By Roy Fox and John Tabone
Well how did this all start?
What would make normal “city” folk that had an interest in old aeroplanes suddenly up and go to travel 3000 nautical miles or approximately 6000 kilometers over 8 days at a theoretically poor time of the year. This is an equivalent in Europe of flying from London to Moscow and back or in the USA of traveling across the USA and having some miles in reserve.
Two sons of an American Bishop, Orville and Wilbur Wright had 100 years ago on the 17th of December coaxed a powered box kite into the air at Kittyhawk in the Carolinas. In the ensuing 100 years Australia after it’s initial contribution by Lawrence Hargraves had contributed many famous aviators such as Harry Hawker, Bert Hinkler, Percival, the Smith Brothers, Kingsford-Smith, and many to numerous to mention. There is one very interesting Australian aviation character though not a pilot or designer did something that was quite unique. He used the aeroplane for a purpose which conflicted with the almost purely military role it had enjoyed up until the late 1920’s. Apart for record breaking and limited passenger work the aeroplane was searching for a serious niche until John Flynn created the Flying Doctor organization in Australia as an offshoot of the Australian Inland Mission.
Flying For Flynn
John Flynn was an ordained Presbyterian minister who had a burning wish to help the country folk of the “outback” in Australia. He was of Northern Irish and Scots origin and he took up the idea of an airman Clifford Peel who wrote an article for Flynn’s “Inlander” magazine entitled “A young Australian’s vision, Aeroplanes for the Inland” in 1917. Unfortunately Clifford was killed in France before the article appeared and this was when Flynn’s famous quote “If you start an idea, nothing can stop it” surfaced when he wrote to Clifford’s family.
The essence of the success of the Flying Doctor is the concept of the “Mantel of Safety” that is at the core of the organization and there are current parallels. Real fear abounded at that time in the fear of sickness and injury. In our 21st century our fears can be amplified by insurance companies trying to sell more of their product, lawyers selling the fear of legal action as their service and Governments promulgating community fears in order that they are re-elected. The Flying Doctor organization exists to remove the fear of illness and injury to the remote areas and is an example of true insurance rather than the narrow view of monetary compensation.
Four Boeing Stearman bi-planes and a De Havilland 89a Dragon Rapide assisted by a more modern Piper Dakota embarked on a trip of 3000 nautical miles or 6000 kilometers in order to celebrate 75 years of the Royal Flying Doctor Society in the year of the “Bishop’s Boys” centenary.
The folk with the Stearmans had come together at Camden airport and discussed the idea
To cut a long story short – Amanda, my fiancé decided to do a community project and after watching the video “The Great Waldo Pepper” starring Robert Redford, suggested that we “barnstorm” to Uluru and raise money for some charity.
A friend of Amanda’s, Tracey, suggest the charity should be the Royal Flying Doctor Service. We raised this with the Peter Anderson, George Nicholas, Ivor Paech, Mary Wagner, all Stearman owners and Bruce Willan owner of a Piper Dakota. They all embraced the idea and the Bridge to Uluru Air Safari 2003 was born. Via contacts, we got a Canadian documentary film makers, a team of two (Jane Gurr and David Stambrook from Ottawa, to join us on the trip.
They had contacted other Stearman owners and Ivor Paech and Mary Wagner from South Australia planned to join en route. John Tabone contacted the Antique Aeroplane Association and the Dragon Rapide joined in from that source. There was a lot of e-mailing, talking on the telephone and the plan was hatched. Journalists were invited and a safety briefing evening arranged. The journalists did not attend and this was the start of a potential problem. There was a weight issue and one turned up with 25kgs of gear. She lasted one day before volunteering to leave at Mungo Lodge.
The journey was scheduled to take 8 days. From the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Uluru and then to Alice Springs and then back to Sydney. We had to do 1000 kilometers per day to make Uluru in 3 days.
