Please feel free to go through the various news posts below from The Airplane Factory. Our news covers the latest happenings from The Airplane Factory, news on our Sling light sports aircraft models, and other aviation related news of interest.
I woke up at 3 am this morning to check the weather – Sias had written out a very nice summary for me – I also got hold of the World Wide Aviation Weather Forecasting Centre in the UK. Tim Parsonson usually does this job but seeing it was in the middle of the night I took the redeye shift. The weather today is certainly better than yesterday with fewer CB's which means less chance of flying into a nasty storm. During the day they can dodge them but at night the only way they can see them is by looking for lightning and staying well clear. That was why they changed course at the southern tip of Madagascar on the previous leg – they saw lightning and turned away from it.
James and Jean were in good spirits but I could tell they were anxious .. James told me that they had managed to actually fill up an extra 120 litres in the fuel containers on the rear seats. I did a quick calculation - with the 560 L of fuel their takeoff weight would be in the region of 1080 kg at take off. That is over 200 kg over MAUW. I am looking forward to hearing what the flying was like at that weight.
I read James an e-mail that we received last night from the Male ATC where he said that the Sri Lanka CAA and air force had approved their flight into their airspace. So James then cancelled the previous flight plan and made a new one straight to Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo. When they started the reunion ATC said they had a problem with the flight plan as Sri Lanka said they didn't have permission to enter their airspace. So, James then called the Reunion ATC and asked if he can cancel that flight plane and reactivate the original one but for 2 hours later (their new take off time was 8 am instead of 6am local time). OK, so that was all good but when they were about to taxi out the ATC told them that Sri Lanka had now given permission so the whole process started again.
Eventually they took off at just before 7 am SA time (0500 UTC). They are now 6 hours into the flight which means they are a quarter of the way there. Amazing to think of them alone out there over that vast ocean cocooned in their warm and comfortable cockpit, they will be listening for any change in the engine noise while watching the instruments like a hawk, constantly calculating range and fuel burn, planning, checking, watching. And they will be tired. Ahead of them there will now be vast towering CB's which they would be dodging ... and their only contact with the outside world would be the very occasional chat with overflying airliners.
About an hour ago I called the ATC at Diego Garcia ATC (7° 18' 48" S 72° 24' 40") - a USA military base - and asked them to see if they could get in touch with ZU-TAF via airliners in 5 hours time as they pass 600 km to their west.
Next contact is with Male in the Maldives at the end of the day to give the boys an update on the weather going into Sri Lanka.
I'll post more details as I get them
Below is a mp3 snippet of the contact the guys still had with Réunion ATC after they had taken off and started routing North.
* Thanks goes to liveATC.net for making this possible
"Never give up, never, never, never give up" said Winston Churchill.
We'll it feels as if we've been fighting a war today.
It's too late to really explain all the administrative problems that we've run up against. The long and the short of it, however, is that the Mauritians will not allow us to traverse their airspace at all without an HF radio. That means we have to go around, namely through the Seychelles and Mumbai FIR's.
So we've filed a flight plan for Male, Maldives at 6am local time tomorrow (0200Z), the long way around. That's a 19 hour flight. (Unless we "shave" it a bit and encroach on Mauritius's precious waters – Jean's the pilot in command, after all, and he has a strong tendency to pull to the right).
Meanwhile there's no avgas or suitable Mogas at Male, so Jean has managed to buy, beg, borrow and more or less steal 4 plastic containers which together hold 100 liters. They'll be on the back seat providing the extra range required to make Colombo, Sri Lanka once we obtain the permission we require in order to go there. Right now we're waiting on it. (Colombo is the only practical place to get fuel for the next leg to Phuket, there being none in the Maldives).
So, in answer to the questions, we'll have 440 liters of gas in the wings (it's sadly not 450 liters) and another 100 in the back. It looks like this – we burn 21,5 liters per hour and do 200 kph (110 knots) TAS. That means, without allowing for unusable fuel, take-off and landing or any reserve, 20,5 hours endurance on the wing tanks, giving about 4 000 km.
