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That Cairns Trip

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Part 1


It was fine to be early but arriving late was not an option. I had a speaking engagement in Cairns and any sensible person would have booked a large passenger jet the day before. It was a long way from Melbourne.


Then again no one has looked at my twenty year old Long-EZ and called me sensible. People have asked what speed I need to get the nose up after seeing her parked. A Cessna pilot saw me in flight and thought I was inverted... Mostly its ‘Which end is the front?’ There aren’t too many canards in Australia.


Having already refuelled, done the tires, washed her down and removed the covers I was early to the plane for day one. Forecast was just right so why wait? It gave me an extra week in Cairns and that’s what flying yourself is all about. You need a lot of time.


The aircraft was covered in early morning dew which took a while to clean off. Sitting on an exhaust plug was the biggest dragon fly I’ve ever seen. He just didn’t want to get off either. I took this as a sign for a good trip. Who doesn’t like dragon flies?


It seemed the slight cracks in the faring to my wheel pants had really opened up. I guess this was the weight of the full fuel on unmoving tires. I might roll her around a bit next time. Everything else was good except I still had one strobe light out and the air brake doesn’t quite close flush like it used to. Its always something.


The first leg was around three and a half hours. I’d organized a new relief arrangement and managed to add a fair bit of ‘apple juice’. Turns out the new bottle doesn’t like being too full and things got a little wet up there. So now with more room in the container, steep turns did the job of filling without spilling on the second try.


I landed at the remote town of Bourke. There seemed nothing alive in slight except for a few flies that I saluted in usual Aussie style. Not sure why they were interested in me? A quick refuel, a little drying time in the sun, a few sultanas and time to head off again.


Another long leg and I was at Longreach for the planned overnight stop. Time to call up the area frequency to cancel SARWATCH. After not talking much all day and having flown seven hours, you try saying “I’m a Long easy at Longreach”. Lets see if you can still make it sound professional, I certainly couldn’t.


You know, that new radio just didn’t seem all that clear anyway. I’d killed my old Narco 810 with a power surge months before, and this new toy was wonderful with a dual watch feature and lots of adjustables.


So I’m on best behaviour in circuit due to seeing a parked 747. It turned out there were just two little planes in the tie down area, one with a strange long nose like a jousting pole and a Cessna thing. The Jumbo was part of a Qantas museum display sitting in the car park. Well it was still a tidy circuit, even without an audience.


Its fun not to make plans. There just happened to be a motel across the street from the airport. I settled in and was told it was a nice walk to town for a meal. The motel restaurant with the white table cloth thing going on seemed a bit formal.


After some time, now in the dark with aching feet I got close to what might have been town. If it was and I found a place with food I’d be too tired to make it back without a struggle. So I gave up. Maybe I was just tired. Finally back in my suite, I got the dialup internet working while missing the room service deadline. So I enjoyed a diet coke and two of those free motel biscuits for dinner. I took my revenge at breakfast on the all you can eat buffet.


Last leg to Cairns was four hours. I’d refuelled in case I had to divert given possible low cloud, typical for the area all year. The slight tailwind made the GPS numbers look like I had a fast bird. Yes, I was a bit tired and more sultanas were not enough. It really needed a bit of effort to sit up, wake up and be alert for this final stage.


I’d rehearsed the approach over hills on my flight sim, practiced the radio calls, called the tower a week before to check procedures and put “unfamiliar Cairns’ on my submitted flight plan. I was ready for 15 or 33 approach and had watched the video. Yeap, they even make a video for VFR pilots. I’d thought about landing at a nearby CTAF field instead, but that would be wimping out, right?


I got lucky, 15 approach. That’s the easy one, 33 goes behind a hill and you loose all contact with ATC for a bit and only get to see the runway when you turn onto base and probably still very high.


Ah, easy, got to the low gap in the hills at Stoney Creek reporting point using my VOR and GPS to confirm. Truth be known, it was the other way around. Finally, just at the low ridge in the hills, there was the runway in the distance. It was a bit hard to hear the controller now for some reason. I was told to go to tower frequency, I could hardly hear but I had the right numbers ready anyway.


Just over the hills you are already on base and have a lot of height to loose. Carby heat on, power to idle and just talk to the tower. Really having trouble with it breaking up. Caught a clear to do something, figured it might be ‘land’ so returned the words and did the obvious. On the ground rolling and in sight of the tower, the radio was worse but my flight sim sessions had me ready for an right exit to the GA parking. The ‘monsters’ in the tower were very patient.


