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Plane on runway before takeoff

Flight Log – KBDN to UUDD

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Ever since my first trip to Russia in 1992, it has been my dream to fly a private plane from the United States to Moscow. On August 29, 2013, that dream came true: I took off from Bend, Oregon for the ultimate destination of Domodedovo Airport in Moscow.

My mission was to deliver an Epic LT to Moscow for its new owner, my co-pilot Vladimir Filev from S7 Airlines. We got a later start than planned and took off into a clear pre-dawn sky at 5:30 a.m. With five people plus baggage and survival gear on board, we were at our 7,500-pound gross weight and cruise climbing at 2,500 feet per minute. Our first stop in Juneau, Alaska, took three hours and 15 minutes. The journey there was blessed with beautiful clear skies, which was almost a disappointment — I couldn’t compare the radar system with the new Iridium satellite downlink system and the XM weather at the same time. To ensure constant communication throughout the trip, I had installed the built-in Iridium phone with weather downlink and brought my InReach communicator along so my friends and family could track me in real time across the globe.

The approach to Juneau offered one of the most beautiful views in North America. High mountains, glaciers, lava flows and ocean inlets created stunning landscapes on that clear day. I do wonder, though, how happy I would have been to arrive in less fortunate weather.

While we waited for fuel, floatplanes came and went from the parallel waterway. Traveling with the sun allowed us to gain back some of our lost time. UTC, or “Coordinated Universal Time,” was -9, versus -7 in Bend. Taking off from Juneau at 7:30 a.m. local meant we were back on schedule. Next stop: Nome.

We had a few vectors for military airspace on our way to Nome, but the journey was pretty uneventful after that. For a 48-stater like me, arriving at an airport with a working Flight Service Station brought back old memories.

Nome is along the very westernmost edge of North America, just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle. Approaching the airport, we could see the flotilla of makeshift gold dredgers out in force. Although only 3,700 people live in Nome, the airport is busy with all manner of cargo and people hauling propeller aircraft. The terminal looks like an outdated version of a set from the show Wings. The people there were incredibly friendly, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff (a one-man unit) made the entire process a smooth experience. The FSS also helps me fumble through the ICAO flight plan to Anadyr.

Here, I’ll pause to provide a bit of context about this worldwide voyage.

In order to take this plane to Russia, I needed several things, including completed 
U.S. export documents completed (AES system), a 
TSA waiver for transitioning the airspace between U.S. and Russia and a filed eAPIS
for departure.

My customer happened to be the owner of both the company and one of the largest airlines in Russia. Obtaining the flight permits and plans in Russia was simply a matter of coordinating with their flight department.

Now, back to the story — and just in time for the fun part. At this point in the journey, there were no more direct stops; it was all airways from here on out. We left Nome and headed straight out over the water for Valda intersection, where we entered Russian airspace. I was greeted on the radio in excellent English as I approached. For the first time, I was asked for an estimate for crossing BC (Provideniya radio beacon). I quickly calculated UTC for the crossing and provided the time. The controller requested that I report crossing BC. At that point, I changed the local time in my Garmin setup to +-0 UTC. This change came in handy throughout the rest of the flight since I was continually asked for fix crossing estimates. Although this seemed a little strange, I had a feeling there wouldn’t be much talking on the radio without it.

Although this was one of the shortest legs of our journey by distance, the headwind of 107 knots proved to be the worst. Thank goodness we filled up in Nome. My InReach started flashing that I was receiving messages; it was my family back home, sending me congratulations. Isn’t it amazing to be in touch, all around the globe?

The Anadyr ATIS was in English and the weather as we approached was good. I requested the QNH altimeter from approach. With a couple clicks on the screen, I changed my altimeter setting from Hg to hPa. The QNH and QFE matter can be confusing, so here’s a quick breakdown:

• QFE = Altimeter set so that (0) will show at Field Elevation
• QNH = Altimeter set so that MSL will show at field elevation. (That’s how we do it in the U.S.A.)
• On the Jeppesen charts, there is a QNH and QFE box for each airport that lists the Meters QFE of likely altitudes to be assigned in feet AGL and feet MSL. The transition altitude in the U.S. is 18,000 feet, where we switch to STD BARO; in Russia, it is different depending on airport and barometric pressure, but it is usually around 6,000 feet — as they say, “FL60” (they never say 060).
• On most approaches and departures, there is only one assignment in meters (300 or 500) and then you are cleared for the approach or given a flight level. As such, conversions aren’t that big of a deal – just get the Jeppesen charts out before you get close.

Back to the story!

