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Antarctic route – the South Pole

I wanted to share one of the most interesting graphics of the Polar Expedition with all of you. I believe it captures the drive, determination, courage and ability to dream impossibly big of the entire Flying Thru Life Team while proving technology, moving science ahead and bringing people together in Oneness.

What you see is the 18.1-hour South Pole route of the Citizen of the World with her departure from Tierra del Fuego, the Land of Fire located at the southern tip of Argentina on December 16, 2019. On departure, a 180-degree turn was required in the narrow channel due to a last-minute wind change when the airplane was heavily ladened with fuel as she flew along the Beagle Channel for about 50 nautical miles.  Citizen of the World turned to the south once she was out over international waters and then just a little to the west in an attempt to ride an 80-100 knot wind from Mother Nature to the South Pole. You can see that about one-third of the way to the South Pole I lost my nerve and gave up on that tailwind because I was burning fuel heading toward the west with no benefit. At that point, I turned straight to the South Pole. When I got there, I did a couple circles (hard to see) —one for the planet and one for the people— and then headed back as directly as my Genesys Aerosystems S-TEC 2100 could do since at that point I had burned more than half my fuel (biofuels were used over the pole).

About 75 miles before and 75 miles after the South Pole, I lost my two flight management systems and was flying using a heading bug on autopilot based on inputs from an old school directional gyro more affectionately known as a “DG.” At this point, I also had a line of position on the sun since I was above the clouds, which reversed as I started to head back.

To compliment ADS-B Out tracking I also had two Nano GPS trackers that were required, installed and certified by the Federation Aeronautique, iPad screenshots, about a million mind-blowing pictures, videos and several recorded voice comms with “Cory” at the South Pole.  All this will be released in the 10-part docuseries and the book called “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth and Beyond.”

The trip back seemed to take much longer as the fatigue set in even though it was a straight shot back over the eastern Antarctic Peninsula and the dreaded Drake Passage until I got about 25 nautical miles from the Beagle Channel. By this point, I had lost satellite comms, (HF never worked) and I made a decision to not enter the instrument approach tired (and afraid), in IMC without air traffic controller comms.  Instead, I decided to descend through the cloud layer over the ocean and fly the last 50 miles back to Ushuaia, Argentina, about 500 feet above the water on fumes and below the rainy cloud layer. This was the part of the trip that I say “broke me open” emotionally, physically, and spiritually and the true learning began for the rest of the trip. For those lessons you will have to check out the docuseries and book.

I want to thank my friends at Iridium for using their newly launched 66 Iridium NEXT Satellites to track me on the longest and most challenging legs of my polar circumnavigation. Iridium obviously didn’t miss a beat on this 4,200 nm leg.

I would like to also thank the good people at Aireon (created by and still partially owned by Iridium) whose payload on the Iridium NEXT satellites was picking up our ADS-B Out signals, and produced for me the beautiful graphic that you see above that is fit for the record books. Certainly, the image above is proof of how well ADS-B Out works, thanks to space-based ADS-B extending traditional ADS-B ground coverage across the oceans and over every inch of the planet.

The tracking would also not have been possible without the help from my friends at L3Harris and their wonderful NGT-9000! Neal Aviation installed the L3 diversity transponder antenna just weeks before departure when they were impossibly busy trying to help customers meet FAA ADS-B Out equipage mandates. In addition to the panel mounted unit, the company also had to install the diversity ADS-B transponder antenna on top of the Gulfstream Twin Commander 900 and through the pressure vessel to make sure we could talk with all those Iridium satellites.

As you can see the polar expedition was clearly “A mission of many not one.” The successful Polar Circumnavigation is a wonderful demonstration of how many inspired people in aviation can work together to move STEM ahead for the planet on a mission of global peace which connected the South Pole with the North Pole as “One Planet, One People, One Plane.”

And now for the worse tease of all…. Can any of you guess what graphic 2 of 2 will be?

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Flying the world in living color

When I started the pole to pole mission on November 16th, 2019, which seems like a lifetime of challenges ago, my team and I were clear on our mission of “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity.” One of our primary goals was, and continues to be, to see the similarities in people, not the differences.

As I learned on my previous circumnavigation in 2015, I knew the universe would present me with many opportunities and challenges along the way that would test me and my ability to connect with people of different cultures and beliefs—along with a million other things—and hopefully expand my awareness and growth so I could be of greater service to the world.

After successfully crossing the South Pole with its many challenges I felt I had completed the hardest part of the polar circumnavigation and the rest of the trip would be the “Global Victory Lap.” As I was hit by overwhelming challenge after challenge on the South Pole leg, I kept asking myself, “How hard does this have to be? How strong do I need to be? What are you preparing me for?”

What I’ve come to realize is that the South Pole crossing merely served to break me open to be ready for what was to come. As weeks of coronavirus quarantine in Spain turned into months, it became clear that all those South Pole challenges were preparing me to respond to the coronavirus and its impact on humanity and the earth and our mission of global peace. The virus has seemed to split the world apart with great intensity. Many countries have gone it alone by closing off their borders. Isolation seems to have become the solution to our global problems. From my perspective, locking ourselves away, hunkering down, and fighting the natural order of things to move and grow has become a new normal for the world.

While traveling over the past five years to more than 50 countries and working with over 100 sponsors and numerous aircraft mechanics and governments around the world, I’ve learned global issues can’t be solved by working independently—interdependence and collaboration on a local and global level are what build and strengthen relationships and economies. COVID-19 has given humanity an opportunity to come together to find a solution. The world, unfortunately, appears to have missed this lesson and is paying the price as more issues have been created with this contraction and resistance to the natural order of life. Fear has escalated to panic and riots, business decimation, and suicides, while the expansion of political and military control worldwide has ensued.

Clearly, I’m not a political expert, nor do I pretend to be, and I don’t know how things will ultimately turn out and what we as a global community are meant to learn through all this, but I am a global traveler in the Citizen of the World with an impossibly big dream of world peace. Our vision of connecting the South and North Poles and everybody in-between is more important than ever and we hope it serves as an empowering example of connection, collaboration, and possibility in a time when it is sorely needed. As I spoke with local people in the cities I visited about what it means to be a “Citizen of the World for the World,” it has never been more apparent that we are in this together, and our shared humanity is what makes the world go round.

Another big lesson I learned, again from my first circumnavigation, is that all people regardless of their color share a common desire for safety, family, happiness, financial security, health, joy and happiness, and most importantly, love. The way to experience these things, especially when facing fear and adversity, is not by turning away or striking out against each other but by working together courageously with an intention of uniting in our similarities and appreciating our differences. This solidarity creates a better outcome for everyone that reduces fear, encourages understanding, and brings people and our own conflicted minds together in oneness with solutions-based thinking.

Shortly after a Chilean Air Force C-130 mysteriously went down over the Drake Passage on the way to Antarctica with 36 souls onboard, I was advised to wait until after the Chilean government knew what happened since this stretch of airspace was on my route to and from the South Pole. I felt fear arise while I considered the risks and the potential delays and ultimately chose to trust in my plane, myself, and our mission, and I flew. When the cyclone was about to overtake Madagascar, and I felt fear rise up again, I faced it, and again I flew. When Spain was locked down tighter than anywhere else in Europe as it became the epicenter of the coronavirus, I encountered resistance every step of the way, and continued to remind myself of our mission of global peace and that all impossibly big dreams have risks to be considered and dealt with, and then I flew. I chose to fight the urge to contract and instead focused on my purpose, expanded my love of Life and trusted in Universe to guide me.

I share all this with you, not to impress you (well, maybe a little) but in hopes of inspiring you during these contracting times to hold your impossibly big dreams close and keep working on yourself to let go of limitations and embrace your possibilities. I won’t pretend these choices have been easy for me; in fact, I’ve been terrified at times. But what keeps me going is wanting to help as many people as possible around the world overcome their fears and take the courageous action that is needed to experience all that Life has to offer.

Our Flying Thru Life team is dedicated to being a living example of what is possible when people from all countries work together. Rather than running from challenges, when uncertainty and difficult times show up, we revisit our ideals and support each other through them. This is what we stand for. This is who we are. This is what we dream of for the world.

We are all stronger together. As “Citizens of the World for the World,” we rededicate ourselves to our global community and our mission of “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity.”

