only because this is a good operating practice with any machine, and any flying machine is (by definition) not “overbuilt”.  And, there are many ways to change the temperature of the engine…not just by reducing power.  Here’s a partial list of ways to cool your PA46 engine:

  • Reduce power: Obvious…yes.  When the engine produces less power, less heat is generated.  Reducing power in a piston engine will almost always result in less temperature.
  • Lower the nose: By descending (and leaving power in a cruise setting) the airspeed will increase and cool the engine.
  • Enriched the mixture:  Fuel has a cooling effect on the engine, so the richer the mixture the cooler the engine.
  • Lower the landing gear:  Yes…you read that right…engine cooling will occur when you lower the landing gear because more air will flow over the cylinders.  Notice the landing gear doors on the PA46 have air louvers.  Air flows into the engine nacelle on the front, passes down through the cylinders (along with the oil cooler, intercoolers, and other components) and then out the louvers of the closed gear doors.  When the landing gear is lowered the “back door is opened” and a LOT more airflows over the cylinders.

My suggestion is that a pilot only perform ONE of these actions at a time when beginning a descent.  This suggestion was presented to me by Chad Menne (Owner, Malibu Aerospace) some time ago and I’ve operated engines this way ever since.  If you are at a higher altitude and simultaneously reduced the power, lowered the landing gear, started a big descent, and enrichened the mixture in one flail swoop, I think there’s a chance that your engine would suffer some negative effects that could be called “shock cooling”.  So, when you do start a descent, pick one “cooling action” to accomplish at a time.  I’m sure you’ll not hurt your engine.

Simply put, shock cooling is not a huge factor in the PA46 community, and a PA46 pilot does not need to be overly cautious.  The “one inch per minute” rule may apply in some other airframes, but in the PA46 world it is not applicable.

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Flying a pre-WWII biplane…

There’s something special about flying a Biplane.  It is a catalyst for all the aviation sensory perceptions…a smorgasbord for everything you smell, feel, see, and hear.

From Photographer Clint Goff, N34351 taking to the clouds

From Photographer Clint Goff, N34351 taking to the clouds

When the engine coughes to life, the small amount of oil that almost always exists in the bottom cylinders gets burned and exhausted into a belch of smoke and the slow turning blades waft this back to the pilot…normally this would be an annoyance, but in a biplane burnt oil has a sweet aroma that prepares the pilot for what is to come.

The second the engine starts, the loping rumble of the engine gives the ears a soft caress.  There’s simply nothing like the sound of an old radial engine.  In the Meyers, I set the very-effective parking brake and hand-prop the engine.  When flying an uninitiated biplane passenger, the belching start always breaks a smile for whoever is in the cockpit.  The smoke and sound always please.

1943 Meyers OTW

1943 Meyers OTW

The view from a biplane is like a well-framed picture.  Have you even noticed that the best landscape portraits always include some interesting subjects in the foreground?  In a biplane, the landscape is always framed in a confluence of symmetrical wings, wires, windshields.  The most dramatic, interesting, and beautiful landscape is always enhanced when viewed from the biplane cockpit.

Even the view forward from the back seat while on the ground, as restricted as it is, is still beautiful.  I normally sit in the back seat, so my view is arguably “worse” than the front-seater. Even so, there’s something about being in the fully leaned-back (biplanes tend to sit tall on tall front gear with the tail being quite low).  With virtually no forward visibility on the Meyers, taxiing can be a challenge for the beginner.  I usually perform a slight S-turn on the taxiway and lean my head out from side to side to catch a glimpse forward.  The Meyers does not have a steerable tailwheel (meaning, it has no locking mechanism and rotates freely 360 degrees), so taxiing is always done slowly and with care (there’s only aerodynamic steering (through use of the rudder) and asymmetrical braking to steer while on the ground).

Photographer Clint Goff capturing a wheel landing in the Meyers OTW

Photographer Clint Goff capturing a wheel landing in the Meyers OTW

On takeoff in a Mayers OTW, the engine roars to life and the wind blasts anything protruding above the windshield.  The goggles are a must-wear and the helmet helps tremendously.  The wind off the propeller is simply ever-present.  At first, it is a nuisance to the unprepared pilot, but soon the wind becomes an accepted part of the experience.

