Our trip is now well underway and we are a third of the way into this adventure. Things had been going well, maybe too well...
We were all set to depart from Rome for Egypt and arrived at the airport for our departure promptly at 7:00 AM. When we arrived there was no sign of the fuel truck. We waited for over an hour but still no sign. By this time I was quite agitated and we were told that the nearest fuel truck was at an airport about 8 miles away but if we wanted to refuel there we must first cancel our existing flight plan to Egypt then fly to the refuelling airport on a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) approved plan to get fuel.
After much discussion with the Air Traffic Controllers, we were allowed to depart to the Urba airport to get fuel. We flew to Urba and got the fuel, then we had to file the Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plan with the Italians, which must also be accepted by Eurocontrol. After filing our flight plan we called to find out that Eurocontrol had rejected it....well they accepted it the last time we filed exactly that same flight plan...what gives? Well, that was from a different airport and we must have at least another way point identified. Another ten minutes went by as the controllers struggled to find an appropriate way point. Our flight plan was resubmitted to Eurocontrol and in about 30 minutes we had an approved flight plan, but with the caveat that we must maintain 15,000 MSL altitude.
We figured we had oxygen so we could do it. We launched and were told to climb VFR to 13,000 to pick up our IFR clearance. With the looming hills and cloud build-ups we dodged both and climbed to the assigned altitude. I had already strung out the oxygen lines and we donned our cannulas only to find out that the gauge on the oxygen cylinder suddenly decided to go lower. Not a good surprise at 15,000 feet when we were both sucking oxygen! We decided to push on but immediately pulled up the en route chart on the iPad to see where we needed to stay at that altitude. There was a mountain on the Island of Crete where we had to stay above 10,500 and the rest required a clearance to about 2,000 feet. We decided that when we ran out of oxygen, we will request a lower altitude and this technique always works. As we crossed the Greek Island of Crete, we requested the controllers to give us a lower altitude as we had run out of oxygen. Thankfully, our request was granted.
We were now approaching Egypt where the airspace is fully controlled by maintaining pre-determined flight paths thus keeping the airspace a little clearer and more manageable. The Greek controllers informed us that Egypt will not accept our Eurocontrol approved clearance and they will issue a new clearance. By this time the Greek radio was getting weaker and we could not get to the Egyptian radio and their controllers. Interesting predicament...either turn back to Greece or keep going and risk being shot down.
With several repeated transmissions we were finally able to copy the Egyptian clearance. We requested a Lufthansa flight to relay our message to Egyptian controllers informing them that we were entering their airspace and that we were following the last clearance given to us. The Egyptian response was muffled at best. So, we next requested a Qatar airlines flight to relay our message again, as we really did not like the idea of getting shot down into the Mediterranean. The Egyptian controllers acknowledged and we breathed a sigh of relief. Our new clearance added another 45 minutes to our travel time and with the gumby suits on, our movements were seriously restricted, we were both getting very tired. The 6.5 hour trip had now turned into a 7.5 hour trip.
While all of this was going on, our engine monitor indicated that number 5 cylinder had lost its temperature. I immediately looked at our speed, which had not dropped. I followed that by doing a mag check, which turned out OK for all cylinders except the #5. I changed the mixture settings and could see some flicker on the #5. I concluded that we had a bad probe in the #5 cylinder that must be addressed at some later point in time. These findings were confirmed when we changed our power settings in preparation for landing, the temperature indication came back for #5 cylinder. In aviation things can get interesting with weak radio transmissions to re-routed clearances to running out of oxygen to engine behaving erratically, things do get exciting for a while...