Newsletter 36 – November 2006

Welcome to Newsletter 36 – the latest edition of the Pipistrel aircraft newsletter for November 2006, and what a busy week we have had !      Please excuse the large number of images in this newsletter.

The plan was to establish a new dealer for New Zealand and to fly his aircraft from Australia to New Zealand as part of the delivery process. This sounds very easy when you say it quickly, but in reality this is quite an adventure with nearly 2500 km or 1350 nautical miles of open ocean to be crossed and a mountain of paperwork to be completed before the adventure can begin.

In the past there have been probably three or four ultralight registered aircraft transit the Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand but none have been done legally and it was our intention to have all of the correct paperwork in place before departure. This meant liaising with the New Zealand CAA, Australia’s equivalent CASA, customs and quarantine in both Australia and New Zealand and several other government agencies including the tax office etc.

My biggest recommendation to others who want to follow this adventure is to allow plenty of time to prepare all the paperwork, because the transit had not been done legally before in an ultralight registered aircraft there are a number of issues which needed to be resolved with the different statutory bodies. All I can say is that I’m very appreciative of both Rex Kenny from the New Zealand CAA and Andrew Ward from CASA who both went out of their way to ensure our delivery could be fulfilled on time.

Hopefully now the paperwork and precedent is in place it will make it easier for others to attempt this adventure, however would I recommend anybody else try to cross the Pacific Ocean….. well, read on.

They say that when the weight of the paperwork matches the weight of the aircraft then you are ready to take off……… this may be a true saying in some respects but with a wad of paperwork only about 50 mm or 2 inches thick I thought I was doing quite well. Probably the smallest package of information I had was my flight plan which had a starting point, two way points and my landing destination.

The day before departure our aircraft was reassembled after being in storage are several months and test flown at a local airfield before being flown down to the Gold Coast Airport for refuelling and preparation for the next day’s flight. I also visited the customs and quarantine office to get them to check over our paperwork to make sure everything was in order and there would be no delays in getting away first thing in the morning. I was surprised at how smooth the customs process went because everything was pre-organised for me and when customs arrived the next morning it was actually easier than departing on a normal commercial flight.

Refuelling at the Gold Coast Airport just before dark

Departure day arrived after a restless night thinking about all the little things I still had to do and all of the things I’d probably forgotten to do. Arriving at the airport at 5.30 a.m. I untied the aircraft and checked over everything one more time before I was greeted by the customs and quarantine people right on our 6 a.m. meeting time. What I thought would be a long and drawnout process of checking my bags and unpacking the plane was simply a matter of sign here on the bottom of this form and have a good trip, this may have been some omen but the rest of my trip was as simple and a straightforward as this customs process with everybody I met being helpful, on time and most importantly very friendly.

Donning my life jacket and making sure the life raft was in easy reach it was on with the ignition, full choke, throttle off and press the starter, unfortunately the battery would only just turn the engine over because when I looked up I discovered that I had left the second of the three GPS units I had fitted on overnight and the battery had been flattened. It didn’t take long to get a jumpstart from the local security personnel and I was off and taxing after clearance.

“You have bigger balls and I do……. Cleared for takeoff, left-hand turn on climb 5500 feet tracking for Lord Howe Island, good luck” were the words from the control tower at Coolangatta airport. With the introduction of throttle my Pipistrel Sinus 912 powered aircraft rolled down the runway and became airborne, a left-hand turn at 500 feet saw me crossing the coast and out over the Pacific Ocean in less than 30 seconds, there was no time for second thoughts because my first landing point, Lord Howe Island is just a speck in the ocean nearly 700 kilometres away.

Australia’s most easterly point Cape Byron and the last land I would see for nearly 4 hours

Everything seemed to be going in slow motion as I left the coast. For the first time in many years of flying there was nothing in front of me except open ocean as Cape Byron disappeared out of sight from my right hand door, a lonely cargo ship motored beneath me approximately 5 miles offshore, little did I know at the time, this would be the last boat I would see until arriving into New Zealand. The total sense of being alone is really compounded when the only device you have to keep you company is a little yellow line on the GPS.

