Flying Memories – Chapter 8 (of 10)

Chapter 8 contains my memories of the following events: a charter flight to a station on the Diamantina River, a late-night flight in moonlight above cloud over Adelaide, encounter with a lee wave over the snow fields of NSW in mid-winter, an aerial tour of the Great Ocean Road shortly after Ash Wednesday, flying shark patrols for 3KZ over the beaches of Port Phillip Bay and Pt Lonsdale to Anglesea beaches, a low level search for a stolen yacht and some family trips after I was endorsed to fly twin-engine aircraft.

Charter in near-new Cessna 210 to Andrewilla Station near Birdsville

In late September 1982 I was asked to fly four passengers to a station on the banks of the Diamantina River near Andrewilla waterhole in the north west of South Australia located about 30 nautical miles south of Birdsville (which is in Qld). It was a three day trip and I took a low hours current-model Cessna 210 which was fully equipped including an accurate 3 axis auto pilot. It was very comfortably fitted out and a joy to fly. Its registration was VH-PRZ.

Cessna 210 and pilot on airstrip at Andrewilla Station

Proudly standing with this lovely aircraft under the station airstrip windsock. With its big engine, retractable undercarriage and strutless wings this aeroplane can easily carry 4-5 passengers and luggage for a decent distance between fuel stops. It cruises at around 155 knots. I was 33 years old when this photo was taken. This photo was pinned on a notice board in our kitchen for some years, in a creative collage with a number of photos overlapping each other. One result was the unintended edit on the square of sky in the top right of this print, protected as it was from daylight by the corner of another photo for all those years.

Pilot and aboriginal stockman at Andrewilla station

The station employed a lot of aboriginal stockman. I met this stockman when he came on a flight with me and another person from the station over a newly erected wire fence near the western edge of the station. I had been asked to overfly the new fenceline to settle a dispute as to the compass bearing of the completed fence. We flew at low level some distance from the station, located the fence and my verdict was awaited. In conversation before the flight I had ascertained that the fence was meant to be exactly east-west. I flew west along the fence then east along it. Fortunately there was no wind at the time. As far as I could tell from overflying the fence, it was aligned east west. I observed the magnetic compass (and directional gyro) and made allowances for magnetic variation in the area and compass deviation, and announced that while my measurements could not have a surveyor’s accuracy, the fence was in fact aligned east-west, with no error that I could discern. (This was in the days before such aircraft were routinely equipped with GPS). This seemed to be well received by my passengers.

We flew around at low level checking on cattle location and water in various areas, then decided to fly to Birdsville (approximately 25 nautical miles from where we were) to refuel and pick up a few things before returning to the station strip. I tuned in to the Birdsville NDB (a radio navigation aid) which gave me a precise bearing to the aid which was located at the town. Before setting heading I looked back over my shoulder and asked the stockman (the person standing with me in the above photo) relaxing in a seat behind mine to point towards Birdsville. He looked out the window at the ground below then pointed exactly to where the aircraft ADF needle was pointing. To the layman’s eye, the countryside lacked obvious landmarks. I asked him how he knew the direction. He said that he had just seen an old horse (which he named) under a stand of trees, adding that it was often there. The stockman was very familiar with this location and the surrounding land which enabled him to point with confidence and accuracy towards Birdsville. It seemed the desert plains were an open and detailed book to him.

The stockman in the photo above was camping on the edge of the Diamantina River at the time of my visit to the station. He offered to show me where he camped. He had a Polaroid camera and wanted a couple of photos of the two of us. He is shown in the image above (a digital photo of his Polaroid print) holding the first photo taken of the two of us moments earlier which he kept. He gave me the other print. He told me that when the Diamantina was flowing full and at risk of flooding, he and other stockmen would keep their few belongings in the fork of a tree above flood level.

I was told by those managing the station that while the homestead and outbuildings were on the highest ground around, that didn’t mean they were necessarily on high ground. When the Diamantina is in flood the water can cover the entire landscape save for occasional mounds of high ground, and sometimes they are covered too.

