Sunday, August 3, 2014

Lessons Learned during Outback Overflight

This post is a catch-all for things that I've learned about flying in Australia as an American over the course of the trip. If you're considering or planning a flying trip to Australia from the U.S., I hope this helps in some small way.

  • Make sure you've checked and tested your credit cards for functionality. Turns out that avgas fueling points are much more finicky than regular merchants about credit cards. It's possible that US debit cards don't work here - or maybe mine just don't. In any case, they also generally only take Visa and Mastercard at the pumps - if they take anything other than an aviation fuel carnet. If you're somewhere with fuelling personnel, they may be able to take American Express, but it's not likely. If you bring a MC/Visa, make sure that it is chip-and-PIN - while I was in Australia, a deadline passed for all Australian cards to be required to have chip and PIN - signatures are no longer accepted.
  • Do your paperwork well in advance. Although I was fortunate enough that my Certificate of Validation came through in time, I nearly was tripped up by the English Language Proficiency requirement and by the time it takes to process the application. This is complicated by the fact that CASA specifically tells you not to apply for a CoV with a 'starting valid time' farther in the future than three months. Ideally, it seems, the best thing to do would be to come to Australia without flying solo and use that trip to do paperwork, sync up with your rental agency and take care of all the other tasks - for me that wasn't an option (Airborne Aviation tells me that they have several clients who live in SE Asia who maintain permanent Australian ASICs using Airborne's office as a mailing address). If you'll be in Australia more than once, I strongly recommend you consider starting the paperwork on the previous trip. My ASIC did not show up - because although I had the application in in good time, CASA had told me that the immigration check for my arrival would be automated and take around 24 hours - but when I got here, they admitted that it sometimes takes Immigration up to 14 days to respond to their requests, and until they had that confirmation, they couldn't process the ASIC.
  • The ASIC is more necessary than it seems. Nearly all airports in the ERSA are listed as 'Security Controlled.' While this isn't really true (some of these, no names mentioned, were deserted and had the 'security gate' held closed with a simple gate latch) it's also true that some small airports are staffed by very serious and zealous security types. If you don't have an ASIC, it's possible that you can get away with asking them for a temporary authorization based on 1) your status as a foreign pilot 2) your Certificate of Validation and Aviation Reference Number and a copy of your ASIC application and 3) the fact that you landed an airplane there rather than trying to gain admission from the outside. But don't count on it.
  • Different people at CASA will give you different answers to the same question - and it's not at all clear whose answer is 'controlling' - and perhaps none of them are. Get all answers from CASA in writing - email is OK, make sure they give you their names and contact numbers in the message - and make sure you bring paper copies of all your applications and email correspondence with you. Worst case, you can refer inquirers to the CASA personnel who answered you. No guarantee this will work, but it shows you're prepared and doing your best, and even among Security personnel here in Australia, that seems to count for something. Also familiar is their willingness to believe that the government agency has given incorrect answers, especially when your claim is backed with evidence.
  • If you get in trouble or get confused, the key phrase when talking to ATC is 'Unfamiliar - foreign pilot.' They seem to be quite cheerful and pleasant about helping you through confusion, so long as you're not trying to use this to bull through procedures.
  • Every emergency kit in a small plane should include several metal hose clamps of various sizes and some thick rubber hose of various lengths. :-P Make sure you have the proper tools to at least open your cowling.
  • The paper charts here are a bit confusing - there are several types of chart, with information distributed across the types (WAC, ERC Low/High, VTC, VNC). Make sure you buy a PCA - the 'planning' chart that tells you which charts apply where. Unlike the US, there isn't a diagram on each subchart for this. I strongly recommend the OzRunways application (for iOS, may be coming for Android) - it is a joy to use, and has all these map types and more in it, so you're not switching charts to find things like field elevation, CTAF frequencies, airway paths, and the like in flight. Obviously, have the paper with you and within reach - but electronics can make the paper easier to manage. Oh, and - OzRunways has a free thirty-day trial period, which includes all charts - so don't download and play with it until you're ready to activate your 30-day window, if you want to save some cash.
  • The ERSA (Australian equivalent of the AFD) is an excellent resource, and includes flight procedures for popular scenic routes and restricted/prohibited areas (indexed by area ID number) as well as straight aerodrome info.
  • If you get a local cellular SIM or phone, get Telstra. So far, we've only been completely out of Telstra range once in flight, and we're almost across to Broome. Vodafone didn't fare nearly as well. Telstra had, when I was there, a certification called 'Blue Check' which indicated that phone did better in remote areas.
  • Get onto AirServices NAIPS. Most of what you need to do vis-a-vis flight plans, weather, NOTAMs and the like can be done online. As soon as you have an ARN (Aviation Reference Number) you can get a free account on the AirServices NAIPS website (like DUATS). Get an Australian pilot to run you through the basics if you're uncertain about how to use it - there are docs online on the site, though. I made a homepage link to it on my iPad.
  • The local iOS app 'AWIS' is very handy - it's just a directory (by airfield code/name) of the automated weather (AWIS) phone numbers, and will dial them from the app. Dial, hold the cell phone speaker up to your headset mike - or better yet plug it into your AUX if your airplane has one - and bob's your uncle for finding the local QNH and winds. Not all AWIS stations report cloud cover/height.
  • NAIPS is the Airservices website equivalent of DUATS, and works well. You'll need an Aviation Reference Number to sign up, so you'll have to wait until your first round of applications goes through.
  • If you rent a plane 'wet' with fuel carnets provided, make sure they have a BP carnet included. I had Mobil and Shell, and while those seemed to be OK in NSW/QLD, up in NT and WA, BP ruled the roost.
  • Victoria should be avoided during the winter. The weather there can be a real PITA - it comes north and east across the Great Australian Bight, and can blanket the area south of a line from Adelaide to Sydney with clouds, rain, fog and other crap weather with not a ton of notice, for days on end. Stay north of that line and the weather seems to be mostly clear, blue and mild during July.
  • Get out of the Sydney Basin while the getting is good. When weather does come up, especially wind and cloud, you'll find yourself stuck behind 3500-4500 foot hills all around Sydney which cause nasty turbulence above them during windy days (and low Class C airspace floors over them) . If you have an extra day or two at the start of a trip, get out of that basin - get as far as Dubbo to the northwest or Griffith to the southwest, or further if you can, to avoid getting stuck like I did. Essentially, get past the hills.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


Well, looks like flying is finished for Outback Overflight. We had been hoping to do a Sydney Harbor scenic flight today, but the winds are 28G35 kts with 'severe turbulence' below 5000 feet over the Sydney basin. In addition, the winds are out of 330 degrees magnetic, which means Sydney Kingsford-Smith YSSY is using 34R and 34L. When they do that, I am informed, Sydney Center does not approve scenic flights over the harbor north of the airport, as the traffic pattern intrudes into that space. So...ah well. I'm disappointed, but not all that disappointed - to be honest, I'm tired, and the main part of the trip was a smashing success!

