pacific with and without gps

pacific with and without gps

November 1994 – Outward bound to the USA in a Baron – Inward Bound to Australia in a Piper 235.

Ray largely spends his time ferrying all over the world, which keeps the company afloat. 

Suddenly Hawker Pacific needed a 2nd hand Baron taken back to Wichita in the USA, then pick up a brand-new Baron and bring it back to Australia.  They could not wait for Ray.

It therefore fell to me to fly the twin Baron over to Wichita, Kansas where the Beechcraft factory is, , then move a new Baron from Wichita Kansas to Santa Barbara California.  The new Baron would have to be tanked and made ready for Ray to pick up. I would fly back to Australia in a single engine Piper Dakota in company with Ray-  but going a whole lot slower!!!

My route to Wichita Kansas was Sydney, Tontouta (French Noumea), Pago (American Samoa), Christmas Island, Hilo, Santa Barbara, Wichita, 6900nm. After much aircraft, system and fuel tank checking, preparation and organising, I set out on a beautiful morning from Sydney at 0630 headed for Coffs Harbour and customs. Coffs Harbour is 1.5 hours north of Sydney.  Having completed Customs and Immigration I set off for Tontouta some 6 hours away. The weather was kind.

On this leg I set various power settings and fuel flows in order to check them against book figures.  I had a 150 US gallon flexible tank in the cabin with a fuel bag in the nose locker. Despite having checked everything with the engineer prior to leaving Sydney, on this leg I just wanted to make sure all was fine as the rest of the legs were long distances.

Tontouta is a long thin airport with flight planning, weather, customs and immigration in different buildings meaning you have quite a walk to find out where all the various agencies lived!  You then have to muster your best French to deal with them all. After landing and parking customs approached, to check the aircraft and my paper work.   When all was OK then they walked me over to Immigration. It is a bit like running the gauntlet and God help you if the paper war that had been faxed over before departing from Sydney in order to gain permission to land, was incorrect then there would be much arm waving and telling you things were not good.  Fortunately, my paperwork was immaculate.  After passing through customs and immigration there is always much more to do

Find the weather office, submit the next day’s flight plan in order to save time on an early morning departure,, order the weather for the next day’s flight over Fiji to Samoa, refuel the aircraft before going to the hotel and last but not least organize customs and Immigration for my departure the next morning early

The Air Traffic Control system required a lot of persuasion to take my flight plan the day before departure.  The weather man was fine, but Customs and Immigration never wish to be at the airport early.  0800 is too late for me and 0600 too early for them. You know what bureaucrats are like the world over – it is their time or no time.   Much negotiation took place and they agreed to come out early.

Ferrying according to Ray Clamback has to have real early morning departures to take full advantage of daylight.  Therefore, to refuel on the day of departure doesn’t work with this philosophy. We always spend  a great deal of time organizing the fuel prior to departure from Sydney to avoid delays. Sometimes it worked and sometimes not.  But this time yes.

Tomorrow’s leg was 1350 nautical miles and to get away early meant that I would land in daylight. Bearing in mind the sun rises in the east and I was heading 1350nm eastwards.

I rang the hotel which was nearby and they came over to the airport and picked me up.  It actually was a training hotel for chef’s, waiters and waitresses and barmen. The food was good, the beer was cold, the swimming pool was there if one wished to swim and I could practice my French.  But no alarm clocks to wake me up. I had forgotten my alarm clock. I never wear a watch because there were GPS’s in the aircraft.  Besides, watch bands for some reason bring me out in a rash. I therefore had to rely on a wakeup call and or waking myself up.  The wake-up call may or may not happen at 0500 in the morning so it was left to me to wake myself up. 0500 calls by the hotel staff was not to their liking – ever.

Good weather and fair skies was the forecast for my 8-hour leg.  Halfway to Pago you fly over the top of Fiji.  Thereafter the weather started to deteriorate. There were hundreds of miles of towering cumulonimbus running in a north south line, right across my route. Thousands of feet high and hundreds of miles long. Fortunately, I had a good radar! As I was flying along, I entered cloud. They, the clouds thickened, there were thunderstorms around, the colour of the cloud varied from light white, blue and black..  In the cockpit the temperature went up one degree. Despite the clouds being black, blue and white there were some valleys I could wend my way through free of cloud.   I was flying at an altitude of 10000 feet.. The radar was working overtime. Go for the valleys and the lighter coloured areas. Keep away from black and blue. This went on for some hours.

