There was a certain risk to stay in Kerkyra. The bad weather arriving from the west could block us for several days. We leave the island under a grey sky with low clouds. At 1000 ft, we reach cloud base. The hills of Kerkyra are in the clouds. No great joy to fly below the Stratus’s. After a while we find a small blue hole in the uniform grey carpet. Turning in steep circles we are able to go through. Good to be over the Ionian sea, knowing that there are no mountains in the clouds. After one hour we are over the Peloponesian island. Araxas airport reports cloudbase at 2000 ft, not really high. But soon we see the first holes in the stratos. After a while, it’s drying out completely. We made it, bad weather is left behind… The deep blue of the Ägäis with it’s hundred of islands reminds me of all the Greek stories I read as a young boy. Now we are in the middle of a modern Odyssée. Milos, Santorini, the cyclades, fragments of memories are flashing through my mind, Odysseus ,Agamemnon, Zeus and Aphrodite… Athen information wakes me up. “Military activities ahead”, we have to turn around. 15 minutes later the silhouette of Rhodos appears in the deep blue of the ocean. Changing for the last time our frequency to Rhodes control, landing information, and, after a pleasant descent along the beautiful beaches. We are back on earth.
It’s a little disaster. Just after take-off, the GPS of my IPAD fails. We have the open sea in front of us, the Turkish coastline will soon disappear and we have to find an island in the middle of the ocean. All the carefully prepared waypoints, heading, estimates and distances will not work. Rhodes Control is gentle, gives us a heading to the next waypoint. It’s good to be two pilots. Anssi flies and I try to create the coordinates of the waypoints from the maps in our gliding computer. After a while the calm comes back. If you have total confidence in only one GPS sooner or later you will find the limits of technology. The old navigation style with maps, compass and a watch always work, even without batteries… Today it’s island hopping. After only two hours over the ocean appears the coast of Cypres. We have just to make a bigger circuit to wait for an incoming airbus. And, here we are…in Paphos…
Today is the maritime day. We will not fly the longest distance, but are the furthest from land. More than 250 km from the coast starts to be serious business. So, we check precisely our survival equipment, lifebelts, life raft, each personal satellite locator beacon and the sat-telephone. No doubt, the plane was inspected with high accuracy before. First surprise, our flight plan is not found, but after insisting severely, finally appears. Second, on the taxiway, no GPS-indicator; problem solved as well, after a while. Third, after take-off we have to go even further to the sea, due to heavy military activity south of Cypres.. But, the good news - our altitude up to 6000 m was approved. Our plane could fly even higher due to it’s turbocharged motor. Today it’s enough. Sitting in a perfect glider, even with a motor failure, we could reach the coast of Libanon or Israel. Some lines of clouds are far below us, visibility is perfect, motor sounds like a purring cat - happiness…The airspace control is smooth. We do not need all the careful prepared waypoints. A direct approach to a entry point in Egyptian airspace gives more time to enjoy the flight. Soon the coastline appears. From the wet to the real dry… Sand dunes in the desert south of El Arish makes a nice contrast between dark rock formation and the beautiful clouds below us. Carefully, we navigate along the Israelian border. We are sure that all aircrafts in this sensitive zone are constantly monitored. The lands of the Bible pass through below us. We ask ourselves, what in all hell has made this this arid area so crutial to start all these wars? North of Taba it’s high time to descend. The bay of Aqaba appears. The airfields of Eilat and Aqaba are just on our left side, so easy to reach. But no, we have to go 70 km more to the south to Nuwaiba, a radio beacon. Finally, we are on the frequency of Aqaba. They give us a direct approach to the airfield. The Red Sea below us, the desert runway in front, it’s time to land. The weather is hot and windy – we have again changed continents
A gusty northerly wind is blowing from the Wadi Araba Valley down to the Red Sea. After some delay with our flight plan, we are finally in the air. Hopefully the winds sunset will come much earlier. We can not go direct to our destination -Hail in Saudi Arabia. Airways are still a strange relict from earlier days of aviation. So we take advantage of the wonderful area of Petra passing by the intersection of the same name. The impressive landscape arround the historic city of the Nabataeans lies below us. It looks like rivers of red sand flowing between harsh dark rocks, which look like fortresses.
