The following article was published in two parts in January and February 1998 in the EAA's magazine Sport Aviation, and is reproduced here with their permission.
Mike and Dick's round the world EAA friendship tour
By Mike Melvill, Tehachapi, California
I began planning this trip almost two years ago. My goal was to fly my Long-EZ, N26MS, from Mojave, CA to the land where my wife Sally and I were both born, South Africa. I thought it would be really neat to be able to visit with family and friends, and be able to show them the plane that we had built from scratch, with our own hands. Sally and I began checking on best routes to fly, best time of the year to visit the Southern Hemisphere, with regard to weather, winds etc. I designed and fabricated two external under wing mounted fuel tanks, necessary to allow us to cross the Atlantic Ocean. I designed and fabricated a new carbon fiber cowling, with "armpit" air intakes, which worked really well. I also removed my old existing instrument panel, and designed and fabricated one, which incorporated all of the equipment I felt, would be necessary to accomplish such a flight. About two months before our planned departure date, Sally decided she would not make the trip, it was not really her thing, and she was unhappy with the idea of crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I almost gave up at that point, because I did not think it would be any fun alone. Then I got the bright idea to ask Dick Rutan if he would go with me. He thought about it for a day or two, then he came over to my hangar, and we discussed what my plans were, that is to say, just to fly to South Africa and back. He said he would go, but since he was an around the world sort of a guy, he thought we should go to South Africa, then press on around the world. I readily agreed, and plotted a new course. The last time Dick and I took a flying trip together, there was about a 12-knot difference in the cruise speed of our two Long-EZ's. We decided that this would be a problem, and that the way to remedy it was for Dick to install a cowling like my new one, and to install a pair of Klaus Savier's excellent wheel pants. Dick had recently installed the same electronic ignition, and we now found that the two planes were very close performance wise. Since time was now of the essence, Dick built his external fuel tanks as slipper tanks, rather than the way I had done mine, and they worked great. We each built a large back seat fuel tank, using 1/4" foam and fiberglass panels. These tanks, plus what we already had, gave each of us approximately 150 US gallons total fuel capacity. This meant that if we wanted to, we could slow down, and fly for 25 hours, or 4000 statute miles! This was good news, because, we would not have any fuel problems, crossing even the largest ocean. This eliminated one of the two biggest concerns of the over ocean flyer, and we fixed the other, navigation, with three GPS units in each plane. We each worked hard on our planes, right up until we departed from Mojave, with little or no time to really test many of the modifications we had done.
We said goodbye to friends and loved ones and departed from Mojave on April 4th, 1997. We flew in good conditions to Midland Texas, where we spent the night. The next morning we headed for Indianola, Mississippi, where we stayed with Long-EZ builder Jim Hightower, and his wife Margaret. We ate great food at the Eat Place in Greenville, and enjoyed the super hospitality of Jim and Margaret. Bright and early, we set out for Sun 'N Fun, in Lakeland Florida, and we had to work hard to get there due to a strong squall line across the top of Florida. We had a few hairy moments before breaking out north of Lakeland, and being cleared to land as a flight of two in the middle of the airshow! Thank you John Burton! Tom Poberezny hosted us and we spent a most enjoyable two days answering questions and looking at beautiful airplanes. Our friends at Mattituck, who had rebuilt both of our engines, suggested borescoping the cylinders before we left the USA, and we were very happy to hear Phillip Haponic, pronounce both engines ready for the trip. We left Sun 'N Fun, just in front of a nasty looking storm, and flew to Boca Raton, where we were hosted by long-EZ flyer, Dr. Tom Fields and Weldon Case. We changed oil and filters here before jumping over to Fort Lauderdale, with it's much longer runways, for our departure from the USA. Although not all the way full of fuel, we were heavier than we had ever flown for our takeoff. We were nervous, but the EZ's handled it well, and soon we were flying over the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and many other Caribbean Islands, including the British Island of Monserrat, where we saw an active volcano, beginning to do it's thing. In fact it erupted just a few weeks later, wreaking havoc. This was an exceptionally beautiful leg, with enough Islands, that we were never very far from a safe landing sight, a good introduction to over water flying for me. We landed on Grenada at the St George airport. The people were friendly, and all of them spoke good English. Customs and immigration were a snap, thanks to our Jeppesen agent. In the morning, we took-off and flew around the Island, taking photo's and video. We crossed Trinidad on our way to the coast of South America, where we descended to 200 feet to get a good look at the expected jungle. We flew for hundreds of miles like this, enjoying the view of a completely uninhabited coastline from a few yards off shore. We flew past the French spaceport, at Cayenne, in French Guyana, equivalent to our Cape Canaveral. Soon we could see the mouth of the Amazon River, and we crossed at the widest point of the mouth, where it was 184nm wide! In the middle of the river we watched our GPS latitude readout count down to zero latitude as we crossed the equator. I couldn't cross the equator for the first time in my own plane upright, could I? Rolling inverted as we crossed the equator was irresistible. The river is full of floating debris, very muddy, and reportedly you can get fresh water out of the ocean for more than 100 miles off shore. Soon we were talking to Belem approach, and they informed us that the Belem airport was closed due to a thunderstorm over the field. We held north of town for nearly 30 minutes, before approach cleared us into the class B and we ran through some serious rain flying to the airport. They would not allow a formation landing, so we landed separately. Clearing customs and immigration here was the most time consuming of anywhere around the world, and we figured it took just over 3 hours from cockpit to taxi cab. We spent two days in Belem, visiting all points of interest, the first morning we were awakened to the sound of gunfire and my main memory of this area is that it is hot and humid!
