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Across the Atlantic in a Caravan

Caravan Flying for MAF

How to Properly Fly Skydivers in the Cessna Caravan

 


 

Across the Atlantic in a Caravan

To some, 5 days and 51 hours of flying across half of the globe in a single engine aircraft seemed like a silly idea. But it was an exciting journey flying across the Atlantic Ocean, diverse land forms and even more diverse countries.

   By Raunaq Singh Panwar

Ferrying a new aircraft is one thing which most pilots would love to do, but when you tell them that you are crossing the Atlantic in a single engine aircraft, then they start asking, “Are you okay? How will you manage to fly a Caravan for 12 hours?” But we are talking about a brand new aircraft, the latest addition to Auric Air’s fleet, here in Mwanza, Tanzania. I was fortunate to get this chance of ferrying a new aircraft from Wichita to Nairobi, Kenya, and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity.

So here we were in Wichita, Kansas, the ‘Air Capital’ of the World. Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Learjet, you name it and Wichita has it. I could see new, shiny planes, all over at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita. Our journey to Nairobi would take us through Cincinnati and Bangor in USA, Santa Maria Island and Azores in Portugal, Luqa,Malta, and Luxor, Egypt. That sounded exciting! Let me first familiarize you with our aircraft, which was a Cessna Caravan, model C208B. It is a single engine turboprop airplane, which can fly non-stop for six-and a-half hours and can cover 1,800kms. It is the most successful single engine turboprop ever made. It can land and take off from short airstrips, especially in the bush. I was at Wichita with Alex Haynes, my fellow ferry pilot, who would accompany me till Nairobi. We departed at 0900 hrs for Cincinnati, Kentucky, which would take us 4 hours. We over flew a lot of cities and small towns and each one of them had an airport or at least an airstrip. No wonder aviation is way ahead in the USA than India. While overflying St Louis, Missouri, I could see the Gateway Arch, and it looked beautiful from above. A couple of hours later we landed at Northern Kentucky International Airport. We had a quick bite and then after an hour we took off for Bangor, Maine, our final U.S. destination.

This leg takes about 5 1/2 hours. Some bad weather was forecast enroute, so it was going to be interesting. Instead of flying straight to Bangor, we diverted a bit towards Washington DC and then north towards Maine. We were about 150 km away from New York City and I was amazed to see the city lights so far at night. I knew New York was a huge city, but truly felt it at that moment. The day was coming to an end and finally we landed at Bangor, a small town with a population of about 35,000,but an important refueling stop for planes flying across the Atlantic. The next two days we stayed in Bangor to get our ferry tanks installed inside the aircraft, with them we could fly for 14-1/2 hours nonstop. The D-Day came and Alex briefed me about our trip across the Atlantic, and showed me our survival kit and the raft – “in case weneed it!” He told me that once he was ferrying a C172, and had to ditch in the Atlantic due to engine trouble. He was obviously preparing me for such a situation. We departed before sunset so as to reach the middle of North Atlantic Ocean – Santa Maria Islandour next stop in the Azores, Portugal, in the morning. This leg would take us 11 hours.

​An hour after departure we crossed into Canada and then a few islands later we were over the Atlantic Ocean. I was ecstatic, after all I was flying over the Atlantic! I saw a sunset over the Atlantic and that was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever witnessed. We flew over the middle of the ocean at night. There was no one around – just me and the other pilot – and I was enjoying every bit of it. Once in a while, we heard an airliner talking to New York Control over the radio; other than that, it was quiet. We got into the clouds and now and then through the break in the cloud cover we saw a ship or two. As we were cruising at13,000 feet, which is not very high, we could make out the ships. It was a long flight but exciting. The excitement mounted when we were about to reach Santa Maria Islanding the Azores, 1,500 km west of Lisbon and 3,900 km from the east coast of North America. And then we saw it in the horizon, breaking the vast expanse of water all-around. It was a welcome sight as it meant landing after a long trip and getting to refuel! Ours was the only plane at this tiny airport, which usually sees private jets of various businessmen and aircraft of heads of states, flying between Europe and North America. We got the plane refueled and decided to sleep for 5 hours to get enough rest for our next leg of 12 hours of flying. We headed out to Vila do Porto town to take the much-needed nap. The island was extremely scenic with a population of around 6,000.Their main occupation is fishing and agriculture.

