Mike Collins Archive

Last year’s RTW, Day 15

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Snowcapped mountains in southern Australia.

Snow-capped mountains in southern Australia.

A year ago today, my travel respite in Morwell, Australia, came to an end. With plans to meet Mike Laver at the Latrobe Valley Airport at noon, I checked out of my hotel and went to Mass at a local church. Talking with the priest afterwards, I learned he was from Poland–and has a sister who is a nun, at a convent less than an hour from my home in Maryland. Small world.

This afternoon’s leg is 927 nautical miles to Bundaberg, Australia, on the country’s east coast. Climbing out we overfly some snow-capped mountains. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that although the temperatures here were similar to those back home, Australia is transitioning from spring and not heading into fall. In that context the snow is understandable.

Sunset in Bundaberg, Australia.

Sunset in Bundaberg, Australia.

We arrive in Bundaberg in time to secure the airplane, drive to our hotel, and watch the sun set on a picturesque building just across the street. Last year’s more lengthy blog is available here.

Last year’s RTW, just past halfway

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Stained glass in a window at the Latrobe Valley Aero Club.

Stained glass in a window at the Latrobe Valley Aero Club.

With 13,817 nautical miles and 51.7 flight hours behind us, today is the halfway point of the around-the-w0rld flight. Well, technically, yesterday would have been the midpoint of the trip–but I was working, and didn’t have the opportunity to reflect on this milestone. Reflection came earlier today, my only day off on the 25-day adventure.

So how did I spend my free day Down Under? Well, I spent the morning doing laundry at the hotel. Not fun, but necessary. Then I went back to the airport, where I had been invited to join local pilots for a lunch of barbecued sausages (which really means grilled, and they were quite tasty). I also noticed the stained glass, above, in the Latrobe Valley Aero Club’s building. Great group of people.

The Morwell area has a rich history in coal mining and power generation.

The Morwell area has a rich history in coal mining and power generation.

Free grill at an Australian power-generating station. And me with no meat!

Free grill at an Australian power-generating station. And me with no meat!

After lunch, I set off to explore the area. Although the clouds thickened and there were intermittent showers, I refused to let either get in the way of a good adventure. This area is surrounded by coal mines, and much of the coal is burned in local power plants–the reasoning is that it’s easier to move electricity to Australia’s population centers than to transport the coal–conveyor belts took it from ground to boiler, at least until the mining moved far enough from the power-generating stations to make that impractical. The retired excavator was part of a now-closed coal-mining exhibit, and an area power plant offers a free electric grill. That discovery had me wishing I had some extra meat on hand, because I was starting to get a little hungry.

This sign didn't deliver on its promise of koalas.

This sign didn’t deliver on its promise of koalas.

By the way, Australia’s wildlife warning signs did not deliver on their promises of koala or kangaroos. Did I mention how difficult it is to remember to drive on the left side of the road, when you’ve been driving on the right almost your entire life?

The beer sampler at Grand Ridge Brewery, located in Mirboo North, Australia.

The beer sampler at Grand Ridge Brewery, located in Mirboo North, Australia.

Eventually I make it to Grand Ridge Brewery, which is in a small town called Mirboo North that is perched on top of the Strzelecki Mountains. Reportedly the location was selected because its water quality is exceptional–makes sense, sincewater is the main ingredient in beer. And the beer is excellent. Unfortunately, the place was crazy busy with a large bachelor party and another private event going on, so I’m able to sample several beers during the nearly two hours it takes for the kitchen to prepare my fish and chips. (Maybe they first had to catch the fish; guess I might have missed that detail on the menu.) This kept me from getting back to my hotel before dark, but the evening otherwise was quite enjoyable.

You can read my original Day 14 post here, with more information and photos (can you tell which photo is duplicated?).

Last year’s RTW, Day 13

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

GA8 Airvans at the factory are nearly ready for delivery.

GA8 Airvans at the factory are nearly ready for delivery.

A year ago today, I was at the headquarters of GippsAero, now a subsidiary of India’s Mahindra Aerospace. George Morgan, who founded the company in 1983 with Peter Furlong, was my host for the day.  The Australian company is best known in the United States for its GA8 (“GA” for Gippsland Aerospace, and “8″ for eight passengers) Airvan single-engine utility airplane.

