Sunday, March 11, 2012

Vale Lex

I just found out that a fellow aviator, blogger, and friend of mine Neptunus Lex, the nom de guerre of Captain Carroll LeFon USN (Ret.) went west for the last time.

The Secretary of the US Navy himself, along with scores of others who knew and admired him have paid tribute here

I first found his blog whilst looking up the origin of different pilot callsigns. If you're wondering why his callsign was "Lex", he tells the story much better than I can here. That post was almost ten years ago, and I remember it wasn't that old when I read it. I was learning to fly, and learning to blog myself, and what Lex didn't know about both wasn't worth knowing.

I made it a ritual of mine to check his blog at least once a week to catch up on his latest activities. I know I will miss that, and so will a lot of others.

Sorely missed. Farewell Lex.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Uneven number

There is an old saying that the rule for pilots is to try to keep the number of takeoffs equal to the number of landings. I am now short one landing, because the other day I went skydiving.

I had done the ground course a month earlier but constant bad weather and other commitments had kept me from completing my first jump until the new year. My calendar was as clear as the sky, so I had no excuse not to make the drive down to Wilton near Picton to leap out of a perfectly good aeroplane.

Arrived around 1100, handed over my skydivers logbook and waited for my instructors to find me. A bright yellow and red jumpsuit covered my civilian cloths and I strapped an altimeter to my wrist.

Fully, a young Kiwi guy greeted me and we went off to find a parachute. Fully showed me how to step into the thing and how to strap it on tight along with a helmet and a pair of painfully tight goggles. Mick, a very experienced instructor started quizzing me on my knowledge and abilities. He seemed barely satisified by the halting responses I gave him but we all waddled down to the waiting Caravan.

The engine ran while we boarded, the sound of a roaring turboprop usually sounds pretty good to me, but I felt strangely unenthused. Long padded benches were along the floor of the aircraft as I turned and slid back into position, Fully taking the spot immediately in front of my and Mick beside. We waited a few seconds, the exit slid closed, double checked the altimeter read zero before the pilot turned the aircraft around and pushed forward the throttles, the noise increasing in intensity and pitch. I was impressed by the way the pilot picked up the nose wheel and held it up as we roared down the gravel strip before rotating and climbing at what felt like a pretty steep angle.

I turned and looked out the window at the strip to try and memorise the view of the field from the air as we made a long climb to altitude. I don't recall if we climbed upwind or not. The sensations were all so strange and powerful it was had to take everything in. Fully and Mick checked that I was all good. I responded with a thumbs up and said "good to go." They later told me I looked quite bored by the whole thing. Apparently my visible response to being terrified is to appear uninterested.

Around 12000 feet a yellow light illuminated. Mick shouted that we would be third out the door. I nodded. The exit opened and the engine noise subsided as the pilot throttled back. The first group of jumpers crouched at the doorway before unceremoniously hurling themselves out. The second group did the same and Mick and Fully positioned themselves either side of the door as I shuffled forward to kneel in between them. The whole environment seemed hostile, it was very cold, the slipstream pounded on the side of my face as I looked down through the clouds to the blue green earth 4 kilometres straight down.

The training kicked in as I checked left, right, looked to the horizon, and half fell, half leapt and no doubt was half bodily thrown from the aeroplane.

There's a short period immediately after exiting the aircraft I have no recollection of. Mick later told me my arms and legs were waving like a rag doll, so it's likely I experienced some senory overload and blacked out for a second or two. The next thing I remember is looking at the horizon in the distance through a pair of very wide eyes. The air rushing past me roared like a speeding train and the pressure made if difficult to breathe so I gulped air like a landed fish and went though my workcycle to maintain awareness.

The first awareness checks came and went as we hurtled towards the ground. Some people describe skydiving as being like underwater or like flying. I felt it was like falling rapidly towards the ground, acutely conscious of the rapidly unwinding altimeter. Perhaps my flying experience had made me a better judge of my position based on looking at the ground, but I could see features below getting ominously larger.

The final awareness check came and I reached for my pilot chute. My hand failed to find it on the first attempt, which is considered poor technique. On my subsequent attempt my hand closed around the lovely squeezey rubber ball and I pulled the thing out as hard as I could, counted one thousand, two...