​After the much needed rest we were back at the airport for another evening departure to Malta. The flight plan we had filed from Santa Maria to Malta was routed through Lisbon, Madrid, Valencia, Palma, Cagliari, and Palermo to Malta. Instead of what Brussels gave us – via South Portugal, Seville, Malaga, Algiers, and Tunis to Malta. This route was shorter but would have meant flying over Algeria. Any country you overfly in Africa, you have to get prior permission. Alex was not too comfortable with this route as we didn't have the permit. One of his friends who did the same route without the permit was intercepted by Algerian fighter jets and had to stay 2 days in jail in Algiers. But he said, “Let’s try it as it is shorter and if the control asks us, we say we didn't ask for this route but was given to us by Brussels.” Already this leg of our trip was becoming interesting for me.

Finally, we took-off from Santa Maria after a lot of debate. The island was so beautiful that Couldn't stop taking pictures. Soon it got dark and I was communicating with Lisbon Control. After around 5 hours we successfully crossed the Atlantic. Alex shook my hand and said:" Buddy, we made it across!” I was excited and could see lights all over south Portugal. We continued and entered Spain and first flew over Seville and then Malaga. The name Malaga had always sounded exotic to me, and then I heard an Iberia plane communicating on the radio with Malaga Control. I just loved the pilot’s Spanish accent. After an hour we were over the Algerian Sea and were with Algiers Control. Before entering their airspace they asked us a few questions but cleared us to enter Algeria." That was smooth” said Alex. Algiers was another huge city and looked pretty at night.

​After Algiers, it was quiet and by the time we were over Tunis it was almost dawn. Tunis was looking extremely beautiful and one thing you can clearly see while flying are the stadiums. Soon it was time to descend into Malta. We flew a bit over Valetta, the capital city, and took some pictures. The landing at Malta International Airport ended our longest leg of 12 hours of flying. After 2 hours, we were back in the air for our next leg of 8 hours to Luxor, Egypt. Just after takeoff saw the Rotunda of Mosta(The Mosta Dome). It is the third largest unsupported dome in the world. Over the Mediterranean Sea now, we saw a lot of ships and could make out how busy the Suez Canal route is. On this leg, I heard major airlines of the world communicating. Emirates, Qatar, Turkish, Lufthansa, Scandinavian, Continental and Saudi Arabian. But the best was American Airlines; their call sign is' Cowboy’, which sounded refreshing on the radio! There were not many small aircraft on this route and once even the controller made fun of us: “Traffic, Lufthansa Airbus340, 25,000 feet above you.” I replied, “Will look out for the traffic, as if we can see 25,000 ft above us.” We all were laughing on the radio. High humour indeed!

Now we entered Africa via Egypt, and as soon as we were over land there was sand, sand and mores and! I had never flown over sand before in my life. Some may find it boring, but I found the sight very beautiful. At Asyut, we crossed the Nile and this was my first look at the river that had given rise to an ancient civilization. We landed at Luxor after sunset and during our descent, Alex showed me the Valley of the Kings. We planned to go there the next day, surely another high point in my journey. The next morning we visited the Valley of the Kings and the Karnak Temple. I was awed by the immensity of the monuments that gave me a true sense of the ability and power of the Egyptian civilization. At night we started the final leg of our journey to Nairobi which would take us about 11 hours. We flew over Aswan and Audible and I wished it was a daylight. Soon we entered Sudan and it was pretty quiet there, other than the odd Kenya Airways or Egypt Air flight on the radio. Over Sudan, Alex switched off all navigation lights. “Idon’t want a new plane to be the target of a teenager’s rocket launcher,” he said. We chatted about the situation in Sudan anyhow the people are going to vote for the referendum. Surprisingly, maybe because of our threat perception, Sudan seemed like a never-ending country!


We entered Kenya at dawn over the highlands. The towns of Eldoret and Nakuru seemed like flying over Indian hill stations of Mussourie or Ooty.Soon after, we got in touch with Nairobi Control. I didn’t want this flight to end, but then as they say, all good things must come to an end! While descending into Nairobi Wilson Airport I saw the giraffes in Nairobi National Park. I was back in Swahili land after 5 days and 51 hours of flying!


Caravan Flying for MAF
  by Jim Vanderburg


MAF Caravan 9Q-CAU in Zaire (DR Congo) photo by Jim Vanderburg


In the early 90’s I had the pleasure of flying a Cessna Caravan around the country of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). I was there to support the many humanitarian, medical and missionary efforts in the eastern region of the country. The Caravan I flew was 9Q-CAU, serial number 10.

