It has now been 6 months since I returned from the epic world flight that saw me cover 45,000kms in 21 locations around the world! Whilst it has been a nice break, and I’ve been catching up on the social life that I have missed a lot of in the last 3 years, I am well and truly back into things now!
A degree in business, public speaking and even the first of many youth development companies have been my focus since returning back to my hometown of the Sunshine Coast in sunny Queensland. They are all new adventures I am very excited to be conducting! The continued opportunity I am having to work with young people to motivate them towards a more successful future is also enthralling!
In moving forward I have begun to put together a new stream of media channels so that you can keep up to date with what is going on both in public and behind the scenes, but more importantly be a part of it all! As with the Wings Around the World journey, there is no way I can begin to make this change in the generation of today without your help motivating the young people around you and proving that it doesn’t take an extraordinary person to undertake an extraordinary achievement!
Please check out the new website and Facebook page with the below links:
My last week and a half before reaching familiar Aussie soil was not without a hitch. From Egypt I encountered troubles with air traffic control, ground staff and airports including delays due to fuel, and even having an airport shut down due to a departing president!
They were all challenges (mostly) expected to be encountered on a round the world flight, however they were not all expected within a week.
As with all challenges I have encountered on this flight it came down to preparation, and the willingness to put the hard work in to push through the obstacle, some patience and where needed, persistence.
From Egypt to Oman I encountered some intense turbulence that I had throughout the whole trip. It lasted for 5 and a half hours, and compounded a day of frustrations after I had already been delayed by 2 hours after waiting for fuel in Egypt. After landing in Muscat I was again playing the waiting game, this time it was for 45 minutes to be picked up to go to my accommodation.
Now, I don’t want to be seen as a whinger, it was only 45 minutes, but…it was in 36-degree heat, and that was at 9pm at night. After earlier delays and spending a day in the plane, this was just icing on the cake of a frustrating day. I was officially hammered when I arrived at my hotel. Spent.
After a day in Oman, and meeting with some local media, I was fresh for my next flight which flight took me across the ocean and southern India into Sri Lanka. There were a few issues with payment encountered, but nothing I couldn’t fix. But Sri Lanka was important for another reason. It was my final destination before I began a marathon 3 days of flying back to Australia. Ahead of me were a few back-to-back legs as I skipped my way back home.
It began with a flight from Sri Lanka to Malaysia, which was pleasingly shorter than expected with some great tailwinds. I had an overnight stay there with some family friends, which really did make the stop enjoyable.
Before I could really make much sense of the country I was off again the next day, dodging a storm over the top of Kuala Lumpur as I exited and headed for Jakarta, Indonesia – with a few communication challenges along the way.
Another quick turnaround meant that Indonesia was a short lived stop, but a little longer than I had anticipated. As had seemingly become the norm in the second part of the trip, there were delays upon departure, but this time because the Indonesian President was flying out of the same airport as me, at the same time.
As you can guess, Lachie Smart and his little Cirrus weren’t first priority at this point in time.
After fitting in line behind the President I quickly reached the coastline of Indonesia and began my last overwater stretch of the flight.
Now the boundary between Indonesian and Australian airspace is a waypoint known as SAPDA, and when I finally reached it I was greeted with the best I could possibly have heard after a difficult morning:
I was home.
Landing in Broome was a relief and a feeling of excitement. Once landed I taxied underneath an arch of water from the fire trucks at Broome airport and made my way to parking where I was welcomed by Australian customs, media and some surprise guests – my grandparents Lynne and Phil.
A photo posted by Wings Around the World (@watw2016) on
Broome was full of surprises, and my time there was boosted when I was taken for a scenic flight over the Kimberley’s and Horizontal Waterfalls of WA. A special shoutout needs to go to King Leopold Air for taking me, and also a massive thank you to them for looking after the maintenance of my Cirrus.
As I departed from Broome I headed to my second Australian stop, Darwin.