We loose the radiocontact to Aqaba, leaving the Jordanian airspace. I need some time to get in contact with the Saudi authorities. Tabuk Tower gives us a clearance to flight level 150, round about 4500 m. The higher wind in this altitude helps us to get fast enough to reach Hail before sunset. A breathtaking desert shows its colourful beauty. But soon the visibility becomes worse. Some cirrus clouds draw a curtain over the rugged area. The light turns pale. We start our descent under the control of Hail Tower. The big runway comes bearly in sight, no other traffic reported. It is pretty dark and we are happy to be back on Earth. A committee from the Ministry of Tourism gives us a warm welcome. Arabian hospitality is worth knowing....
Khalid is on schedule within a minute. From the Hotel to the Tower, flight plan with some nice conversations with the controllers. Thats the way I like it... Plane is ready, no doubt, the pilots as well. Our goal today is King Khalid International in Rhiyadh and the preflight preparation was serious. Two big runways, a lot of traffic... Anticipation is the best way to avoid stress for pilots and controllers. All possible frequencies are noted, all navigation points are programmed. Today the visibility is a little bit reduced. Endless desert, brown rock formations and from time to time the typical circles of irrigation fields. Closer to Rhiyadh the number of the green circles increase. We change frequency from Jeddah Control to Riyadh. It's busy in the air. We are allowed to descend to 4000 ft and are deviated for a moment to another navigation beacon due to a 747 which needs some space. Left turn now to runway 33 right.
"Runway in sight?"
"Cleared to land RWY 33 right".
After landing, "expedite to leave the runway, I have a 757, 10 miles behind for landing" .
Ouff, we are on the taxiway now, changing frequency to ground Control East.
"Taxi via Hotel 3 to parking for general aviation." We are looking for the small planes we expected. A follow me car guides us to the parking for private planes, dominated by a Boeing 747 at the entrance. A huge number of all kind of business jets are standing around, but there is enough space available for our 23 m wingspan. Once again, a perfect reception by our hosts. This time I met our coordinator, lieutenant colonel Sultan himself. Refueling with carfuel, check to refill our oxygène bottles, wrong connection... No problem, only solutions... that´s Sultan... The days finale is a fine dinner in our excellent hotel. Time to relax...
«You are a single engine?»
«God bless you.»
Sitting above the endless desert on our way to Abu Dhabi, we understand the controller's gentle remark. Leaving Riyadh more than one hour ago we are quite happy to be authorised to fly at 15.000 ft. We are above the hazy air mass with a good view, but there is nothing to see besides the straight line of the horizon. The temperature in this altitude is another advantage. Waiting 15 minutes on the taxiway, we nearly got boiled in our cockpit before the clearance for take off. Due to huge military airspaces we cannot fly directly to our goal. We have to pass over the Arabian Gulf via Bahrain and Qatar using exclusively the airways.
The horizon changes the colour from a yellow brown to a blue grey. A little bit later the coastline appears. Compared to the monotony of the desert, it’s a real firework of colours. White sandbanks seem to float in a smaragd green with a wonderful contrast to the dark blue of deeper water. Suddenly Bahrain control brings us back to reality. Doha has no radar contact and will not accept us in their airspace. But Bahrain can see us on their screen. Several times we shut down and restart our transponder turning around the airport below us. Finally the controller asks, if we could climb to 5000 m and, good luck, we appear on the screens of Doha radar…ouff. Passing north of Qatar we are not unhappy with our higher altitude. If ever we should have a motor failure we would be able to reach land, as we are sitting in a perfect glider. With our altitude of 5000 m we can glide nearly 250 km. Nevertheless, lifebelts and raft are mandatory and give a clear better feeling above the endless grey green we now see below. From time to time some oil platforms are passing by. Here and there are small islands; one of them even has an airfield. Soon we have to change to Abu Dhabi Control. Descent to 10.000 ft. Some far clouds are the first indicator of the coast. The impressive skyline of Abu Dhabi comes out of the haze. We turn to final around the amazing Moschee and land, expected by new friends with a hangar full of planes. One of them is a Stemme. Arabian food in the evening.
It's rush hour. Nearly no space to place our message in the constant flow of information and orders between Muscat Approach and airliners from all over the world. Nevertheless, somehow the controller manages to reserve us a small timeframe to land on runway 08 right. We feel like an obstacle between all these fast flying jets.The long taxiway to the very last parking is nearly Zen-Meditation compared with the stressing time just minutes ago. Streaks of the last sunshine enhance a last thermal cloud in the nearby mountains.
The restday in Muscat gives me the opportunity to bring some order in my memory of what we lived during the last 4 days.
