Dream fulfilled, back home, Buffalo, NY!

It has been a dream of mine for years to do this Round the World trip. I am finding it hard to believe that I have done it and come back home safely. I have lots of people to thank for helping me fulfill my dream. First and foremost is the unflinching support of my family, my wife Pratibha, my sons Rohan and Nitin, my brothers, sister and their families. My logistics team Eddie Gold and Ahmed Hassan of GASE, my friends in Buffalo, the new ones I made along the way and most of all God Almighty who watched over me through this entire journey. Thank you, Thank you, and Thank you all for helping make my dream come true. I love you all very much.

No more flying for me for a while, got to catch up on drumming, golfing and drinking!

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Flying the Ring of Fire, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski to Anchorage, Alaska!

Natural beauty of Kamchatka is better than any place on earth I have ever visited. Koryaksky, the 12000 ft. volcano, towers over the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski and it’s airport. People are extremely friendly and helpful. My plane is first piston engine plane that landed here in years. Everyone at the Airport came to see, take pictures and help me. My fuel pump is pretty small so it took more than two hours to refuel.

The flying path from Kamchatka to Anchorage is the most active part of Ring of Fire. The Kamchatka Peninsula in Far East Russia is one of the most various and active volcanic areas in the world. It lies between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Okhotsk to the west. The 10,500-m-deep Kuril-Kamchatka Trench, where rapid subduction of the Pacific Plate fuels the intense volcanism. Almost all types of volcanic activity are present, from stratovolcanoes and shield volcanoes to Hawaiian-style fissure eruptions.

All the Aleutian Islands have formed due to volcanic eruptions. Over 30 active volcanoes and hundreds of dormant and extinct volcanoes are in two major volcanic belts. It is beautiful but scary to fly past so many Volcanoes. As it was my last leg before entering USA, I needed to clear customs. The closest custom clearing Airport in Aleutian Islands was Cold Bay, 450 miles past the range of my plane. So, I planned to land on my way at Adak to refuel. I must have forgotten about the time change as I reached Adak at 10 PM. Fortunately it was still a bit of daylight left as the airport runway was not lighted and hard to see. It is hard to imagine someone would even want to live in such remote isolated place. Anyway, I refueled, stayed overnight and headed off to Cold Bay next morning. Upon reaching Cold Bay, I was told there was no customs office there anymore and I must fly to Anchorage to clear customs. I reached Anchorage past 11:00 PM, waited for an hour for custom officer to arrive. Cleared custom, parked my plane and headed to hotel. It was 1:30 AM in the morning when I checked in the hotel. The longest flying day of this entire trip. I was extremely tired, but did not care. I am back home in USA and could not be happier. I am fortunate to call USA my home, it is the home of the FREE. I am free, don’t need any permits, can do what I want!

Next stop BUFFALO, NY!

Khomutovo to Pteropavlovsk-Kamchatskij, my last stop in Russia!

After landing in Khomutovo, my first order of business was to clear customs and transfer gas from my Turtlepac into the plane. My Russian agent Evgeny Kobanov had suggested, that I did not have any handler at this location as Airport staff is very friendly and helpful to the pilots. After taxiing to the ramp watching a contingent of, may be 10 people in big hats and uniform coming to your plane was kind of scary at first, but sure enough they were very friendly. Russia is a very documentation oriented country and there were at least five documents with three copies each needed filling and signing. Of the 10 people only one Sasha spoke English and helped with paperwork. With All the forms filled and signed Immigration and customs officers seemed pleased and left me for whatever I needed to do. For me to be able to transfer fuel from my Turtlepac to the plane I needed a car brought to be near the plane so, I can connect my 12 volt pump to its cigarette lighter outlet. With no car in site at the airport apron, I asked Sasha, if it was possible to have any of the service personnel to bring a car there. No problem, in two minutes an airport mechanic with car shows up and helps me with transferring the fuel. We were great at communicating in sign language!

