I’m doing the best I can with posting but this trip is kicking my butt. The internet is pretty spotty in a lot of places so I’ve been falling behind. Here’s something to tide you all over for now.
Early morning slot times out of Italy mean early morning wakeup calls at the hotel. At least for those of us on the Epic World Tour that hadn’t had the foresight to rent a Lamborghini and were forced to ride the short bus to the airport.
We had another beautiful day for flying ahead us with clear skies on our departure from sunny Italy and only broken clouds and rain showers forecast for our arrival in Prague. Thankfully the clouds only covered the first half of the Alps so we got a good view of the mountains that were best crossed by plane rather than elephant. Once again the 6 Epics were spread out in trail only this time we were all at 27,000 rather than in staggered altitudes. This normally wouldn’t have been a big deal or even worth mentioning but the conditions were such that the Epic’s were leaving contrails and seeing that we were all flying on the same airways using the same GPS we all got the treat of flying through the contrail of the plane in front of us. Now I’m not saying that any of us did anything unprofessional like going off autopilot and weaving back and forth through those crisp white lines in the sky, but I’m not saying we didn’t either.
The descent and landing into Prague was uneventful and we were treated to what every IFR rated pilot loves to see, a nicely lit up runway appearing out of the gloom. There’s just something satisfying about making a successful approach in bad weather and seeing the runway pop out in front of you. After landing we were treated to another, ummm, “treat”. Ground control parked all 6 Epic’s quite a ways from the terminal and we were all towed to the ramp while still sitting inside. I guess that’s one way to do it. Especially if you want to be able to add a towing charge to each plane’s bill.
Prague was amazing. We did a walking tour in the rain and learned all about the history of medieval Prague and if you’re interested, you can find all kinds of information on the subject, somewhere else. The next morning we met the owner of the glider company Blanik who took us out to a local airfield and treated us all to a free glider ride! The day was a blast. Everyone got to go up for a 20 minute ride and if aerobatics were your thing you definitely got a hell of a ride. I’d been watching the three pilots who were giving the rides, trying to get the best one, and finally made my choice. He was an older guy, with a belly that looked like it wouldn’t fit in the tight cockpit, but after watching him do low level loops, rolls, and hammerheads I knew that he was the guy for me. We got towed to altitude by a gangly looking tail dragger that sat on two unusually main landing gear struts called a Wilga. I’d told the interrupter that all I wanted to do was aerobatics so once we released the tow line it was game on. We did loops that pulled 3-4 Gs on the bottom, rolls where all the loose dirt and grass in the cockpit fell into the canopy and almost zero airspeed hammerheads. The topper of the ride was the series of loops that ended with a hammerhead at only 600 feet at the top. He pointed the nose vertically at the ground just off the end of the hangers and then proceeded to buzz the flight line about 3 feet off the grass before pulling up and entering down wind. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that much fun! One thing that really struck me was just how well the glider maintained it’s energy. We’d do a maneuver and end up losing very little altitude. It was amazing. We were the last flight of the day so the glider pilot ended our flight by landing on the grass taxiway and rolling all the way up to the hanger, coming to a stop only feet from another glider. What a pro.
We topped the day off with another fancy dinner with the owner of the company and lots of distinguished guests. It was another Epic day.
We left Prague behind and headed northeast to St. Petersburg Russia. One again we got lucky with the weather and didn’t have anything more than a few light rain showers to deal with. It was a short flight (they all are in the Epic LT) with only one little hiccup. As each Epic got within 25 miles of the airport they all lost the GPS signal in their panel mounted Garmin G1000. Losing the GPS isn’t, or shouldn’t, be anything approaching an emergency but in this particular system if you lose the GPS signal th4e auto pilot doesn’t work and that means………hand flying!!!!!!! BUMM! BUMM! BUMM! Now, personally, I love hand flying, especially approaches. I don’t get to fly enough approaches as it is and I’m sure as hell not going to give any away to the damn autopilot. That’s MY approach! But these days I’m in the minority. Most pilots with glass cockpits couple the approach to the auto pilot and let the machine do the work. And that’s all fine and dandy until the autopilot breaks or the GPS craps out, like today. Then the pilot is forced to move the controls with his hands and feet, like a savage. Interestingly, my ipad’s GPS held the signal far longer than the panel mounted Garmin that had a hard wired antenna. We all got the GPS signal back just before landing leading us to speculate that for some reason the evil Russians were messing with the signal on purpose. Damn commies.
