Deanna Wallace is a great pilot and instructor who has been working with Casey Aviation for almost two years and has flown every airplane we have in the hangar. She and Joe recently ferried a King Air to India, and this is her story on the trip…
A long time, aviation related, “bucket list” item of mine has been to accomplish a long haul, international flight. Recently, the opportunity arose to help ferry a King Air 200 from North Dakota to Ahmedabad, India with Joe Casey of Casey Aviation, whom I have worked alongside in other endeavors and consider both mentor and friend. His vast aviation experience and more than 40 international ferry flights made him an ideal mentor and traveling companion for my first North Atlantic crossing and I could not have been more thrilled when the many moving pieces fell into place to make this trip happen.
The very first and most relevant tip Joe imparted was to remain flexible and expect changes along the way for various reasons, including weather, customs, flight restrictions, ground service availability, etc. We got to apply this rule from day 1 and on every day after, as the trip details were constantly in flux. We flew out of Texas late on a Friday night to Fargo, ND to pick up the aircraft early the following morning. A brief stop by a grocery store supplied enough water and food to get us through “quick turn” fuel stops and some countries where we would not have the liberty of leaving the airport for meals, primarily in the Middle East.
At the airport, we preflighted the aircraft, loaded supplies, prepared to depart, and encountered our first delay as a maintenance “red tag” was located in the aircraft. Red tags indicate the aircraft has not been released for service from maintenance for one reason or another and a minor avionics issue (missing data cards from our lone GPS unit) was the culprit. Once those were located we were finally on our way 5 hours later than planned. We pressed on with the original planned stops, knowing we had an advantage over typical, long day fatigue issues with 2 qualified pilots on board and lingering daylight hours as we flew north into Canada.
Our first leg carried us to a fuel stop and through customs in Thunder Bay, then on to Goose Bay where we were to stay the night before crossing the Labrador Sea to Greenland the following morning. Conversation enroute to Goose Bay is what led us to our next major delay. Joe was telling me about Greenland customs and culture and had just stated a restriction on landing on Sunday (unless you want to pay heavy fees) when we realized the following day was Sunday. A call to our handler confirmed it was preferred for us to sit an extra day in Goose Bay, Canada and to leave for Greenland on Monday morning.
Day 2 flying led us across the Labrador Sea and Davis Strait to a beautiful, fjord guided arrival under visual flight conditions into Narsarsuaq, Greenland for fuel, then across the vast, packed ice sheet that covers almost 80% of Greenland’s surface on our way to Keflavík, Iceland. Joe briefed the use of onboard survival equipment including rafts, flares, and immersion suits that would protect us from the chilly 41-43 degree summer water temperatures in the event of an emergency where we might have to ditch the aircraft in the water. Another learning experience for me was the position reports required to track our progress across most of this route, as it lacks any radar coverage. Controllers relied on us to make regular reports indicating our position, time, next reporting point, and the estimated time of arrival at the next position. For someone used to flying in the US where there are virtually no areas without radar coverage and constant contact with air traffic controllers, the pervasive radio silence over vast stretches of water was both peaceful and unnerving at the same time.
The following morning found Iceland under a rare, almost cloudless sky allowing us unhindered, aerial views of the landscape before we crossed the North Atlantic on our path to Europe. After fuel stops in Ireland & Belgium we were presented with our next unexpected route change. Originally slated to overnight in southern Italy, we learned we would be stopping in Croatia instead. After 8+ hours of flight time and 2 more time zone crossings, we arrived around 9pm and were shuttled to the overnight accommodations for what sleep we could get prior to the next morning’s departure time.
Day 4 was our longest flying day of the trip. We woke to cloudy skies in Pula, Croatia that covered much of our initial leg south across the Adriatic Sea, hindering what would have been lovely views of Italy off our right wing and several Eastern European countries off our left wing. As we passed Greece and the island of Crete, the clouds gave way to clear, but hazy, skies over the Ionian and Mediterranean Seas on our way to our first fuel stop that day in Egypt.
