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.
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.