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.

Day 10 - Broome YBRM to Hall's Creek YHLC

Day 10 - Broome YBRM to Hall's Creek YHLC via Fitzroy Crossing YFTZ

We had the morning to wander around Broome, since we were only doing a 300 NM hop to Hall's Creek in the afternoon - and there's nothing to do in Hall's Creek, according to the tour pilots. We just go there to break up the trip to Alice Springs YBAS. So we drove downtown in the morning (to Chinatown, which in Broome is essentially one main drag street and very little of it is Chinese) and all went our separate ways. I explored the shops before settling in to write up the prior day's flight at a Kebab shop. I was struck via the Kebab equivalence by the difference in cost of living. A kebab (shawarma) with a soda was $17.50 AUD. That's around $16 US. Which is quite a bit, to be honest. I'm still able to get a perfectly reasonable shawarma for around $9 in New York City. Admittedly, Broome is a beach town.

It was a tasty kebab though.

Following my kebab and quick blogging break, I met up with a few other tour members for a quick cafe stop. I had a mocha frappe, others had tea. It was that sort of time. When we were done, it was time to drop off the rental cars and head for the airport - so we did.

Prepping SDN, I reminded myself to test COM2 and to make sure that GPS2 acquired lock. Just to be safe, I bounced SDN's nose up and down a few times to make sure the newly repaired nose gear strut worked - all good. We saddled up and I let the other tour planes head off first as I did note taking and planning work. Finally, contacted Broome Ground, and they gave us immediate clearance to taxi to holding point Charlie for 28, so we headed out.

Did my runup tasks during the taxi, and had the checklist cleared by the time we reached the holding point. I reported in, and they handed me off to the tower, who cleared us to go. Took off out over the [Indian Ocean] and turned right (north) over the beach - glorious. Turned on course (due east) and began our climb to 5,500. Broome Tower asked us to report reaching 5,500 with distance from Broome. When we hit 5,500, we were 9NM east of the airport, and they cleared us with 'SDN, clear of Class D airspace, frequency change approved, good day."

Thanks Broome!

The flight east was a bit bumpy, so we headed up to 7,500 where it was a bit smoother. We passed both tour planes. The problem with all of us using GPS systems and the same nav checkpoints is that, yes, we all end up on the exact same track, and unless I divert around the other aircraft when approaching them, we almost always end up within 1/2 mile, sometimes closer. Requires keeping our eyes open and paying attention.

En route, we passed some neat landscape features, including a huge area of land covered with a slightly wavy grid of what seemed to be dirt tracks. Val explained that it was a minerals exploration area, and the grid did in fact correspond to map coordinates.

Fitzroy Crossing slid by, and we came up on Hall's Creek, some 311 NM from Broome and nearly directly south of Kununurra. I set up for a long left base, but ended up too high and fast again, so I went around. I'm learning that the heavier 182, when descending, will speed up - which means either I end up still too high by the time I get to the circuit, or too fast, or both. The 172 with the constant pitch prop will slow right down when you yank the power, but the 182 adjusts pitch so there's less drag, and it's heavier.

There were a large number of birds in the circuit, but again we used the force and they all avoided us (mostly Black Kites from the looks of them, soaring raptors). On the second time around, got the setup I wanted and eased SDN on to the ground. We pulled up to the pump and I danced my way to the tiny terminal shelter (not even a building) only to find that the MALE toilet was locked. GAAAAAAAH. Was preparing to take emergency measures involving a corner of the shed when I found that the FEMALE toilets were open, so, well, okay. On the male toilet was a sign saying 'FOR ACCESS CALL SECURITY OFFICER blah blah blah - basically the same signs that are on the SECURITY CONTROLLED AERODROME signs where you have to call a security office and give them your ASIC number to get a gate code for re-entry, or, sometimes on bigger airports just to get out. THe bathrooms? Seriously? On an airstrip with no-one there? Shee.

Went back to SDN where we'd left her near the pump and found that it was a BP pump, and wouldn't take any other form of card - not the Shell carnet, not the Mobil carnet, not our credit cards. Sigh.

Val showed up some 15 minutes later. She confirmed that not only was it a BP-only bowser, it was a temperamental one as well. She had a BP carnet card, so she authorized our gas and we made plans to pay her back later. Filled SDN and pushed her back, as Hugh had showed up by then, then started her and taxied over to parking.

Oh, and just to make sure my ego took every hit possible, found out that the MALE toilets hadn't been locked. I'd been pulling (there was a metal pull handle on the door) but they were push doors. I plead the stupidity and desperation of floating back teeth. My endurance in a small plane seems to be right around 3 hours, whether or not I have coffee or tea that morning or not...

Val had been careful to tell us that Hall's Creek was 'not a very nice town' and that tour folks have been harassed and had their aircraft broken into there. Just to be safe, we took everything out of the airplane including the rental headsets before locking it up. Then we all walked the 100 yards from the strip to the local hotel, which had an attached sports bar and was a bit upmarket for a town in the middle of nowhere. Despite Val's warnings, we all decided to walk in to the middle of town - where we found, basically, nothing other than a highway, one open petrol station, and some closed shops. There was, however, a lot of noise from a local athletic field on the other side of the highway, so we wandered over. The locals, it turned out, were all playing or watching a ball game which was producing an enormous dust cloud.

