13 July 2011 to 21 June 2011

Wednesday, 13 July 2011 15h00 - Moving on

The all-nighters have started as D-day for Sling 4 ATW approaches at the speed of light. Although the prototype ATW Sling 4 won't be making an appearance at Virginia, the Sling 4 launch at 10h00 on Tuesday 19 July is a fixed date and she'll leave for Oshkosh the next day or as soon thereafter as she's ready. (There will, nevertheless, be a number of other standard Slings on show at Virginia).

Meanwhile, work at The Airplane Factory is reaching a crescendo. Yesterday Jean and Ruan put in a marathon session, each working for 31 continuous hours. The fuselage team worked until after midnight last night, but had the satisfaction of seeing the fuselage from firewall to tail in one continuous piece. They're back on the job today with the objective of getting her on her undercarriage with the engine on by tomorrow morning. Ryall's working non-stop on the Perspex for the canopy and the wing team is just surveying its work before beginning to polish them up for final fitment.

Probably the most eloquent expression of where we are right now is some photographs all, save for the shot of Jean and Ruan at the commencement of a 15 hour non-stop laminating session which was taken at about 22h00 last night all of the shots below were taken an hour ago at 13h00 today, Wednesday 13 July 2011.

Meanwhile, on the side, ZU-FNM, our Cape Town agent, Mark Bunning's Sling, will fly later today under a proving flight authority and ZU-FNN, David Jang's Sling has an authority to fly and is ready for delivery.

Til next time - The Airplane Factory Team


Sunday, 10 July 2011 Work continues late into each night

It's been a long and late weekend, especially for Jean and the composites team. But first things first - Thanks to Chalkie for volunteering the use of his and Peter Hengst's immersion suits from their 2003 Oshkosh centenary flight for our trip. It hadn't been hours since a friend had sent through a record of water temperatures in the Bering straits and only minutes since we'd discussed taping up our sleeves and trouser legs in the absence of a better solution, when Chalkie's email arrived. So we've taken up the offer and the suits will get a second chance to do some ocean crossings, hopefully once again without getting to see any water!

Meanwhile things are moving along slowly at the factory. For me, more the paperwork man, the pace on the construction of the plane seems painfully slow. The wings still need the standard leading edge tanks installed, work on the centre fuselage was only commenced this morning (Sunday 10 July) and the panel still looks mostly like a bird's nest of wires! But Jean, Ryall, Ruan, Joseph, Brends and Florence in composites have been working serious hours. The blanks for pulling the canopy perspex over are dry and merely need to be annealed before use and the two main door frames are laid up and ready for finishing. Tomorrow a marathon session on the main canopy frame in which the doors will be housed. Mike assures me that tomorrow, with the full factory workforce available, things will suddenly begin to move more quickly. I promise to report further on that tomorrow.

Our objective remains to fly the ATW plane on Thursday or Friday this week and depart Wednesday or Thursday next week. That will always, however, be subject to safety considerations.

Meanwhile, the Airplane Factory features on Carte Blanche tonight, so if you have a TV (I don't) get before it to watch the action.


Monday, 4 July 2011 Work on the canopy progresses, Director of Civil Aviation to launch Sling 4 on Tuesday 19 July and around the world departure delayed to 20 July 2011

Since last Friday the canopy blank has been fully prepared, two female canopy moulds cast, two foam canopy door frame cores routed, numerous centre fuselage components drawn, punched out and bent and re-assembly of the wings has commenced following tank seal testing.

While good progress is being made across the board, all substantial projects require both blind faith (to get them started and keep them moving) and also application of dispassionate decision making (to ensure they succeed rather than ending in catastrophe). While it was out plan to depart for the US from the Virginia Airshow in Durban on 16 July, we now believe that it's too soon and we've decided to delay until Wednesday 20 July. With only 5 legs all the way to Oshkosh Mike and Jean still plan to arrive there on 27 July, but of course it is going to mean quite serious hours of flying. And notwithstanding that, if all goes according to plan the Sling 4 will still appear at the Virginia show en route one of its proving flights.

The route to the US is now as follows - Tedderfield to Pilanesberg to clear customs and then direct to Pointe Noire. That's a 15.5 hour flight. Then the flight to Dakar is a long one, 4 200km around the coast (to avoid politics) which, due to a massive fuel load, will take 24 hours flying. The three remaining legs, to the Azores, New Foundland and Oshkosh come in at only 15 hours each, so that shouldn't prove too much of a problem. A substantial benefit of the route is that it has only 4 stops en route. Our previous travels in the Sling have demonstrated again and again that the flying is easy and relaxing, it's the stopping that's time consuming, stressful and frustrating. So few, long legs really is the way to go. It also costs less because one doesn't have to pay landing and approach fees as often, one sleeps in the plane, not in a hotel room and so on. Hhhmmm, anyhow, that's still quite far away yet!

Meanwhile, the launch of the Sling 4 by the Director of Civil Aviation has also been delayed until 10h00 on Tuesday 19 July, the day before we leave. Please any interested parties feel free to attend. Finally, see below the most recent rendering of what the Sling 4 will look like when completed.


Saturday, 2 July 2011 The fuel tanks are sealed and the focus shifts to the canopy and centre fuselage.

The behind the spar and both leading edge fuel tanks in each wing of the Sling 4 have been pressure tested and there are no leaks. They will therefore be finally assembled into the wings over the next few days.

Meanwhile, the greatest single challenge facing the team is the development of the canopy in the tight time constraints facing the project. Far more complex than the standard 2 seater sliding canopy, the 4 seater canopy comprises 5 sections with mid-located gullwing doors which are visible, opened, in the undercarriage-less photograph some entries down. This design will give additional rigidity to the entire airframe structure. The canopy frame, however, which is to be constructed from carbon fibre and glass fibre with epoxy resin, is a complex structure will take some time to prepare. Luckily for The Airplane Factory Manfred Springer, who lives on the airfield, has a 6 by 3 m 3D routing machine and has prepared a blank of the canopy from which a female can be cast. Jean is working on the problem day and night and will be doing everything necessary to ensure that by the end of this coming week a fully functional (and knowing Jean, probably also beautiful), canopy arrangement is available).

Simultaneously Terry is on the final straight with the small brackets and other finishing elements of the centre fuselage on Solid Works. Most of the remaining centre fuselage parts will be punched out tomorrow (Saturday) and construction on the centre fuselage will commence in earnest on Sunday/Monday. Although the control arrangements are slightly different in the Sling 4 and the additional seats and changed wing placements require some changes, conceptually the Sling 4 centre fuselage arrangements are materially the same as on the Sling 4. Three months ago 10 people, 5 of whom had absolutely no mechanical experience, built a Sling in 7 days. (For a teaser on that see Now, with an entire factory full of experienced aircraft assemblers, the Sling 4 (sans canopy anyhow) should be a cinch to complete in 6 days. Of course unlike with the 7 days aircraft, the rear fuselage and wings are already almost complete!

More news will follow after the weekend. For those doubters, however, The Airplane Factory's confidence that the aircraft will be completed by next weekend is demonstrated by the fact that the Director for Civil Aviation in South Africa, Mr Thwala, has agreed to launch the prototype at 10h00 on Monday morning, 11 July, 9 days hence. We are honoured to host Mr Thwala and we also invite those who are interested in seeing ZU-TAF completed to attend the gathering. We promise a full tour of the factory to those who are interested.

Until next week, sala kahle.


Monday, 27 June 2011 Construction continues on the prototype Sling 4 while plans develop

During the last two weeks there have been a number of changes around The Airplane Factory. While construction of Slings and Sling kits continues apace, a slightly different beast is taking shape in the northern quarter of hangar 7, directly under the watchful eyes of the company directors. Good progress is at last being made on the Sling 4. As appears from the photographs below, the lower half of the rear fuselage has already been riveted and the slight change from the standard Sling in the shape of the upper half is in evidence. The main and rear spars of each wing are loosely in place, and all 6 of the fuel tanks, which will give the aircraft an endurance of 24 hours when filled, have been sealed and are busy drying. Last night Jean and Chris Pietersen worked until 11pm in the cold hangar in order to achieve that.

Meanwhile, Gareth Bosch is working hard on planning the wiring system for the aircraft, which this time around will use a Vertical Power VP-X Sport electronic circuit breaker mechanism which is reputed to be highly reliable, easily configurable and provide excellent electrical system reporting. This will be the first Sling with the VP-X system. More generally the instrument panel layout has been settled and will be panel itself will be laser cut within the next few days. It contains two very sexy G2 MGL Odyssey EFIS instruments, a Garmin SL30 navcom radio, a Trig mode S transponder and the controller for the Airmaster AP320 constant speed propeller. Not much else is required. This time there will be no stormscope, although a Zaon PCAS traffic collision avoidance system will be plugged into and display on the MGL Odysseys. See the computer generated panel below.

Finally, time constraints have led to late night discussion on the most appropriate routing for the trip. Although the plan has, until yesterday, been to travel east to Oshkosh, and head back still going east, that requires 10 legs of which at least 3 are of more than 18 hours flying time and another 3 more than 14. Plus, travelling east the days are effectively shorter and, when tired, "tomorrow morning" comes quicker!

The flight from Johannesburg to Oshkosh going west, by comparison, has only 6 legs, all of which are less than 15 hours, and of course the days are effectively longer. So, right now it looks like it would be wise to reverse the planned direction so as to guarantee an arrival in Oshkosh before the show ends. Of course there'll still be a great deal pressure on Mike and Jean to get there around 26 July, but at least it's more likely to prove theoretically possible at first take off, without exceeding the speed of light. More about that later. See the map of the route below or work out the distances for yourself on Google Earth using the file in the link.

Download Sling 4 Trip Click here to download the Google Earth Sling 4 Around The World Trip .kmz file


Tuesday, 21 June 2011 Construction commences on the prototype Sling 4

When the production prototype Sling , ZU-TAF was flown around the world during 2009 at take-off and landing she was loaded to 965kg, some 365kg above the maximum all up weight applicable to the light sport aircraft category for which she was designed. Yet she proved herself again and again, performing consistently well at that weight with only a 100hp Rotax 912 ULS engine.

The Sling 4, a light 4 seater variation of the standard Sling, will have an empty weight approximately 50kg heavier than the standard 2 seater Sling. With a maximum all up weight of 850kg it will have a useful load in the vicinity of 400kg, making it a respectable light 4 seater aircraft. With a 115hp turbo charged Rotax 914 UL engine, a constant speed propeller, a fuselage lengthened by some 550mm and standard Sling wings extended by 400mm each at the root, she should perform as well as the standard Sling.

In fact, so confident are we that we intend to fly our prototype Sling 4 to EAA Airventure Oshkosh, leaving within a week of her first flight, and return to Johannesburg by again circumnavigating the globe. Construction of the prototype Sling 4 commenced today and we intend to keep the public updated as the build progresses, particularly towards the end. Although the initial plan was for all 3 shareholders in the business (Mike, James and Jean) to complete the circumnavigation, production and management commitments at the factory are such that it's impractical to take all 3 directors out of circulation for the full 4 week period of the flight. Instead Mike and Jean will be flying to Oshkosh, going west this time, and James and Jean will be returning. From Oshkosh back to SA there will also be a third pilot in the aircraft, the identity of whom is yet to be finalized, although at present if looks like our weather expert from the 2009 trip, Tim Parsonson, also a qualified pilot.

For a taste of what the Sling 4 will look like take a look at the computer generated renderings below created by our head draftsman, Ruan Coetzee. For the precise planned routing for the circumnavigation download the Google Earth file called "Sling 4 ATW" and take a look.

More next Monday!



7 August to 25 July 2011

Sunday, 7 August 2011 Jean and James starts the first leg of the adventure

In a way it was a blessing to have the delays. We worked so hard and so late every day that all of us were absolutely exhausted. So, early yesterday morning when Jean told James on the phone that we had a fuel leak that we absolutely had to fix and he then told Jean that we couldn't leave anyway because the weather in Durban was bad and that we probably would not be able to get through … it was huge a relief. By early afternoon we had fixed the leak and checked the engine and rechecked the engine and rechecked everything so we all headed home for a much needed early night.

Like yesterday, we had lots of friends and family arrive at Tedderfield to see the courageous aviators off. I had thought of filling all the tanks at Tedderfield but after chatting to James and Jean we decided to be conservative and do the topup at Lanseria. After we had packed and James had finished filing the flight plan, 4 standard Slings, a Robin, an Extra 200 and the Silver Bullit took off for Lanseria. The flight was fun with all of us in close formation.

While James and Jean went into the terminal building to have a coffee and clear customs and immigration, Andrew and I looked after the filling up of the Sling 4 with Avgas. It took 195 litres to fill the tanks to their maximum capacity of 450 litres. The goodbyes were warm and cheerful but it was an anxious moment - this was their heaviest take off and they were about to fly off into the night. It looked like they lifted off after about 500 m ground roll and with a density altitude of 7,600 ft they climbed so well and were so fast that we had difficulty catching them … I had to ask them to slow down. We flew with them for about 20 minutes and then headed for home as it was starting to get dark.

When they were about 70km away to the east I got hold of them on the radio and they reported that everything was going well - the engine was performing perfectly with everything in the green and they had a tailwind.

Right now they are halfway to Madagascar and are looking good with clear weather for the next 3 hours .. and with quite good tailwinds. But.. There is a storm cell that seems to be developing off the south eastern edge of Madagascar. I am going to sleep now and will wake up again at 2am to see what the weather is doing. Luckily I can send them short emergency messages like "storm turn left 10°". I'll let you know.



Saturday, 6 August 2011 Problem solved, potent weather tools and a new departure date

First things first - thanks to Sias Dreyer for setting up a magnificent weather tool for The Airplane Factory Aviators to use in the circumnavigation. More about that in a minute.

Sadly I failed to take a photograph of the left wing main tank off (perhaps someone else out there has one?), but to get at the B tank that was leaking it was necessary to drill out the rivets which hold the A tank in place. That was swiftly done by Mike, Jean, Jan and Buto, and the leak (actually a loose piece of hardware on the tank wall) was fixed in seconds. By 10h30 the tank had been re-riveted on and the aeroplane is again ready to fly. Bad weather off the coast, however, makes it wiser to leave tomorrow.

There was a great turnout for the departure - thanks to all supporters. Sadly most left a little early to see the Beamish family depart in style in an RV 7A and an Extra 300 - what a privilege!

Then after a Wimpy breakfast care of Jean's sister, Hazel, we had a quick sit down to re-plan departure. Meanwhile Sias Dreyer, a veteran advice giver from 2009 circumnavigation, quickly walked the pilots through the weather webpage he's created especially for the journey. Phoowaar, the web is powerful machine! The only way to really understand this thing is to have a look at it - see . Choose the leg, choose the features you want to see, choose the time (over the next 5 days at 3 hour intervals!) and choose wind levels you want to see.

