“I don’t trust single-engine airplanes anything farther than I could throw them! But, I trust the One who leads me to do this.” Those were the first words that United Airlines Captain Jim Bone said to me as we sat down to lunch during his layover in Omaha. I immediately knew that we were “on the same page.”
I had been led to Jim by the staff at Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS) when I called them seeking a fuselage ferry fuel tank for the Cessna T-210 that I was planning to fly from Omaha to Tel Aviv back in 1981.
Jim and I talked further about ferry procedures, the probable route and the likely departure date. I was grateful then, when at the end of our lunch, he agreed to accompany me on the trip. I had about two thousand hours of over-water time by then, but all of it was with four engines at high altitude. Jim, though, had already completed several single-engine ferry flights and, therefore, had the experience and the expertise necessary to ensure that we did things right. And doing things right was exactly what I wanted!
I first flew the airplane from Omaha to North Carolina to have an HF radio and a second ADF installed. Then, with the help of an Eastern Airlines captain, I found a maintenance technician in that area who could complete the ferry tank installation. That former Air Force F-105 pilot-turned-FBO manager/maintenance technician, a man committed to perfection, was exactly the right person for the job.
Jim and I knew, for example, that we would have access to every drop of fuel on board the 210 because, in addition to the standard, factory-installed engine-driven and electric auxiliary fuel pumps, the technician added a manual wobble pump that could be used, if necessary, to transfer fuel from the internal ferry tank to the wing tanks. As a matter of fact, the ferry tank and necessary fuel system modifications had been installed and completed so well that when it later came time to remove them in Tel Aviv, the impressed technician there said, “This fuel system work is all a piece of art; I hate to touch it.”
Back in North Carolina, once all of the 210’s systems and avionics had been tested and retested and every trip detail checked and rechecked, Jim and I said our goodbyes and left, FAA ferry permit in hand, for Langhorne, Pennsylvania. We stopped there to pick up the raft and other survival gear that we needed for our Atlantic crossing. Then, it was on to St. John’s, Newfoundland.
In those days (many years before GPS), Canada would not allow ferry pilots to depart Newfoundland’s airspace eastbound unless they first went through a two-day dead reckoning (DR) navigation course. But, since Jim had already completed their course, we were able to begin our crossing – direct to the Azores – the next day.
So, very early the next morning, we rechecked our weight and balance, got our Atlantic and destination weather briefing, put on our maximum fuel load, very thoroughly preflighted the airplane, and then taxied to the active runway for departure. As we did so, it was comforting to know that, even though our flight to the Azores was about eight hours long, we actually had 14 hours of fuel on board – enough to reach the Canary Islands if we missed the Azores.
And, missing the Azores – although not probable – was possible, because our “long-range navigation system” consisted of just two ADFs, a heading system and a compass. We also had forecast-but-uncertain winds, unfamiliar compass precession, and magnetic variation issues to consider as we crossed the Atlantic. I must also confess that I have never listened more intently to an engine or paid more attention to ocean waves and swells than I did on that flight. But, our turbocharged Continental TSIO-520 engine ran absolutely perfectly during the eight-hour crossing.
And then, when we locked onto the first NDB in the Azores after about six hours of DR, even Jim, an ocean crossing veteran, was astonished. It was just like threading a needle: we were right on course. Our navigation results would not have been any more accurate with a GPS or the latest Inertial Reference Unit (although, yes, a flight with that equipment would have been much easier and considerably more comfortable).
After landing, we prepared the airplane for the next day’s flight. We then had dinner with the head of ATC in the Azores, a very interesting man whom Jim had met on a previous flight. So, both our first long leg to the Azores and our time there were especially memorable. And the legs that followed (to Lisbon, Palermo, and, finally, to Tel Aviv) went just as smoothly and were just as amazing.
We enjoyed exceptionally good weather, an operationally perfect airplane, and fascinating experiences along the way. And Jim proved to be a very professional, congenial and enjoyable flying partner. It was exciting, of course, to finally roll the 210 onto the runway at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport. It was also a bit sad, as that landing signaled the end of a very remarkable journey.
What did I take away from this ferry flight experience? First, I believe that our attention to basic-but-significant things, such as planning, preparation and precision, helped enable the success of our 6900-mile voyage. Our efforts in these areas really made a difference. And second, we owed a lot to a lot of people. I will never forget them. Not only were many very talented and dedicated individuals involved in our journey from start to finish, but we also encountered numerous kind and helpful folks on every leg of the trip. It never failed. Someone knowledgeable always showed up at each stop (local pilots, airline crews, airport personnel, etc.) to assist us in every way possible.
That reminded me, again, that the people in and around aviation are often unique and special. It also reminded me of an absolute truth: every successful flight – in any craft and for any duration – is the result of the efforts of many. Around the patch or around the world, every flight is a team accomplishment!