I was told that the game was Australian Rules Football ("proper footie"), and the rules were then (of course) enthusiastically explained. We watched for a bit - I was glad I wasn't playing, many of the players were barefoot and no gear was in evidence, but a lot of tackling and roughhousing was, although a good time was being had by all it seemed. After a few minutes, we wandered back towards the hotel. An old aboriginal man attempted to chat with the other tour group members as we passed, and they ignored him - I listened carefully (his voice was very hoarse) and heard the word 'scenery' and replied "The scenery is really beautiful here, yes."

Then I was embarrassed, because he stopped, started to cry, and said "Thank you, mate."

It took me a few seconds to figure out that he was actually grateful I'd responded and interacted with him, which made me feel frankly terrible. I nodded, he nodded back and raised a hand in farewell, and we walked on.

Back at the hotel, we had a drink in the sports bar (VB in a stubby - CHECK, DONE) and retired to our rooms for a bit before dinner. As we were heading down to the rooms, a tour bus pulled in and disgorged 40 people or so. I'm still not sure why they were in town, but I think that it's because Hall's Creek is a crossroads for the highway north to Kununurra and Darwin, and the highway west to Broome. Out of such things, in Australia, are hotel businesses made.

Dinner was unexceptional, and afterwards I retired.

Saturday, July 19, 2014



Having successfully flown myself from the SE coast of Australia (Sydney) to the NW coast (Broome) I dip my toes in the surf of the Indian Ocean. A cigar followed.

Day 9 - Kununurra YPKU to Broome YBRM

Side note: I'm keeping a Lessons Learned page updated.

We spent three days and four nights in Kununurra. That's one more of each than originally planned, but when we checked the weather the evening before our scheduled departure, we found that there were high winds forecast at all altitudes between YPKU and YBRM. Since the ground along our track was fairly rough, that meant turbulence, and a fair bit of it, so we delayed.

I should take a moment to note that we weren't just idling in YPKU. The first day, we went on a boat tour of the Ord River Irrigation Area, which sounds dry, but absolutely isn't (see what I did there?) This area is different from most of Western Australia in that it has more fresh water than it knows what to do with - and that was the basis of the Ord River Scheme.

The river was dammed to create Lake Argyle, a kilometers-long and dozens-of-meters deep lake, high in the hills. Some 55 km downstream (to the north, towards the sea) another dam was placed - the Diversion Dam. The first dam collects the runoff of some 40,000 hectares of catchment area, and this is even more impressive than it sounds - during the wet season in 2011, apparently, the lake rose 1.5 meters in a single day. For context, that 1.5 meters is enough to keep Perth and Melbourne together in fresh water for seven years. Unfortunately, there's no way to get the water to Perth or Melbourne.

The purpose of that first dam is to hold that reservoir of water. There is a 30 MW hydroelectric power plant built into it, which provides power for the Kununurra/Wyndham area and for the Argyle Diamond Mine on the southwest side of the lake. Between the dams is kept at a relatively constant level - whereas prior to the dams, the river (which winds thorugh some very steep gorges) would vary in depth up to 4 or 5 meters, resulting in a blasted-looking landscape, now it is kept relatively constant - and the river path has flowered. There is an abundance of flora along it, and a riot of birds, and of course, crocodiles. The estuarine crocodiles, we were told (saltwater) seem quite happy to walk around the lower Diversion Dam and swim upstream into the relatively peaceful and food-heavy area above it. In addition, the river drops some ten meters over fifteen kilometers, which makes for some serious current. We passed several canoers - I considered that a bit brave, given the number of crocs we also passed, but was told that the crocs weren't really eating at the moment since it was too cold.

The locals, with the exuberance displayed by most Australians I've met so far, offer tours of the river. Boats go up from Kununurra in the morning to the dam, where they switch passengers for those who were bussed out and then run back. The fun part about this initially? The boats. The tour company guide explained that they went to a naval architect in Darwin and said they wanted a boat that would carry fifty people in comfort at a speed of approximately 60 km/hr while using less than 400 liters of fuel per trip. He designed them a flat, stepped-hull tour boat with a long curved roof and a 300 horsepower engine on it. The problem was that when tested, it used over 600 liters of gas because the boat had to be kept at full power, and even then wouldn't fully go up onto the hull step. The tour company decided in true Australian fashion that the only answer was more power, and stuck three matched 350 horsepower V8 four-stroke Yamaha engines on it.

Their first test, it reached 80 km/hr before the roof started to act like a wing and cause it to flutter off the water. Oh, and it used 300 liters for the trip. As they said, grinning, more power meant less gas.

I can verify that this boat is hilariously awesome. It's faster than most of the ski boats I"ve been on, and carries fifty people. The guides are expert at horsing it down a river that in places is only about twice the width of the boat, and in others has trees reaching in to touch both sides. Exhilarating doesn't begin to cover it. If you take the Triple J tour of the Ord River, make sure you get put on the 'Peregrine', which is the big boat. They have that one, a two-engine and a single-engine. While I'm sure they're all of a speed, the ludicrousness of the size of the big one coupled with that speed makes it a laugh in delight sort of trip.