Dave Wheatland prepares for a test flight in the 10-place GA10.

Dave Wheatland prepares for a test flight in the 10-place GA10.

While I was there, the company’s newest model, the turboprop GA10–yes, it seats up to 10 people–was busy making test flights. At the time, they were hoping for certification in late 2013. A quick online search turns up no indication that certification has been granted; guess I’ll be looking into this in the near future.

I never knew I had a bookstore in Traralgon, Australia.

I never knew I had a bookstore in Traralgon, Australia.

George and I had lunch in Traralgon, a town maybe 5 miles from the airport. Actually, I had been here before–the previous afternoon, to pick up my rental car–but had no idea that I had a bookstore here. Probably was too busy remembering to drive on the wrong side of the road to see it.

Looking back, the GA8 Airvan pilot sees a sea of seats.

Looking back, the GA8 Airvan pilot sees a sea of seats.

Although there’s no MU-2 flying today, I do manage about 45 minutes in a GA8 Airvan late in the afternoon with Dave Wheatland. (This time is not counted in the trip totals, by the way.) The Airvan really flies a lot like a Cessna 172–stable, predictable, even the airspeeds are familiar–but the similarity ends when the pilot turns around, as I did after landing, to see a veritable sea of seats (see photo above).

Click here to see last year’s Day 13 blog post, with more information about GippsAero and the Airvan–and no duplicate photos!

Last year’s RTW, Day 12

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Helicopters return from sunrise tours.

Tour helicopters return from sunrise flights.

When you fly around the world, you tend to start early in the morning, for several reasons. First, you never know when you might have an unexpected snag–clearing out of customs and immigration, a flight-plan issue, you name it. The sooner you get started, the more time you have to fix any problems like that. (Fortunately, the handling services we used on our trip were excellent, and the biggest problem we experienced was a couple times when the country would not accept the flight plan that had been filed for us–a protocol issue, apparently, because we would file the same plan ourselves and it was immediately approved.) Second, of course, is because the best flying weather is usually in the morning–the sun’s heating has been known to kick off afternoon thunderstorms. By flying early, you can avoid many of them.

So we sometimes would joke that we had done more by 8 a.m. than some people do all day. After all, many mornings, we were the first general aviation (non-airline) flight to depart. But not at Ayers Rock, where Mike Laver preflights the airplane shortly after dawn–as tour helicopters return after their sunrise flights.

Dunes in the desert.

We overfly miles of these dunes in the Australian desert.

Today we fly one leg, 1,150 nautical miles to Morwell, east of Melbourne near the southern tip of Australia. We get a nice tailwind for a change, pushing our groundspeed to 295 knots and helping to hold our flight time just below four hours. As was the case between Broome and Ayers Rock yesterday, there’s very little to see on the surface in Australia’s vast interior. We do overfly endless rows of dunes, although from 25,000 feet, it’s very difficult to judge their size. This photo might show a wash; it looks like water might follow the reverse-S channel during the rainy season–although it looks dry now.

Base leg at Latrobe Valley Airport.

Mike Laver rolls the MU-2 onto base leg at Latrobe Valley Airport–where he first learned to fly.

It’s overcast and there are scattered showers as we approach today’s destination. This is Mike’s old stomping grounds–he first learned to fly at this airport–so I enjoy the excellent commentary as we descend over various local landmarks. And while Mike comes back regularly to visit family here, it’s by airliner to Melbourne–he hasn’t landed an airplane here in more than 15 years. Despite the time that has passed, he clearly feels right at home. Before we can leave the airport, we’re invited to its aero club for a drink.

You can read the original Day 12 blog post here, but you won’t see any different photos–today I’ve fallen short in my goal of displaying primarily unpublished photos. I’ll try to do better on the trip home.

Last year’s RTW, Day 11

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Indian Ocean morning scene.

Morning over the Indian Ocean, flying east from Bali.