While flying the ILS into Anadyr, I noticed the Pathway (or highway-in-the-sky) boxes would disappear and come back. I think was a result of GPS issues and correlation between the GPS and the ILS. In any case, the normal CDI and vertical guidance marks worked fine and I could see out the window.

Upon landing, I was cleared to taxi back and the follow-me car led me in. I was brought to a red painted box away from all the buildings, where I was greeted by a busload and truckload of customs and border people. After shutdown, they asked for the crew only; I come with them to another truck. My wife and the others had to wait in the plane while I filled out paperwork; which, of course, .I filled out wrong and had to do all over. Fortunately, an airline guy from Moscow was there to help and filled it all out for me. I have no idea what I signed, but it was enough for me that everyone could go to the terminal and use the facilities. We took on fuel. Prior to leaving, I researched Russian grades of jet fuel and the fuel we took had a lower freezing point than Jet A. As such, no prist was required.

I was ready to start my engine when Vadim (a Boeing pilot along for the ride) told me that I needed to get my clearance and approval for engine start prior to starting. Getting the clearance was no problem, as was the engine start request. I was cleared to taxi as soon as I requested it. The tower cleared me to “line up and takeoff” and off we went on our first Russia-Russia leg and our last leg of a long day.

While climbing, Vadim told me to inform them I had taken off. I was confused.

“Don’t they have a window?”

He told me that’s just what you do – you tell them you took off.

Ok. “N600BD is airborne.”

“Roger – contact Departure.”

Interesting…

Contacting Departure, I was immediately greeted with a climb to FL280 and another request for a fix crossing time. I guessed at the time (the Garmin couldn’t figure out climb vs. cruise performance in advance) and away we went. The flight to Magadan was fairly uneventful until the descent.

“N600BD cross 50 kilometers Northeast of Magadan at 900 meters.”

Where was my calculator? “Uh – roger.”

All four of the others were asleep. Vadim was actually snoring into the headset. Right then, the autopilot pitched up un-commanded. I was moving along at 265KIAS and I turn off the autopilot. I needed to do math and I didn’t have my calculator handy. Can you say, “Cockpit resource management?”

It was time to wake up my passengers and get some help. I nudged my co-pilot, Vladislav, and asked him to play autopilot while I got my calculator handy. I knew that a kilometers-to-knots conversion should have been easy, but I’d been flying all day, I was exhausted, and I was running out of active brain cells. I woke up my wife and she handed me my iPhone — the only calculator handy at the time. I figured out where I was supposed to be at altitude and programmed it into the Garmin. Finally, I could breathe. The rest of the approach and landing was uneventful.

The runway at Magadan is newly surfaced and beautiful. The ramp is another story. It’s undergoing repairs and I was concerned about the poor airplane as I dodged potholes and large cracks and rocks. Again, we had a follow-me car guiding us to our spot, where a friendly greeting party of airline employees emerged to welcome us. After securing the plane, we enjoyed the 45-minute drive to the hotel.

The Magadan area is beautiful, crossed with rivers and mountain streams. The locals told us of the large salmon caught in them and ask if we can stay and fish. Restoration projects are underway all over town and some, like the cathedral, are already complete. Many roads have been freshly re-paved. You can see that money is being put into infrastructure here.

My wife Victoria, Vadim, and I enjoyed a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant. We were the only patrons and we had a great time discussing the day’s flights. We found it hard to believe that we started the day in Bend and were ending it in Magadan. Only at that time did it dawn on me, that although we never lost sight of the sun, it was already the next day. The discussion turned to Around the World in 80 Days, and it felt like we were living out our own fantastic version of the classic story.

Early the next morning, we headed to the airport. On pre-flight I noticed a few bolts missing from the lower cowl attachment. We had a pretty extensive fly away kit, so I recommended that we use it to repair the plane. Vlad got to fix his plane on his birthday; how’s that for a birthday gift?

Once we boarded the plane, we smoothly moved through the call for clearance, call for engine start, call for taxi, takeoff, and we let them know we were airborne. That part never stopped seeming funny to me over the course of the whole trip. We were again given a clearance straight up to FL280. The Garmin performed flawlessly tracking airways. The G900 installation on this aircraft shows the nearest airport at all times on the left side of the MFD; about one hour into the flight from Magadan to Yakutsk, the screen changed to “No Nearest Airport within 200NM.” I had never seen that displayed. It was severely clear outside and you could see for hundreds of miles; I couldn’t see evidence of mankind in any direction. No roads, railroads, power line cuts, logging – nothing. I think the controller asked for our estimated time of crossing the next fix so he can nap.

