22nd July 2009 – Guinea Update
Mike & James have had some unexpected delays today, and we are just waiting for confirmation on when they will start testing the tracking sytem, and also what time they then plan to leave. In the meantime, Radio 702 indicated that they are going to try and have a live interview (reception permitting) with Mike & James at 16:10 (SA Local Time)…so tune in or go to http://www.702.co.za/onair/tunein.asp, if you can, to listen to the interview.
21st July 2009 – Mike's Log
Wow, that happened fast. It feels like we left Springs a week ago so much has happened. Things are a bit of a blur for me. I have a theory about how to live longer … If you live a normal life like most of us do, doing virtually the same thing every day you find that the days and weeks just blend into each other and the next thing you know it's your birthday again and can't understand what happened to the year. But, if you are extremely busy doing completely different things every day and manage to travel enough so that you land up sleeping in a different place every few days you will find that suddenly time seems to stretch and affectively you live longer – what you did yesterday feels like it happened a week ago and what you did last week feels like months ago.
Sao Tome is definitely the most relaxed African country I have ever travelled to. No one hassled us, everyone was friendly and helpful, we saw almost no police and they didn't even ask to see any of our papers. It is expensive though – that stop cost us well over $1000.00. Gulp! I am keeping a list of expenses so that we will know exactly what this trip will cost us and we will be happy to share it with you.
It was my turn to sit in the left seat yesterday and I was not too happy in the beginning. Apart from a little bracket on the prop control motor having cracked, I lowered the carb needles one notch and was worried about overheating … but the biggest worry was the fuel. It was dirty, looked like a mixture of petrol and oil and smelt bad. After takeoff I watched the temperature of the EGT s like a hawk and although they were fine I stayed near to the island for a while as we slowly gained altitude. Once we were up to about 5,000 ft I felt happier and my heart slowed down to a trot …
The flight was easier last night that is for sure. It is just the most amazing thing to be bombing along above the sea in a little cocoon feeling alone and yet somehow not along – knowing that a lot of people would be watching our progress as the satellite tracker logged our track. James and I spoke a few times in the night about who we thought would be up and following us. We both love the idea that somehow we can really share our adventure with anyone in the world and in particular that anyone can log onto our website and follow our progress in real time … so I can't tell you how disappointed we are that it didn't work this time. On the first nights flight all 3 GPS' would suddenly lose satellites every 6 or 7 minutes and yesterday it dawned on me that it had to be the satellite tracker because that sends out a burst every 6 minutes. What I did was place a small aluminium plate under the tracker in the hope it would solve the problem but I must've done something else to stop it working. Tomorrow we will try to sort it out.
So now that we have undertaken 2 fully laden overnight flights we have a much better idea of the performance and endurance. When the Sling is full it weighs about 900 kg, the ground roll is about 400 m at sea level and it climbs at about 250 ft/min. The speed in the first few hours is slow … a true airspeed of about 85 knots but as we burn off fuel we are able to cruise at about 95 Knots which is what we predicted. Fuel burn in the beginning now that we are running a bit leaner is 19 l per hour and during the last part of the flight it goes down to 17 l per hour. So lets see for tomorrows flight to Brazil … 4050 km, average of 90 knots, average of 18 l per hour … that makes 440 L. We have 450 so we are home and dry. Easy as long as the ATC doesn't make us do a circuit. In reality we need tailwinds to reduce our stress levels …
You really can't sleep easily … well not yet anyway. We are still way to strung out to relax properly. There were isolated thunderstorms ahead of us last night and for the first time we used the Strikefinder. I am so happy we have that instrument. When there is a lightning strike within 200 miles it shows on the screen as bright little dot so we were able to see exactly where the storms were and avoid them. I know that tomorrow night we might have to dodge more storms .. it's quite scary actually but thrilling at the same time.
What we have done a few times now is cover up all the instruments until it is completely dark and then with your headsets off it is almost what I can imagine it must be like being in space – a huge black sky filled with stars and darkness and monsters below! The noise level is not too bad but it is definitely more comfortable with headsets on. Our luggage is all in the back just behind us so whenever we need something one of us undoes our seat belt and then we are able to turn around and get whatever we need which is usually food or warm clothes. Tomorrow we must buy another blanket – cold has been our main problem towards the early hours of the morning. The best would be a cabin heater – quite easy to do at home but not that easy here so it will have to wait.
