2 September to 29 August 2011

Friday, 2 September 2011 On the way to the Los Angeles!

2011-09-01 1:17 UTC+2

The guys departed from Honolulu shortly after midnight (SA local time) and took off to Kahului on Maui to refuel. We overheard James say to ATC that they will be there for 45minutes before flying to the mainland. Good luck guys, and fly safely!

Below is the mp3 clips of ZU-TAF talking to Kahului ATC on departure:

ZU-TAF speaking to Kahului, Maui (mp3 link)

* Thanks goes to liveATC.net for making this possible

Thursday, 1 September 2011 Another late night update on Wednesday night, 13 August 2011

2011-09-01 13:10 UTC+2

We need two kinds of permission to have ZU-TAF "released" from her grounding so that we can go on to California and beyond. The first is the "TSA" (Transportation Security Administration) waiver letter which relates to the protection of US security. Although we received this document some weeks ago, it expired just after our arrival. Although application for a renewal had already been made, we had to wait for the renewed document to be issued.

The second is an aviation related document known as an "SFA" or Special Flight Permit. The SFA couldn't be issued until the TSA waiver was in place, which, as of this afternoon, it once again is. The SFA is the document which confirms that the FAA has satisfied itself that the aircraft in question is a reasonably airworthy aircraft on a reasonable mission with a reasonable crew. Obtaining that documentation required the fitment of the HF radio, so as to meet legal requirements. That has been duly fitted and is now fully operational. Supporting documentation has been submitted to the FAA and we hope and expect to receive the SFA tomorrow morning. Since the Sling 4 is an "experimental aircraft" (in US lingo), and one about which the authorities here do not know a great deal, they wish to keep it away from large, busy passenger airports. We have accordingly proposed to do a short hop from Honolulu (on Honolulu Island) to Kahului (on Maui Island) and depart from there direct to Santa Maria airport, which is about 200km north of Los Angeles. There we'll be met by Mike, Matt Liknaitsky and, we hope, some other friends and interested people. The relevance is that they will escort us through the complex and busy LA airspace, thereby ensuring that we don't interfere with any traffic, primarily at LAX.

So after a few quite frustrating days of waiting, it does look like tomorrow we'll be legally free to fly again. One problem, however, is that the weather apparently has other plans. Current predictions are headwinds of between 15 and 30 knots, on the nose, pretty much the whole way, as well as quite a bit of cloud. That shows on vfrplanner as "Low cloud", but of course we fly low and find it directly in our path. The thought of again banging into that wind for 22 to 26 hours, non-stop, is quite debilitating and, as loathe as we are to delay, it MAY lead to us waiting another day. My personal worst is flying on these moonless, pitch dark nights and just whamming into clouds which have violent turbulence, especially in an aircraft which is so heavily loaded. The daytime is one thing, but it's really quite a different proposition when the flight takes all night as well as a good 5 to 6 hours before and after!

There are so many thoughts that I'd like to write about, but as usual there's not a lot of time. Here're a couple though -

On flying over the sea in moonless conditions at night with embedded storms – I've no doubt that we did the right thing on the Taiwan to Guam and Guam to Majuro (Marhsall Islands) legs – just get really low over the water, check altimeter against GPS altitude on three independent GPS's, and stay there. The turbulence low down over the ocean is infinitely less than in a vertically developed cloud, most decent aircraft can handle lots of rain, and there's always a dispersal of descending air near the sea.

On the question regarding the contribution to safety of an HF radio, a working satellite tracking device and a stormscope (and whether we were irresponsible not to have those devices) – When we left SA we genuinely understood that provided we flew in VFR airspace we did not require an HF radio as a matter of law. We have discovered, however, that over the Pacific Ocean all airspace above 5 500 feet is class A IFR only airspace and, in any event, one is not entitled to fly even under that without an HF radio. Out of Majuro we actually filed a flightplan which had us at 5 000 feet. The weather, however, required that we climb and we accordingly relayed our position via aircraft overhead whenever possible. (It is a pretty empty quarter of the Pacific Ocean, though). Our transponder was on and I seriously doubt we posed a threat to any other aircraft, all of which would have been at least 30 000 feet above us! (Incidentally, we saw the Continental Airlines flight and they saw us around midnight as we spoke to each other – just blinking lights somewhere near Johnston Atoll). Our safety was really entirely in our own hands, and would have been so regardless of communications. The only real purpose of communications would have been for rescue purposes and our PLB's would have in any event directed rescue efforts directly to us. In real terms I don't believe that we would have been much "safer" with tracking and an HF, though of course that's no excuse for breaking the laws of your hosts – that's just pure bad manners and we'll do our best to avoid doing that again!

