Ferrying the “Pokey Porter” 13,000 miles

My 90-year-old brother, Captain Michael J. Gordon, wrote this in the 1960s after his flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Korea in a single-engine Fairchild Heli-Porter (one of a kind) across the North Atlantic, Europe, the desert and the Far East. Men like my brother have always succeeded on sheer guts.  – Julia Gordon-Espey

This account concerns the delivery of one Fairchild Heli-Porter PC-6 from the factory in Maryland to Yosu, South Korea. This aircraft will be used in conjunction with Caltex Honam Oil Refinery construction project there. As a pilot for World Aviation Services, Inc., I have been assigned the delivery and will train a Korean crew upon arrival. The Heli-Porter is a single engine, turboprop, short takeoff and landing aircraft capable of carrying eight persons 420 miles at an optimum speed of 115 knots, hence my private nomer of “Pokey Porter.”

A trip of this type requires many preparations. Two of the technical items are the installation of proper radio and long-range fuel systems. The most time-consuming administrative job is obtaining visas and diplomatic overfly and landing permits for all the countries along the intended route of flight.

Since our route was to be through Canada, across the North Atlantic, Southern Europe, Southeast Asia and the North Pacific this was no small problem.

I picked up the aircraft in Hagerstown, Maryland, on the morning of May 25th and arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida late that same evening. The time between the morning of May the 26th and actual departure from Fort Lauderdale on the 7th of June was spent installing the equipment necessary for the ferry flight and subsequent operations in Korea. The evening of June 7th was spent in Palm Beach with family and friends prior to an early morning departure on the 8th.

Route of flight for PC-6
Not your typical cross-country flight.

Some concern over enroute weather to the north was due to Hurricane Abby which had just passed and was now centered near the Georgia-South Carolina border. Departure from Palm Beach was at 0500, and since I had planned to check the long-range fuel system on this leg our takeoff weight was 6,375 pounds. Normal takeoff weight for this aircraft is 4,850, so the short takeoff capability was non-existent this morning. After using up about 2,000 feet of the runway, we broke ground at about 75 knots with the stall warner still protesting loudly. I’m sure this horn was set about ten knots too high and was to plague me for the rest of the trip to Korea.

As expected, the weather deteriorated as we progressed northward and presented the opportunity to test the fuel and oxygen system at altitude. We topped what was left of “Abby” at 18,500 feet and proceeded to Southern Pines, North Carolina, for fuel and lunch. The remainder of the day was uneventful and we reached North Philly about sunset and spent the night.

Leaving North Philly on the morning of June 9th, “Pokey” and I went on to Portland, Maine, and with fine cooperation managed to clear U.S. Customs in record time. After lunch we proceeded to Moncton, Canada, where we made arrangements for an airworthiness inspection by the Canadian Department of Transport, to be conducted on the morning of June 10th. This inspection is required for all single-engine aircraft prior to departing Canadian territory for a North Atlantic crossing. The inspector arrived about 9 a.m. and two hours later we were on the way to St. John’s, Newfoundland with a clean bill of health. The weatherman predicted snow showers between Sidney and St. John’s and sure enough he was right.

After an instrument landing at St. John’s Torbay Airport, we noted a surface temp of 42 degrees F. I asked the lineman when they planned to have some summer. He indignantly replied that they already had summer. It was one day last week and I had missed it. The aircraft was serviced and a preliminary weather check made. We planned a North Atlantic crossing to the Azores for the next morning, June 11th.

PC-6 takeoff
The PC-6 has amazing short field performance, but not with ferry tanks installed.

I arrived at the airport early that morning and Ole Pokey sure didn’t look happy. Tires were all flat looking from holding up the 500 gallons of fuel all night. This couldn’t be helped because it was difficult to obtain fuel at this hour of the morning. Weather maps indicated two frontal systems between St. John’s and the Azores. Both had considerable cloud cover with extensive icing conditions and turbulence. At this point I decided on a second night in the motel and a 24-hour delay in departure.