Day One: Sydney -> Temora -> Hay -> Mildura -> Mungo Lake (484 nautical miles)
Friday the 7th was the pack the aeroplane day and home early for a start at dawn. Saturday was to start with a flight over Sydney harbour with the ABC helicopter and a commercial channel helicopter. None of this eventuated as the helicopters went unserviceable and the weather was inclement. We took off at the appointed time with the aeroplane loaded to it’s maximum and west of Camden ran into the first of our problems. It is always difficult to get out of the Sydney basin and the cloud was on the ground the whole way through the margins of the Blue Mountains. Two aeroplanes got through to Temora and three returned to Camden. We waited a few hours and tried again and this time got through to beautiful weather on the western slopes.
Yes! the weather was inclement to say the least – low blue black stratocumulus – luckily, no wind. I lead the three ship formation of Stearmans from Camden and turned west for the Outback. We were heavily loaded (baggage and survival gear) and only climbed at 100 to 200 fpm through the bleak morning which looked like it was going to rain any minute. Looking up I could see patches of blue here and there peeking through the stratocumulus which was at 4000’. I couldn’t help wondering if we would ever get up there due to our weight. We circled up and up. I could see George and Peter behind me as we struggled like lumbering bombers of WW2 trying to gain altitude. We ascended through some wispy dark stratocumulus at 2000’ into clear above, but below that the thicker stuff above. George decided to abort and returned to Camden. Peter and I continued to circle under a blue patch of sky. It wasn’t long and we were above the scattered stratocumulus and both of us turned to the hinterland. The clouds quickly thinned out the further west we traveled.
We refueled at Temora and then with difficulty at Hay. The fuel bowser was broken but bush engineering saved the day with a combination of the ubiquitous fencing wire and American screwdriver. Then on to Mildura and a meeting with the local press and on to Mungo Lodge close to dark.
The first real problem arrived with the favoured runway as far as the wind was concerned was directly into the sun. We made an approach but went round again due to lack of vision on late finals. The second time was no better and even after leaning out of the quarter side vision window to wipe any contamination away there was no improvement. The landing was extremely difficult with it being filmed from both inside and outside the aeroplane. The De Havilland undercarriage stood up to a seven bounce landing and a screaming photographer who inside the aeroplane dropped the camera. She picked up the camera after we stopped but was then able to film us using the “Second Aid Kit”, that is to say the four glasses and the bottle of port. In these conditions pilots are the closest people to God, even closer than H.S.C. students!
At Mungo Lodge we had a terrific evening meal and breakfast the following day and filled up from 44 gallon fuel drums. One of the Stearmans on take-off had the fuel selector moved to “between” and the engine quit just after take off. The safety checks were made and the engine picked up again just prior to a scrub landing.
Ah yes! That was me! and I scared the living daylights out of myself and Amanda. At about 40 feet (a couple of telephone poles high) the engine spluttered and stopped and we were now gliding – or rather falling as you guys know, a Stearman doesn’t glide real well. I looked over the side and saw, maybe, 20 metres of runway left, and then scrub, boulders, tree stumps, etc. Oh oh! I am about to own a Stearman project!! Amanda was screaming, and we were descending fast. I did a quick check inside and saw the fuel selector in the “off” position. I turned it on and about 5 seconds later and 6 feet from the ground the engine spluttered and restarted and smoothly accelerated to full throttle rpm as we climbed out in ground affect.
I still can’t figure out how the fuel valve got in the “off” position. When Amanda , my fiance, and I started it was “on” as I can’t prime the engine with it in the “off” position. Well! You know how the story goes, when one is in a rush, up till midnight refueling out of jerry cans after a long day flying the previous day (6 hours). The other Stearman pilot blew us full of dust and I was trying to avoid that happening again, the Rapide radioed that he is overheating so I began my takeoff roll without my customary last cockpit check. The Canadians were filming from the side of the runway so I held the nose down until I was abeam them and gently lifted off with lots of speed….this probably saved me… . We were heavily loaded with fuel, extra oil 6 litres. MMO oil 1.8 gals , 2 gals of water, clothes, spares and food as we were now in designated remote country. I had my tent hanging from under the cross tube in front of the front cockpit panel and this may have shifted and caused the fuel to be switched off… I will have a closer look next time I am at the airport… There was a swing to the left on take off as the
tail came up and I corrected with right rudder a bit too much ….so maybe the tent swung under the front panel .. I don’t think so… 7 seconds later the engine cut? I have some experimenting to do………. and figure it was just poor airmanship on my part, not doing my final takeoff check as I was being rushed.. anyway…. I learnt a good lesson and everytime I watch the video I realize how stupid and lucky I was .. We weren’t high at all..maybe 50 feet.. Amanda was also filming at the time and unfortunately stopped when the engine stopped.