Starting with our arrival at Hail, Saudi Arabia, where we found a real delegation to receive us. Continuing with the warm welcome of Lieutenant Colonel Bagdadi, the man who makes everything work. A Visum to stay longer than normal aircrews, an adapter and the filling of our oxygen bottle and some batteries for my Gopros. I call him Mr. Solution.
Probably the readers are curious as to why all this works so fine for us.
There is another man behind it all. Prince Sultan bin Salman from the royal family is an aviation enthousiast. Fighterpilot and astronaut, he likes to fly all kind of planes and he owns a Stemme himself. I met Sultan some years ago. We flew together in the beautiful mountains of the French southern Alps and even had a flight over Switzerland to Austria and back. He invited me to fly in his country, but only now I have taken the opportunity to come.
Thanks again for the unbelievable hospitality we found in your country.
Arriving in Abu Dhabi, we had the next positive surprise. Another Sultan and and his brother, Saeed, were waiting for us. Karen Stemme gave me their coordinates. Coffee, refuelling and admiring their hangar full of planes from Piper Cheyenne to Bushplane Kodiak, Ultralights and of course a Stemme S10VT.
We spent a wonderful evening, enjoyed Arabic food, laughed a lot, and had really interesting conversations. Ali, the third brother, designer of a high sophisticated 20 m UAV came later. Great guys! I earned a lot from them.
We came as guests, we left as friends?
Constant red light – low fuel pressure…Usually after 1 minute, the motor dies… This is not really the kind of hassle pilots appreciate. But if this appears in the middle of the Gulf of Oman, that gives this kind of extra push of adrenaline you do not like at all. A rapid check… What was done? I changed the tank from right to left just two minutes ago. Auxiliary pump… Lamp goes off….problem with the primary system? Playing systematically around is part of the diagnostics. At the same time, we check out where the next airport to reach is... After several minutes we calm down. The motor is still running, in spite of this deep red light. It is not a pressure failure. It seems to be an electric problem of the warning light.
It’s our trouble day… in Muscat. Before departure, we were not allowed to roll on the taxiway due to zero radio contact with the tower. We needed to insist to change places. Once we move over just 50 m the problem was gone, …frequency hole or whatever…Now we are finally in our descent to Karachi, leaving the nearly 6000 m we asked for. After the long grey-green, we change colours to grey-brown. The visibility is just horrible. Even very close to the town, nothing is identifiable.Things become worse when we turn west. The sun is low and the smog of this Mega City breaks the light in thousand fragments.
A constant monitoring of the instruments, distance and heading check…and believe me, the moment you touch down on the runway is the best of the day…
At Karachi airport, it’s a new record - handling charge: $2000 for 70 litres of fuel inclusive. All has to be paid in Dollars and cash. Don’t worry.. It is not the handler who will keep all the money. More than $500 are for the use of Pakistani airspace. That makes roughly about 60 cents per each kilometre flown. I wonder in which manner did we harm the airway to justify these costs? But that’s not all… The Indian authorities will not allow us to enter their airspace because we still haven’t our authorisation to enter Nepal. The argument that we would like to spend several days as tourists in Jaipur does not help. It’s Saturday and the Indian authorities prefer that we spend our money in Karachi. We have to wait until Tuesday for an eventual departure to our next destination. Good luck - we are invited by the consul of Finland; a charming and very well educated Pakistani woman and her husband. We spend some hours in the finest and oldest British Club in Karachi. First hand information about politics and news in Pakistan in exchange for our adventure stories. We had a very pleasant afternoon. But now we are on our way to India. On Monday, we’ve finally received the pass from Nepali authorities and consequently a new entrance number for India. Today is the longest flight of the trip and we are late, as usual. Visibility is once again very bad. Along the coastline there is still some landscape to see. A little bit later all becomes blurred. GPS and artificial horizon help to climb out of this swamp of haze but just before the border to India, the controller says we can enter India only under IFR rules (Instrument Flight Rules). What the hell will he say? Should we go back to Karachi?.. No way! Finally, we agree that we fly in IFR-levels but under VMC (Visual Metrological Conditions). At 15.000 ft, it’s anyway much more comfortable. Blue sky, below nothing to see.
On our descent to Jaipur, several airliners are passing above us. We are diving once again into this muddy air. Jaipur Control is quite busy but they manage our slow plane in the middle of our fast colleagues. What you should know is, they don't have any radars and only must rely on the position and altitude information from the pilots. After landing, we get the ugly news; there is actually no fuel available for our plane. But we can probably get it two days later, delivered in barrels of 200 litres and with transport costs of $1000. WOW.
