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Down to Oz and back again - the whole story

Mrs. terbang and I flew our Mooney from Germany to Australia and back again between mid October 2023 and mid March 2024. Such an endeavor requires some planning and of course the whole idea needs some time to evolve and doesn’t come completely out of the blue. It wasn’t our first big trip, we had been to the North America in 2014 and to South America in 2017/2018.

Already in 2017 when we were planning our South America trip we thought about flying to Australia instead. We decided to fly the other direction back then and the idea about flying to Oz was put on the back burner.

After the last long journey

After our return in 2018 there was no discussion about a longer journey for a while. Neither could we set out for another flying adventure for a few years for practical reasons, nor did we feel like it. We talked about an unclear future project beginning of 2020 but the pandemic brought that to an abrupt halt. We completed the aircraft refurbishment process in this COVID time, we had already started to work on it 2018. So let me take the chance to introduce our Mooney, RM and describe the work we have done.

Please allow me…

RM is an M20K 252 built in 1990. At 20% over TBO we decided to replace the engine after our return from South America. With the replacement we did an Encore conversion. The Encore is an improved version of the 252 Mooney built in the mid nineties in very small numbers (only about 30). The conversion means replacing the TSIO 360 MB by an SB with 220 instead of 210 hp. The main benefit is an MTOM increase by 115kg, not the 10hp. This is not an STC, Mooney have amended the TC and made the drawings available to existing 252s. It’s quite an effort, though – new counterweights are required on the control surfaces and new brakes which in turn require new gear doors.


New engine in 2018

We made numerous bigger and smaller improvements of varying importance like a SureFly, an ADL150 and an LHS. I was able to do all this myself under the supervision of my A&P. Moreover, we installed new donuts (Mooney pilots will know), replaced many bushings and bolts on the landing gear and had the prop overhauled. We added ADS-B in and out and replaced the old pneumatic speed brakes by new electric ones. This way I could remove the vacuum system completely.

In 2022 we refurbished the complete interior. We removed all parts and had the upholstering done by a local company. While the interior was removed I flew the aircraft to our shop for the annual with nothing in it but the pilot’s seat. In the shop we replaced all windows. Well, I teared out the old ones and the A&P sealed in the new ones. Back home we reinstalled all the parts under owner privileges.


New interior in 2022

Finally it was time for a paint job which we did beginning of 2023. We chose slightly more modern colors, but we decided to stick with the original paint scheme. We felt that a 1990 Mooney should look like 1990 Mooney (we changed the scheme on the wings slightly, though). Again our A&P was happy that we removed all the control surfaces, inspection covers, gear doors and fairings ourselves, while he would only come to the paint shop at the end. He supervised me balancing the control surfaces and together we reinstalled them.


New paint in 2023

For completeness I should also mention the avionics upgrade we did. However, this was already done back in 2015, before our trip to South America.


RM’s panel

To Africa?

It wasn’t until the beginning of 2023 that the stars aligned i.e. we were able and willing to tackle a long flying journey once again. However, we didn’t think of Australia in the first place, we started planning a trip to Africa. We’re both not into skiing or other winter sports and we don’t like the cold, so it was obvious to leave in fall 2023, skip the winter and return in spring 2024.

While we had organized all permits for the South America trip ourselves, it was clear at an early stage that we wouldn’t be able to do that for this trip. Therefore we got in contact with two agencies providing the required services. We ended up working with White Rose Aviation and couldn’t be happier. Other than that, planning worked pretty much like the last time: a shared directory for all the resources and a text file to hold the project backlog (we both have an IT background 😉).

In April 2023 the civil war in Sudan began and the airspace was closed. We wouldn’t have had to land in Sudan but we don’t have the range to circumnavigate it without refueling. After two or three weeks it was apparent that we couldn’t realistically hope for an improvement of the situation in Sudan. In the meantime I had already started to find refueling options that would allow us to fly around Sudanese airspace. The only viable fuel stop I could find was Addis Ababa where Avgas was reported to be available by internet sources. However, it was really hard to get confirmation of the actual availability by the local fueler. We finally received an answer from that company in June – no Avgas in Ethiopia. After a few days of discussion we decided not to pursue the Africa idea any further.

Australia!

We had invested quite some effort in this project already and we weren’t ready to give up completely. The same evening we buried the Africa trip, we came back to our old Australia plan. The drawback would be that no loop would be possible, we would have to backtrack essentially the way we would fly down. OTOH we would fly to Indonesia what had always been on our bucket list. We asked Mike of White Rose if he would support this trip as well. He said sure, why not.

Not all of our preparation effort was lost, of course. Maintenance schedule or non-flying organizational stuff didn’t change. Route planning however, started from zero again.

