We could see the thunderheads building fifty miles ahead as the sun set behind us. It was almost like they were waiting for the sun to go down before coming out to play. Built into the multi function display and moving map the strike finder was lighting up with clusters of little green X’s of death showing the latests lightening strikes and outlining the individual cells. I could see that the line of cells were all over the place but it looked like there might be enough big gaps to between them to allow us to weave our way through. (Notice how I didn’t add the word safely) The sun set and it got dark so fast it was like someone flipped a switch. With it dark we could see the big thunderheads flashing in front of us like big Chinese lanterns.
There were a lot of cells almost directly in our path so I called radar control to request a deviation of twenty degrees south to what looked like clearer air but was denied due to restricted airspace. I could see the big restricted zone just south of our course so I cheated us as far south as I could without actually crossing into it. But even though I only drifted a few miles off course control still bitched at me to stay clear. The closer we got to the line of storms the worse things looked. The radio was busy with airliners deviating around weather and from the looks of things the thunderstorms covered most of northern India. I was hoping that the cell in my way would move clear by the time we got there but no such luck. The big cell towered far above us and was putting on quite a light show. There was no way I was going to poke my nose in there and see how bad it was. I requested another deviation but control still wasn’t in the mood to be reasonable. As we got closer I tried to find a way in between the clusters of lightening strikes on the screen but there didn’t look like there was any kind of clear path through. Things were starting to get pretty bumpy when I finally said screw it! I’m not poking my nose in there. I told control that I was coming to a new heading that would steer me clear of the thunderstorm and put me right into the restricted airspace. It was either that or turn back and that wasn’t going to happen. Control’s response was “Roger, understood. Contact when back on course.” Really? If it was that easy why couldn’t they have let me do that fifty miles ago? I spent the next two hours weaving my way through the storms. We flew into some really heavy rain and moderate to severe turbulence but eventually put the storms in the rear-view mirror and were left with nothing but heavy rain and low clouds to contend with. The approach into Chittagong airport in Bangladesh was a fun one with low clouds and rain, I really love approaches like that at night because it always looks cool when you break out and have the runway all lit up in front of you. That is if you did it right. It only took us two hours to get the Caravan fueled up, with a slight mishap of dousing some poor fuel guy with jet A when the over-fill valve under the wing let go with him standing right under it. Then it was a quick one hour ride to the hotel, (super fun when you’ve been up all night) We finally got to the brand new Radisson hotel. Unfortunately the hotel was so new that they didn’t have their liquor license yet so after what was probably one of my most challenging of flying in 30 years I couldn’t even get a damn beer.
So when I last left off way back in July I was ferrying a brand new Cessna Caravan from St. Paul, Minnesota to Singapore with new owner and his father in law. So without further ado, Day 13, part one. I know, I know, I promised you all a lot longer post but it’s hunting season and I have to get up early and sit in a cold tree….for fun.
The paper weather chart and forecast for our flight into India that morning was of the kiss your sister kind. Not too bad but not exactly ideal either. The monsoons were still active over northern India but the thunderstorms they produced were supposed to be scattered on the leg from Pakistan to our first stop in Nagpor but it looked like the second leg across the northern part of the country to Bangladesh was going to be a bumpy one. The two legs were relatively short ones and if the fuel stop in India wasn’t too long we should land in Bangladesh while it was still light out.
Four hours after takeoff we touched down in Nagpor India. The flight had been and easy one except for a slight parking problem (stupid ramp rats) and with any luck we’d be in and out quickly. But of course there is no such thing as luck in the third world when it comes to aviation. Our ground handler met us on the ramp and quickly and efficiently put everything in motion to get us on our way. He disappeared with our passports into the main airport building and was back shortly telling us that everything was in order and that the fuel guys had been informed that…………Oh never mind……..I’m sick of telling you all the same story over and over again. I land at some back water third world airport, do battle with the customs/immigration/fuel/weather/security guys. They take forever to do their jobs and get me back into the air which screws up my carefully laid but, obviously over optimistic, plans. So let’s just cut through all the boring details and cut right to the chase. 3 hours on the ground waiting for fuel then back into the with no new weather forecast and a guarantee that the sun will set hours before we get into Bangladesh. Did I mention the forecast we got back in Pakistan called for strong thunderstorms along our entire route? Buckle up boys.