...and was jerking like a hooked fish under a big bright and perfect canopy. I reached up for the yellow toggles and pulled the chute fully open. There was still too much going on for me to do everything I needed to do perfectly, my mind still catching up with the rapidly proceeding events. Looking down I couldn't quite make out the drop zone, but I found the X of the freeway crossroads and the airfield beside it.

The parachute was a lot more sensitive and agile than I thought it would be and took little effort to maneouvre. As I got closer to the dropzone the radio in my helmet chirped as the target assistant told me he could see me. A large yellow arrow is used to help the student jumper to maneourvre to land and it was a simple matter to follow the arrow as the TA guided me into the circuit. Before long I could make out a figure holding up a pair of batons and began mirroring his signals as he lined me up and commenced the flare to land. My feet landed followed shortly after by my butt as I slid along the grass and came to a ungainly halt. My heart was pounding and my shaking hands did a poor job of gathering in my chute as the TA joined me and helped me sort the chute out properly.

When I first flew an aeroplane I knew that it was what I was meant to do, I loved every second of it and I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of piloting since. On the jump course I met a young guy who expressed the same thoughts about skydiving. I can unequivocally say I did not feel the same way about skydiving. It's possible I would skydive again, but it's unlikely I would do it for enjoyment.

Nevertheless, it's something everyone who is able should do at least once.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Communist Moon

July 2006 I took a Friday night flight with Jeff Swain, the famous Schofields Friday night 3 circuit musical chairs and dinner. I only vaguely remember it. That was the official start of my NVFR rating. I'm actually surprised it was so long ago. Turned up at the club, got a quick back of the envelope briefing on night circuits from Jeff and off we went with two other pilots, each of us taking a turn in the left seat before making a full stop and switching places until we had all done 3 circuits, retiring to the clubhouse for BBQ chicken. Only the last two years have I been earnest in getting my Night VFR rating to allow me to fly at night. The first 3 years I either had not enough time, not enough money, or not enough of either. Last year I had 6 flight tests booked, and all cancelled due to the uncharacteristically bad weather, La Nina or El Nino, or whatever. This year the weather started to turn in my favour.

I arrived at the club, planned up and ready to visit Cessnock, first taking SFM up for a couple of circuits to get warmed up and familiar. It was more a case of getting use to the cockpit and choosing appropriate power settings for different legs of the circuit. Satisfied, I returned to the clubhouse and cooled my heels a short while, getting my paperwork in order for the flight.

Bill Cooper, the CFI, found me and we went out to the aeroplane, having already filled the tanks and checked the lights were in working order. Not quite dark yet, but almost sun at down we taxied out and headed north to the GA lane, Bill carefully programming the Garmin 430 with our proposed flight plan. Still being light Bill put me under the hood and I flew on instruments until it was obvious I wasn't going to fall out of the sky.

We chatted the light banter of examiner and examined while the sky grew darker and more lights appeared in the suburbs below us, ships off shore decorated like Christmas trees, lines of red taillights snaking their way northwards. The moon hung low on the horizon, haze painting it a vivid scarlet.

The area frequency went silent, suspiciously so. Tuned the CTAF which was also ominously silent. Used both radios and could not hear a squeak out of anyone. Found Cessnock eventually and joined the circuit. Another aeroplane joined after us and made a call, completely relieving my fears of a radio failure.

"One normal landing and one flapless and then we'll head back to Bankstown." A decent circuit and a pretty landing, even if I do say so myself. Power up and round again, the circuit being wide this time as I hadn't accounted for the Nor-Westerly blowing me away from the runway on downwind. Another decent landing, if a little flat, the back we go to Bankstown via Mt McQuoid, Bill Cooper being much relieved of his fears of the likelihood of me balling us both up on the runway at Cessnock. We chatted away again, more naturally now as it was clear my skills were up to par for the NVFR. Held height and heading OK, even if the DI precessed more quickly than you'd expect. Bill at one point mentioned that the engine was performing well, at which point I remarked he was a less superstitious man than I, tempting the fates so.

To Bankstown, and joined a close downwind to land on 29. Thought I had overcooked it and said so, doubting my ability to touch down after the tight circuit entry. Bill had faith and said so, we followed the two red and two white down the slope for another neat landing, even if I have no proof but my own recollection.

I felt confident and very relaxed and I think it reflected in my flying that night. Soft hands and lots of time to think and plan. I'm now qualified to fly at night which will enhance my ability to depart early and arrive late and is also a prerequisite for the flight instructors rating.

