There I Was

I started flying small planes over big oceans in 1990 and immediately began gathering information and experiences for a book someday, mostly by almost getting killed.  Two years ago I finally started trying to get some of my flying stories down on paper if for no other reason than to keep me from forgetting them, how will I bore my children if I run out of stories?  Anyway I’m getting close to finishing the book, here’s on of the shorter stories about when I lost an engine on a Mooney I was delivering to Italy.



Phenom Trip, The Finish Line

To say that our accommodations in Anadyr Siberia were spartan would be the understatement of the year.  There was no hot tub, TV, room service, coffee, mini bar, restaurant or anyone who spoke English, and that included our handler Boris, his real name I swear to god.  So after a good  nights sleep Marcio and I endured the standard three hour Russian goodby, courtesy  of the ever friendly customs and immigration services we pointed the nose of the Phenom east and headed out over the Bearing sea.  The flight to Anchorage was an easy one.  Not much to see over the ocean except the occasional Deadliest Catch boat out there trolling for ratings.  Once we hit Alaska the view became fantastic.  The clouds broke and we could see vast mountain ranges with Denali rising above them all.  At one point a 747 bound for Asia passed beneath us giving me a chance for a picture and a little bit of gloating, I was flying a jet higher than Air Force One flew, pretty cool.

 The sun was setting as we landed in Anchorage and by the time we cleared customs and put the plane to bed a full moon had risen above the mountains and bathed the ramp in a golden glow.


The next day’s flight to Las Vegas was pretty dull stuff, fun for us but dull to read about.  The next two nights on the other hand would be very interesting to read about but you know what they say about what happens in Vegas.  All in all my first trip over the Pacific was a blast and besides being a slow learner on the computer I thought I did a reasonably good job flying my first jet.  I hope there are more of those in my future.

Ferry Flight Pic of The Day

On the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel in Guyana was thirty minutes of scenery and people watching that had to be seen to be believed.  The rasta man on the BMX bike getting a pull from the horse drawn wagon yelled “Look at dem white boys in dat cab!” to his friends as we went by.  Too funny.

Phenom Trip Day Seven Part II

When last we left our intrepid, daring, young, fearless and yes, devilishly hansom heroes they had just made a foolish mistake based on nothing more than their selfish desire not to spend the winter in Siberia.

  The flight up the Kamchatka peninsula, yes the one in RISK, was beautiful but Marcio and I had a hard time enjoying it with the weather in Anadyr hanging over our heads.  Thirty minutes after passing the point of no return we checked the weather again and were told that the ceilings had dropped another hundred feet.  Neither Marcio or I reacted to the news, outwardly at least.  We knew that the weather suddenly changing so quickly meant that the forecast was wrong.  The low clouds and rain were early and we were screwed.

    As we got closer to Anadyr the weather reports got worse while the sun sank lower.  By the time we were with in twenty minutes of the airport the clouds were down to two hundred feet and the visibility was a dismal three quarters of a mile, right at minimums for the ILS approach and getting worse.  Marcio was flying that leg so it would be my job to count down our altitude for the last thousand feet and watch out the windscreen for runway lights.  We knew the weather was only going to get worse so our plan was to land on the first attempt, no matter what.

  Then things got worse,

  “November 777BF be advised that the runway lights will NOT be available.”

  “Oh shit!” I said, as the radio call from the control tower came in.  Without runway lights we would only have the landing lights to guide us in to the runway, at night, did I mention it was  freaking DARK!  Needless to say we made it clear to the tower that lights would be oh so helpful and would they be so kind as to endeavor to illuminate said strip of concrete so that we may make a landing without putting too big of a divot in the surface, please?  Or something to that effect.  I don’t know if they’d been trying to save electricity or what but they informed us that the lights were indeed lit.

    As we began the approach tower informed us that the ceilings were variable below two hundred feet and the visibility at around half a mile and dropping.  I really didn’t want to leave the clear late evening sky with the full moon shining on the mountain tops poking out from the clouds but that’s why they pay us the big bucks so down we went.  Things got black in a hurry and as we dropped below one thousand feet in began counting down by hundreds.

  900 800 700 600 500 400 300, I risked a quick glance out the windscreen but saw nothing but black,                    200 feet missed approach point, still nothing, wait…

“I’ve got the runway.” I said as the green and yellow lights appeared out of the mist and rain.  We were under one hundred fifty feet  and I estimated the visibility at around one quarter mile.   Piece of cake.  The hardest part was trying to find the ramp and then  some dinner.  Afterwards over a bottle of Siberia’s finest wine and some microwaved non-microwaveable pizza Marcio asked me if I had been scared.  I told him no and quoted him the old saying  “If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, it’s just possible you haven’t grasped the situation.”

Ferry Flight Pic of The Day

Say Moose and Squirrel

This is Tanya our handler in Petropavlovsk.  Tanya was a no nonsense woman who’s job it was to take care of all our needs, translate for us and generally get us in and out as quickly as possible.  She didn’t take any crap from the fuel guys and barely put up with my attempts at humor.  The look of impatient tolerance in the picture is as close as we could get to a smile.  The women in Russia are the most beautiful women in the world.  Walking down the street is defiantly a hazardous undertaking, what with all the tongue tripping that goes on.  But they have one flaw, they never smile.  Maybe it’s because they live in Siberia or maybe it’s because all the men dress like…like…well, Russians.  I met a beautiful Russian woman in Reykjavik last year and I asked her about it and she said “What’s there to smile about?  That’s the problem with you Americans.  You are always smiling for no reason.”  What she said of course made me smile.

Phenom Trip Day Seven


The weather could technically be called “shitty” when Marcio and I departed Khabarovsk.  We were in the clouds and icing almost immediately after takeoff.  The published departure called for a left hand turn after take off and I was following the procedure when ATC called and asked what in the hell I was doing.  When I informed them that I was following the departure the controller screamed at me to reverse my turn because I was supposed to turn right after takeoff.  Not wanting to argue with the man while in the clouds I dutifully reversed my turn and held my tongue.  It wasn’t twenty seconds later when the controller came back on and again asked what in the hell I was doing?  He said I was supposed to make a LEFT turn after takeoff, did I not know the proper procedure?!  At this point I was starting to get just a bit miffed but was suddenly too busy to care because just then the pressurization system failed again and Marcio told me to put my O2 mask on while he tried to fix the problem.  I put the mask on, finished the turn and engaged the auto pilot.  Hell of a way to start the day.

  When we landed in Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka peninsula fours later I couldn’t take pictures fast enough.  Along both sides of the runway were hundreds of Russian military aircraft of every design.  Weird looking transports, helicopters and fighters were parked along side hardened camouflaged hangers.  I couldn’t help but remember that just a few short years ago when I was in the ARMY I probably would have been shot as a spy if I’d landed there.

We went up to the control tower to check weather while the Phenom was being fueled and got some bad news.  The controller told us that the weather in Anadyr was marginal and was forecast to get worse.  The forecast called for very low ceilings and visibility to close down the airport in six hours and would probably remain that way for up to a week.  We had a big decision to make.  Anadyr is located far north on the Bearing sea and there are no other airports anywhere near it to divert to in the event that we couldn’t get in.  If we elected to go we would be committed once we passed the point of no return.  But if we stayed we could be stuck in Petropavlovsk for god knows how long.  We decided to give it a shot.  Our plan was to call for a weather update when we approached the point of no return.  If the weather was good we would press on, if not, it would be back to Petropavlovsk and some of that wonderful Russian vodka.

A neat thing about the Phenom is the range circle on the Navigation display.  The computer factors in winds aloft, airspeed, fuel burn and fuel on board to display a max range circle on the moving map that lets you know just how far you can fly before running out of fuel.  It was really helpful to see the range circle expand when you throttled back to the max range setting.   With the range circle showing us approaching the point of no return Marcio called for a weather update.  The report was exactly what we didn’t want to hear.   The clouds were down to four hundred feet and three miles visibility.   The trend was  for the weather getting worse but it so far we could still get in.  I would rather it was complete dog shit or beautiful sky, not this maybe stuff.  Neither Marcio or I said anything for a few minutes, both of us thinking about the ramifications of turning back or pushing on.  In our favor was the fact that even if we wouldn’t have enough fuel to divert to another airfield if the weather got bad we would have enough for three or four landing attempts before things got quiet.   Not wanting to be stuck in Siberia for two weeks and trusting the Phenom Marcio and I decided to press on, after all what could possibly go wrong?


