Three years almost to the day after completing my 15-year GlaStar build, Sue and I have returned from our 4,653 nm around Australia flight. I thought I should see a bit more of our own country before going on any more overseas trips.
I signed up as a tag-along aircraft with Stawell Aviation Services Kimberley-Broome Tour supposedly departing at the end of June on a 14-day odyssey. This trip was, fortunately, cancelled and we got a place on the July tour. I say fortunately as many extended family matters came to a head in the week before we were due to leave and took some time to resolve successfully. I did the flight plans with the actual weather for the planned June trip and was glad it was delayed till July.
The tour itinerary
- Day 1—Fly to Stawell, meet our tour leaders and fellow travelers – 16 people in 6 aircraft
- Day 2—Landings at White Cliffs, Thargomindah, 557 miles, 5 hours flying
- Day 3—On to Longreach, 273 miles, 2.25 hours
- Day 4—Winton, Karumba on the Gulf, 412 miles, 3.5 hours
- Day 5—Burketown, Borroloola, Wally’s Field (Katherine), 553 miles, 4.9 hours
- Day 6—Wally’s Field, Kununurra, 233 miles, 2 hours
- Day 8—Bungle Bungles, Ord River, Lake Argyle incl. diamond mine, 217 miles, 2.1 hours
- Day 9—Derby via Prince Regent River, Horizontal Waterfall, Broome, 463 miles, 4 hours
- Day 11—Halls Creek, Tilmouth Well, Alice Springs, 496 miles, 4.5 hours
- Day 13—William Creek, Broken Hill, 676 miles, 5.3 hours
- Day 16—Bacchus Marsh, 372 miles, 3.2 hours
The GlaStar performed flawlessly. It was far from the slowest of the varied fleet and by far the most economic, I flight planned at 22 l/hr in cruise at 122 kt TAS and averaged 25.4 l/hr over the 40.4 flight hours plus taxi time. Fuel prices ranged from $2.03 to $3.00 per litre, the BP and credit card being the only payment methods needed. I carried a 20 litre bladder which I added at two stops avoiding drum fuel at $3.70 per litre at one.
Once we had made a fog-delayed start from Stawell we had excellent weather until a few rain showers on Day 6. Temperatures in the mid-20’s Celsius were the norm. We often had tail winds—the best gave me 168-knot ground speed. We struck significant cloud over the Flinders Ranges, so to avoid the turbulence underneath I climbed to 10,000 feet for a lengthy time where the temperature was still 6 degrees. The heater worked well.
The morning of our planned last leg home from Broken Hill (the ancestral home of Australia’s biggest mining company, BHP) dawned with 32 kt crosswinds on the one available runway and strong gusts on top of this. We decided to stay a couple of nights at the Royal Exchange hotel, hire a car and act like tourists. Two days later there appeared to be a window of opportunity to get into Bacchus Marsh, our home field, so we launched early with clear skies at 4,500 ft and 2 degrees OAT until being confronted by showers and cloud to the ground south of Bendigo 50 miles from home. A diversion towards Ballarat was necessary which revealed clear air back to Bacchus Marsh although it was very turbulent at low level.
Runways used on the tour varied in standard from goat tracks to freeways with the occasional kangaroo thrown in. Refueling equipment also varied considerably. Despite operating into, I think, 4 airports where ASICs (Aviation security identity card) were required, we were only asked to show one at Alice Springs.
As the least experienced pilot on the tour I really benefited from the experience of the others plus their company was great. The tour group leaders who flew in the first aircraft out each day were very experienced having led tours since 1986. We maintained communication with them on a company frequency and reported in to a schedule.
To make sure I didn’t get lost I took a variety of navigation aids, viz, a full set of WACs (borrowed), two iPads running AvPlan (a great product), a Garmin Aera GPS with the flight plans loaded and linked to the Dynon SkyView EFIS and to the TruTrak autopilot, VTCs and VNCs for the controlled airspace locations, and for good measure AvPlan loaded on the iPhone. Oh, and a compass. The main iPad had a Telstra SIM card through which AvPlan periodically reported aircraft position, altitude, direction and speed. I only once observed no signal. Members of my extended family were able to track us at all times using a provided link.
The tour included mini tours at Karumba, Katherine and Alice Springs. We were meant to fly to Kakadu National Park for a tour on Day 6 but the weather was iffy so we skipped this and flew through rain showers on the way to Kununurra—it was on this leg that I discovered the pilot’s door leaks.
The Kookaburra Memorial is dedicated to the memory of Keith Anderson and Bob Hitchcock who perished after their aircraft, the “Kookaburra,” made a forced landing in the Tanami Desert on the 10th April 1929 while on their way to search for Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm. Kingsford Smith and Ulm were found in the Kimberley Region several days later.
Found fourteen days later, the “Kookaburra” wreck was abandoned until 1978 when it was recovered by aviator and adventurer Dick Smith and placed in the museum in 1982. The memorial and plaque were unveiled on 50th anniversary of their loss.
We flew over the Tanami Desert for hours. Absolutely not a place to have a forced landing!
So, in summary, a great tour, a memorable experience that in most respects exceeded our expectations. Australia is a huge country with most of the population clinging to the periphery. We certainly plan to do another tour—probably east to west across the bottom of the island.