Lord Howe Island was my first waypoint and after 3 1/2 hours I could vaguely make out the shape of the island through the cloud and haze ahead, I had all the pleasures and technology of three separate GPS units and I wondered at how some of the early aviation pioneers would ever find these locations because they are simply so small and hard to see in a very large ocean

A very small island in a very large ocean, Lord Howe Island can only just be seen through the haze
and without a GPS to guide me I imagine it would be very easy to miss

Lord Howe Island, notice the runway which is only 800 m long and suffers from
extreme turbulence in windy conditions

Lord Howe Island is a tourist mecca and fantastic fishing location. Even on a short final I could see hundreds of really large fish in the ocean below. The local traffic regulations refer to “Severe turbulence in the area which may prevent a landing on the runway when the wing is 15 knots or stronger. The bureau of meteorology is not able to forecast severe turbulence in all cases and the final responsibility with landing rests with the pilot in command of the aircraft and he must consider the possibility of a diversion to a mainland aerodrome should turbulence preclude a safe approach” pretty strong wording in the aerodrome information pack but fortunately on the day I passed through the wind was only around 8 or 9 kn and I was able to make a safe arrival.

Approach in to Lord Howe Island airstrip

Refuelling at Lord Howe Island and kept company by the locals

As with everywhere I went the locals came out en-masse when I arrived….. people were just so friendly and interested in the Pipistrel aircraft. There were always offers of let me rush you down to the shop and get something to eat or drink, where are you going, we are have you been etc.

They tell me they now only see probably 10 to15 light aircraft through each year, unfortunately the numbers are dwindling whereas 10 years ago it would have been possible to get four or five aircraft each week passing through. None of the people I spoke to are entirely sure why aircraft are not making the crossing between Australia and New Zealand any more but it may be that commercial air flights are so inexpensive that it now probably cost you 10 times as much to fly in your own aircraft than it does to take a commercial flight.

Shortly after refuelling at Lord Howe Island, it was a quick impromptu fly-over for the locals and then back to the GPS heading and another 900 km of open ocean between Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island which was to take me around 4 1/2 at an average speed of 200 kilometres per hour.

Norfolk Island in the distance again only just visible through the haze

Arriving overhead Norfolk Island which has good cross strips and a jet service four times a week

Norfolk Island was originally one of the British penal colonies established for convicts which they never wanted to release again. Located a long way from anywhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean approximately 400 miles from the nearest land there is absolutely no way they would have ever escaped. Today the island survives on tourism with many visitors from both Australia and New Zealand flying in several times a week on jet flights.

When arriving into Norfolk Island it is necessary to taxi up to the main terminal building with all of your doors and vents shut in the aircraft, the customs and quarantine official then passes a small canister of fly spray through the door and you are required to spray inside the cockpit and also in the rear luggage areas and then sit there for approximately 5 minutes. This process was again repeated in New Zealand in an effort to stop the introduction of exotic bugs, pests and diseases. Even though the can of fly spray is approved by the world health organisation and has ‘aircraft approved’ written on the label you still coughed and spluttered and longed for fresh air while undergoing the longest five minutes in your life.

I remember as a kid arriving back from any overseas trips they used to open the doors of the aircraft to allow two customs officials in who would then proceed to the back of the aircraft and walk forward spraying fly spray over everybody, it was a great introduction to tourists arriving into Australia that the first thing we did to them was spray them and fly spray and then allow them to choke for 5 to 10 minutes. Nowadays the same fly spray is automatically introduced into the aircraft air-conditioning system approximately half an hour out from Australia, it is easy to pick up because everybody starts sneezing and coughing usually around top of descent even though its actually quite difficult to smell.

Norfolk Island fire and rescue service uses three fire trucks built in the 1960s

Refuelling at Norfolk Island with a jet and terminal in the background

Arriving at Norfolk Island in the late afternoon this was to be my overnight destination after a very enjoyable 1000 mile trip in just over eight hours. Again everybody was more than friendly and I had several offers of a lift to my motel accommodation and assistance with tying down etc, both Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Islands are very interesting places and I intend a comeback as a tourist sometime in the future and have a good look around.

