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HARRY ANDERSON INFORMATION
June 25 - December 4, 2011
I want to use this last entry to present a lot of miscellaneous information I gathered while completing this RTW flight which I think will be useful to pilots contemplating similar RTW flights or long-distance international flights in general. Let me also preface this by saying this information was current and useful for my flight but over time it will become obsolete. In gathering information from other pilots about flights in years past, some of it had become obsolete or wrong so it is important to double check any information (including mine) before relying on it.
Of course, weather is a critical element in completing long distances flights in light aircraft. In the U.S., I was accustomed to having excellent weather information in my cockpit including METARS, TAF's, radar images, etc. via XM Weather so if a weather issue developed after takeoff it was easy to recognize it and adjust a flight plan accordingly. These in-cockpit weather resources are not available outside the U.S, at least not to my avionics setup, so more thorough pre-flight weather considerations are called for. I used a variety of weather websites during my flight. The first stop was always the AWC website run by NOAA at:http://www.aviationweather.gov/
You can enter the ICAO airport code for any airport in the world (not just the U.S.) and get current METAR’s and TAF’s if available. In addition to the wide variety of weather information, wind aloft forecasts, satellite images, etc. available via the front page menu, there are "hidden" files of weather forecast maps that you can’t get at directly from the menu (at least I didn't find a way). These maps are found at:http://www.aviationweather.gov/data/products/swh/
The files have odd coded names indicating the region of the world and time for which they are valid. By clicking on a few of the file names and displaying the associated map it’s possible to figure out which codes correspond to which regions of the world.
A very useful site I came across after starting my flight is the AC Weather Network blog at:
This site doesn’t present any new weather information but instead pulls together in a convenient form a lot of weather maps from a variety of sources including the NOAA maps in the hidden files, Jeppesen current surface and forecast maps, lightning strikes in the last hour, etc. The information is divided by regions of the world which can be selected on the top line of the opening page. After the AWC site, this was usually my next stop.
For Europe and the North Atlantic I found a few region-specific websites that provide additional information about temperatures and winds aloft and the potential for icing. These sites are:
Finally, for a general “consumer-type” presentation of a long range (several day) weather forecast I used the Weather Underground site at:
By entering any ICAO airport code, Weather Underground will provide a multi-day weather forecast for that location along with an interesting satellite-derived map depiction of cloud heights which can be zoomed out to cover large regions and assess current chances for thunderstorms. Since most aviation weather forecasts don’t go much beyond 24 to 36 hours into the future, the Weather Underground site can be useful to see if a better weather day will be coming any time soon.
I had two VHF radios in the panel – the one in the Garmin GNS530W and the SL-30 NAV/COM. The SL-30 proved to be a much better radio than the one in the Garmin so I often used it when I knew I would be at the ragged edge of VHF radio coverage. In the U.S. VHF radio contact is available everywhere while on an IFR flight plan. On international flights you can forget about having this at the lower flight levels like FL110 where I typically was. You will occasionally fly out of VHF radio contact before you can be handed off to the next controller. For that reason, while still in contact I made a habit of asking the controller for the next frequency I would be handed to. That way, if I lost contact - which often happened - at least I could switch to the new frequency and start calling them. Eventually I’d be in range and make contact. Occasionally I would find a commercial aircraft that would relay for me. If that failed, then I knew I'd eventually fly near an airport for which there are published approach or tower frequencies. I could call one of them and find out who I should be talking to. I only had to resort to this once - in India. Overall, it was not a big concern to lose radio contact – I just kept flying my clearance and eventually I'd be able to contact somebody.
The HF radio I had on board was a ham radio rig modified to transmit on aviation frequencies – an ICOM 760MKII with the AH-4 automatic antenna tuner. The ICOM has a maximum transmit power of about 100 watts. After ramp checking OK, on my first experience using it in flight I could hear ATC but they couldn’t hear me. As a wireless engineer by profession and ham radio operator since the age of 9, this was a little frustrating (embarrassing?) but I didn’t expect much from this ad hoc HF radio installation done by others so generally I relied on my satphone for oceanic communications. In retrospect, I wish I'd put more effort into making the HF more useful, including wiring the HF’s audio into the plane’s audio panel instead of using the hand mike and speaker, mounting the removable HF control head on the plane’s instrument panel so it would be easier to tune (it was over my shoulder on this trip), and experimenting with different antenna wire configurations to achieve best results. The HF box (not control head) and antenna tuner could also be mounted in an isolated, shielded box to minimize the potential for interference to the plane’s avionics, something that occurred on one occasion on this trip.