The extra 100 liters gives just less than 5 hours, nearly another 1 000km, or a total, very optimistically, of about 5 000km. Colombo from Reunion, around Mauritian airspace, is 4 680km, so there's a 320 km margin. Direct through Mauritius airspace it's about 4 200km, a far better proposition, but not allowed. Anyhow, right now we're waiting on permission for Colombo in any event. If it comes before 0200Z tomorrow we'll consider re-filing for Colombo, if not we'll fly to Male and wait.
Added complications include the fact that we have visas for Reunion which expire at midnight tonight (2 hours!) and that we don't yet have permission to fly either through Seychelles or Mumbai airspace, though as yet neither seems to have raised a red flag in response to our current flight plan.
If you're confused by it all, don't worry, so are we. The Sling 4 is magnificent and makes it possible to change plans when situations require it. But there's little doubt the hardest part of flying around the world has nothing to do with aircraft, flying, weather or fuel - it has to do with overcoming regulatory constraints.
Meanwhile, hold thumbs and let's see how we go.
(In answer to the questions, there seems to be a problem with an element of the satellite tracker computer system somewhere – the device on ZU-TAF is working perfectly. It looks as if there probably won't be tracking tomorrow, but we'll keep trying to get it right and we'll have it showing on our website as soon as it's possible to do so.)
More when we get a break.
J and J
UPDATE: The guys have a permit now to fly to Sri Lanka so let's see how they go ... it's about a 24 hour flight. Two courageous aviators!
Email from the Director of Civil Aviation in Mauritius:
We refer to your mail below.
We have to inform you that your request cannot be acceded to, as your aircraft is not equipped with communication equipment enabling you to maintain a continuous two way radio communication with Mauritius ATS units for the provision of:
- 1. Air Traffic and Alerting services; and
- 2. Necessary coordination and handing over of traffic to adjacent ATC centres.
For Director of Civil Aviation
Response from James to the Director of Civil Aviation:
We are extremely disappointed that the Mauritius Director of Civil Aviation has adopted an attitude which is such that it renders it impossible for any aircraft without an HF radio to traverse it's airspace.
Be that as it may, we will now travel around Mauritius airspace and simply address the associated difficulties as we go.
After phoning every airport and flying school in the Maldives Andrew reported back with the bad news that there is no Avgas available at all. Plan B was get someone to bring in 400 liters of Mogas, which Mohamed Niyaz very kindly offered to do. However… the best quality Mogas available in that part of the Indian ocean is 80 Octane and a Rotax 914 motor should never be run on anything less than 95 Octane.
Take a look at the email from Mohamed below.
Kindly be advised that the local Mogas available is of 80-octane rating.
Please verify with the aircraft manufacturer if this is suitable and only with written confirmation from the engine and airframe manufacturer Mogas can be sold for aviation operation.
The price for Mogas in Airport is USD 1.5363165 per ltr.
Since GMIAL does not provide the service for such refuellings, we do not carry pumps; filters and pipes/hoses that may be suitable for aircraft refuelling from Mogas drums. The intoplane operation strictly needs to be conducted by the operator.
GMR Malé International Airport Pvt. Ltd.
So plan C… James and Jean are going to see if they can fly economically enough to make it right through to Colombo, Sri Lanka 4071 kilometres from Reunion. They still plan to depart at 4am South African time (UTC +4) as long as they can get the necessary permission for that today and the duration of the flight will be 24 hours.
OK, so you got the basic story from Mike - we're back in an hotel room (this time much more humble!), ZU-TAF is back in the hangar, we've had a first class Chinese Creole meal and now we're settling in for a quiet sleep.
Today has been a good example of how travel experiences aren't necessarily about making physical progress, but also about the details on the way. We may not have made great physical strides since sun-up, but we've made lots of friends and learnt a lot about Reunion's people, their pride and their generosity.
Laurent, who picked us up at the airport yesterday, arranged last night's free hotel accommodation and transported us to it (some 45 minutes by car), was back to pick us up from the hotel again this morning. We stopped for a snack en route, where I managed to leave my credit card in the Patisserie. At the airport there was a crowd to meet us. Radio, television and newspaper. Reunion was expecting our arrival no less than 10 days ago and since then there've been four published articles. While we prepped the plane we answered a bunch of questions for media and felt very proud of our machine.
