Ferry Flight Across 13 Countries From Istanbul, Turkey To Burkina Faso, Africa

 What is it with pilots and the lure of flight?  Leonardo da Vinci has been quoted to say: For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward; for there you have been, and there you long to return.  For most pilots, flying is flying.  It doesn’t matter if you are going from place to place or just flying circles in the pattern. 

 Imagine being a pilot and your current job is flying a helicopter over a cherry tree orchard to dry cherries.  Cherries are easily damaged from being too wet.  Many growers will hire a helicopter to fly above the orchard and dry the cherries to prevent damage.  Cherry drying is very seasonal and when the crop is picked, the pilot is looking for their next job.  This is exactly what happened to Harry’s friend, Lexie Diedrich.  Lexie had applied for a position to ferry a BV-234 Chinook across 13 countries, over 7500 miles.  As her cherry drying contract was coming to an end, she received an email from the assistant chief pilot that her application (for the Chinook ferry flight) was reviewed and that they would like to do an interview.

The Boeing CH-47 Chinook is a tandem-rotor helicopter developed by American rotorcraft company Vertol and manufactured by Boeing Vertol. The Chinook is a heavy-lift helicopter that is among the heaviest lifting Western helicopters. Its name, Chinook, is from the Native American Chinook people of Oregon and Washington state. A commercial model of the Chinook, the Boeing-Vertol Model 234, is used worldwide for logging, construction, fighting forest fires, and supporting petroleum extraction operations. In December 2006, Columbia Helicopters Inc purchased the type certificate of the Model 234 from Boeing, Columbia Helicopters’ model is the Columbia Model 234 Multi-Mission Chinook. 

Here’s Lexie about the interview:  It was a pretty informal phone conversation. I remember thinking, “there is no way that I got the position… that would be too good to be true.” “Fast forward to two weeks later, I was on the phone with a friend whom I was telling that it would be too good to be true if I got the job. At that moment, I looked at my phone and saw a call from my new company. I was hired! The timing worked out perfectly with the end of the cherry drying season in Washington, and my drive to Oregon for training. I am so fortunate to have been picked for the ferry trip as well.”

 Lexie’s ferry flight started in Istanbul, Turkey and ended in Burkina Faso, Africa.  The crew consisted of a captain, the second in command (Lexie) as well as two maintenance personnel: one Crew Chief and one mechanic. Since they were flying into many remote areas and maintenance from outside sources would not be available, they carried the two A&Ps. They did have some maintenance issues in Greece, for a short time, they thought they would need to return to Turkey, however, their maintenance crew resolved the issue.

 Here are the countries that Lexie visited on this awesome flight; Turkey, Greece, Italy, Algeria, Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burkina Faso.  The trip was just over 44 total hours.  The Chinook burns from 1250 to 1500 pounds per hour.

 The Chinook is a true, two pilot aircraft that requires a type rating for the captain as well as the SIC.  The PIC is the one flying the aircraft and the SIC is very busy with the radios, navigation and pretty much every task other than stick-and-rudder flying. Lexie says “It is like the synchronicity of a brain and body; the PIC is the body, the SIC is the brain.”

When asked what her favorite part of the trip was, Lexie repliedOur three days in Greece. Though the delay was due to unfortunate circumstances, I was able to see some of the most beautiful, secluded beaches I have ever seen. The rural, oceanic landscapes we saw while flying over Greece inspired me to build a homestead here one day.”

 Harry asked what her least favorite part of the trip was and Lexie replied “The fact that we only got to stay in many beautiful places for a night; no time for exploring, if you want to get any rest.”

Here’s more from Harry’s interview with Lexie.

Question – Do you have any other ferry flights coming up?

Answer – The flights I do are all at the mercy of my company’s business needs and if I get chosen.  We often don’t know our schedule until the day before!

Question – Did you get to do any sight seeing?