I don’t remember much. But I remember looking over the right side to see how much runway was left….. Not a lot!!! maybe 20 metres ?? … Then there was small scrub and some larger trees at the end …. I don’t consciously remember pushing the stick forward, but was thinking of sideslipping it in for a quick landing . I lifted off with plenty airspeed (65knts as I wanted to lift off abeam the cameras and so held her down)…but I still don’t know how close to the stall I was.. I looked at the airspeed and was holding it on 50knots – a bit low I thought at the time .. and this is where I get scared. We would have hit hard , possibly damaging the undercarriage and then into the trees .I remembered my vital actions - checked switches and the saw the fuel was in the ” off “ position. I switched it on and by this time we were near the scrub at the end of the runway, about 4 feet up without any good ideas when the engine restarted and we managed to climb out…phew! I also remember Amanda screaming all the way down. She still loves me!!! As the engine restarted the right wing dropped and I am still trying to figure out why? or was she about to stall and drop a wing?
PS. Mungo Lake has been dry for 50,000 years.
Day 2 was underway: Mungo Lake->Broken Hill-> Leigh Creek-> Olympic Dam-> Coober Pedy (529 nautical miles)
On to Broken Hill.
At Broken Hill the RFDS group were so welcoming we felt at home and we then went on to Leigh Creek and Olympic Dam were we met Ivor Peach and Mary Wagner in their Stearman from South Australia. We had planned to overnight at Coober Pedy but it was too late to travel and the airport manager offered us his spare house. You cannot meet better people than those of the “inland”.
We flew over these huge salt lakes, (approx 100 kilometers long by 50 kilometers wide) one of which is Lake Frome. I descended for a closer look. It felt like I was flying over a frozen landscape, except for the air temperature of 30 degrees we could have been. I was cruising at 70 knots and Amanda was filming. I went a bit lower and lower and figured this to be the biggest airfield I have ever seen. It looked a bit soft and I revised my opinion of a big airfield – more a bog under that white crust
“What about a touch and go I thought? I inched lower and could see little ridges of white crust sticking up. It was pure white. I inched lower some more and now it became a white blur. I felt the tail rise slightly as the wheels made contact and I hauled back on the stick and looked back as we climbed up to see two black 20 meter long tire marks marking my diamond treads. It was soft under that white crust. Slow down and you are stuck”. Yahoo! I have left my mark on Lake Frome probably to stay there until the next rains next century”.
We slowly ascended to find cooler air and to gain height as we were approaching the Flinders ranges. They are small compared to North American mountains and only reach a height of 3600 feet. The salt lake is almost at sea level. As we inched upward I wondered if we would get high enough to clear them. We hit a thermal and we went up at 1500fpm. I circled and reached 6500 feet. It got cold and we slipped our jackets on. After 2 hours, with a sore butt and bursting bladder we landed at Olympic Dam. It was hot again and quickly struggled out of our jackets. Everyone wanted to know if I was fooling around when we left Mungo Lake. I assured them I was not. I guess Amanda was now stuck with me as no one wanted to swop and fly any other legs with me. Hoboy! Make one mistake – tarred for life. In the shed at the petrol bowser, I saw some photos of a pair of Cessnas stuck in the salt lake. Yep! Soft allright! For obvious reasons I did not point out the photos to Amanda.
