A mostly black Pitts is making its first flight since it was imported from the United States (and it sounds great) as we say our farewells to Aero Club members and Mike’s family. By 1:02 p.m. we’re off the ground and banking above the airport in an overhead departure on course. On climbout hears a familiar call sign on the Melbourne Control frequency. “I used to fly [Victor Hotel] Sierra-Sierra-Lima,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s still an Aztec or not.”
The snow cap is gone from all but the tallest peaks of The Great Dividing Range, mountains that run a quarter of the way up Australia’s east coast. Far below us the valley floors resonate with the bright greens of spring. Mike spent a year in these mountains, attending a boarding school there when he was in the tenth grade. “On weekends we were kicked out with a backpack and a tent. We hiked all over those mountains,” he recalls. “We were fit fellows.” We look down on green plains and several large lakes before the view is claimed by a cloud layer below. We climb another 1,000 feet, to FL250, in an effort to stay above the tops.
Passing over what I think is Albury, I see a nice-sized town with a nearby airport with two intersecting runways. We’re too high to see if there’s any traffic in the pattern–er, circuit. We’re in and out of clouds at our cruising altitude, and I can see the terrain is much flatter, with fields of crops that are medium green, a darker green, and a very bright yellow-green. By the time we pass the Wagga Wagga VOR (no, I’m not making this up) the visible terrain is almost completely flat.
We pass about 100 miles west of Sydney; it’s mostly clear except for some small, puffy clouds on the horizon but any view of the city is blocked be the Great Dividing Range. At FL250 we have a groundspeed of 293 knots, which reflects a bit of a tailwind.
Several of you have asked about food, especially in some of the countries where food quality can be, shall we say, inconsistent. Breakfast for me has usually been a Clif Bar–an energy bar containing a good bit of protein–because on travel days we usually are gone well before any hotel restaurant opens. Lunch is another Clif Bar, because it’s nutritious and portable. For dinner I like to sample the cuisine of whatever part of the world we’re traversing, but this has to be done carefully. Mike’s done enough flying in this part of the world that he’s had a bad meal, and the resulting distress made travel a miserable experience. Because of this–and late arrival times–most of our meals have been in the hotel restaurant, perhaps not as adventurous as some people would like but a conservative compromise. I’m carrying a few “noodles in a cup” meals in case the hotel restaurant seemed too risky, but haven’t used them yet.
A couple readers have asked about the panel in Mike’s MU-2. It’s well equipped and a very efficient IFR machine. In front of Mike in the left seat is a Garmin G600 primary flight display and multifunction display. To the right of it is a touch-screen GTN 750 GPS/com, and below it is a GTN 650. “I designed it for myself,” he said. “It’s very unique.” He moved the lighting switches from a recessed overhead panel to a location below the GTN 650. He also moved the anti-ice system controls from another recessed panel to a more forward overhead location. On the right side, I have the standard six-pack instruments in a slightly nonstandard configuration.
An airliner passes 2,000 feet below us, its white fuselage and red tail sharp against the haze below.The Earth’s surface below has changed from farmland to rangeland to rolling hills, to low forested mountains. Approaching Brisbane the landscape is flat again.
Passing over Brisbane, we’re only 130 nautical miles and half an hour from Bundaberg. From our altitude we can see the waves rolling onto the wide, sandy beaches below as we parallel the Sunshine Coast (south of Brisbane it’s the Gold Coast). We pass the resort area of Noosa Heads, abutting a large national park, as we begin our descent into Bundaberg, and the wide beaches stretch out of sight to the north.
In only a few minutes we’re on the ground in Bundaberg, where we’ll spend Monday visiting Jabiru Aircraft–it is headquartered on the field.