From Belem, we flew south across Brazil, via Brasilia to San Jose dos Campos, which is just east of Sao Paulo, a huge city of more than 16 million souls! Here we met Luiz Miguez and his wife, Sibella. They had been in touch with us before we left Mojave, via the Internet. Their son Fabio picked us up and drove us to their beautiful home. Fabio was a great asset, and spoke perfect English, having been partially educated in the USA. Luiz had built a Long-EZ some years before, and had flown it across the Atlantic, from Recife to Dakar, Senegal. As a result, he was an extremely useful source of information, and because he is a corporate pilot, who flies a Hawker business jet, he had an enormous amount of weather, routing and flight information at his fingertips, which we were very lucky to have access to. He was the one who discouraged us from flying from Rio to Cape Town, direct. We certainly had the range, but we were unable to get any reliable weather or winds aloft information at the flight levels we would have to fly. Luiz tried every contact he had to find this information at 10,000 to 12000 feet, but could find nothing. This worried him (and us!) greatly, and he spent the next several days persuading us to change our flight plan to depart from Recife and fly directly to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He flew regularly to Abidjan, and could get us very accurate weather and wind information, so it was an easy decision to make. We sent three days with the Miguez family, and they were marvelous. Sibella cooked us wonderful meals, Fabio drove us anywhere we needed to go, and Luiz was a constant source of critical flight info. Luiz also was responsible for the airforce allowing us to hangar our planes, and for getting us a tour of the Embraer Factory, where we saw the new dash 145 jet, and the rest of the Embraer Aircraft line being built. Luiz had worked there for 25 years as a production Test pilot, and was very well known there. I was in dire need of a haircut, and was able to get it done by the airforce barber, right there in the hangar where our planes were housed! We changed our engine oil, and replaced the spin on filters, which were mounted directly on the engines using Bill Bainbridge's new oil 90-degree oil filter adapters, which, incidentally, performed flawlessly. We fueled up, not needing to fill all the way up, due to the relatively short flight to Recife, and early the next morning, departed. The weather was IMC, so we had to file IFR, but this turned out to be easier than trying to fly VFR! We overflew Rio de Janeiro, on our way up the coast, and were amazed at the size of the cities all the way up the coast. Recife is an enormous city, with high rise hotels, all along the coast for many miles. We stayed in a beautiful hotel here, and spent two days working with the Brazilian ATC, Trying to get them to understand that our Satcom transceivers, were as good, or better than the HF radio they wanted us to have. We could not have got around this problem, without the help of a local pilot, Captain Almeida, who really went to bat for us and persuaded the authorities that the Satcom was indeed an excellent way for us to do our routine position reports, as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean. After many frustrating hours of delay, we were finally cleared for take off. We had hoped to depart before dark, negotiate the known bad weather off the coast, while it was still daylight, then fly through the night to Abidjan, planning to land there in daylight the next morning. This was not to be, and we took off at the heaviest weight we had ever flown, into a very dark night, and were almost immediately in the weather, in heavy rain, and moderate turbulence. With our wood fixed pitch props, it is essential to reduce prop RRM in rain; otherwise the rain will severely erode the prop leading edges. So, when we most needed the power to climb at our heavy weights, we found our selves climbing through the darkest cloud I have ever been in, at very low power, (2200 RPM) so it took what seemed like a lifetime before we broke out on top to a beautiful moonlit night. We joined up as soon as we could, and tried to settle down for the 15-hour flight. I put on a cheerful CD, and concentrated on the many small tasks I had to do to keep my mind off the fact that I was over the Atlantic, with 2000 nautical miles to fly before I would see land again. Our Satcoms were a wonderful help here. We found ourselves so busy with typing messages, to ATC and to friends and family, that we hardly had time to be scared! I can not tell you what an uplifting experience it is to see the flashing "Incoming Message" on the computer screen. You wait with great anticipation for the minute or two it takes to download from the satellite, and then there it is; "I am with you, and will stay up all night to be with you, fly safe, love Sally". I don't believe I could have completed the trip with out this incredible piece of equipment. To be able to let loved ones know where we were, and what we were doing any time we wanted to from anywhere on Earth, was an incredible thing, and I constantly marveled at my luck at being alive at such a time in history. Just 8 or 10 years earlier, we would have had no GPS for example! Our biggest problem would have been navigation. Now it was literally our smallest problem. Our primary navigation was the Mentor FliteMap software installed on Toshiba Portege laptop computers, driven by Trimble Flightmate Pro hand-held GPS units. Unless you have flown with this system, you can not appreciate how incredibly user friendly and simple it is to fly. We each had KLN-90 panel mounted GPS units, as well as the GPS built in to the Satcom unit. The Handheld was primarily in case of an electrical failure. The Flightmate Pro runs on AA batteries, and we each carried a bag of these! Thank heaven we never needed them! The Atlantic crossing was a learning experience, and was flown mostly on top of a broken to solid overcast, in bright moonlight for all but three hours of the night. The last three hours of the night were very nerve wracking, because we could not see the buildups in order to avoid them, as we had while the moon was up. I could not believe how dark it was. I literally could not see the canard only 24 inches from my eyes! With no radar, we could not tell where the buildups were, so we just cinched up our seat/ shoulder harnesses, and hung on! This was a long three hours, and Dick, who was flying off my left wing, had the experience several times, of seeing me disappear into a cloud, hearing my cry of warning/fear, but not being able to do a thing to avoid the same fate. We were very fortunate, because we never hit a really big one. Eventually, a glow appeared in the east, and slowly it got light enough to see and avoid, and not a moment too soon, right in front of us was the biggest thunderstorm either of us had ever seen! We passed south of it on our way in to Abidjan, where we landed safely after a 14.8-hour flight. We were met by a Jeppesen agent, who whisked us through customs and immigration, and dropped us of at an excellent hotel. We were tired and hungry, but our tiredness won and we lay down on our beds, and did not move again until 8:30 am the next morning! We had slept for more than 17 hours! We needed to do some maintenance on the planes, so we headed to the airport, and taxied over to the local