Bombs over Baghdad

Thursday, October 31, 2013
Ankara, Ankara Province, Turkey
(sorry for no pictures, my iPhone went missing the following day as you can read about in the next entry)

I was excited about today's flight . Given Israel and Syria overflights are off limits, not to mention Iran with an N-registered aircraft, our only real bet was over Iraq. Somehow flying over Iraq in an N-registered aircraft also seemed bizarre. From there over Turkey and areas I had visited with the parents just a couple years ago ensured it was going to be an interesting day.

Everything before our flight went fairly smoothly. Of course our handling agent added an additional charge not on our estimate. We gave the token 3 minutes of threats and complaints, and then caved in like everyone else. Preflight and clearance delivery all went without a hitch and off we taxied for departure.

I explained to Johannes that I'd just relaxing complete our run-up checklist at the holding point before the runway because no one was behind us and he casually pointed out that there was a British Airways 747 directly behind us. We had to laugh! Here were the two extremes at the airport both getting ready to depart: the smallest and the largest planes together . Needless to say I expeditiously completed the run-up and off we went.

Our departure took us closer to downtown Kuwait City and indeed the skyline was more impressive that the suburb near the airport that was our only impression of the country. Still, everything was behind a sandy haze and just various shades of brown. The controllers vectored around a bit but soon enough we were on our way to Iraq.

Coming in to Iraqi airspace we were transferred to their controllers and low and behold it was an American voice on the other end. I was happy to do the radios and they responded by calling us Mooney 231WG instead of the non-American standard of N231WG. It was a subtlety, but later when the controller had more time he asked us about our group since we were surely an abnormality. I then asked him where he s from and he said Seattle! I wish him lucks with the Seahawks since this could be their year...

Very surprisingly, as soon as we entered Iraqi airspace we were in clouds! This wasn't supposed to happen! We were supposed to have crystal clear blue skies with unlimited visibility . Instead next thing we knew we picked up a little ice on our pitot heat intake and our airspeed started to decrease. This was the kind of thing we had to worry about around Iqaluit, not Iraq! Turning on the pitot heat straightened that out and it wasn't a big delay, but it just surely wasn't what we had anticipated.

The IMC soup lasted until literally right abeam Baghdad. Unfortunately it was still too hazy to make out anything but the surburbs. It wasn't the overflight that I had anticipated. At least the weather cleared and we were free of the clouds. We did get a better look at Mosul and it was interesting to fly over the city names we remember from the unfortunate and unnecessary war. For what it's worth Kurdistan is the prettiest part of Iraq as far as we could tell.

Our exit point over Iraq took us as close to Syria as any airway would allow. Fittingly, there was a thin black cloud acting as a veil over the country . Many of the cities we passed over or nearby in Turkey we familiar from my trip with the parents in 2011. Unfortunately we were just a bit too far west to see Lake Van, which we have so nice in memory for its beauty and because the earthquake that hit there the following year.

All but two in the group were doing a jet fuel stop in Turkey and then continuing on to Odessa, Ukraine. The Cessna Silver Eagle was stopping though for the night in Turkey, and we had to go to Ankara for avgas. As we neared Ankara the radio chatter was getting more and more intense. We knew we were in for an interesting approach and did all we could to prepare.

Our slow speed didn't fit in well with the rest of the approaching traffic. When the controller asked us our speed and I replied 125 k nots, he promptly asked if we cold give it all we could. Down we went with the engine purring and we were then in line with the airlines at 160 knots . It was fun seeing a Lufthansa jet clear for the approach and us then cleared right in behind them. 12 miles back was the next airliner. We came in on final approach at such a healthy clip that the controller asked us to slow down about 4 miles out. Out came the speed breaks, down wen the gear, down went the flaps, and we slowed quickly. It was really fun and I was on cloud 9. The landing s smooth and we taxied to our waiting parking slot.

The handling agent (mandatory here) was really friendly and we filled up Maggie in no time. Amazingly, this would be the last time we would need to fill her up for the entire trip. We started realizing that soon we'd be doing everything for the last time.

Our taxi driver to the airport must have been related to Michael Schumacher. We were nearing Germany with the active, aggressive driving. When compared to where we had been, this was a massive change. I didn't think we'd be filming traffic once we left India, but there we were driving by the seat of our pants.

We definitely wanted to indulge in some good Turkish food and an Efes while in Ankara. The restaurant suggested by our handling agent was perfect, although we did have to enjoy a half liter of ayran instead of beer since it was a dry locale. The nearby bar cured the desired for Efes. Somehow it just wasn't as tasty as when I first enjoyed it during the fist great Turkey trip with the parents in 1994. Still, what a great day. To be able to fly over Iraq and hang with the airliners approaching the capital of Turkey... it's all things I never thought possible years ago.

Routing from Kuwait (OKBK) to Ankara (LTAC):
KUA G667 RALKA G795 TASMI L602 ITBIT UM860 KABAN M860 SRT G8 BAG at FL180 and a flight time of just over 7h15m
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