Finally, we arrived in Yakutsk, a beautiful area on the edge of a large river. The airport terminal looked brand new and a follow-me truck came out to lead us in. Two VIP busses pulled up to the plane – the greetings continued to get better as we traveled west. I don’t think anyone told them our arrival was solely a single-engine airplane. We received the VIP experience while the aircraft was refueled. After a short stop, we headed for Bratsk.

Bratsk is located on a man-made lake created by a large hydroelectric dam. The VIP hall is new and has great espresso. There is even a “smoking closet,” which my wife enjoyed. It looked like a large glass phone booth, but inside there were air cleaners and an ashtray. This is probably our quickest stop.

After departure and yet another declaration of “N600BD is airborne,” we set off for Novosibirsk. We ran into our first bout of inclement weather as we approached, which gave me a chance to try out some of the new gadgets. It’s strange,;I had been hoping for more weather while my wife, however, had not.

Less than one year prior, I had been to Novosibirsk while visiting the airline and the aircraft testing facility, called Sibnia. I was not expecting the greeting party. Press, friends, family, co-workers and local officials greeted our arrival warmly. In the VIP hall, a fantastic party waited for us. Champagne, caviar, delicious appetizers and a room brimming with aviation enthusiasm made for a wonderful way to end day two of our trip. We spent the night in the Doubletree Hotel.

The next day, we took off into the rainy crud. Now it made a little more sense to let them know we were airborne. Again, a quick climb to 280, and we were on our way to Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk). Taxiing at Yekaterinburg was a little confusing due to the construction projects taking place all around. We figured it out and found our follow-me car, which led us to park in front of the “old terminal.” The large airline terminal looks brand new and the old “Sverdlovsk” terminal has been beautifully restored. Two large black Audis whisked us into the VIP hall, where marble columns stretched before the ornate ceiling and beautiful chandeliers lit up the hall. Entering a private room, we were offered all manner of refreshments. The CEO of the airport proudly showed us around the facility. I kicked myself for leaving my iPad and iPhone in the plane so I couldn’t take any pictures. All around we saw posters documenting Yekaterinburg’s attempt at getting the 2020 Expo to come to the area. This airport had the first evidence I had seen of business aviation in Russia: a flyer for a local charter operator.

Leaving Yekaterinburg was much like the rest of our departures. After “airborne,” we climbed straight to 280. VIP halls, follow-me cars, unrestricted climbs – I could get used to the Russian aviation community.

Arriving at Domodedovo airport, the ATIS reported QNH automatically. We were vectored around a bit but mostly flew the arrival as published. The pubs were confusing; each page represented multiple arrivals with different options. There must have been more than 100 procedures for Domodedovo. Vadim, who has flown in and out of there hundreds of times, was incredibly helpuful. We touched down in the rain and I was told to taxi to stand “Zero Eight.” Well, that was what I thought he said. We were actually being told to go to “Sierra Eight.” None of us onboard understood and we couldn’t find 08 on any of the airport maps. I requested progressive and I think that sent them into confusion about what to do next. It was all very cordial, but a bit perplexing. Add to that the rain and the afternoon traffic and we had an interesting time getting to where we need to go. Finally, we shut down and were led into the business aviation hall. The ramp looked like any ramp at a metro airport — Citations, Hawkers, Gulfstreams and Lears dotted the pavement. The traffic was not nearly as busy as even Portland, but at least you could see they had experience dealing with private aircraft here. A Pilatus pulled up after us. At first, they wanted us to clear customs, until they found out we were coming from Yekaterinburg. They led us upstairs after that to a great big surprise party for Vladislav – it was his 50th birthday, after all.

In the following days, I was fortunate to take some local area flights to familiarize the pilots with the plane. We touched up a checklist so it followed their procedures for getting clearance before engine start and the like. On the weekend, Moscow celebrated its own birthday, which was also the first time in five days that it didn’t rain. I was assured this was no accident – there is an air wing in Moscow for changing the weather. (Google it!)

Air France flew us to Paris and an A380 brought us back to Los Angeles. I had my own Epic LT delivered to me at Santa Monica airport and flew back to Bend. My journey around the globe was complete.

Looking back, I am amazed how easy it was to navigate the globe. I became involved in Epic because the product is amazing. A simple single engine land private pilot chased the sun from Bend, Oregon to Moscow, Russia, all the while staying in voice and text communication with real time weather updates and detailed moving maps that showed the tiniest villages and streams. It was an incredible experience and a once-in-a-lifetime way to say, “Happy Birthday Vlad!”

By Doug King, CEO