The takeoff from Riyadh looked like it would be a piece of cake. It was a little hazy but the sun was shining, sort of, there was a nice breeze right down the runway and it was hot. Being hot wasn’t one of the things that was going make the takeoff easy, it actually would make getting off the ground harder but when you’re flying in Saudi Arabia the fact that it’s hot can’t be ignored, because it’s hot, hot, HOT! Did I mention it was hot? After a bit of confusion taxiing to the runway I stopped the Navajo at the hold short line for a quick run up before letting the tower know I was ready to go, and the left engine quit. That got my attention because that was the first time on the trip that that had happened. I quickly re-started the engine but the incident made me a little nervous. After takeoff I started a slow climb to keep the engines cool and quickly found myself in instrument conditions. The haze I’d seen from the ground turned out to be a thick layer of dust that was exactly like flying in the clouds with no horizon at all. I wasn’t super happy about this because the day before one of the vacuum pumps that run the flight instruments had failed leaving only one functioning. If the other one failed I’d be in a dicey situation flying on instruments with most of my instruments inop. But what are the chances of that happening?
As we headed out over the empty desert the first thing I noticed was that with the weight of the extra fuel we had stashed in back the Navajo’s performance was definitely affected for the worst. The other thing I noticed was that with the outside air temperature so high I was having to use a higher fuel mixture to keep the engines cool. The closer we got to Bahrain the more I began to doubt that we had enough fuel. Even though the leg Lee and I had flown in the morning was 150 miles longer the longer routing and the higher fuel consumption was really starting to become a problem. With about an hour and a half to go I made the decision to divert to Riyadh Saudi Arabia. We might have made it to Bahrain but it would have been close. I was expecting a big hassle at the airport but everything went smooth. Once we landed Lee and I still had the option to pour the fuel we had in the gas cans into the wing tanks and continue on to Bahrain but it still would have been close and to land safely and takeoff again with short fuel, at night, in poor conditions (dust) would have been stupid. We really wanted to make it to Bahrain but in the end I think we made a wise decision, there’s a first time for everything I guess. Defeated but alive Lee and I went to the hotel and called it a day.
Day 8. Continued. The trip across the Mediterranean from Greece to Egypt was a good one. I was experimenting with different long range power settings, trying to get the most range I could and keep the engine temps low. I knew we were heading into some really hot areas of the world and would be struggling to keep the cylinder head temps under control. I was especially worried about the left engine which seemed to run hot no matter what I did.
Feet dry over EL Alamein the site of a battle between Rommel and his Africka corps and the british troops under Montgomery in 1942.
It looked like a dandy place for a tank battle. A little hot maybe.
I was extremely happy when we touched down in Aquaba, Jordan. We’d made the longest leg of our journey (1000 mn) and still had a lot of fuel left in the tanks. If by a lot of fuel you mean 45 minutes worth. We fueled up at an aero club and got the entire history of the club from the manager in the process of filling the plane’s tanks and all 9 plastic fuel cans. Which Lee loaded into the cabin.
At the end he was begging me to come and run the parachute operation with the kings brother in the Dead Sea. I said I’d think about it. When it came time to pay the bill I was astounded. Avgas was $4.50 US a liter! And even with the .50 cent a liter discount he gave me because he followed me on FaceBook it came out to a bill of $4792.00. Now that was a problem because I’d only brought a little over $10,000 in cash with me. The first fuel stop in the middle east had taken half my stash and I still had 3 cash stops to go. I texted Cory for more cash and took off for Bahrain. Well at least I thought I was going to Bahrain. Right after takeoff the tower made me go 20 miles out of my way to clear some mountains, with the distance back that was 45 miles extra to my leg. Then when we got to the point in my approved flight plan to enter Saudi Arabia they let us get another 10-15 miles before turning us around and telling us that we could no enter Saudi Arabia from that point and again made us turn around and waste more fuel heading south for clearance. By the time we got sorted out we’d wasted over an hours fuel on our seconded longest leg of the trip. That wasted fuel would be a problem.
Day 7. cont.
When we last left our intrepid hero’s (that’s us by the way) they were trying to find a way across the Arabian sea to India where the sweet nectar of 100 low lead Avgas could be found. But alas, the closest airport in India with the correct type of fuel for our thirsty steed is Nangpor, 1,161 nautical miles away and just out of reach of the Navajo. That’s when the main hero (me, of course, it’s my story you know) came up with the idea of filling the plane with as many fuel cans as we could get our hands on and fill them up with Avgas. Then we could leave Oman and fly to a closer airport in India, land and re-fuel ourselves. It’s a simple, clean, and elegant plan, OK, it’s none of those but it still might work. Of course if it doesn’t…….well.
