Flying Memories – Chapter 2 (of 10)

Flying in South Australia – a new adventure

I moved to South Australia in early 1978 with about 140 hours total flying time (dual and solo) in my log book. I left five years later in early 1983 with around 1400 hours total flying time in the log book. There were many flying adventures and great times centred around aeroplanes during that period. I progressed during that period from low time private pilot to obtaining my night VFR rating (1979), my commercial pilot licence (1981) and my initial (grade 3) instructor rating (1981). But I also gained invaluable experience bush flying from all sorts of paddocks and tracks in all sorts of weather to wild and remote places on offshore islands and in the vast deserts of inland SA and NT. I also met many interesting people through flying, many of whom became good friends.

The job which took me to SA was one for which I wrote the job specification. In late 1977 I wrote to the Ministers of Education in all the states (and NT) which had vast remote areas with small communities sparsely scattered across them. I suggested that my combination of qualifications and experience, namely a pilot’s licence, an almost completed BA, a Dip T, a short stint of teaching, and my year or so earning a living full time in a band, equipped me to fly myself to remote schools and settlements on various musical missions (education, entertainment and bringing other artists to such places). I received a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’ from all the recipients, but the letter from the SA Minister of Education contained a rider. The gist of it was that if ever I was visiting SA there were senior education department staff who would like to meet me to discuss my proposal.

Turns out I had a need to visit SA within a week or so. I drove over in my trusty EH Holden station wagon. I went to Adelaide armed with a written submission and graphs and figures which demonstrated that for the same amount as one teacher’s wage (for me) plus an amount equivalent to a secretary’s annual wage (to pay for aircraft hire), a hired aircraft flown by me could be funded to put my plan into action. I was welcomed by the upper echelons of the Education Department and progressively asked to repeat my submission to the managers overseeing music programs in the state education program. My final meeting was with a Deputy Director of the Education Department who started the meeting by simply asking if I’d like to live in Port Lincoln. I asked where that was and he said, “It’s where many of our staff would love to be sent.” I inquired as to what exactly the job would be, and he smiled and said, “The one you told us you could do.” Just to make sure I fully understood, I confirmed that it involved the aeroplane part, and it did. I couldn’t believe it. I accepted the job on the spot, with a February 1978 starting date.

That’s how in early 1978 I came to be driving my EH wagon to Port Lincoln, loaded with my few earthly possessions, to commence the ambitious outback flying music job I had basically created. I was provided with a brand new house, a wage and a base at the newly formed Eyre Peninsula Region education office. The deal included access as required to a government car – a new V8 Holden – for my road travel needs. Early in 1978 Liz decided to fly down from Sydney to have a look at Port Lincoln. We have been together ever since. I had three very enjoyable years in this job in the Eyre Peninsula and points north and west. I was then ‘promoted’ to a similar job with broader geographic reach based in Adelaide. Liz and I rented a house in Belair and did that job for two years then we moved to Melbourne where I studied law full time for four years. But that is another story.

An early task in Port Lincoln in 1978 was to join the local flying club and to locate an aircraft which could be hired for me to use in my job. A check flight so I could hire the club aircraft was the first item to tick off. Barry Firth, the Chief Flying Instructor of the club gave me my initial check flight on VH-RIV, a 1962 Cessna 172, in March 1978. This was not my first choice of aircraft to fly to the various outback locations my job would take me to. It was slow and could not carry a big load. For example: pilot + 3 pax + luggage for four in the back luggage space + full fuel would exceed the maximum permissible takeoff weight and place the centre of gravity aft well beyond limits. The aircraft could not be flown with such a load. But it was fine for local flying with light loads.

On 2 April 1978 Barry Firth gave me a check flight on Piper Cherokee VH-WIL, a 1967 PA-28 180. I did not know it then but I would do a lot of flying and have many adventures in this basic, reliable four-seater aeroplane.