OK, OK, I’ll start posting again. Sorry for the long gap (Holy crap, my last post was in July!) but I’ve been busy. OK, maybe busy isn’t the best word, I guess LAZY would be more accurate. In my defense I really did have an incredibly busy skydiving season this summer. After two years of the worst weather I’ve ever seen we finally got a summer of nothing but sunshine and light winds, perfect for the jumping out of planes thing. The biggest problem was once I got behind in my posting about all the things I wanted to tell you all about there was no way I could catch up after working 15 hour days 7 days a week. But we’ve shut down the drop zone for the year and my excuses are running out so stand by for an avalanche of stories of the last six months. Maybe avalanche isn’t the best word either if past history is any judge.
Finally back in the air and on our way over the Gulf Of Oman to Pakistan. It was Jack’s turn to fly and once again he insisted on hand flying the climb to altitude which I’m sure gave the air traffic controllers a good laugh because our track wasn’t what some would call a straight line. Normally I wouldn’t care that much if we wandered a mile or so off course but not only was this particular leg was a rather long one over water, wasting fuel over the ocean really bugs me, but our course took us to within a few miles of Iranian airspace and that’s not something you want blunder into. Apparently our drunken meanderings weren’t deemed dangerous enough to comment on because the radio stayed quiet all the way to Karachi. The approach into Karachi was extremely hazy due to the heavy pollution and record heat wave that had been causing the deaths of hundreds of people over the past two weeks. Once on the ground it was time to decide weather to continue flying or call it quits for the day.
Our considerations were this:
1. We’d only flown one leg that day and that’s a pretty weak day in anyone’s book.
2. My Indian visa’s expiration date was the next day. Did that mean it was still good if we landed tomorrow or was some customs agent going to have a fit and claim that it was expired? And if that was the case what was he going to do? Kick me out of the country? OK.
3. Our landing permit was only good for today and tomorrow. If for any reason we couldn’t make it to India the next day we would possibly have to wait in Pakistan for days while we got a new permit.
4. we also didn’t have an overnight permit for our first fuel stop in Nangpor India, meaning if we took off we’d have to fly two more legs that day and make it to at least Kolkata of Bangladesh. That would be 8 more hours of flying plus however long it took us to get fuel in Nangpor which could take hours.
5. Due to the delays in Fujairah and losing an hour to time zone change it was already late afternoon in Karachi and judging by the speed that the ground crew and customs officials were moving it would be at least two hours before we could takeoff.
Seeing that Stuart was the guy paying the bills it fell to him to make the decision whether to stay or go. I told him that I’d do whatever he wanted. We had 3 pilots and if he wanted to fly all night I could hack it. I wouldn’t love it but I could do it. Stuart got on the phone to the company helping us with landing permits and was told that we “might” be OK if we stayed put but it would be best if we stuck with the plan made it through India that night. Stuart wasn’t happy with the choice we were facing. Attempt two long and difficult late night flights over India, or stop for the night and risk a very expensive time consuming delay. Welcome to ferry flying. Oh, did I mention that there had been record monsoons pounding India for the last two weeks? Just a minor detail. The weather report we’d gotten from the ground handler wasn’t very helpful but did show a large area, most of northern India in fact, of possible/occasional imbedded thunderstorms with tops up to 45,000 feet. Stuart finally arrived at the correct decision and pulled the plug on the day. I was really glad he made the right call because I didn’t want to be the bad guy and tell him that flying the night would be kind of a stupid idea, I’d have still done it of course, can’t say no disease remember?
one last bit of color, as we were making a pit stop before heading to the hotel two gentlemen sitting on folding chairs next to the building offered us a cold drink from the orange plastic cooler sitting on the table next to them. I tried to politely refuse but they were so insistent that I relented and took the paper cup full of white liquid that was being thrust into my hands. “Drink! Drink!” Sure, easy for you to say. you weren’t going to be the one sitting in a small plane for the next four days with no toilet. But once again “can’t say no disease” got he better of me and I took swig……..of………???? Tangy,milk? Gross. Yes that’s’ exactly what it was, tangy milk. The men proudly told me that they came up with this nectar of the gods by mixing milk with 7Up. Yum. Not wanting to be the only one with a stomach problem the next day I shamed Stuart into taking a swig as well. Misery loves company don’t you know.
Ferrying small airplanes around the world involves a lot of challenging flying to be sure but the biggest challenges, and delays, usually happen when you’re on the ground. My challenging day started when the phone rang while I was still sleeping. It was Stuart wondering if I was up and on my way down to the lobby yet. CRAP! I’d gotten my time zones wrong and set the alarm on my phone one hour too late. I assured Stuart that I was almost ready and then set the world sped record for showering, cramming my assorted junk back into my suitcase and racing down to the lobby. That’s one reason I prefer to ferry fly alone, I wait for nobody and nobody waits for me. I missed breakfast but I was glad I’d gotten the extra hour of sleep because for the last week we’d averaged about 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night and it was taking it’s toll. Last night was a typical end of a ferry flying day for us. By the time customs finally let us go and we got a ride to the hotel it was already 10:30 local time. After a long and stressful day of flying all 3 of us need a beer but because it was Ramadan the bar was closed, don’t want to see the infidels drinking in public during Ramadan don’t you know. We were, however, told that room service would deliver beer to our rooms so that we could desecrate our bodies and disobey the Prophet in supposed secret. So desecrate we did. Twice. Then it down to dinner where we poured over our Ipads looking at weather and routing for the next day. By the time we were done eating all of us were looking a little dazed so it was off to bed, but the rest of the world doesn’t stop just because just because you’re on a long ferry flight so I had to spend another 15 minutes or so answering emails and assuring the wife and family that I still existed. By the time I killed the lights it was 1:00 and our ride to the airport was picking us up at 6:30….great.
So scramble down to the lobby only to suffer through a 20 minute check out by the crack hotel staff. We arrived at the airport, checked weather, filed our flight plan and took off for Pakistan. Oh wait, I forgot the two hours we spent watching the customs agents, our handler and what appeared to be the airport manager argue about who knows what. There was a lot of shouting and hand waiving and what appeared to be a world class butt chewing of our handling agent but eventually they were satisfied that they’d wasted enough of our morning and let us go. We finally taxied out to the runway only to have the tower call and inform us that our overflight permit number had changed and that we would have to return to the terminal to file another flight plan. Perfect. I was sure the rest of the day was going to be just a smooth.
Yesterday, a gorgeous Catalina PBY named Flora-Bama that was being used as a prop for the upcoming Nicolas Cage movie USS Indianapolis: Men of Honor began taking on water while performing touch and goes for the camera. Today, the plane sits half sunk in the surf along Gold Beach, Florida, a most peculiar sight for beach-goers.
Up and at em semi early with no really long delays to speak of. That’s a first. A quick 4.5 hour flight to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for fuel. Flying into Riyadh is always an experience. Most of the time the conditions are terrible with super high temperatures, hot like the sun, and super, I like that word today, poor visibility due to blowing sand and dust that can blot the sky out as high as 12,000 feet. But if you’re lucky and the winds are low you get to see just what the oil rich Saudis spend their money on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hot as the sun but there’s lot’s of cool buildings and stuff to look at.
The gas and go stop was as quick as could be expected with one small problem. One of the guys fueling us grabbed and bent both of the small metal fences on the wings. It wasn’t that much damage but Stuart was understandably upset, it’s a 2.4 million dollar aircraft after all. After paying for the fuel the gas jockey had the balls to ask for a tip. Needless to say gratuity was not forthcoming. Once we got everything sorted out it was back in the air for another flight over the desert to Fujairah. Our luck was holding with good weather and the last half of the flight being at night. Stuart got his first night landing in almost a year. Not a bad job. So would think that was all for the day wouldn’t you? Well it was, except for the 2 wasted hours we spent with customs as they tried to sort out God knows what. We’re only here for fuel and sleep, why can’t you just stamp our passports and let us go to the hotel? The cherry on top of another long day.
Bright and early saw us off the runway as the sun was coming up. There were a few thunderstorms in the area but we really didn’t know where they were because the teenage girl in the Met office didn’t have access to radar. She did have a TV with the latest Greek soap opera on it though. Jack hand flew the takeoff and climb to altitude and did a passable job of it seeing that he hadn’t flown IFR in the clouds for many years. Once on top we were greeted to a beautiful morning for flying with the clouds hanging low over the islands and the mountain tops sticking through and once clear of the weather we had a ringside seat for a tour of the Greek islands. Not a bad way to spend the morning. We weren’t allowed to spend the night in Santorini but we were allowed to stop for a quick fuel stop. Once again we were teased by a beautiful island paradise that we could only get a tiny taste of. Santorini is now on my list of places I need to go back to. During flight planning our route was changed by Brussels and the man filling the flight plan asked us if we objected to flying over Israeli airspace. We didn’t see why not and accepted the new routing to Aquaba Jordan. Back into the air with Stuart flying it looked like we were in for a nice sunny low key day of flying over the Mediterranean. Shortly after takeoff the tower called and told us that the man who’d filed the flight plan had misread our call sign and had filed us as 45B instead of 4SB. She told us that she could try and change it for us but it might take a while, could we stand being 45B for the next 4 hrs?. Sure, no problem. Or maybe big problem.