So, with the fuel transferred, I am all set to fly to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskij tomorrow morning. I take my stuff from the plane, walk past the immigration/customs officers into the airport terminal to catch a taxi for the hotel. Unfortunately the taxi’s here do not accept dollars or credit cards, only rubles. Having none, I search for Currency exchange counter, not finding one I asked a gentlemen who I don’t know why I thought would speak English and may be able to help. He spoke very little English, just well enough for us to understand each other. We both looked for the exchange machine or a counter finding neither at this airport, he offered to exchange the money himself as help to me. He gave me 6000 rubles for a $100 bill, even slightly more than the official rate. I am now all set for stay here and take taxi to the hotel, seems like more than 15 miles drive, the taxi fare less than $10. Hotel is great and even though I can’t read what is written on the small Grey Goose bottle of vodka in my room minibar, must be my name I take it. So, here I am sitting in my room by the window, sipping on vodka, watching perfect blue skies with just as good weather forecast tomorrow for my flight to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskij

I love Russia and the Russians already!

 

Aomori, my last stop in Japan!

With the loaner transponder installed, all is now good with the plane. So, last night I filed my flight plan from Osaka to Aomori, for this morning. The flight plan has been accepted without modifications by the ATC. The weather though cloudy is good enough for me to depart. Other than slight headwinds the enroute weather forecast is good too and I am able to depart Osaka right at my filed time of 10:30 AM.

After a short three hour flight I landed at Aomori, a small farming town in North of Japan. It is a perfect sunny day and the rice paddies of Aomori surrounded by lush green rolling hills look gorgeous. Mr. Kazuhito Shinoda, the Noevir Aviation (my handlers in Japan) representative greets me at the airport. He helps me refuel the plane and my Turtlepac (pretty hard to fill while inside the plane already). Together we drive to the hotel and go out for a very traditional Japanese meal in a local restaurant. It turned out to be very nice evening indeed.

Mr. Shinoda brought me back to the airport this morning and helped me get through the customs and immigration checks. This is something previous earthrounders have had lots of trouble with and I too was really very concerned about it. But Mr. Shinoda has been very thorough in his preparation of the documentation for me and all goes through without a hitch. He ushers me to the plane, bids me farewell and confirms with ATC that they have my flight plan. With all this done, I am ready to go. ATC clears me to UHSS – Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (Khomutovo). I am now number two for take-off behind the JAL flight to Tokyo.

Adios Japan, I am off to Yuzhno –Sakhalinsk Russia!

Transponder quits, needs replacement, Osaka, Japan!

Transponder is the avionics component that communicates with ATC radar during flight. When flying IFR (Instrument Flying Rules), a unique code is assigned by ATC to each plane, this code when entered in the transponder of the plane, acts as an ID tag on each dot (the radar image of the plane) on their screen, ATC then can recognize each plane and communicate with the pilot when needed.

My transponder key pad has been sticky since the Middle East (temperature inside the plane while parked outside in Sun was probably around 150 degrees!). But today the   transponder (Garmin GTX 330)  key pad stopped working completely. Only code I could put in is 1200, by pressing VFR (Visual Flight Rules) key. Foreign aircraft are not allowed to fly VFR in Japan without a special permit (another 72 hour deal). Russia probably has similar rules. So, again I am stuck with an unforeseen problem.

Only thing I could think of was to call Garmin Osaka office. Unfortunately, they are closed due to Japanese holidays until Wednesday. They too probably will need the transponder to be sent back to factory for repair. Minimum of two weeks solution. Getting a new one from States, again same time frame, not practical. While pondering upon my situation, I probably looked pretty desperate, as the Noevir mechanic (Noevir Aviation are my handlers in Japan) decided on his own to look through their Avionics shelves, just in case they might have one laying around. As luck would have it, he found an old transponder similar to mine on the shelf. Surprisingly, it is working too! I really believe, some Angels are following me to make sure I get through this journey. I really don’t know what, but I must have done some good somewhere in my life!

The two Noevir mechanics worked hard to replace my transponder. I now have a loaner transponder installed in my plane (I will return it after I get back) and ready for flying to my next destination Aomori, Japan. This will be my last stop in Japan and I need Russian permits before I can depart Aomori. I am hoping the Russian permit will arrive by the time I get to Aomori. If not I will stay in Aomori until I get it. At least I am continuing to make progress and hope to be back in USA soon. I am just tired of the documentation/permits requirements during this RTW.

