Friday, February 15, 2019

Final post: Facts, Figures, and Appreciation

By Jack

With RTW 3.0 (westbound) officially complete, I thought I would offer some facts and figures regarding the journey and final words of appreciation for some of the people that helped make the trip possible. For comparison, facts and figures from the two previous RTW trips are here and here.

Facts and Figures

These data cover flight legs from November 25, 2018 until January 23, 2019.

Distance: 29,899 nautical miles (or 34,384 statue miles) per the flight plans.

Flight hours: 139.4.

Average ground speed: 215 knots (246 mph). Several long legs were conducted at long range cruise power which is slower than typical but provides maximum range.

Wind: Average headwind component of two knots (per the flight plans). We got lucky with the winds on several legs. Normally fighting headwinds is seen as a disadvantage of a westbound RTW, but we ended-up almost neutral.

Continents landed in5North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

Countries over-flown30: United States, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile, Cook Islands [1], Niue [1], New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Maldives, Seychelles, France (French Polynesia, Mayotte, and French Guiana), Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Angola, United Kingdom (St.Helena), Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Netherlands (CuraƧao), and Jamaica.

Countries landed in18: United States, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile, Niue [1], New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Maldives, Seychelles, France (French Polynesia and Mayotte), Botswana, Angola, United Kingdom (St.Helena), Brazil, Guyana, and Jamaica.

[1] Cook Islands and Niue are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand.

In total, I have landed in 44 different countries in N575PC as PIC since acquiring the plane in December 2008. Josh and Becky have been with us for all but six of those countries and Carolyn  missed three.

Most southern point: 37.0 degrees south at Auckland, New Zealand.

Most northern point: 30.2 degrees north at Austin, Texas, USA.

Equatorial crossings: 4 at approximately 82 degrees west, 105 degrees east, 66 degrees east, and 50 degrees west.

Longest flight (distance)1,784 NM or 2,050 SM (St. Helena to Recife, Brazil)

Shortest flight (distance)145 NM or 167 SM (Tahiti, French Polynesia to Bora Bora, French Polynesia)

Average flight (distance)1,068 NM or 1,228 SM

Longest flight (time)8+42 (St. Helena to Recife, Brazil)

Shortest flight (time)0+40 (Bora Bora, French Polynesia to Tahiti, French Polynesia)

Average flight (time)4+52

Flights cancelled due to maintenance issuesZero (the plane performed perfectly!)
.
Modifications to the plane: None (the plane is totally stock from the factory).

Flights cancelled due to weatherZero. Other than three instances of paper work delays amounting to a few hours in total, we kept to the original pre-departure schedule almost exactly.

Time in icing conditions: Essentially zero. Maybe a few minutes of light rime ice.

Time in IMC (clouds): 5% approximately.

Time in light or greater turbulence: 4% as a rough estimate. Most of that was about two hours of light and occasional moderate turbulence (in perfectly clear air) flying from Georgetown, Guyana to Montego Bay, Jamaica. I'd say less than 1% of flight time was moderate and nothing worse than moderate.

Scary events in flight: None - just like I like it.  We saw lots of unusual places, but the actual flying was pretty routine with a couple of exceptions (the arrivals at Singapore and St. Helena, most notably, which both worked out well).

Emails: 1,136 emails related to this flight since May 2017.


Appreciation

Making this trip happen required the collective effort of many people.  I was mainly the bus driver. I can't possibly name everyone involved, but here are a few.

The entire Foxtrot Team at Universal Weather provided the overarching coordination of permits and ground handling for the trip.  Despite this being a very complex trip and well outside the type of flights they normally handle, the Foxtrot Team did an excellent job.

We were fortunate to meet many very helpful ground handling folks along the way. While we got great service from many ground handlers, Jose G. of Aerocardal in Chile deserves special mention in that he arranged for the unusual fuel delivery (in barrels) to Robinson Crusoe Island which normally has no fuel.