During the course of the dodging the front, Fiji came up and said a 747 was disabled on the Pago runway, what were my intentions.  The weather was bad with strong winds at Pago and the aircraft had done a heavy landing in terrible weather and crosswinds, burst tyres and hit the outboard right engine pod.

One of those trips I muttered to myself. My options were going through my head.  “What are your intentions Fiji asked.”  My reply was “to land at Pago, see if you can move the 747, I am four hours away”.  For a time, it looked like I would have to go to Faleolo, Western Samoa.  On I cruised, the rain beating down, taking the least line of resistance between the black, gray and white clouds surrounding me.  The radar looking pretty bad. I was feeling slightly tense wondering whether the 747 would be moved or would I have to go to Faleolo.  I got hold of the Faleolo Approach plates in order to  learn them. . 1 hour out I changed to the main aircraft fuel system after the autopilot decided it was going to indicate a permanently right-hand climbing turn. To be on the autopilot and the ferry system at the same time with one playing up meant I needed to reduce the number of things I had to think about. Hand flying was obviously the go in this weather and autopilot problems.  One of those trips…  Pago tower, announced “the 747 had been removed. The cloud base was 400′ with an inflight visibility 1/4 mile, the crosswind was 40 kts and there are no circling approaches allowed.”  This was it, get down or go to Western Samoa, 80 miles away. A pilot ran the ILS before me and it happened to be someone whose instrument rating I had renewed the week before in Australia. She kept me informed.  I flew the ILS with a huge crosswind of about 40 knots, the rain was smashing down. The noise! I broke visual around 300 feet.  Due to the x-wind I had to move my head about 40 degrees to the left in order to find the rabbit lighting and lead in lights which were all rotating and much flashing going on with snippets of cloud and reflection from an amasing amount of water on the ground. But where was the runway?? Ah! Move the yead again to the left about 40 degrees and voila there were the piano keys!! I landed in 40 kts of crosswind.

The rain was torrential and nonstop, the taxiways, buildings and roads were flooded, fuelers came and went without refueling and the trees were bending in the wind.  Customs wanted their money, then they disappeared altogether. The terminal appeared to be locked – all gone home. So there I was alone. Ray had told me about an American helicopter operator on the field so I went started over to his hangar getting very wet. No rain gear or umbrellas when you ferry.  It was quite a distance, marching through puddles and small rivulets flowing along the taxiways.  I found him to be still there. He recommended where to park and he kindly came to show where the more sheltered spot was,  up a side taxiway shielded by several big hangars. Nothing to tie the airplane down to – so hope for the best. The next morning, he came out super early to help me fuel.  How kind and helpful he was.  The leg to Christmas is relatively short so refueling early in the morning was not going to make a big difference.

The hotel – The Rainmaker was 20 miles away from the airport. The road was long and winding.  The trees were bending in the wind, the colours were yellow and varying shades of green.  All the trees were shimmering and dripping wet.  The rain was smashing down. We passed little houses alongside the way tucked underneath the trees with people sitting well inside their huts drinking. Lights twinkling out into the gloom.   Good thinking.  Then we turned up into the wide and imposing driveway to the Rain Maker.  This hotel was built on the sight of Somerset Maughan’s house.  The driveway sloped up to a large entrance with stairs which lead into a large hall with lots of sofas and chairs set up.  The hotel itself was designed for good weather.  All was open to the prevailing winds and rain.  Long open corridors to the rooms, with archways surrounded by gardens, shrubs and trees looking out over the water.  The rooms were off the corridors. In torrential non-stop rain blowing horizontally through the archways, corridors and landings – life was going to be wet.  Upon arriving at the check-in counter – who was there?? It looked like no-one.  However, upon leaning over the counter I found two women lying on the floor avoiding the wind.  They were full of smiles but slow to help. They checked me in and returned to the floor. I had to march the long open corridors being blown and rained upon to find my room.

The setting of the hotel was actually very idyllic and situated amongst trees.  It was on the water with a tremendous view of the bay, but in bad weather with low cloud, and strong winds and rain you ran the gauntlet. 

The high light of any ferry is a cold beer and a good dinner. This hotel always had both. The kitchen was working – just. I was the only person in the dining room. They were very attentive and chatty. Where was Ray, why was I alone, what was I doing?  They served me a cold beer and cooked me up a lovely fish dinner. Very relaxing after a long day of flying. Travelling eastwards you are always losing time which can have an effect on you.

