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Solo, all the way from the USA

By Pauline Stewart.

“I’ll relax when I get one hundred miles offshore, but not before.”

Those were the words of Paul Hood as he began his amazing flight in his new Cessna 206 plane, all the way from Santa Maria USA to his home airport of Whitianga, New Zealand, the last week of September.

It was no ordinary flight and no ordinary plane. After 43 hours of flying over the ocean, he arrived to a ‘water salute’ at Whitianga airport from his friends, Leigh and Linda Hopper and Evan Wheeler, President of the Whitianga Aero Club.

(A water salute is used for a ceremonial purpose. It typically consists of a vehicle which travels under plumes of water expelled by one or more vehicles, as a mark of respect or appreciation. In this case, the vehicle is a Cessna plane and two hoses were sprayed over the plane as it approached its hangar - good enough!)

Meet Paul Hood. He’s a farmer in Hamner in Canterbury, but he also lives in Whitianga.

He has been flying for 27 years. “I wouldn’t be in Whitianga if we didn’t have an airplane. We just couldn’t do the distances. But we love it here. Farming has allowed me to fly, and I don’t forget that.”

Paul decided to buy a Cessna. It took four years and two paint jobs before it was ready to be transported to New Zealand for the New Zealand pilot.

“The starting point of all this was I really wanted to bring the plane home myself. That meant flying it here. I love flying and I’m confident and careful, but flying across the Pacific, that I hadn’t done.”

There was quite a bit of preparation before the journey and that preparation needed to take place in USA.

My plane is a six-seater, but I was to be the only occupant as the pilot, due to fuel requirements.

Paul’s American friend and also an engineer, Fred Saunders, had constructed tanks to fit snugly in the cockpit and further back into the passenger area. Actually, it was really just Paul and fuel tanks full of fuel to make the big journey - 230 gallons of fuel were required. Sitting in the plane were 114 gallons; 87 in the wings and the balance in the two large tanks inside the plane.

‘I had enough fuel in the plane for 19 hours of endurance flying. All up, I was 800lb over the maximum weight. (One can go over the legal weight, provided it is all fuel). Every few minutes in the air meant the load was getting lighter.

“At first Fred was quite reluctant to help me. I am just a private pilot but, in the end, we worked well together. My wife Lynette was with me in the States but, she wouldn’t be taking the journey. Actually, there was no room for her in the Cessna - all six seats were taken out because all the space was to be for fuel. However, I managed to squeeze her seat unattached into the back corner of the plane. I knew I could fit that myself when I got to New Zealand.”

Paul did 50 hours of flying in the USA to get used to instrument flying. “The controllers were very good, but I am a New Zealander, and even though we both speak English, our accents made communicating difficult sometimes. Fred gave me a very thorough briefing. That briefing was about how the fuel system works and how ocean flying works. I was flying in accordance with Oceanic (international) rules which were a little different to New Zealand.”

I did an IFR course (instrument rating). I did it just fine, but they weren’t able to give me the qualification. I spent five days, but you need to take longer for the actual qualification.”

In New Zealand, with a small plane and non-commercial flying, VFR (visual flight rules) are used, but for this flight, Paul was required to use IFR. A VFR pilot can fly a plane under IFR flight mode rules but in controlled VFR conditions.

“I knew all this but became quite apprehensive asking myself; “Is this crazy? Jeez Paul, have you bitten off more than you can chew?”

“About three days before leaving, the apprehension got me a bit. I was confident in the plane’s ability and the engines, but the flight planning was a bit scary. I have never been a fast reader, but I am intuitive and can navigate my way around something once I understand how things work. You never lose where you are. My biggest fear was that I would make a stuff up on local procedures when I was taking off and landing. So, getting to know my way round the instruments in the plane was the first base. In the end, you have to back yourself and trust the engine. A Cessna engine is very trustworthy. I did think a lot about, ‘What happens if my flight plan is not right?’ That’s why I said earlier – ‘I’ll relax when I get 100 miles offshore and not before.” That means getting through all the procedures and 100 km from the Santa Maria Airport.’ The same applied to Hawaii.”

There was 15 hours of flying from Santa Maria to Kona in Hawaii but as Paul was late leaving, he landed in Hawaii at night, and he had never done a night landing before.

“I kept calm, and it was fine.” grins Paul.

The next leg was from Kona to Pago Pago, American Samoa, a 16-hour flight and through the equator.

“There’s a lot of weather around the equator. At 8,000 feet you can go around it. At 6,000 feet you have to go right through it. At 10,00 feet you need oxygen and it’s not good to be flying without oxygen for too long, so I stayed at around 8,000 feet.”

From Pago Pago it was a 12-hour flight to Kerikeri where Paul and his Cessna went through customer procedures. It wasn’t long before he was back in the seat heading for home - Whitianga airport. A glass of champagne at the hangar with Evan Wheeler, Leigh and Linda Hopper was well deserved. Well done to a contemporary intrepid aviator!

Caption: Paul Hood getting out of the cockpit.


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