Travel Magazine

Across the Atlantic in a Caravan!

By Diverdriver
To some, 5 days and 51 hours of flying across half of the globe in a single engine aircraft seemed like a silly idea. But it was an exciting journey flying across the Atlantic Ocean, diverse land forms and even more diverse countries.By Raunaq Singh PanwarFerrying a new aircraft is onething which most pilotswould love to do, but whenyou tell them that you arecrossing the Atlantic in a singleengine aircraft , then they start asking, “Are you okay? How will youmanage to fly a Caravan for 12hours?” But, we are talkingabout a brand new aircraft, the latestaddition to Auric Air’s fleet, here in Mwanza, Tanzania. I was fortunate to get this chanceof ferrying a new aircraft fromWichita to Nairobi, Kenya, and Ididn’t want to lose the opportunity.
Across the Atlantic in a Caravan!So here we were in Wichita,Kansas, in the United States, the ‘Air Capital’ of the World. Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Learjet, youname it and Wichita has it. I couldsee new, shiny planes, all over atMid-Continent Airport. Our journey to Nairobi wouldtake us through Cincinnati andBangor in USA, Santa Maria Islandand Azores in Portugal, Luqa,Malta, and Luxor, Egypt. Thatsounded exciting!Let me first familiarize you withour aircraft, which was a CessnaCaravan, model C208B. It is a singleengine turboprop airplane, which can fly non-stop for six-anda-half hours and can cover 1,800kms. It is the most successful singleengine turboprop ever made. It canland and take off from short airstrips, especially in the bush.Well, I was at Wichita with AlexHaynes, my fellow ferry pilot, whowould accompany me till Nairobi. We departed at 0900 hrs forCincinnati, Kentucky, which wouldtake us 4 hours. We over flew a lot of citiesand small towns and each one ofthem had an airport or at least anairstrip. No wonder aviation is wayahead in the USA than India. Whileoverflying St Louis, Missouri, Icould see the Gateway Arch, and itlooked beautiful from above. Acouple of hours later we landed atNorthern Kentucky InternationalAirport. We had a quick bite andthen after an hour we took off forBangor, Maine, our final destinationin the US. 

This leg takes about 5 1/2 hours. Some badweather was forecast enroute, so itwas going to be interesting.Downtown Cincinnati was amazingand I saw a couple of stadiums thatwere quite big. Instead of flyingstraight to Bangor, we diverted a bittowards Washington DC and thennorth towards Maine. We wereabout 150 km away from New YorkCity and I was amazed to see thecity lights so far at night. I knewNew York was a huge city, but trulyfelt it at that moment. The day wascoming to an end and finally welanded at Bangor, a small townwith a population of about 35,000,but an important refueling stop forplanes flying across the Atlantic. 

The next two days we stayed inBangor to get our ferry tanksinstalled inside the aircraft, withthem we could fly for 14-1/2 hoursnonstop.The D-Day came and Alex briefedme about our trip across theAtlantic, and showed me our survivalkit and the raft, “in case weneed it!” He told me that once hewas ferrying a C172, and had to ditchin the Atlantic due to enginetrouble. He was obviously preparingme for such a situation.We departed before sunset so asto reach the middle of NorthAtlantic Ocean – Santa Maria Islandour next stop in the Azores,Portugal, in the morning. This legwould take us 11 hours. Maine is abeautiful state during Fall. After take-off we sawthe beautiful fall colours allaround. 

Across the Atlantic in a Caravan!

Ferry tanks installed in the Grand Caravan.

An hour later, we crossedinto Canada and then a few islandslater we were over the AtlanticOcean. I was ecstatic, after all I wasflying over the Atlantic. I saw a sunsetover the Atlantic and that wasone of the most beautiful sights Ihad ever witnessed.We flew over the middle of theocean at night. There was no onearound, just me and the otherpilot, and I was enjoying every bitof it. Once in a while, we heard anairliner talking to New York Controlover the radio; other than that, itwas quiet. We got into the cloudsand now and then through thebreak in the cloud cover we saw aship or two. As we were cruising at13,000 feet, which is not very high,we could make out the ships. Itwas a long flight but exciting. 

Theexcitement mounted when we wereabout to reach Santa Maria Islandin the Azores, 1,500 km west ofLisbon and 3,900 km from the eastcoast of North America. And thenwe saw it in the horizon, breakingthe vast expanse of water allaround. It was a welcome sight asit meant landing after a long tripand getting to refuel!Ours was the only plane at thistiny airport, which usually sees privatejets of various businessmenand aircraft of heads of states, flyingbetween Europe and NorthAmerica. We got the plane refueledand decided to sleep for five hoursto get enough rest for our next legof 12 hours of flying. We headedout to Vila do Porto town to takethe much-needed nap. The islandwas extremely scenic with a populationof around 6,000 people.Their main occupation is fishingand agriculture. 

