Cross Country Flying

Almost every young Gen Av pilot’s dream is to fly their plane to different countries for a cross-country flight. My friend Supap and I are both not too young but made our dreams come true!

RPLL-VTBD, May 16

I got in Bangkok at around eleven in the evening. My first assignment upon arrival was to fabricate a crew ID card for Supap since I don’t have his picture. He was not able to get all his visas on time so we hope to get away with it by using a crew ID card. I also had to work on the flight plans in Supap’s computer since Jeppesen has never made programs for Mac. I was excited to try out the new Jeppesen weather internet subscription I got and see if it really works. It was almost two in the morning and I was still working. I was so sure that I will not have enough time for breakfast since pick up time would be six o’ clock. That leaves me not much choice but to have that yummy Thai fried rice and fish sauce with chili as my excellent early morning snack.

VTBD-VEEC, May 17

We were ready to go by seven thirty but we had to wait for our passports for CIQ clearances. Our initial plan was for 0000Z but we were thirty minutes late. As soon as we got our ATC clearance, we were airborne at 0100Z. Luckily, we had excellent weather. After Bangkok control, it was Dhaka and on to Kolkata control. Nice and easy flight L507, a simple airway but tough understanding the Indian pronunciation of the frequency numbers. We had 3:44 on our flight plan but because of some headwinds we made it in 3:59.
First refueling stop by Indian Oil
Kolkata was a quick refueling stop and we should have been on our way to Jaipur (VIJP) right after. The ground temperature was about 35 C. Supap took charge of refueling while I had to ride the handling agent’s open windowed vehicle to the terminal to pay landing, parking, and navigational fees. Also had to file our flight plan and get our transponder code. This is the first time I’ve experienced getting a transponder code personally from the office and not by radio! Oh, the defense clearance number was also an important aspect of the flight plan. Otherwise, we would not get to fly. This is telephoned to the main office and only then can they give a release number. I had to submit to customs how much fuel and oil was left upon landing since they will be taxing us on this. The process should take about 30 minutes at the most including the walk. But the ATC fellow had his tea break so I had to wait for him for another thirty minutes. That gave me a lot of pee time but I was sure Supap was getting worried while waiting in the plane and probably thinking I got jailed or held up somewhere for not wearing my turban since my moustache alone was not acceptable! I had to bring all my papers and get each and every office to give me their “sacred chop and stamp” before I was released. We were both ready to get out of Kolkata soon as I got back.

VEEC-VIJP

En-route flight was basically good weather but with build ups as we got close to Jaipur. We had a chance to see the dry and barren country. We were diverted from our filed and requested routing and it was funny that when I requested for the clearance, the controller said, “Fight plan en-route”. We were diverted to take a longer route after two hours of flight. It was a controller handover from Kolkata to Varanasi, Nagpur, and Delhi. Delhi releases us for descent to Jaipur. Varanasi was the hardest to pronounce with the Indian accent and also because it was difficult to understand the controller. We still made the trip in 3:58 hours. Supap’s eagle eyes sighted the runway about ten miles out. It was such a nice day so we requested for visual approach to allow us to take some photos of the town and surroundings.

It was a long day and luckily we were gaining time. But then, the CIQ clearing was what one might call a real exercise of patience. Beside the usual stamps, everyone enjoyed talking and arguing before working – in Indian, of course — so I observed and watched them patiently. I tried to file the flight plan ahead to avoid the delays in departure but they were too busy for us in the tower and did not want to make the computation since they had one flight coming in. After the long process, we were finally out of the airport and headed to Oberoi Raj Villas Hotel. We got excited as we drove on the main road and saw camel and donkey carts and loitering cows. We saw the different architecture and everyone just looked different. I will not touch on my sense of smell at this time. Everything during the drive looked scenic for us and we saw the famous trains of India crossing the main road. They sure know how to load a train! No space not even for James Bond to hop in from one train car roof to the other.
Elegant attire of Oberio staff
The Oberoi Raj Villas has a small entrance from the main street. But as you enter, you will feel like you are stepping in a different world altogether and will experience the majestic and rich India. Their staff uniform reminds me of English movies in the 50s. The ornaments and décor of the hotel make you feel like a Maharaja. Yes, I am fat and without a harem so I still can’t pass for a Maharaja. How I wish it were the other way around. However, one cannot resist the bread, the curries, and the spices. We had a great dinner complete with sitar playing at the background. So now I am just fat-period!
The Amer Fort from a far
We had the whole day to check out Jaipur since we won’t take off until early morning of the 19th. First destination was Amer Fort. As we got closer, Supap was his usual photo buff character and wanted to get out of the car to take photos even from afar. The fort was perched on top of a mountain and it looked very rustic especially with its clay walls. The pond below it where elephants were wading made us feel like we were going back in time — maybe, at least, a hundred years back. But as we got to the entrance, you wake up from your dream because you get hassled by people selling hats and souvenirs. The elephant ride up the fort was a must to make the trip complete.
Elephants wading in the pond
Inside the fort, we went around to see the vegetable dye painted walls of the queen’s quarters and the courtyard gardens, which are really impressive. The glass glittered rooms were very intricately done which showed the artistry of the Indians. The heat though was more intense than our cultural interest so we decided to head to town to get a drink. But before that, we checked out some Indian carpets.

