Aussie Aussie Aussie!

Susan and I have just returned from a marvelous trip to Melbourne Australia to see the Avalon Airshow 2007. While primarily I was there to see the military hardware (and believe me there there was a lot of it on display), I was surprised that it was the larger aircraft that stole the show. I took some photos with my new digital camera and I'll post them later on when I figure out how to present them properly.

Watching a C27J Spartan do an aileron roll at about 1000 feet was quite an eye opener. The DHC-4 Caribou, with its nice and loud Pratt & Whitney radials doing a combat low altitude resupply drop was simply awesome, and finally Australia's new
C17 Globemaster III was amazingly quiet for such a large plane yet was able to perform a max rate turn in almost the same radius as the jet fighters, albeit a lot slower.

As for the civilian aircraft, the award has to go to the beautifully restored Lockheed Constellation, which took off on a night flight on the Friday evening with flames licking along the engine cowlings of its 4 massive supercharged dual row radials, a sight and noise I'll remember for a long time indeed.

As for the fast jets, I saw 7 types doing flying displays, starting with the RAAF BAe Hawk 127 Lead in Trainer, the RAAF F/A 18A Hornet, American F16C's and F15C's, a F/A 18F Super Hornet, a Cessna A-37 Dragonfly, and the one everyone goes to see, the RAAF F111. What I found interesting to note was that to my untrained eye, the F-16 appeared to have much better throttle response and general performance at the "airshow" altitude of around 500-7000 feet AGL. The bigger twin engined jets were no less impressive, but that little F-16 in an afterburner climb simply went ballistic.

They also had displays from the usual assortment of crazy aerobatic pilots in their souped up Pitts Specials and Sukhoi Su31s, a wonderfully graceful glider aerobatic display (the epitome of energy management), a large team of skydivers (I think there was about 40 of them), plus the odd commercial flight coming and going courtesy of JetStar's Airbus A320's.

But wait thats not all, on a whim I visited Moorabin Airport in southern Melbourne. It has an excellent Aviation Museum with some remarkable examples of yesterdays aircraft that are sadly quite rare these days. I highly recommend a visit. The second place we went to was the Royal Victorian Aero Club, located just around the corner from the museum. The weather looked pretty good from the ground and when I said I wanted to go up, they got very excited indeed. I was introduced to a delightful instructor called Sylvia who asked me where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see. I said I just wanted to see Melbourne from the air, so she suggested a loop around the CBD and then a trip south over the Mornington Peninsula and we'd go from there. I told them my current flight status and they said they had a choice of a PA28 Warrior or a Cessna 172N. In the end it was Susan who chose the plane because she finds getting into a 172 easier than clambering over the wing of a Piper.

Sylvia said after she found out we were from NZ that she had been on a holiday to NZ with her husband and they had flown to Milford Sound from Queenstown. That must have been some trip because she was still really enthusiastic reminiscing about it. Maybe I'll do the same flight in the future sometime...

I was introduced to VH-RLG, our 172N which I was going to fly. Sylvia was happy for me to pre-flight her so I did. Looking at the radio stack and nav gear I was transported back to my early days of flying ZK-ETA and ZK-JAF with those hard to turn radio knobs, but RLG also had a Garmin GPS unit installed which looked kind of out of place being so modern. It was also a return to flying a 172 with 40 degree flaps so I made a mental note about maintaining the correct nose attitude on the descent.

Compared with NZ Australia has much more stringent security in their general aviation. All parked aircraft must have a padlocked throttle as well as the usual things. I hopped in and did a quick tour of the controls to make sure they were in places where I could find them without having to look for them. While 172's generally are different, their basic layout is common so I had no nasty surprises. After declaring the aircraft airworthy, Sylvia and I escorted Susan to the aircraft and we got started. Moorabin has 5 tarmac runways and all the taxiways are clearly defined. I chose to use this to get some taxi practice in and after getting used to the rudder pedals I thought I did quite well. We went over to the runup area and I went through a normal runup, going over what I had been taught. I guess if they did things differently in Australia they must not have been that much different because Sylvia didn't make any comments.

One BIG difference between Australia and New Zealand is radio coms procedure. It is quite different to the point of me being glad Sylvia was there. We taxied to the hold point and she radioed that we were ready to depart. We were given clearance to take off and when I paused to do my pre-take off checks she said we'd better get going. I had my hand opening the throttle as she said this so it wasn't a major drama. Moorabin was quite busy that morning and I think there were about 4 or 5 aircraft in the circuit so we had to make a fairly hasty departure to maintain separation. I remember on the climb out the Tower giving clearance for the guy behind us in a Warrior to land.

