Flying aircraft on a one-way trip is often called a ferry flight and calls for a ferry pilot. But, as a ferry pilot explains, not all ferry flights are straightforward A to B flights.
Ferry flights take place almost every day somewhere across, into and out of Australia. Airliners, new and used, are flown to new homes while the next level down is typically that of multi-engine IFR aircraft burning Jet-A1. The third tier is that of the single engine or light piston engine twin, often pre-loved machines. Low and slow these are usually flown VFR in part because of their unknown systems serviceability.
Not all ferry flights are trans-Pacific deliveries. In the domestic scene aircraft change hands regularly and, while a number of ferry flights will be made by the new owner, often a lack of experience on the make and model or a lack of recent cross country time will result in the services of a professional ferry pilot being contracted to deliver the goods.
The third tier can be as much fun and as interesting as either of the others. Sometimes the new owner may elect to fly with the ferry pilot to obtain experience along the way. One such flight I made was with the owners of a pre-loved Cessna 182. It was in good shape and had to travel some 1500 nm to its new home. The 182 is an ideal touring machine in that it has fixed gear i.e. nothing to go wrong, the cabin is roomy, it has a good TAS and long range. The owners did not have a lot of long cross-country time and certainly none in the outback. This is where the ability to hold a heading for two or more hours at a stretch takes you to your destination. Needless to say a GPS helps.
The flight involved a bit of touring plus a bit of teaching how to fly the machine while on the delivery flight. As I work as a flight instructor and had flown most of the route before for me it was just another day at the office.
A flight that I did in a Mooney still brings a smile to my dial. The Mooney was an M20F. It was being ferried to facilitate exposure for a sale. For those that know Mooney aircraft this particular model had either an electric or manually raised or lowered gear. Yes, fully manually operated is correct. The aircraft that I flew had the manually operated gear system. The last Mooney that I had flown had the electrically operated gear system.
The manual gear operating system consists of a big bar or handle that, when vertical and clipped up to the console, had the gear in the down position. To lower the gear, you had to push down on the grip at the top of the bar in order to release it and then lower it to the floor and lock it in place. Simple. There is no chance of having an electrical or hydraulic failure and, normally maintained, it is a good system. The only catch to the whole system is that, to get the gear down, you have to both unlock the vertical bar and twist your wrist at the same time to lower it to the floor. I had been warned about this twist and push requirement but had not thought much about it until it came time to retract the gear after take-off.
Try as I may, I could not get the lock to release. I must have tried about three or four times but the handle would not budge. Before making the decision to fly it to the destination with the gear down (the gear extended limit speed was 105 kts), I gave it one last try and, lo and behold, the grip moved down and released the uplift lock and then, with a quick twist of my wrist, I pushed the bar down and locked it in place. The red gear-up light came on and I was a happy pumpkin. With further operation of the retract mechanism I found that the secret is in the way the grip is moved to release the uplift lock…You learn from experience.
One flight that I did for a dealer was a flight in a Cessna 172 from Devonport, Tasmania, to Moorabbin, on the other side of the ditch. Picking up the aircraft was uneventful and I departed with full tanks. The tank capacity and the headwind dictated a refuel and so I landed at Flinders Island for a top up. When I checked the tanks before the refuel, I nearly fell off the fuelling steps.
I had been operating the aircraft on one tank up to that time but, when I checked that tank, it was still full and the other side was almost empty. There was something wrong with the fuel system plumbing and it must have been there for some time. Someone knew about it but no one mentioned it to me to watch out for. I topped the tanks and ran the tank selection as I had up to that point knowing then that I had enough fuel to get me to the destination with the same tank selection. More fun and games were to follow with that machine.
About twenty miles north of Flinders Island I was due to give a ‘scheds’ or scheduled call, advising all well. As I came up to the due time, the bumper strip on the lower part of the instrument panel fell off and brushed my knees. No big deal I thought, as I put the offending strip on the rear seat. I punched the call button but there was no side tone and no transmission. So there I was, half way across Bass Strait, with a scheds call now overdue and no ability to advise Centre that I was ok. My initial thoughts were that the cavalry might soon be charging out to look for me while I passed them going in the other direction! Putting brain into gear resulted in my squawking 7600 (radio failure) on the transponder.
