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Friday, September 20, 2013
It’s been three days since my arrival back to Aiken, South Carolina after flying N50ET around the world. The support and encouragement I received from the MU-2 community along the way was overwhelming and very much appreciated. While we all know N50ET Outside the MT-Propeller Factorythat we have such an incredible aircraft with the MU-2, many have been struck by how seamless the whole trip appeared and the fact that despite political sensitivities in the middle east, varying weather conditions, airport operational issues, and just plain old Murphy’s Law, we were still able to keep to our planned itinerary each day and arrive back in Aiken on Day 25.

In reflecting back on the entire experience, I realize that while an around-the-world flight is a huge undertaking, it is no different than any other good, safe flight—most of the work is in the preparation and pre-planning. To be sure, with the magnitude of this flight, there was a lot of pre-planning—in fact, at least 12 months went into the planning for this adventure of a lifetime. (photo right: N50ET outside the MT-Propeller factory in Straubing, Germany)

Early on much time was devSalzburg-Riveroted to selecting the route; taking into consideration diplomat/political issues, the range of the aircraft, clearance, visa, and health requirements, associated airport fees, airport operating parameters, security risks, and finally personal preferences.

Since I knew I would be flying in varying extreme weather conditions and over long distances, I spent the past 12 months building flight profiles specifically for N50ET for normal and long range cruise in hotter and cooler temps. I tested and documented different times to climb, fuel to climb, power settings, and cruise speeds at different ambient temperatures in order to build accurate profiles. (photo left: The Hohensalzburg Fortress provides an impressive backdrop to the Salzburg Cathedral)

These profiles were extremely useful in the flight planning process and during the actual flight, and after selecting BaseOps to help with the flight planning and weather briefing as well as the international handling and clearances, they took time to meet with me at their Houston office to review each and every leg of the trip. Prior to departure and on the trip, not only did all of the trip handlers pay close attention to detail, they were very good at communicating important trip information and their international handlers were professional and competent—customs and immigration was a breeze.

Countless hours were spent compiling and filing paperwork for clearances, general declarations, and visas; contacting airports for handling and customs requirements (for the countries where we took care of View Outside of Red Bullhandling); researching and booking most of the hotel rooms on the trip as well as continually monitoring and comparing fuel quotes from a variety of vendors. Finally time was devoted to cockpit information management—from the order of flight package contents to organizing the paper backup charts to compiling daily checklists of critical airport, customs, handler, fuel, hotel and transportation information for each leg. (photo right: view outside of Red Bull)

In preparation for the international flying, I had a High-Frequency (HF) radio installed, which from reading my blog, you will recall was a necessity after leaving Oman and through much of Indonesia. I also had a third 16-watt Com installed, hot wired for start-up clearances, which was required in most countries. CTS installed the new MT-propellers on N50ET and made sure the aircraft was up-to-date on all inspections and ready to go.

Considerable time and effort was devoted to evaluating and building a stock of spare parts, including jack pads and tow bar with multiple spares. Bryan Capps of Air 1st put together the spares package, tool kit, airframe and window cleaning supplies, and loaded the Mitsubishi and Garrett service manuals onto thumb drives. An appropriate laptop was carefully chosen, and electronic chart subscription services were selected and loaded onto my iPad and mini iPad for the Atlantic, Europe, Middle East, Pacific Basin and Australia in addition to my previously installed North American Foreflight subscription. In support of the trip, Garmin very kindly donated a worldwide database for the G-600, GTN-750, and GTN-650 installed in N50ET as well as for the AERA-796 handheld GPS.

Though we continually monitored competitor fuel prices, we established a relationship with World Fuel Services, BaseOps’ parent company, for our fuel credit line and actual fueling for the majority of the trip. Astrid Naparstek of World Fuel took a personal interest in my trip and met with us in the early planning. She was instrumental in orchestrating the meeting with BaseOps in Houston, and of course their interest and enthusiasm about the trip sealed the deal.

It was certainly a pleasure to have along Mike Collins from the AOPA to document the trip with his excellent photography and writing abilities. Mike cheerfully took on the responsibility of supervising the fueling of N50ET which enabled me to concentrate on the aircraft itself and the paperwork at each of our stops.

While it will take some time for the invoices—with all of the associated fees—to trickle in, it will be interesting to compare just how costly it is to fly in other countries compared to the United States.

