Tuesday, 16 August 2011 Permission woes for James and Jean
James & Jean have decided to postpone departure to tomorrow evening at 6pm (SA local time) on the 17th of August due to not having received permission back from Taipei yet. Updates will be given during the course of tomorrow.
Tuesday, 16 August 2011 Message from Phuket
Jean and I have just received the terrible news that the two Albatrosses that were at the Tzaneen airshow have been missing for two days. Our thoughts are with the families of all the passengers.
Monday, 15 August 2011 We are planning to leave tomorrow afternoon for Taipei
Just a quick update to let you know that after a good rest at Patong Beach yesterday we're off to the airport to do a short hop over to Robert Suchard's airpark 8.5 nm away, radial 140! (500m grass strip which we've also checked out on Google Earth). There we've got a reception tonight, we hope after some low flying over these magnificent island structures in which we'll be able to film the Sling 4 over the azure beaches.
No time for more now. Our plan though, if the weather's perfect, is to head off for Taiwan tomorrow afternoon, fly again through the night and land there midday the following day. That'll be roughly a 19 or 20 hour flight. Any questions on the weather and we'll check out the possibility instead of delaying a day and doing a day flight to Puerto Princessa International in the Phillipines, followed the next day by a day flight to Taiwan, dividing the flight roughly in two. That does, however, depend on being able to get permission within a day. Michelle, any chance?
We've been having a fascinating time here in Patong Beach which is quite a place. Jean and I really feel like provincial lads here in the heart of the whore – we're just gobsmacked by it all and didn't imagine this existed! Probably it's best to digest it a bit before we write about it actually, we feel a bit like goldfish in a bowl of rum!
J and J
Sunday, 14 August 2011 James answer some questions
About getting the additional fuel into the wings. Jean did consider climbing out on to the wing and we've discussed the idea a couple of times. But ultimately he figured it'd be easier to put it through the two transfer pumps under the pilot's seat. It did mean removing and re-attaching some pipes in flight, but that was all part of the fun. Luckily Jean's agile enough to get himself around the cabin and into some quite creative positions in order to do running repairs.
On the last leg he tried to fix the satellite transponder antenna, which is outside the canopy, from inside the canopy, but more about that and the fuel transfer process in a later post.
One more thing – when I get a moment I want to write a bit about the Sling 4's performance. Flying to Phuket and 5 hours in, 8 hours endurance remaining, we climbed from 12 500 to 13 500 feet (15 500 feet density altitude) at 350 fpm to avoid weather. I realised that the Sling 4 at 115 hp way outperforms a Cessna 182.
More about that later!
Sunday, 14 August 2011 Reunion to Phuket – Jean's view Part 2
Our filed flight plan distance was 4 600km, but we’d cut the corner and cheekily bored a tunnel through Mauritian airspace, so only 4 100 km had to be covered. By nightfall we’d flown for eight and a half hours of the twenty-one. A little more than half the fun lay ahead. Preparing for night flight means controlling all glare from instruments so you can see out. The lowest light setting on the MGL is still a little too bright for mid-ocean night flight, so James’ kikoyi and my towel get hung over the instrument panel. This way our eyes adapt to the dark helping us to see out ahead and the weather that awaits us, and now and again we 'lift up’ to scan the vitals. The moon was just about directly overhead and lit up the world outside as well as the cockpit, allowing us peace of mind, because a long as you can see the weather you have a fair chance of avoiding it. If there is no moon at night, you simply suddenly fly into that invisible soft white wall and all hell breaks loose. No danger of that right now! We were nearing the equator and discussed our previous experiences crossing this imaginary line. “Let’s do a pic and a video when we get there.” “Yeah, cool ok!” Still be a while though, and all was well, so James decided to have a quick sleep, reclined his seatback and was gone.
It’s always a different when your mate sleeps, 'cause you have to watch everything and shouldn’t dose off or forget to switch off a fuel transfer pump which would result in pumping out valuable fuel into the night sky. So on the edge of your seat and keep those eyes peeled into the distance.
When you stare into the dark for long you start seeing all sorts of things, and when you tired and do that you see even more. Now out there the situation is this – James and I are simply trying to fly to Colombo, minding our own business. The Indian Ocean just wants to do what it has done forever, and the sky just wants to do what it has done forever. All technical descriptions of the ITCZ should be forgotten. The sky saw us coming, said to the sea, let’s be a monster and scare the pants off these lads.