We taxied back to parking, the yellow taxi line clearly visible in the bright moonlight, Bill noting we had lost our red moon.

"Communist moon," he said.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Auckland is for Anniversaries

The wife and I decided to spend our 4th wedding anniversary in Auckland, purely because neither of us had been there before and because we got cheap air fares.

My impressions were generally positive, although I do have a few observations to make.

The Britomart is not a vacuum cleaner store, although exactly what it is, I'm not sure.

I'm also pleased to announce that Grunge is still alive and well on the streets of Auckland.

New Zealand has some unique public insurance scheme that leads to sights like skateboarders rolling down the middle of the busiest street in Auckland. It's almost as if people are daring drivers to run them over in order to be horribly injured and collect the Big One. The town planners of Auckland have also decided that the busiest streets require the least number of lanes. The more popular a street is, the narrower it generally is. Red lights are treated by drivers as merely a suggestion to stop. The little green walking man sign is animated and actually walks, quite jauntily I might add. They also have a countdown timer telling pedestrians how many more seconds they have before the Auckland Formula One recommences, which at first sounds like a great idea, but is actually a bad idea as it encourages people to step on the street at the last possible second. These two traits lead to entertaining interactions, so if you are bored in Auckland on a Sunday afternoon (entirely possible) the best spot for a laugh is a busy intersection. Especially as no one cares about being injured, see insurance above.

Despite appearing to be made of scaffolding and scrap metal, the Hilton is actually finished.

You can't get Smiths Crisps, but you can get Wendys and Carls Jr.

The TV is rubbish, but that's true no matter where you go theses days.

The winter casual dress code for middle aged men is gumboots, stubbies and a woolly jumper.

Roughly half of all restaurants in Auckland are Korean or Japanese.

Enjoyed it. The wife and I want to hire a camper van next time and tour the South Island.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Maple One Six

Night flying with Jeff, trying to get my NVFR rating sorted prior to the end of winter. Out to Bankstown, planned and preflighted SFA as dusk fell. Head out to the aeroplane, news helicopters hovering overhead, obviously an accident on the M5 slowing everyone down. A stray dog rans past in the darkness, too far and fast for me to track down and disappears between two hangars. Jeff alerts the aerodrome safety officer. We taxi out, picking a gap between evening bank runners. We take off to the east and make right turns, departing the field overhead at 1500 feet. Below us is a river of red tail lights, drivers stuck in the jam, anxious to get moving.
We head north, over Parramatta, following Woodville Rd, Hornsby before the lights of the city disappear behind us and below is just the inky darkness of Broken Bay. There is almost no moon and the only illumination comes from below. The area frequency is alive, a cargo plane has hit a bird, a plover, on take off and and left only small pieces behind. The crew elect to continue to their destination as everything seems normal. They are closer to their destination than their origin anyway. ATC clears a path for them. The crew sound bored by the whole ordeal, though I suspect it's a facade.
We find Swansea and then Cessnock, the circuit full of Cessna 152s. We find a gap in the circuit and line up on final.
"Don't look at the beam," warns Jeff. I look at the beam and make a not so pretty landing. We exit the circuit and head back to Bankstown, leaving the busy Cessnock circuit behind.
Jeff puts me to the test on our way back, tracking the GPS, VOR and NDB, unusual attitudes and random technical questions. He's satisfied with how I do.
We get closer to Sydney and I hear Maple One Six ask for approval to conduct an ILS approach into Kingsford Smith International.
"That's a Hornet," I tell Jeff, who spends the next ten minutes craning his neck, watching the F-18 pass over our shoulders into Sydney. More concerning to me is the 737 which has been sent on an extended downwind leg, right towards us on a reciprocal track. I watch it closely as it passes 500 feet overhead.
Back into Bankstown and I make a circuit too close and put down for another slightly dodgy landing.
I need to work on my landings but apart from that Jeff gives me the OK to go for my NVFR test.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Merimbula and lobster

My wife and I had planned a trip to Merimbula for some while. I had visited Merimbula aerodrome once before and I was very impressed with what a friendly little set up it was. Rex have regular services there and the terminal building has a nice cafe for visitors.

