Day 1 - Camden YSCN to Dubbo YSDU
We checked the weather when I was doing my checkride on Tuesday, and found that it was supposed to get windy on Wednesday and downright nasty on Thursday. Thursday was the original departure day for the first stop of the tour, Thargomindah (YTGM). The pilots at Airborne Aviation urged us to consider departing early, because Sydney is in a bowl with mountains (the Great Dividing Range) to the north and west - and they're up to 4000 feet MSL. While getting over them isn't a big problem, the forecast was showing winds of up to 60 knots at altitude - and 60 kt winds hitting mountains mean MASSIVE turbulence.
We decided to have a go, and at least get to the western side of the mountains before the weather got really bad. So we loaded up the airplane this morning, and I swallowed all my nervous flutters. I don't often fly long cross-country trips, and this one is in a whole other country, after all, and I'm responsible for a $350000 airplane to boot!
Figuring we'd start with an easy step, we decided to fly to Bathurst (YBTH) where my travel companion has a family friend who runs a flight school. We had thought of renting from him, but his fleet is all light sport airplanes, so no go. Anyway, we got off the ground at Camden YSCN around 10:30 am Sydney time, and headed west. I got out from underneath the 4500 ft step of the Sydney control zone, started a climb to 6500 and turned on course for Bathurst, some 75 NM away.
We got over the hills and the turbulence hit. Not terrible, but noticeable. I looked at the instruments and determined that we were flying into a 55 kt headwind - certainly the strongest wind I've ever flown into. Fortunately, the turbulence was manageable. We found Bathurst, and I called ten miles from the field (Bathurst operates on a CTAF, not a tower). A kind soul in the pattern helpfully informed me that Bathurst 35 operates on a right-hand pattern, not left - they have a parallel grass strip just left of the runway from which gliders and tow planes operate, and they use a left pattern.
No problem - corrected, entered a right downwind. Turned base a bit late, because I wasn't really thinking about how strong the headwind was - 22 kts, but right down the runway. Dragged a bit of power on to compensate for being blown south, and made a decent landing. Parked up and found his friend, who showed us around his flight school and fleet. We pulled up weather, and found that the winds were picking up - and that they were just going to get worse, with snow/rain and crap the next day. He strongly, strongly recommended that we immediately continue on at least as far as Dubbo - a town we hadn't thought of, but one that was 100 nm further on, which was enough to get us past the mountains and down onto the plain.
I was concerned, because I'm a hothouse flower of a pilot - I haven't often flown to get places, and I haven't done a lot of flying in heavy wind. It's also because where I trained, strong wind almost always means gusts, variable direction and turbulence. Thought about it, and decided that getting stuck in Bathurst was a bad thing, which meant I was willing to consider alternatives - and then decided that if I got off the ground and it was super bad, I could always come back. The wind hadn't changed direction from when we had landed, just picked up perhaps four knots.
So with some trepidation, but still able to see for 10+ miles through clear skies (although a stratus front was moving in at perhaps 10000 feet) we got back in the plane and departed, heading for Dubbo.
Oh, one thing I should mention - I am so, so very glad that the autopilot works in this airplane. It makes life much less stressful, and the KAP140 in VH-SDN is fairly capable - it handles turbulence MUCH BETTER than the only other AP I've used, which was an older unit in the Piper Arrow I trained for my complex on. That one couldn't handle wind above maybe a 4 or 5 knot crosswind component, and any turbulence would just cause it to throw up its little electronic hands and sulk. SDN's AP (once we got back up to 6500 feet, NEODD/SWEVEN) handled the crosswind and the turbulence with aplomb, accepting its direction from the nav system and keeping us on course.
The winds got up to a high of 55 kts again, perhaps at an angle of 325 off our nose. Our groundspeed stayed between 70 and 95 kts, despite an IAS of around 135. But we made it, and as we got past the hills, the turbulence dropped away. Coming in to Dubbo, I called 15 miles SE just as another aircraft called 15 miles S of the field - we compared types, and he was flying a scheduled twin turboprop. He was heading for runway 05, since it was longer - but the wind was at 280 and thus I opted for the shorter runway 29. I circled around to the east, and as we passed east of the field the other a/c landed, thanking us for letting him come in first (no worries, mate, you've got pax and a bigger plane...) and I joined a crosswind for 29, assuring him I had him in sight. He was long clear of the runway, so we came in and landed and headed over to the fuel bowsers.
First time fueling - no problem, Airborne gave us fuel carnet cards, so we swiped the card, clipped a grounding line to the airplane and I fueled us up. We then moved the airplane around to transient parking on the grass, pounded in some tiedown stakes and tied SDN down for the night. I put the pitot tube cover and intake covers on, we collected our 'day bags' and headed out to find a room and a meal.
I've never heard of Dubbo, but here I am.
Today was an excellent day. I flew a bit out of my comfort zone, but not out of safety; we got familiar with the airplane and operations, did our weight and balance and got everything stowed, and I got more familiar with the G1000 flight planning UX and the autopilot, as well as how SDN handles in wind (quite well, this is a stable airplane).
Tomorrow is a bit dodgy, as it looks like airservices is predicting rain showers and BKN 010 through about noon. It's supposed to clear up to 4000 feet by 1pm - but we have to be in Thargomindah YTGM by 4:30 pm tomorrow, and that's 360 nm. That's a bit tight if we have any headwinds. So we did some contingency planning - if we can't get in the air by 3pm, we hold here. If we do get airborne, if we get to Bourke (YBKE) with no headwinds by 4:15pm, we will push on to Thargomindah. If it's later, we land at Bourke and plan to divert to Longreach YLRE, the next stop on the tour, to meet up with them a day later. If that doesn't work, we can try to catch up before Karumba, and if that's a problem, we re-evaluate.
Walked around Dubbo. Because I'm an American, I managed to find and check out both gun shops in town. Turns out they're owned by a father and son, and if they compare notes they'll probably talk about the nutty American who showed up. Because we were feeling peckish, we found a Donut King (HOORAY) and had some of their amazing hot cinnamon donuts and a tea, then wandered about some more. Found a park, smoked a pipe. Walking back, we found a place selling curry, so we had a curry for dinner and headed back to our flat (the hotel with vacancies didn't actually have rooms, but they had a vacant serviced apartment a block away). Despite their warning us that it was 'very, very basic' it's just fine - it's a two-bedroom, and perfectly comfortable, and clean - for $100/night. I'm FINE with that.
So here we are. It's a really weird feeling being somewhere that I got to by flying myself. The airplane is tied down at the airport, and fueled up and ready for us. This trip is not going perfectly to plan - and that just makes it more interesting. The whole point of this was to push myself into doing more challenging flying, and not just doing day joy flights. Mission accomplished.
Also, AUSTRALIA! My only regret is that I haven't seen a single marsupial yet. Some cool birds, though. Everyone says "No worries, you'll see a million roos in the bush, mate."