It all started with some fine top cover beginning to shade out the moonlight, so what was below and ahead became more and more indistinct. James seemed so peaceful that I left him in dreamland, and forged ahead . It just seemed to get darker and darker and this huge monster ahead just opened its mouth wider and wider letting us fly right in. “Mmm …… James, …. James …… wakey wakey. Look what I see!”
James woke slightly and squizzed through sleepy eyes. “Just a bit of rain”, and gestured onwards with his hand and slipped off again.
Now really on the edge of my seat, 'cause this way leaning forward we could lose all the glare of the instruments and see best outside. This monster was growing unbelievably. I knew 'we are definitely not going in there, because in there we will be digested’. With this James sat up, reset his seat and we got into serious “Wow” mode! Tweaking the heading knob on the AP we steered clear of the monster’s flesh, but we just got deeper and deeper in. It was the most beautiful site in the world – we were surrounded by the most gigantic convective clouds that I had ever been that close to at night, lit by the moonlight now breaking in to dramatise this theatre. We were now at a right angle to our course, finding gaps in the folds of this monster’s skin to slip through. Both of us in awe, sharp, calm but shit-scared. The possible result of going into one of these clouds and losing instruments makes us so. A good decision and a fast one needed to be made. Over? No chance. Through? Definitely not, you could see the monster boiling! Last chance and option, autopilot off, descend manually in the little space left to fly visual, hope the artificial horizon stays with us and get in under this baby in the rain, hopefully with less turbulence, and reset the autopilot on a course to destination. And that was it! “Take it away Jameson!” was all the prompting he needed. James is legendry for many reasons, some known and some never to be known!
Auto pilot off, “Got it!” and a swift meaningful roll over a billowing CU head down into the darkness. QNH of no value, we were descending to below this monster, relying on GPS alt. Sculpting a tunnel down to the level we thought safe (about 1 400 feet) James called to reset the GPS for destination so that the autopilot could take over and find its path immediately. This done and ready we entered the most viscous pelting rain under the cloud and still banked at 50 degrees engaged the autopilot. (Ranier, you have made the most amazing instrument – we blessed you right there and then). Strong turbulence, heavy rain and we just bombed on. James looked at me, we exchanged smiles and sighs. The party had started! A fair period passed and buckets and buckets of rain cleansed our Bullet before we popped out the other side.
We were now only 1 200 feet above the sea and far away from anywhere, more charlies ahead. Yeah, we were well “out there!”
The rest of the night was exhausting and terrifying. We went on through apparently never-ending weather and found ourselves in situations which are impossible, especially with my typing speed, to tell you all about, though maybe one fine evening around a big fire at Tedderfield we could all get together and have an outdoor slide show and talk about how great life is!
Miss you all! Hope to have you tracking with us soon!
Sunday, 14 August 2011 Reunion to Phuket – Jean's view – Part 1
It feels like a million years since our last chat, so much real stuff has happened. (Definition – “real stuff” means make the right move next, or else BIG dwang!). We are here in the party capital, Phuket. Safe and rested, well fed and digesting our antics.
The little 9 hour hop from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Thailand was a great way to unwind and catch up on some relaxing. We were forced to leave with minimum fuel due to some nonsense with the authorities, but nevertheless with a fair reserve we set out, had an amazing flight with serious challenge from the weather and arrived at Phuket about an hour after sunset. We did a long descent into the circuit with the moonlit clouds sliding past and oriental voices talking us in. James was flying and suddenly broke out in his classic style, “Faaaak, I get excited, flying our plane that we built and flew all the way here, into Phuket international under this magnificent moon!”
Ja, we are very very lucky, life is really good and it makes it so much more special to have all of your support and know that you are following us. The biggest shame is that the tracker is not working at the moment. I remember the frustration and disappointment when James and Mike lost tracking in the Sling in 2009. James and I often discuss during flight how we wish we had that real time connection with all of you. We are doing all we can to get it working and look forward to having you back on line. It adds a certain comfort to know that you all know where we are- kind of like you are there with us!
Let's go back to lovely Reunion where we made some very good friends and thought we had had the most hectic flight possible from Africa. The people in Reunion were all entirely wonderful, thanks so much to Laurent , Graziella and all at the Roland Garros Aero Club who made our stay a complete pleasure. We left with a definite desire to return again soon. It was our intention to leave for Maldives the afternoon after our arrival, so James diligently prepared and filed a flight plan and we met with press and television at 3pm local time, filled the plane brimming with gas and packed ready to leave. But then the delays started – “Monsieur, your flight plan. Mauritius, they have a problem!”