At 0430 on June 12th the weather picture had improved. One of the fronts had moved past the Azores. The second one was forecast to be just east of Santa Maria by our arrival time. A third front was moving in on St. John’s from the northwest. Pokey and I decided on an immediate departure hoping to stay between the two and in good weather. This was one of the longest legs of the trip (1,365 nautical miles). A maximum fuel load made the take-off weight 6,710 pounds and again the stall warning horn went crazy.

Our assigned altitude was 11,000 feet and the leg to Ocean Station Delta, about half way to Santa Maria, was in clear weather and very pleasant. After departing Delta, the weather deteriorated and eventually made it necessary to request a higher altitude to remain clear of icing conditions. We broke out on top with a light load of rime ice and remained at 17,000 feet.

Later that afternoon, my watch said we should be over Flores’ radio beacon but the ADF said it was still ahead. Our weatherman at St. John’s had promised a 12-knot tailwind, which would make our total trip time 10:47. A very anxious hour later, the ADF finally swung, indicating a passage over Flores and reducing our 12-knot tailwind to 5. Suddenly, ahead and to the south the mountain on the island of Horta made a very welcome appearance above the overcast. The weather denied us a view of the lovely Azores until we broke out of the overcast 1,200 feet above Santa Maria, cancelled the instrument flight plan and landed. The trip from St. John’s had taken 11 hours 24 minutes at an average speed of 121.8 knots.

Santa Maria as usual was pleasant. Customs and Immigration people were very cooperative and the aircraft was promptly serviced. A short taxi ride took us to the Terra Nostra Hotel. A log burning in the lobby fireplace took the dampness out of the air. Accommodations were spotlessly clean and the food delicious.

The following morning, June 13th, we reluctantly left Santa Maria to cross the rest of the North Atlantic, Portugal and Spain. The goal for the day was Valencia, 1,178 miles to the east. Weather promised to be fair but no help from the wind could be expected. Our first landfall was Lisbon and as expected, a little behind schedule. The weather got worse as we crossed Spain and the landing in Valencia was on instruments and in light rain. This leg had taken 10.5 hours and we had averaged only 112.2 knots.

Self-portrait
A self portrait over the Mediterranean.

The morning of June 14th was beautiful and with 500 gallons of fuel aboard, Pokey lumbered out of Valencia and headed east southeast toward the island of Malta. From an assigned altitude of 11,000 feet the Mediterranean was lovely indeed. Ole Pokey was running like a dream and with such good weather it left little for me to do other than maintain altitude and heading. We planned to reach Athens, some 1,232 miles and an estimated 10:50 hours away. Weather information about the Athens area was vague, but we planned to get accurate data over Malta. I passed the time away changing positions in a seat that kept getting smaller with each passing hour. I even tried some self-portraits by setting the camera on one of the fuel tanks and using the timer.

We arrived over Malta a little ahead of schedule (something new), and were informed by our British friends that Athens weather would remain VFR until after our arrival. The leg from Malta to Athens seemed an eternity. The continuing journey eastward caused a loss of a few hours each day and the ever-changing local time at the destination was also having an adverse effect on the human element.

At 8:30 p.m. local time, Pokey was on an ILS final approach course to the Athens airport (you’re right, the weather didn’t hold here either). By the time Customs and Immigrations formalities were completed and a taxi made it to a hotel, the time was 10:30 p.m. local. This night the alarm clock was neither set nor unpacked. About 11:00 a.m. the 15th of June, after a hearty breakfast I went to the airport to refuel and inspect the aircraft. We planned to depart early on the 16th for Tehran. With this accomplished, the balance of the day was spent in an upright position (anything but sitting) walking around the Acropolis and other places of interest in Athens.