I figured I should close Outback Overflight with some facts and figures.

The Route: The route of the trip was as follows: YSCN YBTH YSDU YTGM YLRE YNTN YKMB YBRL YPTN YCOO YPKU YDBY YBRM YHLC YPTG46 YBAS YWMC YBHI YSWL YGTH YSDU YBTH YSCN. It was not only direct legs, though - we made several days of flights to custom waypoints for scenic purposes. As a result, while those airports constitute a route of approximately 4800 nautical miles, the actual trip was closer to 5300.

Consumables: For the airplane? Hm. SDN consumed as near as I can tell 596 gallons (2256 liters) of avgas and 3 quarts of oil. As for her passengers? In the plane, let's see - I think 6.5 liters of bottled water, two packages of Monte Carlo biscuits by Arnott's, two packages of Tim Tams, a packet of Lemon Crisps, a bag of Cherry Ripes (my pax likes them), a bag of Red Skins, two packets of Raspberry Tartlets, and a container of Extra spearmint chewing gum. That was what was consumed in the airplane. Oh, and eight muesli bars and three Quest bars.

Other stats: 22 takeoffs and (thankfully) 22 landings. 48.5 flight hours. Two different aircraft flown (I also got a half hour in a Bristell BRM RG with a 6-cylinder Jabiru engine).

Squawks: (Squawks are maintenance issues on aircraft) - Six. They include:

  • INOP EGT sensor on cylinder 5
  • INOP fuel sender, right tank
  • COM2 intermittently would refuse to send/receive audio to the panel, although it claimed it was working otherwise
  • GPS2 would, some days, just refuse to ever get GPS lock
  • The nose gear strut rolled a seal at Cooinda YCOO, requiring a bodge at Kununurra YPKU and a repair at Broome YBRM
  • The starter motor refused to engage at Dubbo YSDU, requiring removal and repair

Also: 2 tour boat cruises. 2 museums. 2 zoo parks. 3 coasts of Australia touched (East at Sydney, the Gulf of Carpentaria in the North, and the Indian Ocean West coast at Broome). Photos taken > 500, I think. GoPro video taken: I still have no idea because I can't get the damn thing to connect to my Mac, so I have to wait to get home to get to a card reader. Not that much, I think, the batteries on these things just suck and we didn't have a way to remotely power it.

Time: It will end up being a couple days over a month in Australia.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Day N+1 - Dubbo YSDU to Camden YSCN via Bathurst YBTH

Woke up in Dubbo, checked out of the motel and naturally walked over to the shopping center to have Donut King for breakfast. I'm actively trying to get sick of these things before we leave Australia in a few days, but it hasn't worked so far. After donuts, we wandered outside and picked up a taxi from the cab rank and got a lift back to Dubbo Regional Airport.

SDN was waiting patiently, and they hadn't changed the airside gate code, so we ambled out onto the tarmac (it is really, really fun to do that, still) and prepped the plane. I did a preflight, and my pax untied us and staged the various iPads and notes and charts in the plane. Everything checked out OK, so I got in, we belted in, and I ran the startup checklist, keeping my fingers crossed that the starter wouldn't give us too much crap.

Nope, fired right up. Hooray!

There were a pair of commuter flights on the apron as we began our taxi. The main runway at Dubbo is 05/23; it's longer and wider and the RPT (Regular Passenger Transport) flights use that. They're mostly using [Bombardier Dash-8] Q200/300/400 aircraft, twin engined turboprops that seat perhaps between 45 and 60 pax. There were two at Dubbo that morning, a REX and a Qantas Link. I was taxiing for runway 29 - 11/29 is a shorter, narrower but still sealed-surface runway that crosses 05/23. I was planning on using that because the wind was from 330 at around 11 kts, and I figured why deal with more crosswind than I had to.

As we were taxiing, an aircraft called in on the CTAF from approximately 8 miles out, with the call sign 'Ambulance 2975' which I took to mean one of the Royal Flying Doctors airplanes - they use big Beechcraft King Airs (well, they're big from the seat of a Cessna 182). He called a straight-in approach to 29. Since I needed to turn onto 29 and backtaxi, and since he needed to turn off 29 onto the taxiway I was on (and there wasn't room for both of us) I volunteered to cross 29 and wait on the other side, but he said "No worries, we'll have to turn around past the taxiway anyhow." So I finished my runup (1800 RPM, check right mag drop, check left mag drop, cycle prop once and look for RPM drop, twice and look for manifold pressure rise, third time and look for fuel flow drop, then check vacuum, then drop to idle to check function...) and he came in. It was clear he could have totally made the turnoff, but he idled his way past it and called "SDN, all yours."

"Thank you RFD, yer a gentleman and a scholar. Dubbo Traffic, Sierra Delta November is backtracking on runway 29 for departure Dubbo." Turned onto 29 just as another call came over.

"Dubbo Traffic, Link Two Zero Four One taxiing from the ramp to runway 05 for departure, Dubbo."

I continued to taxi back to the threshold of 29. As I was starting to turn around and line up, we heard "Sierra Delta November, Dubbo Traffic, Link Two Zero Four One is in position runway 05 and holding."

Clicked the mic. "Link Two Zero Four One, Sierra Delta November; we're in position and happy to hold for you guys."

"Thanks SDN. Dubbo Traffic, Link Two Zero Four One is rolling 05, Dubbo."

As we waited and watched Link scream past the intersection, already twenty or so meters in the air, the REX flight called in and announced he was taxiing for runway 23. I shrugged and made my call. "Dubbo Traffic, Sierra Delta November is rolling 29, Dubbo."

"Sierra Delta November, REX - watch for wake turbulence."

"Thanks much REX, got my eye on it." He was right, but I'd waited a good thirty seconds before starting my roll, and wake turbulence vortices sink at around 1000 feet per minute. Since the Qlink flight had only been around seventy feet up when he crossed 29, I wasn't too worried. Sure enough, nothing. REX was just reminding me in case I had plans to turn right to follow the Link flight, but I was making a left turn to depart. As we came around, climbing through 1500 AGL, the Link flight was already past 8000 towards flight levels and heading for Sydney. As we turned back towards the airfield on what would have been a downwind departure, the REX flight announced rolling, so I jogged left, angling to pass over the center of the aerodrome since the REX aircraft was taking off from my left to my right. As we approached the airfield perimeter, passing through 3000 feet, he was visible under our right wing, beginning his climb. All good.

