Darwin, Australia to Singapore, flight leg report
Four hours down on this leg and I'm exhausted already; it's been a heck of a morning after not sleeping well last night. I wasn't worried about the trip, we'd prepared everything and the plane and engine checked out 100%; I just tossed and turned a lot. I wanted an early departure when it was cool, so decided on 5:30am local. Kathryn, who did a noble job taking care of me during my stay in Darwin, got up at 4am to take me to the airport; that was really above and beyond the call of duty. She spends a lot of time helping women pilots and I will do more as I continue and return home.
We arrived at the airport but the FBO we were using wasn't yet open. Customs were going to arrive at 5am, so we called security to let us through the gate. They gave us the code and we let ourselves in. With two of us, the preflight went very quickly. Customs came and executed the paperwork very efficiently. One last trip to the toilet and I'd be off. A big hug and many thanks to Kathryn and I climbed aboard again. Clearance gave me my clearance right away; I guess I'd been a little worried that something would go wrong with the paperwork and I'd not be allowed to depart; so I gave a big sigh of relief and smiled when I read back the clearance. I asked for progressives for taxiing to the runway; "no worries" they helped me out. I had to wait for a QANTAS airbus to depart plus 3 minutes for wing tip vortices, then was allowed to takeoff. It was dark, only 5:45am, so I gave extra concentration to my instruments, not having flown that much at night. Wheels up, climb about 250 ft/min pretty much the same as previous climbouts. Departure steered me onto my course then turned me over to center. There seemed to be some clouds to the right of my course, but nothing ahead or to my left. Tailwinds were excellent, 25 knots for a ground speed of 170k, wow!! I'd be there in 10 hours; but the winds were supposed to weaken near the equator, so I knew it wouldn't last. I wanted to establish HF contact early, so I asked for and received an HF frequency to contact Brisbane Radio. I called several times but reception was weak. I tried the second frequency, reception was a little better. When center called me to confirm contact by HF and to hand me over and terminate VHF contact, I went to reply and found no push to talk button. It wasn't there, nothing. As it was still pretty dark, I put the flashlight on the yoke and saw that it wasn't there. In moving around and putting things away, I must have hit it with something. Now what, go on or go back? I'd have at least 10 hours on HF to find a solution. I push my ball point pen tip into the end of the PTT button and the transmit light went on. I replied to center that I'd established contact with Brisbane radio and HF was working. He terminated VHF contact. It worked, but I wouldn't be able to fly and talk like that at the same time; but I'd figure something out.
As it got lighter outside and inside the cockpit, I looked at the situation. I had a PTT (push to talk) button on the other yoke, but it had been disconnected when the yoke was removed to fit the tank in. However, maybe I could exchange the buttons. I got the tools and started to disassemble the yoke. Then, on the other side of the yoke, I saw my extra PTT for the HF radio. It plugs into the mike chord and I'd used it in planes without intercom systems. I unplugged it from the HF and plugged it into VHF; the transmit light went on. Solution found!! When I terminate my HF communication, I'll plug it into my VHF mike wiring and will be able to talk and fly at the same time. In the mean time, if I have any VHF communications, I'll use the ballpoint pen tip.
I was approaching the second waypoint where I would change over from Brisbane to Bali radio and climb from my great tail wind altitude of 6000 to the obstacle clearance altitude of 14000. I got my oxygen prepared and put on the canula. I didn't turn on the oxygen because if I could see all the peaks, I didn't really want to climb all the way to 14000; but stop at 10,000 and descend back to 8000 on the other side. The chart showed the obstacle clearance for the sector to be 13,300 and the next to be 9,600 but the visual charts showed a few peaks only. After passing 8000 feet I was above the haze and cloud layer and could see clearly. Wow, the mountains to the east were HUGE. Straight ahead and to the left, they were much lower. I asked for clearance to stop at 10,000 ft and descend to 8,000 on the other side of the island. Brisbane had to relay to Bali, but finally I received the clearance. Speed had dropped to 130 knots at 10,000 and was back up to 140 to 145 k at the lower altitude. Position reports went well and ahead I was able to stay between the peaks. What a view, rugged little islands with tremendously high peaks and what's that, more beautiful empty beaches. There were a few houses on the hillsides and near one beach. Also, I saw one road through the hills to the west side, but nothing in the high peaks to the east.
