Three hours of flying

I took JGP to Great Barrier last weekend.  The biggest stressor for me was weather watching.  Normally in NZ February/March has the best flying conditions, but this years unseasonably cold temperatures have brought high winds, low cloud and heavy rains to the country, not good at all for flying a light plane.

I checked the forecast a week prior (whose weekend was absolutely stunning - so much so I cursed myself for not choosing that weekend) and although there was rain forecast the situation was generally improving over the weekend.

As it was, Friday was markedly improved from Thursday as most of the low cloud and rain had left the country with just some cumulus and the odd squally shower cloud blowing by.  The forecast 2000 wind was 270 degrees @ 15 knots so things were pretty lively but not too bad.  We had planned to leave earlier than we did but certain non flying events had conspired against us so we ended up lining up on Grass 25 left at approximately 12.05pm with full tanks and a nearly full aircraft.  I had put all the heavy bags in the back seat for center of gravity reasons and although our cfg was aft of center we still had plenty of control and trim authority.  We were cleared direct Great Barrier initially at 1200 feet but were later re-cleared to 2500 feet.  I had set direct to on JPGs GPS and we flew around the track somewhat as I dodged cloud and hills, trying to find the smoothest part of the sky to fly in.  Our track had us flying up the western edge of the Coromandel, then over the ranges on a line between Waititi Bay and Stoney Bay, and then across the Colville Channel to Great Barrier.

The flight was smooth as silk until we crossed the Coromandel and we got bounced around a bit.  I started to climb and eventually we hit clear air again.  Below I spied the ferry cutting its way to Tryphena from downtown Auckland, a 4.5 hour trip.  We changed course to overfly the ferry and then headed for Claris airfield, 8nm away over Blind Bay.  On our descent I spotted a Great Barrier Airlines Trilander heading back to Auckland, so I gave my position and intentions report and continued my descent to join overhead.

The wind at the time was still blowing around 250 degrees @15-20 knots.  I selected runway 28 as the runway in use and announced I was joining right hand downwind for 28.  We had a steady 30 degrees of crosswind but Great Barrier is notorious for wind sheer.  I was expecting some but got a lot more than I was expecting and we had a somewhat bumpy arrival.  After a prayer of thanks for JGPs study sprung steel undercarriage and my decision not to fly the Arrow, we taxied clear.  Apart from a couple of commercial aircraft (a Partenavia and an Islander) we were the only plane there, so I found a quiet spot and parked JGP as close into the wind as possible.  Total flight time was 1.1 hours.

The Waikato Aero Club's Great Barrier lodge is literally 100m from the airport.  I had been there several times but this was the first time I was going to stay overnight.  Great Barrier has no mains power, no sewerage works, no municipal water supply.  We were on solar power, septic tank and tank water.  The fact that we had no TV, no phone, no internet and no cellular coverage reminded me of my holidays in the 1970s.  I had expected to be bored but we ended up doing so much I never found myself with nothing to do.

For those of you who have never visited Great Barrier,  it is New Zealands fourth largest island.  A large percentage of the island is now Department of Conservation land, and as such has been set aside as a National Park, with tramping and walking tracks cut across large sections of it to suit all ages and fitness levels.  We were only there for two days, but there are enough tramps to keep us occupied for several weeks, and that doesn't include all the fishing, diving and scenic opportunities the island offers.

After a very pleasant stay, we packed up JGP and in bright sunshine and 15 knot winds I taxied to the end of 28, lowered left aileron, announced we were rolling 28 departing over blind bay and opened the throttle.  The airspeed came alive almost a second later and as the airspeed passed 25 knots I centered the controls and started to ease back, wanting to get airborne as soon as possible.  There is not much flat open land beyond the airport and places to make emergency landings are few and far between.  We were airborne in less than 100m, and as I climbed out we hit the clean air coming in over Blind Bay and the ride smoothed out.

I made a left turn and headed due south, looking down to our left we could see the ferry returning my family to Auckland was still at the wharf,  I pitied them as we hit our cruising speed of 115 knots indicated (GPS was showing a 103 knot ground speed).  We would be sitting at home well before they were halfway back to Auckland.  We leveled off at 2000 feet because there was an aircraft heading in the opposite direction at 2500.  I picked them up visually and steered clear as we headed for Channel Island.

The rest of the flight back was rather uneventful, I made a much better landing back in Hamilton and we taxied back to the club.

A day later, I was back out at the club pre-flighting Archer FWS.  My sister who was visiting from the UK wanted to go flying, and with the weather we had, it would have been a waste of such great weather to not acquiesce to her wishes.  I chose to head over to Raglan for lunch.  My first landing attempt was abandoned because I realized I was too high and too fast, and landing an Archer in Raglan requires more precise handling that a 172 I can just drop in.  My next attempt went much better because I had given myself a longer final and had my airspeed right where I wanted it.  We were still a little high but I fixed it in time and we touched down neatly and pulled over to the row of trees on the northern edge to park FWS under shade.

All through lunch I was thinking about the max performance takeoff in FWS.  In the short hour we had been eating lunch the sea breeze had come up and the wind socks had changed direction 180 degrees.  The checklist went through my head:  select airspeed live point - the end of the row of trees; select the airborne point, that grassy hill;  brief passenger on takeoff procedure - check.  Lower two stages of flap,  feet hard on the brakes, throttle fully open.  Static power check - engine is good.  Feet off the brakes, slight back pressure on the controls to lighten the nose, not too much because it is an all flying tail, airspeed is live, check point - all good.  Raise the nose a little more, nose wheel is up, mains are up, we are flying and well before the check point.

As it happened we got off the deck within half the available runway, so my fears that the Archer would take ages to unstick was totally unfounded.  We did hit the sheer zone and the wind direction swung about 135 degrees, but we had enough altitude I was able to maintain Vy and we didn't lose any height.  We had an uneventful trip back to Hamilton and I pulled off a very nice landing.  It was a nice way to end my weekends flying.  Total was 3.2 hours in 3 days.

PS.  I want to take the opportunity to congratulate the members of the Waikato Aero Club who competed at the national champs, coming home with 3 firsts and a third.  Well done!


Rodney said…
Nice Trip mate!