Josh and Becky were true partners on this trip in every sense of the word. Josh spent many hours in the months prior to the flight taking the lead on important pieces of the logistics, especially the special fuel arrangements at Robinson Crusoe Island and in the outlying islands of French Polynesia.  In the cockpit, Josh took more than his fair share of the workload (including the often difficult task of communicating with air traffic control) and helped keep us safe by double-checking everything I did at the controls. He caught more than one error of mine before it caused a problem. Becky with her ever present good humor and energy helped keep the pilots well fed and hydrated in flight. On the ground, Becky was always up for an adventure encouraging us explore beyond the sky.

There was no support more important to me than that of my wonderful partner in life, Carolyn. Being her third trip of this sort, she has been incredibly patient and supportive of my passion.  It is a generous expression of love for which I will always be thankful. When we started this journey, she said this likely would be her last 360 degree trip. Toward the end of the trip, over dinner one night with Josh and Becky, she said "Maybe on the next trip we can...." I took that as a sign there is hope for another grand adventure in our mutually intertwined lives, but even if not I am grateful for her support on these three long journeys.

That is a wrap on the trip and this blog. I hope a few folks have enjoyed following along for bits-and-pieces of the journey. These three RTW flights and writing the journals for each of them  have been one of the high points of my life. The technical challenge of the trip, the fantastic scenes of remote corners of this earth, and the camaraderie with our travelling companions was simply wonderful.

Until the next adventure...signing-off.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The "Sprint" from St. Helena to Austin

By Jack

Between January 20 and 23, we flew four consecutive days in a "sprint" home starting in St. Helena/FHSH island in the middle of the South Atlantic and ending back at our home base of Austin, Texas/KAUS thus "closing the loop" on our 360 degrees of flying. These four days of flying totalled 6,213 NM (7,145 SM).

If you don't want to read this whole post, please scan down to an amazing photo toward the end of our trusty ride framed by a double rainbow on the morning of our last flight. Looks like a fake, but it is exactly what we were greeted with that morning.


The overnight stops were Recife, Brazil/SBRF, Georgetown, Guyana/SYCJ, and Montego Bay, Jamaica/MKJS. Sao Luis, Brazil/SBSL was a fuel stop and a frustrating one at that (more on why later).

On prior trips, the most consecutive days of flying we have done has been three, so Josh and I considered fatigue issues for the four day sprint. We decided we could stay well rested by not attempting to cram anything else into these days. No touring, going out to restaurants (room service or the hotel restaurant was the norm) or other activities. Just fly, eat, and rest. It also helped that we "gained" six time zone hours over the trip so that we could depart at a fairly civil local time in the morning and arrive mid-afternoon local time. Thus we always had at least a 14 hour rest period and more than 16 hours for three of the days. As it turned out, this plan worked fine. Neither of us felt unusual fatigue issues. 

Here is a quick summary of each flying day. Less detail than normal as these flight were fairly routine with the exception of some hassles with customs and immigration at two stops. 

St. Helena to Recife, Brazil - January 20

The flight from St. Helena to Recife, Brazil was the longest single flight of the entire trip at 1,784 NM (2,050 SM).  We conducted it at long range cruise power to ensure we had ample fuel reserves. The flight plan called for 8+30 flight time with 10+30 fuel on board, so we were comfortable that we had enough fuel to handle unexpected events. Also, the weather forecast for both enroute and the arrival at Recife was excellent. 

The satellite picture just prior to departing St. Helena...


The high level significant weather forecast was also clear for our route...



We all enjoyed our time at St. Helena and were a bit sad to leave, but it was time to head home after two months on the road. Weather for the departure was good other than some lower clouds over the middle of the airport. However, we could see clearer skies just to the east and north of the airport over the water which would be our emergency return route should something happen immediately after take-off.





As we departed, we made a big circle to cross the island at or above 4,000 FT (the required departure procedure) and got a few nice views of the island through the broken clouds.   As usual, Carolyn made a video of the departure...

YouTube link: https://youtu.be/RpW_PBYLbfA


The St. Helena tower controller even accommodated our request to provide VHF relay to Luanda Oceanic until we reached the boundary with the Atlantico Oceanic FIR. This allowed us to avoid the need to contact Luanda on HF which had proved impossible on the flight to St. Helena. He also called and got the land line number for Atlantico in case we had trouble contacting them on HF (+55 812 1298 330 for reference). We had to use the sat phone for the first call to Atlantico, but had good HF comms thereafter.