0500am – the taxi driver collected me, still in the pouring rain and wind.  On the way to the airport, we passed by all of the little huts, tucked under the dripping trees. However, at this time of day no movement, no lights, not people, only the trees bending in the wind and the rain falling.  The taxi driver asked a million questions – What was I doing in Pago Pago? Why was I flying airplanes? Where was my husband and my children? He couldn’t believe what I was doing. And why did I not have any children? Why was I not married.  He was helpful and carried my bags came to see the airplane and looked in awe despite getting wet.  I must have failed on all counts, no kids, no husband! Flying Airplanes.  What weirdo’s we western women must be flying aircraft across the Pacific! I refueled with help from the American Helicopter man. Thank heaven – he kept the rain out of the fuel inlet.

Pago to Christmas Island 1100 nautical miles – definitely lonely, and if you went for a swim, Fiji might send a ship a week later. I was soaking wet when I climbed into the airplane, but I had a change of clothes. The torrential weather was in a complete circle of about 100 nautical miles around the islands with this time only white clouds.  No black and blue. Having broken clear of the high cloud I was flying over a carpet of white beneath me.  Finally it disappeared and there was the blue sea leading me to Christmas Island. . My ferry fuel system decided to play up. I isolated the problem to the right engine, and found that as long as I put the fuel pump on when it went “brrrrh!” for 2 or 3 seconds the noise stopped.

The alternative was to go back to Pago, take out 175 US gallons and then maybe not find the problem.  Decisions, decisions, I went on.

The autopilot decided to work again, must have thrown a tantrum in the rain and damp.  Beautiful rainbows appeared; the weather was good.

I arrived at Christmas Island, landed, passed through customs and immigration and refueled. The Customs and Immigration people had to drive 20 miles from their town to the airport. They conducted their activities in a small hut with a small counter.  They were often a bit grumpy when travelling these distances only to receive one or two small aircraft and two people. However worse this time only one. I made every effort to make them happy.

Christmas Island is where the British dropped their atomic bomb on the 28th April 1958.  It had an explosive yield of about 3 megatons of TNT and remains the largest British nuclear weapon ever tested.

On many previous trips through the island, I had made it my business to go to the now unused airport on the southern side of the island from where the RAF flew their missions. You could work out where the huts had been. Remains of where the military lived.  The trees all over the island to me looked stunted and a funny yellow.  I believe the islanders were moved away for many years, but now they are back. There has been much ill health amongst the islanders and I found this link which makes interesting reading.  The French and Brits have a lot to answer to in the Pacific.

I spent the night, had a great dinner, walked on the beach for a time. No swimming – you might get eaten by a shark!!  The next day at 0500 I returned to the airport in order to depart. I was always leant a little Ute to get me to the airport and the owner would come pick it up later in the day. So, there was only me. Too early for the locals. For some reason I had to grapple with intense fear. My mind went into orbit for a bit grappling with the loneliness of where Christmas Island is and should anything go wrong what would happen?  Always been of the opinion “Feel the fear and do it anyhow. ”   Which I did. It took me half an hour to get in and go – but go I did and I went.. More monsoonal weather en route all the way to Hilo – another system. Unusual for this particular leg of the Pacific, but it was one of those weather-bound ferry flights.

I decided, upon arrival at Hilo to take two days off and get the tanks and fuel system sorted.  There were good mechanics in Hilo, who over a long period of time we had befriended. After all we represented large amounts of fuel sales.  Nice people.  We took the tanks and fuel lines out, looked at the space to fit it back in.  Were the chair runners interfering with the fuel lines? We. decided to turn the fuel tank 90 degrees, so that the fuel outlets were closer to my hand and discovered that the chair runner had been causing a very slight restriction in the fuel line. Made sense, because when I put the fuel pumps on, the fuel ran perfectly well.   We rearranged the fuel lines and when this was achieved, the mechanics checked the system out again, starting the engines and switching the fuel around. 

The cabin tank and the nose locker tank were filled up to pussy’s bow (I squeezed 30 more gallons in the tanks – for luck.  Nothing like having fuel).   All was well – except for the rain. God the rain.

This leg (2100 nautical miles long) could take anything between 11 to 15 hours flying time depending on the winds. So the forecast was always of interest. Go or No Go? This forecast wind indicated a time of about 12 hours on route. 

