Apparently there’s a rule that you can’t visit Australia without trying vegemite. I had my introduction this morning, when we stopped at a McDonalds for coffee. (Yes, in Australia, you can get vegemite at McDonalds.) Vegemite is basically yeast, and other than seeming a bit salty, it actually has a better flavor than some other toppings I’ve put on English muffins over the years. Maybe I’m just predisposed to like the taste of yeast.
Our next stop is Jabiru Aircraft, perhaps best known in the United States for its Light Sport models–and which is celebrating its 25th anniversary beginning this month. The owner of this airplane, a new Jabiru J-230, will take delivery at the Ausfly event in Narromine, Australia, in four days. “It’s got retro striping just like the first Jabiru we did,” explains Sue Woods, business manager for the company.
Like other aircraft manufacturers in Australia, and elsewhere in the world, business is down since “the GFC”–the global financial crisis–but Jabiru is still producing airplanes and improving its designs. Here, fuselage assemblies are ready to proceed into final construction.
One interesting aspect of Jabiru is the fact that it has been making its own aircraft engines, both for its own designs and for other Experimental aircraft. Here, spark plugs installed in a new Jabiru engine await wires. Jabiru continues to make improvements to its engine design, as well; so has a supplier, CAMit, which has taken a different tack to engine improvements and soon could offer some of the modifications that it has developed.
A visit to an aircraft manufacturer isn’t complete without a demo flight, and Jamie Cook, Jabiru’s production manager, accommodates in a J-430. I find the airplane to be very stable and easy to fly; the U-shaped yoke is very ergonomic. It’s also remarkably roomy, something you notice easily when you’re 6 feet, 3 inches tall. Just get in the right way–posterior first, then swing your feet in; the task is easier because you don’t have to straddle a control stick to get seated. As an added bonus, we see a couple of whales off the mouth of the Elliott River–then we see a much larger one breach farther out. “This is very unusual to see them here,” Jamie observes, adding that they’re usually much farther south, near Frazier Island.
Also today, Mike Laver (right) said farewell to David McKenzie, an old friend from his boarding school days who he had not seen since 1968. David is a veterinary surgeon and sheep farmer (in the Australian vernacular, he “runs sheep”–something like 80,000 head of them) in the Mildura area. A pilot himself for more than 30 years, David flew in yesterday for dinner and to visit in his Cessna Hawk XP. David bought the Cessna new and has owned it ever since.
Which state is known as the Sunshine State? If you said Florida, that’s not the correct answer. Today the answer is the Australian state of Queensland, because that’s where we are. The license plates did make me think of Florida, however. Tomorrow we leave here and head north, to the top of Australia, in preparation for our departure from the country early Wednesday as we begin our trek to Japan.