Barry became a good friend and a flying mentor over the years. He did my night flying training, my commercial pilot training, and was my CFI (chief flying instructor) at the Flying Club when I returned in the early 80s for a number of 2-3 month periods to work there as a flying instructor. Barry was one of the most experienced GA pilots in SA. At the time of his death in 2004 he had around 26,000 hours total time in his log book. Most of these hours were gained doing charter flying, flying instruction, and in his Eyre Charter and Eyre Commuter operations between the Eyre Peninsula and Adelaide in Senecas and later a Cessna 402. I was invited to speak at his funeral in Port Lincoln, which was attended by pilots from far and wide, including many he taught to fly.

A lesson in short field operations in March 1978

The first flight I did after getting checked on the Cessna 172 in March 1978, was to hire it and fly myself out to Spilsby Island on 24 March 1978. Spilsby is in Spencer Gulf some 23 nautical miles from Pt Lincoln airport. It was an adventure to fly over water to an island and land in a paddock which doubled as an airstrip. Such a destination was unlike any of my previous light aircraft flying.

It was a warm day, and the wind while light was enough to warrant landing and taking off into wind (the uphill direction on this day). The landing went well. I enjoyed doing a low pass to check for sheep (there were none in the paddock) before doing my circuit and landing. I strolled around the paddock/strip enjoying being the only person on the island and feeling every inch a bush pilot in the making then climbed back into the aircraft and readied it for takeoff. Relying on a bit of a guess rather than calculations and reference to distances, slope air temperature and aircraft performance, I simply lined up into wind facing the slight upslope (and a fence across the paddock and my takeoff track which was closer than ideal as I was to discover), and applied one stage of flap and full power. Old RIV trundled off, airspeed was registering and increasing and the tacho indicated full power. I recall some consternation as the fence ahead now loomed clear and close and the aircraft still felt solidly in touch with the earth. With no thought of aborting the takeoff, I continued until it was clear that either flight or hitting the fence summed up the possibilities for the next few seconds. So I eased back on the controls which took a little more force than I was used to and the nose rose slightly, the fence got closer, the stall warning beeped a few times and then constantly as the aircraft reluctantly clawed its way just high enough to clear the fence. I immediately lowered the nose a little and the stall warning eased up as the aeroplane reluctantly accelerated. I flew over the next paddock at sheep height and eventually accelerated to a speed which permitted a climb and a turn to take up the heading for the track to Pt Lincoln. I was feeling less like a bush pilot than I did 10 minutes earlier, and even my status as ‘pilot’ seemed at best debatable. The aircraft had not malfunctioned. The pilot certainly had. This was the first of many in-flight lessons I had over the next 5 years. I was now aware that my training and pilot licence had not fully equipped me to safely operate a light aircraft.

Piper Cherokee outside Port Lincoln Flying Club hangar

On 3 April 1978, keen to consolidate new skills in the PA-28, I flew to Adelaide via Spilsby Island and Corny Point which is pretty much direct track over the two gulfs and Yorke Peninsula. I flew back to Pt Lincoln on the same route the next day. Lizzie was my passenger. This was the first of many such flights between Port Lincoln and Adelaide. The trip one way took 80 minutes by air compared to 8 hours in the car around the top of the gulfs via Whyalla and Port Augusta.

A lesson in hangar door operation in 1978

Being keen to improve my flying skills I decided to hire the Port Lincoln flying club aircraft one very windy day to gain experience on my own in taxying and flying in very strong winds. I planned to do a few circuits. The hangar in which the aircraft was kept is the one shown in the immediately preceding photo of Liz and VH-WIL. Club members had access to the hangar and provided the aircraft had been booked for the required number of hours or days, they could unlock the hangar, wheel the aircraft out, refuel it as required and head off flying. The hangar door was in two parts, each hanging from a rail on a steel beam overhead along which it could slide quite easily to open the door, while tracking with a small wheel in a metal groove in the floor and on the ground either side of the hangar to keep the door vertical and in line with the upper rail.