In cruise, the OTW is in no particular hurry to go anywhere.  If the throttle is opened fully, cruise speeds of 100mph are seen, but the wind jostles the head so much that is can be hard to keep the eyes focused.  Lessening the RPM to 1400 or less is the sweet spot for the OTW.  Here the earth passes by many MPH slower, but speed is not the goal.  At 75MPH the OTW is perfectly pleasant.

The best flights in the OTW are centered around the airport, and I mean VERY near the airport.  KJSO is a wonderful place that has not been spoiled by the trappings of congestion, noise complaints, or expensive FBO’s…it’s a rural, quiet airport with a steady heartbeat of GA business for many.  It’s a place where I can climb to about 200′ AGL on downwind and perform 20+ circuitous “traffic patterns” per hour. For most of those I’ll just touch the main tires and roll on, others I’ll lower the tail, and on all I’ll simply enjoy the slow, easy flying that embodies a biplane in all its glory.  Usually I find myself doing this type of flying in the last hour of the day.  Few are around then, and those that are usually sit in lawn chairs in front of their hangar, often imbibing in a beverage of choice, always allowing me to do my work encumbered.

After 20 landings/hour at KJSO

Today is the last of such flights in N34351 for me.  As with every nostalgic airplane, I’m not really the owner, I’m just the steward that gets to ensure the generation gets a chance to tantalize the senses .  Today I passed N34351 onto the next steward.  Doug is now on his journey from Texas to Washington State, and I think he’s going to have a magical flight.  To cross the entirety of the western US in a biplane will certainly provide ample time for the OTW to tantalize every sentry organ.  I wish I could have done that fight myself.  But, many biplanes were built and many still survive.  I’ll be the steward of another one day, and I hope that experience is a pleasant as the one I’ve had with N34351.  She’s a graceful lady that deserves to fly for years to come.

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Fargo to India (almost) Ferry flight

I’m super-excited about this ferry flight!  Not only do I get to fly a great airplane (King Air 200), but I also get to do much of the trip with my son (Ben).  This flight promises to have everything…the barren land of Canada and Greenland, the wetness of Iceland and Ireland, the beautiful lands around the eastern Adriatic Sea, the deserts of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and finally the culturally interesting India.

On a flight of this length, there’s lots of logistics to consider, and I’ve got the team from Shepherd Aero (http://www.shepherd.aero) negotiating the minefield of country-clearances, airway fees, customs in and out of each country, and they even plan the hotels I’ll use.  I’d never fly a trip like this without the help of Travis Holland and his team of pros.

Here’s the story (written after each flight):

Texas to Fargo: I drove to Dallas, starting my day at 0600.  Upon reaching DFW, I dropped off the rental car, zoomed to the terminal (quite proud of my early arrival), and then upgraded both my ticket and Ben’s to first class ($100 upgrade charge).  Then, horrified, I noticed that I left all of my pilot equipment (two headsets and a camera) in the back seat of the rental car.  With only 45 minutes of additional time, I quickly departed (via a SLOW transit bus) back to the Rental Car area at DFW (which is WAY far from the airport area).  The whole time I prayed that the Lord would provide quick passage and allow for the equipment to be available.  Upon reaching the rental car area I found that the car had been taken to the cleaning area, which was nowhere in sight.  I begged the lady at the counter to help and she seemed to see the criticality of my situation, but she didn’t move very fast.  She made a few phone calls, said “hang on a minute”, and walked away to work with another customer.  I stood there for what seemed like 10 minutes, completely frustrated for I had convinced myself that my items were stolen (at least $2k in value) or that it would take all day to recover them (and I would probably not make my flight to KFAR) or both.  There’s no way I was going to fly around the world without a headset.  About the time I was ready to give up and call Travis with the bad news, a different lady walked up behind me holding all my stuff.  I asked her if she wanted a “sloppy kiss” or “just a hug”.  We agreed to that a hug would suffice (which I administered thankfully) and I ran back to the transit bus where (miraculously) the driver had an empty bus and agreed to stop at my terminal first.  I made it back to meet up with Ben and the First-Class ticket ensured that went to the front of the line at the TSA security check.  I made the flight with no further problems, but really scared myself with my stupid trick of not loading all of my equipment properly for the flight.  The 1st-Class upgrade made the flight to KFAR enjoyable.

Perspective from Ben…Well, other than nearly missing the very first flight of the trip, this wasn’t a bad experience at all! I had never flown first class before so that was nice, even if it was just for a couple of hours. I was also pretty happy to get to stop in North Dakota for a few minutes because it marked me as “having set foot” in all 50 US states.