I was told of a big flood some years earlier where the waters were threatening to inundate the homestead. So the few staff who had not already evacuated made a decision after dark as the flood waters were rising around them to get in the dinghy powered by a small outboard motor and head for Birdsville. It was overcast and pitch black and there was not a light or landmark to be seen in any direction. The dinghy was put in the water, and an aboriginal stockman (not my acquaintance with the Polaroid) was in the bow with a torch pointing the way to go – both generally towards Birdsville, and more locally in relation to trees and other obstacles as they loomed directly ahead. The general flow of the flood water on this night was south, which gave them a head current on their mission of self-rescue.

As the dinghy started heading north the aboriginal navigator in the bow with the torch was giving very specific indications left and right which mystified others in the boat, until he told them to slow down as the upper parts of a tree came dimly into view in the inadequate torch light. He grabbed the trunk and tied the boat to it and then climbed into the branches and retrieved his possessions which had been stashed there, above flood level as had just been confirmed. They then continued to follow the stockman’s directions and navigated unerringly to Birdsville where they arrived safely in complete darkness, save for the torch.

Scenic moonlight flight above cloud over Adelaide

On 30 September 1982, Liz’s 28th birthday, we went out to a show in Adelaide with good friends Bill and Joyce Tasker. I had arranged a little surprise to fill in some time after the show and before supper in a restaurant in town somewhere. I had hired Piper Arrow VH-KGP, a four seat aircraft with retractable undercarriage in which I had done quite a bit of flying. I had the key on me and the aeroplane was refuelled and sitting on the ground at Adelaide airport ready for our late night joyride over Adelaide city.

There were no heavy aircraft operating into or out of Adelaide in the few hours before midnight on this night, and Parafield tower was closed. So air traffic was not a problem and we obtained all clearances sought without delay from an air traffic controller who sounded pleased to have someone to talk to on his late shift, albeit briefly and restricted to procedural phrases. The weather was calm, but a layer of stratus at around 2500 feet completely obscured the moon and stars above. We took off and climbed in a gradual wide-radius turn over the city, with the Adelaide hills visible to the west and the lights of coastal suburbia sprawling into the distance north and south of the CBD. In some ways navigating over a big city such as Adelaide at night can be easier than during the day. Freeways and major arteries with their traffic flow stand out, as do the tall buildings of the CBD, surrounding parkland areas and the coastal fringe which is a very clear line between bright lights and black void.

We obtained a clearance to fly to an altitude I had selected which I anticipated would be above the layer of cloud. We needed clearances for each step of the flight as we were in the Adelaide control zone and the controlled airspace above it. We climbed through a hole in the cloud into the clear night sky and levelled out. The moonlit cloud layer extended as far as the eye could see in every direction, and galaxies and the myriad of less organised stars stretched across the infinite black of the universe, the ultimate ‘space’. This sight was compelling and awesome. I could almost feel my mind changing gears as it struggled with the rapid arrival of so many questions without answers. At times I felt as if understanding the infinite reach of the three-dimensionality of the universe was imminent or at least possible for me, but I never got past looping inconclusive thoughts about space….distance….time….big….blank….repeat. It was like when an elusive word comes forward to the metaphorical tip of the tongue, but no further. But being awestruck doesn’t require understanding.

The trusty little Piper Arrow had taken us up and away from the surface of the earth. It had given us a glimpse into space. Having your gaze turned towards the heavens is one of the wonderful things about being a pilot.

Our brief night flight was less than a space shot, but this flight and other flights I have had like it are certainly the closest I will ever come to being the pilot in command of one.

There was a faint glow in the thin layer of cloud subtly revealing the presence of the lights of Adelaide beneath us, but there was no other reminder that we were anywhere other than airborne between heaven and earth. What felt like our private viewing of the universe was breathtakingly beautiful. Perhaps this was in part because immediately prior to the flight we had been immersed in the detail of the city and we would soon return to all that detail with its traffic, its rules and the search for a good coffee somewhere. It felt remarkable to ascend for a short while above all that, to have the city lights disappear beneath us, and to be flying at will for the sheer joy of it with the top surface of our small aircraft’s wings gently illuminated by moonlight. In this simple and brief act of flying we had been transported from being merely Adelaide residents to being citizens of planet earth, currently on the side of our planet facing away from the sun, but bathing in its reflected light from our planet’s nearest natural satellite.

