Sunday, July 25, 2010

All downhill from here: Armidale to Sydney

On the fourth and final leg of our round trip from Sydney to Brisbane I was flying and didn't take any pictures. Thanks to Chris and Dennis then for the photos and especially for the one right below, which deserves some explaining.

There is only one taxiway connecting the apron to the runway at Armidale. We had just finished our run-ups on the apron when a QuantasLink Q400 turboprop called inbound on the CTAF frequency. Rather than wait on the apron and taxi our way around him, always a risky affair, we waited at the holding point for him to land.

After he landed we entered the runway and backtracked to the threshold of runway 05, while the Q400 was backtracking the runway from the other end in the direction of the taxiway. We made all the required radio calls and then some so at all time the crew of the Q400 knew what we were doing. The photo was taken as we were already lined up for departure and holding and the Q400 was still backtracking.

From Armidale we followed the New England Highway to Tamworth. Tamworth tower was very helpful in helping us identify the visual navigation landmarks to transit their airspace. Once back in Class G airspace we kept following the Hunter valley past Willow Tree, Murrubundi, Scone, Muswellbrook, Lake Liddell, Singleton, Cessnock, Maitland and reached the coast again at Lake Macquarie.

From there we tracked for Brooklyn Bridge for the VFR lane southbound, reported inbound at Prospect and landed on 11C at Bankstown. Total time 10.4 hours, 4.8 hours northbound and 5.6 southbound. The longer return leg of course a result of our little scenic flight around Brisbane.

The photo above really speaks for itself. This was a tiring trip that left a smile on my face for the whole week after. Intense and demanding because of the failure of the GPS unit right at the start, and also a lot of fun thanks to great company and a good mix of familiar, formerly familiar and unknown places.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The long way back home

On the second day of our two-day trip to Brisbane we started with a clockwise flight around Brisbane and a VFR transit of both Brisbane and Gold Coast control zones before heading back to Sydney inland via Armidale.

We took off at Archerfield on 28R and tracked northbound via the Indooroopilly Bridge, which only comes into view when one is nearly overhead it. Not too good for a tracking point, especially considering that the Centenary Bridge downstream becomes visible a lot earlier, and is an inbound reporting point. Confusing the two may have consequences.

The locals know to aim for the southern tip of Mount Coot-Tha first when flying northbound out of Archerfield and also know to stick to the hill side in order to avoid violating the nearby Brisbane CTA. From then we aimed for Lake Samson, then Deception Bay via Beachmere.

Making a radio call on 118.8 at Beachmere at 1500ft brought back lots of memories of learning to fly at Redcliffe Aero Club. Back then, flying from Redcliffe to the training area at Bribie Island felt like a cross-country flight.

Near Redcliffe we got a clearance through Brisbane CTR via Sandgate Pier, Brisbane control tower and Manly Boat Harbour at 1500ft. Flying over a large airport is always a treat. A couple of airliners took off under us on runway 19, such as this Virgin Blue 737 in the photo above.

We left the CTR and tracked to Gold Coast via Jacobs Well VOR. After that we used the VFR lane across Gold Coast CTR southbound, with Chris flying and myself navigating. I had never flow it before, and I'm not sure I'd like to do it for the first time on my own. There are plenty of navigation fixes to visually identify and things happen rather fast. The lane offers great views of the Gold Coast cluster of high-rise buildings as well as the Gold Coast hinterland.

After Stotts Island we tracked for Lismore, climbing carefully under the Gold Coast CTA steps. Clouds prevented us from climbing as high as we wanted to, and the controller cancelled flight following since he could no longer see us on his scope as we crossed the ranges.

From Lismore we navigated by dead reckoning to Tenterfield. Or at least we tried to. At some point we found ourselves not entirely sure of our position. Although the GPS had no moving map, it could still give us latitude and longitude though. I was nearly finished fixing our position on the paper map when the kind controller asked us if we were still going to Tenterfield as planned, because we were tracking west and Tenterfield was 12 miles to the south. We took the hint and followed the valley south.

Lenticular clouds were forming over the ranges, the result of wind blowing sufficiently hard across the ranges and creating mountain waves. Better stay above them. The few little puffs in the foreground are regular cumulus, the lenticular clouds are right behind and below the wingtip.

From there we tracked for Glenn Innes in the New England Highlands, the largest elevated area of land in Australia. Flying over it, it is easy to forget that the vast expanse of land below sits well above 3000ft. Glen Innes airport above was used as a base for firefighting operations last December during bushfires in the Northern Tablelands area.

The little black dots on the photo above are cows on their way to or from the watering holes. This scene reminded me of a very funny encounter Sylvia once had with cows near a VOR in the UK.

