I recently participated in a flying competition organised by the club at Warnervale aerodrome. Another pilot had already put his hand up for ferrying the Warrior from Bankstown for the day, so I decided to drive instead, Warnervale being about an hour drive north of Sydney. And since the weather forecast was good and we had not explored that corner of New South Wales yet, Nina and I decided to make a day trip out of it.
We drove from Sydney and crossed the Hawkesbury River at Brooklyn Bridge. Not to be confused with the bridge of the same name in New York City. The area seems to have more than a coincidental relationship with the Big Apple since the bridge itself was built by American contractors, and the suburb across the river is called Long Island.
Brooklyn Bridge happens to be the entry point for the Bankstown GA Lane southbound. The lane is a north-south corridor of Class G airspace squeezed in-between the Richmond RAAF base to the west and the Sydney CTR to the east. The lane has an upper limit of 2500 ft.
Warnervale aerodrome is very easy too find, just a couple of kilometers off the motorway. It's one of those typical country aerodromes. What's also unfortunately typical about it is that it's soon going to be closed down under the pressure of property developers. A sign on the wall in the clubhouse seemed to indicate that the flying activities will be relocated to Aeropelican, about 15 nautical miles to the North-East.
Because there was a suspected problem with the starter motor on VH-IJK, we didn't stop the engine in-between competitors. Lindsay, the instructor, would stand on the wing while pilots swapped places. I have to say I love the idea of just sitting down in the airplane, fastening the seat belt and pushing the throttle forward. Feels just like driving a flying car.
We taxied to the run-up bay and then down a dirt track to the holding point where we decided to take-off immediately rather than wait for the aircraft on base to land. As I lined up I was shocked at how narrow the runway was. It really looked like we had taken the wrong turn down a local farmer's driveway. The irreplaceable Google Earth told me later that the runway is about 8 metres wide, compared to 18 at Redcliffe or 30 metres at Bankstown.
At 400 feet Lindsay took over while I put on the hood. Then she got me to do some climbing turns, straight climbs and straight and level flying under the hood. At the stage we were about 3000 feet. Lindsay briefly took over to put the aircraft into an unusual attitude (a spiral dive) from which I had to recover on instruments. Throttle back smoothly, wings level, pull the yoke back without stalling and recover.
Next was a simulated forced landing without power. Throttle to idle, carby heat, mixture, fuel, capture and trim for glide attitude. Finding where to land was not too hard since we were right overhead the aerodrome. I had plenty of altitude to expend before landing so I brought the flaps in early and we touched down not too far from the threshold. Full power and one more circuit, this time for a precision landing.
My precision landing was anything but precise. The only precise thing about it is the height above the runway I maintained while floating for a long long time. My approach was actually good, but soon after I turned final I got a bit spooked by the line of trees that seemed very close to the approach path. I added a bit of power and pulled the nose up to give myself more clearance over the trees, and as a consequence I ended up way too fast on short final, probably 10 or 15 knots too fast. All this energy had to go somewhere hence the long float. We taxied back on a muddy dirt taxiway this time, with one main wheel skidding in the mud.
I checked my score with John who was organising the whole event and realised that this time around I wouldn't make it into the top three. Last time was probably a fluke, cause by people not wanting to get up too early on a Sunday.
We then drove to Toukley and went for a walk on the local beach. We came across the cutest sand castle ever, played fetch with a local dog for a little while and enjoyed the end of the afternoon while a 152 was performing airwork above our heads.
Just round the corner we climbed up the stairs to the Norah Head lighthouse. According to this web site maintained by lighthouse nerds, this lighthouse shares a similar design with its two other NSW siblings at Cape Byron and Point Perpendicular (you have to love the name). Lighthouses tend themselves quite well to aerial photography, and the three of them could be covered in a day's flight... here's an idea for a Sunday flight with a difference.