Other than being long, the flight was almost completely uneventful. Good weather the whole way and reasonably easy communications. Atlantico had us contact them about every hour with an "operations normal" and position report. On these long flights, Josh and I take turns retiring to the back to stretch and even take a short nap.  While we had a "crew rest" seat available, I tended to stretch out on the floor for "power naps" along the way.


The arrival at Recife was easy and the handlers efficient. Brazil has some of the most burdensome customs and immigration paperwork in the world, but for this stop the handlers had it all prepared in advance and I just signed my name about a dozen times. After I had signed everything, the handler departed while we refueled and we met her in the terminal after refueling with everything stamped and approved. We were at our hotel a few minutes later and had a relaxing afternoon and evening. All in all, an easy flight.

Recife, Brazil to Georgetown, Guyana - January 21

After a good night's rest, we departed Recife for Georgetown, Guyana with a planned fuel stop at Sao Luis, Brazil.  The weather for the leg from Recife to Sao Luis was forecast to be good with only a small area of potential thunderstorms along the way which never developed along our route (although some weather did build well east of our route).



This first leg of the day's flying was easy and uneventful. Good VHF comms the whole way and we were in radar contact. The flying was beginning to feel like home again.

The trouble started after we landed at Sao Luis.

Initially, it looked like the expected quick refueling stop was going as planned. The fuel truck arrived promptly and our handler had another big stack of paperwork prepared in advance. Then the handler gave us the bad news.

In Brazil, immigration must check the paperwork of every flight departing the country. There is no full time  immigration staff at Sao Luis, so the Federal Police handle immigration functions for the airport. The normal procedure is for the handler to request Federal Police presence at the airport well in advance to clear a particular flight. There is no permanent Federal Police office at the airport and thus an officer travels to the airport from their main station in town, about a 45 minute round-trip drive.

But, the Federal Police office did not show up this day. The handler swore he had notified them in plenty of time (more than a week prior), but the ball got dropped somewhere and there was no one at the airport that could give us the all important official stamps approving our departure from Brazil. After many phone calls, the handler said the only practical option was for him to drive me (as "Captain" of the flight) to the police station in town with our paperwork. Ugh.

I get in a car with the handler and we drive into town. Once at the Federal Police station it takes a while to find the right person who eventually gives us all the required stamps. Then back to the airport.  On top of the delay with the immigration stamps, there also was a problem getting our flight plan filed because it needed special codes in the remarks section indicating we had paid our landing fees ("landing fee number").   I was busily emailing the main handling office in Recife to try to get the flight plan filed while riding in the car back to the airport from the police station.

So what should have been a one hour stop turned into three hours by the time we had all the right paperwork and the flight plan in the system.  The local handler apologized profusely and said they recognized they had a problem that needed to be solved.

We finally departed around 1400 local for the planned 4+34 flight to Georgetown, Guyana. By this time in the afternoon, some weather was building just north of the Sao Luis airport and we knew some deviations would be required.


We deviated to the west of the weather system and while we were IMC for a while, we managed a smooth ride and stayed out of all the precipitation using the onboard weather radar. The deviations added a bit of time to the flight and we landed in Georgetown about 4+52 after departing Sao Luis. It was still daylight when we landed, but getting dark quickly. Along the way we crossed the equator for the fourth time and caught a glance of the Amazon River delta through the clouds...




We were greeted on the ramp at Georgetown by a large contingent of officials.



Then our second paperwork hassle of the day began. The subject of great concern this time was that we did not have a "General Declaration" form stamped by Brazilian officials. We had several officially stamped documents from Brazil indicating we were authorized to depart Brazil, but for some reason the Guyana officials wanted a form indicating Brazil had authorized us to land in Guyana. Huh? We went round-and-round trying to explain that Brazil could only authorize us to leave their country (for which we had paperwork) and not enter Guyana. After about 45 minutes of back-and-forth, the officials finally agreed our paperwork was adequate and admitted us to the country and allowed refueling to begin.