On the day of departure, I went to the airport in the dark, checked the aircraft out in the rain, (Hilo is always wet) received the latest weather from the weather office nearby, got soaked to the skin (ah – but this time I had a change of dry clothing in my cabin). Upon climbing into the aircraft, I became the last of the great contortionists, changing into dry clothes in the tiniest of space.  When in the cabin the cold fuel tank pressed up against my back. The seatbacks  of pilots seats were always taken off and put down behind the fuel tanks in order to allow the flexible tank to take more fuel. The right-hand seat was full of food, various bits of equipment both on the seat and on the floor. Life raft, jacket, beacon, tools.  Pitch black all around with a torch balancing and blinding me, or falling on the floor.

The amazing thing about Hilo in the dark is that the airport is a blaze of bright blue with the runway green and white lights in the distance.  The question for me was always how not to get lost in the sea of blue. The sea of blue denoted the taxiways but for the life of me I always seemed to get on the wrong side of the blue, so this time, awake to my past indiscretions I asked for taxi guidance, which I may say, they the US air traffic controllers, were always willing to give.  The US air traffic control system is so helpful and is a system devised to help pilots.  Some air traffic control systems in the world are there to help controllers!!

At dawn, the sun was rising which showed massive amounts of cloud around.  Rays of sunlight light back lit the white clouds. I was on the runway with the green and white lights that I knew.  I received my airways clearance and departure clearance, applied power and was thundering down the runway, heavy, well over weight, with enough fuel for 14 hours of flying plus 2 hours of reserves for the 2100 miles to Santa Barbara. I said goodbye to the controller and then off I went dodging thunderstorms. I flew through valleys in the clouds to avoid turbulence and wended may way in and out and around. Then 200 miles out, the blue sky came and the sun shone, the clouds disappeared.  I warmed up.  I covered up the windscreen with newspaper to prevent sunburn, and settled down to another 10 or 11 hours of flying.

About half way across AirInc (Air Inc Radio Incorporated which runs the Pacific air traffic) called up for a chat and asked for my Estimated time of arrival (ETA) at Santa Barbara, California.  I knew that had emanated from Ray back home.

I did not talk to anyone (other than normal position reports on High Frequency Radio). You can always chat to the stream of airliners running along the 4 routes both inbound and outbound from the USA to Honolulu. They leave long white vapour trails high in the sky for you to see and follow. (If necessary!) It actually is a visual means of navigation to an extent. Yes, one is going in the correct direction. The airliners are generally very helpful to the small aircraft thousands of feet below.  They can relay for you to Air Traffic Control or just chat. On this occasion, I just flew on through the day, into the night, without much talking. The sky disappeared 300 miles out and I plunged into a dark cold night with cloud and icing, which was the last thing I needed.  I wished to ask AirInc for a higher level. In order to communicate with AirInc I had to enlist one of the over flying airliners to ask for 11000.  However, Air Inc came back and said no. I told the airliner I was going to go to 11000 anyway to hopefully get out of cloud and therefore out of the icing that I was experiencing.

Given the unlikely event of colliding with another general aviation airplane in the Pacific at 10000 or 11000 feet, I decided to go up and help myself to my own clearance.  I came out of cloud at 11000 feet.  The cabin temperature was 1 degree C colder.  With an airplane full of fuel, I could not use the cabin heater.

The crew who had talked to AirInc on my behalf to gain a clearance at the higher lever reminded me to “make sure when you contact Air Traffic whilst approaching the west coast, to be at the altitude, of my original clearance level.”  Good advice. They disappeared off west and I lost contact with them.

I had forgotten to take out my warm winter woollies, so as I careered north east in the dark at all of 170 kts, it got colder and colder. I closed the curtains, put my jacket around my legs, (for some reason not around my shoulders) and stuck it out.

