Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Coffin Run

I know i said i would write about the Tennant Creek flights and i still will. Its a work in progress with lots of photos and things to say. But today i had an interesting flight which i thought i would write about first. It was actually 2 charters merged into the one flight. Firstly, I was to fly a coffin down to Ayers Rock for a burial in one of the communities near Yulara. (Yulara is the name of the Aboriginal community at Ayers Rock.) I then had to cool my heels in the airport terminal for 2 hours and then fly to a community called Fregon to pick up 2 Aboriginal kids who were flying to Alice Springs for school.

So i departed bright and early after loading the coffin. To load the coffin you have to remove the door of the C210. Quite an easy task, although a little bit fiddly. However, once you know what to do its easy. The coffin was quite heavy and took 4 or 5 of us to get it in there. To load the coffin we must remove all the seats (except the pilots) and fold the back seats down. We then put a milk crate on the floor where the front passenger seat usually is, and the coffin sits quite nicely down the length of the fuselage. The pictures above and below give you an idea of how its loaded.

A lot of people dont like doing the coffin runs. Personally it doesnt bother me, and although it may sound disrespectful, it becomes a fairly good armrest inflight. The C210 doesnt have much room as you can see in the photos, so really its inevitable. If you think flying coffins is bad, one of my work colleagues had to fly a body in just a body bag. That would probably gross me out.

Nonetheless, i departed on time and it was a smooth morning with winds from the Northeast. Being in one of the faster C210's i arrived at Ayers Rock in just over an hour. When i got to the airport, there was already a car waiting with 5 dudes to help me unload it. Its definately nice when things actually goto plan. The worst part about my job at the moment is due to the heat and regular rain, which has made the insects and flies unbelievable. And for some reason at any aerodrome i visit they are tenfold.

But whatever, back to it! After unloading the coffin i walked to the terminal to relax, bought a coffee from the kiosk and read my book till mid-morning. I snapped a photo of the terminal from the inside. Provides a good view of the ramp. Ayers rock only gets Qantaslink 717's and Qantas 737's. The only other movements are general aviation, and thats usually only for refuelling.

At around 11am, i departed the rock and headed to Fregon. It was about 45 minutes for this flight. There was already a passenger waiting for me when i arrived which was good. After being told that the other student wasnt coming, i had the engine started and began to taxi back to the runway. However just as i was turning around to backtrack, i saw a car come screaming at me. The other student arrived just in time. We do a lot of these charters around the place and its not uncommon to wait on the ground for non-existant passengers. For example, sometimes we get charters to pick up 19 children and only 3 will turn up. Its such a waste of money when 2 cheiftans and 2 C210's show up for 3 kids. Although flying the return leg home empty is always nice.

I snapped this picture of Ayers Rock as i departed. Its pretty rare to be able to fly as close as this. But today there was no traffic at all on my departure.

After having both students in their seats, i took off back for Alice Springs. It was a very bumpy ride, and i ended up going to flightlevels to get above some of the thermal acitivity. It was possibly the most bumpy ride i can remember having in a light aircraft. Lucky for me the students had strong stomachs and didnt make me clean unwanted mess off the floor!!

Thanks for reading. I will complete my Tennant Creek posting soon and write about other recent charters.

Although not taken on todays flight, this is a picture of a 717 landing in Ayers Rock. Was taken at the rwy 13 holding point. Good looking aeroplane.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


So as im on reserve today, i thought i would write my second blog entry, and give some background as to what i was flying before i started my current job. I was based up at Kununurra, which is located in North Western Australia. It sits about 30km from the Northern Territory border and is about an hours flight in a jet from Darwin.

I worked up in Kununurra for just under 6 months. The work was mainly scenic flights to Purnululu National Park which is home to the world heritage listed "Bungle Bungles." This job was a good first job and offered lots of command hours and was relatively simply flying. Although learing the tourist spiel was challenging at first, it became very easy after repeating it well over 150 times. It soon became the most annoying part of the flight!
The planes we flew for the scenics were the Cessna 207's and the Gippsland Aeronautics Airvan (GA8). I only flew the airvans. They hold 7 passengers with min fuel, and are very easy to fly, however quite slow in the cruise, and horrible in the bumps.

Here are two pictures of the airvan. WOS was a new airvan delivered the first day i started working at the company. It was IFR rated and was a little bit faster than the older airvans.

Kununurra airport, despite being a CTAF, was quite busy with lots of GA movements and a variety of jets and turboprops. Most of the jets (F100 and E170) came from either Darwin, Broome or Perth. The turboprops (E120) operated the 50nm leg to Argyle Diamond mine and sometimes up to Darwin.

This is the morning arrival from Darwin, which continues onto Broome in WA and then back to Kununurra. The C206 in the foreground is one of our mechanics station plane which his father flew from Kununurra to their farming property.

So a typical day consisted of an early morning scenic and a mid morning scenic. Each scenic lasted around 2 hours and 15 minutes. This was the round trip from Kununurra to the Bungle Bungles. We covered a lot of scenery in this time and we tried our best to be informative and give value for money.

