Solo Flight. Chapter 10. By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, November 26, 2017


The Real Outback.


Day Two. Longreach - Mount Isa - Barkly Homestead. 



The alarm clock buzzes right on time as one expects but secretly hopes otherwise.

I throw my legs over the side of the bed, start the laptop and ‘flick’ on the kettle. Everything from the cup of tea to my clothes is in order from the night before; ready and set to go. The weather still looks faultless along my route, so I send through the flight details over the wonder of the internet and begin to get my gear together. I have organised an early breakfast and a lift to the airport with the good folks at the Jumbuck and I’m on my way before I know it. The sun is only just breaking the horizon although it seems to rise more quickly in this part of the world.


Despite the early hour, I call my sister Pamela and recount the incredible coincidence of Dad’s ‘Red Baron’ song being played the night before. We agree that neither of us have heard it since about 1969 and recall Dad’s out-of-tune gusto in singing the song and his emphasis on the word, “Bloody”. She wishes me luck and I hang up with a smile on my face, ready for the day ahead.


The Dash-8 is still parked on the tarmac from the night before as I pre-flight the Jabiru. I had fuelled the aircraft the night before, but a thorough going over is still needed at the beginning of each day’s flying. I remove the engine cowling and what lies beneath is as clean as a whistle. The engineers have fitted a small bottle to catch any oil that vents overboard to both keep the aircraft clean and monitor my oil usage. That container is empty and the oil quantity dip-stick confirms the fact that the Jabiru hasn’t used a drop on the first day. A reassuring thought as I am about to set course over the remote reaches of western Queensland and the Northern Territory.


Preflight Inspection.

I farewell Longreach and the bloody Red Baron to an escort of birds emerging from the grass just as I lift off and set course to the north-west. Mount Isa, my first port of call, is about three hours away but a great deal of history lies between here and there. This region was the early stomping grounds of both QANTAS and the Royal Flying Doctor Service and I will be retracing many of the air routes of those early days as the Jabiru skips along its way.


The aircraft cruises along smoothly and I cannot help but smile to the point of singing. There is not a single cloud in the sky or a ripple of turbulence. My calculations have me benefiting from a tailwind and destined to be ahead of schedule. It is absolute perfection in the context of light aircraft ‘visual’ flight. As a consequence, I am relaxed and enjoying every minute and mile as they pass. I stretch over, grab a Muesli Bar and enjoy some fine dining in the skies. This is living!


My first turning point is Winton. I was once told that QANTAS was conceived in Cloncurry, born in Winton, but grew up in Longreach. If that was the case, the airline’s maternity ward now lies dead ahead. I had visited there once before when my Dad and I had driven to Kununurra together. My strongest memory was of the humble monument on the site of the first QANTAS office, so significant to our aviation history, but so easily passed without notice. For a moment I recalled standing at the edge of the paddock where Houdini had first flown and another moment in history oft overlooked.


Similarly Winton passes beneath my nose at two-miles-per-minute and is gone in a moment, but not forgotten. An hour later I overfly Julia Creek and another forty minutes Cloncurry is ticked off the flight plan. In my modern cockpit they are mere waypoints, but in reality Julia Creek was the destination and Cloncurry the origin of the first official flight of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.


John Flynn had previously experimented with the concept of an aerial inland mission having witnessed the tragedies that had befallen the outback’s pioneers for lack of medical care. In time his experiment grew and in 1928 he had the finances to launch the entity that would ultimately become the globally-renowned Royal Flying Doctor Service. One of his supporters was the QANTAS founder, Hudson Fysh, and the first aircraft was also supplied by the airline. These two quintessentially Australian organisations were linked from birth and even today the QANTAS Foundation supports the work of the RFDS.


For a lover of aviation and history, these miles beneath me are golden. I can almost see the ancient DH50 biplane leaving its trail of dust below as it lumbers into the sky on another selfless mission of mercy. I can hear the roar of the engine and see the pilot in his open cockpit weathering the elements while his precious human cargo remained shelter within the cabin ahead of him. I tip my hat to those who had the courage to see their vision through to reality without any of the creature comforts that we enjoy today.


