Pilots Blog: Little Plane vs. Big Ocean – The big leg to California

The irritating sound of my alarm bursts through the silence of a nice summer’s night in Hawaii to tell me the time has come to face my biggest challenge to date on the Wings Around the World journey.

It’s 12:45am, I only had 3 and a half hours of broken sleep and it was already time to get up, pack up my equipment and head to the airport. This may be the journey of a lifetime, but in the early hours of the morning the struggle is real

As I waited for my handler Candicelee from Air Service Hawaii, I had a last chat to the weather briefing office to make sure the forecasts hadn’t changed in the last 5 hours, and with all being ok I set off for the airport. I felt confidently nervous.

Two days prior we (my team and I) had delayed the trip across to California by 24 hours due to weather not being favourable with a hurricane to the south of my flight path. With the extra time up my sleeve I had managed to get some rest, but that also came with an extra 24 hours for my nerves to build up.

In the car with Candicelee it was very quiet as I contemplated what lay ahead of me, and what challenges I might face. I arrived at the airport at 2am, preflighted the aeroplane, packed the last of my bags, cleared the Department Of Agriculture check and carefully hopped in the Cirrus via the front of the wing. With a lot of fuel on board in my ferry tank, the plane was quite tail heavy (within the limits of what is approved) and had I put the same amount of pressure on the step that I normally did, the plane would tip towards the tail. Everything was measured to the nth degree, including my movements.

Starting the engine up, I received my clearance from Honolulu that I was cleared to fly to Hollister, California via my flight planned route at 9000 feet, so with that I began the take off roll and lifted into the pitch black night.

There were a few clouds around so it was very dark at take off, almost like flying in space, so I watched my instruments like a hawk and climbed steadily by those. Upon leaving VHF range I transitioned to the HF radio and began talking to San Francisco. It was a challenging and a very grueling first 3 hours as I was hand flying the aircraft purely by instruments, while trying to burp the tank and manage communications, fuel transfers, engine monitoring and more. Being very tired I decided some food was required to keep me awake so I burst out one of my precious muesli bars that took walking through 3 shops to find… but they were worth it.

After dawn broke, and the aircraft became lighter as fuel was burnt I transitioned from the hectic start of the flight to a more relaxed cruise. The next 10 hours felt like a lifetime and upon reaching the point of no return I was both nervous and excited. Nervous because it meant I had to get this right or go for a Pacific cruise in my life raft, but excited because it meant that one way or another, I was going to have finished this challenging leg of the journey soon and couldn’t turn back.

Around the 9-10 hour mark I was certainly ready to stretch the legs and thought surely this must be nearly over…Nope, there were 4 hours remaining. So I settled in and kept going with the routine I have come to know so well. I’ll give you a quick run down of my hourly workflow.

00:00 begin fuel transfer
00:15 position report with San Francisco
00:25 turn off fuel pumps and close valve
00:30 fill in the engine trend monitoring sheet and confirm fuel remaining is sufficient
00:40 wait until the hour is up to start again and monitor systems

By the time I reached the Californian coast line I thought I could just about kiss the ground. I also had figured out that my propeller had spun around almost 2.1 million times since I had taken off that morning. I guess long times on your own in a confined space do have an effect on you…

Overall it was a challenging, but very rewarding flight and certainly a relief to be over land again!

I’m looking forward to flying through the mainland US and enjoying some of the very exciting sights that I will get to see in the coming weeks! I’ll keep you updated and as usual, throw any question you might have in the comments.