Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Up the coast and down the worm: a daytrip to Taree

Chris over at The Online Temple of Chris Parkes (best name ever for a personal blog if your name happens to be Chris Parkes) posted about a flight we did together from Bankstown to Taree and back. This was a great flight, and the first flight where I shared cockpit duties with a fellow pilot who was not an instructor, so this was a big first for me.

Flying from Bankstown to Taree involves crossing the restricted airspace around and above Williamtown RAAF base. Since this was the week-end most of the restricted airspace was de-activated, but we followed the prescribed VFR route anyway, both because it is good training and offers fantastic views: who would say no to following the coastline at 500ft on a CAVOK day?

There's plenty more photos and trip details in Chris's post so I won't double-up here. Let me just say that the flight up the coast was truly spectacular. Finding Taree airport wasn't too hard, it's right next to the town and not too far from where the Pacific Highway crosses the Manning River. A Rex Saab 340 was waiting for us to vacate the runway before they could backtrack and take-off since there is no taxiway alongside the runway at Taree.

We parked on the grass right in front of the Manning River Aero Club and went inside to say hello and ended up having a bit of a yarn with the local flight instructor. It's a great club-house with a very homely feel to it, really the kind of club I would love to fly with if it wasn't so bloody far away from the big city. Their fleet is very typical of a small club: one Cessna 152 and one Piper Archer.

The friendly character of the club house is confirmed by the central location of the combined kitchen and bar bench right in the middle of the clubhouse. The whole setup was probably designed long before CASA came up with the idea of the AOD Initiative.

Across the street is the Taree Airport Hotel. For my non-Australian readers, this is not a hotel, this is a pub. Many pubs in Australia are called hotels, because there used to be a time when pubs, especially in rural areas, performed the role now played by motels and budget hotel chains. Some pubs still today provide accommodation. They're few and far between though, but definitely worth it, especially in remote areas. Articles written by Shelley Ross in Australian Flying often feature great outback locations, with a dirt strip in the back paddock as a bonus.

Keeping with the aviation theme, the board used by the Airport Hotel Bottle Shop (that's a liquor store for my American readers) is a taildragger of sorts, with a long fuselage and short stubby wings. Must require a lot of rudder to enter a turn! I'm not quite sure it would take-off anyway, due to the position of the center of lift ahead of the main wheels.

I do not know what type of watering hole this is, but I can give you one piece of factual evidence: as I walked back to the airport I came across a pair of female undies in the ditch across the road. I doubt the action that lead to the loss of the garment originated from the airport.

We left and tracked west down the valley and then turned south in the direction of Gloucester, still following the train tracks. I tried to get flight following but we were too low and the controller didn't have us on radar, we would have needed to be at least 5000ft AMSL in this area to appear on his scope. So we were literally flying under the radar.

Following the tracks was easy because there was one of us flying the airplane and the other one reading the map. With an upper limit of 1000ft AMSL and hills on both side I wouldn't want to spend too much time reading the map if I was on my own. There's one section right before Dungog where the track disappears into a short tunnel but that wasn't enough to throw us off. We didn't overfly Dungog to avoid breaking the 1000ft over populated areas rule.

Being in the left seat and not in direct control of navigating or radio communication is a bit unsettling at first but I quickly adjusted to it. Of the two legs I enjoyed the second one most, i.e. the one where I was in the right seat navigating and taking care of the radios and GPS. That was the same for Chris who said he too preferred the right seat.

In my opinion the satisfaction comes from the fact that not having to hand-fly the airplane frees up time and brain space for managing the flight in a thorough manner. Flying a technically advanced aircraft with an autopilot coupled to a smart navigation system must feel the same.

Except you cannot exchange flying tales with a glass cockpit, so I'll choose Chris over George the Autopilot any day!