2016 04 14 Thursday
13 July 2016
Adam Broome, in his much modified Beechcraft Bonanza is as we speak, departing Pago Pago, American Samoa, about to embark on the next leg of the trans-Pacific flight, west to east, completing the oceanic portion of his around the world flight.
These are long legs, at least one is more than two thousand nautical miles. They raise difficult flight planning questions. Questions of fuel and range and fatigue. I find in my notes my thoughts on those questions several months ago when we were planning this flight in the comfort and safety of our local coffee house. Adam had sent me an article by a recognized authority on long-range flying about a round-the-world expedition in an airplane almost exactly like N5831R, a mission that ended up in the Pacific Ocean on a dark night shortly after takeoff, sunk so deep in the ocean that the airplane is beyond recovery. The premise of the article is complicated, involving range calculations, the suspected effect of misinformation, fatigue, and the refusal to accept more reliable information, a father’s pride, a son’s inexperience, and the unforgiving nature of very high gross-weight takeoffs compounded by winds and darkness. I get it. The way in which we are preparing to fly this airplane forgoes many of the margins of error and safeguards built into the certification process of a Part 23 airplane.
And then Adam sent me four charts, graphs, and tables he himself had concocted, as suggested by the aforementioned authority and by John Eckalbar, a professor of mathematical economics who has written the definitive book on flying the Beech Bonanza and also another book that is the most rigorous book on flying among the dozens and dozens I own. I glanced at those charts and applaud his work and flight testing. But, important as this testing may be as preparation, I am going to need something simpler when the wheels lift off and the gear retracts. And now I find myself thinking these same thoughts as Adam powers through these last legs of his personal mission, long flights over the open water of the Pacific, with exotic islands dotted over the waters as the only sanctuaries. At that time, months ago, I sent him this email and I stand by its premise.
I will look over your graphics as soon as I have a moment. It is about 0230A at the moment and I have some more things to deal with before I call it a night — but I have been thinking about all of this frequently, albeit not with your rigor. I imagine that we are sitting in some teahouse in Jordan or coffee house in Egypt pouring over wind charts and asking ourselves if this certain leg is even feasible. Or, more likely, I am thinking that here we are somewhere over the Indian Ocean (or you over the Pacific) with nothing but the airplane, your panel, and a calculator. We are both weary. It has been a long few days. We take a few gulps of oxygen and start asking ourselves if the plan is working out. I don’t know about you, but I discourage flight students from ever doing math in an airplane if at all possible to avoid. I have seen people with PhDs in applied math add 4 and 4 in an airplane and get 9. But here we are. What do we really need? Seems to me we need first and foremost a clear method of mixture management, which we both agree will be lean of peak. Then we need 1) a best range speed and 2) a tolerable range speed and 3) a combination of RPM and MP for each one. We also need, for each one, a simple formula for adjusting each speed for weight, for altitude, and for headwinds and tailwinds (faster into a headwind, slower into a tailwind). We need a simple formula for computing a turnback point. And we need the best wind forecast known to man. Isn’t that about it? What am I missing?
Oh, yeah, and a ton of gas-o-line.”