28 June 2014

Trans Tasman Adventure Part 2

The primary reason for the trip to Australia was to complete an aerial photography contract in the Sunshine Coast area, just north of Brisbane city. We needed clear weather for several low level runs over the target area, and were able to fly these successfully over two flights on the Saturday after we had arrived.

From our base at Redcliffe the unusual topography of the Glasshouse Mountains Regional Park was visible, lying about 15 miles to the northwest of the airfield (YRED). Having finished all the photography work, we took a day off to explore the local area and checked out the volcanic peaks from the air before heading south along the Queensland coast to Coolangatta Airport (YBCG).

Once back on the ground at the Gold Coast, we hired a car and went to visit another pilots home simulator- easily the most impressive 'sim pit' I've ever seen, with every switch and gauge pulled from real aircraft, and functioning accurately through a link to a computer running the DCS military simulator.

Glasshouse Mountains National Park
Mount Coonowrin
Mount Beerwah
North Stradbroke Island
Flying the Sim Pit
Sim Pit closeup
Surfers Paradise
Final for 07, YRED
Come Sunday evening, we began reading the aviation forecasts for Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island for our planned return trip across the Tasman on Monday. Even though a large high pressure system was still dominating the synoptic charts, several troughs and frontal buildups had began sneaking north from the Southern Ocean and LHI had a PROB30 forecast of thunderstorms at our time of arrival.

Fortunately these forecasts had changed again come departure time on Monday morning, and although there was to be more widespread cloud cover over the water this time, it looked like another fairly favourable crossing was ahead.

Brisbane centre warned us to expect windshear over the lagoon upon arrival at LHI, as well as to say "G'day to Buzzer", the refueller on the island upon arrival. 2 hours 45 minutes later we were there, with a 20 knot tailwind knocking 15 minutes off the planned trip time, and a gentle but steady breeze straight down runway 10 coming into land.Unlike the outbound trip, we didn't have any hold ups with customs this time, and were soon back at cruising level on track for Norfolk Island. Most of this trip was above cloud, so much so that the towering cumulus cloudscape below almost tricked me in to forgetting we were over the middle of the ocean!

I'd briefed for the VOR approach for runway 11 again, however we popped out the cloud base around 2800 feet, 500 feet above the 25nm MSA. With the latest METAR showing gusts of 17 knots roughly half way between the two cross vectors at the airport, we made a visual overfly to see what the windsocks were up to. Turns out runway 04 was a more desirable direction to land towards, so I joined right hand downwind for a full stop with three hours having just ticked over on the clock.

Breaking visual at Norfolk
It was now around 4pm local (so 0330 UTC) and due to the rotation of the earth, we would have run out of daylight if we'd continued on again to Kerikeri. Normally this wouldn't be an issue, however because we required representatives from NZ customs and MAF to meet the aircraft on arrival, and neither of them worked after dark, it meant staying the night on Norfolk.

It was late evening by the time I got to my hotel room, and apart from the short drive between the terminal and the resort, I didn't get much of an opportunity to check out the island. We were off again at the very sociable time of 9am the following morning, complete with warm coffee in takeaway cups, up above a solid blanket of strataform cloud on the reverse of our original track.

With a NE wind, we had a ground speed fluctuating between 192 and 202 knots, getting us overhead Kaitaia 15 minutes earlier than planned. Top of descent was 25 miles from KK NDB, and for the first time of all six sectors, I needed to perform a full instrument approach through IMC for runway 33.

All up (i
ncluding the Ardmore to Kerikeri legs) it was a planned distance of 2968.6 nautical miles there and back- all flown by hand, without autopilot engaged. Definitely the highlight of my career to date. Bring on the next adventure!

27 June 2014

Trans Tasman Adventure

What started out as a phone call from the boss at the end of May asking how I'd feel about flying to Australia has just yielded in the addition of 18 hours Trans-Oceanic flight time added to my logbook.

The first step on this journey was to renew my MEIR currency, upgrading the rating from an AFS issued two pilot variant to a single pilot endorsement with Flight Test NZ. This benefits both myself and the company, allowing me to fly as PiC on future positioning flights without the need for a copilot to work the radios and call out checklists on IFR flight plans.

As I hadn't logged any IF time whilst working as a drop pilot, I required a few refresher flights to get the standard of my flying up to speed. Whilst accompanied by another C310 pilot, I was able to visit the likes of Rotorua, Hamilton and Auckland International to practise arcs, holding patterns and various VOR, NDB and ILS approaches in preparation for the flight test.