Approaching the west coast and about 100 miles off shore, I descended to my cleared level back into cloud, gained one degree C in temperature and made contact with Air Traffic Control on the Very High Frequency Radio (VHF)

I burst out of the cloud 50 miles from Santa Barbara, and could see the welcoming twinkling lights in the distance, all up and down the west coast. Upon approaching Santa Barbara, I personally found it impossible to see the runway lights when surrounded by bright city lights.  Unfamiliar with the area.  The controller did not clear me on to an Instrument Approach which would have been easier, but he was very patient, turned up the runway lighting and vectored me downwind and did not pass me over to the tower until I had said I could see the runway.  Man, the runway lights can be very very bright.  I had to ask the tower to lower the intensity please as I approached on the base and final leg for a landing.  There I found the unexpected sight of Duane and Mary McNutt standing outside their hangar and office at 9.15pm waiving me into a bay.  To get out when frozen as an icicle proved to be long and slow – but out I got. I was there, 6900 miles 38 hours of flying from Sydney and still another 6 hours to Wichita. Duane and Mary wrapped me in a jacket and took me to a warm restaurant where I had a bowl of hot soup.  God how welcome. Such good people.

The next day Duane helped me take the tanks out.  I was now ready to depart for Wichita through the mountains with lowest safe altitudes 10 and 11,000 feet.  This time I was to have huge tail winds like you wouldn’t believe. +50 kts (i.e., a tailwind) covering the ground at 220 nautical miles per hour.  I went literally like the wind past Albuquerque to Wichita in 4.8 hours instead of 6 hours.  I did not have to stop for fuel.

Having delivered the Baron in the early afternoon at Wichita I started to organize the testing of the next Baron that I had to pick up for Ray and take it to Santa Barbara.  It is important to flight test new aircraft to make sure all is in working order including that the door seals have no leaks.  The only way to succeed in flight testing correctly a new airplane is to the ask the mechanic (not the salesman) to come with you.   The mechanics never believe pilots. “What would a pilot know” is mostly their attitude.  So, to get over that belief system, I always asked the mechanic to come with me.  They generally enjoyed going for a fly.

When the mechanic is on the flight, we can both go through the check-list of items. The most annoying is when the door seals do not fit correctly and so they whistle. Always the hardest to fix.  Guess what, they needed fixing so the departure flight was delayed.

The return to Santa Barbara, this time was into 50kts of headwind.  That night I only got as far as Albuquerque, long after dark.  It was a clear sparkling night.  The airport is surrounded by hills the outline of which stood out clearly with the back drop of the city lights plus a bright moon lighting up the hills.  Tonight, the stars were twinkling for me as well. There is always much traffic in and out of Albuquerque, so slightly worrying in a foreign system to get it right.  The tower told me to sight and follow a 737.  They are always so helpful and directed me with a slight heading change, until it was time to turn on to the final approach. I landed in the dark, asked for taxi guidance to the Fixed Base Operator where I could tie the aircraft down, get it refueled tomorrow but most of all get a ride to a hotel for the night.  Very little of this kind of service happens in Australia.

In the USA you can submit your flight plan over the phone the night before This I did as soon as I checked into the hotel and before going for dinner.  At 0500 next morning the fixed base operator came and picked me up. He refueled the aircraft and sent me on my way with a smile.  I departed to the west and plunged into icing, rain and cloud again at altitudes of up to 15000′ this time though I was not freezing., I could use the cabin heater, as I did not have ferry fuel on board or more importantly in the nose locker. The air traffic controllers helped me with Lowest Safe Altitudes through the mountains onto the west coast as I could not stay that long above 11000 feet due to lack of oxygen so was careful to come down as soon as I could.  Ferrying is always an early morning exercise – so I was glad to arrive at Santa Barbara in the early afternoon.

What took 4.8 hours to Wichita going east was 7 hours returning west.

Phew – that leg was over, then I could go and play.  I hopped a United flight to Washington, to see my friends, Anne and Mike Greene. I had been at college in London with Anne many years before. We had followed each other’s fortunes over the years and she invited me over for Thanksgiving.  Their grown-up kids who are all doing PhD’s at the best Universities, came and we had a lovely time.  I slept for 4 days on and off which was great, and then it was to be “the NASA” and “Naval Academy” experience. 

First up I went to the Naval Academy and spent a day on campus. Anne taught Latin American Studies there to the cadets.  It was interesting seeing Anne teaching, meet some of her cadets and to see 4000 young men submitting to naval discipline. I asked Anne why the hell some of the students decided to stand up in her class and the response was “they are not allowed to lie down from the minute they get up in the morning until 11pm at night. They cannot lower their head onto their desks either.  If they are tired in class they have to stand up! So, there you have it. Naval discipline.

I wandered around the magnificent campus, fascinated by their museum, their playing fields, their vast grounds.  There were hundreds of cadets running, walking, marching or playing.  I watched with interest.