Once we got on the ground we got another treat. Apparently when the CEO of Epic, who was flying one of the six planes, squawked about the outrageous fees the handling company was going to charge us the company decided to show us who’s boss by leaving us stuck out on the ramp for two hours before fueling our planes and giving us a ride to the terminal. This treatment really pissed us off and when the owner of Epic found out what happened he was furious. And when a Russian, who also happened to be the owner of one of the biggest airlines in Russia, and a billionaire, gets mad heads will roll. Apparently the guy who made the call to disrespect us is now looking for a new job. The delay at the airport put us behind schedule so we only got to see the second half of the Russian/cassock dance show they took us to. Oh darn. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool seeing them doing their traditional dances but we were all so tired most of us slept through at least some of it.
The next day we took a hydrofoil up the river to Peter the Great’s palace and took the grand tour then had a bus tour of St. Petersburg. And of no evening on this trip would be complete without an amazing dinner and too much wine. It’s been a rough trip so far but somebody has to do it.
Normally the follow me car is what a pilot follows to parking after landing at a major airport but today the follow me is a link to the Epic LT company website where you can follow the Epic team as we fly around the world. Check it out at epicaircraft.com
Day 6 was a non-flying day that we spent enjoying Italy. Most of us walked around some and hung around the pool drinking ans talking smart. One couple rented a Lamborghini and spent the day terrorizing the local villagers. He told me that he got it up to 170 mph at one point and seeing him zoom past me at one point I believe him. I tried to get a picture but the whole fast cars and point and shoot camera thing doesn’t work so good.
After a wonderful breakfast overlooking the beautiful english countryside, skipped, because I slept in, the Epic crew and I manned our aircraft and departed for Italy. I was once again impressed with the Epic’s speed when we crossed the French coastline only 30 minutes after departure. The weather guessers had warned us of a line of thunderstorms and possible icing over the Alps so we all had our war faces on and were ready for battle. While we’d been looking at the radar during our morning brief we’d discussed the possibility of diverting east of the storms but seeing that it would add at least an hour to our flight time no one wanted to do that. It also might have something to do with the fact that we were heading to sunny Italy and had lunch reservations at some high class restaurant on the water that nobody wanted to miss.
The reported tops of he thunderstorms were 28,000 feet, which was our assigned flight level so we were expecting either a smooth ride or lots of bumps. My plane was in the number two position today and after number one reported deviating around a large build up I knew we were in for a rough ride. Of course I was wrong. By the time we got to where the big storm ahead of me was supposed to be, it had been blown down wind and we had a smooth ride and sunshine all the way down to the Med. Gotta love it when a plan comes together.
I could go on and on about how beautiful Portofineo Italy is but I’ll let my pictures do the talking. It’s that whole thousand words thing you know.
In case you didn’t know, flying around the world on an Epic World our is kind of a busy job so I hope you’ll excuse me when I get behind in my posting. So to keep you all off my back for another few hours here’s the link to the Epic LT company website where you will find more and better updates than a mere pilot can conjure up.
Check out the official trip information at epicaircraft.com for all the latest! And never mind if it looks like I’m about three days behind the trip in my posting. It’s because I am. Expect worse in russia!
After fueling in Wick I moved into the right seat of a beautiful Epic LT owned by a Texas businessman who we’ve given the call sign “Tex” we’re nothing if not original. Our next stop was Chamberly England (EGLK) a small airport west of London and located in one of the busiest airspaces in the world. My job was going to running the radios and translating what the controllers say for Tex. I know, I know “don’t they speak english in England? Well, sort of. They speak english, not american. And when a controller is rattling off instructions a mile a minute (actually the Epic travels 5.41 miles a minute. But I digress) it can be very embarrassing to ask them to repeat what they said because you can’t understand their accent. The weather in southern England was forecast to be OK so I was looking forward to a nice relaxing flight. Busy but relaxing. Wrong. OK, sort of wrong. I’ve been through London’s airspace dozens of times and handling the radio traffic has always been challenging but fun but in the Epic LT you’re traveling so fast you don’t get much time to relax, let alone eat the tasty snack you snitched from the crew lounge in Wick. But it was still lots of fun and Tex had a blast. We landed in Chamberly and were taken to the Four Seasons Hotel, a gorgeous hotel and property that was the site where Henry the Eight’s brother met his wife who later became Henry’s first wife after his brother died, or something like that. Another awesome day of flying in the books.
