On the 2nd of February 2016 I was relaxing at home when my mobile phone rang. The caller was Tony Cathcart who is the owner of an Australian Lightwing aircraft that has been based at Wentworth Airport for several years. Tony moved to Queensland 3 years ago for work and was missing his plane. After a short conversation Tony asked if I would be interested in flying the plane to Maryborough, Qld for him. I thought long and hard for about 3 seconds and said yes I would deliver the plane.
I had not flown the Lightwing for a while so I called on Cliff BANKS CFI for a few refresher lessons. A flight plan was formulated and a GPS and Beacon was provided by Mick WATSON. A new ERSA and the relevant WAC charts purchased and several hours of circuits and local flights and I was satisfied that I was ready to go.
Day one Friday the 1st of April 2016 my wife Tracey and I met Mick Watson at the airport and I rolled the Lightwing out of the hangar, we could not have asked for a better day. There was a very gentle breeze from the North West and very little cloud cover. After a pre-flight check we posed for Mick to take a photo, after all, this was only the second time Tracey and I have flown together.
After strapping ourselves in I pushed the button on the dash and the 912 fired up. After warm up we taxied for runway 35 and headed off to Wilcannia via Menindee. We climbed to 3500 feet and the flight was not fast and with the slight head wind we were ripping along at 65 knots ground speed and it wasn’t long (tongue in cheek) before we passed the Ginko sand mine.
About one and a half hours after leaving Wentworth we could see the Menindee Lakes and to say there is a water shortage here would be a gross understatement. I had not imagined the country out here could be so dry and dusty.
We adjusted our course a few degrees to the right and headed for Wilcannia. Our track was mainly along the Darling River and in places there was just a dry river bed.
The air started to get a bit bumpy and the little plane with its massive wing wanted to keep climbing on the thermals. A bit of forward stick kept the altitude in check and as we surfed off the thermals we managed to get the ground speed up to an impressive 80 knots and we were soon at Wilcannia. After landing a phone call was made to Pat BARACLOUGH and a short time later she arrived at the airport with the prearranged fuel and some cold drinks.
After stretching the legs and topping up the wing tanks with premium unleaded Tracey I and strapped in and were soon airborne again and heading for Bourke. The terminal at Bourke is very modern, is a credit to the town and is named after the legendary aviator Nancy BIRD.
A call to Paul at Frank’s Service Station and our prearranged fuel arrived. The wing tanks were filled up and we saddled up again. As we lined up on the main runway we had a problem with the tail wheel so we made our way off the run way and called on the assistance of a local engineer. By the time the problem was fixed the time had slipped by and we elected to stay in Bourke overnight.
Day two we woke to another stunning day and a 5 knot breeze off the south west. After the pre-flight check and we taxied for the cross strip and took off directly into the breeze. Once we gained sufficient height we turned northeast with a tail wind for St George that was estimated to be three hours away with not much in between. We made good time with the tail wind and managed about 75 knots ground speed at 3500 ft.
After three hours the St George airport was a welcome sight and a chance to stretch the legs again. A call after landing and Tarny from Lowes Petroleum arrived with our fuel. We had to share the apron with a slightly bigger and faster aircraft. After topping up the wing tanks we went back to the fuel depot then Tarny drove me in to town to a fantastic corner shop where I found a couple of fresh hot pies and some dim sims to go with an ice cold coke zero. Back at the airport Tracey and I devoured the food and it was as good as it looked and really hit the spot after a light breakfast.
I checked over the plane again and we strapped ourselves in and set off for Chinchilla about 2 hours away. The thermals had stated to build up and a few small cumulous clouds began to appear. I reduced our cruise altitude to put a bit more distance between us and the clouds. We still had a tail wind and made good time as we raced toward Chinchilla at about 75 knots ground speed.
About half way between St George and Chinchilla we crossed a line and this is where the country went from dry and dusty to green and grassy, there were visible puddles in the paddocks.
Arriving at Chinchilla I landed on the grass cross strip and taxied up to the apron in front of the Terminal/Aero Club Rooms. Another amazing little airport with great facilities. We tied the Lightwing down and called a taxi to take us to our Motel. After five hours flying in bumpy conditions we ready for a rest.
Day three, the weather continued to be in our favour with clear skies and a tail wind. The GPS was set and we took off for the last leg to Maryborough approximately 2 hours away. We tracked for Wondai and around the biggest off the hills and then headed for the last stop on this journey. As the miles counted down the GPS said we were over Maryborough but this was at odds with our visuals.
We reset the GPS and still had issues. My quick thinking navigator grabbed her IPhone and advised me that we were close to Childers and she quickly referenced the maps and advised that we had to track south east for Maryborough about 20 miles away. A short time later we were over Maryborough and on final into a fairly stiff breeze directly down the grass cross strip.
To say Tony was happy to have his plane home and in the hangar was an understatement and after approximately 12 hours flying time I was happy call the trip over.
Special thanks to my wife, navigator and best friend Tracey for accompanying me.