Aeroclub, where Dick discovered that he had blown a main oil seal, and had lost 2/3 of his oil. Unbelievably, our host, Raphael, had the correct seal in stock, and he even installed it himself! We both changed our oil and filters, before taxiing back to our allocated parking places out on the huge concrete ramp, where there were no tiedown facilities, and we simply had to leave them sitting there. The next day it rained all day, at times you could not see more than a few feet due to the rain! The food at our hotel was among the best we ate anywhere, due of course, to The Ivory Coast, being a French colony, and, as everyone knows, French cooking is fantastic. We were fortunate to meet an airline pilot, at the Abidjan airport, who took us into their briefing room, where we were able to see satellite photo's of the surrounding area, as well as the upcoming route to Windhoek, Namibia. This was critical for our safety on the next over water leg because we were in the inter-tropical convergence zone with no weather radar, and therefore were blind as far as knowing where the thunderstorms were once we were in the clouds. We fueled up, filed our flight plans, and spent a lot of time studying the satellite weather, especially the IR (infrared) picture. There were two solid lines of storms, off the coast, right across our course line. We saw we would have to fly at least 100 miles east to try to get around these squall lines, and that we would be clear of the nasty weather by the time we were 400 miles south of Abidjan. We departed around 4:00 PM, and flew right up to the nastiest looking wall of weather I have seen, so we turned to the East, and flew parallel to this squall line for what seemed like an awful long time, before we were finally able to turn right to head south. We still had to get through the second line of storms, and we were running out of time; the sun was getting close to the western horizon, and we had to be through this weather before it got dark. The idea of trying to penetrate this type of weather in the dark was abhorrent to both of us, so we desperately searched for a hole. I found myself down on the deck less than 100 feet above the Atlantic, and for the first time I could see what we would be facing, if we had to land in the water, and I did not like what I saw! Just as it was getting fully dark, I saw an opening, a lighter area, so I turned and flew under the clouds through some heavy rain and to my delight, I could see that we were in the clear. I called Dick, and told him I was through, and climbed up into a clear night sky. The full moon was just rising, and the view was fantastic, with the moon reflected in the ocean, and showing of the scattered clouds far below. This was a long leg, it took over 14 hours to reach Windhoek, and when we did we were in for a shock, the airport was closed, and would not open for two more hours! It was still dark as the inside of a cow, and we really had no idea what the terrain looked like, so we stayed up at our cruise altitude of 11000 feet, as we circled around the sleeping city of Windhoek. Slowly, the glow in the East got brighter, and we were able to see more and more of the rugged terrain. We were talking to the controller all the while, and he assured us that we would each be fined $900 US dollars if we landed before the airport opened! We continued to circle, and then he told us there was a smaller airport much closer to the city, that would be open at 8:00AM local time! We headed over there and began our descent, timing our arrival for 8:00AM, and they did not allow us to land until it was eight 0'clock, more than 16 hours since our departure from Abidjan. We still had enough fuel on board to fly to Cape Town with adequate reserves. We were met in Windhoek by Len McKay a local pilot and good friend. He got us through customs and immigration in less than 15 minutes, then delivered us to a magnificent hotel. Another local pilot, Peter Hartman offered to hangar our planes, and was extremely helpful as far as local rules for flying etc. We loved Windhoek, and would definitely go back there. The skill of some of the local craftsmen, sheet metal workers, mechanics, etc. beat anything either of us had ever seen. The quality of the average planes parked out on the ramp, was amazing, all of them looked new! Airplanes are really important to the people of Namibia, and they certainly do take care of them. We stayed here for three days, then departed for Cape Town, South Africa. Enroute we saw some of the worlds most desolate countryside. We flew for more than two hours over unending 400-foot high red sand dunes, then flew down the Skeleton Coast across the border into South Africa. As we drew closer to Cape Town, almost at the southern tip of Africa, the terrain became more and more mountainous, and beautiful. Finally, there it was Table Mountain, the backdrop behind the city of Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. I called the Tower, and we were cleared to land in formation, behind a British Airways 747. This was my moment; this was my goal, to land my Long-EZ on the soil of the country of my birth. We taxied to a spot where my sister, Bunny, a bunch of friends and several TV, and newspaper reporters were waiting, and it was quite an emotional time. We cleared customs and immigration in a matter of a few minutes, thanks to a dear friend, Stiaan Viljoen, who also provided a hangar for the planes. It was wonderful to see my sister, and she was as excited as I was to see my plane and me on the ground in South Africa! The TV people were anxious to get some air to air video, so they climbed into a Navajo, and we all took off in formation, for the short flight to Stiaan's hangar on the beautiful Stellenbosch airport. We enjoyed an hour or two of meeting all the folk at Stellenbosch, and then we joined Bunny, who drove us in to the city of Cape Town, where we stayed at a friend's apartment for the next 4 days. We were treated to a wonderful sightseeing tour of the most beautiful city that we saw, anywhere around the world. We hiked to the very tip of the Cape of Good Hope, as well as to Cape point. We ate wonderful food at Boschendal, tasted great wines at Groot Schuur, visited the monument to Cecil Rhodes, (of Rhodes scholar fame), as well as his farm and home. There is a lot of history in the Cape, and I would dearly love to go back there for another visit some day. We gave a talk to a really fun EAA chapter on the Stellenbosch airport, and then we were ready for the flight to my hometown of Durban. Bunny flew up on an aluminum tube, while Dick and I flew the almost 1000nm trip in our trusty Long-EZ's. On the way up the coast, we flew over the southernmost point on the African continent, Cape Augullas, where the Atlantic Ocean becomes the Indian Ocean. The flight up this magnificent coastline, brought back a lot of memories of my childhood, and it was a really special moment to touch down on Durban's Virginia airport, where many of my friends from my schooldays were on hand to greet us. We stayed at my late mother's apartment, and visited friends, and Hilton College, where I was educated nearly a million years ago. It was fun showing Dick the place where I was raised, and we spent a great couple of days swimming in the very powerful surf on the beautiful Durban beaches. We gave a talk to a large group of student engineers at the University of Natal, before flying inland to