The satellite phone is essential, not only for oceanic communications but also for getting weather and other information at remote locations. I had a couple of important conversations on the satphone from Christmas Island regarding weather in the ITCZ and issues related to my landing permit at Honolulu. The satphone coverage was generally good, though occasionally it would take a few minutes to lock on to a satellite.
Telephone NumbersThis is a list of telephone numbers I used for oceanic ATC communications on my satphone in the eastbound order I used them:
Gander radio: +1 709 651 5328
Iceland radio: +354 553 3022
Brisbane Center: +61 7 3866 3314
Melbourne Center: +61 3 9235 7492
Nadi (Fiji) Radio: +679 672 0664
Auckland Radio: +649 275 9817
Faleolo (Somoa) Center: +685 12530
Oakland Center (from PCHL to PHNL): +1 510 745 3403
Oakland Center: (Hawaii): +1 510 745 3415
San Francisco ARINC: +1 925 371 3920
For ramp access at Maui (PHOG) call +1 808 872 3875. In addition, I started putting my satphone number (the Iridium 8816 number) in the “Remarks” or “Other Information” section of the flight plan so ATC would have it on file if they needed to call me. ATC may also ask you for it.
Flight PlansFor flight plans in the U.S. I used DUATS which I’ve used for years and which can file domestic ICAO format flight plans. For flight plans in Europe I used EuroFPL which can provide a validation check for the flight plan with EuroControl. Rocketroute.com is an alternative to EuroFPL which includes its own route finding engine and also provides a EuroControl validation check. For flight plans beyond Europe as far as Honolulu, I devised my own routes and communicated those to Skyplan which was primarily involved in obtaining my landing and overflight permits. Skyplan would then validate the route and altitude I selected and file the flight plans with the appropriate agencies. This was a relatively inexpensive process and worth it to get the flight plans sent to the right people along this part of my route.
HandlersI didn't use any handlers in the USA or Canada, just parked and bought fuel at FBO's. The only place I used handlers in Europe was in Greece where GoldAir would do handling for 30 Euros (which is a 50% AOPA discount from the normal rate). Airports in Greece ofter require prior permission (PPR) so the handler is a convenient way to notify and obtain such permission, as well as pay airport fees. Otherwise I was just using local FBO's in Europe where I bought fuel and paid airport fees. Starting with Egypt I used handlers selected by Skyplan, the Canadian company arranging my landing and overflight permits. A “handler” in the context of a light aircraft really doesn’t handle the plane as they might with a private jet, but rather facilitates processing through the airport (Immigrations, Customs, paying airport fees, scheduling fuel service, etc.) Some airports require you use them, others don’t. For their services alone, excluding fees they may pay on your behalf, handlers can cost from as little as US$50 (like Greece) to US$500 depending on what they do for you and where they are. For me they were a convenience that minimize the bureaucratic time-wasting I would have endured without them. The handlers Skyplan normally uses were not necessarily the least expensive so if you are trying to save money, shop around for handlers and get written quotes via email for their services. You can also figure out airports where handlers are not required at all and try to manage yourself. Some ferry pilots I talked to were experienced enough at particular airports to navigate their own way through without a handler and save some money. Because I was confident I could manage on my own, like in Europe I didn't use a handler at Singapore(WSSL), at the Australian airports, or after arriving in Honolulu.
Spares and ToolsI'm capable with hand tools but I'm not a mechanic, especially an aircraft mechanic, so I had no illusions about being able fix my plane myself if something serious were to go wrong like losing a cylinder. Fortunately nothing serious did go wrong - the plane ran perfectly, owing in part to the low time engine and airframe. When I bought N788W in June, 2010, it had only 288 hours total time on the engine and airframe - enough to get past the break-in period but still a very low-time plane. It had just 350 hours when I started this RTW trip. I planned on changing the oil twice so I took 2 oil filters and 16 quarts of 20W-50. I bought more oil along the way when I could find 20W-50 so as to preserve the stock I had on board, but ultimately I used it all for oil changes and in the course of flying. I had a set of spare spark plugs already gapped for my plane and the odd length spark plug socket and ratchet to change them, though I never inspected the spark plugs nor did I have a fouled plug. I'll note here that the cowling on the Columbia's is a pain to remove with 25 screws and two piano hinges along the sides. You really need an electric drill to extract and re-insert the wires that hold these piano hinges together. I didn't bring a drill. The tools I had were just basic hand tools - wrenches, screwdrivers, duct tape, VOM meter, etc. for simple repairs. The weight of tools also impacted my thinking about what to take.