Phenom Trip Day Six “Put Your Mask On!”

Russian transport in Khabarovsk

The taxi ride from the hotel in Vladivostok to the airport in the morning was by far the most dangerous part of the trip up to that point.  We saw no less than three accidents on the highway wide dirt road, one of which was probably fatal.  At one point a Russian jet fighter went roaring past us and I said to Marcio “Hey look, a Mig!” at which point our cab driver leaned forward and looked out the windshield and proclaimed it to be a Sukhoi.  Although I was embarrassed by my miss-identification of former Soviet aircraft I was more concerned with the fact that the driver wasn’t watching the road and didn’t see the dump truck that had pulled out in front of us.  Not to worry though, I drew his attention to the situation by screaming like a girl.

      After Marcio and I finished scraping the ice off the Phenom’s wings with our credit cards, which  still took less time than it took customs to finish interrogating our camera man, we finally rolled down the pot hole filled taxiway and took off.  With just three people aboard the Phenom climb’s like a raped ape in cold dry Siberian air and it wasn’t long before we were passing sixteen thousand feet.  Suddenly my ears started popping like mad.  Marcio yelled that the pressurization system was malfunctioning and that I should put my oxygen mask on.  I”m sure I beat the eight seconds it took me to put the mask on when Marcio tested me on the system the first day of flying the Phenom, gotta love adrenalin!   I leveled off while Marcio tried to get the pressure equalized in the cabin., my ears were really hurting as the air pressure built up.  Air traffic control then started squawking about the mountains in front of us and demanding that we continue our climb.  I tried to explain our problem but I didn’t want to go so far as to declare an emergency and deal with whatever passed for the FAA in Russia.  We were unable to fix the automatic system but were able to stabilize the cabin pressure in manual mode, take the mask’s off and continue our climb to altitude.  For the rest of the day the pressurization needed constant attention and then started working just before landing.    Just another day on the road.

  After landing in Khabarovsk Marcio called Embraer and the engineers there told us that the rough taxiway in Vladivostok probably was the cause of the malfunction and that we could still fly the Phenom in manual mode and be legal.  That was good news because we were going to keep going anyway.

Ferry Flight Pic of The Day

Natures way of saying "LOOK OUT!"

Any idiot can fly a plane, I’m living proof of that fact, it’s really learning to make the right decisions that will keep a pilot from bending the expensive metal he rides in.  Weather or not, pun intended, to even make a trip is the most important skill, and it is a skill, a pilot needs to learn if he wants to have a long flying career.  But even the most Conservative pilot can get caught by surprise when the weather changes quickly.

Just a few days ago a very experienced balloon pilot in Georgia got caught by a fast building storm while he was flying a load of skydivers.  Apparently the storm came up so quickly that he was unable to land before the storm hit.  The pilot told the jumpers to leave just before he was sucked up to eighteen thousand feet by powerful updrafts.  He was in radio contact with his ground crew and described the whole event, including counting down his altitude as he made his final descent.  I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been when the balloon collapsed and began the eighty second fall back to earth.  One of the skydivers said that if he’d known how bad the situation was he would’ve strapped the pilot to him when he jumped.  That would have been difficult but not impossible, he could have used some of the rope balloons always have on board and figured something out.  The landing would have been rough with all that weight but survivable.  According to the surviving skydivers the weather at the time of takeoff showed no signs of the approaching storm.

We had the same thing happen to us at Skydive Twin Cities last year.  A thunderstorm came barreling down on us out of nowhere while a load of skydivers was in the air.  The first half of the load landed safely but the last two tandems got caught by a gust front that pushed them far off the drop zone and slightly injured one of the passengers on landing.  The sky like the sea can be an unforgiving and harsh mistress.