Oh, and the wildlife.

Crocs, of course. A few wallabies and roos, bounding away over the banks. Birds, birds, birds - from pelicans to the everpresent galahs to egrets to spoonbills. I didn't get a picture, but one of my tour mates got a great shot of a black cockatoo with a bright red slash on its tail. Gorgeous. And near the end of the tour, an island with no less than four osprey nests on it - two of which had ospreys in them.

Along the way, the tour stops to explain the river topography, to explain the benefits and costs of the irrigation system, to give you facts and figures about the project. If they are to be believed (and I see no reason they wouldn't be) the project has resulted in an increase of 300% of the species count of birds on the river, as the birds are attracted to the lush vegetation resulting from the stable water levels. In addition, the actual reason it was done - over 40,000 hectares of land are under irrigation below the diversion dam (which sends that water into the irrigation channels) - and there is capacity for perhaps twice that to be added. The cost of this project was around $60 million AUD (in 1960 dollars) which, while quite a bit, seems like a pittance for the benefits it appears to have accrued.

Anyway. The other days we did touristy stuff (including visiting a tourist-facing distillery called the Hoochery, a sandalwood plantation, and some local rock cutting shops which work with a local multicolored stone called zebra rock). The 'extra' day the tour went off to look at Wyndham, the local inlet port, while my pax and I walked around Kununurra - a small town in the middle of the vastness of Western Australia.

Oh, and while there, we managed to find a shop at Broome (Broome Air Maintenance) who said that sure, they could take a whack at fixing SDN's nose gear. So, heartened, we got up early the morning of the 18th and headed to the airport.

Our flight path took us from Kunurra to the southern end of Prince Regent's Gorge, a 40 mile long cut wending its way from the southeast to the northwest, opening into the St. George Basin (an inlet from the coast to the north). Although it's apparently loads of fun to fly this gorge at 500 feet (modulo helicopters from cruise ships that buzz it) the winds were around 25 kts directly across the gorge, which meant that even high enough to be safe, it was going to be super bumpy, so we passed over it at around 4,500. It was still gorgeous, although we didn't get to see the various falls and the like from close up.

At the basin, we turned to the west southwest parallel to the coast and flew to the Walcott Inlet. From there, we turned a bit north and flew to another famous local landscape feature, the Horizontal Falls. The tidal flow here floods through a narrow cut in the rocks, leading to a roiling basin of whitewater on the low side. It looked beautiful, even from our height. Afterwards, we turned southwest and flew to a small strip serving a town out on the mudflats of the coast named Derby (YDBY). Landing at Derby gingerly due to the still-bodged nosewheel, and avoiding the various birds who were unconcernedly gathering at the runway approach end, we waited while the other two airplanes fueled up (SDN has twice their fuel cap, so we didn't bother, wanting to leave the airplane light for the mechanics) and then took off and flew the 90 NM to Broome.

Broome is an international airport, probably because it's a resort town on the northwest corner of the country and thus is close to Indonesia etc. It's also a regional and sightseeing aviation hub, so it has an active CTA. The tour pilots had warned me that Broome is a bit particular - they want you to report your position using your bearing from Broome and distance, but if you say 'radial' they get all tetchy because they don't have a VOR there, so it's not really a radial. :-P

The weather had been clear and blue on the way from Kununurra, albeit with a 22-26kt wind from the east. It was under 5 kts on the surface at Derby, and clouds were starting to show in the west. When we took off from Derby and tracked for Broome, there was a significant layer forming at around 5000 feet, so we stayed at 3500 where the air was clearer (at least 10-15 miles visibility). We started at 2500, but it was a bit bumpy so we went up another 1000 (where, it turned out, it wasn't much better - but it wasn't too bad).

I ended up right behind VH-ULE (one of the constants of having a faster airplane). Since I wanted to hear Val check in with Broome Tower first, though, I throttle SDN back to 'slow cruise' (19/21) and managed to stay mostly behind her and echeloned off to the right. She called up Broome at around 30 NM. Waited for her to finish, then chimed in right after: "Broome Tower, Sierra Delta November."

"Aircraft calling Broome, say again please."

"Broome Tower, Sierra Delta November." (reminded myself to keep it a bit slow - I talk Noo Yawk, and it's not as rushed and clipped out here).

"Sierra Delta November, Broome Tower."

"Broome Tower, Sierra Delta November is Cessna One Eight Two, three zero miles from Broome on a zero six four bearing at three thousand, five hundred inbound, estimating arrival one five with information Zulu, requesting clearance."

"Sierra Delta November, Broome Tower, you are cleared Broome on the zero six four bearing, please notify when you are ready for descent and please notify whether you have traffic Uniform Lima Echo in sight."

"Broome Tower, Sierra Delta November cleared Broome on zero six four, has Uniform Lima Echo in sight, will notify when ready to descend, thank you."