Day 3: Olympic Dam-> Coober Pedy-> Cadney Homestead-> Kulger Railhead -> Ayers Rock (Uluru) (558 nautical miles)
Refueling again and on to Coober Pedy and then to Cadney Homestead were the airstrip is beside the road and the hospitality great. Refueling and off to Ayers Rock and some appalling turbulence. The aeroplane would move from thermals of 2000 feet climb to 1000 foot descent, but we had an overall tailwind. Willie willies moved across the desert floor and it was a bit of a gymkhana to avoid them. As we approached the Rock of course the radio failed and so a non-radio approach to the Rock. A successful landing and then to wait for the other aeroplane, one of which mistook another mountain for the Rock and flew away into the wilderness for a period until he observed an incongruity between observed and expected.
Ayers Rock Resort is a beautiful place but quite expensive. It is owned by a management company and is in a monopoly position. It can therefore dictate costs and with the aspirations of the local aboriginal folk there will be a conflict at some time when the 2 sources of greed, aboriginal and management, find that tourists no longer wish to pay their rates and they cut into each others territory. There is a potential for great disharmony there and at some time the Government will have to take an unpopular decision with regard to one or the other. We had a lay day there and recovered from the previous three days.
By now the ground below us had turned to red colour. Ah yes! We were flying over the driest continent in the world. I had more oil than water aboard and was wondering whether I was playing it safe or foolish. The Continental continued to rumble up front. I kept leaning the mixture as we ascended, the engine missed, and I had Amanda’s attention. All okay I assured her in the review mirror! 1750 rpm, ground speed 80 knots, butt becoming sore. Arrived Coober Pedy, slight crosswind, but we were so heavy and came in fast like a 747. It was hot- 40 C. This is an Opal mining town and about as close as one will get to the Wild West in modern times. The townsfolk live in caves, came out and inspected the three Stearmans and Rapide and asked us to buzz the school on our way out. It is cooler to live underground than above ground. The landscape looked as desolate as the moon. We buzzed the school and Ivor and Mary went to find the road north, just in case. We were now being bounced around real bad and the only way to get height was to find a thermal and there were plenty. My desire to own a boat one day when I am rich evaporated quickly as we felt like a small boat in a rough ocean. I now added nausea to my list of discomforts.
Finally found one and yanked into a hard bank and a few minutes later we were up at 5000 feet. It was nice and cool, but I was still feeling nauseas and the circling did not help. I don’t know how glider pilots can do this continuous circling or buzzards or vultures for that mater. I had lost sight of the other Stearmans and called them up to check on their positions. Everyone reported in. My oil temperature was at 60C. I was glad I changed to Phillips 25w-60. They were running at 70C.
We landed at Cadney Homestead and Amanda bought us each a fly net that one wears over your head to keep the flies from crawling up one nostrils or in one ears and mouth. Yep! This is the Aussie Outback. I was tired and my butt was sore. At least, I wasn’t nauseas anymore. Boy! It was hot, real hot, hot and sticky!
After some water, fuel and the mandatory “empty the bladder routine” on one of the facilities – a parched salt bush, we saddled up for Kulgera Railhead, 127 nm away. It is basically a roadhouse/pub on the main north south road. There is a small dirt strip at 90 degrees to the road and the wind favoured the strip. So we landed on the strip and walked to the roadhouse to buy some fuel and get something to eat. We were getting excited. Finally the last leg to our final destination – the ROCK, and the comfort of a 5 star resort for two nights. The good folks of Kulgera came out with a pickup truck with fuel in 44 gallon drums. Interesting method of measuring fuel delivered. Each stroke of the manual pump is 1 litre.
The final leg was bumpy to begin with. Airspeed was steady at 70 knots, rpm 1750 and it was a cool 25C. The conditions eased and in the distance we could make out the ROCK on the horizon. It is huge. Ivor asked me to lead us in, as his radio was playing up. I decided to fly past the ROCK and allow George to take some pictures with the Stearmans in the foreground and the ROCK in the background. The Australian newspaper photographer was riding with George and a photo of my bird made the middle pages of the paper the next day.
Day 5: Uluru -> Kings Creek -> Alice Springs (180 nautical miles)
Alice Springs is a terrific town and it is becoming a round-a-bout capital. Our radio did not like the hot and high environment and as such the term “carked” was applicable. We could still receive but not transmit but got our hands on a hand held in the intervening time. We were communicado. One of the sponsors had arranged a reception in the town so we and the RFDS personnel were feted royally.
