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That East Coast Trip

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PART 1 Melbourne - Sydney


This time I thought I had it nailed. Do all the preparations you like, cover every angle and somehow life sneaks into your weak areas for an exposé.


Had to be there early Saturday morning and Wednesday looked like the best day from Sunday. By Monday the synoptic had a dose of duff duff rhythms and Tuesday became the narrow window. The rest of the week was getting ugly. Must be global warming. Early morning drizzle for takeoff and late low cloud for landing, easy in-between. I’d just better get away on time or else.


Got an auto-feeder for my fish tanks, mail diverted, business games arranged for the net so how in the world did I get a panicked SMS? Yeap guess who was trying to sneak off one day early? There was a pack of documents for signing in an overnight bag waiting for me somewhere.


No docs at home, I’d had the mail diverted! Well it was still too early to launch anyway with a few scattered morning showers. Get the plane refuelled and ready, drive home to check the mail. Opps it was diverted dummy. Down to my PO Box and autograph time. Do it, post it. Back to the airfield. Big breath. Just under three hours to Sydney from Moorabbin. Bankstown airfield is meant to be Australia’s busiest or something, nothing to worry about. Except all those live firing ranges nearby. I’m thinking conspiracy here. Why put munitions in the air where planes are meant to be right next to cities? You know the old saying, why are there more planes in the sea than submarines in the air?


Just after midday I was rotating off 17 Left. Climbed steadily to 500’ turned to the north and took up track straight into a rain shower. Its always the dilemma, slow down to save the prop or keep the butterfly open to prevent icing.


Go fast wins and around the VFR corridor for the Kilmore Gap. Aptly named as it’s a gap in the hills outbound with overhead class C. Clear of the suburbs and the sky responds as promised, I pick 5500’ and begin a strange tour of my gliding days twenty years earlier. Past Mangalore when I once landed when the day ran out of lift, on to Euroa where I learnt to fly 3 minute flights off a winch. Get hooked in Summer, train in Winter. Not smart. On to Benalla where I had a hangar for my glass bird and soon it’s The Rock. Finally a properly named town, it has a big rock that you can see from a long way off. We used it as a turning point for 300km out and returns from Tocumwal, in those days an international gliding destination.


I fly on north of Canberra airspace. Our national capital build between Melbourne and Sydney, that’s one way to settle an argument. It seemed to have a citadel of mountains designed for keeping things out which might explain why common sense never made it in.


Heading into the north east now and the clouds begin to force me down long before the airspace does. Pretty soon I’m at 1500’ indicated over a sea of tree tops and little hills. I like the view but just not feeling happy.


Thirty DME and I look at the hills ahead and can no longer see space under them, just grey. I look behind and around, it’s a classic pincer movement. Get yourself boxed in ahead and what happens if it goes grey for a retreat? Getting serious. I have Wedderburn airstrip just ahead, that’s one out. I call up Sydney radar and ask for the weather just to the north, he seemed to want to know where I was going. Fair enough. Gave him an ident too as he asked nicely.


Not a lot of mind power available for conversation here. He calls up nearby Camden and asks about cloud base. They have two and a half so that’s another out. I press on and ask for flight following into Bankstown if available. He gives me my very own code to squawk and I’m identified. Then losses me right away, I’ve snuck under the radar. Well flight following is really good, you get to chat with someone who doesn’t know where you are.


He finds me again and is very patient talking to half a brain. I’d really studied the approach to avoid the restricted areas, stay west of the railway line and all that. Now I’m too busy for train spotting. Between ATC and my friend Mr Garmin we didn’t get shot down.


I find 2RN inbound reporting, thank Sydney and call up the tower at 1000’ as ERSA told me. The notams had 11R/29L closed so that leaves 11C and 11R. I get a clearance for a direct approach onto 11C. This had me foxed. How do I go direct when I’m at right angles to the airfield? Anyway happy days I can see runways. Now the tower wants to know if I can see him. Is he going to wave at me? I can’t see any tower, just really nice big runways. OK, he really wants me to see the tower, I want to do a base leg. He decides I should now overfly the field and land on 11L. Power on to 1500’. While on an overfly crosswind I get the landing instructions, I ask if I can descend, he’s happy, I’m happy, no throttle required and I get to do some gliding again.


I’m soon calling Bankstown ground for taxi guidance to the tie down area. “Straight ahead” and “How long will you be visiting us?” I hear from a cultured English voice. “One week” I say, “How delightful” he replies and says “Make sure you lock the plane and take the key with you, we have a lot of curious students.”


I feel welcomed, it’s a huge airfield. Once parked I look around for the tower, which is really quite small. From 1000’ it would look like any nearby building. No wonder he wanted a bit of attention.


Not a lot of people which was strange, not much traffic either. It must be the weather. I spot a fuel truck and top up the tanks with enough for the next leg. Get it while you can. Grabbed my gear and then started walking, and walking and walking. Hey, no exits! I remember that ‘Delightful’ is something a spider might say to a fly.