Flying in an aeroplane is scientific and technological. But that does not mean it is necessarily the antithesis of standing on a pristine and deserted beach with the ocean washing over your feet on the sand as you watch the sun rise over the ocean. The views and experiences available from aircraft are the common man’s version of the sight of our blue earth as witnessed from space by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft in 1972 on their way to the moon. The photos that raised the world’s awareness of the beauty, fragility, vulnerability and uniqueness of planet earth were obtained, and could only have been obtained from a space craft and the space program that put it into space.

Planet earth from space
Planet earth from space

These photos were taken by a crew member using a camera with film in it, which was developed in a darkroom after the spacecraft returned to earth.

Similarly, the sun rising on Ayers Rock and the Olgas and the red desert surrounding them, the night skies above Adelaide viewed from the universe-side of a layer of moonlit cloud, weaving along the cloud canyons between billowing columns of white cumulo-nimbus clouds exploding upwards in not-so-slow motion into a bright blue sky – these are experiences that require an aeroplane, just as photos of earth from space require a spacecraft. Flying is not a cumbersome, unpoetic and unnatural way to experience so many natural wonders. Sometimes it is the only way.

I sought and obtained a clearance to descend to a height below the cloud by flying directly over Adelaide airport then over the sea on a VOR radial (a VOR is a radio navigation aid) to a height of 1500 feet, which was below the cloud layer. We then tracked visually directly back to Adelaide for a landing on a runway long enough to land a Boeing 747. We only used a fraction of it.

In doing a night landing in a light aircraft I do not usually use landing lights, because they beam down at a distracting angle showing parts of the runway immediately in front of the aircraft which the pilot should not focus on when flaring and touching down. The pilot’s reference point from late in the approach should be ahead to the horizon, with his peripheral vision taking in the line of lights on either side of the runway. For some reason, I find that the visual impression for the pilot of the position of these lights beside the runway as the aircraft flies slowly in ground effect a couple of metres above the runway as it slows and settles for a smooth touchdown on the main wheels, is that they are at about my shoulder level. This is obviously some sort of illusion, but once recognised it works and allows a smooth touchdown on a runway surface you cannot actually see. Runway lights do not illuminate the runway – they are merely a line of evenly spaced lights down each side of the runway. Pilots learn to recognise the differing perspectives these lights present on approach when on the correct glide path, when overshooting and when undershooting.

We had returned to being earth residents, Adelaide residents to be precise. After parking the aircraft and tying it down, we drove off to finish the birthday celebrations with a coffee and some supper. It was a great night and a memorable night flight.

Mid-winter charter flight from Bright to Canberra return

In the 1980s I had my own Air Operator Certificate (AOC) which I used for conducting joy flights out of Porepunkah airstrip near Bright. In July 1983 I was asked to do a passenger-carrying charter flight from Bright to Canberra return in the Cherokee Six registered VH-FIC which I used for the joy flights. I explained that I was only authorised to conduct flights in visual weather conditions, and that such conditions were unlikely to be found in mid-winter between Bright and Canberra over the Victorian Alps and the NSW ski fields. The passengers accepted this limitation and still made the booking.

Remarkably, on the day for which the trip was planned, there were blue skies for the whole trip. It was a very enjoyable trip. We flew abeam Mt Kosciusko and within clear sight of many of the Victorian and NSW ski fields. We saw a lot of snow.

One interesting weather occurrence on the leg to Canberra was that as we flew above the high country we were over a deep wide valley when the aircraft started to descend. The airspeed had not altered, the engine power settings had not altered, there was no indication of any engine malfunction, there had been no change to the controls or trim of the aircraft and of course there were no thunderstorms anywhere near us. But the altimeter was unwinding and the vertical speed indicator was showing a steady descent. There was no turbulence at all. Flying conditions were smooth save for the uncommanded descent. We had flown into a lee wave above the high country. We were in the sinking air in a trough between peaks of the wave, which had taken us to an altitude below our lowest safe altitude for the leg immediately ahead. The telltale lenticular clouds which lee waves can form were absent. Raising the nose, applying full climb power and slowing down from 120 knots cruise speed to 80 knots climb speed was not successful in arresting the descent. Lee waves can produce strong lift, strong sink and strong turbulence at certain heights and certain positions in relation to the mountains causing the wave.

