Monday, March 16, 2009

Around Sydney we fly

Last Saturday I took Nina on a scenic flight around Sydney. This was our first time flying together since we moved from Queensland to New South Wales late last year. The plan was to follow the VFR route out of Bankstown northbound, fly the Victor 1 coastal route southbound, then head west to the Blue Mountains before going back to Bankstown. With a little surprise thrown in.

Early in the morning the area forecast mentioned broken stratus clouds at 1000ft near the coast, 1500ft over the slopes and 3000ft over the ranges, with thunderstorms coming in from the south later on in the day. The Sydney part of the trip was still do-able, but I wasn’t so sure about the part that involved climbing to 6500ft for flying over the mountains. The wind was blowing at 25 knots from the north-west, which translated into a planned ground speed of 89 knots on the slowest leg, with a direct headwind, and 140 knots on the fastest leg, with a near-direct tailwind.

By averaging the two values you get our airspeed, which was planned at 115 knots. The planned duration of the flight was about two hours in the Archer. But things rarely go according to plan in aviation.

At Schofields I signed in, hired two life jackets and one headset for Nina, and off we went to the grass parking area. One tank was filled up to the tab but the other one was slightly below the tab. I called the fuel truck, their phone number being in the ERSA, and asked them to come refuel VH-SFR with full tanks. Maybe this was being extra cautious since the fuel already onboard gave us an hour of endurance on top of what was required for the flight plus legal reserves. But as the aviation adage goes, fuel in the tanks is life insurance.

The red and yellow truck arrived shortly after and while he was filling up both tanks I added a bottle of oil to keep the engine happy since the dipstick was showing below 6 quarts. After the fuel truck had left, Nina noticed liquid dripping from under the left wing. I checked and it was fuel coming out of the overflow pipe for the now-full left tank, probably because the aircraft was parked on a slight slope. I knew I made the right choice when I married her.

We taxied, performed the pre take-off checks, took off on 11L and left the aerodrome on downwind, on climb to 1500ft. Tracking north we soon passed the Sydney Olympic Park, purposely built for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, and crossed the Parramatta River. One thing I forgot though was to bring cushions for Nina, who ended up having to look at the views through the side windows only since her eyes couldn't see over the dashboard. Bad husband will keep little things like that in mind for next time.

At Parramatta I called Sydney Terminal with an estimate for Long Reef and requested a clearance into the CTR for a scenic flight. This was the surprise element of the flight. At that stage the controller simply asked me to stay outside of Class C airspace and standby. We kept flying north via Pennant Hills and soon had Cottage Point under our right wing. Cottage Point is not only a very pleasant place for spending a day near the water or on the water, it is also a seaplane base for those who fly in from Rose Bay for a lunch at the Cottage Point Inn.

The controller came back to us with a transponder code and Sydney QNH and asked us to contact Sydney Departure approaching Long Reef for clearance. He also asked us to "verify level", i.e. tell him which altitude we were cruising at (2100 ft was the answer) so that he could cross-check with the altitude reported by our transponder and displayed on his radar scope. At Patonga we turned right and tracked south-east to Long Reef, overflying Narrabeen.

I had not told Nina about the scenic part of the flight since this was subject to a clearance which may or may not be granted depending on a number of things such as which runway was in use at Sydney International and how many other week-end flyers had the same brilliant idea. Approaching Long Reef the controller working Sydney Departure gave us a clearance for the Harbour Scenic One procedure. Yey! Clearance granted! And two big smiles in the cockpit. We tracked direct to the Harbour Bridge at 1500ft, overflying Manly Beach.

Spit Bridge was soon on our right, and we even had the pleasure of overflying our local beach.

Approaching the bridge I slowed the airplane down to 80 knots and extended one stage of flaps. The rule for the Harbour Scenic One procedure is to stay east of the bridge and north of the Opera House at all times, which we did. Left-hand orbits are required, which unfortunately does not give the passenger the best view, especially in a low-wing aircraft. Nina managed nevertheless to snap a few nice photos of the harbour.

The airspace below 1500ft is for seaplanes and helicopters, and we saw one of each kind fly right under us. I still find it amazing that a procedure such as the Harbour Scenic exists. We are very privileged in Australia to be able to fly that close to many of our iconic landmarks such as Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef or the Twelve Apostles.

After completing two orbits I requested a clearance to Sydney Heads for entering Victor 1. It all went just like the scenario explained in the Sydney Basin Visual Pilot Guide: the controller asked me to leave the controlled airspace on descent and call him back when established on Victor 1. We flew east over the water, headed south, descended to 500ft and broadcasted our position on the broadcast frequency for Victor 1, 120.8. Only one helicopter on the frequency, behind us and maintaining 200ft. I reported established to the controller, who asked us to squawk 1200 and approved the frequency change. Back into non-controlled airspace and trying to keep my eyes out of the cockpit as much as I could.

After the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House another iconic Sydney landmark appeared in front of us: Bondi Beach. Because of the proximity of Sydney control zone we couldn't overfly the beach but the view was breathtaking nevertheless. Flying south overwater we passed Coogee Beach, Maroubra Beach, the airport, Cronula, Marley Lagoon and crossed over to the land at Sea Cliff Bridge.

Less pictures of the rest of the flight I'm afraid because my favorite passenger felt asleep, which I interpreted as a sign of absolute trust in my superior flying skills. Or something approaching that. By then it was clear that the increasing layer of clouds wouldn't let us go to the Blue Mountains, so we headed back to Bankstown via Prospect Reservoir after overflying Camden aerodrome and the Warragamba Dam.

The photo above is Chipping Norton Lake, a couple of nautical miles from Bankstown airport. The facetious tower controllers at Bankstown had turned the airport around while we were away so we joined on a downwind for 29R and landed right behind a white Cessna and a red Robin. Total flying time 1.8 hours, and I have the suspicion I will get plenty of other occasions to fly that same scenic route in the future. Which I am very much looking forward to.


Marek said...

Absolutely amazing!

Vincent, from PlasticPilot said...

Brilliant ! I'm so jealous...

Julien said...

Vincent, I know Sydney is far from Europe, but you know you are always welcome. Marek, on the other hand, you have no excuse, I am expecting you at Bankstown Airport soon!

Todd - said...

I had the opportunity to visit Sydney a few years back. Seeing these photos makes me wish I had gone flying during my visit. Great photos!

Julien said...

Thanks Todd for the comment - And let me know if you're in Sydney some time in the future, we'll find a way to go flying together. You may have to go back to steam gauges though, G1000-equiped GA aircraft are few and far between in Australia!

mlesser said...

I dont know if you have a night rating, but doing the bridge orbits at night was pretty damn cool.

I think i have done V1 and Hbb orbits that many times haha. Another cool flight from Sydney if you havent done it yet is up the williamtown coastal lane towards port mac.

other than that, down the coast past wollongong to Merimbula. However, i dont think i could sit there in an archer for that long these days.

Take care, Mike.

(if you are interested, my blog talks about my flying in Alice Springs)

Julien said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks a lot for the tip about Merimbula. I just had a look at it on the Web and it looks like a great destination for a fly-away week-end form Sydney.

I came across your blog a couple of weeks ago and read all the posts. Thanks for sharing your flying life with the rest of us, bush flying sounds like a truly unique experience!

Take care, and let me know if you're around Sydney one of those days.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Life's good ;-)

Ingo said...

That sounds really great! Looking forward to seeing you soon in Sydney! (Maybe you'll have a spare passenger seat one of these days? :)