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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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