Answer – Many places we did not have enough time to, as the needs of the business went before our leisure. However, I would go to the beaches as much as I could. The hotels we stayed in were incredible; I learned there is a hotel in Africa built where no natural growing plants can be found for hundreds of miles, that teaches windsurfing guests. I got ideas from all the places we stopped at of locations that I would like to go back to and visit for a longer period of time. I will definitely be seeing more of Greece and Spain!  When the trip was over, I tried to take a couple day trip to the beach in Morocco. Word to the wise; do not try to change your flight on Royal Air Maroc at the airport in Morocco, Africa. It is not worth the effort. 

Question – Did you cross over the western mediterranean sea or stay close to land?

Answer – We hugged the shorelines. It made for a picturesque view, places to land in case of emergency, and a good way to stay on course.

Question – Any border crossing or customs issues?

Answer – The company hires another business to handle our General Declarations, hotels, visas etc. They were a big help as we did not have to figure these things out as we were handling our pilot duties. 

Question – Was there any complex airspace to deal with?

Answer – YES. It turns out that controllers in Italy will not hand you off to the next controller whose airspace you will be flying through, despite the fact that they have your flight plan. They also get irritated when you ask to get handed off to the next controller so you don’t get in trouble.  At one point, we were flying along the coast of Italy from one CTA to another. The controller did not hand us over to the next and we were told to call “the number.” Thankfully they never called us and we were able to continue. 

Question – Were there any issues getting fuel?

Answer – Typically not. Occasionally our hired company forgot to send the fuel release form. That was fixed with a phone call, and at worst having to wait until the next day for fuel. 

Question – Did you use a flight planning service?

Answer – No, we needed to file our own flight plans because we are a helicopter flying VFR. We would have to explain to the tower personnel that we don’t want to climb up to 10,000+ feet, but needed to stay low level. In many African countries, we were not allowed to use IFR waypoints. The charts with the VFR waypoints are not online. The VFR charts are only found as physical copies in the flight planning offices of each airport. One airport would not have the charts with VFR waypoints for the next airport to land at on our route, so we kept having to explain to them we don’t have their points. We would write down all the applicable VFR points for the local airspace on our route and use them to be directed out of their airspace. 

Question – Were you able to get accurate and current weather information?

Answer – Only in first-world countries. Many places in Africa would only update their Metar once a day. The weather was also inaccurate in terms of cloud layers. There were a couple times when it was questionable as to whether we would be able to land VFR at our destination airports. 

Question – What were your longest weather delays?

Answer – We wouldn’t be able to depart after noon local time, since we do not fly after dark. So if the adverse weather remains past noon, we would stay at the current location for the night. We hoped for bad weather when we were at good locations and to depart early in less favorable locations.

Question – Did you get flight following?

Answer – Per company policy, we had to have flight following for every leg. We would typically get flight following from the company headquarters. The PIC was to call company headquarters before our departure each time we took off and get the flight following. If we did not have service, the cockpit was equipped with a satellite phone that we could call company headquarters from. 

Question – Did most controllers speak good english?

Answer – Oooof…not at all. I would often have to turn my volume up to ear piercing decibel levels to try to make out what they were requesting. There were a good amount of “say again?” Radio calls made by me. 

Question – What are your career goals?

Answer – This has changed throughout time for me. My current career goal is to get away from contract work and work for one company indefinitely. I desire to have a living wage and work/life balance from said company, such as two week on/off. Doing short contracts can be exciting, but I desire to know where my next paycheck is coming from.  I am actually about to move to New Mexico to get my add on fixed wing ratings to continue my aviation education. Perhaps I will work in the airlines for a couple years until I get on my feet financially. 

Lexie is a very experienced helicopter pilot and CFI with over 1,000 hours of flight time.  She also has her fixed wing ratings.  In addition to her cherry drying contract flying, Lexie has flown aerial tours, ferry flights, flight instruction, and other contract work.

Here is a list of the airports Lexie stopped at on her trip with a map showing each stop: LTBU – LGKV – LGKF – LGPZ – LIBG – LIPY – LIML – LFML – LERS – LEMI – GMTT – GMMN – GMAD – GMML – GMMH – GQPP – GQNO – GOBD – GGOV – GFLL – GLRB – DIAP – DFOO – DFFD

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