When over the sea we fly with our life jackets on and the life raft and emergency food and water within easy reach. It is a terrifying thought … an engine or prop failure or running out of fuel over the sea and having to ditch. I am absolutely sure the plane will flip over onto it's back if we do a sea landing. And of course it could happen at night … OK, lets not think about that for now!
It is so great to receive so many messages of support … and it is particularly good to see that old dear friends are writing from every corner of the world. James and I read every single message at least a few times and they make us smile and lift our spirits.
OK, we are off to town now to hunt down chicken and chips and beer. Beer first.
21st July 2009 – James' Log
We’ve landed in Conakry after such an awesome flight and just can't believe that the satellite tracking didn't work this time around – it'll be sorted out by tomorrow if there's any way to do it.
Last night's flight was sooooo much easier, less stressful and therefore even more enjoyable than the flight to Sao Tome. I can't believe how much Mike has learnt from me in just one flight (ha, ha!).
In our pre-take-off checks we found that one of the structural brackets supporting our electric prop pitch motor had broken, then Mike lowered the carb needles one notch to lean the carbs for better economy, and the fuel we put in was pretty appalling (leaded 97 mogas full of dirt and with a cloudy colour), so there was definitely a measure of uncertainty as we lifted into the air, (the prop pitch motor is now bound up with cable ties). Everything turned out fine though, the weather was absolutely perfect and soon we were really into the swing of things. What a beautiful flight – just check out the photos.
Although not as direct as the “straight to Conakry” approach, we chose to fly out at sea around the bulge of Africa the whole way for a bunch of reasons – there were predicted isolated storms over the land; the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone is a no fly zone so we had to go either north or south; there's less hassle from ATC when you're not actually over the country; and of course there's no terrain to fly into in the sea! It was great to break the cloud about 15 miles out from Conakry though and see evidence of land for the first time after 14 hours.
No real problems through customs, though the ordinary African confusion . Didn't pay a cent though, and now we're ensconced in the very fine “Conakry Novotel” hotel. Haven't seen our website for a few days, so I'm going to pop downstairs to try send this and will let Mike have a go a bit later. We've received loads of short messages, however, and they certainly sustain us when we're up there alone. For a while we turned off all the lights of any kind in the cockpit and just sat looking up at the stars – it was completely awesome.
Looking forward to the big one to Brazil tomorrow and trying to decide whether a big night in Conakry or a good rest is the more important right now!
21st July 2009 – Mike & James safely in Guinea
STOP PRESS! James just called to say they landed at Conakry at 0745 GMT! They had a beautiful flight much less stressful than the previous one as the navigation system was working well. They are currently in customs and will look for an internet connection to post a log shortly. The current plan (weather dependent) is to sleep for 7 hours and leave this evening for Brazil … No rest for the wicked.
21st July 2009 – Questions from our visitors
A lot of our visitors have asked why James and Mike are flying at night so much. Jay Hyde helped us out with the answer on this question:
James recently got his IF rating, and Mike his night rating; flying straight and level at night is much easier than landing at night. Most of their flights now are really long, 20 hours for the first leg, 14 hours last night and then 22 hours over the Atlantic. Taking off into the night and flying through the night means that they will at least land in daylight, allowing them to land without instruments (wheather permitting…). Also, I am sure that they are not convinced about the existance/ servicability of IF landing equipment/ beacons in many of the places that they will land now.
20th July 2009 – Mike's Log
I am sitting in a hotel room relaxing at last after 6 months of stress and really hard work. James is going through the Jeppesen en route maps and has just shown me how few African countries have radar (SSR to track transponders). Well … in a way that is the beauty of Africa.
I must admit I am still in a state of shock … so much happened in such short succession over the last few weeks that the days and nights blurred into each other. My emotions soared and plummeted a few times every day especially over the last week or 2 as we test flew the Sling and the departure date loomed. And now we have completed the first real test – it seems like a dream somehow. Right from the beginning James and I split the work – James tackled the paperwork … that is the paperwork needed to get the Sling certified and ready for the trip and of course all the authorizations from around the world … and I would be responsible for making the plane and getting it flying well. James’ other job was to obtain his IF rating and in the limited time we had that was quite an achievement. I recently obtained my PPL with a night rating so between us we should be able to handle most situations – I hope. It was a hell of a job to get the plane ready and fully tested … without Steve, Jean, Ntanga , Vincent and Jay helping day and night we would till be at home in cold Jhb!