While in Darwin I went for a swim in a ‘cage of death’ with a crocodile, and caught up with some old family friends, as well as getting a chance to refuel and prepare the aeroplane for the next flight down to Longreach – back to mighty Queensland!
I may be biased in my favourite Australian state…maybe.
Getting down to Longreach proved a little more interesting than expected with a few weather cells forming around where I was flying, however nothing near as bad as I had experienced elsewhere on the journey!
If you haven’t been to Longreach before, you should treat yourself and head there, primarily because the Qantas Heritage Museum is there, and not only did I get to check it out, I also was asked to give a talk and do a Q&A session with a few interested followers. For all those that came along, thanks for being there!
Then as soon as I arrived (seemingly), I was off to Bundaberg. The flight out was smooth and relaxing, and fantastic tailwinds gave me a short flight (and my personal record ground speed in the Cirrus) to my last stop before home.
As I write this I am less than a 45-minute flight away from completing what has been a dream of mine for almost 3 years, and what do I feel? I feel so many emotions that I don’t think I could write them all down in this blog.
Excitement to be home, relief to have achieved this huge goal, trepidation for what comes next. All things that are going through my mind but in all honesty… I’m just looking forward to being home.
During my time in Europe I was able to experience a wide variety of cultures, foods and landscapes, from the picturesque beaches of Cannes to the beautiful sunny weather patterns of British Summer (that was a joke, and is the UK even still counted as Europe? …I made a #Lexit before the arguments started).
But overall I got to enjoy some relatively (and yes, only relatively) easy, smooth and beautiful flying. Let’s start in England.
I had a good 11 day layover in England during which I got to catch up on some sleep, hang out with my awesome family that live there, and get the Spirit of the Sunshine Coast serviced, it’s just like a car and needs a tune up every now and then.
It was really nice to step back into some kind of reality being in a house and having my feet in the ground for more than 3 days, I enjoyed that almost as much as the sightseeing and relaxing I got to do!
Following the WATW siesta I jumped across the channel and into the land of excellent baguettes, pastries and cheese but not before fulfilling a dream of mine – to fly along the White Cliffs of Dover.
It was surreal experiencing the same views from the sky that my relatives did, also as pilots, so many years ago during both world wars, and to see it on a journey such as this was incredible.
Next stop: France.
The views on the way down were nice when I could see through the cloud layer below me and the approach into Cannes was breathtaking. Below me lay beautiful blue water and lots of boats with values ranging right up to 20 Cirrus’ (don’t worry Albert, you’re priceless).
But my stay in Cannes was off to a rocky start after making my way dopily to the wrong hotel
But my stay in Cannes was off to a rocky start after making my way dopily to the wrong hotel, at least I got the direction wrong on the ground and not in the sky! After correcting my course and finding my hotel I was set for some exploring in the hours of the day that remained.
I caught a taxi into town and started walking. I really enjoy going for a walk when I can as the Cirrus doesn’t allow much room for going for a stroll and it really makes you enjoy the ground a lot more, especially when you can’t straighten your legs for up to 14 hours in the plane.
During my expedition through the city of Cannes I heard some party music coming from the beach so I went to have a look, however a fence blocked the source of the music. So I went around to a different side and couldn’t see anything once again so decided I would ask someone.
As it turns out, the lady I asked happened to be the manager for one of the organising companies and I got free tickets and taken to the secret squirrel entrance skipping the hour of queues!
Lachie was having a winner winner chicken dinner of a day.
So entering this beach party was pretty exciting and it turns out the DJ who was on the stage was DJ Snake (don’t worry mum I’ll explain who he is later – but if you’re feeling adventurous, click the video below!)
I really didn’t have a clue what was going on as my French is about as well developed as my Portuguese, luckily I speak the global language of dance. The rest of the stay in France included preparing for the next flight and catching up with a fellow pilot for some dinner and a very cool fireworks show off the beach!
