MU-2 Round the World

Last year’s RTW, Day 25–homecoming

September 18, 2014 by Mike Collins

Over North Dakota, we prepare to fly into the final sunrise of our eastbound around-the-world journey.

Over North Dakota, we prepare to fly into the final sunrise of our eastbound around-the-world journey.

A year ago today–well, I guess technically speaking it was a year ago yesterday, Sept. 17 (thanks to that whole international date line thing, and our “groundhog day” on Sept. 15)–we concluded our epic around-the-world flight in Mike Laver’s MU-2. Again we were off before sunrise for the 1,196-nautical-mile hop back to Frederick, Md., which would require 4.2 hours of flight time.

And there it is, the sunrise.

And there it is, the sunrise.

The photographer in me really appreciated the thin, growing line of impending dawn (as in the top photo), both because of the delicate colors and also because it provided an infrequent opportunity to balance the lighting outside the cockpit with the colorful glow from our Garmin avionics…which we’ve been watching for some 94 hours over the past 24 days. It was a rare opportunity. In many countries we could not depart before the appropriate offices opened, usually well after dawn. A couple of times when we did, the sunrise was obscured by clouds. A few more photos of the sunrise can be found on my original Day 25 blog post.

Sightseeing The Olgas--and nearby Ayers Rock--by twin-engine turboprop was a highlight of the trip.

Sightseeing The Olgas–and nearby Ayers Rock–by twin-engine turboprop was a highlight of the trip.

On the final leg back into Frederick–well, my final leg; Mike then has to retrace his route to his home airport in South Carolina–we reflect on the trip. I record much of the interview using a GoPro video camera, which is a first for me. Mike enjoyed the chance to fly around Australia again, and I enjoyed the vistas of the Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock, and the adjacent Olgas (above). There’s a published aerial tour procedure here, not unlike that for the Grand Canyon in the United States.

Like that girl with the slippers in the movie says, "There's no place like home."

Like that girl with the ruby slippers in the movie says, “There’s no place like home.”

While it was a fantastic trip, I’m very happy to get home. Most of my business travel is a week or less, and 25 days is a long time to be on the road. Without the steadfast support of my lovely wife and family, and encouragement and support from the media team at AOPA, it would not have been possible. And the interest by others in the trip was more than I ever could imagine (and this goes beyond my dad, exchanging text messages with me via satellite while we’re crossing the vast Indian Ocean, even though the clock in Kentucky shows small, single nighttime digits–he still claims he “just woke up” for a few minutes, but I also know he always powers off his PC overnight). Thanks for flying around the world with us–again!

Last year’s RTW, Day 24–almost home

September 17, 2014 by Mike Collins

The Yukon River winds below us as we climb out of Fairbanks.

The Yukon River winds below us as we climb out of Fairbanks.

It’s been an incredible, fantastic trip–but after 24 days, we’re both ready to be home. We take off from Fairbanks before dawn, heading southeast toward Ketchikan, Alaska. That’s the broad Yukon River curving through the landscape below.

Distant peaks draw our attention--from 25,000 feet.

Distant peaks draw our attention–from 25,000 feet.

As the sun rises, it dramatically lights snow-covered, distant peaks before reaching into the valleys. Alaska’s vastness never fails to amaze me.

Sunrise seems like a good time for a selfie of us on the flight deck.

Sunrise seems like a good time for a selfie of us on the flight deck.

Just after sunrise seems like a good time to shoot a cockpit selfie. Mike and I are glad to be back in “civilian” clothes; our pilot uniforms are no longer needed.

We climb through low clouds as we leave Fairbanks.

The sun climbs over low clouds.

Ketchikan is 820 nautical miles and a quick 3.1 hours, and our refueling there is lightning quick thanks to a fuel truck with dual refueling nozzles–which significantly speeds the process of refueling an MU-2. We’re on the ground less than half an hour, and it may have been only 20 minutes. The next leg, across Canada to Minot, N.D., is our longest of the trip at 1,232 nautical miles. Thanks to persistent headwinds, it’s also one of the slowest, with a groundspeed of only 246 knots. But it’s nice to arrive at our destination before dark. Did you know there’s a great Mexican restaurant in Minot? More details and additional photos are on the original Day 24 blog, available here.


Last year’s RTW, Day 23

September 16, 2014 by Mike Collins

Day 23 of our trip, one year ago today, sees our return to the United States–but not until very late in the evening. Also, today feels like the longest day of them all–by far.

