25 August to 22 August 2011

Thursday, 25 August 2011 Procedure for using HF radios when crossing the ocean

For those of you who followed the departure from Guam, you might have heard a discussion between ATC and ZU-TAF asking them what com radios they have onboard.

Below is a very interesting post by Amateur Radio AB9IL with regards to HF communications.

After departure, the crew will call the HF radio facility for the first part of the ocean crossing and obtain the current frequencies and check the selective calling equipment. If you hear a carrier wave for a few seconds, followed by someone asking for frequencies and a SELCAL check, that is what is happening. Well before reaching the "coast out" point, the air traffic controllers will have conducted another procedure with the crew: issuing the oceanic clearance. ATC will read the clearance, and the pilot communicating will read it back, plus specify the numeric track message identifier received before departure. The routing, altitude, and Mach numbers are essential parts of the clearance, and both pilots normally write down what they hear from ATC. Note that the Central - East Pacific routes don't use track messages; a simple IFR clearance is sufficient. About 150 to 200 miles beyond the coast, ATC terminates radar service and advises the flight to switch over to HF position reporting. The VHF radios are then set to 121.5 (guard), 123.45 (air to air), and the company ops frequency. Transponder code 2000 is set until re-entering radar controlled airspace. HF #1 is set to the primary frequency in use, and HF #2 is set to "DATA" mode. Then the flight makes plenty of data bursts for the HFDL monitors out there.

Note that there are some operators, with fat budgets, who use satellite communications, or a data-link system called CPDLC, don't have to bother. with HF position reporting on oceanic flights. No fun for them…it reduces the experience of crowded HF frequencies to noiseless VOIP and text-messaging. Aside from communications, the work is similar for anyone doing class II navigation - regular checking of fuel burn, time estimates, upper air conditions, and the quality of on board coffee. There is a whole order and rhythm, as shown by example of the Nav Checklist. Crossing each reporting point, the pilot monitoring will turn up his communication panel's HF audio gain, and call the facility working his geographic area, and make a position report (in standard non-radar format). This will be repeated until the flight is advised to make their next report to ATC on a VHF frequency nearing "coast-in." The crew then sets the next VHF frequency in comm radio #1 and waits. Usually about 200 miles off shore, the ground based ATC signals start breaking squelch. Eventually, signals are strong enough to make contact with ATC, send a position report, and receive a code for the radar transponder. Radar tends to not make it as far as VHF signals, so a few minutes will go by before ATC advises "radar contact" and gives a domestic clearance to the destination.

*Thank you Corrie Basson for pointing us to this article

So, what Jean and James would have done is to contact an overflying airliner on their VHF radio and the airliner uses their HF radio for the long distance messages to Marshall Islands. The diagram shows the HF radio coverage of the Pacific.

Thursday, 25 August 2011 Flying to Amata Kabua Intl Airport, Marshall Islands

In just over 11 hours' time, James would have flown to Marshall Islands from both sides of the world…having flown to Marshall Islands in 2009 as well when The Airplane Factory flew the Sling 2 around the world.

Below is a 7min video of a Boeing 737 landing at Amata Kabua Intl Airport, giving you a good idea of how narrow this atoll is… with a population of over 25400 people.

Thursday, 25 August 2011 Departure from Guam

James and Jean are finally en-route to Marshall Island.

The guys had to delay departure this morning in order to fix a radio problem they had due to water. One of the doors blew open during the day in the hangar and water got into the cockpit.

Then the weather forecast for the leg forced them to delay departure in order to ensure they hit the worst storms during day time rather, and finally when ZU-TAF was taxiing towards the runway, they had to turn back for a few more minutes due to flight path issues. So, James and Jean must have been quite relieved when they eventually took off to Marshall Islands.

To get an idea of the weather they will be facing, click on the infrared satellite image.

Also, herewith some mp3 clips from today's departure from Guam.

ZU-TAF speaking to Guam ATC 1 (mp3 link)
ZU-TAF speaking to Guam ATC 2 (mp3 link)
ZU-TAF speaking to Guam ATC 3 (mp3 link)
ZU-TAF speaking to Guam ATC 4 (mp3 link)

* Thanks goes to liveATC.net for making this possible

Thursday, 25 August 2011 Weather predictions: Guam to Marshall Island

What a flight to Guam congratulations!! My story for the next leg

1) Departure still rain and a steady wind of 180/200deg 25-29kt up to 14000ft.

2) This should clear 2-3 hours into the flight with the majority of the middle cloud left of track.

3) Head wind all the way starting at 160/12 and closer to destination 085/17

4) Freezing level 16,000ft

5) Spot graphs indicating more rain ½ way with cloud top at 12,000ft. Low cloud expected for the last 200 nm at 2500ft clearing at 10,000ft with rain. At destination the possibility of rain winds 064/15 with CBs

6) There are storms moving in from the south toward the Marshall Island but hopefully it would have cleared on arrival.