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

A racket about noise

For a few months, I have had a line of thought brewing in my mind, which is a superlative form of the majesty of flight, applying it to the magnificence of the Alps and other mountain regions. As I would get close enough to make the concept emotionally tangible, something ridiculous would happen, such as my diatribes from the last two months about maintenance nonsense. While the airplane is flying and I have had some transcendent moments, I find that grasping and sharing that concept is still a bit out of reach.

It starts with that pesky reality called noise in Switzerland. I recently have had the unbridled joy of forgetting what sleep is like, as sociological changes brought on by the pandemic have created a sudden flood of people looking to squeeze themselves into flats next to ours, which has resulted in a raucous construction boom. As I laid there most certainly not asleep, snarling about the noise, I thought to myself how noise has reared its ugly head a number of times with Swiss flying.

I must first point out that patterns in Switzerland are not standard. They are unique to each airfield, necessitating looking at the Visual Approach Chart, to follow it within a moderate latitude under the risk of a fine from the Swiss authorities. The reason is due to noise, as these patterns snake around villages and other physical obstacles. To some extent, it makes sense, and it can also be very interesting, such as the approach into Saanen, which features rather sizable terrain just to the south of the field that has to be avoided.

In 2019, when I was flying for a while out of a different airfield, I got an email from someone I did not recognize. He attached a map and a photo of me flying over his house, noting that I have been “repeatedly” climbing over his house, and he is “kindly” asking me to stop doing it as he doesn’t like the noise. I thought the request was rather intrusive, as I was 1,500’ to 2,000’ above his property, choosing the path to avoid two other villages, though I couldn’t help but wonder if I was missing something. After all, it is a different country with different customs, and the guy was a pilot, noting that he “didn’t make a report to the police” and instead contacted me. I forwarded it off to another pilot friend, who said that it was incredibly considerate, as the custom is to report people and let the police handle it. At any rate, it was rather curious how the guy found me and got my email address, though I digress.

My next flirtation with noise was from a lesson taken in a PA-18-95 from an aeroclub about 35 minutes away. I decided to have a backup and be ready to go in case my aircraft goes down for maintenance again. The cost wasn’t as bad as I thought ($200/hr wet, fully insured with today’s exchange rate) and it is an aircraft rather similar to mine. I must confess that I was thrilled that this “perfect” airplane, maintained under EASA standards, smelled like exhaust like every other rag and tube Cub and had oil streaking down the belly…

Anyhow, during the course of the one-hour checkout, roughly 20% of the content of the lesson was about exactly where to point the noise coming into and out of that airfield due to very specific properties where the owner will call the police in the event of overflight. It was literally down to various houses, where the traffic pattern involved snaking this way and that, sometimes counterintuitively over a populated village to avoid a private school where an immortal hell is raised if it is flown over. The funny thing is that flying 200-500 feet laterally from the houses in question (while still rather high) is enough to sate these noise totalitarians. I am rather convinced that slant distance variation (and therefore noise reduction) is very minor from having done so. If it quiets these terrestrial dwellers, then best not to poke the hornet’s nest.

My third flirtation with noise is associated with my inherent passive aggressive reaction to fastidious and exacting rules. At all Swiss airports, like most of Europe, there is a closing time. Like Germany, it is important, so when dealing with the formula of “sunset plus 30 minutes or 8:00PM, whichever is earlier,” I start to ask my nitpicking questions. “Is it wheels down at 20:00, or pulled to a stop at the hangar with the engine shut off?” The reply was “Wheels down at 19:59, not 20:00.” Ok, so 19:59:59 it is which lead to a philosophical dilemma during a sunset flight.

After a, say, two-hour flight in the mountains, it is logical to return early enough to not trigger the collapse of the European order by landing after 8PM. Arriving over town at 7:47, I could dive in and land at 7:52 or…. I could circle and land at 7:59. Flying a really slow pattern at 45mph, nose up, behind the curve, the tires chirp at 7:58:30, leaving me quite proud of the situation. This was not the first time, though it was the closest to the appointed time.

After putting the airplane away, I was walking to the car and noticed an airplane careening into the circuit, obviously doing a full speed descent and then rapidly slowing down on short final and landing at….8:10 PM. Since it is not Germany, perhaps there is some grace and the situation isn’t the end of the world? Three minutes later, as I am loading things into my car, a Land Rover comes screeching into the parking lot, where the deputy CEO comes running over asking which airplane it was. As he lives under the approach path, it was evident to him what had occurred. He explained to me “the trouble we can get from the commune” and, before racing to address the problem, noted “I saw you come over at 7:57. Nice job.”

I explained the situation to my wife, and she asked, “Why didn’t you land at 7:50?” “Out of principle” I replied. “This silly rule drives me crazy and, since I am paying a landing fee, I am going to get every last minute I can.” “You need to stop torturing him and land at 7:50,” so said the woman who last got in my airplane in December 2014. I have to admit, she has quite a point, so I quit antagonizing the establishment. Are a few minutes worth annoying the people that own the place where I station my aircraft?

That brings me back to this duplicitous and hypocritical noise regime, where I find myself paying to not be able to sleep. “Go back to America,” the builder told me in so many words, for which I contacted the owner, a Super Cub pilot, and, well, I am sleeping again. The whole situation is one of many variables that has me in one of my cyclical states of misery (they happen every 8-20 months), where I get fed up and am ready to move back to America. So far, I haven’t done it but who knows, maybe someday I will. The mere thought of American aviation freedom is so utterly salacious at this point…..

Escaping the heat on the Italian side of the Matterhorn. They don’t care much about noise over here.

At 15,000 feet looking down on Chamonix, France. There were climbers on the ice that stopped their hike to presumably glare at the airplane making noise.

Solving the noise problem….fly above the clouds so nobody can tell who is making such an “obscene racket.”

 

 

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

Crossing the North Pole three times

Yesterday as I prepared for my first ever North Pole crossing things were going pretty smoothly. Almost too smoothly. I’m used to last minute surprises especially before taking off. But then I remembered I’ve had over 18 months to prepare for this leg. I thought maybe the Universe was finally going to throw me a bone. The taxi showed up on time the morning of departure, the airport manager let him on the ramp—which never happens, the new coordinates for my flight worked in the Flight Management System, I had no leaking fuel from the plane after fueling the night before, the tires held air, the emergency oxygen was near full, the nitrogen charge was still within limits…it was almost hard to believe. The Citizen of the World was in all her glory, fierce and it was a fantastic thing to see.

The good fortune continued as the airport allowed me to take off early without charging me, the tower operator showed up early and got me into the air traffic control system on the ground, and the engines fired right up as they always do. All avionics systems came online immediately, and I thought “Isn’t life wonderful!” I started down the runway like a bat out of hell with enough fuel to get me back to Alaska in the United States after being away for eight very long months. I still had six weeks to go to be back in San Diego but I was getting closer.

As I climbed above the solid cloud layer that extended all the way to Alaska things were going well. I had a great climb rate even with the extra fuel. I flew over Svalbard, Norway, which had been rejecting my departure requests for over a month. I thought skipping one stop reduced my risk and it was time to get going while the North Pole was a nice warm -43 Celsius compared to the -60C I experience near the South Pole.

About two hours out of Kiruna, Sweden, I was beyond VHF radio comms range and my luck started to change. My HF radio was not picking up anything and I was at a wrong-way altitude. My satellite phone calls to Bodo Oceanic control over the most remote part of the planet didn’t work either. I got through to Oceanic control on my satellite phone I just couldn’t hear a word they were saying, and I assumed they couldn’t hear me either. Considering I had eight hours of open ocean flying to do this was going to be a major problem.

One-hundred-fifty miles from the True North Pole things really started to happen. My two flight management systems/GPS units started to fall offline since they didn’t have a satellite signal. This was odd since this didn’t happen until about 75 miles from the South Pole. I figured there would be more coverage over the North Pole since it was a more traveled route. My autopilot would still hold in heading mode, so I made the adjustment and continued on my way using my iPad. “No problem,” I thought as this felt like old times over the South Pole!

About 25 miles from the True North Pole things got really scary. One of my Attitude Heading & Reference Systems went offline. I remember thinking, “this is why I have two ADAHRS systems.”  I flipped the switch and nothing. With the loss of the units I also lost the autopilot. The airplane jerked to one side and I began to attempt to take it offline at 30,000 feet. The yoke cutoff switch chirped but didn’t stop the turn. I was fighting the autopilot at this point and pushed the off button on the autopilot unit itself, but it still didn’t work. At this point, I felt like the Universe was conspiring against me and had a thought that this was how those 737 Max planes went down. I reached over to the left and pulled the autopilot circuit breaker with the yellow cap I had marked so it was easy to find in a jam. That was my last hope short of shutting the power completely off over the North Pole which sounded, in a word, “terrifying.” This emergency was making no sense to me. But just as I pulled the breaker the resistance faded away and I felt a slight sigh of relief.