So in the end, yes the trip does appear relatively seamless when you consider that I flew N50ET 27,475 nautical miles in 101.5 hours on schedule in 25 days—all squawk free, but know that it was part of a grand team effort and countless hours in planning and behind the scenes effort among the Air 1st, CTS, Baseops and World Fuel Services employees! 

Now that I am back from the trip, I will sort through the photos I took along the way. Please be sure to check the RTW Photo Gallery for a gallery of my personal photos as I will be adding them over the next several days.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013: Day 25 - Minot-Aiken, South Carolina
Today is the last day of our great Around-the-World-by-MU-2 adventure. My email from Baseops had me filed at 27,000 feet at long range cruise with a tailwind; we don't have a tailwind so it must be wrong. When we arrived at the airport we were 091713 Mike Laver inspects nose gear repairinformed that there had been a towing error, and a bolt on N50ET had been sheered. An A&P had come out and replaced the bolt and had made an appropriate log entry for me. This is the very reason I do not have an aircraft towed when overseas. This has been the first problem since I departed Aiken 25 days ago. I thoroughly inspected the nose gear area four times (photo right) and everything was normal as the log entry stated.

We were airborne out off Minot at 0600 with clearance to 27,000 feet, but of course I asked for 25,000 feet as my final altitude. It was a crystal clear morning as we waited for the sunrise--it looks like it will rise out of the east this morning--just the same as yesterday. Mike has his camera poised and waiting, and at 0648 we had a beautiful red sunrise. We are heading for Frederick, MD, with the wind behind us as forecasted on this 1188 nautical mile and second-to-last leg. We really do have a tailwind--30 knots and all! As we fly just south of Green Bay, WI on this clear day I see Joe Megna at Jet Air hard at work. With just 1.6 hours to Frederick it looks like we will land with 90 gallons remaining, so I will not have to use the outers. I have only used the outer tanks on 3 legs for this entire trip around the world, and there have been a lot of long legs. With all the tests done over the last year at different altitudes, fuel flows, and true airspeeds--I believe I have learned how to get the maximum range out of N50ET, which has really helped a lot on this trip.

091713 Welcoming committee at AOPAFrederick was in the clear so we were able to make a visual approach on runway 05. As we taxied in to the ramp it was obvious that some of the AOPA folks have missed Mike Collins. (Be sure to check out Mike's AOPA Pilot blog--MU-2 Around the World if you haven't already done so!) We taxied over to the AOPA ramp where we both received a very Memento from BaseOpswarm welcome (photo left: welcoming committee at AOPA).  As I stepped from the aircraft, I had another surprise. Astrid Naparstek from World Fuel Services and Baseops had driven to Frederick to welcome us back. Also Astrid brought a plaque (photo right) on behalf of BaseOps in recognition of our around the world flight for the 50th anniversary of the MU-2, the fight that they so professionally handled for us. And that's not all--Astrid had lunch as well. That was especially appreciated since it was 1100 and I wouldn't be arriving in Aiken until 1500.

Welcome HomeAfter lunch and fuel I was on my way to Aiken for the final leg of this amazing journey. It is hard to believe that I am just 1 hour away from Aiken-N50ET has carried us around the world--how cool is that! This incredible MU-2 has operated without a fault or squawk for the entire trip, I have just turned over 100 hours with .8 to go.

I arrived into the Aiken Municpal Airport to a nice welcoming committee as well including a 12-person W-E-L-C-O-M-E-H-O-M-E-!!!  sign(photo left) and flowing champagne.  Seeing my wife and so many close friends on my arrival back to KAIK made this a wonderful ending to a life-long dream.

Monday, September 16, 2013 (Again!): Day 24 - Fairbanks-Minot, North Dakota
091613-2 Mike Laver contemplates sunrise aloft in AlaskaThis morning when I got out of bed, I opened the curtains in the hotel room to see a frost over the cars in the car park; this was not a good sign. When we arrived at the airport, it was obviously a few091613-2 Arrival into Ketchikan degrees warmer because the aircraft was clear. Departing Fairbanks, it was a magnificent morning, and we witnessed a beautiful sunrise from the east, it's reflection spanning the horizon over to the west were the snow-capped mountains appeared crystal clear. (Photo left: Mike contemplating sunrise.) After flying around the world it is hard to believe that some of the most beautiful scenery we saw is here in America ready for us to all experience. (Photo right: arrival into Ketchican)