Our home base was the village of Nyankude, located about 1000nm from the country's capital, Kinshasa and around 400nm from Nairobi Kenya. Nyankude was a prime location, with a fully equipped hospital and two hangers to service and repair the aircraft based there. We had a fleet of around three 206’s and the one Cessna Caravan.


MAF C206s in Zaire (DR Congo) photo by Jim Vanderburg

Around once a week I would make the trip to Nairobi in the Caravan to pick up the mail for everyone in our village. We worked over there before either telephones or the Internet were accessible. Mail usually took about four weeks for it to be delivered or received. If there was ever and emergency we had the option of using an HF radio in the Caravan to patch a call to the United States via Switzerland.

Many hours were spent flying over the Ituri rain forest, where the upper canopies would reach heights of 200ft. In the event an airplane did go down out in the rain forest; there would be little to no chance of it ever being found. Although I avoided thinking about it too much, looking back I realize how much my life and the lives of everyone I flew depended on the reliability and safety of the Caravan and PT-6.


MAF Caravan 9Q-CAU serial number 10 photo by Jim Vanderburg

Occasionally I would make the trip to the country's capital of Kinshasa. I could usually make the trip to Kinshasa non-stop due to the winds being out of the east; but on the return trip I would have to stop for fuel. The fuel stop would depend on the route taken, it would sometimes be a city like Kisangani, or at a remote out-station we had set up with stockpiles of fuel barrels.

I recall a particular incident on this route when I was to deliver a family with all of their belongings from Kinshasa to a remote village on the eastern side of the country. The trip would require a fuel stop at an outstation that was carved out of the forest. We arrived at the outstation without incident, and I started the tedious task of refueling the Caravan at the fuel stockpile. It required filling 5 gallon jerry cans from barrels using a hand pump, I then had to stand on the wing while someone passed me the can and I would poor it into the fuel tank with a funnel.

After successfully refueling the plane, seating the family back in the plane and preforming the pre-flight, I went to crank the PT-6. To my dismay there was no light off. I realized that the familiar ticking of the igniter, that we take for granted, wasn’t there. After checking and re-checking, sure enough the igniter box had failed, and in the worst place. I succeeded in contacting our base in Nyankunde on the HF radio, and unfortunately we didn’t have another box in stock. The closest one they could locate was at Wilson Field in Nairobi.

We then made ourselves comfortable in a couple of vacant homes in a nearby village, while waiting for help. I have memories of eating lots of bananas during those days, as well as taking tour on the river in a dug-out canoe. Two days later, one of our 206’s arrived with a new igniter box and I proceeded with the simple installation of bolting the new one in place. Since that time, I believe that Cessna has added a second igniter box for just that type of circumstance.


MAF Caravan in Zaire photo by Jim Vanderburg

The Caravan was an amazing plane to be able to, not only work on as an A&P but also, fly as a pilot. I am grateful for the opportunities that I had at that time to use it to its full potential serving the people in Congo.

For more information about MAF, please visit their site www.maf.org

 

How to Properly Fly Skydivers in the Cessna Caravan

 

The Cessna 208A Caravan and 208B Grand Caravan are by far the most common turbine jump airplanes in the world. From Skydive Switzerland to Skydive Andes, from Skydive Sydney to Skydive Dubai and everything in between you will find Caravans hard at work flying skydivers. Jump pilots love how fun and easy it is to fly, owners love its lower operating costs compared to other turbine aircraft and skydivers love the high wing and large exit door.

 

There are many versions of the Caravan: 208A, 208B, 208B EX, Black Hawk upgrade Aero Twin upgrade and Texas Turbines upgrade. The 208A Caravan aka “Mini Van” climbs fair, the 208B Grand Caravan aka “Grand Van” climbs good and the Black Hawk (850hp), Aero Twin (1000hp) and Texas Turbines (1000hp) conversions climb great! The version that you will see at most drop zones around the world is the 208B Grand Caravan, and is why I will mostly refer to this model.

 

For most of the jump pilots that will transition from a piston to a turbine, this will be your airplane. Most of us pilots did our training in a high wing single engine Cessna which makes the Caravan the easiest turbine to transition to and another reason why DZOs love it.