And it is, for a couple of reasons. First, we cross the International Date Line, so for us it’s Sept. 15 all over again. Second, our two legs–from Petropavlovsk to Anadyr, Russia, and then to Fairbanks, Alaska, total 1,930 nautical miles and 6.9 hours of flight time. While this is not our longest day, it takes the most time, because things in Russia seem to move only so fast. Lots of waiting, especially at our fuel stop.

Mostly, however, it’s the short days we’ve been experiencing. We’ve been flying northeast, and while most of the trip has seen us cross one time zone a day, on average (no jet lag!), we lose 11 hours between Nagoya and Minot, N.D. Inevitably, these hours are made up by sleeping less.

Anadyr, Russia, "Where the day begins."

Anadyr, Russia, “Where the day begins.”

There’s only one photo today (a few more appear on my original Day 23 blog, available here). I loved this mural on the airline terminal at Anadyr, and I must have snapped this frame as we parked. I ignored it, figuring I would get a better one from outside the airplane. That was not to be, however; I asked our handler if a photo would be OK and the stern man in the green military jacket said no. Then she offered to take a photo for me, and the answer again was “Nyet.” I didn’t see this frame again until reviewing photos for this retrospective blog series, and I’m glad the photojournalist in me kicked in early, before I was told no.

I don’t like the angle or the crop (or the fact that the tip tank is in the way), but the mural shows a Eskimo girl spreading her arms beneath the sun, and I’m told the inscription reads “Where the day begins.” This is a very apt description, because it would be hard to get much further east in Russia than this.

We’re late for our scheduled arrival time into Fairbanks, but the Customs man is waiting for us at the airport–it’s clear we aren’t the first airplane to arrive late from Russia. It’s also clear that we’re the last Customs customers of the day.

But there’s one more curve ball. Our hotel is oversold, so we’re put on a cab for a different hotel. The rooms are fine, but it’s nearly 11 p.m. and no nearby restaurants are open, so dinner ends up being beef sticks and Clif bars–probably just as well; we need the sleep.

Last year’s RTW, Day 22

September 15, 2014 by Mike Collins

Leaving Japan, we find that our arrival made the newspaper's front page/

Leaving Japan, we find that our arrival made the newspaper’s front page.

When we arrived at the Nagoya airport a year ago today to fly north, our hosts presented each of us with copies of the previous day’s newspaper. Turns out our arrival was front-page news! I wish I knew what they said about us. They certainly couldn’t say we bounced the landing–Mike made a greaser here. More photos from Nagoya and more detail on this leg can be found on my original Day 22 blog post.

Climbing through the outer bands of a typhoon as we leave Japan.

Climbing through the outer bands of a typhoon as we leave Japan.

Alas, we couldn’t linger. The light rain that was falling was from the far outer bands of a typhoon that had been following us since we left the Philippines–stopping for a day in Japan allowed it to close with us. Like Bill Murray says in Caddyshack, “The heavy stuff won’t be coming in until later”–but a scheduled departure later in the day, and especially the following day, would have assured a delay (or a departure ahead of schedule). Besides, Russia was waiting, and we’d heard that things don’t happen quickly in Russia.

Turns out our overnight stop, Petropavlovsk, is surrounded by mountains.

Turns out our overnight stop, Petropavlovsk, is surrounded by mountains.

Our fuel stop in Yuzhno takes longer than average, but in comparison to tomorrow’s fuel stop, it’s like hitting the pits at a Nascar race. We’re flying along the Russian coast pretty much all day, and much of the trip is above a low cloud layer. As we approach Petropavlovsk, those clouds dissipate, and we see more of the mountainous terrain.

The sunset races us to touchdown at Petropavlovsk.

The sunset races us to touchdown at Petropavlovsk.

It turns out that Petropavlovsk is almost surrounded by mountains, and we’re racing the sun to the Earth’s surface. It’s not that we can’t fly at night, but we were hoping to see some of the landscape from the ground. By the time we landed and refueled the plane, it was beyond pitch dark. Guess there’s always tomorrow’s ride back to the airport.

Our fueler in Petropavlovsk.

Our fueler in Petropavlovsk.

I’m not sure what the rules are regarding photography in Russia. I do know that if I asked to take a photo, the answer usually was “Nyet” (no). Except after dark at Petropavlovsk, coaching the fueler through the complicated process of refueling an MU-2. Only a couple floodlights and the man’s headlamp lit the scene. When I had his attention I pointed at the camera, and then at him–he struck this pose, which must be Russian for “yes.”