Now a thing about these RFDS personnel , they are vocational people and do this job from the noblest of motives. They are not just for the remote people but for all that find themselves in the remote areas. They have an increasing number of tourists to deal with and as the numbers of retired people and back packers travel the area they are being called to increasing road traffic accidents involving non-locals. If you ever travel or think of traveling in a remote area thank the RFDS for their “Mantel of Safety”, as it is the only thing available there.
We had a discussion one night about the support for this organization and the key points were that though the Government perhaps should give greater monies to the RFDS they on no account should be allowed any control. In other countries there are similar organizations but these can be militarily based or totally Government controlled. They are not half as effective as our RFDS. Mark Twain said that “No ones life , liberty or property was safe whilst the legislature was in session” and we all said “Ain’t that the truth”.
Departed Uluru at the crack of dawn- a short hop to Alice Springs (180 nm). Ivor and Mary were going to show us Palm Canyon where the movie Kangeroo Jack was filmed. Jane, from Canada was going to fly with me. She was ready with her huge Sony PD150 video cam. The photographer was with George and we were going to pass over some salt lakes and she wanted some pictures.
“We briefed for our low level mission – to get some pics at zero feet on the bed of the salt lake. Ivor was nominated leader and we scrambled to our waiting aircraft and saddled up. It was long and we were over a salt lake and tallyho we descended in formation and leveled out in ground affect. Unfortunately the lake wasn’t pure white, nonetheless there were now 6 birds on formation. Three actual birds and three shadows. I trimmed slightly back, so should I get distracted we would go up. The edge of the lake was fast approaching. I felt like I was flying a fast kerosene burner. The others broke formation and ascended as we screamed over the edge. Jane was filming and I kept the nose down and aimed for a break in the dunes at the edge. Whoa! We flashed through and banked hard right, the bottom wingtip vortices kicking up dust as we followed the trough of the sand dune. Then leveled out and up and over into the next gully evading enemy radar and a whole bunch of stunted trees. Now this is the way to fly a Stearman – nape of the earth”.
“The country side is spectacular and got some great pics along the lake bottom. Then Ivor lead us into Palm Canyon. We zigged and zagged through the canyon. My feet were kept busy for the first time in days as I played with the rudder pedals to coordinate my turns, hauling back the stick to climb over some trees and then unloading and zooming down to a few feet above the dry river bed trying to follow it exactly. It wasn’t long and we were out, over flat country. Back to straight and level, the sore butt and bladder that were momentarily forgotten kicked in”.
The three Stearmans refueled from drums at Kings Creek and took time out to chat with that station hands. Called Jackeroos (guys) and Jillaroos (girls). Some of the Jillaroos were real attractive, or so I thought, and were keen on a joyride. However, we had to get to Alice Springs by noon as we had a reception committee of media and local TV waiting for us. It is controlled airspace and adjacent to the Pine Gap US communications facility. The controllers were delighted to have three small Boeings to vector in and gave us priority. After all the itsy bitsy dirt strips that we landed on, the tar runway appeared huge and I couldn’t decided which end to land on. Finally picked a spot nearest a taxi way and plonked in. I felt like a real airline pilot taxing my Boeing behind a Qantas 737 and could see the curious passengers looking out their small windows. We were marshaled and parked in front of the Royal Flying Doctors Hanger. There was a sizeable crowd and I felt like a celebrity. Once the interviews were done, we headed off to a motel to clean up for the cocktail party at the RFDS headquarters.
Day 6: Alice Springs –> Kulgera Railhead -> Cadney Homestead-> Coober Pedy (330 nautical miles)
On leaving Alice Springs we passed over the grave of the Reverend and Mrs. Flynn. The Stearmans flew a missing man formation and the Rapide a slow and low pass whilst Primrose read from Isaiah 35 which included “The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them , and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.” It goes on to say “Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful hearted, Be strong”. Now Flynn in placing the “Mantle of Safety” was banishing fear and that made this event an emotional one. Interestingly the grave had a spherical stone on it originally but an aboriginal tribe wished it’s return to it’s origin for a reason explicable to themselves. However another tribe replaced this with a similar stone and in doing so was widely honoured.