Approaching Armidale we joined the circuit downwind for 05 and Chris landed us there after 3.2 hours, which concluded the longest leg of the whole trip. The temperature on the ground was rather chilly. It reminded me of spending Easter week-end in a cottage in nearby Walcha last year. Great area, lovely people but rather cold.

We stretched our legs, had a bit to eat and visited the bathrooms in the terminal. Passengers were waiting for a QantasLink flight to Sydney. Would we make it out of Armidale before the Dash-8 arrived? After? More details in the next episode.

The local refueler topped up our tanks with fresh AVGAS. With the mixture on full rich, the fuel consumption in the Archer is about 42 litres an hour. Even though we leaned the mixture to rich-of-peak in cruise, I would be surprised if we burned less than one hundred litres on that 3.2 hour leg. There's no fuel flow meter or totaliser on the Archer.

Since we hired the airplane "wet", i.e. with fuel included, I had to surrender the fuel receipts to the club in order to get a refund, and forgot to write down how much we burned. Which is probably just as good, I would hate to know what the carbon footprint of that week-end was. Being environment-conscious and everything though, we walked to the pub and back in Brisbane on Saturday night. This must compensate for the carbon (and the lead) oxides released in the atmosphere in some way.

We swapped seats for the final leg back to Sydney. This time I was in the left seat and Chris in the right seat. It's true that sharing flying duties means one gets double the experience for the same amount of money, but the flip side of the coin is that one also gets double as tired. But I'm not complaining.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Coffs Harbour to Brisbane Archerfield

The second leg of our trip from Sydney to Brisbane took us from Coffs Harbour to Brisbane Archerfield in 2.4 hours. All still without a functioning GPS. This was a bit of an aviation homecoming for me since I learned to fly in Brisbane but moved to Sydney soon after I got my PPL, and this was my first time flying back in a GA aircraft.

We departed Coffs on runway 21 in-between two arrivals: a Virgin Blue 737 and a QantasLink Q400 who was asked to extend his downwind leg to accommodate our departure.

We made a right turn and the photo below, taken on the crosswind leg, illustrates quite well what I described in the previous post: runway 10/28 is difficult to spot when coming from the south, and can momentarily be confused with that oblique taxiway. That's runway 03/21 in the foreground, the photo is looking to the north.

Soon after we left Class D airspace and tracked for Grafton. We could no longer follow the coast since our planned track took us inland in order to avoid Evans Head airspace. Navigation became a little bit harder than keeping Australia on the left as we did on the first leg. We flew IFR (I Follow Roads) to Casino, which we identified by the runway orientation and the horseshoe lagoon, which I had already spotted once from a higher altitude.

From then to the Lismore NDB, then to Byron Bay lighthouse. Byron Bay is not too difficult to find since it is the easternmost point on the Australian continent. Chris identified the lighthouse from as far away as Lismore. The photo below is my smiling self in a left turn over Byron Bay township. Notice the overhead row of switches on the Archer III, which gives it that airliner feel. The switch that's off is the fuel pump.

At Byron Bay we requested flight following because we would be flying over tiger country soon and wanted to make double sure we did not violate any controlled airspace, with Gold Coast CTA steps nearby and later on approaching Archerfield and Brisbane. And also of course ATC provided us with an extra pair of eyes, pointing traffic that we may not be able to see flying west near the end of the day. All good reasons to request flight following. And it's free.

We tracked via Nimbin TV Towers, which offered superb views of Mount Warning. Nimbin is the unofficial weed growing and smoking capital of Australia and is famous for its annual MardiGrass festival. Mount Warning is the first point of Australia to receive sun rays in the morning, even before Byron Bay which is more to the east but at sea level.

We tracked via the Laravale VOR and ATC was very helpful pointing traffic out to us. We called inbound for Archerfield at Park Ridge water tower and followed a Cessna inbound. I ended up too high and too fast for runway 28 and was instructed to join upwind instead of landing.

After a short left-hand circuit on 28L we were cleared to land on 28R. We touched down at the first taxiway and exited at the next one. The landing was slightly left of the centreline. I have since manufactured the following excuse: I did it deliberately so that the picture would look right on the video that Chris was shooting from the right seat.

The ground controller provided us with detailed taxi instructions to a grass area where we could tie the aircraft down for the night. We shut down near the biggest single-engine biplane in the world, the Antonov AN-2.

We refuelled, cancelled SARTIME and took a cab to our hotel. This was a long day with 4.8 hours in the air. A lot of work, but very rewarding work. We managed to increase our store of experience without having to draw from our store of luck.

Dennis, our student pilot passenger got a taste of what a long cross-country flight is like. He assured us that the whole flight decupled his motivation to get his PPL. Very soon, with knowledge fresh in his mind, he will be able to look back at this flight and list the mistakes we made.