7) With the forecast winds I estimate the flight to be 17h20m working on 105kt calculation

8) Storms left track is moving north-east although there are part of it moving south that are less in intensity expect rain below 22,000ft. There is a storm developing left and right of track 250nm from the Marshall Islands moving in from the north and south with winds up to 20 kts.. http://www.goes.noaa.gov/guam/guamloops/guamircolor.html

Have a safe flight, regards to Jean.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011 What a day

Whoooa, what a day! And what an emotional arrival in Guam. We can't believe that a whole bunch of friends at home were busy listening to us and following our every move on ATC live while we were out there in the cauldron trying to make sure that nothing went too pear shaped. Ah well, thankfully it all seems to have worked out!

We'll update you on our plans from here on out tomorrow, before we leave for the Marshall Islands. This time we've actually got our permission in advance, so what can possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, here are just a couple of images of the day -

We started early, sad not to have seen central Taipei at all. Arriving at Taoyuang International early (00h30 am to be precise), we found the whole Sunrise Airline team there. See http://www.sunriseairline.com/sunriseairline/web_en/index.php if you ever intend to fly to Taiwan or ever need handling there. What heroes - and bearing gifts, flags and unlimited support. Thanks Gordon, Emily and your colleagues.

Things changed tone a bit when, on request for startup, the Japs again delayed us by more than a half hour. (Even going south we had to pass through a corner of their airspace and they felt our chosen flight level of 070 was too far off their minimum of 270. There were a bunch utterances about how, since Pearl Harbour, no nation has made a decision so detrimental to aviation in the Pacific area and so on. But finally, after some subtle but powerful lawyerly explanations regarding potential radio communication techniques and so on we were given the go ahead.

The first half of the day really turned out quite comfortably. A moderate headwind for the first 7 or so hours with no adversity, save some puffy white 'forerunners' of what may be to come. It was really quite a beautiful day over the Phillipine Sea and we took the time to enjoy the views.

Sadly things just couldn't continue that way, given all the funny squiggles we'd seen on the synoptic charts and eventually rude reality intervened. We started a little unrealistically by climbing and climbing to try steer clear of the CB's between their heads. It was quite an experience for us to be relying messages to San Francisco Radio, whatever the hell that is, presumably more than 5 000 nautical miles away. Anyhow, when San Francisco relayed a sigmet report with the exact GPS co-ordinates of the 9 closest storms to us through one or other boeing I suddenly realized how much I love the Americans and how wrong Osama and his mates have been all along. I almost wept with relief, got out my pad and rules and started drawing latitude and longitude lines with our position, our destination, a line in between, all the storm positions and so on. It was really quite an instructive academic exercise. Jean meanwhile was conducting an in depth investigation into where to fit in the stormscope he won't be doing this trip again without.


As you can see, the day took quite a bit out of us both.

But we were received in Guam with incredible warmth and kindness and we believe we've lined up some evening entertainment that may result in it all having been forgotten tomorrow. We'll report further then, Inshallah.

J and J

Wednesday, 24 August 2011 Safely in Guam. Next stop is Marshall Islands.

Mike has had a brief talk with James and Jean shortly after their arrival in Guam and relayed this to me: James say the rain was very heavy towards the end and they were really ducking and diving to avoid patches of storms. I do think that James' comment to ATC when they told him they could not avoid the extreme conditions for the last 8nm in, pretty much sums up their attitude toward the trip so far. "Well… we've been through a bunch of it already so we should be alright…" Those who know James can just imagine him saying that…

The plan is for them to get some rest until 04h00 SA time (0200 UTC) , then head out back to the airport to refuel and take-off at 06h00 SA time (0400 UTC). The next leg, to Amata Kabua International in the Marshall Islands is a 16 hour flight with heavy (10 - 20 knot) headwinds pretty much the whole way. The weather looks really bad for about the first two hours with moderate to extreme storms but then gets better after that, not withstanding that they will have headwinds the whole way.

As soon as the guys are rested we will get some more news from them and let you know more about the flight to Guam, however as they are staying for such a short time and need some rest they might not do a full update until the Marshal Islands.


Below are some excerpts of James speaking to ATC in Guam as they came in to land.

ZU-TAF speaking to Guam ATC (mp3 link)

* Thanks goes to liveATC.net for making this possible

Tuesday, 23 August 2011 Got it from Guam - 15 hours to lift off

We've just heard from Michelle that our Guam approval is through. That's such great news as we're starting to get a bit of cabin fever here in Taoyuan. It's been an interesting stay, but hey, we're trying to get to LA, not take a break in Taiwan!

Here're a couple of shots to give an idea of what our re-planning involves. Google Earth is an incredibly powerful tool for this kind of trip – instantaneous distances, runway lengths, approximate weather, etc. And of course there's the romance of just spinning the earth under your fingertips! Here're a couple of screen-dumps showing our new routing (purple) and old (red). Then a closer shot of the Guam, Marshall Islands, Hawaii section. (Oh boy, there's a lot of ocean out there – and all with headwinds!). Wake Island just looks so "out there" that I had to zoom in a little. Isn't it cool? We'd like to go there, but actually it's a little further from Wake to Hawaii than from the Marshall Islands, and it's less certain on avgas.

