HOME | The Pilots | The Plane | Pre-Flight | Itinerary | Latest | Flight Following | Discussion | Newsletter | Email

Join the Ponceby Newsletter Email list for news about the next flight


The Plane

Topics : Choice of Plane | Specifications | The Ferry Fuel System | The HF Radio



Choice of Plane

We had originally planned to do this Round-the-World trip in Doug’s Beech Bonanza A36TC, which we had flown from California to Turkey and Egypt last year, as well as on several other shorter, international trips previously, but several factors made us eventually decide to do it in a different plane.

The biggest problem we found flying the Bonanza outside North America was the general unavailability, and extremely high cost, of avgas. That was most extremely demonstrated by our flying in Egypt, where avgas was available only at Alexandria and Luxor, while we also wanted to go to Cairo. With landing fees of $500 per airport, the 40-minute fuel stop we were forced to make in Alexendria probably cost us over $1,000! Prices for avgas run as high as $8 to $9 a gallon in places like Italy, Greece and Greenland, and even there it is available only at a few international airports of entry. By contrast, Jet-A is available virtually everywhere for well under $2.00 per gallon, and sometimes is as cheap as 56 cents/gallon (Singapore). And, worst case, the PT-6 can also burn avgas (limited to 150 hours between overhauls), or even Jack Daniels.

Another drawback in the A36TC Bonanza, where turbocharging lets us fly at higher, safer altitudes, is the lack of pressurization requiring use of oxygen. Even with relatively comfortable nasal cannulas, we got really tired of wearing those tubes up our noses, and of the resulting dehydration and sore noses. And, oxygen is even harder to find than avgas, even in the US. And when you can find it, FBOs consider it a pain to do and charge outrageous fees (over $400 in Reykjavik!).

Finally, we got a little chicken about crossing the vast Pacific with only one engine. At least in the North Atlantic, there’s lots of traffic (airliners, lots of GA traffic and boats underneath you) to help out in the event of an emergency. In the Pacific, there’s usually no one and nothing. So, we thought a spare engine would be nice.

But a second avgas-burning engine only compounds the avgas problem, and we were already looking at having to pre-position fuel at several stops that don’t usually have avgas. A piston twin would require twice as much. And most light piston twins have pretty poor single-engine performance, and none when burdened with ferry fuel and all our charts, survival gear, etc. So that made us look to a small turboprop. After all, if Jet-A is so much cheaper than avgas, even if we’re burning three to four times as much fuel as the Bonanza, our fuel bill on the King Air would be less than that of the Bonanza (or so the rationalization went...)

Once we were looking at turboprops, we settled quickly on the E90 King Air. First, the PT-6 engine is arguably the most reliable engine around, and it’s so popular that mechanics anywhere should be able to work on it. Second, the King Air also is so popular and in wide use all around the world that maintenance should be readily available. And of the King Airs, the E90’s extra fuel (474 vs. 392 gallons) and more powerful engines give it a clear edge over the C90s. And, the older models were relatively affordable (once you’d gotten over the shock of the obscene absolute cost). So, we went in search of a good E90, and eventually found LW-103 in Munich, Germany.



1974 King Air E90, N898WW, Serial No. LW-103

Based at San Jose International (KSJC)

Basic Plane Specifications:

Equipment (as purchased 5/98 in Munich, Germany):

Upgrades for the trip:



The panel being upgraded, days before departure...


The new panel


The Ferry Fuel System

Most 90 Series King Airs have 392 gallons of fuel, so the E-90 with 474 gallons factory fuel stands out as the best world touring candidate. Even so, it’s limited to about 1500 miles at max range settings. Hawaii is 2100 NM out of KSJC and so a supplemental fuel supply is needed.


Typical Ferry pilot installations have enormous rectangular tanks completely blocking the cabin and allowing only a small crawl space above the fuel for a pilot to reach the cockpit. Over 30 legs or so this seemed sub-optimal....So Doug designed a 3 tank system oriented vertically on either side of the central aisle that provides a (tight) walkway to the cockpit. Civilized.


The Ferry Tanks installed in cabin


A cluster of five fuel valves affixed to the copilot berth allows cabin fuel to flow from any of the 3 individual cabin tanks to either the left or right engine aux tanks or to both tanks simultaneously. Cabin pressure ( A 4.7 psi differential from ambient) and gravity provide the push to tranfer the fuel. A small handheld pump serves as backup in the event of cabin depress.


We have 350 gallons in the cabin which gives 824 gallons total, enough fuel to fly for about 2900 Nautical Air Miles or about a 3 hour no wind reserve at Honolulu. FAA Documentation allows takeoffs at 130 percent of normal gross weight. We won’t need that much.


Fueling the airplane is not especially fun. Some spillage is inevitable and even with the emergency exit open for ventilation, the Jet A fumes can be nauseating. The smell subsides enroute. We have serviced the tires to 65 psi vs a book 55 psi setting due to high takeoff weight.


A final note, the tanks boom like a drum as fuel is exhausted.


The HF Radio

VHF is line of sight. At our heavy weight initial altitude of 18,000 feet, we lose VHF about 150 NM west of California. HF radio provides an over the horizon capability via the sky wave and is generally required in the OCA’s (oceanic airspace).

The basic King unit costs 20K so we have a Kenwood amateur (Ham) unit which transmits on aviation frequencies when a few choice diodes are cut. In addition to the receiver (which is mounted to the partition behind the Captain), an antenna tuner is necessary. The antenna tuner lives in what used to be a chemical toilet.

Listening to HF is like listening to 40s radio. The transmissions are often quite weak so squelch needs to be set at minimum. The result is a constant cacaphony of hisses, whines, and ascending and descending chortles. Fortunately, our intercom prioritizes to the CD so the HF is a muted raucous background. Airliners and corporate big iron have SELCAL which flashes a light and sounds a horn in the cockpit when ATC is calling on the HF thus eliminating the need for continuous monitoring. Our Avionics Shop could build a SELCAL unit for us for about 10K. We listen to the hash.


Pilots like simple radios. This one is not. To communicate you must:

1. Select continuous wave mode. Hold down the PTT for up 20 seconds so that the tuner can achieve optimum power.

2. Select upper side band mode. Make your call on a handheld microphone.

3. When the response comes in, you must adjust the frequency slightly so that ATC sounds human. That is, your transmitting and receiving frequencies are slightly different! The radio keeps track of this... you only have to set for reception once.


You go through this drill about once per hour as this is when ATC requires position reports. If you miss one, Search and Rescue begins.

HOME | The Pilots | The Plane | Pre-Flight | Itinerary | Latest | Flight Following | Discussion | Newsletter | Email
Join the Ponceby Newsletter Email list for news about the next flight

Website Sponsored by webbnet logoWebbnet - Internet Solutions