A good look at the three screen shots below shows how we've selected our departure time. Shot 1 is 0300Z Sunday morning. The cold front and associated cloud off the east coast are clear. (And a look at earlier and later times shows that they're moving north). By shot 2, 1200Z Sunday (2pm local time), they're enough north to avoid the most of them even departing from Johannesburg rather than Durban. Winds are also from behind, although the ice level is at 9 000 feet just behind the front, so care will have to be taken with that. The flight will take about 14 to 15 hours, so any departure from Johannesburg before about 16h00 local time will result in arrival before sunrise on Monday.

Shot 3, 2100Z (11pm local) on Sunday night shows a substantial cell on the south west coast of Madagascar. In Madagascar that's midnight, so we won't be able to see well. That means we're going to route about 20 to 30km south of the island, rather than direct. By 0300Z, landing time at Reunion, the cell is still at Madagascar (so it's not worth waiting it out by leaving a few hours later), and there's a bit of cloud at Reunion, but nothing particularly heavy.

If you're interested you could check out the hurricane currently over the China coast but looking at the Phuket to Songshan leg. Predicted movement can be tracked by checking progressive times.

Anyhow, all other things being equal, we'll now depart Tedderfield at 15h00 Sunday, filled with fuel and packed to go, for Lanseria. There we'll clear customs and depart for Reunion, direct, at 16h00 local time. I'm afraid we've decided to skip the Durban stop in the interests of simplicity.

James, Jean and Mike


Saturday, 6 August 2011 BREAKING NEWS - Departure moved due to IFR Weather and small fuel tank problem

Breaking news - Sadly the Sling will not be leaving for Reunion today. It has been necessary to delay departure by another day because of IFR conditions in Durban and also becuase of a small leak in one of the 'B' accessory fuel tanks. Right now we're busy removing the adjacent 'A' tank so as to access the 'B' tank to take a good look. We'll fix that today, watch the weather and hopefully depart tomorrow.

The weather looks better from midday Sunday. More in the next few hours. Anyone who planned to come out today to see us off is welcome to nevertheless come around and pass on best wishes.

Friday, 5 August 2011 Flying through South Africa

Herewith some photos of the last few days while we made up our 40 hours of flying.


Tuesday, 2 August 2011 Luxury accommodation falls into place with help from the Naiade Hotel Group

One of the most important aspects of a flight around the world in a light aircraft is getting rest so that you can remain sharp at all times. In past trips Mike and I have often found that the hassle factor associated with finding accommodation, getting currency, food to eat and suchlike outweighs the value of stopping at all. In fact in our 2009 trip around the world we chose not to make a stop at Colombo in Sri Lanka at all - we re-fuelled, serviced the engine, filed a flightplan and left within three hours.

This time, however, our comfort and security, in Reunion and the Maldives anyway, (our first two stops), have been taken care of. The Naiade Hotel Group, in the form of the Grand Hotel du Lagon in Reunion and the Hotel Diva in the Maldives have very generously jumped in to put us up at the end of each long leg. To get an idea of what that means, take a look at the photographs of these wonderful establishments and eat your hearts out! Since the Diva hotel in Maldives is ordinarily accessed by sea plane it remains to be seen whether from a practical perspective we'll be able to take up that offer, but for obvious reasons we'll do our best! Either way, perhaps we can fly over and have a good look!

We'll report further on our experiences as we pass through. In the meantime thanks so much to Laurent in Reunion - who runs a microlighters forum and has proven to be a friend to even unknown aviators, and to his friend Arnaud Lagesse and the GML Group Mauritius Island. You've shown us a very great kindness and we look forward to meeting you.

James, Mike and Jean


Tuesday, 2 August 2011 Clocking up the hours, writing lists and getting a US view on things

So things really are moving on - as at 14h00 today the (peerless) Sling 4 prototype has 23 hours on her airframe and Mike and Jean are off towards Durban to put on some more, test the fuel transfer systems, test the satellite tracker, do more work ascertaining exactly the best power settings for economy and generally just have a good time. You should be able to monitor their flight superimposed onto Google Earth on our website. Actually I can see them right now just east of the Wilge River!

Yesterday evening we had a great time flying a test flight and photographic sortee for SA Flyer's Guy Leitch who never seems to be without a plan. This time he had Major Kevin "Cuda" Currie, the Air Attache for the US in South Africa, come through to test out the plane while he and John Miller took photographs from FBI, the SA Flyer C182.

Although Cuda's temporarily doing a desk job here in SA (the Air Attache co-ordinates air activities between the US and the country he's responsible for, typically military ones) he's an F15 pilot who has seen action in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite not being particularly current he flew a very tight formation with ZS-FBI for the shots. To find out his views you'll have to buy the September edition of SA Flyer, but he certainly had a smile on his face after the flight!

All ZU-TAF's systems are go and departure remains 10h00 from Tedderfield on Saturday 6 August. We'll fly direct to Virginia for lunch where any interested Durbanites are welcome to come by, probably best between about 13h00 and 14h00, to have a look at her. Then the hop up to King Shaka to fuel up fully and clear customs before heading off to Reunion.

More as we go.

The Team


Saturday, 30 July 2011 Sling 4 ATW ("Around the World") update from the factory

It's the final weekend of the month and that traditionally means that the entire Airplane Factory staff complement gets off early on Friday and that no-one works overtime on the weekend. Mike, Jean, Gareth and James, however, are here putting some of the last minute touches (what Jean refers to as "tweaks") on ZU-TAF before we really pile on the proving hours from tomorrow afternoon onwards.

With 8 hours flown we already know that she flies beautifully, but we're required to fly 40 hours before we obtain an authority to fly from the CAA. Also, we still need to test her at MAUW, quite apart from the testing on a myriad of other systems and configurations. Some thoughts that have been taking some mind-space over the last few days include -

  • Checking and rechecking the fuel system - The Rotax 914 UL engine is turbocharged and requires high fuel pressure to operate. There are two high pressure electrically powered fuel pumps and no mechanical backup. That does mean that electrical failure also results in engine failure. We were always going with 2 fuel pumps (which is standard with the engine). As of yesterday we're also putting in another 26 Ah backup battery to increase redundancy in the event of an over ocean failure.
  • We're going east again and our routing sees various small changes as we think up new ideas. Right now it looks like Tedderfield, Durban, St Denis (Reunion), Male (Maldives), Phuket (Thailand), Taipei (Taiwan), Sapporo (Japan), Adak Island (Bering Straits, Alaska, USA), Torrance Los Angeles (California, USA), Green Bay (Wisconsin, USA), St John's (New Foundland, Canada), Santa Maria (Azores), Dakar (Senegal), Pointe Noire (Republic of Congo), Pilanesburg (South Africa). The longest leg is Dakar - Pointe Noire at 4 200km.
  • If you read Wikipedia on Adak Island, Bering Straits, it includes the lines - "Gales occur in all months of the year at Adak", "Adak has an average of 341 days per year with measurable precipitation" and "The foggiest months are July and August when an average of 26 of the 31 days each month have fog" (we plan to arrive on about 18 August). Sadly the airstrip does not have an ILS approach, only an NDB DME, for which we don't in any event have the instruments. We ought to be able to do a GLS using our MGL Odysseys, however. It does sound interesting with sea temperatures close to 0 degrees!
  • We've put in two "transfer fuel pumps" to transfer fuel from the B and C "accessory" tanks to the standard "A" tanks, from which fuel is drawn for the engine. Again, there are two for redundancy, only one is needed. The standard Sling 4 tanks take 75 liters each. The B tanks take 65 liters each and the C tanks take 87 liters each. That gives a total fuel capacity of 454 liters. At 20 liters per hour, that's an endurance of 22.5 hours. And cruising at 100 knots (185 kph) that's roughly 4 150 km. It does mean that for the Dakar to Pointe Noire leg a little extra fuel will also need to be carried on the back seats.
  • The entire trip will involve about 230 hours of flying. At an average engine RPM of 5 200, that means that the pistons will each move up and down more than 71 million times during the circumnavigation!
  • With final preparations underway, we're now even beginning to plan last minute luxury items like the iPod playlist, a small stash of good whiskey in case we have to spend a day or two at sea and so on.
  • As appears from the photographs, our satellite tracking device is installed. That means we can be seen by the world even while we're totally isolated. We have only a VHF radio, which means we have no communications with land except in the first and last hour of each oversea flight. One difference this time is that the satellite tracker does enable us to send out a series of 23 character standard messages, plus 9 characters of our own. And we can receive text messages of up to 23 characters!
  • We've had an argument about whether to take an analogue compass - there's an electrical compass in each MGL Voyager and, providing we're moving, our handheld Garmin 495 GPS operates as a compass. All require electrical power, however. Finally, we've an old black and white LED Garmin Pilot III which uses penlight batteries. Do we bother to take a standard magnetic compass on a circumnavigation at all? What views?

In response to the suggestion that we pass through East London on the way out and visit the annual South African EAA convention - we'd love to do that, but it just doesn't seem practical given that we need to leave from an international airport. It does look like Mike, Jean and James will fly down together in the Sling 4 to King Shaka, Durban, from where James and Jean will depart for Reunion, on Saturday 6 August 2011. If all goes according to plan Mike will then fly the Airplane Factory demo Sling to East London to participate in the EAA Convention. We promise to make up for the absence of the Sling 4 by attending many shows after we return!

Hold thumbs , thanks for the support and please come and see us off from Tedderfield at 09h30 next Saturday if you live in the JHB area. Fly-alongs toward Durban are welcome.

The Team


Monday, 25 July 2011 Departure date delayed to Saturday 6 August 2011

Vaughan, Bearcat, Jason and everyone else who supported us at the first flights - thanks for that. Bearcat and Vaughan, what awesome shots! Vaughan, I've stolen the flying shot with the sun behind to put on or website. I hope that's OK.

We did some more flying yesterday afternoon and it looks very much like the lowered aircraft angle of attack resulting from the greater wing area more than offsets any frictional increase from increased wing "wetted area". The Sling 4 will therefore probably fly slightly faster than the standard Sling, especially at higher loads. On an initial impression the handling is very similar, though it'll take some time before we can be certain at all weights and in all configurations. More about how she handles as we go. We haven't yet tested her at her MAUW, but it sure feels as if she'll perform fine right up the mass at which we intend to fly on the long, over sea legs during the circumnavigation.

This morning the Airplane Factory team sat down for a full factory and flight around the world planning session. The take-off date for Sling 4 around the world is now Saturday 6 August 2011. We're once again going east, not west, by the original easterly route we planned, and James and Jean are flying the first half, Mike and Jean the second. Half-way point is Los Angeles, which will be the Sling distribution centre in the US.

We've all had a good sleep and things are getting back to normal here. Sling customers, you'll be glad to hear that our eyes are firmly on the production ball and we'll be testing the Sling 4 in the ordinary course in parallel to all our ordinary activities!

Cheers, The Airplane Factory team



10 August to 8 August 2011

Wednesday, 10 August 2011 Email correspondence from Director of Civil Aviation Mauritius

Email from the Director of Civil Aviation in Mauritius:

We refer to your mail below.

We have to inform you that your request cannot be acceded to, as your aircraft is not equipped with communication equipment enabling you to maintain a continuous two way radio communication with Mauritius ATS units for the provision of:

  • 1. Air Traffic and Alerting services; and
  • 2. Necessary coordination and handing over of traffic to adjacent ATC centres.

For Director of Civil Aviation


Response from James to the Director of Civil Aviation:

Dear Sir

We are extremely disappointed that the Mauritius Director of Civil Aviation has adopted an attitude which is such that it renders it impossible for any aircraft without an HF radio to traverse it's airspace.

Be that as it may, we will now travel around Mauritius airspace and simply address the associated difficulties as we go.

Yours truly
James Pitman

Wednesday, 10 August 2011 Obstacle after obstacle means change of plans again…

After phoning every airport and flying school in the Maldives Andrew reported back with the bad news that there is no Avgas available at all. Plan B was get someone to bring in 400 liters of Mogas, which Mohamed Niyaz very kindly offered to do. However… the best quality Mogas available in that part of the Indian ocean is 80 Octane and a Rotax 914 motor should never be run on anything less than 95 Octane.

Take a look at the email from Mohamed below.

Dear Andrew;

Kindly be advised that the local Mogas available is of 80-octane rating.

Please verify with the aircraft manufacturer if this is suitable and only with written confirmation from the engine and airframe manufacturer Mogas can be sold for aviation operation.

The price for Mogas in Airport is USD 1.5363165 per ltr.

Since GMIAL does not provide the service for such refuellings, we do not carry pumps; filters and pipes/hoses that may be suitable for aircraft refuelling from Mogas drums. The intoplane operation strictly needs to be conducted by the operator.

Fuel Services
GMR Malé International Airport Pvt. Ltd.

So plan C… James and Jean are going to see if they can fly economically enough to make it right through to Colombo, Sri Lanka 4071 kilometres from Reunion. They still plan to depart at 4am South African time (UTC +4) as long as they can get the necessary permission for that today and the duration of the flight will be 24 hours.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011 James and Jean being interviewed in Réunion

We found this small video clip of James and Jean being interviewed in Réunion shortly after their arrival.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011 Things never work out quite as expected!

OK, so you got the basic story from Mike - we're back in an hotel room (this time much more humble!), ZU-TAF is back in the hangar, we've had a first class Chinese Creole meal and now we're settling in for a quiet sleep.

Today has been a good example of how travel experiences aren't necessarily about making physical progress, but also about the details on the way. We may not have made great physical strides since sun-up, but we've made lots of friends and learnt a lot about Reunion's people, their pride and their generosity.

Laurent, who picked us up at the airport yesterday, arranged last night's free hotel accommodation and transported us to it (some 45 minutes by car), was back to pick us up from the hotel again this morning. We stopped for a snack en route, where I managed to leave my credit card in the Patisserie. At the airport there was a crowd to meet us. Radio, television and newspaper. Reunion was expecting our arrival no less than 10 days ago and since then there've been four published articles. While we prepped the plane we answered a bunch of questions for media and felt very proud of our machine.

Later we were informed that the Mauritians wouldn't allow us through their airspace without a formal application for permission - we'd been led to understand that, like Reunion, this was not required for private flights. The Aero Club instructor, Cedric, leapt into action and off went a series of emails and faxes. It would appear that these may now have reached the Mauritian Minister's desk and we're led to understand that tomorrow the permission will be forthcoming. Still, since we fly at night we'll have to file an IFR flight plan - nothing new, we had to change our Reunion flight plan to IF once we entered Moz airspace at night too. The help from the members of the Aero Club Roland Garros, including the Chairman, Mr Boval, was astounding. Special thanks also to Graziella Point, a pilot and medical doctor who assisted with translation, flight planning advice and later transport, dinner and good conversation.

