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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An Existential Threat…

One of my good customers, Dave Boyle, had an unusual occurrence recently, and I thought it might help the PA46 community to understand the situation.  Dave is an excellent pilot, is the self-assigned “maintenance manager” in the 3-person partnership that owns a very nice 1987 Malibu, and is a good friend to our PA46 Community.  Here’s his story…

I’m a relatively new Malibu owner/pilot.  Recently, while preparing for a long cross country at the flight levels, I decided to practice the actions I would need to perform in a loss-of-pressurization emergency.  My partners and I have the pilot’s emergency oxygen bottle mounted on top of the cabinet behind the co-pilot’s seat, and the mask and hoses are also stowed there in a clear plastic bag, all readily accessible to the pilot.  In the hangar, sitting in the pilot’s seat, I began running through the procedures as realistically as I could.  Step one: don the O2 mask and turn on the oxygen flow.  I reached back, grabbed the plastic bag, extracted and donned the mask, and fully opened the valve on the O2 bottle.  With the all-important mask in place, I calmly read through and simulated the relevant checklist items.  Great job, Dave!  I took one more well earned sniff of that delicious 100-percent oxygen, reached over and shut off the oxygen flow valve, and began to gather up the O2 delivery hardware to restore the system to readiness.  Uh-oh…the tygon tubing which I had assumed was connecting my mask to the oxygen source was just lying there on the cabin floor connected to…nothing!  Here’s what had happened:

The clear plastic tygon tubing on typical Malibu/Mirage emergency oxygen systems runs from the O2 bottle, through a flow meter/verifier, and then to the face mask.  The flow meter/verifier can be either a rotameter (i.e., a floating plastic “BB” that rises in a vertically held tube as the O2 flow rate increases) or a “turbine wheel” that spins to give a visual indication when O2 is flowing.  We have the turbine wheel option shown in the picture below.

During my “test” of the system, the tubing had slipped off one of its connection points (designated by maroon arrow in picture).  If this had been a real in-flight emergency, you might argue that I should have looked initially at the turbine wheel to confirm oxygen was flowing.  And you would be correct.  However, in this case, the “failed” connection and related tubing were lying so far back on the cabin floor, that I would have had to undo my safety belt and climb back into the cabin to fix the problem.  This step is not something I want to perform during an in-flight depressurization emergency.  You probably don’t either.

The tygon tubing is held onto the short plastic nipples on the turbine wheel by the elasticity of the tubing.  You must exert a significant force to push the tubing onto the nipple whose outer diameter is larger than the tubing inside diameter.  This action stretches the tubing radially, and the tubing’s natural elasticity provides for a strong radial holding force.  This approach works well until time and possibly sun-heated cabin temperatures slowly erode the elasticity of the stretched tubing on the nipple.  In my case I could see that the short section of tubing which had been on the turbine wheel nipple for many years now maintained a much larger inside diameter than the rest of the tubing.  To solve this problem, all I had to do was snip off the quarter inch or so of “hardened,” no-longer-elastic tubing and force the end of the remaining “fresh” tubing over the nipple.

I then got back in the pilot’s seat and repeated the procedure to ensure everything was working properly.  Guess what?  When I pulled the tygon tubing to bring the turbine wheel into view to ensure oxygen was flowing to the mask, the connection on the other side of the turbine wheel came off!  It came off for exactly the same reason the other side had failed, long term loss of tygon tubing elasticity.  And, again, to repair this problem required leaving the pilot’s seat and moving into the cabin to get hold of all the loose ends.  Had this been a real in-flight emergency, things would probably not have ended well

The Message:  This experience convinced me that those of us who fly pressurized airplanes need to check these press-on connections on a regular basis (every six months?).  A firm tug on the tubing that stresses the connections will do the job.  If something pops off, it’s an easy fix with a pocket knife to slice off the quarter inch of “non-elastic” tubing and then push the freshly cut end of the tubing back on the nipple.  A firm tug on this new connection will give you a good feeling.  Moreover, it may save your life and the lives of your passengers in the future.