I had originally booked Archer SFR, but maintenance had necessitated a change to Archer MJT, which is a similar start to my Taree trip story. MJT has no usable GPS receiver, so it was Mark One Eyeball and map to ground, ground to map and ADF navigation. Blue stuff on the left, green stuff on the right, then vice-versa for the return trip. Who said this navigation stuff was difficult?

We fuelled up and prepped MJT, a high pressure system on it's way out giving us warm weather and cloudless skies. We managed to negotitate our way out of Bankstown and headed south, again step climbing underneath Sydney's class C airspace, past Camden, Wedderburn, Wilton and Wollongong up to 6500 feet. Checking that Nowra's airspace was deactivated this Saturday, we broadcast on 118.85 at Kiama, Tomerong, Wandandian and Ulladulla before swtiching back to area frequency. During the week, when Nowra airspace is active, it is necessary to gain clearance from Nowra Control before transitting this VFR lane. Lots of transmissions from Jaspers Brush ALA, ultralights practicing circuits.

South of Ulladulla we flew above a smoke plume from burn offs in the bush. This gave me a perfect idea of what the wind was doing, and told me we were reaching the southern edge of the high pressure system. Further south and parachute ops conducted at Moruya, arranging separation between ourselves, me staying feet wet and the jump pilot feet dry.

I had arranged for the refueller to meet the our arrival in Merimbula before 1400, and I calculated I would make it with 10 minutes to spare. We began our descent and I tried to keep the speed up as much as possible, the conditions being glassy smooth and made a beautiful straight in approach and landing, and I have video evidence to prove if if you don't believe me.

The refueller was there waiting for us, helped us refuel and offered to give us a lift down the road to our accommodation. I tied the aircraft down and we found our comfortable digs. We rested until our booking for dinner at 1830 at Wheelers Restaurant. After a false start in the wrong direction, on the wrong side of the road (hey, what do you know, there's a footpath on this side) we found Wheelers opposite the golf course. Lobsters,oysters and champagne were on the menu to celebrate passing my CPL. I don't remember feeling the cold walking back to the hotel.

Up bright and early the next morning for a leisurely 1100 departure. We caught a cab to the airport, where Colin the Helpful Refueller agreed to meet us to let us in to the airport. Merimbula is the home of the ASIC program and security there is unnecessarily tight. We'd topped off the fuel tanks the day before and we only had to pack up, start up and go. The high pressure system had helpfully moved off to the east so they we could have another headwind on our way back to Bankstown.

We departed north and began our long climb to 5500 feet, negotiating with joy flights off the coast then parachute drops over Moruya once again. Long cruise back, past Ulladulla, Nowra, Wollongong to the edges of the Sydney Basin. An inversion layer was trapping a thick layer of smoke from burn offs around the Sydney area. There were some solid bumps descending through that transition, which certainly got Kirrily's attention. Normal entry and a longish landing for a very welcome return to Bankstown after a tiring trip.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Long overdue part 3

The previous day I had raced around to Sydney Aviators and arranged to hire HVX, an Arrow II, bumping into an old instructor of mine who is now a First Officer with Jetstar. He gave me some much needed encouragement.

I went around to Schofields to await the ATOs return. As usual they were running late, which only heightened my anxiety as the weak Autumn sunlight was draining into the west. Eventually they returned and I had around an hour to demonstrate to the ATO that I could, actually, land an aeroplane.

Taxied out again, lined up and took off. The aeroplane looked and sounded great, a real throaty thump from the Lycoming 360 and three bladed prop, but for some reason it was not an enthusiatic climber. Never mind, round we go and line up on final. The controller was in a chatty mood and gave witty quips to everyone on the frequency but neglected to give us a landing clearance. Go around and he promises to give us a landing next time. I thank him for his diligence. The aeroplane felt good, the control forces light but it felt sluggish and just a bit sloppy.

Final again and cleared to land. Holding speed very precisely, round out, reduce power, flare and then the aeroplane fell out of the sky, touching down with a pronounced firmness, which is a very kind description.

OK, I thought, that's just a warm up, but it was puzzling nevertheless. The ATO requested a flapless landing but otherwise kept a close and stoic countenance. Same again with 5 knots added and a very similar result. Almost a belly flop in the flare. I couldn't understand what was going on and I honestly thought I had lost the ability to land an aeroplane. Time to give up, chuck it in, tear up my licence and take up gardening.

