Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kiwirrkurra, 992

Its been a while since my last post, but i havent been flying a whole lot and when i did, i always forgot my camera. But most of the flying was similar routes i had already spoken about. However, there is one routing which i seem to do a lot recently (3 times in a month), and a few people have dubbed me the 'Kiwirrkurra King' at work. Mainly because they think their use of alliteration is linguistic genius. So i will talk about Kiwirrkurra and all its glory. I say this sarcastically, as when one of the nurses that works there saw me taking a few photos, she asked "does Kiwirrkurra really need a photo?" I'll let you be the judge.

Kiwirrkurra is a small community located in remote Western Australia. Its vertically in line with Kununurra where i used to work, and horizontally in line with Alice Springs. Its 345nm which equates to roughly 639km as the crow flys. To drive there takes 8 - 10 hours due to the bad dirt roads. With good winds its about 2 and a bit hours to fly. With bad winds it can take nearly 3 hours to get there. I have only been into the community once and spent about an hour in the school playing soduko and listening to music while a man i had flown out inspected fire damage for insurance reasons.

So its a long flight for a small single engine plane. I have had to go there on charters and also we do a regular mail run on tuesdays called the 992 or Westmail. On the 992 we take the community bags, the Australia post mail, and supplies for the medical centre and store. This can include anything from blood samples to big tins of money. The 992 is the only C210 mailrun where we also take passengers if they book in advance. Im usually lucky and dont get too many. Only twice i have had a full bus, but only in one direction. Its rare you get passengers both ways. This is one of the few runs where taking aboriginals is better as its such a long and bumpy flight in the summer, and generally they are used to the bumps in light aircraft. Most who havent travelled in light planes leave quite a mess, if you catch my drift.

This is a photo of Lake Mackay. This is a big salt lake, which is around 90nm long, in the Great Sandy Desert. That photo actually shows the border between the Northern Territory and Western Australia, somewhere! I have seen water in it once! But it was only for a brief period.

So there isnt too much else to say about Kiwirrkurra. The photos i have taken were when a company plane was at Kiwirrkurra, so it was nice to see a familar face. Kiwirrkurra isnt too bad in the sense that the people who work there are nice and willing to help us out as much as they can. They help us refuel, and make sure our fuel stocks are always kept adequate. One of the blokes who helps me is from Texas out of all places. He is good for a chat. The photo above shows the drum we get avgas from and the pumping device for those who have never refuelled from drums. All the drums at the moment are warped from the intense heat and getting the pump to screw in can be challenging. Coupled with 40 degree heat and lots of flies, it can be very frustrating and annoying.

As usual thanks for reading. This picture above is assorted freight which i brought out. They usually put the outbound mail and freight under the tail of the plane. The other photo shows the beechcraft baron 58. Very nice aeroplane, i did my initial instrument rating in one of those. I hope to fly them for the company soon.

Friday, February 13, 2009


I havent been doing all too much flying lately. However i have been doing a few more charters than im used to. In some ways its easier flying because there is less paperwork to deal with, and less stops, but also more stressful at times.

One such example was picking up 2 aboriginal kids, one from Nyrripi and the other from Yuendumu. The Nyrripi kid named Joeseph was good. He arrived on time and his family was helpful and he was talkative, telling me about his football match that he won the previous day. After briefing him on the bumps, giving him ear plugs and a bottle of water, we set off for Yuendumu. Yuendumu is a largish community, you get mobile phone reception and the strip is quite close to the airfield (also sealed!). After we got there and no passengers turned up, it became a calling game and a waiting game as a team of locals went round trying to find her. Eventually they did find her and she refused to come!! So in the end after waiting on the ground in 40 degree heat for nearly an hour, with my other passenger, we were on our way back to Alice Springs. Because of this wait on the ground in Yuendumu, we were time critical as Joseph needed to make a connecting flight to Darwin for school. This is a picture of the Nyrripi apron. You can see that it is sealed! Quite a luxury in the areas that i fly. I think there is less than 10 sealed strips in the entire surrounding area.

I also find with passengers, i must fly a lot better and think ahead about what my plan is. I try to avoid the chaotic bumps, either by extending the landing gear and slowing down early if on descent, or i will try climb as high as possible to limit the heat and bumps in the cruise. I find i fly a higher and less chaotic curcuit when i have passengers so as to not scare them with a steep turn onto finals. Little things i do in the cabin as well i try to limit. Like using the autopilot and getting extra paper work done in the cruise. Is this ok when you have 2 paying customers expecting you to fly the plane.

