Kerry McCauley is what’s known as a ferry pilot – one of the most dangerous jobs in civilian aviation. His adventurous life began as a UH-1H "Huey" crew chief and winter survival instructor in the Minnesota National Guard. He then became an international ferry pilot, a professional skydiver, and a business jet pilot. His ferrying career has brought him to 60 countries, three seas, and six continents. He's flown about 50 different types of aircraft, has over 9000 hours of flight experience, and has completed over 20,000 skydives.
Kerry's new book, Ferry Pilot, 9 Lives Over the North Atlantic, delves into his epic experiences of ferry flying. With more than 30 years’ experience, Kerry has more than a few stories to tell. Fuel system failure across the Atlantic, total electrical failure over the Sahara at night, lightning strikes off the coast of Portugal, and engine failure in a thunderstorm all feature in this gripping new book.
We here at USTN were privileged enough to ask Kerry a few questions on his experience of ferry flying for the third instalment in our Pioneering Pilots interview series.
Can you tell us in your own words what it is a ferry pilot does and how you got started as one?
An international ferry pilot is someone who delivers aircraft to new owners around the world. For example. if someone in Singapore buys a plane in Las Vegas and they're not stupid enough to fly it over the ocean themselves they hire someone stupid enough to do it for them. Like me. A friend of mine told me about ferry flying while I was in flight school. The second I heard about how much of an adventure each flight was I made it my goal to become a ferry pilot. It took me three years of hard work before I finally got hired at an international delivery company called Orient Air.
Why would you hire a ferry pilot rather than just taking the plane apart and sending it by cargo ship?
It is possible to take the wings off an airplane and put it in a shipping container. Although this method is a lot more expensive and the plane is often damaged in the process. In other words, a ferry pilot's life is cheaper than the plane.
You’ve flown across the Atlantic over 75 times. What was the most perilous crossing you made?
My most dangerous Atlantic crossing was in a single engine Beechcraft Bonanza. Halfway to Paris my ferry tank system broke down and I was forced to blow into an air pressure line for eight hours to keep the engine running. it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my whole life but I made it.
What options are there if something goes wrong? What do you do if you crash?
If something goes wrong when flying a single engine plane over the ocean there's usually not much you can do. If you manage to survive ditching in the ocean and get out with your survival suit and raft, you're looking at many hours or days before a rescue ship can reach you. With that in mind I always carry a survival kit with me customized for whatever parts of the world I'll be flying over: ocean, jungle, desert or the arctic.
Most ferry pilots only do the job as a steppingstone to becoming a commercial pilot. What made you want to stay on?
My original plan was to become an airline pilot but once I found out how boring that job was I stayed in the ferry business and also became a professional skydiver. I guess I just like excitement.
Do you have any advice for aspiring pilots looking to make their start in the ferrying game?
Becoming a ferry pilot is difficult these days. There are not as many planes being shipped overseas as there used to be so the demand for ferry pilots is down. The insurance companies have also tightened their restrictions on who they will cover. You need to have done an ocean crossing before anyone will hire you. And you can't do an ocean crossing without getting hired. It's a catch 22. It's not impossible but it's not easy.
Thanks Kerry for such a fascinating interview. We hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did!