While English is the official, worldwide language for aviation, I had become accustomed to varied accents and dialects across our route and the need to listen closely for instructions. The Egyptian airspace was the first country I had real problems understanding English through the heavy accent. After many requests to “please repeat,” we eventually got all of our clearances correct (or they finally gave up on us and just let us do our thing), and landed for a brief fuel and facility stop in Al Alamain, Egypt. The hot, dry air hit us like a furnace upon opening the cabin door and we were greeted by a handful of friendly, efficient ground handlers ready to fuel and get us airborne again quickly. The next leg took us across a mostly barren, desert landscape, broken up momentarily by the lush, green corridor that marks the passage of the Nile River, to Gassim, Saudi Arabia, right at sunset.
Saudi Arabia is a highly conservative society with strong religious beliefs and customs to which visitors are expected to respect and adhere, especially regarding gender separation rules in public. Even though we were not leaving the immediate vicinity of the aircraft during this brief stop, as a female, I was careful to ensure I had no skin exposed below the neck and, while I did not have an abaya (a traditional black over garment), I also covered my clothing with a full length, long sleeved, robe type covering while I was outside the aircraft.We were escorted by armed guards to the restroom facilities after completing a fair amount of paperwork stating our business in the country, and then were escorted straight back to the aircraft where I was eager to make a speedy departure on to our next, and final, stop of a very long flight day. Darkness quickly enveloped us after departure and was only occasionally broken by lights from small villages we passed on the way to Bahrain and the Persian Gulf border countries.
There was an unexpected amendment to our original route (that would keep us over Qatar and the southwestern shore of the Persian Gulf), and we were asked to avoid Qatar’s airspace, flying out over the Gulf halfway between the southern countries and Iran’s airspace (but within the boundaries currently allowed for US registered aircraft). The night was clear and city lights could be seen off our wing as we passed Bahrain, Qatar, and into the United Arab Emirates. We crossed Abu Dhabi and landed in Al Ain, UAE for the night. After such a long day, we were thoroughly exhausted and immediately requested an hour delay to our departure time for the following morning before heading to the hotel.
On our final day, we arrived at the Al Ain airport and to the first real delay we encountered getting through passport control. We did not have a local “handler” with us, as we did going through most of the foreign airports, and had some difficulty explaining that we
were pilots trying to gain access to a private aircraft. Eventually everything was sorted out, but not before we missed our departure slot. After being escorted to the aircraft, issued our clearance, and assigned a new departure time more than 40 minutes later than our original time, Joe and I started looking for a shady place to wait out the delay.
As we had already cleared security at the terminal building, going back in was not an option. The more than 100 degree heat turned the aircraft into a dry sauna, prohibiting us from staying in the aircraft, so we found the only shade available and made ourselves comfortable on the ground outside, underneath the wing of the aircraft while we waited.
After departure, we passed Oman, crossed over 600 miles of the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, clipped a small portion of Pakistan’s airspace (with permission), and entered India for what we thought was the first of two stops that day. After landing, we learned the aircraft would take 2 full days to clear customs and we would be sent back to the US immediately. After a few hours in the Ahmedabad, India airport, we caught a commercial flight with connections in Delhi, India and Frankfort, Germany before arriving in Dallas, Texas after more than 24 hours of transit time since leaving India.
Fargo, ND, USA (KFAR) to Ahmedabad, India (VAAH) by the numbers:
8165 – total nautical miles flown
2654 – most nautical miles flown in a single day
32 – hours of total flight time
11 – different countries landed in
4 – continents landed on
12 – time zones crossed
2900 – gallons of jet fuel burned
5 – pounds of random snacks consumed enroute by the crew
In short, this trip was an amazing, exhausting (did I mention crossing 12 time zones & back in only 7 days?), and informative introduction for me to ferrying aircraft internationally. I learned a ton from Joe and his extensive experience and cannot wait until the opportunity to do it again arises.