Whenuapai Open Day 2009

An epic flying adventure! I have never flown through Auckland airspace before, nor landed at a RNZAF airbase, so there were a lot of challenges ahead of me when I planned this trip. I had planned to fly down to the Ohakea Open Day in 2008 but due to a couple of unforeseen problems we had to drive down instead, and that fact gnawed at me.

Originally Chris and I had booked two aircraft with the intention of flying in a couple of plane loads of Waikato Aero Club members, but yet again, unforeseeable circumstances meant that we could only take one plane. We had FWS booked for the day well in advance so I just crossed my fingers and hoped it would be serviceable.

As Whenuapai is an active military air base the Open Day gave civilian pilots the rare opportunity to fly in. We had to go through the process of approval, which meant emailling a representative of the Air Force Base Commander and asking for approval. Here's the arrival procedure I received, which is a mixture of an informal email and the part in caps is from the promulgated NOTAM:Air Force Open Day Update. Unclassified

Please expect all arrivals into the control Zone from Auckland Harbour bridge, those of you who are transiting north up the west coast please track from Manukau Heads to Auckland harbour bridge via Cornwallis. Time slots will be allocated from 0730 hrs until 0840 in blocks of 10 minutes with approximately 8 aircraft in each block, please arrive at Auckland harbour bridge earlier in the block. Follow ATC instructions there after. Aircraft from closer destinations' will be given earlier slots, as further distance will have later slots.


The significance of this is that I could not simply fly direct from Hamilton because in between the two airfields sits Auckland International airport. The missed approach altitude for Auckland is 3000 feet, so asking for transit at 3500 would most likely get you an emphatic "remain clear" and having to do a descent from 5500 to an airport whose elevation is 100 feet and is approximately 15nm away from Auckland would be less than comfortable. So we had to scud run under controlled airspace around Auckland, which meant a maximum altitude of 1500.An 0830 arrival time as well as a crooked track meant our estimated flight time would be around 40 minutes, because the Aero Club office doesn't open until 0800, I had to get everything I need from them the night before. It was a good thing that I did this, because I was told that we were being bumped from FWS to UFS as a last minute slot became available for a Single Engine IFR checkride and they needed FWS to do it in. A quick email to Whenuapai sorted out the aircraft name change and we received our arrival slot:

ZK-UFS Cherokee Archer Hamilton 0830-0850

We had a full aircraft as one of the other club members and his son would take the back seat. We arrived at the club just after 0730 and after a few minutes sorting ourselves out in the aircraft I started up we headed out to the runup area. Fortunately at that time of the morning Hamilton was pretty quiet and I managed to get in front of the first CTC flight of the day. We were cleared onto runway 18 with a right turn and a city departure approved. After clearance for takeoff I have the cabin a quick glance to make sure all my passengers were ready to go, scanned the engine gauges and opened the throttle.

One airborne we were recleared through the Hamilton city sector 2500 or below with traffic a balloon (March/April is Balloon weather and some lucky person was up on a nice morning for flying) at our eleven o'clock. I replied that we had the balloon in sight and would pass east of him. I wonder now why I said that but now I realise that it was as much for the balloon pilots benefit as Hamilton Towers.

Once we were overhead the Te Rapa VRP (visual reporting point) I reported clear and after the tower queried as to my return time I replied "around 1800". I then set the nose towards our first waypoint, Port Waikato at the mouth of the Waikato River.

It was a lovely morning to be flying, mill pond smooth with good visibility of 30km. I levelled off at 2500 and switched to the Class G airspace frequency to start my listening watch. There was not a great deal of activity north of Hamilton, most of the traffic was training traffic to the south west and some around the Coromandel area. I continued to keep an ear out.

Because we were heading into what normally is quite busy airspace I had delegated Chris control of the radios. I was using a combination of our nav chart and Chris's Garmin 96C to navigate. Once I picked up Port Waikato visually I knew we had about 15nm to run before we hit the lower limit of Auckland airspace at 1500 so I began a cruise descent. The ASI quivered up to 125 knots indicated and the GPS responded with a ground speed of around 130. The ETA revised itself down to 0832. We were looking good.

Once I levelled off at 1500 feet we reached the boundary of airspace so I did a SADIE check, switched tanks and re trimmed. Cross checking my watch with the GPS it seemed we were running a little bit late so I chose to cut the corner of our planned track (not airspace!) and set course for Cornwallis which I could now see. At the same time Chris tuned into the Whenuapai ATIS and we noted they were using runway 21 which I had figured they would be. The clear skies of Hamilton had changed to a dull overcast with light showers here and there but nothing I couldn't handle.

We crossed Cornwallis and I pointed the nose at the Auckland Habour Bridge in the distance. Chris had my camera out and took a pic facing east.