Johannesburg, where I was born. We landed at the Springs airport, and stayed with David O'Neill and his lovely family, close to the Capitol City of Pretoria. We spoke to a great crowd of EAA'ers here, who then took up a collection to fill our fuel tanks for the next leg, what incredible generosity! We visited all the historic sites, including a goldmine, before heading back to Durban. On the way we overflew Hilton College, which truly is an incredibly beautiful school, seen from the air. We landed at Durban International airport, where all landing and parking fees were waived. We fueled up for the 10 hour flight to the French Reunion Island, East of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean. We spent our last evening in South Africa, with a great dinner with old school friends, and Bunny drove us to the Airport at 03:00 AM. She helped us load up and then we said an emotional goodbye, before taxiing out for take-off. We picked up our IFR flight plans, and departed into a very dark night. Several hours later after the sun came up, we ran into the first of two squall lines. We joined up in close formation, and descended to 300 feet over the ocean. We then penetrated the lightest looking area. We encountered heavy rain, but only light to moderate turbulence, before breaking out into the clear on the other side of the line of storms. An hour or so later we had to repeat this procedure, as we encountered the second squall line, a little heavier weather than the first, but not too bad. We thanked our lucky stars that we had not had to do this in the dark! Soon after reaching the southern tip of Madagascar, we ran into heavy clouds with rain, and we lost sight of each other. For the next four hours, we flew in moderate rain, with zero visibility, and we were both very concerned about the ability of our wood props to take this kind of abuse. I reduced my engine RPM to 2000 RPM, and tightened my seatbelt, and just ploughed on through the rain. Dick initially tried to get low enough to be able to see forward, but eventually gave up and climbed to within 1000 feet of where I was. Finally we broke out between layers, only 60 miles from Reunion Island. Soon we could see the nearly 10,000foot high volcano, on the south end of the Island, then we were descending toward the airport on the northern tip of the Island, near the town of St. Denis. We were met by members of the Roland Garros Aeroclub, who helped get us through the usual customs/immigration mess, and then led us via several narrow unlighted taxyways, to their hangars. We were amazed to find over 100 people waiting to welcome us, including TV and Newspaper reporters. We found ourselves drinking champagne and it was at least two hours before we were able to get the planes put away in one of the club hangars, and have one of the members drive us to a really fabulous hotel, Hotel Mercer, run by a very neat person, Daniel, who put us up free of charge! We spent 4 happy days here, renting a small car one-day, and driving it all the way around the island. It rained on and off the whole time we were on the Island, due to Cyclone Rhonda, which was located between us and Perth, Australia, our planned destination. We managed to get the planes refueled, in spite of the rain, by holding umbrellas over the fuel caps. This was to be our longest leg, and would be the first time we ever had all five fuel tanks full, our heaviest gross weight take-off. Just before dark, the rain let up enough for us to take-off. Just before dark, the rain let up enough for us to take-off, so we took advantage of the conditions, and I took off first. Initial acceleration was very sluggish, but this was a very long, smooth runway, only a few feet above sea level, and eventually I was able to lift off, having used almost 8000 feet of the available 11000 feet. I climbed to 11000, and ran into the same kind of rain we had flown in on the crossing from Durban to Reunion. Dick had remained low and was headed toward the Island of Mauritius. He said that there was less rain down there, so I headed down to join him. We flew up the west coast of Mauritius, in some of the nastiest weather we had seen so far, but it cleared up just as we turned east around the northern tip of the Island. By now it was almost completely dark, and as we climbed to our assigned altitude of 11000feet, a solid undercast began to build. It was a beautiful night, and the Southern Cross brilliant, was hanging overhead and looked incredible! We flew all through the night, with only one period of rough weather. The sun came up and soon we were approaching our destination, Cocos Island, a small horseshoe shaped Atoll. I was expecting to see a large island, but was astonished to find that I could not see the island until I was only 15 miles out based on the GPS flitemap. This was a 17-hour flight, the longest flight we made on the whole trip, and we were very tired when we got there. We were in no mood to deal with immigration bureaucrats, and we were lucky to meet with a very kind customs officer, who recognized just how exhausted we were, and he helped us get through this ordeal, by filling out forms for us, and keeping us from having to deal directly with an unreasonable immigration officer, who did not seem to care that we had been flying for 17 hours, and had had no sleep for 30 hours. It was hot and humid on Cocos Island, and it rained a lot! We were shown to our quarters, where there was no air-conditioning, but where we were able to get a few hours sleep. Then we went back to the planes and prepared to flight test the auto fuel, which was the only available fuel on the Island. We had arrived with plenty of Avgas from Reunion, so we planned to use this for the take-off and climb portion of our next leg, and to only use the Mogas in level cruise flight. We ran our test by putting 10 Gallons of Mogas in an empty fuel tank, and climbing to 5000 feet over the island, leveling off, and allowing the engine temperatures to settle down. Then we switched to the mogas, and carefully monitored the engine perameters. It was a no brainer, nothing seemed to change, so I did a little sight seeing, and then returned to land. We spent the rest of the day pumping more than 100 US gallons into each plane by hand, and it was hot work! We had a light dinner, and went to bed, planning to be off at 04:00 am. When we got up, it was raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock. We could not even make it to where the planes were parked. We sat around for more than 4 hours, waiting for the rain to let up. Finally there was a break in the rain, so we ran out, threw our stuff into the planes, and took off. We climbed to 13000 feet trying to get above the weather, and after leveling off, switched to the mogas. To our chagrin the engines did not like the fuel at this altitude, and we had cylinder head temperatures rising more than 20 degrees, and oil temperatures doing the same thing. On top of that, we found that we had to run our boost pumps virtually continuously, in order to keep the fuel pressure in the green. Later, after the fuel had had time to cool down to ambient, this problem virtually went away. We had been warned to run our engines 25 to 30 % richer on mogas, than what we had been running them on avgas, and we were very grateful for the warning. Once I had set the fuel flow from my normal 7.5 gph to 9.5 gph, the temperatures came back down to close to normal.