Last year’s RTW, Day 21

September 14, 2014 by Mike Collins

My hotel room in Nagoya looked down on the tracks used by Japan's "Bullet Train."

My hotel room in Nagoya looked down on the tracks used by Japan’s “Bullet Train.”

A year ago today was our fifth and last nonflying day of the around-the-world trip, and we spent most of it sightseeing around Nagoya. We considered riding the high-speed bullet train to Tokyo–the station was under our hotel–but ultimately decided to stay local.

The fish adorning the castle are talismans, intended to prevent fire.

The fish adorning the castle are talismans, intended to prevent fire.

Most of the morning was spent touring Nagoya Castle, rich in history and a prominent local landmark. The castle is adorned with Kinshachi–gold-plated fish, each wearing about 44 kilograms of 18-carat gold.They were said to be able to summon water, and were used as charms to prevent fire–a very real consideration in all-wood structure of this size.

These tiles comprise part of the roof of the Nagoya Castle.

These tiles comprise part of the roof of the Nagoya Castle.

Tiles make interesting patterns on one of the castle’s lower roofs. More photos of the castle can be seen on my original Day 21 post, online here.

Ross Russo, at right, surprises Mike Laver in Nagoya.

Ross Russo, at right, surprises Mike Laver in Nagoya.

A high point of the day came late in the afternoon, when Mike was surprised by longtime friend Ross Russo waiting in the hotel lobby. Ross, who I’ve know for many years as well, actually was responsible for drawing me into the around-the-world flight. Mike originally had asked Ross to accompany him on this trip–but Ross’s daughter had planned a wedding in the middle, so he deferred…and suggested me as a possibility. It turns out that after the wedding, Ross and a cousin flew to Japan to climb Mt. Fuji, and the day after they got off the mountain, they rode the Bullet Train from Tokyo to pull off the surprise, deftly (I think) arranged through text messaging.

We enjoyed the company of our hosts from Mitsubishi, and appreciated the down time. The next two days will see us cover more than 3,500 nautical miles as we fly up the Russian coast to Fairbanks, Alaska. In four days, we’ll be home!

The reason for last year’s RTW flight

September 13, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

September 12, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

September 11, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

September 10, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

September 9, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

September 8, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

September 7, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

September 6, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

September 5, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

September 4, 2014 by Mike Collins

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.

Last year’s RTW, Day 10

September 3, 2014 by Mike Collins

Fisherman casts his net.

A fisherman casts his net into the surf at Denpasar, Bali.

Today’s theme is nonaviation photos. A year ago today, the around-the-world trip was a light flying day–just one leg, from Palembang, West Sumatra, to Denpasar, Bali. The flight was 812 nautical miles and took about three hours. When we arrived at Ngurah Rai International Airport, we descended over tropical waves breaking just before the approach end of Runway 9, which is built on fill and extends into the water.

As it turns out, our hotel was only a mile or so north of the airport, right on the water, where I headed with a camera after unpacking–and posting the day’s blog update, of course. I’ll admit, I did take a couple photos of airliners approaching over the turquoise waters, but in keeping with today’s theme I will not show them. Instead, you can see a fisherman casting his net into the knee-deep water just off the beach.

Sunset from the hotel in Bali.

Sunset approaches our hotel pool in Bali.

As sunset approached, the clouds along the horizon thickened. Discouraged, I retreated to the hotel pool and consoled myself with a cold local beverage. Then the clouds broke up, resulting in the photo above, with the setting sun and palm trees reflected in the pool.

Hazy sunset in Bali.

At the end of the day, it was a hazy sunset in Bali.

Thinking the sunset might not be a bust overall, I dashed around the pool and walked back onto the beach. In the minute that took–OK, maybe 90 seconds, as I had to find a table to park my beverage–the clouds regrouped and the sun sank beneath a hazy horizon. Still pretty, but not what the photographer in me was hoping for. Fortunately, I had already taken the photo of the setting sun and palm trees reflecting in the pool, which makes a great consolation prize.

Last year’s RTW, Day 9

September 2, 2014 by Mike Collins

Thunderstorm on the horizon.

A large thunderstorm on the horizon.

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.

Volcano above clouds

A volcano rises above cloud cover in Indonesia.

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.



Last year’s RTW, Day 8

September 1, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

August 31, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

August 30, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

August 29, 2014 by Mike Collins

"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

August 28, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

August 27, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

August 26, 2014 by Mike Collins

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

August 25, 2014 by Mike Collins

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.