We set course for Bathurst, retracing our steps from those first days of the trip. The weather was gorgeous, so we got to see the beginnings of the wrinkles and ridges of the Great Dividing Range as we headed south southeast. We navigated to Orange YORG, diverting some fifteen miles prior to a more easterly course into Bathurst, avoiding a couple of the higher peaks and some ridges that would have caused more bumps. Coming into Bathurst, we checked but there didn't appear to be any glider ops in progress. When I announced on the CTAF that I was approaching for a right circuit for 35, there weren't any responses. Came around, still with a 24 knot quartering tailwind on the downwind leg at circuit height, but by the time we were turning final, it had dropped to a 10 knot crosswind from the left. Ah well. Can't have everything. Crabbed on final, managed a quite credible landing with no bounces and taxied back in to the Bathurst Aero Club.

We met up with my pax's father's friend. He gave us keys to their flight instruction company's loaner car and a map to a decent cafe and to his house, and keys to his house, since he had several more students that afternoon. We drove to the cafe (it was in the visitor's information center, and the food was quite nice, actually) - had a sausage and chips sanga (both of us lamented that they weren't Kanga Bangers) and then drove through town and up to the race circuit.

Mount Panorama, I have learned, is an Australian motor racing track which is famous mostly for the Australian Touring Car series and the resultant Ford/Holden rivalry which, having taken on the aspects of a religious war, persists to this day. The track itself is open to the public when not in use - in fact hilariously, it is used as public streets when not in use, so as we pootled around it in a tiny clapped-out Hyundai Getz efficiency hatchback, in addition to the few luxe performance cars that were obviously driving it For The Experience, we also passed not only some roadworks trucks but a couple of city transit buses trundling along their routes. It was dissonant and hilarious.

So we drove this circuit in an underpowered go-cart with a beat up transmission. This actually made it more fun, because it was at least a manual, so we could pretend to be shifting as appropriate for the track positions. Also, it had so little power and there are so many significant hills on the circuit that we had to keep it in second gear much of the time - and the little Hyundai shrieked as the speed hovered around 50 km/hr. So the sound effects were right, at least. The car was so tiny the engine wouldn't compression brake - under gear with no throttle, it would speed up when going downhill.

Stopped at the top of the circuit and took some pictures for the hell of it, then drove back down, wandered around the motor racing museum at the foot of the course (lots of old race cars, some decent videos, a bunch of motorcycles and sidecar setups from the track's two-wheel series). After that we wandered into town, found a Donut King (SHOCKING) and then drove out to our host's house, picking up some wine for dinner.

Turns out our host's partner (hostess) is also a pilot, and she grew up in the same (foreign) city that my pax spent several years of childhood in. She and our host are planning a round-Australia flying trip of their own, so they had many questions about Outback Overflight. Conversation was lively and fun until we all headed off for bed.

The next morning (this morning, as I write this) we got up, packed and headed back to the airport. Our host had gone into town for a business meeting at 6am (his other business) and met us there. He had lined up demo flights for us - his company has a BRM Bristell Light Sport Aircraft that they're quite proud of. This airplane - a Bristell RG, I believe - is offered with an 80 or 100 horsepower Rotax 4-cylinder engine. Our host had phoned them up and said "So we have a six-cylinder Jabiru engine here, can you make one of those go in?" The answer, apparently, was "Sure, if you give us the time and money." The resultant airplane has 125 horsepower. 25 horsepower more doesn't sound like a lot, until you remember that it's a 25% increase over the high-performance model - and that the BRM RG has an empty weight of around 600kg. Myself and the demo pilot probably took it overweight a bit - we didn't fill it with gas.

With the two of us aboard, it fairly leapt off the runway. I've never flown a LSA before, and it's a real difference from a Cessna - it's twitchy, and much more slippery. The RG has a bubble canopy and center sticks, both of which were new to me. I loved it. I let him land it, because I'd let it get a bit fast on approach - unlike the Cessna, it really won't slow down much even with the flaps out, and it touches down at perhaps 35 knots, rather than the 60 I"m used to. Plus it's much lower and smaller.

I want one.

While we were up, though, we'd noticed that the bright blue day was marred as masses of cloud began moving in from the southwest. We had to get over the hills to the southeast to make it back to the Sydney basin to hand in SDN, and the weather forecasters had been saying that bad weather was supposed to move in later in that day and stick around for a few days. So after my pax got his demo ride, we hurriedly jumped into SDN, prepped and took off.

The clouds were down near the hills between us and Sydney, but our host had tipped me that if we flew 7 miles south and turned directly east, there was a valley which traversed the hills which we would probably be able to get through. The valley was varied from 3-7 miles or so wide, and the rims were perhaps 4000 feet up. Climbing out to the south, we determined that the cloud deck was probably at around 5500 or 6000 feet, lightening to the east, so we decided to give it a try. Turning left, we followed the valley for 25 or 30 miles as it curved towards the south. At the curve, we had a tailwind of around 34 knots, but the sky was clearing rapidly; by the time we turned to the south towards the reservoir, we were seeing mostly clear sky. I climbed to 5500, leaving some space for the scattered cloud at that layer, and we rode the bumps south southeast over the reservoir. The ride was very bumpy due to the strong wind passing over the rough terrain.

We came out over the final ridge, though, so I called up Camden Tower and received clearance for a visual approach. Came around, still fighting wind, to set up for 24. Turning final, I had forgotten about the very displaced threshold and the remnants of the headwind I was still coping with, so I had to add a bit of power, but despite a few strong cross gusts made a smooth touchdown and taxied back to Airborne Aviation's hangar.

And with that, Outback Overflight came to an end.

I think I've flown 51 hours here in Australia, counting check rides and the Bristell and the like. Not sure how far - at least 4700 NM, probably more like 5200 on the tour itself. It's been a blast. I've seen a great deal of Australia; a great deal of wildlife, met a number of Australians (and New Zealanders) and found that indeed, they're both laid back and have a great sense of humor, generally very friendly. I quite like this country, and I am immensely glad I've done this trip.

We might fly once more, tomorrow, if the weather is good - I may want to make the Sydney Harbor scenic flight, which everyone says is great. We'll see what the WX looks like.

Thanks for following along, everyone. We head back to the U.S. in a few days, and I will take with me a whole heap of excellent flying experience and memories.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Day N - Stawell YSWL to Dubbo YSDU

Finally. We've been stuck in Stawell Victoria for four days - because this time of year, cyclonic low pressure sweeps north into the Great Australian Bight, then turns east and drags cloud, rain and general muck across Victoria and southern New South Wales. We dodged cloud to get in to Stawell, and then it rolled over us. Every morning, we would get up at sunrise, walk through Stawell's business district and out the other side, and up Observation Hill - because from the top, you can see approximately 30km in every direction. Two of those four days, the sun would be shining in blue sky above us, and in every direction there was cloud down to the ground, between two and 10 km away. So very frustrating.