“45B, Athens Control, Tel Aviv has denied your flight through their airspace. Do you have another routing preference?”
Great. We’d been flying for two and a half hours and were in the middle of the Mediterranean headed for Israeli airspace when the rug got pulled out from under us. I asked for our original routing and was denied. I asked for a second option and was again denied. It looked like we would have to fly south to Cairo. The problem with that was that we didn’t have that much fuel to spare and flying that way would be cutting it close. No other option though so south we went.
“45B, Cairo control, what’s your overflight permission number?”
Great, Not only weren’t we planning on over flying Egypt but I had no idea that you needed one. As a matter of fact I was pretty sure you didn’t. But none of that mattered to the guy on the other end of the radio so he put us in a holding pattern while Stuart got on his sat phone and called our handlers to find out just what the hell to do. Did I mention that we really didn’t have the gas for this bullshit? Oh, and the language barrier didn’t help either. At one point they asked what our diplomatic mission number was and after getting a big ????? from us they asked us to confirm our call sing. Ah, that might be the problem. Due to the mistake made in our call sign the Israelis had probably looked us up prior to letting us into their airspace and when it came up wrong that’s when they denied us access. I gave the Cairo controller the correct call sign and hoped for the best.
After about half an hour of turning circles over the pyramids they suddenly gave us a new heading and routing to Jordan, must have just gotten sick of us. I was cool that they took us right over Cairo international airport and I got a great picture of some old jet in the middle of their terminal.
Finally made it up the Red sea and landed in Aquaba Jordan where we spent the evening on the hotel’s pool deck drinking beer and watching the cars wreck themselves on he street below. Seriously, there was some kind of oil slick on a curve right below where we were sitting and there were 4 accidents in about and hour and a half. This actually ended up being bad for us because it was so entertaining, and the beer was so cheap, that we stayed too long, which led to another late dinner, which put us in bed at about 12:30 am local with a wake up of 5:00. Ugh. It gets hard to catch up on sleep flying east and losing 2-3 hours to time zones each day. The beer doesn’t help either.
We got a late start this morning due to problems filing our flight plan to Corfu Greece. Just five days prior the European Union had changed their online filing system and as you can guess it was going smooth as silk. I won’t bore you with the details but we left about 3 hours later than we were intending to. Right after takeoff we ran into the most icing we’d encountered so far one the trip as we climbed up to 18,000 feet to cross the Alps. Stuart turned on the TKS system which did a fairly good job of clearing the wings and struts of the ice that had built up there. (In case you’re not familiar with the TKS system it consists of a 20 gallon tank full of de-icing fluid that is pumped into the wings, struts, and prop and through thousands of microscopic holes in the leading edges) After clearing the alps, which were disappointingly hidden by clouds, we flew down the Italian coast then across to the beautiful Greek island of Corfu. I stopped at Corfu last year on my way to Bangkok and immediately fell in love. It has the warm air and picturesque harbor you would expect from one of the Greek islands. After fueling I headed up to the tower to file the flight plan to Crete only to find out that due to it being high season they were full. That’s right, the huge international airport in Crete was full and had no parking spaces left for us. The guys in the tower helped me look for another airport to land for the night but had no luck. Every island within range was full. Oh well I tried, I guess we will have to spend the night in Corfu and head out early to make up for lost time. A quick dash to the hotel was made followed by the traditional after flight libation in paradise. Unfortunately we only had time for a quick dinner by the bay before it was back to the hotel for another long 4 hours of sleep before getting up at 5:30. Sometimes being a ferry pilot is just a tease.
Not a good for viewing the Alps.
Stuart doing good on O2 even with the crappy fitting mask.
Sorry I keep falling behind in my posting but ferry flying east means losing hours as you cross time zones the wrong way and that means losing sleep. 4-6 hours of sleep for 2 week straight is starting to get dangerous. Here’s a few photos to keep you occupied.
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