From Cloncurry I set a westerly course to Mount Isa. For a while I share the company of a mining train that is seemingly endless with its carriages full of ore. ‘The Isa’ is far more familiar to me having flown here only weeks before, albeit in a Boeing 737. From a good distance out I sight the chimneys and the ridge line to the west of the airport. Isa is a thriving mining town with regular jet services and all manner of light aircraft launching for smaller outback stations. I monitor the radio carefully and co-ordinate my arrival with the comings and goings of this busy airport.


The Jabiru with my other ‘office’ in the background at Mount Isa.

A strong wind is blowing down Runway 16 as I line up for the landing. There is a little convective turbulence bouncing me around as the day warms up, but mostly I am struck by my slow speed over the ground as I approach to land. Gradually the runway draws closer and finally I arrive over the bitumen where I hover onto the surface with just a trickle of forward speed. I keep the power on a touch and accelerate towards the next turn-off to clear the runway for the inbound aeroplanes I can hear chattering on the radio.


Friendly folks and family at ‘The Isa’.

As I pull the Jabiru up to the fuel bowser there is a small gathering of people. Most are from the local base of the RFDS, on hand to give me a welcome, and the other is a reporter from the ABC. It is always touching to be met by welcoming faces no matter how far from home you may be. My website and the media tells me that people are following the flight, but the chance to stop and chat and put faces to the ISP addresses is so much more. After a brief conversation, it emerges that I am related to one of the RFDS staff; my father and her grandfather were cousins!


They had shared a rather ‘Tom Sawyer’ upbringing on the Darling Downs during the 1930s. It was the hard times of the Great Depression and drought on the land and yet these young boys made the most of their childhood. Undoubtedly their tough upbringing served them well as their manhood was destined to be overshadowed by a world at war hurling them to all corners of the globe. Here I was, miles from anywhere and yet again Dad has poked his nose into this flight around Australia.


I am given the grand tour of the RFDS facility and their Super King Airs, whose interior aeromedical kit-out is particularly interesting to me as both a pilot and a former paramedic. The good people even have a cake to mark my visit to Mount Isa and I could spend a lot more time here chatting about family and flying. However, by the time I have completed the media interviews, the clock is ticking loudly and the trusty Jabiru is ready to take me across my first state border.


For the first time a real sense of isolation struck me. With Mount Isa’s chimneys shrinking to matchsticks behind me, very little lies ahead. The road and rail line roughly parallel my route to serve as a comforting back-up to my navigation, but otherwise there is only mile upon mile of vast expanse. One by one the bars indicating the signal strength of my mobile phone drop away until the phone is little more than a camera and an inert box of circuitry. Still it continues to hunt for some trace of communication with the outside world. Searching, searching....


The towering clouds ahead begin to dump their watery contents in a series of rain showers that are too opaque to penetrate. As I skirt the edges, the occasional spray reaches the Jabiru as if to wipe its face and quench its thirst with the temperature climbing into the thirties. All around me the green tinge continues to colour the outback and usually dry creek beds boast water and billabongs. This rain is obviously not the first of the year.


Downtown Camooweal.

Camooweal and its population of a few hundred people emerge from behind a shower with the Barkly Highway running into it like a yellow brick road. My GPS, map and the world outside are in total agreement as the clock ticks over right on time. I had mentioned Camooweal in my live radio interview back at Mount Isa, so I take a few moments to lazily circle the town in a gentle arc. Sure enough people emerge from their homes and looked skyward at the little Jabiru overhead, waving the occasional tea towel. It was a heart-warming moment that didn’t end when I rolled the aircraft level and continued on my way to Barkly Homestead.




 Read the full story of 'Solo Flight' here.




"The Jabiru's Nest." (Part Two) An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, May 20, 2012

"The Jabiru's Nest" (Part Two).


by Owen Zupp

CLICK HERE for 'The Jabiru's Nest. (Part One)


Many Hands.

The global reach of Jabiru is one of the many impressive aspects of this company, but equally notable is the logistics and co-ordination of the Bundaberg operation. Rather than a sole company handling all aspects of production, Jabiru oversees and manages a series of smaller locally based contractors who specialise in their own particular Jabiru component. Alongside the lines of fuselages and wings and wooden crates of engines with ‘Jabiru’ stencilled on the side are shelves of vacuum sealed packs of wheel kits, cables, nuts, bolts and the myriad of other components that make an aeroplane. All produced locally, they represent a team effort for the district and an exercise in organisation as Jabiru ties together its various partners.