Next stop Aomori, Japan!

 

Never ending need for more permits, Waiting at Okinawa, Japan!

Finally out of Malaysia and past Philippines. Now in Okinawa, waiting for permits for domestic flights in Japan. Progressing slowly but steadily. Hoping to make it back home soon!

But how I got here and how I plan to get out of here, to learn, please read some of the strings of messages I get from Eddie Gould, Founder of GASE (General Aviation Support Egypt) my agents, every hour of the day. He and his co-founder/partner Ahmed Hassan Mohamed, are working so hard to get me through this journey. I can’t even imagine doing something like this on my own. Thanks Eddie and Ahmed you guys Rock!

Here we go;

(some nomenclature, ETD;Estimated Departure Time, WBGG:Kuching, WBKK;Kota Kinabalu, RPVP:Palawan, ROAH:Okinawa, UHPP: Kamchatka, Russia etc CAA: Civil Aviation Authority)

” Nothing in the mails…We were asked earlier to send a copy of your pilot’s license earlier by Indonesia which shows they are working on it. We are still waiting for DGCA approval, expect to obtain within few hours. Best Regards,”

“Indonesia permit granted

Permit # 7395/0408/NONSCHED-INT/2017

I will file FP shortly and send copy to u

But Please advise ETD”

“Ravi, I told you…you file for RPVP and put WBKK as alternate. There are no issues then with you landing in an emergency. If you have to stay on the ground there longer then we extend or renew the permit. There is no Philippine permit as there is no arrival date. Like I said before…we need a good lead in time to apply for Philippines…so no last minute requests to fly within 24 hours. I am getting nowhere with the search for avgas there at WBGG…in fact getting no replies and that may be down to the weekend.”

“Just look forward now. Here’s a what if…what if you had bought an aircraft that uses JetA1…What if you had added Indonesia and Australia and island hopped to Japan…there a load of what ifs if you look for them…but none of them help your situation now…let’s concentrate and moving you forward and in the meantime, realize you are in a place you will probably never visit again. Be a tourist. Meet the people and take photos. Make some good memories out of a poor situation…it will all work out, it always does.”

“I don’t want to update the permit because we changed many times already and CAA added a line last amendment that they may decline any future permits for this flight”

“Let’s do it as unplanned diversion”

“Not a last minute decision but a great result after trying many ideas. It is just that we could not put any of the paperwork into motion until we knew what the result of all the negotiations would be. But, fingers crossed and you will soon be on your way again”

“I Doubt we won’t get it on time, but anyway yes worst case you will remain at WBKK till the permit is in hand”

“Ahmed, how long does it take for Japan to get sorted for permits…we know they can be a pain sometimes…”

“Hi Ravi, we are having a problem with RPLL…this is from agents/AIP/NOTAMS Also please be informed that RPLL GA restrictions are as follows: 1930Z-0400Z – 2 landings and 2 takeoff slot per hour 0400Z-1100Z – Gen Av movements are prohibited 1100Z-1730Z – 2 landings and 2 takeoff slot per hour 1730Z-1930Z – runway closure except on Thursdays”

Eddie

The agents recommend… RPLB – currently downgraded to Class G both CTR and TMA until September but airport is operational and CIQ and fuel-into-plane is available.

Eddie

The problem here is that we will then have to apply for a separate ‘domestic flight permit’ on top of normal permit. I am think a movement to WBKK or RPVP and await the domestic permit and Japan permit. Then all will be in place for non-stop movements…but at this juncture, the uncertainty of movement causes more problems…we need to make a plan where we get these domestic applications in, based on a proper schedule that also fits with onward permit for Japan. This recommendation does have fuel into aircraft so will be better than barrels

Eddie

If you agree with RPLB then I will ask agents for time scale and the domestic permit

I have asked for time scale…I have a problem now as I need to take cats to vet in about 20 minutes from now…I think Ahmed will be sleeping, so I need the agents to reply asap and give them the go ahead based on the time scale…and tell you too…fingers crossed

“There are two permits to be applied for…the normal one that will arrive tomorrow. The domestic one will be on Thursday. So you can fly to RPVP and wait till Thursday for Domestic permit. But I need a schedule with dates and times I can pass on to agents before I go out…ASAP…please”

Yes…did you see my plea to get a schedule based on the permits?

