Monday, 22 August 2011 Re-planning our route on the hoof
Sorry we’ve been a bit slack at keeping our latest news up to date. We’re off to Taipei city centre later today and we’ll see if there’s a good quiet place to do a short video update for a change.
First things first – we’ve had an interesting but quite isolating couple of days here in central Taoyuan, which is about 30km south-west of Taipei. Since we arrived in Taiwan neither Jean nor I have seen a single 'westerner’, not even one tourist or business traveler, so we’re definitely in the heart of it. People are very friendly, but pretty much nobody at all speaks English. At one level that’s great, but at another it does make it quite difficult to find the extra fuel cans and pieces of plumbing we’re looking for. We’re eating in proper Taiwanese street dives though, and yesterday evening we had a great run with exercises up on the mountain here – about the only open space for miles around.
Check out just a few of the fruits and veggies that we don’t recognize.
It helps to be a lover of bikes in this place. Nothing fast, but a serious case of “One man one Scooter”. Check this out – lots of families of 4 on a 125cc beast, I just haven’t had a camera at the right moment to get two sweet kids with mum and dad all off for a visit!
This country is buzzing – it feels like a beehive of industrial activity. There’s a fair amount of trauma in the press at the moment (we get a copy of the English print “China Post” under our hotel door each morning) arising out of HP’s decision to sell off its PC division. That may mean the loss, over 2 to 3 years, of the manufacture of chip boards, printed circuits, keyboards, cases etc in Taiwan for HP’s PC market of 40 million PC’s per year. Jislaaik, it makes you think!
More important by far however than Taiwan’s little problems is the question of my and Jean’s route out of here. (You don’t want to be stuck competing with these 23 million hardworking people, I can tell you!). Michelle received the following email from the Japs yesterday-
From: JAS-Flight Support [mailto:email@example.com] Sent: 19 August 2011 13:27
To: 'Michelle Reinhardt'
Subject: RE: Pilots licences
Dear Michelle White / Flight Permits
From Yuko Naito / JAS
Ref ZU-TAF / RJCC
We have sent following message 19 Aug 0654UTC.
/// QUOTE ///
We have talked with RJCC airport authority and they are not able to permit to operate to RJCC without airworthiness certificate.
This means that ZU-TAF is not able to operate within Japan due to regulation.
Therefore, we (JAS) are not able to arrange all services at RJCC (JAPAN).
Very sorry for inconvenience by regulation of Japan.
/// UNQUOTE ///
Sorry for your inconvenience.
JAS Co., Ltd. ~Jump And Smile !~
Tel: +81-3-5708-0088 / Fax:+81-3-5708-0090
So Jean and I sat down and did some planning. It looks like the easiest alternative is to go Guam, Marshall Islands (or perhaps Wake Island), Hawaii and then LA. The Marshall to Hawaii to LA legs are the reverse of what Mike and I did in 2009 – but against the wind this time, which is a bit nasty. But with a bit of planning we should be fine. Here’s a shot which shows what the new section would look like in yellow.
Michelle’s already got the Marshall Islands permission and Hawaii (US) is also done. We couldn’t get Guam over the weekend as we needed our insurer to sign a form, but hopefully we can get that today. If we can we’ll leave tomorrow (Tuesday) early morning. Otherwise we’ll leave as soon as it’s forthcoming.
Right now we’re keen to get into central Taipei, so I’m going to sign off. Tonight I promise to do a bit of a write-up on the Sling 4 performance and fuel burn and perhaps also some of my thoughts on the new route (including some of my fears about the old route!). In some ways the new route is an easier option, despite the fact that two of the legs are longer ones and into the wind. More about that later.
Meanwhile, here’re some more images of Taoyuan – I wonder how many of us are ever destined to get here (again). Someone apparently said, “If you think the world’s a small place, you obviously haven’t tried flying around it lately.” To me it’s a bit different though, something like, “If you imagine that your life and culture are special or important, go out there and have a look at how many other people are living their lives in ways you can only dimly comprehend or imagine.”