Dave Boyle
Commercial Pilot ASEL/AMEL, Instrument
Chemical and Nuclear Engineer, Texas A&M University (Retired)
US Air Force (Retired)

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Dual G500/G750 Meridian

I’ve been doing a lot of work with PA46 clients lately in the purchase of P46T Turbines…I call this “Buyer-Agent” services, and I really enjoy this aspect of the business.  One of my favorite “deals” on the market is an earlier Meridian that has much of the older Meggitt Avionics removed and “Dual G500/G750” installed.  When coupled with the fabulous STEC 1500 autopilot, it creates a panel that is clean, neat, orderly, and VERY functional.  In fact, I’d rather have a Dual G500/G750 Meridian (all-in price of about $850k – $900k) than a newer G1000 Meridian (starting at $1.25m, 2017 prices) if I could keep the difference in cash.

Here’s a video that I recently made in flight with a brand-new G500/G750 Meridian:

I must give props to Alan Akre at RC Avionics at Anoka, MN (http://rcavionics.com/home/).  They’ve done 3 separate jobs for my clients recently and all were turn-key jobs that were “done right the first time”…which is an incredible statement about an avionics shop.  Avionics work VERY complicated with many moving parts…it’s not for the faint of heart and I’ve seen MANY botched jobs that cost the aircraft owner LOTS of time and money.  RC has become my go-to shop for the “big jobs”, and they’ve never let me down.

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Jetprop: Switzerland to USA Ferry Flight

Tom Thomason learned of Elie Vannier’s VERY nice Jetprop (N43CH) that was for sale, and promptly began a pursuit to purchase that ended with our going to Elie’s hometown of Lausanne, Switzerland.  Decked out with great avionics, great paint, and stellar maintenance history, we knew this airplane was going to be nice.  But…the best part of Elie’s Jetprop is the one-of-a-kind ferry tank (designed by John Mariani and installed by Malibu Aerospace) that allows for 66 additional gallons of fuel.  An incredibly simple and brilliant system, this Jetprop has more range than any other Jetprop on the planet.  Being a savvy and super-knowledgeable Jetprop owner, Tom knows a good PA46 deal when he sees one, and bought N43CH.

Tom came to JSO to start our trip together and some friends flew us to Dallas in their nice Beechcraft Bonanza.  We boarded the long flight from DFW to London, and were pleasantly surprised to receive upgrades to bulkhead seats together (with no one sitting next to either of us).  I’m not sure how Tom did it, but he slept the entire flight to London, while I watched two movies and read part of a book (yes, I paid for this later by being VERY tired on the ground!).  We arrived in Geneva, and met Elie face-to-face…which started a good relationship with a great man.

We drove to the GA-side of the Geneva airport and boarded N43CH for the test flight.  Realizing very quickly that this was one super-nice Jetprop and confirming that everything worked properly, the test flight quickly turned into a sight-seeing tour of the Swiss Alps.  If you’ve never seen the Swiss Alps, don’t go to your grave until you do…it’s unquestionably one of the most awe-inspiring places on earth.

Swiss Alps in the Jetprop

Some buy-sell relationships turn adversarial fairly quickly, but this sale was one that can only be described as “mutually beneficial”, friendly, and professional.  We gathered quickly that Elie was a man of tremendous character and cares for aviation to same degree that we do…the feelings were mutual.  For the next day Elie was a tremendous host and showed us the best of Lausanne.  We are indebted to Elie, certainly calling him a friend.

Our departure from Lausanne was normal and the beauty of the Swiss Alps faded to a white undercast below.  Although the weather in ELLX (Luxembourg) was forecast to be acceptable, when we arrived it was downright terrible with RVR being 100m.  We went to our alternate of Liege, Belgium.  The weather was CAVOK (Clear Air, Visibility OK) and we landed uneventfully.  But, this is where the logistical troubles began.  Liege is a huge airport, but it serves big airplanes and mainly cargo airplanes.  The service was terrible, the communication horrible, and we had trouble after trouble with everything from finding a toilet to filing a flight plan to just getting fuel.  We will remember our experience at Liege as one of the worst seen in my 25 years of flying….yes, that bad.  We finally got a modicum of a clearance and (although not understanding every aspect of the clearance) departed for Belfast, Northern Ireland. We clarified the clearance as we climbed and soon were in the smooth air over the English Channel.  Strong winds prevailed, but they were crosswinds.  We popped out of a high overcast on descent and were treated to the green landscape of Northern Ireland.  Despite being February, it was remarkably green and lush. The FBO in Belfast, Northern Ireland treated us very well….I’ll plan to go there again on another trip.