Around the world, by the numbers

October 4, 2013 by Mike Collins

Many of you have asked for statistics about the trip, and some of them are starting to come in:

Number of days: 25

Number of flight legs: 30 (fit into 20 flying days; there were five nonflying days on the schedule)

Distance traveled: 26,568 nautical miles (4,930 nm greater than the circumference of the Earth). Note, this is my distance traveled; Mike Laver’s journey began and ended in Aiken, S.C., so he logged two more flight legs and an additional 907 nm.

Total flight time: 98.1 hours

Average speed: 271 knots (312 mph)

Average flight leg: 886 nautical miles (1,020 miles)

Longest flight leg: 1,232 nautical miles (1,418 miles), from Ketchikan, Alaska, to Minot, North Dakota

Shortest flight leg: 93 nautical miles (107 miles), from Straubing, Germany, to Salzburg, Austria. Why so short? We wanted to visit MT Propeller in Straubing and the Red Bull Air Museum in Salzburg–why drive between the two, especially when fuel costs less in Salzburg? The next shortest flight leg was 674 nautical miles, from Broome to Ayers Rock, Australia.

Notebooks filled: 2.5

Photographs taken: 6,903

Video recorded: 175.5 GB

We’re still working on total fuel consumption, most expensive and least expensive fuel, highest fees, and similar numbers. However, many of those costs were billed through our handler, BaseOps, or primary fuel supplier, World Fuel. It could be another month or two before all the bills make their way to Mike’s business.

In the meantime, please take a look at the October 3 installment of AOPA Live This Week; Associate Producer Paul Harrop crafted a nice segment based primarily on video that I shot during the trip. The segment starts at about 4:20 into the program.

My wife really likes the homecoming segment on the September 19 AOPA Live This Week (very early in the show, about 1:30)…I’m not sure whether it’s the video itself or just the fact that I had returned from my longest trip ever.




Day 25: Minot to Frederick, Maryland

September 17, 2013 by Mike Collins

Our last day gets off to an unusual start when we arrive at the airport to learn that the nose gear of Mike Laver’s Mitsubishi MU-2, N50ET, had been accidentally damaged when the airplane was moved after we left it the night before. However, the FBO had summoned a mechanic who replaced the sheared bolt, and had prepared a logbook entry documenting the repair (for nonpilots readers, unlike your car, any repairs or maintenance on an aircraft is documented in a permanent record). Mike pronounces the repair satisfactory, and we depart on the final leg to Frederick. Had the problem been major, our 25-day journey around the world could have been halted abruptly, just one leg and 1,188 nautical miles from home.

Mike Laver before sunrise

Mike Laver checks an electronic chart on his iPad (we carried paper charts, too) as dawn approaches.

The clear black sky is full of stars as we complete the preflight and load the airplane. We take off VFR climbing eastward and pick up our clearance in flight as we pass small clusters of lights that mark North Dakota’s farming communities. Shortly a thin line of light along the eastern horizon starts to grow taller, and it separates into colors–orange along the horizon and a band of blue above.

Our flight plan was filed via airways, and included myriad slight turns left and right. Mike asks Minneapolis Center if we can have a clearance direct to the Indian Head VOR in southern Pennsylvania, and it is approved. “We aim to please,” the cheerful controller says. “And you do,” Mike replies.

Sunrise over North Dakota

The sun rises at 25,000 feet near Fargo, North Dakota.

Now a red band forms below the blue-and-orange horizon, and right around Fargo the sun’s disk begins to break the horizon. Below, fingers of low clouds are reaching over Fargo from the south. Even better, we have a 10-knot tailwind! And we enjoy slight tailwinds almost all the way to the East Coast.

Airliners converge on Eau Clair

The black diamonds represent airliners heading to Eau Clair (EAU) to hold.

We pass north of Minneapolis and Eau Claire, where a string of Minneapolis arrivals are being stacked in holding patterns. In fact, there are so many, the controller needs our altitude, and we’re assigned a modest vector to the left of our course. Our detour is short, and we’re thankful we’re going to Frederick and not Minneapolis this morning.

Sunlight over Lake Michigan

It’s seldom this clear over Lake Michigan, at least when I’m flying there.

