Tale of a Trip to the Gobi Desert

Since I have the only private Aircraft in Mongolia all kind of people approach me for using my Europa for Travel, Survey, Research, Media-work. My job doesn't give me too much free time thus I pick only the flights which take me into new areas and are compatible with the Europa's abilities and her mission.

Recently I was approached by some researchers who are trying for years now to find out why the bactrian camel's population decreases and ages to the extend that now only some 700 animals are left and it is to be feared that it might vanish from our planet all together over the years to come.

To finance their travel they have previously made a film for National Geographic and intended to do so again this time.

Thus after agreeing to fly with them we met in Ulan Bator and talked the details: They will travel ahead by cars and setup camp. The camp must be not too far from an Oasis (for water and for observing camels), have a natural aerodrome and some protection from the winds of the Gobi.

Once that place is found they would call via Iridium Satellite Telephone and pass me the GPS-position.

On Oct 30, 2oo2, I got the call from Holger, a German researcher in the team. *Come tomorrow to N4328' and E09648'*. That is a location in the so called Trans-Altai Gobi as it lies behind the Southern Range of the Altai mountains, close to the chinese border. It's exactly 5oo nM from my home-base ZMUB, Ulan Bator. The wx was good - clear skies and day temps of some +2 C, Nights -17 C.

I asked the authorities for permission to fly into the Gobi dessert which - at that location - is a category 5 National park. *No way !* was the answer - reason being that as a foreigner I wouldn't be able to navigate in such territory. Thus I filed a flight plan to Dalan Zadgad, a place where a proper airport exists and where I had flown multiple times before. The Flight plan was accepted and I fuelled the aircraft and boarded some survival stuff for an icy dessert.

I asked my friend and the best guide one could find in Mongolia, Mr. Gantumur to fly with me for logistic support and for assistance in the case of an unintended landing somewhere in the nowhere we were about to fly into. Gantumur had accompanied us on our trip to the Gobi-Altai by car in the summer of this year. (see under Mongolia).

We departed Ulan Bator on Nov 21, 2oo2 heading South-West. After some 50 km in the Air I called up ATC and told them that I will not fly to Dalan Zadgad - no need to wait there for us. I was ordered to return to Ulan Bator but Radio-reception was all of a sudden so bad that I did not hear that order any more.

We stayed at 3ooo Meter flying around the westside of the impressive Altai mountain range.

While Mongolia is one of the least populated countries in the world it is still hard to find a space where not a family lives within range. One would always see herds of cows, yaks, camels (domesticated samples), sheep and goat (Kashmir).

We however flew for the last 2 hours into a totally uninhabited moon-type landscape.

After 5 hours of flying into headwind we came close to the GPS-position that had been given to me. The area did not look at all suitable for a Trigeared Europe to land - actually I couldn't think of any aircraft that could land on the rocky, soft-sand ground that is covered with dry bushes. Any alternate field was two hours of flight back and night was approaching. Suddenly we saw a dried-out lake which corresponded with the GPS position.

That was the proposed landing site and after one overflight we had our people spotted. They had put tents up to mark the *runway* and started fires for a safe landing.

The fires showed the wind-direction nicely and the landing was a walk in the park. This was my first off-airport landing... It was bitter-cold and we were hungry. So off we went to the camp where we were fed with a hearty vegetable soup. After a can of beer we climbed into our -45 C sleeping bags and slept under the open sky. The stars in this clean, cold, high-elevation air are virtually 3D.

Early next morning we started *working*. Henry Mix, expedition leader, had prepared so called transects - equidistant lines on the map which I had to fly at an altitude of 1oo Meter agl. The passenger was then to observe the visible area and count, classify, photograph, film any wild animals we were to find.

We flew from sunrise to sunset and encountered a total of 27 camels. The landscape would change with the travel of the sun and we saw most spectacular vistas. The land is extremely arid - yet all shaping is done by water that flows once a year when the snow melts or when by mistake of nature some rain falls.

At one point we came close to the border with China. (My GPS almost went crazy with warnings). There was no fence or immediate civilisation. The dessert simply doesn't support life in that part of the world.

The sun sets behind the 6300 Meter high TienShan Mountain in China 15 minutes prior to landing:

On the ground N81EU was the star.

Since the engine would not start after a cold night I had to get up at night and run the engine twice. We put some felt from a Mongolian yurt over the cowling to keep the warmth inside.

On the way back we flew around the eastern range of the Altai Montain range.

We made a beautiful night-approach into Ulan Bator. On the way we kept radio-contact with airliners on their way from Europe to China.

This was another flight with my magic carpet that showes in which massive way a plane can change or view onto the world. And if she is homebuilt it is an almost physical joy.

Wishing you happy landings