13-18 August 2009

18th August 2009 - Message from the grannies 

Hi Mike & James,

The grannies were so worried that you were just flying through the islands without having any time to enjoy the view of the local island girls, that they sent this picture through to give you a bit of "Island Girl" eye candy

They just wanted to let you guys know that they still enjoy following the flight, and they enjoy the pic of the bums against the wall, and still feeling young with excitement of the adventure!


18th August 1009 - Mike's Log (Biak to Balikpapan) BIAK

On final approach to landing there were people running across the runway and then halfway down the runway there were 2 major soccer games being played on the grass right next to the runway. That really made us smile as we steeled ourselves for having to deal with the officials. The instant we switched the engine off we could tell the difference – the attitude and the smiles. I am not complaining or anything but it is so great to arrive somewhere and the locals immediately treat you well, smile, greet you happily … that was my first impression of the people of Indonesia.

I have been thinking why is it that arriving at Chuuk in Micronesia reminded me of arriving in Nigeria and I realised that in both cases the officials (and many more of them than are actually needed) immediately approach you after landing and all of them try to get their paperwork done at the same time – this one asking this question, that one asking that question and where is this paper and why didn't you have that paper and most of all of course to get money off you. At 99% of international airports you take your passport etc and go into the terminal building and then deal with one lot of officials at a time.

At Biak it was a thoroughly pleasant experience dealing with the officials although very expensive once again. Talking about fees – from my previous long trips and this one – the most expensive landing, handling, navigation and parking fees have been in the less developed countries. I am not talking about fuel prices – that is something else. In the USA, Canada and most of Europe (excluding Greenland) the fees were not too bad (the USA being by far the cheapest with mostly no landing fee and sometimes just a $5 overnight parking fee). I guess on average the last few landing and other fees have added up to about $250 per stop. In SA our landing fees are really cheap by comparison.

The newly renovated and inexpensive hotel that we checked into is right opposite the airport – not more that 120 metres from where the Sling is parked. Jais, who is the Biak Briefing Officer offered to help us change money, get some food and very important, beer. The way to experience Biak is of course by moped – all you do is stand in the street and put your hand up and in no time you are picked up and are on your way, your driver wearing a helmet and you without !

In the little town of Biak the teenagers were out in droves, walking in the streets, riding around, just hanging out and they were all friendly. Dinner was really cheap - one of the best known dishes from Micronesia is Nasi Goreng which is a mixture of vegetables some meats and rice with egg and was developed as a dish from leftovers – well it is really yummy.

On our rest day we worked on the plane – it is a process we go through before each flight … the top cowling comes off and the engine and engine mount are systematically checked. This time we had to tie up the asbestos around the exhaust a bit, check for a possible coolant leak, adjust the carbs slightly and top up the oil. This way at least we know that on take off we are in good shape and that reduces our chances of problems developing in flight.

After lunch and a swim we went around the island on mopeds which included a visit to the famous cave in which thousands of Japanese soldiers were killed during the Second World War. The thing that struck both James and I as we rode around is the friendliness of the people … most people waved – the old the young, the men, the women, everyone waved and greeted us. Whenever we stopped we were approached with smiles and laughter – the kids wanting to take photos with us (two slightly scruffy men of dubious character … well that really applies mostly to James as we all know!)


What do we talk about while we are flying … well most of the conversation is about the flight and all the aspects around that of course, then there is politics and engineering and stories about our youth and what we plan to do with our business and how we plan to market and sell the Sling. But most of the time we sit quietly with our own thoughts because the flying is quite stressful and tiring which is not conducive to inspiring and enthusiastic conversation.

Technical stuff … when we are fully loaded we climb out at about 75 knots and 250 ft/min burning about 23 l/h. Once at altitude – say 4500 ft we get the speed up to 85 knots (90 true) and burn 19 l/h. Towards the end of the flight we will usually be higher (8500 ft) and indicating about 92 knots (102 true) and burn about 17.5 l/h.

Our health … generally we do not suffer from sore bums amazingly enough. We had the seats made with special foam and the angle and length of the seat spreads our weight partly onto our legand our back.. Also we can move around very easily which we do. Another thing is there is so much leg room that we can easily stretch our legs, lie back and even turn around. We are both well and happy and of course we enjoy the flying so although it is tiring and scary at times we are doing what we want to do! I hurt my leg a little jumping out of the plane the other day so I didn't join him, but James has just returned from a run and now is doing pressups on the floor here in the hotel room. Comes on James just 20 more and please stop that grunting!