"You know that airspeed indicator is calibrated in miles per hour," the ATO remarked, casual like. I examined the dial and noticed there were two scales, large miles per hour around the outside and tiny knots on the inner scale. No, I was not aware of that, nor did anyone see fit to mention it to me and this was also the first ASI I had seen so marked. The aeroplane, or should I say airplane, is an American import with an American style ASI. Speed is life and the difference between statute and nautical miles makes a big difference, at least to me.

Now with 15% more speed the Arrow was a lot more sprightly and well behaved, transformed, it bolted into the sky, the controls felt positive and firm. Round we went, holding good speeds and precisely lined up, even if I do say so myself. I put everything I had into this circuit, it was as good as I've ever done and I was rewarded with the sweetest, straightest, softest squeaker of a touchdown I can remember.

"That's more like it," the ATO commented. I felt exuberant, all the stress and anxiety lifted off and wafted away behind us. "Take us back," he said, "I'm happy with that."

Round again and a short field landing, pulling up and exiting within 400M of the threshold.

I finally had my commercial licence, but my day wasn't over. I dropped the ATO off at the clubhouse and taxied back to drop off the aircraft. Unfortunately my way was barred with a crowd of red and blue flashing lights. A jet had reported difficulties and declared an emergency, closing the aerodrome and attracting a gaggle of fire engines, police and ambulance vehicles. Eventually the jet made an uneventful landing, reporting their throttles had frozen, the crew electing to shut down a good engine in flight so they could descend. The single engine landing had looked no different to any other. I taxied back in the dark and handed the aircraft over, relieved, exhausted and went home for a dinner of baked beans and eggs on toast cooked by my congratulatory wife.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Long overdue part 2

Following the aborted attempt previous, the testing officer and I tried again. The testing officer was a very cool guy who made me feel not like I was being tested at all, but that I was flying with a very experienced acquaintance. A common problem with this arrangement is the tendency to defer to the more experienced crew member. This would be a problem for the test as I was supposed to act as if I was in command so the ATO (authorised testing officer) could test my flying and command abilities. The ATO never made me feel as if anyone other than I were in charge, and all decisions were mine to make.

We departed in tired old LSG again. This aeroplane and I have a long history of not getting along. I had booked SFJ but a serious landing gear problem meant it was unavailable and was out for maintenance for at least six weeks. So it was that I took LSG, a T-tailed Arrow IV out for my most important flight test to date.

We departed on the same flight plan as before, bound for Mittagong, Goulburn, Crookwell and The Oaks and back to Bankstown. The weather was glorious as only an Autumn Sydney day can be, a strong high pressure system over NSW bringing calm winds and a cloudless sky. I couldn't have asked for a better day to do this test. We step climbed south from Sydney underneath the class C airspace of Kingsford-Smith International and levelled off at 6500 feet. Approaching Mittagong low cloud thickened until it was a solid undercast stretching off into the distance. Early fog in the valleys was warming and lifting. I suggested to the ATO that Goulburn was not going to be possible unless we got under the cloud. Dropped the gear and flaps and circled down through a likely looking hole in the cloud. Underneath the cloud there was no defined ceiling as different patches of fog had risen at different rates, leaving long tendrils of cloud hanging from the sky. Getting through that would be hard going indeed, if it was even possible. The ATO suggested we divert to Bathurst so I turned toward the north-west, cleaned up and started to climb up to 5500 feet.

The leg was a good 60 nm, or 30 mins flying time and the ATO chose this moment to pull out a magazine. I don't know if this was an affectation to put me at ease but it certainly helped reduce my workload. We started descending into Bathurst and joined a couple of other aeroplanes in the circuit for a normal landing. Good circuit, good approach and rounded out on final, where I struggled to pull the yoke back to round out and flare. We ballooned and put down for an ugly landing.

The T-tailed design was more a fashion statement by Piper than an aerodynamic improvement, T-tails being fashionable in the seventies along with flared trousers and skivvies. The problem is that the tail is high out of the prop stream, which reduces elevator control authority and makes weight and balance more critical. Coupled to which this particular Arrow has a history of elevator problems and was due for 100 hourly maintenance within the next 5 hours. Does this make me sound like I'm a ham-fisted plumber blaming the aeroplane for my shortcomings? I definitely felt that way after that landing, wondering if I was finding excuses for my own deficiencies. Most pilots flying LSG hold on the electric trim in the flare to help reduce the control pressures but even this didn't seem to help.