Next day I visited the headquarters of NASA which was 1 mile down the road.  I spent half a day there and learned heaps. Then I drove myself to Washington airport in Mikes car, a dangerous exercise for left hand drivers.  There were no telephones with maps to guide you so I had to watch the signs and not miss.   He was to pick up the car the next day, after coming back off a flight. I left it at the airport for him and flew to Orlando.

The reason for going to Orlando was to visit the Kennedy space port.  Wow – what a day. Films, rockets, space capsules, shuttles, tours, hard to believe what goes on there, and how interesting.  I made straight for the space shuttle first up early in the morning. There was only one other person there.  We started chatting.  He turned out to be a retired (3 weeks) NASA quality controller who was literally grieving at his retirement. I spent 2 hours with him.  He gave me a guided tour and was most interesting on the history of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. He gave me the history of all the equipment and rovers that the astronauts drove around in on the moon.  I was totally amased at how primitive their equipment was including their flight instruments.

The next day I went to EPCOT the Technology center of Disney land.  That too was an amazing day of education, fun and enjoyment. I arrived at 1000am and walked myself out at 7.15pm.  Wow the Americans are an amazing race of people really, when they decide to educate.  They certainly know how.  The best.

Then back to Santa Barbara to do the trip in reverse, this time in a single engine Dakota.  Upon arrival in Santa Barbara I found Ray had arrived from Australia and was busy tanking our airplanes. We were to return in tandem, albeit it him going at a much faster pace!


For some time, Ray had been hearing and following the Global Positioning story and had long held the view that this equipment was exactly what a ferry pilot needed.  He was desperate for a GPS, which would reduce the cost of ferrying quite dramatically.  Instead of wandering around the skies being blown here and there without the availability of radio aids until within 100 or so nautical miles of the land to pin point oneself, you would fly direct. Full Stop. No wandering, cost effective, less fuel and hopefully less flying time.

Over time he had had several discussions with Mr. Trimble and over time he took the trouble to visit him at Sunnyvale near San Francisco at his factory. Here the Trimble GPSs were manufactured.  Trimble told Ray that he was expecting a large order for his Trimble’s and this would bring down the cost of the unit form $10,000 USD to around $2000. No surprises as to who the large order of 10,000 GPSs would come from. He took Ray’s phone number in Australia and said he would ring him as soon as he had received his large order.  About 3 weeks later Ray was sitting at his desk in the office when Trimble rang in person with the good news. His large order had come through and the price of the unit had come down.  Ray immediately ordered two units and asked them to be sent Duane McNutt at Santa Barbara Avionics.

So, this was it. We were going to both have a GPS on a ferry flight for the first time.  In the early days the GPS did not have 24 hours coverage. The night before departure we checked the start time with the relevant authorities, worked out what time I would leave and when Ray would depart in his faster aircraft.   Start time for the GPS was to be 1000 AM West Coast time.

I had taken the trouble to buy charts from the west coast to the Hawaiian chain and another chart from the Hawaiian chain to Christmas Island.  Huge paper chart with a lot of blue on it.  I was therefore going to plot my way across the Pacific every hour and check the accuracy.  I drew a straight line from Santa Barbara to Hilo 2100 nautical miles (nm) and on the next chart Hilo to Christmas Island which 1100 nm south of the Hawaiian chain.

I placed the GPS up next the window for direct line of site to the satellites and on the glare shield above the instrument panel ready to go and switched ON.  At the appointed hour – boom at 1000 AM west coast time the GPS lit up.  I was 4 hours out.  Immediately I plotted the latitude and longitude on to the chart and found that I was 60 nm north of track.! Interesting.  I drew a line direct from my present position to Hilo and continued to plot my way on the hour all the way.  It clearly showed that I would intercepting my track at Hilo – things were going OK.

I waited for Ray to pop up on the radio so we could chat.  I would then plot his track on my chart and would plot a point where he would pass me by.  He popped up on the radio so the plotting started.  At the appointed position and time that I had worked out that our paths would cross there he was streaming past me.

I waggled my wings. For all of 5 minutes I could see him as he steadily pulled away.  We were in radio contact for most of the trip all but the last couple of hours.  Upon arrival at Hilo, there he was waiving me into a position on the ramp.

We always spent an extra day in Hilo to rest, refuel and fine tune the aircraft. The Hilo Hawaiian hotel is such a lovely old hotel. Impressive driveway sweeping up to the entrance.  Another large hallway designed for the tropics.  We checked in, went to our room which had a great view of the bay. The food was always good, the beer was always cold (very important) and the service was always good.