Away from Alice Springs and direct to Cadney Homestead. The wind again favoured us and allowed us to get there with an hour of fuel still left. We perhaps could have reached Coober Pedy but we kept it safe. The landing was eventful with a fluctuating wind which changed on touch down to a quartering tail wind. Now this is very significant in that if your landing speed is say 65 knots and you land into wind at 20 knots you actually touch down at 45 knots. If however the wind changes when you are committed to land to 20 knots from the tail then you actually are landing at 85 knots. This is about twice as fast and prone therefore to a ground loop in a tail wheel aircraft. The best description about landing a tail wheel aircraft is to imagine reversing with a trailer at these speeds and if the wind shifts it will develop a wonky wheel like a shopping trolley. A ground loop means that the aeroplane starts to spin around on it’s wheels and can go over on it’s wing and damage the wing.
Cadney was at 42 celsius and we had difficulty accelerating in the thin high air. But we got off and then to Coober Pedy were we stayed in an underground motel and visited the Catacomb Church a non-denominational place of worship.
This ecumenical church echoes Flynn’s own account that he “The A.I.M. Superintendent was baptized by a Methodist Minister; most of his “church” attendance under an Anglican roof; and if he had been loyal in his work it was due to in great part a devoted Roman Catholic grandmother ; that being found in a Presbyterian regeme may be ascribed by some to be an accident, by others to the perserverance of the saints, one of whom crossed from Scotland to Killarney long years ago / Are we not all interlocked by sacred ties of blood and faith, which should make us proud of one another’s achievements.”
I led the formation of three Stearmans out of Alice Springs for the flyover of John Flynn’s grave. We paid tribute to the great man in the early dawn and probably woke up a few people as well. Stayed clear of Pine Gap incase we were fired upon and turned south to follow the Stuart highway and retrace our steps back to Sydney.
“We were following the Stuart Highway south at about 200 feet agl. Now for some serious fun. Ivor and I were looking for potential targets and it wasn’t long we had our quarry in sight. A 4X4 vehicle traveling in the same direction as us. Ivor peeled off for his “strafing” run and lined up behind the 4X4. If the driver had looked in his review mirror he would have seen 7 cylinder radial engine bearing down on him. I was behind Ivor and slightly to one side to avoid his wake turbulence. Ivor came on the radio, “dadadadad” and zoomed over the 4X4. I am sure the driver hardly had a chance to recover his heart beat when I “zoomed” him as well. Ivor had a “kill”.
I climbed to find more “enemy” and came across a white Toyota Prado. I peeled in on attack, but had to break it off as there was oncoming traffic –“AAA flak was too heavy”. Once clear, I resumed my “attack”. My navigator in front was saying something about growing up and that this is dangerous. I am sure Ivor’s navigator was also complaining. Yep! The “fighter pilots” are in trouble!. I rolled in and lined up for a deflection shot. Airspeed was now at 85 knots and rpm was close to redline. The scrub flashed past either wing as we were just a few feet above the blacktop. The Toyota wasn’t getting bigger. It was getting smaller as it pulled away. I broke off the “attack”, some what miffed. He must have seen me coming and as there are no speed limits in the Northern Territory, he just accelerated away. I have a new respect for these new Toyotas. My navigator wasn’t sympathetic and I was wondering how much a 450 costs”.
Cadney Homestead came into view and we could see the Dragon Rapide on the ground. The wind had come up and was blowing at 30 knots across the runway. My bladder said “land”. But since I nearly converted my bird into a project already I wasn’t keen to try again. I checked my fuel gauge and didn’t like what I saw. I was also now sorry I wasted fuel “shooting” up tourists. The other two Stearmans also felt the risk wasn’t worth it and collectively we decided to push on to Coober Pedy. We over flew Cadney and slowly climbed. I leaned the mixture and kept the RPM exactly on 1750 rpm. I did not enjoy this leg as I watched the fuel gauge drop. I even forgot about the ache in my butt and the pressure in my bladder – 3 hours – the longest leg of the trip. Luckily we had a slight tail wind, otherwise, the only other option is too land on the highway and siphon fuel from our victims that we attacked earlier on. Now that would have been poetic justice.
