Circumnavigating Russia by TBM-930

A recent transpolar Japan-Europe flight got me thinking: what would it be like to fly all the way around Russia in a small turboprop? So I pieced together an itinerary, focusing on 3D airports for maximum eye candy.

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I decided to start with the hardest part – getting up the Pacific coast from Japan, with no diversion options between Japan and Alaska. The northernmost 3D airports in Japan are Rebun and Aomori, and of the two, Rebun seemed like a more picturesque place to start. It’s also very close to Russian airspace, so I had to start by flying to the southeast to catch the eastbound airway toward my first stop at Shemya (there are two airways closer to Russian airspace, but they are for westbound traffic).

Rebun is a tiny airport on a small island off the coast of Hokkaido. In real life it has been “temporarily” closed since 2009, as the island didn’t get enough traffic to sustain even small prop service. What better place to start a journey that could easily be mistaken for a spy mission?

Fortunately they still had some [old] fuel on hand, so with a full tank, and some local snacks, I was off.

In just a few minutes I was passing over Wakkanai, on the northern tip of Hokkaido. I decided to climb slowly to stretch my fuel as much as possible. The good news was a strong wind from the southeast – 50 kts at this low altitude. It made this part of the flight a little bumpy, but would help propel me up the Pacific track.

My climb continued over Monbetsu, on the Sea of Okhotsk. In the winter, the sea freezes and icebergs crash into the shore here.

By FL200 the wind speed was up to 86kts. The scenery in eastern Hokkaido was getting increasingly breathtaking.

Soon I approached Nemuro, the eastern tip of the island, past which I could see the southernmost of the Kuril Islands (which are claimed by Japan but have been occupied by Russia since the end of WWII). The nearby airport of Nakashibetsu would be my last diversion option before the Aleutian Islands.

At FL240 the wind was up to >120kts from starboard, and the little turboprop was bobbing back and forth as if it might fall out of the sky at any moment. I made a course adjustment via NUBDA and PUGAL to intercept the airway at an angle and take advantage of the winds as much as possible.

With the wind at my tail at FL290, I was getting GS 481 at 208 IAS (M 0.57). Not bad for a prop!

Next stop: Shemya Island, Alaska (PASY)…



Great photos however as per the category guidelines, the HUD and status bar must not be visible.

This topic does in fact belong in #live.

The way to take proper screenshots is through the replay mode screenshot system.

Have a great rest of your day!

Another note: I would advice against cruising at a speed so close to the red overspeed line - a significant change in wind could cause you to get a violation.

Why bother editing this in when the topic was already in #live ?


As night fell over the northern Pacific, I prepared for my first stop at Eareckson Air Station (PASY) on Shemya Island, Alaska, near the western tip of the Aleutians. It was built for the purpose of bombing Japan during WWII, and not used as much as expected for that purpose. Northwest Airlines used the field as a refueling stop for DC-4s and Stratocruisers for several years after the war, but now it is mostly forgotten. Unless you’re trying to fly around Russia in a short-range plane, in which case it’s a very useful stop indeed.

The first couple of islands came into view not long after entering U.S. airspace.

Although Shemya has an ILS on RWY 26, it would be a downwind landing, which I wasn’t in the mood for after hours of being buffeted by the Pacific jet stream. So I switched off the autopilot and changed course for a landing on RWY 10.

Winds were only 20 kts at this altitude, and it was an easy manual landing, with fuel to spare. Total elapsed time from departure at Rebun, Japan: about 4 hours.

The Air Force skeleton crew was expecting me, and I was able to trade some Japanese snacks for enough fuel to reach the next stop, at Barrow (PABR) on the northern coast of Alaska. (I made sure to save a stash for bartering once I reached Greenland.)

Stay tuned…



After the pit stop at Shemya, it was time to go up the western edge of Alaskan airspace, through the Bering Sea to the Arctic Ocean.

I departed from Shemya around 01:30 local time, in a dim twilight that faded quickly as I flew out.

At this high latitude, I was well past the jet stream. Winds aloft at cruising altitude (FL270-290) were around 10-40 knots, barely noticeable in contrast to the >140 I was getting over the Pacific. So it was a quiet flight across the Bering, though my radar showed a NH 777 and SQ 350 flying above.

The first sign of civilization on the ground was Nome Airport, which I overflew in dim twilight and could barely make out below the clouds. Around 6 am local time, I passed the Arctic Circle and watched the sun rise near Kotzebue.

The tundra was VAST, though still barely visible.

As I approached Barrow I found the earth enveloped in a thick soup of fog, and couldn’t see the airport as I turned for final around 2,500 feet. But then the runway lights quickly materialized in front of me.

In contrast to Shemya, Barrow is a hub of local activity, with a small Alaska Airlines hangar/terminal.

I had made it to the Arctic Ocean! And now it was time to stretch my legs, and purchase a polar bear gun. My next stop: Alert Base, at the northern tip of Canada…



A very simple flight plan this time, because there is literally nothing but ocean between “here” and “there,” other than the waypoints on final approach.

Wheels up from Barrow around 14:20 local time. “Departing north” is probably not a phrase they hear often around here.

The sky was still hazy as I climbed out over the Arctic Ocean.

Things cleared up out over the Arctic, but there wasn’t much to see for hours, other than icy blue water.

I began my descent over Ellesmere Island, which is is almost as large as Great Britain but has a permanent population of only 144–all of whom live in a village on the southern end. I of course was flying over the northern end.

At this latitude, IF’s terrain textures become incredibly pixelated, but the sea ice is visible passing over the coast, and one can almost see the polar bears.

