Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Keeping Australia on the left

Remember how I mentioned in a previous post a plan to fly from Sydney to Brisbane and back over Queen's Birthday week-end, and also remarked on how things in aviation have a habit of not going according to plan? Both prophecies came to pass.

The Arrow we had booked became unserviceable the day before our planned departure. The trim cable had snapped, and a replacement part wouldn't be available before the next Tuesday. Which left us without an airplane.


Ed (let him win the next AOPA Sweepstakes, his weight & balance always come 5kg under MTWO and his weather forecasts always read CAVOK), who had planned to fly with us part of the way in another airplane displayed the most amazing generosity and let us have the Archer VH-SFR for two days. Our three-day trip was shortened to two days, but we had an airplane!

With three blokes onboard, a little bit of baggage and full tanks we were about 5 kilos under maximum take-off weight when our wheels left runway 29R shortly before 9AM.

A few minutes into the flight I could see Chris repeatedly press the CLR button on the Garmin 430. Whatever the level of details selected, the moving map would only show the coastline and major roads, but no airspace at all. We restarted the unit and a message came up saying it couldn't read the Jeppesen memory card. We swapped memory slots, same story. The GPS could give us our position, track and ground speed, but didn't know any airport, waypoint or airspace. Great.

So this all turned into a week-end of visual navigation supplemented by the use of NDBs and VORs. This gave us the measure of all the bad habits we had developed relying on the GPS, so in the end I would say these 10.4 hours of hard work were also a great educational experience. It felt like a long PPL navigation exercise.

We enlisted all the help we could find, which meant following roads, applying large buffers to make sure we were not violating controlled airspace, and requesting flight following from ATC.

They say an image is worth a thousand words, so a video is probably worth one million words.

I had recently purchased a suction camera mount and was eager to try it. The good news is, it works great and provides a very solid seal with the window. The inevitable problem though is that the vibrations of the airplane reach the camera, much more so than when the camera is handheld or held on top of the soft padding on the dashboard, such as when filming a landing.

Despite having a built-in stabilisation feature, the footage captured by the camera was so shaky as to be absolutely unusable. Moving the suction pad to the bottom corner of the window, or leaving my hand on the camera while filming removed some of the shake, but not enough.


Fortunately Vegas Movie Studio, now comes with a very powerful image stabilisation feature that removed nearly all the shake. On the downside, the wing now seems to move in weird ways in front of a smooth landscape, while previously the landscape was shaking in all directions while the wing was reasonably stationary. I guess you can't have it both ways.

We flew via Patonga, Nobbys Head, followed the coastal VFR lane at 500ft around Newcastle as we had done once before, then continued on to Old Bar, Camden Haven, Port Macquarie, Kempsey and Macksville before landing at Coffs Harbour. I could have added overlays for identifying those places on the video, but I felt lazy, so this is left as an exercise for the reader.

We flew through some light showers of rain north of Newcastle, then the weather became progressively better, allowing us to climb up to 5500ft before descending to Coffs where Chris landed VH-SFR on runway 29 in a stiff crosswind.


Even though the GPS had packed in, navigation wasn't too much of an issue since it consisted in keeping the ocean to our right and the big landmass called Australia to our left. We called Coffs Tower inbound at Macksville and were given a clearance over land while another traffic was tracking in the opposite direction over water. The wind was favouring runway 21, but this would have given us a very long taxi to the AVGAS fuel pump, so we decided to go for the much shorter runway 28 instead.


This photo was taken when flying a left base leg for 28, which looks very much like a downwind leg for 21. Runway 28 comes into view quite late in the approach because of a slight rise in the terrain to the south of it. To add to the confusion, taxiway E3-E5 is the old runway 19, just without runway markings.


We landed, attended to the necessary biological functions, had a little look around in search of the refueller, found him in his little cubby house of an office, refuelled the aircraft and had a bite to eat. We swapped seats for the second leg: I took the left seat for the leg to Brisbane, with Dennis was in the back and Chris in the front right seat as radio man and navigator. All the details in the next episode.

Thanks everyone for your kind donations after I posted about my participation in the Oxfam Trailwalker fundraiser! The readers of this blog have already contributed $100, congratulations! More information on our team page here.

4 comments:

Chris said...

It would have been embarrassing to land on that taxiway.

Julien said...

I hope the tower controller would have said something. Someone must have already done it.

Then again, the tower controller in Atlanta, the busiest airport in the world, let a Delta 767 land on a taxiway last year.

Chris said...

Coffs controllers would probably let you do it so they could heap scorn upon you.

I wouldn't have landed on it, though. It had no numbers :)

sylvia said...

GORGEOUS scenery, wow.

So this all turned into a week-end of visual navigation supplemented by the use of NDBs and VORs. This gave us the measure of all the bad habits we had developed relying on the GPS, so in the end I would say these 10.4 hours of hard work were also a great educational experience. It felt like a long PPL navigation exercise.

Hah, I had exactly this experience in the Saratoga - amazing how quickly we become dependent on the GPS. I was trying to follow along with map/watch/VORs when I wasn't flying but much too easy to glance up at the Garmin to see if I'm still where I think I am.