J and J
Sunday, 21 August 2011 Jean writes to MGL Avionics about the EFIS
I have been wanting to write to you quite badly for the past few days. In fact I wrote you quite a story yesterday but somehow lost it in posting and was p….. off as my typing speed is a bit slow to quickly bang out another.
I want to let you know just how amazed I am with the performance of your “playstation”. In the past when I have experienced problems you would usually blame installation. Well I believe that with your guidance and our experience we have hit the numbers and the installations are doing your instument justice. The fact is your intrument has performed faultlessly for the entire flight in the most demanding conditions. The amazing thing is that your auto pilot has flown probally 99.8% of the trip so far. We take off manually and as soon as we are settled into a climb, “ON” goes the AP. Climb rate set and departure procedure carried out with buttons and knobs, level out, ” Goto” and that's it. Weather avoidance is done the same way (except when radical moves are called for, Reunion to Sri Lanka leg). Descending, joining and even the circuit get flown with heading and alt knobs. It is rather odd after a long flight to grab the stick and find the pedals and try land the Bullet as slickly as the AP has flown for the past 20 hours!
James really knows the instument well and it is great see what it is capable of. He does in-flight dowloads of terrain and vector maps and it all just works perfectly. On the long night flights I watch the moonlight reflections on the polished ailerons constantly changing as the your servo takes commands from your GPS and guides us to our next destination, and I wonder in awe at how damn clever you are!
PS – Another thing – James keeps on saying how technology can have a 'feel' that's associated with the thought processes that it's creator went through in creating it. You posted a comment some days back on our post saying that with your instrument in our plane you felt a bit as if you were out here with us. Well, I know as far as James is concerned in a real way you really are up there with us when we're flying!
Saturday, 20 August 2011 Answering some questions
This morning Jean and I woke up at 09h30 local time, just missing the hotel breakfast. We shared a double bed last night for the first time on the trip – in every other hotel we’ve had a room with two beds, as it’s cheapest and most convenient. Up to now Phuket Air Park has been the only place we each had our own bedroom, so we’re really getting to know each other well!
After wake-up I checked out our website, Avcom and Gmail, then had a long, luxurious bath, while Jean caught up recording all our finances. We’ll give you a breakdown of everything we’ve spent soon. Costs are very country dependant and, in the irrational way of the world, one ends up in situations where a cup of coffee in one country costs about the same as three nights in a hotel in another! It infuriates me, but then there’s no point in getting angry about stuff you can do little about (and I think we learned some Buddhist tricks in Thailand!).
Sri Lanka for example is a cheap country to live in – our hotel cost about USD30 for both of us, including transport to and from the airport. Dinner with drinks (in the street) was another USD3. Then approach, landing and parking fees for the aircraft at the airport cost a grand total of USD6. But being at the only international airport in the country, our 'handling fee’ was USD258 – and that comprised only the compulsory charges! (Each bus trip from aircraft to the terminal ordinarily costs USD40 and of course normally you require at least 2 of those if you’re going to enter a country and then leave it – walking to your plane is not allowed! Aircraft chocks cost another USD30 etc. Luckily all the chocks can’t fit under our spats and we persuaded our handlers in Sri Lanka to include only the absolute compulsory items. Still, I hate paying that kind of money. Maybe I’m just mean!)
Anyhow, I’m digressing. The first thought I wanted to respond to was Wysiwyg’s (?) on Avcomm – basically, “Aren’t you pushing a bit close to the boundaries, breaking some rules, and shouldn’t you think more of your loved ones and perhaps be a bit more careful”.
It’s a very legitimate question and definitely one we’ve thought about and discussed a bunch. Jim, thanks for chipping in to that effect. My (and I know, Jean’s) thoughts are these – We’re 100% satisfied personally with the levels of risk we’re taking, step by step. If we weren’t, we’d take a rain-check and re-think the approach. We have excellent equipment with lots of back-ups and redundancy, we’ve already accumulated a bunch of experience and we’re getting more as we go. We’re aware that being watched can create pressure, but we’re determined not to let that affect our decisions. Finally, we’re on a personal adventure in which there are no passengers. Exactly as Jim said – you’re allowed to put your life in some danger climbing Everest, and in so doing you set your own risk levels. There’re no fare paying passengers along to whom we owe a duty of care.
