Day 4 - Longreach YLRE to Karumba YKMB
Woke up for an early breakfast at 6:30 in Longreach. At 7:30 we walked back over to the airport, passing under the regal form of the City of Bunbury (the Qantas 747). Preflighting went smoothly, and we prepped the airplane for a long-ish leg of 390 nm to Normanton YNTN, where we would refuel before a quick 19 mile hop to Karumba, our destination for the day.
We were the first airplanes off YLRE. Val, in VH-ULE, took off first. Hugh, flying VH-IRJ and us in SDN took a few more minutes to run through checklists. One thing about having a glass cockpit is that like too many other computers, you have to wait for the thing to boot before you can do anything. On a steam gauge airplane, you can run through the checklist almost as fast as you're comfortable doing so safely - on the G1000, there are at least two points where you're essentially sitting there waiting for a POST and boot before you can check readings.
We took off second, and headed out across northern Queensland. Val had given us a card to post in SDN with the aircraft reg numbers and pilot names (tickled, still, to see myself listed as pilot - I'm basically a kid, in that respect, and I hope it never changes) and the company frequency for tour chat.
We all settled in to cruise. We were making around 135 kts across the ground, and Val and Hugh were making perhaps 115 - they are flying 172s, with 4-cylinder 180HP engines and fixed-pitch props; we have 230HP in SDN, with a 6-cylinder Lycoming and a variable pitch prop. As a result, by fiddling with engine leaning, I am managing to get 135 kt cruises on 10.5 gallons/hr fuel burn, on a heavier airplane. That's about what I burn in N12732 back home, a 172 with a lower MTOW.
Northern Queensland is suffering from drought, which is quite apparent from the air. The country is dry; watering holes are low or dry, and there is very little cattle present compared to the available pasture acreage, as most of them have been rounded up and taken elsewhere where there is more fodder and water. Or slaughtered, I suppose, in some cases. Empty water holes surrounded by cattle tracks were abundant.
We're actually quite far into the Australian interior, at this point, and it's evident - almost no roads. In the 390 NM leg, I think we crossed a single paved highway (which had no traffic visible). Very few structures - some temporary or utility structures for ranching, and a few stations were visible, but not many.
Around halfway, we caught up to Val in ULE. I had elected to fly at 4500 while she and Hugh were at 3500, partially for that reason - I figured it would be easier to avoid unpleasant surprises by leaving a thousand foot buffer between us. We eventually did find her, though - and the G1000 stubbornly resisted my attempts to edge over to the right a bit to maintain a line of sight to ULE from my side of the plane, until I shut off the autopilot and swung wide. After passing them, I got back onto the projected course track.
I'm not using paper charts in the airplane, much. I have them ready, but I'm not performing the required minimum-every-thirty-minutes position check on the paper. To be honest, Australian charts are kind of crap, if you're used to American sectionals. They have very little information on them - although they have airfields marked, they don't have navaids, and they have no airfield information on the chart itself - no frequencies, no navaids, no runway info, etc. They may have field elevation, but that's about it. The rest of the chart - no highways, obstacle markings/clearances, anything. Railroads and some power lines are marked, but very few.
As a result, I am relying on electronics. I know this is bad, but I'm not doing so without backup. The G1000 in the plane is my primary - it has redundant modules. In addition, I have (and have verified functionality of) OzRunways on my iPad, and general GPS mapping on my iPhone. All of those work fine. The airplane has a power outlet, so charge isn't an issue. OzRunways, to be honest, gives me pretty much exactly the same functionality as the G1000 system, with a much better user interface. The only things it can't do involve connecting to other aircraft systems. But for navigation, it's excellent- better, in fact, than the U.S. app ForeFlight, which I have always considered to be an excellent example of an aviation app. It still is, don't get me wrong - but OzRunways just feels easier to use and read. It has other neat features, like firing iOS alerts when your course track indicates that you should switch to a different area frequency. Best of all, it has a thirty-day free trial, which just covers my trip here.
After a long leg, we arrived at Normanton. As I was approaching from the southeast, another aircraft announced that they were leaving Karumba for Normanton, and we would be arriving roughly simultaneously. This is a trend - most airports I've visited here, this has happened, generally with us being the only traffic for twenty minutes in either direction.
Coordinated with them (Tango Mike Quebec) and let them know that I'd be doing a full circuit, so if they were going direct, I'd be happy to stay behind them. That worked - by the time I was flying an upwind to eyeball the runway, they were landing. As we passed even with the runway, my pax said "That's a pretty big plane." I looked over - indeed, they were backtaxiing, and the shape was...not only big, but...
"That's a DC-3," I said, although uncertain of the veractiy of this due to their rarity.
"It's big, all right."
We came around and landed (my landings are improving, I'm pleased to say - they weren't ever unsafe, but they were inconsistent - as I fly SDN more, I'm learning what a proper approach looks like, and as a result the landings are getting better. Making the turnoff midway down the runway, I looked over - and it was a DC-3. A shiny one with bright markings. I pulled over next to the othe raircraft parked there, an older 182, and shut down. My pax headed off the field for a smoke, and I of course headed over to ogle the DC-3. She was marked up as 'Nostalgia Airlines' which seemed appropriate. I chatted up the gents from the other 182, who were also there to ogle her, and we took a few pictures. By that time, Val had arrived and ambled over, hoping that the Mobil truck which was by then fueling the DC-3 would have enough juice left for us!
Fueling at YNTN means calling ahead to call out the fueler. I was glad both that Val had taken care of that, and that it was a Mobil truck, which meant I could use the carnet card that came with the airplane.
After fueling up all three of us, the truck left. We all stood on the tarmac and watched as the DC-3 fired back up, taxiied out and took off, then got back in the planes for a quick 15 minute hop to Karumba. Stayed at 1500 feet for the trip.
Two things about Karumba - one, the DC-3 had gone back there, and was again waiting for us as we landed. Two, it's on the coast. The airstrip is perhaps fifty yards from the ocean. The north coast. I've made it to the north coast of Australia (albeit within a Gulf). The weather is lovely, the beach is pretty, there are pelicans and fish hawks and other birds - and a big sign warning that this beach is populated by crocodiles, and that failure to heed the warning on the sign can lead to injury and death and dismemberment, as crocodiles are dangerous.
Yep. Still in Australia.
Tomorrow we're doing a flight along the coastline for a couple of hundred miles. Finally got the GoPro mounted in the airplane today, and took some test video - I think we got the departure from Longreach, and we got most of the intervening leg using the timelapse function, but the battery died before we landed at YNTN. Hopefully I'll get some video of the coast.
One thing I did manage to do on the way here was figure out how to input arbitrary coordinate waypoints into the G1000, and then assemble them into a flight plan - so I should have our whole scenic flight programmed into SDN at this point. I'm not sure yet if I'll try to fly it myself, or if I'll hang back behind the tour pilots by cruising slowly, and let them lead. Probably the latter.