A once in a lifetime event

It seemed at the time half the country was there, but the opportunity to witness the worlds only currently airworthy Mosquito was too tempting to turn down.  The Aero Club mounted it's own flight of aircraft carrying members up, full time student David and his dad flying in Alpha WCD, Propellerhead Barry flying a couple of people up in Archer III WIT, and yours truly captaining a full JGP with fellow club member Evan up front and instructor Michael in the back with his wife.

David was the first to line up and depart, but we were hot on his heels followed closely by Barry and co in WIT.  After initially being cleared for a city departure before reaching 1000' AGL we were recleared to 2500' AMSL and I chose 1600 as our cruise altitude.  I could see WCD ahead of us so I set max continuous power and JGP's big prop hauled us up into the yellow arc, indicating 125knots.  We had a tail wind, so the GPS was indicating 133 knots across the ground.  At such a low altitude the country side really does flash by.

Prior to leaving home I wisely decided to check the Ardmore webcam to get a sense of the local weather, and saw low cloud cropping up over the Hunua ranges, so I decided we would skirt them by crossing west of the Bombay hills near Tuakau and coming up via Drury and Papakura.  We eventually caught up to WCD, but as we headed northwest they became smaller and smaller as it became apparent they were shooting for the Hunua valley.  Maybe David knew something I didn't but the last thing I wanted to was to try to join an uncontrolled aerodrome from a valley shrouded in low cloud and potentially poor visibility.

As we got closer to Tuakau I asked Evan to tune in the Ardmore AWIB to see if we could hear anything but it was intermittent at best.  But 133knots meant it wouldn't stay that way for long, and we got a clear signal soon after.  After noting down that information we tuned into the Ardmore UNICOM frequency and started listening in.  It was a buzz of activity, with plenty of aircraft either in the circuit or rapidly approaching like we were.  I mentally briefed that I was not going to join overhead, but would slow down and widen out my approach in order to slot into the downwind leg from Papakura.

As it happened the circuit was pretty quiet when we arrived, there was no sign of WCD and only two other aircraft airborne in the vicinity, a Sonex in the overhead join and a 172 on very short final.  I announced I was joining long down wind, and as the Sonex came in from the overhead I chose to widen out my downwind leg because it didn't look to me as though he intended to give way.

It wasn't until we were into the base leg when I heard WCD and WIT making calls behind me organizing themselves into the circuit sequence.  I just concentrated on my own descent, slowing down as best I could and trimming for a stable 65 knot approach.  It wasn't until I was very short final for 21 that I saw the wind sock was indicating about 080 degrees and less than 5 knots.  A quartering tailwind but it was fairly light,  I accepted it as I had more than 1400m of runway to use, far more than I needed in JGP.  As it was we didn't float as far as I expected so I used very light braking in order to roll ahead to take the Golf taxiway to the western parking area.

There were marshalls waiting for us who picked a parking spot for us and I taxied into our spot, waited for the Spidertracks to turn off (thank you Michael for the reminder) and shut JGP down.  A quick look at the hobbs, 0.7 (42 minutes) from startup to shutdown with 53nm traveled in the middle.

When we got out, parked behind JGP was a BAe 167 Strikemaster and an Extra 300.  A pretty good sign of good things to come later on.

We secured our aircraft and entered the gate to the public viewing area which occupied a section of the now defunct 07/25 runway.

Now I must warn you at this point my personal photo's came out pretty awful, so I didn't get any nice ones of the Mosquito airborne.  This is the best one I have, taken just after they started the number 1 engine (No 2 was started first).

There is something quite evocative about the sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, so having two is something else.  I now add for your viewing pleasure a movie I took of it taking off for its second of 3 flights of the day.
For those with keen hearing, the music from 633 squadron was not added by me, but someone standing next to me who had it on his phone.  I wish I could have made the film slightly longer but my camera's autofocus is notorious for having a mind of it's own and likes to focus on anything except what you are shooting.

Although the Mosquito was the unashamed star of the show, I want to mention here the quite rare and fantastic Avro Anson which was also flying.  Like the Mosquito, the only one of its kind in airworthy condition in the world.
Again, apologies for the poor photo, but it is the best I have, and at least it is in focus, unlike all of my Mosquito pics.

There was also a display by a gaggle of Tiger Moths including an intrepid wing walker (should be renamed wing stander because they just stand there), a very nice jet display (Strikemaster, 2 L39 Albatrosses and a Vampire) and for me the best pass ever, 5 V12s (3 Merlins, 1 Packard Merlin and an Allison) attached to: a Mosquito, a Spitfire, a P-51D Mustang and a P-40.  Unfortunately I had put my camera back in JGP when this probably never to be seen again formation flew over and missed it, but I am sure there is plenty of footage on YouTube, Twitbook and Flickr.

We were not the first plane to fire up, but we were near the front of the queue at 1530hours when the mad rush to leave began.  I briefed a standard right hand departure off 03 flying down the Hunua valley, which by now was clear of cloud and visibility was excellent.

The flight back was rather uneventful until we got near Hamilton.  Things were getting quite busy with aircraft returning from Ardmore or simply passing through the control zone meaning the controllers were being kept busy.  I called up just north of Gordonton and did not get a reply.  As we were rapidly approaching the edge of the control zone I announced I was going to plan B and would fly around the zone to Temple View and call up there as it was at the narrow side of the control zone so we would not have as far to fly to join the circuit.

It was quite interesting for me in hindsight because at the time I was getting rather overloaded, thinking about aviating the aircraft and thinking about contingency plans as well as attempting to build my situational awareness meant I was overtaxing my poor brain.  I knew the controller was overloaded and I should say something to help them identify me on their radar but I could not think of the right words.  Evan must have noticed because he calmly said, tell them where you are, so I did and we were told to standby 2.  By the time I reached Temple View I thought to my self, well we are going to orbit here so I pulled the carb heat and reduced power to bleed airspeed.  I had no idea how long we might have to orbit but there was no way I was going to enter the control zone without a clearance. 

Fortunately I didn't have to orbit at all, the controller figured out which dot on their radar was me and cleared me direct into Rukuhia at 1200 feet.  We were eventually cleared to join right hand downwind for runway 18R and as I turned I saw the landing light of WIT coming in over Hamilton city.  We had an uneventful landing and I taxied us back to the parking spot.  The hobbs said 0.8 for the return trip.  Not too bad considering we took a slight detour on the way.  1.5 hours in the logbook and an unforgettable day.  Simply brilliant!


PropellerHead said…
It was indeed a great day, Euan. Thanks for your organisation. I have posted a couple of times - you have told the story of the day very well here so my second post is mainly photographic