I find the terminal building and its all locked up. Eventually wander into a hanger big enough for a blimp, a hangar with nothing in it except a guy who agreed to let me out. Seems there is some security person who takes care of incoming itinerates that I’d missed. Guess I was still under the radar.


Ended up at a flight school, called a taxi. All I got was a robot voice that knew where the call was coming from and kindly booked me a cab. I am pretty sure it wasn’t Steven Hawkins. Wow, automation. An hour later I called back and was uncooperative until I got a human and a promise. It was a good hour. All the local instructors were chatting about the dumb things their students do and having a good laugh. I would have joined in but some of those things were strangely familiar.


My cab driver was a highly educated man and we learned a lot about each other while my final seven miles turned into a $65 chat at 10% of the earlier ground speed. A therapist might have been cheaper.


What can you say about the motel? One of us smelt of urine and one of us was below expectations. We sorted it out and it turned into a fine place for a few days. This part of Sydney kept reminding me of a visit in the seventies when I a teenager. Same old feel, same architecture, water pipes in shop windows, incense wafting in the air. I had things to do and one eye on the weather map for next week coastal outbound to Brisbane.


Pics: Leaving Melbourne, the Rock, a distant national capital and inbound to Sydney







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PART 2 Sydney - Brisbane


After the weekend I moved nearer the centre of Sydney with a wonderful friend and everything smelt good. Over four million people yet the measure of any town is how many sushi bars are within walking distance. When you quickly make double digits it has to be worth visiting.


The synoptic from Monday on was dancing strange rhythms. Tuesday had light rain on-route for most of the way. If I want my prop ground down I’ll have it done professionally thank-you. Wednesday and Thursday look good until you hit the big wet at the end. Getting there has my attention. Thursday looks like a plan. Saturday is too late. Friday a last chance.


IFR training, a TSO’ed GPS a better VOR and a metal leading edge look attractive every trip. Can’t see a lot of change from twenty five grand to play this game. Add pocket and brain strain together and out pops a VFR pilot every time.


Thursday with possible thunderstorms in Brisbane was a go. It rained all night there on Wednesday so I’m thinking an early window before it builds up and goes bang again. After all no daylight saving over into Queensland so I get a weather free hour in the Twilight Zone.


Wheels up early from Bankstown, a glimpse of the harbour bridge in the distance and I’m soon asking for an airways around Williamtown military base. I get to call clearance delivery ‘Willy’ without really knowing them personally. The word is maintain 500’ over water tracking coastal. I love low flying so do what I’m told.


Willy complained that I was at 800’ I told him I had 450 feet on my GPS. After all I’d just had a very expensive biennial instrument fix and checkup. Seems its like taking a tom cat to a vet, everything works when you get there, nothing is the same when you get home and you pay for the privilege.


I guess he was interested in where I was as a fast black airforce F-something then went straight over the top, I might have even called out F something as I thought of the bill from the instrument shop.


More beautiful coast line, more restricted areas, I get near Coffs Harbour class C and do a big go around at eight and a half instead of barrelling through. It was getting a bit warm down there anyway. Perfect flying day, even a little tailwind.


As usual getting near Archerfield, Brisbane’s GA airport and a few clouds to come down under. Maybe that’s where Aussieland got its nickname?, The obligatory firing range to avoid, the published inbound point and I land neatly on 28 left being number one and cleared within a minute or so. The tower didn’t need a wave, after all I just called them ‘Archer’ so I must be a mate. They kindly guided me to a tie down area where 500,000 bull ants were having a meeting.


It must have been something serious as they were running around waving their antenna nearly as fast as the sweat dripped down my back. Being allergic to their handshake I tied my girl down without the usual two cents worth and headed off to both add and remove liquid having not used the in flight facilities on this leg.


Pics: A view of the weather from a city building, just outbound, Willy flyby and inbound to Brisbane







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PART 3 Brisbane – Melbourne


Another eventful weekend on the ground and again I was looked after by kind people. Sunday was a trip out to refuel the plane, pump the tires and check for any of those little guys doing an after party in my fuselage. Seems they all made it home OK.


The flight plan says 828 nautical. Will I make it without refuelling? We are talking bragging rights OK? Showers in Brisbane for the next few days yet clear just to the South West. Maybe a little headwind at the start, maybe a little moisture. All the urgency is over but its time to go and I set my sights on Tuesday morning.


It was an ugly day. By the time I was ready to roll the plane was covered in water. I think that’s known as rain, not often seen in these times of drought down south. Well I was in Queensland, “Beautiful one day, perfect the next” is the tourist slogan. Yeah, right. Keep your rain dances, just let me lodge a flight plan and I’ll get our dams full. The weather man promises worsening weather for Brisbane and clear skies down to Melbourne if I can just get going.


So I wait an hour and use the time to clean the bugs off the wings, water supplied and no one’s flying except the big twins. It seems to ease off into a drizzle and I can see blue patches in the sky. Time to launch, I can always wander back, prop between my legs if it gets nasty.


I ask Archer ground for taxi guidance and get told to go to taxiway bravo from where I can proceed either right or left. None and I mean not any of the taxiways are marked with nice little signs and I sort of figure it out from ERSA and make my way down to one zero right.