It was almost a shock to be in Cairns, 90% plus humidity and hot, palm trees everywhere, a different world. My head was still 1300nm away.


I tied her down and sent an SMS to my ride only to look up and see their binoculars staring me down. Hey, I was more than a week early but the Gods of weather didn’t get me this time. Was it luck, well maybe just planning, having enough time and good people to put me up for the extra days. Quite a luxury.








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Part 2


Did my thing in Cairns then looked to the WX for the return. I kept a day to set her up with a refuel and pumped those tires which is a major job with my old style wheel pants. I think they are more like clogs are to running shoes these days.


Now the refueller was an interesting guy. When he saw me he said , “No offence mate but you look like the sort of guy who’d fly a plane like that.” No offence taken. Turns out he has done over 10,000 parachute jumps and does the webbed flying suit thing. Everyone has an interesting story if you bother to ask.


We were having such a good chat he managed to spill a lot of fuel over the wing. That’s OK, he had a rag for me to use and I got a few bugs off in the clean up process. We kept talking and he managed to spill fuel over the other wing too. Well I knew my tanks were definitely full and as a bonus there were less bugs, I’m pretty sure they were all dead by then.


I thought I got all the avgas cleaned off but now there are stains on one wing. Maybe the new ‘O’ rings leached a bit of something. Well, a few battle scars are part of ‘the look’.


Departure day and checking the prop showed almost no compression on one cylinder when I pulled it through. I had a stuck value once that freed itself after a run. Anyway three out of four ain't bad. All ops were normal on the flight up, the temps rock solid and oil usage was just 300 or 400 ml. I had a couple of airfields on the way out before the unlandable stuff. Game on.


You experts might laugh at this, it was my second time departing a Class C. Knowing exactly what to say and do is not really a conversation but an exercise in precision. Words have exact meanings. I can’t push the button and say, Hiya guys, OK if I go home now?” Mind if I wander out onto the runway and bug off?”


So I’d already phoned the tower to check procedure for departure. I got a very friendly guy, he said that controllers were often considered difficult by pilots but they were really there to help out. I asked if there were any radio problems at his end. Nope, no problems except for loss of all contact behind the hill next to the runway. He went on saying they encouraged people to visit the tower, have a coffee with them and see that they are ordinary humans.


NO WAY was I going up to that tower. I happen to know that controllers are seven foot giants with moustaches, rapier wit and tongues of steel! After all, I’ve met Spodman. <grin>


So getting up at 5:30am for a planned 8:00am wheel up worked out about right. I called for my airways clearance on the SMC/DEP frequency and despite a bit of break-up then went for a taxi clearance. After a run up it was off to the holding point and change to tower frequency. Pushed the button and saw an error message actually written in a little box on the radio screen. Not good. Pressed again and something got through. Tried again and finally heard the words ‘line up’. Rolled out and caught ‘cleared’ and ‘right’ – I figured this was cleared for take off and ‘turn right’ on departure which was what I was expecting. Said it right back to him and got out of there!


In the air I turn South of the big hill and a could hear my clearance for climb to 8500’. Let me tell you, filled to the brim with fuel at max TOW it was hardly an elegant ascent. The 0-235 was working hard, yet temps remained solid. Once off the tower frequency the radio was pretty good again. What’s with that?


I continued to squawk the assigned code and was told later I was cleared to change frequencies. OK, moved to area on the radio but not sure if this means I go back to the standard VFR code for transponder. So I left it alone. They had stopped talking to me anyway.


A big first leg of well over five hours and this time with a proper headwind and a new plastic bottle with a firmly fitting top. I was planning on Charleville for refuelling.


My planning works where I think about how far to the next fuel stop with a 3000’ runway. If it’s a short hop I might go 2,650 revs at 28 litre/hour or if I want to have one less stop and the distances work I’ll go 2,500 at 23 litres an hour. I tried various heights to get the best ground speed for the revs. I’m thinking that even at 120 knots, with one less fuel stop I’m really a lot faster than 140 to 145 knots which is the regular cruise on my old girl.


It is hard to express how much empty land there is with no signs of humanity through this long journey. Just an occasional road or farm station. For much of it, a forced landing would be a problem and options are carefully noted. The Long’s engine just kept purring along and seemed to have a sweet spot in the sound that I was always going for. It was a careful balance of revs, height, wind and leaning to squeeze a bit more out of the fuel system. All of this while not turning your head. That ruined the whole illusion.