After we refueled, they required us to move the plane from the main airline terminal to a remote parking area. By now it was dark and I taxied the plane behind a "follow me" vehicle and then on an unlighted taxiway to the parking area. I cut one corner too tight on the unlighted part of the taxi and the right wheel went into the dirt, but fortunately our plane is designed to handle soft surfaces and there was not a problem.

Finally, about two hours after landing, we were on our way to the hotel in downtown Georgetown. The main airport is about 25 miles from downtown, so it was a fairly long drive, but the security situation in Guyana is not the best and we wanted to stay in the best hotel in town which was the Marriott downtown. There is another airport much closer to downtown where customs and immigration can be arranged, but I chose the main airport (a former US Air Force base) because I thought the plane would be more secure there overnight. But, if we ever go to Guyana again (which I doubt), I will do more research into the closer to town airport as it would probably save 90 minutes or more (round-trip) of driving on the quite chaotic road from the main airport to town.


Georgetown, Guyana to Montego Bay, Jamaica - January 22

Hoping we had the paperwork hassles of the previous day behind us, our driver picked us up at 7:30a and we headed for the main Georgetown airport. Unlike the prior evening headed into the city, it was rush hour as we headed back to the airport. The road was clogged with all manner of vehicles and pedestrians and the trip took about 90 minutes.

Once we got to the airport, things went pretty smoothly. We taxied the plane back from the remote parking area, the paperwork went smoothly, and we got our clearance to Montego Bay, Jamaica without a problem.

The weather for the long flight 1,397 NM flight to Montego Bay, Jamaica was forecast to very good with no clouds at cruise altitude.




Oddly, we did experience some of the worst cruise level turbulence of the entire trip for the first part of this flight.  We had almost continuous light, occasionally moderate chop for well over one hour. It was not forecast so surprised us a bit. Nothing dangerous, just annoying.

We were a little worried about overflying a large hunk of Venezuelan airspace given our US aircraft registration and the current state of political relations between the countries. Venezuela does not require overflight permits, but they have been denying access to their airspace if their records show any unpaid navigation fees associated with the registration number of the airplane even if the unpaid fees were from many years prior and perhaps when the aircraft had a different owner. We've owned N575PC for over 10 years and I was not aware that the prior owner (a Oklahoma trucking company) did any flying outside the US, so I was pretty confident we would not have a problem. However, I did feel a little relieved when we got the clearance to enter Venezuelan airspace without a problem.

The rest of the flight Montego Bay, Jamaica was uneventful.  It was cloudy and windy when approached Montego Bay so an ILS approach was required, but that all went smoothly. The FBO at Montego Bay had a very US feel to it and even had an on-site customs and immigration official to clear us into the country. Unfortunately this official had misplaced his all important rubber stamp which caused a delay while we waited for another offical to arrive with his stamp. Everyone was very friendly and we felt a little bad for the young man that had lost his stamp as it seemed like it might have career consequences for him if he did not find it.

Even with that small delay, we were refueled and to our nearby hotel by around 1600 local time and had a relaxing evening and a good night's rest. The flight the next day would be the last of the entire trip.

Montego Bay, Jamaica to Austin, Texas - January 23

The last day of the trip had arrived and it was bitter-sweet. It had been a long trip (two months away) and thus we were all looking forward seeing family and friends. But the trip had gone so well and we had such great experiences it was sad to see it end. All Josh and I could do was focus on making this last 1,332 NM flight to Austin as comfortable and trouble-free as the rest of the flights.

As we arrived at the FBO there was some light rain which created one of the most incredible scenes of the entire trip. The photo below may look like a fake, but it is exactly what we saw as we prepared the plane for the final leg of the long journey.


A beautiful double rainbow framing our trusty bird perfectly.  We took it as a good omen for the completion of our journey.

Weather for the first part of the flight looked fine, but there was some chance of thunderstorm activity as we approached the Texas coast.