As I had not experienced any lifting part of the wave, it appeared that I was flying along a trough which I would not outclimb. So I turned 90° and quickly flew into smooth lift. I turned again to maximise my time in the lift (I was only guessing as to where the lines of sink and lift were) and was able to climb back to my lowest safe altitude. I did a dog leg diversion away from the high country over which the wave had formed, and the flight continued unremarkably – save for the sight of the Australian Alps from the air covered in snow in mid-winter, which is always remarkable.

Lee waves form downwind of mountains in winds above 20 knots and typically consist of a series of waves with peaks and troughs. These peaks and troughs are the areas of rising and sinking air in a lee wave. The peak of a lee wave (or a standing wave as it is sometimes called), if there is sufficent moisture present, can create a lens-shaped cloud called a lenticular cloud which remains in position above the mountain causing the wave. At lower altitudes in the lee of the mountain there can be severe turbulence in lee rotor circulations. Glider pilots seek out wave clouds and have flown to heights above 30,000 feet in them, where it is well below freezing, supplemental oxygen is required, and commercial jet liners could be at your altitude.

Aftermath on the Great Ocean Road of the 16 February 1983 Ash Wednesday Bushfires

Ten days after the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires I took a good friend of mine, Roger, on a flight along the Great Ocean Road in Cessna 182 registered VH-IOU. The area between Lorne and Torquay was particularly hard hit by this fire. Roger (along with many others) lost his house at Moggs Creek in this fire.

Ash Wednesday fires extended well beyond the Great Ocean Road coast. The devastation between Lorne and Torquay was caused by a fire which started north west of Lorne, and burned under the influence of a strong and very hot north west wind to the coast at Lorne around the same time as a change came through and the wind backed around to the south west. This wind blew the fire straight up the coast, This coast is aligned northwest/southeast, so it blew all the way to Torquay and beyond destroying much if not most of what was in its path. It had a speed and intensity which was unstoppable.

In Victoria, 47 people died, 150,000 hectares were burnt, 1620 houses and more than 1500 other buildings were destroyed. 32,400 livestock were lost in the Ash Wednesday fires.

In South Australia on the same day, 28 people died, including three Country Fire Service volunteer firefighters. More than 1500 people were injured, 383 homes and 200 other buildings were destroyed and 160,000 hectares were burnt. 

While the devastation along the Great Ocean Road was very clear from the air, it hit home harder when driving along that road as I did just after the fires. The loss of natural vegetation was complete in many areas, revealing views of the ocean which had never been available. The fire was so intense in the bushland that the earth was just a total cover of grey dust with blackened pointy remnants of shrubs and trees. I did this drive on a sunny calm day. The contrast between the silent aftermath of the wild fire and the calm blue ocean was striking.

Aerial photo of Ash Wednesday aftermath along the Great Ocean Road
Aerial photo of Ash Wednesday aftermath along the Great Ocean Road

Flying shark patrols for 3KZ

I flew shark partrols for radio station 3KZ while I was working for Schutts at Moorabbin as an instructor and charter pilot during the 1986-1989 summer months. Friends who accompanied me on a shark patrol flight in the passenger seat included my brother Noel, Susan P, Bill S. Ivan R, Caroline H, Peter R, Hunto, & Tony P. More than a couple of these were airsick during the flight. But only one had to be off-loaded at Moorabbin half way through the flight to spare her ongoing discomfort.

