It’s a beautiful morning in Kuwait, and already hot as we load and preflight the airplane. Our departure time was moved 30 minutes later by our handling company, BaseOps, to meet a landing slot restriction at our destination of Muscat, Oman. Mike Laver contracted with BaseOps for flight-planning services on this trip; sometimes this results in a contracted fuel price lower than the posted local price. BaseOps and similar companies also offer handlers in many countries–a person on the ground who meets you when you arrive, knows the local people and procedures, and helps you navigate “the system”–which is different in every country. We have used handlers at every stop since arriving in Salzburg.
Edmund, our handler in Kuwait, is great–he has us through customs, immigration, and security in less than 15 minutes. Pilots can theoretically take care of this themselves, but in foreign countries–especially in this part of the world–having a handler is priceless. Well, it’s not priceless–there is, after all, a fee for this service. But he guided us through the process very quickly; left to our own devices, and with neither of us speaking the local language, we figure the process would have taken us at least a couple of hours…and maybe much longer.
Once in the airplane with the cabin door closed, the cooling breeze is gone, and I’m dripping with sweat before we can get engines started and the air conditioning on. Yes, if I lived in this part of the world, I would consider air conditioning a worthwhile option for an airplane. Today’s schedule has only one leg, planned for 706 nautical miles and two hours, 30 minutes, to Muscat, Oman.
By the time we cross into the Persian Gulf, we’re at 6,000 feet and already Kuwait is fading into a brown haze–I don’t know how much is traditional haze and how much is blowing sand, but the cleaning cloth I used to wipe the windshield before we took off was pretty brown when I was done. Keep in mind, our stay was less than 15 hours. We finally top the haze layer at 18,000 feet, as we climb to our cruising altitude of FL250 (about 25,000 feet). It’s hot at altitude, as well. The temperature at our cruising altitude is minus 17 degrees Celsius; a normal temperature (or ISA, for International Standard Atmosphere, representative atmospheric pressure, temperature, and other conditions pilots use to plan aircraft performance) would be minus 35 degrees Celsius. That makes the temperature at our altitude ISA +18, which has an effect on aircraft performance; fuel flows are reduced because the warmer air is less dense, but it also reduces our cruise speed. Because of the higher temperatures, the exhaust gas temperatures for our two Garrett turbine engines are higher than I’ve seen them on this trip–about 520 degrees, slightly into the yellow arc on the gauges but not really a problem.
Kuwait Control is handling more flights in Arabic than English, which is different from our experiences of the past several days. I’m more interested in the route of our flight, however. We’re angling south-southeastward down the length of the Persian Gulf, flying on one of several designated airways (see above). Our aircraft is following an airway–the purple line shows that it’s our designated flight plan, but several other airways appear in green just to the right. To the left is a blue line that represents the edge of Iran’s airspace. Mike estimates that we’re no more than five miles from Iranian airspace. For you nonpilots reading: An airway is like a highway in the sky, comprised of waypoints (which could be radio beacons on the ground, an intersection of signals from two radio beacons, or simply a named latitude and longitude in a GPS database). Controllers route flights along various airways, at assigned altitudes, to keep everything moving along safely. In the United States, a chart would show airways moving in many directions, and usually farther apart, as well. Here traffic is forced into a narrow corridor to avoid Iran’s airspace, and the effect is remarkably similar to the lanes of an interstate highway going through a large city.
Fully electronic navigation is relatively new for many pilots, and a lot of us still carry paper charts as well. To give you an idea of the difference, here’s the paper chart showing the same portion of the Gulf. This is oriented a bit differently but otherwise presents the same information. Our assigned airway is highlighted in yellow; all those other airways are below it, and Iran’s airspace is just above.
We exit the Persian Gulf almost directly over Dubai, United Arab Emerates. We’re talking for a time with UAE Control, and the controllers pronounce the “UAE” as a word (rhymes with Louie or Huey). It’s hard to see much through the haze from our altitude, and I’ve given this photo about as much help as possible. But even from this altitude–wow, are those some tall buildings!
Hydration is always a concern when you’re flying, especially on long flights in an aircraft without a restroom. Our strategy has been to limit ourselves to one cup of coffee in the morning, and drink only a minimal amount of water until we’re within a hour or so of a stop. We do have options on board for obtaining relief should an urgent need develop, but these have not yet been necessary. The MU-2’s seat rails, just below the pilot seats, make a great place to park a bottle of water–the metal channels conduct cold air through the fuselage, keeping the water nice and cool. When I open a bottle today, the water’s lukewarm.
Passing Dubai, the tan of the desert occasionally is interrupted by oases and irrigated areas, small shapes visible in an ocean of sand. The ILS approach to Runway 8 Right is essentially straight in from our direction, and soon we’re skimming over a massive area of new construction. I guess it’s not just in the United States that builders want to build things on an airport’s approach path. Just to the left, and visible in the center of the circular green area in the photo, is a gorgeous mosque–their domes and minarets are seemingly everywhere. And it’s a little cooler in Muscat, which has mountains on at least two sides; it’s 31 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit) when we touch down, and the forecast high is only 95. Now it’s dinner and early to bed, because both of the next two days are scheduled as long, two-leg days as we head for Australia. If we stay on schedule we’ll land there Wednesday.