While there was no weather along the route as we departed, we expected we might need to deviate a few hours later when we got close to Texas.

After a couple of hours we entered Cuban airspace talking to Havana Control. For a child of the Cold War generation that had an eerie feel to it, but Cuban overflight permits are routinely issued and the Cuban controllers were very professional, so no issue.

About halfway to home, we got a re-route which we suspect was in anticipation of the building weather ahead over the Gulf of Mexico just off the eastern coast of Texas.  As we approached home, our satellite XM weather link came back to life for the first time in two months showing an intense band of lightning about 200 NM off the coast.


The re-route though Houston Oceanic airspace we had been given earlier kept us clear of the weather and thus no deviations were required. We even got a bit of a shortcut after cleared the end of the weather line.

This flight also had some of the strongest winds aloft of the whole trip (about 100 KTS at times), fortunately mainly at a 90 degree angle to our flight path and thus having minimal impact on our ground speed.  But the wind made for an interesting shaped glide range ring on our ForeFlight display.



If we had had to glide to a landing, we could have gone about 150 NM to the east, but only about 25 NM to the west.

The descent and landing at our "home drome" of Austin/KAUS was all normal with good weather other than strong surface winds which created a few bumps, but nothing bad.  As we pulled into our home FBO of Atlantic Aviation, a US Customs vehicle met us and quickly cleared us back into the USA. The whole customs process took less than five minutes.

The Atlantic Aviation crew gave us a nice welcome with balloons and gifts.  The Foxtrot team from Universal Weather that had provided us expert support for the whole trip in terms of permits and coordination of ground handling at each stop also sent us a nice gift basket and a map of the world with our route marked on it. Note in the photos below the ladies had indulged me and worn their very cool pilot uniforms for this last arrival of the trip.




With our very cool St. Helena Airport hats which were a parting gift from the St. Helena airport manager three days prior...


Back at our home in Austin, we celebrated with champagne posed in front of some of our memorabilia from the polar round-the-world flight including my very cherished British Antarctic Survey aviation charts.


So that was a wrap for the whole two month long adventure.

I'll write one final post with fun facts and some much deserved gratitude to the many people who made this trip happen, but the short version is the trip went better than any of us could have imagined. The plane performed perfectly. We stayed almost exactly on schedule with no significant weather delays. No scary flying events. Everyone stayed healthy.

A trip none of us will ever forget.



Thursday, January 31, 2019

Random Details

by Carolyn

No doubt, Jack will have a final post with all kinds of flying details, but I've also got some odds and ends to share...maybe things you've always wanted to know but were afraid to ask??

1. Yes, I did have to get a haircut! By the time we got to Brisbane, Becky and I were desperate. We wandered downtown and found a newly opened salon with a price point ($20) that worked for us. The stylists spoke Korean, and we didn't, but it's not brain surgery, so all is fine.

2. We are all coffee addicts. Hotels offer various Nespresso machines or French presses. Some only have instant Nescafe. In Maldives when we said we wanted milk in our coffee they put hot milk in our thermos and then added instant coffee.
Mixing Nescafe and hot water on the ramp
3. All the bottled water carried on is ultimately is converted to full “travel johns” that are carried off.

It works
Water from around the world





4. Some countries scan bags coming OFF the plane (looking for biological material or contraband), some scan our bags going ONTO our plane, some airports require we pass thru metal detectors, one even gave us a pat-down. You just have to smile and be patient.

5.  Every stop required refueling, which involves unpacking the luggage compartment to get a can of Prist fuel additive. Several stops required re-positioning the airplane (pushing it somewhere).
Getting the prist

Refueling Banda Ache 

Refueling San Juan Island

Refueling Tureia 

Refueling Nuie
Re-positioning 
6. Most of the countries we visited and most of the places we stayed have perfectly safe tap water for brushing teeth, etc. but sometime in an abundance of caution, we'd use bottled water.

7. We had to always think about our next meal on flying days...procuring food, often both breakfast and lunch, but finally got it figured out: “Save those leftovers! That's your lunch tomorrow.”



