Saturday, July 25, 2015

Jackson Hole to Austin and Fun Facts (by Jack)

While the stop in Jackson Hole represented the unofficial end of the round-the-world trip for most of the crew, Josh and I continued on to our starting point in Austin, Texas on July 13 to officially complete the 360 degrees so we could earn the FAI Circumnavigator Diploma. Boys got to have their trophies after all!

This leg was the shortest of the whole trip at 1,060 nautical miles (1,225 statute miles) and it is a familiar route for me. The weather was good the whole way and the flight was routine.

Landing back home in Austin on runway 17R…

We base our airplane at Atlantic Aviation at the Austin airport and the crew there had been following our blog and offered us a nice welcome home…

As a final wrap-up for the trip, here are some fun facts (at least they are fun for me!) regarding the adventure. All flying hours are from take-off to touch-down and do not include taxi time. In no particular order based on Austin-to-Austin…

Miles flown: 20,850 nautical miles or 24,000 statute miles

Flying days: 11 (out of 28 calendar days)

Flight legs flown: 17

Hours flown: 89.7 hours

Average distance per flying day: 1,892 nautical miles or 2,176 statute miles

Maximum distance in a flying day: 2,627 nautical miles or 3,020 statute miles

Minimum distance in a flying day: 1,057 nautical miles or 1,215 statute miles

Average flight hours per flying day: 8.2 hours

Average flight hours per flight leg: 5.3 hours

Maximum hours per flying day: 11.2 hours (with three pilots)

Maximum hours per flight leg: 7.5 hours (Muscat, Oman to Colombo, Sri Lanka)

Average ground speed take-off to touchdown: 231 knots or 266 miles per hour

Average airspeed in cruise: 246 knots or 283 miles per hour

Average wind component: -0.2 knots or -0.3 miles per hour (headwind)

Average groundspeed in cruise: 246 knots or 283 miles per hour

Number of maintenance events: Zero (the plane performed almost perfectly)

Number of customs/immigration/permit problems: Zero (our handling company did a great job)

Number of flights cancelled: Zero (one fuel stop location was changed for weather)

Number of flights completed more than two hours beyond the schedule: Zero

Percent smooth air in cruise: 98% (estimated)

Percent clear air (not in clouds) in cruise: 97% (estimated)

I guess that completes my flying journal and the blog for this trip. It was a fantastic adventure and I am already planning the next one…a polar circumnavigation!

Thanks for following along with the trip.  Sharing the experience is half the fun.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Alaska to Jackson Hole (by Jack)

After almost a month of flying outside the US, today’s (July 12) flight allows us to return to more familiar domestic flying.  While the plane does not care what country it is flying in, for the pilots it is nice to be back to familiar procedures and easy to understand air traffic controllers.

The flight for the day was from Unalaska, Alaska to Jackson Hole, Wyoming with a fuel stop in Ketchikan, Alaska.  It was nice to not have any customs or immigration worries for a change.  It is the first flight in nearly a month that we did not have the assistance of "handlers” at either the departure or arrival airports.

The route from Unalaska/Dutch Harbor to Ketchikan…

Winds were calm when we departed Dutch Harbor and the visibility and ceiling were well above the minimums. We departed runway 31 (heading northeast) and were climbing-out on course within just a couple of minutes.

This is the view down runway 31 with typical weather....

Like the prior flight, once reaching cruising altitude (27,000 feet), it was almost a solid undercast the whole way to Ketchikan which was disappointing.  Our route had us flying along the Aleutian archipelago to Kodiak before cutting across the Gulf of Alaska to Ketchikan.  The scenery along the Aleutians would have been spectacular, but this was all we saw…

The cruise portion of the flight to Ketchikan was smooth and in clear skies.  Like Dutch Harbor, the weather in Ketchikan was cloudy, but well above the minimums we needed to land.

About to land on runway 11 at Ketchikan...

Despite the low clouds, the airport area was a bee-hive of activity with dozens of floatplanes operating visually under the cloud deck. The number of airplanes (nearly all floatplanes) around the airport as shown on the traffic display below was dense…

Steady stream of floatplanes overhead the airport…

I suppose the three huge cruise ships in the harbor provide plenty of business for scenic flights...

The air traffic control folks at Ketchikan had a well-established flow pattern for the floatplanes to separate them from the traffic arriving and departing from the runway. We never felt uncomfortably close to the other traffic despite the density.

The parking ramp at Ketchikan is unusual in that it is about 50 feet lower than the runway.  Thus, the taxiways have considerable slope.  We used lots of braking taxiing in from the runway and a fair amount of power to taxi “up” to the runway for departure.

It was wet and cool in Ketchikan, but it was nice to have access to a real US style general aviation facility for a change. On the ramp at Ketchikan...

After a quick and efficient refueling and quick break, we blasted-off for Jackson Hole.  It was an uneventful flight with smooth air and clear skies after the climb-out from Ketchikan. I was a little sad because I knew this was, for practical purposes, the last leg of this big adventure.

This was the final route…

It was clear skies and smooth air in cruise all the way to Jackson Hole.

While Josh and Jerry manned the flight deck, I got about 45 minutes of power napping done...

After crossing a bit of Canadian airspace, we crossed into US airspace. The weather for our arrival into Jackson Hole was forecast to almost perfect.

We had seen a lot of spectacular scenery on this voyage, but the views approaching Jackson Hole never fails to awe...

We were cleared for a visual approach about 30 miles out which allowed us to maneuver for a gentle approach with great views for the "first class" seats on the right side of the airplane.

Jackson Hole is our second home base (behind Austin, TX) and the final approach to this runway is familiar. But, it still takes my breath away…I have to really be careful to not get distracted from critical flying tasks...

Final approach to runway 19 (southerly) at Jackson Hole…

The RTW crew (sans Giuseppe and his wonderful bride) on the ground at Jackson Hole...

Our bird seems to like Jackson Hole...I think it reminds her of her birthplace in the mountains of Switzerland...

The Boss and her first mate celebrating at the house we are renting in Jackson for a few weeks....

While I kid a lot about my spouse, none of this trip would have happened without her constant support. There are times in a relationship when you really know how deep the love extends...this trip was one of them.

This is the end of the trip for most of the crew, but Josh and I will continue on to Austin tomorrow (July 13) to officially complete the 360 degree circle.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Unalaska! Alaska...f.k.a. Dutch Harbor

July 10-11
There's nothing like international travel to make you appreciate the good ole U.S.A. It is great to be home!

We had two full days in "Dutch", not that there is that much to do here. Jack built an extra day into the month-long schedule in case we had any issues but we never needed it. We've been within an hour of our plan the entire trip.

This is the rainiest city in America, with rain and clouds 225 days each year. Our time there was no exception. We did a little birding, admired amazing wild flowers, drove around the town's 4.7 miles of paved road, and took our rental vehicle up gravel roads to explore WWII ruins. The U.S. military hadn't paid much attention to the Aleutian Islands until 1940 when they chose Dutch Harbor for a naval station. By 1942, it was one of three Aleutian island attacked by the Japanese. The airfield was constructed in nine days (and is the one we landed on!) and was used to support the efforts to reclaim Attu and Kiska. Native people on all three islands had been hastily evacuated and sent to miserable conditions in Southeast Alaska, where many died from lack of food, sanitation, and medical care. Meanwhile, 10,000 troops struggled through bitter winters and cold, wet summers, flying "blind" without radar or often even radios.

Unalaska's other claims to fame: America's number one commercial fishing port (and home to the Deadliest Catch reality TV show), home to the oldest cruciform-style Orthodox Church in North America, and the staging ground for Shell's deep sea drilling operations.