When I realized I'd lost my credit card Laurent was instantly onto the line to Radio Freedom. Within seconds the woman behind us in the line at our lunch Patisserie had called in to tell the radio station that she'd seen me leave my credit card. She read the Patisserie telephone number off her lunch package on radio and a flight instructor called the Patisserie which confirmed, on radio, that the card was with them. Following an explanation of our adventure to the audience and an opportunity for me to thank the Island in my best French, Laurent drove all the way back to the Patisserie to fetch the card while Graziella drove me and Jean off to a restaurant for dinner.

One great feature of Reunion is that there is a wonderful mixture of peoples and cultures. Laurent describes his first language as Creole, yet he looks to me like a Parisian Frenchman (his ancestors were among the first settlers on the island nearly 300 years ago). Graziella is ¼ Chinese, but she grew up in France. She feels entirely French. There appears to be no financial distinction between different race groups in Reunion.

Perhaps the delay isn't too bad a thing. There were embedded storms en route and some hitches with a component of the satellite tracking system which are right now being resolved. We would have been quite "out there" without any comms at all, at night in the middle of the ITCZ storms and it feels quite good to be in a warm, quiet environment. Actually, it feels like we'll be quite "out there" anyway, whenever it comes.

Jean and I are getting along like a house on fire and, though not without its stresses, life on the road is good. Two days in ZU-TAF already feels like an old friend. Full of fuel she's so heavy we can hardly pull her across flat tar. But we know she'll lift off like a butterfly and climb to 10 000 feet when called upon to do so. She's by far the bravest of the three of us on this trip!

Please hold thumbs for clear skies and no storms tomorrow night.


PS - Rainier, thanks for the information on how the autopilot worked during our icing ordeal. It's quite fascinating how technology gives a "feel". I could sense that it was taking cues from different inputs and making good decisions about how to respond based on them - just like a human brain. Actually I think we probably could have continued under the autopilot's control, perhaps even indefinitely without any airspeed input (the rocking/pitching probably would have put my son to sleep quite effectively!), but the ice was building up very quickly, so it seemed to make good sense to get down as quickly as possible. Thinking about it, our MGL Odysseys are probably the next bravest people on the trip!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011 Departure Delayed from Réunion

James just called me (at 5.45 pm SA time) to say that they are not able to get away today. A few reasons .. Mauritius ATC will not let them fly through their airspace on a VFR flight plan at night - plus they do not have permission to fly though their airspace anyway (yet). James and Jean tried to arrange the permission quickly themselves but they need Michelle at Flight Permits help - she is working on it and will have the permission by tomorrow morning.

This also gives us the opportunity to get the tracker working properly which it isn't yet.

They have pushed TAF back into the hangar and are now on their way to a hotel near to the airport. Luckily the guys from the Reunion Aeroclub are super enthusiastic and helpful and are taking good care of them.

An interesting thing about fuel - AVGAS on Reunion is €3.90 / L while Mogas is €1.50 / L. Luckily they had assistance from the local pilots to fill up with Mogas - they put 300 L in to top up which means they are burning about 20.5 L/hr at something like 110 KTAS. Tomorrow we will try to get info (and help from the locals) about fuel in Male in case the AVGAS is also very expensive there.

We are all a bit concerned about the next few legs - they are going to be flying through the ITCZ which means thunderstorms and unpredictable weather … so we have to be very accurate with predicting exactly where the storms are. Have a look for yourself on

As soon as we know more about their new departure time tomorrow or anything else of interest, we will post the details immediately.


Monday, 8 August 2011 The Night of Shooting Stars from Jean's perspective

Howdy everyone, A big thank you to all of you for your support and involvement. After my first night over the Indian ocean in conditions I am about to illustrate, I now know why Mike and James appreciate and value your support so much. It can get serious up there at times and it is then that knowing you guys are out there means so much!

Yes, finally after the various delays the time came to have last handshakes and hugs and get our scrawny butts into that oh so sexy silver machine and head into the night. Tanks full (430 litres) and all the other stuff needed to circumnavigate planet earth packed into the spacious cabin, James and I lifted off effortlessly and climbed swifly into a cool evening sky, escorted By Mike and Jay through the Pinedene route out to the east. W we were feeling good. But then as with these trips the final goodbyes are said and Mike and Jay peeled out of the formation to make it home before dark. Suddenly the cockpit takes on a new atmosphere and James looks at me and we smile knowing that we don't know what lies ahead - it ain't gonna be a walk in the park but we going to have a load of fun.

It starts getting dark fast and we turn down light intensities in all the instruments and start discussing how dark it is going to be over the ocean tonight if there is no moon. O, yes the Ocean! James says we must remember to wear our Life jackets when we cross the coastline. RIGHT at that point the realization that we were going to be over the Indian ocean for the next 13 or so hours in the dark, dodging storms got my adrenal glands a tad excited. So, I spent the next 20 mins with my but pointed east repacking the rear seat and becoming familiar with the life raft, ration packs and water, all tied to each and ready for action. A chat with James about drills in the event of the various things that could cause us to go for a swim relaxed us both and we settled into the flight.

It was a particulary beautiful night sky for us to savour as we sailed east off the Kosi bay coastline having a last chat to Maputo ATC. Wisps of light cloud lit by the half moon drifted beneath us at a healthy pace, we were enjoying a good breeze right from behind, the way we like it.

We were set to make good time, all weather sources reported good weather except for a couple of renagde storm cells hanging around the southern end of Madagascar. No problem to us - we will see them, route north past them and then the last run to reunion. Now we are chilled and content, so all sorts of fun things start happening in that slick little silver cocoon. After all we are going to spend a lot of time in there!

So, out comes the iPod, music chosen, Coolerbox out, dinner chosen and served. Life is sweet, we are relaxed and things are dandy, tailwind still good and we are styling. Evan the super new upgraded satellite tracker is tested and we have sent and received our first text msg. This means Mike and our team of good friends will be able to warn us of bad weather ahead and redirect us. Perfect - I mean what could possibly spoil this cruise?

So with full tummies and Bob Dylan making us happy we voted that I sleep a while as James was still refining the new fuel transfer recording system and we sailed on at about 130 knot ground speed I lay down on a perfectly reclined seat watched the stars. I even made a wish with every shooting star I saw before closing my eyes and floating off to dreamland. (It turns out August 5 to 8 has the best shooting stars of the year!)

After a very fine nap I woke up and the picture was a little different. Clouds had got thicker and now the lovely star lit night was a white ceiling. Up a little down a little and we managed to spend only short periods in the 'white house'. About an hour before reaching Madagascar things seemed to clear and happiness prevailed - but then those storms we were warned about. Well, they were indeed an impressive show of mother nature's energy, but we managed to route north of them by violating Madagascar restricted airspace (sorry) and they were just a pretty show for us to watch as we sailed past. Now James was ready for a little well deserved sleep, so I prepared the space behind his seat and after briefing me for the happenings for the next hour or so, he reclined with his favourite pillow and went off to sleepy land.

James woke as we were passing the South east end of Madagascar, casually said "Madagascar", scanned the instruments and immediately fell back into slumber. Bob was still keeping us in good song and we had covered all the instruments with thin fabric to reduce the effect of their glow on our night vision. The moon had set and the autopilot was doing a very fine job flying us to Reunion. At this stage I was really having to strain my eyes to see any hint of a horizon, so that in the event of an autopilot failure or an artificial horizon glitch I could immediately take over and fly. Soon, though, I could see no horizon at all out of the cockpit.

It just got darker and darker and darker, so I woke James and we discussed the situation - we could still see the lights from Madagascar, so worst case we could turn towards there. But we chose to fly on - after all we have two EFISs and two separate attitude sensors, we have tested this wonderful MGL instrument system and are entirely happy with it performance and reliability. So we pushed on , tailwind, lots of fuel and surely if there were problems ahead Mike would see them on the weather site and let us know via our fancy satellite text system.

We flew a while with total blackness out there relying on our trusted Instruments and autopilot. Then James switched on our Bright Kuntzelmann landing lights and only then we realised it was raining, and really hard. It seems crazy, but the Sling 4 is so quiet and the water whips off the windscreen so smoothly that we hadn't heard the rain crashing into us (over Bob Dylan!). We wanted to take a photo of the stunning site of the horizontal rain in the headlights, but the camera eluded at that point. We sat and enjoyed the water show in amazement (and some nervousness!).

At this point we had climbed to 10 000ft and the rain was intense. We did not really want to fly in the rain for too long so decided to climb as we could see what looked like stars above. So, prop controller to climb, a bit more power and up we went. 11 000ft, still rain, stars still lightly showing above, so we pushed on to 12 000ft. Still raining madly and no visibility at all outside the cockpit! Now what? We knew for certain if we lost instruments and autopilot we were in big dwang - the only real option would be "pull that parachute".

Then it happened! The autopilot suddenly pitched radically and the world went wild. My first thought was "instruments and autopilot have failed, here we go". But despite my first thoughts, it took only moments to guess the real problem - ICING! A quick glance - ASI ZERO and TAS indicator ZERO. Ground speed, however, 104 knots. What else could it be? (Thanks Marc Gregson for focusing our minds on this earlier in the day!)

James immediately disengaged the autopilot which was trying to pitch the nose down because of lower than stall airspeed and then pitch it up again to maintain altitude, a bit like a bucking bronco! He started flying the plane manually on the artificial horizon and only the GPS airspeed to look at, IAS and TAS stayed fixed at zero.

We all know this is an extremely dangerous moment to manage and many pilots have died in these conditions. James descended us perfectly using GPS trend speed to control pitch. As I looked out of the window with my mag light the leading edges of the wings were thick with a white crust of frozen water and large pieces were peeling off and running back over the wing skin. We were strangely calm as we sat in T shirts and life jackets in our heated cabin waited for the ice to melt.

At about 7 500ft the ASI suddenly sprang into life, started to rise and we guess it arrived at the truth at about 7000. First thing we did, we reset the trusted autopilot and then flew quietly in that rain for another 40 mins or so before breaking out the other side.

The sky was dark from there on but clear. We relaxed and enjoyed that wonderful feeling of just being alive, savouring every moment, every breath and thinking wonderful things. We were blessed with a most amazing sunrise over low cloud. James had a bit of fun descending through the cloud and we flew the lat 45 mins at about 2 000ft.

Reunion appeared as a very large mountain in the middle of that big blue Indian Ocean.

So that is were we are now, living and loving life to the full!

Big thank yous' to Laurent Mayer who has treated us like an old friend, arranged lunch, transport and (magnificent) accommodation at the Grand Hotel du Lagon, to Arnaud Lagesse who's family owns the hotel and to the Roland Garros Reunion Aero Club, for hangarage and discounted fuel.

Next the Maldives. Anyone care to join us for a night flight through the ITCZ?

After all there are two extra seats!

Monday, 8 August 2011 Safely in Réunion

James & Jean are still settling in Réunion after a long flight & as soon as we get any updates from them we will post it for you.

In the meantime, the one aviation forum in South Africa has more photos of yesterday's departure which you can go and have a look at at the following link

Monday, 8 August 2011 Over Halfway to Reunion

James and Jean are now over the halfway mark to Réunion Island and we can see they are flying closer to Madagascar's coast at the moment.

A bit of info on Réunion: it is a French island situated about 200 km (120 miles) south west of Mauritius. To get an idea of how it looks we have included a video below of photos taken of Réunion Island with some very nice vibey music to put you all in an island vibe.


13 August to 10 August 2011

Saturday, 13 August 2011 Looking at the weather for this leg

Sias from has sent in the following weather forecast for this leg:

Working on a 13/8/2011 01:00Z take-off from Colombo to Phuket;

  • I have added the winds to a 105kts cruising speeds which brings us to a 9h08 flight with a nice tail wind at 7500ft, which comes at a cost…
  • the spot graphs are showing high humidity along the route which is normal associated with weather
  • At departure time the weather does not look good also confirmed with the middle cloud 13/8 00Z weather chart - and approaching the coast on the spot graphs (Low Cloud).
    • Sri Lanka - VCBI 120940Z 1212/1318 24010KT 9999 SCT016 TX30/1308Z TN27/1223Z TEMPO 1212/1215 FEW020CB PROB 30 TEMPO 1222/1303 8000 -TSRA/SHRA SCT010 BKN016 FEW020CB
    • Phuket - VTSP 121100Z 1212/1318 26008KT 8000 FEW020 SCT120 BKN3000 BECMG 1215/1217 VRB02KT PROB30 TEMPO 1218/1222 22008G18KT 4000 TSRA FEW016CB SCT020 BKN100 BECMG 1301/1303 26008KT 9000 BECMG 1314/1316 VRB02KT
  • Into the flight (03-09Z) there is weather left of track which is fairly stationary and confirmed on the wind spot graph
  • The morning weather at Phuket should have cleared by the time they arrive around 10Z-11Z
  • Freezing levels around F140-F160
  • If they need to avoid weather right of track will probability be the choice.
  • As a summary I think some bad weather when departing left of track with the Phuket weather clearing as they approach halfway

Friday, 12 August 2011 Going to sleep in preparation for another day's flying

Things are looking a whole lot brighter after an afternoon nap on the back of a couple of Lion lagers each. It's 23h45 local time already and we're up at 04h00 time for the airport though, so we're not exactly going to slum it out. Also, it's Friday night and there's a wedding going on in the hotel hall just outside our window, so we may not get too much quiet. Lots of sweet little Sri Lankan kids running around dressed in their smart saris and suits. Still, we've had good showers and a great local street meal and so we are at least feeling human.

Yesterday's flight was the most intense mixture of emotions imaginable. We flew out through beautiful cloud formations on radial 010 outbound the VOR at Gillot, Reunion. They have no radar, so very soon we put Colombo, Sri Lanka in our GPS and routed out directly across Mauritian airspace, which may have been a bit naughty. It certainly focused our minds on getting our PLB's activated if we had to ditch, as it did mean that search and rescue would have been at least 200 nautical miles off course according to our flight plan. (Though Mike did have a very good idea where we'd be). Climbing out our GPS said 2 210 nm to run and during the climb our MGL extrapolated to show that we'd run out of fuel after only 1 800 nm (and 22 hours - thankfully from one third of the way in we had at least light tailwinds most of the route and we came in after 21 hours with four hours fuel left).

One benefit of flying over the ocean with a VFR radio is there's no ATC to bother you, so we settled into some serious music - our 24 hour around the world playlist. Of course that got our emotions flowing, so we had some serious heart to hearts and contemplated the romance of our lives as we passed over some very isolated but pretty islands, completely uninhabited, to the strains of voices ranging from Freddy Mercury to Luciano Pavarotti and Barry Manilow. (I was almost weeping to sounds of "Mandy" - Andrea, thanks for the 2009 playlist which lives on).

Sunset was glorious and we felt well set up for the night ahead. Headtorches on, PLB's attached, liferaft and water close at hand and so on. Though we'd already been going 8 hours, we knew when the sun set we'd still be flying when it rose on the other side.

