As you read this, the ugly weather should have departed California headed east and Garry Mitchell should be taking off for another day’s flying. Mitchell’s office is often a bit of a moving target, so this week he’ll spend most of his time on board the first new Cessna 400 to be delivered across the azure-blue waters of the Pacific from the west coast of the U.S. to Brisbane Australia, a mere 6,500 nm solo flight. Mitchell is a ferry pilot and the entrepreneurial nudge behind Australian Air Ferry. This might well be the flight of a life time for most of us. The chance to hear more about this adventure certainly seemed worth a phone call before he left the U.S.
A veteran pilot with over 100 Pacific crossings to his credit in a variety of single and multi-engine airplanes, Mitchell says this delivery trip is going to be truly sweet because flying the new Cessna 400 is “like a flying Lamborghini.”
(Gary Mitchell poses with the first Cessna 400 headed to Australia)
For readers new to flying single engine airplanes over long distances, this kind of trip is sure to test any pilot’s knowledge of navigation, flight and fuel planning, as well as the limits of their body. It’s nearly 40 flying hours over four to five days to complete the trip to Brisbane. Mitchell flew for the regional airlines years ago but grew bored seeing the same places every day. That’s when another long-distance ferry pilot found Garry and convinced him to give this kind of flying a try. He’s never questioned that move.
Mitchell’s trip begins at Hollister CA (KCVH) about 40 miles northeast of Monterey, then on to Santa Barbara (KSBA) for the first over-water leg. He next heads southwest toward the 50th state where a 10,000-foot runway awaits him at Hilo, Hawaii. Of course, he does need to safely complete the first leg of the journey, about 2,100 nm over the Pacific. That should take about 10 hours out over the open sea.
Just in case, the Cessna 400 is equipped with a life raft and an emergency supply of food and water although Mitchell says he’s never needed those kinds of supplies on a trip … yet. “I did have one single-engine airplane dump oil all over the windshield once. I returned to land OK though.”
From Hilo, Garry heads southwest to Christmas Island, about 1,150 nm, then to American Samoa which clicks off another 1,300 nm. The next leg is a piece of cake at 650 nm to Fiji. Then, just to keep things interesting, Mitchell begins the final leg of the journey from Fiji, about 1,600 nm in to Brisbane. The 400 flies at 180 knots true air speed or about 210 mph.
Keeping Tabs on the Cessna 400
Mitchell has HF radio on board for the journey which offers shortwave buffs a chance to listen in on 8843 mhz for the first few days and on 13261 mhz during the final portion. The Cessna’s tail number is Australian – VH-JEJ – so it should stand out. Listen in for Garry and try to imagine what he’s seeing … hundreds and hundreds of miles of water and little else.
Technology willing, Garry also promised to send Jetwhine a few pictures along the way via satellite and give us all the chance to experience what he sees. Keep your fingers crossed. We’ll also have a map up later Monday so everyone can track his progress.
Is There a Psychologist in the House?
Some readers may see this trip over thousands of miles of open Pacific as an incredible adventure, while others may question Mitchell’s sanity at such a trip alone.
I wondered after we hung up the phones … does he talk to himself when things are quiet? I called him back on his cell. “Actually, I keep pretty busy during one of these trips,” Mitchell told me. “I also have my iPod with 250 or so songs on it to listen to, a little Elton John, Celine Dion, that sort of thing.”
Is this a career others should think about, I asked? “I don’t make as much money as an airline pilot,” he quickly answered. “But I have a heck of a lot more fun.” Mitchell recalled one trip when he and a partner in another airplane came within range of the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk steaming around the Pacific, something the Navy wasn’t very happy about. “We convinced them we were not a threat and calmed down. Then I got this idea in my head. We asked the Navy if we might do a touch and go on the carrier deck in the Cessna 182s we were flying. The Navy didn’t think that was such a good idea.”
Much of my own early flight time was gained ferrying airplanes although all of it was over land. I wondered whether Mitchell’s company had trouble recruiting people to fly alone over the Pacific, even after they’ve successfully passed the training program of about a half dozen dual crossings. “We have a few young pilots we’re training right now, but no one seems to last too long as a ferry pilot.” Mitchell said most want the glory that comes while wearing crisp white shirts with stripes on their shoulder flying heavy iron.
Before we hung up this time, I asked Garry if he had any regrets about his lifestyle. He thought only a moment. “I do have this great Harley sitting in a garage in Australia that I almost never get to ride any more.” He keeps a picture of his bike with him during his flights.
Mitchell and Australian Air Ferry have a bundle of great airborne adventures to share in their regular company newsletter. Head over to the web site and sign up. It’s free.
Safe journey Gary. Send us a few more pictures when you get home.
From the Editor: Are you a Jetwhine subscriber? Details are in the upper right hand column above or at www.Jetwhine.com. If you know others who would also enjoy this blog of “aviation buzz and bold opinion,” please send them the link to this story. Thanks.