I suppose That Was You III

Most of the lessons that ferry pilots passed on to one another were written in blood sweat and tears. So it’s frustrating to run into a young or inexperienced pilot who didn’t want to listen to what the old timers had to say.

Pete and I ran into such a pilot one winter while stuck in St. John’s. Pete was taking a turbine Cessna 206 to a skydiving school in Switzerland while I was taking a beautiful twin-engine Seneca III to a wealthy businessman in Rome.

Flying another plane on this trip was one of Orient Air’s oldest pilots, Peter Bourberg.  Peter was a cheerful old German who’d served in the Luftwaffe in World War II as a mechanic and was now delivering planes for Pete on a part-time bases.  I think the crazy old kraut was flying small planes over the ocean just for kicks and to get away from his wife for a week or two every now and then.

The three of us had been stuck in St. Johns for two days due to strong headwinds over the Atlantic.   The plane I was flying had the range to make the crossing to the Azores despite the high winds but I was also waiting for a new ADF (Automatic Direction finder) antenna for my plane.  The antenna broke on the way to St. John’s and even though I had a handheld GPS with me I wasn’t leaving land without it.

The introduction of the GPS was having a dramatic effect on the ferry business at the time, and not all in a good way.  Where ferry pilots once had nothing but a compass to navigate with, now we had a newfangled contraption that would tell us exactly where we were, how fast we were going, and when we would arrive.  We’d been using the GPS system for about a year at that time and although a wonderful device, they had not proven to be one hundred percent reliable.

That was the reason none of the pilots at Orient Air would attempt a crossing without a trusty old ADF in the instrument panel to help us find our way, especially when going down to the Azores with the powerful NDB beacon located on the Lajes Air Force base.  The beacon at Lajas could be picked up three hundred miles out which effectively gave you a six hundred mile wide target to hit, a good thing because if you missed the Azores your next stop was Africa, far out of reach.

It took four days for the winds to change but finally Pete, Peter and I at the airport getting ready to make the 1500 mile crossing the Santa Maria Island in the Azores.

While waiting for the fuel truck to finish topping off my plane I wandered over to a small Cessna 172 sitting on the ice covered ramp next to me.  The plane was being ferried to France by a young pilot we’d met the night before at our hotel’s bar.   When I looked inside the cockpit I noticed that there wasn’t an ADF receiver in the plane.   Concerned, I went back inside the pilots’ lounge where he was doing his flight planning and asked him about it.

Do you have an ADF in that 172 out there?” I asked, pointing my thumb over my shoulder out at the flight line.

Nope, plane didn’t come with one.” the young pilot replied, “No big deal though, I’ve got this new GPS last month and it’s been working great!” he said holding up the new handheld unit.

Pete looked up from across the plotting table covered with maps, computer printouts, coffee cups and the ever present over-flowing ash tray. “Ok, smart guy, what are you going to do when your fancy new GPS craps out on you?”

Not a problem, I haven’t had any trouble with it so far.” he replied rather smugly, “the only time it doesn’t work real well is in clouds and rain.”

Pete and I looked at each other in dumbfounded astonishment.

Didn’t you get the same route forecast as we did?” I asked reaching for one of the blue weather packets each of us had received less than an hour before. “The whole second half of the trip is going to be in clouds and rain!”

I’m not worried, I’ve always managed to get it working again every time the GPS has crapped out on me.” he said

Pete and I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to convince the young pilot that he was making a mistake.   I pointed out that I was flying a much more capable aircraft than he was and there was NO WAY I would fly to the Azores without an ADF.  But try as we might the young headstrong just wouldn’t listen.   Having flown the Atlantic it once before seemed to make him an expert in his opinion, and nothing a bunch of washed up old has beens could say seemed to matter. A typical cocky young know-it-all who didn’t want to listen to the advise of more experienced pilots.  He reminded me of someone but I couldn’t think of who.   As he gathered up his maps and walked out to his plane Pete and I shrugged our shoulders and told each other that at least we’d tried.