I see I was reported as saying that I wouldn't again do a trip like this without an HF radio. That's actually not quite right! What I think I said (and certainly meant to say), was that once we're home safe and sound I personally may choose to do future trips like this in a slightly different way. I've loved the isolation, the need to make a plan as we go, the re-routing and the re-scheming that involves, the (relative) risk-taking, the uncertainty and the surprises along the way. But I do feel as if, for now anyway, I've done enough flying at night in rather iffy weather to last for a while. In my past I've rock-climbed quite hard and loved every minute of it, but since my kids were born I do feel that I may have lost my "edge". I still love to climb, but I'm not as driven as I once was. I wonder whether perhaps I'm not about to go through the same process with cross-country flying! (Hhhmm, then again, I'm sure that once home I may forget those moments of terror in favour only of the moments of pure freedom and beauty!). Anyhow, I can say with absolute certainty that for me it's got nothing to do with comms, particularly HF comms, it has only to do with the inherent risks once you've done absolutely everything that you can do!

A stormscope, incidentally, Mike and I found ultimately to be of only limited use on our last trip around the world. It just seemed too inconsistently accurate and it only helped to avoid actual established lightning, not huge convective clouds.

Anyhow, I think it's important that these kinds of issues are debated. Paradoxically the (probably necessary) conservatism associated with aviation means that often, especially at our end of the scale, it's not the legally required stuff that makes it safe, but legally irrelevant devices like GPS's and highly effective EFIS instruments. But it's always good sense and a bit of experience that actually keeps you alive, and that's also not easy to legislate for (or perhaps come by!).

Ok, that's it for tonight. Jean's just returned from what appears to be a bit of a "night on the town" and we're going to turn in. We'll do a weather assessment tomorrow morning (about 1800Z on 1 September) with the help of Sias Dreyer, Tim Parsonson and the Exeter gurus, and make a decision about whether to head for California. Probably either way we'll head for Maui just after we receive the FAA's go ahead. At worst we'll camp out in Maui tomorrow night in preparation for optimum weather. Every which way, we'll endeavour to keep you more up to date than over the past few days.

Finally, take look at these Google Earth screenshots of the now entirely uninhabited Johnston Atoll which Jean and I passed DIRECTLY over at about 3am three nights back. We bitterly regretted that it wasn't early evening and that we couldn't manufacture a good reason for landing there, camping out on our own, overnight, before continuing in the morning. An HF radio of course would have made it possible to explain that we'd merely stopped for technical reasons pending the sunlight and that no rescue would be necessary! Perhaps the doggone thing would have been useful after all!

Thursday, 1 September 2011 A day with the Feds

2011/9/1 10:53:34 AM UTC+2

Okey dokey! So here goes.

Somehow call it luck, fate or devine intervention.I have ended up in a backpackers lodge using reasonably priced internet. I have had comms with a bunch of good friends, and when I saw James in the hotel a few hours ago he said he would read his "Economist" for another 10 mins and then do an update. Clearly the lad has drifted off into slumberland.

Well I can't hold it against him, after all he did spend the day with da Feds! A job well done! So much time and energy goes into admin and especially this session. So I hope he is asleep. We are hoping that the admin will bare fruit in the morning and our friendly Feds can bid us farewell.

