A $500 Sandwich

Whats the first thing to do once you get a new type rating? Go flying of course! I want to get some decent stick time in order to consolidate things, so when Aaron sent me a text suggesting we go somewhere I jumped at the chance. He got DQV out of the hangar while I was driving out, to the airport and taxied around to the pumps while I looked at the weather picture and NOTAMs to see where we could go. Aaron mentioned he wanted to go somewhere which had food in easy reach, so that instantly ruled out a stack of places. Raglan was busy with the Black Sands fly in, Ardmore was not far enough away, Tauranga was too run of the mill (Aaron flys there often), we eventually decided on New Plymouth. Club CFI Roger who had popped in mentioned something about getting a muffin from Jim Hickey (a NZ TV weather presenter who it turns out owns the airport cafe) we kind of laughed it off. Little did we know that we'd actually be greeted by him in person an hour later!

The enroute weather didn't look too bad, wind 220 degrees @ 20 knots, broken CUSC (cumulus mixed with stratocumulus) 3000 tops 8000. I filed a VFR flight plan (haven't done that in ages so it was good to get back into that practice) as we would be travelling over some pretty remote and rugged country.

After an uneventful runup and takeoff, we departed via the Pirongia sector as cleared and set course for the first real way point (the first one was Pirongia township but didn't count), Taharoa (a remote mining operation on the west coast of NZ), after checking in with Chch Info (Christchurch Information), I struggled with getting the plane properly trimmed. We were experiencing mild to moderate turbulence but the properties of the Cherokee's slab wing did wonders damping it. We'd still get caught in a patch of lift and a couple of times I found we were in controlled airspace so I had to descend rapidly and then we'd hit a patch of sink and end up 500 feet below my planned cruising altitude of 2500. The weather looked worse than what we had experienced at Hamilton, with the haze giving way to overcast skies and misty drizzle patches here and there, but generally the visibility was adequate and well above legal minimums.

We arrived at Taharoa 1 minute later than planned and swung south, I reported in and gave our ETA for the next waypoint, Mokau township. I want to reiterate here that the folks at Chch Info are always a pleasure to talk to and its nice knowing they are keeping an eye on your progress. Once we got out off the coast the ride smoothed out considerably and I allowed myself to relax a little. Once we got past the 30 minute mark I did my in flight checks (suction, ammeter, DI, icing, engine) and switched tanks. I kept an eye on the weather ahead and the weather behind, as we were travelling into the weather I was mindful of aborting early before we could get enveloped but the wall of cloud that had hindered me making the same trip a few years ago although present was still thin enough to see through and under and we enjoyed at least 10km visibility for the entire journey.

We passed Awakino township and I saw Mokau in the distance and mentally began thinking about updating my ETA with Chch Info, then about 1 mile north Aaron spotted an aircraft at 10 o'clock. I picked it up visually and although he was some distance from us our courses were converging. He was roughly at our altitude so I started a descent to pick up speed and chose to pass to his right (as is the law for overtaking in the air). Switching to 119.1 which was the listening watch frequency for that region I said, "Mokau traffic, DQV has traffic at my 10 o'clock in sight." I never heard a reply. Our airspeed quivered up to just over 140 knots and we slowly went past him. I think he couldn't have been more than a few hundred meters away when we flew past his wings. Aaron who had taken on the responsibility of maintaining eyes on him while I flew said that he waggled his wings so I did the same and we continued on as he fell in behind us and out of sight.

The DME which Aaron had tuned into New Plymouth and had been fluctuating on and off since Taharoa suddenly gained a strong signal when we were about 18nm out. The control zone (New Plymouth is Class D airspace just like Hamilton is) starts at 10 miles so I had to think about getting in contact. Switching to their ATIS I got Aaron to fly while I jotted down the details. The weather had improved a great deal and we were now in bright sunshine with only a few clouds here and there. Switching to the tower frequency I called up.
"New Plymouth Tower, Delta Quebec Victor."

They reponded and I said in my best pilots voice, "Delta Quebec Victor is a Piper Arrow, 6nm north of Urenui (a town on the edge of the zone), squawking 0572, request entry into the zone for landing, 2 POB, India 1027"
We were given a progressive clearance to enter the zone 2500 or below and track to Motunui synthetic gas plant (pretty hard to miss) and report approaching. The reason for this was that there was a parachute drop in progress. What I didn't realise is how this would cause me to fixate and forget about the number 1 priority, fly the plane!