We encountered strong winds along the entire flight to Iceland, and thankfully they were quartering winds that netted a small tail wind component.  Check out the crosswind in the pic below!

We saw Iceland from afar (due to unusually clear weather) and noticed the immense white from the snow.  We didn’t know it when we arrived, but Iceland had a record snowfall on the nighttime prior to our arrival.  There were over 51cm of snow in a 4 hour period.  Literally the entire island was covered in snow….and this is unusual…Iceland is normally not “icy”.  Thankfully, the ground crew cleared the runway of snow quickly and we were the first airplane to arrive to a winter wonderland on a Sunday morning.  Since Greenland is closed on Sunday, and because we arrived around noon in Iceland, we had the better part of the day to spend sloshing around Iceland.  And…a slosh it was…snow was everywhere, but the temperature had risen to 35F.  So, on our walk through downtown Reykjavik we ended up wading through a mix of really slippery ice and melting cold water.  But…Reykjavik is one cool town, and it was fun to just be there.  The locals were excited to see the snow, too, and it seemed that the whole town came outside to play in the snow on a “warmer” no-wind day with piles of snow everywhere.

Reykjavik from the air

The weather was 25F upon our departure on Monday morning, but there was no wind.  Advised that we “must get weather in Narsarsauq before leaving” and because the weather forecaster in Greenland does not get up early, we arrived at BIRK a little later than normal (9am).  We learned that the weather in BGBW was acceptable, but strong winds prevailed and the weather was going to get worse as the day progressed.  We got extra fuel in the installed ferry tank (although we ended up not needing the additional fuel!!) and took off into a perfectly clear blue day.  We checked the ferry tank operation and otherwise had an uneventful flight to the eastern coast of Greenland.

Narsarsuaq (BGBW) is on the western coast of Greenland nestled in the end of a long fjord.  There’s enough well-known aviation-lore for this historic airport that is known by most pilots, so I won’t belabor the “toughness” or “danger” that can be found at BGBW.   I’ve been here many times before, but this day was to test my ability as an aviator.  As we came over the Greenland Icecap we were made aware of a new SIGMET that included BGBW…severe turbulence below 10,000ft.  I had not read about this prior to leaving BIRK, but the SIGMET was right…there was turbulence.

Tom is a great writer, and here’s his perspective of Narsarsuaq:

“The most impressive place we landed was Narsarsuaq. It  had an almost medieval  quality. Tall dark granite cliffs partially covered in low thick vegetation giving the appearance of a great castle.  Surrounded by high snow-covered mountains and a huge moat of  angry grey green sea filled with whitecaps, dark foreboding torn clouds were racing down from the mountain, firing cannons of turbulent air that rocked our ship and incessantly tried to push us back or throw us into the sea.   Even after landing, the taxiways had a doorkeepers riddle of ice and strong winds that we had to figure out before we could finally pull up to the entrance to the FBO of Narsarsuaq.
However, once we got there the line crew was excellent and the young woman “NaSu”, a native Greenlander was very pleasant and helped us immensely as we made  all the arrangements for our next flight to Goose bay. She even served us smoked lamb, that she had made herself from the herd that her husband owns on their farm. The tower operator had many stories of flying sea planes and helicopters in Greenland during his past 30 years. A very fascinating Swede who loved the land. Leaving Narsarsuaq was a chance for the Jetprop to really show its capabilities.  Climbing at a high “angle” of ascent, allowed  us to clear the surrounding mountains on the departure procedure. They were totally hidden to our eyes by clouds, but revealed to us by synthetic vision on the G500…” Tom Thomason

The weather was forecast to only get worse, and if we delayed too much longer we’d have to stay in Greenland a few days.