We did manage to visit the zoo in Hall's Gap, some 20km away. This was excellent - it's a great smallish zoo (well, not that small, it has some large reserve areas) and best of all, most of the animals there are somewhat tame. I got to sit with the meerkats, who have this great scam going whereby they have trained the keepers to place food in the visiting human's hands. So I got clambered on by three meerkats, who each grabbed one of my palms and nommed until the food was gone. Then they climbed over the rest of me to be sure, sniffed my ear, bumped noses with me and scrambled away.

After that, I got to snuggle two dingo pups. They were both white dingo puppies. Also, both fairly socialized, so both extremely eager for hugs and ear and tummy scratchings. The zoo is socializing these two to take to events to raise awareness of the dingo, so they need lots of people to interact with them gently and affectionately. Um, okay.

Also, got to walk through the wallaby area. The wallabies immediately boinged over and demanded food, so we fed them the grain kibble we'd been handed on the way in. The wallabies were actually a bit chubby; they obviously are quite successful at puppy-eyeing food out of visitors - and were tame enough to cluster around when you squat down to feed them and don't mind being petted. I ended up with three of them crowded around me submitting to head scratchings in exchange for food. Many animals in this zoo are in fenced areas which humans can enter and exit via gate. One thing that struck me as peculiar was the popularity of the spotted deer and the turkeys - until I remembered that these are native to the U.S., so to the locals, they were roughly as exotic as the koalas were to me.

This says nothing of the grey kangaroos who also boinged over for their share. The roos are bigger, so live behind a wire fence in a large reserve area, but of course will immediately approach passers-by looking for a handout. So in sum, got gobbed on by a bunch of different creatures; saw some more birds of all sorts, and some animals I didn't touch but was still amazed to see the way I did. In this zoo, many of the enclosures don't have fencing or walls around them - they just have lean-over walls at waist height and electric fencing to keep the animals away from the viewing edge (the backs generally open into reserve areas people aren't allowed into). So I got to lean over and trade quizzical stares with a red panda and a Tasmanian devil, for example, from around one yard of distance. The koalas were too stoned (all koalas are stoned on eucalyptus toxins permanently) to be interested, and were hanging out in their gum tree some six or seven yards in, but good on them. The only disappointment (as my travel buddy explained) was that this zoo did not have a 'meet a koala' experience (where they place a stoned koala in your lap) so he was not able to get video of me being urinated on by a marsupial. I told him better luck next time.

We've lost enough time that we have had to prune back our plans to take a one-week walkabout with the airplane on our own. This is not a severe loss - it will save some money, for one thing, and for another we've already flown around the whole country - the only places we didn't go were up the east coast towards Cairns and west towards Perth. The west is too far away to get back in time, and the northern part of the east coast is also suffering weather, so we probably can't go there and make it back. We planned to make a stop in Bathurst to visit with my pax's friend who owns the flight school, and maybe find a day to do the Sydney Harbor scenic flight once we get back to Camden.

This morning, we popped our of our rooms just before sunrise, and miracle - blue sky. Packing quickly, we took a taxi out to the airport and packed up SDN, waiting patiently there for us these several days. I decided to head northeast to Griffith YGTH - around 221 NM away, it was on a near-direct line to Bathurst, and had a Mobil fueling point (which we have a carnet for). It felt so good to get off the ground again, and bank over the (very) small town we'd been stuck in for the past half-week. Don't get me wrong, Stawell is a perfectly fine town, but we wanted to be moving again.

When we got to Griffith, the wind was from around 330 degrees magnetic at 13 knots. Unfortunately, the runway at Griffith is 06/24, so that meant a direct crosswind. Sigh. There was a Jabiru in the circuit doing training, so the locals weren't letting it bother then. The Cessna 182 is rated for 15 knots crosswind - which means that's the highest number Cessna will admit they tested it at. I've landed a 172 in 15 knots of crosswind, so I figured what the heck.

No worries. Griffith has RPT (Regular Passenger Transport) operations - twin turbo-prop regional flights - so they have a nice long runway. Landed and taxied in to the fueling point, pulling in behind the Beechcraft just exiting, and fueled up before taxing to transient parking. Afterwards, wandered in to the Griffith Aero Club, which offered bathrooms, drinks & snacks on the honor system, and free wifi. Used all three, and was cheerfully greeted by the four or five local aviators who wandered through, striking up conversations about all manner of things ranging from how ridiculous the CASA is compared to the FAA (I flatly refused to buy that one, but they convinced me) to flying Jabirus, to the tour we'd just taken, to the inevitable "So one time I..." stories that pilots seem incapable of avoiding but enjoy anyway. I had a microwaved meat pie (surprisingly good, and I was inescapably reminded of C.M.O.T. Dibbler) and a tea, and signed the visitor's book before we headed back out.

The crosswind was still there, but we got off 24 fine and turned left, climbing to pass back over midfield on course to 060 while an RPT REX flight took off below us and headed south-southwest towards Melbourne.

About halfway to Bathurst, we realized there was a broken cloud layer at 4200 feet MSL over Bathurst and the surrounding area. This wouldn't be a problem, except that Bathurst is at 2500 feet of altitude. I might be willing to sneak under an 1700 foot AGL cloud layer - except that between our position and Bathurst, there were numerous peaks up to 3600 feet. Also, we discovered, my pax's friend wasn't in Bathurst but was spending today and tonight in Sydney. So, with no reason to push it, we diverted north to Dubbo, where we'd gotten stuck by weather at the start of the tour. Dubbo is only 70 NM or so from Bathurst, and is on the lower slopes of the hills at around 900 feet - plus, we could skirt the hills to get there. So we did. Landed at Dubbo (I sort of tanked that landing, caught a gust and dropped it just hard enough to take a bounce...ugh) and taxied in to the fueling point. Gassed SDN, and hopped back in to taxi to the parking area.

She wouldn't start.

The starter motor whined and grumbled when the key was turned to START, but the prop steadfastly refused to move. Sigh.

Now, you can hand-prop a Cessna. But hand-starting propeller-driven aircraft is not the safest thing, and I've never done it - and my pax isn't a pilot. So either way, I'd have to try to teach this to myself - um, no, not with a 230-HP meatchopper involved - and even if I was willing, my pax would have to be at the controls with me in front of the plane. Also, no.

Reported the situation to the rental firm in Sydney by phone, asking them if this was a known problem with SDN. Nope. I tried manually turning the prop (not to start it, with the master off and keys out) to see if changing the position of the crank would help - sometimes it does with cars, when a worn gear means the starter won't engage at that point. Nope, no joy. So I wandered into the nearby [Royal Flying Doctors] hangar and asked if they knew anyone on field who worked on Cessnas, and got referred to Air-Link, across the apron. Ambled over there and asked; the chief mechanic turned to one of the other two gents hanging around and said "John?"