I'll point out that FAA N-registered planes like mine (not used in commercial service or instruction) are only required to have annual inspections, not 50 or 100 hour inspections, so I wasn't violating inspection requirements on this trip. This RTW flight took 162.2 hours to complete - not excessive hours considering what might be expected in a year of normal flying between annual inspections.
I brought along an AV8OR ACE as a backup GPS and moving map which I'd used before getting the iPAD with FlightDeck. The ACE doesn't have international charts and approach plates but it does have an international airport/waypoint database (with swappable SD cards) so I could use it to find someplace to land if the iPAD (and GNS530W) failed. For awhile I would print backup copies of the approach plates the night before a flight on my Canon ip100 portable printer, but eventually I had enough confidence in the iPAD to stop doing that. I also had two ICOM handheld VHF radios, both accessible in the cockpit, for backup in case of a comms (or electrical) failure.
FuelJet fuel is widely availabe because commercial aircraft use it. Avgas (100LL/100/130) is a different story. As it did with me, the availability of avgas will affect routing. Availability also changes with time. For example, I had planned to stop in Ahmadabad, India, but they ran out of avgas 10 days before my arrival so I had to change to Nagpur, India. At Christmas Island they had been out of avgas for several weeks, but got a new shipment in a few weeks before I arrived. It's important to stay informed of avgas availability at any airport along your route where it may be in doubt.
AcknowledgementsAnybody who does a trip like this is going to make use of information from pilots who have made similar trips before. The www.earthrounders.com website is one place to find pilots who have made RTW flights as well as find general international flight planning information for several countries. Ferry pilots who make a living flying planes overseas is another great source of international flying information. Local flying clubs and pilots who live in places along your route is also a good source of information. A starting point to find these is the AOPA chapter that many countries have. The AOPA in Greece has particularly detailed information for foreign pilots on their web site.
I’d like to thank the following people who provided me with information that was helpful in organizing and completing my flight:
Alex Tschakahoff whom I located via the Earthrounders website and who had most recently completed a westbound solo RTW in December, 2010. I avoided landing at Fiji as a result of Alex’s recent experience there.
Luke Lysen and his staff at the Flight Academy at Boeing Field in Seattle. They had recently ferried two Cirrus aircraft from the U.S. to Australia so had helpful information on crossing the Pacific and where avgas was available.
Travis Holland, founder of EuroFPL, who generally flies Malibu’s and Meridians on long international flights and provides instruction on these planes to clients located around the world. Travis gave me great routing tips for crossing India and other places, as well as putting me in touch with Steve Williams in Gloucester who had hangar space for my plane, and Eduardo Loigorri (Ed) who lives in Phuket, Thailand. I had dinner with Ed and some of friends in Chiang Mai while they were up north doing flood relief flights.
Ed put me in touch with Yeow Meng at the Wings over Asia, a flying club based in Singapore, who provided timely information about military exercises in Singapore and Malaysia that motivated me to re-schedule my flight into Singapore. Meng welcomed me at the new Wings Over Asia pilot lounge overlooking Selatar (WSSL) airport – definitely worth a visit if you’re in Singapore.
I’d especially like to thank Patrick Elliot and Linda Walker who live in the UK and spent a year (2010-2011) on an RTW flight in a Rutan Long EZ, all the more remarkable an accomplishment because they were limited to daytime VFR flight due to the “homebuilt” classification of their aircraft. I had inadvertently come across their blog at:
while on my hiatus back in the U.S. in August. Their blog is very interesting reading, providing a lot of detail about the places they visited and their experiences at airports. Much of their route paralleled mine from Europe to Australia so they had very recent information that was helpful to me. They also came to Gloucester to see me off when I departed in early October to continue my flight.
Finally, thanks also to the commercial airline and private jet pilots flying overhead who provided me with ATC communications relays at various points on my flight, and especially to those I talked to on my crossing from Maui to Monterey providing me with forward weather information and entertaining conversation during this 15 hour flight.
Reprinted from Harry's Blog with his kind permission.
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