"Sierra Delta November, please notify if you overtake Uniform Lima Echo."

"Sierra Delta November will notify of overtaking Uniform Lima Echo."

So we headed in. As we continued on, it began to rain a fair bit from the layer above us. Other than that, visibility was still at least twenty miles, because I could essentially see the airport, so I wasn't concerned - we were still at least 1500 feet below the clouds, and 3400 or so AGL, so VFR clearance was fine. After about ten miles, I decided that while I could keep behind Val, I probably couldn't stay far enough back for comfort. "Broome Tower, Sierra Delta November requests permission to orbit once for separation from Uniform Lima Echo."

"Sierra Delta November, Broome Tower - you are cleared to orbit right, report complete."

Banked into a standard rate turn to the right and concentrated on staying level with the rain smearing my vision of the horizon slightly across the windshield. Came around two minutes later - hooray standard rate - and aligned with Broome again. Reported complete. Broome Tower told me to vector direct for a six mile final to Two Eight since I was only around eight miles from the airport, I acknowledged and turned left so as to intercept the runway heading far enough out. When I turned final at five and a half miles (whoops) the frequency was busy, so I didn't get to report in until I was around four miles from the threshold. "Broome Tower, Sierra Delta November is on a four mile final for Two Eight Broome."

"Sierra Delta November, cleared to land Two Eight Broome."

I've started disliking long straight in approaches, because most of my experience judging heights and distances and speeds is in circuit approaches, and few airports here in Australia have VASI or PAPI systems, so I find that I tend to come in a bit flat and end up dragging in. Here, though, there was a VASI system, so I trundled on until it had flipped from four whites to two white/two red, then pulled power back and added in the first notch of flaps, perhaps two miles out. The wind was a bit tricky - there was a few gusts of tailwinds, so I left a bit of extra speed on, still concerned about the nose gear despite the long expanse of runway in front of me. Right before I crossed the threshold, it swung to a left crosswind of about six knots, so I crabbed it a bit and ended up touching down harder than I wanted to, but without bouncing or otherwise embarrassing myself. Held the nose off as long as I could, then let it down and made the turnoff. "Broome Tower, Sierra Delta November is clear of Two Eight Broome."

"Sierra Delta November, contact ground 121.7, good day."

"Contacting ground 121.7, thank you, good day." Flipped the freq. "Broome Ground, Sierra Delta November at Golf-One."

"Sierra Delta November, Broome Ground, do you wish GA parking?"

"Broome Ground, I"m looking for Hangar 2, Broome Air Maintenance, if possible."

"Sierra Delta November, can't help you there, but you're cleared ahead on Golf, hold short of the ramp - you're probably looking for one of the shops off to your right across the apron. Hold for Cessna crossing right to left at apron."

"Broome ground, Sierra Delta November, thanks." Taxied ahead and held at the apron entry for another 182 to pass me heading right to left, then looked over and sure enough, big sign BROOME AIR MAINTENANCE. Taxied over there, shut down and headed into the open hangar which had a Skywagon and a pair of 182s in various states of disassembly within. Asked for Wayne, was pointed to the office, where I found Wayne (the boss) behind a desk. "Hi, Wayne, I'm with SDN, the 182...?"

"Oh, right, nose wheel, was it? Is it outside?"

"Yep, got it right outside the hangar."

"Fine then, let's have a look." He headed out, handing me off to the office admin to trade details. I gave her the contact info for the airplane owners (Airborne, back in Camden) and my own local cell number, then headed back out. Wayne, my pax and I and one of his guys pushed SDN out of the way so they could get one of the Skywagons (which was almost done) out, and Wayne said "We'll give you a call, no worries."

So we headed over to the GA gate to meet the rest of the tour. We did so, found a couple of rental cars, got our rooms at the Habitat Resort, and wandered back into town to look at pearl shops and whatever was there. My pax and I were finishing our ice cream and heading back to the cars to meet our tour mates when the shop sent me an SMS: "You plane is done!"

I liked the sound of that.

So we cadged a ride back to the airport (was only a couple km or so) from two of our tour mates, and they were kind enough to wait at the GA gate while my pax and I picked up SDN (which consisted of getting thrown keys, and told 'mind taxiing it out? We have some seaplanes on the way in...'). I asked if they needed anything from me - signatures, etc - and was told nope, Airborne and they had been in touch, all set. I like the level of formality here. So we fired SDN back up and I called up ground to ask for repositioning, taxied her to 'intinerant parking' and I phoned the Mobil number. They sent the truck over, he topped up our tanks, and we tied SDN down, having caused our tour mates to have to wait for us around 20 minutes, but they said no problems.

Afterwards, we drove to Cable Beach. I considered this important. As the sun was setting, I took my shoes off and waded into the Indian Ocean. Standing in the surf, I lit a cigar and considered that I had accomplished what I had set out to do - fly across Australia. From Sydney in the southeast (where I had at least gone to the end of Sydney harbor on foot) I found myself on the northwest corner, standing in the Indian Ocean, and having a cigar. All in all, it was a really, really good feeling.