The wind was blowing 30-35 knots with higher gusts. It was coming from a direction at an angle to the back of the door on the right (as you face the hangar). From inside the hangar I disconnected the two doors where they met in the centre and pushed the door which was under the word ‘Flying’ on the outside of the hangar to open it first (the half of the door on the right in the photo). It initially moved quite easily until a sufficient area of it was outside the line of the building and exposed to the strong wind. There was increasing resistance to rolling it open as the wind pushed both top and bottom rollers hard against their rail edges. I was on the outside of the door and in front of it (in the lee of the wind) near its far right hand vertical edge as I inched it towards the fully open position. I had the door about three quarters of the way across the external frame which held it when fully open, when I was suddenly knocked off my feet with great force as the door swung out towards me as it escaped the bottom rail and swung out, hinged momentarily from the top rail. I was struck with force and relocated on the grass and gravel some 5-6 paces away from the door. A short chip shot in golfing terms. The door flew through the air, completely detached from its rails and the hangar and heading towards me as I was still lying on the ground.

I don’t recall trying to get up or get out of the way. The flying door was about to land with its bottom edge on the ground close to me or directly on me. Things were happening too quickly for any action by me. The airborne door did hit the ground with its lower steel edge, part of which struck my boot. It was then blown over me (without touching me) to a clear grassy area between two parked aircraft where it landed, fell flat and stayed put without touching either aircraft.

I was wearing my very comfortable (and stylish) RM Williams elastic-sided boots on this day. They were well worn-in. They had fancy stitching on the chisel toes, and a Cuban heel. That is, a slightly elevated slightly tapered heel made of multiple layers of leather. I guessed that the Cuban heel was favoured by stockman when riding as a means of preventing the foot from sliding through the stirrup. Or perhaps they just liked the way the boots looked, like I did. The door had landed on one side of the heel, partially detaching it from the boot, and leaving a deep indentation in the leather on an angle right across the heel. The other side of the heel which had been in contact with the ground when the boot was struck by the door, had a few pieces of gravel as large as the top joint of my little finger pushed intact into the side of the leather heel to a depth where the gravel was flush with the surface of the heel. I dug them out with a screw driver later.

The chief flying instructor’s only comment later was that the wind was too strong for flying. He was thinking aeroplanes. But I certainly got briefly airborne that day.

A close call.

Exploring the Eyre Peninsula and adjacent seas in 1978

A couple of weeks after my first flight to Spilsby Island, I returned with an English bird-watching enthusiast and photographer I had met in Port Lincoln as my passenger. I deposited him on the island where he planned to camp for 4 days. He must’ve been a trusting soul as this was before mobile phones, and there was no landline or radio on the island. But I did fly out there again and collected him as arranged. He was absolutely delighted to have had this little adventure in his backpacking journey. A little more homework had been done in relation to short-field operations and both landings and takeoffs on the island went splendidly.

Not long after that I did an aerial tour in VH-WIL from Port Lincoln to Spilsby Island and South Neptune Island, which involved an hour and forty minutes over water. There was a small sloping airstrip on South Neptune Island, used in those days by lighthouse supply aircraft. It’s a wild and isolated looking island in the Southern Ocean over 20 nautical miles south of the mainland. Years later I did a shark cage dive in the waters near Neptune Island, where great white sharks are plentiful.

In mid May 1978 I took RIV out from Pt Lincoln for an aerial tour of Dangerous Reef (where some of the live shark sequences for the film ‘Jaws’ were filmed many years ago), Thistle Island and West Point at the southern tip of Eyre Peninsula, near Williams Island.

It was exciting and exhilarating to be living in the southern Eyre Peninsula with ready access to a light aircraft, and with so much to explore.

Thistle Island

Thistle Island is a place to which we flew regularly during our three years in Port Lincoln. The only settlement on the island back then was a whalers’ cottage which could be rented out, along with an old 4WD vehicle and a tinnie with an outboard. Mostly we hiked around the island. Liz and I flew out there and stayed, and on other occasions we took friends along. Some flew themselves, and on other occasions I did a few ferry trips in the Cherokee Six to get everyone on and off the island.