Almost immediately afterwards he found the movie mode and made several movies which I have pieced together below. During the time between the two movie clips I managed an orbit overhead the Harbour Bridge and Auckland city while Chris announced our presence to Whenuapai Tower and they cleared us into their control zone.

A quick note: although the NOTAM stated we had to join via Pt Chevalier, in actuality it was more practical for ATC to have everyone join on a wide left base for runway 21, so the track I did above is pretty close to what we actually flew. Once on the ground we were directed with military efficiency to our parking spot. We were the last GA plane to arrive, and I distinctly remember looking at my watch after engine shutdown and it read 0852.

I'll post some of the pictures I took in another post, but the best photos will appear over at Chris's blog once he gets his film developed.

I wanted to see the now famous RNZAF Boeing 757 do its high speed pass followed by a 45 degree nose up and then wingover. Seeing it on YouTube is one thing, but seeing it for real is something completely different. It definitely was the highlight of the day for me.

After a day in the sun, we made our way back to UFS as people fled to the carpark in the mad rush to get out. The rush to leave for GA planes was no less frantic. We sat near the plane watching the warbirds leave, and Chris took some great photos with my camera while I preflighted.

As a side note, the floating wreck you see in the background of the last photo is a piece of Auckland Maritime history, the the former RNZN Fairmile ”B” Class, Q411, P3571, HMNZS Kahu. She is the last of twelve built in NZ during WWII. She was originally commissioned 20th December 1943, finally decommissioned 1965. I spent time aboard 3 Fairmiles who were converted as ferries when I took my school holidays on Waiheke Island with my parents during the 1970's. Its fitting company to the 3 Warbirds of yesteryear.

I guess it was also fitting that as the last GA plane to arrive we were also the last to depart. Once airborne we could clearly see the solid line of traffic on the main road out of the airbase that stretched quite a long way in both directions.

Since we were already within the Whenuapai control zone we flipped the course on the GPS, removed a couple of waypoints which we no longer needed (the Harbour Bridge, Pt Chevalier, Avondale Race Course) and headed directly for Cornwallis.

Chris asked if he could report clear to Whenuapai when we were about to clear their zone, I was still in the process of trimming UFS for the cruise and intercepting our track so I let him. He thanked the tower for having us, they wished us a safe trip to Hamilton.

I switched over to the Auckland City MBZ, made one position report and listened in for any conflicts. Most of the traffic was far to the east of us as we were effectively clipping the western corner of the zone. We picked up a few bumps as we passed east of the Waitakere Range and crossed the Manukau Harbour at Cornwallis.

From there it was pretty much a reverse course. Once I was out from under Auckland Airspace I climbed to 2300 feet and the ride smoothed out so I stayed there. Once I reached Port Waikato I turned the nose towards Hamilton and climbed to 2500. We heard another aircraft report that he was transiting across our intended track to Ardmore at 2500 feet so we went eyes out looking for him. I never saw him until he reported 3 miles southwest of Huntly and I looked right at him. He was a good distance away to our 10 o'clock so I relaxed a little. I made several calls to Te Kowhai air strip to make sure they knew I was coming then dialled up Hamilton ATIS, noted it down and finally called Hamilton for clearance.

We were cleared for a North Arrival but they later amended us to join wide right base for Grass 18. I asked for the runway considering we were 4 up and we were cleared number 2 following a CTC 172 landing ahead. The wind was swinging around a little but the breeze was not more than a few knots. I chose to err on the side of caution and perform a crosswind landing so I lowered the right mains first and we landed. A combination of dirty cabin windows and the sun being low on the horizon meant I had a hard time finding the taxiway but I found it by the time I was cleared across the grass runway to the tie down area outside the club.

After refuelling UFS and tying her down I wrote 2.0 hours of PIC time in my logbook and went home to look at my photos and movies and to organise my thoughts for this blog. I rate this as my best flying trip to date. I hope there are many more to come.


Chris Nielsen said…
Good one mate! I'm going through my photos now, hope to whack something up in a day or two
ZK-JPY said…
Nice... looks like you had a great day. I actually arrived at WAC about the same time you guys were strapping into UFS. I was in the carpark eating a sausage roll and downing a BigV and watched you guys taxiing out :)

We were also the reason you didn't get to take FWS ;)


ps. were you at the Open Day? I spent the day in the Sim with Trevor so wasn't out and about much, but I did run into Chris late in the afternoon as everything was winding down...
Euan Kilgour said…
Ahh so that was you! Read my comment in your blog. I walked right past you - I was wearing a navy Aero Club polo shirt, serengeti's, blue shorts and a Avalon Air Show 2007 Cap.
Euan Kilgour said…
Oh and yes I was at the Open Day (post coming soon). I spent most of it up in the control tower shooting video and hanging out watching the controllers do their thing. I think every pilot should spend a couple of hours in a control tower to get some perspective on the amazing service these people provide to us.