The basic job was to fly coastal from Port Melbourne around the eastern side of the bay to the heads, then down to Anglesea and back, and repeat for four hours. We flew in a Cessna 172 specially equipped with radio equipment to facilitate a live cross to the 3KZ broadcast twice an hour. Lines such as, “Yes, there are sharks in the water today, we just haven’t seen them yet”, were discouraged. The aeroplane was also fitted with an external siren which we could activate to warn swimmers whether in small groups, or an entire beach population, to leave the water. The Cessna was flown at low speed and significantly reduced power settings which provided much longer safe endurance figures than the four hours we flew on each patrol. We had a dispensation from the regulator to descend to 100 feet if a shark was spotted or some other emergency required us to do so. The aircraft had 3KZ Shark Patrol printed on the underside of the wings in large letters.

Low level training and in-house endorsement at Schutts to fly shark patrols was provided to all pilots who were flying them.

Light aircraft banking over Port Melbourne with CBD in distance

Doing a 180° turn at the northern end of Port Phillip Bay.

Port Phillip Heads, Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean

Looking back over the tailplane at Point Nepean, the Rip and the coast from Pt Lonsdale to Barwon Heads in the distance. Looks like quite a windy onshore day along the coast outside the heads (whitecaps outside the heads, calm water inside the bay in the lee of the land).

The only great white I spotted on a shark patrol

Sharks are readily identifable from the air, with their left to right tail motion (compared to the up and down tail motion of a dolphin). Body girth and fin disposition also provide clear clues as to species. Bronze whalers are not massive in length or girth, and have proportionately sized pectoral fins. A great white on the other hand has considerable girth and can grow much bigger than eg a bronze whaler. Further, their pectoral fins are large and prominent.

On 1 February 1987 along the rocky shores near Martha Point which is south of Mornington on the Mornington peninsula I spotted 3 snorkellers about 50m offshore, with a large great white cruising in their vicinity. When I descended to 100 feet or so above the water and sounded the siren they quickly vacated the water and gave me a wave. The shark was quite close to them, but showed no interest in them while I was watching. This was the only great white shark I saw in the bay or the ocean in all my shark patrol flights between 1988 and 1989. We saw many bronze whalers on the shark patrols, but they were usually at a distance offshore which posed no immediate threat to beach users.

Windsurfer blown out into Bass Strait from Ocean Grove

On one of my midsummer shark patrols, I was flying west along the coast towards Ocean Grove. A strong nor’westerly wind was blowing and it was a very hot day. The Ocean Grove surf beach was packed with swimmers and sunbathers. When the wind is blowing offshore (from the land out to sea) the sea looks calm in close to shore but it gets progressively rougher as the distance offshore increases. This is a trap for the unwary who can mistake the calm look of the sea from the beach as an indication that conditions are entirely safe for water activities on floating beach toys, kayaks, surfboards, surf skis and wind surfers. The problem is that once a person on their chosen floaty thing is blown out to sea by an offshore wind for even a short distance, the water is rougher and the wind stronger and return to shore can rapidly become problematic.

On this day, as I approached Ocean Grove at 500 feet, bouncing around a little in the textured air caused by the wind blowing over the land and coastal dunes, I saw a windsurfer about 150m offshore. He was some distance from the patrolled section of beach. The windsurfer sail was flat in the water, and the rider was in the water attempting to get on his craft presumably to raise the sail and proceed under wind power. He didn’t appear to be having any success. He was not that far offshore, but while his sail was in the water, the sea conditions at his location were such that he was moving steadily seaward in the strong wind. I made a mental note to see how he was going on my return trip after I turned around at Anglesea. Surf life savers were actively patrolling the beach.

On the return trip, as I approached Ocean Grove, I scanned the waves and whitecaps in the choppy seas which had become rougher as the wind increased, and initially saw no sign of the windsurfer downwind of the area where I had first seen him. I was close to concluding he must have returned to shore safely, when I had one last glance further out to sea and spotted a glimpse of colour amidst the whitecaps. I turned in that direction and sure enough, there was the windsurfer still with the sail in the water, still trying to get the sail up and still drifting across Bass Strait towards Tasmania. By this stage he was over 2kms from shore and being blown further downwind away from the shore. I was not in radio contact with the SLSC patrol at Ocean Grove, so rather than engage other agencies which would entail delay, I elected to fly to the beach, circle the life saving patrol stationed there, then fly out to the struggling windsurfer and identify his position then remain circling over him until rescue arrived. I was aware that in those seas with the windsurfer sail flat on the water, the craft would not be visible from the beach, nor from the rescue dinghy for much of the trip out to him. After circling the patrol on the beach to get their attention, I flew out over the windsurfer and while flying parallel to the shore, descended steeply towards the windsurfer then climb sharply once over him, so that the bottom of the V of my flight path as seen from shore would identify the location I needed to bring to their attention. This is not a standard procedure, but it worked.