Liz and I have wonderful memories of wild seas at Elephant Rock, calm seas under a moonlit sky as we warmed up by a fire on the beach in whalers Bay, swimming with dolphins and gale force winds whistling around the sturdy whalers’ cottage. The wind indicator inside the cottage was an arrow pointer on the kitchen ceiling with the four cardinal directions in hand writing on the plaster, connected to a thin shaft which went through the ceiling and roof to the elements where a weather vane followed the dictates of the wind.

The old airstrip on Thistle Island

This is the interesting airstrip used by the then-owner of Thistle Island(Theo Modra) and few others, for obvious reasons. I have landed on it and taken off from it, but there is a much longer and wider airstrip elsewhere on the island with entirely clear overshoot and undershoot areas. That main airstrip is also level!

Our Thistle Island guests on an aerial visit

One of many happy flights for a weekend or longer to Thistle Island with friends. L to R: Chris, Scotty, Wendy, Jeanette, me, Kym with Zoe on his shoulders, Crispian and Jan.

In 2021 Liz and I returned to Thistle Island for a week, a nostalgic return. I have published a blog post about that visit which is replete with photos and stories which I won’t repeat in this post:

Teaching myself a proper cross-wind technique in VH-RIV

My early flying in South Australia quickly highlighted some areas in which my flying needed to improve. My first takeoff from Spilsby Island had already highlighted that my short field operations needed work. I hit the books and practiced various techniques initially at Port Lincoln airport and then at various bush strips, and eventually short field operations were a favourite part of my flying.

Being on the coast surrounded by the Southern Ocean produced interesting weather conditions. Strong cross winds were common at Port Lincoln airport. They could be forecast, or could just arise without notice, day or night. With experience, reading the local weather patterns became easier. 15-20 knot cross winds were common and required a good cross wind technique for safe takeoff and especially for safe landing.

I had been taught a single cross wind landing technique during my initial training (the crabbing approach) which is more popular than it should be amongst instructors. The problem with it is that in strong and gusting cross winds it requires a level of skill which is beyond most student pilots and I have seen many struggle with it. That technique involves crabbing towards the runway on final approach and maintaining the crab angle during flare above the runway and the hold-off period that follows before the aircraft touches down. Then just as the aircraft is about to stop flying as it approaches its stall speed and the wheels are about to touch the runway, the technique requires the pilot to kick the aircraft straight using rudder, then as touchdown occurs lower the into-wind wing slightly to prevent that wing lifting once the aircraft is no longer flying.

The crabbing approach on final is fine (and used in the method I prefer) but the trouble with this technique is the touchdown. The problem which I have observed many times as an instructor while conducting check flights or periodic flight reviews or pre-licence test check flights with pilots, is that if the aircraft does not settle to the runway immediately after it is kicked straight with rudder, the cross wind will begin to move the aircraft sideways and if immediate remedial action is not taken, it will touch down while pointing down the runway but also while moving sideways towards the edge of the runway. Touchdown then puts significant and possibly destructive side loads on the main landing gear which is designed to absorb vertical forces, not lateral forces. This is especially so on sealed runways. Loose gravel or wet grass can allow the aircraft to touch down with the tyres simultaneously rolling forward while skidding sideways which can still damage or destroy the main landing gear depending on the strength of the cross wind, the weight of the aircraft and the structural strength of the landing gear. At best the landing will be uncomfortable and a disappointment to pilot and passengers alike.

I had read a great article about a different cross wind landing technique in the Aviation Safety Digest (No 97 of 1977) which seemed to completely address these problems. This digest was a very useful and hence popular journal published by the Air Safety Investigation Branch of the Australian Department of Transport. This branch was later know as the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI), and was eventually absorbed into the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. It analysed aircraft incidents and accidents in great detail, contained pilot accounts of near misses and worse, and also regularly contained highly instructional articles on flying technique. The best mistakes for a pilot to learn from in flying are mistakes made by others. Pilots referred to this journal as the ‘crash comic’. There is a modern version of the publication produced by the ATSB which investigates, among other things, aviation accidents and incidents. In my view as a retired pilot and flying instructor, the early crash comic was a substantial contribution to air safety. The modern version is less successful in this regard in my view.

