Cessna 400 Goes Eyeball to Eyeball with Cyclone Gene

By Robert Mark on February 3rd, 2008

We’ve all been following a truly interesting flying story the past few days here at Jetwhine, simply because a 6,500 NM flight in a Cessna 400 – most of it out over the open waters of the Pacific – is hardly routine. Ferry pilot Garry Mitchell has been sending us updates of his progress on the way to deliver the first 400 from Bend Oregon to Australia. And flying the airplane there sure makes for a more interesting story than packing it up in a crate and slapping some stamps on the outside. Cessna 400 Samoa

Today, Mitchell’s update comes from American Samoa. 

For those geographically-challenged – as Mr. Know It All might say – Samoa is about half-way between a lot of Pacific water and a good deal more before Australia. Samoa 1 Actually, reaching Samoa means just a bit more than half the trip has been completed. And except for a little cyclone in the way, the rest of the trip should be … a snap.

Here’s a great enroute report from our man on the street – well, over the water really – Garry Mitchell from his overnight spot in Samoa.

“I’m hoping Jetwhine readers will find this post exciting. It sure is for me out here in the middle of the Pacific right now.

We’re currently poised for a departure in American Samoa. Sitting in between Fiji and Vanuatu is a huge tropical cyclone, called Gene. As we departed Hawaii it looked like we’d slide beneath, taking advantage of the tail winds. However, it elongated and the eye has moved right onto our track, making the southerly route way to long. It looks like we’ll head to Fiji for fuel and track north around the top, taking the head wind on the nose, so to speak. We’ll come within 300nm of the eye of the cyclone, as we pass to the north.

We departed Hollister Airport in California on Wednesday and spent the first four hours at 8,000ft. We encountered 30-knot winds from the north that at times gave us a head wind component of ten knots. After about four hours we climbed to FL180. The Cessna 400 climbed easily at 1300ft/min right up to 18,000ft. We had nil winds all the way after that.


There’s only enough oxygen on board for five hours so it seemed to make more sense to wait until the later part of the trip to climb, as the winds were forecast to be off the tail for the second half.  However, this didn’t happen and we spent five hours at 18,000ft with a TAS of about 190, but no assistance from the weather. We’re running long range power settings, so the speed was down a little from where it could have been.

The aircraft performed brilliantly, we crossed the 2100nm in 12 hours, with an average ground speed in excess of 180 knots.

We had to shoot an instrument approach into Hilo Airport because of heavy rain and low clouds on arrival. The next day I rested and fueled the aircraft. Why rush out of paradise?

Friday morning we departed Hilo at 5:30am, climbed to 8,000ft, and set sail for American Samoa.

Approximately four hours into the trip a voice came over 123.45, asking if anyone was listening for an HF test. “Can you relay a position report for me?” the pilot asked. Since things were pretty quiet, we stared chatting. Turns out this other ferry pilot who was flying a King Air 200 to Australia and I had met before.

His name is Earl L. Covel, one of Southern Cross’s original pilots. The next four hours was just swapping ferry stories from all over the world.

Earl ditched a Islander BN20, 200nm of Majuro, and spent 24 hours in the water, before he was rescued. He suffered a badly broken leg, four broken ribs and four broken vertebra. The rescue boat also shot some footage of a couple of huge sharks circling the life raft when they arrived. Earl tells me he only flies turbines now, no more piston powered aircraft after that incident.

Earl landed in American Samoa one hour in front of us and as the sun set over the sleepy little island we found ourselves in a little bar swapping stories.

The King Air and the Cessna 400 will now travel together to Australia, and we’ll be assisting him with his position reports, as often happens, if someone has a problem, you’ll often find someone who can help. Our one common goal is to get an aircraft from one place to another safely.

What unlikely traveling companions, a King Air at FL240, at 240 knots and the new Cessna 400 at Fl180, at 190 knots. 

More soon … Garry Mitchell”


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2 Responses to “Cessna 400 Goes Eyeball to Eyeball with Cyclone Gene”

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  2. Bill Wiprud Says:

    Just read Gary’s encounter with the Cessna-400 enroute to Austraila. I have a potential sale of a 1972 Piper Comanche factory turbo. The buyer is planning to fly it to Australia. (City not known). I would expect it would take a 160 gallon tank with the 90 gallon in the wings. I would estimate a 150-160 knot to Hilo. As the seller, I feel a bit uncomfortable in this movement. Do you have any thoughts on the mission. Bill Wiprud

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