We checked in to the neatest underground hotel and had a great dinner in an underground restaurant with best underground food. The French mademoiselle who owned the hotel, said we were lucky we came today as the weekly road train had arrived with supplies.
Day 7: Coober Pedy- > Olympic Dam-> Leigh Creek-> Broken Hill (400 nautical miles)
Then to Olympic Dam and Leigh Creek where Ivor and Mary left for South Australia.
We were under strict instructions to attend an afternoon tea at the RFDS hanger at Broken Hill on our return. On the way we had been delayed arriving at Broken hill and our welcoming committee had gone home, but now the most magnificent country tea with all the delicate morsels that one could tempt the Queen with were provided by the ladies of the support committee. These are more elderly ladies but I am sure they have considerable influence in the Silver City. Actually in a way it is a true democracy as these ladies with their children and grandchildren plus extended family will report the feelings of the area more expertly and with greater accuracy than any opinion poll. We all salute these ladies and wish them well and great health to continue their great work!
Saturday morning on the return we were hoping to reach Orange, but 2 problems cropped up. The Rapide developed a fuel leak which was spotted when doing a thorough pre-flight check. After a bit of work we resolved this as it was a fuel line in a difficult place that had loosened off. Secondly we had planned to go to Cobar to refuel but a sixth sense made us check if fuel was available. Would you believe he had sold out!
So re-planning to Ivanhoe where the local garage was able to bring out a couple of 44 gallon drums of fuel. This is very interesting in that older engines were designed to accept 70 octane non leaded fuels and as such 80 octane unleaded is good for them. Old engines are ecologically better, isn’t that a strange claim? Motor fuel may vaporize at higher altitudes but staying low can resolve this in part.
At any rate we got to Orange and attended a dinner to honour the four Hazelton brothers who are Australian aviation icons.
We really took over the dinner a bit and put on a video of the Stearmans over Ayers Rock and the Rapide doing a 7 bounce landing. This amused the dinners too much for the Rapide crew. Australia verses the “All blacks” interrupted the dinner a bit I must admit but the next morning we escaped to Sydney for a one hour flight home. In this the weather started to turn foul as we neared Sydney, well what do you expect!
The countryside below us took on a brown patchwork quilt of farms which progressively got greener. Peter Anderson flew up in his Stearman to meet us in Orange and it took him over 2 hours for the 90 nm trip. Huge storms were coming and we all departed post haste with a 40 knot tailwind, that literally blew us over the Blue Mountains, only 7 miles from home base. The mountains really looked more dark blue than I have ever seen them. Probably just mirroring the dark sky. The sky was angry with dark stratocumulonimbus and cumulonimbus with streaks of white overhead. One could see the line of the front as it was approaching. It is the first time I have seen lenticular clouds over the Blue Mountains. I nosed over and the airspeed hovered around 100 knots. The controls were stiff and the flying wires were whisteling. It was going to be close and I was determined to make it and not get caught so close to home and after coming such a long way. Did a beauty of a three pointer and pushed into the hanger as the first squall arrived.
I was glad I was back on the ground and my bird was chocked and parked in her spot in the hanger. She didn’t miss a beat.
Ah! flying doesn’t get better than this, especially when you are riding in a Boeing Stearman and with other two wing aficionados.
DH 89a Rapide Statistics VH-UTU 3234 Nautical Miles traveled; 32.5 hours of flight time; 770 gallons of fuel used or 3500 litres of fuel; 15 gallons of oil used; 21 landings and take offs.
Stearman 220 W670 Statistics VH-LSJ; 3234 Nautical Miles traveled; 42.5 hours flight time; 578 US gals, 2200 litres of fuel; 8 litres of oil good eh!; 22 landings and takeoffs
The weather except for the Sydney basin was good with remarkably tail winds varying from 3 Knots to 25 Knots.
The next trip is being planned for September 2005. So stay tuned. Pictures cane be seen on the following websites;
www.newsphotos.com.au search for “Stearman” or “Uluru”