I read and re-read the article which among other things, detailed how to execute a cross wind takeoff and landing (the latter being the key for me) using a different technique (the sideslip method) to the one I had been taught (the crabbing method). Then on the Anzac Day holiday on Tuesday 25 April 1978, when there wasn’t much traffic and there was a steady and strong cross wind blowing across runway 01, I booked VH-RIV for a solo session of cross wind circuits (aircraft photo immediately below). The cross wind component on runway 01 was 15 knots and occasionally a little higher. The aircraft flight manual referred to the ‘maximum demonstrated cross wind component’ as 15 knots. That would be fine for my exercise. If landing on runway 01 provided unwise, there were other runways available which were pretty much into wind.

Cessna 172 VH-RIV

Photo taken at Broken Hill by Phil Vabre. Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.

Note the externally mounted venturi on the side of the fuselage near the corner of the cover and visible just forward of the wing strut. This provides suction to power the gyro instruments in the aircraft (the artificial horizon, the directional gyro and the turn and slip indicator used to coordinate turns). If ice or other obstructions constricted or prevented the free flow of air through the venturi, those important instruments would become unuseable. More modern aircraft use an engine driven vacuum pump as the source of suction for the gyro instruments.

With the Crash Comic on the passenger seat, loosely held in place by the lap belt (for reference on the ground as required between circuits), I taxied out, did my runups and other pre-takeoff checks and mentally rehearsed the control inputs and circuit considerations for landing in this proper cross wind. A 15 knot XW would have made me a bit edgy with the ‘crab then straighten up at the last minute and land’ technique I had been taught during my initial training. With such a cross wind and the cross wind technique that I found less than ideal, I would choose a runway with less cross wind every time if it was available.

The takeoff and circuit went well, as expected. Cross wind takeoffs are not difficult – at the start of the takeoff roll, apply full aileron into wind and gradually reduce the aileron input as speed increases. With the aircraft on the ground and the wind blowing from the side, one wing is shielded from the wind by the fuselage and so has less wing area creating lift on that side. This can cause the into-wind wing to rise during the latter stages of the takeoff roll unless aileron is applied as described. Rotate at a slightly higher airspeed than you would in still air or into wind (to ensure good flying speed such that the aircraft does not settle back to the runway even momentarily and overload the main landing gear with side loads.) Then immediately you are airborne, turn the aircraft to the appropriate crab angle to track directly over the runway centreline.

The landing technique I wanted to teach myself, involved first, flying final approach with a crab angle sufficient to cause the aircraft to track directly along the extended centreline of the runway (this much is part of the crabbing approach I had been taught). Then on short final apply sufficient rudder to straighten the aircraft so its longitudinal axis is now in line with the runway centreline, and at the same time apply sufficient into-wind aileron causing the into-wind wing to lower, to prevent the aircraft moving sideways relative to the runway centreline with the cross wind blowing across the runway. This sideslip allows the aircraft to track straight down the centreline in a crosswind. Maintain the sideslip while the aircraft is flared and also when power is reduced to idle and the aircraft floats in ground effect as it decelerates then touches down. Because the into-wind wing is lowered, the main wheel on that side will touch the ground first (because it too is lower than its counterpart), followed by the other main wheel. Once both main wheels are on the ground, as the aircraft slows further, the nosewheel will lower and contact the ground and the pilot will progressively roll the aileron into wind to prevent that wind rising as it is creating more lift than the shielded other wing.

The total session lasted 45 minutes. The technique worked. I repeated it a number of times that day with further circuits, and I have used and taught it ever since.