Planning

Most of the AIPs of the countries we would potentially overfly or land at are available online. However, this is of little use as the data in there is rather unreliable. While it’s OK to find out whether an airport is a PoE or not, information on the availability of Avgas is useless. Once or twice we could get Avgas where the AIP doesn’t mention it, mostly it was the other way round, though: no Avgas, even the AIP says there is and no NOTAM either. Interestingly there is not a lot to be found on the internet in this regard. The only way to get reliable information is via local contacts and therefore the services of an agency like White Rose are invaluable. With reliable information on Avgas availability I was able to come up with a feasible route to Australia.


Initially planned route to Oz

The next step was to finalize our schedule and create an Excel sheet with all the data. We would later have to update this spreadsheet while we were on the journey, but right from the beginning we needed flyable routes and estimated flight times. Only this way we could order fuel what has to be done well in advance in some places.


The spreadsheet (updated version)

To Oz and back

We regarded the flights from Greece to Singapore as sort of an aircraft ferry, while we would be flying tourists in Indonesia and of course in Australia. The same planning would be necessary for our way home, but we would do that in Australia. We made it to Oz and back after all, even though not all worked out exactly as planned, especially the stops in Indonesia. We added a stop in Jakarta on the way back which we actually hadn’t planned and we were able to visit Egypt on the way back. The following is a report on our journey in detail:


The complete route to Australia and back

In retrospect

We completed 26377 track miles in 191 hours flight time on this trip. This means we reached an average groundspeed of 138 knots. This is terrible of course, but I already complained a lot about the awful headwind.

While it wasn’t the first long journey for us it was the first time for us to fly in this region and we had never before worked with an agency which takes care of the permits. We learned a lot to say the least.

Permits and Handling

It was the hardest part to make a CAA talk to us at all when we organized permits on our own on the South America trip. The asset of permit agencies are local contacts they know and they work with for many years. These local agents know how to interact with the respective CAA and how to get the permits. I don’t believe it would have been possible to obtain a permit directly from say the Bangladeshi CAA. This may be a prejudice, though, I didn’t try.

You most probably could work with local agents directly if you had the contacts. I would maybe even do that if I needed it just for one country – say we wanted to fly to Egypt and back. However, we were very happy with the service of White Rose and would work with them again any time. For a longer journey that requires overflight and landing permits of numerous countries, I would really highly recommend them.

Contracting handling at the airports between Egypt and Indonesia can’t realistically be avoided. We once self handled at Cali what was a considerable effort even though we speak the local language but this would never work at these airports, I guess. Moreover, filing flight plans apparently is only possible via a handler. Therefore one has to contract handling and hope to get a decent service without being ripped off completely.

In hindsight I’m quite happy with what we got except for Kuwait and in part Langkawi, Malaysia. In Kuwait it really was a nuisance and I still suffer from mild hypertension when I think about it. The guy in Malaysia was really clue-less, but he was so nice and friendly, I couldn’t get really angry.

Indonesia was a bit different as White Rose didn’t want to coordinate with the local agencies, we had to do this ourselves (I don’t know why). We had been to Indonesia many times before and were well aware of the cultural particularities. Countless phone calls and constant mild pressure are required to make things run smoothly but even then there is no guarantee. Fuel wasn’t available in Jakarta on the way down, otherwise everything worked fine.

In comparison

Of course we couldn’t resist to compare this trip to the South America loop we did in 2017/2018. Fun fact: at 26069 track miles we covered almost exactly the same distance but that only took us 167 hours. This results in 156 knots average groundspeed, so we had much more favorable winds.

I could never tell which of the journeys was better, both were unforgettable and full of flying highlights. We met great people on both trips, even more this time, though. However, the two journeys were completely different. Flying in Latin America is never as free as in Australia, not even in Chile. OTOH permit requirements are nowhere as restrictive there as they are in the Middle East or in South and Southeast Asia (maybe in Peru they were, but that was just one of the many countries).

To get to Australia and back we had to follow the schedule of the permits for weeks. In South America we obtained necessary permits ourselves, usually for the next one or two countries we wanted to fly to. However, these flights would still be A to B and mostly under IFR. This time, once we were in Australia, almost all flights were under VFR, as low as possible and with as many circles as we pleased, like in this example.

And?

Was it worth it? Most definitely! However, this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip. While we would go flying around Australia tomorrow if we could, we wouldn’t fly down there a second time. The money and effort required is simply too much and we would not repeat a trip anyway. Moreover, there are still a few other tempting destinations. Maybe the stars will align once again in a couple of years, who knows 🙂

Last Edited by terbang at 24 Mar 12:59
EDFM (Mannheim), Germany

I’m slowly but surely running short of them… but thanks for the in- and hindsight.

