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Sydney - Caloundra with clouds and wind

Guest thomaswb

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Guest thomaswb

Since you folk have been so helpful with this navigation business, I think the least I can do is give you a report of how it went. I'm only sorry I forgot my camera, so there isn't much to show. I took some abysmal pictures with my phone, but almost by definition these did not happen at the interesting spots, where my flying workload was high.


The trip started at Camden Haven on Sunday morning the 24th of June. As I was preparing to leave the Recreational Flying Fly-in, I got into a discussion with Rod Hall (the Strikemaster pilot) about my plan to fly to Grafton that day. I was planning to fly inland of the Coffs Harbour controlled airspace, but with cloud at 3000 feet, Rod said that was a really bad idea. He strongly suggested I fly coastal, after arranging it with the Coffs tower. So I called the tower, gave them the details (including the fact that I had no transponder), and they asked me to report at Nambucca Heads. I had only ever done one flight through controlled airspace (coastal past Williamtown), so I was a bit nervous about it. Here's my recollection of the calls:


"Coffs Harbour Tower, Jabiru 3483, G'day."


"Jabiru 3483, Coffs Tower, go ahead."


"Coffs Tower, Jabiru 3483 is at Nambucca Heads, negative transponder, request clearance transit northbound over water 500 feet, 3483."


.. bits about destination and POB and report at Urunga ...


"Coffs Tower, Jabiru 3483 abeam Urunga, 3483"


"Jabiru 3483, cleared transit northbound, remain above water and not above 1000 feet, QNH 1020, report abeam marina at (mumble mumble, sounded like old farmer)."


"Cleared northbound above water, not above 1000 feet, 1020, report abeam marina at (mumbled) old farmer, 3483"


Now I was frantically looking at the VTC to find anything that looked vaguely like "Old Farmer" while at the same time keeping below 1000 feet and looking like hell for a marina. The truth dawned on me when I saw the first thing that looked like a marina-- at the tip of Coffs Harbour.


"Coffs Tower, Jabiru 3483 abeam marina at Coffs Harbour."


And so it went from there. It was pretty cool to be flying right alongside the runway.


The rest of the trip to South Grafton was simple, but landing was more exciting than planned-- I had a flat tyre! Luckily I had family on hand to supply tools and take me to a garage to pump up the tyre with the replacement tube in it. But I really hate those spats. It turned a 15 minute job into a three hour job.


The area forecast for the next day looked bad but not impossible: cloud base at 3000' and isolated showers with bases at 1200'. The plan was to fly around R641, refuel at Lismore then continue north via Tyagarah, passing inland of Gold Coast CTR. About 10 miles south of Lismore, occasional puffs of cloud appeared below me, from around 800' to 1200'. I made the inbound call, and watched as the clouds gradually joined up to make a floor below me. While that was happening an RPT behind me, ETA about 3 minutes after me, asked how the weather was. When I told him, he made the same decision I did-- to divert. I could see the coast between the floor at 1200' and the ceiling at 3000', so I headed toward Tyagarah. But just as I was overhead Lismore, a gap appeared in the cloud below me. It was like a river, about a mile wide. I could see the ground way down there, and I scared the hell out myself by considering, just for a second, going down below it to land. But one glance at the map was enough to rap my own knuckles-- ten separate towers, one as high as 840 feet.


So I looked backward, and I could see clear land without cloud to the south and towards Casino (one of my alternates). I could also see the coast between Ballina and Byron Bay. So I decided to press on toward Tyagarah. However, halfway there, new scattered cloud started to appear out of thin air ahead of me below the 3000' ceiling. I turned immediately towards the nearest clear air, which was straight towards the coast. A few minutes later I was over the beach, heading to Tyagarah, where I landed to review my options.


At Tyagarah, a check of the area forecast did not say anything new, so I really didn't like the idea of mixing clouds and mountains. I reviewed my fuel situation, and as the joy flights from Tyagarah and Heck Field had been cancelled, I had enough to get to Caloundra without touching the 45 minute reserve. I called Gold Coast Tower, who were very obliging. As Rod Hall said, the magic phrases are "due to weather," which I used, and "in the interests of safety," which I didn't need to use. They told me to report at Hastings Point.


Just before I got to Hastings Point, one of those isolated showers came from the ocean right in front of me. I decided to orbit while it passed. And it just happened that the centre of my orbit was a school of whales! I was sorely missing my camera. Sadly, only one orbit was needed for the shower to pass. When I reported, the tower gave me clearance, not at 500' over the beach as I requested, but at 1000', one mile west of the airstrip! I headed in what I thought was the right direction, while frantically doing mental arithmetic to calculate the heading to use. I got it right, and sailed blithely past the runway and over Currumbin. The tower then very helpfully asked if I would like to go inland or coastal. Since there was a shower just inland, I chose coastal, not above 1000', and was treated to an amazing tour below the level of many of the high rise buildings. It was very wet and windy down below, and there was nobody on the beach.


