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The reason for last year’s RTW flight

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

A cargo ship sails on the East China Sea.

A cargo ship sails on the East China Sea.

Today’s the day we landed in Nagoya, Japan, a year ago today. This is where our airplane was built 40 years ago–and the model made its first flight a year ago tomorrow. While this was a trip Mike Laver had long wanted to do, being in Nagoya on Sept. 13 for that anniversary drove the timing for the trip.

The photo above, of a cargo ship crossing the vast East China Sea, may be one of my favorite from the trip. (This is a different image from the one in last year’s Day 20 blog post, available here). We saw quite a few vessels, both cargo ships and fishing boats, on this leg from Taiwan to Japan–quite different from the vast emptiness of the Indian Ocean several days earlier.

Mike Laver is greeted by Mitsubishi officials after our arrival in Nagoya.

Mike Laver is greeted by Mitsubishi officials after our arrival in Nagoya.

Our reception in Nagoya, where Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ aircraft division is headquartered, was fantastic. A large group, primarily comprised of Mitsubishi managers and employees, greeted us.

N50ET, our ride for this epic flight around the world, returns to its birthplace--50 years after the model first flew.

N50ET, our ride for this epic flight around the world, returns to its birthplace–50 years after the model first flew.

Shortly after this photo was made, some of the welcoming committee (I’m guessing most were engineers) swarmed the airplane, studying and photographing specific components–things like the landing gear, which most of us who fly airplanes usually take for granted.

Touring Mitsubishi's private aviation museum in Nagoya. That's a Zero in the background.

Touring Mitsubishi’s private aviation museum in Nagoya. That’s a Zero in the background.

After lunch we tour two aviation museums, including Mitsubishi’s private aviation museum. Mitsubishi’s includes an MU-2 that the company used as a corporate aircraft in Japan until only a couple of years ago. The other museum had one of three prototype MU-2. Dinner was very traditional Japanese–and fantastic.

 

Last year’s RTW, Day 19

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Banka boat in front of our hotel at Lapu-Lapu City.

Banka boat in front of our hotel at Lapu-Lapu City.

This was the first thing I saw outside my hotel window in Lapu-Lapu City, Philippines, in the misty dawn light a year ago today. Today’s an “easy” day, just one leg of 1,010 nautical miles to Taoyuan, Taiwan; the flight will take us 3.8 hours. We want to arrive in Nagoya, Japan, on Sept. 13 and Mike wisely changed an off day in the Philippines–and a two-leg day into Japan–to two one-leg days, to give us more flexibility and (ideally) an earlier arrival in Japan.

This is the wide shot of the banka and other boats in Lapu-Lapu City.

This is the wide shot of the banka and other boats in Lapu-Lapu City.

Here’s a wide shot showing all the boats off our hotel, after the fog burned off–and after the cameras sat outside long enough to warm up; from cold air conditioning to humid outside air caused immediate fogging. Sometimes the view from on high doesn’t require an airplane; think we were on the 10th or 12th floor of this high-rise hotel.

It didn't really take all three women to carry out our departure paperwork from the Philippines.

It didn’t really take all three women to carry out our departure paperwork from the Philippines.

Since we’re only flying one leg, we don’t have to take off before the sun wakes up and has at least its first cup of coffee. Of course, we’re limited to one each, since the airplane does not offer a toilet. (We have alternatives, but one of my goals is not to require them.) The same three friendly, very polite, and extremely efficient women who helped us clear into the country meet us at the airplane for our exit paperwork. Customs and immigration come to you at the airplane, here–at least they did for us. A wonderful change of pace, and we enjoy not having to schlep through another airline terminal–twice.

Our refuelers in Taiwan overfilled the wing tanks.

Our refuelers in Taiwan overfilled the wing tanks.

Arriving in Taiwan, we wait for the fuel truck–and then for a water truck, to wash excess fuel from the airplane after the wing tanks were overfilled. Good thing we’re staying overnight (that’s our hotel directly beyond the airplane, but getting there takes a 15-minute van ride to the airline terminal, then–after the customs and immigration dance–a 10-minute car ride to the hotel.

Even with all that, there’s still time to explore. Turns out there’s an aviation museum a couple hundred yards from the hotel, so I walk over. The admission fee is 30 Taiwanese dollars–I don’t know how much that is–but I don’t have any local currency, and they don’t take credit cards. As I start to leave, the attendant bows and gestures toward the entrance–they let me in for free. This all was accomplished with me knowing none of their language, and she knew very little English. Photos from and more information about the museum are on my original Day 19 blog.

Last year’s RTW, Day 18

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

A range of rather tall mountains bisects central Papua.

A range of rather tall mountains bisects central Papua.

Our day one year ago today started early, met before dawn on the Thursday Island ferry dock to be cleared out of Australia by a customs and immigration representative. The sun was rising as we approached Horn Island, where a short shuttle ride took us to the airport. That part of the trip is told well in last year’s Day 18 blog post.