That having been said, there are of course inherent risks and we accept them as we go. If we feel they’re unjustifiable we’ll wait, or perhaps even abort our plan. Weather is the greatest single danger, and there’s no question that the weather risk is much greater when we fly at night than when we fly in the day. (The difference on that risk between day and night is greater than we expected, so we’re changing our modus operandi a bit as we go). In my last post I tried to capture a little, but not very successfully, how some of the rules, often those intended to protect us, actually make it more dangerous. The best example was the issue of the Mauritius FIR crossing. On that leg we didn’t follow our filed flight plan exactly. That’s not acceptable generally, and it could be dangerous. But on this occasion we did it specifically in order both to minimize the weather risk (better weather routing and also 'less time out there’), but also to ensure that we had the endurance to make it. If we hadn’t had the tail-winds we did, it could have been really marginal, the alternates were very few and far between and we’d have had to make some difficult decisions, all at night. So we clipped through the Mauritius FIR, FOR SAFETY, NOT IN SPITE OF IT. (Incidentally, close associates back home knew our exact routing and we had PLB’s to show exact position in case of problems).
So sometimes the rules actually conflict with the considerations of safety. I’m not saying one should necessarily generally adopt that approach in life – mostly if one feels that for safety you need to break the rules it’s probably best just to change what you’re doing. But here we’re dealing with quite an exceptional set of circumstances and we do need some freedom to make our own decisions.
One final thought on questions of weather and decisions more generally – it’d be nice to wait for the right weather and circumstances every time, but the sad reality is that if we did do that we’d probably takes months to get around the world, by which time winter would be coming in the northern hemisphere, bringing more dangers and so on. It’s a question of making an 'odds-on assessment’, deciding if the risk is acceptable and getting on with it. Reading more of Branson’s history of aviation in my bath this morning I thought this quote was about right. It’s from Douglas Bader of “Reach for the Sky”, for whom Branson’s book is also named. He says of Bader, whom he knew personally,
“This irascible old man was also one of the funniest and most generous a child could know. His example gave me my confidence. He also gave me and my generation one of the best pieces of business advice ever formulated: 'Rules’, he once said, 'were for the guidance of wise men – and for the obedience of fools.’”
(In introducing Bader, the World War 2 ace who flew with artificial legs, Branson also uses another line which I really loved, it goes like this: “He had a wide and generous definition of what a fool was, and he didn’t suffer them gladly.”)
OK, so that’s the rules. What a pity I have, in the same post, to write about the China 919 question! Actually, Jean and I only found out about the fiasco when my brother Andrew directed us to our own Facebook page late last night! After we landed ATC ground instructed us to taxi by taxiway “November Charlie to the end”. We were already on a taxiway, the name of which I don’t recall. I was on the radio, Jean driving. We came to a multi-directional crossing about 40 meters off the active runway and I asked which way we should go. As it turned out November Charlie was marked with two boards, but it did an acute angle there, one sharp right, back towards the active runway at a gentle angle, the other gentle right, curving to parallel with the runway. The ATC said “turn right onto November Charlie”. Jean assumed he meant hard right, so commenced turning. ATC quickly chipped in “No, no”, so Jean continued the turn, on a tickie, doing a 360, and then headed off at the gentle right angle.
