Editors Archive

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.

Last year’s RTW, Day 5

Friday, August 29th, 2014

"Love locks" on Salzach River bridge.

“Love locks” on a bridge over the Salzach River in Salzburg.

“Love locks” line the rails of this bridge over the Salzach River in Salzburg, Austria. According to the Interwebs, these locks–usually marked with names or initials–are affixed to public bridges, fences, etc. as a symbol of eternal love. Often, they’re removed by local authorities, but it appears that they’re being tolerated here.

Street scene in Salzburg, Austria.

A street scene in Salzburg’s Old Town.

Salzburg is where I spent the day, a year ago today–the first, and one of only a few, nonflying days on our around-the-world flight. Most of the day was spent at the Red Bulls’ Hangar-7 museum, a really incredible place that you really should check out if you’re ever in Salzburg. To see more about the museum, including a bunch of photos and a video I produced, see my feature story “Red Bulls Under Glass,” just published in the September issue of AOPA Pilot (click the icon on the top of page 65 to see the video).

Old Salzburg skyline.

Salzburg’s Old Town boasts a distinctive skyline.

We finished at Red Bull early enough to spend the last hours of daylight exploring the Old Town area of Salzburg, which is just incredible. And all the walking around was great, because tomorrow’s schedule will include 7.9 hours of flying.

Read the original Day 5 blog post here.

Last year’s RTW, Day 4

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Wood blades ready to be covered.

Wood blades have been milled and finished, and await covering.

This time last year, we were touring the MT Propeller facilities in Straubing, Germany. The company makes modern propeller blades with a very traditional material–wood, which is then covered with Fiberglas, carbon fiber, or Kevlar. The resulting blade is stronger than steel. To learn more about how these modern composite propellers are made, and read an interview with Gerd Muehlbauer–founder, president, and CEO of the German propeller manufacturer–read my article in the August issue of AOPA Pilot.

Disclosure: The photo above also accompanied my blog during the trip last year. While most of the photos in this recap have not been published, I reserve the right to repeat a few favorites. I just love the texture and symmetry of those propeller blades, and when I look at that photo I can still smell the wood.

Technician prepares to install blades.

A technician at MT Propellers prepares to install propeller blades in a new hub.

You might think propellers like these are better suited for smaller, lighter airplanes–but that would be an incorrect assumption. MT’s composite props have proved quite effective on a number of high-performance turboprops. And Mike Laver’s MU-2, the one we flew around the world, was the first of the model to receive newly designed MT propellers; the FAA approved them only a few weeks before the trip. Mike had advocated for the modification, and made another MU-2 available for flight testing of the propellers.

After an interesting day touring several MT Propeller facilities–and a delicious Italian lunch at a small German country restaurant operated by, if I recall correctly, a Pakistani family–we took off again on the shortest leg of our journey, 93 nm to Salzburg, Austria. The flight took 24 minutes.

To see my original Day 4 blog (with mostly different photos), click here.

Last year’s RTW, Day 3

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Rainy departure from Reykjavík.

Rainy departure from Reykjavík.

A year ago this morning, it was rainy on the ramp in Reykjavík, Iceland. It was good to finish the preflight and call for a departure clearance and engine start. Over the past year I’ve become more fond of this photo of raindrops on the MU-2′s windshield.

Shortly after takeoff from Iceland.

Shortly after takeoff from Iceland.

Shortly after takeoff, we broke out into bright sunlight over a small emerald-green valley. Reykjavík International Airport is close to the city center, and is not the large airport in the middle of nowhere that the airlines use. General aviation has its advantages! 

Clouds formed neat rows over the Netherlands.

Clouds formed neat rows over the Netherlands.

While it would have been fun to spend a little time exploring England, we were on the ground for about an hour–just long enough to refuel, take a comfort break, and make a couple of phone calls. Then we were off again, crossing a little more water and then the Netherlands as we head for Straubing, Germany. Our groundspeed on this 753-nm leg averages 279 knots, and we’re already missing the tailwinds that gave us speeds of 300 kts or more across the North Atlantic.