In what has become a routine on our flying days, we’re at the airport early, clearing out of customs and immigration and departing Bali while the sun is still very low in the sky. A year ago today it was two legs of just under 700 nautical miles each, the first to Broome, Australia–on the northwestern corner of the country–and then on to Ayers Rock, near the center of Australia.

I remember thinking a year ago how desolate this area was. Actually, much of our flying since Sri Lanka has been over water; radio communications quality was widely variable and overall, probably the worst we experienced during the entire journey. There were very few other aircraft on our frequencies, except perhaps as we passed south of Jakarta, and we didn’t see any vessels on the water below–unlike the South China Sea we’ll transit in a week, where container, cargo, or fishing vessels seemingly were everywhere.

This is the area in which Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is thought to have disappeared, so far without a trace, on March 8, 2014. Periodic news stories on the subject still lead me to reflect on the desolate nature of this section of the globe. While I have no idea what ever happened to that Boeing airliner, if somebody wanted to lose a jet–large or small–I’d have to say there’s probably not a better place to do so.

Mike Laver photographs sunset.

Mike Laver photographs the sunset at Ayers Rock, Australia.

After entering Australia and refueling, we launched for Ayers Rock–not because we were playing tourist, but because it’s pretty much the only practical fuel stop between Broome in northwest Australia and Morwell–east of Melbourne, in southernmost Australia. (For those who didn’t follow the original blog, Mike Laver–who owns the MU-2 we’re flying–is a native Australian, from the Morwell area, and will spend a couple of days there with his family.) We’re really growing tired of headwinds, too; our groundspeed on this leg is only 240 knots–among the slowest legs of the trip.

After refueling the airplane, we find that the car rental agency has closed for the day–leaving us without wheels. Fortunately, the hotel sends a driver in time for us to drop off our bags and walk to an overlook where we can watch the sun set on the iconic red monolith.

Above, Mike photographs the sunset at Ayers Rock.  You can see photos of our aerial tour of Ayers Rock (and the neighboring Olgas) on my original Day 11 blog post. I also did a short time-lapse sequence of the sunset there; it’s at about the 1:50 point on the video available here (note, the page probably will open showing two video windows–if so you’ll want the lower one). Not sure why the audio seems out of sync with the images; it was fine when it was uploaded last year.

Last year’s RTW, Day 10

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Fisherman casts his net.

A fisherman casts his net into the surf at Denpasar, Bali.

Today’s theme is nonaviation photos. A year ago today, the around-the-world trip was a light flying day–just one leg, from Palembang, West Sumatra, to Denpasar, Bali. The flight was 812 nautical miles and took about three hours. When we arrived at Ngurah Rai International Airport, we descended over tropical waves breaking just before the approach end of Runway 9, which is built on fill and extends into the water.

As it turns out, our hotel was only a mile or so north of the airport, right on the water, where I headed with a camera after unpacking–and posting the day’s blog update, of course. I’ll admit, I did take a couple photos of airliners approaching over the turquoise waters, but in keeping with today’s theme I will not show them. Instead, you can see a fisherman casting his net into the knee-deep water just off the beach.

Sunset from the hotel in Bali.

Sunset approaches our hotel pool in Bali.

As sunset approached, the clouds along the horizon thickened. Discouraged, I retreated to the hotel pool and consoled myself with a cold local beverage. Then the clouds broke up, resulting in the photo above, with the setting sun and palm trees reflected in the pool.

Hazy sunset in Bali.

At the end of the day, it was a hazy sunset in Bali.

Thinking the sunset might not be a bust overall, I dashed around the pool and walked back onto the beach. In the minute that took–OK, maybe 90 seconds, as I had to find a table to park my beverage–the clouds regrouped and the sun sank beneath a hazy horizon. Still pretty, but not what the photographer in me was hoping for. Fortunately, I had already taken the photo of the setting sun and palm trees reflecting in the pool, which makes a great consolation prize.

Last year’s RTW, Day 9

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Thunderstorm on the horizon.

A large thunderstorm on the horizon.