Customs and Immigration to pass through.  The customs man was used to our dawn departures and facilitated this by conducting the formalities the night before. He was always helpful. The fueling agent was leased to see us as we bought vast amounts of fuel from them over time. At the end of our off day, we had completed formalities and refueled.  Ready to go to Christmas Island

The wind, not always FOR us after Hilo, was not really against us until the last leg from Tontouta to Sydney. 

Upon departing Hilo, to intercept the southerly track for Christmas one had to head east, fly around the eastern end of the island, turn south and then pass over the huge glowing red lava flows that headed into the sea out of the volcano on the island of Hawaii.  Spectacular to see.

I continued to plot both Ray’s and my position on the paper chart all the way to Christmas Island. There were huge thunderstorms across our route.  I could see a way through the towering clouds (always a valley somewhere at 1000 feet to pass through).  I plotted my heading changes and position from the GPS and voila they showed up accurately on my chart.    When I homed in right over the center of the Christmas Island runway – I threw the paper chart away, gave up plotting and relied on the GPS from then on for the rest of my flying life! 

Good fresh fish and cold beer on the island.

The rest of the trip was uneventful and proceeded smoothly. The usual stops after Christmas Island were, Pago Pago, Tontouta in French Noumea, then Bansktown, Sydney.

Not wishing to land with oodles of fuel on board at Bankstown, I ran the ferry system dry and worked out precisely how many liters I would add at Coffs. On departure we flew into the strongest headwinds -35 kts and for a time it looked like I was going to make the headlines “Flew the Pacific – crashed 3 miles short of Bankstown”.  The only difference being that there were plenty of places to refuel between Coffs and Sydney!  I made it to Bankstown.  I dipped the wing fuel tanks and measured 7 US gallons. This in fact is 45 minutes reserve – but it looks awful empty on the gauges and when you peer into the tanks.

I was told on arrival that I became the first women to fly the Pacific back-to-back. I was also told that I was the first woman to fly the Pacific from east to west in a single engine aircraft. The things one learns.

I always keep busy on these trips.  Monitoring the fuel system which in a baron is complex, talking on the HF radio with hourly position reports, eating, thinking, the odd loo stop! but no reading or sleeping for me. Interestingly I can meditate and also at the same time keep an eye on things, so that is quite relaxing!!

Ferrying is the poor man’s way to see the world.  It is definitely not for the weak minded. It is mind over matter, a tough resolute mind which does not allow the imagination to run riot and fear to take over is definitely useful! You learn a great deal about yourself and your fears.  It was my 10th ferry.

I have great respect for Kingsford-Smith, Francis Chichester et al, flying the Pacific Pre-World War 2, without the benefits of Global Positioning Systems.

What they must have gone through – few would realise without ever having tried similar things.  Their aircraft were slow, their engines poorly developed, access to weather information nonexistent, search and rescue nonexistent, instrument flying practically nonexistent, instrument approaches nonexistent!  I take my hat off to them!

Post WW2 it was Max Conrad an American and Jim Hazelton an Australian that started up the Pacific flights on a regular basis in order to move aircraft to Australia without having to take their wings off and put them in a box in order to freight them.   Post WW2 there were only Non-Directional Beacons (NDBs) with a range of about 600nm from the West Coast and 600nm from the Hawaiian chain which left 12000 miles in the middle of the Pacific of steady heading keeping and being blown around in the forecast winds without knowing with certainty your position.  

However, we are fortunate people ferry pilots.  We see beautiful sunrises (frequently!) beautiful sunsets, rainbows, clouds and weather in all its peacefulness or ferocity, and on this trip – the gate way to heaven! A rainbow right there in front of me, between all the clouds at exactly my altitude for me to fly through.

PS when I think about it, I have been OUTWARD BOUND all my life.

Outward bound India USA – 1941

Outward bound USA to England – 1945 on the Queen Mary as a troop ship.

Outward bound England to India – 1947 by air – that’s when I said I would become a pilot

Outward bound India to England – 1949 or was it 48 – don’t remember

Outward bound again England to India 1950 – the SS Malancha a cargo ship

Outward bound India to England 1953 ship again – don’t remember

Outward bound England to Australia – 1964 on the P&O liner the Canberra.


Then outward and inward bound between the USA and Australia frequently.