We took off an hour late … as James was checking the drain valves one of them broke and fuel came pouring out. While James held his finger over the valve to stop the fuel I ran around getting containers and then using the piss tube and funnel we drained the tank (luckily it was a tank with just 30 L in). So that took a while and we knew that we didn't have too much time to spare because the flight might take 12 hours if the winds were not favourable and we didn't want to land after sunset if possible.

On lining up on the runway there was a big black ugly cloud that was rolling towards us so we got airborne just in time. And then it started – cloud dodging. Not the little puffy friendly kind - the nasty black, swirly, heavy rainy kind. We went left and then right and climbed and climbed until at 10,500 ft we were above a lot of the cloud and could see better. Later on in the flight it got easier but the beginning was quite hectic.

This time we had music all the way … wow, that was so great. Dodging clouds, flying over oceans and islands and jungles while listening to brilliant music. Life could not be much sweeter!

Right, it's breakfast time.

17th August 2009 - Photos & Videos, Biak Island

Below are some videos Mike & James took while en-route to Biak Island, Papua, and some more photos of their time they had spent there.



17th August 2009 - LETTER TO MOMMY 15-08-09

Dear Mommy

Thank you so much for your messages. They seem a bit unlike your usual style, but perhaps the strain has been getting to you. I'm sorry I've not had much time to write to you – but it's not because I haven't been thinking of you. Mike and I are both thinking about our mums a lot, it's just that we've been really busy. We're doing absolutely fine though, so there's no real need to worry. Anyhow, we've now set the computer up in the aeroplane, so we can write while we're flying. Right now we're over the Pacific and we've got 809 nautical miles to go to Biak, which is in Indonesia, so this could be quite a long letter.

The aeroplane is going very well and you may have seen that lots of people are taking an interest in our trip. There are quite a few questions that people have asked us, for example, what do Mike and I talk about while we're flying, what speeds do we fly at, how much fuel do we use and so on. I know you're not very technically minded, but anyhow mumsy -

In the beginning, Mike and I spoke a lot about the flying, because we were quite uncertain of a lot of stuff, about how certain aspects of the plane would work out, what would happen if we had an engine failure, what to do if we ended up in the water, especially at night, and so on. We were also just so excited about everything that we would talk about the times and places ahead, who was watching us on the tracker, how to get the best film footage and so on. But now we've pretty much dealt with all of that stuff and we're quite relaxed. Mike says he thinks we're now quite "ahead of the plane", and I think he's right. Actually, we must be, because since Los Angeles we've spent quite a bit of our flying time reading. For example, I was given a copy of "The Catcher in the Rye" in Los Angeles and, as we both wanted to read, I cut it down the spine with my penknife. At midnight on the way to Hawaii Mike and I were both sitting up there in the darkness with our head torches on, above the ocean, quietly reading about Holden Caulfield's adventures when he was kicked out of Pencey Prep, which I though was quite a place to be reading that stuff. Now we've even got to the point of editing our flip videos in flight so we can send them off when we land.

Some people have also expressed an interest in our instruments. Well, it's quite incredible, we mostly really only have two main instruments, called 'MGL Voyagers', which tell us just about everything we need to know, including how fast and in what direction we're flying, our flight attitude, altitude, ground clearance and whether we're ascending or descending, our heading and bearing as well as the track to the next waypoint and the distance and time to get there. Then they also tell us, all on the same screen, what the engine oil, cylinder head and exhaust gas temperatures are, the fuel levels in our 6 tanks, the fuel flow and pressure, the oil pressure, battery voltage and alternator current, the ambient pressure and temperature, the time, how long the engine's been running and so on. Most importantly, before we left we did some programming (actually, a friend called Nicol did it), but the effect of that is that we also see our running fuel endurance in hours and minutes and our range, taking into account the ground speed, measured fuel flow and calculated fuel remaining, as we go. Those figures change in real time, so we can see, as we do it, the exact effect on our range and endurance of changing the throttle setting, the prop pitch and so on. It definitely does make our lives quite easy. Our other instruments are a Becker transponder, a Garmin navcom radio, an Insight Strikefinder, a Zaon TCAS, a Trio Avionics Autopilot, a PS Engineering intercom and a handheld Avmap GPS, which has been particularly useful for reporting to ATC.

Anyhow, you should be able to see that we're well equipped and so don't worry about us at all.