Crossing the Magnetic South Pole I got a brief look at the snow, ice and water the ground through the clouds.

To put things into perspective, I’m five hours of flight time from land, 30,000 feet up over a cloud layer at a wrong-way altitude doing almost 400 mph over the North Pole with no comms. I was using only my iPad to navigate, hand flying in RVSM airspace (Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum) that requires an autopilot to maintain precise flight level with no autopilot and by myself. My first non-Zen words were unprintable in a family publication. So much for an easy flight across the True North Pole, the Magnetic North Pole and the North Pole of Inaccessibility!

What I did have was a visual horizon for the time being, two working Honeywell TPE 331-10T engines, two kick-ass MT 5 bladed scimitar nickel tipped composite props, and about three hours of extra fuel which could potentially just extend my misery as I flew in circles around the North Pole while my followers wondered why my track on the InReach explorer was so erratic. I had a directional gyro and knew it would hold my course for a time but as I turned from the North Pole, to the Magnetic North Pole, and finally to the North Pole of Inaccessibility, I got confused and knew it couldn’t hold a course forever.

As if to tease or taunt me, the flight management systems would periodically come online but then fall offline a short time later. This felt like cosmic torture as I had conflicting heading information from multiple points on my panel. My magnetic compass said one thing, my two flight management systems/GPS units had a different heading, my L3 backup system said something else, my directional gyro offered another heading, and my radar display showed yet another heading. “Which do I believe?” I thought. “Will I run out of fuel or fly in circles over the North Pole?”

As I was trying to hold the altitude constant in an airspace that was separated by 500 feet from opposing traffic I start shutting down and restarting the failed systems. The ADAHRS tried to realign in motion but couldn’t do its two-minute alignment. Eventually I realized the flight management systems appeared to have the aircraft flying backwards along the track for a time, then one would right and then go backwards. I was totally confused and trying to make sense out of the conflicting information.

Now I was seriously scared. I was very much alone, and the laws of physics didn’t seem to apply. There were no reference points in the cloud layer below me as far as the eye could see and a bunch of red Xs across my screen. I couldn’t help but wonder what a mess I had gotten myself into. I thought they would be talking about this for a long time. The naysayers were going to have a field day.

I took a minute to take a few deep “Zen” breaths in the midst of the shit storm that was unfolding around me. I took a personal inventory and realized I was still in the air, was straight and level, and wasn’t out of options yet. This was fast becoming a test of my faith.

As I moved between the True North Pole, the Magnetic North Pole, and the North Pole of Inaccessibility I was mostly hand-flying and occasionally overpowering the autopilot when it didn’t want to turn.

As I continued to hand fly, I realized my autopilot could maintain altitude and it seemed to fly on a heading once I set it but needed to be restarted to program a new heading. Next I realized that my Apple iPad seemed to be as accurate as it had been over the South Pole as well. How odd that a $1,000 iPad was working when $100,000 of avionics seemed totally confused. Flying like this was of course totally illegal but I had no choice. I was doing what my instructors had told me to do, which was “just fly the plane.” I was lucky to have a visual horizon above the clouds for as far as the eye could see.

I expected the failed systems to come back online in about 30 minutes but to my surprise everything stayed offline until I reached the coast of Alaska some five hours later. I literally watched as one system failed and then would come back online with the information making no sense. It was extremely stressful, and I was searching for the lesson in all of this. When the systems came back online at the coast of Alaska, they acted like the bad school kid who misbehaves when the teacher is out of the room and then reverts to becoming the perfect angel when the teacher returns. I realized that the issue was the lack of a satellite signal and not that the systems weren’t working.

Eventually as I got close to the coast of Alaska, I realized that the weather was not the broken clouds that were forecast at Prudhoe Bay/Dead Horse. Instead, I had 300-foot ceilings. Being as that I had been flying for so long and had 3.5 hours of fuel left, I decided to extend my flight for another hour-and-a-half to land in Fairbanks where I was hoping to meet my film crew the following day. As a side note, on my first call to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the director told me he could arrest me, impound my airplane and severely fine me if I landed in Prudhoe Bay where they didn’t have an agent.  When I told him my first priority was my life and that weather over vast distances was unpredictable as was aircraft equipment, he told me if I had planned better I wouldn’t be having such a problem. I hung up feeling a bit defeated. About two hours later I got a call back from the director and he said I could land in Prudhoe Bay for an overnight stay but would have to call Customs when I landed, and be in Fairbanks the next day.

It is hard to put into words how I felt when I landed in Fairbanks, Alaska. We had a mechanic and restaurant owner at the airport come over and snap a few pictures. Myself and the film crew that had just arrived by car were offered a delicious pizza lunch by the Wendy, the owner. As we ate, I stared at the plane with a blank expression on my face, exhausted, and in total disbelief of what had just transpired. I felt shock, pride, and relief all at the same time, and just wanted to sleep for a day. My focus was so narrow it was impossible to comprehend what I had just pulled off and the impact it would have on our mission—and I hoped—on the world. Calls and messages would come in for the next 48 hours congratulating me and my team. Most of them had no idea what I had been through, but I was so touched by those that reached out in the most-kind way.

One example that summed up the Citizen of the World’s challenges during the Polar Circumnavigation was from Eddie Gould, one of my handlers from General Aviation Support Egypt.

“Adventures like yours do inspire and create so much more than what you have personally achieved. Having this adventure during one of the world’s most horrific periods must rank high above many of the worthy exploits undertaken by [other] pilots.

I guess we, on the ground, have felt invested in your quest in a way that others would not. Your successes in the air are also ours. I have a massive smile, and I know Ahmed does too, when we get something approved, or a plan works out or even when you say  ‘this hotel is fantastic,’ the work we do in the background can be enjoyable, satisfying and at times…frustrating…like when you lose comms or someone doesn’t answer a phone in an office 7,000 miles away. But your adventures create the memories for us too…and this adventure is yours and our crowning glory…you took on everything the planet could throw at you, faced dangers in every corner of the globe and even had to change everything you knew about to become a Spanish recluse and then a Viking hermit!

I hope you make the book at least half as exciting as the reality was…and by the way…the aircraft was amazing and beautiful :-).”

I’m so happy to share this adventure with all of you and my hope is that it will in some way inspire you to go into the world and be a positive force in the world. To shine as brightly as you can and to allow your dreams to become your reality.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Recurrent Lockdown Without a Pandemic

Before I get into the thesis of my post, I owe an update to the inglorious rant from last month. For those that got through my little post of horrors to the fourth section about my quest for the [Heli Coil] Holy Grail, I ended it on a positive note, as though the problem was solved. Well, it wasn’t. Within two hours of submitting the post, the distributor cancelled the order, even though we had spoken on the phone about it. Apparently, the package intermediary that they asked for was a problem and they washed their hands of it. I went back to the first distributor, who actually shipped it next day to the intermediary (should have used them in the first place!). Between overnight shipping to the intermediary, COVID delays, and FedEx Express to Europe, it took two additional weeks to arrive.

As is apparently customary with Swiss maintenance technicians, initial enthusiasm from the mobile Swiss A&P was replaced with a sudden reticence to schedule the job on his part now that the parts arrived. At this point, I remembered an American instructor I used in Germany in 2016, who equally had the daft idea to import and fly an airplane from America on this continent of misery. He had mentioned solving his mechanical woes not long after I left Germany, so I thought “why not see who he uses?”

I found a real solution for the long haul. A younger German mechanic, licensed under EASA and as an A&P/IA, he was billed to me as a “non-German German.” I.e., he will actually fix things instead of robotically demanding a major overhaul as a solution to all woes. The instructor said, “We’ll solve it. I’ll fly him down. That’s what pilot friends are for.” I was in such disbelief that I might have been dreaming, so I called the A&P, expecting some sort of catch. I slowly revealed my woes, progressively giving every last detail, and he said “It is no problem to do the heli-coil by hand. It will take one hour.”

