Day 13 - Broken Hill YBHI to Stawell YSWL
We got a leisurely start in Broken Hill, as the weather wasn't great down in Stawell. Apropos of nothing, Broken Hill is so named because it is a serious mining town, and the original hill is not only broken but now gone. Val had warned us that we wouldn't be leaving for the airport until 9:30am, contrary to our usual practice. We had only a single leg remaining to complete the tour, a flight of around 305 NM to Stawell YSWL, the tour's home airfield. My pax and I planned to follow them there, stay a night or two and head back to Camden to get the airplane its 100-hr inspection and use the Sydney/Campbelltown area as our base for any future wandering.
When we got to the airport, I headed off to find fuel, as the day before the refuellers had gone home and I couldn't use the BP cardswipe bowser. I called up and was told that they would be over by the fuelling yard, so I trotted out to SDN, removed the tiedowns and did a preflight. Put in a quart of oil, as she was down around 6.5 qts again, then my pax arrived so we prepped and fired her up. Got on the radio and announced the reposition, then taxied to the fuel pump. When I got out, the BP JET-A1 truck, over by the RPT ramp where the scheduled commuter flight was waiting, turned and came over. The gent within hopped out, and when I explained that I'd called earlier, he said "Oh, right, no worries" and swiped the bowser with his company authorization.
I fuelled SDN - she took right around 120 liters - and he and I headed over to the hangar and office to complete the transaction. Fuel was AUD $2.30/liter, which was pretty good for this trip, but made me pine for US fuel prices of around $6-6.50/U.S. gal. After fuelling, I headed back out. Another plane had pulled up to the pump, so my pax had pushed SDN back. We got in and got prepped. While we were doing so, Val and Hugh fired up and departed from down the ramp. When we got started, we taxied over to the holding point. I called up the REX flight on the way and asked if they would like us to wait - Australia's CASA requests that all GA aircraft give way to scheduled transport where possible and convenient, and I could see they had started their engines. REX said "We've got 2-4 minutes before taxi, thanks much, but you go ahead" so I saluted and headed out for the holding point.
The other aircraft that had fuelled followed us, and when I declared that I was backtracking on 05, he asked if we'd mind if he did an intersection departure. I said "No worries" (just to get into the spirit of things) and he thanked us and turned left onto the runway and headed out as we trundled down the km or so of runway that was to the right of the intersection. I'm sure I could have gotten SDN off from that intersection as well, but as an instructor of mine told me, "Runway behind you does you no good at all" and I figured why push it.
We departed as soon as we got turned around - the REX flight was waiting at the holding point as we went past on climbout. I declared our departure. Here in Australia, it's customary on the CTAF to declare your departure time in UTC (minutes past the hour) and your intended course - that way anyone in the area can figure out if you're going to be a factor for their flight path.
We headed out on a 160 radial towards Stawell, and REX departed immediately after us - but they headed out on a 215 heading for Adelaide, and went up to flight level 180. No piddling around at 5500 feet for them.
On the way, the weather wasn't bad, but we kept an ear peeled for reports from further south. We passed Mildura YMIA, our first alternate, and kept going. We had figured out how to get aux inputs into SDN's comm system, so we continued our impromptu Don Red tribute on the way, laughing hard at our admitted desire (the both of us) to find a way to broadcast big chunks of Newman's Own Suicide Mind Eraser out onto the aviation VHF channels. Thankfully, we refrained, but still!
As we got south of Mildura, cloud layers became visible up ahead. And they were below us. Sigh. I checked with Val - she had been in touch with her corporate base, at Stawell - they said the clouds were up 'just above circuit height, no worries.' YSWL is at 759 feet MSL or so. She noted that we should be fine traversing the last few dozen miles at 2000 or even 1500 feet. I wasn't so sure about that - it sounded a lot like scud running to me - and I was out in front. But as I descended down to 2500, I realized that I could see past the low cloud, underneath - so I decided to risk it, as the air behind us was clear. In addition, the cloud layer was very thin, topping at perhaps 4500 feet - so worst case, I could turn around and pick my way through it to get on top while I headed back north to clearer air. Just for future fun, I remembered to turn on the GoPro, so we'd have evidence of either a fun low flight or me screwing up.
We dodged some tiny puffy clouds at around 2000, so I dropped to 1600. That took us pretty low - under 1000 AGL, to be honest - but we were flying over farmland. The scattered cloud fell behind, and we ended up under a solid layer, but it was up at 3000-3500 MSL, so I climbed back to 1800 and remained legal.
On the way in, a Tecnam called out on the CTAF - it was the tour company owner, out showing off an airplane (they're also a Tecnam dealer) so I responded and told him I was out in front of ULE and IRJ. "Oh righto," he said, "No problems, come right in, bags of room. I'll head out to the west to give you space."
Bags of room. Sure.
I was a bit nervous, as this was my first time trying to make it in to an airport by flying under relatively low cloud. However, there was no rain, the wind was only around 11 kts (quartering tailwind, but right down one of the runways at YSWL) so I soldiered on. We came into sight of the field, ran the pre-landing checklist, and I turned base then final for 36 (a sealed but shorter runway). As we came around, though, despite my somewhat more intent mien (weather, end of trip, etc.) I put SDN right where I wanted, and greased the landing. We taxied over to the apron while I worked to clear my left ear from the pressure change, and concentrated on holding my, er, bladder.
When we parked, I hopped out and ran to an open gate, walking off the airport and across the dirt track paralleling it before sighing with relief and watering a needy fence post.
And thus the tour ended. The rest of the folks showed up, we had a nice cuppa in the office and relaxed for a bit. I had to arrange for fuel, and it turned out the construction project going on on the apron was...a new fuel point, which meant the existing one was in pieces in the hangar. But the company next door, whch runs fire scouts and ag services (spraying, seeding) had drum fuel, and one of their mechanics cheerfully trundled a 200 liter drum out to SDN. We figured out the manual pump, and we put 100 liters in - my first drum fueling.
And with that, we headed in to Stawell to find our rooms, dinner, and do some laundry. It looks like rain on Thursday, but we have our rooms through Friday, when it's supposed to be 'partly sunny.' So hopefully we'll get out of here for Camden either Thursday or Friday.
Addendum: I have now eaten kangaroo steak. It is quite nice. For the record.