091613-2 Crabbing into headwindAs we move our way southeast to Ketchikan, we have been blessed with yet another headwind component of around 30 knots (photo left: Garmin display shows N50ET crabbing into the strong headwind); this is actually good because I am trying to build flight time. We are now over Canada's Yukon Territory for about 300 miles then back into Alaska airspace for our arrival into Ketchikan. I have flown into Ketchikan before--the scenery is stunning--and today was no different. We broke out of clouds at around 1,500 feet, and it was like there was a parade in front of us--welcoming us back to our home continent. Several float planes were in the circuit to land on the water; they come straight at you over the field then make a sharp right turn to touch down on the water next to the field. It's so exciting watching them maneuver around us.

Our turnaround in Ketchikan was just 25 minutes, and we were on our way again to Minot, ND. This is a long 1228 mile leg with headwinds on the first half and light tailwinds on the remainder. This is definitely a long-range cruise leg. I burnt 34 gallons from startup to 25,000 feet and then set up 58 gallons per hour and 260 knots TAS. I am calculating that I will land with 70 gallons remaining. We crossed Canada in an uneventful flight; the weather was good all the way. A visual approach into Minot on runway 13, and then we were at Minot Aero Services. Mike and I were ready for a good night's rest.

Monday, September 16, 2013: Day 23 - Petropavlovsk-Fairbanks, Alaska
This morning we awoke to a dreary day; rain and low clouds obscured the mountains that I had hoped to see better today after last night's late arrival. Today is a short day because of the time zone change; we lose 4 hours, which means that we arrive late again in091613 Follow Me truck at Petroto Fairbanks. When we arrived at the airport, it was just a few minutes through security and then onto the aircraft for a daily inspection in the light rain. After start up we had a "follow me" truck (photo left) lead us in the rain to the long 11,158 ft runway for a back taxi to the end for takeoff. We climbed up to 25,000 feet into beautiful clear skies that lay just above the overcast. The further north we travelled the skies became clearer, with the Pacific Ocean on our right and the coast of Russia on the left.  The scenery is amazing! It's like flying over Arizona with a coastline. So far we have been talking with Petropavlovsk Control on VHF, which is clear and very understandable.

With now just over an hour to Anadyr, I feel like the trip is coming to an end. There have been so many wonderful times and adventures behind us. Mike Collins has been a great traveling companion and 091613 Wicked wind shear arriving Anadyrgreat friend, plus our trip will be professionally documented with wonderful photos. We are now 30 minutes from Anadyr; ATIS says we have 10 miles visability and base is 490. I am not sure whether that is meters or feet but either way it will be fine and better than the forecasted TEMP of 300 feet overcast. As we joined the localiser we could see the runway at 27,000 so it was an easy approach. (Photo right: Wicked wind shear on arrival to Anadyr.) Within about 10 minutes we were greeted by customs and a great many others--I'm not sure who they all were--I felt more than a little intimidated by all of the officials present. There was a lot of paper work and questions, but all was okay. We were now allowed to take on fuel while our passports were being stamped and our release paperwork was in process. By the time we were fueled, customs was back with our passports and we were good to go.

After startup, Anadyr Tower cleared us for taxi and take off, and we were on our way--next stop USA. I wonder what sort of reception will we get there from our authorities. Cruising at 25,000 feet we're now heading across the Bering Sea towards Alaska. The OAT says -40 degrees C; it's time to see how N50ET and the MT-props like these temps, because I have just such a reading with the Hartzells that I used to have on N50ET. I had to increase the power setting to take this reading, so I matched the fuel flows from my previous reading that was 40 gallons a side, temp, altitude and fuel on board was the same. My Hartzell reading was 318 knots TAS and my MT-Prop reading is 316 knots TAS.

091613 Crossing IDL and entering United StatesWe have just now crossed the FIR boundary into US airspace and the International Date Line (photo left), so instead of it being Monday it is now Sunday again. Talking with Anchorage Control makes you appreciate what we have in the US with respect to aviation services. However, I must admit this trip has not been too hard, but it is all about the planning and preparation!

Our approach into Fairbanks was visual--it was beautiful evening--and we landed just before 10:00 PM. Our customs man was waiting for us, and he was the nicest one that I have ever met. We fueled and went to hotel for a good night's rest. It's great to be back in the US!