Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

To Korea, With Luck


Four legs, 52 flight hours in one of the world’s most comfortable—and slowest—turboprops



My buddy Jeff Kopps of the National Weather Service in Monterey, Calif., had predicted headwinds out of Santa Barbara, and as usual, he was right. It’s about 2,160 nm to Honolulu, and if I use those initial winds to calculate my howgoesit, I’ll probably never launch, as the numbers suggest I wouldn’t make it.

Fortunately, the wind nearly always turns around at mid-crossing, gradually rotating clockwise to the tail for the last 900 nm. I depart Santa Barbara at 11,400 pounds (2,650 over normal gross), and the plane labors to reach my initial cruising altitude of 6,000 feet. Early groundspeeds indicate about 130 knots above the Pacific. The airplane wallows along at its heavy weight, struggling to make headway against the wind.

The Cessna Caravan I fly is a capable-enough machine, fitted with 410-gallon ferry tanks, bringing total fuel capacity to 745 gallons. That’s about 16.6 hours’ worth at 45 gph. Still, as a turboprop, it looks as if it should be delivering milk products, wheels down and welded, beefy struts holding the wings in place—a flying cargo hauler doing exactly the job it does best, provided you’re not in a hurry.

Under more normal circumstances, I’d be seeing 150 knots at 10,000 feet. Today, to go up is to fly even slower. I drive on toward Hawaii at the minimum IFR altitude, confident the wind will turn around. It better.

It does. By 1,200 nm out, I have a slight push, and the result is a 140-knot groundspeed. As I burn down and gain on Molokai, my first point of land, the Caravan’s speed slowly increases: 150 knots, 160 knots, then 165 knots. Finally, in the last hour of the trip, I’m seeing 170 knots on the Garmin 530, and the Chelton air-data computer suggests I have a 20-knot tailwind.

Though I departed Santa Barbara at the first hint of daylight, I land on Honolulu’s runway 4R two hours into night. After 15.1 hours en route at an average speed of 142 knots, I have 60 gallons of reserve, or 1.3 hours, remaining in the tanks. The first leg of ferry flight #202 is complete.

I spend my day off driving around Oahu in a rental car, marveling at Hawaii’s lack of interstate highways, checking out the Gidget surfing competition at North Shore beach and enjoying the scenery at Waikiki.

A day later, I’m ready for the trip’s second leg, this one 1,980 nm down to Majuro, Marshall Islands, smack in the middle of the Pacific and just over halfway to my destination. The remote location served its purpose in the ’50s, when the Marshalls (Majuro, Kwajalein, Bikini and Enewetak) were prime locations for America’s atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. Today, the Marshalls are an independent country, still tied to the States by treaty, currency and other agreements.

To avoid landing after the 4:45 p.m. curfew in Majuro and incurring an overtime fee, I’m off Honolulu at 6 a.m., well before daybreak. True to Jeff’s updated predictions, the winds are the standard prevailing trades, shoving the heavily loaded Caravan along at 150 knots right after level off at 6,000 feet. Again, higher isn’t better; it’s actually slower. The Cessna is so heavy, I probably couldn’t climb to 10,000 feet anyway, at least not until I burn down to a more civilized weight.

Johnston Island comes and goes, 700 miles out, a former U.S. military base, now totally abandoned, its Quonset huts collapsed and hauled away, its runway X’ed off. It’s another 1,280 nm to Majuro, and there’s not even a rock sticking out of the water for refuge.



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