The trip to Tehran was unique in that it was the longest leg (1,387 miles) and also had the highest terrain. Weather was to be large areas of unstable air and scattered thundershower activity. Wind was again predicted to be of no help, so enroute time was estimated at 12:06. As we traveled eastward, the terrain got higher and the air rougher. Thunderheads formed all around and the cloud cover at our altitude of 11,000 feet again made it necessary to request a higher altitude. By 2:00 p.m., we were cruising at 19,000 feet, on oxygen, and with an outside air temperature of -18 degrees C. Ole Pokey would not climb any higher and we had to alter course periodically to get around some of the higher towering cumulus.

An occasional break in the clouds gave us a view of the snow-covered mountains below. The weather kept us at this altitude for about five hours. It gradually dissipated as the terrain lowered toward the desert area southeast of the Caspian Sea. This made it possible to descend to a more comfortable altitude, and none too soon as the oxygen supply was by now nearly gone. With darkness came a clear sky and a glow on the horizon that had to be Tehran. Approaching the city, it appeared much larger than I had expected.

Ole Pokey was very light now, having consumed most of the fuel load. We landed within a few hundred feet of the intersection and turned into the terminal. The trip had taken 11:48 hours and 378 gallons of fuel. Customs and Immigration was becoming more difficult with each stop. The officials were friendly and cooperative but had much difficulty in reaching a decision as to what should be done with Pokey and me. With this finally settled, we obtained fuel and tied down for the night. By this time, it was too late to consider making another leg the next day.

The 17th of June was spent checking the aircraft, replenishing our oxygen supply and in general making plans to cross the great desert to Karachi on the 18th.

Iran deserts
The deserts of Iran are desolate.

The desert area between Tehran and Karachi is awesome indeed. Based purely on my personal feelings, the North Atlantic was a piece of cake compared to this. Weather was generally good, though visibility was rather restricted due to haze. None of the radio equipment seemed to perform adequately, and the desert below must surely be one of the most barren places on earth.

The 1,031-mile trip was completed in 8:48 hours. I faced the usual Customs and Immigration delays with more than usual patience knowing that this leg had been completed. Pleasant accommodations were available at the Halfway House, operated by Pakistan International Airlines, within a few blocks of the airport. This convenience provided ample opportunity for rest and relaxation, especially since the next day’s flight to Bombay was only 519 miles.

We departed Karachi on June 19th, after a good breakfast and the usual Customs, Immigration, and ATC clearing. Our weatherman predicted clear skies and a 10-knot headwind all the way to Bombay. The trip southeast down the coast of Pakistan and India was without incident. The weather held as forecast and we were able to maintain a comfortable 11,000 feet for the entire trip. The headwind also materialized and though this was one of the shortest legs, the 101-knot average speed we made was the slowest. Again, the Custom’s formalities were very slow and awkward. It was late in the afternoon when I finally got to a hotel.

Since the monsoon season was upon us, Pokey and I left Bombay very early on the 20th, hoping to reach Calcutta before the afternoon thunderstorm activity got too bad. We headed northeast across India at 11,000 feet again. As we approached West Bengal, the weather got worse, and the landing at Calcutta’s Dum Dum Airport was on instruments and in light rain. The wind had helped us in that the 916 miles was covered in 6:06 hours at an average speed of 150 knots. This was to be the fastest speed of the entire journey.

Arrival was about 1:00 p.m. local and evidently siesta time. About 2.5 hours was spent waking up people sleeping at the more important looking desks in an attempt to find enough Customs and Immigration officers to make our arrival legal. I was assured that the airport and facilities were open 24-hours a day and that a 5:00 a.m. departure for Bangkok on the 21st would be no problem. A horrifying 40-minute taxi ride took me to the Grand (??) Hotel in Calcutta.

