Saturday, 13 August 2011 Looking at the weather for this leg
Sias from VFRPlanner.co.za has sent in the following weather forecast for this leg:
Working on a 13/8/2011 01:00Z take-off from Colombo to Phuket;
- I have added the winds to a 105kts cruising speeds which brings us to a 9h08 flight with a nice tail wind at 7500ft, which comes at a cost…
- the spot graphs are showing high humidity along the route which is normal associated with weather
- At departure time the weather does not look good also confirmed with the middle cloud 13/8 00Z weather chart – and approaching the coast on the spot graphs (Low Cloud).
- Sri Lanka – VCBI 120940Z 1212/1318 24010KT 9999 SCT016 TX30/1308Z TN27/1223Z TEMPO 1212/1215 FEW020CB PROB 30 TEMPO 1222/1303 8000 -TSRA/SHRA SCT010 BKN016 FEW020CB
- Phuket – VTSP 121100Z 1212/1318 26008KT 8000 FEW020 SCT120 BKN3000 BECMG 1215/1217 VRB02KT PROB30 TEMPO 1218/1222 22008G18KT 4000 TSRA FEW016CB SCT020 BKN100 BECMG 1301/1303 26008KT 9000 BECMG 1314/1316 VRB02KT
- Into the flight (03-09Z) there is weather left of track which is fairly stationary and confirmed on the wind spot graph
- The morning weather at Phuket should have cleared by the time they arrive around 10Z-11Z
- Freezing levels around F140-F160
- If they need to avoid weather right of track will probability be the choice.
- As a summary I think some bad weather when departing left of track with the Phuket weather clearing as they approach halfway
Friday, 12 August 2011 Going to sleep in preparation for another day's flying
Things are looking a whole lot brighter after an afternoon nap on the back of a couple of Lion lagers each. It's 23h45 local time already and we're up at 04h00 time for the airport though, so we're not exactly going to slum it out. Also, it's Friday night and there's a wedding going on in the hotel hall just outside our window, so we may not get too much quiet. Lots of sweet little Sri Lankan kids running around dressed in their smart saris and suits. Still, we've had good showers and a great local street meal and so we are at least feeling human.
Yesterday's flight was the most intense mixture of emotions imaginable. We flew out through beautiful cloud formations on radial 010 outbound the VOR at Gillot, Reunion. They have no radar, so very soon we put Colombo, Sri Lanka in our GPS and routed out directly across Mauritian airspace, which may have been a bit naughty. It certainly focused our minds on getting our PLB's activated if we had to ditch, as it did mean that search and rescue would have been at least 200 nautical miles off course according to our flight plan. (Though Mike did have a very good idea where we'd be). Climbing out our GPS said 2 210 nm to run and during the climb our MGL extrapolated to show that we'd run out of fuel after only 1 800 nm (and 22 hours – thankfully from one third of the way in we had at least light tailwinds most of the route and we came in after 21 hours with four hours fuel left).
One benefit of flying over the ocean with a VFR radio is there's no ATC to bother you, so we settled into some serious music – our 24 hour around the world playlist. Of course that got our emotions flowing, so we had some serious heart to hearts and contemplated the romance of our lives as we passed over some very isolated but pretty islands, completely uninhabited, to the strains of voices ranging from Freddy Mercury to Luciano Pavarotti and Barry Manilow. (I was almost weeping to sounds of “Mandy” – Andrea, thanks for the 2009 playlist which lives on).
Sunset was glorious and we felt well set up for the night ahead. Headtorches on, PLB's attached, liferaft and water close at hand and so on. Though we'd already been going 8 hours, we knew when the sun set we'd still be flying when it rose on the other side.
I'm not going to try and recount the night's events now – I simply don't have time. I do remember Jean remarking to me just after midnight, though, that we'd overcome so many hurdles during the night, that as each new one arose, he'd forget the previous ones ever existed. The main problem was avoiding towering cumulo nimbus clouds and storms. Once in a cloud, we couldn't see embedded storms, so at times we had to fly at 1 000 ft above the sea, sometimes in the rain, to get below the cloudbase. At other times we were up in the heavens dodging, using the moonlight for lighting.