Onward to Jackson Hole. On Monday, Jack and Josh will complete the loop by returning to Austin. Becky and I will stay in Jackson Hole with the Secklers. I'll get some pictures uploaded and Jack will add some more flying posts.

Josh in the left seat, Jerry in the right.

Rock chocks

Our hotel with the orange roof - The Grand Aleutian

The town of Unalaska has 4,200 citizens

The view from our hotel. This was taken at 10:00 pm - the guys were untangling long chains

King crab traps were everywhere

From the shore...

More Fisher's orchids...just like Russia

Another alpine orchid - we saw more wild orchids in Alaska than we saw in Sri Lanka


Related to azelias

Yellow paintbrush and wild geranium

WWII era supply bunkers

WWII ruins above the town

Dramatic vistas

Jack, reflecting on his incredible journey around the world

Friday, July 10, 2015

Russia to Alaska (by Jack)

After a complex flight from Taipei, Taiwan to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia, the July 10/9 (depart July 10 and arrive July 9) flight from Petropavlovsk to Unalaska, Alaska on the Aleutian archipelago promised to be fairly straight-forward other than a potentially complex departure procedure from Petropavlovsk.  The main uncertainty was the weather at Unalaska (also known as Dutch Harbor). In the end, the flight went as planned and on schedule.

This flight was one of the shortest of the whole trip at about 1,500 statute miles (1290 nautical miles). We even were able to depart at the very civilized hour of about 9:30a local time in Petropavlovsk which was a nice change from the many sunrise departures previously.

The route for the day…

Prior to departure, Jerry and Madelyn practice donning their dry suits with good humor…

My policy was that other than myself, folks need not wear their dry suits enroute. But, I did want everyone to practice donning them inside the airplane. When we were flying over very cold water, I wore my dry suit (partially donned) the whole flight under the theory that in a real emergency I would need to stay at the controls. However, I invested in a fancy “constant wear” suit like the Coast Guard folks wear that was much lighter and more comfortable than the less expensive “gumby” suits we had for everyone else.  The rest of the crew always go a kick out of watching me donning my suit…

Jerry and Josh conferring before departing Petropavlovsk…planning a mutiny perhaps?...

Got some more views of the military hardware tucked into the trees around the runway…

From some reason, there were small scare-crow figures every few hundred feet along the runway…I have no idea the purpose…maybe to scare away evil capitalists?...

Like the arrival procedures, the departure procedures from Petropavlovsk can be complex.  Based on our flight plan, we expected the departure procedure shown below…essentially a figure eight over the airport….

Turns out we were assigned a much simpler departure which saved a lot of time.

The weather at Petropavlovsk for our departure was good with only some high clouds. So, we got some good views climbing out before penetrating the cloud layer.

Unfortunately, once we got to altitude, a solid undercast developed and from about 50 miles north of Petropavlovsk until final approach at Dutch Harbor this was all we saw…

It would have been nice to see more of the Kamchatka peninsula which was under us for about an hour, but after Kamchatka is was just the Bering Sea so we did not miss much there.

Enroute to Dutch Harbor was smooth and good weather, so a generally boring cruise phase.

Madelyn serving some snacks enroute…

About mid-way, I went to the back to stretch my legs and nap a bit and Josh and Jerry manned the flight deck…

I had total confidence in these two excellent aviators and could relax while they manned the flight deck.

About the biggest excitement in the cruise part of the flight was crossing from the eastern to the western hemisphere…video of one of our navigation computer show the flip for E to W…

The main challenge for this trip was the weather at Dutch Harbor.  Because the runway is closely tucked between some big hills, you need very good weather to execute an instrument approach to the airport (at least three miles visibility and clouds 1800 feet above the surface).  Unfortunately, this area of the world is cloudy most of the summer.