Starting the trip in Fargo, ND

Fargo to Kenora, Canada (CYQK): This was a short flight, but a needed stop to get enough fuel to make it to Goose Bay.  The folks at Fargo Jet Center had everything ready for me to launch quickly from KFAR, and we departed in a very nicely equipped King Air 200.  The area around Kenora is filled with many lakes, all of which were gorgeous from the air.  This looked like the kind of place that I’d like to come for a mid-summer vacation at some remote lake-cabin.  We were fueled quickly and soon were up in the air again.

Perspective from Ben…Another first for me here—I had never been to Canada before this trip. I was equally taken aback at both the abundance of lakes in the region and the antiquity of the laptop/printer setup at the CYQK airport…I’m surprised we didn’t have to use dial-up Internet!

Kenora to Goose Bay (CYYR): The length of this flight really pushed the range of the mighty King Air 200.  I launched up to FL270 (as high as I could go) and set the power levers for best range.  For most of the flight we had a slight tailwind, but it was shifting a bunch and certainly not a “good bet” for a flight where range was a concern.  To make our troubles worse, we were slightly behind time and were going to need to land at CYYR at night.  The weather was fine at CYYR, but the nighttime landing made me more uncomfortable.  To double my challenges, my best alternate (in case I did not have enough fuel for CYYR) was Labrador City (CYWK)…but CYWK’s runway was to be closed at sundown for maintenance.  So, Ben and I made at least 2 different alternate plans in case we didn’t have enough fuel for CYYR.  All of the alternate plans included complicated logistics that made me REALLY want to make CYYR.  We finally came to the conclusion that CYYR was makable if the winds didn’t change.  We landed at CYYR with 45 minutes of remaining fuel (which is less than I’m normally comfortable in northern latitudes), but the flight confirmed our fuel planning, and (more importantly) gave me the confidence in this particular King Air’s fuel indication system.  With a long flight 1/2 way around the world, I’m betting I’ll need some confidence in the the overall performance of this airplane. (Man, would I live to see this prophecy come true!!!!)

Perspective from Ben…To determine the amount of fuel the plane should land with, you have to do a series of calculations with the fuel burn rate and the remaining fuel weight. It seemed a bit complex at first, but it wasn’t long until I mastered the technique as I nervously watched the fuel gauge…But of course, we made it to CYYR with no issues and had an uneventful night’s stay in Goose Bay. 

Goose to Narsarsuaq:  The weather around most of Greenland was splendid.  We climbed up to FL270 and enjoyed the smooth air.  Soon the clouds gave way to a splendid clarity, and we saw Greenland from 125 miles away.  I asked for an early descent, and was granted the ability to descend down low to fly the long, historical Tunulliarfik Fjord that leads to Narsarsuaq.  Icebergs floated everywhere and we thoroughly enjoyed the spectacular views.  I hand-flew the Tunulliarfik Fjord and Ben snapped pics along the way.  It was a spectacular flight.  We ate some distasteful hot dogs from the food area in the airline terminal (we were told they might have been reindeer meat, but we didn’t care) and got the weather briefing for our next leg.  On the way to the airplane we stopped off at a “patch of grass”…Ben says that a stop at an airport “does not count” unless you “step on some grass”.  The flowers were gorgeous in Greenland.

Grass in Greenland

Perspective from Ben…Greenland weather isn’t nice for the large majority of the year from what I’ve heard, but it sure was beautiful for our visit! I was floored by the beauty of the landscape, and approach down the Tunulliarfik Fjord and landing at Narsarsuaq made the history of the airport come to life.

Narsarsuaq to Keflavik (BIKF): With the unbelievably clear weather, the view leaving Narsarsuaq was incredible.  After departing downhill on RWY 06, I buzzed an iceberg in the fjord and then started up the fjord to climb the glacier eastwards.  I climbed at 1000 fpm and the terrain climbed with me…it felt like I was flying straight and level, but I was climbing quickly.  The immensity of the ice cap and the various glaciers on Greenland are nearly indescribable.  Huge, beautiful, thick, gorgeous…the verbs don’t suffice.  Without a doubt the climb from Narsarsuaq was the visual highlight of the trip for me.  We then settled down to a smooth and uneventful flight to Keflavik.  The landing at Keflavik was a non-event as the weather was splendid.  We scrounged some food items, but were only able to find snack items and a couple of apples…nothing super-healthy or sustaining, for sure.