Before he came, I did some more analysis, sent some photos, and we determined that the studs themselves were shot, so we pushed off another week to order them from the USA (which he did, adding to a larger order he had coming). Then the day finally came, where I could barely sleep the night before, expecting doom and misery. After all, if a mistake was made, the case would have had to go to the USA, effectively resulting in the major overhaul I was trying to avoid.

I had the jig on the cylinder, ready to go per the Swiss recommendation. The German arrived, looked at it, and said, “We must remove this as we cannot do the job with it in the way.” Ironic. Then he pulled out a bag and said “I brought some heli-coils in case we needed a different size.” He had them at his shop, rendering my month of misery acquiring them pointless. I do not have enough emotional impartiality to distinguish between my indignation at a wasted month of strife from the glee I should have that this guy already has what I need on hand for future repairs.

When it came time for actual drilling, like a parent watching a doctor perform surgery on a young child, I couldn’t watch. I paced on the other side of the hangar, and 20 minutes later: “This one is done. Now we do the other one.” What? It was that easy? 20 minutes later. “Ok, the heli-coils are in. Now we must put the cylinder on.”

While I was naturally quite pleased, it was an almost insulting crescendo. How many weeks of strife, misery, and struggle did I endure, and in the end, it was a one-hour affair? Why is it that every single maintenance technician in Europe (except this one) that I spoke to would not do it? While the German A&P did explain that EASA mechanics basically are not allowed to do such a repair on a European registered aircraft, he pointed out that it is “on the N register therefore it is allowed.” I shall mention that the last 5 mechanics I spoke to in Europe were also FAA A&Ps, who basically were repairing N registered aircraft while looking at the EASA book.

The saga with repair has continued and is mostly complete with a successful initial cylinder break in test flight completed. The whole affair took 9 weeks, most of which was spent on the phone, waiting for parts, or being told “no” by someone after previously having been told “yes.” In the end, when I add up the $6500 repair bill (many things were replaced in the troubleshooting process, and the jug was one of a few contributing factors), it cost roughly 40% more than if I was in the USA (VAT, middlemen, freight from America, nonsense). It took 6 weeks longer than if the airplane was in the States, with 85% of that delay due to Europe and 15% due to the pandemic. The single hardest problem was a lack of qualified mechanical assistance.

If any other owners of N registered aircraft in Europe are equally as frustrated, please contact me and I will arrange an introduction to this A&P. I highly recommend him. I believe that this recent misery is an investment in smoothing out future issues, as I have a fantastic resource vetted now. I also owe a huge “thanks” to my instructor friend who flew him down. One has to love the pilot community.

Now this brings us to my thesis, which is about how aviation has inflicted three “lockdowns” since 2014 with this airplane, lasting two, three, and four months. This one was the shortest, believe it or not. The longest was Germany in 2016, and the middle struggle was while in Colorado in 2014.

I traced the common thread to all of them, and it was a fusion to two issues: a very complicated, sprawling repair and a lack of a nearby qualified A&P. I.e., either a nearby A&P wouldn’t do it, or a maintenance technician simply did not exist in the area. In each of these instances, I would rely upon a complex web of removing what parts a pilot is allowed to (quite a bit) and shipping them for inspection, rework, repair, or overhaul to a willing A&P in another state, sending photos of the remaining situation, consulting extensively by phone, staging new parts, and bringing the whole thing to a finale by bringing someone in to help get it all done. In all three cases, one symptom on this old engine resulted in the revelation of other problems, or vagaries of the troubleshooting process (where the parts being replaced weren’t the problem). Untold hours are spent going to and from the airport, sourcing parts, shipping things, staring at delayed packages on tracking and the like.

In instances where major problems were resolved in a short period of time (not part of these long downtimes), professionals were close by. Two of these disastrous affairs were in Europe, which made it much worse, whereas one was in the rural Rockies. What is the lesson? If one relocates with an airplane to a new area, especially if it is extremely rural as I seem to choose, immediately begin the search for an available mechanic for an ongoing professional relationship, even if nothing is wrong with the airplane. It is one thing to fly in an existing resource, though that assumes that the airplane only breaks at annual inspection, that deferred maintenance can be caught up at that time, or that the airplane can be flown a long distance to the site of an annual. As 9 months of downtime over the last six years has taught me, it doesn’t always work that way. While most pilots in America live in a reasonable range of a metropolitan area where this problem largely doesn’t exist, a move to a rural or foreign location should treat this search with urgency as though the airplane is broken. While the Cub has gone hundreds of flying hours with minimal issues, it goes through occasional brutal maintenance and repair cycles and I cannot seem to predict when they will strike.

Many times I have wondered why I am living the life I am, and it took an hour and a half circling two miles above the airport during the test flight, gazing at the Alps, to remind me why I am willing to put up with this misery when it does happen. A great way to forget a hellacious downtime is to go flying again.

Château-d’Oex. Wandering around at 11,000 feet, in glide range of the airport during cylinder break in.

Gstaad Airport from 8,000 feet. 

 

 

 

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

Crossing the North Pole (late night thoughts)


It’s 3 a.m. in a lonely hotel room in Northern Europe in the midst of worldwide quarantines. The world seems to be spiraling out of control in panic and fear, and once again, I can’t sleep. With the North Pole crossing looming over me just a few days away, my inner child just vomited with fear because he knows I’m taking him along like it or not—again. I keep tearing up when I think about all I’ve been through so far. I’ve been away for seven months and it’s looking like it will take another two months when I had originally planned for five months total. I’m fatigued, somewhat confident, and people still are calling me crazy—at least that last part is consistent.

This North Pole crossing has been perfectly planned just like the longer, and much more difficult, South Pole leg six months earlier. That 18-hour leg stressed me physically, emotionally, and broke me open spiritually. But that doesn’t keep my mind from thinking about all the possible issues the universe could throw my way this time.

The Citizen of the World is working well after the repair of two of my ferry tanks, which burst after a misalignment that caused a dumping of about 175 gallons of jet fuel inside the modified Gulfstream Turbo Commander 900, a starter-generator failure in flight, and a hydraulic fluid leak from the co-pilot-side brake caliper. Who can help but wonder what will happen next?

The North Pole Leg is approximately two-thirds the distance of the South Pole Leg. I can’t make it without the ferry tanks—two of which carry biofuels.

This is the ideal time of the year for an open ocean and ice flight as the Arctic temps are the warmest, which is good for avoiding potential fuel gelling and engine operating issues. But like everything in aviation, there is also a downside. There is a lot of fog down low this time of the year. Low fog makes it difficult for an emergency landing. Luckily, I have a ground radar that works pretty well for helping to determine my height above the ground or water in case I have to do a blind landing.

I’m well prepared with respect to survival gear, training, and support. In fact, I couldn’t be more prepared.

Unlike the South Pole, the North Pole is crossed often by commercial jets, maybe not as much now with the quarantines. That gives me some comfort that I will have some more experienced pilots in the air with me that could offer assistance if needed.

My route to cross the three north poles (magnetic, true, and the North Pole of Inaccessibility) has been charted out, along with the points to shift from magnetic to true navigation, as well as my alternates.

The plan is to leave from Longyearbyen Airport in Svalbard, Norway, after a 24-hour tech stop for fuel while being quarantined in the airport hotel. From Longyearbyen it’s just a 2,000-nautical-mile flight to Alaska. In this case, I would be up around 32,000 feet for only about 8 hours. That far north the winds aren’t too bad. But, as of today, the communications seem to have become confused and now require a departure from Kiruna in northern Sweden, which pushes the distance out to 3,000 nm and 11 hours of flight time, requiring the use of more ferry tanks. I’ll have more than enough time to think about all that can go wrong. At some point, I know from experience, I will relax into all of it and just accept my fate the gods have planned for me. You can’t be afraid forever—or at least I would like to think that on some level.

At least I know what to expect with respect to navigation this time. It will all fail except the iPad (which somehow did not over the South Pole and I still do not know why). My directional gyro will work, and of course, the position of the sun will be reliable, assuming I can see it. I will cheat the flight management system this time by putting a waypoint before and after the pole.

The incredible stress from the first flight opened me up and changed the person that I am, teaching me some of the most important lessons of my life. I’ve reframed my fear into looking forward to the growth that lies ahead over the North Pole; and, of course, praying to be an inspiration to others while having the most positive impact on the planet.