This being Australia, of course, the surf was littered with dead jellyfish ("stingers" in the local warning-sign nomenclature) but I managed to avoid any encounters with live ones. We trooped back to the hotel for a Chinese dinner on the verandah, and all was right with the world.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Day 6 - Tindal YPTN to Kununurra YPKU

Day 6 - Tindal YPTN to Kununurra YPKU

Woke up early in Katherine, in the Northern Territories. Had the now-familiar 6:30 AM breakfast and then assembled gear for the bus which took us back to the airport. My pax and another tour member had gone for a quick walk across the road - because across the road was the bush, essentially - so we met them on the way and headed off.

The first leg today was a hop of around 110 NM from Tindal to Cooinda, by the way of the Katherine Gorge. The mouth of the Gorge is some 10 miles north of Tindal Aerodrome. The RAAF facilities were still shut when we left, so no tower and no Control Zone in effect. We used CTAF for the departure. I went out last, as I was busy programming the Katherine Gorge waypoint into the G1000. We took off and headed out.

The terrain was quite different, today - still very deserted bush, but today we flew over a low plateau with significant rock formations atop it for approximately 90 NM. We came off the other edge of the plateau and descended into Cooinda YCOO. There were several bush burns going on, including a pair of them bracketing the airfield - and this airfield is gravel, a first for me. I've done grass landings (a couple of them, practicing during the SDN checkout, on a short grass strip) but never gravel. Reminded myself that this trip is about stretching my piloting skills, and read up on the soft field procedure.

Came in to Cooinda second behind VH-ULE, piloted by Val the tour leader. She gave us a field report while we were on crosswind - surface good, a bit soft. On downwind, we passed directly over one of the bush fires, which was a bit of a mistake - there were ten or twelve large birds circling in the thermals generated by the fire. Whoops. Didn't hit any of them - in a small plane, you have to mostly use the force and trust the birds, if you get into them, because they obviously maneuver much more swiftly/sharply than you do!

Came around to base, then final. Came in with full flaps, held it off, and touched down softly - held the nosewheel off as long as possible, then let it down gently, holding it high with elevator. The gravel was soft - I could feel the wheels mushing - but otherwise was very well-behaved. We slowed to a stop, then back-taxied to the apron at the approach end of 09, and parked next to Val's ULE.

We were in Cooinda to take a boat cruise and have a quick lunch. We had gotten in a bit early, so we walked a km or so to the Kakadu Regional Aboriginal Peoples' Cultural Center. This is a nicely done small museum, displaying Aboriginal history and culture exhibits. Learning that I was 'balanda' (non-Aboriginal) in the local language (whose name I have now forgotten), I also learned that the aborigines in fact had nearly two hundred languages when Australia was discovered by Europeans. Not dialects - languages. They couldn't talk to each other without learning each others' tongues. Today, as the aboriginal population contracts and consolidates, there are perhaps fifty of these languages surviving, with the number spoken widely down to perhaps twelve.

Afterwards, we walked back through the 1 km bush trail to the lodge and took a quick bus ride over to the boat dock. The cruise was approximately 90 minutes on the Alligator River. I'm not sure if that's an ironic name, because of course it's inhabited by crocodiles. Today, lots of them! We saw perhaps 14 or 16 of the beasts sunning themselves on the banks of the river, and watched a couple of them fishing - areas of grass near the edge suddenly sliding into motion and several barramundi leaping frantically out of the water, trying to escape as the croc closed in. The crocs we saw were all females, according to the guide - as they were all three meters or less. They were salt-water crocodiles - apparently, salt-water crocodiles can live in fresh water quite happily, and being territorial, tend to eat the fresh-water crocodiles, which are smaller. The crocs we saw were light-colored, which indicated that they had just come up from the sea. After a while in fresh water, they turn darker. These beasts are quite unconcerned with large, loud tourist boats. They know darn well that they're the top of the food chain, and they can't be bothered to stop basking just because some curious humans with cameras show up.

The birds were numerous and impressive, and almost as fearless. Egrets, Jabirus, Sea Eagles, Whistling Ducks, Magpie Geese, and others. The birds are all over the place, and they stand and fish on the banks, seemingly completely unconcerned by the crocs basking nearly and lurking in the water at the river's edge. The guide said that he's never seen a bird taken by a croc, although the crocs seem quite willing to have a go if a bird is nearby. Even though the croc is a fast-moving ambush predator, the birds are apparently faster. The Jabiru (which is a Portuguese name, despite there being a town here named that) has recently, according to the guide, been renamed the 'Black-necked Stork.' But, he noted, "They stuffed it again - their necks are green, y'see."

We saw a few wildly colorful kingfishers, some spoonbills, and several other species I can't now remember. They were nearly as unconcerned as the crocs by our presence. In the distance, some brumbys (wild horses) grazed on the wetlands, with a flock of egrets sitting on and around them.

The area around Cooinda, we were told, can flood quite heavily. Aparently, in 2007, it flooded five meters due to heavy rainfall - the staff had to be evacuated by airplane.