In case you're interested, people have also asked about our airspeed and range. When we're full of fuel we cruise with an indicated air speed of about 89 knots, which at 6 000 feet gives a true airspeed of about 98 knots. Then we burn around 19 litres of fuel per hour. When we're close to empty we cruise at an indicated airspeed of about 96 knots, which gives a true airspeed of about 105 knots, and then we burn less than 17 litres per hour. We could of course go quite a bit faster if we wanted, but the main idea is to make sure we don't run out of fuel, not to get where we're going in a record time.

Incidentally, by yesterday we'd flown for 162 hours since we left, and we had about 80 hours of flying left to do. Now its four and a half less.

Oops, I see that I'm digressing - I'm afraid that Mike's had an influence on me and I know you aren't very interested in that kind of thing.

Our health is great and we're really living pretty well. It's very interesting to get to see some of these places we're going through. We've now decided to go a bit slower, so there's also a bit of time to find out about the places. Chuuk, for example, seems like a very peaceful place, but it was the scene of a major battle during World War Two. The Japanese had been in control of the islands, which fall within a coral encrusted ring (the edge of an old volcano and probably 30 kilometres or so across), since the First World War. Anyhow, they weren't really ready for the Americans who attacked them on 17 February 1944, first with a bunch of Hellcat fighters and then loads of bombers. In one day 250 Japanese aircraft were destroyed, almost all on the ground, and about 20 Japanese ships and one submarine were sunk. The ship wrecks are all mostly between the surface and 400 feet deep, so it turns out Chuuk has the best shipwreck diving in the world.

Micronesia's a pretty poor place though. There's almost no tourism and outside of some fishing rights there're no resources of any kind. The people are friendly enough (about as far from the New York phoneys which Holden Caulfield was writing about as could be), but there's no real opportunity, so no-one's pushing themselves. The men pretty much all chew betel nut most of the day (a rather gross habit) and there's a lot of sitting around. I think there're about 10 000 people just on the main Island, which has the court, parliament and administration of the Federated States of Micronesia on it, but there's not a single bookstore or shop that sells a magazine or newspaper. It literally is impossible to get any book or magazine of any kind in Chuuk . I'm not joking - I tried in a focussed way for hours without any success. I did eventually bump into two missionaries though, and they've given me a copy of the last edition of the monthly 'Church of Latter Day Saints' magazine. I also got "War Cry", the monthly Salvation Army publication from the hotel, but as you know those are both very different from my normal reading matter.

Mother, one quite strange thing for me on this trip has been leaving children behind. On all my previous adventures I've hardly given a thought to home while I'm away (with the exception, of course, of you dear mummy). But this time it's quite different and when I get back I'll definitely have to advise my friends who are prospective adventurers to hold back on the kids until after they've done their big travels. I'm afraid my mind is definitely not what it was before as a consequence of Asha and Max and I certainly worry a bit about how they are going to affect my future adventures! Perhaps I'll have to see a psychologist when I return.

Anyhow, dear mumsy, I hope that everything is fine with you and that you're not missing me (or Mike) too much. I'm afraid that despite your request, we won't be able to offload too much fuel to make space for your shopping in Kuala Lumpur, because then we're unlikely to make it home. Still, we promise to find something small and nice for you there. Mike sends his love you'll be glad to hear that he really is being very nice to me. In fact everyone is being very nice and it's lovely to get messages from all my friends, especially old school and university friends that I sometimes haven't seen or heard of for years (Chris Barends?). Tim has been checking out the weather for us since the start of the trip and he really has been a star. To give an example, he emailed us this morning as follows –

Ok Kids
Looking sweet for your flight today - clear skies. Initially 5-10kts of westerly 270 but the higher you climb the lighter it will become. Half way across the route the wind will swing round and become ESE 120/10 kts at 8000 foot.
You have a route clear of nasties until you get to the destination where you will encounter FEW CBs and some rain, so keep an eye out for them.
The next leg on to Borneo is also looking good and clear of CB. But the day after, across Borneo (don't crash there, there are cannibals in the jungle - not that they would find much of interest on you two scrawny bastards) to KL there has been a lot of CB activity all week and it is looking rough. It builds up late afternoon so, if you can, it would make sense to leave at 3-4am local time and reach destination by 2pm latest.

Chat later or, if not, Viva!!
Very kind of him, don't you think? You just can't do a trip like this without the help of friends and it makes me realise how lucky I am to have such a loving family and set of friends, especially of course Mike!

Anyway, lots of love and thoughts to you, your darling son

17th August 2009 - Arrival in Balikpapan, Indonesia

After flying for just over 17½ hours to cover the 2,160km, Mike & James arrived safely in Balikpapan, Kalimantan Island in Indonesia. Due to some bad weather the guys had to face along the way, we lost the satellite tracking feed for a while till their arrival in Balikpapan.