Heading to New Zealand, 4450 rpm 105 kn indicated for 111 kn across the ground at 9285 feet

Departing Norfolk Island and heading off to New Zealand, the panel above shows in-flight conditions and the fact that the GPS is probably the most in port and instrument in the aircraft for a flight of this type. The concentration required however is much more than you would normally expect when flying over land, because there are no reference points at all it is simply a matter of following a tiny line on the GPS and every 30 minutes marking off your progress on a map. There is no reference to any land points at all and it is much harder to fly over water than it is to fly over land.

One of the many cloud layers I had to cross

Whilst generally the weather was good for my crossing with light winds which were generally cross winds, there were occasions where large banks of cloud crossed my path, these cloud banks seem to be several hundred kilometres long but only 5 to 10 km wide, I could imagine if you were underneath these it would be very easy to become disorientated because they reflected off the surface of the ocean and actually look like they went from about sea level all the way up to about 6000 feet. Again I thought about our early aviation pioneers and the difficulties they may have had crossing large oceans like the Pacific on just a compass.

The northern tip of New Zealand

After what seemed like forever the northern tip of New Zealand finally came into view on the horizon, it was really interesting to see the cloud formation starting over land as can be seen in the photograph above. New Zealand is commonly known as the land of the long white cloud and nothing could be truer from what I saw on my approach into New Zealand. I could actually see the cumulas clouds building up over land well before I could see the land itself. Interestingly I could hear traffic in circuit at Kerikeri airport over 150 miles out from the destination and was able to transmit to them over VHF radio advising them of my arrival in 1 hour and 30 minutes, the actual lack of VHF transmissions throughout the trip showed just how far from civilisation I had travelled during the crossing. When near the coast of Australia transmissions could be heard on several frequencies every minute or so as I got further from the coast transmissions dropped off until eventually at around 350 miles there was just silence on the radio. I knew there was jet traffic travelling overhead between Australia and New Zealand and i always had the comfort of knowing if something went wrong that I could probably raise one of the jets on the emergency frequency 121.5

Arrival at Kerikeri Airport New Zealand

Arriving at Kerikeri airport New Zealand I was surprised at the amount of people there. It wasn’t until I underwent the compulsory fly spray routine again and was allowed out of the aircraft but I found out they were actually holding an open day at the airport to try and encourage new people to become involved in flying. It was good that I arrived around lunchtime when the crowd was at its biggest because it proved that even a light aircraft like the Pipistrel Sinus was more than capable of cross continental journeys as was shown not only by my trip but also by Matez Lenarcic who flew the Pipistrel aircraft around the world some 18 months ago.

Customs and quarantine procedures again went like clockwork and with the necessary paperwork and documentation done I was a free man allowed to wander around the New Zealand countryside.

Overall, it was a great sense of personal achievement to actually do a flight that not too many had done before me, I guess it was probably the same sort of feeling that people had when they summited Everest or achieved some other lifetime goal, the difference with my trip was it required no physical exertion, it was easy just to sit in the comfortable cockpit of the Pipistrel and all I had to do was to keep the nose pointed in the right direction and mark off the miles on my maps.

The next two days were spent in New Zealand giving our dealer Mr Alan Clarke a thorough overview of the aircraft, with 8000 plus hours as an ag pilot and many hours in helicopters it didn’t take him too long to feel comfortable in the aircraft.

The contact details for Alan are below and I encourage any of our New Zealand customers to make contact with him in the coming weeks to organise a test flight and evaluation of the Pipistrel Sinus aircraft which has again proven itself on the world stage.

Now the big question……. With all that ocean and so few opportunities to land if something goes wrong would I ever do the flight again ? This is a question that went through my mind several times on the trip over, whilst I was in the aircraft the answer was a definite NO… it’s probably pushing luck a little bit too far.

Now I have returned however the pressures and dangers have now long left my mind and it probably seems a good idea to attempt the trip again but this time fly direct between Australia and New Zealand without landing, now that would be an adventure.

Total distance travelled, 2452.5 km, total flying time 12:47:23, average fuel consumption in 11.2 lp/h

Take care…. Michael Coates