Aviation Safety Digest no.97 of 1997: cover and pages 10-13:

The calculated risk of flying over water in single-engine aircraft

Overwater flying in any aircraft beyond gliding distance of land, especially in single-engine aircraft, is a topic to which a pilot must give some serious thought if doing it more than occasionally, which was certainly my situation when I lived on the southern Eyre Peninsula. Ditching offshore in the gulf and ocean waters surrounding the Eyre Peninsula would in many if not most instances be fatal.

Like most of the experienced pilots I knew on the Eyre Peninsula, I accept that if in the middle of a 35 nautical mile stretch of ocean well beyond gliding range of land the engine stopped and could not be restarted, the outcome would probably be fatal for all on board whether you glided down to the surface of the ocean from a great height or from 500 feet. But I also have considerable faith in the internal combustion aircraft engine. I do not consider the risk of engine failure to be high or at an unacceptable level. The horizontally opposed four or six cylinder aircraft engine has duplicated ignition (two magnetos and two spark plugs in each cylinder), they are derated (limited to less than the full power they are capable of) to reduce wear and tear and prolong life, they operate on high quality fuel, they have an easy life ‘full power’ for takeoff (usually around 2700 RPM), a little less for climb, less again for cruise which often lasts for hours without any change of power settting, and reduced power for descent and landing. During cruise (where an engine spends most of its life) the RPM is typically set around 2400 RPM or some similar setting, load is relatively constant (no frequent accelerating and decelerating), and it is operating in clean air. Temps and pressures are monitored during every flight, and every 100 hours the engine goes into maintenance for routine checks. Many components are ‘time-lifed’ which means that they must be replaced or overhauled at a specified number of flying hours regardless of condition. Finally, aeroplane engines have a fixed life (typically around 2000 flying hours) after which they are replaced with a new engine, regardless of how well the old engine is performing. Compare this to the life of a typical car engine with its ever changing loads and its inadequate or non-existent pre-emptive maintenance. Car engines, even old ones, nonetheless are remarkably reliable. Many car drivers have never experienced a total engine failure. How much more reliable must the aircraft engine be? It is little wonder that I know many pilots who have finished extensive flying careers without ever experiencing a complete engine failure in a single engine aircraft.

I view the risk of engine failure while flying over the water as akin to the risk of being taken by a shark when swimming in the ocean. It happens, but it’s rare. The risk in both cases can be assessed and managed to a satisfactory extent. Some obvious ways of increasing the risk can be avoided. For example, don’t ever fly a poorly maintained aircraft – anywhere. Similarly, don’t swim behind a boat which is putting out a burley trail near a seal colony. The risk of shark attack and the risk of engine failure in my view can both be considered acceptably low.

I have flown from Corny Point to Spilsby Island at 50 feet above wild seas into a north west head wind which was blowing 70 knots at my usual cruise altitudes (calculated by the time I took to fly a measured distance between two landmarks), and around 50 knots close to the surface of the sea. Spindrift was lifting from the sea at times and hitting the aircraft like rain. The high upper winds meant my fuel was insufficient to complete the flight at higher altitude. Down lower I had enough to reach my destination with fuel reserves intact. I did have to wash the salt off the aeroplane after landing.

WIL carried me (often with Lizzie as a passenger) over many many miles of ocean during my three years in Port Lincoln. It was a 135NM flight to Adelaide from Pt Lincoln, via Spilsby Island and Corny Point. Most of this was over water. We did the return trip many times at night. One of the landmarks and emergency landing options en route was Wedge Island. There was a rough landing strip on it which was actually just part of a dirt road on the island. Thistle Island was another emergency landing option.

Placing reliance on the reliability of the aeroplane engine over water is a reasonable thing to do in my opinion, but it always a calculated risk. A friend of mine ditched his helicopter at night in Spencer Gulf en route from Ceduna to Adelaide. Don (the pilot) was injured in the accident and while he was a fit person, he did not survive. His passenger was able to make it to shore and survived.