They will be spending a full day here, and expect to depart early on the mornign of the 19th of August to Kuala Lumpur. We are hoping that although it is already evening now for them, that we will receive a log and photos later.

17th August 2009 - Departure to Balikpapan, Indonesia

Mike & James departed at 01:00 SA local time ( 23:00 UTC) to Balikpapan, Kalimantan Island in Indonesia. This leg is expected to take 12 hours to complete the 2,160km distance.

Balikpapan is a seaport city on the eastern coast of Kalimantan Island (also known as Borneo Island), Indonesia, in the East Kalimantan province, and is at present the most industrially advanced province of the island. View the videos below to get an idea where Mike & James will be flying to.



16th August 2009 - SMS from Mike

Hi, we didn't get to e-mail today. We checked the plane again and did a little maintenance, and prepared for tomorrow, then went on a really great motorbike ride around the island and just got back now. We will send you news from Balikpapan. Taking off at 22:00 UTC (00:00 SAST) or shortly thereafter.

15th August 2009 - SMS from Mike

We are happily ensconsed in a hotel right next to the airport. They just opened 2 days ago so there is no internet. We had a good flight today but with a slight headwind for most of the 11 hours.

We have just got back from a motorbike ride to town(Biak) to draw money, eat Nasi Goreng and drink beer. The people are super friendly and cheerful so it is a pleasure after the previous stops. Will try to find an internet cafe tomorrow.

15th August 2009 - Arrival at Biak Island, Papua, Indonesia

After flying for just over 11 hours, and covering a distance of approximately 2,005km, Mike & James arrived safely at Biak (Bila Ingat Akan Kembali) Island, Papua in Indonesia. They will be staying a full day here before departing to Balikpapan on the 17th of August.

15th August 2009 - Departure from Chuuk, Micronesia

Mike & James left Chuuk, Micronesia at 23:00 SA local time (21:00) UTC), and are now en-route to Biak Island, Papua in Indonesia. This leg they expect to take just over 11 hours to complete the 2,005 kilometres.

Have a look at the video we found showing photos from Biak Island below:

14th August 2009 - Mike's Log From Chuuk

James and I have just been for a walk to the top of the little hill overlooking the airport for some exercise … it is really hot and humid here which takes a lot of getting used to. Right now James has run to the airport to switch the master off on the plane … after we land we always make a point of leaving it on for a while to make sure that the last tracker position transmission has been sent before switching off. I am sure the battery will be flat...


Although it is less exhausting to fly during the day we are nonetheless tired after 12 hours of flying so when we arrived at Chuuk yesterday we were not happy to be bombarded by officials demanding this paper and that paper and mostly money. It just reminded me of Landing at Port Harcourt in Nigeria. Three immigration officials were unhappy because they said they had waited up for us the previous night and that we really didn’t have permission to come into Micronesia. Well, I pretty well see through that one. They do not issue you with a clearance number so that when you arrive they have got something on you as an angle to get more money out of you. They cost us $125. They said tomorrow they will charge us another $40. Then the 2 guys from disease control and quarantine or something like that got us for $60, the customs guy said we can pay him tomorrow but that is going to cost us about $40, the airport personnel, landing and parking fees are $120 and again tomorrow it will cost us about another $40. It just feels unpleasant – particularly in the way it is handled … especially when you are tired and hassled.


Brian, a young and friendly Micronesian who works for Continental Airlines was waiting for us on our arrival yesterday. About 30 miles before Pohnapei (we diverted over the Island to have a look - halfway to Chuuk) we heard the captain of Continental flight 157 talking to ATC at Pohnapei. As usual we gave a position report to Pohnapei as we approached and soon after that the captain of the Continental flight started asking us about our flight and the Sling and where we were from and if we had ever been to Oshkosh … it is such a thrill for James and I, alone in the middle of the Pacific to be in contact with the overflying airlines who once in a while strike up a real conversation with us.

Well what happened yesterday is the captain said that he was descending for a short stop at Pohnapei and that he would like to have a look at our plane and what followed was so great for us … we had the transponder on and so they were able to pick us up on their TCAS which they did and with that guidance they soon spotted us and came down past us like a rocket … we screamed in the cockpit with delight at having our own little airshow of a Boeing 737 shooting past us and they loved the little yellow bird. During our chat the captain asked us if we ever used a product called Rain-X on the canopy – never heard of it.

