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Flying in the Middle East

by Art on

Flying around sand storms Our journey over the past week or so has been over and in some places you would never think you could as an American pilot. From Luxor, Egypt we flew across Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Tunisia as well as skirting by Libya to the country of Oman. Did we have any problems? Absolutely not. All the controllers spoke fairly good English (some exceptions of course) and all treated us the same as the local airplanes flying by. While we tend to focus on the fact that these are independent countries and some of them potentially unfriendly to Americans, the fact is they had no problem with us. It was more like flying across the US with handoffs from one controller to another. On the way to Oman the other day, we flew within 5 miles of Iranian airspace and at one point were only 150 miles south of Iraq. Unnerving to someone who wasn't there flying with us perhaps but no big deal to any of us.

Today, we traveled from Oman to Ahmadabad, India and flew for over an hour through Pakistani airspace. Once again, no issues whatsoever (despite the fact that US troops killed eleven Pakistani soldiers in a raid on the Afghan border just the day before and they were, understandably, upset at the US). Upon arrival at the India border we spent some time diverting around buildups while we waited to get in range of the India controllers. We were about 80 miles inside India airspace without contact before we finally raised them. Again, just an acknowledgment of our location and a request to let them know when we wanted to begin our decent into Ahmadabad. All very normal stuff.

In fact, aside from knowing where you are on the map and your preconceptions about how scary these places are, you could just as well be flying anywhere in the US. Over the next five days we'll be flying through Agra, India (home of the Taj Mahal) and then onto Calcutta before visiting the country of Thailand.

In Egypt and Oman the ramp temperatures have been over 100F on landing and take off

One issue that all aircraft on this journey have to deal with is the extreme heat. In Egypt and Oman the ramp temperatures have been over 100F on landing and take off. This calls for the expectation for a faster touch-down speed and longer roll-out. For takeoff, you have to really watch the airspeed indicator as in the thinner, hotter air, the take off roll is extended a lot as well. Once airborne the climb rate is not like it is in cooler climates either. In particular, climbing up to FL290 take a while and the last several thousand feet we are only climbing at 200 fpm. The temperature today at FL290 was only -15 and quite a bit below ISO. The resulting true airspeed was about 10 knots slower than it should have been. The benefit, of course, was a miserly 44 gph (300 pph) fuel flow. We will continue to see these degradations as long as we are in the hot, humid climates of India and southern Asia.

Another issue is the dust and haze. Visibilities have been fairly poor due to blowing dust at most locations. The full ILS has been welcome as most times we don't see the runway until we are a couple of miles away. Also, the dust billows up to around three thousand feet so I've felt obligated to put the inertial separator on earlier than I normally do to try and help keep the grit out of the airstream into the engine intake.

Thunderstorms, buildups, bumpy clouds and rain are on the horizon for the foreseeable future

While we've had very good weather on the entire journey so far, we are now entering the land of the Monsoon and the season has just started. Thunderstorms, buildups, bumpy clouds and rain are on the horizon for the foreseeable future. The flying will be more challenging in the days to come and I'm glad to have Tracy here to help out with the chores of handling this stuff. Once again we're grateful to be flying the Pilatus PC-12 as it's been an 'all-star' on the trip and has easily handled everything we've done with ease. Every turn on this journey has yielded excitement and new experiences. What an adventure!

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