Miraculous. Impossible. I’ve got this.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

GA Strong: Pilots come together to help each other in extraordinary times

2020  has certainly been interesting thus far. I remember sitting down to create my calendar of events in December 2019 for the coming year of aviation events looking forward to traveling monthly. When AOPA, EAA and SNF made the tough choices to forgo their annual events to help keep us safe and reduce exposure to COVID-19, my delete button has been smoking from overuse.

Social Flight Live one of the many online offerings available now

In March and April I was heartened to see that thought leaders, local and state associations, and national groups began to make online content available, in most cases free of charge. This has been so valuable since I never could have attended these safety seminars and presentations from all across the country. I had the pleasure of being on Social Flight Live with Martha King, Pia Bergqvist, and Julie Clark discussing what inspired us to learn to fly and advance to being pro pilots.  The industry pivot toward virtual meetings and accessible content has given all an opportunity to set a goal to tackle a written exam, explore varied aspects of aviation, and educate ourselves all from the comfort of home or hangar.

It is June, and many of us are starting to fly more while maintaining safeguards for each other’s health. Early in the year I was getting ready to schedule my commercial certificate check ride. I have just now been able to get the check ride scheduled. My instructor is located in the LA Basin. It is a quick hop from my home on the Central Coast of California to Fullerton Airport. Recently I went down for a weekend of training and was pleased to see that General Aviation is waking back up, and with that awakening comes demonstrations of the interconnection of all pilots.

GA traffic starting to pick up in the LA Basin

I had worked a full clinical day [as a psychotherapist] and headed down to the airport for the one-hour late afternoon flight. After I landed, my CFI – Mike – picked me up and told me that several of my friends were at the airport planning a trip across the country to replace their cancelled Oshkosh plans.

We stopped by to say hello. It was fun to see a group of pilots with IPad in their laps talking about the best routes, fuel stops, restaurants etc. I even piped up about several airports that I always go to on my sojourn: St. John’s, Arizona; Wayne, Nebraska; Woodward, Texas; Ft. Guernsey, Wyoming. There were old-timers, younger pilots and lots of conversation, anticipation, and energy.

On the way out of the airport I found out that a fellow Mooney pilot was in a pickle. His plane was out of annual and he was not able to fly due to an injury. Mike asked if we could fly Maggie to Van Nuys, pick up the airplane [with ferry permit] and make the short hop to Whiteman Airport with the Mooneys. I have only been in to historic Van Nuys a few times for CalPilot events so I agreed straight off. Later Mike and I decided we would depart Van Nuys in formation and fly to Whiteman then break off for landing. We talked with Michael the aircraft owner, and the plan was set for a morning departure over to Van Nuys.

Van Nuys is a great airport. The VNY Prop Park is nestled behind the large FBOs. At the onset of this blog I mentioned the interconnections of General Aviation. Here are some of the 6-degrees of separation: I am a Vice President of California Pilots Association. VNY Prop is a CalPilots Chapter. Instructor Mike is an officer in the Fullerton Pilots Association [also a CalPilots Chapter]. Michael, the aircraft owner, is an active member of the GA community in SoCal. He is a member of SoCal Pilots Association and the founding member of the West Coast Mooney Club, which is hosting a Mooney convention in Sunriver, Oregon in late August. I recommended Kevin Schiff, the mechanic in Whiteman to Michael, as Kevin finished the annual on my Mooney earlier this year. However we all met, it was lovely to be able to help someone in my GA family out. I would highly suggest that you look for ways to stay connected to our aviation family. When non-aviation folks ask me “Aren’t you afraid you will have a problem somewhere along the way?” about flying from California to Oshkosh every year, I always say “no.” This is because if I put the word out that I need help in Yankton, South Dakota; West Jordan, Utah; Chicago, Illinois or anywhere in between, I know my GA family would help. In a way, I think the quarantine has been so hard on us because as pilots we are used to being interdependent and interconnected. We might give ourselves a hard time about lean-of-peak or a less than stellar landing, but we would also give each other the shirt off our backs.

These two are ready for some formation flight.

After arriving in Van Nuys we spent some time on the ground for inspection, orientation [to the ferry airplane], brief of the formation flight, taxi, then the short hop to Whiteman. I have to say that taking off in formation 16R was a hoot! After landing we taxied to Kevin’s hangar. Michael had already arrived in his car. We got the airplane in the hangar and then made our way for some commercial flight training and lunch.

Finding an open restaurant proved to be a challenge as 5 or 6 were already closed for the day. We flew to French Valley airport in Temecula. The airport is in excellent condition, had awesome fuel prices and a great place for lunch. It felt good to fill up with fuel and good food. While there we ran into a few other pilots that we knew and spent some time talking about the state of commercial aviation, GA and online education.

 

8s on pylons, chandelles, steep spiral, steep descent. Calgon take me away.

After practicing chandelles, steep descents, and 8s on pylons it was time to be done for the day. On the way back to Fullerton, Mike and I talked about charitable flying we enjoyed through Angel Flight, LightHawk, and Pilots n Paws. Also how much we were going to miss loading KOSH in our flight plans.

Though some things change, many remain the same

At the end of the day I was tired, but it was a happy tired. Being a student again for my commercial certificate is tough. It is hard to let yourself be a learner, to make mistakes and grow. It has been challenging to ask for help, but every time I do, I am met with a smile and the word “yes”. With the lack of flying events and travel, I am able to complete my commercial certificate and will move on to the multi-commercial add-on in late July.

Online education gives us all the ability to learn, ask questions and participate in our GA community while home. Continue to be on the look out for ways to be of assistance to others in our aviation family. Unfortunately many airports are under attack from encroachment and developers now that we aren’t flying as much. Join your local and state aviation associations and be a part of the solution. In many ways we are all feeling the effects of our world right now. Please know that we will all get through this time together. We are GA strong.

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot working on her multi-engine. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter. Jolie is a nationally published aviation writer. Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Aviation Strikes Back

The last month has been, suffice it to say, the dark side of aviation. A combination of maintenance misery, coronavirus, European rules, and an airplane turned money pit has tainted the glories and freedoms of aviation with the dark, menacing cloud of a massive thunderstorm. In many instances of ranting to friends, one suggested that I write about my experience, ostensibly to point out how various byzantine Kafkaesque rules could use an overhaul. My only reply was: “It is going to sound like I am whining about the consequences of my own ignorant, ill-fated decision to voluntarily ship an old airplane to Europe and not expect to be driven insane by the rules that were well known to exist beforehand.”

Well, here I am, writing about it anyway.

Putting the Economist Hat On – Mechanics

The situation I have been facing this month devolved into a cesspit of money spending, eventually landing on a situation requiring specialized assistance, which meant finding a specific mechanic willing and able to do the job. It is always an issue to find one that will work on an N-registered aircraft, either if the person is a FAA A&P, or uncomfortable with performing the work, furnishing a work order, and having a separate FAA A&P return it to service.

After getting over those hurdles, which often means far fewer mechanics are available, I find that they are all booked solid, despite the fact that the world is flying less. This seems to be the case most of the time, and I had to ask why that is the case. In a previous post, I wrote about how EASA had changed some rules to loosen up mechanical licensure, stepping closer to the “freelance mechanic,” which otherwise barely exists here.

The problem lies in the quantity of policies, procedures, and paperwork that revolve around flight instruction and maintenance activities. It favors organizations over individual mechanics and instructors, which favors highly active flying clubs instead of private ownership. That means a small fleet of [rented] aircraft, flying quite regularly, with resources onsite in the case of a problem. If a plane is out of service, there are others to rent.

Along comes the American with a Cub, asking for some help from an organization like this, even if the European mechanic is a FAA A&P, and the answer is almost uniformly that these institutions are booked out for weeks. How could this be, that in the land where rules stifle aviation, there are thriving, profitable businesses?

When one combines paperwork and rules eliminating freelancers, pushing activity to busy clubs and repair stations, one can find that they are incentivized to run at full capacity, pushing new bookings out into the future. That is not a problem with clubs and companies with small fleets, as aircraft can be substituted. Some private owners have their airplanes “operated” by clubs, which means they are part of the system, likely getting priority. Add in that some European countries have labor laws that discourage eliminating staff, and one can see that economics + the rules and structures that be = limited organizations keeping their order books full. In the US, another A&P would be hired part-time to pick up the slack, whereas those decisions are made far more conservatively on this side of the pond. Besides, who cares if some immigrant wanders in with a broken plane?

