Honolulu (Hawaii) to Merced (California)


20/07/2008


At last it has been possible to resolve all the problems and make the jump from Honolulu to Merced, California. I left Honolulu around 0300 Z (or GMT) today Sunday and arrived in Merced, California, around 1830 Z. In practice this meant leaving Honolulu in the late Hawaiian afternoon, flying through the night, and arriving in California in their late morning. The flight took 15 hours and 36 minutes and was approximately 2200 nautical miles.

I will update this entry as soon as possible. Suffice for the moment to say that I am pleased to be on the move again. The extra fuel tank fitted in Hawaii will be removed in California, but this should not take long. (Update follows below)

The flight from Honolulu to Merced would be the longest leg of this journey. My original plan had been to fly from Hilo (on the ”Big Island” of Hawaii) to Oakland or San Francisco, a distance of around 2080 nautical miles. To achieve this, Romeo Tango would require a “ferry” tank to be fitted in place of the rear seats. This had been done in Honolulu, and the arrangement required that this tank be removed at the first point of landing on the continental USA. There was a company in Merced who did this kind of work but flying from Honolulu to Merced increased the distance to over 2160 nm, without taking into account any possible weather or Air Traffic Control diversions. I thought about going to Hilo but decided that Romeo Tango would have the necessary reserve to make Honolulu-Merced possible.

A negative factor was the wind, which is generally easterly at this time of the year in this region, especially at the lower levels. For the last few days I had been looking closely at the winds, hoping for some westerly influence, but it hadn’t happened. The winds at 10,000 feet were still easterly (they would be as much as 30 knots against me initially) but at 18,000 feet or higher they were westerly, particularly nearer to California. It looked like I would have to go at 15,000 feet or higher, and this would mean using oxygen. I also had to decide on the best time of the day to go. I didn’t really want to take off at night with an overloaded Romeo Tango, nor did I want to land at night at an unfamiliar airfield in California. I therefore decided to take off in the late afternoon from Honolulu, fly though the night, and land in California in the late morning. That way I could climb to cruising level and switch over from the main tanks to the temporary ferry tank and make sure everything was working OK, before the sun went down.

The flight didn’t require customs, being a flight between two parts of the USA, but it did require a pre-flight inspection and clearance by the Agriculture Department to ensure that I wasn’t carrying any banned fruit products, etc. This was only a few minutes work, but had a standard charge of 164 dollars.

Alan and Walter, who had fitted the ferry tank and serviced Romeo Tango, were there to wish me well, and Willie had also come along to see me off. As I taxied out to runway 8R, I could see Willie driving along the perimeter – he had told me that he would try to get a few photos. Willie has made this crossing several times in his single-engine Bonanza and his twin Cessna 421, and had been very helpful to me with advice and information. Thanks, Willie, I really enjoyed my time in Honolulu, and appreciated all the advice.

Romeo Tango lifted off the runway without difficulty, but with a higher liftoff speed and a slower climb rate. I followed the standard departure but ATC soon cancelled this and gave me a direct route to the first reporting point. Shortly after this I lost GPS signals, on the panel-mounted set and also my portable set. This does happen occasionally for a few moments or minutes, but this break lasted about 15-20 minutes. Not a good start to the flight. I couldn’t figure out what was causing it, and thought perhaps the climb attitude could be shielding the antennae but this seemed unlikely. It was not a serious problem at this point, as I was close enough to other navigational aids on Honolulu and other islands to be able to determine my position. Thankfully, after 20 minutes or so, good signal strength appeared on both sets and remained that way for the entire flight.

Climbed to 15,000 feet, switching on oxygen above 10,000 feet, and then switched to the ferry tank. This meant switching on a couple of valves for the ferry tank and then switching off the main tanks. Everything worked perfectly, just as it had when we had tried it out on the ground yesterday. The tank would last six hours or so before switching back to the main tanks. As I flew on, the sun went down, followed after about half an hour by the moon rising – it was practically a full moon and strong enough to illuminate the clouds below.

I had switched to HF before losing VHF contact with Honolulu, and was now in touch with San Francisco. There were reporting points every 400 miles or so, but I had been asked by San Francisco to report additionally on the hour every hour. I had earlier been concerned about keeping awake through the night, but this didn’t turn out to be a problem. I probably reported my position about twenty times in the course of the flight. The ferry tank lasted 7 hours. It had been fitted with a clear plastic tube so that I could determine the level of fuel remaining, and I had been turning round every few minutes to check this as the 7-hour period was coming to an end. I turned on the main tank and closed off the ferry tank valves before any air could get into the system, and again everything worked perfectly.

The first glimpses of dawn appeared and that was a good feeling. The sun rose and was blindingly bright, even through my sun visor, but eventually it rose high enough to no longer present a problem. As I neared the Californian coast the cloud cover below was still 100 percent. The northern California coast is subject to foggy conditions much of the time, and that’s why I had planned for a late morning arrival to give time for any fog to disperse. I didn’t see the coast when I crossed it because of the conditions. Northern California (Norcal) Centre gave me a re-routeing taking me further south, but in preparation for the approach to Merced. As I neared Merced I tuned in to their AWOS (Automatic Weather Observation System) and was surprised to hear “sky clear” as part of the data. Sure enough, as I flew closer, the clouds below parted and there was clear sky over Merced and the surrounding area. The Norcal controller terminated her control but asked me to call her again when I was on the ground in order to close the flight plan. There was no controller at Merced, so it was a case of transmitting my position and intentions to any other aircraft in the vicinity. Soon I was on the ground, pleased to have completed the longest flight of my life. I still had enough fuel for about 3 hours flying, so economical had been Romeo Tango.

Flight Date: 2200 nautical miles in 15 hours 40 minutes.