An inflatable rescue boat (IRB or rubber duck as they are often called) with two lifesavers on board was deployed from the beach. It was clearly heavy going in the breaking waves and strong wind. I waited until they reached the windsurfer then continued the shark patrol towards Point Lonsdale, knowing the lifesavers would be in radio contact with shore should they need assistance. At the conclusion of my patrol that day, I spoke by telephone to one of the Ocean Grove lifesavers who was in the rubber duck that rescued the windsurfer. He told me that they did not know exactly why I had directed their attention to the point offshore, but saw that I was in the shark patrol aircraft and that they understood that my V manouevre and subsequent circling offshore was a call for patrol attendance at that location. As I expected, they didn’t see the windsurfer until they were virtually beside it, as breaking waves were concealing the ‘sailor’ and his craft in the troughs. The life savers expected to be welcomed, and said something to the windsurfer about him being in a bit of trouble – a generous understatement. Remarkably, the fellow in the water with the windsurfer who they described as fatigued, insisted he was fine and didn’t need assistance. The life savers invited him to demonstrate he was fine by raising the sail and getting under way sailing back to shore under his own steam (which he had obviously been unsuccessfully attempting for his 2+km trip offshore!). He was, yet again, unable to do so. The life savers stopped asking and informed him that they were taking him (and kindly, his windsurfer) back to shore in the IRB which they did. The misjudgment, ego and arrogance of the incompetent windsurfer were remarkable considering his parlous situation. He would most certainly have died that day but for the brave act of the life savers going well offshore in such rough seas.

Mid-air collision and fatality in aerobatics team

In January 1988 I flew 11 shark patrols. I particularly remember the patrol of Saturday 16 January. During the flight I pieced together from various radio transmissions on the VHF frequencies I was monitoring that there had been a midair collision mid-morning between two aircraft over the bay just offshore at Portsea. The display was part of a regatta at Portsea. The Skydancer aerobatic display team, consisting of three Pitts Specials was a private aerobatic team. I didn’t know the pilots but I had seen their distinctive red aircraft around Moorabbin airport while I was working from the Schutt Aviation offices and hangar at the airport.

The midair collision between two of the three Pitts Special aircraft occurred about 500m north of the Portsea jetty at 1015. Of the two pilots involved in the collision, one pilot died and the other ditched and was rescued.

When I returned to Moorabbin late that morning, the offices and hangar of Schutt Aviation were the focal point of a lot of media attention. Reporters with microphones and cameras were noticeable at various points around the building. I quickly learned that the wives of each of the three pilots were inside the building awaiting news from the crash scene. The starkly tragic fact at that time was they they knew one of the three pilots had died, but he had not been identified at that time. Needless to say they were all very distressed.

Compounding their distress was the presence of members of the press surrounding the building including even a small exit at the rear of the hangar. The press contingent had informed the friends and relatives who were present comforting the three women that they would stay there to photograph the wives of the pilots leaving the premises unless they were granted an interview. This was a disgusting and shamefully insensitive intrusion into the immediate personal aftermath of the tragedy, details of which were still unfolding for those closest to the three pilots. I understand the situation was eventually resolved by a close relative of one of the pilots agreeing to give a brief interview provided the press would then leave the area.

Low level aerial search for a stolen yacht

Low flying is both enjoyable and dangerous. The rules of the air for private and commercial light aircraft are that except during approach and landing or unavoidable emergency circumstances, or pursuant to a statutory or administrative dispensation from the regulator, aircraft are not permitted to fly lower than 500 feet above terrain. When flying over cities, towns or populous areas the minimum height is 1000 feet.