Soon they were airborne from Pohnapei and on their way past us (at 32,000 ft) heading to a quick stop at Chuuk. We asked them to relay our position and expected time of arrival at Chuuk which they did and off they went . Three hours later we heard them again as they got airborne and climbed out from Chuuk. The captain called us immediately and asked how we were doing and then mentioned that he had asked Brian to book a room at the nearby hotel for us and that he had left something for us.

During their stop they had taken the time to check out our website and so they wanted to know who was the guy with the glasses - Mike or James? James told him Mike, the old guy is the one with glasses! Cheeky don’t you think! So anyway, Brian handed us this yellow plastic bottle … Rain-X. The note on the side says "For: ZUTAF, crew Mike and James - from CA Art Hicks, FO Lous Medrano and FO Darren Mallot. Nice to meet you and have a safe flight." Thanks so much guys you really lifted our spirits. Tomorrow we try Rain-X.

James is back, the battery was not flat amazingly enough.


Our primary instruments are 2 MGL Voyagers. Before we left we just didn’t take the time to set them up properly – actually I guess the truth is we didn’t know how we really wanted them set up because we just didn’t have the time or experience with them. The one great thing about these instruments is they really give you all the info you need to make good flying decisions. Like our flight to Hawaii – we felt we were on the ragged edge for that flight in the beginning … the Voyagers gave us our range and for the first 7 or so hours it looked like we were going to swim … but what happens on all the flights - as the winds change and as we burn off fuel and our speed increases we can instantly see our range and endurance and what sort of a safety margin we have. Before each flight we put in the total fuel we have on board and then the fuel flow sender just slowly counts it down. We have worked out that the sender is about 6% out – on the conservative side – and instead of putting in the correction factor we have left it like that … it’s our extra safety margin. Seems silly to not correct it (just a quick number change in the Voyager which will take all of 20 seconds) … anyway, it gives us comfort somehow!

There have been many flights where we have relied entirely on the instruments and they work really well although they have taken some getting used to as both James and I did our IF training using conventional instruments.

Day flights are of course a lot safer as we can see and in the unlikely event of us having to ditch we will not be flailing around in the ocean in the darkness. Also, like yesterday we were able to skirt all the nasty looking clouds.


Both James and I are really comfortable in our decision to fit a 912S and the 1.8 Neuform prop. The combination of robustness and efficiency have allowed us to get the efficiency for range and thrust for take off. I feel confident that they are good and I cannot see any reason why they will stop working … the most likely reason for a failure will probably be an installation issue. A hose too close to the exhaust or blocked fuel filters of something like that. Still we check and watch and manage the engine and prop very very carefully – especially in flight. We watch the temperatures and prop RPM to get the maximum range and climb without cooking the engine at the same time. Once we are over land we are able to relax a little but over water … well, that does take its toll on your nerves a bit so we are very careful to not make a mistake.


Now we must fuel up, file a flight plan, arrange customs and immigration and check the plane. Tomorrow the flight is about 11 hours. We definitely couldn’t have made it without these rest days. Thanks once again to everyone for the messages of support – we enjoy and appreciate them.



14th August 2009 - The Maui Daily TV Report

We received a link to The Maui Daily Community Television report which covered Mike & James' arrival at Maui, Hawaii. Their story is approximately 17min 30s into the video, but we are hoping to get a shorter snippet from them later. Thanks again to the team at Akaku: Maui Community Television for covering their arrival.


13th August 2009 - En-route to Chuuk, Micronesia

We have received photos and videos from Mike & James from their trip to Chuuk Island. We expect the logs to come through later.



13th August 2009 - Arrival at Chuuk Island

Mike & James arrived at Chuuk Island (Truk Island) at 08:55 SA local time (06:55 UTC) after flying for nearly 12 hours to cover the 2,165 kilometers to this amazing island in Micronesia. The guys will spend some time here till the morning of the 15th of August.

13th August 2009 - Departure from Marshall Islands

Mike & James departed to Chuuk Island (formerly know as Truk Island) at 21:00 SA Local Time* (19:00 UTC). This trip will take an esimated 11 hours to complete the 2,165km distance.

Chuuk is considered as the world's greatest wreck diving destination and has miles and miles of mostly unexplored reef. Operation Hailstone, executed by the United States in 1944, culminated in one of the most important naval battles of the second world war resulting in a variety of Japanese warships, submarines and warplanes destroyed. A lot of these wrecks still remain at the bottom of Truk Lagoon.
* For the South Africans that would have been 01:00 SA Local Time on the 12th of August, as they are currently ahead of us with regards to time


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