Even if we’d gone down the sharp right 'on-ramp’ to the runway, it was a good 50 metres to the active runway junction and the “stop line” was a good 30 meters from where we were. Anyhow, being on the ground frequency, we didn’t even realise that there’d been any consequence, since the China 919 flight was obviously on the tower frequency already. Hence we discovered that there’d been problems only when this popped up on our Facebook page after we got to the hotel (we’d even spent three quarters of an hour on the far apron refueling and it wasn’t brought to our attention!). What must have happened is that the China Airlines flight was already rolling and saw us doing a turn back towards the runway. Although there was a good 50 meters for us to run to get to the active runway on that taxiway, it was at an acute angle, which perhaps he couldn’t see, so perpendicularly we were probably only 20 meters off the runway. Anyhow, he probably just thought “What the hell are these lunatics in this little mosquito doing? I’m not going to take any chances, I’m hitting the brakes.” I assume that he must have hit them pretty hard and somehow burst a tyre. Hhhmmm, what a pity – it kind of bursts my bubble a bit – I thought we’d been doing so well. Anyhow, life has a habit of bumping you down a couple of rungs just when you think you’re up!
Taiwan is a hectic place by first impressions, and we’ll now head off to see central Taipei. It looks like we won’t be getting out of here tomorrow for Japan, as we’d initially hoped, but as SA wakes up and we get updates on that, we’ll report.
James and Jean
Friday, 19 August 2011 Reflecting on the last few days
Exactly 30 hours ago Jean and I were settled into a 'Dang Beach Bugalow’ room planning dinner on the beach at the beautiful Nai Yang, just off the threshold of runway 09 at Phuket Thailand, followed by an early night.
Then the Taiwan the Singaporean permissions came in over my cellphone, the weather suddenly looked propitious, our Taiwan handlers wanted us in promptly to avoid rethinks and it just seemed the right moment. In two and a half hours we faxed in a carefully structured flight plan (fourth flight plan submitted in the hope of that leg, though Pocket FMS makes it pretty easy!), bought supplies for the journey, went for a lovely walk on the beach followed by a local dinner (also on the beach), showered and then abandoned our unused but paid-for room. (Luckily Thailand is so cheap that a week there costs less than a night in many other places – here for example!). We’d already filled and prepared ZU-TAF during the afternoon and had been feeling pretty glum that things hadn’t seemed to be working out – still, having 'resigned ourselves’ to another day in Thailand it was quite difficult to let go again.
Over the past 72 hours I’ve felt quite reflective about the problems we’ve been having getting all documentary and regulatory requirements properly in line. I’ve been raging mad quite a few times – really frustrated and angry, harking back to my more youthful anti-authoritarian sentiment and natural loathing of limitations to individual freedoms, (especially if they’re mine!). There’s no question that the countries in this part of the world, even the more liberal ones, have a deep rooted sense of administrative structure and often political paranoia. The communist / capitalist mix makes the countries openly distrustful of one another and people just don’t expect to be able to get into a private aircraft and just buzz off exactly where they want to. I’ve written a bit over the past couple of years about how easy it can be to travel internationally under one’s own steam in the right light aircraft and with a bit of experience, but even with the right energy and approach, of course it isn’t always that way.
I suppose that in honesty I’ve begun to accept that as a consequence of where they are these countries just aren’t set up to deal with some of the requirement of GA. So for example we needed to fly through the Bangkok (Thailand), Singapore, Manila (Phillipines) and Taipei (Taiwan) FIR’s. (Vietnam and China would have been more direct, but are even more complicated). We don’t have an HF radio, so most of the time we’re out of comms (unless we can relay through an airliner, which we do a lot and with relative ease). We also have no sat phone. So it does mean that if we do go down, then the country really could have quite a job having to find us and that is quite a liability for an institution to take on without being quite clear on what’s involved. The US by comparison understands private aeroplanes and everything around them, making it so much easier.