I'm not going to try and recount the night's events now - I simply don't have time. I do remember Jean remarking to me just after midnight, though, that we'd overcome so many hurdles during the night, that as each new one arose, he'd forget the previous ones ever existed. The main problem was avoiding towering cumulo nimbus clouds and storms. Once in a cloud, we couldn't see embedded storms, so at times we had to fly at 1 000 ft above the sea, sometimes in the rain, to get below the cloudbase. At other times we were up in the heavens dodging, using the moonlight for lighting.

About three quarters of the way through the night the engine spluttered, cutting twice in succession. Jean was sleeping and in an instant, as he awoke, he hit the back-up fuel pump (Rotax 914 engines require high fuel pressure to operate). Our A pump had failed and now we were on the back-up B pump, planning ditching procedures. Thankfully the B tank held out all the way to Colombo. (The problem was a totally blocked filter in the A pump - they're very fine and very small - and it was blocked with lint). Later a false ground connection sent all engine instruments into the red and again we planned our ditch in the dark. Again Jean fiddled a fix in flight, though the problem continued intermittently until landing. (And of course I've not had time to explain how we had to plumb in the 120 liters of jerry cans to get the fuel from the back seat into the tanks, and then un-plumb them to get the B and C wing tanks back into the system while we were going too! Jean, also the PIC, was like a machine attending to one issue then the next!).

Flying at night is hard enough anyway - with poor weather, no place to land, 200 miles off flightplan, marginal fuel supplies, a failed fuel pump and engine instruments showing oil pressure off the dial it's a pretty exhausting ordeal. There were definitely times when we wondered what the hell we were up to. The danger with humans, though, is that we seem to forget!

Just before dawn we were able to relay a message to Mumbai through an Air Mauritius airliner, and later to Male, Maldives, via an Air France Flight. When the east began to lighten we had to overcome another final set of clouds and storms, at least this time with a little light to see the dark cloud masses by. Then………

Ah well, that was yesterday's adventure. Tomorrow (actually today, it's just gone midnight!) we're off to Phuket, Thailand. We'll take off as soon after 0100Z (3 am SA time) as we're able. It should only take us 10 hours and there's a good tailwind predicted for most of the way. There we hope to take 2 days rest. Jean will give his view on things from there.

J and J

Friday, 12 August 2011 Reporting back from Sri Lanka

The fuel pump filters have been cleaned out - as expected one was completely blocked. There are filters before the pumps but they are coarser than the ones in the pumps so very fine fluff gets past the coarse filters and then blocks the pump filters. We will fit extra filters when we get a chance to prevent that problem from happening again..

So, James and Jean are sleeping after their harrowing night and have decided to do the next flight during the day which means a take off at 6 am their time (3 am SA time). The flight to Phuket is about 10 hours so they will have a day flight which is a good thing because the weather is not great with more cb's and rain and cloud.

We think the problem with the tracker is that we have got some water into the antenna which is a complex electronic device. If, after drying it out properly it still doesn't work, then I will take a new one with me to LA when I take over from James for the second half of the trip.

The story of their last flight they will only write once in Phuket .. so you have to wait a day or 2.


Friday, 12 August 2011 Safely in Sri Lanka

I just had a brief chat to James … they are both really exhausted and slightly rattled.

They landed after a 21 hour flight at just after 4am SA time after a very tough flight. During the daylight hours they found their way around the storms OK, but there were periods in the night when it was nasty trying to find their way without crashing straight into a bad storm. James' commented "it is really dangerous flying into these conditions at night".

Then … sometime in the night the engine started to splutter with a low fuel pressure which was resolved by putting the second pump on - but then it meant they were out there after that with just one pump working. Also at one point they got a fright when they lost oil pressure and the temperatures all went into the red - it wasn't an engine issue, it was an electrical issue but still it really gave them a huge fright until they worked out what was going on.

Their plans - initially they intended going straight on to Phuket today but they must first sort out the fuel pump, the electrics and get some well deserved rest.

Well done guys.

Friday, 12 August 2011 Sri Lanka getting closer

Last night we had had confirmationt the guys had been in contact with Maldives Air Traffic Control and were making good progress towards Sri Lanka. Hopefully we will have some more good news soon as to where they are and how long still till their arrival. In the meantime here is a video clip on Sri Lanka, also refered to as the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean".

Thursday, 11 August 2011 Video of James talking about EFIS

Here is a short video posted when James and Jean was in Réunion, and James gave a short demonstration on the MGL Voyager they use in the Sling

Thursday, 11 August 2011 On the way to Sri Lanka

I woke up at 3 am this morning to check the weather - Sias had written out a very nice summary for me - I also got hold of the World Wide Aviation Weather Forecasting Centre in the UK. Tim Parsonson usually does this job but seeing it was in the middle of the night I took the redeye shift. The weather today is certainly better than yesterday with fewer CB's which means less chance of flying into a nasty storm. During the day they can dodge them but at night the only way they can see them is by looking for lightning and staying well clear. That was why they changed course at the southern tip of Madagascar on the previous leg - they saw lightning and turned away from it.

James and Jean were in good spirits but I could tell they were anxious .. James told me that they had managed to actually fill up an extra 120 litres in the fuel containers on the rear seats. I did a quick calculation - with the 560 L of fuel their takeoff weight would be in the region of 1080 kg at take off. That is over 200 kg over MAUW. I am looking forward to hearing what the flying was like at that weight.

I read James an e-mail that we received last night from the Male ATC where he said that the Sri Lanka CAA and air force had approved their flight into their airspace. So James then cancelled the previous flight plan and made a new one straight to Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo. When they started the reunion ATC said they had a problem with the flight plan as Sri Lanka said they didn't have permission to enter their airspace. So, James then called the Reunion ATC and asked if he can cancel that flight plane and reactivate the original one but for 2 hours later (their new take off time was 8 am instead of 6am local time). OK, so that was all good but when they were about to taxi out the ATC told them that Sri Lanka had now given permission so the whole process started again.

Eventually they took off at just before 7 am SA time (0500 UTC). They are now 6 hours into the flight which means they are a quarter of the way there. Amazing to think of them alone out there over that vast ocean cocooned in their warm and comfortable cockpit, they will be listening for any change in the engine noise while watching the instruments like a hawk, constantly calculating range and fuel burn, planning, checking, watching. And they will be tired. Ahead of them there will now be vast towering CB's which they would be dodging … and their only contact with the outside world would be the very occasional chat with overflying airliners.

About an hour ago I called the ATC at Diego Garcia ATC (7° 18' 48" S 72° 24' 40") - a USA military base - and asked them to see if they could get in touch with ZU-TAF via airliners in 5 hours time as they pass 600 km to their west.

Next contact is with Male in the Maldives at the end of the day to give the boys an update on the weather going into Sri Lanka.

I'll post more details as I get them

Below is a mp3 snippet of the contact the guys still had with Réunion ATC after they had taken off and started routing North.

ZU-TAF speaking to ATC (mp3 link)

* Thanks goes to for making this possible

Wednesday, 10 August 2011 One obstacle after another, exhausted, but still planning!

"Never give up, never, never, never give up" said Winston Churchill.

We'll it feels as if we've been fighting a war today.

It's too late to really explain all the administrative problems that we've run up against. The long and the short of it, however, is that the Mauritians will not allow us to traverse their airspace at all without an HF radio. That means we have to go around, namely through the Seychelles and Mumbai FIR's.

So we've filed a flight plan for Male, Maldives at 6am local time tomorrow (0200Z), the long way around. That's a 19 hour flight. (Unless we "shave" it a bit and encroach on Mauritius's precious waters - Jean's the pilot in command, after all, and he has a strong tendency to pull to the right).

Meanwhile there's no avgas or suitable Mogas at Male, so Jean has managed to buy, beg, borrow and more or less steal 4 plastic containers which together hold 100 liters. They'll be on the back seat providing the extra range required to make Colombo, Sri Lanka once we obtain the permission we require in order to go there. Right now we're waiting on it. (Colombo is the only practical place to get fuel for the next leg to Phuket, there being none in the Maldives).

So, in answer to the questions, we'll have 440 liters of gas in the wings (it's sadly not 450 liters) and another 100 in the back. It looks like this - we burn 21,5 liters per hour and do 200 kph (110 knots) TAS. That means, without allowing for unusable fuel, take-off and landing or any reserve, 20,5 hours endurance on the wing tanks, giving about 4 000 km.

The extra 100 liters gives just less than 5 hours, nearly another 1 000km, or a total, very optimistically, of about 5 000km. Colombo from Reunion, around Mauritian airspace, is 4 680km, so there's a 320 km margin. Direct through Mauritius airspace it's about 4 200km, a far better proposition, but not allowed. Anyhow, right now we're waiting on permission for Colombo in any event. If it comes before 0200Z tomorrow we'll consider re-filing for Colombo, if not we'll fly to Male and wait.

Added complications include the fact that we have visas for Reunion which expire at midnight tonight (2 hours!) and that we don't yet have permission to fly either through Seychelles or Mumbai airspace, though as yet neither seems to have raised a red flag in response to our current flight plan.

If you're confused by it all, don't worry, so are we. The Sling 4 is magnificent and makes it possible to change plans when situations require it. But there's little doubt the hardest part of flying around the world has nothing to do with aircraft, flying, weather or fuel - it has to do with overcoming regulatory constraints.

Meanwhile, hold thumbs and let's see how we go.

(In answer to the questions, there seems to be a problem with an element of the satellite tracker computer system somewhere - the device on ZU-TAF is working perfectly. It looks as if there probably won't be tracking tomorrow, but we'll keep trying to get it right and we'll have it showing on our website as soon as it's possible to do so.)

More when we get a break.

J and J

UPDATE: The guys have a permit now to fly to Sri Lanka so let's see how they go … it's about a 24 hour flight. Two courageous aviators!


16 August to 13 August 2011

Tuesday, 16 August 2011 Permission woes for James and Jean

James & Jean have decided to postpone departure to tomorrow evening at 6pm (SA local time) on the 17th of August due to not having received permission back from Taipei yet. Updates will be given during the course of tomorrow.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011 Message from Phuket

Jean and I have just received the terrible news that the two Albatrosses that were at the Tzaneen airshow have been missing for two days. Our thoughts are with the families of all the passengers.

Monday, 15 August 2011 We are planning to leave tomorrow afternoon for Taipei

Just a quick update to let you know that after a good rest at Patong Beach yesterday we're off to the airport to do a short hop over to Robert Suchard's airpark 8.5 nm away, radial 140! (500m grass strip which we've also checked out on Google Earth). There we've got a reception tonight, we hope after some low flying over these magnificent island structures in which we'll be able to film the Sling 4 over the azure beaches.

No time for more now. Our plan though, if the weather's perfect, is to head off for Taiwan tomorrow afternoon, fly again through the night and land there midday the following day. That'll be roughly a 19 or 20 hour flight. Any questions on the weather and we'll check out the possibility instead of delaying a day and doing a day flight to Puerto Princessa International in the Phillipines, followed the next day by a day flight to Taiwan, dividing the flight roughly in two. That does, however, depend on being able to get permission within a day. Michelle, any chance?

We've been having a fascinating time here in Patong Beach which is quite a place. Jean and I really feel like provincial lads here in the heart of the whore - we're just gobsmacked by it all and didn't imagine this existed! Probably it's best to digest it a bit before we write about it actually, we feel a bit like goldfish in a bowl of rum!

J and J

Sunday, 14 August 2011 James answer some questions

About getting the additional fuel into the wings. Jean did consider climbing out on to the wing and we've discussed the idea a couple of times. But ultimately he figured it'd be easier to put it through the two transfer pumps under the pilot's seat. It did mean removing and re-attaching some pipes in flight, but that was all part of the fun. Luckily Jean's agile enough to get himself around the cabin and into some quite creative positions in order to do running repairs. 

On the last leg he tried to fix the satellite transponder antenna, which is outside the canopy, from inside the canopy, but more about that and the fuel transfer process in a later post.

One more thing - when I get a moment I want to write a bit about the Sling 4's performance. Flying to Phuket and 5 hours in, 8 hours endurance remaining, we climbed from 12 500 to 13 500 feet (15 500 feet density altitude) at 350 fpm to avoid weather. I realised that the Sling 4 at 115 hp way outperforms a Cessna 182.

More about that later!

Sunday, 14 August 2011 Reunion to Phuket - Jean's view Part 2

Our filed flight plan distance was 4 600km, but we’d cut the corner and cheekily bored a tunnel through Mauritian airspace, so only 4 100 km had to be covered. By nightfall we’d flown for eight and a half hours of the twenty-one. A little more than half the fun lay ahead. Preparing for night flight means controlling all glare from instruments so you can see out. The lowest light setting on the MGL is still a little too bright for mid-ocean night flight, so James’ kikoyi and my towel get hung over the instrument panel. This way our eyes adapt to the dark helping us to see out ahead and the weather that awaits us, and now and again we 'lift up’ to scan the vitals. The moon was just about directly overhead and lit up the world outside as well as the cockpit, allowing us peace of mind, because a long as you can see the weather you have a fair chance of avoiding it. If there is no moon at night, you simply suddenly fly into that invisible soft white wall and all hell breaks loose. No danger of that right now! We were nearing the equator and discussed our previous experiences crossing this imaginary line. “Let’s do a pic and a video when we get there.” “Yeah, cool ok!” Still be a while though, and all was well, so James decided to have a quick sleep, reclined his seatback and was gone.

It’s always a different when your mate sleeps, 'cause you have to watch everything and shouldn’t dose off or forget to switch off a fuel transfer pump which would result in pumping out valuable fuel into the night sky. So on the edge of your seat and keep those eyes peeled into the distance.

When you stare into the dark for long you start seeing all sorts of things, and when you tired and do that you see even more. Now out there the situation is this - James and I are simply trying to fly to Colombo, minding our own business. The Indian Ocean just wants to do what it has done forever, and the sky just wants to do what it has done forever. All technical descriptions of the ITCZ should be forgotten. The sky saw us coming, said to the sea, let’s be a monster and scare the pants off these lads.

It all started with some fine top cover beginning to shade out the moonlight, so what was below and ahead became more and more indistinct. James seemed so peaceful that I left him in dreamland, and forged ahead . It just seemed to get darker and darker and this huge monster ahead just opened its mouth wider and wider letting us fly right in. “Mmm …… James, …. James …… wakey wakey. Look what I see!”

James woke slightly and squizzed through sleepy eyes. “Just a bit of rain”, and gestured onwards with his hand and slipped off again.