Our first leg is a relatively short 754-mile, 2.7-hour hop to Papua, Indonesia. This mountain range is one of the highest that we encounter on the trip, although at 25,000 feet they’re still well below us.

A conscientious refueler in Papua uses his umbrella to keep rain out of our fuel tanks.

A conscientious refueler in Papua uses his umbrella to keep rain out of our fuel tanks.

There’s a light rain falling in Papua, and the refueler uses an umbrella to keep rain out of the fuel tank. We appreciate this. During our stop we heard a siren blare–it sounded a lot like an old air-raid siren. We hear it again as we taxi for departure, and only then realize it’s apparently a signal to stop traffic on a road that crosses the runway.

Crossing the Equator--not easy to identify with GPS.

Crossing the Equator–not easy to identify with GPS.

Not long after departing on the second leg, 1,108 miles and 3.8 hours to Lapu-Lapu City, Philippines, we cross the Equator. This time we’re ready for it, and I manage to photograph the GPS with our longitude right at 00 degrees, 00.00 minutes. Don’t ask me how I did this, because the numbers held for less than a second. But I was pleased to get this shot, after we missed our initial crossing of the Equator southbound–we didn’t catch it until we noticed a south longitude at the next stop. Because the Equator is not really critical to aerial navigation, it is not displayed on aviation GPSs or IFR navigational charts.

An airliner taxies past us on the ramp in the Philippines.

An airliner taxies past us on the ramp in the Philippines.

Eventually we land in the Philippines, where the people are very nice and we enjoy being parked a little further away from the parade of arriving and departing airliners. I’m still surprised at how close we were parked to the airline terminal in so many countries, especially through Indonesia–there just isn’t enough general aviation activity to justify infrastructure (ramps and FBOs) that we take for granted here in the United States. And this is on the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks; the irony is not lost on us.

It’s also a nice surprise to see Cessna 172s come and go on training flights here. Other than in Australia and England, we haven’t seen any signs of active flight-training activity anywhere on our journey.

Last year’s RTW, Day 17

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Much of the flight from Bundaburg to Horn Island is above Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Much of the flight from Bundaburg to Horn Island is above Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Thursday–Island, right? Actually, a year ago today (it was a Tuesday), we left Bundaburg for Horn Island, at the northeast corner of Australia. At the time we were planning our trip, however, there were no hotels on Horn Island (think there’s one now). So after covering 1,058 nautical miles in 4.4 hours (thanks to the persistent headwinds, we had plenty of time to look down on the Great Barrier Reef, which seems to go on forever) we took a ferry over to Thursday Island, as recounted in last year’s original Day 17 post.

This beach on Thursday Island was pretty much deserted late on a Tuesday afternoon.

This beach on Thursday Island was pretty much deserted late on a Tuesday afternoon.

Thursday Island was a delightful place, except the Internet connection was broken at our hotel. “We’ve already been waiting two days for the repairman,” explained the person at the front desk. So Mike and I, anxious to post our blogs before dinner, walked around town for a while, occasionally checking for an accessible Wifi signal. There were none. Clearly there was some internet connectivity on the island, otherwise its beach would have been full.

This row of phone booths is in front of the Thursday Island post office.

This row of phone booths is in front of the Thursday Island post office.

I didn’t recall seeing many phone booths in Australia, but Thursday Island had some. These four were lined up in front of the post office. I guess they may have been the only ones on the island.

Last year’s RTW, Day 16

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

This Jabiru J-230 sports retro paint to commemorate the company's 25th anniversary.

This Jabiru J-230 sports retro paint to commemorate the company’s 25th anniversary.

Our time in Australia was coming to a close one year ago today, and Mike Laver’s MU-2 got a rest as we started the day with a breakfas of vegemite on English muffins. You can’t go to Australia without trying the stuff, and as it turns out, I kind of liked it.

Then we were off to spend the day at Jabiru Aircraft, which was beginning the celebration of its 25th anniversary. The new Jabiru J-230 above wears the same striping as the first Jabiru built, Sue Woods, business manager for the company, told us.

A Jabiru aircraft under construction wears the company logo on the oil filter.

A Jabiru aircraft under construction wears the company logo on the oil filter.

Unlike most aircraft manufacturers, Jabiru builds engines, as well. One detail I noticed on the factory floor was the company logo printed on the oil filter (bottom center of photo).

The Jabiru cockpit features a unique forked stick, similar in concept to the Robinson R22 cyclic.

The Jabiru cockpit features a unique forked stick, similar in concept to the Robinson R22′s cyclic.

While I was there, I had the opportunity to fly one of the airplanes. Jabiru’s design features an intuitive horn on the center-mounted yoke, which allows either pilot to fly without the complexity of a second stick and the related rigging and cables. While flying with Jamie Cook, Jabiru’s production manager, we see several whales off the mouth of the Elliott River–which is very unusual, he says; they’re normally much further south. Alas, I have only wide-angle lenses in the cockpit with me, and the whales manage to avoid being photographed.

My original Day 16 blog can be read here.

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.