John said "Sure, mate," and gave me a lift back to the plane on their tow cart. When I explained what was going on, he said "Aw, it's a 182? Bet they have a Kelly aftermarket starter in it, those bloody things do this sort of bilge all the time." He popped the cowling off, reached into the engine compartment until he was shoulders deep and then his voice filtered out: "Yep. Kelly."

So John (using a single wrench and a driver) removed the starter motor from SDN (without taking off the nose cowling, impressive) and showed it to us. "Yep. See this gear here? Well, when the starter turns it's supposed to move forward to engage the gearing on the crank, but you can see, it's stuck back up in there. No worries." Then he put it on the cart and drove off. 25 minutes later he was back, having disassembled and lubed the starter, and he reinstalled it into SDN, then gave me a nod. I got in. Standby battery, check, avionics off, check, master on, throttle to 1/4, fuel pump, mixture to full rich for 6 seconds, fuel pump off, turn the key- and she started.


That was 1.5 hours of labor, which turned out to be a fairly paltry sum, so I happily paid up. Tried to buy John a beer but he refused, since he'd invoiced me for the labor. "No dramas, mate."

So we headed into Dubbo and immediately made a beeline (after getting rooms) for Donut King - the last Donut King we'd seen had, in fact, been this same one. Then we had dinner and headed back in for the night, and here we are - 2.5 weeks after setting out to catch up with the tour, 4400 NM or so later, and back in Dubbo. Tomorrow to Bathurst, hopefully, and thence to Sydney.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 13 - Broken Hill YBHI to Stawell YSWL

We got a leisurely start in Broken Hill, as the weather wasn't great down in Stawell. Apropos of nothing, Broken Hill is so named because it is a serious mining town, and the original hill is not only broken but now gone. Val had warned us that we wouldn't be leaving for the airport until 9:30am, contrary to our usual practice. We had only a single leg remaining to complete the tour, a flight of around 305 NM to Stawell YSWL, the tour's home airfield. My pax and I planned to follow them there, stay a night or two and head back to Camden to get the airplane its 100-hr inspection and use the Sydney/Campbelltown area as our base for any future wandering.

When we got to the airport, I headed off to find fuel, as the day before the refuellers had gone home and I couldn't use the BP cardswipe bowser. I called up and was told that they would be over by the fuelling yard, so I trotted out to SDN, removed the tiedowns and did a preflight. Put in a quart of oil, as she was down around 6.5 qts again, then my pax arrived so we prepped and fired her up. Got on the radio and announced the reposition, then taxied to the fuel pump. When I got out, the BP JET-A1 truck, over by the RPT ramp where the scheduled commuter flight was waiting, turned and came over. The gent within hopped out, and when I explained that I'd called earlier, he said "Oh, right, no worries" and swiped the bowser with his company authorization.

I fuelled SDN - she took right around 120 liters - and he and I headed over to the hangar and office to complete the transaction. Fuel was AUD $2.30/liter, which was pretty good for this trip, but made me pine for US fuel prices of around $6-6.50/U.S. gal. After fuelling, I headed back out. Another plane had pulled up to the pump, so my pax had pushed SDN back. We got in and got prepped. While we were doing so, Val and Hugh fired up and departed from down the ramp. When we got started, we taxied over to the holding point. I called up the REX flight on the way and asked if they would like us to wait - Australia's CASA requests that all GA aircraft give way to scheduled transport where possible and convenient, and I could see they had started their engines. REX said "We've got 2-4 minutes before taxi, thanks much, but you go ahead" so I saluted and headed out for the holding point.

The other aircraft that had fuelled followed us, and when I declared that I was backtracking on 05, he asked if we'd mind if he did an intersection departure. I said "No worries" (just to get into the spirit of things) and he thanked us and turned left onto the runway and headed out as we trundled down the km or so of runway that was to the right of the intersection. I'm sure I could have gotten SDN off from that intersection as well, but as an instructor of mine told me, "Runway behind you does you no good at all" and I figured why push it.

We departed as soon as we got turned around - the REX flight was waiting at the holding point as we went past on climbout. I declared our departure. Here in Australia, it's customary on the CTAF to declare your departure time in UTC (minutes past the hour) and your intended course - that way anyone in the area can figure out if you're going to be a factor for their flight path.

We headed out on a 160 radial towards Stawell, and REX departed immediately after us - but they headed out on a 215 heading for Adelaide, and went up to flight level 180. No piddling around at 5500 feet for them.

On the way, the weather wasn't bad, but we kept an ear peeled for reports from further south. We passed Mildura YMIA, our first alternate, and kept going. We had figured out how to get aux inputs into SDN's comm system, so we continued our impromptu Don Red tribute on the way, laughing hard at our admitted desire (the both of us) to find a way to broadcast big chunks of Newman's Own Suicide Mind Eraser out onto the aviation VHF channels. Thankfully, we refrained, but still!

As we got south of Mildura, cloud layers became visible up ahead. And they were below us. Sigh. I checked with Val - she had been in touch with her corporate base, at Stawell - they said the clouds were up 'just above circuit height, no worries.' YSWL is at 759 feet MSL or so. She noted that we should be fine traversing the last few dozen miles at 2000 or even 1500 feet. I wasn't so sure about that - it sounded a lot like scud running to me - and I was out in front. But as I descended down to 2500, I realized that I could see past the low cloud, underneath - so I decided to risk it, as the air behind us was clear. In addition, the cloud layer was very thin, topping at perhaps 4500 feet - so worst case, I could turn around and pick my way through it to get on top while I headed back north to clearer air. Just for future fun, I remembered to turn on the GoPro, so we'd have evidence of either a fun low flight or me screwing up.

We dodged some tiny puffy clouds at around 2000, so I dropped to 1600. That took us pretty low - under 1000 AGL, to be honest - but we were flying over farmland. The scattered cloud fell behind, and we ended up under a solid layer, but it was up at 3000-3500 MSL, so I climbed back to 1800 and remained legal.

On the way in, a Tecnam called out on the CTAF - it was the tour company owner, out showing off an airplane (they're also a Tecnam dealer) so I responded and told him I was out in front of ULE and IRJ. "Oh righto," he said, "No problems, come right in, bags of room. I'll head out to the west to give you space."

Bags of room. Sure.

I was a bit nervous, as this was my first time trying to make it in to an airport by flying under relatively low cloud. However, there was no rain, the wind was only around 11 kts (quartering tailwind, but right down one of the runways at YSWL) so I soldiered on. We came into sight of the field, ran the pre-landing checklist, and I turned base then final for 36 (a sealed but shorter runway). As we came around, though, despite my somewhat more intent mien (weather, end of trip, etc.) I put SDN right where I wanted, and greased the landing. We taxied over to the apron while I worked to clear my left ear from the pressure change, and concentrated on holding my, er, bladder.