Including the copilots duties with my own upped the workload noticeably compared with my original training sorties in the Duchess, with the slippery Cat B performance meaning everything happens at a quicker pace in the air and requires plenty of thought in advance as to not mentally fall behind the aircraft.

Poor weather conditions (as in daily FZL's of 5000ft) and infrequent testing officer availability (standard ops for getting anything done at Ardmore airfield) saw the date of my check postponed until June 18th- just two days prior to our planned departure date to Aussie. We'd picked June 20th as our crossing date due to a large anticyclone over the Tasman creating clear and smooth flying conditions all the way over, definitely a preference with my inexperience of long distance over water international flying!

Anyhow the renewal flight itself seemed to go well enough, although CB's reported on the NZHN ATIS an hour prior to our estimated off blocks time caused a brief panic. Coincidently the testing officer was running about an hour late and by the time we arrived overhead, I was visual with the runway and clear of cloud.

My boss was also generous enough to organise a safety pilot to ride along in the righthand seat for my first Trans Tasman trip, who had flown the route in our aircraft several times previously. His operational knowledge was a great help, particularly with HF radio call format, what to expect at the enroute aerodromes and airspace.

We cleared customs at Kerikeri early that Friday morning, having departed from Ardmore at the crack of dawn VFR. Climbing to 9000ft from KK, we overheaded the Kaitaia NDB on the H275 track, then set course for Norfolk Island along G591, some 466 miles north west.

Conditions on the first three hour sector were the clearest my boss had experienced in the 20 years he'd been making these flights, although the feeling of isolation was distinctive out over the empty blue expanse of sea and sky. Norfolk Unicom got hold of us 60 miles out, advising of a light SE wind on the ground, and I was able to make a visual approach for runway 11- get my passport stamped and top up the tanks all before 12 o'clock midday NZ time.

Lord Howe Island, 484 miles to the south west on the B450 route was our next stepping stone, via reporting point TEKEP which marks the change over point between the Auckland Oceanic and Brisbane Oceanic flight information regions. Time passed surprisingly quickly with the requirement to change fuel tank selections every hour and a half, along with monitoring it's consumption and our waypoint arrival estimates breaking the long flight down into manageable segments. The company of two passengers, accompanied by an iPod with bluetooth connectivity to our noise cancelling headsets helped things along too.

We'd got airborne from YSNF by 0100 UTC, with an ETA of 0400 UTC at YLHI. Lord Howe is technically part of the state of New South Wales which gave us the ability to clear Australian customs as well as take on more fuel and make use the terminal toilets upon arrival. The time zone is 10 hours and 30 minutes ahead of UTC, and we were wheels down at 2.30pm local after picking the island's silhouette out on the horizon from an impressive 90 mile distance.

The steep mountainous terrain in close proximity to the airfield is known to induce moderate to severe turbulence at low altitudes in winds greater than 12 knots from 240 degrees out of the 360, which I'd been warned of by other aviators who've visited the remote destination. Fortunately on the Friday we flew in there was nothing more than 10 knots on the AWIS- although a visual overfly upon arrival showed the windsocks at opposite edges of the aerodrome swinging around in different directions due to runway spanning the entire width of the landmass and affected by a seabreeze from either end.

The final approach was still a little lumpy, and the wind dropped off completely on the last 30 or so feet resulting in a rather positive touchdown. We'd hoped to be in and out of the airport office by 0500 UTC, although due to a glitch in the customs system we ended up being stuck on the ground for nearly three hours whilst the head honchos in Sydney tried to work out why their database incorrectly thought I'd been living in Australia since April 2013!

There was just 20 minutes left of daylight by the time we were given the thumbs up to depart- with the majority of the final leg now unexpectedly to be flown at night. The sunset from cruise level gave me a nice clear horizon for the first half an hour to aid orientation, but after that it was all eyes on instruments and pitch black darkness out of every window as we traversed route J208 400 miles north west to Brisbane.

Briz Centre picked us up 150 miles off the mainland, which came as welcome contact after passaging in and out of bumpy cloud buildups topping 10,000 feet with a 43 knot headwind in the second half of the leg. The relief experienced as the glow of the urbanised eastern Australian coastline came into view was far greater than I expected, a rewarding sight of after nine hours of flight time since the takeoff from Kerikeri that morning!

25 miles out from YBBN, ATC put us on vectors towards Redcliffe airport, our planned final destination where we would be basing our commercial operations from over the next few days. Apart from being unable to activate the PAL runway edge indicators until I was mid downwind, the landing on 07 in the dark was just as planned, all be it at 8pm local rather than 4 in the afternoon.

I'll post a separate update with some snaps from flying around the Brisbane region, and the return trip to New Zealand tomorrow... Cheers for reading!