We took off again and round for another landing. Same result. My confidence was really getting a battering. A couple more just as bad and I complained to the ATO of the awful condition of the elevator. He took pity on me and asked me to fly to Katoomba ALA. I cleaned up and found the small X of orange dirt on top of the Blue Mountains with steep cliffs at every edge. I demonstrated a precautionary search and landing, fighting the downdraught off the edge of the mountains. We left Katoomba and the ATO put a hood on me to simulate instrument flight. We flew to The Oaks under hood with various instruments covered to simulate a vacuum pump failure. The ATO then took off the hood and asked me to demonstrate stall recovery, unusual attitude recovery and steep turns. He then pulled the throttle back and asked to see a practice forced landing. All this stuff went perfectly. Back to Bankstown we go.

Entered the Bankstown class D and joined the circuit with a Chieftain racing in behind us. For a while it was going to be neck and neck but somehow the controllers sorted it out and we lined up for a landing. Again an awful landing. I was thoroughly pissed off by this stage and once on the ground I showed the ATO what I was talking about. The yoke is attached to a tube which slides in and out of the control panel, pushing the elevator up or down via a series of pulleys, wires and rods. This tube should slide smoothly in and out all the way from fully forward to fully back. This was not the case with LSG. About 3/4 of the way out the tube stuck requiring a good hard pull to free it, at which point it flew all the way back. The ATO agreed this should not be the case. Some combination of worn components, slack adjustment and dry grease was giving me the equivalent of a stuck steering wheel at exactly the point where I needed to hold the elevator to land. The added combination of the T-tail and a forward CG made things worse. We taxied back and I was so gutted I could barely speak.

The ATO was frank and said there was no way he could pass me given what I'd showed him and I couldn't argue. The landings were borderline dangerous. He told me that everything else I had done was perfect, no problems at all and said that if I could show him some good landings some other day he would pass me. He told me he was testing another CPL candidate the following day in a different Arrow. I raced round to find the school with the other non T-tail Arrow and arranged to hire the aircraft from them the following day and that the ATO would test me then.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Long overdue part 1

Long time between posts, huh?

Apologies for this and some form of explanation is in order. Perhaps some silly superstition on my part, but I have been training for my Commercial Pilot Licence, and posting about it made me feel like I would jinx it or something? Seems a bit unnecessary now it is all over.

I passed.

My commercial flight test had to be completed in 3 stages, for reasons I will now go into.

The test was originally booked for the end of April. I met with the testing officer, who gave me a set of waypoints to fly to south of Sydney and told to get to work. I plotted a flight plan, completed weight and balance, takeoff and landing calculations, fuel plan and got all my cockpit resources sorted and performed a pre-flight inspection of the aircraft in under an hour. The testing officer then quizzed me on my KDRs, which are the bits I got wrong from my CPL theory tests. There are a couple of items which also have to be covered, AOCs, flight and duty time limitations, privileges of the licence and so forth. Then it was time to fly.

The flight is be to conducted as if it was a commercial charter, although as Mike has pointed out, in a commercial charter nowadays there would be a computer prepared flight plan and more reliance on GPS navigation. So it's more like a commercial charter circa 1975. The necessary passenger briefings were delivered and we taxied out to the holding point. All the necessary pre-flight checks were carried out from memory then verified against a written checklist. Takeoff safety briefing given then clearance obtained and line up checks then full power for takeoff. All going very well so far. Unfortunately my favourite Piper Arrow SFJ was unavailable so we had to take LSG instead. She is reluctant to climb, old LSG, for reasons no LAME or pilot can discover. Possibly she's just a tired old girl who needs to go out to pasture. With full fuel and two pax on board we clawed our way into the air at 300-400 feet per minute.