The next bit was pretty boring, going over the sand dunes of Stradbroke Island, but as I moved over to Moreton Island, the sun came out and I was treated to brilliant sand and an azure sea. But as I got to the north of Moreton, the clouds came back at 3000'. Although my glide distances had been calculated based on 3500', I worked out that I could just make it to a beach if the engine failed half way at 3000'. So on I flew, very relieved when I passed the half way mark.


From mermaid Lagoon to Caloundra should have been simple, descending from 3000' with a cloud base around 3500'. But an amazing thing happened when I was only a few miles from Caloundra-- new clouds started to appear from around 1000' to around 1500'. Although they were scattered, they were very rapidly growing and joining up. Within one minute, there was a new ceiling at about 1200'. Luckily, there had been no traffic on the radio, so I announced my intention to join crosswind for 23. As I was downwind, more clouds appeared even lower, and as I turned base the new cloud base was around 700'. But I could see that southward the clouds were still up high. These low clouds were just above the airfield and to the north. By the time I had refuelled and tied down, the rain came down with a vengeance.


The forecast for Tuesday was rain, but for Wednesday was for fine and windy. So I had the pleasure of staying with family at Maleny for two nights.


Wednesday dawned, and the area forecasts all the way back to Sydney were daunting but not impossible: winds of 20 to 30 knots from 240, moderate turbulence below 5000'. At least there was no cloud to speak of, so I could get above rotors over the hills. However, the Gold Coast CTR was down to 2500' near the coast, and I really didn't want to mix a 30 knot wind with Mount Warning, so I pushed my luck and called Gold Coast Tower again. This time a different controller was not so friendly, but it all worked out in the end after he lectured me about submitting a flight plan. The bottom line was that if I didn't, he had to.


So I flew all the way from Caloundra down the western coast of the islands and then the Gold Coast, with the nose of the plane pointing at about 40 degrees west of my track. At least I didn't have to worry about gliding to Moreton Island if the engine failed! Once more past the high rises on the Gold Coast, this time cleared for 1500' along the coast, which gave me a better view. I stopped at Tyagarah for a comfort stop, then headed over Lismore to the south. The forecasts were right-- there was a lot of turbulence below 5000'. By Lismore I was at 5000' and wishing I could go higher.


I decided I could get over the mountains west of Coffs Harbour because I could climb above them. It was pretty wild, and in my mind's eye I could see the waves coming up off the south-western slops of the mountains and shooting up towards me. I was pretty right with the placement, but the direction was always a suprise-- up, down, left, right, and even a sudden increase of 20 knots in air speed. I was very glad to get down to Macksville, and even gladder to land at Kempsey, where I used about 10 metres of runway 22 to land, then had to taxi fast to avoid a Cessna that I had overtaken (??) coming from Coffs, who I thought was landing. But he turned out to be a student practising precautionary searches, very slowly upwind.


At this point I knew that the inland route past Williamtown was out of the question. Experienced pilots had told me not to even try it if the wind was 15 knots or more, especially a crosswind. So I called Willy tower and arranged coastal transit. Everything was fine until the 500' transit. Even though there was nothing inland except sand dunes, the turbulence was awful. I was about to ask if I could fly higher, when Willy Approach asked me if I was aware of the restricted area around the Pasha Bulker, one mile radius up to 2500'. He asked me if I wanted to go inland, out to sea, or over it. When I opted for over it, he cleared me for the whole transit at 2500', without me having to ask. So the turbulence was not so bad, but I had an astounding 40 knot headwind component. Even with extra power, I was only making 65 knots ground speed. I had to give Willy a revised ETA for Nobby's Head that was nearly twice as long as the first one.


After Nobby's Head, the rest was old territory. Track straight to Warnervale and make a no-flaps landing on 02, with almost aerobatic manoeuvres at the threshold to keep it pointing in the right direction. Then tying the plane down amongst the mud as the rain came down. It looks like the rain follows me. Or maybe I'm a very lucky guy and it holds off until I land.


I feel great that I made it to Caloundra and back with such challenges, but I hope my next trip is not so challenging. And I am extremely grateful to all the experienced pilots who gave me such good advice and shared such useful experience at the Camden Haven fly-in.























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nice interesting trip you had! good to hear good reports about using ATC to facilitate your trip, i have always found CTA to be of no real issue when you let them know before hand what to expect, though i was a little surprised about the requiring a Flight plan. when flying VH, i have never had an issue with air traffic control when requesting clearances without a flight plan.


as for the rapid building of Weather, i have seen this happen to me on a trip from Cessnock to Hoxton park, in the space of about 10 mins, the sky went from scattered light CU to rapidly building CUs with rain.


Sounds like you trip was an Adventure!



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Great report, great experience. Well done Thomas. I know what you mean about severe turb at 500 past Willy, some of my worst bumpy air experiences come from there. BTW, what are the lines across some of your pics?





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Guest thomaswb
Great report, great experience. Well done Thomas. I know what you mean about severe turb at 500 past Willy, some of my worst bumpy air experiences come from there. BTW, what are the lines across some of your pics?Paul


the lines are the propeller. My phone's camera must have a very long exposure time, and it must scan the picture from top to bottom. Next time I won't forget my camera!





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