In its own right Jabiru employs 25 personnel.  Around 30 people are employed by Camit who produce the engines, while two businesses, AMI and Leisure Build, assemble the aircraft and employing 20 staff. Fibreglass parts originate from over 30 small businesses and others provide numerous other components such as upholstery and livery.   For a Queensland regional centre, Jabiru accounts for the creation of over 100 jobs and sizeable amount of income for the local economy. As a result, they enjoy a strong relationship with the local community.


Quality Control.

 Throughout the Jabiru facility, each component has a small plastic bag hanging from it. On closer examination, the bag contains the ‘biography’ of that particular component and forms an integral link in the demanding Jabiru Quality Control process. The documentation contains all of the relevant details relating to the who, how and when of production. For the wings it will also contain information relating to the angles, measure and aerofoil.


Throughout the Jabiru facility, each component has a small plastic bag hanging from it. On closer examination, the bag contains the ‘biography’ of that particular component and forms an integral link in the demanding Jabiru Quality Control process. The documentation contains all of the relevant details relating to the who, how and when of production. For the wings it will also contain information relating to the angles, measure and aerofoil.


For those composite parts, the documentation relates to the date, time and temperatures involved in its creation amongst other things. Along with the documents there is also a small sample of resin from the same batch that can be used for quality control testing. The entire history of the process of each part is retained for reference at a later date should it be required. Such a rigorous ‘QC’ process stems from the fact that Jabiru was fundamentally a pioneer in the composite manufacturing of certified aircraft in Australia. While these stringent procedures are mandatory for certified aircraft, they are not required for the kit aircraft of home builders. To Jabiru’s credit, they do not discriminate and apply the same quality control and audit procedures to ALL components of both kits and certified aircraft.






Where To?

At the end of one of Jabiru’s production buildings is an annexed section where the company casts its gaze towards tomorrow. It is a small ‘research and development’ area, which reinforces that Jabiru is building solidly to the future. This is an important aspect of any aircraft ownership; the ongoing support of the product well into the future. Here moulds are ‘tweaked’ and refurbished and existing fairings are refined to a new design. There is an air amongst the employees, some of whom have been there since day one, that they are always trying to make things even better. There is a project Jabiru for export striving to meet the weight requirements of a foreign Authority while not compromising on any other aspect of the aeroplane.


Alongside the Jabiru airframes, the Jabiru engines are used in a number of aircraft built by other manufacturers. Many light aircraft and experimental types around the world have a Jabiru engine under the cowling. To assist with engine installation into Jabiru kits and these other aircraft types, Jabiru has developed, “Firewall Forward Kits”; or “Firewall Rear Kits” for pusher types. This range is continually being developed to suit an even greater range of aircraft.


From ‘outside of the box’, there is even a significantly Jabiru design tucked away in the corner. A single-seat model with folding wings that seeks to offer an economical equivalent to the trailer-sailor in a bid to circumvent the increasing problem and cost of hangarage. The owner would keep it in the garage and tow it to the airfield to go flying. While it is a project in its infancy, its significance lies equally in what it says of the company’s mindset; looking ahead.


Back to the Nest.


A periodic gathering of Jabiru owners titled, “Back to the Nest” sees the birds fly in from far and wide. At one Wide Bay Airshow that I attended, a long line of Jabirus was parked side by side, forming an impressive array of these native Australian aircraft. They were of varying ages, designs and origins, but all shared a common thread; affordable flying for pleasure.


In achieving this, Jabiru has not only produced a line of fine aeroplanes but nurtured an industry that is pivotal in its local economy. Its employees and contractors seem to possess a genuine interest and pride not only in the product, but the process. With such an attitude it is not hard to understand why Jabirus are flying right across the world, supported by a rural Queensland company. Furthermore, with such constant attention to detail and improvement, one can see why Jabiru should continue to do so for many years to come.



The Jabiru's Nest. (Part One) An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Monday, May 14, 2012

The Jabiru’s Nest (Part One)


By Owen Zupp


The allure of a new aircraft on the ramp is undeniable. Yet beyond the highly glossed finish and the impressive array of avionics, each aircraft represents the complex co-ordination of personnel and production processes. A closer look at Jabiru’s Bundaberg facility illustrates just what is required to make the bird fly.