Now really on the edge of my seat, 'cause this way leaning forward we could lose all the glare of the instruments and see best outside. This monster was growing unbelievably. I knew 'we are definitely not going in there, because in there we will be digested’. With this James sat up, reset his seat and we got into serious “Wow” mode! Tweaking the heading knob on the AP we steered clear of the monster’s flesh, but we just got deeper and deeper in. It was the most beautiful site in the world - we were surrounded by the most gigantic convective clouds that I had ever been that close to at night, lit by the moonlight now breaking in to dramatise this theatre. We were now at a right angle to our course, finding gaps in the folds of this monster’s skin to slip through. Both of us in awe, sharp, calm but shit-scared. The possible result of going into one of these clouds and losing instruments makes us so. A good decision and a fast one needed to be made. Over? No chance. Through? Definitely not, you could see the monster boiling! Last chance and option, autopilot off, descend manually in the little space left to fly visual, hope the artificial horizon stays with us and get in under this baby in the rain, hopefully with less turbulence, and reset the autopilot on a course to destination. And that was it! “Take it away Jameson!” was all the prompting he needed. James is legendry for many reasons, some known and some never to be known!

Auto pilot off, “Got it!” and a swift meaningful roll over a billowing CU head down into the darkness. QNH of no value, we were descending to below this monster, relying on GPS alt. Sculpting a tunnel down to the level we thought safe (about 1 400 feet) James called to reset the GPS for destination so that the autopilot could take over and find its path immediately. This done and ready we entered the most viscous pelting rain under the cloud and still banked at 50 degrees engaged the autopilot. (Ranier, you have made the most amazing instrument – we blessed you right there and then). Strong turbulence, heavy rain and we just bombed on. James looked at me, we exchanged smiles and sighs. The party had started! A fair period passed and buckets and buckets of rain cleansed our Bullet before we popped out the other side.

We were now only 1 200 feet above the sea and far away from anywhere, more charlies ahead. Yeah, we were well “out there!”

The rest of the night was exhausting and terrifying. We went on through apparently never-ending weather and found ourselves in situations which are impossible, especially with my typing speed, to tell you all about, though maybe one fine evening around a big fire at Tedderfield we could all get together and have an outdoor slide show and talk about how great life is!

Miss you all! Hope to have you tracking with us soon!

Sunday, 14 August 2011 Reunion to Phuket - Jean's view - Part 1

Howdy folks

It feels like a million years since our last chat, so much real stuff has happened. (Definition - "real stuff" means make the right move next, or else BIG dwang!). We are here in the party capital, Phuket. Safe and rested, well fed and digesting our antics.

The little 9 hour hop from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Thailand was a great way to unwind and catch up on some relaxing. We were forced to leave with minimum fuel due to some nonsense with the authorities, but nevertheless with a fair reserve we set out, had an amazing flight with serious challenge from the weather and arrived at Phuket about an hour after sunset. We did a long descent into the circuit with the moonlit clouds sliding past and oriental voices talking us in. James was flying and suddenly broke out in his classic style, "Faaaak, I get excited, flying our plane that we built and flew all the way here, into Phuket international under this magnificent moon!"


Ja, we are very very lucky, life is really good and it makes it so much more special to have all of your support and know that you are following us. The biggest shame is that the tracker is not working at the moment. I remember the frustration and disappointment when James and Mike lost tracking in the Sling in 2009. James and I often discuss during flight how we wish we had that real time connection with all of you. We are doing all we can to get it working and look forward to having you back on line. It adds a certain comfort to know that you all know where we are- kind of like you are there with us!

Let's go back to lovely Reunion where we made some very good friends and thought we had had the most hectic flight possible from Africa. The people in Reunion were all entirely wonderful, thanks so much to Laurent , Graziella and all at the Roland Garros Aero Club who made our stay a complete pleasure. We left with a definite desire to return again soon. It was our intention to leave for Maldives the afternoon after our arrival, so James diligently prepared and filed a flight plan and we met with press and television at 3pm local time, filled the plane brimming with gas and packed ready to leave. But then the delays started - "Monsieur, your flight plan. Mauritius, they have a problem!"

And so the painful time-wasting nonsense started. Later that night we had no alternative but to return to our hotel room after James had unsuccessfully tried everything to convince the Mauritians that they should allow a single engine, experimental airplane without HF radio to fly through their precious airspace. Back to the field the next day we were again hoping to get the clearance from Mauritius, but were met with a final "No HF, No Fly!" On top of that the next curved ball - no avgas or 95 octane petrol in the Maldives!

So back to the Hotel for a big rethink. As the afternoon drew on, with me kicked back on the bed, James cursing the Mauritian authorities while hammering away at the computer, having regular (much appreciated) chats with Captain Mike back home on what to do next, the reality dawned - if we were to continue east, we needed to fly past the Maldives and straight on to Colombo in Sri Lanka, somewhere that we hadn't planned to go at all. So suddenly 'action stations', James started the process of flight planning, clearances etc. for the new flight of more than 23 hours, a task at which he is demon. My mission was to go out and find fuel drums and the bits and pieces we needed to make our Bullet into a truly inter-continental commuter. This process started around four pm in the afternoon. Soon with the help of our friends we had 125 liters of fuel in drums in the back of Laurent's car, a length of plastic pipe, a flight plan "around" Mauritian airspace direct to Colombo 4 million miles away and by about 8pm and were sitting down to very fine meal with Graziella and Laurent.

Back at the Hotel as I was getting to sleep James was still busied with the never ending tasks of flight planning but eventually came to bed for about two hours of shut eye before our wake up for the long demanding task ahead. Laurent arrived promptly at 4:45, as planned, and we zoomed out to the Aero Club for an early start, packed the Bullet, plumbed the fuel system, said goodbyes and taxied to the terminal building for customs. At this point we were not yet sure of our clearances but took the chance anyway. Customs done we jumped into TAF and called for start, while staring out north over the ocean wondering what the next 20 plus hours held for us. The reply came - "ZULU UNIFORM TANGO ALPHA FOXTROT, your clearance for Colombo is not approved. And they advise that you are NOT to take off in anticipation of approval."

James and I look at each other, sigh and swear, and then start the process of overcoming once again. As with all these things in life, one should find the good in them. In this case it was meeting three lovely souls up in the "bureau" - The very swift gent who drove us around the airport in a huge bus and ran us around the terminal building, allowing efficient sorting out of 'formalities', and the lovely ladies who gave us our first real cup of coffee for the day and lifted our spirits with their humane tenderness. Finally, during that cup of coffee, the clearance came through and we could leave.

Climbing into the cockpit now we both knew this time we really were leaving. The reality brought on serious butterflies - we were about to spend about 20 hours in the Bullet, transferring fuel from various drums in the back with an untried system, weather report not great and only a couple of hours sleep.

The odds ………..? James, smiling his usual big energy giving smile, looked at me. "Jeanie, you nervous?"


"I am sh…..g my best rods! Let's boogie!"

And so the trip began. The Bullet, AUW of 1200kg at least, me in the pilot's seat, taxied to rnwy 22 and we lined up. How was she going to fly? Slowly we opened power to 100% and she lazily stared the roll, heavier than ever before. Then as speed crept up, we slipped the ace - 115% power from the turbo and she responded, with zest. Soon the ASI read 50 knots and she wanted to fly, a lot sooner than expected. You could feel the effect of the weight, but without a moment's hesitation she leapt up and climbed at an astounding rate of 600ftpm. James the Bullet and I were on our way to FL095 and Colombo.

"Mike has designed an airplane that is to general aviation, what Rutan's spaceship is to space travel." And more reason to say this as the flight continues.

With 440 liters in the wings and 125 on the back seat/floor we continued our climb a radial 010 to clear Mauritian airspace, wasting our precious fuel on the flight plan detour. Luckily Reunion has no radar so no squawk was issued, as soon as we were through some cloud James, with some verbal abuse to Mauritian authority (see video later!), reset our course direct for Colombo. It always feels much better when you are on a direct path!

We settled into the flight, nervously, but as we leveled off and enjoyed the fair weather we began to relax a bit. Clearly we were both considering what lay ahead. The reality of the previous night flight still fresh, the fact that we were flying through the ITCZ at night, no transponder, no sat tracker, no HF radio and a quick cell call met report (something about storms somewhere!) was what we had to chew on. We were in fact also way off our flight plan path, so chances of quick recovery in the event of a swim were low. At almost the same instant in conversation James and I realized our only hope of recovery was our PLB's (personal locator beacons) and we immediately attached these to our belts. Thanks Chalkie, your generosity and thoughtfulness certainly is helping those long crossings.

And so the day passed - we burnt fuel, the transfer worked perfectly and hour by hour our already good performance improved. As the sun got low and the night neared, conversation got interesting and somewhat philosophical. We knew this perfect day would turn to night and in that darkness lay more than half our flight over the Indian ocean, through the ITCZ, certain storms, certain rain. The sun would set more than 8 hours after take-off, but when it rose again we'd still be flying. There was no turning back, no option but to press on and on and on! No land, no human, no nothing, just water, weather, the Bullet, hopefully enough fuel; and James and me. This is when you are most alive!

There are not many people I would willingly get into this situation with, but as we prepared for night James was shooting the stunning sunset out the window and I smiled while looking at this wild child, and thought to myself, how incredibly lucky I was to be on this adventure with him. Soon the moon was bright and for this we were thankful. The clouds were still passing below and the night was gentle, a slight tailwind and no Charlie Bravos. Life is sweet!

And so on, into the night……………!

[Jean's just got cabin fever, so he's headed off for a walk on the beach. Part 2 will follow within a couple of hours!]

Saturday, 13 August 2011 Safely in Phuket

I have just had a call from J & J they are in a clean air conditioned terminal building in Phuket. Jean said he has never seen such a clean and well organized airport in his life. And … they are in really good spirits after a brilliant flight of just over 9 hours. The last hour was in smooth clear air with a bright full moon lighting their way for them.

By the way, this time while we were chatting I remembered to ask Jean how the Sling 4 flew with 560 litres of fuel on board at the Reunion take off and was delighted to hear that the plane hardly seemed to notice the extra weight and lifted off and climbed beautifully because I was a bit concerned about them taking off so heavy.


Saturday, 13 August 2011 The morning started with red tape before departure

Tim called me at 2.20 am this morning saying that he couldn't get hold of James to give him the weather forecast. I tried too but without luck and so went back to sleep leaving Tim to keep trying. At 4.30 I jumped awake wondering why J & J hadn't called for a final check in and brief on their exact route. This time I got through to them when I called … James answered and the conversation went something like this:

"Mike, howzit man (James' style) … hell we have been battling for over an hour and have decided to take it is easy now because we lost the battle to get the extra fuel through security to the plane. You know we had a letter from the head of security and the airport duty office saying they we would be able to transport the Mogas to the plane but this morning they just wouldn't let us through so we have abandoned the containers outside and are walking to the plane right now. We have enough anyway - we landed with at least 80 litres and we managed to get 195 litres Avgas so we are good. Anyway, we are in good shape and ready to go. We will have tailwinds so I guess the flight will take 9 hours 10 minutes and take off will be at 0300 Zulu so will you please let Michelle at Flight Permits know so that she can book our slot in Phuket. Here chat to Jean"

Jean: "Howzit, hell this is a real adventure. It is good to be doing this with James - you guys have the experience in dealing with this stuff and it helped today. The filing of flight plans and all that can be crazy. So, I cleaned both of the pump filters and from now on I will do it before each flight … you know there was a kind of lint or fluff in the filter of the one pump. We should put a finer filter in after the standard filter. And the electrical problem I haven't been able to trace … it is definitely a loose wire somewhere because when I fiddled with the wires behind the dash everything worked again. And I will take the tracker antenna off in Phuket and dry it out and try and get it working. OK we are at the plane - bye!"

I wished them good luck and strong tailwinds and promptly lay down in my bed and went back to sleep.

50 Minutes after their take off time the phone rang and a man with a Sri Lankan accent asked me "is that ZUTAF" I said no, but I am the operator. He explained that he was the Colombo ATC and asked if ZUTAF had a satellite phone because he needed to talk to them. When I told him no, I had no way of contacting them at which point he promptly put the phone down. I have to guess that something had changed on their flight plan or they couldn't get a slot into Phuket or something like that and so in a way it was a good thing that we were not in touch because the possibility exists that they would have been forced to turn back for some reason or other.

It is now 1 pm local time which means they have been flying for 7 hours and have just over 2 hours to go. A short flight this time and a day flight too. Nice.



22 August to 17 August 2011

Monday, 22 August 2011 Re-planning our route on the hoof

Sorry we’ve been a bit slack at keeping our latest news up to date. We’re off to Taipei city centre later today and we’ll see if there’s a good quiet place to do a short video update for a change.

First things first – we’ve had an interesting but quite isolating couple of days here in central Taoyuan, which is about 30km south-west of Taipei. Since we arrived in Taiwan neither Jean nor I have seen a single 'westerner’, not even one tourist or business traveler, so we’re definitely in the heart of it. People are very friendly, but pretty much nobody at all speaks English. At one level that’s great, but at another it does make it quite difficult to find the extra fuel cans and pieces of plumbing we’re looking for. We’re eating in proper Taiwanese street dives though, and yesterday evening we had a great run with exercises up on the mountain here – about the only open space for miles around.

Check out just a few of the fruits and veggies that we don’t recognize.

It helps to be a lover of bikes in this place. Nothing fast, but a serious case of “One man one Scooter”. Check this out - lots of families of 4 on a 125cc beast, I just haven’t had a camera at the right moment to get two sweet kids with mum and dad all off for a visit!

This country is buzzing – it feels like a beehive of industrial activity. There’s a fair amount of trauma in the press at the moment (we get a copy of the English print “China Post” under our hotel door each morning) arising out of HP’s decision to sell off its PC division. That may mean the loss, over 2 to 3 years, of the manufacture of chip boards, printed circuits, keyboards, cases etc in Taiwan for HP’s PC market of 40 million PC’s per year. Jislaaik, it makes you think!

More important by far however than Taiwan’s little problems is the question of my and Jean’s route out of here. (You don’t want to be stuck competing with these 23 million hardworking people, I can tell you!). Michelle received the following email from the Japs yesterday-

From: JAS-Flight Support [mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.]
Sent: 19 August 2011 13:27
To: 'Michelle Reinhardt'
Subject: RE: Pilots licences

Dear Michelle White / Flight Permits
From Yuko Naito / JAS

We have sent following message 19 Aug 0654UTC.

/// QUOTE ///

We have talked with RJCC airport authority and they are not able to permit to operate to RJCC without airworthiness certificate.

This means that ZU-TAF is not able to operate within Japan due to regulation.

Therefore, we (JAS) are not able to arrange all services at RJCC (JAPAN).

Very sorry for inconvenience by regulation of Japan.

/// UNQUOTE ///

Sorry for your inconvenience.
Thank you,
Best regards,
Yuko Naito

JAS Co., Ltd. ~Jump And Smile !~
Tel: +81-3-5708-0088 / Fax:+81-3-5708-0090
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

So Jean and I sat down and did some planning. It looks like the easiest alternative is to go Guam, Marshall Islands (or perhaps Wake Island), Hawaii and then LA. The Marshall to Hawaii to LA legs are the reverse of what Mike and I did in 2009 – but against the wind this time, which is a bit nasty. But with a bit of planning we should be fine. Here’s a shot which shows what the new section would look like in yellow.