Airborne and I’m soon dodging showers and restricted airspace at 1000’. The tower calls me up to ask what cloud base is. I’m thinking, ‘It could be high or it could be low.’ but tell him 1500’ instead. No one likes a wise guy.


The hills are getting higher and its decision time. I know I have four thousand five hundred coming up and bases look around the high threes at best by now. Poke through a blue hole, scud run the hills or land back? Still enjoying a headwind with my speed machine doing an embarrassing 105 knots over the ground, I throttle up for the climb through a hole.


Having asked her the question, my long just ignored the extra throttle. Not happy! I was full to the gills with fuel at MAUW. Then again, without a hydrogen converter maybe a Lycoming doesn’t run on water? Time for a little carby heat. Everything looked OK, sounded Ok I was going up and made it through to eight and a half, it just seemed sluggish.


Ahh that beautiful carpet of white tops stretched before me, the sun overhead and glimpses into the depths of a dark brooding world below. This was the place to be. I leaned out my girl until her donk was unhappy and just richened a tad. EGT’s didn’t rise much as they used to before the new Lightspeed ignition. I still have one mag for old times sake. The sound of an unhappy engine was a good enough indicator and the mixture was a long, long way back.


I settled in and amused myself by trying to refold very large maps as I flew off the edges. This time instead of going coastal I went south for a while, turned right at Casino then over the great Dividing Range and finally ran out of cloud into the flat stuff after Narrabri. Even had a few minutes of tail wind here. If you can imagine a map of OZ. Start about half way down the east side then sort of head off towards the southern most point before you get to the water bit with a triangle on the bottom. You can tell my nav training was worth every cent.


The headwind eased and I seemed to be getting about 140 over the ground with 125 indicated. It was going to be a long day, if you’ll pardon the pun. After a few hours I successfully used the in flight facilities only to have container spillage during a transfer while hitting a particularly strong thermal. That’s all the details I’m giving. Its sometimes better to travel alone.


Australia is so vast, so full, so empty. We are the fortunate ones, we fliers. After five hours I’m having a really good look at the fuel burn. I’ve been running between 2500 and 2600 revs most of the time. Despite the slight headwind I’m going to easily make it home. Its been a long flight and I’m soon descending around Melbourne airspace via the VFR route.


Sure enough, Radar calls up about some fool pilot about where I am at 2,800’ in the 2,500’ step. Oh, did I mention how my carefully certificated and just repaired altimeter was now over reading by 500 feet? Not a problem as I was using the GPS to ensure correct heights. Seems the transponder hadn’t healed itself either and was bragging about how high it thought it was. Radar was very nice when I explained I was in fact under the steps, confirmed by GPS and suspected the transponder was a liar.


About this time I seemed to get my throttle back and had plenty of power again. I’m thinking sticky cable or tired pilot, you choose. Its been nearly six and a half hours.


Reported inbound to Moorabbin at Academy. A Cessna was just ahead of me and the controllers were firing like machine guns. I got my call in and was placed behind the 172. He seems to be confused about where base leg was and went for a little fly looking for an airport. I pulled my girl back as far as she’d go. It feels like pushing a wheel barrow of wet cement after such a long cruise, below one hundred is not a dignified speed for a Rutan. On final and number two I request a go around, it’ll end in tears if I get much closer. Smart controller diverts me from runway left to right and lets me stay on frequency. Quality call.


A smooth landing, I even remembered to put the wheel down although the other checks seemed strangely absent. I’m rolling into my spot on the grass with three hours of fuel still in the tanks, 828 miles down the road with a headwind. Yep, I’m bragging.



For those who care, 1700 nm, 13.2 hours including taxi makes it 128.8 kts average or nearer 141 without. Best fuel economy was the last leg at 21 litres per hour (5.5 gallons) mostly at 8,500 feet.


Pics: The three legs, climbing through a hole outbound from Brisbane, part of the Great divide and empty spaces just past it.







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Nice story Dave.



Heading into the north east now and the clouds begin to force me down long before the airspace does. Pretty soon I’m at 1500’ indicated over a sea of tree tops and little hills. I like the view but just not feeling happy.


Thirty DME and I look at the hills ahead and can no longer see space under them, just grey.



Im guessing that was somewhere around Mittagong. I have a guy in my hangar right now who is trying to get up to Hoxton Park but cant get past the hills.

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Yeap, Mittagong. This is the last shot I took from around there when I was having serious thoughts about options. It all seems to get boxed in, coastal. Same in Melbourne and Brisbane some days.


I wish they had an IFR special rating for poking through clouds to get VFR on top and another for letting down at the airfield, they can keep the rest.


Oh.. maybe thats regular IFR? Sure have to jump through some hoops to go flying when the gods of WX are grumpy.




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I wish they had an IFR special rating for poking through clouds to get VFR on top and another for letting down at the airfield, they can keep the rest.


Erm, its called PIFR!


Sounds like a fun trip. Didn't read the bit about the dodgy altimeter:rolleyes:

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

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