Anyhow, Jean was desperate for reading matter on our first few legs and then found a copy of Richard Branson’s “Reach for the Skies – Ballooning, Birdmen and Aviation – A Personal History of Aviation” in a bookshop in Patong Beach. Interestingly, a good part of the Introduction is about Dave Stock, with whom Richard Branson flew in an English Electric Lightning to try and break a world aircraft climb record in SA some years back. Dave was killed in that same aircraft at the Overberg Airshow nearly two years ago, but not before he was also the test pilot who flew the very first ever Sling prototype for The Airplane Factory, so that seemed fitting. It’s a fun book and it was nice to see that Branson has also had his fair share of run-ins with foreign authorities on flight permissions. So for example during the flight to Taiwan today I read the following (Jean and I are both reading the book simultaneously!)-
“Here are two old faxes from my scrapbook, both from attempts to circumnavigate the world by balloon.
The first was received on board the Virgin Global Challenger as it neared Algerian airspace on 7 January 1997: “YOU ARE NOT, REPEAT NOT, AUTHORISED TO ENTER THIS AREA”.
[Very similar to what we initially received from Sri Lanka and then Taiwan!]
The second was sent on 23 December 1998 after we had received a dispatch from the Chinese government. The dispatch said we had to land the ICO Global as we were entering Chinese airspace. We had no doubt that they would shoot us down if we did not comply. The trouble was that we couldn’t:
WE KINDLY ADVISE THAT IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO LAND NOW WITHOUT SEVERELY ENDANGERING THE LIVES OF THE CREW AND ANY PERSONS ON THE GROUND. WE CANNOT STEER THE BALLOON AS IT GOES WHERE THE WIND TAKES IT. WE HAVE FULL CLOUD COVER AND CANNOT GROUND. WE CANNOT DESCEND THROUGH CLOUD AS IT WILL CREATE ICE ON THE BALLOON RESULTING IN US CRASHING. WEE KINDLY BRING TO YOUR ATTENTION THAT WE ARE DOING EVERYTHING IN OUR POWER TO RESOLVE THE SITUATION AND APOLOGISE PROFUSELY FOR NOT BEING ABLE TO COMPLY WITH YOUR INSTRUCTIONS. WE ARE NOT BEING DISRESPECTFUL TO THE CHINESE AUTHORITIES. WE ARE JUST IN AN IMPOSSIBLE SITUATION THAT WE CANNOT RESOLVE AT PRESENT WITHOUT ENDANGERING LIVES. WE KINDLY REQUEST THAT YOU GIVE OUR TEAM MORE TIME TO WORK ON THIS PROBLEM.”
Branson then describes how two later balloonists were shot down and killed in similar circumstances by a military helicopter in Belarus. Then I liked this:
“Four months later, Steve Fosset was carried out over Libya and received this gem: 'BECAUSE OUR COUNTRY HAS AN AIR EMBARGO YOU CANNOT COME THROUGH THE AIRSPACE OF LIBYA. YOU SHOULD CONTACT YOUR GOVERNMENT AND AKS THEM TO LIFT THE EMBARGO ON OUR REPUBLIC’”
It doesn’t feel too different from what we’re experiencing!
What is also interesting was that there is no question that attempts to fit us into an unnatural category and force us to comply with rules applicable to other larger, faster aircraft (eg- the following of established airways), often in a misguided attempt to contribute to our safety, increases the danger for us. The most obvious examples are requirements that increase our flight distance, with increased risk of running out of gas or experiencing really bad weather. Then Thailand initially required that we could only fly VFR in the day. That meant we couldn’t leave in the early morning and minimize night flying time, substantially increasing our risk. We finally got around that by filing IFR, but there’s no question that we’re the people best placed to assess the risk associated with different courses of action.
Anyhow, we’ve chosen to do this trip on a pretty much low budget, largely “deal with things as they come” basis and I suppose we then have to be willing to take the good with the bad in the right humor.
Last night and today’s flight was really quite manageable – we got out of Phuket on a 'Sierra One Tango’ procedure departure at just after 10pm. I didn’t have the applicable card/plate, but luckily I’d seen it on the wall in the briefing office and committed it to memory. Jean was in the pilot’s seat flying, with me shouting instructions as I recalled them!
We climbed through 2 500 feet on runway heading, under the moonlight, did a gentle left turn onto heading 110, engaged the autopilot on the MGL, got established on a climb, covered the screens for better outside vision in the moonlight and settled into a game of dodgems with the towering and sometimes lightening filled cumulo-nimbus clouds over the Thai peninsula.