One year ago today, it was another early rise–up at 4 a.m. local, hoping to take off by 6 a.m.–and a long flying day, covering 1,751 nautical miles over two legs. I believe the first leg, to a fuel stop at Banda Aceh, Indonesia, was our longest overwater leg at 950 nm. Banda Aceh has a great airport and wonderful people, but the community still shows wide scars–blocks of homes and buildings swept away by a massive tsunami the day after Christmas in 2004. Photos of Banda Aceh can be found on my original Day 9 blog post.

Radio communications are especially challenging today. Maybe it’s our altitude of 25,000 feet–high by my standards, but much lower than airline jets fly. Perhaps it’s ground equipment, or the atmosphere (which can affect high-frequency radios used for very-long-distance communications a lot more than the VHF we normally use). For a while, a helpful Singapore Airlines jet relays our communications to Jakarta.

Volcano above clouds

A volcano rises above cloud cover in Indonesia.

Regardless, part of our second leg from Banda Aceh to Palembang, West Sumatra, parallels a string of volcanic islands. There’s a layer of clouds below us, at 18,000 to 20,000 feet, and cones extend above the clouds at regular intervals. The tallest are 21,000 to 22,000 feet.

The distant thunderstorm in the first photo was just a teaser, but not at all surprising because this is monsoon season in this part of the world. We circumnavigated that buildup with a very slight change in course, and we managed to depart Banda Aceh just ahead of some heavy rainfall. But our arrival in West Sumatra came right in the middle of a driving monsoon rain–when you can hear the rain over the MU-2′s engines, you know it’s really coming down. But there was no wind, and Mike flew the approach like we were on rails. The biggest challenge came after we parked (on a ramp covered with inch-deep water that couldn’t drain fast enough)–just getting out of the plane, grabbing our bags, and jumping into the crew van, we were soaked. Normally we refuel the airplane after arrival, to speed our departure the following morning…but we made the wise decision on this occasion to wait.

 

 

Last year’s RTW, Day 8

Monday, September 1st, 2014

MU-2 throttle quadrant in cruise.

MU-2 throttle quadrant in cruise flight.

A year ago today, Mike Laver and I didn’t even realize it was the Labor Day holiday back in the United States until we’d spent half a day flying on the other side of the globe. Today’s flying was 844 nautical miles from Muscat. Oman, to Mumbia, India–then another 862 to Colombo, Sri Lanka–total flying time, 6.8 hours. Sometime during the first leg, I noticed the sun dancing across the airplane’s throttle quadrant and snapped a few frames (above).

We were on the ground in Mumbai for less than an hour–another “technical stop” in which we just refueled and departed, and never technically entered the country. Think Snowden and his lengthy stay in the Moscow airport, before he was allowed to formally enter the country. That hour in Mumbai, incidentally, was long enough to disqualify me from donating blood platelets to our local Red Cross for one year.

Cumulus buildups over Inda.

Significant cumulus buildups over southern India.

Leaving Mumbai and overflying India–then a fairly short overwater leg to Colombo, Sri Lanka–we see a growing number of larger cumulus buildups. This doesn’t some as a surprise, because we’re approaching the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), an area that encircles the earth near the equator where the northeast and southeast trade winds come together. Vertical motion, usually driven by solar heating, leads to convective activity that frequently becomes thunderstorms. They’re a fact of life here, and fortunately, they don’t often climb to our cruise altitude of 25,000 feet until pretty late in the day.

Last year’s RTW, Day 7

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Ready to depart Kuwait.

Ready for our morning departure from Kuwait.

I didn’t take very many selfies during last year’s around-the-world flight. But here’s one that I did take, shortly before we departed from Kuwait City for Muscat, Oman. Maybe I shot this because it’s a comparatively easy flying day–one 706-nm leg that would log 2.5 hours, compared to yesterday’s 2,160 nm over two legs and eight hours. The tall structure behind the MU-2, to the left of the tower, appeared to be a giant sunport for large (airliner-size) aircraft. None of them were in use during our visit, and nobody asked us if we wanted to park there.

Our route across the Persian Gulf.

Our route across the Persian Gulf. The blue line just to the left of our track is Iran’s airspace.