We had some heavy weather to contend with for the first couple of hours, so we spent a lot of time weaving in and out of the build ups, mainly to protect the props from rain erosion. We had had no significant tailwinds since we had departed the US, but now, for the first time, we were looking at 47 knots on the tail! This was great news, and we were hopeful that we might arrive in Perth in daylight, in spite of our late start. I knew Sally was anxiously awaiting our arrival, together with Sciona Brown, so I sent them faxes every hour letting them know our time to Perth, winds, and endurance remaining. It was great to receive email from them too. Soon we were out of the weather, and we could see a very rough ocean below. For me this was one of the most anxious legs of the whole trip, due to having to use auto fuel, which really was an unknown for us. Every 5 gallons or so, we would switch to the avgas, and run a gallon or two, which immediately lowered the cylinders and oil temperatures, so we elected to follow this routine for the rest of the trip. I had an overwhelming desire to turn left and head for the northwest tip of Australia, but the shortest route was to fly direct Perth, so that is what we did. We knew we were going to run into weather as we got closer to Perth, because what remained of Cyclone Rhonda, was moving east towards southeast Australia, and may even get there before we did. As we got closer, we started to see the west coast on our fliteMap programs, even though we could not see it with our eyes, and it was comforting to know we at least getting closer to land. Harry Maybeck was guiding us relative to the approaching, and we did do well avoiding a lot of it, but finally we ran into a solid wall of clouds, and we decided to try to climb over it. We climbed to over 16000 feet, and still were not high enough, but we were now talking with Perth approach, and a British Speedbird, heard us and told us he was climbing in our general vicinity, and was through 21000 feet and was still IMC, so we headed down to see if we could scud run under the weather. We were somewhat successful, bur eventually were in the clouds, in moderate rain, only 400 feet above the ocean. Dick had the lead, and I was flying right on his wing, having to stay within only a few feet so as to be sure not to lose him, and we flew the last half hour into the Perth area like this. Our destination airport was Jandicott, a satellite airport of Perth, and Sciona had talked the customs and immigration folk into driving over from Perth international just so we could arrive at Jandicott. It got dark on us about this time, so we were faced with a night landing, but we lucked out, in that the weather cleared just as the lights of Perth came into view, so we were able to make VFR approaches, and we both landed safely after nearly 14 hours of flight across the second half of the Indian Ocean. There was a large crowd to meet us, including Sally, who ran out to meet us. The customs and immigrations were really great here and we probably set a new record for clearing customs, it only took about six minutes, and we were done! Thanks so much Sciona and her friends from customs! It was just super to see Sally; I had not seen her since leaving Mojave on April 4 Th. Here we were, more than half way around the world, having crossed two of the world's oceans, in two homebuilt planes. It really amazed me to think about that; it just hardly seemed possible. Sciona, had arranged for our planes to be hangared for the time we were in Perth, so we unloaded the baggage, and drove to Sciona's home. We went out to dinner at an American type hamburger joint, that was very nice, and we both really gorged ourselves. We had eaten very little in the last several days, and were very hungry. The next morning Dick departed for the USA, he had committed to give a talk a year previously, and was unable to defer it. Sally and I spent a couple of days enjoying Perth, a very clean, neat little city.
