Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Caravan To Seoul—The Prequel

Here’s what happens before you fly the ocean

Jurassic Park, then you may remember the scene where Jeff Goldblum describes chaos theory as a mathematical discipline where the results of any given problem are never totally predictable, no matter how carefully conditions are controlled. Chaos theory is sometimes used in predicting weather, which, as every pilot knows, can’t be predicted.

As you might imagine, ferry pilots aren’t allowed to believe in chaos theory. Deluded fools that we are, we have to believe that with the proper amount of preparation, we can solve any problem, overcome any obstacle, survive any emergency.

Sadly, that’s not the case. Statistics indicate that 5% of us die yearly, the highest mortality rate in aviation (higher even than air show pilots), so proper prep may not sidestep every emergency. Still, we have to believe in something.

Accordingly, I’m doing everything possible to guarantee that my upcoming delivery in a Grand Caravan from Long Beach, Calif., to Seoul, Korea—trip number 202—goes without a hitch.

A recent inquiry from a longtime reader wondering what goes into preparation for a ferry flight prompted me to ponder everything that happens before the trip.

I’ll be flying the 7,500 nm from California to Korea in one of GA’s most comfortable planes. The Caravan is a good ride, but it wasn’t designed for speed. It takes considerable winding of the large key on its back to reach a reasonable cruise number. Cessna’s big 208 is a heavy hauler with the stability of a locomotive, the manners of a Skyhawk and the simplicity of a Tonka toy.

Fortunately, N48JA has had the underbelly cargo pod removed, so I won’t be slowed by a huge protuberance beneath the fuselage. Previous trips suggest I’ll see about 150 to 155 knots heavy, 160 to 165 knots light in no-wind conditions (which don’t exist on the Pacific).

Route planning is simple, as there’s only one practical route for us little guys—the same one I’ve flown a dozen times. Yes, you could track north through Anchorage and Kotzebue, Alaska; then, arc back down through Anadyr, Siberia, and Petropavlovsk, Russia, but only if you had a very large supply of money. (Jet fuel is available in Russia, but there’s no avgas. If you need avgas, you must have it shipped in and secured until you arrive.)

The trip devolves to four fairly long legs. The first hop is the longest, Santa Barbara to Honolulu on the Delta track—2,154 nm, or about 14.5 hours in a Caravan. Once I pass the Channel Islands, there’s not even a rock sticking out of the water, so for the first six or seven hours, my only alternate will be a return to KSBA.

Ironically, because the wind nearly always starts off as a headwind and winds up a tailwind, I’ll need to begin the trip with a howgoesit that suggests I won’t make it. According to the University of Hawaii’s Atmospheric Research Department, the wind typically rotates clockwise from west to northeast as you get farther from the mainland. By the time you’re 1,400 nm out of Santa Barbara, U of H suggests you’ll be benefitting from a 10- to 20-knot push about 94% of the time.

I was a victim of the other 6% 15 years ago, delivering a new Mooney MSE from Kerrville, Texas, to Dubbo, Australia. I had been flying with my buddy Jon Egaas in a big yellow turboprop Ayres Thrush crop duster headed for Brisbane. Egaas had diverted to Hilo and flamed out on the ramp after landing. I touched down in Honolulu with about five gallons remaining in the tanks—rather not do that again.


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