It’s clear over Lake Michigan, which reflects the morning sun, and we pass over Grand Rapids, Michigan, the intersecting concrete runways of its airport in stark contrast to the green grass. This is a familiar route for the first time in 25 days. We pass north of Jackson, Michigan, where I lived in what now feels like an earlier life; between Detroit and Toledo; and angle across Lake Erie and Cleveland. There’s Kelleys Island, Ohio, on Lake Erie with its intersecting runways, and the amusement park at Cedar Point.

Spinning prop reflects sun

Mike Laver’s MU-2, N50ET, has flown us all the way around the world without any mechanical issues.

Near Cleveland, Center gives us a minor reroute–direct Morgantown, West Virginia; direct Martinsburg, West Virginia; then direct to Frederick. The change adds only 20 miles to our flight. This also is very familiar. We pass Akron, Ohio, and fly southwest of Pittsburgh under beautiful, clear skies with occasional clouds below. The farmland of Ohio gives way to the rolling hills of southwestern Pennsylvania and mountains of West Virginia, and before we know it, we’re descending to land in Frederick.

Welcome back to Frederick

Friends and colleagues welcome us on our arrival to the AOPA ramp at Frederick.

Waiting for us on the AOPA ramp is a large group of my AOPA friends and coworkers, as well as my lovely bride, and while it’s been a fantastic trip–it’s absolutely great to get home. I’d be remiss not to thank Mike Laver; my colleagues at AOPA; and especially my wife and family for the opportunity.

Mike Laver and Mike Collins after trip

Mike Laver and Mike Collins at Frederick, after 25 days and 97.5 hours of flying.

It’s been a very remarkable, and enjoyable, trip. We saw many fascinating sights, breezed through quite a few countries (and stayed a little longer in a few), landed during a monsoon in Indonesia, and got out of Japan less than a day ahead of a typhoon that caused flooding and evacuations. Mike and I have spent right about 97.5 hours together in N50ET. We’ve been too busy to keep up with the mileages for each leg, and other trip statistics; I will calculate our distance travelled and other relevant information, and post it in one or more wrap-up posts on this blog.

One of the most unexpected, and gratifying, aspects of this trip has been your interest. I’ve been impressed and humbled by the number of emails you’ve sent to me at AOPA (and through the DeLorme InReach messenger, which has the ability to send and receive 160-character messages); here on this blog, and through Facebook. I’m glad you found our adventures interesting. If you’d like to read about the trip from Mike Laver’s perspective, please visit his blog on the Air 1st website (click on the “Around the World-N50ET” link). I’ll be doing that myself, as soon as I get some sleep–this flying through 10 time zones in three days is really starting to get to me. Tonight will be an early night.


Day 24: Fairbanks to Minot, North Dakota

September 16, 2013 by Mike Collins

The beauty of Alaska is always breathtaking, but it’s an especially glorious welcome back to the States after traveling almost all the way around the world. Day 24 of our 25-day journey begins before dawn in Fairbanks, where the temperature is 34.6 degrees Fahrenheit when I wake up. On our cab ride to the airport, Mike Laver is concerned that there might be frost on his Mitsubishi MU-2, which would delay our departure. Fortunately, there is no frost, although one of the line crew said there was frost on all the airplanes yesterday; it had rained the day before, and all that moisture found the aluminum to be irresistible in the cool air.

Sunrise leaving Fairbanks

The sun rises over a mountain range as we climb out of Fairbanks, Alaska.

Color is starting to paint the eastern sky as we preflight N50ET, and we take off from Runway 20 Right in the predawn light. Just after liftoff we cross the tree-lined Tanana River; most of the trees already bear the golden yellow of fall, and the vignette is beautiful.

Mike Laver contemplates an Alaskan sunrise

Mike Laver contemplates an Alaskan sunrise from the left seat of N50ET.

Climbing eastward above the river’s broad valley, we watch as the sun rises in front of us and slowly drizzles golden light from the tops of the tall, snow-capped mountain range to our south. Glancing down I see Allen Army Airfield (PABI) in Delta Junction, still slumbering in the valley’s shadows.

Distant Alaska peak

Tall peaks jut from the shadows and low clouds.

Further to the south, even taller peaks jut spectacularly into the sunshine, and the low morning sun gives their snow caps an orange glow. For a while I just sit and watch, taking in the beauty as the majesty of Alaska glides by at 275 knots less than 25,000 feet below.