My destination, CFS Alert (CYLT), is a research station which purports to be the northernmost continuously inhabited place in the world, having been first settled in 1950 around the start of the Cold War, though it only has a temporary population of researchers and defense personnel. Truly feels like landing on the edge of the earth!

I landed at 23:20 local time, after just under four hours airborne. No ILS here, but visibility was good, and the runway has a PAPI to help with orientation. The midnight sun is still out at this hour.

Next stop: Svalbard!



With a full tank, I took off from Alert and settled in to cross the Arctic from North America to Europe.

The routing took me over the northern tip of Greenland, which seemed to almost glow white. Cruising at FL310, I was getting a GS of >370 at only 195 IAS.

It originally seemed like the TBM wouldn’t have the legs to get from Canada to Norway nonstop, so I planned to fuel up at Longyearbyen in the Svalbard Islands (ENSB). However, once I got underway, the winds were once again favorable, and I realized that I could stretch my fuel to get to the European continent in one shot. So I decided to proceed nonstop to Kirkenes, Norway (ENKR), just a stone’s throw from the border with Russia near the Kola Peninsula.

I still passed over Svalbard, the terrain of which is otherworldly in its own way.

The tailwinds died down past Svalbard and I crossed the sea at a GS around 330. Finally, about 2 hours out from the coast of Greenland, and 3 hours and 30 minutes out from the coast of Canada, the northern coast of Norway came into view. It’s wild how close the continents really are.

I landed at Kirkenes with a 35kt crosswind, which was a bit of a challenge in this small plane.

In comparison to my last three stops, ENKR is a bustling small town airport, with several proper jet stands. The Norwegians really have nice infrastructure, even all the way up here.

My last stop in the Arctic… now time to fly down through Europe and Central Asia.



I originally planned a short hop to Tallinn, Estonia, but I decided to test the TBM’s range again and plotted a nearly 5-hour nonstop flight to Cluj, Romania, which would take me down the length of Finland, across the Baltics to Estonia and Latvia, through a “hole” in Russian airspace (thanks to the exclave of Kaliningrad) into Lithuania, then across Poland, the western tip of Ukraine, and finally into the heart of Transylvania. Following charted airways most of the way, this routing would skirt Belarus and allow me to continue around Crimean airspace on the next leg (probably a good idea given the current situation in that part of the world). At around 1,650nm, this long of a flight might be out of the question if there were strong headwinds aloft, but today I figured it would be barely doable.

Brought my plane into the hangar at ENKR for some pre-flight care (a cool little feature of this 3D airport).

Wheels up around 13:30 local time, then proceeded southward over the tundra.

Initial cruise over Finland at FL240, getting GS 275 at IAS 220 with a light crosswind. Smooth flying all the way to Helsinki on the Baltic Sea.

Then onward to Estonia.

And Latvia.

Heavy crosswind turbulence over Lithuania caused me to descend to FL180. Crossed the Lithuania-Poland border, with Russian territory (Kaliningrad) just to the right, and Belarus off to the left.

The terrain was quite flat until reaching eastern Ukraine, about four hours into the flight, where I suddenly found myself among picturesque mountains.

Which continued into Romania as the sun set for a gorgeous final approach into Cluj.

A stunningly rendered little airport, well worth visiting.

In our next installment we’ll see how far I can get into Asia!


But I thought the earth was flat

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I wanted to see how far I could push the TBM on this leg, but settled on taking it to Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan, which would leave about an hour of fuel in the tank. Past there, there are no 3D airports until you reach Kazakhstan, definitely be past the range of my aircraft.

Departed Cluj at 15:00 local time and set an initial low cruise at 15,000’.

The mountains of Transylvania changed to a scenery of farmland over eastern Romania, more similar to what I saw over the Baltics and Poland.

I crossed the Black Sea following the northern coast of Turkey, passing over the town of Sinop. I climbed to FL250 around here to take advantage of vortex winds that were blowing in the right direction.

On the other side of the sea, the jagged Caucasus Mountains welcomed me to Georgian airspace.

Then into Azerbaijan, another former Soviet republic, passing right over the capital of Baku to begin my relatively quick transit of the Caspian Sea.

In contrast to the terrain of the Caucasus, the eastern shore of the Caspian is largely flat desert.

Turkmenbashi Airport is hidden behind a ridge of mountains, and I enjoyed an arrival amid a desert sunset around 20:30 local time.



After overnighting in Turkmenbashi, I decided to do my best to stretch the TBM’s range on the next leg, and plotted a 1,846 nm course all the way to Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang autonomous region. Although the great circle route over Kazakhstan would be shorter, I shifted my path southward to take advantage of a strong jet stream running north of the Himalayas.

Western Turkmenistan is a vast desert, with a landscape not unlike what you see inland on the Arabian Peninsula. Every now and then an agricultural region would appear, and then the landscape would dry out again.

The terrain gradually got more interesting as I crossed into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The most amazing sight on this leg was Karakul, a crater lake in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan, near the Chinese border. The surface is nearly 13,000 feet above sea level!

Over China I finally met up with the jet stream, which pushed me along at a GS of about 400 kts (IAS around 200 at FL310). The terrain changed to lush plateau as I flew over Kashgar.

And then I was over incredible mountain peaks again, the Tian Shan (Heaven Mountains) in northern Xinjiang.

I landed in Urumqi with about 20 minutes of fuel left from a full tank, after 5 hours in flight. Don’t try this in real life unless you have a good parachute! May void your life insurance!

Let’s see how far I get on the next hop…

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Any progress?

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