And so the painful time-wasting nonsense started. Later that night we had no alternative but to return to our hotel room after James had unsuccessfully tried everything to convince the Mauritians that they should allow a single engine, experimental airplane without HF radio to fly through their precious airspace. Back to the field the next day we were again hoping to get the clearance from Mauritius, but were met with a final “No HF, No Fly!” On top of that the next curved ball – no avgas or 95 octane petrol in the Maldives!
So back to the Hotel for a big rethink. As the afternoon drew on, with me kicked back on the bed, James cursing the Mauritian authorities while hammering away at the computer, having regular (much appreciated) chats with Captain Mike back home on what to do next, the reality dawned – if we were to continue east, we needed to fly past the Maldives and straight on to Colombo in Sri Lanka, somewhere that we hadn't planned to go at all. So suddenly 'action stations', James started the process of flight planning, clearances etc. for the new flight of more than 23 hours, a task at which he is demon. My mission was to go out and find fuel drums and the bits and pieces we needed to make our Bullet into a truly inter-continental commuter. This process started around four pm in the afternoon. Soon with the help of our friends we had 125 liters of fuel in drums in the back of Laurent's car, a length of plastic pipe, a flight plan “around” Mauritian airspace direct to Colombo 4 million miles away and by about 8pm and were sitting down to very fine meal with Graziella and Laurent.
Back at the Hotel as I was getting to sleep James was still busied with the never ending tasks of flight planning but eventually came to bed for about two hours of shut eye before our wake up for the long demanding task ahead. Laurent arrived promptly at 4:45, as planned, and we zoomed out to the Aero Club for an early start, packed the Bullet, plumbed the fuel system, said goodbyes and taxied to the terminal building for customs. At this point we were not yet sure of our clearances but took the chance anyway. Customs done we jumped into TAF and called for start, while staring out north over the ocean wondering what the next 20 plus hours held for us. The reply came – “ZULU UNIFORM TANGO ALPHA FOXTROT, your clearance for Colombo is not approved. And they advise that you are NOT to take off in anticipation of approval.”
James and I look at each other, sigh and swear, and then start the process of overcoming once again. As with all these things in life, one should find the good in them. In this case it was meeting three lovely souls up in the “bureau” – The very swift gent who drove us around the airport in a huge bus and ran us around the terminal building, allowing efficient sorting out of 'formalities', and the lovely ladies who gave us our first real cup of coffee for the day and lifted our spirits with their humane tenderness. Finally, during that cup of coffee, the clearance came through and we could leave.
Climbing into the cockpit now we both knew this time we really were leaving. The reality brought on serious butterflies – we were about to spend about 20 hours in the Bullet, transferring fuel from various drums in the back with an untried system, weather report not great and only a couple of hours sleep.
The odds ………..? James, smiling his usual big energy giving smile, looked at me. “Jeanie, you nervous?”
“I am sh…..g my best rods! Let's boogie!”
And so the trip began. The Bullet, AUW of 1200kg at least, me in the pilot's seat, taxied to rnwy 22 and we lined up. How was she going to fly? Slowly we opened power to 100% and she lazily stared the roll, heavier than ever before. Then as speed crept up, we slipped the ace – 115% power from the turbo and she responded, with zest. Soon the ASI read 50 knots and she wanted to fly, a lot sooner than expected. You could feel the effect of the weight, but without a moment's hesitation she leapt up and climbed at an astounding rate of 600ftpm. James the Bullet and I were on our way to FL095 and Colombo.
“Mike has designed an airplane that is to general aviation, what Rutan's spaceship is to space travel.” And more reason to say this as the flight continues.
With 440 liters in the wings and 125 on the back seat/floor we continued our climb a radial 010 to clear Mauritian airspace, wasting our precious fuel on the flight plan detour. Luckily Reunion has no radar so no squawk was issued, as soon as we were through some cloud James, with some verbal abuse to Mauritian authority (see video later!), reset our course direct for Colombo. It always feels much better when you are on a direct path!