Across the Atlantic in a Caravan!

Santa Maria Island, Azores.

After the muchneededrest we were back at theairport for another evening departureto Malta.The flight plan we had filed fromSanta Maria to Malta was routedthrough Lisbon, Madrid, Valencia,Palma, Cagliari, and Palermo toMalta. Instead of what Brusselsgave us – via South Portugal,Seville, Malaga, Algiers, and Tunisto Malta. This route was shorterbut would have meant flying overAlgeria. Any country you overfly inAfrica, you have to get prior permission.Alex was not too comfortablewith this route as we didn’thave the permit. One of his friendswho did the same route withoutthe permit was intercepted byAlgerian fighter jets and had to stay 2 days in jail in Algiers. But hesaid, “Let’s try it as it is shorter and if the control asks us, we say wedidn’t ask for this route but wasgiven to us by Brussels.” Alreadythis leg of our trip was becominginteresting for me. 

Finally, we took-off from SantaMaria after a lot of debate. Theisland was so beautiful that Icouldn’t stop taking pictures. Soonit got dark and I was communicatingwith Lisbon Control. After around 5 hours wesuccessfully crossed the Atlantic.Alex shook my hand and said:“Buddy, we made it across!” I wasexcited and could see lights all oversouth Portugal. We continued andentered Spain and first flew overSeville and then Malaga, a big citywith lights all over. The nameMalaga had always sounded exoticto me, and then I heard an Iberiaplane communicating on the radiowith Malaga Control. I just lovedthe pilot’s Spanish accent.After an hour we were over theAlgerian Sea and were with AlgiersControl. Before entering their airspacethey asked us a few questionsbut cleared us to enter Algeria.“That was smooth” said Alex.Algiers was another huge city andlooked pretty at night. 

Across the Atlantic in a Caravan!

Crossing the Atlantic in a Grand Caravan.

AfterAlgiers, it was quiet and by thetime we were over Tunis it wasalmost dawn. Tunis was lookingextremely beautiful and one thingyou can clearly see while flying arethe stadiums. I was excited to seethe El Menzah stadium of Tunis.Soon it was time to descend intoMalta. We flew a bit over Valetta,the capital city, and took some pictures.The landing at MaltaInternational Airport ended ourlongest leg of 12 hours of flying.After 2 hours, we were back in the air for our next leg of 8 hoursto Luxor, Egypt. Just after takeoffI saw the Rotunda of Mosta. It is the thirdlargestunsupported dome in theworld. 

Across the Atlantic in a Caravan!

Raunaq in Malta.

Over the Mediterranean Seanow, we saw a lot of ships andcould make out how busy the SuezCanal route was. On this leg, Iheard all of the major airlines of theworld communicating. Emirates,Qatar, Turkish, Lufthansa,Scandinavian, Continental andSaudi Arabian. But the best wasAmerican Airlines; their call sign is‘Cowboy’, which sounded refreshingon the radio! There were not manysmall aircraft on this route andonce even the controller made funof us: “Traffic, Lufthansa Airbus340, 25,000 feet above you.” Ireplied, “Will look out for the traffic,as if we can see 25,000 ft aboveus.” We all were laughing on theradio. High humor indeed! 

Now we entered Africa via Egypt. As soon as we were over landthere was sand, sand and moresand! I had never flown over sandbefore. Some may find itboring, but I found the sight very beautiful.At Asyut, we crossed the Nileand this was my first look at theriver that had given rise to anancient civilization. We landed atLuxor after sunset and during ourdescent, Alex showed me the Valleyof the Kings. We planned to gothere the next day, surely anotherhigh point in my journey.

Across the Atlantic in a Caravan!

Entering Egypt

The next morning we visited theValley of the Kings and the KarnakTemple. I was awed by the immensityof the monuments that gaveme a true sense of the ability andpower of the Egyptian civilization.At night we started the final legof our journey to Nairobi whichwould take us about 11 hours.We flew over Aswan and AbuSimbel and I wished it was a dayflight. Soon weentered Sudan and it was prettyquiet there, other than the oddKenya Airways or Egypt Air flighton the radio. Over Sudan, Alexswitched off all navigation lights. “Idon’t want a new plane to be thetarget of a teenager’s rocketlauncher,” he said. We chattedabout the situation in Sudan andhow the people are going to votefor the referendum. Surprisingly –maybe because of our threat perception– Sudan seemed like a never-ending country! 
We entered Kenya at dawn overthe highlands. The towns of Eldoretand Nakuru seemed like flying overIndian hill stations of Mussourie orOoty.Soon after, we got in touch withthe Nairobi control. I didn’t wantthis flight to end, but then as theysay, all good things must come toan end! While descending intoNairobi Wilson Airport, I saw thegiraffes in Nairobi National Park. Iwas back in Swahili-land after 5 days and 51 hours of flying!

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog