Spain to Indonesia in an Air Tractor
When Edér Navacerrada took a job as a Mission Commander for Pelita Air in late 2020, it reminded him of a similar mission that came nearly a century before.
In 1926, three Spanish pilots left Madrid in three Breguet XIX aircraft. It was a 17,000-mile flight to the Philippines and a very different time for aviation.
Pelita Air needed an Air Tractor 802 delivered from Spain to its new owner in Indonesia, and Edér was up for the challenge. With a unique path into aviation, he might be less risk-averse than most.
“Skydiving was my beginning,” says Edér, “I explored it as a new way of flying; flying your body.”
With a father who was both a skydiver and aerial firefighter, Edér developed an interest in aviation from an early age.
“I kind of naturally followed what he did. It must have to do with DNA,” says Edér, “It must be connected to the way that he was wired and the way that I’m wired.”
But the road to becoming a pilot is a long one that requires a lot of money to rack up a certain amount of flight hours. To get his flight hours in, Edér took a role as a skydiving pilot.
In 2010, Edér began cross-training in aerial firefighting, which is what he specializes in today. As a worldwide aviation consultant, Edér is also involved in ferry flying or flying an aircraft to deliver it.
The majority of his work involves flying Air Tractors, single-seater aircraft used for aerial agriculture and firefighting.
In November 2020, Edér would fly an Air Tractor 802 from Spain to its new home in Jakarta – a trip that would cover nearly 8,000 nautical miles.
When Everything that Can Happen, Will.
One of the biggest challenges the trip posed for Edér was in logistics, especially with the uncertainties related to COVID-19.
The first half of the journey took Edér over the Mediterranean and down into Greece, before heading into Egypt alongside the Nile River, and over Cairo’s pyramids.
By the time Edér reached his halfway point in Oman, he had already covered 3,500 miles. He was ready for a break.
“You build a lot of fatigue because it’s not only flying. You have to do your tasks before and after it. So, five to eight hours flying turns into 10 and 12 hours,” says Edér.
Edér would also need to reassess his journey.
After arriving in Oman, Edér learned that the HF radio he ordered to cross the Indian Ocean had not arrived. It came to his attention back in Spain as a requirement to make a stopover, and he had made the order then. Edér says that these days, you can get equipment from anywhere in the world shipped in only a few days, which was the case with his Spider X.
But COVID-19 delays related to exports turned Edér’s 4-5 days in Oman into ten.
“It is a challenge because the customer is pushing,” says Edér, “You might find yourself in a place where you don’t want to be in necessarily where you’d rather be at home or moving forward.”
The HF radio eventually arrived, Edér installed it himself, and could reach an air traffic controller 1500 km away, meaning he was ready to head across the ocean into India, Bangladesh, and Malaysia before reaching Indonesia.
This time though, he was well-versed in uncertainty and the unexpected. The difference was, now he was in the middle east with only himself to rely on. Luckily, Edér had someone following his journey with him back home, which would prove beneficial when things change mid-air.
Real-Time Decision Making
Throughout his trip, Edér saw himself ‘zig-zagging’ weather and bypassing limited visibility.
“You expect some weather [on flights], but then the weather develops and changes. You need to assess it in real-time,” Edér explains.
When departing Kalamata in Greece, Eder deviated from his intended flight path for 30 minutes until he was clear of the weather.
Edér says he had excellent inputs to play around with when planning out his flight path. Plus, he can make adjustments mid-flight, which was necessary when the Egyptian Air Traffic Control required him to reroute and take a different entrance point into Cairo.
However, the last leg of the trip over Southeast Asia saw Edér heading into lower altitudes, which led to unexpected stormy weather. Edér depended on his team of highly skilled individuals back home and Spidertracks’ satellite communication capabilities and real-time weather overlay feature to avoid this.
Edér could message his team back in Spain for guidance in avoiding incoming weather while in flight. Edér says this was a huge relief, especially with certain clouds being too dark to judge, and following your gut poses its own risks.
Being able to see precisely where Edér was, to know that he was safe, and to be able to communicate with him, was a relief to people back home too.
“It really made [my wife] part of the helping. Some people tend to keep their loved ones away from trips to avoid potential suffering or worrying,” Edér explains.
Even though Edér’s wife has grown accustomed to his lifestyle, having some control during the trip made all the difference. Edér was never out of range and was never on his own. With technology like Spidertracks, those on the ground can play a significant role in a mission’s success.
Edér says he surrounds himself with the right people during his trips because he values their educated inputs. With a consistent and dedicated communication channel, his team can continue to support him anywhere in the world.
But most of all, receiving messages from his six-year-old son during his long days in the air, crossing a vast globe, gave him the most support.
Edér says it helped him get through the moments he felt most alone.
“When you have someone in the back, or you are in a two-seater, you can talk. You can get advice from them. You’re not there on your own.”
After crossing thousands of miles alone, being able to check in with your team and double-check your decisions can make a world of difference.
It’s the kind of thing that wasn’t available even a decade ago and certainly not available when the three pilots from Madrid took off back in 1926.
Today, it’s still a significant feat. With the right technology on board, though, it doesn’t have to be as risky.