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The following article was published in February 2005 in the Comanche Flyer


Go ahead Comanche Pilots:
Pursue Your Dreams
by Richard I Levin


Come on now, admit it. Is there anyone among us Comanche Pilots who hasn't dreamed at one time or another, of flying his airplane around the World?

In fact, about two dozens Comanche pilots have done exactly that, most in PA-30s. That is not to say the trusty single Comanche can't do it; it is just a different fuel/weight/ range problem. Sooner or later you have flown to both coasts and down through the islands and to Mexico, the thought of crossing an ocean bites you. And if you cross one ocean and come back, the view out of the co-pilot's window is exactly the same you saw out of the pilot's window on the way over. Whether you scratch this itch to circumnavigate the earth or ignore it depends of your psyche, and of course your pocketbook , too! I will tell you: there is nothing that will make your heart race as much as seeing the Pyramid of Giza rise out of the Egyptian desert as you approach Cairo International; and nothing as grabbing as departing Oakland, cal., for Hilo 25 % over gross weight.

Take someone

Flying around the World alone doesn't make sense for most pilots. There is too much to see, too much to do, and probably post important too much to share§ Besides when you take someone the cost is halved, a happy outcome. With long 10-15 hour legs, strange accents, unfamiliar flight rules, additional HF reporting requirements, and sometimes difficult government officials, having a partner is useful. Having a partner who can fly the airplane is even better. I got lucky; my partner was a PA-30 pilot and an A&P. the bad news is he weighed 225 pounds which complicated my weight-balance calculations considerably.

Pick a route

Here, there are a lot of choices. Fly east or west. (Or say another way, get the longest leg out of the way early or save it for last). After consulting several meteorologists on trade winds across the Pacific, we went west (Oakland, Hawaii, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Australia, Bali, Calcutta, Mumbai, Abu Dhabi, Luxor, Cairo, Rome, Madrid, London, Stomaway, Reykjavik, Narsassuaq, Bangor, home).Going via Alaska and Russia and avoiding the Pacific sounds great, but just try to get someone who will guarantee you Avgas for what will probably be 5 stops in Russia. And forget the Aleutians-Japan route. The US "secret base" and Japanese service fees make this just impossible. Once you have crossed the Pacific however, the rest, as they say, is a piece of cake.

What season?

With GPS and radar this isn't the problem it used to be. But monsoons can still ruin your days in Asia and ice can make you plenty nervous crossing the north Atlantic in January. We left the United States in the middle of April and returned seven weeks later, making only three instrument approaches in 18 stops (Luxor, Egypt, Reykjavik, Iceland, Narsarssuaq, Greenland). What about the airplane: you need a minimum of 250 gallons in a PA-30 to cross the Pacific. Some have done it in less, but to avoid a coronary, do it the safe way! It's 2,412 statute miles (2,100 NM) from Oaklnad to Hilo and nothing in between. You need at least enough oil for one change on both engines, supplementary food, water, an HF transceiver, clothes (airlines uniforms are very useful), a raft, immersion suits for the Atlantic crossing, Mae West, fishing gear, a reserve osmosis water maker, camera gear, spare parts for the plane, a jack to change a tire, and oh yes, whatever ingenious arrangements you can dream up of bathroom facilities.

Government red tape (ours and theirs)

Getting a 25% overweight permit for a PA-30 isn't the battle with the FAA that it once was: today there are precedents. Figure on about 6 months, however. You'll need overweight permits for about 20 countries and landing permits for at least 18, an all-consuming task unless you subcontract it to one of the international flight companies, which I strongly recommend. Of course on a trip this long, nothing happens on schedule, so all of these must be continually updated. You will need a visa for 5 or 6 countries depending on your route. And don't leave home without plenty of insurance, finding a US carrier that will insure the plane on such a trip will try your patience: I wound up using Allianz in Europe.

Charts and Flip Charts

Find a place to pack low altitude en route charts for 1,000 miles either side of your planned route and all the included approach charts too are nearly impossible to purchase at most shops, and you will likely face deviations. I will never forget cajoling an approach controller one night in Egypt to read us a VOR approach, which had superseded a ADF approach after we departed the United States.

What does it cost?

By the time you get the extra tanks put in the plane, get an HF radio installed, buy nearly 3,000 gallons of gas ( at prices as high as $8 a gallon), pay bribes to lots immigration, customs, health, weather and clearance agents, pay for six to eight weeks of hotels and food, and bring back a few trinkets, count on at least $45,000 for a total of two. I know, there goes the new car, but as I said in the beginning, we're are not flying down the coast for the weekend.

But Why?

It's a metaphor for Tom Sawyer and Huckekleberry Finn rafting down the Mississippi. Only this time it's adults with credit cards, cameras and a PA-30. It's the dream of a lifetime and a chance to plan and execute a complicated project. It's a chance to fly your Comanche over the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum, the Pyramids, the twin Petronis Towers, the Australian outback and Ayres Rock, the temples in Bangkok, the Saudi desert oil fields and a thousand other exciting landmarks. It's a chance to meet some really nice folks (and a few difficult ones). But most of all, it's a chance to discover the World in a new way, an opportunity to test the magnificent abilities of your Comanche, and at times to test your own ability to do something fascinating and difficult.

Go for it!

Richard I Levin

This article was published in the Comanche Flyer, magazine of the International Comanche Society.
©Copyright Richard I Levin and ComancheFlyer, 2005
 

Last update: December 13, 2006
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