After the cruise and a quick lunch, we took the bus back to the airport and began to preflight for the afternoon's flight to Kununurra, some 275 NM away. The only catch was that Tindal had activated one of their restricted areas - R247 - which meant we had to divert slightly to the north to go around the northern corner of that airspace. I got coordinates for the corner from Val. The other planes pushed back off the gravel parking area in order to start up without pulling gravel into the props, and I did a full preflight - all looked to be in order. Rather than pushing back, we decided to push forward and to the side, onto a grassy area, in the hope that it wouldn't throw gravel as hard. In order to rotate the plane, I pushed down on the tail, lifting the nosewheel off the ground, and swiveled it so we could push it forward. My passenger held up his hand and said "Hey, this doesn't look good."

I walked around front. Sure enough, there was a spray of dark oil running down the nosewheel strut onto the nosewheel fairing. Nope, that didn't look good. I waved back the tour pilots for a second opinion, and we took a look. We popped the cowling off and had a look inside - there was no oil on the engine, and no oil inside the cowling. It was fairly immaculate. That was a relief - it meant it almost certainly wasn't engine oil. I had put a quart of oil in at Tindal, and I wondered if it was overflow out the breather. We pushed the airplane a bit - and the nosewheel oleo strut collapsed entirely, sending another flow of (what was now clearly hydraulic) oil down the fairing.


Well, the good news - it certainly wasn't the engine. The bad news - Cooinda has no facilities, no fuel, no shops, nothing except a small shed for people to wait for buses from the lodge. We had a quick huddle, and the three pilots (myself and the two tour pilots) felt that the best course was to fly on to Kununurra, which is a decent-sized airport and has a few FBOs. They gave me some advice on babying SDN along with the nosewheel low, which I gravely took note of, and then they took off.

The lower prop blade was perhaps six inches off the ground with the nosewheel strut collapsed, which made me a bit concerned. We pushed the plane onto the grassy area, got in, and started her up. I started it as gently as I could, and things seemed fine. I taxied gingerly onto 09, added in ten degrees of flap, and took off, holding the nosewheel off with elevator as soon as airspeed came alive. SDN made some alarming thumping noises in the undercart, but steered fine and came off normally. We climbed out and turned on-course for the restricted area corner waypoint, which I had named CLEAR in the G1000.

As we flew along, we had scattered clouds at approximately 6000 feet. We climbed to 4,500, where I looked wistfully at the clear blue sky above the cloud layer, while we bumped through the haze below - but VFR, my friends, VFR. I remained 1,500 feet clear of the clouds.

As we neared the waypoint turn, I noted that visibility was noticeably decreasing. I began to lose the horizon out in front of us, although I could certainly see at least 8 to 10 nm out. I tried to tune in the AWIS system for Kununurra, but we were still far out of range. Finally I realized that in addition to the haze we had been seeing all along, there were a number of bush fires burning on the surface just to the south of our track ahead, and the wind was out of the southeast, so their smoke was being pushed in a thick plume all the way out to the northwest, across our course. It was akin to seeing a white wall fall across the world. I radioed in to the other planes, who were fifteen or twenty miles behind us at this point (SDN is quicker) and they decided on hearing the report to divert to the south, where they still had a better horizon picture. I looked at the winds and decided that there was a good chance of getting around the source of the haze by doing this, so I diverted as well - more sharply south, since I was closer to the fires.

After five or six minutes, the horizon began to open up again to the west and slightly north of west, so I gave it another few minutes and then hit DIRECT YPKU and ACTIVATE and let SDN take us back around to the right. The ride was getting bumpier as well, but I didn't want to climb due to the clouds scudding by above us, so we accepted it as the price of doing business.

We crossed the Victoria River inlet - a wide area flood plains and drying silt, with a few channels of water meandering through the center - and continued on over formations of striated rock, worn down to low rolling hills with scrubland atop it. The evidence of past bush burns was everywhere - blackened areas with the shocking green of new undergrowth atop it, centered on the burn, looking almost like moldy patches on the tan and reddish sand and rock.

Val offered up bits of tourist information - at one point, we passed over a railway line (the only one we had seen) which she told us was the Adelaide to Darwin line, which had only been completed in the 1990s. A few miles past that, we passed the highway which served the same route. Off to the north of our track, we made out the hazy H-shaped outline of a cleared area which Val explained had been a World War II airbase, which had been abandoned for decades. The taxiways and runways were still visible, if not well defined any longer.

Finally, we caught sight of a line of ridges across our path, and off to the left and ahead the blue glimmer of Lake Argyle, a man-made body of water. Behind that, there was a line of relatively high rock walls, and just over the ridge ahead- Kununurra.

I called on the CTAF, and (as has become our habit) found that the airport which had had zero traffic for the thirty minutes since I came into radio range suddenly had traffic - an outgoing airplane, declaring its intention to head out on a reciprocal of our own course. I diverted to the north a bit, deciding to enter a long base leg rather than a full downwind for 12 Kununurra, and was rewarded with the sight of the reciprocal traffic climbing out a couple of miles off to the south of us.

Just as I entered base, a C210 called in from 15 miles out with the intention of joining a 5 mile final after a straight-in approach, but we were already on base leg. I asked my pax to read the Before Landing checklist.