Four hours down and I have to go. The morning coffee went straight through me. The previous departures have each had minor problems to let me relieve myself multiple times before departure. We were just too efficient this morning. Well, the Lady Jane worked perfectly, I feel better and the sky ahead only has little puffy clouds and no CBs. Less than 8 hours to go and I'm ready for a snack. Cereal will do for now. Mmmm that feels better too. Now, clean up the cabin, put the oxygen away get ready for the next position report.
I've been turned over to Bali control, a VHF frequency but am unable to reach them. I chat on 123.45 with another American up at 28,000. At first he doesn't realize that I'm a Mooney at 8,000 then asks where I'm headed and from. He tries to relay but says that comm with Bali center is hit and miss. We talk a little more then he says that he'll monitor the frequency in case I have any trouble. I thank him and try calling Bali center a few more times. Much, much later after no reception, I return to HF. He gives me another frequency and I make contact immediately. After checking the chart, it looks like I'll be back and forth between HF and VHF as I cross various control areas. Not the best leg to lose my PTT switch, but the ball point pen is working fine. Speed is above 150 knots consistently now, great, and still only one CB building off to the north, nothing in my path.
This is nice being in VHF contact during the trip, now I can send HF email while monitoring the control frequency. I just received an email from our EAA Chapter 74 back in Orlando. In addition to the monthly Young Eagles' Saturdays, they have have an annual Air Fair each April at Orlando Executive Airport, Showalter FBO. This year they flew 340 kids. Great going team!! I'll be there next year to help you out.
I don't know if I explained that I have a watch on my belt with UTC time on it. The last two time zones I've been in have been on the half hour, not a full hour different from UTC. It's not easy for me to calculate UTC in my head, so I keep the watch on my wrist on local time and the second on my belt on UTC. I just set Singapore time on my watch and I'll be only 8 hours ahead of UTC. I just checked a map, and on the next leg, I'll be half way around the globe from my starting point in Florida. Probably not yet half way in mileage as I have to cross the equator two more times and go further south to South Africa, then further north to Greenland. But still, it seems to me that after this and the next leg, I'll be half way home!!
My meal planning this trip would rival the commercial airlines in the US. A cold ham and cheese sandwich with more bread than ham and cheese; barely a slice of each. A cereal bar and apple. It really reminds me of the airlines. Anyway, it's enough to keep me going for 3.5 more hours. I'm over Borneo and in and out of clouds. It seems very wet and soggy down there. There are several buildups that I go through with some moderate turbulence, but it doesn't last long and the rain hopefully cleans off the plane. It's pretty hot outside, 19 degrees celsius but I have the silver reflective shade on the sunny side and the cockpit is liveable -- much better than when I crossed from Hawaii to American Samoa.
The last few hours were uneventful. When handed over to Singapore Radio they were expectedly efficient. While I had to call and call other Radio frequencies to report positions, Singapore Radio anticipated my crossing, asked if I was there, and what time my next position report would be. They were highly efficient in all respects. Singapore approach was busy with major commercial traffic coming into Changi but vectored me around to the north east and directly to a straight in for Seletar, the General Aviation airport. There was no-one flying at the airport, or at least I didn't see or hear any other planes. I had expected a full pattern/circuit; although it was a Monday afternoon, so most people would be working, not flying. I landed and taxied to a parking spot where Goeff, James and David were awaiting my arrival. I received a "red carpet" welcome and we unloaded and started the paperwork. One form had 7 copies and there were 5 other forms. Goeff acted as my handling agent and it was the easiest customs/immigration process I went through, thanks Goeff. Five minutes later we were headed out to meet other pilots, Norman and Jamil, and go out to dinner. From left, Goeff, James, David, Jamil and Norman.