I love being at the airport before dawn preparing for a 1000 mile leg of the Mediterranean. The dark misty skies take on an ominous and sinister look. The quiet is broken only by the morning doves and the occasional aircraft tug. Yes indeed I love being at he airport before dawn, getting up at 4:00am, not so much.
Our handler had located nine 5.5 gallon red plastic fuel gas for us that Lee stowed in the plane while I did the final pre-flight. I was still getting some water out of the tanks even after flying the plane every day for the last week. Then with permission from the control tower we started up, taxied out onto the runway, (the taxi light didn’t work so I taxied slow) and lined up. Before bringing up the power, Lee and I looked over the departure procedure one last time. There was an overcast layer at about 700 feet so we would be in instrument conditions almost immediately and it wouldn’t do to be confused about where we were going. I pushed the throttles forward and the Navajo shot down the runway like a rocket…sort of….not really, but fast enough to take off anyway. It was only seconds after the landing gear thumped into the wheel wells that we entered the clouds. I was flying and Lee was navigating. About one minute later Lee pointed at the GPS which showed that the departure route took us over a point of land before heading out to sea. This little bit of information concerned us because when we’d flown in the day before we could see that just to the right of the course we were on now was a ridge of tall hills and mountains.
“How high is that hill?” Lee asked. I looked at the chart and saw that we would probably be high enough by the time we got to it but altered course just a few degrees left to cheat just a bit to ocean-side. After that we broke out on top and were soon treated to the sun rising up out of the clouds.
Day 7. (on the road from Florida to Bangkok, in case you haven’t been paying attention) Now pay attention.
We’ve run into a snag in our plans. Cory, my boss and owner of CB Aviation, (I told you to pay attention) and I have been working with an overflight permit agent from the UK to get prior permission to fly over or land at all the countries in the middle east, India and Asia. I’ve been very surprised at how much more difficult and a pain in the ass these countries are being. When I did almost this exact trip two years ago it was a piece of cake, or at least easier. Now everybody wants 72 hours to get the permit. This is going to cost us a day, because from Corfu we will hit either Egypt of Jordan tomorrow. But since the permits were filed on a Thursday and they don’t work on the weekends we aren’t allowed into either until tomorrow, so we have to stay in Corfu, unless we want to go to Crete and get 2 hours closer to Jordan saving us time when we do go. It was a great idea but our handler told us that Iraklion? is full, no room to park us. So we have to stay in Corfu. Did I mention we
get are being forced against our will to stay in Corfu? The life of a ferry pilot it pretty rough sometimes.
Corfu is your classic Greek island paradise. Good food, great weather, and fantastic scenery. I won’t bore you with the details because we were just being lazy pilot/tourists. Late that afternoon I checked my email and got another surprise. India now requires seven working days to get an overflight permission to enter their country from a hostile nation, and seeing India and Pakistan are both aiming nukes at each other I guess that qualifies. Our agent told us that we couldn’t get into India until the 27th! SHIT! I was having fun but I wanted to get the trip done and go home. I sure as hell didn’t want to sit around, somewhere, for four or five days waiting on a damn permit! I went and looked at the map and thought about it. Go can’t go around Pakistan to the north, lots of bad things up there, the Himalayan mountains, Syria, and Iran to name just a few. Over flying Pakistan from Bahrain, or even Fujairah and flying directly to The first airport in India was too far the Navajo wouldn’t make it. There was an airport closer but they only had Avgas for the flying club and would not sell it to transient aircraft for any price, their quote. But then I had an evil plan.
After getting oxygen Lee and blasted off from Germany en-route to sunny Greece. We were flying at 15,000 feet when Lee put on his oxygen mask. Now I don’t begrudge a guy his oxygen but what we had in the tank was going to have to last us for the rest of the trip so I left mine off. I know it’s a regulation and all but if I’m just sitting still and not working hard I can go for hours at 15,000 feet with no O2. After a couple of hours I suggested Lee stop hogging the O2 and save it for when we really need it, like when we have to fly at 20,000. Well Lee disagreed with my plan and we had a bit of a moment, I might have called him a pussy, but Lee and I have been having these arguments for 40 years so it didn’t take long to get over it. Especially when our next stop was Corfu, Greece.
