|Transatlantic Cessna 150 • By Joan Kleynhans|
Photos by Leon Stoman
Editors Note: I first learned of Leon Stoman’s transatlantic C150 flight more than a year ago.. It turns out that Leon ferries aircraft “Across the Pond” several times a year. While I was able to contact a number of Leon’s friends and business associates, no one seemed to have any idea where he was at the moment. In my search for Mr. Stoman I was treated to a number of wild stories about his aerial exploits including one in which he is reported to have won a South African cross country race by flying the entire route at 100 ft AGL in a Cessna 150. I finally reached Leon by phone, he had just arrived from an Atlantic crossing, and was leaving on another ferry flight the next day. Because of the shortness of time, I was unable to conduct a full interview, so Leon suggested that I quote liberally from an account of his adventure published in the November 1996 edition of Aero Africa magazine. The following account is excerpted from that article. Leon is now an honorary member of the Cessna 150-152 Club, we hope to catch up with him soon for an update on his many flying adventures.
I am the proud co-owner of the first Cessna 150 to be flown, rather than shipped, from America to Southern Africa.
When I had my first flying lesson with Leon Stoman on October 10th 1994, I learned that flying is fun! Leon's ability to transmit his sheer enjoyment of flying to his students is one of his best attributes. I was hooked! Of course I had to have my own airplane at some time. Finances notwithstanding, Leon and I decided to buy a Cessna 150 in partnership.
By April this year, when Leon went to Winchester, Virginia, USA to collect a Cessna 206 one of his other students had bought, we had a reasonable amount saved up. As luck would have it, "our" airplane was waiting for us in a hangar at Winchester! The moment Leon touched it, he knew that this was ours. N3050S is a low hour 1967 Cessna 150 with no training history.
However, Winchester, Virginia is a long way from Gaborone, Botswana. No problem. Anyone brave enough to teach me to fly should have no qualms about ferrying a 150 across the Atlantic and down the length of Africa. Shipping the aircraft was too expensive, and a ferry flight was made more attractive by the offer of generous sponsorship from Des Erasmus of Laser Cut Varios.
We planned to fly the aircraft to the 1996 Oshkosh Airshow in Wisconsin and afterwards continue to Bangor, Maine. Unfortunately, once the extra fuel tank was installed at Bangor, I would have to return to Botswana by scheduled airline, leaving Leon to complete the trip. Looking out across the Atlantic from Mount Cadillac on the east coast of America, I realized the enormity of flying a Cessna 150 across the ocean. Despite Leon's experience in ferrying aircraft across the Atlantic, I was still worried.
Leon meanwhile was too busy making final preparations to show concern. An extra "L"-shaped 66-gallon fuel tank had been made. It took up most of the baggage and right hand passenger area. The airplane was then flown to Moncton, Canada for transatlantic clearance.
After a day at Moncton, Leon headed for St. John's, flying about 30 miles offshore. It was here that a minor problem arose. Barely 30 miles into the flight, the 150 developed a small rpm drop and slight rough-running. The glitch called for an unscheduled stop at Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, where a dead magneto was discovered.
The hospitality at Charlottetown was overwhelming. Gerald, the refueller, insisted that Leon stay in his quarters, as the hotels were full with the summer holiday season. The town has no aircraft engineer, but a local, Mike Quin, roves between the local airfields and replaced the magneto the following day.
The flight to Saint John's was a pleasure with magnificent views along the coastline made even more spectacular by a stunning sunset. After refueling and obtaining a weather briefing, Leon slept until 2 am with the intention of departing three hours before first light. After months of planning, this was finally it! No more turning back.
The Cessna's all up weight with the extra tank was 2,050 lbs. This was 500 lbs. over gross. The FAA had approved the increase of 30% over book weight. In spite of this, the night takeoff was an anticlimax. The little 150 lifted off in 400 meters and her climb performance was the same as would be expected on a highveld summer afternoon.
Leon now headed out over the Atlantic on course for the Azores. As he left the security of land, the ocean stretched out endlessly ahead, shimmering in the moonlight. Leon could not help feeling nervous, watching all the instruments like a hawk and listening for any unusual sounds from the engine. The weather was perfect with the help of a 20-knot headwind.
Because of the weight, an initial cruising altitude of 5000 feet was chosen. It took 2 hours to reach this. GPS greatly simplified the navigation and fuel management calculations - where would we be without it! The 150 had also been fitted with an HF including an antenna tuning mechanism and a trailing aerial. This was for two-way communication outside of the approximately 200-mile VHF range. At a hundred miles out, Leon unwound the trailing antenna to the 150 feet needed to match the required HF frequency of 5 MHz. Although all stations could be clearly received, Leon could not transmit as the tuning device refused to work. Instead, using the general VHF frequency of 131.8, he managed to use a message relay system via passing airliners for the entire trip to the Azores - 1350 nautical miles. Although Leon could talk to air traffic controllers in Gander, New York and Santa Maria, the biggest problem was the disbelief from the airliners when they continually asked for his aircraft type.
When passing into VHF range of the Azores, Leon attempted unsuccessfully to wind in the trailing HF antenna. After landing, he found it had become entangled in the tail-mounted tie down ring, explaining why it refused to transmit.