There were little fishing boats everywhere and as we got over the south China sea it literally looked like a floating village, more than 100 km out from the shore! I would have thought at those densities the waters would have been fished out in not time, though perhaps not. Things were definitely made easier by the fact that the cloud coverage decreased substantially far out over the water. One of the most stressful activities we’ve had to deal with in our flights so far is flying at night in stormy conditions – it really is unpleasant and one feels very exposed.
We ended up too far from shore for VHF communications for most of the flight, having 12 hours radio silence during which we listened pretty much non-stop to music. The Sling 4 was purring. It felt good to have given her a really good once-over – the best of the trip so far, the previous day. We’d also done an oil and oil filter change, cleaned the fuel filters in the two high-pressure fuel pumps (the one filter being the cause of the brief engine stoppage over the Indian Ocean on leg 2) and filled up to the brim with avgas, including two additional 20 liter containers. Everything was working absolutely beautifully and I think that although quite weary, Jean and I felt quietly confident and very much in love with our machine. The Airplane Factory staff (especially Jean, Mike, Ruan, Terry, Gareth, Thabo, Vincent, Buto, Muzi, Godfrey, Jan and Tumisho) essentially built that aircraft over a two month period, and she is unbelievably strong, reliable and confidence inspiring. If we’ve had some sort of glitch, every time it’s an electrical linkage or a trivial hardware consideration or suchlike. ZU-TAF flies incredibly comfortably, she’s 100% balanced, climbs from 12 000 to 14 000 like a jack-in-the-box, even with 15 hours endurance remaining, she runs on avgas or mogas, she’s comfortable to spend long periods, easy to fly and really such a joy. We couldn’t be more happy with her.
Below are a couple of images that give an idea of today’s flight.
Arriving at Taoyung International, the main airport in Taiwan, was quite something. Very busy, but we were welcomed with gifts by our handlers, Sunrise Airlines. First impressions of Taiwan are intense – fast, neon-lighted, modern, competitive, sexy. We opted not to take a bus into Taipei after refueling and preparing the plane (the flight was 18 hours and it always takes time to get paperwork done). Since we’ve done the legwork, however, it means we’re free to head into town as soon as we’re up tomorrow and discover the people and place. We’ll take lots of shots and give our views.
Meanwhile, it’s such a privilege to get to travel around this magnificent world of ours. I hope that we can begin to do the opportunity justice. Thank you to everyone at home for providing the support that makes it possible. I miss my kids desperately, and I love their messages. There’s no question that they make me think twice before I discount any risk that may need to be faced. I’m not a keen swimmer, but if this engine were to fail for one reason or another (and it can happen no matter how careful you are), boy oh boy would I be swimming hard!
Wow, this is becoming an epistle! I’m going to head off to sleep and we’ll try get some clarity on when we’ll be out of here getting closer to LA as soon as we know. First choice would be early Sunday morning to HoKaido, Japan north Island, but we await their final satisfaction with our documents. Meanwhile, reading some of the messages of support we’ve received, there’s no question that if you’re having a problem with self-esteem then getting a pilot’s license and flying around the world’s a good thing to do. Thanks, it makes everything so much more fun.
Friday, 19 August 2011 Safely in Tapei City
James has just called to say they are down and happy and are being taken care of by very friendly Taiwanese officials.
Apart from some naughty cb's which they had to dodge in the moonlight for a few hours after take off, the flight went really well and the plane performed absolutely flawlessly.
Well done Jean and James!!!
They have already refilled the plane with AVGAS ready for the next flight and once they are through customs and immigration they are going to catch a bus into Taipei.
Next stop – Japan – they want to take off really early on Sunday morning (local time)… weather permitting.