Jet directly overhead near Iceland

Perspective from Ben…I agree that the best part of the trip was seeing the amazing Greenland icecap. The mountain peaks sticking out of the snow for miles made for some of the most incredible scenery I’ve ever seen. I think I took about 75 pictures but none of them came close to doing it justice. Other than the view the flight was quick and uneventful, same as the stop in Iceland.

Ben in the immersion suit

Keflavik to Belfast, Ireland (EGAA):  Clouds below dominated the view as we progressed towards Ireland, and the headwinds picked up significantly.  Were both tired and the scenery was not changing and the radios fell quiet.  Ben watched a movie and the time seemed to pass quicker.  We approached Belfast around 11pm in the dark.  Upon landing we met the owner of the FBO at Belfast.  IMO, this was the best FBO we experienced the whole trip.  They loaded our bags, took us to Domino’s Pizza (we’d not eaten anything of substance in quite a while), and dropped us off at the nice hotel.  After breakfast the FBO came again to pick us up, and they even had a sack lunch prepared for us.  I’ll be sure to pass the word that EGAA is a good place to stop when coming across the North Atlantic.

Perspective from Ben…EGAA was far and away the best FBO experience on the trip. The owner saw to it personally that we were well fed for dinner, as well as breakfast and lunch the next day—definitely was “service with a smile.” After eating nothing but trail mix for the past few hours, I was thankful that pizza didn’t differ much from the US to Northern Ireland.

Keflavik, Iceland

Belfast to Luxembourg (ELLX): There were broken clouds below as we flew to ELLX.  It was nice to see glimpses of the green small fields of Great Britain, the small whitecaps of the English Channel, and the northern coast of France.  ELLX has a HUGE runway…I turned off at midfield and didn’t use any brakes or reverse thrust.  Short rant here…I’m so saddened to see FBO’s like the one found at Luxembourg…they have “cheap fuel” (low cost/liter), but I still paid $250 in “handling charges” and literally got nothing for it.  Although my airplane was only 50 feet from the building, I had to ride in the vehicle with the “security guy” just “for my safety”…I had to go through security to go to the bathroom, and there’s no food anywhere in sight.  And…to make matters worse, I had to stand around while the fuel guy fueled the airplane (after waiting by the airplane for 30 minutes).  There was literally no “service” that I desired, and I had no choice but to pay for what little that was done for me.  More rant…sorry…we had better think long and hard in America before we allow User Fees to be allowed in the USA.   This is a hot-button item right now in the USA, and how we’d ever regress to a system that is clearly NOT working anywhere else in the world is ludicrous.  Anyone that believes differently needs to take an international trip with me someday…they see how beautiful countries with beautiful people kill aviation by allowing user fees.  Luxembourg is not the worst of the violating countries (I’ll see some of the worst on this trip), but they participate in the insanity, and are worse-off because of it.  OK…I feel better now…thanks for allowing that rant…

I said “goodbye” to Ben, as he was to catch an airline flight back to DFW.  The rest of this voyage is to be a solo job…

Hands in pants…it was chilly in Ireland

Perspective from Ben…When we gave the FBO attendant an exasperated look after being told we had to go through security to get to a bathroom, he simply shrugged and said “That’s Europe for you.” That about summed it up. The airport in Luxembourg was entirely cold and unwelcoming, and I got the feeling that nobody cared to change it.  We got to Luxembourg before noon and my airline flight back to the States wasn’t until the next morning, so I had a day to explore the country’s capital city. The city of Luxembourg is a beautiful place with excellent public transportation. It’s nicknamed “a city in a forest” for good reason—there’s not a block in the whole metroplex that isn’t lined with trees. Other than the FBO fiasco, it was a very pleasant stay.