"Mixture Full Rich?"


"Parking brake OFF"?

"Checked and OFF."

"Seats, hatches & harnesses?"

"Seats upright, hatches and harnesses secure."

"Instruments set?"

"One Zero One Three hektoPascals QNH, instruments checked."

"Autopilot OFF?"

"Autopilot OFF."

"Okay, we're ready."

I was adding in my second notch of flaps by that point, and considering my turn final. I left it close in, to get a steeper approach than I had achieved the last few landings, since I needed to baby the nosewheel. I know that sounds contradictory, but I'd been forced to drag in under power a couple times due to needing to extend my circuit for traffic or because headwinds had been greater than I'd expected. I've found that coming in slow almost always, for me at least, means a higher final descent onto the runway, as I have trouble flaring properly when I'm slow. This time, I had a nice long runway with which to bleed speed in ground effect, and I wanted the nosewheel to have no cause to feel offended - I had no interest in prop-striking my rental airplane.

Came in, flared, held it off, held it off - and got what I wanted, which was a kiss on the main gear only, allowing me to hold the nose off with the rest of my rapidly decaying airspeed. When I felt the airplane start to sigh and sink, I brought the yoke forward to bring the nose down under control, and when I heard the painful THUMP of the nosewheel strut compressing to min height and metal hitting metal, I braked very very gently and let the airplane come down at its own pace. We still made the turnoff for GA parking halfway down the runway - YPKU isn't a small airport.

We had come in a good half hour ahead of the other tour airplanes, so we headed over to the fueling point. Unfortunately, it was labeled 'BP' and we don't have BP carnet card, so I hopped out after shutting down and asked a gent in the BP truck yard, who told me that Shell had a callout presence. Thanked him, and went back to the plane and got the ERSA which indeed had a callout number for Shell Aviation listed. Called, and a terse voice asked if I was 'chasin' avgas.' I said 'Yep.' He said he'd be back out in five minutes.

Sure enough, the Shell truck powered up and swung out towards us just as the tour planes were coming down. We had him fill the plane - I considered leaving it light in case it made maintenance easier, but even with the tanks full, I can lift the nosewheel by just levering down on the fuselage just ahead of the stabilizer, so it shouldn't be a big deal - and I don't like leaving part-emtpy tanks overnight due to condensation.

So. Checked with one of two FBOs on the field - nope, their maintenance dance card is full. I checked the other, but their maintenance crew had gone home for the day, and I was advised to check in tomorrow morning after 7 AM. So that's what I'll do. We're in Kununurra for two days and three nights - so while I might have to miss some of the local attractions (boat cruise on the lake, a tour of the hoochery, a local scenic flight to a set of rock formations called the Bungle Bungles) I stand a good chance of getting SDN fixed up. The hire agency answered my email and said "Just find a shop to do it and have them call us, they can charge it directly back, no worries."

SDN is a brilliant airplane. I won't hold this against her. Right before we left, the CFI checking me out and I took SDN to the local shop because the strut was low, and they put a shot of nitrogen in the oleo. It was winter in Sydney. We left SDN sittin gat Cooinda, and the temperature got up to easily 30 degrees C during the afternoon - I'm wondering if she just blew or rolled a seal due to overpressure. I'd like to think it wasn't me - I haven't had any noticeably hard landings yet this tour.

Either way, things should be fine. I did a gravel takeoff and a landing, all went OK; worst case, our next stop is Broome which is a fairly big airport, and the tour operator has contacts at a maintenance shop there. I'd fly SDN to Broome in her condition.

That makes me feel like a bit of an actual pilot. Up until now, I've always been hyper-sensitive of anything INOP on the airplane. SDN has a malfed right tank fuel sender, and a dud EGT sensor for one of her cylinders - but I've flown her for five days cross-country now with no problems - and I've done a full cycle with the strut in this condition. I'm quite confident that as long as the weather is decent, I should have no trouble easing her into Broome - unless the winds get high, but the risk over the next few days seems to be mostly clouds and rain showers, not wind. So - we'll see.

More later!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Day 5 - Karumba YKMB to Tindal/Katherine YPTN

Day 5 - Karumba YKMB to Tindal/Katherine YPTN


Woke up early in Karumba point and had a light brekky (toast, some orange/passionfruit juice). We trooped out to the airport, and got there by around 7:45am and started loading the airplanes. I did a preflight. I've noticed that the tour pilots don't do full preflights - I suspect because they were the last people to fly the airplanes, and because they're doing much more streamlined ones - but I have no desire to skimp. I'm well aware of my baby pilot status, and I have a strong desire to have an 'incident-free' flying career.

SDN was in good shape. I sumped the tanks, since we'd fueled at YNTN and flown over to YKMB - so there was some empty space in the tanks, and just in case condensate had formed. Nothing; all clean. Checked the oil - still at 8 quarts, she doesn't seem to burn much oil either. My pax removed the tiedowns while I removed the pitot cover and intake covers, then I did a walkaround. All was well. I shuffled another day of clean clothes into my day bag (my main bag is too big to horse into town every night, so I tend to just stuff a day of clothing into my CPAP bag and bring that plus my gear bag). Filled out movement and fuel logs, then we got into the plane and ran through checklists.