A night ditching in a fixed wing aircraft woud probably end badly for all on board in my view, as in the absence of very bright wide-beam landing lights angled to project light forward such that the sea can be sighted well before touching down, the precise moment of contact with the sea is likely to be a fatal surprise. Even if pilot and passengers survive the ditching, your troubles are really just starting once you crawl out of the aeroplane and start treading water as the aeroplane sinks beside you.

I never experienced an engine failure flying over the water, and indeed, while I have had engines run rough and miss a beat here and there, I have never had an engine failure. As I said above, flying over water is a calculated risk. Taking that risk worked out for me.

None of the above means that I ignore the increase in risk of flying a single-engine aircraft overwater. I simply accept it. That said, pilots have been heard to say that when flying a single engine aircraft over water or in the dark, engines go into auto-rough. There is some truth in that.

Airborne in a Leyland P76

My three years of flying around the Eyre Peninsula and points beyond initially involved selecting suitable landing areas on farms when established airstrips were inconveniently distant from a particular destination. I invariably checked out such farm paddocks and tracks from the ground before landing on them for the first time. An aerial inspection is no substitute for a ground inspection, regardless of assurances from relevant land occupants that, “You could land a DC3 there.” This practice of mine paid dividends on the northern Eyre Peninsula in relation to a school I intended to visit regularly which was quite a drive from the nearest established airstrip.

I had been informed that a farmer with land near the school had a very large stubble paddock which was table-top flat and more than adequate for landing and taking off in a single engine aircraft. I advised that I would land at the nearest (but distant) airstrip, where I could be picked up in a car and taken to the paddock to inspect its suitability. This met with some resistance from the farmer, on the basis that it was unnecessary to do a ground inspection – the paddock was large and flat, and a DC3… etc

I stuck to my guns and the farmer picked me up from the nearest established airport in his Leyland P76. The entire drive to the paddock in question was spent assuring me I would find it entirely suitable for light aircraft operations, even though he was not aware of any aircraft ever landing there. He was not a pilot.

Once in the paddock the farmer aimed his Leyland P76 across the diagonal of what was clearly a very large paddock, pulled up, and asked me, “How fast do you want me to go to satisfy you it’s like I said?” I told him that 100kph would be fine. So he floored it, and despite the P76 being almost universally considered a lemon even at that time, it did leap away and was quickly doing the requested 100kph, possibly even a bit more. The fence in the opposite corner was still not visible. The farmer was relaxed, and looked across at me with a self-satisfied smile as he so convincingly proved what he had told me. Then suddenly the car twisted then reared then landed with an uncomfortable thud with assorted mechanical undertones, leaving part of its exhaust near the dry channel or depression crossing the paddock which momentarily saw the mighty P76 airborne. He brought the car to a stop in a cloud of dust and said he had no idea that was there. At least that’s what I think I heard over the noise of the now unmuffled idling P76 engine.

I now had firsthand knowledge of the speed at which a P76 will become airborne, even if only momentarily. It’s pretty much the speed at which a light aircraft taking off or landing over the same channel, would cease to be serviceable. It’s also the speed at which the exhaust muffler attachments on the P76 reach their design load limit and detach from the vehicle.

The only takeoff and landing I ever did in that paddock was in the Leyland P76. We found another paddock nearby which was suitable for aircraft and I used it many times without incident.

To be continued

2 thoughts on “Flying Memories – Chapter 2 (of 10)

  1. A wonderful account of your early flying days John. I have flown in many of the planes and to many of the places you mention. I enjoyed the technical detail, explanations and time-line in the previous chapter.

    Your comparison of the chances of an engine failure at night over water being akin to those of being taken by a Great White while surfing I suspect would merge if the former were to occur around Port Lincoln.
    The only error I could find was mention of your “trusty EH Holden” I knew that car, I’m sure you meant “rusty.” You once described it as having a constantly improving power to weight ratio in this regard.

    A great read and of particular interest to me as I’ve been lucky to share many of these trips with you and have great memories of them, I keenly await future instalments.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always thought you’d make a very good pilot Noel, but of course flying lessons would have entailed time away from riding your motorbike. Always enjoyed having you as a passenger.


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