World map with Gaum routing

Michelle’s already got the Marshall Islands permission and Hawaii (US) is also done. We couldn’t get Guam over the weekend as we needed our insurer to sign a form, but hopefully we can get that today. If we can we’ll leave tomorrow (Tuesday) early morning. Otherwise we’ll leave as soon as it’s forthcoming.

Right now we’re keen to get into central Taipei, so I’m going to sign off. Tonight I promise to do a bit of a write-up on the Sling 4 performance and fuel burn and perhaps also some of my thoughts on the new route (including some of my fears about the old route!). In some ways the new route is an easier option, despite the fact that two of the legs are longer ones and into the wind. More about that later.

Meanwhile, here’re some more images of Taoyuan – I wonder how many of us are ever destined to get here (again). Someone apparently said, “If you think the world’s a small place, you obviously haven’t tried flying around it lately.” To me it’s a bit different though, something like, “If you imagine that your life and culture are special or important, go out there and have a look at how many other people are living their lives in ways you can only dimly comprehend or imagine.”

J and J

Sunday, 21 August 2011 Jean writes to MGL Avionics about the EFIS

Hi Rainier

I have been wanting to write to you quite badly for the past few days. In fact I wrote you quite a story yesterday but somehow lost it in posting and was p….. off as my typing speed is a bit slow to quickly bang out another.

I want to let you know just how amazed I am with the performance of your "playstation". In the past when I have experienced problems you would usually blame installation. Well I believe that with your guidance and our experience we have hit the numbers and the installations are doing your instument justice. The fact is your intrument has performed faultlessly for the entire flight in the most demanding conditions. The amazing thing is that your auto pilot has flown probally 99.8% of the trip so far. We take off manually and as soon as we are settled into a climb, "ON" goes the AP. Climb rate set and departure procedure carried out with buttons and knobs, level out, " Goto" and that's it. Weather avoidance is done the same way (except when radical moves are called for, Reunion to Sri Lanka leg). Descending, joining and even the circuit get flown with heading and alt knobs. It is rather odd after a long flight to grab the stick and find the pedals and try land the Bullet as slickly as the AP has flown for the past 20 hours!

James really knows the instument well and it is great see what it is capable of. He does in-flight dowloads of terrain and vector maps and it all just works perfectly. On the long night flights I watch the moonlight reflections on the polished ailerons constantly changing as the your servo takes commands from your GPS and guides us to our next destination, and I wonder in awe at how damn clever you are!


PS - Another thing - James keeps on saying how technology can have a 'feel' that's associated with the thought processes that it's creator went through in creating it. You posted a comment some days back on our post saying that with your instrument in our plane you felt a bit as if you were out here with us. Well, I know as far as James is concerned in a real way you really are up there with us when we're flying!

Saturday, 20 August 2011 Answering some questions

This morning Jean and I woke up at 09h30 local time, just missing the hotel breakfast. We shared a double bed last night for the first time on the trip - in every other hotel we’ve had a room with two beds, as it’s cheapest and most convenient. Up to now Phuket Air Park has been the only place we each had our own bedroom, so we’re really getting to know each other well!

After wake-up I checked out our website, Avcom and Gmail, then had a long, luxurious bath, while Jean caught up recording all our finances. We’ll give you a breakdown of everything we’ve spent soon. Costs are very country dependant and, in the irrational way of the world, one ends up in situations where a cup of coffee in one country costs about the same as three nights in a hotel in another! It infuriates me, but then there’s no point in getting angry about stuff you can do little about (and I think we learned some Buddhist tricks in Thailand!).

Sri Lanka for example is a cheap country to live in - our hotel cost about USD30 for both of us, including transport to and from the airport. Dinner with drinks (in the street) was another USD3. Then approach, landing and parking fees for the aircraft at the airport cost a grand total of USD6. But being at the only international airport in the country, our 'handling fee’ was USD258 - and that comprised only the compulsory charges! (Each bus trip from aircraft to the terminal ordinarily costs USD40 and of course normally you require at least 2 of those if you’re going to enter a country and then leave it – walking to your plane is not allowed! Aircraft chocks cost another USD30 etc. Luckily all the chocks can’t fit under our spats and we persuaded our handlers in Sri Lanka to include only the absolute compulsory items. Still, I hate paying that kind of money. Maybe I’m just mean!)

Anyhow, I’m digressing. The first thought I wanted to respond to was Wysiwyg’s (?) on Avcomm – basically, “Aren’t you pushing a bit close to the boundaries, breaking some rules, and shouldn’t you think more of your loved ones and perhaps be a bit more careful”.

It’s a very legitimate question and definitely one we’ve thought about and discussed a bunch. Jim, thanks for chipping in to that effect. My (and I know, Jean’s) thoughts are these – We’re 100% satisfied personally with the levels of risk we’re taking, step by step. If we weren’t, we’d take a rain-check and re-think the approach. We have excellent equipment with lots of back-ups and redundancy, we’ve already accumulated a bunch of experience and we’re getting more as we go. We’re aware that being watched can create pressure, but we’re determined not to let that affect our decisions. Finally, we’re on a personal adventure in which there are no passengers. Exactly as Jim said – you’re allowed to put your life in some danger climbing Everest, and in so doing you set your own risk levels. There’re no fare paying passengers along to whom we owe a duty of care.

That having been said, there are of course inherent risks and we accept them as we go. If we feel they’re unjustifiable we’ll wait, or perhaps even abort our plan. Weather is the greatest single danger, and there’s no question that the weather risk is much greater when we fly at night than when we fly in the day. (The difference on that risk between day and night is greater than we expected, so we’re changing our modus operandi a bit as we go). In my last post I tried to capture a little, but not very successfully, how some of the rules, often those intended to protect us, actually make it more dangerous. The best example was the issue of the Mauritius FIR crossing. On that leg we didn’t follow our filed flight plan exactly. That’s not acceptable generally, and it could be dangerous. But on this occasion we did it specifically in order both to minimize the weather risk (better weather routing and also 'less time out there’), but also to ensure that we had the endurance to make it. If we hadn’t had the tail-winds we did, it could have been really marginal, the alternates were very few and far between and we’d have had to make some difficult decisions, all at night. So we clipped through the Mauritius FIR, FOR SAFETY, NOT IN SPITE OF IT. (Incidentally, close associates back home knew our exact routing and we had PLB’s to show exact position in case of problems).

So sometimes the rules actually conflict with the considerations of safety. I’m not saying one should necessarily generally adopt that approach in life – mostly if one feels that for safety you need to break the rules it’s probably best just to change what you’re doing. But here we’re dealing with quite an exceptional set of circumstances and we do need some freedom to make our own decisions.

One final thought on questions of weather and decisions more generally - it’d be nice to wait for the right weather and circumstances every time, but the sad reality is that if we did do that we’d probably takes months to get around the world, by which time winter would be coming in the northern hemisphere, bringing more dangers and so on. It’s a question of making an 'odds-on assessment’, deciding if the risk is acceptable and getting on with it. Reading more of Branson’s history of aviation in my bath this morning I thought this quote was about right. It’s from Douglas Bader of “Reach for the Sky”, for whom Branson’s book is also named. He says of Bader, whom he knew personally,

This irascible old man was also one of the funniest and most generous a child could know. His example gave me my confidence. He also gave me and my generation one of the best pieces of business advice ever formulated: 'Rules’, he once said, 'were for the guidance of wise men – and for the obedience of fools.’

(In introducing Bader, the World War 2 ace who flew with artificial legs, Branson also uses another line which I really loved, it goes like this: “He had a wide and generous definition of what a fool was, and he didn’t suffer them gladly.”)

OK, so that’s the rules. What a pity I have, in the same post, to write about the China 919 question! Actually, Jean and I only found out about the fiasco when my brother Andrew directed us to our own Facebook page late last night! After we landed ATC ground instructed us to taxi by taxiway “November Charlie to the end”. We were already on a taxiway, the name of which I don’t recall. I was on the radio, Jean driving. We came to a multi-directional crossing about 40 meters off the active runway and I asked which way we should go. As it turned out November Charlie was marked with two boards, but it did an acute angle there, one sharp right, back towards the active runway at a gentle angle, the other gentle right, curving to parallel with the runway. The ATC said “turn right onto November Charlie”. Jean assumed he meant hard right, so commenced turning. ATC quickly chipped in “No, no”, so Jean continued the turn, on a tickie, doing a 360, and then headed off at the gentle right angle.

Even if we’d gone down the sharp right 'on-ramp’ to the runway, it was a good 50 metres to the active runway junction and the “stop line” was a good 30 meters from where we were. Anyhow, being on the ground frequency, we didn’t even realise that there’d been any consequence, since the China 919 flight was obviously on the tower frequency already. Hence we discovered that there’d been problems only when this popped up on our Facebook page after we got to the hotel (we’d even spent three quarters of an hour on the far apron refueling and it wasn’t brought to our attention!). What must have happened is that the China Airlines flight was already rolling and saw us doing a turn back towards the runway. Although there was a good 50 meters for us to run to get to the active runway on that taxiway, it was at an acute angle, which perhaps he couldn’t see, so perpendicularly we were probably only 20 meters off the runway. Anyhow, he probably just thought “What the hell are these lunatics in this little mosquito doing? I’m not going to take any chances, I’m hitting the brakes.” I assume that he must have hit them pretty hard and somehow burst a tyre. Hhhmmm, what a pity – it kind of bursts my bubble a bit – I thought we’d been doing so well. Anyhow, life has a habit of bumping you down a couple of rungs just when you think you’re up!

Taiwan is a hectic place by first impressions, and we’ll now head off to see central Taipei. It looks like we won’t be getting out of here tomorrow for Japan, as we’d initially hoped, but as SA wakes up and we get updates on that, we’ll report.

James and Jean

Friday, 19 August 2011 Reflecting on the last few days

Exactly 30 hours ago Jean and I were settled into a 'Dang Beach Bugalow’ room planning dinner on the beach at the beautiful Nai Yang, just off the threshold of runway 09 at Phuket Thailand, followed by an early night.

Then the Taiwan the Singaporean permissions came in over my cellphone, the weather suddenly looked propitious, our Taiwan handlers wanted us in promptly to avoid rethinks and it just seemed the right moment. In two and a half hours we faxed in a carefully structured flight plan (fourth flight plan submitted in the hope of that leg, though Pocket FMS makes it pretty easy!), bought supplies for the journey, went for a lovely walk on the beach followed by a local dinner (also on the beach), showered and then abandoned our unused but paid-for room. (Luckily Thailand is so cheap that a week there costs less than a night in many other places – here for example!). We’d already filled and prepared ZU-TAF during the afternoon and had been feeling pretty glum that things hadn’t seemed to be working out - still, having 'resigned ourselves’ to another day in Thailand it was quite difficult to let go again.

Over the past 72 hours I’ve felt quite reflective about the problems we’ve been having getting all documentary and regulatory requirements properly in line. I’ve been raging mad quite a few times – really frustrated and angry, harking back to my more youthful anti-authoritarian sentiment and natural loathing of limitations to individual freedoms, (especially if they’re mine!). There’s no question that the countries in this part of the world, even the more liberal ones, have a deep rooted sense of administrative structure and often political paranoia. The communist / capitalist mix makes the countries openly distrustful of one another and people just don’t expect to be able to get into a private aircraft and just buzz off exactly where they want to. I’ve written a bit over the past couple of years about how easy it can be to travel internationally under one’s own steam in the right light aircraft and with a bit of experience, but even with the right energy and approach, of course it isn’t always that way.

I suppose that in honesty I’ve begun to accept that as a consequence of where they are these countries just aren’t set up to deal with some of the requirement of GA. So for example we needed to fly through the Bangkok (Thailand), Singapore, Manila (Phillipines) and Taipei (Taiwan) FIR’s. (Vietnam and China would have been more direct, but are even more complicated). We don’t have an HF radio, so most of the time we’re out of comms (unless we can relay through an airliner, which we do a lot and with relative ease). We also have no sat phone. So it does mean that if we do go down, then the country really could have quite a job having to find us and that is quite a liability for an institution to take on without being quite clear on what’s involved. The US by comparison understands private aeroplanes and everything around them, making it so much easier.

Anyhow, Jean was desperate for reading matter on our first few legs and then found a copy of Richard Branson’s “Reach for the Skies – Ballooning, Birdmen and Aviation – A Personal History of Aviation” in a bookshop in Patong Beach. Interestingly, a good part of the Introduction is about Dave Stock, with whom Richard Branson flew in an English Electric Lightning to try and break a world aircraft climb record in SA some years back. Dave was killed in that same aircraft at the Overberg Airshow nearly two years ago, but not before he was also the test pilot who flew the very first ever Sling prototype for The Airplane Factory, so that seemed fitting. It’s a fun book and it was nice to see that Branson has also had his fair share of run-ins with foreign authorities on flight permissions. So for example during the flight to Taiwan today I read the following (Jean and I are both reading the book simultaneously!)-

“Here are two old faxes from my scrapbook, both from attempts to circumnavigate the world by balloon.

The first was received on board the Virgin Global Challenger as it neared Algerian airspace on 7 January 1997: “YOU ARE NOT, REPEAT NOT, AUTHORISED TO ENTER THIS AREA”.

[Very similar to what we initially received from Sri Lanka and then Taiwan!]

The second was sent on 23 December 1998 after we had received a dispatch from the Chinese government. The dispatch said we had to land the ICO Global as we were entering Chinese airspace. We had no doubt that they would shoot us down if we did not comply. The trouble was that we couldn’t:


Branson then describes how two later balloonists were shot down and killed in similar circumstances by a military helicopter in Belarus. Then I liked this:


It doesn’t feel too different from what we’re experiencing!

What is also interesting was that there is no question that attempts to fit us into an unnatural category and force us to comply with rules applicable to other larger, faster aircraft (eg- the following of established airways), often in a misguided attempt to contribute to our safety, increases the danger for us. The most obvious examples are requirements that increase our flight distance, with increased risk of running out of gas or experiencing really bad weather. Then Thailand initially required that we could only fly VFR in the day. That meant we couldn’t leave in the early morning and minimize night flying time, substantially increasing our risk. We finally got around that by filing IFR, but there’s no question that we’re the people best placed to assess the risk associated with different courses of action.

Anyhow, we’ve chosen to do this trip on a pretty much low budget, largely “deal with things as they come” basis and I suppose we then have to be willing to take the good with the bad in the right humor.

Last night and today’s flight was really quite manageable - we got out of Phuket on a 'Sierra One Tango’ procedure departure at just after 10pm. I didn’t have the applicable card/plate, but luckily I’d seen it on the wall in the briefing office and committed it to memory. Jean was in the pilot’s seat flying, with me shouting instructions as I recalled them!

We climbed through 2 500 feet on runway heading, under the moonlight, did a gentle left turn onto heading 110, engaged the autopilot on the MGL, got established on a climb, covered the screens for better outside vision in the moonlight and settled into a game of dodgems with the towering and sometimes lightening filled cumulo-nimbus clouds over the Thai peninsula.

