Singapore By Bonanza
Flying a Bonanza to Singapore offers an education in “managing” thunderstorms
American Samoa stands in stark contrast to most of the low, flat Pacific islands. A U.S. territory 2,300 nm southwest of Hawaii, the main island is mildly mountainous, more reminiscent of Maui than Tahiti. It’s perhaps ironic that if you had enough range, you could fly 4,500 nm out in the Pacific and still be in the United States. The people are mostly expatriate mainlanders who used to live in Des Moines and have now moved to paradise.
The big leg over to Honiara, Solomons, was rainy and rough, if blessed with slight tailwinds. The airport at Honiara was built by the Japanese during WWII and seized by American forces in August 1942 and named Henderson Field. Today, Honiara is a sleepy place with spectacular scuba diving in nearby Iron Bottom Sound, where dozens of Japanese and American ships litter the bottom.
No rest for working pilots, however. Flying across to Darwin in northern Australia, you run right by some of the most dramatic mountains in the South Pacific. Papua New Guinea sports some 15,000-foot peaks spiking straight up out of brilliant green jungles far beyond the definition of wild. If it all looks too beautiful and idyllic to be true, it is. The country seems to spend much of its time in political upheaval, and you don’t even want to contemplate going down in that wilderness.
Owner Barry Andrews flew down from Singapore to Darwin to ride the last leg up the Malaysian chain on the weekend. I arrived on a Wednesday night, so I had a welcome two days off for butt recovery. Darwin is in Australia’s northern tropics and has a justifiable reputation as the place the thunder gods hold their parties. In fact, scientists often travel to Darwin to study the phenomenon. The night before our departure, we witnessed a truly amazing display of sky fireworks unlike anything I’d ever seen. The hotel manager shrugged his shoulders. No big deal.
The temperature was already 30 degrees C at six the following morning as I pushed the throttle up for takeoff, and I knew this would be an interesting departure. With two up front, an extra two suitcases and 900 pounds of fuel tucked in behind, the Bonanza was about as comfortable as an MRI machine and was, most emphatically, vertically challenged.
Andrews was all eyes as we lifted off in 3,000 horizontal feet, then hovered above Darwin’s 11,000-foot runway before we could begin to climb away from Australia. Even after I’d built up a reasonable 100 knots of climb speed, the overloaded Bonanza only ascended at 250 to 300 fpm in the oppressive heat and humidity.
After a labored, 35-minute climb, I settled in at 12,000 feet for the second-longest leg of the trip, happy that I was almost done with this delivery. The thunderstorms were on temporary morning hold, but I knew they’d be firing up again as we transitioned northwest.
Singapore is almost on the equator, hard into the Intertropical Convergence Zone (the dreaded ITCH), so afternoon CBs are practically a given. I was grateful for the Stormscope as we tracked northwest, losing altitude over the water and dodging the nastiest of the cells. I’m as paranoid as anyone about thunderstorms, but in this part of the world, you either learn to deal with them, or you may as well sell your airplane.
Singapore’s Seletar Airport was welcome in the rain and mist on a humid Sunday evening. Singapore is rich and thriving, a gleaming pearl of capitalism run amok. White-gloved police are everywhere, crime is virtually nonexistent, and don’t even think about tagging or any other form of vandalism unless you enjoy caning. (Ask Michael Fay.)
I spent two days in modern Singapore, the Manhattan of Malaysia, before returning to Los Angeles. In total, I had covered just under 10,000 nm of ocean over a week. I logged about 65 hours in Andrews’ Bonanza, a capable machine that obviously never knew it was over water. I did.