The next consideration, HF or no HF is the weather.Full respect to the elements. With all the admin distractions we find ourselves with less than perfect conditions for a longish flight. So the thought is to sleep on it, wake early and get our butts to the Bullet, then hope to get the paper that will make flight possible, get into the Bullet without refuelling, still enough gas from the last flight, zip over to Maui, fill up, from a pump using a credit card and self service, checking weather finally and then decide if we shoot east or book into the "Kite Beach" hotel and work on our kite boarding for a couple of days until the weather is good.

Jeez, See how sensible the HF makes you!

So GOOD night everyone, I am gonna go see how my Captain is doing. Love you all!


Thursday, 1 September 2011 Quick update from Jean

2011-09-01 12:19:13 AM UTC+2

Howdy All.

I have just spent half an hour on a very expensive computer line updating latest news and somehow it has dissappeared. I hope it somehow gets to the site.

Basically we will still be here for another 18 plus hours, James is in the FAA offices smoothing things out and lucky me is off to da beach, Life sucks :) We will update departure as soon as we are sure!


Wednesday, 31 August 2011 Mike reporting from LA

Yayyy … I am in LA anxiously waiting for J & J and the Bullet to arrive. The flight here was interesting - I went via Dubai (Emirates Airline) and if you do a quick check on Google Earth you will find the shortest path to LA is over the North Pole and that is the route we took. It was quite something looking out the window down at about where the Noth Pole is and thinking that it was definitely not a place that you want to land by mistake (say that the Airbus A330 fuel pump got blocked for instance)…! One thing for sure - after sitting on those seats for 16 hours the seats are not nearly as comfortable as our Slings seats. Actually they are damn uncomfortable and I am amazed that they are not able to fathom that out yet. Maybe the seat designers always fly business or first class.

I have a day to myself today and will take the opportunety to explore Venice Beach and get some exercise in preparation for my bouts of cabin fever that I am sure are about to decend on me!

So, all being well J & J will arrive here at Torrance airport tomorrow at about 2 pm. Matt (our partner in The Airplane Factory USA Inc) and Ryan, who will actually run the business, are preparing a welcoming party with friends, other aviators and the press. Torrance is where the Robinson helicopter factory is - we are trying to arrange a factory tour for Friday which will be very interesting I am sure.

OK, I must check the weather and advise J & J - Sias are you checking too? … more later.


Wednesday, 31 August 2011 Departure from Hawaii delayed

Howdy Everybody!

Just a quick update. James is fast asleep snoring away peacefully after a morning at the field chatting convincingly to our new friends at the FAA. They are doing all they can to get us out of here ASAP. It certainly will not be today, 30th, but we are confident all will be in place for a departure tomorrow.

We will give a detailed update later after James' beauty sleep and I have had a swim and kicked back on the beach! After all it is THE place to do just that, I could never sleep with this beach action going on! We hope to hear from FAA later so we can plan for the flight.

Look forward to letting you know! Now for that beach!


Message sent by Jean to one aviation forum:

Howdy everybody!

James and I have been at the airfield all morning doing final tweaks to the bullet after fitting and testing our funky new bit of kit. Yeah man, we got ourselves hooked up with "SAN FRANCISCO RADIO" It was amazing when we did a radio check last night just outside the hanger and made contact with with those blokes at SFR 4000km away.

James ,exhausted from spending time this morning with our new friends at the FAA is catching up on a bit of sleep and I am sure on waking will update some more detail. Jim, you are quiet correct, after that contact with SFR last night I am astounded at the power of HF. I can now for the first time understand amateur radio ham addictions and I am sure that we are going to love having it as a tool. Although I don't really want to be way out there over the Pacific ocean in storms with no alternates closer than 2000km without an HF radio or sat phone again, I am very glad that James and I have done it.

There have been times when we have been out of contact with the world in darkest nights and wildest storms and no position fix for hours , well off course and no land for mega miles. These are the times I have felt the most alive. There is something about that place and space that cannot be descibed. You have to go there to feel it. And somehow having the HF on board, that place, is no longer a space!

