Sitting there holding the two ends of the hose I looked at the tank and wondered just how much pressure would be required to move the fuel. “The air space in the tank was not very big due to all the fuel still in the there.” I thought to myself, “If I can blow up an air mattress with lung power why not the ferry tank?”
Not really expecting success, but willing to grasp at any straw, I put the end of the black rubber hose in my mouth and tried a few experimental puffs. A number of deep breaths later the back pressure in the hose began to increase, a positive sign that encouraged me to blow with keep blowing.
I worked as long as I could, then slapped my hand over the end of the hose to seal it and waited to see if my labors would produce any results. Less than a minute later the bubble on the sight gage slowly moved past the mark I had made on the side of the tank.
“YES! It works, All Right!” I yelled, pumping my fist in excitement. My mad scientist experiment was success! I was able to pressurize the sixty gallon steel tank by lung power alone.
I was feeling pretty full of myself for being so damn smart as I watched the fuel level drop. After the fuel level dropped about an inch and a half it stopped going down. A few calculations and some sloppy guess work later I estimated I’d spent ten minutes to move less than five gallons of gas to the wing tanks.
Grabbing the manual for the Bonanza I went to the performance charts and saw that at my current power settings, five gallons would keep me in the air for nineteen minutes.
“Ok, let’s see, if I have eight hours and thirty five minutes left to go,” I said looking at the GPS and grabbing my calculator, “and moving five gallons gives me nineteen minutes of flight time….” My fingers banged away on the numbers as I tried to figure out how many times I would have to blow into the ferry tank to make it to Paris. “Nineteen times sixty is…no that’s not right. Must be nineteen divided by sixty…ok point three one hours. Divided by eight point three five…No, wait.” I was confused, “Why was I having such a hard time doing a simple flight time vs. fuel burn calculation? I do these all the time.” After a few failed attempts I finally concluded that I would need to pressurize the tank at least twenty seven times to reach Paris. It sounded like a lot but it was doable.
I was also hoping that the weather in Shannon Ireland would be better than forecast. They were calling for dense fog at the airport but if I could somehow land there all my troubles would be over. But even Ireland was still hours away. Resigned to the fact that it was going to be a long night either way, I took my hand off the end of the hose and got to work.
The rest of the night became a marathon session of hyperventilation and 100 octane gasoline fumes. As the fuel level dropped it became harder and harder to pressurize the growing air space in the ferry tanks and the longer I worked the worse I felt. Normally I could fly at fifteen thousand feet for hours without becoming hypoxic due to lack of oxygen. I found that if I sat still and didn’t exert myself I could fly as high as eighteen thousand feet with little effect. What I was doing in the cockpit that night was the exact opposite of taking it easy. Forcing my breath into the hose again and again started to make my head swim and I found that I was starting to have trouble focusing on the engine instruments and GPS that I needed to monitor. I sat there holding the hose in my mouth with my eyes closed, breathing in through my nose and exhaling into the hose, over and over. The dry high altitude air started drying out my nostrils and made my throat burn.
After the second hour of exhausting work and I found myself nodding off when I capped the hose with some duct tape, waiting for the fuel to transfer. I was used to fighting sleep on ferry trips, especially the eastbound ones. Leaving the hotel well before sunrise every morning and flying all day was bad enough, but flying east you always lost a few hours due to the time change. No matter how early you started each morning you always ended up getting to the hotel late each night. This combination of factors led you to become sleep deprived on long trips and made staying awake a daily battle but that night in the Bonanza was the worst.
As the hours wore on staying awake became like a form of torture. I tried all my old tricks; shadow boxing, drumming on the dash and singing along to the music I was listening to, pinching my inner thigh, anything I could think of to get me a few minutes and a few miles further along. But it was a losing battle and despite the blinding headache I’d developed the seductive call of sleep led me to close my eyes for what I told myself would only be a minute.
“Just a quick cat nap to recharge the batteries.” I promised myself.
Five minutes later I jerked awake, alarmed that I had allowed myself to sleep for so long. If I’d slept long enough to run the wing tanks dry I doubted I could transfer enough fuel in time to start the engine again before I ran out of altitude and crashed into the ocean.
After another grueling session on the black rubber hose I decided to try eating something to hopefully keep my energy up. I broke into my goody bag and ate some Cheese Wiz on Ritz crackers, my standard snack while ferry flying, and downed a can of soda. The food and caffeine picked me up a little but I wasn’t optimistic about it helping for long. The fuel gauges on the wing tanks were bouncing on empty as I picked up the rubber hose again and got back to work.