Punters aboard my aeroplane. They wear headsets and have a running commentary either spoken by me or by a tape which some planes had. By the end of 6 months i had the tape memorized! The next photo shows us flying over Lake Argyle which is Australia's largest man made lake, and is around 54 times bigger than Sydney Harbour in the wet season.

Flying south of Lake Argyle we came to the Bow River diamond mine. This is an abandoned mine since 1995 due to Aboriginal land negotiations.
Flying further south we eventually arrived at the Bungle Bungles. The picture below shows the Northeast tip of the Bungles looking south. The flat land you can see in the distance is the Tanami Desert.

Besides doing scenics, we also used to do a lot of charters to some of the remote communities. I have a few photos from various charters. The first charter i did was to Port Keats, or commonly referred to as Wadeye. Wadeye is in between Darwin and Kununurra, and is one of the largest communities with a population of around 1000 people.

This picture shows the Wadeye community and airstrip. This airstip is serviced by Fairchild Metros that come from Darwin, so it has a fairly good runway.

Another charter that comes to mind was to a community called Mulan. I had to drop off some school kids returning from a holiday in Darwin and met them at the Airnorth terminal in Kununurra. Mulan is way down in the Tanami desert, and it required me to fly directly over Wolf Creek meteor. Wolf Creek is significant due to the movie (a thriller movie based on backpacker murders that have taken place in Australia) that was filmed there. Here is a photo of Wolf Creek Meteor from 9500ft and Mulan Airstrip.

After dropping my pax off at Mulan, i had to return to Kununurra with a refuelling stop in Halls Creek. About 10 minutes after takeoff i had a GPS failure in the airvan. It was definately a good thing i had the relevant aeronautic charts and had used maps for navigation semi recently. I eventually arrived at Halls Creek, with a cessna conquest behind me and a TB20 landing on the cross strip just before me. It was a good experience to say the least and happily after i shutdown and refuelled the GPS started working normally again. Who knows what the problem was, i was just lucky i had good visibility.

I departed Halls Creek and flew back to Kununurra. I snapped this picture of Halls Creek as i took off. I remember being frantic thinking i had left the fuel card at the bowser, but alas found it shortly after considering about the possibility of turning around to check.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 19, 2009

First Post

My first post is about flying in Alice Springs. I started working at the company i am at now around 3 months ago. Pretty good gig, flying Cessna 210 aircraft for the time being. We have a fleet of 16 aeroplanes. This consists of C21o's, Barons, Cessna 402C's and Piper Chieftans. We mostly do government contracts, flying various people, such as nurses, doctors and technicians to name a few. We are also contracted to fly the mail to the remote communities. The bulk fo this is done in the C210 aircraft.

So the bulk of my stories and photos will be from these mailruns. A lot of the guys dont like doing the mailruns as they tend to be longer days with lots of stops (up to 19 on one particular run), and prefer to do the charter side of things. Personally i dont mind what im doing. The mailruns are good for hours, and you dont have to deal with passengers in a small confined area, when its only 18 degrees celius at 9500, in crazy thermals that probably ride up to flightlevels. On the other hand, there are a lot of variables, such as weather, the conditions of the strips and ensuring the right community gets the right mail and freight. ( I will talk about mail and freight. Mail refers to the actually post bags that we dropped off at work. Freight refers to parcels and items which have been paid to be delivered through our company)

The charter side of things is fairly simple. Usually a passenger will turn up to the terminal and i simply load them and their baggage and fly to a destination. Much easier, but usually less hours and sometimes our clientelle are less than desirable.

So this mailrun relates to one of the longer days we do. It doesnt have that many stops but covers a lot of distance as we fly over 2 hours to our first stop. On the way to the first stop we pass right over Ayers Rock aerodrome and the rock itself.

Onwards we go, and eventually arrive at a small dirt strip called Wingellina. Virutally all of these communities are Aboriginal and have the odd handyman and staff of nurses working at them to provide the needed services. Often they are quite run down and its very undesirable to do an overnight.

We continue on to a few communities where we see a King Air and the Chieftan that carries the passengers on the same mailrun. We wait here till he has completed the passenger manifests and continue onto the next stop.

We eventually refuel at a place Warburton around Midday. We wait here and rendezvous with another mail plane and collect the items that need to go back to Alice Springs and give him the items that need to continue to Kalgoorlie. We have two more stops and then its back to Alice Springs. Its been a very hot day and the outside air temperature read over 40 degrees celcius on the ground.
Eventually we head back into Alice Springs dodging the cell in the picture below. There were another 3 thunderstorms approaching alice from the West and and North that was threatening to close the airport. Just under 8 hours of flight time and a well earned beer after doing the required paperwork and cleaning the aircraft.

Thanks for reading. My next trip will cover Tennant Creek and doing the mailrun that goes all way to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the tropical region of Northern Australia, into Queensland.