Next stop was Crete, Greece, and while the flight wasn’t exactly one of the easiest with interesting weather and difficult air traffic controllers, I still enjoyed the scenery and landing on the beautiful island of Crete. A great hotel and views that make you drool all over your wonderful green salad with basil and avocado dressing, the stop was one I will certainly never forget!
But it didn’t feel like long until I was soaring off that majestic island, concluding my European segment and with a flight plan set for the Middle East. Destination next, Egypt.
I must say, arriving here was a bit of a relief after fighting ATC once again for a long period of the trip.
The difficulties began with bad radio reception over the water between Crete and Egypt, followed by requests for me to do things that aren’t possible with my aircraft and there were a few surprise flight condition changes.
By the time I put the aircraft down onto the runway I was worn out mentally and looking forward to my hotel room. I packed up, tucked Albert into bed and made my way through immigration and customs to a waiting van that took me to the hotel.
Bring on the Middle East and Asia, I’m exciting to explore a new part of the world.
Somehow in the last 8 hours my flight plan from Azores to England had gone from a straight flight of around 9.5 hours to a 14-hour European sojourn through Portugal, Spain, France and England.
So being the stubborn fellow that I am, I began ringing around the world to find out who had meddled with my flight plan and why it had been changed. After talking to Brussels, who manage all of Europe’s airspace, I found that they required a waypoint every 50 nautical miles or less… It was a 1500nm flight!
So after trying to argue with a very unhappy Belgian man I decided that my inner donkey would come out and I began plotting 30 latitude and longitude waypoints for the track that I wanted (the shortest one). By now it is 11pm and I was very tired but had made a complete flight plan and was ready to submit it.
So I talked to my Belgian friend who is now bent on not accepting my flight plan. My next step was to find a Portuguese authority to submit my plan on my behalf. I haven’t practised my Portuguese for a while, so this conversation was difficult as his English was also very broken, however after half an hour of latitude and longitudes and then 12 minutes of trying to give him my email address, we got there in the end. 1am, 12.5 hours since the original plan had been submitted, it was time for bed.
Sleeping with my fingers crossed there were no problems I gave into tiredness and put aside that marathon my night had become to get the flight plan submitted.
The next morning I was up and to the airport by 6:20am for a 7am departure. Checking my emails I found that my plan had been accepted, even on the track that I wanted! I was on a high until that came crashing down when I read my supposed departure time: 1am.
So rapid phone calls to two wrong numbers before getting through to my Portuguese friend again, I had a quick discussion about the meaning of 7am. Eventually he read through and found that for some reason he had put a 1am departure with a 6 hour delay at Santa Maria prior to take off. Of course that would be the logical thing to do? *sigh*.
All was back on track and after jumping in the Spirit of the Sunshine Coast I brought the aircraft to life and we roared off toward the motherland: England!
A photo posted by Wings Around the World (@watw2016) on
I was looking forward to this trip as it would bring to a close the first half of the journey and I would also get to see some familiar faces again. After getting a new clearance before take off I ended up throwing away the first 10 waypoints and tracking through only two new waypoints prior to entering England’s airspace where I resumed my original flight plan along the million waypoints, which I very quickly established with ATC that I would not be reporting at every single one.
Around 3 hours out from England I began getting diverted around over France and moved to accommodate for other traffic flowing around Europe. Eventually I made it to Biggin Hill and completed what felt like a mammoth challenge to cross the Atlantic.
Now having past both the halfway points for distance and time, I am on the home run. I have really enjoyed my time in England with family unwinding, but I am now feeling rested and ready to continue this world record attempt. Look out Europe here I come.
As with all things on this trip, there is a plan A, plan B and plan C, and this crossing was no exception. Before beginning the crossing I decided that plan C was going to be the best option as I’m really not much of a cold weather person. I live on the Sunshine Coast for a reason.