There were little fishing boats everywhere and as we got over the south China sea it literally looked like a floating village, more than 100 km out from the shore! I would have thought at those densities the waters would have been fished out in not time, though perhaps not. Things were definitely made easier by the fact that the cloud coverage decreased substantially far out over the water. One of the most stressful activities we’ve had to deal with in our flights so far is flying at night in stormy conditions – it really is unpleasant and one feels very exposed.

We ended up too far from shore for VHF communications for most of the flight, having 12 hours radio silence during which we listened pretty much non-stop to music. The Sling 4 was purring. It felt good to have given her a really good once-over – the best of the trip so far, the previous day. We’d also done an oil and oil filter change, cleaned the fuel filters in the two high-pressure fuel pumps (the one filter being the cause of the brief engine stoppage over the Indian Ocean on leg 2) and filled up to the brim with avgas, including two additional 20 liter containers. Everything was working absolutely beautifully and I think that although quite weary, Jean and I felt quietly confident and very much in love with our machine. The Airplane Factory staff (especially Jean, Mike, Ruan, Terry, Gareth, Thabo, Vincent, Buto, Muzi, Godfrey, Jan and Tumisho) essentially built that aircraft over a two month period, and she is unbelievably strong, reliable and confidence inspiring. If we’ve had some sort of glitch, every time it’s an electrical linkage or a trivial hardware consideration or suchlike. ZU-TAF flies incredibly comfortably, she’s 100% balanced, climbs from 12 000 to 14 000 like a jack-in-the-box, even with 15 hours endurance remaining, she runs on avgas or mogas, she’s comfortable to spend long periods, easy to fly and really such a joy. We couldn’t be more happy with her.

Below are a couple of images that give an idea of today’s flight.

Arriving at Taoyung International, the main airport in Taiwan, was quite something. Very busy, but we were welcomed with gifts by our handlers, Sunrise Airlines. First impressions of Taiwan are intense – fast, neon-lighted, modern, competitive, sexy. We opted not to take a bus into Taipei after refueling and preparing the plane (the flight was 18 hours and it always takes time to get paperwork done). Since we’ve done the legwork, however, it means we’re free to head into town as soon as we’re up tomorrow and discover the people and place. We’ll take lots of shots and give our views.

Meanwhile, it’s such a privilege to get to travel around this magnificent world of ours. I hope that we can begin to do the opportunity justice. Thank you to everyone at home for providing the support that makes it possible. I miss my kids desperately, and I love their messages. There’s no question that they make me think twice before I discount any risk that may need to be faced. I’m not a keen swimmer, but if this engine were to fail for one reason or another (and it can happen no matter how careful you are), boy oh boy would I be swimming hard!

Wow, this is becoming an epistle! I’m going to head off to sleep and we’ll try get some clarity on when we’ll be out of here getting closer to LA as soon as we know. First choice would be early Sunday morning to HoKaido, Japan north Island, but we await their final satisfaction with our documents. Meanwhile, reading some of the messages of support we’ve received, there’s no question that if you’re having a problem with self-esteem then getting a pilot’s license and flying around the world’s a good thing to do. Thanks, it makes everything so much more fun.


Friday, 19 August 2011 Safely in Tapei City

James has just called to say they are down and happy and are being taken care of by very friendly Taiwanese officials.

Apart from some naughty cb's which they had to dodge in the moonlight for a few hours after take off, the flight went really well and the plane performed absolutely flawlessly.

Well done Jean and James!!!

They have already refilled the plane with AVGAS ready for the next flight and once they are through customs and immigration they are going to catch a bus into Taipei.

Next stop - Japan - they want to take off really early on Sunday morning (local time)… weather permitting.


Thursday, 18 August 2011 James and Jean still stuck in Phuket

Boy-o-boy it was a busy day. I lost count of the calls to J & J today and Michelle from Flight Permits (who worked on the permissions all day). At one point I received this e-mail from Michelle: 

Dear Michelle,
To be honest with you, your aircraft is the lightest aircraft ever fly into Taiwan.

RCTP is our major airport in Northern Taiwan, among you, there would be A330, 747, so they are now asking ramp control and ATC of RCTP to consider how to take care of you and leave some gap to you between the big monsters.

We are happy to assist you but we would rather make sure everyone is safe under our service.

從我的 HTC 寄出

By 6pm Phuket time nothing had come through but we agreed that they would file a flight plan anyway and see what happened. One hour before their 11pm (local) take off time I received an sms from Michelle which said: Hi Mike, I think the CAA in Taiwan have been informed of your flight plan as I have just received an urgent e-mail saying that it is not approved as yet and you may not start your engine. I called them and told them the news at which point James said that they were having a struggle with the flight plan anyway – Bangkok has been rejecting every route they choose and wants them to fly along airways none of which go in the right direction and will take them hundreds of km out of their way. The local handlers and guys in Phuket are being super helpful and understanding and are trying their best. So, we left the conversation there - with them working on trying to get a route approved.

I have just called again now and the situation is that they have found a cheap but very clean hotel near the airport and are going to bed and will try again early in the morning (about 3am SA time). They have a number of routing options … the different airspaces are Vietnam, Bangkok, Singapore, Philippines and then Taiwan … they will keep trying until they succeed.

The flying is easy… getting through the modern day bureaucracy is the real adventure and it is just part of the whole thing. As you can imagine they are frustrated but in good spirits. While all this is going on, that sexy Silver Bullet is sitting quietly on the apron … but ready to run!


Wednesday, 17 August 2011 Getting ready to leave for Taipei

OK, so we've just filed our flightplan to Taipei. We leave Phuket at 11pm local time, 1600Z (18h00 in SA). Weather again a bit dodgy, especially at the start, and then over the Vietnam peninsula. Oh well, Vietnam wouldn't allow us through their airspace except in the day anyhow, so we're going the long way round which has us in Singapore airspace, avoiding Vietnam and also its weather!

If all goes according to plan then we'll land in Taiwan some time around 6pm local time there, 19 hours later, or about 1200Z (14h00 SA time) tomorrow.

We've serviced the plane, filled up with 480 liters of gas (a good 22 hours), packed everything and now we're ready to go. We're going to eat a good meal, head up to the briefing office and then try get a bit of quiet time before heading out onto the tarmac. Although we've had a good rest we actually both suddenly feel a bit weary. The permissions issue is quite energy sapping and then one also sometimes feels more tired after a good sleep than before!

Quite apart from the great food and accommodation provided by the Phuket Air Park, this morning Robert took me for a ride in his Zenair 701. This place is quite a paradise. Check out the photos below and eat your heart out!

Next report Taipei!

J and J

Wednesday, 17 August 2011 Still in Thailand, had a good rest and the outlook from here

Right now as I type this I’m sitting on my bed in a lovely palm frond-thatched guesthouse at the Phuket Air Park. Thanks Suchard (Robert) Raksongob, a keen aviator-businessman and the developer of the Air Park who has made this our home from home for the past two days. We really are being looked after like specially invited guests.

(See and

Thanks also to John Magee, another aviation lover who is ostensibly a retired banker. John worked much of his life in the East. Only problem is, as a project in his 'retirement’ he founded a local English language newspaper in Phuket – the Phuket Gazette, now a substantial local weekly publication with associated internet and broadcast television activities. John introduced us to his friend Robert and, thanks to both, on Monday evening we were treated to a fine reception amongst the friends of the Phuket Flying Club. John being John, of course the press and television were there and we hope when we return to SA to read about our adventure in this coming Sunday’s edition of the Phuket Gazette, while sitting back at Tedderfield in Johannesburg.


During the reception we did have to fly ZU-TAF back to the Phuket International Airport, as strictly speaking she doesn’t have permission to be at the Air Park, but luckily we were able to fix the technical problem that had us land here during our engine test flight and we were able to park her in front of the International terminal just as the sun set.


While we’re in the most beautiful place with the most wonderfully warm and generous people I can’t pretend that we’re not a little frustrated at not having been able to get off to Taiwan yesterday. It’s another long flight – 18 odd hours if we have to fly around Vietnam airspace, 16 hours if we can go straight over. We planned to take off about 11pm local time (1400Z) last night, to land in Taipei just before sunset today. But Michelle’s struggling to get final permission from the very 'paraat’ Taiwanese. The latest problem is that we don’t have a “noise certificate” - something simply not required in SA. Of course we have literally one of the quietest aircraft in the world and they fly Boeings into that place, but that’s the way the Ouma rusk crumbles, l suppose. Just another example of how the application of regulation can serve to frustrate and undermine individual aspirations - I feel my natural philosophical anarchism beginning to rise up again now I’m on the road! Anyhow, we hope we haven’t missed the weather window and, assuming we get the go-ahead, we’ll push off this evening instead.

Meanwhile Jean and I are getting lots of rest, eating lots of great food, including lots of sea-food, and we’ve even started an exercise regimen which yesterday included a run around the air park and four sets of press-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups!

Thailand has about 80 provinces of which Phuket is but one, albeit the most affluent. The population of Phuket is roughly 400 000, of which fully 100 000 are expatriates, mostly from the west. Then there are more than 6 million tourists each year - this year more than 7 million are expected. What a place - gatherings of people are wonderfully cosmopolitan and the mixture of accents is quite mind-boggling. At our Air Park reception Jean and I felt quite provincial! Talking to a group of 7 people I realized that the mix included one Thai, one half Thai half German, one Norwegian, one Australian, one Canadian, one US citizen and a Caribbean citizen from Barbados. Oh yes – and me from SA! Of course from their perspective, now all living here permanently, they’re all Thai! Some of the guys worked for airlines, though not necessarily out of Thailand, so there’s a whole lot of buzzing around this part of the world that’s going on!

Although there’s been a local slow-down with the global economic crisis, there’s no question that it’s less here than in the old world, and the place certainly feels like it’s buzzing. Although having a long north / south span, the land area of Thailand is not big, probably the size of California. But it’s got over 60 million people, so it’s densely populated. Land is apparently getting more and more expensive, but the demographic does seem to be promoting development activity. There also seems to be a strange mixture off authoritarianism and liberal sentiment. Robert explains that aircraft are treated like handguns – both the pilot and aircraft need to be licensed, and that includes investigation of security issues. Permissions are important, foreigners can’t own land outright, but residence visas are easy and so on.

Society seems very permissive – Patong beach, where we spent our first two evenings, is a swirl of hotels, restaurants, shops and nightclubs. Sex-based tourism apparently rubs shoulders seamlessly with family holidays. What a crazy place – straight out of the storms we’d been navigating through, it was like we’d hit the jackpot, finding ourselves at a kind of '24 hour non-stop rave’. (This was accentuated by the fact that our arrival in Thailand was the easiest one can imagine - we were whisked instantly through the terminal building, didn’t even have to produce our passports, let alone have them stamped, got picked up by John and his wife, Jon-Pen and lifted in his air-conditioned, hybrid Camry to Patong Beach, the centre of the tourist action in Phuket). Anyhow, once there on Sunday and Monday we worked hard on finding the right balance between getting the rest we needed and giving expression to our curiosity.


So now its breakfast time and then I’m off flying with Robert in his Zenair 701, from which I hope to get the classic shots of these paradise islands. We’ll try post those before the day’s out. Meanwhile I can hear some shouting from down the bottom of the garden where the local labour force is engaged in a betting game in which two fish fight it out in a bowl – cockfighting with goldfish – we really are on the other side of the world!

Finally, it does seem strange to be out here so far away having an adventure in the face of the devastating news regarding the two Albatrosses. Our thoughts go out to the families.


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 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..

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 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 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.


28 August to 26 August 2011

Sunday, 28 August 2011 Arrived safely in Honolulu

Whoa Aloha, we’re here and settling in for a big sleep. After all we’ve been not only awake, but seriously focused for the whole of three of the last 5 nights without any daytime sleeping either.Anyhow, it turns out we’re also boarded and may not budge until we install a portable HF radio in ZU-TAF. (That applies even if one wants to fly VFR over the ocean below the 5 500ft class A airspace floor!)

The people in Hawaii have been incredibly warm and hospitable – thanks to Chelsea, Jan and AirService Hawaii. Then the FAA are addressing our violation in failing to have an HF radio and in entering the Oakland Oceanic class A airspace without constant 2 way communication.

We have to say that while serious and chiding, their attitude is very clearly directed towards achieving the ultimate objective of safety, and they’re going about it as professionally and co-operatively as could be imagined. We’ve got a hired car, we’re on the beachfront in Waikiki and before bed we’ll be sure to sink some beers and a good pasta. Photos and updates soon. Thanks again for the great support.

J and J

Below is the mp3 clips of ZU-TAF talking to Honolulu ATC on arrival:

ZU-TAF speaking to Honolulu 1 (mp3 link)
ZU-TAF speaking to Honolulu 2 (mp3 link)

* Thanks goes to for making this possible

Sunday, 28 August 2011 ETA Updated

UPDATE: ETA moved forward to 21:04Z (23:04 SA local time)

Sias managed to catch an airline doing a position relay for ZU-TAF. The ETA for Honolulu is now 22:30Z, though there is a good possibility they might land a bit earlier even than that.

Below is the relay message:

ZU-TAF relaying message 150nm SW Johnston Atoll (mp3 link)

* Thanks goes to for making this possible

Sunday, 28 August 2011 Departure to Hawaii

It is now midnight Saturday night in South Africa (and 10 am on Sunday in the Marshall Islands) and I guess by now J & J must be on their way. For the first time they will have to deal with headwinds of 15 to 20 knot all the way which will make the flight time about 24 hours. To make sure they have the range they have taken off with a massive 620 litres of fuel on board giving them a safety margin even if the headwind picks up a bit.

Apart from the headwind there are a bunch of cb's which they are going to have to deal with on the way but after they cross the International Date Line they should be through the worst of them. Although Johnson Atoll is just over halfway and a convenient emergency landing spot they will be passing it in the night and without a moon and lights on the abandoned runway, it could prove difficult to land on it in the dark … but just knowing it is there gives some comfort.

Good luck J and J … we'll chat again on Sunday at 10 am when you land in Hawaii. I know, how crazy is that - they fly for 24 hours and land at the same time and date as they took off .. just 4,000 km away eastwards or is it westwards?


Sunday, 28 August 2011 Weather prediction for the leg to Hawaii

  1. Expect rain and overcast conditions 3-5 hours into the flight, wind 094/17 @ 7500ft
  2. Condition will start improving 700nm from Majuro (09h00 into flight) with low cloud up to 5000ft and high cloud at 25,000ft with no rain expected between the 2 layers – wind 078/20 @ 7500ft
  3. Majority of the middle cloud are right of track for the first 6 hours, high cloud present 10-11 hours into flight.
  4. 500nm from Hawaii, possibility of low cloud at 6000ft, clear above - wind 072/20 @ 7500ft
  5. Approaching Hawaii, few cloud @ 3000ft and scattered at 4500ft - 078/22 @ 7500 ft
  6. Freezing level 17,000ft enroute.
  7. Estimated flying time 22h30 at forecast winds.