In the Beginning.

When Jabiru set out more than 20 years ago to develop and enhance affordable flying throughout the world, they logically started with a lone prototype. Initially seeking to develop a highly efficient, composite designed, light aircraft, they selected a lightweight Italian engine as the powerplant. As luck would have it, just after their first aircraft was type-certificated in Australia, the Italian engine manufacturer ceased production. As a consequence, Jabiru set about entering the lightweight engine market as well.


From these bold steps, Jabiru has gone on to boast around 2,000 flying airframes and more than three times as many engines spread over 30 countries. In achieving this, the Bundaberg facility has the capacity to produce 20 airframes and 90 engines per month. The range of aircraft includes both two and four seat versions while the engines are available with 4, 6, or 8 cylinders. The aircraft can come ready-to-fly as type-certificated, factory built aircraft or as amateur built or experimental kits for the more industrious would-be flyers.


The aircraft can have a tailored flight panel featuring traditional analogue instruments, or the ever-growing presence of Electronic Flight Instrument Systems (EFIS) in the cockpit. Additionally a range of Microair avionics are available, from transceivers to transponders, all of which are manufactured in Bundaberg. Jabiru is not a small concern, but an integral member of their local economy and a genuine export industry for Australia. From an external standpoint, this appears to have been achieved with minimal fuss, but on visiting the Jabiru factory it becomes immediately apparent that this is no ‘cottage industry’, this is a slick production facility.





Home Grown.

The Jabiru complex is understated. A series of long hangar-style buildings are only given away by a small Jabiru sign near the office entrance, but from the moment you enter the door this operation has an air of professionalism. While the walls are decorated with awards and certificates of approval from across the globe, it is the people at Jabiru that offer the best credentials. Everyone encountered is not only enthusiastic and proud of their operation, but genuinely knowledgeable of aspects that obviously extend beyond their job description. This is no more apparent than in the manner of Business Manager, Sue Woods. The daughter of Jabiru founder, Rodney Stiff, Sue has literally grown up around the company and kindly offered to show me through the extensive facility.


Like any production process since Henry Ford, the first room encountered showed the very basic beginnings of lifting the Jabiru from the drawing board to the skies. On a series of long benches a worker very carefully measures and cuts the woven fabric of glass yarns that will ultimately become the composite airframe of the aeroplane. After a week, the entire ‘airframe’ can be folded and fitted into two 50 litre storage containers at this stage. From here, the containers are moved to the next stage of the process where they transition from fabric to a formed structure through the combination of moulds and resin.


Watching the craftsman rolling the resin and forming the components is something to witness. What is seemingly a case of rolling mini paint-rollers to and fro is actually a finely balanced exercise. Not only does the coating of resin have to be even and free of bubbles and lumps, but fundamentally; resin equals weight. A heavy handed application will result in the airframe being overweight, so the smooth rolling must result in just the right combination of strength and weight, which is the age-old quandary of airframe design.


Once set and freed from the moulds, the components are hardened and carefully sanded and finished to resemble an aeroplane for the first time. Notably, the seats are already in the aeroplane, in fact they are structurally integral to the airframe. It takes around 6-8 weeks, or 430 man-hours, for Jabiru to produce a flying aeroplane. In the hands of a home builder, the timeframe may be a little longer. However, in the spirit of innovation, Jabiru offers assistance in the form of an onsite, ‘Builders Education Program’. This allows the owner-builder to work alongside the experts at Bundaberg while still meeting the requirement for the owner to fabricate and assemble more than 51% of the aeroplane. Under this scheme, liability remains with the builders but they will have the opportunity to complete the aeroplane in 6 weeks.


Across the way in one of Jabiru’s other buildings, the fuselages are lined up and the wings are carefully stacked on shelves. These components are now ready for the next stage of the production process or to be crated for shipping to the far flung corners of the globe. Of the 37 dealerships around the world, some facilities in America and South African also possess approval for aircraft assembly. In South Africa, the little Jabiru has grown to now be more popular than the small Cessna singles..........

                  Check back soon for the conclusion to the "Jabiru's Nest".


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