Of course I was looking for ‘flying carpets’ but we had to content ourselves with silk over silk ones. If all my sales people took their training from those Indians selling carpets, I should be rich by now. One fellow never really stopped talking. You’ll be obliged to buy just to shut him up! But really, the ones we saw were worth keeping and Supap’s bargaining power beat the Indian. We were able to buy two of the most gorgeous rugs in the shop. We even got a free bag to keep the carpets in.

Then, we drove into the pink city to see what Jaipur is all about. They call it ‘The Pink Town’ because when King Edward visited, the Maharaja then painted the town pink. Pink is the color of welcome in India. As for me, if I had the energy and the temperature was cooler, I would have painted the town red that evening!

It was a quiet evening so I spent it working on the flight plans and coordinating landing and overflight permits. I even requested my friend Paul, from the UK running overlfight permits, to file our flight plans ahead via AFTN so that it would be easy for us on hours and deadlines for filing. Some countries require several hours of notice. I thought I was okay when I got to the tower. However, I encountered the usual Indian attitude of checking all the details of my flight plan. I even have to rewrite everything in their local form. My ICAO flight plan form was not acceptable. They said they did receive the telex but it should have been coursed to Delhi. When I was looking for the weather briefer, I noticed the guy in charge was outside taking the wind and temperature reading manually. In short, it took me again another hour and a half before we were able to get out of Jaipur.

VIJP- VAAH- OMDB, May 19

Again, we flew thru a lot of dessert. Things got greener only as we reached Ahmedabad. We planned to have a quick refueling stop and proceed to Dubai but then again “quick” is not a word in the Indian language. Supap was getting high blood waiting for the fuel truck, while I had to deal with the same procedures all over again. Don’t get me wrong though. If we did not have to keep a schedule, India is the most charming place for me with the warmest and friendliest people around. We were happy to get airborne though and get some air conditioning from the plane.
Vegetable dye painted walls
There was a lot of haze down below and all we could see was dessert and sea. Dubai airport was quite busy. Change of frequency and radio procedure was very intense. We were being rushed down and asked to keep 220 kts until eight miles and 180 until 5 miles. They were really spacing the flights close to each other and were not used to seeing small propeller airplanes like us landing on the main runway. Upon touchdown, they guided us to the far end of the tarmac where we could park the aircraft. A big fellow wearing a traditional Arabian outfit with his shiny Lexus was waiting for us with his air conditioning in full blast. Now this is what I call service! We were whisked away to the executive terminal were our luggage were carried by porters and we sat in nice and comfy couches. Cold
Supap resting his tired feet
drinks and canapés were served. I pretended not to be so thirsty even if I was. Supap and I did not have a visa so we left it to our handlers to figure out how to do it. Even before we could enjoy the change of atmosphere, we were escorted to the van that will take us to the Inter-Continental Hotel, which was in the heart of town fronting the Dubai creek.

People were in shorts, ladies walking around in dresses and jeans — this did not make us feel like we were in an Arabian country. However, as we took a walk into town, only the men were around and as we passed by the pier, we felt the Arab touch. People were still using the old-fashioned way of carrying goods and passenger to cross the river. This place is the combination of the old traditional and modern city. It was obvious that their economy is on the upswing because there is a lot of money for the construction of new buildings,
By the pier
malls, and all the fancy cars were being driven around. Yes, fuel was cheap. There are huge malls everywhere and they even made a snow ski park inside one mall!

Everyone was talking about the Burg al Arab so we thought we should have dinner there. However, we were in jeans as this was supposed to be our day of relaxation. We didn’t know that they require jackets to get in at that high-end restaurant so we had to content ourselves with the nearby hotel coffee shop that was probably better than the Burg Al Arab. The next day we were thrilled to be brought to the airport by our hotel car, which was the latest Range Rover. Next time, we will look for a hotel that gives them away for souvenirs
Sharm El Sheikh was like an oasis in the dessert
and not just for free rides to the airport.