You guys are probably a perfect combination, pilots couple, and the right aircraft for this kind of trips. Mooneys are quite popular on those long haul trips, as demonstrated not only by yourself, but plenty of Earthrounders.

terbang wrote:

The money and effort required is simply too much and we would not repeat a trip anyway.

Yep, feel the same, and will add another element, risk.

Dan
ain't the Destination, but the Journey
LSZF, Switzerland

Nice epilogue, terbang. Thank you.

Private field, Mallorca, Spain

Very interesting to read about the details.

I too have heard varying stories about overflight agents. Even those who are mostly good are known for dropping somebody in the sh*it somewhere in Bongo-bongo Land, inexplicably. I think they are basically “working connections” which probably requires occassional “lubrication” and that sometimes goes wrong.

Another interesting Q is how to manage the servicing. You are N-reg so no problem; if the Annual comes up you just need to find some freelance A&P, but Euro-reg touring pilots have sometimes got stuck. In one famous G-reg case, many years ago, they got to Australia and the UK CAA wanted to 1st class airline tickets for their inspectors to go there for the Annual, so the pilot found a DAR and put the plane on the N-reg and carried on! I believe @tumbleweed may remember.

Your plane is obviously properly looked after; you could not do this sort of trip in some wreckage

And the most important thing is that you have each other’s company. That is incredibly rare in GA, and is priceless.

@eal might be interested.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Indeed.
And l have already been in touch with the Terbang helpline for some very useful current handling tips!
E

eal
Lovin' it
VTCY VTCC VTBD

Dan wrote:

Yep, feel the same, and will add another element, risk.

I had to think about this for a while. Of course this will always be a personal decision, for example I would not ferry a piston plane, not even a twin. It’s also difficult as humans are not good at correctly assessing small probabilities. It goes without saying that flying over open water poses a considerable risk but even flying around continental Europe is not completely risk free. To me it’s acceptable to fly over open water for a few hours every couple of years when I fly hundreds of hours over Europe in between. However, as I said, this is just my personal gut feeling, nothing more.

One more thing bothered me I didn’t mention, financial risk. This isn’t life threatening, of course but could be very unpleasant. Even a flat tire could get very expensive say in India, let alone a more serious technical issue. We saw a Lanceair sitting in Nagpur for almost year because of a burst oil cooler, I think. The parking fees alone will be tens of thousands without flying in mechanics and parts and dealing with local authorities and so on.

EDFM (Mannheim), Germany

Peter wrote:

I too have heard varying stories about overflight agents. Even those who are mostly good are known for dropping somebody in the sh*it somewhere in Bongo-bongo Land, inexplicably.

I would think, these agents would avoid dropping a costumer if they can to avoid poor reviews. In case my report was ambiguous, we weren’t dropped, our agent told us beforehand that he wouldn’t do Indonesia. I guess, for that reason.

the Annual comes up you just need to find some freelance A&P

This might be difficult outside the US and Europe as well. We were told in Australia, that no FAA A&Ps are available down there. But still N-reg is an advantage for longer travel. I’m not as familiar with EASA rules, it would be very interesting to hear from owners about this.

EDFM (Mannheim), Germany

Basically, all servicing other than annuals (or ADs) is optional on N, so while you will obviously be doing the usual (oil changes etc) you can do it when it is practical, whereas on EASA-reg you are tied to the schedule plus 10% extension, etc. AIUI, the way this is solved in practice on EASA-reg is by not logging some of the flights if coming up to the 50hr mark

Good point about ferrying. A friend who used to do that dropped out of it, because most cases involved “wreckage” or other suspicious circumstances.

I often wonder about breaking down in some places I’ve been to. Even a prop strike on the Scilly Isles (UK!) is going to need wings removed and carting the plane on a pickup truck and a ferry. Greek islands??

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Yes, nice epilogue! Thank you for taking the time!

terbang wrote:

The main benefit is an MTOM increase by 115kg

Was it really needed for the trip (you don’t have ferry tanks, do you?) or a nice-to-have for extra tools/parts/luggage?

What is the perceived deficit (if any) in climb and cruise performance with the extra weight?

Antonio
LESB, Spain

terbang wrote:

[risk] will always be a personal decision

You are totally right. When the engine fails on you it does not matter what the stats say: you have to deal with it.

My personal approach is indeed stat-based but I also apply risk-mitigation. Just like standard risk management

Being island-based my proportion of overwater flights is high, so I apply risk mitigation strategies, already discussed herein (emergency equipment, FPL, sea conditions, emergency training, cruise altitude and route selection …)

Of course, all else being equal (and in your case it was not) if your trip is 200 (vs 20) flight hours then whatever it is that goes wrong, the likelihood of it happening at one time or another during the trip is 10×. In your case, you managed successfully whatever went wrong, so again kudos to the Terbangs!

Antonio
LESB, Spain
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