The sky clouds up, however, as we approach Canada and cross the Yukon Territory as we make our way to Ketchikan, Alaska, for our fuel stop. Unfavorable winds aloft push our groundspeed on this 812-nautical-mile leg down to 245 knots, about the slowest we’ve seen on the trip. We’re in and out of the clouds, with continual light chop at our cruising altitude of Flight Level 250, about 25,000 feet.

Snow-covered Canadian mountains

Mountains in western Canada are barely visible through the clouds.

“Two hundred thirty! Unbelievable!” exclaims Mike a little later, after our progress slows further. “Sixty knots of headwind. Oh, well, we’re a lot quicker than a lot of airplanes.” Ironically, our true airspeed is a sprightly 296 knots, on a fuel burn of 70 gallons per hour. “For our fuel burn, that’s an incredible true airspeed,” he notes. To conserve fuel Mike is not cruising at full power, even when the headwind pushes our groundspeed to 225 knots.

The sun marches higher in the sky, accelerated by our relentless push to the east-southeast–across three more time zones today. Can you say 21-hour day? We pass to the west of Juneau, which is obscured by clouds. A couple of times we find ourselves flying through cloud valleys almost as expansive as what we saw on the Earth’s surface earlier.

Arriving at Ketchikan

Shooting the approach into Ketchikan. Do you see the runway?

We shoot an approach to Ketchikan and break out of the clouds into the center of a fjord that points to the airport. We land on Runway 11 as a de Havilland Beaver on floats touches down abeam us on the parallel City Harbor. At least three large cruise ships are docked on the other side of the harbor, and a steady stream of floatplanes–I think they’re all Beavers–stays busy giving scenic flights that, for many passengers, are their own flight of a lifetime.

Next to us on the ramp a FedEx twin turboprop unloads freight into an array of trucks. But there’s no time to watch these shows; the fuel truck has two nozzles and two fuelers, and they replenish our supply of Jet-A in each tank simultaneously–not only saving time but also avoiding the need to alternate the filling of the airplane’s wingtip tanks. We are able to land, fuel, pay the bill, use the restroom, and take off again–all in about 24 minutes.

We climb through low clouds into bright sunshine as we begin our next leg, 1,228 nautical miles from Ketchikan to Minot, North Dakota. We’re handed off almost immediately to Vancouver Center, which clears us to the Edmonton VOR, located 633 nautical miles to the east. Well before we get there, we’re cleared direct to Minot.

Crabbing into the wind

We crab into the unforecast headwind to maintain our desired ground track.

Clouds over the mountains of western Canada give way to Alberta’s vast, partly cloudy plains between Edmonton and Calgary, with their endless pattern of checkerboard fields. Somewhere else, aircraft are asking Edmonton Center for deviations around weather. We don’t have any rain or menacing clouds, but the winds for this portion of the flight are not at all what was forecast; the winds aloft have not shifted and instead of being neutral for us, we find an increasing headwind. Mike spends a lot of time checking his fuel calculations, tweaking the power settings, and then double-checking, to be certain we’ll land with at least an hour’s fuel reserve in Minot. We hold a hefty right crab into the quartering flow, which resulted in headwinds of 30 knots or more before the wind finally dropped off.

Lake Diefenbaker

The lowering sun reflects off Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan.

The skies are mostly clear as we fly across the large wheat fields of Saskatchewan. The sun is sinking in the west as we pass near Riverhurst, Saskatchewan, reflecting off the lazy waters of the wide Lake Diefenbaker. We’re less than an hour from Minot now and unlike yesterday, we’ll get there before the sun sets.

At Regina we turn right for the last 180 miles to Minot. When we land, we refuel the airplane and go to the hotel; no Customs, immigration, or other procedures are required. Because we did not land in Canada, and were just overflying it, technically we never left the United States–so it’s not necessary to reenter the country. We could have planned a fuel stop in Canada, but that would have required entry into Canada and a return to the United States. Mike felt that by now we’d be tired of the whole process. He was right.

Dinner is at a Mexican restaurant, and we try to turn in early to rest for the last day of our odyssey–and my final leg back to Frederick. Then Mike will have a fairly short flight back to his home base, in Aiken, South Carolina.

Day 23: Petropavlovsk to Fairbanks, Alaska

September 16, 2013 by Mike Collins

Monday morning dawns rainy and overcast; a mountain peak visible from my hotel window is obscured by clouds. The fourth-floor view is quite different from yesterday’s 41st-floor perspective of Nagoya, although except for the temperature, the weather is rather similar. We consider stopping in the hotel cafe for breakfast, but decide that with today’s planned flying and the time-zone-shortened day (we will cross four time zones and the International Date Line), getting going is the better option–then we play the what-if game until our driver arrives 10 minutes late. “What if we’d gone to the cafe right when it opened at 7:30? What if it opened a few minutes early?” I don’t mind another Clif Bar, especially after my stash came so close to supplying dinner last night.

Petropavlovsk hotel

Our short visit allows us to see very little of Russia. This is from in front of our hotel.

I had been looking forward to seeing Russia, but most of what I see is on the ride back to the airport Monday morning (it will become Sunday again when we cross the Bering Strait). The city of Kamchatsky appears similar to a U.S. city of similar size, with a mix of newer, often brightly colored buildings and clearly older structures. Outside of the city we drive along miles of tree-lined roads, with some leaves starting to show hints of fall color, that are punctuated occasionally by brightly colored, cinder-block bus shelters. There must be unseen homes behind the trees, however, because several shelters have people in them, and there are pedestrians along the rainy roadway.

Closer to the airport we pass through residential areas that are somewhat ramshackle; many homes have one or more apparently disused vehicles, some missing wheels or fenders. Closer to the airport there are a number of large apartment buildings that look as though they could be former barracks, leading me to believe the facility is a former–or current–military base.

Terrain around Petropavlovsk airport

Our departure from Petropavlovsk clearly shows the terrain surrounding the airport.

We meet our handler at the terminal, bypass one security checkpoint, then have our bags x-rayed and walk through a magnetometer at a second, apparently for crews and airport workers; on the bus out to the airplane, she gives us a weather package for this 1,004-nautical-mile leg, and discusses the two departure options. We can take off from either end of the single runway (the adjacent 16 Right/34 Left is under construction), “Just ask air traffic control.” Because of terrain near the airport, we decide a 34 Right departure will be preferable–even though we’ll have to backtrack the runway’s full 11,158-foot length.

Follow Me truck

Our Follow Me car in Petropavlovsk leads us all the way to the runway.

Last night it looked like we were in the middle of nowhere, but in daylight, there are two terminal buildings nearby, and a handful of twin-engine turboprops are a few hundred yards away. As we begin our rainy taxi, a three-engine Russian jet reminiscent of an older Falcon is being towed toward the terminals. Our lengthy taxi up a long taxiway, around the construction, and back down the runway gives us several glimpses of military activity. Off to the right, a transport plane sits in a revetment, surrounded by trees that look as though they could obscure its movement. Closer to the runway, behind a gated taxiway on the left, are a number of fighter jets that look like Sukhois. We bid farewell to our Follow Me truck and begin the long back-taxi, finding the side of the runway smoother than the center. We pass a fenced compound of trucks with radar antennas, and at the approach end of Runway 34 Right is another large ramp with several military transports, and beyond them, quite a few helicopters. Strangely, we see nobody in any of these areas. It’s not Sunday; perhaps the national holiday? Regardless, men and equipment are working on the new runway.

After starting engines early and our taxi tour, we’re airborne at 9:17 a.m. local, 21:17 Z–that’s 17 minutes behind our plan, but not bad under the circumstances. Our departure clearance is to Flight Level 090 (about 9,000 feet) but radar control immediately clears us to FL 250. This is good for terrain clearance and our fuel burn; departures must be above 7,190 feet by RILAT intersection and we make that easily. We start to fly out of the tops at 9,500 feet, and radar control accommodates our request to cut a corner by clearing us direct to GEFAR–which actually cuts two corners.

Most of the leg is in clear air with thick clouds below, but they clear temporarily over the Anadyrskiy Gulf. We look down on a desolate brown peninsula with snow-spotted mountains to our right and sheer cliffs falling to bright blue-green water on the left. Later, a river is seen snaking through a deep, curving valley. We get a slight push from the winds aloft at our cruise power setting until they shift and weaken closer to our destination of Anadyr, Russia, where the ATIS indicates better conditions than were forecast.

Approach to Anadyr

There’s wicked wind shear on the approach to Anadyr; today, at least, it dropped off right at the threshold.

Like Petropavlosk, Anadyr’s runway sits beside a bay, but it’s not surrounded by mountains, and the ILS approach to Runway 1 is very straightforward. But the ATIS included a statement, “Hazardous wind shear on final,” and a helicopter pilot on the approach ahead of us said, in English, “Significant wind shear,” and then talked in Russian with the controller, who also relayed the advisory. Later the pilot said, “Stops at runway.” We appreciated the heads up. Sure enough, there was a pretty wicked wind shear on final, which made it hard to track the localizer. We were below the clouds and had the runway visually. And sure enough, just after crossing the threshold, the shear disappeared.