I was really nervous and scared for the flight last night. I mean I have done some big flights but last night was really something that felt right out there on the edge. Firstly the 300 kg extra load on top of the normal maximum 600 kg at takeoff is enough to make anyone sweat. Now that I have done it a few times I know that plane is fine being overloaded but still you have to fly very carefully.
Then as we climbed out past Pilanesberg and headed towards Botswana the sun set … As the darkness descended on us my heart raced and my eyes darted outside trying desperately to look for landing places in the event of a problem. And then it was completely dark and there was no point in looking outside. James and I were busy at first preparing for the night, clothes, torches, emergency procedures … and then we were on our way, everything was working well, the engine was purring away , the plane was trimmed well and flying nicely. I looked at James in the darkness and the two of us screamed our joy and gave each other a hug … there was no turning back.
What an amazing experience .. flying at night in a tiny plane across the wilderness that is Botswana and Angola. We dealt with a whole lot of issues but we were expecting them except for one. A few times in the night we lost GPS connection but on one occasion after we had fiddled around and rectified the problem we started flying in exactly the opposite direction – back to SA. It didn’t take long to lose the plot and that gave us a huge wake up call.
Botswana would not allow us to fly a night VFR flight so we changed our flight plan to IFR and flew the whole way at flight level 080. At midnight James lay down to sleep for an hour and then an hour later I did the same – we were always both awake at 8 minutes past the hour to change tanks. 1 hour on each of the 6 tanks and then we started from the beginning again. The throttle and prop were carefully set at the beginning of the night and then we left them right there preferring not to fiddle with something that is working well. Just so that you know about this right at the outset, the Trio autopilot flies most of the time with us just tweaking it now and then but we have to watch it like a hawk because if there is a problem we have to catch it immediately.
Our biggest problem on the first night was cold. We were freezing even though we had a blanket and all our clothes on. And food. Foolishly we didn't eat anything before we left so our lives were saved by the sandwiches Charmaine packed for us. We each have a very nice little head torch which we wear all night. Oh yes, the toilet … well Robert made us a very handy little trouser snake peeing apparatus with a pipe which we pop through the floor and it works like a charm. The plastic bags we haven't had to use yet, but they are handy … We are excited about getting to Oshkosh and in particular we are looking forward to being with our Oshkosh family of Cherie, Shelly and Geoffrey.
More breaking news as it happens …
20th July 2009 – James' Log
I can't believe we're in Sao Tome after more than 18 hours of flying.
There couldn't be a more perfect place to put down after this first flight – big smiles all round, no request to see a passport or even a crew card, not a single stamp or form (literally, not one – we were just told that since we said we say we're in transit, we can just go through as we want!). A South African who works at the airport (a sort of a dilapidated strip of tar with an old tower, some ageing fire trucks and a bunch of abandoned, rotting aircraft) directed us to a nearby hotel right on the sea which we could easily walk to with all our stuff. It's such a great feeling to arrive at a place with no bookings, no plans and no commitments. Notwithstanding that we're in an aeroplane, I feel like a student backpacker again – save for Oshkosh, we don't have a single visa, a single hotel booking (or even a hotel name) and, despite a load of offers on our website, we haven’t yet had a moment to contact a single person at any of our stops to ask for help or accommodation.
Sao Tome was described to me as a sort of “lost paradise”.; and I can see why – it's a small island with thick forest and high mountains.
The weather is balmy, there're lots of beaches, palm trees everywhere and a mixture of decaying colonial splendour and quite typical third world poverty. Seems like there's little or no crime though, we haven't been hustled by a single person and although poor, I don't feel any sense of crushing poverty, anger or frustration. Mike and I walked for 2 hours into the night last night, to town and back, and we were greeted with nothing but warm “bom dias” and “muito obrigados”.
It's Monday morning now and this evening we fly to Conakry, Guinea.
Weather looks OK out the window, but I suppose a slightly better view than that would be worthwhile (Tim, we'll call in about 2 hours).
We're going to try fit in a short scenic flight around the island in the morning and leave at about 17h00 (local = UTC time) this eve. No avgas on the island, however, (and not even any unleaded mogas, so the engine's going to get a taste of 97 leaded mogas!), so filling up's going to be a mission. Someone called Alareo says he has a friend with a pick-up who'll help us though.