My original Day 3 post can be read here.

RTW Day 2 in review

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Our airplane waits just before sunrise at Goose Bay.

Our airplane waits just before sunrise at Goose Bay.

A year ago this morning, we were anxious to depart early from Goose Bay–but doing so too early could have landed us in trouble. Our fuel stop in Narsarsuaq, Greenland, was at the end of a fjord, and the aviation authorities there take a dim view of pilots departing for Narsarsuaq without first obtaining the local weather report. Because the airport didn’t open until 7 a.m., we had to wait until then for the weather. As a result, I had some time to photograph the airplane against a beautiful sunrise.

Mike Laver preflights the MU-2 before dawn.

Mike Laver preflights the MU-2 before dawn.

Mike Laver preflighted N50ET by flashlight, so we would be ready for a quick departure as soon as the weather observation from Greenland was received.

Climbing into the rising sun.

Climbing into the rising sun.

The sun was still low in the sky as we climbed eastward, approaching the Canadian coastline.

Glaciers flow together on the east side of Greenland.

Glaciers flow together on the east side of Greenland.

The fuel stop was quick, and the small iceberg we overflew on final approach served as a welcome to Greenland–which isn’t, by the way. The predominant colors there were white and rock. Our overnight stop, Iceland, actually offered quite a bit of green foliage.

My original Day 2 post can be read here.

 

 

 

 

RTW one year later

Monday, August 25th, 2014

One of the biggest surprises–at least, to me–coming out of my flight around the world last year with Mike Laver was reader interest in the trip, even a year later. The story of our trip in Mike’s Mitsubishi MU-2 has already been told, in this blog, in the December issue of AOPA Pilot, and on AOPA Live. To mark the trip’s anniversary, which began Aug. 25, 2013, I’m going to share a few more photos and a little reflection, especially with respect to changing political and other conditions in parts of the world. I’m amazed by how much things can change in 12 months.

Taking off from Frederick Municipal Airport.

The journey began with this takeoff from Runway 23 at Frederick Municipal Airport.

For a portion of our first leg, to Goose Bay, Labrador, we flew some distance below a large, four-engine airliner and its obediently following contrails. Given that the majority of our cruise flight would be at our optimal altitude of FL250, I almost didn’t take a photo, assuming this would be a frequent sight on our trip. As it turns out, this was the only time it happened.

Contrails overhead

A jet higher in the flight levels overtakes us.

Mike had flown through Goose Bay a number of times (it was my first visit), but this was his first when snow wasn’t flying. Actually, the weather the afternoon of our arrival was almost perfect, comfortable with a light breeze. It’s always nice when you don’t have to scramble to secure the airplane. We’ll be grabbing for jackets at tomorrow’s fuel stop.

Inserting cowl plugs.

It’s shirtsleeve weather as Mike Laver inserts engine cowl plugs after landing at Goose Bay.

My original Day 1 post can be read here.

Take me out to the airport

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

20140816_134226There’s nothing like a family fun day out. When it happens to be at an airport, even better—especially if the airport offers something for everyone in the family.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to fly AOPA’s 152Reimagined to the Tazewell County Airport Fly-In in Cedar Bluff, Virginia, to talk to members and help introduce children to aviation. The airport, situated on a ridge top, buzzed with activity—bounce houses for children, food vendors, a covered picnic area, live bands, booths from the local sheriff’s office and AOPA, helicopter rides, and demonstrations by a Just Aircraft SuperSTOL, an Extra, a powered parachute, and a jet-powered remote-control aircraft.

Pilots who flew in got lunch for free and could take advantage of a great fuel discount—that day the airport offered it for $4.90 a gallon! (After 3.5 hours of flying time to get there, I topped off for only $81!)

20140816_133203Grandparents, moms, dads, teenagers, and young children were all smiles as they walked around in a warm breeze, sat in camping chairs, and played.

