Sunday, September 26, 2010

Paragliders at Cooks Terrace

A few months back I fortuitously discovered the existence of paragliding spots along Sydney's Northern Beaches. Today my wife and I were celebrating the end of winter by spending a Sunday afternoon at Bongin Bongin Bay when suddenly a big rectangular shadow swept across the beach. I looked up and here they were, big colourful paragliders in the Sydney sky!

These paragliders were taking off from a point at the top of the cliff known as Cooks Terrace and described as suitable for novice pilots on the Sydney paragliding and Handgliding Club web site.

I was amazed at how long they could stay in the air. They would fly from one end of the cliff to the other and back and didn't seem to loose any altitude. As can be seen from the windsock on the photo below, we had a nice steady sea breeze throughout most of the afternoon. Wind blowing from the sea rises over the cliff and creates ideal conditions for soaring.

Cooks Terrace is the cliff on the right-hand side of the photo below. Other paragliders can be seen in the distance on the left-hand side, this is the Warriewood paragliding side. Under the right conditions, paragliders can go from Warriewood to Cooks Terrace and back.

Seen from the beach it always looked like the paragliders just cleared the cliff edge, but that's clearly just an optical illusion.

The good thing with coastal soaring is the landing on the beach is almost always a backup option if one cannot land on top of the headland.

The paragliders fly a sort of circuit around this headland with one leg along the ridge and the return leg further out at sea.

My wife commented that only an aviation tragic like me can spend a day at the beach looking upward and taking photos of paragliders and not a single time point the camera in the direction of the surfing girls in bikinis right in front of us. I had not even noticed the surf babes.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

One day down the coast: Nowra, Moruya, Merimbula, Gabo Island

I think I am cursed. In nearly two years of flying out of Sydney, I have not managed to fly cross-country to a destination west of the Great Dividing Range a single time. A combination of weather and bad luck are to blame for that. I had an opportunity for a morning hop to Mudgee a while ago but had to bail out because of last-minute work commitment.

All my cross-country trips have therefore taken me up and down the coast and they have been fantastic trips such as Taree or Brisbane. A few weeks ago I ventured for the first time south of Sydney with a one-day trip that took Chris, myself and our passenger Ted down the coast to Gabo Island, just across the border with Victoria and back.

We had managed to book the nicest single-engine Piper the club has on offer, the Arrow VH-SFJ. It's not really the extra 10 knots in cruise that make a difference, or the retractable undercarriage, but for me it's the constant-speed propeller and the bigger engine.

Compared to the Archer or the Warrior, the engine in the Arrow is a lot smoother and the level of noise and vibration in the cabin definitely lower. I don't know if fuel-injected engines are fundamentally smoother than carburated ones, but I love this 200HP Lycoming. The advantage of the CSU is also being able to select a lower RPM for reduced noise and vibrations and still maintain a respectable cruise speed.

This aircraft comes with a DME receiver. It is not coupled to the VOR receiver so the frequency needs to be entered separately. Here we had tuned Sydney VOR and the receiver tells us we are 35.2 NM from it with a ground speed (along a radial from the navaid) of 102 knots, and that it would take us 21 minutes to get there if we were aiming for it, which we were not. Nice Australian invention by the way, just like the CVR whose Australian inventor passed away recently.

We exited the Sydney Basin via Wollongong at 4500ft. The photo above was taken just as we came on top of the escarpment, with Lake Illawarra and Wollongong in front of us. After Wollongong we had to fold the map again as we entered the airspace of Nowra.

The airspace was de-activated, as is usual over the week-end. We nevertheless followed the VFR transit lane at 2000ft, with an excursion off-track to check out Nowra aerodrome, part of a Navy base known as HMAS Albatros, the Australian Navy's only Air Station.

South of Nowra we found a thin layer of broken clouds with a base of about 2500ft so we decided to go VFR on top. A few minutes later, after climbing, we could see that the layer ahead of us was definitely overcast, so we decided to get back under through a hole over the water.

