Friday, May 9, 2008

Spot the rural Queensland airfields: Dalby, Mitchell and Charleville

On a recent Qantas flight from Brisbane to Alice Springs I had a window seat on the left hand side of the 737-800 and could take a few pictures of airfields along the way. Back home a few days later, I faced the challenge of identifying the said airfields.

Soon after take-off, the First Officer said that our route would take us to Alice Springs via Roma and Longreach. Not the most direct route, but not too bad either. That's actually the route we took when we did the same trip in a 172 last September. Except it took us three days and not three hours.

I had taken a picture right after take-off from Brisbane, so thanks to the timestamps on the image files I knew that I had spotted this first airfield 18 minutes into the flight:

Drawing a line on my WAC chart from Brisbane to Roma and assuming a ground speed of about 300 knots, this gave Dalby (YDAY) as a likely candidate. I checked in the ERSA, and the shape of the two runways on the airport diagram matched. I looked up Dalby on Google Earth and the airfield was identified without a doubt: the shape and position of the town, the racetrack, the river running through the town, everything was there. So far so good.

The next one proved to be a lot more difficult:

The picture above was taken 25 minutes after Dalby. Roma was an option, but the shape of the apron didn't match. I tried different ground speeds along the route to Longreach via Roma, but never came close to any airport. Bummer! The only logical explanation was that we were no longer following the planned route. Most likely, ATC had cleared our flight direct to Alice Springs.

And indeed, now assuming 400 knots ground speed, the airfield was identified as the unlicensed airfield of Mitchell (YMIT).

The third one was only a few minutes after Mitchell: Charleville. Speaking of YBCV, we landed at Charleville during that air safari to Ayers Rock I mentioned above. We spent the night at the Cojones Motel in downtown Charleville. The motel is right across the street from the Big Hallucinated Kangaroo (not the official name), and a few hundred meters from the town hall.

Surprisingly, the Big Kangaroo didn't make it into the list of Australia's Big Things. Maybe it's not big enough? Or is it the two big round protruding eyes that make it look like it's high on special outback drugs?

According to the driver of the shuttle bus who picked us up at the airport, we were well advised to choose the motel section of the abode over the “heritage ensuite hotel” section. Apparently the hotel’s claim of "elegance and comfort of yesteryear" needs to be taken quite literally. This was confirmed to me later by friends who stayed at the hotel there on a road trip to the outback.

Back to aviation. What I remember from flying out of Charleville is a very long taxi to the threshold of runway 36. We left the apron, taxied through a forest, came to what looked like a regular road, turned left and finally found the holding point.

Maybe it was me (I had a grand total of about 10 hours flight time back then), or maybe it was the airport diagram in the ERSA that got me confused. When you compare this:

To the Google Maps image of the airport, it's difficult to figure out what the big grey triangle in the airport diagram is supposed to be.

The next two hours of the flight were very uneventful in terms of airfield spotting. On arrival we flew parallel to the runway at Alice Springs for a very wide downwind leg (at least for a C172 pilot of course):

We turned base over the MacDonnell ranges. At the back of the picture below one can see what local pilots refer to as "the big golf balls". These are the radomes of the Pine Gap American spying station. The airspace around it from the ground up to FL180 is actually the only permanent Prohibited Area in Australia (P229).

Our long week-end in the Red Center was great. We spent our time camping, bushwalking, 4W-driving and successfully running after a dingo who stole one of our sleeping bags. We flew back via Sydney, where more airfields were spotted but not yet identified, so this will have to until for a future post.