8. But then you must throw away all fruits, meats, and vegetables when you land in a new country!

9. Becky and I were able to have Happy Hour a couple of times on the plane, with glasses made from plastic water bottles.
Cheers!
10. Staying more than one one night in the same place is a luxury!!

11. Not all internet is created equally. Easter Island and St. Helena Island were the slowest at 3G and you had to purchase it in 30 minute increments.

12. Most of the time upon landing we were ushered into an FBO, but sometimes we had to deal with a commercial terminal. Not all FBO's are created equally (Banda Ache, your bathrooms need attention!)
Santiago, Chile - A
Guayfile, Equador - C+
13. There is nothing to compare to the joy of FREE GUEST LAUNDRY! But, we frequently had to wash clothes with shower gel in the bathroom sink.
Who knew the sight of washers and dryers would be so exciting!!
14. Jack does get up and rest occasionally because he has a great co-pilot!

And, there are so many cool things I saw that never made it into a blog:
A waterspout in Seychelles
Nutmeg grows on a tree inside a thick fruit and is wrapped in red mace, another spice.
This was in the airport in Uluru, Australia
This was in our bungalow in Easter Island
We only spent two months on this trip...and it's a really big world!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

St. Helena Airport Tour

By Jack

On January 19, Josh and I spent the afternoon at the St. Helena Airport/FHSH getting a "behind the scene" tour of the met office and the control tower. Many thanks to meteorologist Tim Baker and ATC specialist Bernard Msengeti for hosting us to this most unique operation.

Tim and Bernard have a great view from their "offices"...




The Met Office

We started in the met office with Tim explaining his work and schedule. The St. Helena met office is operated by the UK Met Office and Tim works for the UK government. There are a handful of remote  meteorological offices run by the main UK Met Office and UK based meteorologists "bid" on temporary assignments (generally six months at a time) at those exotic locales...St. Helena, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, and Rothera Base in Antarctica to name a few. Tim has served in Gibraltar and St. Helena on two tours.

As mentioned in a prior post, the forecast the St. Helena Met Office produces goes way beyond the typical terminal area forecast (TAF) we receive at home. A normal TAF is produced for St. Helena, but there are also regular three day outlooks and specific detailed forecasts for each day a flight is scheduled to arrive.

A sample three day outlook...


The detailed forecast for our arrival date...


And the normal TAF for our arrival date which does not seem very useful in comparison to the other two forecasts...


Tim gave us a very detailed telephone briefing the day before our flight and explained that due to the topography around the airport, there often can be low clouds over the center of the airfield yet the approach ends of each runway can be mostly clear. Thus, there are occasions when the formal report of the cloud base taken at mid-field shows low cloud, but arriving aircraft can clearly see the landing zone at the end of each runway. This can create an unusual situation where arriving pilots report the runway in sight yet the plane cannot be seen from the control tower or the met office.

Another very unique feature of the St. Helena met operation is the use of LIDAR (Light Detection & Ranging) to evaluate the wind conditions on the approach path to the runway. LIDAR is a form of radar that uses a laser pulse rather than radio waves to survey the atmosphere. For the St. Helena airport, the LIDAR is located at the end of the runway and focused up at an angle of three degrees along the normal approach path. Using the LIDAR equipment, the wind speed to or from the LIDAR unit can be displayed at a continuous range from the end of the runway out several miles.  Wind shear is, in effect, a rapid change in wind speed or direction over a short distance. Using the LIDAR some types of wind shear can be detected directly.


For example, in the image above one can see a rapid change in the relative wind velocity off the approach end of runway 20 (LIDAR pointing north - azimuth 359 degrees true) at about 11:40 UTC from a positive 5 m/s at about 400 meters from the end of the runway to a relative velocity of about negative 5 m/s around 600 meters from the runway.

When we landed on January 17, I reported to Tim that we had experienced some light wind shear on short final. He said he had expected as much from the LIDAR display. Pretty neat. Using LIDAR for wind shear detection is not a common technology and is employed at only a few airports around the world (the Hong Kong airport being one).

