Pago Pago to Hilo, Hawaii





Route on my 630

Pago Pago to Hilo

I looked the plane over in Pago, and watched the weather. The satellite looked good except for the first 250 miles or so, although there were 15 knot headwinds. There was a line possibly building up around 8 degrees north, but overall, pretty good, and a half moon rising at 22:40 local. I also saw that it would have been a bad trip from New Caledonia to Pago if I had gone today, as planned.

I walked to the Pago tower and filed my plan, then went back to the hotel for lunch. I returned to the airport for a 4 pm departure, with 15:30 planned enroute with 20 hours fuel. I had a 6 gallon gas jug filled when I gassed the plane, and, before departing, I top every tank till it runs over, then hop in and go. I taxied out for runway 5, and took off, seeing much of Tutuila for the first time.


Flight plan with leg and cumulative distances, ETAs in Zulu, very helpful.


Parting shot of the south Pacific island of Tutuila

I was climbing on course for 110, and entered rain, sometimes quite hard. It took quite a while to get to 110, and my ground speed was about 125 knots with 15, then 20, then 25 knots direct headwind. I used a lower RPM for higher efficiency and saw I could make it, even at 130 knots with a safe reserve. The miles did not vanish, though; it was painful slow going, with the rain extending much further than I expected. I hoped to be in the clear by sunset, and barely made it. It’s nice to see what you are flying into.

About 600 miles out, I had the EGT on #5 drop out, the engine was very rough. I suspected a clogged injector, and was able to clear it by going full rich and lean again. It happened a few more times, and I really began to worry. I could fly with the engine running rough, but my range would suffer dramatically. I asked San Francisco if they had surface vessel information, but they could only provide information on the nearest emergency field, on Canton Island. There were many obstacles, one that it was 281 miles away, but I made a waypoint and kept it on #2 GPS. Christmas Island was the only field nearby, but it was 680 miles, and closed at night, and Pago was about 700 behind me. Palmyra Atoll was on my path about 700 miles ahead. It has a 6000 foot private strip, but unlit. I was hoping to make it till moonrise, which would greatly increase my chances of getting down in just a few pieces, and I was all dressed up for a swim. The problem would occur about every 45 minutes, but I was able to restore smooth power by working the mixture. I also had concerns about the Pago fuel, and had several tanks with fuel from New Cal and backwards. It kept happening, but didn’t worsen. San Francisco was very helpful, and several other aircraft checked in, particularly an Air New Zealand flight that checked into all the alternates available.



Fuel planning information, the worst estimate of the trip



The sun sets south of the equator three hours into the trip

I toiled along at 125 to 130, looking at depressing ETAs, continually checking the fuel, but never having less than a 5 hour reserve. Things improved, and I flew by Palmyra, never seeing it under a cloud deck. Would have been dark and nasty as an alternate. I’m ten hours into the flight with six to go, and I get into the weather forming at 8 degrees north latitude, and get into some hard rain and turbulence, and the engine starts running rough again. It sort of dies when I put the mixture full rich, and this is exciting, I also smell something like insulation. I have just about finished the cabin tank transfer, and I hear a rattling, which is the transfer pump failing. All this happens at once, but I don’t feel tired any more. I turn off the pump, and check with the backup, the tank is just about empty. I have a spare Facet pump, so at least I can be back to two pumps without any part ordering. I have arranged for service in Hilo, and my little list gets longer every hour. After an evening of crystal clear HF communications, things get tough and none of the frequencies is clear, but we manage, SF has been keeping a good watch on me.

Finally, the headwind abates and I see speeds of 150, then 160, and can increase power some. I have a reserve of 60 odd gallons, or about 5 hours, projected after 2250 miles. My final waypoints are on the moving map, and I look over the approaches at Hilo. The sun is lighting up the sky to the east as I am about three hours out, and I try to stay entertained and alert. No engine troubles for about 2 hours, maybe I’ll make it in without any more issues to deal with. I can’t wait to see Mona Loa and Mona Kea on the horizon, but time moves at it’s normal pace. Added to that the headwinds reappear, about 20 knots, but I can make about 150 knots. About 260 miles out, I am cleared direct to Hilo, and asked to contact Honolulu on VHF.



I pass the equator for the last time on the trip


The sun rises three hours from the end of the trip



Welcome sight, the big island of Hawaii



I fly over the volcano area, and there is lots of smoke and “vog” with a clearly visible plume.   I get a visual to 26, and land. The weather is clear and beautiful. I taxi to parking, and two really pleasant Customs officials greet me. Some paperwork, they want to see the tank papers, but I happen to have copies of the entire logs, with every 337, I have my decal, I have my gen decs, and these guys are thrilled. We just talk about the trip, and they leave me to go with a minimum of hassle. The ground keeps moving, but it is the first familiar ground I’ve seen in five weeks. I then taxi the plane over to the shop, and change the oil and filter, the transfer pump, and look at one nasty injector. The Facet pump that failed has some junk in it, so it seems I’ve gotten cumulative contamination. Time for fuel system spring cleaning, before getting a thousand miles from an airport again.



The chain of craters runs down the slopes of Mona Loa



A plume of gas flows from the currently fairly active volcano


Final for 26 at Hilo with Mona Kea somewhat visible behind

This trip was longer than Hawaii to the mainland, and it was upwind. I was probably further from another human being than ever before.


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Last Updated: February 15, 2004