While I was doing that, Val took off in ULE. I managed to get started before Hugh in IRJ, so I took the runway next and we took off to the west, turning right a bit to head up the coast. The day's flight was the complex one involving arbitrary waypoints, but (hooray!) I'd programmed them all in during the flight up from Longreach yesterday and assembled them into a flight plan in the G1000. I hand-flew it, though - went to 500 feet for a while, then 1000 feet. We followed the coastline for around 250 NM, flying along mangrove swamps and inlets and a couple of river deltas. It was gorgeous - the Gulf of Carpenteria on the right, and bright turquoise water along the shore, with mangrove trees stretching all the way out into the gulf itself. In that 250 miles, we saw one road, which I found out later was a recent addition, probably by the military (dirt); some 4-5 speedboats, and nothing else. No habitation. No houses, no roads, no power lines, no railroads, nothing except mangrove swamps and the bush. As an American, especially one from New York, this completely blows my mind.

Afer 250 NM, we turned inland and flew 50 miles or so to Borroloola YBRL, a tiny strip at a bend of the Macarthur River. The wind had picked up, and we landed with perhaps a 10 or 12 knot direct crosswind, and taxied back to the tiny apron at the approach end. There was a fuel bowser there, but it turns out the credit card system on it was malfunctioning. I had enough gas in SDN to make it to PTN, most likely, but the 172s don't have that sort of range. Luckily, the fueling chap was there working on the generator that runs the bowser, and he got on his mobile and got us authorized. I had a bit of trouble - my debit Visa cards really don't work well over here, it seems. I'm not sure if it's because I've been fraud-checked or not, because my bank does not have a frigging non-toll-free number posted on its website so I can't even call them to check. Grrmmrtrmbl. And none of the machines take Amex. Fortunately, my pax had a working Visa, so we fueled up.

After fuelling, we sat at the picnic table which was the extent of the ground facilities at YBRL, had some cheese and salad sandwiches we'd brought with us, and walked the 1/4 mile to the 'main streat' of Borroloola. Um...well, there was a petrol station. And a motel. This is somewhere that is probably 300 miles by road from any other larger settlement. The police cruised by and waved, probably concerned that there were suddenly 9 people with no visible means of support or, worse, cars wandering around town. We headed back to the airstrip and mounted up.

The second leg today was a straight flight across country. We headed almost directly west to Tindal Airbase, a RAAF base which doubles as 'Katherine Airport' (at the other end of the field) a tiny airport for the town of Katherine some 8 miles away. The flight took us over several fires - I was told by the locals that these were likely ranchers burning out areas to improve grass growth, although one of them looked to be a eucalyptus fire next to a river - billowing white smoke, rising up to 6000 feet or so. We were at 4500, but didn't pass directly through it, so I didn't divert.

The ride got bumpy at 4500 - we had a 20kt quartering tailwind, and there were just enough hills below to cause some bumps as the wind came through. I decided to avoid climbing, as it wasn't too bad - SDN had no trouble. Since it was Sunday, we were pretty sure Tindal wouldn't be active, but we checked as we got closer - sure enough, Tindal was closed down, operating as a CTAF. I had pulled ahead of the pack as they were not only slower, but had climbed to 6500 to get out of the chop, so I went in first and landed. Nobody there. There were a couple of dozen aircraft shelters under the downwind leg, but they were all locked up tight - nobody was visible anywhere on the airport. The RAAF, I was told, doesn't really operate on Sundays. I'm not sure how tongue in cheek that was (or wasn't!)

Taxied over to the civil apron to the fuel pumps. Hooray, it's a Shell Aviation pump, so the fuel carnet from SDN worked. Gassed up, then taxied over to transient parking and tied down between a pair of local 172s and a Piper of some make or other. While we were tying down, Val landed in ULE. She dropped her pax at the airside gate to the Katherine terminal, and SMSed us to tell us that getting out of the airside required an ASIC holder to hit an intercom. So we legged it over there when Hugh came in and got out with his crew while Val and Hugh went to fuel up and tie down.

We got a van taxi into Katherine, and here we are at the Beagle Motor Inn on 4th street. Walked into Katherine - there is a shopping center with a Woolworth's in it (Woolie's, in Aussie) but everything else in it (bar a chemist) was closed. We walked up the main drag in Katherine - two blocks of local stores, then BAM the bush again. The main street through is a highway - the sign says '<--DARWIN ALICE SPRINGS-->" on it at the crossroads. "Hey, isn't Alice Springs like a thousand klicks or something from here?"

"Yeah, but it's that way, mate."


Was saddened to see that the population of Aboriginal people in Katherine seems to have the Native American disease - many of them were sleeping off liquor on the roadsides. Somehow felt guilty about this. I suppose showing up with an airplane makes me feel like the technocrat invader.

Time to figure out tomorrow's flightplan and make some notes. I've flown perhaps 1600-1800 nautical miles of Australia. It's a beautiful and empty country. More later.