To be continued:

Old And Bold

This video is a highlights/promo from the Flying Legends Airshow over the historic Duxford airfield.   One thing I noticed when watching it was just how OLD most of the pilots are.  The advanced age of the airshow pilots is probably to a few different reasons.  1. Flying high performance warbirds is EXPENSIVE!  The amount of money these guys get from the airshow circuit probably doesn’t cover half what it costs to keep a 60 year old fighter airworthy.  To be able to own and fly one of these baby’s you need a lot of money, i.e, old guys.  2. Time.  Even if you don’t work on the plane yourself there is still a lot of work that goes into maintaining any plane let alone one that needs waxed to perfection.  3. Experience.  One thing you will notice about old warbirds is that they almost all have conventional landing gear, you know, tail draggers.  Very few pilots these days get their tail wheel endorsement let alone the hundreds of hours required to be considered competent enough to be entrusted to a 2 million dollar museum piece.  A few years ago I looked into joining the Confederate  Commemorative Air Force, to see what it took to fly the P-51 Mustang they had.  The requirements really weren’t too bad.  Just donate $10,000 to the club, get checked out in one of their T-6 Texans and spend every weekend helping work on their collection of planes.  The first two requirements I could handle but I’m a busy guy and there was just no way I could spend the time it would take to satisfy them.  But who knows?  Maybe when I get old.

I suppose That Was You, II

Shiv was a long time ferry pilot, if not a very good one, and the source of many great stories. One of the most legendary took place when he was flying from the Faroe Islands off the northern coast of the Scotland en route to Iceland. According to the story Shiv had gotten himself lost and was flying under a low cloud deck in hazy conditions. He was in contact with Reykjavik ATC at the time but was flying too low to be picked up on radar and until he either made it to land or started receiving a navigational aid he was on his own. In and out of the clouds Shiv finally saw a shoreline through a small hole in the haze. The controller informed him that if he was approaching Iceland from the south all he had to do was turn left and follow the shoreline and it would lead him to Reykjavik. Shiv dove down through the hole, banked left and started following the shoreline like he had been told.

After an hour Shiv called Reykjavik wondering how far it was to the airport because he hadn’t even seen the city yet and shouldn’t he be there by now? The controller agreed that he should have started to see the city by now even with poor visibility. Being a local the controller was very familiar with the area and asked Shiv to describe what he was seeing. Shiv told him that he only saw a few homes on the shoreline and a lot of white churches. When the controller asked him what he meant by a “lot of white churches” Shiv told him that he was passing a white church every five miles or so. The controller was confused because he was unaware of any churches on the southern coast of Iceland and asked Shiv to describe the next church he flew by. When Shiv described the church the controller thought he might have figured out where he was and asked Shiv if the next church was built exactly like the last one. The next church came into view and sure enough it looked exactly like the previous one. Shiv asked the controller how he knew what the church was going to look like before he got there. The controller told Shiv that was because he wasn’t really following the coast at all but was instead flying around an inland lake and was passing the same church over and over.

Lesson learned: I’m not really sure what the lesson was there. Don’t get lost in a lake I suppose.

I Supposed That Was You

  Back by popular demand, OK maybe demand is too strong a word, is another ferry flying story from my book.  And speaking about my book I’ve made some really good progress by finding and agent to represent me and help get published.  Finding an agent was a lot harder than I thought, apparently there are a lot of pilots who think their stories are worthy of a book.  Really?  A lot of pilots want to talk about themselves and think their flying stories are the most interesting things in the world? Who would’ve thunk it?  Anyway here’s part one of a chapter of my book that might get cut from the final, damn editors!


There is an old saying in aviation, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You’ll never live long enough to make them all yourself.”

That saying is certainly true in the business of ferrying small aircraft across big oceans. Since New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered a prize of $25,000 to the first man to fly across the Atlantic from New York to Paris in 1919 men had been making mistakes over that big cold ocean. Mistakes that other pilots could learn from. Mistakes that often cost them their lives.