RLG is only 160 hp so it didn't climb all that well, even though we only had 120 litres of fuel onboard. I set for a 65 knot climb to 200 AGL then after raising the flaps I found an 80 knot nose position and set about making the first turn, a gentle left turn towards Albert Park to the north. Sylvia wanted us to climb to 1500 and once we were near Albert Park she'd request a left hand orbit of the CBD at 1500. We were cleared as requested so I made more gentle turns to keep us away from Essendon airports airspace and around we went. There was some mechanical turbulence (mostly updrafts) but the day was nice enough for Sylvia to ask if it was OK for her to take some photos (Susan was busily snapping away in the back) for their training manual.

Once our orbit was complete we reported clear and turned east to maneuver around Moorabin airspace so we could then turn south. It was so clear that overhead St Kilda we could clearly see French Island away to the southeast in West Port Bay. We flew east as far as the foothills of the Dandenongs, then we turned south towards French Island. Sylvia took some photo's of various visual reporting points then asked me if I wanted to see the MotoGP course at Philip Island. Susan and I had been to Philip Island previously on a bus tour but we hadn't seen the race track and I wanted to see it so Sylvia tuned into the ADF and I followed that. Once we were over the water of West Port Bay the ride smoothed out and I made very slight adjustments to the trim to keep us balanced and level. I did an orbit of the race track and we headed west between Arthur's Seat and Mt Martha where Sylvia asked me to descend to 500 over the water but near the coast and we'd track up the coast. It was so smooth that I had us trimmed for straight and level at 110 knots at 500 feet in no time. Sylvia said we could slow a little so I backed off the power, raised the nose slightly, retrimmed and we were straight and level at 100 knots and 550 feet. It was not scary, I've never been afraid of low flying, and a day like the one we had was custom made for it.

After about 5 minutes of flying up the coast Sylvia pointed at a landmark up the coast and said that we needed to be at 1500 so I decided to err on the side of caution and slowly opened the throttle to begin our climb. After taking a quick snap of the visual reporting point she gained a clearance in to land and asked me if I was OK doing the landing. I said sure, she then asked me if I had done many straight in landings and I said I had, but not that many. Straight in landings are all a matter of simple mathematics and planning. I did the downwind checks early, slowed RLG up and lowered the first notch of flap. After bringing the speed back to 70 I then checked our descent and lowered the second notch. Then the third, and I noticed that our airspeed had crept up so I had to raise the nose. It was then I realised we were quite high so I lowered maximum flaps and got the airspeed back under control. I said to Sylvia that we were high but she replied that we had a lot of runway to use so just bring her down and let her float. I remember rounding out and floating so I just held the landing attitude and kept her straight and we gently touched down on the stall warning buzzer.

As we taxied back Sylvia said that I flew very well (I was still mentally kicking myself about the landing to agree) and she had enjoyed the trip as much as we had.

I should probably say something about the flight to and from Australia. Both legs were flown in a Boeing 777-200ER. My wearing of aviation clothing meant I got the window seat and the legroom while not that great was still better than a 737. The trip over was fantastic. The cloudbase was at around 10000 feet so we got a real good look at the Manukau harbour and even as far south as Mount Taranaki as we climbed to our cruise altitude of 36000 feet. On descent into Melbourne we could see the ground from about 25000 feet as we crossed 90 mile beach in eastern Victoria all the way down to the city as we were on final approach. Unfortunately on the way back the cloud cover in Melbourne was at about 4500 feet so I didn't get much of a view on the climb out. The descent into Auckland saw the cloud down to about 2000 feet so by the time we broke cloud we were well into our final approach over the Manukau harbour.

I wonder if its kind of crazy wanting to go flying when you are on holiday, Susan commented that it wasn't fair for me to do all the flying since I couldn't do any sightseeing, but when you are flying by landmarks and features you definitely get a very good look at them. :p

I'd like to go back in 2009 to farewell the F111 from the RAAF (the Avalon airshow is held biennially and the RAAF are going to retire the F111 in 2010), but I wonder if we'll be able to afford it.


Rodney said…

Sound liek you had a fantastic trip! Can't wait to see the photos from the airshow!!!!
Chris Nielsen said…
Awesome one! I hadn't thought about going for a fly while you were over there - good idea!