At 3:30 a.m. on the 21st, with the help of an interpreter, a taxi driver was located and he promised to drive slowly and carefully to the airport. Even at a slow rate of speed, we still nearly ran over an Indian sleeping in the middle of the road. Upon arrival at the airport, I found, as yesterday, everyone sleeping. This morning it was dark, no lights were on, and instead of sleeping on the desks, people were all over the floor in all states of undress. I spent another exasperating two hours and thirty minutes stumbling over bodies with a flashlight in an attempt to make an official departure.

The sun was well up when Pokey and I breathed a sigh of relief and left Dum Dum (good name) Airport behind. We headed southeast across the Bay of Bengal, over Burma, the Gulf of Nartaban and into Thailand. Weather was pleasant and the rich green of the country below was lovely. The 875 miles to Bangkok took 7:06 hours at an average speed of 124 knots. Officials at Bangkok were courteous and efficient. A happy Thai taxi driver had us in town to a nice hotel in short order. A relaxing evening put us in good shape for an early morning takeoff for Hong Kong.

PC-6 in Vietnam
The PC-6 flew many flights in Vietnam; fortunately for this Porter, Vietnam was viewed from 19,000 feet.

We departed Bangkok as scheduled with a full load of fuel on the morning of June 22nd. Enroute weather was forecast to be good but again no help from the wind. We received strict instructions to cross Vietnam at 19,000 feet due to reported enemy anti-aircraft weaponry. An altitude of 11,000 feet was approved for the route across Thailand. Approaching Uban and with the Mekong River only 40 miles ahead, we started climbing for 19,000 feet. Ole Pokey still had a heavy load of fuel and it was a real struggle. Vietnam was rich and green looking and no evidence of the strife below was visible from this altitude until reaching Da Nang. Even from 19,000 feet, Da Nang’s busy harbor, the double runway airport crowded with aircraft and the bomb scarred hills to the west was evidence enough.

We descended to a lower altitude and continued eastward across the South China Sea to the Parcel Islands before turning northward to Hong Kong. This was necessary in order to avoid the Red China Island of Hainan. As we progressed northward, the weather deteriorated and the approach to Hong Kong was on instruments. We broke out at about 800 feet with the runway and city dead ahead. The 1,007 miles from Bangkok had taken 8.5 hours at an average speed of 117 knots. The pleasant British atmosphere at the airport and the exciting city were reason enough to make Hong Kong a one-day rest stop.

On the 24th of June, Pokey and I departed Hong Kong at 6:00 a.m. local, with a light load of fuel and in instrument weather. The weatherman said it was a local condition and should improve as we progressed up the Formosa Straights. The short, 474-mile run to Taipei took only 3:36 hours. There were still traces of morning fog as we arrived. The officials were nice enough and we had ample time for all the preparations necessary for an early departure to Seoul the next morning.

On the morning of the 25th of June, we had full tanks and a promise of good weather. Departure was without incident and Ole Pokey headed northeast to follow the Ryukyu Chain across Okinawa to southern Japan. As we approached Kyushu, the weather became overcast, denying us a view of Japan. As the ADF needle told us, we were over Fukuoka, Pokey headed north and west for the first time.

As we crossed the Sea of Japan to Pusan, Korea, the weather improved and the remainder of the trip to Seoul was in scattered cloud conditions. We arrived in Seoul at 5:30 p.m. local time, having made the 1,112 miles from Taipei in 08:36 hours at an average speed of 130 knots.

The rest of June was spent making necessary arrangements for the operation of our aircraft in the Republic of Korea. On the 3rd of July, the last 185 miles from Seoul to the Honam Oil Refinery at Yosu was completed. This ended the delivery phase and began the air support of Caltex-Honam in Korea by World Aviation Services, Inc.

For those interested in figures:

  • The total distance from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Yosu, Korea was 13,473 nautical miles
  • Average speed was 121.8 knots
  • Total flying time was 110:06 hours
  • Total fuel consumed was 3,468.2 gallons U.S.
  • Average fuel consumption was 31.5 gallons per hour
  • Average wind component was plus 6.8 knots (tailwind)

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