A marshaller parked us, then left, and there was no sign of our handler. After waiting a few minutes, Mike placed a call to BaseOps–we had a phone number for the handler, but did not know what country code to dial. The handler arrived a few minutes later, very apologetic, because it was an unusually busy day in Anadyr; a charter flight was trying to depart with more than a hundred French tourists aboard and clearing them apparently required all the airport’s resources. Customs and immigration arrived before long; the latter left with our passports and brought them back half an hour later, stamped and ready to go. The fuel truck arrived, and once the proper ladder was procured, fueling went quickly.

I ask the handler about snow here, and we quickly learn we don’t want to be here in the winter. The snow usually starts in September, but sometimes in August, she says. “Maybe today,” says the immigration man. And I guess it could; it’s 8 degrees Celsius so about 45 degrees Fahrenheit at what we think is early afternoon local time. I also ask about a large mural on the terminal building; a cartoon figure of a young girl stands, arms upraised, with Cyrillic characters that read, “The day begins here.” I ask if I can take a photo; the handler says she thinks it would be ok but our friend in the green uniform says, “No pictures.” So, I don’t. We take off from Runway 1 after a 90-minute stop and a very short taxi.

Crossing International Date Line

We cross the International Date Line, go back to Sunday, and come back into the United States–all at the same time.

The leg from Anadyr to Fairbanks is a bit shorter, at 919 nautical miles. We depart Russian airspace after about an hour, then we cross the International Date Line, jump from Monday afternoon to Sunday evening, and enter U.S. airspace–all at about the same time.

Sunset behind us

The sun sets behind us…

Moonrise over Alaska

…as the moon rises over Alaska.

We overfly Nome, Alaska, but see nothing because of the thick clouds below us. The moon rises at our 2 o’clock position as the sun slowly sets behind us. Around Galena, we look down and through some breaks in the clouds we see the wide, graceful curves of the Yukon River. Eventually all traces of reflected orange disappear from the eastern horizon in front of us, and we fly into a deepening purple haze. After the sun has set, and we’re approaching Fairbanks, the moon’s reflection dances on the winding Tanana River off the right wing. Not all of this could be committed to film–er, pixels–through a thick plexiglass window, but they’re indelible mental images I’ll always carry with me.

Refueling in Fairbanks

After we clear Customs, N50ET is refueled in Fairbanks. Three legs over the next two days should get me home.

It’s been great to travel around the world, but it’s also great to be back in the United States. Here, if you don’t understand an instruction from air traffic control, it’s usually a speed issue (they’re talking too fast or you’re listening too slow)–not a language issue. And I’m hard pressed to remember the last time we were cleared for a visual approach; in many countries a full approach is the norm, even when the extra flying is not required by weather. We touched down in Fairbanks and I had what I think is the most painless Customs experience I’ve ever had in the United States. I guess I could complain that it was 11 p.m. by the time we got to the hotel, and there was nowhere to get a hot meal–instead, it’s beef jerky for dinner as I edit photos in the hotel room. But I’m not complaining, it’s great to be (almost) home.


Day 22: Nagoya to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia

September 16, 2013 by Mike Collins

Waiting to leave Nagoya

N50ET is reflected in a puddle as we wait to depart from Nagoya.

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.

Rain in Nagoya

Raindrops cling to one of the MU-2’s propeller blades at the Nagoya airport.

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.

Front page coverage

Our Friday arrival in Nagoya makes the front page of Saturday afternoon’s newspaper–the 50th anniversary of the model’s first flight.

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.

Final farewells in Nagoya

Mike Laver says his farewells when it’s time to depart Nagoya.

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.

Pretaxi checklist

Mike Laver is photographed while he runs the pretaxi checklist.

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.

Mountains near Petropavlovsk

Clouds part to reveal mountains surrounding Petropavlovsk as we begin the instrument approach.

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.

Approaching Petropavlovsk

The last bit of sunlight fades from the sky as we shoot the approach into Petropavlovsk.

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.

Arriving in Petropavlovsk

On final approach to Petropavlovsk, you can see the town near the water–and mountains beyond.

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.

Night refueling in Petropavlovsk

Our fueler in Petropavlovsk uses an LED headlamp to refuel N50ET after dark.

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.