That does contrast with the reality that I have wondered how A&Ps in America earn a good living. Many freelancers are either vintage airplane enthusiasts, work weekends for extra money, are retired, or are poor businessmen. To run a proper repair station, cover fixed costs, bear the risk of liability, and earn more than a low-end wage, fees would need to be structured not too differently than in Europe, with order books as full as possible.

I am not sure what the point of this subsection is, other than exasperation that offering to shower money on maintenance technicians seems to not produce…. maintenance activities.

Coronavirus – Get Out of Jail Free Card

It is apparent that the pandemic’s effect on supply chains is separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to competence. Unfortunately, I had two maintenance nightmares span this situation, and they both are revelatory.

The first was an exhaust stack repair early in March. I phoned an outfit in the USA, who told me they would repair it two weeks after I sent it. Noting how I would be out of service a month, I asked if we could come to an agreement and prioritize it for a fee. After some back and forth, the price was set at $250 for the expedite fee. “We’ll get to it in 3-5 days.” “From now?” “No, after it arrives. Wait….6 days. We can do it in 6 days.” “Six calendar days?” “No, 6 business days.” “Then why I am I paying $250 for it to take the same amount of time.” “We’re not shutting down our shop for you! Good day!” [click]

I called another in the USA, same deal: 2 weeks. I asked about AOG fees and these people kindly told me that “We used to do it. Everyone then pays it, and we can’t keep up.” I would say hire more people, but I digress. Maybe they figured out the European model of profitability…

I got recommendations for an excellent outfit in Germany. I called them and they said the backlog was one week. I packaged loads of customs paperwork, including that the whole aircraft is customs cleared into Germany, and shipped overnight, ok with the week delay as shipping round trip would be overnight instead of a week. After 10 days, nothing had happened, as it was still at customs. DHL said the exhaust shop was ignoring them. The exhaust shop sent signed copies of paperwork submitted to customs. A week later, I was informed that German customs was returning it “for insufficient paperwork” and it would take… a month. I would have driven up there to clear it, except lockdown began and borders were closed. “We’ve had people do that before,” said the shop.

That’s it! I am going top dollar brand new PMA!

I called another shop in the USA, agreed on $1500 for new parts, gave specifications, and they were wonderful to get it done in a few days and hurry up to ship it as lockdown was looming for them. It arrived in Europe, after $250 in express fees….and it didn’t fit. While exhaust systems can be subjective on Cubs, there is nothing subjective about the exhaust port on the cylinder and the location of the adjacent intake elbow. At this point, I found a blacksmith in town who heated and whacked the relevant portion into submission, and that problem was solved.

While it was a frustrating charade that ropes in the pandemic, it is a microcosm of everything that is miserable about attempting to keep a 1940s airplane in the air. I am beginning to lose the romance of the idea, that’s for sure.

Coronavirus woes are not over. The latest round has resulted in ordering no less than six installments of parts from the UK and USA, and each order begins with “carriers are not guaranteeing delivery times.” That actually means two things: the carrier is released from doing the job, and the parts seller now has no obligation to be dutiful in getting “overnight” orders out, communicating about it, or getting anything right. I could go on about the miseries endured, down to full on incompetence and outright fraud (charging for overnight, sending economy, refusing to credit the difference). Some carriers are delivering as promised, and some distributors get things out as promised. Some distributors indicate their fulfillment backlog clearly, others take the order and payment and ship it a week later with not a shred of understanding why that is a problem, pointing to the pandemic as a blanket excuse for blatantly failing to live up to promises. It has been, needless to say, challenging.

It would be helpful if distributors would post clearer notice as to their current situation (as some do), though I would imagine there is an incentive to hide deleterious backlogs so as to ensnare customers into making a sale that they wouldn’t otherwise make. It is interesting to watch how some keep the parts flowing as if nothing has changed, and others seem to have fallen apart.

The End of General Aviation

I woke up this morning with a headline in Swiss news. The Upper House of Parliament voted for a package to impose taxes on each passenger for commercial airline flights, for environmental reasons. I also noted that it includes “private flights where fees will be from $500 to $5000 per flight.” Come again? That caused a panicked Google search, which revealed little as to what a “private flight” meant. Stewing over breakfast, I didn’t even need to articulate the ramifications if this were true. My wife was the one to suggest living in another country if that was correct.

I didn’t think it would apply to light aviation, as it would immediately end all non-luxury general aviation in the entire country. None of these mechanics I am spending so much time talking about mentioned it, nor did it appear anywhere else, so I sent some emails, and response was that the proposed legislation apparently is limited to private flights in “jet aircraft.” I don’t know if that means jet a-1 powered flights (including diesel engines), includes turboprops, or is for turbofan engines only.

While those in the US would cringe at these fees, I must point out that they are fractional compared to the total fees paid in Swiss aviation for larger aircraft. The type of individuals that come and go in Switzerland in private jets are of the highest wealth tier globally and will likely pay the fees, with some modest decrease in utilization. The issue, however, lies with how, if that law were written poorly or incorrectly, it could, in one fell swoop, end all general aviation in the name of environmental reasons.

We talk frequently about “user fees” and other such things “creeping” into aviation in America, slowly squeezing it. We do not talk about an Armageddon where one law ends the entire thing overnight. While it is unlikely to happen, this morning’s news headline was at the very least educational. It also cemented that the battle keeping an old plane flying is losing its romantic appeal, though I can’t imagine choosing to have a life without aviation.

I suppose, much like flying a Cub low and slow in a thunderstorm (hmmm…that has never happened), the clouds eventually clear and one flies again on a sunny evening over bucolic farmland. My prefrontal cortex can intellectualize the concept, though the emotional reality of my sentience is so immersed in this misery that I can’t seem to get my head around the idea of flying before I am no longer middle aged. This too shall pass…

Addendum: The Quest for the [Heli Coil] Holy Grail

I wrote the above portion of the post roughly one week ago. While I was duly rattled and frustrated, I thought I had a solution lined up, as a friend found another Swiss A&P/IA to try, one who had lived and worked in the USA for over a decade. After we spoke, he was amenable to coming up to install a heli-coil on a stud, a problem which had derailed my entire enterprise and for which one shop after another told me that I must basically bring the engine to them for the case to be split. Interfacing with A&Ps in the USA told me a field repair was possible, although I couldn’t find anyone to do it.

Anyhow, he was “always looking for new customers” and “just needed to check if he had the tool.” Excellent! The problem will likely be solved and, to make matters better, I like the guy. The next day, I got a call and it was explained, after consulting with other staff, that it is a risky job due to the hardened aluminum of the case, where free drilling could be the wrong angle or create a crack. It would help if there was a jig, though they did not know where to find it.

So, I was back to the drawing board. I double checked with a few A&Ps in the USA to confirm if a field repair is a shop school myth, and they said it is not preferable, though it can be done. Forum hunting online pointed me to Divco in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I called them to ask if a jig exists and if I could buy it. “Not really, but if you have one, and most people don’t, you can cut a junk cylinder and use the base as a jig.” Miracle of miracles, I have a junk cylinder and I was just about to throw it out! Problem solved!

Or so I thought… I emailed the new A&P that I had developed a crush on and…crickets. If there is one thing I have learned, is that a mechanic’s confidence and the intelligence of a certain repair method are two different things. The sudden lack of interest meant that, for this repair, he is probably not the guy if he is slinking away after having announced I found the much sought after jig.

So, it was back to the “Swiss guy who travels around in a van doing repairs.” He is also an A&P, albeit quite a distance away. I had spoken before and he said that he was extremely booked out, wasn’t afraid to do it, and he didn’t have the tools for the coil installation, as he “tried to buy them once a few years ago and gave up.” Now that he was going to be the one, I called him to schedule, advising that I would be ordering the parts. His reply was: “Things are crazy with coronavirus, so I am not scheduling anything until you get the parts. Nothing is for certain.” I thought he was being persnickety, though so be it, let me get the tools ordered to get a confirmed delivery date.

And this is where my week went sideways.

I called Divco, who told me most of the details what to get. Divco, by the way, is wonderful. I phoned the distributor in California that they use, and after some back and forth, called Divco again willing to “pay them for this nonsense” and they walked me through the exact heli-coil specs. It is quite a web of what to buy. They didn’t want money (which makes them even more incredible). I got pricing final, which was about $150, and then the distributor said, “We cannot prepay and add shipping. We need a courier account number.”