So when I left off I was kneeling in-between the pilot and co-pilot of an Epic LT while they were doing a missed approach during bad weather in Wick Scotland desperately trying to keep my mouth shut and not tell them what to do. We blasted back up away from the runway and the controller said to prepare for an immediate return for an approach to runway 13. Now normally a pilot will take a few minutes to pull up the approach plate (chart) study it, set up the frequencies, dial in the approach on the auto pilot, and make sure he’s ready for it. Having a controller switch runways on you like that is crazy. As we banked away from the airport I looked back and could see the runway in a break in the clouds. “Runway in sight! Ask for a quick visual approach!” I’d managed to hold my tongue for almost ten minutes, a new personal best. The owner steepened his bank, cranked the big Epic around, dove through the crack in the thick clouds, and put her on the runway. Nice.
After we landed the next plane in our group shot the approach but was forced to go missed due to low clouds. Then the rest of the group showed up and were stacked up every thousand feet in a holding pattern over the runway while the plane tried to land a second time. 35 minutes later the last of our Epics were on the runway after another of our planes was forced to go around when a VFR plane landed ahead of him but didn’t clear the runway in time. Why was a VFR plane landing in such horrible conditions you ask? Because the Europeans charge huge fees to fly IFR and some guys just fly in the clouds and lie. The whole thing was kind of a cluster but we managed to get everybody on the ground and didn’t bend any airplanes. Twenty minutes after the last plane was on the ground the first one was back in the air and on the way to England.
I finally have a day off and some sort of internet, (I thought Europe was supposed to have great internet?) so here’s the latest update from the road.
We left Greenland with 6 Epic LT’s in loose trail about 15 minutes apart. The weather along the route was as nice as it has been for the whole trip. No ice, no bumps, no problems. I should’ve known that we’d get tested sooner or later. We were on the way to Wick Scotland to drop off our survival suits and rafts and re-fuel before heading down to England. The forecast wasn’t too bad for the time of our arrival, broken to overcast clouds at 600 feet and moderate visibility. There was a chance of lower conditions but what were the odds of that happening? The first plane landed and reported that the clouds down to about 400 feet and thick. That got our attention because the minimums for the approach were 460 feet. Our turn next.
I was stuck in the back of the plane on this leg because I’ve been hired to help some of the lesser experienced owners make the crossing and there was no sense in me hogging a seat when most of these guys haven’t made an ocean crossing before. My job was to sit in the back and keep the guys out of trouble and I can do that in the back just as well as I can from the front, most of the time. The owner of the plane I was in was flying this leg. He’s a relatively new pilot with just 500 hours total time and only 150 in airplanes, the rest of his time is in helicopters. But despite his lack of experience he’s a pretty good pilot, and a wiz with the glass cockpit. Sitting up front with him was an instructor from the Epic company making his first trans-Atlantic trip as well. They have both been doing well on the trip so far so I wasn’t too worried but I was still in-between their seats looking over their shoulders and monitoring their progress. It’s that old “trust but verify” thing. I was also trying really really hard to keep my mouth shut and not tell them how to fly and as anybody who’s ever flown with me can attest, I’m not really very good at that.
We set up for shooting the VOR approach on runway 31. A VOR approach is a non-precision approach that provides no glide slope information so it really just tells you where the runway is not if you’re going to run into anything on the way there. We were in heavy rain and clouds on final approach when the co-pilot called out runway in sight. I looked over his and could barely make out the approach lights for the runway through the mist and rain. The owner was a little high (but legal. I would’ve been lower and not so legal) and a little fast but I wasn’t worried because the runway at Wick was almost 6000 feet long. As we got a little closer and lower the runway appeared and something looked wrong. Three quarters of the way down the runway there was a red and white barrier across the runway with construction equipment on the other side cutting the usable amount of runway down considerably. I looked at our speed and height above the runway and knew there was no way we could land and get stopped in time. The co-pilot and the tower concurred because they both said “go around go around!” The pilot slapped the gear up and poured the coals to it.
To be continued.
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