Flying out of Dubai was a breeze. Our handlers were set and waiting for us by the plane. We were the smallest in the field compared to all the Gulfstreams, Falcons, Bombardiers, and Global Expresses. I requested for catering. Supap was so impressed with the service so he decided to give a big tip to all the staff. The catering fellow was so happy so he gave us several extra fruit trays and a bunch of Godiva chocolates. Now everyone knows why I gave chocolates for my paslubongs (presents)!

OMDB- HECA with accidental pit stop at HESH, May 21
Cairo stood out in the dessert
This was supposed to be our longest leg – 1,322 nautical miles. If I compute conservatively with a speed of 240 kts, this should be a 5.5 hour trip. Supap was sure his plane could make 7 hours endurance at a long-range cruise. I was a bit skeptical about it since I don’t know the airplane very well. My Jeppesen internet weather was forecasting an initial 27 kts headwind up to about 250 mile out and then, it becomes 49 kts for about 600 miles en route and goes down to 44kts and 22, as we got closer to Egypt. There were some short stages where it goes up to 58 kts. My ground speed should be about 263 on cruise but with forecasted headwind, it should go down to 237, 217, and 206 with the 58 kts headwind. So in simple Math, even if we do only 206 kts for the whole leg, I will be in Cairo in 6.4 hours and I can still go to my alternate if I have 7 hours of fuel. I’m sure that even my Math teacher will be impressed with my simple calculations. I always had a hard time getting a passing grade in Math.
The Mena house Oberoi
But not all intelligent students do well after school. Sometimes it is the ‘street smart’ that does even better, right? I’d like to believe I am in the ‘street smart’ category. Hopefully, not in the streets of a bad neighborhood!

I was watching our projected speed vs our fuel consumption like an ugly boy watching over his beautiful girlfriend in a party. Everything was looking great. I was only 2 minutes behind my projected ETO checkpoint after 622 miles of flying and my fuel burn was actually 116 pounds less than what I projected at that stage. I was just starting to relax when Jeddah Control called. Jeddah did not allow us to take our requested route because of some military exercise. He diverted us towards the north and, as Supap punched in the new routing, I could see that we will have negative fuel by the time we reach Cairo. I called back and explained my predicament. He asked if we were RVSM. Unfortunately, we were not so we could not climb any higher than FL280. We then requested for the most direct route possible. He gave us a routing towards the south that was still a bit more direct so we accepted. After entering everything on the Garmin, we would still have 15 minutes of fuel upon arrival in Cairo since we were now having 75 kts of wind head cross. I requested if we could land in WEJ for a quick refueling stop, which is the last airport of Saudi Arabia before Egypt. He asked us to stand by for a long time only to say, “NO”. However, he recommended us to stop in Sharm El Sheikh (HESH), which is a part of Egypt already. I scrambled thru our Jeppensen books to look for the approach charts. We both have never heard of it nor have the slightest idea where it is. Thank god they invented GPS and autopilots! Plane flew to HESH on its own while we planned on the descent and approach. As we got lower, it was such a nice day and we could see the airport from miles away.
Our view from our room
Sharm El Sheik was like an oasis in the dessert. A lot of fancy hotel, nice beach, golf courses, swimming pools, and of course, fuel! Upon touchdown, I called Tiger Aviation, our ground handler in Cairo, by hand phone to let them know of our predicament. But what luck we have-they have a branch in this place and they have prepared everything for us already.

These guys are good. They cleared us thru CIQ and were refueling the plane by the time we got there. We gave everyone our extra fruits, juice, and sandwiches.

The short flight to HECA was easy and uneventful. Cairo stood out from the dessert despite having all the building structures colored like sand. My imagination takes me back in time when pharaohs were like gods and people were riding horses and farming in the Nile while the pharaohs were busy building their resting place after death. My last trip here was with my parents when I was still in grade school and the city has changed a lot. Traffic was bad and everything was crowded. We have reservations at the Oberoi Mena House, which was just a short distance from the pyramids of Giza. This hotel has a lot of history and the management preserved its structure, furnishings, and memorabilia. I enjoyed their old framed photos the most. Our room has a balcony and when you open the curtain, we could see the pyramids. This place shows the true meaning of having a room with a view!

We drove to Sakara the next day where the beginnings of the pyramids may be seen and where structures with hieroglyphics that explains how most of the things we will see came about. We did not have time to read and study so took a short cut (just like in school!) to learning. We decided to hire an Egyptologist to join us and act as our personal tourist guide and talk about history while we were in the car driving and sightseeing. His name was Ali. Easy to remember
Camels in the sand
and he reminded us of our teacher in grade school who gets upset when we were not listening. Seeing and touching what is being lectured was the best way to learn. I wish my college learning process was like this.

The much-awaited camel ride for Supap’s outfit was the activity for the afternoon. The Pyramids of Giza was the excellent background for this. The camels with their colorful saddle pads resting in the sand were a sight for the cameras! They certainly stood out in the sandy dessert.