Luxembourg to Split, Croatia (LDSP): Fortunately, a broken sky opened up just as I came over the Italian Alps.  By the time I got over the Adriatic Sea the sky was perfectly clear.  The Italian Alps are absolutely gorgeous.  I’ve flown this route many times and every time (when I get a good view) I’m surprised by their beauty.  And the Adriatic Sea…that’s a hidden secret to most Americans…we don’t think about this part of the world as a vacation-location, but I think it is absolutely gorgeous.  The Eastern Europeans have figured it out, as there were many sailboats working their way in and around the various islands. Split, Croatia is nestled amongst the mountains on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, and the airport is nestled too.  The winds favored landing Runway 25 and the visual approach takes you right up alongside the mountains.  I wanted to let go of the yoke and grab the camera as I made my approach, but thought better.  The super-blue water is contrasted perfectly with the red/orange-roofed houses in a scene where the mountains come up out of the sea like an exponential line on a graph.  While Croatia is beautiful from the air, a closer look shows that the country has troubles.  It only took a few unrelated conversations with the locals to learn that taxes are high, traffic is horrible, and the government is lethargic.  I ended up at nice hotel on the edge of town and went on a nice walk alongside the bay before turning in to bed early.

Split to Hurghada, Egypt (HEGN): (Written while flying. Note: the left engine is my fuel-critical engine in this King Air, meaning that is burns slightly more than the right and always ends up being the tank with the least fuel at the end of the flight.) It’s early in my trip (barely over the edge of Greece) and I’m a bit concerned about my fuel range.  With four hours of flight remaining, my estimates show that I’ll land with only 40 minutes of additional fuel, and that’s not much when flying over Egypt.  The winds are forecast to increase in my favor (better tailwinds), but a forecast is only a forecast…and reality can bite. I requested FL290 (even though I’m not RVSM approved) and the Italian controller gave it to me.  The higher I go, the better range I’ll get, so I’m staying as high as possible for as long as possible.  The skies are crystal clear with no turbulence.  It’s a gorgeous day, and it should remain that way the entire trip.

Green Nile River below

Red Sea on the Eastern Coast of Egypt

I’m now over the Egyptian Desert just west of Cairo.  The radios have been filled with anarchy as everyone steps on everyone else, and the controller on “Cairo Control” doesn’t seem to be able to control anything.  They keep vectoring me to off-route fixes, and I’m nervous about fuel.  The vectors have gotten more direct, but still not perfectly direct.  If all goes as planned, I’m going to land with 45 minutes of fuel in the left tank, and that is about as little as I dare without going to an alternate.  Ugh.

I’m now on the east side of the Nile River and awaiting to see the Red Sea.  I show 0:36 minutes of flight time, and I’ve got 45 minutes of fuel reserve in the left tank, if I get direct routing.  I won’t accept anything but direct routing for the rest of this flight.  The barrenness of the Egyptian Desert is amazingly desolate, this underscored by my fuel situation.  As I finish this sentence, the Red Sea has come into view…pleasant sight.

(Written after landing…) As I came into land, I got ATIS, but could not understand any of it…the accent of the guy the who made the recording was terrible.  There are two HUGE runways at HEGN…RWY 34L and 34R.  All of the facilities/buildings are on the east side of the airport, but they cleared me to land on RWY 34L (farthest from the buildings).  I asked if I could land on 34R and the tower answered back, “I don’t care…land on either runway.”  So, I lined up on RWY 34R.  As I came into land, I noticed some very small red X’s on the runway and then heard (when I was about 300’ AGL), “King Air, Go Around, Go Around, Go Around!!”.  I realized this was a closed runway and began to sidestep to the left runway.  The tower wanted to vector me around again (and use a bunch of fuel in the process), but I told him I could not and needed to land on the left runway.  I was glad both runways were super-long (over 12,000’) for the side-step maneuver was easily handled.  After landing (with 35 minutes of fuel in the left tank) I taxied across the closed runway and saw a bunch of fences that were constructed across the runway.  Had I touched down I would have destroyed the King Air, for sure.  The tower operator never said another word and I taxied up to the terminal building to a group of about 6 guys and a big fuel truck. I was so happy to see fuel that I quickly forgot about the landing escapade.  The super-hot, super-dry air of Egypt somehow felt mildly comfortable with the 20 kt wind to cool things off.  Within 45 minutes I was airborne again and headed across the Red Sea.