Till later

Tuesday, 30 August 2011 Late night Monday 29 August 2011 - Quick update

(Actually early morning Tuesday 2011)

It's past 1 o'clock am in Waikiki and we've been back from the "T-hangars" at the Honolulu International airport for just two hours. There seems to be a misconception out there that we've been resting up all day! Actually it's quite different – our aeroplane is grounded by the FAA and we're not allowed to fly until it's been inspected by them and is found satisfactory such they are able to issue an "SFA" (Special Flight Authority). An SFA is the document required for an aircraft like ours to perform a ferry flight like that from Hawaii to California and in this case it'll also have the effect of "un-grounding" ZU-TAF.

In our case the most important requirement for the SFA is that we have on board, satisfactorily fitted, an HF radio. The local FAA inspector, if satisfied, will make a recommendation to Washington DC, which will in turn grant us the required SFA. Washington's 6 hours ahead of Hawaii, so communications can also be difficult. Nevertheless, the US being the US, we understand that there's usually only a three hour turn-around time. Still, it means if we want to get going tomorrow (Tuesday, to meet Mike in LA the day after he arrives) we need to get started pretty early in the morning to enable the FAA to do what they need to do, and their wheels will pretty much need to turn like clockwork!

Looking back, we arrived in Hawaii yesterday to face the flak for our (genuinely unintended) violations of the legal requirements on communications. We've managed, in one day, not only to hire a car, find a hotel, settle in, do some exercise, eat and swim, read our website and Avcom and do a brief update, but also to locate a portable HF radio (we're renting it, not buying it!), and we've even fitted it. Thanks Read and Jean for letting us hangar ZU-TAF in your hangar (Read and Jean plan a circumnavigation of their own in a couple of years in their Cessna 421!).

Thanks also to Gene Wilkie for your incredible help and enthusiasm. Gene too strolled across to say "hi" just after our arrival. We were introduced to his personality when someone said to us, "There're lots of mechanics on the field, but here's only one craftsman", being Gene. Gene's flown choppers in SA and elsewhere in Africa and so appreciates something of the African approach to things. Anyhow, he stayed late, helping us with installation of the radio, crafting components on his lathe instantaneously as we went. Jim Murphy, a ferry pilot, instructor, navy reservist and man of many varied skills also helped, not least with actually getting all settings on the radio in place and instructing us on the arcane subtleties of HF radio use.

Having fitted the radio, at about 22h30 Jim had us push the plane 5 yards out of the hangar from where he called "San Fransisco Radio", 4 000 km's away. Jean and I were flabbergasted when they gaily responded "Zulu Uniform Tango Alpha Foxtrot, go ahead".

So we're more or less ready to meet the FAA officials tomorrow morning. If it's all greased lightening, we'll fuel up, file a flightplan and otherwise ready ourselves while we wait for the go-ahead from Washington. Absolutely everything being in order, we'll depart for LA early afternoon, to land early afternoon Wednesday. The weather looks pretty good, getting worse from there on out. Please don't hold your breaths, though - if it doesn't work out so quickly tomorrow, then we will just take the rest we haven't really had and we'll report back again more fully from our hotel room tomorrow night!

One last photo that somehow got left out yesterday is of Don and his son DJ who also came through to meet us when we arrived in Honolulu. We've been too busy to see them today, but perhaps if we don't get off tomorrow we could cross paths – we'd love to have a bit more of an opportunity to check out the island. In fact what would have been great would have been to have had the time for a local sightseeing flight in ZU-TAF. This country is just such an aviation paradise – everything's possible and even easy. We wish there was time right now to report on thoughts and impressions of Hawaii and the US. People are just so optimistic and supportive, and it feels as if anything can be achieved, all one needs is the energy and desire. There will, eventually, be time to do that from LA, we're sure. Meanwhile, more time slices and catch-ups from "In the Jetstream".

J and J

Monday, 29 August 2011 Photo log from Marshall Islands to Hawaii

Shots from the last 48 hours. Write-up to follow sleep.

One piece of news - we've located a portable HF radio, so LA's back on the cards. USD500. Steep, but not prohibitive, even for airpackers!

We'll be onto fitting that tomorrow with our leatherman. Thanks Gary (and Darryl).

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