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.