Today we get out of the hotel ahead of our goal, 7:50 a.m. local; and a cab–a very regal-looking Toyota sedan, the driver quite dapper in his white gloves–delivers us to the Nagoya airport faster than we anticipated. Outside the terminal, a fan of the MU-2 who we recognize from Friday is patiently waiting for us, and politely asks us to sign a photo of our arrival. Tropical Storm Man-yi is moving in behind us and is expected to bring the region heavy rain tonight and tomorrow; it has rained and the ramp is wet, but there’s no precipitation at the moment. And for a change, our forecast calls for respectable tailwinds.
So do we do the logical thing and take off early? No–we wait. The approaching storm will give us good tailwinds, but the airport at our first fuel stop–Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, in Khomutovo, Russia–apparently doesn’t open until 0400 Z, so BaseOps has revised our flight plan with a delayed departure time of about 10:35 a.m. local.
We load up our luggage, swapping enough clean clothes from our duffel bags with dirty laundry from our roller bags to get us home. With the airplane preflighted, we take some photos and then go inside to sit down and talk more with Toru Takasu, Masanori Yamaguchi, and Yoshiaki Asako, our gracious hosts from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Masanori surprises us with copies of Saturday afternoon’s Nagoya newspaper–our arrival made the top of the front page! The article’s online, but apparently the site is open only to subscribers.
Finally, we bid our friends farewell just as a band of moderate rain–no doubt associated with the approaching tropical storm–moves aver the airport. It stops by the time we take off from Runway 34 at 9:44 local or 0144 Z. We climb through clouds from 4,000 to 8,000 feet and then find ourselves under clear skies and bright sunshine. It doesn’t last, however; clouds thicken and rise below us and by the time we’re north of Tokyo and want to look for Mt. Fuji, we’re in the soup and see nothing but milky whiteness.
Our northeasterly heading for this 743-nautucal-mile leg takes us along the western side of the island but we can’t see it, or the Sea of Japan, for the clouds. We also pick up a little light ice. But we also pick up a tailwind that reaches 51 knots, pushing our groundspeed above 330 knots–even though Mike has pulled the power way back to make our arrival time. We’re talking with Sapporo Control, which is busy but not quite as busy as Tokyo, which again is acknowledging transmissions with a crisp “Roger!” or even just the click of a mic switch. Sapporo, Japan, is at the same latitude as Vladivostok, Russia.
Shortly we’re in Russian airspace, and then on the ILS 19 approach to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Airport. My overall first impression of Russia is clouds, because we’re either in them or above them until we break out below them on the approach. The only really unusual thing here is the use of meters, instead of feet, to reference altitudes below the transition level–we could change the units in N50ET’s GPS navigators but we think that may prove too confusing, so we opt to convert as needed (and we prime our calculators).
The stop is unlike any other on the trip this far. After we shut down we’re greeted by a welcoming committee of four or five people, all but our handler wearing uniforms. We expect to clear into Russia here, because it’s the first of three stops in the country, but they feel we should wait until Petropavlovsk because that’s where we’re spending the night. So the landing is treated as a technical stop. The fuelers arrive and we do the MU-2 tank dance. The fuelers are efficient but there’s almost no communication–sure, there’s a language barrier, but that’s nothing new. No one asks about the trip beyond the previous and next legs, not even a smile.
Before we leave, a young woman–either our handler or from the Hydrometeorological Service of Russia, we’re not quite sure–walks out and gives us a forecast folder. She also tells us what departure runway and SID (standard instrument departure) to expect. Her English sounds very good, and she may have smiled once or twice. The packet contained weather information, including a depiction that had been hand-tinted with colored pencils. I wonder if she is Mikhaylina, the forecaster who prepared the packet.
We sense that photography would not be appreciated, so we refrain. We’re only on the ground about an hour and 10 minutes, then we’re flying northeast again toward Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Reaching our cruise altitude of Flight Level 250 (about 25,000 feet) over the Sea of Okhotsk, we have an indicated airspeed of 186 knots, and a true airspeed in the thinner air of 281 knots–but our groundspeed tops out at 350 knots before the 70-knot tailwind starts to subside.
Halfway across the Sea of Okhotsk we finally break out of the clouds to find ourselves in clear air, with high clouds above and lower clouds below. Far ahead is a horizontal slice of blue sky; we pass through it like a gate…and we’re back in the tops again. Just as we prepare to begin our approach, we finally emerge into a mostly clear sky. The waxing gibbous moon is flying in formation off our right wing.
As we descend we see serious peaks ahead and to the right of our course; the mountains to the left are a bit smaller. Descending into clear air on the approach, the vista of mountains surrounding a bay, and silhouetted by the setting sun, is spectacular. We touch down on a washboard runway–common in this part of Russia, we’ve been told–and taxi seemingly forever. There’s a lot of construction going on here, including a parallel runway and apparently a new terminal as well. We’re thankful for a Follow Me truck here.
Our handler is waiting and seems not to have been expecting us–she doesn’t have our personal information, although there is a fuel release and a taxi waiting to take us to our hotel. Apparently we cleared customs at Yushno, but not immigration; that’s handled quickly and efficiently. It’s fully dark by the time we refuel, and the ride to the hotel is nearly 30 minutes. It’s 9:45 p.m. local when we check into our hotel; we’ve lost three hours to time change today–and we’ll lose four more tomorrow. Changes like these make for short nights.
Because of a national holiday, the hotel’s 24-hour restaurant is closed. The cafe is open for 15 more minutes, just enough to order some food that we eat in Mike’s hotel room. I have a delicious tomato and cucumber salad–best tomatoes I’ve had in a while–and very good salmon baked with carrots and some kind of cheese sauce, washed down with a rather tasty Russian beer from a plastic bottle.
For those of you following this trip blog regularly, this installment was unavoidably detained. Internet service at the hotel in Russia required cash purchase of a card, and only rubles were accepted. Since we were out of rubles (actually, we never had any in the first place), we stayed offline. Just as well, with the time-zone shift, sleep was a worthwhile alternative.