As we lost two of our 20 liter fuel containers (arduously acquired with Laurent in Reunion) when we had to abandon them at the entrance to the Bandaranaike International Airport in Sri Lanka, we've now had to find some more in preparation for the long legs to come. We dedicated a bit of yesterday to that and also to finding the other necessary odds n ends (a T piece, valve and hose clamp) to cut down plumbing work in-flight. The hotel receptionist wrote down what we needed on a piece of paper to make things easier. Take a look. (Just remember to read right to left and suddenly it's not so hard).


We stiiii … iillll haven't got into Taipei. We were planning to leave to do so in a half hour or so and Jean's just bolted downstairs to get some local info. I think we may still try get in there for the view from the top of the Taipei 101 Building, which was officially the world's highest from 2004 until completion of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010. I've checked the weather since I wrote the heading to this update and there's a very nasty low pressure system just north of Guam. I imagine we may have to delay 24 hours to wait it out and that'll leave a full day for exploring central Taipei tomorrow. Jean's just come back and told me that Taipei is a mnemonic for "Technology, Art, Innovation, People, Environment and Identity". It would be a bit of a disappointment to get this close and not immerse ourselves in it, so perhaps the weather is effectively playing into our hands to give us one more day to explore.

I'm going to sign-off to prepare a flightplan and then get better weather input from Exeter. Jean's announced that since we're leaving soon he's off to do a load of laundry and I'm delighted as I've been wearing the same pair of grey Cape Storm pants for 16 days without a break. Things just keep getting better!

J and J

PS – I am sad that we won't be going to Adak – the kind of place you're unlikely ever to get to if you miss out first time round. Then again, I'm also quite relieved - here's something on the perils of landing there that's been preying on my mind a bit. (Chalkie – it looks like we may not need those immersion suits as badly as we thought. They're still close to hand in case, though!)

From the website of the World's Most Dangerous Airports -

We've got another airport to add to our list of the world's most dangerous airports. Adak Airport, the westernmost public airfield in the United States, makes our list, thanks to tipster Ron's awesome story:

This used to be a US Naval Air Station way the heck out 'n gone in the Aleutian Islands from about 1942 until closure in 1997. Since then, it's become a civilian-operated airport. I'm not an air operations specialist of any sort, but as a civilian contractor working for the Navy, we commuted through Adak a number of times in 1989, 1990 and 1991 on our way to Amchitka, from Anchorage.

I specifically remember bouncing into Adak virtually every time we landed or took off from there. Seems the winds were always 30+, and sometimes as high as 60 when we finally got in or out. Then there was the fog.

There were several times we stooged around over the island for hours, hoping for 1/4 mile visibility so we could land. We usually made it in about 50% of the time on flights from Anchorage. If we were lucky enough to get in and out of Adak, we made it to Amchitka less than 50% of the time. We were flying Reeve Air.

One takeoff from Adak remains firmly implanted in my memory to this day.

It was mostly clear (very unusual for ADK), cold (teens) and very, very windy. We were flying an MD-11 (I think) and buffeted into the wind on take-off. Once wheels were up, we made the usual left turn to avoid the mountain at the end of the runway. (The mountain contained numerous glints of aluminum from a multitude of crashes over the years.)

Once we were banked left, the MD-11 apparently hit a severe wind shear and plummeted straight down toward the ocean, on our left wing. I was in a left-hand window seat and all I could see was water, rushing up towards us. In the seat next to me was a guy named Ben; all 6' 6" and 300 pounds of him, who was also on his way to Amchitka.

As the plane spun down, I grabbed what I thought was the armrest as tight as I could. People were screaming, one of the flight attendants was plastered up against the ceiling, stuff was flying out of the overheads like crazy and I absolutely knew we were gonna die.

Somehow, the Reeve pilot managed to force the plane back up into a more or less stable flight environment. It took us what seemed an eternity to make the 40 minute flight to Amchitka. Once we landed there, ALL the passengers headed straight for the bar--the flight crew as well!

The next day, I ran into Big Ben in the hallway and he showed me the massive bruises on his arm. I thought he might have been hit by flying debris during our unplanned descent, but, no, he said the bruises were from me grabbing what I thought was the armrest. Now, I'm a pretty small guy compared to Ben. But, apparently, during the 3,000 foot drop towards the ocean, I put enough pressure on his arm to leave marks which lasted over a week.

As a retired Air Force guy and now with many years as a government contractor, I have over a million air miles and an appropriate number of scary flights. But, without doubt, those white-knuckled ins and outs of Adak will never be forgotten.

Hhhmmmm, maybe it's better we've changed route!

Monday, 22 August 2011 Mike taking another satellite tracking unit with to LA

Mike will be leaving for LA next week & he is taking with another satellite tracking unit kindly sponsored by Indigosat with internal & external antenna, as well as additionally, a portable tracker too. 

We have however asked Jean not to go out mid-flight again to tie the washing line to the antenna and the rudder ;). Talking about washing, here is a flashback to 2009 with Mike and James dealing with drying clothes in the Sling.

Thanks again to Indigosat for making sure we can see the guys flying back home.

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