Sally had been in Perth waiting on us for 5 days, by the time we finally got there, so we decided to head east to Alice Springs. She flew commercial, and I flew my Long-EZ, alone for the first time. Incredibly, even though the weather forecast was for good VFR, I was over a solid cloud deck, all the way, and in the clouds for the last hour. I had to shoot an ILS to get into Alice Springs, and was amazed to find that it was raining, and had got dark by the time I was on the ground! An EAA friend met me and put the plane in a hangar, before driving me to the hotel where Sally and her friend Carol were staying. We had a wonderful dinner, in an excellent restaurant, then wandered around Alice Springs, taking in the sights. Next day we rented a car, and I drove us out to Ayers Rock. It was fun driving where there are no speed limits, and we averaged over 100 miles per hour for the trip, running most of the time at 112 mph! We stayed at a beautiful hotel close to Ayers Rock, and we did climb all the way to the top, quite a steep climb, especially the first third of the climb, where they have installed a chain on poles, which you use to pull yourself up the slope! We also walked among the Olgas, an enormous rocky out crop, not far from Uluru, the Aborigine name for Ayers Rock. One of the highlights of our stay here was a dinner out in the out back, under the stars, which was fabulous. Soon we had to push on to the East, and once again Sally and Carol flew in the great silver bird. This time I got to Cairns ahead of them, and this time we stayed with EAA member and Long-EZ builder, John Sabidina, and his wife, Susan. We had a great time in this area, visiting the rain forest, and the Great Barrier Reef, what a beautiful area this is, and we could not have stayed with nicer people than Susan and John. All too soon Sally and Carol had to fly back to the US, and I headed south to Brisbane. This was a beautiful flight down the East Coast, with many islands and barrier reef along the way. I was met in Brisbane by EAA'er and Varieze builder, Michael Hansen, and I spent the next several days at his home, up in the mountains outside Brisbane. We visited all kinds of neat places, beaches and rain forests, and I was amazed to see the variety of parrots and parakeets. It was really astonished to see wild Cockatoo's flying around in the woods near their home, it looked for all the world as though someone's pet had escaped, but there were hundreds of them! Dick got back into Australia, and he flew to Alice Springs, and then to Sydney to visit friends. Finally, he flew to Brisbane, and we were once again ready to fly as a flight of two. It was great to be reunited, and we spent our last day in Australia, changing our oil and filters, and generally looking over the engine compartments, preparatory to flying across the Pacific.
We ran into the worst bureaucrats of our trip in Brisbane. The problem started when we tried to leave Australia to fly to Norfolk Island (also Australia). We had been told by local FBO operators, that it would be no problem to depart from Archerfield, where we were hangared, so we filled up with gas, and called the customs people to find out the best procedure to obtain the proper clearances to fly to Norfolk. To our amazement, the customs folk insisted on us flying over to Brisbane International. They said they could not come to Archerfield, even though we offered to pay for them to drive the 15 or so miles. We then offered to drive over there, but they said no, they had to inspect the planes! We had several locals try to reason with these people, but to everyone's frustration, we were forced to fly our heavily laden planes over there. We made the heaviest landing ever performed by a Long-EZ, and I feel real lucky that we did not break anything. We then had to taxi more than 3 miles to the Customs, which was extremely hard on our brakes and the landing gear. The final insult came when we found the Customs people, they handed us each a single piece of paper, did not even look at our planes, and said we were free to go to Norfolk Island!!! Needless to say, we were not happy with these inflexible bureaucrats. We took off into moderate rain, and were in it for nearly 2 hours. We had an uneventful 5-hour flight to Norfolk, and it looked wonderful as we descended through the clouds to land. It was amazingly green, and they have an excellent airport, where we met one of the nicest customs ladies we found anywhere. She was the antithesis of the Brisbane people, and not only checked us into Norfolk Island, but also checked us out again! Which meant we could leave anytime without having to go through customs again! We stayed for 2 days, at a really great little hotel, The Castaway, which was owned by Mera Christian, one of the descendants of the crew of the Bounty, who mutinied against Captain Bligh in 1789. We became quite fascinated with the subject, and Mera showed us video tapes of Pitcairn Island, where Fletcher Christian, and his notorious band of mutineers, settled and lived undetected for 18 years, and told us of the history of how 193 of the descendants were taken off Pitcairn and moved to Norfolk Island. Many of the people living on Norfolk today are descended from those, and the history of the HMS Bounty is a very important part of the Island folk lore. We really enjoyed our stay on Norfolk Island, and it is definitely one of the places I would go back to. We departed for Fiji and once more, it was raining! We landed 6 hours later at Nandi, which was just another big airport, so we took off once more and flew to Suva, the airport was Nasoari, where we were the guests of Air Fiji, a 30 year old inter island airline, that was founded by a good friend, Jay Johnson, who now lives in Virginia. They could not do enough for us! They put us in a hangar, and paid our hotel bill, and paid our fuel bill, when we left! Thank you Jay and Air Fiji. We did not get much chance to see the main island of Fiji, but when we left, we flew to Kiambu, a tiny island where Burt and Tonya had spent a week vacationing a couple of years before. We found it, and descended down to pay the good folk there a visit. Unfortunately, the grass strip was not usable in our heavy Long-EZ's, so we had to content ourselves with several low approaches. What a beautiful little island, with a gorgeous reef around it, and a crystal clear lagoon, wish we could have stopped there! We pressed on to Pago, American Samoa, where we landed 4.5 hours after departing Fiji. Of course Pago Pago is like being in the States, at least while you are on the airport. Everyone speaks English, and the people are helpful and friendly. It was hot and humid, and of course it was raining! We overnighted at a neat little hotel, not far from the airport, and departed early the next morning, for Tahiti. This was an 8-hour flight, and for a change, we had excellent weather. Arriving at Tahiti from the west, we flew over the island of Morea, which is truly a beautiful south