Hurghada to Fujairah, UAE (OMFJ):  Already having been through one on-the-edge-of-range flight this day, I was now pushing the limits again.  When past the eastern edge of the Red Sea, I called ATC again to request FL290 (again, not RVSM qualified…this won’t work in the USA!). To my surprise, they again let me fly FL290.  (Written while flying…) I’m now over the immense Saudi Arabian Desert.  This desert is sort of like the Greenland Icecap…it’s just hard to describe the immensity.  I’ll fly over 1200NM on this flight and over 1000NM of that is over a sea of hazy brown below.  You’d think the visibility would be incredible over the dry Saudi Arabian Desert, but there’s a brown haze everywhere and I can only see the desert when looking straight down, even though there’s no clouds in sight and the sun is at my back (it’s late afternoon and I’m flying eastbound).  The Saudi controllers are surprisingly easy to understand as compared to the Egyptian controllers.  It’s peaceful, smooth, and I’ve got 2 more hours of (hopefully) boring flight time ahead of me today.

Saudi Arabian Desert from above

(Written after the flight…) The sun is setting at my back and nightfall comes to reveal the fires in the oil rigs spotting the Persian Gulf between the UAE and Iran.  I split the Persian Gulf with my flight path, arguing with ATC so that I can get the most direct course.  I can see Iran, but not make much out other than notice a brown hue.  Fuel is constantly on my mind.   The night arrives more quickly than I desire…daytime would be better to make my approach, or at least it would provide visual comfort.  I perform a fuel calculation seemingly every 5 minutes (although probably more often) and look at the winds incessantly.  As I draw closer the ATIS at Fujairah advises the weather conditions are “CAVOK and no significant weather”, but I cannot see the lights of Dubai or Fujairah as I come to within 100NM.  When I’m over Dubai (huge, brightly-lit city) I still cannot see the lights of the city.  It is certainly not “CAVOK”.  I get cleared directly to the Fujairah VOR (it’s on the airport) and cannot see the airport at all when directly over the top.  Where I thought I’d get a visual approach (far less fuel burn), I now have to fly the full-procedure ILS.  With no choice, I fly outbound on the procedure turn (about 11 miles) and power back in hopes of saving fuel.  The cabin was getting super-hot and I could not figure out why…I turned the air conditioner on full-blast, but still warmth filled the entire cabin. There’s no time to troubleshoot this issue now, though.  Already having flown 9 hours this day…tired, groggy, in the dark and in the soup, I had to summon my wits to fly the ILS precisely.  I distinctly remember telling myself, “You’ve got one shot at this…do it right”.  Although I’d flown this King Air 4,000+ miles, all of the approaches so far were visual…this was the first time I’d need to fly an instrument approach to land.  I talked my way through the buttonology, frequencies, and ended up flying a nice approach.  I came out of the clouds at 800’, but didn’t see the airport until only about a mile from the runway.  The visibility was terrible, and it wasn’t all fog…it was a “dusty fog” that was made worse by the yellow lights of Fujairah.

When I stepped out of the King Air, the oppressive heat hit me in the face.  This was the heat that was felt when I came in for the approach.  Egypt was hot, probably 115F…but it was a dry heat.  This was a humid heat that was WAY worse than a Texas summer day.  It felt worse at night in Fujairah than it does at 2pm on the hottest day in the summer in Texas.  I’ll never complain about Texas heat again.

The ride to the hotel was short and I arrived to wonderful air conditioning for the evening.  For some reason, the approval to land in India was not approved on time, so I was advised to leave the King Air in Fujairah and come home…the fun part of the trip was over.  I spent the better part of the next two hours figuring out the best airline flight to get home.  Travis then called and had the whole travel situation figured out in about 5 minutes…somehow he found a 1st Class seat on a British Airways flight to London and then to the USA.  Travis can do more with an iPhone in 5 minutes than I can do with a full computer in 2 hours…that, I assure you!

As I write this now, I’m completely amazed at 1st-Class international service.  I’ve flown a LOT domestically 1st-Class, but never internationally.  I’m absolutely flabbergasted at the comfort and amenities.  They gave me pajamas, a 5-course meal, the seats level to a bed, and the flight attendants went completely out of their way for me the entire trip. Travis, I owe you one!  This is great!  As if 1st Class was not good enough, the Bass Player from ZZ Top (Dusty Hill) sat next to me..he was super-cool and talked with me towards the end of the flight…neat guy…

ZZ Top Bassist, Dusty Hill

As I remember this flight, I fondly remember having Ben join me on the flight and I stressfully remember the low-fuel situations.  Although the weather was great most of the trip, flying internationally presents a LOT more challenges to the uninitiated than a domestic flight in the USA (where airports and options abound).  I’m looking forward to the next trip, and hope it happens soon.

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