Later we were informed that the Mauritians wouldn't allow us through their airspace without a formal application for permission – we'd been led to understand that, like Reunion, this was not required for private flights. The Aero Club instructor, Cedric, leapt into action and off went a series of emails and faxes. It would appear that these may now have reached the Mauritian Minister's desk and we're led to understand that tomorrow the permission will be forthcoming. Still, since we fly at night we'll have to file an IFR flight plan – nothing new, we had to change our Reunion flight plan to IF once we entered Moz airspace at night too. The help from the members of the Aero Club Roland Garros, including the Chairman, Mr Boval, was astounding. Special thanks also to Graziella Point, a pilot and medical doctor who assisted with translation, flight planning advice and later transport, dinner and good conversation.
When I realized I'd lost my credit card Laurent was instantly onto the line to Radio Freedom. Within seconds the woman behind us in the line at our lunch Patisserie had called in to tell the radio station that she'd seen me leave my credit card. She read the Patisserie telephone number off her lunch package on radio and a flight instructor called the Patisserie which confirmed, on radio, that the card was with them. Following an explanation of our adventure to the audience and an opportunity for me to thank the Island in my best French, Laurent drove all the way back to the Patisserie to fetch the card while Graziella drove me and Jean off to a restaurant for dinner.
One great feature of Reunion is that there is a wonderful mixture of peoples and cultures. Laurent describes his first language as Creole, yet he looks to me like a Parisian Frenchman (his ancestors were among the first settlers on the island nearly 300 years ago). Graziella is ¼ Chinese, but she grew up in France. She feels entirely French. There appears to be no financial distinction between different race groups in Reunion.
Perhaps the delay isn't too bad a thing. There were embedded storms en route and some hitches with a component of the satellite tracking system which are right now being resolved. We would have been quite "out there" without any comms at all, at night in the middle of the ITCZ storms and it feels quite good to be in a warm, quiet environment. Actually, it feels like we'll be quite "out there" anyway, whenever it comes.
Jean and I are getting along like a house on fire and, though not without its stresses, life on the road is good. Two days in ZU-TAF already feels like an old friend. Full of fuel she's so heavy we can hardly pull her across flat tar. But we know she'll lift off like a butterfly and climb to 10 000 feet when called upon to do so. She's by far the bravest of the three of us on this trip!
Please hold thumbs for clear skies and no storms tomorrow night.
JamesPS – Rainier, thanks for the information on how the autopilot worked during our icing ordeal. It's quite fascinating how technology gives a "feel". I could sense that it was taking cues from different inputs and making good decisions about how to respond based on them – just like a human brain. Actually I think we probably could have continued under the autopilot's control, perhaps even indefinitely without any airspeed input (the rocking/pitching probably would have put my son to sleep quite effectively!), but the ice was building up very quickly, so it seemed to make good sense to get down as quickly as possible. Thinking about it, our MGL Odysseys are probably the next bravest people on the trip!
James just called me (at 5.45 pm SA time) to say that they are not able to get away today. A few reasons .. Mauritius ATC will not let them fly through their airspace on a VFR flight plan at night - plus they do not have permission to fly though their airspace anyway (yet). James and Jean tried to arrange the permission quickly themselves but they need Michelle at Flight Permits help – she is working on it and will have the permission by tomorrow morning.
This also gives us the opportunity to get the tracker working properly which it isn't yet.
They have pushed TAF back into the hangar and are now on their way to a hotel near to the airport. Luckily the guys from the Reunion Aeroclub are super enthusiastic and helpful and are taking good care of them.
An interesting thing about fuel – AVGAS on Reunion is €3.90 / L while Mogas is €1.50 / L. Luckily they had assistance from the local pilots to fill up with Mogas – they put 300 L in to top up which means they are burning about 20.5 L/hr at something like 110 KTAS. Tomorrow we will try to get info (and help from the locals) about fuel in Male in case the AVGAS is also very expensive there.
We are all a bit concerned about the next few legs – they are going to be flying through the ITCZ which means thunderstorms and unpredictable weather … so we have to be very accurate with predicting exactly where the storms are. Have a look for yourself on http://www.vfrplanner.co.za/mwx/sling.html
As soon as we know more about their new departure time tomorrow or anything else of interest, we will post the details immediately.