sea island. We landed at Faaa, the main airport, cleared customs and immigration, and found out they had an Aeroclub. We taxied over there and were made to feel most welcome by the members, who provided us with a hangar, and helped us decide where to visit in the islands. Our Jepp agent, Claud Laugrost, was a great help, and our stay in Tahiti would not have been what it was without his help. We stayed one night in Papette, then flew to Bora Bora, Riatea, Tahaa and Huahine, where we stayed for two nights and nearly three days. We loved Huahine, it is quiet and unspoiled, and not in the least crowded with tourists. We snorkeled for hours each day, and saw untold numbers of incredible fish and beautiful coral. We actually hated to leave Huahine, and Dick even made the statement, that he never was going to leave!! We had some maintenance to do on both planes, so we flew back to Tahiti, and worked on them in the UTA Aeroclub hangar. We had received a new pitch servo for Dick's auto pilot, and a new nosegear spring for N26MS. These were installed easily, and Dick repaired a problem with his ignition harness. We fueled up to our maximum for the flight to Easter Island. We gave a talk to the local pilots at the Aeroclub, through an interpreter, which was fun, and well received. The next leg to Easter Island would have been an overnight flight, but Dick felt so strongly about not flying at night that he searched diligently until he found an alternative landing strip, Totegegi on the coral reef around the Gambia Islands. Mr. Laugrost was able to get permission for us to land there, so early the next morning we headed in that direction. We flew over many beautiful atolls with excellent weather and 80+ knot tailwinds. An hour before reaching Totegegi we flew over the sight of the French nuclear test sights where a number of nuclear bombs were tested a year ago. The Gambia Islands were an amazing sight as we came into land. A circular coral reef surrounding seven islands, the largest of which was Mangareva. We circled the small town on Mangareva and saw a motor boat put out for the airstrip on the coral reef. We descended to take a look at the airport and where shocked to see that it was very narrow strip on the coral reef with a 90 degree cross wind. We landed on the packed coral runway without incident and parked the airplanes nose down and waited for the arrival of the boat. Mrs. Brigitte Levie was onboard and was a friend of Mr. Laugrost and she had arranged for us to stay at a local home as there are no hotels on this island. It was an hour boat ride in very rough seas to the town on Mangareva and for the first time we began to doubt our ability to survive our ability to survive a landing in the ocean. Brigitte introduced to John whose father was an American and mother was Tahitian. We spent several delightful hours sitting on the beach in front of John's cabin and met his wife and son and daughter. He told us about the cultured pearl industry in the lagoon within the coral reef. The Japanese cultured pearl companies that lease many hectares of the lagoon employ almost all the natives of the seven islands. We learned how they grow cultured pearls and how occasionally a misshapen natural pearl is found in the oysters. John showed us some beautiful jewelry that he had made from these natural pearls. I bought a string of pearls and a pair of earrings for Sally and Dick bought a bracelet and earrings for Chris. We spent a very comfortable night on Mangareva and John and Brigitte took us to the airstrip before dawn the next morning. It was still blowing a gale so close to the runway that I took of in one direction and Dick took off in the other. It was a very hairy take off on the 20-foot wide carol strip. We climbed through a cloud deck and leveled off above the clouds and noticed on our moving maps that the Mutiny on Bounty Island of Pitcairn was not far off our course so we elected to pay a visit. Pitcairn Island was much smaller than we thought it would be and was quite a sight when we descended to circle the island. High cliffs and very rough seas surround it on the weather side. It was very turbulent as we descended to circle the village where some of the ancestors of the mutineers still live. There is no harbor or landing strip on Pitcairn Island, so we circled for 15 minutes or so before continuing on our way to Easter Island. The weather began to deteriorate and we found ourselves in moderate rain for the next several hours and we did not break out until we where 20 miles from Easter Island. We had become separated in the clouds and I landed some time before Dick on an enormous runway that was built by NASA as an emergency shuttle landing sight. We where met by Long-EZ owner Melvyn and his wife Paulina who had flown over from Santiago, Chile to show us around Easter Island. We cleared customs and immigration with no problems, thanks to these two and parked the airplanes nose down on the ramp and installed the rain covers. We new that we where in for a lot of rain because of the strong winds from the west and indeed it rained like a cow peeing on a flat rock for the next two days. We stayed in a small B & B and the next day drove out to the airport to pickup Long EZ builder Victor Sifri from the once a week Lan-Chile from Santiago Chile. Victor is dear friend of ours, and it was he, who took on the task of getting avgas to Easter Island from Santiago, as there is no avgas on Easter Island. This was no mean task as Victor had to buy seven 55 gallon epoxy lined barrels, transport them to the local Exxon dealer, and fuel them with Avgas. He then had to find a means of getting them to Easter Island, which has no safe harbor. Finally after several months of trying, he persuaded a Chilean Navy vessel to take the barrels on board and deliver them to Easter Island. A Herculean effort and we will forever be in Victor's debt. Easter Island is one of the most fascinating and mysterious places we have visited and we rate it one of the major highlights of our trip. There are more than one thousand statues on the island that were carved by the ancient inhabitants using only pieces of sharp pieces of obsidian. Although we spent four days attempting to solve the mysteries of who made the statues, why they made them, how they stood them up, we failed! We had a fabulous time with Victor, Melvyn and Paulina visiting on Easter Island all the historic sights. Paulina made us great picnic lunches, one of which included a traditional Chilean drink called Pisco Sours. Wow! All too soon our time on Easter Island came to an end and we spent all morning fueling ten fuel tanks by hand from the 55 gallon drums using a garden hose as a siphon. By the time we had completed the fuelling, cleared customs and immigration, it was time to leave for Guayaquil, Ecuador. A large crowd had gathered to say good bye, so after take off we flew low over them. Thank you so much Victor, Melvyn and Paulina, without you Easter Island would never have worked.