Whenever ferry pilots run into each other on the road the first question might be “Where you headed?” or “how was the weather?” but it’s always followed by “Did you hear what happened to so and so?” The story of some brother ferry pilot’s misfortune would then be brought forth and examined, not just for its entertainment value but for any lesson it might contain. Ferry pilots are dedicated students of other’s mistakes, even if they didn’t think they would ever make such mistakes themselves. All pilots hold to the belief that they are masters of their own destiny but ferry pilots even more so. No sane man would willingly strap himself into a strange plane his career as a ferry will be a short one.

A ferry pilot’s attitude about accidents is that the superior pilots that they are, would have done things differently and survived. That is of course if the pilot in the story was killed, which was not always the case. You could learn a lot from the things that happened to pilots that didn’t kill them, sometimes more because the pilot is around to talk about it.

Shiv Shivany was a Pakistani ferry pilot in the 80’s who was a never ending source of entertainment and great stories. It seemed like every time I landed in Greenland or Iceland I’d be treated to another story of how Shiv managed get himself into some crazy predicament or other. Like the time shiv developed engine trouble over the Greenland icecap. Unable to clear the 10,000 foot mountain of ice barring his way Shiv made a successful crash landing on the ice cap but not before radioing for help and being told that a rescue helicopter was on the way.

Owning to the fact that helicopters aren’t very fast and Greenland is very big, Shiv was expecting a wait of a few hours or more before he could expect to be rescued. With nothing much to do until help arrived, Shiv decided to go for a short walk to check out the ice cap while he waited. He got about 100 yards from his plane before he broke through a thin snow bridge and fell into a crevasse. Luckily Shiv landed on a ledge thirty feet, uninjured but trapped like a Pakistani rat in an ice cage .

A few hours later a Danish search and rescue helicopter arrived at the downed aircraft. The Crew Chief got out and ran through the blowing snow from the helicopter’s rotor wash over to Shiv’s plane only to find it empty. He looked around but couldn’t see the pilot, which surprised him because the Greenland icecap is as smooth as a billiard ball and he could see for miles in any direction. Then the Crew Chief saw tracks in the snow leading away from the plane and followed them to a pilot-sized hole in the snow. Carefully lying down on his belly the crewman inched up to the hole, peered into the crevasse and saw one very cold Pakistani pilot staring back up at him.

Shiv was half frozen because he wasn’t planning on being out of the plane for more than a few minutes so he was dressed in only dress shoes, slacks and a light windbreaker. It wasn’t long before the helicopter winched Shiv to safety and into ferry pilot history.

Almost Oops


Some landing and take-off highlights in awkward wind conditions at BHX Birmingham this winter (a record winter for stormy conditions in the UK). Note the frequent flexing of the planes’ wings in response to the turbulence.

Of the five “missed approaches” shown, three diverted to other airports, two were “go arounds” and landed successfully on second attempt.

Just 5 Minutes

With nothing else to do because I STILL don’t know when the Navajo I’m supposed to take to Bangkok will be ready, I’ve been going over the route I’m taking.  With the trip being delayed so long I’m running up against the start of skydiving season, although the 6 inches of snow we got overnight gives me a few more days.  Either way when I finally get the Navajo in the air I’m going to be trying to get to Thailand as fast as I can.  The problem is that it will be very difficult to do more than 2 legs a day due to the fact that I’ll be going east and losing an hour or two every day due to the time change.

A typical day goes something like this:

Get up early and grab a taxi to the airport, no breakfast because nothing is open yet.  Try to get in the air before sunrise but but because of delays in paying landing and parking fees , checking weather and filing a flight plan you’re at least an hour late.  7:00am local.

Fly 4-5 hours, land and try to get fuel, check weather, pay fees’ and file flight plan as fast as possible, which can be as little as 1 hour in the US and Canada and as long as 4 in Europe, middle east and Asia.  Land at 12:00-1:00 local. Back in the air around 3:00pm.

Fly 4-5 more hours. By the time you land the local time is between 8:00-10:00 pm and you still have to fuel up for the next day’s flight get a taxi to some hotel, grab a quick dinner and get some sleep.

