Welcome to Newsletter No. 5, What can we say....... The second flight of one of our Stings was cut short by a hungry Cessna. With a total of 5.5 hours on the clock and 4 flying in Australia the plane has been totally written off but fortunately the pilot - Phil Allen from Canberra survived with a small cut on the cheek and a sore neck. Put down to an hourly rate I reckon this has cost him $25,000 per hour (Australian) for his 4 hour association with the aircraft.
What went so wrong ........
The day started well enough with some final tinkering of the aircraft after our short 2 hour flight the day before, the two aircraft were prepared for an enjoyable jaunt down to Bunbury airfield which is about 200kms to the south of Perth's Jandakot airport where we assembled and test flew the first two Sting Aircraft imported into Australia.
Our flight was absolutely enjoyable and relaxing in the mid afternoon as we further explored the amazing capabilities of these special aircraft along the beautiful coastline of Western Australia, Phil was flying alone and I enjoyed the company of Hakan, our hanger host. Our return to Jandakot was under the guidance of ATC as the airport is operated as a GAPP aerodrome for 12 hours per day, the changeover from GAPP to MBZ was only minutes away as both Stings were sequenced into crosswind for a normal circuit to runway 24 right.
My aircraft landed normally and I cleared the runway and started to taxi down to our hangerage for the night, the airport then changed to MBZ procedures as Phil in the second Sting was on final and all the circuit traffic was readout before the air traffic controller signed off for the night.
Moments later.... Disaster, first I heard was a call there was a mid air accident at Jandakot and I immediately turned the aircraft around on the taxiway to see two other aircraft taxiing behind me...... I looked really hard to finally convince myself the two aircraft weren't the Sting Phil was flying, I then stared out to the runway about 300 meters away to see Phil's pride and joy underneath a Cessna. 172. My heart immediately raced to overload for a few seconds until I saw Phil out and walking around, over and through the wreckage, we raced over to the aircraft on foot to be greeted by Phil and some really colourfull language.
The cause of the accident is still under investigation and I cant 'officially' comment on our ideas until after the ATSB has completed their investigation but it looks simply like the Cessna pilot failed to maintain adequate separation between the two aircraft and ran the Sting down. The Aircraft was totalled in the accident with the Cessna's propeller taking 5 good swipes at the canopy, tail and fuselage. The propeller of the Cessna passed within inches of the front and rear of Phil's head and to emerge from this accident with just a few scratches must be described as a miracle!!
The accident left us shattered as we had planned several Australian Speed and Distance records as we transited the aircraft back over to the Eastern States which were now put on hold. The following day was spent salvaging anything valuable from the wreckage and we removed all the instruments and engine which has been placed in secure storage, the remains of the fuselage and wings are currently stored in a lock-up compound at Jandakot Airport. On a brighter note....disasters really bring the light aviation community together and we really appreciated the hospitality of our hanger host Hakan Friberg who initially said we could assemble our aircraft in his hanger and store them there for a night or two, with the accident this drifted out to almost 1 week and we really appreciate your kindness and support (including a lovely meal) during our stay, Allan Grigo, Bob and another person whose name I forget also helped with stripping the aircraft as did a couple of students from the local flying school who also spent the day with us helping with the work, again thanks guys your assistance made a stressfull time much easier.
Our departure in the remaining aircraft was delayed a further 4 days as we cooperated with the crash investigators to try and find the reason we were run down... it's now 2 weeks after the accident and we expect a final determination in the next few weeks.
Rather than being all doom and gloom we decided to load up the remaining aircraft and head over to the East Coast, our route took us from Perth to Kalgoorlie then Caiguna for fuel. The 'airstrip' at Caigunu left a lot to be desired... with stones the size of tennis balls, a 30 knot crosswind and Kangaroos lining each side of the strip just waiting for the last moment to jump out and cause an accident. Well the roos must of been a bit educated here and they barely raised their heads from grazing whilst we passed them bumping along this rough strip. The first leg from Perth to Kalgoorlie was also eventful with massive turbulence for the first hour and headwinds of up to 100 kms per hour for most of the flight, we didn't need to refuel at Kalgoorlie but we chose to top up just to make sure.
Fare welling Caiguna I found the engine running a little rough and I expected we had picked up some poor quality fuel, we later discovered they were supplying 100-130 Avgas instead of the standard Avgas 100 that our aircraft used, no damage was done other than some lead pellets hanging from the exhaust and a couple of fouled plugs. At around sunset we touched down at the Nullarbor Motel which is nothing more than a Roadhouse (gas station for the Americans), a couple of strips and a small motel. The wind was a minimum 25 knots and we decided to tie the aircraft down against the back wall of the motel to get some shelter from the wind overnight, the wind blew solid all night and opening the motel door was dangerous because without a firm grip the door would take you out.
Our alarm went off at 5am and I opened the door to be greeted by the same wind and a dark sky so we elected to stay warm for another few hours before departing around 9am. Departure was under threatening skies with constant light rain but the conditions soon changed once we climbed above the clouds and we tracked in brilliant sunshine and a 40 kmh headwind for Port August in South Australia. Refueling at Port Augusta we then departed for the town of Mildura in Victoria, overnighting and then finishing off this leg in Canberra under poor conditions the next morning.
Canberra is Australia's capital and the downwind legs of the circuit take you straight over Parliament House and other landmark areas, the weather was so poor we couldn't maintain VMC so we managed to obtain a special VMC clearance from the tower to land in Canberra before a quick polish of the aircraft and showing her off to a number of interested people. The following morning we departed for Tyabb in Victoria.
Victoria is at the South Eastern corner of Australia and we flew into a small strip called Tyabb about 40 kms from Melbourne, we were again greeted and shown hospitality like you could never expect, Jon Flynn had organised hangerage and accommodation for us and his lovely wife Lynette prepared a very lovely meal of tachos before exhaustion took over and we were out for the night. Our plans of travelling further south to Tasmania were cut short by the weather and we reluctantly returned to Canberra to drop Phil off before I continued onto Mudgee and then the Gold Coast for a well deserved sleep in my own bed.
Facts and figures for the flight..... The trip from Perth to Canberra to Melbourne to Canberra to the Gold Coast was 6893 kms, this took 39.10 hours with an average fuel burn of 13.4 liters per hour. The average speed for the entire journey including taxi, climb, cruise and decent was 176.3 kmh which is not bad when we consider the strong headwinds for the majority of the trip. The first three weeks ownership of the aircraft has just passed with over 55 hours on the clock and a trip this weekend back to Tasmania to catch up with the customers we missed the first time when weather forced us back will add another 15 to 20 to this total.
I keep getting asked if there is anything I would change about the aircraft considering the time I have spent flying in recent weeks and after much consideration I think it's just about perfect, one gripe we both had flying across the Nullarbor is up high the aircraft is just too comfortable, it flies with one finger on the stick in even the roughest weather so when your in perfect trim all you need to do is count down the GPS timer and that's it... you quickly become very lazy and tired and it wouldn't take much to nod off.
If any of the magazines would like to run some of the crash photographs please contact me directly and I will email over high resolution copies suitable for publication.
And again a big thank you to Hakan, Allan and Bob in Perth, and Jon and Lynette in Melbourne and Phil's "partner" (he refuses to call her a wife) Nove in Canberra for all your help and hospitality over the past few weeks.
More to report in coming weeks and a rundown on Australia's equivalent of Oshkosh - Narromine 2002 just after Easter.
Michael Coates - March 2002.