Before I forget the whole trip (haha, right) I better write something.
In the hotel I was left with a difficult decision, that was ultimately easily answered by my sense for safety.
The next leg would either be Rayong to Subang direct (630NM) or to Hat Yai (basically halfway) and then on to Subang. I determined the safe range to be 650 NM in no wind conditions during the trip.
Tomorrow was going to bring a headwind and there were isolated thunderstorms forecast. You would maybe think that is a no-brainer (stop) but there is more to consider.
The forecast winds were only about 5 to 10 knots and storms, well, they can either be there or not be there. In my experience the weather is usually a bit better than the forecast when it comes to thunderstorms. But as you might know, most of that experience is in Europe and the dry skies of Namibia. This climate however is a different story.
Another thing to consider is obviously the cost implied and time lost when making an extra stop. If I were to go direct to Subang and leave early, I could make it by 10 AM and maybe beat the storms to fly another (4 hour) leg to Kuching (WBGG). That would mean significant time gain and less costs. On the other hand, if I stop in Hat Yai and loose time there (1 hour doesn’t cut it usually, however Thailand proved to be quicker), I was probably going to land 2 hours later, at noon, in Subang; meaning the storms would already kick up.
The 650NM ‘safe range’ I set for myself is exactly what I called it. A safe range. That implies there is quite a big margin on it. In good conditions the range to 45 mins fuel is more like 750 to even 800 NM.
But when you factor in possibilities like storm diversions, flying lower than planned due to icing, ATC delays, delays at destination, unexpected headwinds, etc… the choice is actually simple. Just make a stop, it’s worth the cost.
So that’s what I communicated to the team and I prepared myself to fly VTBU – VTSS – WMSA the next day.
Departure from Rayong was quite hassle free (also because it was still a national flight) so I left more or less on time. It seemed like there were some low and medium stratiform clouds hanging around from dead thunderstorms so no convective activity to be worried about yet. It stayed like that most of the way so I didn’t really see much of the ground and didn’t take many pictures.
After about 2 hours it was already time to prepare for the descent. The weather at the airport was good with some isolated showers reported. There were 2 or 3 thunderstorms in the distance but as far as I could make out the area where the airport must bee looked clear apart from the low clouds (still 2-3000ft).
Since I was supposed to fly VFR and it’s actually fun I accepted the visual for a right downwind. I came in fast and steep direct to a right base instead, extended the gear and flap at 154 knots in the turn to final and landed smoothly on what looked like another neat airport. I like flying these high performance singles. Makes me wonder what its like to fly a G58, twice the fun?
(video to come)
Refueled and stamped out I got ready again for the final leg to Rayong.
The weather forecast always looks the same here ‘… CAVOK … TEMPO BKN030CB TSRA’ blabla. Basically saying it’s nice weather, just keep a lookout for huge bad-ass thunderstorms. Check.
Before takeoff, the controller tells me to ‘Reach FL110 before KARMI’. Easier said than done for me but lets see. I suppose that’s on the Malaysian border. That is about 25 NM away so no, unable (usually, climb to cruise takes 25 minutes and 55NM). Good thing I didn’t bring a tracker otherwise my family would think something was wrong with it (or me) as I was flying east when I should go south.
My guesstimate worked out pretty good, reaching FL110 1 NM before KARMI. The rest of the flight was pretty much the same as before. Flying through layers of stratus with some cauliflowers left and right. Convection was getting out of bed and having it’s coffee.
By the time I reached the busy terminal area of Kuala Lumpur (I was going for Subang airport, not the big one) some of the cauliflowers were fully grown. Lucky for me I avoided the worst of it with ease with minor heading changes however, you can’t move the airport. As I was on an intercept course for the ILS I went into the clouds but I couldn’t really see what it was I was getting into. It wasn’t that dark inside and the rain was ok so I figured it wasn’t a big deal. As I got halfway down the vertical guidance my airspeed increased and it started raining more intense. I was however still able to maintain stabilized approach as the turbulence kicked me around. Then at about 700 feet I broke the cloud and I saw I just popped out of a maturing storm. Good timing.
(insert video here :-)0
Again the crew was waiting for me as I contemplated whether or not to continue to Kuching. I looked back at the approach path as I heared thunder roaring and saw that storm I approached through getting bigger and louder by the minute. I looked south I saw more of the same. It was now about 1 PM so the storms would only be intensifying as they got on with their day. I decided it’s probably wise to stay and fly again in the morning, I was feeling quite tired anyway and could use some rest.
All said and done we made a plan for the next day, fueled the plane and set off to find a hotel. I ended up staying at the Grand Dorsett where I spent much of the afternoon trying to think how to get to WBKK – Kota Kinabalu. At this point we still had no fuel all the way to RPVP. I worked out a plan to fly to WBGB direct (instead of the closer WBGG), refuel from my on-board drums and barrels (totaling 220L now) and then fly straight to RPVP. It could work but both legs were really stretching my set ‘safe range’ with all the same concerns as before still valid. I wasn’t even sure if I could get stamped out of Malaysia in WBGB. I rather not do this route obviously, especially with this weather. But since it was our only option (I can’t turn water into fuel…), I planned accordingly.
A few hours later, after doing the planning and filling flight plans, came the good word that the local handler found and secured a barrel of fuel for me at WBGG. We could fly WMSA – WBGG – WBKK – RPVP after all. That was a relief! Now I could revert to the old planning again… So much for extra rest 😛
In the evening I had to get out of the hotel for once so I took the free shuttle to the Pyramid mall and grabbed a bite at, to my surprise, Nandos. A South African chain that brings back some memories from Namibia.
I hit the hey with everything ready to go. If all went well tomorrow, I would be sleeping in Kota Kinabalu. A place on the Malaysian island close to the Philipine border, with only 1 more day to go! Seems like this epic trip is coming to it’s conclusion.
But it’s not over yet!