That’s a worst case scenario, at some airports I can get in the air very early but still not much before 6:00 am.  Do this for 8 days in a row and you will start to get just a little bit tired, especially flying into the rising sun first thing in the morning.  The crushing desire for just a few minutes of sleep can very powerful and dangerous.  “But why don’t you just take a day off and rest up?” Non-ferry pilots ask. Because we get paid to fly not sleep.  Hotels, food and other costs dictate that you keep going, no matter what.  Over the years I’ve struggled to stay awake by singing, pinching my inner thigh, shadow boxing and doing isometrics.  But sometimes if you could just get a few minutes of sleep it would make all the difference in the world.  The problem is keeping your cat nap to just a few minutes and not a few hours.  I can usually close my eyes for a minute or two and wake myself up but it’s always scary. I know of pilots who have fallen asleep and not woken up for hours.  In the old days I tried putting my watch inside my headset with its alarm set for 5 minutes but it wasn’t loud enough.  I sometimes tune in one of the radios to the automated airport frequency and crank up the volume hoping that when I get close enough to receive the signal it will wake me up, not a great option.  Yesterday I hit upon what I think will be my salvation.  I have a Bose noise cancelling headset that not only does a great job of filtering out airplane noise but also has a headphone port that allows me to plug in my iPod and listen to great quality music while I’m flying.  When I was thinking about the problem I realized that I could also plug in my iPad to the headset and use the alarm clock app set to as little as 1 minute to wake me up.  I tried it out at home and the alarm comes through loud and clear.  I could set it for 5 minutes, wake up and check the engine instruments, hit the snooze button and catch a few more zz’s.  I almost can’t wait to be really tired on my next trip


Does Santa Have Avgas?

No I’m not half way to Bangkok like I’m supposed to be.  More delays on the Navajo trip have me sitting in a holding pattern here in Wisconsin.  When dealing with airplane owners who want you to deliver their new plane to them the communication goes one of two ways;

  “When are you going to get my plane here?  I need it NOW! NOW! NOW!”  Or “I know I told you that it would be ready to go on the 25th but the FAA hasn’t released it yet, the new props aren’t on yet, we need a new seat belt and we decided to have it painted while it’s here in the U.S.  Sorry you made all those planes and put your life on hold but I’m sure you didn’t have anything better to do.”

  Guess which one I’m dealing with now.  So with time on my hands I’ve been packing and playing video games  going over survival gear and maps and I ran across this map in my trip package.


It’s not often a map I’m using on a cross country has the North Pole on it.  HO HO HO.

I’m Only “Kind Of” Stupid

  As I mentioned even though I’ve made over 13,000 skydives I’ve yet to make a BASE jump.  It’s not that I’m scared, I’M NOT SCARED OF ANYTHING! I just don’t have access to anything to anything I consider high enough to jump off of.  For non-skydivers that statement might seem wrong.  “Kerry, I think you mean anything low enough to jump from.” No dear reader I do not, and I’ll thank you not to question me in the future. I know what I’m talking about.  Skydivers know that the higher you are the safer you are because it’s the ground, or cliff, that kills you so STAY AWAY!  A jump site that’s really high allows the jumper to fly away from the cliff and open his parachute safely without the risk of an off heading opening flying him back into the cliff with predictable results.  No need to talk about the guys who try and see how low they can open, that’s just Darwin at work.  If you look at the statistics BASE jumping is an extremely dangerous sport, but if you take out the jumpers who jump from low objects it’s not as bad, still dangerous but not crazy stupid dangerous.   When a non-skydiver looks over the edge of the 800 foot New River Gorge, a popular BASE site, they say “Oh my God, look how high it is!”  A skydiver say’s “Oh my God, look how low it is!”

   All I’m really looking for is the rush of jumping off of a cliff, not the sight of the ground coming up to smite me.  That’s why when I finally make a BASE jump it’s going to be from something so high that it’s almost like a skydive.  Someplace like this.

Mt. Thor on Baffin Island.