Sunday, May 31, 2009

First $100 burger at Wollongong airport

The $100 burger is a concept of mythical dimensions in aviation. I had come across it many times on other people's blogs, but never had a chance to perform the ritual myself. During my PPL training I had a $800 sub once on a long cross-country solo, but no $100 burger. I'm happy to report that since last week-end this gap in my aviation culture is a thing of the past.

The $100 burger refers to the cost of flying somewhere away from the home base for the sole purpose of eating a burger, and then flying back. This is as good an excuse as any other one to go flying. Taken more broadly, it is the acknowledgment that real good reasons to go flying are scarce compared to how often we feel the itch, hence creativity and rationalisation are required.

I had booked a Warrior for Saturday, and I didn't have too much trouble convincing my friends Ingo and Marcus to join the adventure. The plan was to fly out of Bankstown northbound, do a few orbits over Sydney Harbour, fly Victor One southbound and land at Wollongong to have a burger at the Aviator Lounge, and then fly back to Bankstown after lunch.

Looking at the weather forecast on Friday evening I decided to postpone the flight till Sunday. There were quite a few things I was not too happy with, starting with the very strong westerly winds:
2000 5000 7000 10000
250/35 250/45 250/50 260/55
35 knots at 2000ft and 45 knots at 5000ft. With a cruise airspeed of 105 knots in the Warrior, this translates to a miserly 60 knots ground speed on the way back to Bankstown. Barely faster than the cars below on the M5. Strong winds aloft are surely a nuisance, but not necessarily a safety problem unless they come with turbulence. Which takes us to the next section of the area forecast:

Westerlies blowing over the ranges create this "occasionally severe" turbulence as the wind tumbles down the hills. This is particularly bad in Wollongong since the city is built in a natural amphitheatre with very sharp cliffs to the west, as can be seen in the picture above. This makes for dramatic views from the airport, but also dramatic aerodrome forecasts:
TAF YWOL 151827Z 1520/1608
27025G41KT CAVOK
BECMG 1522/1524 24015G25KT 9999 FEW045
RMK FM152000 MOD/SEV TURB BLW 5000FT TILL 152400
FM152400 MOD TURB BLW 5000FT
Wind at 25 knots with gusts up to 41 knots? And moderate to severe turbulence below 5000ft? I don't think so. I would be nervous taxiing in such conditions, let alone landing or taking off. Crosswind in these conditions is a major problem for the main 16/34 runway, and a smaller problem for runway 08/26. However, given my low time on this aircraft type, little of which includes crosswind landings, I wasn't keen to chance it. The decision to postpone was easy to take, and my passengers were more than happy to fly on a calmer day.

The forecast was for conditions to improve overnight, and Sunday was indeed a beautiful VFR flying day. All the Warriors were booked so we took VH-NRF, a Piper Archer instead.

We took off from Bankstown on 29R flew north to Patonga and then to Long Reef. Approaching Long Reef I requested a clearance for a Harbour Scenic One procedure, which was granted and led to dozens of glorious digital photographs being taken. I particularly like the photo of Barrenjoey Head below, with the left wing flap and the reflection of the sun over the top of the stabilator.

We exited Victor One then climbed and tracked south to Wollongong. I knew from other airplanes on the CTAF frequency that runway 34 was being used. I overflew the airfield anyway to have a look at the windsock. It seemed to point at the threshold of runway 16, but with very little wind in it I decided to do like everyone else and joined crosswind for 34.

My first circuit was really tight and of course I ended up too high on final. I thought about sideslipping my way down for an instant but decided against it, out of consideration for safety, comfort, and the eardrums of everyone onboard.

The second circuit was a lot better, mainly because I was following another airplane which seemed to know his way around the place. I extended downwind all the way to the hills south of the airfield, and when I turned final the picture in the windscreen looked much more normal than on my first attempt. Landing was good, although I held the nose up a bit too much and soon after the stall warning horn went off we fell onto the runway from an altitude of about one foot.

The burger and fries at the Aviator Lounge didn't disappoint, which is what you expect from a $14.50 burger really. It was fresh and delicious, and came with the obligatory two slices of beetroot.

After lunch we took off on 34. A Seminole was performing a GPS approach to Runway 16, which he discontinued early enough to not create a problem and he passed us on our right. Navigation back to Bankstown was performed using a bit of dead reckoning and a lot of navigation by reference to the ground: Cordeaux lake, then tracking to Menangle to meet the M5 and follow it northbound till we find the 2RN entry point for Bankstown airport.

We joined final for 11L and I performed what must have been my best landing so far in the Archer. During the flare I kept my eyes focused on the end of the runway, and the nose on the horizon. I didn't realise we were on the ground until I heard the wheel rotate. A real greaser of a landing, and captured on video to boot:

Total flying time 2.1 hours, plus landing taxes, lifejacket and headset hire, amounted to $458. Divided by three, and leaving the cost of the burger proper out of the equation, we get a $150 burger. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.


Ryno said...

Sunday was indeed a beautiful day, as I can clearly see from your pictures. Great post and good shots! It almost looks like Northern California on a beautiful crisp fall day.

Hopefully soon I can visit Australia!



Chad said...

Nicely done :)

Chris said...

Good decision mate. No use risking yourself, your passengers and an airframe with an uncomfortable flight - even for a $14.50 hamburger ;)