I can't end off without saying something about the flight the night before last – What an emotional roller-coaster – just far and gone the most out there thing I've ever done. The round canopy reflects all in-cockpit light back, so you feel like you're sitting in a fishbowl (it was the first time this plane has ever flown after dark – over Botswana or Angola, just the odd veld fire, and quite honestly, if the instruments had failed (our trusty, but very new MGL Voyager – thanks Rainier and Nicol), we'd have gone in literally within seconds, not minutes apart from a dusk flight at Springs, which raised the ire of the club safety officer!). There was absolutely no moon and no outside visibility at all, just 10 hours of non stop IFR flight overnight.
There're just about no lights. There can't be a more perfect person in the world to do a trip like this with than Mike, though, and all in all it just turned into an incredibly exciting, though terrifying experience. Thank God I got my IF rating last Tuesday, because Botswana required us to change to IF in order to cross their country, and that's the way we did the rest of the flight! Seeing the island after 18 hours in the air, and the last 6 over the sea, was just awesome.
Thanks to all who've helped us and thanks for the incredible messages of support. Next report from Conakry, Guinea, on the assumption that we can find internet there! We're routing around the coast, so the entire 15 hours we'll be over the sea. Oh yes, and a big thanks to Avmap – our Avmap GPS really saved our hides last night. We didn't think we'd need it (in theory it's a back up) – but it turned out to be absolutely critical for the IFR reporting. What a great interface – so simple and effective. We had to learn from first principles, cause we hadn't had the chance to turn it on before we left, but we learnt in 30 seconds and we would have been lost without it.
20th July 2009 – Message from Tim Parsonson
10am GMT 20th July (Tim): I spoke briefly to our glorious aviators this morning in Sao Tome. Understandably they were in very high spirits after a successful first leg and a first full night's sleep in months, in the hotel. The flight went well. The Sling flew beautifully apparently and shot into Sao Tome with a 25 knot tail wind, ahead of schedule. They had intermittent issues with the GPS due to electronic interference, so no switching on the Auto-Pilot and nodding off for them. They are confident this will be sorted before they leave at 5pm (GMT) tonight. They are hoping to find an internet connection and log on to see everyone's messages later today, so keep them coming. Meanwhile, my job is to liaise with the UK Met Office to get latest weather predictions for them: all looking good for tonight's flight and for Tuesday or Wednesday across the pond to Brazil …
20th July 2009 – Message from Jean d'Assonville
I have just chatted to James and Mike in their hotel room in Soa Tome. I find it hard to put my emotions in words as these two good friends take on a mammoth adventure while simultaneously setting new standards for light aviation. I have had the pleasure of being intimately involved with this project for the final, frantic 28 days, experiencing all the enthusiasm and their intelligently applied hard work in a very enjoyable environment, which has culminated in the most practical, yet sexy, light sport aircraft I have ever flown.
After spending four weeks in close proximity to the Sling I had the pleasure of flying alongside Mike and James on their first hop from Springs to Pilansberg. Finally I fully appreciated the elegant lines of the completed aircraft (having only fitted the spats the night before). It outshines even established old favourites like the RVs. Mike's philosophy, “if an aircraft looks good it will fly well” is holding true with glowing colours.
Safely on terra firma in Soa Tome James told me a little of their dark, horizon-less flight over Africa with no GPS signal and spiral dives with them facing back home after recovery. Any IFR pilot knows the gripping fear that must have been present in that cockpit through the very long night.
Both James and Mike completed their instrument and night ratings only days before departure, then elected to make their first leg in the scarcely tested Sling through the night over Africa. They were reliant on the locally developed MGL Voyager instrument. All I can say is that their faith astounds me. They have proved what immense power their mental outlook can provide.
Mike and James, It has been an eye opening honour to have been involved with you in preparation for your trip. I believe that you have lit a wild fire, your beautiful Sling will capture the imagination of the worlds' enthusiastic sport pilots, and your trip will open their minds to the new possibilities of light sport aviation. You have shared some of your vision of the future for the Airplane factory. The Sling as your first product is a good indication that your dreams of the future are truly viable.
Give it horns boys, but take care and I look forward to your safe return.
20th July 2009 – Press Releases
See the article in The Times newspaper on the Around The World Expedition.
Click here to view article…
19th July 2009 – Arrived in Sao Tome
We're here in this awesome place which feels like it comes from a different century, feeling very emotional. Mike's asleep right now, but we'll try get better comms later and send proper messages. Thanks to all who've helped and we'll be in touch soon. What a flight – what moments, so beautiful, so out there and so frightening. Got lots of footage which we'll show in due course!