The weather site will be updated with the necessary ATC links, satellite image, Hawaii radar and San Francisco HF for sector CWP.

Saturday, 27 August 2011 Jean's update from Marshall Islands

Howdy everybody! There is so much I want to tell you all about life in our shiny bullet as we tunnel our way through the atmosphere of our lonely planet, but time and my typing speed just don't allow. Jet lag is not the word, maybe "bullet-bushed" is more like it, but travelling east, gaining about two hours each leg, as well as losing a "night dose" of sleep each time certainly makes one feel a tad fatigued.

Life between shut-down and the next start-up is interesting, eventful , tedious, exciting, exhausting, educating, sometimes too short and sometimes way too long! It's also not what I am going to share with you, I want to share with you the stuff that happens between start up and shut down as well as the emotions before each leg. If I could type faster I would have you with us all the way, but for now let's go to the Business Centre on the 19th floor of our hotel in Taiwan.

The Japs had forced us to re-route east across the Pacific. We were both a little peed off, but also secretly relieved that we would not be needing to don Chalkie's immersion survival suits, be brave crossing the Bering sub-zero seas and attempt a landing in Adak islands cauldron of meteorological surprises.

James was in our room on his laptop doing attending diligently to flight planning and I was up there, over-looking the city of Taoyuan from behind a computer, checking weather for the new leg to Guam. We needed to decide on a departure time and date. The weather was looking less than perfect to leave that evening with a typhoon moving toward our flight path from the southern Phillipine seas, storm cells developing all around Guam, rainfall predicted for the first two hours of the leg and. Worst of all, weather developing at the half-way point and destination. Probably no self respecting pilot would for one moment even consider jumping into a little four-seater, prototype, experimental aerie at two am and head out into the night to cross the Pacific for 14 hours.

I had just printed the weather from a new site which confirmed Sias' predictions, when James walked in. Now when you get to know James well you learn his oddities and behavior traits. He sat on the window sill with the cityscape behind him, got that look on his face and started off "Jean, you know……. this weather is really really shit! But if we don't fly tonight we are going to be stuck here for a week. So I think we just go?!" All of that blurted out with no eye contact, and then he looked at me.

To share that double bed with him for another week and smell rancid sewerage when leaving the hotel was far more horrifying than the thoughts of a 14 hour dance with the elements over the warm Pacific. Decision made! The rest of the day was spent preparing for Guam.

Fast forward past the flight plan fiasco (Jap crap again) to climb out at 3am into a dark sky, gas for 20 hours on board.

The lights of Taiwan cities twinkling below us created a perfect horizon for VFR flight. The clouds were glowing white from the city light and appeared quite friendly. We thought to fly below them in the rain, but seeing them like this decided to go over them. This turned out to be the right choice. The sun would be up in about three hours and things were looking good. We did need to stay sharp and dodge a few big puffies, but all in all happiness prevailed in the little capsule. Dawn was born and coffee and breakfast was served. Tailwind was good, fuel plenty and skies ahead looked friendly. About four hours down only ten to go. Thanks to the Jap crap we would be into Guam a little after sunset. Not too serious, might be raining a bit and so what if we didn't have plates, they could just vector us in or we could do a VFR or at worst a special VFR approach. Long lazy chats and snoozes prevailed for the morning.

Then the horizon changed, the thin line of weather that was on the horizon now grew into a mighty big wall of the finest convective sculpture with a beauty beyond my vocabulary, hiding within it probably enough energy and water to supply the world's largest city for a year. Now, we needed to get right through the centre of that pretty little show that the Pacific was orchestrating for us. From our front row seat we applauded the spectacle and then started to prepare the lounge and convert it back into a cockpit of a storm-boring bullet, so we started to discuss our strategy.

There is only one way to get to the center of this baby - Lima Lima (low level), in the rain. So from an increasingly unsettled sky we slowly descended to 1 000 ft above the sea , set the alti to GPS altitude, firmed up life jackets and seatbelts, checked the life raft daisy chain(raft, supplies in a sealed container and water tied together), ensured our PLB's were tied to us (thanks again Chalkie) and turned up the music! Casper Mod!

It is like flying through a wall into another reality!

[Time up for me, I'll continue in Hawaii]

Saturday, 27 August 2011 Not a flight for the fainthearted

Ah, we've found internet at last and we can give a bit of an update. Jean's off for a quick run to energise himself and he'll sit down for a type when he returns. Meanwhile, here are some photos from the last 48 hours, in chronological order

J and J

Friday, 26 August 2011 Update from Majuro

Hi all, as I am sure you are eager for an update I thought I would put down what we have gathered from a short call with James. Both are fine, albeit exhausted. The flight took 16.5 hours, which considering the headwinds and needing to fly around storms is pretty good (funny how in light of this trip a 16.5 hour flight doesn't sound too bad…). The flight however sounds like it was a bit of a roller coaster ride. In fact to quote James, "It was not for the fainthearted", and you know when James says something like that it really means it was hell of scary…

Leaving Guam, our intrepids were faced with some serious storms and thick cloud, so decided to try and climb above them. At just over 10,000 feet they realised they were farting against thunder and were never going to out-climb the clouds, so descended through heavy rain to 1,000 feet. They flew the majority of the flight at 1,000 feet in heavy rain. In fact they say that they have now flown through so much heavy rain that the quick fix aerosol paint job we did on the cowling of this unpainted prototype now almost looks like its has had a lightning strike!

They are now staying at the Majuro Hotel, which I believe is the same hotel that James and Mike stayed at during their 2009 ATW adventure in the Sling 2. They plan to rest for now and will depart when the weather looks good.

The plane is flying absolutely beautifully they say, and they are falling more and more in love with her after each leg (Jean however is quick to say that Flight (his dog) is still his first love…). They also say that one of the largest contributors to keeping their spirits up is knowing that there are so many of us down here, up there with them, so thanks to all the amazing support we have had. It makes me think of a quote by Nelson Mandela. "What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead." I for one feel that James, Jean and Mike have made such a difference to my life by allowing me to be part of this adventure, that their lives are pretty damn significant.

The guys have no internet on Majuro so the next major update from them will be when they get to Hawaii. In the meantime we will try our best to keep you updated and entertained.

Signing off

Friday, 26 August 2011 Safely in Majuro

Majuro ATC confirmed that James and Jean landed safely at 0445Z (6:45 SA local time) in Marshall Islands. We haven't been able to speak to them yet, and will keep you posted as soon as we have had contact. We do anticipate them to try and get to the hotel as soon as possible for a well deserved rest.

Below are some photos from 2009 when Mike and James flew around the world and landed at Majuro. Although we know the weather was a bit worse today than in 2009, they still hopefully saw some beautiful views of the Marshall Islands as they came in to land.


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 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).


6 September to 2 September 2011

Tuesday, 6 September 2011 Departure from LA delayed

OK, my turn to deal with the bureaucracy … although we made application to fly from Torrance to Brown Field where we would exit the USA into Mexico the powers that be seemed to miss that part and issued us flight authorization but not to Brown Field. We were fueled and loaded up, flight plan about to be filed, customs paperwork for the flight already submitted … when the FAA called and said, sorry, you can't go - do a new application. Maybe they got confused because of our change of route …So, sorry to say, but our departure is delayed until tomorrow. Mike

Monday, 5 September 2011 Oh my golly, more changes from these lunatics

2011-09-05 23:55 UTC+2

I don't believe it – spending time with Mike and Jean it's impossible to make any plans more than a few days ahead! First they decide to change their route back to SA from a "north out of LA route" to a "south out of LA route", then they settle the details of the route by way of arm wrestle!

So now it's Baja then Acapulco (Mexico), San Jose (Costa Rica), Bogota (Columbia), Manaus, Rio and Recife (Brazil), Accra (Ghana), Pointe Noire (Republic of Congo) and Johannesburg (South Africa). Mike reckoned the southern route has better weather but Jean's not going to Brazil without seeing Rio de Janeiro. Hhhmmmm. Unfortunately Jean got the better of Mike on the arm wrestle that resolved that little route planning difference, so they'll be able to send us shots of sugar loaf mountain in the next few days.

Departure time is tomorrow morning LA local time, about 7am. (That's 1400Z on Tuesday 6 September 2011, 16h00 SA time). Mike and Jean will head down to the Brown Field just south of San Diego and then on La Paz, California Sur, Baja, Mexico while I fly back to SA with Emirates to help Gareth, Terry, Andrew, Cheri-Lee and the team keep The Airplane Factory turning over until their return.

LA is awesome. I'm fascinated to visit the old world, but there's no question that I love this western frontier life more. I reckon I get a pretty touristy little slice of things, but wow what an exciting patchwork of different people with different interests all getting along their own things right on top of one another. This just has to be a place I come back to spend some proper time in – hopefully funded through the sale of loads and loads of Slings into California which just has to be the global centre of aviation excitement.

We've done quite a bit of hard work checking out everything on the aeroplane. No serious problems of any kind. A small crack in the bakerlite on the prop commutator ring, of which we had a spare anyhow, an oil and filter change, plugs, airfilter and a comprehensive inspection. We got loads of help with servicing, got to do a little flying in Matt's Eagle, we've eaten and drunk gluttonously and we've even got a bit of a rest in between. Sadly we haven't really had time to really clock into LA culture, make any films, meet any actors or the like, but hey, there's always next time!

It's a public holiday in LA today and we're pretty much done preparing the plane, so now it's off to buy a picnic for Mike and Jean's trip tomorrow, then off to the beach. Here're a couple of shots from the last few days – thanks Jim for your contribution to those. More from Mike and Jean in Mexico and from me back home there in Joeys.

Hasta la Vista


Saturday, 3 September 2011 Yoohoooo, we're in Los Angeles

2011-09-03 21:25 UTC+2

Yihaaa, so here we are, in the Marina del Rey Hotel and Marina, just off Venice Beach. We've slept 9 hours, we're with Mike and Matt and life could hardly be better! It's time for a late breakfast and some people watching on the beach, so this will be very short, but Jean will give a blow by blow account of the flight some time later today or tomorrow. (Our hotel actually lists as tourist activities not only various museums and locations, but "People watching" at or near Muscle Beach, presumably a cheap form of entertainment!)

We got out of Honolulu at about 11am local time. Thanks Gene Wilkie and Jim Murphy for all your help, and Read and Jean for your hangar – we're sorry we didn't get to meet up again for a proper chat, but we'll be in touch to discuss your around the world plans. Also Sias Dreyer who, from SA, knew more about the local Maui weather than anyone standing right there on the tarmac!

A short hop to Maui provided good coastal sightseeing and there we "gassed-up" and prepared for the big hop. Thanks Air Services Hawaii. No thanks to the Department of Agriculture for requiring a USD225 inspection for no apparent purpose at all.

The persistent headwind between 10 and 30 knots the entire 3 800 km Maui to California hardly bothered us, but 2 hours out we had near heart failure when we just couldn't hear anything on the HF loudspeaker or the cheap plastic "headset" we were using and which was actually for checking sound on our movie camera. We took my (Andrea's) iPod earphones and put them inside our ears, inside our ordinary headsets, then Jean put the iPod earphone up tight against his headset microphone for a temporary fix. Finally, when San Fransisco radio told us, "If you do not have an operational HF and report half-hourly within the next hour you are required to return to Honolulu. Repeat, you are not to continue towards the mainland!" Jean decided that dramatic measures were called for. (Quite how they thought we'd hear that message if we didn't have an operational HF radio of course wasn't addressed.)

Anyhow, within minutes Jean had cut the mini-jack plug off our iPod connector wire and gizmo'ed it onto the plug on our spare main headset. Thank god, after some other small changes, that worked perfectly and we were home and dry.

Matt and Mike in Matt's Christen Eagle and Jim and Ryan (who works for The Airplane Factory USA!) met us in the air over the Santa Maria airport. We flew in in grand style, in formation, over LAX and into Torrance. What an awesome and emotional moment.

So here we are, all set to give LA the full treatment. We'll let you know how it compares to Joeys as soon as we're tested it to the full. So far there're a bunch of people we seem to eat too much and they drive on the wrong side of the road. No doubt there's a whole lot more though! Photos to follow.

J and J

Saturday, 3 September 2011 Safely in Torrance

The guys arrived safely in Torrance just after 2:00 UTC+2 on the 3rd of September.

Matt and Mike flew out to Santa Maria to meet the guys in the air and welcome them to California. James and Jean were in high spirits and they also found out they still had 4 hours of endurance left, thus they rerouted to Torrance Airport, flying over the very buys LAX..

The Airplane Factory team in Torrance will post some photos as soon as they can, so please check back in a few hours for updates. Obviously James and Jean will have some sleep after their welcoming party, so updates from them should be in a day-or-so.

Friday, 2 September 2011 LAX intricate airspace

2011-09-02 21:59 UTC+2

Just over 3 hours to go!

Mike and James will catch up with the guys near Santa Maria and then fly over LAX to Torrance.

LAX Airspace can be very confusing…for those of you who want to, here is a 8min video giving some insight into just how intricate the airspaces are around LAX.

You will also see Torrance Airport about 2:08 into the video where James and Jean will finally land

Friday, 2 September 2011 Getting closer to LA

2011/9/2 20:17 UTC+2

Matt just managed to get an update from Oakland Oceanic and they said that ZUTAF was at 32º25N, 131º48W at 10.03 Pacific time (1 hour ago) and their estimate for the Galip intersection was 20:40Z. Gallip is 228.5 Nm from KSMX (Santa Maria). That means they are about 5 hours out right now. That means overhead KSMX at 4pm local, 23:00Z and 1am SA time.

I will fly to Santa Maria with Matt in his Christen Eagle where we will meet the Bullet in the air and escort them over the top of LAX (Los Angeles International) and into Torrance where the welcoming committee will be anxiously waiting.

Friday, 2 September 2011 Flashback 2009: Los Angeles to Hawaii

The guys are well on their way towards Santa Maria, just north from Los Angeles. We understand here they will be met by Mike and Matt (from our office at Torrance Airfield), and they will then fly the guys to Torrance where they will have a major welcoming party waiting for them.

In the meantime here is a flashback to 2009 when James and Mike had left from Torrance to Maui…let's hope the guys have a bit more of a view during daytime when the pass over the Pacific this time.

Friday, 2 September 2011 Weather update for the leg to mainland America

2011-09-02 08:40 UTC+2

Morning All,

I spoke to James last night, they will be flying at 7500ft all the way keeping just above the low cloud (overcast below almost all the way). No CBs are forecast or any SIGWX from the SIGMET Reports, with the forecast winds and 01:12Z take-off the flight should take 21h50m landing at 23:02Z 2/9 (16:02 2/9 LA Local) and 01:02 3/9 SA local time.

Regards Sias


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