Strange. Be that as it may, I phoned a client, got their UPS number and…inactive. I called another client, got their UPS number, and upon attempting to ship, that account doesn’t allow that kind of shipping. At this point, I requested some sort of way to ship it, and they said its “against company policy,” for which I raised an immortal hell and was told that they got defrauded once so, sorry, but “we will ship it to someone in the US.” I declined to mention that they should be content next time their Amazon order goes to Indonesia for re-routing instead of their house.

I took their quote and sent it to a company in the UK and Switzerland, both of which promised to get back to me. Nothing. I then looked for more distributors and found a stock function on the Stanley Engineering website and found that one other company in the USA stocks the install tool. I went through their online shop, loaded up the cart, and….requires a courier account number. I called them and asked if it is a manufacturer requirement and they said, “It isn’t. We took a US card once for an order of $40,000 of stuff that went to Africa and it got charged back, so it’s company policy. “But its $150, it’s going to Switzerland, I am a US citizen, and I will send you a copy of my US driver’s license or anything else you want.” “Sorry, company policy.” Someone else called back and recommended three other distributors. I called them all and they stock the coil but not the tool. I mentioned to one about the African fraud story and she eloquently replied, “Everyone knows not to trust when the Ethiopian prince writes you online.”

I started digging through Google searches and found that I could get an equivalent tap from a distributor in the UK. They had no tool nor coil, but I thought I could divvy this up and attack that way. The tap, by the way, is on page 562 of their massive catalog, but alas, they did not have the install tool. Eventually I found another distributor, in Switzerland, and navigated their web shop. The part numbers were not equivalent, so after digging through a mass of them, I found all three parts, although I would have to order 200 heli-coils in a bag instead of two. So be it. At 1-3 working days, I’ll take it. When I went to check out, they will only ship to Germany. I then called the Swiss office, and they said “We don’t ship from Switzerland. You must do it from France.” On to the web shop in French, load up the cart…will only ship to France.

Somehow, in my despair, I found through Google that an industrial supply company in the US had one of the parts…the elusive tool! Maybe I can get the coils from Texas, the tap from the UK, and the tool from the USA! To my surprise, they had all of them! I checked out, adding the Swiss address and my credit card and….it worked. Suspicious, I called the company, told them I placed the order, and confirmed that they would ship. “It is ‘in review,’ but if we need anything, we’ll email you.” Six hours later, just before bed, I got an email, “Thanks for your order. Due to the cost of complying with export regulations, we are cancelling your order.” At this point, I located a parcel forwarder in New Jersey, called the supplier, switched to the NJ address, and will have to swallow probably $100 to $150 in costs to forward via an intermediary, for which the parts should arrive in 10-12 days, for which hopefully this vandwelling Swiss mechanic will be willing to show up before August.

The candidate Swiss A&P did explain that European procedure is to CNC machine the case if a stud pulls. “That’s why you aren’t able to find a European mechanic to do it. It is not standard procedure here. What they do not understand is that it is a November registered airplane and we can do things the November way. It does not have to be precise, as it is an American product.” What they also fail to understand is, based on my research, how probable it is in the life of an O-200 engine that a stud will eventually pull.

So, there you have it…the dark side of exotic international flying. I will either ditch aviation and become a monk or buy a second plane as insurance against mechanical woes. Stay in America…or buy a new plane with a warranty and global service network.

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

Escaping from Spain in a GA aircraft during a pandemic: Pulling off the impossible

As pilots, we know that at some point our skills diminish and it becomes very dangerous not to fly. In the past, I would fly every week to keep my skill set as sharp as possible. This was a promise I made to myself when I first started flying; my intention was to keep myself alive. If I waited any longer than a week, I would start to feel nervous. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s now been almost eight weeks since I have even started the engines on the Citizen of the World, much less lifted off. Honestly, I’m scared.

After being quarantined in Spain for almost two months, getting out with my general aviation airplane would prove to be a very complicated endeavor, because the country was locked down so tightly and immersed in fear. With their older population, Spain had been the hardest-hit nation in Europe. My general sense was that people were terrified that COVID-19 was going to get every last one of them. I was getting word that the Spanish government was not going to open the country to tourism until September  at the absolute earliest. Considering that Spain normally collected $200 billion in tourist revenue every year, you could see how scared the govenment/people really were. If I waited until September, it would be too late for me to cross over the North Pole safely; temps would be too low for the Citizen of the World and fuel gelling could take both engines offline.

My travel plans to Switzerland were no longer realistic; it is also a very conservative country and would require a special visa which would take months to get approved, even if I could somehow collect all the required documents in the middle of a pandemic. This was a bummer because we had planned a photo assignment  over the Matterhorn in the Alps with my Swiss friend Andre Mueller. Switzerland also had some great mechanics that I had trusted twice before to work on my last airplane during an equatorial circumnavigation and a European summer trip.

The next departure possibility was via a route to England, but there was no ground transportation and nowhere to stay once I arrived. Plus, I would definitely need some help on the ground so this plan could be potentially trading good for bad. At the last minute the British government enacted a mandatory two-week self-quarantine for everyone entering the country, scrapping the idea anyway.

The final option was repositioning to Malmo, Sweden. The country had been practicing herd immunity and the numbers were closely in line with neighboring countries that had been using strict quarantines to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The death curve had flattened, and I calculated a .000095% risk of death given the population size. Compared to the 50% risk I experienced over the South Pole, that seemed like odds I would take all day long. In Sweden I would be able to fly my plane around the country as much as I wanted, get some maintenance for Citizen, and wait out the pandemic. Word was that Sweden would be open to the outside world (and my camera crew) on the June 15.

To make this seemingly impossible task happen required a number of steps and several very generous, persistent, and inspired people helping me in both Sweden and Spain.

Step 1: Get to the airport in Spain

First, I needed to get to the aircraft in Barcelona, Spain, which was 372 miles away from my “Zen Villa” in Sitges. A few emails to the U.S. Embassy showed me I could travel as long as I was leaving the country.

The exception that most often applies to the U.S. citizens that we are assisting is: “to return to once’s place of residence.” The Ministry of Interior has specified that third-country citizens returning to their country of habitual residence are exempted from the movement restrictions.

Determining which activities fall under the above exceptions or any subsequent expanded exceptions is entirely up to the Spanish authorities. We do not have the authority to grant permission to travel within Spain or grant waivers of Spanish laws.

As a backup, I found out Spanish citizens could travel with written permission from their employers, so I had the DeLaurentis Foundation issue a letter showing I was a pilot and an employee supporting the expedition.

The U.S. embassy also directed me to the front cover of my passport, which I thought sounded rather official and would help me justify my movements.

As luck would have it, there were no checkpoints along the way and I drove to the airport without issue as my Spanish police officer friend Meritxell followed in another car.

Step 2: Get to the airplane

With the help of a Spanish friend and fellowpolar circumnavigator Michel Gordillo, I was able to email the Assistant Airport Manager at Cuatro Vientos. I sent him an email pleading my case and asking for access. He said it was possible as long as I was escorted on the field by someone with access. When I was unable to find anyone willing to escort me to my plane after days of trying, I decided to show up and see if I could do it on my own. I talked to a helpful man in the flight plan office and he spoke to police security. I mentioned I had an email from the airport manager, and, to my delight, security just waved me through.

Step 3: Get permission to fly out of Spain

To encourage the Spanish to let me go on my way, I found out that Dr. Dimitri Deheyn, our lead scientist for the atmospheric plastics pollution experiment, was trying to determine if COVID-19 could be transferred on the plastic particles that we were already testing for in the atmosphere. He provided a letter that showed my departure flight was a critical opportunity to test the air over Madrid and all the way out of the country for the virus.

With the help of Michel Gordillo, who called the Spanish Police, the Flight Plan Office, Customs and Immigration, I was told that I would be allowed to leave the country and that if I submitted a proper flight plan it would be accepted by Eurocontrol. From their perspective, it was one less American to worry about and less possible coronavirus risk. (Not to mention Michel would stop calling them every 30 minutes with more questions until they let me out of the country).

Step 4: Get permission to fly into Sweden

Johan Wiklund, an Airbus A320 Flight Commander at SAS Scandinavian Airlines who flew an antique British Gypsy Moth biplane from Sweden to South Africa, was also instrumental. He helped put Eddie Gold and Ahmed Hassan Mohamed — my flight handlers from General Aviation Support Egypt (G.A.S.E.)— in touch with an FBO in Sweden called Aviator Airport Services, which then got me permission to fly into Sweden. Johan also connected me with a mechanic who could repair the Gulfstream Turbo Commander 900’s ferry tanks for my leg over the North Pole.

