Every pilot remembers their first solo flight. It’s a huge milestone where, after hours of training with a flight instructor, you are finally deemed ready to take the aircraft up on your own with no one else on board. Those first few moments, as your wheels leave the ground, are both exhilarating and terrifying as you realize you are completely on your own and there is no longer a more experienced pilot next to you making sure you do everything correctly. Truth be told, no pilot does everything perfectly on their first solo, second solo or any flight thereafter. The best pilots are those who recognize there is always room for improvement and are constantly striving to make their next flight even better. I am more than 6,000 flight hours past that first solo flight milestone, but I recently had another first solo milestone that will forever be etched in my memory.
Last summer, I made three trans-Atlantic crossings in private aircraft with experienced international ferry pilots and mentors, Joe Casey and Margrit Waltz. Two of those crossings were in Beechcraft King Air 200 models and one in a smaller, piston-powered, multiengine aircraft. Although each crossing had similarities, each trip was unique in its own way and I gleaned more information each time through slightly varied routing, changing seasons and different aircraft capabilities. Later, an opportunity arose for Joe and I to pick up two separate King Airs from India and ferry them back to the United States at the same time. This particular trip was supposed to be my first “supervised solo” multi-continent crossing, as I would be the sole occupant in the aircraft but have a mentor nearby in another aircraft watching and guiding when needed.
One of the first things I was taught on the initial crossing was not everything goes as planned and flexibility is the name of the game. In the case of the “supervised solo,” only one of the aircraft was ready to go, Joe was unable to make the trip himself, and I was sent to India to make the more than 9,000 nautical mile trip back to the U.S. alone. In my head, just like when I flew my very first solo flight as a student pilot, I knew the experience and training I’d received on the previous crossings was sufficient and I was ready to make this trip, but until you’re in the aircraft alone and doing it yourself it simply doesn’t seem real.
The Mission Begins
I left the United States late on a Sunday night and arrived in Ahmedabad, India, early Tuesday morning. After a sufficient rest period, I was escorted to the aircraft for the first leg of the trip. My preflight inspection found an airworthy, but very dusty, aircraft that had been parked outside after months flying in India. The makings of a large, grass nest were found and removed from the nose wheel well (luckily, whatever made the nest was not discovered with it) and the aircraft was ready to be fueled before departure. In the U.S., most airports are well equipped with tugs to move general aviation aircraft without the engines being started. This was not the case at this particular airport.
Not only was there no available equipment to move the aircraft from the parking area to the fueling area, I was prohibited from starting the engines and taxiing the aircraft under its own power to the needed spot due to ongoing construction around the movement area. Although most of the traveling public would consider this King Air a small aircraft (compared to a Boeing or Airbus), it is still an aircraft of considerable size, weighing in at up to 11,500 pounds. I was asked to sit in the cockpit and watch from that vantage point as four Indian men pushed and pulled the aircraft more than 100 yards to the fueling station in 80-degree weather. This was no small feat, as the aircraft has no good points against which to push or pull and it took considerable time with several starts and stops as the men rested between segments.
Day One: Mentally Working Ahead
After fueling, I was ready to start the aircraft and get on the way to my first stop at Al Ain (OMAL) in the United Arab Emirates. It was an almost six-hour flight from Ahmedabad (VAAH) overflying a portion of Pakistan and crossing the Gulf of Oman. I requested my clearance and engine start and was feeling pretty good about everything until I taxied up to the runway and realized the onboard GPS unit still had not acquired a signal and was unusable in guiding me along the very specific track I would need to fly. I reluctantly admitted to the tower controller I would need to return to the parking area to sort out my issue, but did not expect to shut down the engines or delay long. Holding my breath, I powered down and restarted the GPS, double-checked the data cards and breathed a big sigh of relief when it powered back up and soon after acquired the satellite signals it needed. Within minutes I was airborne and on my way in the late afternoon hours.