Two quick days in Singapore and Malaysia
Friday evening we had an introduction to Little India in downtown Singapore. We had a variety of foods which were hot but tasty. I learned that it will be even hotter both in temperature and food spices in India, but, I'll get used to it little by little, I hope. Another pilot, James who flies a Trinadad, kindly put me up in his house for the weekend. Together we filed my flight plan for Madras, India which had to be entered 72 hours before arrival and found weather sites on the internet for satellite and wind information. In the afternoon, an old colleague came by for a visit. I'd worked with MY in the mid 1980s and again in the early 1990s when we were both Operations Managers for our respective plants. We'd always got along well and had a good few hours reminiscing and catching up.
Goeff had planned an Aviation Safety Seminar for the local pilots on Saturday evening. There were over 40 in attendance from Singapore and Malaysia. After an explanation about the Wings program Goeff started the presentation on the subject of Pilot Fatigue and Exhaustion. He'd done some research and presented the main contributors and recommendations. Goeff had coordinated with me by email and asked me to present my experiences with fatigue during my long flight legs. I was happy to participate. After my short explanations and stories, the pilots were interested in my flight details and asked many questions. Several among them had done some ferry flights and added their perspectives. We had dinner before the meeting and took a group photo afterwards. It was a fun evening for all. One aspect of the meeting was the number of nationalities and cultures represented. The pilots in this region represent not only the local countries but also many expats from all over the world including US, Europe, Scandinavia, South Africa, Australia, India.
Sunday we'd planned on meeting at Seletar airport, showing interested people my plane -- the HF setup was the item most pilots wanted to see and talk about -- then depart for Johor Bahru. All went as planned. Four planes set off for JB; as the weather was a little low so two of us did ILS approaches. It's a little different from a domestic flight in the US as each person has to go through customs and immigration at both airports. Ten of us trooped through the processes, including and ear temperature check for SARS at Seletar. Then all of us trooped through the empty terminal in JB and repeated the process with the Malaysian authorities. For a 1/2 hour trip, our administrative time was probably 1 1/2 hours. Then we swapped around passengers and three planes set off for Tioman Island, a small island off the east coast of Malaysia. It has a great one way in, one way out approach with hills on 3 sides. The downwind leg is almost to the first hill, turn right before the coconut tree. The base leg is almost to the next hill, then turn onto final (right), slow down, land, and stop before the 300 foot sheer tree and rock wall. The experienced pilots got us all down safely and I was happy to be a passenger. We had great views, but I'd only try it if my plane was light. It was a great day, flying, eating Malaysian food beside the beach, swimming in warm sea water for over half an hour. After a while we had to return. A quick trip to the tower to say hi and we were off to JB again. The other pilots returned to Singapore; but Goeff and Paochen, his wife, stayed to make sure all went well for my departure the following morning.
We were called by the tower as there was a slight problem with the flight plan. It was better to do it all in person, so we trooped up to the tower with charts and fight plan. David, the tower controller greeted us and explained that Chennai control wanted N220FC at 8,500 feet minimum airways altitude early in the flight. I explained that with full fuel it would be difficult to attain that altitude too early. He communicated with Kuala Lumpur control and finally I spoke with them directly. After many calls back and forth, because Velu, in KL (whose brother is an EAA Chapter president), had to coordinate with Chennai control, we finally accepted to be at 8,500 at the ANOKO intersection. Phewwww, now we could go to dinner. Goeff had checked me into the JB Sofitel at an expensive $35 US per night for a wonderfully appointed room with king size bed. I figured I deserved it as this was probably going to be my last comfortable bed for a number of weeks.
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