Greenland from the air

 

Strong winds at Narsarsuaq

I called Travis Holland for some wisdom about departing.  As a trusted North Atlantic veteran, I knew Travis would shoot straight with me about the tough weather.  I was nervous about departing back into the wind, but sensed that the only real threat was the strong surface winds.  If they subsided, I was comfortable.  By the grace of God, the winds did subside…if you call a 35kt wind subsiding.  After preparing for the flight, we jumped at the chance to leave BGBW and took off for Goose Bay (CYYR).  The visibility was predominantly 5 miles or better, but areas of heavy snow dropped the visibility down to 1/4 mile or less. The Synthetic Vision in Tom’s Jetprop made us very comfortable climbing above the amazingly rugged and beautiful Greenland below. The powerful Jetprop made short work of the climb and we were at FL260 in no time, battling the HUGE crosswinds at the upper-levels.

Over the Labrador Sea

 

Eastern Coast of Canada with huge winds pushing the ice out to sea

Tom and I both marveled at the beauty of the Labrador Sea.  The ice floes and immense amount of white below was laced with slivers of blue that revealed the depths of the water.  This was no place to have airplane problems, and we carefully calculated fuel, made appropriate radio calls, and monitored the airplane systems.  The Jetprop is singularly outstanding…easily one of my favorite airplanes…and I was happy to have this Jetprop as my steed.  With the mighty PT6 up front I never worried about the danger that lurked below.  We landed at Goose Bay (CYYR) in a strong wind (35kts) about 30 degrees from the right.  Tom again showed off his mastery of the crosswind landing and we were soon forced again to deal with the greatest threat of the day…taxiing on the slippery ice.  The ramp at Goose Bay was nothing more than a sheet of ice.  We crept along at a snails pace into the parking spot feeling the wheels slide every now and then.  To confirm our worries about the slippery ice, there was a big Dash-7 (Dehavilland Airplane, big…4-engines) parked on the ramp. We later learned that (while sitting chocked on the ground) a gust of wind pushed it along the ice and slammed it into another vehicle.  The slipperiness of the icy ramp was the real-deal, and I’m glad we got out of there with no incidents.

 

 

The third leg of the trip seemed to go on forever.  We had already flown 7+ hours that day, and we had another 4 hours staring us in the face.  The weather was favorable (smooth, clear, nice view of the ground), but the winds were certainly not…we had 70+ knots right on the nose the whole leg.  Interestingly, to fly from CYYR to CYMX (Montreal) the St.Lawrence River was underneath us seemingly the whole way.  We marveled at the immensity of the St. Lawrence River overall, and the isolation of the more northerly portions of that river.  Northern Canada is a place of incredible beauty, but also few people.  It is an unmolested wilderness that is truly beautiful.  We finally landed in CYMX (Montreal, Canada) just after dusk, and settled into a long, welcome sleep at the hotel.

Tom’s one time to relax in the back…he piloted 99% of this ferry flight

The next morning found us departing to KPTK (Pontiac, MI).  We spent most of that flight in solid IMC and a huge headwind.  The US Customs experience was pleasant and short, and soon we refueled and departed for the second leg of the day…KEVI, Indiana.

Upon landing in Michigan

We got lunch at a local sandwich shop and enjoyed being back in our own culture.  We wanted to get back in the air quickly as we knew we were going to face headwinds.  With 90 knots right on the nose, the forecast was right.  It took nearly 4 hours to fly from Indiana to Texas, and we were both tired upon landing.

At the end of the trip at KJSO, Cherokee County Airport, Texas

Tom stayed the night in my “Pilot Bunk Room”, and I went home for the evening.  The next morning Tom departed for his hometown in New Mexico.  As I reflect upon the trip, I’m continually amazed at the Jetprop.  Through all of the difficult weather the Jetprop (and PT6 up front) never missed a beat.  Also, I can’t help but think of how nice it was to fly with Tom.  Switzerland to Texas is a LONG way to sit in a small environment with one person, but Tom made it enjoyable the entire route.  It was a great experience that I hope to do again.  Congrats on your purchase, Tom!

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