Solo Flight. Chapter 8. By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, November 16, 2017

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8. 

Day One. Bundaberg to Emerald.

 

 

D-Day. Departure Day. It is 5am and all is quiet outside.

I hurry to look out the window of my hotel room to see that the high pressure system has won the battle overnight. The sky is absolutely crystal clear and illuminated by the first rays of dawn in one direction and the waning of the twinkling stars in the other. I could not have hoped for a better sight and I hurriedly log onto my computer to check the latest weather forecasts and charts. The news is all good, in fact, it is perfect. Not only is the weather to the west look clear, but the winds on the back curve of the ‘high’ should give me a favourable little push through the skies.

 

Without delay I fax my flight plan details to Peter Buscall back in Sydney where he will maintain a ‘Search and Rescue’ watch as he follows my flight. I shower, shave and pack my gear, then make my way to the dining room at the ‘Villa Mirasol’ for a full breakfast to the most perfect of settings. The flight is a ‘go’ and in a few hours I will begin my journey around Australia. You beauty!

 

At Bundaberg Airport there is an air of excitement. As preparations for the arrival of dignitaries are attended to at the passenger terminal, I complete the loading of the aircraft outside of the hangar. Even with the mass of equipment I have on board, the load does not even reach the bottom sills of the windows and the aircraft remains well below its maximum take-off weight. All that remains is to refuel ’73-81’ and get on my way.

 

It is an hour prior to my planned 10am departure as I taxi the Jabiru to the bowser on the main tarmac. As I round the corner I can see the small crowd gathering, intermingled with the cameras, cables and boom microphones of the media. Inside I feel a subtle mixture of excitement and anticipation, but overwhelmingly my mind is on the job at hand. The first day, the first sector, the first take-off.

 

Fortunately the fuel bowser is a little distance away from the centre of excitement, allowing me to refuel in an unhurried manner and arrange my cockpit and charts so that I will be able to climb aboard and depart speedily when the time comes. For the moment though, I shake a number of hands and warmly thank the people for the tremendous support they have shown me. Local councillors, newspapers, TV channels, radio stations and representatives from the Hinkler Hall of Aviation are all here as well as the good folks of Bundaberg. I am humbled by the turn-out and take care not to rush the moment, as keen as I am to start flying.

 

A last wave farewell.

The Mayor hands me a parcel of ‘letters of welcome’ from Bundaberg to hand to the Mayors of other Australian townships along the way. It is a significant gesture and reminds me of the far reach of this flight. The act also serves to nicely round off formalities and cue me to wave farewell and climb aboard the Jabiru.

 

Aware that everyone is waiting for that ‘last goodbye’ moment, I start 73-81 and taxied her away from the tarmac area to the engine run-up bay. Here I thoroughly check that everything is in order and brief myself for the departure to Emerald one last time. The load behind me is lashed down and I am strapped in. I feel in my pocket for Bert Hinkler’s autograph. It is safe and secure.

 

On my way around Australia.

 

The breeze is light and the sky is beautifully blue as I line the Jabiru up on Bundaberg’s Runway 14. I smoothly ease the throttle forward and the engine smoothly responds. The wheels begin to turn with increasing pace as the acceleration forces me back into my seat and the blades of grass outside begin to blend into a blur of green. The engine instruments tell me that all in order and the airspeed indicator tells me that it is time to fly. 73-81 is already starting to raise her nose as I gently pull back on the control column in my right hand. The vibration and the noise of the ground’s finite runway succumb to the speed and smoothness of the limitless sky. I am on my way.

 

Out to my left I can see the small crowd still there waving farewell, while ahead the coastline appears beyond the nose. I reach down and select the flaps to ‘up’, prompting the little electric motor to set about whirring to its task. Flaps up, after-take-off checks complete and a sweeping left hand turn to set course along the coast to Gladstone. I log the time on my flight plan; 4 minutes past 10 o’clock. It’s an on-time departure and only a short day of flying ahead of me.

Bert fills in as the cameraman.

I level off at 2,500 feet and set the engine RPMs to 2850. From the instrumentation I ascertain that the Jabiru is drinking fuel at the miserly rate of only 25 litres per hour and passing through the air at a brisk 117 knots. Everything is off to a copybook beginning as I fill out my flight log, check the GPS and ensure that everything is in order. I take a deep breath and a few photographs, including one of ‘Bert’ on the dashboard. Bert is a small soft toy in the form of a little brown dog that my children have asked me to carry. Bert sits there in the sun, smiling and ready for the long haul ahead. Then it hits me.....

 

The planning and preparation was now over and this long flight has actually begun. In my head James Taylor’s line of “10 miles behind me and 10,000 more to go” bounces around with added significance. As I turn inland the coastal strip gave away to the greens and browns of central Queensland. Rocky ranges jut up from the undulating foliage, while ahead the visibility is unlimited and the horizon merges earth and sky in a subtle union beyond the eye’s focus. It is only the first hour and I am already captivated by the beauty of Australia’s raw enormity.

 

Setting course. 7,500 miles to go.

I had only planned a relatively small day of flying, anticipating delays out of Bundaberg that never eventuated. The media was on time, the weather played the game and the dignitaries were waiting for me. As a consequence, it was now only a couple of hours flying to Emerald to refuel and another couple onto Longreach where I would stay the night.

 

Gradually the ranges and their eucalypts give way to the inland and mile upon mile of straw-coloured paddocks. A lone fire to the south billows grey smoke into the air, but otherwise the sky is featureless and the land is only divided by the occasional fence or road. In the distance a township begins to grow from the horizon, not a metropolis, but far more than the occasional homestead and coal mine I have sighted so far. As I draw closer, the irrigated pastures showcase various shades of green, interspersed with the red soil of ploughed fields. In their midst sits the long black strip of asphalt that is Emerald Airport.

 

As I position to land the only other chatter on the radio is a lone King Air, a Flying Doctor inbound to Emerald. How appropriate I muse, that the first aircraft I hear is one of the very aircraft that I am flying to support. Those green pastures grow closer as doe the black tar and before long the Jabiru’s wheels are once again reunited with the planet and on their way to the fuel bowser.

 

First stop. Emerald, Queensland.

 

As I climb up to refuel the Jabiru’s wings I chat with a young charter pilot who is whittling away the hours while his passengers are in town conducting their business. We share a joke and a little bit of pilot brotherhood as the cool AVGAS pours into the tanks. I couldn’t help but reflect how many hours I had spent wandering around airports, stretched out on terminal benches or peering through the cracks in hangar doors. It is part of a pilot’s journey and for me it was decades ago, but still in some ways it was only a heart-beat away.

 

Refreshed and re-supplied I start the Jabiru and ready myself for another take-off. However, another Flying Doctor is on the move. I park the brakes and sit back, letting the RFDS aircraft go by and depart first as undoubtedly his commitments are more pressing than mine. As he taxied past my little Jabiru he must have caught a glimpse of the RFDS crest on the nose of my aeroplane as he transmitted a little “Good Luck!” over the radio and gave me a thumbs up. The brotherhood is alive and well.

 

As the King Air rapidly disappears from sight, I enter the runway and track back to the white stripes at the threshold before turning around to depart. All clear, I release the brakes and open the throttle, sending 73-81 rolling down the pavement. Lifting off, we are on our way again. Another short hop, but this one will take me to the home of one of Australian aviation’s founding fathers.

 

 

 Read the full story of 'Solo Flight' here.

 

 



  
 
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