 

The Numbers:

 

  • Capacity - 17 skydivers
  • Empty Weight - 4570 lbs
  • Maximum Take Off Weight - 8750 lbs
  • Useful Load - 4180 lbs
  • Fuel Capacity - 332 gallons / 2224 lbs
  • Powerplant - Pratt & Whitney PT6A-114A 675hp
  • TBO - 3600 hrs
  • Time to Climb - approx. 15 mins

 

Before Take Off:

 

The loading of the Caravan is similar to most other turbine jump airplanes. There are 2 benches that the skydivers straddle and face the back of the airplane. Make sure that no one sits in the very back near the back wall, and trust me, they will try and sit there no matter how many times you tell them not to. It’s not quite as big of a deal if you have a light load. But I have definitely noticed some CG issues on that with heavier loads.

 

One of the most critical parts of any Caravan pilots day is avoiding a “hot start”. A hot start is when temperatures rise above 1090 degrees Celsius in the combustion section and cause internal damage to the engine on start up. You may have a hot start if you have a weak battery, if the emergency power lever is not stowed or if the bleed air switch was left on. Most hot starts are the fault of the pilot, it is very rare for a Caravan to have a true hot start. If you cause one, you more than likely will be looking for another job in the near future. The engine will need to be removed and tore down for a complete internal inspection at the very least.

 

After start up, be sure and check to see that you do not have a fuel imbalance greater than 200lbs. If you do, turn the lighter tank switch off, in order to burn off fuel from the heavier side. You should burn enough fuel during your taxi and run up to equal things out a little. Monitor that fuel imbalance in the air as well. I’ve flown a Caravan that liked to drink from one tank more than the other and I had to constantly monitor that.

 

I know a lot of us jump pilots fly from rough airstrips, so be sure and make use of the Inertial Separator while taxiing. It will minimize ingestion of foreign matter into the compressor. Just be sure and stow it before take off or you will notice a great reduction in take off power and it is very hard to stow with full throttle.

 

Take Off:

 

As part of your GUMPSFITS check, add 20 degrees of flaps for take off. Advance the throttle slow and steady. As with most airplanes, it will let you know when its ready to rotate, but it’s usually around 70 KIAS because we’re usually heavy. Obviously, when we’re lighter, it will want to get off the ground sooner or at a lower airspeed. Climb out initially at around 90 KIAS and then lower the nose to 100 KIAS, which is slightly less than Vy (104 KIAS). That speed seems to work the best for the C208B. As with any jump plane you fly, initially you should experiment with different airspeeds while timing yourself. Your torque should be Max. until ITT or Ng limit. Retract flaps 10 degrees at a time starting at 1000 ft AGL. Check in with ATC.

 

Jump Run:

 

Once on jump run your airspeed should be at 85 KIAS, your flaps at 10 degrees, torque between 600-900ft-lbs and prop RPM at 1850. It will be possible to lower that airspeed and RPM slightly as you get more comfortable flying this airplane. At about 2 miles out turn the red door light on. Make your 2 minute call to ATC and then a 1 minute call on CTAF. Turn on the green jump light. While the jumpers are exiting, make sure that your tail never gets low. I have personally never had a skydiver strike the horizontal stabilizer of the Caravan, but I have heard of it happening.

 

It is important to note that a lot of Grand Vans have a front float step and you will notice that if someone is on it they will be very close to the left flap trailing edge. I have had inexperienced jumpers on that front float step bend the corner of the flap with their rig. Brief your video and fun jumpers not to lean up against the flap. Luckily most DZs will only allow experienced jumpers to use the front float step but even some of them do not realize how easily they can bend it.

 

Descent:

 

We jump pilots are basically doing an emergency descent on every flight. As soon as the last skydiver exits, put the flaps up, power to idle and jump light off while simultaniously lowering the nose. Constantly scan for other air traffic that might be in the area and/or any skydivers that might have pulled high. The maximum cargo door open airspeed is 155 KIAS. Your descent rate will be around 5000 ft/min. If it’s your last load of the day, be sure and thank ATC for all their help. They appreciate it and it’s the least we can do, considering that they look out for us every day. For landing, use full flaps unless it’s windy. After landing, again, if you’re on a dirt or similar airstrip, use the inertial separator.

 

If your’re a new turbine pilot be sure and read the book The Turbine Pilot’s Flight Manual. Most pilot’s that have moved up to the turbine world have read it and highly recommend it. Also, for the new Caravan pilots, be sure and read Caravan - Cessna’s Swiss Army Knife with Wings.

 

 


 

 



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