We left the Bankstown control zone and headed south for Mittagong. El Nino still in full swing and the skies were grey and gloomy, occasional showers and a lowish ceiling. The weather was not good, but not so bad as any respectable commercial pilot would cancel the flight. Legal, in other words, so there was nothing for it but to launch and do my best. By the time we got to Bowral it was clear that although we could continue, there was no guarantee we would get home again as rain showers paraded towards us from the Tasman Sea. The testing officer gave me every hint he could that he didn't feel like staying overnight in Goulburn so I turned the bus around and we headed home. Overall very pleased with the flight although pretty disappointed we couldn't get everything finished first time. Back to Bankstown and arranged a retest in 3 weeks time.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Taree not Temora

Myself and fellow Schofields member Ed Gomes had planned to visit the Temora Aviation Museum in Arrow SFJ but poor weather and necessary maintenance forced a change of plans. Instead we planned to visit Taree in Archer MJT, going via the coastal route northbound and the inland VFR lane back home again.
The weather forecast was still poor on the day of our flight, so Temora was definitely out. An overcast layer at 2500 feet meant we would struggle to get over the ranges to the west but a flight north to Taree and back meant we could stay comfortably below the clouds. In fact we never went above 2500 feet for the duration of the flight.
We preflighted MJT and departed north. MJT does not have a fancy Garmin 430 GPS unit, but it does have a straight airframe, a strong engine and a good prop. Our navigation would be primarily through pilotage so we didn't need any navigation gear more sophisticated than a map and our eyeballs.
We followed the familiar track north out of Sydney over Parramatta, Hornsby and Patonga, then looked ahead up the north coast where the clouds had thinned and it looked far more inviting. Looking down at Brisbane Waters we saw thin white streamers paralleling our track and a quick check of our ground speed confirmed a head wind.

We commenced our short descent to 500 feet approaching Swansea and contacted Willy Delivery for our clearance along the coast through Williamtown airspace, listening to Virgin Blue and Jetstar jets checking in as well. Just as we were approaching Nobbys Head and I was contemplating reminding Willy about my clearance, we were cleared north at 500 feet along the coast, and asked to report approaching Anna Bay. This reporting pointing has replaced Port Stephens Lighthouse although some charts might not reflect it as yet. It's a spectacular run up the coast, as good as Victor One, passing Nobbys Beach which stretches for miles, vertical cliff faces a couple of hundred feet high and laughing at the poor tourists stranded by the high tide on the wrong side of the spit at Port Stephens.

Willy contacted us before we reached Anna Bay and cleared us further north not above 2000 feet, being well north of Williamtown's single east-west runway. They contacted us again before we reached Sugarloaf Point with a "you are leaving controlled airspace, frequency change approved" and we continued north for Taree with a "thanks and good day."
A Rex flight was about to depart as we reached 10nm from Taree. He quizzed us on our location and intentions to ensure deconfliction and was gone before we joined the circuit. A moderate cross wind kept the landing interesting, we backtracked and taxied in to shut down on the apron in front of the Manning River Aero Club. Several weeks of rain, numerous NOTAMs and a large white dumbbell made me dubious of the integrity of the grass parking area and an inspection on foot did nothing to allay my fears. Having received an ok to park on an unused portion of Tarmac we enquired as to a decent spot to grab some lunch.
"Oh, McDonalds is about a kilometre up the road. Or you could try the pub across the road." The pub was duly tried (soft drink only) and we can pronounce the bistro well worth a visit if you ever stop at Taree. Returning to the airport we enquired about purchasing some fuel. We managed to squeeze a few litres of AVGAS out of the CFI we headed west for the inland VFR lane, following the train line south through Gloucester to Maitland.

This portion of the flight is again spectacular, with portions of the flight featuring mountain ranges either side of the lane, on this day almost meeting the gloomy overcast above. The train line snakes and meanders through the valley below, occasionally disappearing inside tunnels, the pilot needing to keep his head out of the cockpit to maintain navigational awareness. To the south the valley widens and the lane near the WMD VOR, which we then used to track all the way back to Brooklyn Bridge, Round Corner, Prospect and home, where Bankstown was waiting for us with an unforecast and hefty crosswind, ATIS reporting an occasional crosswind of 20knots. Our crab angle on final looked from the right hand seat (how do instructors do it?) to be nearly 45 degrees but Ed brought MJT back safely with a lovely crosswind landing in very trying conditions.
The flight from Bankstown to Taree and back is highly recommended as the scenery is awesome and you spend the majority of the time with your head out of the cockpit looking at it. Port MacQuarie is nearby and might be a better place to refuel as the Aero Club at Taree is friendly but always open and they seem to be keen to hoard their fuel supplies. Almost all of the flight is conducted at very low level and you need to be constantly mindful of the consequences of engine trouble. That said it is some of the most visually appealing and fun flying you can find within reach of a single days flying from Bankstown.