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Christmas Island - Hilo, Hawaii 19 March

As expected from the weather briefing we had got from the Honolulu National Weather Service (NWS) the day before, there were no weather problems between Christmas Island and Hilo - just a few isolated CBs (Cumulus nimBus clouds, that is cumulus clouds with rain and/or thunderstorms) to avoid. That 3 minute phone call to NWS from the Kiribati telecommunications office had cost us 50 Australian dollars! Not the toll free 1-800-WXBRIEF calls US aviators are used to. The winds aloft at 10'000 feet were neutral with a 20 knot crosswind from the east and agreed with the NWS forecast so we were doing our usual 150 knots at 8 US gallons per hour.

Clouds and light rain hung over Hawaii Island on our approach.   We were kept out to sea for the final approach to keep well clear of the high mountains: there are two 14'000 feet peaks on the island.  It was still drizzling when we landed after a total of  7 and a half hours.  The temperature was only 20 degrees Celsius in Hilo, as opposed to 29 degrees at Kona on the dry western side of the island.  We immediately donned our sole pullovers which we hadn't needed since New Zealand.

At last we are back in mobile phone country!  Thus Flemming was able to phone our Mooney friend  Eliot while we waited for the customs,   immigration and quarantine officials to arrive.  After checking our passports, the immigration officer asked if our expired passports were on board.  We had brought them just in case as they contained our indefinite B-1/B-2 US visas, although we hadn't needed visas the last time we entered the States in May last year.  The immigration officer then informed us that we did need visas as we were entering the US by private aircraft and the second piece of bad news was that - although the visas in our expired passports said they were valid for an indefinite period - a new law had been passed in 2000 to the effect that visas issued more than 10 years ago were no longer valid. The final piece of bad news was that we had to pay him a waiver fee of US$ 195 EACH for entering the US without a valid visa!!

That was a hard one to digest.  We asked him for the address to write to in order to lodge a complaint.  His reply was: 'Don't even bother!   You'd be wasting your time.'  He said that this happens about once a month to unsuspecting foreign aviators arriving in Hilo.  I wonder how many times this occurs then in the north-east where surely many more aviators arrive from abroad. 

So, aviator friends going to Oshkosh this year from Europe or elsewhere, BE WARNED! There is no landing fee in Hilo (the US is really a great place to fly!), but due to our bad luck with our indefinite but expired visas, we paid a total of US$ 500 in  fees including the US$ 91.92 for the off duty hour agricultural fee upon departure.

Enough about the negative aspect of our arrival.  Eliot is a super guy and did everything he could to help us.  He came to greet us at the airport, waited patiently while we completed all the formalities, found a good and reasonably priced hotel for us (Uncle Billy's Hilo Bay hotel), invited us out to dinner that evening with his fiancée Cheryl and two of their friends, let Flemming use his hangar to do the 50 hours maintenance, and generally chauffeured us around.  In addition, he invited us to join them  for the monthly  'pot luck' dinner of the local EAA chapter (Experimental Aircraft Association). Cheryl's mother, now 83, helps to organize these meetings.  She is an aviator herself and has flown such birds as Harvards (with Biggles style cockpits where 2 of you fly in tandem).   We turned out to be the guests of honour and Flemming gave a short talk on our flying adventures.

We were also Eliot's guests a couple of days later at a Rotary Club lunch and were invited to speak again in front of the whole assembly.  I am rather shy about making speeches so was glad to have Flemming do the talking over the microphone while I stood beside him and just used facial expressions to get my own point of view across!

The 50 hours maintenance, preparing the Mooney for Flemming's crossing to California, social functions and catching up on emails took up most of our time in Hilo, but we did manage to make a couple of excursions.  One was by car to the Kilauea Iti crater, where we enjoyed a few hours'  walking - an activity we had missed in the South Pacific where it was just too hot.  The other excursion was by air with Eliot in his Mooney.  It was a dramatic flight around Pu'u O'o vent, presently the island's most active volcano - rather too dramatic for me as the heat from the volcano caused some severe turbulence.  In fact, it was the worst turbulence I had experienced on the whole trip. The thermals around Ayers Rock were paltry  in comparison!  Eliot is a true gentleman.  As soon as I gasped, he offered to fly around the coast instead and I gladly accepted.  We flew over lava that is still moving slowly down a gentle slope to finish up in the sea.  Many of the surrounding houses have been destroyed since the volcano first erupted in 1983. And some are still standing just at the edge of the lava flow.

At least once a day, Flemming checked the weather and winds between Hilo and California and decided to leave on Saturday 23 March at 5 p.m. Since California is two hours ahead of Hawaii, after a 14-hour flight he would thus arrive in Salinas in daylight.  The cheapest one-way flight I could get left the following morning and would take me almost the same time as Flemming's, since it wasn't direct and there would be almost 4 hours waiting time in Honolulu. 


Eliot Merk


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Eliot Merk, Cheryl Atkinson and Angela in front of Eliot's German-made 'Mooney'
(tip: licence plate)

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Inspecting some red blooms in the Kilauea Iti caldera
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Denuded, grey trees and rush-like grass on the dry side near the crater rim
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At Hilo market
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The famous aviator
Amelia Earhart planted this banyan tree in January 1935 on Banyan Drive
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Flemming and Eliot by his Mooney 201
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The Pu'u O'o volcano seen from Eliot's Mooney
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