Originally I was to head up to Iceland via the southern tip of Greenland, and if that wasn’t an option then I would land in Greenland and wait it out there (plan B). Then there was plan C… Find the little cluster of islands off Portugal, in the Atlantic called the Azores.
Options A and B – Face a country with ‘ice’ or ‘green’ (which is their special code for ice) in it’s name, or the warm islands near Portugal? It was a clear diversion that needed to be made.
The flight from St John’s was relatively uneventful other than a departure into heavy instrument conditions (not flying visually). However it turned out to be an absolutely stunning departure, probably my favourite of the journey so far with some beautiful cloud formations and light pouring through.
With light variable winds and my cruising level clear of cloud, it was quite a simple journey across the majority of the Atlantic bar a few clouds to dodge about 3 hours into it.
Now, before leaving St John’s I noticed another Cirrus with a ferry configuration with my handler. I asked where it was going and it turned out he was on his way to the Azores on the same day as me.
Around 4 hours into the journey I heard over the long-range radio a position report from the Cirrus that I had met in Canada, he was only half an hour behind me! So I tried him on the VHF (short range) radio and we began to have a chat. It certainly was a much nicer to have someone to talk to for some of the 9 hour flight (other than Freddy of course, who is a great listener).
Upon landing in Santa Maria (Azores) I secured the aircraft and cleared customs before meeting my ferry pilot that I had befriended en route to Santa Maria. We had an excellent night at the ‘Central Pub’ and made sure to swap contact details before he headed off the next morning.
While the flight from St. Johns was a breeze, the preparation for the next flight was not as smooth as I had hoped with the flight plan submission being more of laborious task than spinning the propeller with my hands would be.
Beginning with refuelling and organising the aircraft I didn’t give a second thought to submitting the flight plan as it had become so routine… What a silly mistake.
I submitted a flight plan at 12:30pm, which was for a straight line between Santa Maria and Biggin Hill (England) with a waypoint at least every 200nm and an arrival procedure in England. This is the same process I had used for every oceanic flight up until this point and it had worked, so wouldn’t it this time. Expecting to have my accepted plan back in less than an hour I left the airport and headed back to my beautiful hotel room which overlooking some green fields that ran out to the ocean.
Dinnertime rolled around and so did my accepted flight plan (finally) at 8:30pm.
When I opened the plan, I knew it was going to be a much longer night than anticipated.
To bring it back to pilot speak, spending some time in the USA was a great change from flying over water and only spotting land on the horizon near the end of the day. It has also been easy to work with the controllers here who make life so easy for a pilot.
From a technology standpoint, there is radar coverage almost everywhere, they always have a pretty good idea of where you are and can provide handy information like weather updates and terrain ahead of you. For those following my flight via radar, you know exactly what I am talking about. These assets are great for when you need critical information such as during the following exchange:
“Memphis Centre, VH-IBC, Is this the Mississippi River below me?” To which I got the reply “Yes sir, the miigghhttyyy Mississippi”
…. I love the USA nationalism and their accents.
The journey leaving California was simple and delightful. Not having to use the ferry tank nor the HF radio (you can read about those in my previous blogs here and here), the flight became a ‘normal’ flight again and I got to just sit and enjoy the scenery (yay, I have scenery again). I mean, flying over water is beautiful too, but after 13 hours of “Hey look… water. Hey look at that too… more water,” the novelty can wear off.
The flight from California was only around 3 hours and I got to land in a pretty cool place too, Las Vegas, where it was a toasty 109 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius)
Despite my initial joy at being back over land and not needing ferry tanks, the leg from Las Vegas to Texas was not as enjoyable as I had anticipated.
I needed to take off carefully from Vegas due to a high-density altitude and the high temperature.
EDIT NOTE: On a hot and humid day, an aircraft will accelerate more slowly down a runway and needs to move faster to attain the same lift as the normal expected performance. The aircraft will also climb at a slower rate. The short of it: A pilot needs to account for these factors and pay close attention for a safe departure in high-density altitude.
After a successful take off I climbed to 9500 feet and made my way out to see the Grand Canyon. Following the slow climb out due of Vegas it was quite nice to get to altitude and cruise along.
A photo posted by Wings Around the World (@watw2016) on
From there the first of my ‘monuments’ was ahead of me. Yes I had already flown over the outstanding Pacific Ocean, but flying over the Grand Canyon was incredible, and those who watched the video on our Facebook page will agree to that.
From there however the flight wasn’t the fairytale every pilot hopes for on each flight. The heat made it incredibly bumpy and at times difficult to create enough lift to stay in the air due to downdrafts and a high-density altitude. I had to put the aircraft in a climb configuration to maintain altitude a couple of times and watch the cylinder head temperature very closely to make sure the engine stayed cool enough.
Landing in Fredericksburg was a relief and I really enjoyed my stay there. I kind of wish I had some more time there. The Hangar Hotel was awesome to stay in and I loved the WW2 theming…and of course being able to park my plane outside my room!
The next day I roared into the skies for a beautiful flight up to Nashville, Tennessee. This time the flying was smooth as silk and it was a bit cooler as I headed into the lush green central mid-eastern states.
Crossing the Mississippi was very cool and the controllers weren’t too busy at the time so we’re up for some questions and a chat. After landing in Smyrna airport (around 30 minutes drive from Nashville), the tower controller asked where the plane was from, and with a feeling of satisfaction I told him that I had flown this all the way from Australia. It is amazing to look back and see how far I have really come, but I’m staying focused, as it is still a long way to go until I’m home.
From Nashville I made my way to Niagara Falls, the last stop on the USA leg of this trip. It was a nice short flight to a cooler area. My next flight today (Friday July 22 – landing on Saturday July 23 in Australian time) saw me fly over Niagara Falls, (so watch for the video!) en route to St. John’s in Canada, where I landed not long ago!
As always, if there is anything more you would like to know, send a question and one of the team or I will get back to you!
I was on my way to Christmas Island. After two relatively trouble free flights, my flight from Pago Pago was all action from the word go. As I climbed into the air from Pago Pago, communications were weak and I found I was constantly battling the radios to try and get a signal. In addition to that, I was hand flying as the autopilot isn’t designed to fly it with these weights. On top of hand flying and poor communications was managing my fuel.
When I finally reached top of my climb into the air, it was about time to begin the first fuel transfer from the ferry tank to the wing tank. This is a task I have quickly taken on with ease, but today with a number of things going on, I needed to be on the ball more than ever, however with so much going on I was given a reminder of just how important this task is.
Part of my job is to burp the fuel tank, which is a process where I massage the extra air out of the tank in order for the fuel to be picked up properly and transferred into the wing tank. Flying up high, you encounter reduced air pressure, so anything with air in it expands. Next time you’re on a flight, get yourself a packet of chips and see it expand as you ascend – it’s a small scale copy of what was happening with the fuel tank, it was expanding so needed burping before I transferred fuel, all routine.
However, I was approaching a region called the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), which begins usually around 7-8 degrees south of the equator until about 5 degrees south of the equator.
In the ITCZ often you will encounter some pretty hefty storms and this day was just not going to be my day, I knew it. Whilst managing my communications and hand flying the aircraft, I received a whack in the head with the metal refill cap on my fuel tank, of course as the air expanded. Despite this, I managed to get the fuel pickup in the tank enough for at least one transfer, which I began as I started weaving through the storms around me.
If I had to describe the storms, they were like huge, grey giants battling each other high in the sky while I tried to avoid hitting their feet in my little Cirrus.
I weaved and maneuvered my way through the first 3/4 of the ITCZ, however upon reaching the last quarter I was presented with my biggest challenge. There were two huge cells, bigger than I had ever seen, very close together but covering what I guess to be a 100 nautical mile front. In between them was a gap, you can tell where it is because the towering section of the cloud is the storms, and there will sometimes be surround cloud, which isn’t as intense. So using the skills I had been taught, I went with my gut and made a decision to go through the gap.
About 30 seconds after entering the cloud I broke out again right where I had aimed for between the two cells and ahead of me was a perfect tunnel to escape the giants, on the other side was the end of the ITCZ and perfect blue skies.
The remainder of the flight was then as the first few legs had been, albeit with a couple of more hours of hand flying before putting the autopilot on and cruising to Christmas Island, Kiribati.
The island itself was again quite beautiful to fly into and being on the ground was certainly being on island time!
Speaking to the local information service on the radio I confirmed with them that both customs and the refuellers would be ready upon my arrival, perfect.
After putting the aircraft down and taxiing in, I was met by a marshaller, but there were no customs or fuel as had been confirmed not long before. After a little creative negotiating and a few calls from Tiote (pronounced Sett-eh), we eventually managed to get customs and the refuellers in…3 hours later.
Refuelling was a bit of fun, with the fuel coming in drums from a little truck due to the more remote nature of Kiribati. After clearing the fuel as ok to put into the aircraft, using a special test kit, the refueller hand pumped while I nozzled the wing tanks and finally the ferry tank. Following that little experience I headed to my hotel for some food and well earned rest after a long day.
Now remember the remoteness of Kiribati, small pacific island, with no fuel bowsers, just pre-ordered drums. Well, the accommodation was also a little way off the great streak I had enjoyed to that point. But I guess to be expected.
There was a gap under the door big enough that you could have driven a crane through. As well as the half a door, the lights were only partially working and the bed was smaller than me but that’s ok. I was so tired I really didn’t mind and I just needed sleep.
So I went to have a shower before getting some dinner but the showerhead was missing and the taps were broken, so I decided some deodorant would do the trick and headed off to the “restaurant”.
The room I had dinner in, on plastic deck chairs, was pleasant enough and after a few failed attempts at trying to get food (as they didn’t have it) I managed to get some spicy chicken, which I am hoped I wouldn’t regret later on.
I headed back into my room, checked the bed for crabs or any other creature, and fell into a coma for the next 7 hours.
Upon waking up and packing everything away Tiote greeted me and we zoomed to the airport in the little Toyota Starlet. Now when I say zoomed, I mean we entered the Christmas Island rally championship: in position 1, Tiote and Lachie; in position two was Crab Lowndes; and position 3 we had Lightning McCrab. We won.
When I reached the aeroplane I pre-flighted it and ensured everything was set for departure. I jumped in a tried to contact San Francisco on the radio but had no luck. After a few phone calls and eventually talking to the flight information service when they woke up, I managed to get the HF frequencies in use for today and set off for my next destination, the 50th state of the USA – Hawaii!
The flight crossing the ITCZ in the northern hemisphere was much better and the team back home guided me around the storm cells using the satellite feed and satellite data of the weather, it’s important to remember that this whole journey is largely reliant on teamwork! It was actually quite a nice flight with everything going pretty well including communications, and a great destination up ahead.
Hawaii will be a stop where I spend more than two days on the ground, a nice break as I draw close to the end of my first week away!
As always, any questions feel free to comment and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
Well, the last three legs of my trip haven’t all been dreams runs like the first leg was, I can assure you of that!
In this last week I have experienced one of the most difficult flights I have ever completed, but before we get to that, let’s pick up where we left off: Fiji.
My time in Fiji was very enjoyable, having been to Fiji once before on a school trip it was excellent to be back in that wonderful country again. The locals are all very friendly and helpful, with a great sense of community, which I really love. My hotel was quite nice with a good restaurant below, and quite close to the airport: sleep, food and aeroplanes…what more could I want?!
I spent the day in between flights preparing for the flight to Pago Pago (American Samoa) by submitting my flight plan; organising customs to be present for my departure and ensuring Pago Pago was ready for my arrival. In between I also took the opportunity to have a quick chat to the class of aviation students who were nearby about the trip and my thoughts on goals and dreams.
The flight time to Pago Pago was set to be around 6 hours with variable light winds along the way, so with OK weather and an aeroplane full of fuel I headed off just after dawn the next morning.
A few hours later, American Samoa loomed. It is quite a small island with high mountains and an amazing history. I thoroughly enjoyed my time both in the air and on the ground there. Once landed I was met by David Vaeafe, the Visitors Bureau Executive Director, and the airport security officer and was escorted inside to clear customs and immigration before coming back out to the aeroplane to tuck it in for the night. I organised with the refuellers that we would come and refuel the aeroplane the next day at 9am, and by then I was ready to head to my hotel to do a quick media conference followed by some solid sleep.
The Tradewinds hotel was my accommodation for the two nights I spent in Pago Pago and it was absolutely phenomenal!
A great room/facilities and also close to the airport, with a restaurant down stairs, we are 2/2 for accommodation! David was an absolute champion and I enjoyed spending time with him (he will be going on the list of ‘Lachie’s Legends’ at the end of this trip). I spent the second day with David and knocked over the jobs in the morning (refuelling etc) before going to explore the island, all I can say is WOW!
If you watched my video update from Pago Pagoyou would have seen the old cable car behind me. The cable was actually hit by a US Air Force P3 in 1980 and the cable car has been decommissioned since then. The US also used American Samoa as a base in WW2 as well as a landing destination for some of NASA’s Apollo missions. It is quite the place! After a late lunch I headed back to the hotel for some more media and a relaxing night.
Arriving at the airport again before dawn the next morning, I preflight checked the aeroplane before trying to contact Faleolo (pronounced Fal-ee-awh-loh in case you were wondering, Ryan). As they are based in Western Samoa, the mountains block the signal to them, so I ended up calling them on the telephone to get a clearance to enter their airspace. Once airborne I thought it would be a relatively easy flight, the take off was heavy as I was taking extra fuel into Christmas Island.
However it was by no means a simple flight.
PART II of Lachie’s epic flight to Kiribati & then on to Hawaii, where he is now, will be posted tomorrow night – stay tuned!
The day began at 1am with that annoying sound of the alarm, except this time it wasn’t just to wake up and work on flight planning…It was to wake up and begin a flight around the world!
After crawling out of my nice warm bed and taking a shower, I had a light breakfast (I wanted to save room for all those great muesli bars I was going to enjoy on the way over) and packed the last essentials such as chargers, toiletries and any other last minute things.
Then it was time to say goodbye to my home for the next 8 weeks!
Jumping in the car just over an hour after my alarm went off, mum and I made the 15-minute trip to the airport where we were greeted by the rest of the team. We made our way through security and into the international terminal of Sunshine Coast Airport, and then I went onwards to my plane, the Spirit of the Sunshine Coast.
It was only at this point did everything suddenly become real, there had been ceremonies, formalities, media and lots of preparation but only when I walked out onto the tarmac on my own did it really hit me that ‘Wow, we made it. I’m about to fly around the world!’
From 2:40am – 3:15am I had some time to myself to organise the aircraft and ensure the equipment was ready to go.
Some of our very dedicated supporters began arriving by 3.15am, braving the cold to do so. I enjoyed some last few moments with friends and family before clearing customs and jumping into the Spirit of the Sunshine Coast at 4am.
Minutes the powerful IO 550 engine of the Cirrus SR-22 roared into life, I entered the flight plan in the navigation systems and prepared for departure. When all my checks had been done, I taxied away from the terminal for the trip of a lifetime, moving out onto the dark runway (save for runway lights) that I had all to myself, no line to depart, no incoming traffic. Just me.
