Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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.

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