It’s been several years since I’ve seen such a diverse age range enjoying themselves at an airport. And I’m not talking about a couple of family members tolerating it while one (the pilot) runs around like a kid at Christmas. I’m talking about families lounging around, listening to music, playing, laughing, and spending quality time together like hanging out at an airport and watching airplanes is the most natural, inviting pastime in the world.

Tazewell usually hosts an airshow this time of year, but broke its tradition to opt for a fly-in, bringing pilots from outside the area in to mingle with the local community members. This brought a welcomed increase in traffic to the airport that is usually quiet, with only a few refueling stops from jets.

20140816_133518The day held a special treat for me as well—my own family flew a short hop in a Cessna 170 to surprise me at the fly-in.

If you ask me, Tazewell had the perfect fly-in and open house. And if other small airports across the country are doing the same, there’s hope for general aviation yet.

 

Thanks, Annabelle

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Growing up in aviation, I hadn’t met very many female pilots, let alone a woman who had blazed the trail, making it easier for me to enter the field.

Attendees at Annabelle Fera's retirement party express their appreciation for her dedication to aviation as a designated pilot examiner. Photo by Woody Cahall.

Attendees at Annabelle Fera’s retirement party express their appreciation for her dedication to aviation as a designated pilot examiner. Photo by Woody Cahall.

When I moved to Frederick, Maryland, to work at AOPA, I started hearing about Annabelle, a local legend. She was always referred to simply as Annabelle—no last name was needed, everyone knew who you were talking about. She was the designated pilot examiner on the field, and it seemed as if every pilot at Frederick had taken a checkride with her. She was always fair in her examinations, they said.

Still, when it came my turn to take my instrument checkride with Annabelle, I was terrified. My instructor introduced me to her a couple of days before the checkride. She was petite and kind-hearted, not a scary examiner with horns. She emphasized the importance of safety, which helped to calm my nerves somewhat.

After passing my instrument checkride, I focused less on Annabelle’s status as an examiner and more on trying to learn about what brought her to this respected position in the aviation community.

Annabelle earned her pilot certificate in 1969. She worked her way up through an airline transport pilot certificate, but the airlines wouldn’t hire women then. She found a job instructing and later became an examiner in 1978. There weren’t many female aviation examiners at the time; a photo of a certificate from the FAA repeatedly uses “he” and “him” in conferring the title of designated pilot examiner on her.

Occasionally, I would ask Annabelle for advice. After my commercial checkride, I confided in her about some of my insecurities in aviation, to which she promptly responded by giving me a favorable evaluation of my piloting skills and encouraged me to continue pursuing my dreams. From her statement, I knew that evaluation wasn’t one she gave out freely and that she had years of experience to back up what she said.

Experience indeed. When Annabelle retired recently, she had more than three decades of experience as an examiner and had given more than 9,000 exams. During her career, she probably spent double the time of giving that many exams in encouraging pilots to follow their dreams and girls to consider careers in aviation. I remember Annabelle urging teenage Girl Scouts to go up for a flight to see if they liked it and “fly my dream for me,” during an AOPA event in 2011.

Annabelle got a taste of how many lives she impacted over the decades during a retirement party Aug. 10 at the Frederick Municipal Airport. Pilots of all ages who had worked with, trained with, or taken a checkride from Annabelle came out to say “thank you.” At the celebration, I learned that her legend extends far beyond Frederick. She gave a checkride to Sam Walton’s grandson and to a Saudi prince, and to airline pilots who now fly various routes around the world. But bigger than that is how her reputation has spread by word of mouth (there are thousands of us, after all).

I know I’ve used her as an example while flying with teenage girls in the remote villages of northern Alaska. They too face many obstacles, and my hope is that after sharing highlights of Annabelle’s incredible career with them, they will realize that they too can persevere and learn to fly if their heart is in it.

So, thank you Annabelle, for blazing the trail, for sharing high standards, and for being an impeccable example to pilots. I am fortunate to have flown with you.