When we parked, I hopped out and ran to an open gate, walking off the airport and across the dirt track paralleling it before sighing with relief and watering a needy fence post.

And thus the tour ended. The rest of the folks showed up, we had a nice cuppa in the office and relaxed for a bit. I had to arrange for fuel, and it turned out the construction project going on on the apron was...a new fuel point, which meant the existing one was in pieces in the hangar. But the company next door, whch runs fire scouts and ag services (spraying, seeding) had drum fuel, and one of their mechanics cheerfully trundled a 200 liter drum out to SDN. We figured out the manual pump, and we put 100 liters in - my first drum fueling.

And with that, we headed in to Stawell to find our rooms, dinner, and do some laundry. It looks like rain on Thursday, but we have our rooms through Friday, when it's supposed to be 'partly sunny.' So hopefully we'll get out of here for Camden either Thursday or Friday.

Day 12 - Alice Springs YBAS to Broken Hill YBHI

One thing I realized I failed to mention in the past two daylogs - SDN has been being oh so coy with us. Aside from the nose gear problem, there have been a couple of intermittent gremlins in the G1000 system. The first, which manifested as an inability to hear anything on or speak on COM2, I think was my fault - I may have been playing around with the various buttons on the audio panel which purportedly don't do anything, but, erm, some do. That seems to have been remedied. However, on three days so far, we've gotten to the runup checklist and found that GPS2 is not acquiring lock. If we continue, we get continuous ALERT messages that 'AHRS1 is not receiving backup positioning information.' Going to GPS2 on the AUX/GPS screen, we see a screen of empty data fields and the words 'ACQUIRING LOCK' forever. This doesn't seem to happen every day, which makes it funnier.

Also, there was one moment halfway between, I think, Hall's Creek and Alice Springs where the PFD suddenly flipped over to a giant red X with the message 'NO ATTITUDE INFORMATION AVAILABLE.' Before I could actually react, it vanished, and the thing has worked fine since. I think it's playing with me.

Oh, and this doesn't mention the various bits that don't work, to wit: the right tank fuel sender (big red X) the cylinder 5 EGT sensor (big red X) and occasionally the left tank fuel sender. I was warned about those, so I"m just doing fuel calcs, which has been made very easy by two factors. First, we are in the company of two 172 Superhawks, who carry approximately half the fuel we do, so, um, yeah. Also, I have now determined via experimentation that my bladder capacity in a single-engine aircraft seems to be no longer than 3 hrs and 20 minutes, and ideally under 3 hours. So, er, yeah, fuel calcs not really a big issue (especially since I'm renting wet). I have been dutifully leaning, despite the advice of the check ride pilot to 'fly it like you stole it!' With judicious leaning (not coming too close to peak) I can get our burn at 22/22 (22 inches of manifold pressure and 2200 RPM) down to around 11 GPH. At 21/21, I can get to under 10 GPH. 23/23 at best around 12.5, which produces around 140kt TAS. 22/22 gets us around 130kt TAS.

In any case, we woke up early in Alice Springs, had a light breakfast, and headed to the airport. We had to call security to let us in to Airside; the security officer wanted everybody's name and etc. but didn't seem bothered by my not having an ASIC, since the tour pilot who came in with us did. I explained that I had applied for one but not gotten it, and had the application, and he said "Oh, right, no worries," and didn't ask to see paperwork.

So we got set up. Day 12 is a long flight day - around 680 NM in two legs. The first took us directly from Alice Springs YBAS to a spot called William's Creek YWMC. We got set up and called in to Alice tower early - Alice Springs requires 5 minutes notice prior to requesting taxi clearance. Got our gear squared away, did preflight - all OK - and Val was still taxiing out ahead of us. I fired up and got into queue ahead of Hugh, and was told to taxi to holding point Echo for runway 21. When I got there, we were cleared to backtrack on 21 and get into position and hold, so I did so. As I was backtracking, Alice Tower cleared another aircraft for an intersection departure behind us and notified me.

Got into position and was cleared to go. "Sierra Delta November, cleared for takeoff runway 21, cleared to turn on-course for the 151 radial at five thousand five hundred, report reaching two thousand."

"Sierra Delta November departing 21, cleared on course 151 radial, will report two thousand." Last check - Fuel on both, flaps up, mixture rich, prop fast, magnetos on both - "Here we go!" Fed in throttle, and SDN skipped down the runway and into the air. That, honestly, never ever gets old.

Reported two thousand; Alice Springs cleared us to climb to 5500 and asked us to report maintaining that altitude. Acknowledged. Val was a good 10 minutes ahead of us, so no worry that we'd overtake yet. When I reported 5500, I was asked to report 22 nautical miles on the DME; acked that, eventually reported 22 miles and was cleared from the Class D, on course.

The trip to Williams Creek was a different sort of terrain. There is the edge of real desert near Alice Springs - we moved from ochre scrub and sand into the now-familiar red sand of Australia's center. Several plains of what looked like rock surfaces of that same substance slid past - reflected sun shining hazily from the stone. Morning tea was served (raspberry tartlet cookies) and we compared notes on Australian vs. US junk food for the Nth time (Australian biscuits, no contest).

The leg was approximately 320 NM. As we approached our lunch stop, I had of course passed Val yet again and was a good 15 minutes out front. She had warned me that in addition to the sealed and listed runway 11/29 in the FAC, they had a smaller strip at (she thought) 03 that would be much more appropriate for the winds. We duly came in, announced our presence on the CTAF, and...couldn't find the runway. "Wait, is that it? Is 03 dirt?"

We checked with Val. Yep. "Oh, okay then. Landing checklist please."

Entered a downwind for zero three, and came around to a much more stable approach (I'm really getting the hang of this airplane, just as the tour draws to a close). Val had said "At the northeastern end, you'll have to taxi across the road to get to the fuel, make sure there's no cars coming." At last! This was more Australia! Sure enough, we taxied to the end of zero three and...there was a highway. We dutifully checked both ways - no cars - and taxied across it. Val had said that there might be a gate we would have to wait for them to open, but no gate was visible- oh wait, there it was, apparently it had been pulled out of the ground and was lying on its side. Maybe someone got annoyed having to wait.

Taxied across the road and pulled in behind another 172 that was fueling. The pilot waved from atop the wing, and pointed us at a parking spot across the fueling pad, so we parked up. Once we got out, we were immediately inspected by a tan whippet that came scrambling over to see who we were. Made friends with the pooch, then Val showed up and taxied up right behind the woman fueling the 172. We helped her fuel, then when she taxied away I hopped back in SDN, fired her up and taxied over to the pump. Got 95 liters in (because I didn't try to brim the tanks) and taxied back to park just as Hugh landed in IRJ and taxied up for his share.