We climbed to 11000 feet on top of a cloud deck that stretched to all the horizons and settled in for a 16 hour over night leg. The sun set over the left winglet was incredible that evening and we were fortunate to have a good moon that lasted almost all night. Although we had some headwinds, we had no significant weather until 100 miles from Guayaquil, which was socked in, and we both had to shoot an ILS to minimums to land. Dick's friend, Russell Crawford, his wife Dora and son Robert really went out of their way to show us this fascinating part of the world. We visited a large sugar mill, a plant that makes pure alcohol and a paper mill, all run by Russell Crawford, who is an ex patriot American. We stayed in a magnificent Hilton Hotel that had just opened. When we went to check out, we where astounded to find that the sugar mill had paid for our rooms. At the airport we where met by a big crowd including two TV stations and were informed by two travel agents that the sugar mill had reserved and paid for berths on the Sea Cloud, an 85 foot ketch that sails from island to island in Galapagos Islands. Before we could get over this incredible turn of events, Russell Crawford also paid for our fuel for the next leg. We took off hardly the believing the generosity of these wonderful people. It was our understanding that private aircraft could not land on Galapagos but again Russell came to the rescue and obtained written permission for us to land at San Cristobal on the Galapagos Islands. The four plus hour flight to Galapagos was uneventful except for having to shoot a GPS approach due to low clouds. We were met by Julio who was to be our English-speaking guide during our 3 day sailing adventure around the Galapagos Islands. The Sea Cloud is an unbelievable sailboat with a crew of six, which accommodates 8 to 12 guests. Dick and I were the only guests on board and where thoroughly spoilt by Captain Robert and his amazing crew. We visited four islands and saw a variety of animals from sea lions to sharks to tortoises, all of which where so tame we could walk within a foot of two and they would not pay any attention to us. Snorkeling off the Devils Crown was the best we ever saw, with the clearest water and the largest variety of sea life. At one point we found ourselves swimming in 50/60 feet of water in the company of 10 or 12 enormous sharks. We were very nervous but Julio assured us that up until then no visitors had been bitten by a shark! Swimming with sea lions doing loops around us and coming to within a foot of our faces and blowing bubbles is an experience that neither one of us will ever forget. We visited the Darwin Institute where Darwin discovered evolution many years ago. The food on the Sea Cloud was great and our chef excelled himself on our last evening by producing a cake on which was written "Happy Landings, Mike and Dick". After three great days we were sad to say good bye to Captain Robert, Julio and the crew when they dropped us off before dawn at the airport where we cleared customs and took off just as the sun was coming up. This was a scary leg as we had to cross the intertropical convergence zone were some of the worst weather on earth is found. Fortunately we had Dick Blosser and the amazing Harry Maybeck, possible the world's best weatherman helping us through our Trimble Satcoms. Dick Blosser was tracking us and Harry provided us with headings to fly and we literally flew this weather area without touching a cloud. Thanks Dick and Harry for this one and all the others saves around the world. We were planning to fly to Toluca were our friends Victor, Rafael and Manuel where anxiously waiting with the customs officials. Very sad to say, for the only time on trip, the weather defeated us and we were unable to reach our goal. We were forced to divert to Acapulco due to severe icing trying to cross the mountains to Mexico City. We are really sorry Victor, Rafael and Manuel and are looking forward to seeing you all in Oshkosh. We appreciate all that you did for us and we will be back to Mexico. We spent the night in Acapulco and were delighted when our friends Alex and Nancy showed up at our hotel. We had an enjoyable couple of hours with them. Thank you coming down, it was great to see you. In the morning the weather had improved slightly but not in the direction of Mexico City. We flew up the coast through moderate rain showers to Calexico on the California side of the Mexico border. It was the first time we had set foot in America in 81 days. The Customs and Immigration were great and gave us a great welcome home. A short 1.4-hour flight from Calexico to Mojave seemed interminable although we were flying as fast as the planes would fly. Eventually we flew over the Scaled building on the Mojave airport and entered downwind for runway 26. We were astonished to find a crowd of friends and family waving American flags to welcome us home. It was very emotional to see Sally, Burt, John, Reni and all our friends. We had flown around the world in 80 nights departing Mojave on my late Mother's birthday, the 4 April and returned on 24 June 1997 for a total of 232 flight hours, 33685 nautical miles, 38791 statute miles or 62427 kilometers. More than one and a half time the circumference of world at the equator. Each airplane burned approximately 2000 US gallons of fuel and at this point we have no idea of total cost of the trip and maybe don't want to know!!
There are so many people who contributed to the success of our trip in so many different ways, you know who you are and I thank each one of you from my heart for your unconditional support and taking care of us when perhaps we were not in the best of humor after some of our long legs. Thank you.
Some of the changes I made to my plane, prior to flying around the world, included installing a King KY196A comm., a King KX165 navcom, a King KLN90B GPS, a slaved HSI, and an S-Tec 55 AutoPilot. I modified the AutoPilot to allow me to adjust the pitch and roll gains in flight, to compensate for the huge weight and CG shift I anticipated, with fuel burn-off. I also installed an Allegro engine analyzer, a marvelous little instrument, only 2 1/4" in diameter, it keeps track of four cylinder heads, four EGT's, oil temperature, oil pressure, OAT, volts, amps, carb inlet temp, as well as has a clock and count down timer. On top of this, it monitors the temperature at my feet, also the feet of my passenger, all this in such a small space! Oh yes, you can also set high and low alarms on most of the above! I heartily recommend it; it performed flawlessly throughout the trip. I also have a standard IFR Gyro panel, with marker beacon, transponder and, very important, an Alcor digital fuel flow meter. Perhaps most important of all, I have an electronic ignition system, from Klaus Savier, in place of my left magneto. This unit reduced my fuel burn more than one gallon per hour, across the board, and it too performed perfectly, and has done so for well over 1000 hours.January 1998 and February 1998 issues of Sport Aviation : Mike and Dick's flight around the world, by Mike Melvill.
This article was published in two parts in January and February 1998 in the EAA's magazine Sport Aviation, and is reproduced here with their permission. http://www.eaa.org
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