“Arrival time and date RPVP Dep date from RPVP will be on Thursday – times dep and arrival RPLB Please”

“This is what they sent… “Please expect landing approval for 10th August arrival and 11th August departure for RPVP-RPLB-ROAH.” This effectively means that you cannot depart until the 10th, Thursday. The reason being the domestic permit takes longer than the normal permit. So if you had been landing at RVPV and then departing to another country then no problem. Making a domestic flight within the country needs two permits and that is what the delay is…but you will definitely depart on the 10th. Please don’t ask if you can go to WBKK tomorrow and stop there as it is not on your Malaysian permit and you haven’t got a Philippine permit number to show you leaving the country tomorrow. This is normal for this part of the world. Changes in times and destinations will cause knock on effects and the loss of Manila meant finding a new place to stop and that causes an extra day’s delay. If we stick to this schedule then it should all go as planned form now on. Kuching will soon be a bad memory.”

“If you land somewhere it is a landing and you have to have Permission. Maybe not in the USA but this isn’t the USA and the main problem with flying around the world is that you go through places where the bureaucracy is a hundred times worse than the weather for delaying flights. Be careful, any messing with the schedule in Japan can cause massive delays. We need to stick completely to the rules and schedules otherwise you will need to brush up on your Japanese. By the way, just back from the dentist so not feeling too good. But the plan is… 10th, depart for RVPV from WBGG as planned…make a diversion to WBKK for fuel, blaming winds. Overnight at RPVP 11th, depart RPVP for RPLB, refuel and do CIQ and depart for ROAH. Do you intend to stop in ROAH one night only? Next flight will be from ROAH with a stop at RJFK (Kagoshima) for fuel and then on to RJCO (Sapporo). This is where it gets a bit messy. They may let you depart from there to UHPP or you may have to do the short hop from RJCO to RJCC to clear customs. I guess you will be staying overnight (or more?) in Sapporo? Then on to UHPP So, I need ASAP the overnight stops and for how long…”

“My problem here is that the controller has bugger all to do with anything. It is the CAA that is letting you fly through Malaysia via their permit and if the permit has a different schedule on it than the one you intend to File then we may have problems. That is why I am saying wait for Ahmed to check with the CAA. If, like hat was suggested from day one, the people who we said may have fuel, who you then said you wouldn’t trust, had said yes – stop here for fuel – then WBKK would be in the schedule used to get your permit. But you said that you would not trust the fuel so we spent ages trying to find a plan b…only for you to decide that the fuel is OK there and to go with what turns out to be the original plan anyway…but too late to change the permit based on plan B. The so called ‘usual’ flights will already have filed to do a tech stop at WBKK…at least that is what I am thinking…but to mess with the permit at this stage is risky and that is why I need Ahmed’s input before giving you a green light. The controllers, the handlers, the fuel suppliers are not the ones we worry about…it is the bureaucrats who are like god…they are the ones who say you can fly or not, not the controllers, without the CAA permit you can’t fly…and we need to make sure that you don’t mess the permit we have up. Can you understand the need to make sure first?”

“Just to let you know that the Japanese do not like our choice of airfields because they have a military presence there and the security situation is heightened because of the war of words between Trump and N. Korea. But the agents are going to choose the right airports for us based on your range and need for fuel. Will let you know as soon as they let me know.”