I had one example of this the other day when i flew a couple who didnt want to sit on a bus to Ayers Rock for 4 hours. So they hired me in my C210 to fly them there. Good charter to get, they were friendly and i even organised their car to come meet us on the apron of Ayers Rock airport. But it was a suprisingly smooth ride, and we had a good groundspeed. I had the autopilot working, and it was behaving itself. I had a fair bit of paperwork to do, and it would have been a good opportunity to get it done. However i would see this as unprofessional, not to mention unsafe if i was to bury my head in the paperwork while flying the aeroplane VFR.

Anyway, just a little food for thought. Im writing this as im on standby and have to do a charter early saturday morning. Just to Ti-Tree and back, which is maybe 2 hours flight time return, but none-the-less, still a good flight.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

PowerWater Run

Im back with another post, this time about the PowerWater runs. PowerWater is the main supplier of electricity and water in the Northern Territory. They are also responsible for the quality of the water in the smaller communities. This is where my company comes into it. We are chartered to fly to the communities once per month to collect water samples. These are reasonably big runs, around 5 - 7 hours per run and there are 4 different runs.

I have only done 2 of these runs. They are fairly easy to do, as all you need is a big esky to put the samples in and continue to the next stop. The paperwork is also easy too!
I have no idea where the photo below is taken, but its a suitable intro to the flight! Its very rare to land at a sealed strip. Makes it fun i guess, but i get weird when i have to land on bitumen these days.

So i have included a few more photos to tell the story for me. To start with, i will say that we had a lot of rain in the preceding few days, so 2 of the strips were closed and also my refuelling stop was underwater! (I found this out once i overflew the strip of course - So i punched on forward, knowing fuel would be marginal, but still legal if i continued)

This is a photo of the Canteen Creek community. Im pretty sure i was on finals for runway 16. Its largish community for this region! There is always a lot of freight to this community when we do the mailruns.

So here is a photo of the Canteen Creek Strip. Again, im not sure how or when i took this, but you get an idea of it. It may look like just a rough dirt strip, but its actually very well maintained and can handle a lot of rain. The people are usually friendly too!

Here is a photo of my ride today! This C210 has the most hours on it in Australia, and possibly the world. Just over 25,000 hours! Pretty amazing this plane still flys - let alone flys straight. But despite the derelict paint, its actually a great machine. Flys decently, has a good autopilot and doesnt struggle to get good speed. It is weirdly tail heavy though, so you need an extra 5 knots in the landing. Otherwise it will sink - FAST!

Onwards to Warrabri. This little box is where they put the water samples. Sometimes they will come out to meet me and hand the samples over, other times they are stored in these metal boxes with an ice brick to keep them cool in the desert heat.

I snapped this shot of the Stuart Highway. Its the main highway between Adelaide in the south and Darwin in the north. Covers around 2500km. Very well maintained and i followed it from Warrabri, to Burrow Creek, to Ti-Tree and then back to Alice Springs.

And finally i return to Alice Springs. My house is located in the cluster you see in the foreground. You can see the MacDonnell Ranges in the back ground running left to right. Behind them is the Airport. Further to the right of the photo is the only prohibited area in Australia, known as pine gap. Its some US military installation.

Anyway, i'll keep it short and sweet. Regards!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Barkly Mail

So i said i would write about my trip to Tennant Creek, and here it is! The photo below shows Tennant Creek in all its glory. You can see airport in the distance. I was on base turning finals for rwy 29.

This mailrun is known as the 'Barkly.' The name Barkly refers to one of the 5 regions of the Northern Territory of Australia. Every Thursday evening to Saturday morning, my company is contracted to fly and deliver the Barkly mail which runs from Tennant Creek (YTNK) on the friday. The mail mostly goes to the remote stations located all the way towards the Gulf of Carpentaria. The township of Tennant Creek is a small town about 500km north of Alice Springs, which has a population of about 3000, making it the 5th largest township in the Territory.

So getting back to the Barkly mailrun. For this flight we need to leave on the Thursday evening and overnight Thursday night and Friday night in Tennant Creek. This due to the restrictions on our duty time. So on thursday when i arrived at our base in Alice, the weather showed bad storms in the area of Tennant Creek and the Barkly region. I did a phone around to the stops on the mailrun, and most of them (suprisingly!) reported serviceable runways. (If we can get to at least 50% of the stops then we go. Less than 50% and we cancel the run). So after preflighting the plane, refuelling and waiting for the company phone to recharge, i blasted off to Tennant Creek in the C210. I conducted the flight IFR due to the forecast weather. We fly IFR in the single engines due to them being IFR compliant with autopilots and being freight only configuration. We dont have this luxury if we are carrying passengers. A lot of people get worried about single engine IFR, and sometimes i get hesitant about it, but generally i figure "the plane doesnt know its in cloud."

