Ahead of the plane

I recently flew back to Great Barrier Island on a club trip.  We had pretty much perfect flying conditions, high cloud, light breezes and excellent visibility.  I got to do something I've wanted to do since my first trip to the island nearly 10 years ago, which was circumnavigate it.  As most of the island is controlled by the Dept of Conservation there are no public roads which access the northern quarter of the island, so the only way to see it is on foot, or by air.

As I was flying with nervous non fliers I chose to maintain a safe gliding altitude of around 4000 feet (had I been alone or with pilot friends I would have been a lot lower).  I remember rounding the top of the island when I had the thought, "you really ought to be descending now, since the runway's elevation is 12 feet..."

So I selected carb heat hot, and lowered the nose, taking care to keep the rpm in the operating range by reducing power slowly as we descended.   UFS was indicating 135 knots as we passed 2000 feet at which time I did the downwind checks as we flew a very long and wide right base for runway 28.  A fellow club member had landed 5 minutes earlier and had selected 28 so we just followed suit.

I deliberately turned final high, and fully closed the throttle to get back on glideslope. The wind was about 30 degrees to the left so I crabbed us in, knowing that as we got below the trees it would straighten, which it did somewhat.  The crosswind landing went great until the nose wheel touched down and the left rudder I was holding to keep the nose straight translated to a left facing nosewheel and we darted to the left.  The left main gear ended up off the runway but I corrected and we got back onto the runway.  It did help slowing us down however, and we were at a taxiing speed by the time we got to the turnoff leading to the parking area.

The day got hotter and hotter and I started to ponder the departure.  The wind was still favouring 28 and had strengthened a little, but not too much.  I was going to be taking off with 4 people on board and enough fuel for 2 hours of flying, which was well within weight limits, but I knew the hot day (around 29 degrees Celsius at takeoff) and declining air pressure would adversely affect the climb performance.  Takeoffs from runway 28 are towards rising terrain, and to clear the saddle to Blind Bay you need about 1000 feet to clear it comfortably.  I thought about it all afternoon, mentally going through the different scenarios.

When I lined us up at 28 I briefed I would use a maximum performance takeoff technique.  I would try for a left turn out to Blind Bay as the first option, but if I didn't like what I saw, we would continue into the right hand circuit and depart via the overhead.  It was apparent after we got airborne that UFS wasn't in the mood for a direct departure so I made the call early  to my passengers that we were going to continue into the circuit and I banked us around to the right.  Flying away from terrain certainly makes you more relaxed and UFS seemed to like it too because our climb performance improved.  By the time we crossed the saddle we were at 1700 feet and UFS had settled into a 600fpm climb at 80 knots.

The rest of the trip back was uneventful, and I thought my landing back at Hamilton was much better than the Barrier one.  So, 2.4 hours of flying and a wonderful experience shared by all.