This image is a repeat from my original Day 7 blog of a year ago, but even a year later, I’m still a bit in awe of our trip down the length of the Persian Gulf. The green lines represent designed tracks–think of them as electronic highway lanes–to which aircraft are assigned. Our track is highlighted in purple. The blue line just to the left of our track is the edge of Iran’s airspace. Black diamonds represent other airplanes (the two near the white icon for our airplane are much higher than our altitude of 25,000 feet). And the blue diamonds are essentially mile markers on our airway. Notice how most of the airways and all of the airplanes are outside of Iranian airspace? I do recall that there were several UPS flights, all of the Heavy designation, on our frequencies that morning.

Sculpture near Said Bin Taimur Mosque.

Sculpture near Said Bin Taimur Mosque.

Since we flew only one leg today–and a relatively short leg, at that–we had the luxury of a little free time once we landed at Muscat and refueled the airplane. Our hotel was in a fairly open area with a mix of commercial and residential properties some distance from the airport. In this part of the world we were inclined to eat at our hotels, just to be assured of safe food–while both Mike and I would have liked to try more local restaurants, we also were concerned that even a little gastrointestinal distress could be, shall I say, inconvenient in an airplane without a restroom on board. However, our driver gave us the name of a local seafood restaurant that he recommended as safe and reliable. We set off in search of it…after hiking around for a while, we finally found it…and it apparently was closed, at least for the day. So we ended up back at the hotel for dinner.

But while we were exploring, we came across this interesting sculpture, in a fountain on a traffic circle near what Google says is the Said Bin Taimur Mosque (in the background). Oman, and the other Muslim countries we visited, are full of ornate mosques. We saw them from the air and from the ground, with their interesting architecture and intricate details.

RTW, Day 6–the difference a year makes

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Preflighted and ready to go, we're just waiting for the airport to open.

Preflighted and ready to go, we’re just waiting for the Salzburg airport to open.

What a difference a year has made in the world environment. A year ago today, we left Salzburg, Austria, for Kuwait City. Our original plan had been to duck around the southeast corner of the Middle East–stopping for fuel in Luxor, Egypt, before turning east for another stop before reaching India. Realizing the fabled pyramids were right there at Luxor, Mike Laver and I discussed for days the pros and cons of adding a day into the schedule to tour the pyramids. After all, it would be highly unlikely that either of us would ever be in the area again. Finally we made that decision, and placed the pyramids on our agenda.

STEIN intersection in Austria.

STEIN intersection in Austria.

A few days later, there was a coup in Egypt. We followed news reports with considerable interest for several days, until the handling company facilitating our foreign stops advised us that “landing in Egypt currently is not recommended.” So we bid farewell to the idea of visiting the pyramids and set to work on Plan B.

Refueling in Ankara, Turkey.

Refueling in Ankara, Turkey.

Plan B was a southeasterly route to Ankara, Turkey, where we refueled and then sat out a temporary airspace closure over flavorful Turkish tea with a group of airport workers, many of whom spoke at least some English. (More about today’s flying can be found in my original Day 6 blog post.) From Ankara we continued southeast around the top of Syria, and into Iraqi airspace through a relatively narrow gap between Syria and Iran–a gap we had to share with the largest thunderstorm we had seen so far on the journey.

Our route down the length of Iraq might not be feasible today.

Our route down the length of Iraq might not be feasible today.

We made it through the gap, and had a very uneventful flight down the length of the country. At FL250–about 25,000 feet–the country was divided into only two air traffic control sectors. One was worked by an American, and the other by an Iraqi with near-perfect English. With very disturbing news reports about ISIS atrocities in parts of the country that these militants have overrun (we had flown just east of Mosul), I’m frankly very happy not to be flying overhead today–not even at 25,000 feet. And the Egyptian political situation seems to have improved, likely making Luxor an option if we were doing the trip today instead of a year ago.

Propeller blades reflect the sunset in Kuwait City.

Propeller blades reflect the sunset in Kuwait City.

The temperature is still above 100 degrees Fahrenheit when we touch down in Kuwait City shortly before sunset (the high had been 110). That kind of heat, after some 8 hours of flying and a long day, had us looking forward to air conditioning and a good dinner. The hotel restaurant did not disappoint.