Birthday flight not quite to plan

I haven't posted much because there has not been a lot to post about. To put it simply, I have not been flying. However, for my birthday I thought I would treat myself to a challenge and booked an Alpha 160 (aka Robin 2160) and an instructor for an aerobatic flight. Turned up to the aero club, talked to my instructor Allannah who said the weather was good enough (for once) to go up and would I mind checking the fuel level in WCD (the fleets best aerobatics ship - people in the know tell me it has the best harmonized controls of the 3). After telling her I have never flown one and had no idea about its systems she gave me specific instructions and out I went. The bad news was that some conscientious person had filled the tanks. When you need to cram 120kg of pilot into a 2 seater you kind of need less fuel to keep it within the Utility limit (i.e. the maximum weight you can fly and still do aerobatics without overstressing the airframe), so that ruled out WCD. The even worse news was that neither of the other two Alphas were available either, so no aerobatics for me.

Determined to at least do some flying, I looked at the booking sheet. All the Archers and both 172s were booked for other people. That left DQV. About that time, a fellow club member said he was delivering an aircraft to Tauranga and was hoping for someone to bring him back. I have taken DQV into Tauranga quite a few times since I got my rating so I thought why not?

To digress a little, the trip would also let me test out my birthday present, a David Clark H10-13.4 aviation headset. Without sounding too much like an advert, they are the worlds best selling aviation headset. For a weekend pilot like me, they are perfect, I don't need to spend mega $$$ on an active noise reduction headset because I don't fly enough to make it worthwhile. I pretty much did all my training using the ones belonging to the Aero Club so I was buying a known quantity. The build quality is what you would expect and they are sturdy enough to handle being bumped around without falling apart. The ear seals nicely cover the arms of my sunglasses so there is minimal sound leakage, and the comfy padded head band reduces fatigue.
Back to flying, talking with the guy I was going to pick up, we looked at the weather situation and decided the Waihi Gap would be the way to go because significant cloud had built up along the Kaimai ranges which precluded going over. He was flying a Cherokee 140 so he left first. After rechecking the weather and reading the NOTAMs I departed 20 minutes later. I got away after a slight mixup (I had set the wrong frequency on one of the radios) and set course for Paeroa township, the western gate to the Waihi Gap. As I climbed to 2500 I could see there was no way I could get over the Kaimai's which vindicated plan A of going for the gap. DQV was sitting nicely at 125kts indicated and it was pretty smooth going. As I got closer to the gap the northerly which was forecast at 20 knots started throwing up some chop but DQV just powered through it. I reached the Gap, changed to the appropriate frequency and made my call, but no one else was around. I had intended to cut across the inner Tauranga Harbour overhead Katikati but there a dirty clump of shower cloud sitting at 800 feet in the way so I decided to head to the coast and smoother air. I copied down the ATIS and called Tauranga tower up overhead Athenree township and was cleared for a Matakana 1 arrival. That mean tracking down the coastal beach at 1500. That has to rate as one of the most scenic VFR arrivals in NZ, simply beautiful.
I landed without incident and taxied over to our prearranged meeting site where my pilot/passenger was waiting. He said he had only been on the ground 5 minutes max, so I definitely made up time in the air. We conferred again and chose to depart for Hamilton immediately in case the weather had worsened enroute. If we had decided to have lunch only to be forced to return to Tauranga later on we would have felt like a couple of idiots.
We were cleared for a Matakana 1 departure (flying the other direction 500 feet lower than the arrival procedure) which wasn't as scenic because we were flying into the afternoon sun. We cleared Tauranga airspace and I climbed as high as I could, which was only about 2000 feet or so. Once we cleared the Waihi gap I selected a cruise descent to 1700 (the normal joining height for Hamilton) and we tracked our progress on his GPS, reaching a peak ground speed of 151 knots. I called up overhead Morrinsville and was given a progressive clearance into the zone because there was only 1 controller on duty and 6 aircraft in the circuit.
We were cleared to Matangi, then Mystery Creek, then overhead the tower to join downwind, but we had to stay at 1700 feet. When we were finally cleared to descend we were number 4 to land behind a 172 and ended up on about a 3 mile final. When we got to 1.5 miles someone in a 172 on the downwind leg asked for a glide approach which the controller approved. Since we were landing on 36R that would mean holding on the runway because we were much faster than he was so would be on the ground well before him. Other than that the landing was uneventful.
The trip was longer than my normal trips to Tauranga in the Arrow, 1.1, but it was really the first time I had flown the gap for real (I'd done it once before but the overcast was a lot higher). It was good to get back into the air in the Arrow again. I love flying it.


ZK-JPY said…
Always good to get back in the air... shame you didn't get a chance to go do aero's tho :(

That is something that I definitely want to get into when I get back from my travels... mainly because it'll give me another option when I feel like going for a joyride ;)
Harrison Jones said…
Enjoyed the post and I'm glad you're getting some stick time.
Aaron Martin said…
Thanks again for the ride back from Tauranga :-)
PropellerHead said…
Hi again Euan. The Dave Clark headset is great (mine is six years old and still good) - EXCEPT in an open cockpit!!!!! I've got a Campbell helmet on order for flying the Stearman.
Agree that the Matakana approach is beautiful, particularly on a clear day - the Papamoa approach is nearly as good - over those 20 or so Kms of beach.
Flyinkiwi said…
I have only flown the Papamoa Arrival once (PPL solo x-country). All I remember was orbiting over Papamoa township and worrying about joining righthand downwind for Grass 07 because there was 4 of us in the circuit.