Once we arrived at Motunui we were cleared to the Waitara river and told to report there. What I didn't realise is that its a roughly 3-4 mile final from the river to the runway threshold, and when I realised this we were two things you shouldn't be on a straight in final approach, high and fast. To my credit when I realised this I acted instinctively, bringing the power back and slowly raising the nose to bleed airspeed. Once it got below the gear limiting speed I lowered the gear. That brought our speed back rapidly to 90 knots. Another thing I could count on was our reduced ground speed due to the 20 knot headwind blowing down the runway. With no power on we came down fairly quickly, and my landing spot was lined up perfectly. However I was not very keen on landing at 90 knots so I had to get some flap down. Once I did that I had to apply power because our sink rate was getting too high. I flew a fairly well stabilized approach, but the sloping runway played its evil trick on me and I rounded out too high. I looked out on a 45 degree angle to check my height, realised we were high and stopped raising the nose instantly. That probably saved us a rather hard arrival but none the less we certainly touched down with protest from the main gear oleos.

After taxiing off the runway we picked a parking spot next to the tower and shutdown. We wandered over to the airport cafe and who was there to welcome us in but Jim Hickey himself! Aaron who was by now quite ravenous ordered himself eggs benedict and an iced coffee while I chose to have some very nice club sandwiches and a V.

After a comfort stop and a wander around the memorabilia at the cafe we walked over to the New Plymouth Aero Club where they kindly let Aaron use a computer to get a weather update. Aaron flight planned a different return track to mine where he would head inland up the Awakino gorge and do a touch and go at Te Kuiti before heading back to Hamilton. He said he had to do 3 touch and goes to maintain currency in the Arrow (he was already current but wanted to reset the clock).

After amending the flight plan I had filed, he preflighted and as we were about to start up, we heard a whole lot of activity on the radio. About 7 aircraft were approaching the zone from the north so we saved our fuel by waiting until most of them had landed before receiving our clearance to taxi. When we lined up the tower cleared us to depart north seaward of the coast to avoid oncoming traffic. It was during this time I snapped a few photos because the ride was smooth. Our ground speed was quite staggering (on this leg we got as high as 158 knots). After turning inland, we were flying directly downwind, so our groundspeed (I got to hold Aarons GPS for the return flight so I was monitoring time and distance to run) got above 160knots. I looked at the ground below and it was zipping past rapidly.

We were approaching Te Kuiti from the south west, and even though I have flown from Te Kuiti before I struggled to spot the air strip until we were right on top of it. We did an overhead join and descended to join the circuit for runway 16, which gave Aaron about a 60 degree crosswind to contend with. He made a reasonable touch and go and soon we were airborne again. Te Kuiti is nestled in a valley so you really need to be ahead of the plane and thinking about the route you are going to fly to avoid terrain. Aaron climbed back to 2000 feet and set course for our final waypoint, Kihikihi.

Upon approaching Kihikihi he got the ATIS, called up to request entry and was given a south arrival. Briefing me to keep my chatter to a minimum, we entered the zone and I began an extra sharp lookout for any other aircraft operating in the swamp sector. As we approached Mystery Creek we were instructed to orbit right. I think we had barely turned more than 90 degrees before our clearance was amended to descend to join left base for Grass 25, number 3 behind UFS which was in the circuit. I saw UFS pass 500 feet below us as we started our descent and as we came out of our orbit it was on base. Aaron had to work pretty fast to reduce our closure rate but he's an old hand at flying the Arrow and before I knew it we had gone from 130 knots to 75. Even then, we were slowly gaining on UFS so Aaron had to bring the Arrow down behind the power curve (never a nice place to be) to reduce closure even further.

UFS was cleared for a touch and go and touched down just as we passed over the main road to the airport which at that point is just outside the boundary fence. We got our clearance to touch and go fairly late and Aaron did our touch and go and I was quite impressed at how fast we came up at UFS which I was keeping an eye on. The tower was on top of things and instructed UFS to make an early left turn, and for us to continue climbing straight until we reach circuit height. The second circuit was almost as problematic because UFS had been instructed to continue downwind till advised as there was other traffic in the 25 circuit as well.

By the time they were cleared to turn base we were already halfway downwind and we were cleared number 3 behind UFS. Aaron slowed us up once more and positioned us behind UFS. This time we were further behind so our closure rate did not matter as much, but we still gained quite a lot on the Archer.

We touched down and taxied back to the hangar. I was stunned to be informed that the hobbs read the same for the flight back as it had for the flight there! Amazing what superior ground speed does! Photos to come.