About three quarters of the way through the night the engine spluttered, cutting twice in succession. Jean was sleeping and in an instant, as he awoke, he hit the back-up fuel pump (Rotax 914 engines require high fuel pressure to operate). Our A pump had failed and now we were on the back-up B pump, planning ditching procedures. Thankfully the B tank held out all the way to Colombo. (The problem was a totally blocked filter in the A pump – they're very fine and very small – and it was blocked with lint). Later a false ground connection sent all engine instruments into the red and again we planned our ditch in the dark. Again Jean fiddled a fix in flight, though the problem continued intermittently until landing. (And of course I've not had time to explain how we had to plumb in the 120 liters of jerry cans to get the fuel from the back seat into the tanks, and then un-plumb them to get the B and C wing tanks back into the system while we were going too! Jean, also the PIC, was like a machine attending to one issue then the next!).
Flying at night is hard enough anyway – with poor weather, no place to land, 200 miles off flightplan, marginal fuel supplies, a failed fuel pump and engine instruments showing oil pressure off the dial it's a pretty exhausting ordeal. There were definitely times when we wondered what the hell we were up to. The danger with humans, though, is that we seem to forget!
Just before dawn we were able to relay a message to Mumbai through an Air Mauritius airliner, and later to Male, Maldives, via an Air France Flight. When the east began to lighten we had to overcome another final set of clouds and storms, at least this time with a little light to see the dark cloud masses by. Then………
Ah well, that was yesterday's adventure. Tomorrow (actually today, it's just gone midnight!) we're off to Phuket, Thailand. We'll take off as soon after 0100Z (3 am SA time) as we're able. It should only take us 10 hours and there's a good tailwind predicted for most of the way. There we hope to take 2 days rest. Jean will give his view on things from there.
J and J
Friday, 12 August 2011 Reporting back from Sri Lanka
The fuel pump filters have been cleaned out – as expected one was completely blocked. There are filters before the pumps but they are coarser than the ones in the pumps so very fine fluff gets past the coarse filters and then blocks the pump filters. We will fit extra filters when we get a chance to prevent that problem from happening again..
So, James and Jean are sleeping after their harrowing night and have decided to do the next flight during the day which means a take off at 6 am their time (3 am SA time). The flight to Phuket is about 10 hours so they will have a day flight which is a good thing because the weather is not great with more cb's and rain and cloud.
We think the problem with the tracker is that we have got some water into the antenna which is a complex electronic device. If, after drying it out properly it still doesn't work, then I will take a new one with me to LA when I take over from James for the second half of the trip.
The story of their last flight they will only write once in Phuket .. so you have to wait a day or 2.
Friday, 12 August 2011 Safely in Sri Lanka
I just had a brief chat to James … they are both really exhausted and slightly rattled.
They landed after a 21 hour flight at just after 4am SA time after a very tough flight. During the daylight hours they found their way around the storms OK, but there were periods in the night when it was nasty trying to find their way without crashing straight into a bad storm. James' commented “it is really dangerous flying into these conditions at night”.
Then … sometime in the night the engine started to splutter with a low fuel pressure which was resolved by putting the second pump on – but then it meant they were out there after that with just one pump working. Also at one point they got a fright when they lost oil pressure and the temperatures all went into the red – it wasn't an engine issue, it was an electrical issue but still it really gave them a huge fright until they worked out what was going on.
Their plans – initially they intended going straight on to Phuket today but they must first sort out the fuel pump, the electrics and get some well deserved rest.
Well done guys.
Friday, 12 August 2011 Sri Lanka getting closer
Last night we had had confirmationt the guys had been in contact with Maldives Air Traffic Control and were making good progress towards Sri Lanka. Hopefully we will have some more good news soon as to where they are and how long still till their arrival. In the meantime here is a video clip on Sri Lanka, also refered to as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”.
Thursday, 11 August 2011 Video of James talking about EFIS
Here is a short video posted when James and Jean was in Réunion, and James gave a short demonstration on the MGL Voyager they use in the Sling
Thursday, 11 August 2011 On the way to Sri Lanka
I woke up at 3 am this morning to check the weather – Sias had written out a very nice summary for me – I also got hold of the World Wide Aviation Weather Forecasting Centre in the UK. Tim Parsonson usually does this job but seeing it was in the middle of the night I took the redeye shift. The weather today is certainly better than yesterday with fewer CB's which means less chance of flying into a nasty storm. During the day they can dodge them but at night the only way they can see them is by looking for lightning and staying well clear. That was why they changed course at the southern tip of Madagascar on the previous leg – they saw lightning and turned away from it.
James and Jean were in good spirits but I could tell they were anxious .. James told me that they had managed to actually fill up an extra 120 litres in the fuel containers on the rear seats. I did a quick calculation – with the 560 L of fuel their takeoff weight would be in the region of 1080 kg at take off. That is over 200 kg over MAUW. I am looking forward to hearing what the flying was like at that weight.