Chris decided to do a touch-and-go at Moruya. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the camera to focus on anything else than dust on the windows, which resulted in this rather artistic view of runway 18/36 at Moruya, with runway 05/23 to the bottom left.

Once on the Melbourne WAC chart we flew coastal, past Mount Dromedary. This was the name given to the mountain by Captain Cook in 1770, it's been since renamed back to its original aboriginal name of Mount Gulaga. I can't help but think that one of the hardest aspects of Captain Cook's voyages must have been to come up with names for things. Maybe they ran brainstorming sessions onboard HMS Endeavour. Or used a branding consultant.

We approached Merimbula from the north and flew a left-hand circuit for runway 21. With 1602m of concrete, that's a very long runway for this neck of the woods, big enough to get turboprops.

The photo below was taken when joining crosswind for runway 21. Note that the magnetic compass indicates roughly 210 degrees while we are obviously not parallel to runway 21. This illustrates the fact that one should not trust a magnetic compass in a turn or when climbing or descending. Or accelerating. Or decelerating. Basically, the magnetic compass should only be trusted when cruising straight and level.

Once on the ground we headed for the local café in the terminal building of Merimbula Airport called the Port Coffee Shop. Very nice food there and very friendly service. I was amazed to find such a nice place given the low volume of traffic at the airport, before realising that the main road runs at the back of the place, which obviously drives most of the traffic to the café.

The cakes were very fresh and very yummy. I should have brought a few back home, as I was reminded when I showed the photos of the trip to my wife once back home.

I flew the leg back to Bankstown. We first went south to check out Gabo Island before heading back north. Approaching Merimbula on the way north we had to orbit for a few minutes while a Rex SAAB 340 joined the circuit since out estimates for the field were exactly the same. In hindsight, we could have flown coastal at 1000ft since his circuit was 1500ft, but we played it safe and enjoyed the view.

We made a full stop at Moruya for fuel. The same aircraft that was in the circuit a few hours earlier was still in the circuit, with the same female voice on the radio. Someone must be practising circuits before the GFPT. Or maybe there's two twin sisters learning to fly at the same time.

Moruya has a very convenient 24h fuel bowser that accepts most credit cards. Convenience comes at a price though. I haven't kept the receipt, but off the top of my head the price was nearing $2 a litre. Since the jet fuel bowser is only located a few meters away, a number of checks are built into the refuelling process to make sure we get the right fuel. I think I had to confirm at least three times that it was AVGAS I wanted and not jet fuel.

VH-SFJ all tanked up for the flight back. With 136 litres in each tank, that's more than six hours of endurance, a lot more than we needed for the return flight, but as they say the only time you have too much fuel is when you're on fire. And in case of emergency or if we had to hold, that's one less thing to worry about.

Since there is no parallel taxiway I had to backtrack the whole length of runway 36 before lining up for take-off, which caused two airplanes in the circuit to go around. The first airplane understood what was going on, the second one on the other hand needed a bit more prompting. Despite my radio calls he still insisted on "turning final for touch-and-go", so I had to make a call directed specially at him, after which he wisely decided to go around. Would he have continued his approach, I always had the option of taxiing into the grass area adjacent to the runway. Which I think is technically a runway excursion that needs to be reported.

On the way back to Bankstown we crossed the Nowra airspace using the VFR lane at 2000ft. This time there was someone manning the unicom frequency, who got a bit confused with my position reports but eventually everything got sorted out. Then we tracked via Wollongong, Appin, the 2RN inbound reporting point and landed on 11 at Bankstown.

All in all in very nice day trip. Maybe a bit too much if I had flown it single pilot, but perfect for two pilots. I realised that flying down to Moruya for the day is definitely an option, and the fact that the beach there is right on the other side of the fence definitely adds to the attraction. I'll post more photos and videos from this trip as soon as I get my act together.