Step 5:  Come up with a flight plan Eurocontrol will accept

This is where the genius of Ahmed Hassan Mohamed from G.A.S.E. helped save the day. Normally, I would use the autoroute function on Rocket Route to find my way through the complicated airspaces of Europe. On this 4-hour, 1,200-nm flight I needed to go through Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany on my path into Sweden. After a couple of hours, he came back with the route you see above. It had over 40 waypoints and airways, but it worked, and he filed it for me.

Step 6: Don’t get quarantined on arrival in Sweden

With the rules changing daily, preventing Sweden from putting me into a two-week quarantine once I arrived was a concern. Michel had suggested a plan, and with the help of my friend MeritxelI I was able to get two tests for the COVID-19 virus before I departed Barcelona. Both tests involved a drive to Barcelona, 36 kilometers to the north. The first test involved taking swabs of my mouth and sinuses that would tell if I currently had the coronavirus. The second test required a sample of my blood and would indicate if I had already had the virus. A positive result here would greatly improve my chances of moving around Sweden and other countries uninterrupted. In three days I got the results, which were both negative. Having some documentation that that I didn’t have the virus as of a certain date would be helpful in making my case that quarantine was not required.

Step 7: Last-minute servicing

The Citizen of the World is indeed a high-performance, high-maintenance aircraft, and upon examination I determined that she needed the emergency oxygen for breathing and the nitrogen for the landing gear charged. The mechanics from Aircraft Total Service were able to help with this, and I was ready to go.

We all know that no great plan ever goes off without a hitch — so as luck would have it, the police came rolling up to do a ramp check on my aircraft as I was getting readying for engine startup. They asked where I was intending to go. Michel Gordillo, the former Spanish airline pilot, was again working behind the scenes, talking with them and letting the officers know whom he had spoken with, the fact that nothing had changed since I had been granted permission to leave a week earlier, and the reasons why they should let me go. After they asked some questions and checked my registration number on the aircraft, they left, wishing me luck on my trip.

The actual flight had my knees knocking on departure, as I would be going from 0 to 308 knots during the flight. Life was about to accelerate to the speed of life once again.

With no other planes in the sky, I was granted permission to depart without delay. The actual flight was busy — as I got reacquainted with the many complex systems on the Citizen, I was uploading databases and relaxing into what I have always believed aviation to be…one of the deepest meditations available to a soul.

Landing in Sweden, I expected to be met by security, a handler, and medical personnel that would take my temperature and assess my condition. However, there was only a security officer who gave me a ride to the terminal, where I walked directly through to the taxi stand and was headed to my hotel in minutes.

I felt a great sense of relief as I arrived at my hotel in Malmo. It felt like I had just been sprung from prison using a well-executed plan and a team of professionals. The following day I met Johan, his wife, his kids, and his tower operator friend Axel. We were eating carrot cake Johan’s daughter made in their kitchen later that day, talking about our aviation adventures past, present, and future — and I couldn’t help but think about how aviation brought us together on my mission of One Planet, One People, One Plane.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Don’t judge a book by its cover; promote aviation to adults and kids

On Cinco de Mayo I had the pleasure of sharing the “screen” with Julie Clark, Martha King and Pia Bergqvist on Social Flight Live as we each talked about our aviation careers. As we were preparing for the show I found it interesting that we all had very different entrées into aviation. Three of us were children of pilots and one sort of stumbled into aviation by happy coincidence. After the show, [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MWq3crzMMs&t=11s ] I thought about the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover, you might miss out on an amazing story.” I wonder if we should re-think our approach to inspiring the love of flight, promoting aviation, and protecting airports.

We always love showing off our airplanes to wide-eyed tots, but perhaps it is the adults we should be pursuing.

So pull up a chair and listen to the stories of four women with wildly different backgrounds who became pilots from their teens to their forties.

Teenager

Julie Clark 18 years

It is hard to think about the small family of female airshow performers without thinking of Julie Clark who has been gracing the skies for decades. What is lesser known is that she had to tell a few white lies to find her way to the blue skies.

Julie started flying lessons while attending University of California Santa Barbara at age 18. Julie was taking lessons on the sly, not telling her Aunt and Uncle who were her guardians, after her parents passed away. The only ones that knew about her clandestine flight lessons were a few of her Alpha Pi sorority sisters. Julie says that she spent her book money on flight lessons in a Cessna 150. I think we can all agree that we are glad she did.

20-Somethings

Martha King, 24 years

Martha learned to fly when she was 24 years old. She recalls she was generally not aware of private aviation. Martha’s father was a pilot in the military, but she did not have a passion for it from early on. But her boyfriend John was in love with flying—he used to fly with his father, and with some family friends. After they got married and finally had both some time and some money, John said he wanted to finish getting his pilot’s certificate. Although Martha knew nothing about the process, she said, “I was not going to stay at home while he was out at the airport having fun!” So the couple bought a Cherokee 140 [pictured] and got their certificates together—2 days apart. They did their flight training at Speedway Airport (now gone) and Eagle Creek Airpark in Indianapolis.

It would be hard to imagine aviation education without Martha and John King. So hats off to John for pursuing his pilot’s certificate and to Martha for seizing the opportunity for a lifetime of fun flying.

 

Pia Bergqvist, 29 years

An 8-year-old Pia Bergqvist was smitten with aviation after a visit to Kallinge AFB in Ronneby, Sweden with her friend whose father was based there. That is when she first laid eyes on the Saab JA-37 Viggen Jet.

Pia’s Uncle was a charter pilot in Sweden, and she flew with him once. She remembered that her Uncle went to the US to get his license. She had never heard of little private planes until moved to Switzerland at 19 yrs. old.  The idea of going to the US seemed too difficult. Further complicating matters she had never even seen a woman pilot. Her desire was there but there was no clear path to get to her goal.

Pia came to the US in August of 1997 [Brentwood, CA]. Pia worked on the USC campus. It was there she befriended a female student who was a flight attendant for Delta, who was working her way through dental school. Pia told her she wanted to be a pilot but that it wasn’t possible, as there weren’t any female pilots. Her new friend told her “yes, there are female pilots and it is possible!” At age 29 Pia went to Santa Monica’s Justice Aviation for her PPL.

Fabulous 40s

 Jolie Lucas, 40 years

I was raised in a General Aviation-savvy family. We drove a modest car, but always had a small plane in the hangar. My Dad was a primary trainer in the Army Air Corps [WWII] at Rankin Field in the Boeing Stearman. We flew, as a family in our Bellanca, then a Mooney to Seattle, WA or Indiana annually.

In 2002 airport day at Jackson/Westover, CA coincided with our Lucas family reunion. While up at the airport my Dad landed in his Mooney, my brother in his Bonanza, and I thought, “What the heck am I waiting for?” I was married, worked full-time as a psychotherapist and had three children, but I decided it was my turn to learn and grow. When I returned home to Hood River, Oregon I called the airport and started lessons. Within three months I was the proud owner of a PPL.

I love seeing the fly-over events happening across our country to honor those first responders, medical workers, and essential workers who are serving us during the pandemic. Over the past weeks many of us made our way to get a glimpse of those magnificent jets. I do think that seeing some GA airplanes buzzing around might give folks joy right now too, assuming you are safe to do so. If you are able to fly, do so. It will be good for you and who knows, you might inspire someone on the ground to look up how to become a pilot.

When aviation events resume, and they will someday, please consider talking to ADULTS about becoming pilots. Don’t get me wrong; I will always talk to kids about becoming pilots and mechanics. But think about it for a moment, the seven year old you are talking to will have a ten year lag before they can become licensed. However that child’s mother, father, or even grandparent could start flight lessons right away given some motivation. Imagine if Pia never ran into the flight attendant who told her she could become a pilot.

 

I got my license when I was 40 years old, and in 2020 I will complete my commercial and commercial multi-engine add on. The first 40 years of my life were awesome. I earned my degrees, had my children, and bought my first home. I believe the second half of life can be more exciting than the first.

 

 

Pilots make up 2/10 of 1% of the population.

Let’s work together to increase that number and land our dreams.

 

 

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot working on her multi-engine. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter. Jolie is a nationally published aviation writer. Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me
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