In late 1990 I was working as a barrister in Melbourne, specialising in aviation law. I received a request from a partner in the law firm where I had done my articles in 1987 to fly a light aircraft around the entire coasts of Port Phillip Bay and Westernport bay with him on board as observer. The reason was that his yacht had been stolen and he wanted to either locate it or satisfy himself (and his insurer) that the yacht was not in either of these bays. To this end he needed to to inspect all moorings and marinas, waterways and other places visible from the air where a stolen yacht might be located. There was one requirement – he needed to be able to fly low enough to confirm the identity of yachts seen from the air.

I accepted his request, and obtained a dispensation in writing from the Civil Aviation Authority to fly to as low as 100 feet above water on this mission where necessary for the purpose of searching for the stolen yacht.

We did the search in a high wing aircraft (a Cessna 172 registered VH-NAJ) which gave good visibility looking directly down through the side windows. We flew for 3.1 hours and did not find the yacht, but the owner was satisfied that it was not in either of the bays we searched. That conclusion freed him to focus exclusively on other areas where the yacht might be. As it turned out the yacht had been sailed across Bass Strait by the thief who had taken it to some remote location in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to conceal it.

The 3.1 hours flying at slow speeds and heights between 100 and 500 feet above sea level around the two bays was a highly enjoyable day of flying, involving many low level orbits at reasonable angles of bank as my passenger examined details of numerous boats which he thought at first glance might be his missing yacht.

Multi-engine endorsement

The transition from single engine aircraft to twin engine light aircraft is a satisfying and enjoyable step up for a pilot. In September 1992 at Parafield airport in South Australia I did my initial multi engine endorsement with instructor Bruce Hartwig in VH-TPS, a PA-39 (Twin Comanche). I could not have done it with a better pilot. Bruce was highly experienced and had a deserved reputation for being a very capable pilot and instructor. Some very interesting aspects of the single-engine performance of a twin which were not in the official training syllabus were included in my initial multi-engine endorsement training. I felt thoroughly endorsed. I subsequently obtained my night (visual flying rules) multi-engine endorsement with Barry Firth on his farm strip at Cummins.

This is a bit more like it! Two engines, two props, two lots of engine gauges, two throttles, pitch controls and mixture controls etc.

When Jess and Georgie were young it is fair to say that a flight on a commercial jet thrilled them more than a flight in a light aircraft with me at the controls. But in hindsight, they look back and appreciate that light aircraft took them to places not serviced by commercial jets and on our own schedule. I think they now look back as fondly as I do (well, almost) at the family trips we did over the years in a variety of single and twin-engined light aircraft.

Twin Comanche flight to Cummins SA with the family on board

In July 1993 I flew Liz and our two daughters on family holiday in a twin Comanche to Cummins on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

View forward from cockpit of twin engine aircraft, approaching Wedge Island South Australia

Over Spencer Gulf, approaching Wedge Island. I was very relaxed about the possibility of an engine failure over water on this flight.

Georgie assisting with the navigation.

Young copilot in front right seat of twin engine aircraft

Georgie Langmead liked to be my co-pilot in the right-hand seat.

View from cockpit of landing approach on farm strip at Cummins South Australia

Mid-final in the twin on approach to land on the gravel airstrip on Barry Firth’s farm at Cummins on the Eyre Peninsula.

Moorabbin to Port Lincoln return in a Piper Seminole with Liz

In October 2004 I hired a Piper Seminole, pictured below parked at Port Lincoln, to fly Liz to a hospital reunion in Port Lincoln (where she had worked 1978-80). I enjoyed flying over water on routes that I had flown over so many times in single engine aircraft.

Piper Seminole on the ground at Port Lincoln

Moorabbin to Canberra return for a long weekend

On 8-11 March 1996 I flew Lizzie and the girls from Moorabbin to Canberra and back in a twin Comanche VH-EQS, for a long weekend.

Twin Comanche at Moorabbin airport
Cloud over wing and engine nacelle of Twin Comanche

My co-pilot George in front, with our two passengers. First class seats for all.

To be continued

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