So Williams Creek is basically three or four buildings, which include a pub, a diner and the owner's house. In front of the diner there is a 'display area' which had a signpost with various distant locations and distances on it, and a few pieces of interesting junk. One was a steam-driven centrifuge which, the plaque said, was used to spin dry sheep wool after shearing and cleaning. Another was a steam engine of some sort. And two were clearly rockets - one stuck into the ground at an angle, as if it had driven itself there. The plaque for that one said that it was a British test rocket from Woomera which, in fact, had driven itself into the outback some miles from where we stood. The other piece was a complete first stage from a 'Black Arrow R3' satellite launcher which, its plaque noted, had launched the second of two successful satellite launches from Woomera before staging off and falling into the outback somewhere around 1971. It had been recovered in the early 1990s and hauled here as well.

The diner, which had an incongruously enormous LED TV in it (seemed to serve as the local theater) in front of some sofas, also produced an absolutely enormous chicken sandwich with chips, which I determinedly finished. Afterwards, Val and I walked across the road to the pub to pay for our avgas, and I found that the interior was covered with memorabilia from passers-through. I wrote 'G'Day from NY, NY!' on an American dollar bill (currency was one popular option, judging by the walls) and stapled it to the wall, as seemed to be the custom.

Afterwards, we wandered back to the airplanes and when everyone had collected, we fired up and all back-taxied down 03 together. Hugh (IRJ) and I turned off into the parking spot to let Val take off first; then Hugh went, then I went, accelerating into the huge cloud of dust left by the prior departures. Hugh and Val held a course of 060 towards nearby Lake Eyre; I held 040 as I knew I'd pass them shortly. We climbed to 3,500 and flew out over the enormous empty salt pan - Lake Eyre is a dry lake, and hasn't really had a lot of water in it since the 1970s (despite showing up on the Garmin terrain database as actual water bodies, very confusing). The surface looks like snow, with sandy islands scattered through it like they're floating. It's below sea level, as well; Val explained that there are the remains of a Cessna 210 which apparently came about due to those infamous words in aviation, "watch this!" as a pilot tried to demonstrate flying below sea level and misjudged his altitude AGL due to the bright white washout of the salt. The remains of the 210 are apparently still down there somewhere, although rain since then has submerged much of them. The pilot and passengers, thankfully, survived and were rescued on the second attempt by a local helicopter.

The second leg was also around 350 NM. We tracked to Moolawatama in order to clear the northeastern end of the Flinders range (a range of hills that started there and tracked down to Adelaide). Once past the corner, we turned a bit right and headed for Broken Hill. Along the way, we noticed that we were about to turn over the VDO (Hobbes) clock to 3000 hours; did so, took a picture. Had afternoon tea (Tim Tams and I had a Coke). Saw a whole bunch of landscape features - some really fascinating rock formations, and something on the map listed as the 'Vermin Proof Fence' which disappointed us because we noticed it while looking at the chart, and all we saw was 'VERMIN.' We'd been very excited, hoping that either this was an infestation big enough to note on aviation charts or, better, was a place name. Apparently it isn't the famous continent-spanning Rabbit Proof Fence - South Australia has its own, and this was it. Oh yes, and we traversed the border into South Australia. This means that tomorrow, when we reach Stawell in Victoria, I will have been in (landed an airplane in) every mainland Australia state save the ACT (but, as my pax the native says, 'Pfft, Canberra, honestly, who gives a toss.')

Had some good banter with my pax as we went - ceremonially listened to some Don Red so that we could tweet him and say "DON RED WE LISTENED TO YOUR SHIT 5500 FEET ABOVE OUTBACK AUSTRALIA DOING A BUCK THIRTY!" (inside joke.)

Came in to Broken Hill around 30 mins ahead of the others. Announced on CTAF, deconflicted with a nice lady in a Beech Baron (Echo Zulu Foxtrot?) who was just doing a quick circuit. Entered a long left base for 04, turned final, still a bit high but came in pretty much right where I wanted to. I"m more comfortable coming in a bit steeper using full flaps - the 182 doesn't float like the 172, so it's completely easy to just level out perhaps 3 or 4 knots faster than I would otherwise, and it just sinks in. I know, it's a bit sloppy, but the general lack of VASI/PAPI here is, I think, what's causing me to come in a bit high. Oh, also, this time we had an 8 knot headwind, so I'd tried to account for that.

So here we are. On the way in to Broken Hill we discovered that right across from our motel is a train station. While in Alice Springs we had driven past the Ghan, while it was in station - the main north/south train. Here waiting for us was the Indian - the east/west link from Sydney to Perth. So, in two days, managed to trainspot both major transcon lines in Australia. Nice.

Tomorrow we should make Stawell, assuming we get out ahead of some weather that's coming in. Hopefully that weather isn't too persistent, because a couple of days later, we are planning to head back up to Camden to complete our long circuit of Australia. We'll hand in SDN for her hundred-hour inspection, rest up a day or two, and then hopefully get SDN back for a couple of short trips on our own. We have to go back to Bathurst to meet up with my pax's friend there - because a) he has a cool fast plane he stated I need to fly, and b) he may be willing to drive me around the Bathurst racetrack at insane speeds. He is a retired professional race driver, and has very very fast cars. These both sound awesome.

After that, we may (if my ASIC has arrived at Airborne) take a two day trip to Coffs Harbor or Port Macquarie up the coast from Sydney; and I want to fly the Sydney Harbor scenic flight. Then we'll hand SDN back in for good (sniff...I'll miss her! I really, really like this airplane!) and head in to Sydney for a few days of tourism and sybaritic hotel prior to taking flight home for the US.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Day 11 - Hall's Creek YHLC to Alice Springs YBAS

We woke up in Hall's Creek to an early breakfast, which turned out to be a bit late because they were delayed opening the restaurant. This made our tour leader Val a bit nervous - she is perpetually harping about getting an early start. Going east and south, it's even more important - we're losing a few minutes of daylight each day due to the increasing south latitude, and as we head east we're losing clock time as we traverse Australia's slightly fractured time zones.

Loading up the airplane, we were relieved to discover that despite Val's tales of vandalism and etc, no one had interfered with the aircraft during the night. Doing preflight delayed us a bit behind the tour airplanes, as Val had gotten there early to preflight both airplanes, but that was fine sicne we tend to catch them up in the air anyway. This time, doing preflight, I didn't find anything of concern (nose gear strut still okay!) but the engine oil was down to 6.5 or 7 quarts, so I put another quart in.