“The first thing I say in my pamphlet is that a pilot can plan for years for a RTW and have everything in place, do all the calculations and know everything off by heart…but as soon as he departs on that first day he needs to throw the plan out of the window because it will change and it will need revising in real time.
A lot of people think a RTW is easy because it is just a lot of one day flights added together…quoting that they do that every day across the USA or Australia or Europe etc…but you now know how different it is and hopefully can realize that the worst thing about a RTW is the bureaucracy…and then the weather and then any tech problems. The tech problems can be fixed by the pilot or an engineer, the weather will change soon but the bureaucrats are in a different league…and almost all do not like GA aviation. You miss out on the battle of words we have with these agencies nearly every day…and with people like the Japanese you have to be careful as they run their lives on etiquette and one wrong word could mean disaster when applying for a permit, ask Colin Hales who made a right mess of his entry into Japan, ending up with a 7 month stay…But, we continue the fight to get you moving…all will be known very soon  You will make it through, we have no doubt about that…just a pain if these hold ups continue.”

“Will do, just sent reminder for the Philippine permit to see when we can expect it…fingers crossed – again Coffeeeeeee…BRB”

“Brilliant…touch wood you get the right weather…do not fly if weather is bad…now we have a permit it can be revised and it probably has a leeway too…waiting for actual permit doc but they sent the number so you can file./…

Domestic Permit Number for flights RPVP – RPLB – ROAH = 3DF2017439”

“Please be advised that ROAH landing approval has been confirmed. Departure permit is pending. Please depart from RPLB as planned at 0400 UTC and latest 0500 UTC today. CONFIRMED AIRPORT SLOT ARR ROAH 11 AUG 0900 UTC FM RPLB. PARKING SPOT L-12 Customs officer will come into aircraft to check on arrival.”

“Good morning Ravi. As you know, we are now waiting for the domestic permit that allows you to fly through and make stops in the rest of Japan. The discussions going on in the background are all about what route that will be based on your range and need for avgas and the most important…getting an exit airport where avgas is available? Our original choice of RJCO was denied because it is part military, even though we have used it before. The latest security issues may be blocking semi-military airports for use.
I booked your room for one night only because we didn’t know how long you will be there, so you need to go and extend your stay with reception.
Any problems with re-booking then let me know.
How are you doing with tech toilets and gadgets everywhere I see that there is a launderette there if you need to do any clothes washing.
I am just waiting for some feedback from the agents…but Japanese do not like to be rushed or pestered for news. So, we will stick to the etiquette and will get there quicker that way.”

“It doesn’t work that way in Japan. We have to use a recognized agent. The agent may be based in Tokyo or somewhere else. This agent is who we work with all the time. They then use their people at the different airports. So we don’t know the names of the people at each airport but everything goes through the recognized agent. Trying to find people at each airport causes masses of problems, ask Colin Hales. He decided to do Japan all on his own. Searching for names at each airport and ending up being stuck in Japan for 7 months.  Like I say, Japan has to be done properly, using their etiquette and rules. So, whatever you do, do not agree to let someone help you as the agents will be put out because you didn’t go through the right channels and then the world will come tumbling down. 72 hours is actually a great result. Colin 7 months in Japan. Norman Surplus 2 years stuck there. So, we will do what the agent says as they are in touch with the CAA and the Military and trying to go another way will not work…you will be going nowhere soon…etiquette is everything in Japan. Must follow all the rules.”

“the agent said they would be there to meet you at the aircraft.
I always emphasize the need to listen to us because of problems in the past when ‘well-meaning’ outsiders have offered their support direct to the pilot and the well-meaning support causing more problems.
It is a big thing with me to make sure that this is known to pilots because of the major things that have happened to cause problems in the past. So don’t worry about thinking I may be over the top about it, it is one of those things that I do because of what has happened in the past and I don’t want to see happen ever again. Because you missed out Cairo you never got my talk at our hangar where we have a commemorative plaque to a Father and son who perished in the Pacific after not listening to us but going with advice from an outsider. It kind of hits home a lot better than trying to explain in messages all the time. But we missed that talk and trying to put how important some things are into messages is not easy to do when trying not to sound like an idiot or grump…”

