75 Flight Hours to Australia

  Delivering an aircraft from the United States to a customer in Australia involves more than hopping in, going to the first ocean on the left and heading for Hawaii.

No light single-engine or twin-engined aircraft carries enough fuel to make it to the first stop, which, from the West coast of the US, is always Honolulu. It wouldn't be practical to provide tanks big enough to hold that much fuel in production aircraft because of the reduction in passenger carrying capacity it would require. To make the trip, all of the seats, except one for the pilot, are removed and special fuel tanks, fitted to each make and model, are installed. They go from the floor to the ceiling, replacing the copilot's seat and across the width of the cabin in place of the rear seats. Tripling the normal fuel supply will usually suffice. There is room for a few charts, a life raft and little else.

Navigation equipment suitable for the route must be installed. You can make the trip with nothing more than an Automatic Direction Finder, but there is no reason to limit your capability so severely when GPS receivers giving an accurate fix every second are available for less than $100.00.

The Very High Frequency, or VHF, communication equipment generally installed in an aircraft is useful within what is known as "line-of sight" range which limits its use, at the altitude light aircraft generally fly, to about 100 miles. Keeping in radio contact beyond this distance requires a High-Frequency, or HF, transceiver. Tuning from 3 to 18 megahertz, these radios take advantage of the changing characteristics of the ionosphere from day to night to provide contact at distances ranging from hundreds to thousands of miles. The HF radio installation requires installation of a wire antenna which stretches from the top of the forward part of the cabin to the vertical tail and perhaps on to a wingtip.

After the fuel tanks are filled, the weight of the aircraft is typically 130% of the normal take-off weight. The tires usually need to be pumped up to more than the normal maximum pressure to support the load.

Take-off performance is sluggish at best and climb performance really suffers. Departing from Oakland International Airport involves using the longest runway available. Clearing the Bay Bridge is the first obstacle and the Golden Gate Bridge is the second. It's a long, slow climb to the normal altitiude of 6000 feet for the first leg to Hawaii.

An autopilot to do the flying for you along the way? Certainly you jest. The smallest single engine planes rarely have autopilots installed. You need to hand fly them all the way. And that means for every minute of the 16 to 18 hours it takes to get to Hawaii. And another 18 hours to Samoa. Add 15 more to Norfolk Island. While you make lunch. While you calculate your position. While you make your position reports. No napping allowed.