This time I had smoked almonds for energy. If you are trying to loose weight, you shouldn’t even be in the same room as a nut and losing weight is the cheapest way I know to get AUW down once the resin has set. For safety, these little nut bombs work a lot better than the dried fruit. I look forward to future rule breaking flights.


It was a nice trip to Charleville. The bowser owner came out to help me refuel, I told him I was here last year. Ahhh he didn’t remember me, but he remembered the plane. Thanks a lot! Time to look at maps and options given the remaining daylight hours. I’m thinking Bourke for overnight. I’d need another 20 knots, a good tailwind or an IFR rating to do this trip in a day. Its somewhere between 11 and 12 hours between parking spaces and just that bit far for plane and pilot at the moment.


They said Bourke was rough, don’t go out at night and maybe there is no where to stay, then a guy walked past and put a business card in my hand with motel details. Looked fine. There is an Aussie expression relating to the back of Bourke being a long way from anywhere, but hey, I had fifteen maps, two GPS’s a mobile phone a VOR even a compass and I did stop there on the way up. She’ll be right.


Landed at Bourke a few hours later, tied her down and called the motel. No go. They suggested another one. No go. They also suggested another one. Bingo! ‘Kidman’s Camp’ and they were going to pick me up. Bourke turns out to be very popular, friendly and almost fully booked.


While disappointed to find it was not Nicole Kidman picking me up it was a pretty nice place all the same. Lots to do and nothing like the warnings. You have to see things for yourself sometimes. Mind you, the room was unusual. Big wooden poles with a horse saddle in the middle. What’s with that? If I wanted dinner it was a walk to the local shop or a bus ride to somewhere further.


Oh oh. Been there before with no food and the stories about ‘back of Bourke’ returned. Better do the walk, it was only a mile or so. Well it turned out quite a long walk back past the airfield and to the food stop. The place was not that inviting, a soap opera on the TV, a bit run down but it was either here or two biscuits back in the room.


Running through my mind was that I didn’t want the fatty food but a little voice in my head replied, “You’ll walk it off”. I watch the proprietor really work hard and try to cook, clear the tables, take the orders and receive the money. When my meal came it was not all that pretty. Yet I was grateful for her efforts and knew she was a trier. I was also grateful for the sharp knife needed to cut what may have been a touch too long in the fryer.


I was still grateful for her efforts and could see the situation. When I payed she apologised for the small piece of meat while I thanked her for cooking it. We both knew it wasn’t her best work.


Now in almost pitch black I headed back to the ‘camp’. My mobile phone has a torch which was useful, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was staying and didn’t have any numbers. Didn’t have a GPS or a map of course, anyway it was just a mile down the road.


I walked and walked, lost in thought. No camp. An hour later I figured it must have disappeared into a parallel dimension and that I might have to walk all the way back to that shop or sleep in the bush. I was in the back of Bourke for sure.


So I turned around. Maybe I had the side of the road wrong, I started to doubt my bearings, it was like flying through cloud without instruments. It had to be somewhere. Where was the sign? I walked and walked. Yes the camp was still where I’d walked from hours earlier, on the side of the road next to a sign. I’d gone right past it. Maybe. I think I’d walked off the meal.


Departed Bourke the next day after an stroll to the airfield. Skipped the refuelling, figured it would be nice to manage things all the way home. One fuel stop from one end of Australia to the other would be a good effort and a way of honouring Mr Rutan’s intentions for the aircraft. If I was wrong, there was a stop an hour from home.


While keeping the fuel log it paid to turn around to check the actual levels on the sight glasses and reset the remaining minutes each time on my sheet. Still a headwind but I found a good height band and managed to negate a lot of it.


Finally I crossed into Victoria and saw the strangest thing. A thick smoke haze rising to around 4000’ where it turned into cloud. I’ve seen it before at the State boarder which is the Murray river, it was dividing the air mass and holding an inversion.

As I got closer to Mangalore it got worse and worse. VMC? I don’t think so. I called up Melbourne Centre and asked for conditions enroute to my destination. My fear of controllers had eased a little. They got back to me after a while and said it was OK and that Moorabbin was open. It was only thirty minutes flying.


As I progressed, visibility got worse, I went down to 2,500’ and had about three runway lengths view around me. My concern was that other traffic might be hard to spot, flying wasn’t a problem. I asked for flight following, figuring that ATC would spot any other transponders close by enroute.