I read James an e-mail that we received last night from the Male ATC where he said that the Sri Lanka CAA and air force had approved their flight into their airspace. So James then cancelled the previous flight plan and made a new one straight to Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo. When they started the reunion ATC said they had a problem with the flight plan as Sri Lanka said they didn't have permission to enter their airspace. So, James then called the Reunion ATC and asked if he can cancel that flight plane and reactivate the original one but for 2 hours later (their new take off time was 8 am instead of 6am local time). OK, so that was all good but when they were about to taxi out the ATC told them that Sri Lanka had now given permission so the whole process started again.
Eventually they took off at just before 7 am SA time (0500 UTC). They are now 6 hours into the flight which means they are a quarter of the way there. Amazing to think of them alone out there over that vast ocean cocooned in their warm and comfortable cockpit, they will be listening for any change in the engine noise while watching the instruments like a hawk, constantly calculating range and fuel burn, planning, checking, watching. And they will be tired. Ahead of them there will now be vast towering CB's which they would be dodging … and their only contact with the outside world would be the very occasional chat with overflying airliners.
About an hour ago I called the ATC at Diego Garcia ATC (7° 18' 48″ S 72° 24' 40″) – a USA military base – and asked them to see if they could get in touch with ZU-TAF via airliners in 5 hours time as they pass 600 km to their west.
Next contact is with Male in the Maldives at the end of the day to give the boys an update on the weather going into Sri Lanka.
I'll post more details as I get them
Below is a mp3 snippet of the contact the guys still had with Réunion ATC after they had taken off and started routing North.
* Thanks goes to liveATC.net for making this possible
Wednesday, 10 August 2011 One obstacle after another, exhausted, but still planning!
“Never give up, never, never, never give up” said Winston Churchill.
We'll it feels as if we've been fighting a war today.
It's too late to really explain all the administrative problems that we've run up against. The long and the short of it, however, is that the Mauritians will not allow us to traverse their airspace at all without an HF radio. That means we have to go around, namely through the Seychelles and Mumbai FIR's.
So we've filed a flight plan for Male, Maldives at 6am local time tomorrow (0200Z), the long way around. That's a 19 hour flight. (Unless we “shave” it a bit and encroach on Mauritius's precious waters – Jean's the pilot in command, after all, and he has a strong tendency to pull to the right).
Meanwhile there's no avgas or suitable Mogas at Male, so Jean has managed to buy, beg, borrow and more or less steal 4 plastic containers which together hold 100 liters. They'll be on the back seat providing the extra range required to make Colombo, Sri Lanka once we obtain the permission we require in order to go there. Right now we're waiting on it. (Colombo is the only practical place to get fuel for the next leg to Phuket, there being none in the Maldives).
So, in answer to the questions, we'll have 440 liters of gas in the wings (it's sadly not 450 liters) and another 100 in the back. It looks like this – we burn 21,5 liters per hour and do 200 kph (110 knots) TAS. That means, without allowing for unusable fuel, take-off and landing or any reserve, 20,5 hours endurance on the wing tanks, giving about 4 000 km.
The extra 100 liters gives just less than 5 hours, nearly another 1 000km, or a total, very optimistically, of about 5 000km. Colombo from Reunion, around Mauritian airspace, is 4 680km, so there's a 320 km margin. Direct through Mauritius airspace it's about 4 200km, a far better proposition, but not allowed. Anyhow, right now we're waiting on permission for Colombo in any event. If it comes before 0200Z tomorrow we'll consider re-filing for Colombo, if not we'll fly to Male and wait.
Added complications include the fact that we have visas for Reunion which expire at midnight tonight (2 hours!) and that we don't yet have permission to fly either through Seychelles or Mumbai airspace, though as yet neither seems to have raised a red flag in response to our current flight plan.
If you're confused by it all, don't worry, so are we. The Sling 4 is magnificent and makes it possible to change plans when situations require it. But there's little doubt the hardest part of flying around the world has nothing to do with aircraft, flying, weather or fuel – it has to do with overcoming regulatory constraints.
Meanwhile, hold thumbs and let's see how we go.
(In answer to the questions, there seems to be a problem with an element of the satellite tracker computer system somewhere – the device on ZU-TAF is working perfectly. It looks as if there probably won't be tracking tomorrow, but we'll keep trying to get it right and we'll have it showing on our website as soon as it's possible to do so.)
More when we get a break.
J and J
UPDATE: The guys have a permit now to fly to Sri Lanka so let's see how they go … it's about a 24 hour flight. Two courageous aviators!