As I settled in at my cruising altitude of 28,000 feet, with six hours of flight time ahead of me, the reality of this long, solo trek set in and I busied myself by mentally getting ahead of the aircraft, considering all routes, charts and potential contingencies I might run into prior to my destination. Satisfied all bases were covered, I enjoyed the view out the window as the sun set and darkness set in as I was leaving Pakistan’s airspace for the 250-nautical mile leg over the Gulf of Oman to Muscat. Shortly after landfall, I began my descent into the UAE feeling good about the start of the trip.
Six months earlier, Joe and I had made this same trip heading the opposite direction, delivering an aircraft to India. One of the things I remembered most about that trip was the novelty of a female pilot at most of our stops through Asia and Egypt, particularly in the Middle Eastern countries. At almost every stop on the prior trip, Joe was automatically deferred to for fuel orders and operational questions. As this is not uncommon, even in the U.S., I was not bothered by the practice, but did take note that I did not stand out as an equal co-captain of the aircraft.
Because of limited general aviation activity in that part of the world, another issue we had run into was explaining to security and customs officials that we were pilots of a small aircraft and gaining access to the aircraft after overnight stays. Uniforms carry a lot of weight and while our standard “uniform” is a polo shirt and a pair of slacks, this time I brought my traditional pilot uniform of white shirt, black pants and gold-striped epaulets identifying me as the captain, even though there was no one else on board. Wearing this, I had virtually no issues, despite the language barriers, getting through security measures to and from the aircraft in a much more efficient and timely manner than the previous trip. As a female pilot, I also chose to wear a scarf over my hair at some of the Middle Eastern fuel stops as a sign of respect for their customs and to make male ground crews more comfortable interacting with me. Surprisingly, the question asked the most was how I was allowed to fly the aircraft by myself, as all King Air models are flown by two pilots in those countries.
Day Two: Terrific Endurance and Range
Day two had me leaving OMAL, flying up the Persian Gulf, stopping for fuel at airports in Saudi Arabia (OEGS) and Egypt (HEAL), crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and landing at my final destination for the evening, Brindisi, Italy (LIBR). My greeter in Saudi graciously took the time to bring hot water, tea and accompaniments to the aircraft for me before my departure and helped me explain fueling instructions to a trainee fueler unfamiliar with the King Air. The next stop in Egypt gave me equally accommodating ground personnel and security guards that insisted I sit with them for a cup of hot tea after the plane was fueled and then tried to send me on my way with a stray cat, which I politely refused. This was one of the longer days of the trip because once you leave the UAE, there are no great overnight stops until you hit Europe.
The King Air 200 proved to be a great aircraft for endurance and range, even against moderate headwinds, as on this day I was able to cover more than 2,500 nautical miles in 12.5 hours of flight time. Much of that time was at a reduced power setting designed to stretch the fuel range on two of the legs that clocked in at just under five hours each. Although I had received great dinner recommendations from my ground handlers, I was too tired from the long day to do much more than shower and climb into bed, a common reality of single-pilot, international ferry flying. Days are long and nights are short, as you push toward your destination in as few days as is safely possible.
Day Three: Handling Weather
The third flying day saw weather reports of overcast skies, scattered showers and a few icing reports along the route – nothing that a King Air can’t easily handle. The skies started to clear as I made my way north from southern Italy, affording me great views of the Swiss Alps on my way to my next fuel stop in Liege, Belgium (EBLG). Liege, in my limited experience, is always an efficient tech stop where fuelers are quick to turn you and customer service reps pump you full of espresso and fill your pockets with snacks for the next leg. If you’ve never had a Belgium stroopwafel, you are missing out on a great treat!
My second leg of the day took me from Liege to one of my favorite stops, Belfast, Ireland (EGAA). I’ve found the fuelers there to be as equally fascinated by my thick, southern, Texas accent as I am by their Irish talk. Fuel stops always feel short as we have fun talking about life in our respective countries and actively encouraging each other to visit and stay longer. Although I was only five flight hours into my day, the sun was beginning to set. December days across the northern latitudes are short and darkness prevails. I enjoyed a brief sunset on departure, before the darkness set in to follow me the next three hours to Keflavik, Iceland (BIKF).