“Flight following not available due to workload” was the response. Yeah, that’s why I wanted flight following, its busy up here! Did I detect a hint of apology in the voice? Those guys were under the pump. I made it carefully to the inbound reporting point for Moorabbin. Eyes out of the cockpit and relying on my GPS with timer and heading backup. Even did an enroute all stations between all the transmissions.


Got the destination ATIS, made my inbound call. No reply. Asked for a radio check. Zip, nada, nothing. I could hear them, they couldn’t hear me. That new radio again. I’d been flying about four hours by now but still awake and really quite relaxed, must have been all the nuts. Procedure for the GAAP is maintain 500’ above the circuit upwind. I added ‘and circle the tower’ so they could see me.


Well that’s a bit of fun except for the number of planes flying around that were hard to see. I heard the controllers referring to the aircraft with the radio out and was told to change frequencies if I could hear them. Once I went to the other runway channel they heard me fives. Seems I could transmit on some frequencies and not others. Got directions and did my thing, taxied back and tied her down. There was still the forty five minutes reserve and nearly another half hour in the tanks, sweet!


Straight off to the avionics installers and they kindly supplied a brand new replacement radio on the spot. Soon the radio checked out fives on both frequencies with the tower. I was parked just below them and held the old radio in the air. That’s as near as I got to a victory wave. After all, I don’t want to give canard drivers a bad name.


Twenty two hours flight time. The GPS reports 2,818nm travelled at an average speed of 128 knots which works out pretty close. Guess I should taxi faster to get the average up. I used less than a litre of oil for the trip and its still a nice golden colour even though the 25 hourly is now due. After landing the four compressions felt tight again. I’m not going to add up the fuel used because then I’d know what this really cost me…


My next trip is in a month or so when I’ll try again for the West of the country. Last time I had to abandon the flight due to weather and take a passenger seat. We all know that’s just not the same.










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Thanks for posting such great trip reports! Wow, lots of roadless beautiful xcountry! Glad no hiccups.

You are a delightful writer and have captured your observations and experiences in a humerus, detailed, captivating style.

Great stuff. Good on you!

Self confessed Wingnut.

Now think about it...wouldn't you rather LIVE your life, rather than watch someone else's, on Reality T.V.?

Get up off that couch!!! =)


Progress; Fuselage on all three, with outside and inside nearly complete. 8 inch extended nose. FHC done. Canard finished. ERacer wings done with blended winglets. IO540 starting rebuild. Mounting Spar. Starting strake ribs.

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Thanks for sharing the trip with us, really enjoyed it ... looking forward to your next adventure!

I live in my own little world! but its OK, they know me here!

Chris Van Hoof, Johannesburg, South Africa operate from FASY (Baragwanath)

Cozy Mk IV, ZU-CZZ, IO-360 (200hp) 70x80 prop

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Another magnificent trip. When counting the cost at least you aren't adding a new prop this time:cool: :cool:

...they encouraged people to visit the tower, have a coffee with them and see that they are ordinary humans.

Probably would have been good coffee too. The guys in CS tower had a division 1 lotto win last year, and they all stayed!!! They must like it up there.

OK, moved to area on the radio but not sure if this means I go back to the standard VFR code for transponder.

The book says you should continue to squawk your assigned code until ATC tells you to stop, but most ATC here don't bother, figgering you'll change to 1200 when they say freq change approved. Up to you really, assigned code if you might request flight following, 1200 if you are getting a bit adventurous with a restricted area boundary...

“Flight following not available due to workload”

If you request on 135.7 you are in the terminal area and they are less likely to be keen on devoting the time on getting a flight plan flying for you, particularly if the weather is dicky. Guys on 122.4 will do it better most days. Not every day but...

thick smoke haze rising to around 4000’ where it turned into cloud.

Happens a lot, I see it at bushfires often rising air over fires can blow up into monster TS sometimes, and sometimes they are the only thing getting through a stable layer.

...I added ‘and circle the tower’ so they could see me.

Assuming you have 7600 on the squawk they will know you are there, it happens at least once a week. I once observed a VERY close near-miss between TWO lighties with dud radios who were trying to independently attract my attention. Probably no harm at +500 though.

Mark Spedding - Spodman
Darraweit Guim - Australia
Cozy IV #1331 -  Chapter 09

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