We settled into the flight, nervously, but as we leveled off and enjoyed the fair weather we began to relax a bit. Clearly we were both considering what lay ahead. The reality of the previous night flight still fresh, the fact that we were flying through the ITCZ at night, no transponder, no sat tracker, no HF radio and a quick cell call met report (something about storms somewhere!) was what we had to chew on. We were in fact also way off our flight plan path, so chances of quick recovery in the event of a swim were low. At almost the same instant in conversation James and I realized our only hope of recovery was our PLB's (personal locator beacons) and we immediately attached these to our belts. Thanks Chalkie, your generosity and thoughtfulness certainly is helping those long crossings.
And so the day passed – we burnt fuel, the transfer worked perfectly and hour by hour our already good performance improved. As the sun got low and the night neared, conversation got interesting and somewhat philosophical. We knew this perfect day would turn to night and in that darkness lay more than half our flight over the Indian ocean, through the ITCZ, certain storms, certain rain. The sun would set more than 8 hours after take-off, but when it rose again we'd still be flying. There was no turning back, no option but to press on and on and on! No land, no human, no nothing, just water, weather, the Bullet, hopefully enough fuel; and James and me. This is when you are most alive!
There are not many people I would willingly get into this situation with, but as we prepared for night James was shooting the stunning sunset out the window and I smiled while looking at this wild child, and thought to myself, how incredibly lucky I was to be on this adventure with him. Soon the moon was bright and for this we were thankful. The clouds were still passing below and the night was gentle, a slight tailwind and no Charlie Bravos. Life is sweet!
And so on, into the night……………![Jean's just got cabin fever, so he's headed off for a walk on the beach. Part 2 will follow within a couple of hours!]
Saturday, 13 August 2011 Safely in Phuket
I have just had a call from J & J they are in a clean air conditioned terminal building in Phuket. Jean said he has never seen such a clean and well organized airport in his life. And … they are in really good spirits after a brilliant flight of just over 9 hours. The last hour was in smooth clear air with a bright full moon lighting their way for them.
By the way, this time while we were chatting I remembered to ask Jean how the Sling 4 flew with 560 litres of fuel on board at the Reunion take off and was delighted to hear that the plane hardly seemed to notice the extra weight and lifted off and climbed beautifully because I was a bit concerned about them taking off so heavy.
Saturday, 13 August 2011 The morning started with red tape before departure
Tim called me at 2.20 am this morning saying that he couldn't get hold of James to give him the weather forecast. I tried too but without luck and so went back to sleep leaving Tim to keep trying. At 4.30 I jumped awake wondering why J & J hadn't called for a final check in and brief on their exact route. This time I got through to them when I called … James answered and the conversation went something like this:
“Mike, howzit man (James' style) … hell we have been battling for over an hour and have decided to take it is easy now because we lost the battle to get the extra fuel through security to the plane. You know we had a letter from the head of security and the airport duty office saying they we would be able to transport the Mogas to the plane but this morning they just wouldn't let us through so we have abandoned the containers outside and are walking to the plane right now. We have enough anyway – we landed with at least 80 litres and we managed to get 195 litres Avgas so we are good. Anyway, we are in good shape and ready to go. We will have tailwinds so I guess the flight will take 9 hours 10 minutes and take off will be at 0300 Zulu so will you please let Michelle at Flight Permits know so that she can book our slot in Phuket. Here chat to Jean”
Jean: “Howzit, hell this is a real adventure. It is good to be doing this with James – you guys have the experience in dealing with this stuff and it helped today. The filing of flight plans and all that can be crazy. So, I cleaned both of the pump filters and from now on I will do it before each flight … you know there was a kind of lint or fluff in the filter of the one pump. We should put a finer filter in after the standard filter. And the electrical problem I haven't been able to trace … it is definitely a loose wire somewhere because when I fiddled with the wires behind the dash everything worked again. And I will take the tracker antenna off in Phuket and dry it out and try and get it working. OK we are at the plane – bye!”
I wished them good luck and strong tailwinds and promptly lay down in my bed and went back to sleep.
50 Minutes after their take off time the phone rang and a man with a Sri Lankan accent asked me “is that ZUTAF” I said no, but I am the operator. He explained that he was the Colombo ATC and asked if ZUTAF had a satellite phone because he needed to talk to them. When I told him no, I had no way of contacting them at which point he promptly put the phone down. I have to guess that something had changed on their flight plan or they couldn't get a slot into Phuket or something like that and so in a way it was a good thing that we were not in touch because the possibility exists that they would have been forced to turn back for some reason or other.
It is now 1 pm local time which means they have been flying for 7 hours and have just over 2 hours to go. A short flight this time and a day flight too. Nice.