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.

About Joe Casey

ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, CFI-G Commercial Pilot - SE, ME, Rotorcraft, Glider US Army AH-64 Pilot and UH-60 Instructor Pilot and Instrument Flight Examiner
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