In all other respects, the 150 performed well, taking 14 hours to cross from St. Johns to Santa Maria in the Azores - a ground speed of about 95 knots. After 8 hours and needing copious cups of coffee to remain alert, Leon climbed to 7000ft and then to 10000ft after 10 hours. With the reduction in fuel and a gradual improvement in the aft centre of gravity, the 150's speed increased by a galloping 5 knots. Santa Maria was reached with a two hour reserve after an almost uneventful flight. However, the landing was different matter. A cold front had moved in, necessitating a VOR approach in thunderstorms and heavy rain. The approach, with a 1000ft ceiling, was hard work after a 14 hour leg. Three liters of coke, a good meal, and a night's sleep soon revitalized Leon's energy, and by the next day he was ready for the next leg. Departing the Azores at 11 am for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, the weather was clear for this leg apart from a deterioration during the last hour. This sector was about 5600 NMS, taking eight hours, and although a direct routing would have shortened the trip, regulations determined that a longer IFR route be used. At Las Palmas, not only is there a 13,000ft volcano to contend with, but also the controllers' unfamiliarity with Cessna 150's.
With a Boeing 747 four miles in front, and an MD80 and Airbus behind, ATC instructed Leon to keep his speed up, land long, and clear the runway immediately. The event was nerve-wracking for both ATC and Leon. It is perhaps the first time a Cessna 150 had visited the islands!
Next morning Leon departed early for the 860 nm leg to Dakar in Senegal. Again there was pouring rain and a low base, this time 500ft. With strong easterly winds coming off the African coast, the prospect of embedded thunderstorms commands a great deal of attention when flying a 150. Nevertheless, after four hours, the weather began to clear and was replaced with dry air and dust from the Sahara Desert. The temperature rose to 35 deg. C., and soon the dust was so thick that visibility reduced to three miles with no discernible horizon. Apparently, the dust rises up to 12,000ft. About two hours out of Dakar, these conditions were replaced by the appearance of clouds again, although the weather still called for continuous instrument flying. Ten hours and fifteen minutes after leaving Las Palmas, Leon stepped exhausted onto Africa. The air filter had to be replaced immediately, as the dust had begun to choke the engine at full power.
Dakar's ATC forced a 30 minute delay which was to have expensive consequences. After spending US$200 on bribes, taxi fares and pathetic accommodation, Leon departed early the next morning for Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. This leg took 11 hours and after landing at one minute past sunset, the authorities insisted on charging a night landing fee of US$200. This was in spite of the fact that it was still well and truly daylight. Trying to reason with the controllers proved futile. However, fuel in Abidjan was fairly cheap and compared to the rest of Africa, service was acceptable. Although the taxi to the hotel was falling apart, the driver collected him the next morning on time after a good night at a good hotel.
The leg to Pointe Noire demanded careful planning. For one thing, the night landing fee had depleted cash reserves. A departure form Abidjan before nightfall was needed to arrive in the French Congo during daylight hours. ETE was 14 hours. Flying at night across the Intertropical convergency zone had the advantage of making thunderstorms easier to recognize by spotting lightning from afar. Moreover, passing airliners, who all communicate on a common frequency of 128.6 would be a help.
Pointe Noire was reached after a sea crossing of 14 hours and 20 minutes. ATC had no warning of his arrival, as Abidjan hadn't transmitted his flight plan. The tower controller couldn't believe a Cessna 150 had flown so far and according to Leon, "He insisted that I come to the tower immediately, as he had never seen an insane man before!"
After parking the aircraft and filing a flight plan for the next leg, Leon encountered some Court Helicopter employees. One of their pilots, Ken, offered his room for the day and helped with frequencies for the oil rig Omega, advising that the name of the radio operator was Dave Thornton. Using the HF antenna's "drag" funnel, Leon refueled the 150 from a bucket, paying almost R8 per liter!
At sunset Leon departed south west allowing a good distance from the Angolan coast. As night fell, the sky was lit for over a hundred miles with flames coming form all the oil rigs just off the coast of the Cabinda enclave. It was a spectacular sight. It was also homely speaking to Dave Thornton in Afrikaans, Leon said it was good to know that somebody out there was aware of his progress - a great morale boost and much appreciated.
Two hours after losing radio contact with Omega, the engine began to run roughly. It was an anxious moment caused by a problem with the auxiliary tank. On switching to the standby pump, the engine ran smoothly for a few minutes, but the problem returned. Fuel flow from the main tanks was unimpeded and Leon continued to use these. However, they only had four hours endurance and the 150 had gone too far to return to Pointe Noire and it was risky to continue to Ondangwa in Namibia. The GPS indicated the presence of an airfield at Namibe (formerly Mocamedes) on the Angolan coast about 70 miles away. Leon was forced to descend to 700ft through a thick overcast to find that the field was predictably unlit. Circling the town for half an hour, the harbor master eventually noticed the aircraft and sounded the alarm. Several vehicles were driven to the airfield to provide rudimentary lighting.
After landing, the police released Leon into the custody of Swakopmund fisherman Bruce Bennett. Once again, Leon was overwhelmed by the help and hospitality extended to him by a total stranger. Without Bruce's help, N3050S might still be in Angola. Bruce even had a small supply of avgas, kept on his boat in the event of an emergency evacuation flight. The fuel flow problem had been caused by a small rubber flange coming loose from the inside of the fuel pipe and consequently blocking the pump.
The rest of the flight was completed without incident, arriving in Gaborone on Saturday 27th August after covering 9,700 nautical miles of which 7,000 had been over the ocean. The time taken had been 107 hours and Leon had spent almost as much on bribes in Africa as the entire cost of fuel for the trip. On approaching Gaborone, five friends from the Kalahari Flying Club had taken to the air shortly before his arrival to escort the brave, but tired pilot home over the last 30 miles of this journey.
Brave? Some say mad! However, to me his achievement is epitomized in the words of John Denver's song, "The Eagle and the Hawk":
And reach for the heavens
Reprinted with permission from: