I slept in late the next morning (something of a theme on most of the days off from flying!) After rising, I went for a short explore around the local area, including a slightly touristy temple, and the sea front near the hotel (where, Captain Anil had told me, the very first aircraft to land in Sri Lanka had set down). At one end of the large sandy promenade where this airplane had landed sits the Galle Face hotel, an impressive colonial style building constructed in 1864.
That afternoon, Captain Anil collected me and we drove out to the airport, stopping to change money for the various fees along the way. We’d decided to take care of the fueling and everything else that we could on the day off, so departure the next morning would be as quick and easy as possible. The maintenance team at the hangar were standing by when we arrived, and soon had a couple of barrels of AVGAS by the aircraft, with a large team pumping the fuel at my direction. Ideal!
With the fueling complete, Captain Anil and I headed to a tea shop near the airport to relax and have a drink, before going back to his house once again for a delicious Sri Lankan dinner. He very kindly gave me a signed copy of his book about hot-air-ballooning over Sri Lanka, with the foreward by none other than Sir Arthur C Clarke, who’d lived in Sri Lanka for many years.
I had at the last minute realised that I’d failed in my route planning and hadn’t noticed that I’d be flying through a section of Indian airspace between Sri Lanka and Thailand. Normally, this would take three days to get but Ahmed from GASE came to the rescue and managed to secure it in just a few hours. He saved the day, and I was able to head to bed with one less concern on my mind!
Once again, I was up long before dawn. The weather forecast for the long flight along the Bay of Bengal was not too bad, but the potential for storms was present along some of the route. I’d be hundreds of miles from land, with no close diversion options, so my mind was certainly focused. The plan was to have Gavin on the other end of the communicator again, to try and assist with routing.
Dawn came as we drove to the airport, and most of the maintenance crew were there to meet us and push the aircraft out of the hangar. Before getting going, Captain Anil took me in to meet the air traffic controllers who manage Colombo approach. We hoped that having met me and heard a bit about the flight, they’d be more inclined to give me special treatment! The service from them in the event was exemplary, so I certainly had nothing to complain about.
We made short work of customs and immigration and soon I started up and taxied, heavy with fuel, to the end of the runway. I completed the pre-flight checks, and rumbled down the runway, lumbering into the air. Approach took me out over the shore before turning me back towards the southeast. I climbed on that course until high enough to clear the mountains in the center of the country, and was then cleared direct en route, out into the Bay of Bengal.
The first hour of the flight took me across the island. Most of the time, the landscape below was only partially visible through the cloud, but every now and then it would clear to show beautiful views of the lush, green forests passing underneath me. Before long I passed over the sandy shoreline of eastern Sri Lanka, and struck out for more than 7 hours of over-water flight.
The first couple of hours were as uneventful as can be, cruising along on autopilot under clear skies. Radio contact with Sri Lanka was remarkably good, and 400 nautical miles out I was still able to talk to them. Soon after that, light rain began, about the same time as I lost VHF contact and was fully on my own. I listened in to the en-route frequencies, unable to hear the ground stations but able to receive the replies from airliners. Emirates 356, on their way from Dubai to Indonesia, reported being close to my route so I called them up on the “Guard” frequency and they were kind enough to give me their latest info on the weather ahead. So far, so good, as Gavin had slept in rather than waking up to pass me weather information!
Using the traffic display from my ADS-B in receiver, I could see other aircraft within about a 40 mile radius of my position. Singapore 7981 quickly overhauled me from behind, and I called them a few times without success. I guess they weren’t monitoring. A little while later, with 400 nautical miles to go, I was passed by VH-PFV, a Gulfstream G150 operating as an air ambulance. They were kind enough to tilt their radar down to my level, and confirmed that the next 30 miles at least looked clear.
By this stage I had made my way through a couple of moderate bands of weather with minor deviations to avoid the worst of the rain. Gavin also woke up and started giving some suggestions, although the main one was “fly 200 miles north through Myanmar’s airspace” which I didn’t immediately jump on! Luckily, the real conditions were significantly better than the conditions being reported on Gavin’s weather sources, and I was able to remain pretty much on course. Over the next couple of hundred miles, I had messages relayed back and forth by Saudi Airlines and Air India, before eventually making contact with Malaysian ATC for a short time, and then being handed over to the Thais.
I was given a slight shortcut, cutting the corner around Phuket, direct to Surat Thani. The mountains of southern Thailand peeked out at me on occasion from below a blanket of cloud. I hadn’t realised quite how beautiful this part of Thailand was, and wished I could be seeing more of it. It didn’t take long to cross the mountains, and ATC put me onto a wide right downwind for landing at Surat Thani, behind a couple of arriving airliners. It had been a 9 hour flight, with no sight of land between Sri Lanka and the Thai coast.
I was met by the airport handlers, arranged for my via the Thai Flying Club, and we zoomed through the airport. Immigration didn’t even want to look at my passport. I jumped into a taxi and headed to my hotel; I had booked on arrival (guided by some suggestions that Gavin had researched for me), and it turns out they gave me what seemed to be the honeymoon suite! Being on my own, I wasn’t really in a position to enjoy it, but I certainly slept well with all the long flights of this section now behind me, and nearly a week to relax before heading back to work.
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