The photos above show some shots of the conditions on the way up to Tennant Creek. Although its probably nothing compared to what you see when you fly long haul in jets, its still a handful in a single engine piston. The last photo shows rain and big clouds out the east as far as the eye could see. Luckily i missed flying into it by about 20 minutes, as it had just passed over Tennant Creek. When i arrived the place was virtually underwater. Flying in over the fields (its meant to be the desert!) was like flying over water and i could see the suns reflection off everything. When i arrived i was positive my mailrun flight would be cancelled for sure. Nonetheless i met up with Phil and Adrian who both work for my company and had dinner with them. Phil was covering for the aeromedical pilot in Tennant, and was flying a modified 402C, and adrian was on a Royal Flying Doctors Service charter in a Beech Baron.

When i woke up early on Friday morning, i was suprised to do the phone around and discover that only 3 out of 11 strips were unserviceable due to the rain. You have to be careful sometimes as a lot of people will tell you that their strips are ok just to get their mail. And since all the strips are dirt, its very easy to become bogged or worse, propstrike. Luckily they were being honest with me and i didnt have trouble with landing at any of the strips. In fact, at one of the stops called Kiana, i received word that a cattle station called Calvert Hills had called them to tell me that their strip had dried up enough for me to land. I usually say to people when im unsure if i can land that i expect to see that they have driven up and down the length to make sure their strip is ok and the tyre tracks arent too deep. Any tracks deeper than a 10c piece and it becomes risky to land.

However, the main places that i needed to land at for the compulsory fuel stops were ok which is the main thing. This run is impossible to do without a fuel stop, sometimes two. I'll let the pictures do the talking in describing the mailrun.

This photo was taken right after departure. The rain had made the air humid, and the desert ground was an unnatural green! However, the damp ground meant that the flight was virtually smooth. However i think i fail to recognise light bumps these days as im so used to the savageness of desert thermals.

This is a photo of the landing area of the first stop. I forget the name of this station, but they are friendly and usually get to the plane quite quickly, which makes my job a lot nicer as i dont have to deal with the flies.

This is an aerial view of Walhallow. This is the 3rd stop and we refuel here. Surprisingly they have a bowser, so refuelling is easy. The photo below shows a picture of my plane after refuelling.

As ive mentioned before we have had insane amounts of rain this year. And to highlight this, the next photo is meant to be part of the "red centre." But as you can see, its more like rolling green fields. Quite an amazing site.

The photo below is one of the last stops on my mailrun. Its called Redbank mine. This strip has been closed for about a month due to the rain. This is quite close to the Queensland border in the Gulf country, which is the far north area of the Northern Territory. Half of the strip was underwater, but i could see that the rest of the strip was serviceable, so naturally i gave landing a go! Flying a C210 the way it should be flown is always fun.

This is another photo which shows the amount of water we have had. Massive lakes! Im not sure where they were geographically, but i was pretty amazed to see roughly 20 miles of water in the middle of the desert.

So after doing the mailrun, and dodging the rain and storms all Friday, i made it back to Tennant Creek in one piece mid-afternoon. Was a good flight and logged just under 7 hours for it. When the weather is marginal, this mailrun is hard to keep legal, as its long enough that even after refuelling once, you arrive back in Tennant Creek with the minimum amount of fuel required legally. However today i needed tempo fuel as well for my return to Tennant Creek. Basically this means i needed the ability to hold for 60 minutes due to the forecast rain and storms or have a suitable alternate. The 'suitable alternates' do not exist in the desert! However, because i bypassed 2 stops with unservicable runways, it saved me enough fuel to give me the right amount to arrive at Tennant Creek with.

This is a photo of one of the cells i flew past on the way back to Tennant Creek.

Instead of continuing onto Alice Springs, we also overnight the Friday night as i previously mentioned. This is because we need to bring back the Saturday edition of the Northern Territory newspaper. These come from Darwin, and arrive at midnight in Katherine. From Katherine, they are flown to Tennant Creek, and from Tennant Creek i fly them to Alice springs, at around 6am. We have a work phone and a pilot sms's me the details of his arrival into Tennant Creek for the transfer of cargo. I usually have the plane run-up, and refuelled so i can blast off when the papers are loaded.

After having to hand fly the plane for 2 hours back to Alice Springs since my trusty autopilot wasnt being so trusty, i arrived back in one piece and unloaded the papers for delivery. Part of my saturday duty is to man the office till 1pm on the saturday. So i washed the plane which was filthy from rain, dirt and bugs, and helped a few guys out getting their planes ready.

This is a photo of final approach into Tennant Creek. I look low and i was a little bit, however for a good reason which i probably shouldnt state on this blog. You can see how my dirty my screen was due to the bugs! Was a good 3 days, but im always happy to be back from Tennant Creek. Alice Springs isnt the best place to live, but compared to Tennant Creek, its paradise.

Thanks for reading.