As our motor prefers car fuel instead the high leaded aviation petrol, we take the risk to find the high octane fuel we need in the city. Not before checking that it will be possible to pass 100 litres of fuel through the security check of an international airport.
Two bottles of oxygen to refill are part of the game. Try to do so on your usual departure airport - Good luck! Customs, taxi and we are just in front of our hotel in the middle of this very busy city - Jaipur.
The entrance doesn’t look very good between numerous small working shops but surprise, behind the ugly façade, we find hotel that is a real jewel. We never could expect this just some steps from the noisy environment outside. A huge and calm place built by Maharadja Alsisar. We enjoy our evening with a good meal and some glasses of red wine…
What do you do with rest day ??? Some tourism?... We would really enjoy it and there are a lot of interesting sites to visit. But wait a minute.. We need fuel for tomorrow, the oxygen bottles are nearly empty and I forgot the adapter for Indian filling stations at home. Good luck! A machine shop is just beside our hotel. It doesn’t look very sophisticated but from my experience, these guys can fix anything for you. After shaking his head in the Indian way of reflecting, our gentle mechanic send me to a shop where we can buy the Indian confected part of my adapter. Driving on a motorbike with a heavy oxygen bottle through small alleyways with a lot of opposite traffic is an adventure in itself.The shop, where we buy our part, has probably several thousand boxes with a little bit of all kind of mechanical, hydraulic or whatever stuff. The busy guy between all these boxes was certainly the only one who could find what we were looking for… Back at the machine shop, the boss promised to fabric the European part within two hours.Time to look for jerry cans. We rent a tuk-tuk, famous Indian taxi tricycle. It is the fastest but sometimes scariest way to go through the chaotic traffic of Indian streets. It’s fascinating to observe the constant flow of cars, bicycles, tuk-tuks and people or cows crossing the streets. Nobody stops, the horns are blowing all the way long, the vehicles are separated by only centimetres and everybody remains gentle and polite. One hundred shops in the market zone and Anssi discovers the blue canisters in the abundance of all kind of things. Minutes later we are the owners of two 50 liter cans. A large silicon hose found in the next shop will ensure the transfer to our tanks. Next challenge: finding the right fuel. First gas station – negative: only normal petrol for sale. The third station has the high octane fuel we need for our engine but doesn’t want to sell it… The reason? Transportion is prohibited. But Anssi is not a man who gives up easily. After some discussion, we go away with 100 liters of precious liquid. With the adapter ready, we take a tuk-tuk to the oxygen station for a refill. Medical oxygen is available and soon our two bottles have 100 bars more.
We are a little bit late to watch the crowd in the morning on the board of the holy river. But we find still some Hindus, who take their traditional bath in the Ganges River. The grey sky and the dirty water make a strange contrast to the beautiful yellow-orange Saris of the religious women. Back to the hotel today, we want to achieve our goal - Kathmandu. Airborne hours are later than programmed. A pile of paper attests our short stay in Patna. Very nice people, who are drowned in a very inefficient system, have worked 3 hours to assemble, what will disappear probably for years in a dusty corner. Instead of using our time for more checks and safer flights we are in a hurry in order to arrive on time in Kathmandu. We are worried about visibility, which is a key factor in this area. It will be a short flight, but with the hurdle of a precise approach to a runway surrounded of high mountains and clouds. Every pilot without any exception has to absolve a specific simulator training for the unusual approach of the airfield. In this kind of environment, mountains hidden in clouds, visibility below minima, you need alternatives. Flying to the west to Pokhara or even going back to Patna needs time. The less you have, the more tension will rise. This one of the reasons why overwhelming bureaucracy makes us so angry. It’s simply dangerous. Soon after take-off, we leave the Indian airspace and as suddenly the empty horizon starts to change. Cumulus clouds rise like white phantoms out of the grey lake of haze. And now through more and more clear skis, the Himalayas appear, still partly hidden by convective clouds. Our enthusiasm has to be replaced by full concentration on the procedure we learnt in our training in Berlin. Kathmandu follows closely after; via their radar detecting all movements. We give it our best and it seems that the controller is happy with our performance. Descent to 9000 ft, good luck, there is just a hole between two clouds and we can sink through, always under visual conditions. As the city comes out of the haze, the mountains disappear. Visibility 4000 m, the best since our departure from Karachi. Gear down and locked, perfectly aligned. Anssi finishes our arrival in Kathmandu with a smooth landing. We are at the end of a long journey and at the beginning of a great adventure exploring the Himalayas. Follow us and please don’t give up if our webpage is not always up to date!! (;-))
For the last few days, you haven't received any news. Nothing is happening here - since last Monday, the Stemme is still not on the runway, our file is now in the hands of different employees and we have been stuck in these different administrative offices for days.