To quote myself, “This is why I ferry fly!”
Day 5. A nice flight from Rotterdam to Augsburg Germany. Lee and I spent a lot of the time in the cockpit talking about how just 70 years ago these same skies were filled with young men flying high performance fighters and bombers trying to kill each other. We could picture massive bomber formations overhead while columns of dark smoke marked the end of someone’s flight. Looking at the map I saw many familiar names from WWII battles and campaigns on the ground. When we got to the hotel in Augsburg we were impressed with the quality of the beer but with the internet connection. Come on Germans get tit together!
Went back out to the airport in the morning but not before going shopping. Our mission was to find a hand pump for re-fueling the airplane. In India there are only2 airports with 100LL Avgas and bot of them sell it to you in 55 gallon drums. How you get into the plane is your business. Last time I went through India in a Cirrus They took care of it for you.
I think they heard that the Navajo holds 230 gallons of fuel because they now say “do it yourself!’ Lee and I went to a large hardware store and after using my high school German language skills were still able to find a hand pump (handpumpin?) and a roll of garden hose to make our gas station.
We had the Plane’s oxygen system filled by my old friend Marcus who runs the Beechcraft maintenance shop in Augsburg. Before we left Marcus told me that he had a brand new overhauled engine for the Navajo that he would sell to the owner for a good price. I promised to pass that along seeing that I was pretty sure it would need one soon.
Day 4. Continued: The night approach into Rotterdam should have been a lot of fun. Landing at a major airport with the runway all lit up like a Christmas tree is usually one of my favorite things to do but this time I wasn’t really enjoying it because of the reception I was about to get. We taxied up to the ramp and I could tell by their body language that the three officials waiting for me there were not in a good mood. After shutting down and climbing out it started. “Don’t you know you need to call ahead for a PPR?” (prior permission number),
You do know that hiring a handler is mandatory in Rotterdam don’t you? It’s lucky for you that I was here!”
“Why didn’t you call and notify us you were coming? You do know that you need to notify customs before entering the European Union?”
The grilling and disapproving looks went on for quite a while before they figured I’d had enough and let Lee and I go. It was a long day with a shitty end. I couldn’t wait to see the bill the next day.
That’s Lee the next day, working off the after hours landing charges.
Took off for Wick Scotland, the last leg of our Atlantic crossing. Not many people know it but Iceland has its own little icecap. It obviously not as big as Greenland’s but its still kind of a cool knob of perfectly smooth ice with multiple glaciers flowing off it. Lee and I were still worried about the right engine leaking oil but it seemed to have settled down to losing about one quart every two hours. Not great but I don’t think we’re in any immediate danger of running the engine out of oil, which would be bad. 3 and a half hours after leaving Iceland the orange cliffs of Scotland came into view. I let Lee do the approach and landing, which was acceptable, I guess.
After shutting down my good friend Andrew from Far North Aviation pulled up with the fuel truck for a quick turn and burn. We had called him 100 miles out and asked if there was an airport in northern Europe that we could land at late at night and he had recommended Rotterdam. He told us that it was 24/7 and that the gas and fees were reasonable. I’ve known Andrew for years and trust him as the go to guy in the ferry information business, he’s also who we rent survival suits and rafts from. He keeps a stock of both in Goose Bay and Wick. Pilots needing either can rent them in one place and drop them off in another. It’s a great service because unlike back in the old days the airlines won’t let you check your life raft on the way home forcing you to either open the raft and remove the compressed cylinder, and then having to pay $500 or more to have it re-packed or abandon it.
After paying for the gas and the survival suit rental Andrew gave us 2 cases of oil, and by gave I mean sold us for an outrageous price, because it looked like we were going to need a lot of oil to complete the trip to Bangkok. He also had our flight plane for Rotterdam all ready for us. That is another of the great services Andrew provides, he always takes care of the flight plans and notifications for us it really speeds things along.
Lee and I blasted off over the North sea for Rotterdam with a full load of gas and a song in our hearts, OK, the songs were being piped into our headsets from our phones but you get the idea. Shortly after the sun went down a huge orange full moon rose bathing the tops of the clouds in a deep rosy glow. It was a beautiful night for flying.
When we got close to Rotterdam control called us and asked if we knew that the after hours landing fees in Rotterdam were very expensive and were we sure we wanted to land? What the hell? “I thought Andrew said this was a cheap stop?” There was not much we could do about it now, because it would cost more in fuel to turn back and fly to Wick, at least I hoped so.