You depart from a hard runway, go “feet wet” over the water in 30 seconds, fly for 13 to 15 hours across nothing but ocean and then return to earth at the first land you see. Not exactly the glamorous image most pilots have of ferry flying. On top of that, by definition, we don’t fly to the garden spots touted in the travel brochures simply because—duh!—they’re too expensive. The idea, after all, is to make a profit.
At least, I’d have a good airplane under me. The owner had just overhauled the engine and fitted the panel with every avionics item I could ask for. Tanking was all behind me: 150 gallons in addition to the plane’s 74-gallon mains and 30-gallon tip tanks. That’s 254 gallons total. At 15 gph, that provides 14 hours’ endurance plus a three-hour reserve.
On the long leg to Honolulu, that works out to a refusal speed of 154 knots (a simple division of endurance into distance), easily within the province of an A36TC, even one loaded 700 pounds over gross. Many ferry pilots, this one included, use that single number as a how-goes-it. If your GPS groundspeed drops below that number for any significant time, you’re eating into your reserve. You may need to change altitude, go to long-range cruise, pray or all of the above.
As usual, the first leg would be the biggest challenge—2,165 nm from Santa Barbara to Honolulu. (If things are really tight, you can launch from Oakland and go into Hilo on the Big Island, and the distance drops to about 2,035 nm.) After that, the legs become easier, typically 12 to 13 hours or less.
Barring a typhoon, weather on the Pacific is consistently benign, usually nothing worse than afternoon puffies and some light chop. As long as the engine keeps running, the gear goes up and down and the satellites continue triangulating your position so you can locate a five-mile-wide island from 2,000 miles away, you should be okay.
I’ve described the mainland/Honolulu experience many times before, so I won’t reiterate it here. Honolulu on to Christmas was also pretty much a walk in the park, 6.5 hours from wheels up to wheels down in perfect weather with tailwinds all the way. Christmas is the world’s largest coral atoll and a site for British nuclear testing in the ’50s and ’60s, which probably made it even flatter.
The following day, it was off to Pago Pago with inevitable headwinds crossing the equator. Despite clocking only about 2.5 miles a minute, the Bonanza seemed happy at 12,000 feet and covered the 1,250 nm leg in an easy eight hours.
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