Final flight for the year - 29 Dec 2006

For my last flight in 2006 I decided to take a route that Susan wanted to do. Leaving Hamilton, we'd fly north down the Waikato river to the sea and then head down the coast to Raglan for lunch then back to Hamilton. This flight was a natural evolution of the last one, and was made possible on my limited flying budget by the fact that I had a helping hand in the form of Gavin, the fiancee of one of Susans work collegues Kylie in the right seat with me. I think it would be safe to say that Gavin is more mad about flying than even I am, and readily agreed to accompany me in the flight, although Kylie was less inclined to do so. Gavin almost has a PPL(h), 10 odd hours in gliders, 10 odd in the Cessna 152 (he still is a member at Waikato Aero Club), and some sundry hours in Gyrocopters as well I think. His willingness to go flying at the drop of a hat is an excellent quality to have when you want to fly but can't afford to.

The day was not perfect for flying but offered excellent conditions for our little VFR jaunt around the Northern Waikato. I got out to the Aero Club early as always and started working on the flight plan and preflight, while Susan chose to read her book in the car, despite the Aero Clubs excellent pilots lounge. My only nervous moment was if we had to bleed the tanks due to being very close to maximum all up weight but when I dipped the tanks we actually had about 10 litres spare. Since the flight was expected to be roughly an hours duration and we had close to four hours endurance aboard I didn't bother adding any extra.

By the time my passengers arrived at the Club I had just finished filing my flight plan and we were ready to go. I took them out to the aircraft, gave them the safety briefing and helped them climb aboard. I then had to run back to the club office and grab a spare cushion for myself because there wasn't one onboard.

After we started up I realised that I had a headset with a loose microphone arm so I swapped with Kylie otherwise it would have been a very trying flight. Once that was settled, I grabbed the ATIS, got cleared for a city departure from Grass 25 Left and after an uneventful runup I taxied out and performed a max performance takeoff. I was certainly glad that I did because 25 left has a shortened runway distance and we got a little bit too close to the fence for my liking before JGP leapt into the air. It was totally safe in hindsight but we got awfully close to my abort point.

I took us overhead Kylie and Gavins house and they got some photos before I headed towards the Te Rapa racetrack, which is the visual reporting point on the northwestern boundary of the Hamilton control zone. Once we were overhead, I reported clear and began a climb to our cruising altitude of 2000 feet. At 2000 feet I levelled off, trimmed for straight and level and handed the plane over to Gavin and told him to follow the river while I did the math on the flight plan, got in contact with Christchurch Information to update our ETA, and got the map out ready to follow our course. The route planned is all but fool proof as at 2000 feet and 40 kilometers visibility the river was easy to spot and follow. I had the map as backup in case we had to divert due to an emergency.

Kylie had warned me that she was a fairly timid flier and I was worried about her. She did seem tense and first but over the flight she relaxed somewhat.

I had broken the flightplan into large and small legs that approximated the path of the river. We were overhead the first waypoint, the defunct Meremere power station 2 minutes early. I then added the next three legs, to Tuakau township, then Port Waikato township and finally Limestone Downs air strip together and calculated a new ETA which I updated with Christchurch Information. Gavin was doing an excellent job of flying, so I concentrated less on monitoring him and more on managing the aircraft, navigating and keeping a good lookout and listening watch for other aircraft. On the leg from Tuakau township to Port Waikato we saw a Qantas airbus A320 descending into Auckland International about 10 miles off the nose and roughly 3000 feet above us. We were well under controlled airspace which had a lower limit of 2500 so we were in no danger of collision with IFR traffic and the visibility seemed to be a lot better than 40 kilometers but I wasn't complaining.

We reached Limestone Downs 2 minutes early and I estimated 11 minutes to Raglan. Kylie couldn't believe that we could get from the mouth of the Waikato river to Raglan in 15 minutes, but when we arrived overhead the airfield at Raglan it was dead on time. I performed an overhead join and then did probably the worst landing I have ever done. I made the cardinal error of trimming too much nose up and my airspeed bled off while I still had too much height. I ended up bouncing it off the mains onto the nose wheel and back onto the mains. I apologised profusely and taxied clear. Gavin said it wasn't too bad but Susan agreed with me that it was the worst she had seen me do. Kylie was just happy to be on terra firma.

We parked up and walked into town for lunch. We had an excellent lunch at the Raglan Tavern and returned to the aircraft in time to see FWS land, and an aircraft from the North Shore Aero Club on a dual cross country do a touch and go. I had just finished preflighting when Gavin pointed up and we saw a RNZAF P3K Orion come past the township at fairly low level and a decent speed. I was most happy that we were on the ground when it went past rather than being in the air.

I started up and taxied to a spot further away from the boundary fence to do a runup, then declared my intentions to lineup and depart and did so, again using a maximum performance takeoff. JGP was much nicer to me and we veritably shot off the ground. I set a nose attiude for Vx and got as much altitude as I could. I then turned right and kept climbing away from the airfield till we got to 2000 feet then levelled off again and handed it over to Gavin once more to fly us back to Hamilton.

The forecast 2000 wind when we left Hamilton was 15 knots on a heading of 240 degrees, and this wind helped blow us back to Hamilton. I had estimated 9 minutes for the leg and we were a couple of minutes fast. I asked Gavin to climb to 2500 feet to clear the Hakirimata range but made him level off at 2300 as the cloud cover was pretty close to 2500 and the last thing we needed was some heavy turbulence. Once we cleared the hills I got the ATIS, took control, reported into Hamilton Tower and got clearance for a right hand join for Grass 25 left.

I made a complete hash of the first approach and made a decision at about 100 feet to go around. JGP's 180 hp engine and prop make go arounds a no stress situation because it has ample power and we were instructed to join the left hand circuit for Gass 25 left. I was in the base leg when the tower informed me we were number 2 to a Fokker F27 Friendship on final for runway 18. I saw him at about 5 miles out and knew we'd arrive first so I requested one right hand orbit. The tower cleared me and we started the turn. It was then that I realised that the turn coordinator was not working. I flew a fairly tight turn as we had 20 degrees of flap deployed and had trimmed for 70 knots but by the time we had completed the orbit and were on final for 25 left the Friendship and gone. After the landing in Raglan I was determined to do a good one but the wind had swung south so I had a crosswind to manage as well. I think my best decision was to limit the flaps to 20 degrees. That made JGP much easier to handle and I made for a precision approach. Easier said than done, I ended up high so I had to pull the throttle to idle and glide in. My landing was much better than at Raglan and I did a very nice crosswind landing as well.

I taxied clear and got back to the tie down spot in time to hear a call on the radio that I just had to see. I shutdown and secured JGP and we jumped out in time to see a Mil 8 Helicopter bring in an underslung Britten Norman Islander which had crash landed yesterday to the Aeromotive workshop which is located next door to the Aero Club. The pilot did an amazing job of gently lowering the plane to the ground and then landing nearby. It was an awesome way to end a great flight and a momentous year in my flying. As a footnote, I now have 104.9 hours total time with 37.6 PIC.