The main reason we wanted to go to Dutch Harbor versus other Aleutian airports was, believe it or not, it has a US Customs office. More precisely, there is one US Customs officer (Officer Johnson) there that mainly works the Japanese and Chinese ships coming and going in the harbor to pick-up fish.  He told us he only clears about 4-5 planes a year at the airport, so our arrival was a bit of excitement for him.

If we had not been able to get into Dutch Harbor, Cold Bay, Alaska was our alternate. It is about 180 miles from Dutch Harbor, but the instrument approaches there allow landing in much lower visibility conditions (1/2 mile visibility). However, Cold Bay does not have customs. We were told only about 20 people live in Cold Bay full-time, but the Census Bureau puts it at a bustling 108. If we had to divert from Dutch Harbor to Cold Bay, we had permission from the Anchorage Customs office to stop and re-fuel at Cold Bay and then continue on to Anchorage to clear customs. But, we preferred to spend some time in the Aleutians if weather permitted, so Dutch Harbor was our first choice. The ladies were also looking forward to a shorter flight day after several long ones.

While the forecast for Dutch Harbor when we departed Petropavlovsk was right at the instrument approach minimums, by the time we arrived the weather report was comfortably above minimums and we landed uneventfully.

The runway we landed on…

Here are a couple of videos (from a side window) landing at Dutch…everyone was happy to be back in the USA.

Approaching the runway…


For landing to the northwest (we were landing to the southeast), pilots must activate a stop sign by radio to stop traffic on a road right at the end of the runway….

After the very friendly US Customs Officer Jonson cleared us back into the USA, went made it to the hotel before dinner time on July 9.  We had started the day after breakfast on July 10. Go figure.

A couple of days in Unalaska and then we blast off for Jackson Hole (KJAC) with a stop in Ketchikan (PAKT).

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Russia

Not the tourist hotspot of Russia, this town of 180,000 is accessible only by sea or air. It's on the peninsula of Russia that hangs down north of Japan and is often used for refueling by a variety of airplanes.

If I had only one word to describe the town, it would be "crumbling". The soviet-era monuments and apartment blocks were grey and crumbling. The benches in the small parks were old, the curbs of the streets were broken, and new buildings were nestled between dilapidated shacks. But, we had a clean hotel and found two delightful restaurants with generous portions of well prepared fresh fish and grilled vegetables. I think we were expecting nothing but potatoes and cabbage and sausage, so food was a pleasure!

It was gorgeous and sunny for our one day on the ground - the first day in months without rain according to the hotel clerk. We managed to find a tour operator who hired a driver to show us the sights (not that there were many to see). He spoke a minuscule amount of English, but Josh's five years of high school Russian made them an even pair, so all was good. So, once again, a cabbie tour of the area allowed us to see the highlights. Vistas from tall hills were glorious, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity was magnificent, birds were few and there was no botanical garden.

Of all the places we've seen on this amazing journey, this was the one with the least amount of English speakers, and virtually no English translations on the signs. The people rarely smiled, so we made a game of being friendly and appreciative, trying to elicit a smile...easier with the women than the men. This was the ONLY country out of the 11 we've stopped in where uniformed inspectors came onto our aircraft - and they did it on arrival and departure.

It's not really first world or precisely third world. Russia is different.

Our handler in Russia

The arrivals and departures lounge in Petro
The flight crew in Petro
Carolyn, Becky, and Madelyn after landing in Russia

Jack looking like Putin at a desk in our hotel room

View from our hotel room - new apartment construction
A soviet-era monument

This is the salmon shop

This is the fruit and vegetable shop
The volcano, with clouds simulating smoke

Wild geraniums

Fisher's orchid
Deadly hemlock

Jerry and Madelyn Seckler
Replica cannon from a battle with the French
1950's era monument to an 1800's battle with the French
Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Truly magnificent and truly, the only beautiful building in the city. 

New construction on the cathedral 

Inside the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
The volcano looms over the landscape from almost every angle

From the scenic overlook

Scenes like this were everywhere. This happens to be at the top of a scenic lookout.