Despite the heat, we could not help but get a camel ride and do the traditional photos. After this was the Sphinx. How we wished we all had the body of a Lion! However, reality dictates that — all we have are bodies of old men — too tired from walking and staying under the heat of the sun. We headed back to the hotel and planned on having dinner at the Grand Hyatt’s revolving restaurant. It gave us a full 360 degrees view of Cairo by the Nile River. It was again a great dinner with Supap’s choice of place and menu.

HECA-LIRA, May 23

Our hotel pick up was on time and it was a nice and sunny day. As we were handed over to Roma from Athens control, we knew we were in Italy. We were greeted “Buon Diorno” by the controller and everyone was saying “Ciao” before changing frequencies. Everything changed as we got closer to Italy. The mountains were getting greener and ATC was precise and clear. In fact, I think they were very helpful. We chose Ciampino instead of the bigger airports to avoid delays in traffic and taxiing to ramp. I called the frequency of Universal handling and they were ready for us. It was a radar vectors to downwind and for intercept of the ILS into finals. Parking was a bit more difficult with parallel lines of Gen Av planes on the ramp. An efficient “follow me” ramp car of the airport authorities made sure we did not park elsewhere other than our assigned space. The weather was cool and crisp, the clearing was quick and we were off to town in a very short while. I left my desired flight plan for the next day. We were cutting our trip a day shorter. We needed to be in Stans on the 24th since the 25 was a holiday.
Joy in Ciampino after landing
Of course Marriott at Via Venetto was the place to stay in Rome. We were ready to go shopping the minute we left our luggage in the room. It was a nice day for walking and shopping. We made a quick stop at the Fountain of Trevie to drop our coins to guarantee our return to Rome. It worked for me for the last five visits so Supap and I believed in this 100%. Supap can now be a model for Massimo Dotti after getting his new outfit. We even have a pair of pants with the same color so I can play with his band now as percussionist even if it means I will have to strike the triangle once for the whole song. Then, we had to stop at Supap’s favorite photo spot to see if his latest and most expensive lens can do a better job than before. Dinner of course was special pasta from the hotel’s chef. The hot Roman tub overlooking the park was the best place to be after the long walk. It does rejuvenate you for the next day’s flight.

I was up at five in the morning checking on the weather. I’ve been observing Switzerland the past three days and noticed that it’s covered with clouds. I was beginning to get uptight about this since Bouchs is a VFR airport with mountains on both sides and very, very high mountains on our
Mountains, Control Zones, and Patterns for Bouch
descent route. There was cloud cover this morning from Milan onwards to Zurich on the satellite photo. This should be a short nice flight if weather only cooperates with us. Our handlers upon our arrival that morning gave our start up slot time in Ciampino. As we requested for start up, we were delayed another twenty-three minutes. The controllers were very nice and helpful and gave us our expected SID and Transition routing to give us plenty of time to prepare. Weather was nice after airborne and forecasted weather was what we saw ahead of us, as we got closer to Switzerland. We were flying FL200 all the way and fifty miles out was still a cloud cover. I took our Bern approach charts and was mentally preparing for the alternate. At 35 miles, we requested for initial descent to FL140. This was my estimate of the top of clouds. Zurich Control initially gave us clearance and after a few seconds asked what my intention was. I said that we would descend to 140 to maintain VFR on top until we see a break in the clouds before we descend further on visual approach to Bouchs.
Switzerland as we got below the clouds
If we do not see anything, we will proceed to our alternate, which is Bern. He recommended only up to 160, which was only fair considering there is a 15,000 ft mountain covered with clouds on our right.

As we were about to reach 160, we saw a hole in the clouds and we could see the lake and mountain! I immediately called Control and advised them our being visual with ground. Canceled our IFR and immediately switched to Bouchs Tower while Supap slowed the aircraft, put the gears and flaps down, and put the aircraft in a 4,500 ft/min descent. Now we know why the PC12 was built this way. It is a great flying machine that gave us the speed and long range and now it can be as docile and slow as a Cub! The minute we got under the clouds, it felt like we were thrown from heaven into the clouds and then to paradise — everything was green, lakes with sail boats, and hills were dotted with red roofs. I almost sang, “The hills were alive with the sound of music…” but did not want to startle the air traffic controller too much! Our insurance did not cover liability for sudden death of ATC. We joined long downwind since we were still too high turned into base, and finals. Supap creamed SMC on the runway. We have just made history — this is the FIRST time that a Thai registered civilian privately owned aircraft has gone around the world piloted by its owner!!!

And yes, we made another one of our common dreams come true. Can I log this in as ‘cross-country’ in my logbook?

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