Thursday, 18 August 2011 James and Jean still stuck in Phuket
Boy-o-boy it was a busy day. I lost count of the calls to J & J today and Michelle from Flight Permits (who worked on the permissions all day). At one point I received this e-mail from Michelle:
To be honest with you, your aircraft is the lightest aircraft ever fly into Taiwan.
RCTP is our major airport in Northern Taiwan, among you, there would be A330, 747, so they are now asking ramp control and ATC of RCTP to consider how to take care of you and leave some gap to you between the big monsters.
We are happy to assist you but we would rather make sure everyone is safe under our service.
從我的 HTC 寄出
By 6pm Phuket time nothing had come through but we agreed that they would file a flight plan anyway and see what happened. One hour before their 11pm (local) take off time I received an sms from Michelle which said: Hi Mike, I think the CAA in Taiwan have been informed of your flight plan as I have just received an urgent e-mail saying that it is not approved as yet and you may not start your engine. I called them and told them the news at which point James said that they were having a struggle with the flight plan anyway – Bangkok has been rejecting every route they choose and wants them to fly along airways none of which go in the right direction and will take them hundreds of km out of their way. The local handlers and guys in Phuket are being super helpful and understanding and are trying their best. So, we left the conversation there – with them working on trying to get a route approved.
I have just called again now and the situation is that they have found a cheap but very clean hotel near the airport and are going to bed and will try again early in the morning (about 3am SA time). They have a number of routing options … the different airspaces are Vietnam, Bangkok, Singapore, Philippines and then Taiwan … they will keep trying until they succeed.
The flying is easy… getting through the modern day bureaucracy is the real adventure and it is just part of the whole thing. As you can imagine they are frustrated but in good spirits. While all this is going on, that sexy Silver Bullet is sitting quietly on the apron … but ready to run!
Wednesday, 17 August 2011 Getting ready to leave for Taipei
OK, so we've just filed our flightplan to Taipei. We leave Phuket at 11pm local time, 1600Z (18h00 in SA). Weather again a bit dodgy, especially at the start, and then over the Vietnam peninsula. Oh well, Vietnam wouldn't allow us through their airspace except in the day anyhow, so we're going the long way round which has us in Singapore airspace, avoiding Vietnam and also its weather!
If all goes according to plan then we'll land in Taiwan some time around 6pm local time there, 19 hours later, or about 1200Z (14h00 SA time) tomorrow.
We've serviced the plane, filled up with 480 liters of gas (a good 22 hours), packed everything and now we're ready to go. We're going to eat a good meal, head up to the briefing office and then try get a bit of quiet time before heading out onto the tarmac. Although we've had a good rest we actually both suddenly feel a bit weary. The permissions issue is quite energy sapping and then one also sometimes feels more tired after a good sleep than before!
Quite apart from the great food and accommodation provided by the Phuket Air Park, this morning Robert took me for a ride in his Zenair 701. This place is quite a paradise. Check out the photos below and eat your heart out!
Next report Taipei!
J and J
Wednesday, 17 August 2011 Still in Thailand, had a good rest and the outlook from here
Right now as I type this I’m sitting on my bed in a lovely palm frond-thatched guesthouse at the Phuket Air Park. Thanks Suchard (Robert) Raksongob, a keen aviator-businessman and the developer of the Air Park who has made this our home from home for the past two days. We really are being looked after like specially invited guests.
Thanks also to John Magee, another aviation lover who is ostensibly a retired banker. John worked much of his life in the East. Only problem is, as a project in his 'retirement’ he founded a local English language newspaper in Phuket – the Phuket Gazette, now a substantial local weekly publication with associated internet and broadcast television activities. John introduced us to his friend Robert and, thanks to both, on Monday evening we were treated to a fine reception amongst the friends of the Phuket Flying Club. John being John, of course the press and television were there and we hope when we return to SA to read about our adventure in this coming Sunday’s edition of the Phuket Gazette, while sitting back at Tedderfield in Johannesburg.
During the reception we did have to fly ZU-TAF back to the Phuket International Airport, as strictly speaking she doesn’t have permission to be at the Air Park, but luckily we were able to fix the technical problem that had us land here during our engine test flight and we were able to park her in front of the International terminal just as the sun set.