The Control Tower

After the very interesting met office briefing, we went upstairs to the control tower "cab."  The twice weekly SA Airlink flight was due to arrive in about an hour and we were invited to observe its arrival from the tower. This turned out to be more exciting than expected.

ATC specialist Bernard Msengeti gave us a tour of the tower and the equipment they use which is mainly fairly typical for a air traffic control tower. Displays of wind (center and each runway end), clouds, visibility, VHF radios, an HF radio (rarely used we were told), and telephone links to Luanada Oceanic which controls all flights until they are "handed-off" to the St. Helena tower.

The view from the tower is impressive...



As the Airlink flight approached the airport, the clouds were not clearing as rapidly as expected.  The flight crew asked for the same RNAV DME LOC Rwy 20 we had used two days prior and Bernard cleared them for that approach.

As time passed and we knew the Embraer 190 aircraft should be close to the runway, but we could not see anything but broken clouds. Then we suddenly saw the plane break out of the clouds about 400 FT above the runway, but well to the left of the normal approach path.  We saw the plane start to turn right in order to align better with the runway, but it almost immediately executed a missed approach and disappeared back into the clouds. Tension in the tower increased as the crew reported the missed approach and said they were circling around for another try using a visual approach.

The go around looked wise to us given their low altitude and being so far to the left of the runway centerline. Attempting to salvage the approach probably would have been difficult and unstabilized.  We aren't sure why they were so far off course, but guess they were attempting to maneuver visually in order to keep the runway in sight through the broken clouds and just could not maintain visual contact along the extended runway centerline.

As they circled around for a second attempt, we could not see them at all. Clouds were pretty solid over the center of the airfield and the control tower. However, as mentioned above, due to the unusual topography around the airport, it is not uncommon for visibility from the tower to be more restricted than what pilots can see on the approach path.

So we all waited in the tower to see how this approach would work out.

After a few minutes, we saw the plane on final approach at about 500 FT above the runway and well aligned. We can't be certain, but from our perspective it looked like the crew would not have seen the runway until on short final. This time the plane got over the runway normally, but "floated" down the runway just a few feet off the pavement without touching down. At about the halfway point on the runway and with the wheels still not down on the pavement,  the crew executed another go around. At this point the tower was quiet and you could cut the tension with a knife. No one knew if the plane had enough fuel for a third attempt or would need to divert to Ascension Island over 700 NM to the north.

Once again the go around looked like a wise move to us. With less than half the runway remaining to get down and stopped, it was just too risky to continue the landing attempt. This is especially true at St. Helena given this note in the pilot briefing information about the airport...


At some airports in the unfortunate event that an aircraft runs off the end of the runway, there is a nice extended area of relatively level ground on which to stop.  The plane may be damaged, but everyone is likely to walk away. At St. Helena there is a 1,000 FT shear cliff to the ocean very close to the end of the runway.



Smart move by the AirLink crew to go around given the risks of not getting stopped in time.

Everyone in the tower was waiting to hear if they were diverting to Ascension Island or going to make another attempt. After a couple of minutes the crew called and requested the RNAV DME LOC Rwy 20 approach again (not the visual). We all assumed this would be their last attempt before a diversion would be required.  Fortunately, this third approach attempt worked out well with a perfectly normal landing. Everyone in the tower breathed a little more easily. We knew the passengers on the plane were likely pretty shaken-up and later heard several came off the plane in tears. But, they were there safe and, from our perspective as pilots, the AirLink crew had made the right decisions with the two missed approaches.

The FlightRadar24 track of the January 19 flight...


Having had enough excitement for the day, we bid Tim and Bernard goodbye and headed back into town. The next night we hosted Tim and Bernard's ATC colleague Bramwell to dinner in town which was a lot of fun (Bernard was invited but not available for this last minute get-together).


The next day (January 20), we had to depart St. Helena and start our four day "sprint" back home to Austin.  We wished we had had more time in St. Helena as it was most fascinating and friendly place.

Final post: Facts, Figures, and Appreciation

By Jack With RTW 3.0 (westbound) officially complete, I thought I would offer some facts and figures regarding the journey and final words...