I got to fly a King Air 200T from Mali, Africa to the US. See the route of my flight here.
I was held up in Bamako, Mali (Africa) for about 4 days longer than expected as I awaited the entirety of the aircraft logbooks to be delivered for a King Air 200T. Ridgeaire (www.ridgeaire.com) was to buy the King Air and I was to fly
it back to the US via the North Atlantic. Some of the logbooks were with the airplane, but most were not. There was no way I was going to leave Africa without the logbooks (as they represent about 1/2 the value of the airplane), so I got plenty of time to look around Bamako and get to know the people of the region. West Africa is hot, dry, windy, and full of really poor, but seemingly happy people. As the days dragged along, I got more an more ancy to start my trip. I’d sat around the airport long enough and was ready to fly. When everything lined up and I got clearance from the new owner to fly away, it was 6pm one evening. I figured that was as good a time as any considering the good weather and I was rested beyond belief.
The takeoff from Mali was normal, except that I got a glimpse of Africa at night from down low. Bamako provided the only lights to be seen for miles, and then there was nothing but darkness. The moonless night provided no illumination beyond simple starlight, and it accentuated the difference between Africa and the U.S. in a visible manner. It truly is a dark continent in so many ways. As I flew northbound across the Sahara Desert, the darkness did not subside. I had the interior lights turned down almost completely and fought against the cockpit lights that were brighter than they should have been due to a bad rheostat or poor light engineering. My eyes were completely using scotopic vision. Every now and then, a campfire over the Sahara could been seen, but they were few an far between. I know there were probably people down there, but they live a life that is far different than mine, and darkness is a big part of their world.
Agadir, Morocco came into view about 80 miles out and the lights provided a welcome change to the darkness of the Sahara. It was nearly midnight and the evening was clear. The approach into Agadir was simple, and the airport was far above the standards seen in Sub-Sahara airports. I saw little of Morocco, but was impressed with what little I saw. I had to go through the airline security, simply to have them run my credit card for a $500 landing fee. Agadir has nice facilities, but they were in the dark ages insofar as attracting business. I left Agadir within an hour and was airborne for Portugal.
The flight to Portugal was a good lesson in geography. Clear as any night I’ve ever seen, the lights of the various towns defined land from water. I could see the Gibraltar Strait, the coast of Africa, and all of Portugal. Portugal is simply gorgeous from the air on a clear night. Unlike the US, the roads are all quite curvy and most seem to be well lit with amber lights that wreak of civilization, which I had not seen in at least a week. As I flew the approach into Porto, one of the “3 green lights” that denotes the down-and-locked position of the landing gear did not come on. I performed a go-around and did some simple troubleshooting of the system. A spare light bulb stolen from an insignificant light confirmed that my troubles were over. The landing at Porto was unremarkable, albeit quite early in the morning (0545am). A really nice guy named Jose showed up at the airplane and helped me get through security, into a taxi, and onto the hotel. Although the hotel was super-nice, I barely saw it for my eyelids were shut before my head hit the pillow.
I woke up around noon and felt great. A taxi-driver was waiting for me (thanks to Jose’s good arrangements) and I rode through streets that gave me the sense the the Portugese people are quite proud people who care for their country. Roads were nice, houses cared for, and people were nice. I’m sure there are slums in Portugal, but I never saw them, and would like to go back to Portugal one day to spend more time looking around. Jose was at the airport and escorted me right through security with minimal hinderances. I took Jose’s recommendation for getting something to eat, and found a super-great sandwich made with local breads and local sausage. Jose was right again. After another $500 soaking for landing and handling fees, I was again airborne northbound.
The flight from Portugal to Ireland is almost all over water, so this is where I mentally mentally shifted my survival thoughts from emergency landing on terra-firma to ditching in case of a major airborne catastrophe. There is
something that is mentally instinctive about flying over a hostile environment. I preflighted my immersion suit and raft and made mental notes about the operation of each in case they were needed. Pilots rarely get to really use their survival equipment (which is a good thing). There is no phobia or weird level of focus, but there is an awareness that survival after ditching in open water depends upon good planning and proper execution of tasks that are not routinely practiced.
I proceeded directly to Ireland and soon discovered that my HF Radio was not working. The ramifications of an inop HF over the open ocean is that you cannot go direct and must fly over routes that allow for VHF reception. My route diverted to the north toward England and then I made the left turn to Shannon, Ireland. I got to see the coast of Portugal clearly, but not the shores of England. A large weather system engulfed much of the North Atlantic, and I never saw the ground again until 300’ above the runway in Shannon, Ireland. I landed just after dark and was greeted by the good folks that operate Signature Flight Support, SHN. They drove me to the terminal building and I ordered a hamburger that was marginal at best. It was, however, good to be in Ireland as this is the land of my heritage.
I planned to leave Ireland that night, but when I looked closelyat the weather, I decided not to. With the inop HF Radio, I could not go direct, and there was low clouds and poor visibility along the entire route. So, with hopes that I would be able to make up time, I placed the chocks and got a ride to the hotel. It turned out to be a really good plan as I was tired and fell asleep quickly. Plus, I awoke the next morning to a super-nice breakfast.
Upon departing Shannon’s cold, gloomy, rainy weather, just about 400’ above the ground on climb-out, a crack appeared on the pilot’s side windshield. Now in the clouds, the crack represented an opportunity for quick thought. I was about to start the longest overwater portion of the flight and the crack virtually assured me that I would not have windshield heat over the North Atlantic. I did have the copilot’s windshield heat, but that was less than optimal. Also, there was the issue of the crack propagating and caving in the windshield. A quick read through the flight manual gave me the assurance that the windshield would not cave in (as it has two layers), but I was now limited to FL250 as a max operating altitude. This limited the range of the airplane, and made for some very quick mental math to determine if I needed to turn back and land in Shannon. Thanks to the long range tanks on the B200T, I decided to press on to Keflavik, Iceland.