Hurtling down the runway is always an exhilarating feeling but today was extra special as Wings Around the World was now a reality, more than ever.
My plane thrived in the cold, dense air and carved its way through the sky up to 9000 feet where I levelled out and set it up for the cruise to Fiji.
As the east coast of Australia disappeared behind me, my next job was to hand off from the VHF (short range radio) system to the HF (long range radio) system. A bit off fiddling (a mix between a fine art and a lot of luck) was required to reach Brisbane over HF, however, communications were finally established and we were underway for the flight over the Pacific Ocean to Nadi, Fiji.
As I reached New Caledonia, after about 5 hours, I had a brief chat with the French/English speaking controllers before being transferred back to Nadi Radio. The HF radio system isn’t known for being extremely reliable and at a couple stages throughout the flight I actually had to relay messages to Nadi through some jets flying above me. The aviation community always looks out for each other and it’s a great thing to be part of.
Upon reaching Nadi I descended through a layer of cloud and popped out underneath to some breathtaking scenery of the outlying islands.
After successfully placing the cirrus onto the runway and taxiing in to my handler in Fiji, Sunflower Aviation, the conclusion to a successful first leg of the journey had arrived.
Overall, it was a great start to the trip and I can’t wait to see what adventures lie ahead in the coming weeks and kilometres. Stay tuned everyone!
My final test flight to Norfolk Island and back had it all. In fact, I don’t think that a more valuable trip could have occurred even if I could control weather and all the variables. Not only was some more great experience gained with regards to weather systems and flight management, but I was also given some great tips and tricks from the thousands of hours of ferry flying that my mentor Garry Mitchell has accumulated over the years.
Of course with any overseas trip it began by clearing customs, which presented our first obstacle.
Our departure to Norfolk was on Thursday the 30th June, and our arrival back into mainland Australia was on the 1st of July, and of course with my luck there was a regulation change on the 1st of July. Norfolk Island was becoming a part of Australia again. This meant that my flight to the island was an international flight and my return was a domestic flight, I was keeping a foot in each camp.
So after being signed out we made our way off and into the big blue yonder (I think that’s a saying).
As we approached the 80 nautical mile mark in our journey there, we were transferred from the VHF (normal aircraft radios) to the HF radio (long range) system and began our position reporting. While the HF takes a bit of getting used to, once you get the hang of the constant static sound and melody of E.T like sounds, it becomes surprisingly habitual. Not long after mastering the radios, it was time to use my new ferry fuel tanks for the first time and before I knew it my first fuel transfer was underway.
The flight to Norfolk was on a great day with a high pressure system above which gave some beautiful weather with a slight tailwind, and after what felt like quite a short time for the distance we travelled, we began our descent into the picturesque Norfolk Island.
The island itself is quite beautiful, and after clearing customs and tucking the plane into bed for the night we hired a car and went for a drive around the island (which didn’t take very long). A beer and some dinner finished the night before Garry and I headed to bed, feeling content after a great flight and all round good day.
Friday morning had us up early, well before the sun. The day before we had prepared ourselves and bought some bacon, onion and eggs, quickly turning from a pair of ferry pilots into slightly below average Masterchef contestants whipping up a storm of breakfast food. Following a quite successful meal we made our way to the airport where we checked out what weather lay ahead and confirmed the flight plan we had submitted the day before. With everything set to go, and clearing customs (not immigration this time), we started up the Cirrus and went through our pre-flight checks.
When ready for take off we roared down runway 29 and took off over the pristine blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. The weather for the flight home wasn’t quite as perfect as on the way over with a cold front moving across our flight path overnight. We picked our way through some storms and eventually made our way to Coffs Harbour after a few altitude changes due to some icing (I’m expecting to give you some good detail about icing on my trip to Iceland!), which we had expected to encounter after consulting our weather forecast.
This journey was another great learning opportunity and to have the experience of Garry to draw upon was great. I guess you could say I was happy as Garry.