On departure (from an otherwise deserted small airport) we began our climb out and turned mostly south, tracking 169 degrees towards the Wolf Creek Meteor Crater. My pax and I had managed to get the GoPro mounted as usual - we have no idea if it works or not because for some reason I can't get it to talk to my Mac to download images or video. In addition, I've found that the biggest problem I have with the thing is that its battery only lasts for an hour or perhaps 90 minutes, even when doing timelapse photography and not video, so we can't get whole flights. This time, however, the crater looked interesting enough that we were prepared, and we turned it on a few minutes before arriving (although I still haven't been able to check to see if it's working).

We reached the crater while flying at around 3,000 feet. Ground level was approximately 1200 feet, so we were perhaps 1800 to 2200 feet AGL. I orbited the crater twice in a standard rate turn, dropping the wings into a steep turn for a bit so we could look out at it. The crater is perhaps a third of a mile to half a mile across, with greenery at the center where water has collected at the bottom. We could see the visitor's center with vehicles parked near it. After a couple of orbits and some photos, we headed off at around 121 degrees, heading for our lunch stop.

The flight was another 200 NM or so. The ground crept upwards slowly but steadily. We were passing over what is pretty clearly desert terrain - sand, scrubby vegetation, and some interesting ridges of rock looking like they had had the sand worn away from their tops, stretching in parallel straight lines across the surface. The color of the ground ranged from pale yellow sand to the deep rust red of true Australian iron-rich dirt. At one point, an entire sharply defined area of the ground was essentially black- from fire, we were told. The sharp edges were due to roadways being used to anchor firebreaks and allow firefighting access.

Approaching our lunch stop, I was in the lead. This stop didn't have ATIS/AWIS weather - it didn't, in fact, even have a wind sock. This stop was Tillmouth Wells Road House - which is Australian for 'service area'. That's what it is - a petrol station and restaurant on a long road, which happens to have a dirt airstrip out back.

Entering an upwind for my chosen runway, I found that the wind (according to the Garmin magic in SDN) was around 8 knots from 060, so I reported that to the aircraft further back and set up for a landing on what looked to be fairly patchy dirt. Thank goodness we got the nose gear fixed! The strip was a good 3000 feet in lngth, no worry there. We came in on final over a cleared area, with a packed gravel rectangle for parking, and thankfully no emus, galahs, wallabies, roos or other Australian wildlife were occupying the runway (I admit, that had been partly the reason I flew a full circuit).

On landing, I noted some straong round shapes on the runway, as well as piles which...well, yes, they were animal dung. Didn't worry about that much, it's soft, but I wasn't sure what the brightly-colored round things were. I was pretty sure they weren't eggs, but...? Turns out they were small paddock melons, growing from ground vines on the strip. Ah.

We got to the northwest end (that we'd approached over) and I parked on the gravel pad. As we shut down, I hopped out and looked around. The nearest buildings were a good hundred meters away, and no-one was in sight, so I decided that I couldn't wait and moved off a bit to water a patch of Australian dirt. I've discovered that I probably don't have to worry about running out of fuel in a 182 - my bladder has roughly half the endurance of its tanks.

After the other two airplanes landed, I decided I didn't need fuel. The 172s got a top-off from a pair of drums that were hauled out by a forklift - that's their fueling system at Tillmouth Wells, and good on 'em. The rest of us wandered into the road house, where I bought a soft drink and would have bought a meat pie, but my pax had gotten there ahead of me and pinched the last one. So I had a bacon and egg roll. We ate out the back yard of the restaurant, and were attended to faithfully by two very solidly built Stafford Terriers who had come out to greet our airplanes and sniff them suspiciously.

Finishing up, we ambled back to the planes and started up. I waited for the other two aircraft to depart, giving them time not only to get ahead of us but also for the enormous clouds of dust they kicked up to subside, before starting up SDN. I'm getting better at that - getting a feel for the amount of priming the engine likes, and when, and learning how to advance the mixture to ensure a start. Did a checklist, then a final T-check (Fuel selector on both, flaps, mixture, prop, throttle, magnetos). Put in ten degrees of flap for the soft field and warm day, and carefully added power to start the taxi so as not to create vortices and suck gravel into the prop. Managed it, and bumped us over to the start of the airstrip before carefully adding in full power, and we were off.

We only had a hundred miles or so to go for the last leg. Apparently Tillmouth is popular coming in to Alice Springs from the northwest not only because it has dogs and food and fuel but because it is just outside the outer ring of the Alice Springs control area. At thirty miles, after listening to the tour planes do so (I'd managed to slow cruise enough to stay behind them) we called up Alice Springs tower and announced our presence and intentions and requested a clearance. This time, we used 'radial' rather than 'bearing' because Alice Springs has a VOR. They cleared us straight in, and chatted up the tour leader about where she was headed next and etc - they apparently know her. The approach to Alice Springs takes you over a series of ridges - in addition to slight bumps as you come in, it's a pretty approach as you come directly over the tops, and end up flying over a gap to approach the runway which means the ridges rise up to either side of you. Managed to get one picture coming in, hastily, with my iPhone, before putting it away and setting up for final.

Landed at YBAS, called up the fuel truck and got SDN snugged away. We had two nights in Alice Springs; the next day, we went to a desert park to look at local wildlife (including an excellent free-flight bird show where raptors and other local birds swoop a couple of inches over your heads), and in the afternoon walked a couple of local parks centered on chasms or gaps in the ridges.

My pax and I wondered why Alice hasn't expanded to fill the bowl that it sits in - it's around 28,000 permanent population - and discovered that it may be because the outer areas of the bowl are a flood plain. Some years ago local storms resulted in Alice Springs becoming (briefly) an island.

Alice Springs is the middle of Australia. The Ghan - a train that runs from Adelaide on the south coast to Darwin on the north - was in town, and we drove past to have a look at it as it breathed gently and waited for its passengers to re-embark. Finally, we had dinner at our hotel restaurant, and I wrote up flight plans and notes for the next day. My pax and I also started discussing our plans for what to do after the tour ends - we have two more days of flying, which will take us to Stawell, Victoria, where the tour is based; after that, we're on our own. One problem is that Victoria and New South Wales seem to have the most weather problems, at least in winter - so what we end up doing will depend on the weather situation, as well as how long it takes SDN to get her 100-hr inspection, which we need to take her back to Camden for. We'll head to Camden from Stawell, completing The Tour Loop of some 4500 NM, and then determine what to do from there. Probably some short trips - a couple or three days, no more - before coming back and handing in the airplane for good.

I'll be sad to lose the freedom of having SDN, but I have to admit, I'm a bit tired - lots of early days - and flying alone is more stressful, since I don't have the tour pilots for local knowledge and planning assistance, so a few more days will be about right. Then we'll spend a few days in Sydney relaxing while waiting for our flight home to the U.S.