Thankfully, the ride was smooth and uneventful, leading to a typical, moderately high wind landing in Keflavik, ahead of predicted overnight snow showers. The ground crews at SouthAir know their job and weather well and marshaled me to my parking stand pointed into the wind, so the likelihood of snow piling up on the airframe overnight would be somewhat mitigated. I made my way to a local waterfront hotel, also home to one of my favorite restaurants in Keflavik, Cafe Duus, and enjoyed a fresh seafood dinner before retiring for the night. I’ll admit to a somewhat restless night, as high winds howled across the harbor shoreline and I kept rising to check on the snow accumulation outside my window.
Day Four: Dark and Frigid
The snow showers passed before my scheduled departure time the next morning and I arrived at an aircraft completely devoid of any snow accumulation or frost on the wings. I was very thankful for marshallers who knew their job and for high winds that kept moisture and snow from settling on my aircraft for long. It was still fully dark, as the sun doesn’t rise until almost 11:30 a.m. at that time of year, and I took off toward my next tech stop in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland (BGSF) (or Sondrestrom, the much easier to pronounce Scandinavian name for BGSF).
In December, the sun doesn’t even attempt to rise that far north, so my full leg and stop was entirely in the dark. The temperature was a chilly 16 degrees and my Texas heat-loving-self eagerly signed for the airport fees and called CANPASS to alert them of my expected arrival in Canada. After departure, I continued my trek southeast toward Goose Bay, Canada (CYYR), finally encountering some welcome daylight halfway across the Davis Strait.
Goose Bay is a small town located on the eastern shoreline of Newfoundland and Labrador. It boasts a population of just over 8,000, half of that being indigenous Canadian groups like the Inuit and Metis people. With an airport used since the early days of North Atlantic crossings and made famous by Earnest Gann’s book “Fate is the Hunter,” the town is a common starting and stopping point for aviators making the North Atlantic crossing to and from Europe, and for those travelers catching smaller flights out to remote fishing and hunting camps in the neighboring Canadian territories.
Day Five: Crossing North America
The next day, my final one, had me on the home stretch. One more stop in Montreal (CYMX) for fuel launched me onto my final leg to Fargo, North Dakota (KFAR), the new home for this King Air. Even with only two legs, crossing half of Canada and the United States from east to west is no short day, clocking in at eight hours of flight time. I took the time on the ground in Montreal to gather all the requisite paperwork I would need to clear U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and to start corralling all the gear I had out for the trip.
As I was making my way across the snow covered Canadian and northern U.S. landscape, I was allowed ample time to reflect back on my newest “first solo.” Crossing India, the Middle East, Egypt, Europe and the North Atlantic single pilot is no small feat. But while I was alone in the aircraft, this trip would not have been possible without the amazing support services provided by Shepherd Aero, based in Bellingham, Washington. Their dispatchers provided daily weather reports, knew preferred routes, filed international flight plans, pre-arranged fuel services and had my hotel room booked by the time I landed at the final stop each night. They tracked me each step of the way and constantly ensured that everything was going well with me and the aircraft. If anyone is attempting an international flight, I cannot recommend their expertise more. With planners and dispatchers available through every time zone for any unplanned events that might arise, they have the whole planet covered.
I also cannot say enough good things about how well the King Air 200 flew this mission. It may not be the fastest way to cross that distance, but it performed admirably and there was no environment in which it did not do well. The 200 consistently offered me an average true airspeed of 260 knots and a fuel flow of 260 pounds per side, with at least four segments of the route at a reduced power setting for range. Final trip stats showed five flying days, 41 flight hours, four continents, stops in 12 countries, over 9,200 nautical miles flown and more than 22,000 pounds of jet fuel turned into noise!
Deanna Wallace has amassed over 6,000 flight hours since she started flying in 1997 and is a 20-year Gold Seal CFI/CFII/MEI with more than 2,000 hours dual given. She holds a Bachelor of Aviation Management from Auburn University and a Master of Aeronautical Science from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Deanna is single pilot typed in the King Air 300/350 and flies all King Air variants regularly, including the B100 with TPE-331 engines. Through her East Texas employer, Casey Aviation, she flies Part 91 managed King Airs, ferries aircraft worldwide and actively instructs owner-pilots in the PA46 piston and turbine series aircraft.