While we’re in the most beautiful place with the most wonderfully warm and generous people I can’t pretend that we’re not a little frustrated at not having been able to get off to Taiwan yesterday. It’s another long flight – 18 odd hours if we have to fly around Vietnam airspace, 16 hours if we can go straight over. We planned to take off about 11pm local time (1400Z) last night, to land in Taipei just before sunset today. But Michelle’s struggling to get final permission from the very 'paraat’ Taiwanese. The latest problem is that we don’t have a “noise certificate” – something simply not required in SA. Of course we have literally one of the quietest aircraft in the world and they fly Boeings into that place, but that’s the way the Ouma rusk crumbles, l suppose. Just another example of how the application of regulation can serve to frustrate and undermine individual aspirations – I feel my natural philosophical anarchism beginning to rise up again now I’m on the road! Anyhow, we hope we haven’t missed the weather window and, assuming we get the go-ahead, we’ll push off this evening instead.
Meanwhile Jean and I are getting lots of rest, eating lots of great food, including lots of sea-food, and we’ve even started an exercise regimen which yesterday included a run around the air park and four sets of press-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups!
Thailand has about 80 provinces of which Phuket is but one, albeit the most affluent. The population of Phuket is roughly 400 000, of which fully 100 000 are expatriates, mostly from the west. Then there are more than 6 million tourists each year – this year more than 7 million are expected. What a place – gatherings of people are wonderfully cosmopolitan and the mixture of accents is quite mind-boggling. At our Air Park reception Jean and I felt quite provincial! Talking to a group of 7 people I realized that the mix included one Thai, one half Thai half German, one Norwegian, one Australian, one Canadian, one US citizen and a Caribbean citizen from Barbados. Oh yes – and me from SA! Of course from their perspective, now all living here permanently, they’re all Thai! Some of the guys worked for airlines, though not necessarily out of Thailand, so there’s a whole lot of buzzing around this part of the world that’s going on!
Although there’s been a local slow-down with the global economic crisis, there’s no question that it’s less here than in the old world, and the place certainly feels like it’s buzzing. Although having a long north / south span, the land area of Thailand is not big, probably the size of California. But it’s got over 60 million people, so it’s densely populated. Land is apparently getting more and more expensive, but the demographic does seem to be promoting development activity. There also seems to be a strange mixture off authoritarianism and liberal sentiment. Robert explains that aircraft are treated like handguns – both the pilot and aircraft need to be licensed, and that includes investigation of security issues. Permissions are important, foreigners can’t own land outright, but residence visas are easy and so on.
Society seems very permissive – Patong beach, where we spent our first two evenings, is a swirl of hotels, restaurants, shops and nightclubs. Sex-based tourism apparently rubs shoulders seamlessly with family holidays. What a crazy place – straight out of the storms we’d been navigating through, it was like we’d hit the jackpot, finding ourselves at a kind of '24 hour non-stop rave’. (This was accentuated by the fact that our arrival in Thailand was the easiest one can imagine – we were whisked instantly through the terminal building, didn’t even have to produce our passports, let alone have them stamped, got picked up by John and his wife, Jon-Pen and lifted in his air-conditioned, hybrid Camry to Patong Beach, the centre of the tourist action in Phuket). Anyhow, once there on Sunday and Monday we worked hard on finding the right balance between getting the rest we needed and giving expression to our curiosity.
So now its breakfast time and then I’m off flying with Robert in his Zenair 701, from which I hope to get the classic shots of these paradise islands. We’ll try post those before the day’s out. Meanwhile I can hear some shouting from down the bottom of the garden where the local labour force is engaged in a betting game in which two fish fight it out in a bowl – cockfighting with goldfish – we really are on the other side of the world!
Finally, it does seem strange to be out here so far away having an adventure in the face of the devastating news regarding the two Albatrosses. Our thoughts go out to the families.