I only saw the ocean in glimpses as there were several cloud layers along the whole flight. When I did see the ocean, it was frothing with strong white caps everywhere. The North Atlantic has a well deserved reputation for being inhospitable, and this day was no different. As I came near Iceland, portions of the island came into view, and it was quite snowy, all the way down to the water. I listened to the Keflavik ATIS and was astounded to hear that the visibility was down to 200 meters! 200 meters is not nearly enough visibility to land a King Air, and there are not many airports that can serve a King Air on Iceland. I quickly tuned in Reykavik to see what it looked like, and was comforted to hear that it was much better. Still, before committing to landing in Reykavik, I listened to Keflavik ATIS one more time, and surprisingly, only 5 minutes later, the weather was now VFR with plenty of ceiling a visibility. A sudden snow shower had come and gone and left the airfield bathed in a fresh coating of white.
The ocean lapped against the shore as I came overhead to land, and I enjoyed the comfort of knowing that I was not going to have to divert or try to pull out a piloting miracle in cruddy weather on a remote island with dwindling fuel onboard.
I like Iceland, and one day I’m going to hang around long enough to tour the island. This was only a refuel stop, though, so I got a quick bite of the snacks in the FBO and soon was on my way to Greenland.
The flight to Greenland was not remarkable except that nothing went wrong over the large expanse of ocean between the two islands. About two thirds of the way to Greenland, the sky opened and soon I could see off the end of the earth, or at least all the way to the Greenland coast.
The waters around Greenland were much different than the waters around Iceland. Greenland had at least 30 miles of ice protecting its shores. The view was impressive as the jagged peaks of Greenland contrasted with the ice below with its many cracks and crevices.
There was no doubt that this water was much colder than the water around Iceland. As I came closer to Greenland, a huge divide in the mountains became evident, and it was right below my path.
I assume that the flight route I was on was plotted because it provided the only reasonably flat area that was not ocean ice for miles. It seemed to invite us into the interior of the island. The interior of the island was exactly like the globe you have in your living room depicts…nothing but ice. I flew across the middle of the island and the ice below me had almost no curvature or definition. It was hard to determine our height above the ice, even though the skies were crystal clear. As I came closer to Sondestrom, a high overcast greeted me making the view below easy to see for the brilliant white below had less direct sun. The mountains on the west side of Greenland are far less impressive than the ones on the east coast, at least from a jaggedness comparison. I found Sondestrom at the end of a fjord that was completely iced over.
I landed safely and shared a large tarmac with some red Greenland Air Airplanes. After paying another huge landing fee, I went over to the airline terminal to get something to eat. In the cafeteria, there were some sandwiches with heart-shaped bread. I asked the lady what they were, and she could not tell me for she spoke no english. I decided to buy it anyway. After making the purchase, the lady came up to me and handed me a sliver of paper with the word “liver” on it. I had bought a liver sandwich! I normally cannot touch liver unless I have a bottle of A-1 sauce nearby, but this one was actually OK. I ate about half the sandwich and was then ready to hit the air again. Canada was calling me and I wanted to make up time that was lost the day before in Ireland.
The high overcast over western Greenland turned into a solid overcast over much of over-water flight to Canada. Before long, I had lost all radio contact with ATC and for a few hours I spoke to no one. Then, about 2/3 the way across the open sea, the sky once again opened up and the sea ice became visible. The Canadian eastern coast is much like the eastern Greenland coast in that it had lots of ice many miles from land. However, the land of Canada was far less mountainous. I landed in Goose Bay Canada just as the sun was setting in clear, cold skies. After 12.5 hours of flight time that day, I was ready to get out of the cockpit and into my hotel room. I hoped to make it all the way to Texas in one day, so I left Canada around 7am local. The temperature was -13F and the engines on the King Air argued when asked to start. The cockpit was cold-soaked and all of the instruments groaned as they were asked to come to life in the frigid temps.
The Canadian wilderness is really impressive from the air. All you can see for miles around is white snow covering interspersed green trees. I’d love to come one day and hike this part of the world. My greatest worry on the flight to Bangor, Maine was about 1/2 way into the journey. The left engine had some oil showing on the cowling. Turbine engines simply do not leak oil, and if they do, there is something wrong. I was not going to turn around, and the engine instruments looked just fine, so I monitored closely and continued. After an uneventful landing at Bangor, I determined that the engine oil dipstick had not been secured properly, and I was thankful that nothing was going to slow my progress home. The US Customs guys came to meet me at the airplane, and after a short inspection and a little fuel, I was on my way to Texas.
The flight to Texas was routine, except that huge headwinds delayed my progress. I ended up landing in KLOU (Louisville, KY) and got some pizza at a nice little pizza place within walking distance from the airport. Within an hour of landing I was again airborne and on my way home. The worst weather of the whole trip was in Texas. By the time I started my approach to Runway 14 at the Cherokee County Airport, the sky was dark and I had to land with a 004 OVC, 2 mile visibility, rainy and windy condition. My instrument approach to the runway was simply atrocious, but I landed safely and was at my home airport so all was well. Another 12+ hour day of flying was in the books and I was super-glad to be home.
It was a great rip across 3 separate continents and and entire ocean. The total flight route was 8,400 miles conducted in 35 fight hours. The King Air behaved well for most of he flight and ultimately, got me all the way home. I saw some really neat cultures and met some really neat people. A long flight like this one is not for everyone, but I love the idea that I can depart Africa and end up in the US 4 days later. We live in a phenomenal time which affords us opportunity upon opportunity…and I’m glad to have experienced this opportunity to travel afar.