Since Tuesday, we are attending courses to learn the specifics of the Nepalese AIP (Aeronautical rules). This course is mandatory for all pilots intending to fly in Nepal. We learned that the Chicago Convention, signed in 1944, is the founding act of ICAO and that the operating manual of a commercial airflight company must specify everything a pilot is allowed/must do, but also the PNC and the ground agents, or that there are 2 TMAs and 8 CTRs in Nepal.
All three of us have passed the MCQ with flying colours this morning and have raced off to the aviation authorities in order to obtain our certificate, the precious document from the aviation directeur.
But it was actually too late, he couldn't grant the authorisation. The office closes at 3pm and all the directors must sign or rather agree. He therefore passed the responsability, which nobody wishes to take, to the person responsible of the Kathmandu airfield during the weekend. All we would have had to do is to go to the airfield and ask if we could or not fly.
You must be aware on one thing: Tuesday is election day here in Nepal and so the government had declared a 5 day holiday - everything must wait until Wednesday.
We spent a part of the day in the Nepalese Oil Corporation director's office in order to try to find some Avgas for the Stemmes. Same conclusion - during the elections, nothing can be done. We must wait until the 21st and unfortunately, I (Sidonie) must depart soon!
I have however understood something important today. For the last 4 days, I am weary of trying to obtain clear answers to our questions. Here, the rules were laid at one time for a specific reason. This reason may not be currently valid but the rule still applies. However, it is open to interpretation. And so, in function of the person asked, you have one answer or another... Something obtained one day, may not be the next. That's the way it is.
In short, I've been here for 5 days, Klaus for 2 weeks and this is what we have obtained after constant flights in order to move on towards Pokhara, which is 100km from Kathmandu. The possibility to perhaps have gas on Nov 26th and perhaps fly locally around Kathmandu tomorrow. A far cry...
We hope to test the gliding condtions in the Nepalese territory tomorrow after having explained to the controllers that we will respect all the rules. If we convince them before the thermals disappear, you should see the beacons tracing some spirals north of LTM.
Here is the link. https://share.delorme.com/ohlmann
Thus, we hope to win over their trust and have the authorisation to pursue, while gliding, out of the airways, ie the class G space (we have it all down pat now!) and obtain the authorisation to fly locally in Pokhara. As long as we haven't obtained these 3 conditions, it's best we stay in Kathmandu for more negociations.
Sorry for not having sent beautiful photos from Kathmandu, tourism is not really on our agenda. However, I was able to take an hour walk a while ago to buy a new pair of trousers because my suitcase is still trapped in customs. I only had one pair for the trip. I'm still wearing it.
No aeronautical news today but historical news from Nepal. I couldn't resist sending you some photos.
Since last Saturday, everything is closed. The people have returned to their villages to vote. Moreover, today all traffic is prohibited - no taxis, no buses, no domestic flights. We were almost the only tourists in the small medival town of Bhaktapour, about a half hour from Kathmandu. And no souvenir venders... The atmosphere was very friendly, not quite festive even though the people seemed happy.
I found the observer, from some unknown organisation, particularly offensive with his suit and colonial hat who was taking photos of the site as if he never came to Nepal before.
For us, aeronautically speaking, nothing will occur before Thursday and even then, probably nothing before Monday.
Stay tuned for what will surely be the last of my news. In a week, I must return to France.
So I'm back home again. A bit early, it's true but Angelina isn't complaining. Kathmandu's poluted air, the administrative immobility - their setbacks - the promise of finding suitable gas though at US$8 per liter... All that didn't quite add up to a Club Med atmosphere, nor for trekking these last days. I left Klaus over there, abandoned to his sorry fate while all the other participants are at Pokhara, waiting or not for the airplanes. Klaus had but one motto in his head, "I won't give up like that." Indeed, he has all his time. The others must return to work, for their families, for the upcoming holidays... He is free as a bird - well, with more freedom than a Nepali bird - and quite determined to do what it takes to achieve his goal. Now the question is, "Will he do so before Sebastian Kawa?". His ASH25 should soon arrive in Pokhara in a container and for now has an authorisation to fly locally, like an UL. Personally, I'm not thrilled by this kind of competition. It just adds more pressure. I will now also follow all this from home, or from my 777 because, it's time for me to go back.
Thank you for your feedback and for your encouragements throughout this journey.