“He is the handler. Each airport has handlers. Or an FBO. But generally these handlers only deal with the airport they are at. So when you are using more than one airport in a country you will see a number of different handlers. There are many different scenarios for the different countries. Some easy ones are just call the handler at the airport and it is done. The handler may be the actual airport and the handling is automatic. Sometimes though you have to hire an agent who then has to arrange the handling at each airport via whoever is the airport handler. In Egypt we are the agent but we have to hire Egyptair to do the handling. Likewise in Japan we use an agent called NAC-OPS with a person called Kaori as the main contact. He or she is the one doing the talking with the authorities and as you can imagine, in a place like Japan it is the authorities who make the decisions and we just have to sit and wait for them to stamp their bits of paper and then send those bits to others to be stamped and then Kaori gets them back and passes on to us. We then tell you the outcome and Kaori alerts the handlers at the following stops. All complicated, when it could be so easy, but this is the rest of the world and each place does things differently and progressively more complicated. So don’t worry, things are in hand and the handler may have been given RJOY as a suggestion but he may be reading off the original schedule we sent that was declared void because of the military stuff. Marvel at the weirdness of where you are. Get in touch with your friend who used to be at Kadena and see if he still has contact details for people still there. I know the USAF really looked after Norman very well when he arrived in Okinawa.”

Engeny Kobanov, Russia

“Ravi, I will not be able to change your permit quickly. Myself I’m in vacation near UHPP without any access to internet. Can you keep UHPP as the only stop in Russia? I can arrange new permit, but it will take some considerable effort from me”

Eddie

“Ravi, I am in discussion with the agents about other options. RJCO is classed as Civil/Military and they should try harder to let you use there. And I found another airport north of RJCO/RJCC that has Avgas but no customs. So I am suggesting you clear customs at RJCC and then do a tech stop at RJCB for fuel. I have told them that changing to UHSS would mean in indefinite delay in Japan and would be no good for anyone.”

“Nothing back yet which seems to be typical of them. But i have to go to bed now as it is coming up to 2.30am here. Ahmed will chack for answers from them in the morning. I hope to be up by 8 and will see too.
Good night.”

Sabah Flying Club to the rescue, Kota Kinabalu!

Avgas is scarce in this part of the world and only available at few airports. For planes that use Avgas, the Flight from KL to Palawan, Philippines is an exercise in fuel management. The shorter distance through Kota Kinabalu is approximately 1150 NM, over the ocean. This distance is beyond the range of my plane and there is no fuel available along the way. So, the plan was to start with full tanks from KL and carry additional 30 gallons of gas in my Turtlepac as cargo, land at Kota Kinabalu, transfer the gas from Turtlepac into the plane and then fly to Palawan, Philippines. However, because of the Singapore controller turning me back from almost halfway to Kota Kinabalu, all this well laid plan fell apart.

After returning to KL, Singapore ATC forced me to take the much longer land route through Kuching to Kota Kinabalu and then on to Philippines. With this route the total distance is over 1400 NM. Under tailwinds or no wind conditions, I still could have manage to do it with my original plan of carrying additional gas as cargo. But on my day of flight from KL to Kuching, I encountered strong headwinds and ended up using 10 gallons more than planned. So, even after, transferring the 30 gallons from the Turtlepac in Kuching, I am about 10 gallons of Avgas short to reach Palawan safely. There is no Avgas here. I am stuck here for past three days trying all possible avenues to get Avgas but nothing so far, I am getting desperate.

As luck would have it, I ended up making contact with Sam Wong a friend of a friend. Sam finds out that Sabah Flying Club at Kota Kinabalu uses Avgas, but were down to the last barrel themselves. However, upon learning that my flight is a charity flight and the desperate situation I am in, the Sabah Club members committee with the blessing of President Mr. Leonard Chin, unanimously approved to give me half of their last barrel. Great show of support for my mission and a fellow pilot in need. I will never forget the heartwarming reception accorded to me by all the flying club members when I landed at Kota Kinabalu to take this gas. Thank you Sabah Flying Club for coming to my rescue!

I landed safely at Palawan, Philippines now, will get back home someday somehow. I am sure that all the difficulties I faced along the way will turn into GOOD memories when I am done.

Next stop Okinawa, Japan!