I was cruising at 8,500’ so was in range of Melbourne Centre Radar. By now, I realized that I could faintly hear Centre on the radio. I turned up the volume and again tried calling but with no luck. A trouble-shooting check did not alter the situation. Centre was now calling known aircraft in the area and, by elimination, became aware it was my aircraft squawking 7600. They called and asked if I could hear them and if so to give two taps on the transponder ident button. Two taps they got. We had comms of a sort. Then came a series of questions. Was I ok? Was I still proceeding to MB? So it went on. The reply was two taps for yes and one tap for no. I was instructed to proceed to Moorabbin as per the flight plan and to take runway 35 left. The MB tower had been advised of my situation and would give me a green light to land. I was to reply with the landing light. I had checked the landing light during the pre-flight as working and the arrival was event free. I never did hear what the problem was with the radio but there was an avionics master switch just above the bumper strip that fell off and my bet was that the lost comms had something to do with those two items.
The ferry pilot of an older aircraft should always go into the job asking questions and with a certain amount of reservation in case there is something about the machine that he has not been told…
Sometimes solo ferry flying can be as exciting as watching paint dry. After the aircraft is set up in the cruise it is time to check the charts, monitor the radio comms, lean it out, check the altitude, change the tanks and maybe break out a snack bar or piece of fruit and take a drink plus keep the flight plan going. As you watch the miles roll by the engine gauges are monitored to ensure there are no changes to be concerned about. Then there is thought about the fuel status, the next stop or the destination, when to let down, who and when to call and any CTA considerations.
One ferry flight that I almost missed out on from another state was that of a low wing four place machine. The new owner, who was with me, had arranged to pick up the machine and close off the financial aspects when he met the then current owner. Having already put down a good deposit he was more than taken back when the existing owner started to go feral on him. When he was rung and advised that the purchaser was only a few miles away his reply was ‘and so what?’ Then the current owner started talking about considering some fellow on the other side of the country wanting to buy it. But wait, this was after a good deposit had already been paid on a fixed purchase price! My man was getting worried that he was about to do his deposit. Overnight the situation cooled and after a phone call and a meeting the deal was closed. We did a check flight, topped the tanks and departed before there was a change of heart. The last we saw of the seller was of him with an opened stubby in hand and my watch saying it was not long after ten am. Perhaps therein lay the answer to the feral attitude.
When you ferry an aircraft to a new owner, it is a good thing to have the aircraft in the best possible condition at the handover. I recall one aircraft that I ferried halfway across the country. I got it to the handover airport and fortunately the owner had still to arrive. This gave me time to get the lolly packets and drink cans out of the cockpit, clean the windows and draw up a sheet with power settings, fuel burn, actual TAS etc. taken from the delivery flight. The owner duly arrived, liked what he saw, and went for a local flight. When he returned the first thing he commented on was the vacuum pump. It was u/s! I had flown the machine halfway across the country with the vac pump working ok. It had been working the vac. systems satisfactorily all the way to the arrival but had failed after that time.
Needless to say the new owner had the feeling that I was trying to put one over him and present him with an aircraft that had a defective vacuum pump from the departure aerodrome. This was not the case but I had some fast-talking to do to get him on side. The expression ‘if it is man made it is subject to failure’ came to mind.
Not all ferry flights are the get-in-and-go variety. I was once asked to fly a Cessna 210 up country. When I fired up the engine it ran roughly and would not accelerate smoothly. Instead it ran more like a chaff cutter with lots of popping and banging from the exhaust. It was one sick puppy. I declined the job. The aircraft had not done a lot of flying in recent times and needed the TLC and attention of a good maintenance shop. Unfortunately, the aircraft was to have a more serious engine problem a year later.
There are ferry pilots and there are ferry pilots. For someone wanting to have an aircraft moved any distance on a domestic one-way flight there will always be someone who is willing to give it a go, perhaps a budding commercial pilot wanting to build up hours.
A better prospect might be to employ a professional ferry pilot, one who knows the ins and outs of ferry flying and knows the tricks of the trade. He will typically have more total time and experience as well as good cross-country time. If weather is a consideration, he will be a better prospect of getting the aircraft to the destination in conditions that might put off your average low time hour builder. His overall experience and planning should also help to get the machine to the destination and the client in the quickest time with the least amount of hassle and without a lot of backup.
And the ferry pilots motto? ‘In God and Lycoming/Continental I trust (cross out as applicable) and have the payment and return air ticket ready on arrival’.