Welcome to a HUGE Newsletter No. 6, Lots more to report from our first 150 hours in the aircraft, 150 hours in just 6 weeks has kept me very busy but we have now covered every state in Australia with the exception of the Northern Territory and I have really tested the aircraft through some serious and very demanding conditions and I have come to believe that "Phil from Canberra" is genuinely cursed !!! and we have just set a new WORLD RECORD for Microlight / Ultralight aircraft. Read on........
What have we been up to since last time ........
The past 6 weeks have really been just a blur as we have hightailed our way around Australia showcasing the TL-2000 Sting Carbon to an eager aviation public. This last trip started in Brisbane and then down to Canberra where I overnighted with 'Phil from Canberra' who accompanied me on this excursion, those who read the earlier Newsletter will remember Phil who lost his aircraft and nearly his life after getting collected by a Cessna at Perth's Jandacott airport. Well I thought I would do the right thing and pick him up for the trip as he was moping around home still in shock at loosing his new toy, I thought a few days away would bring him back to life. I had some reservations about the 'cursed' tag he had recently acquired but hey I am brave... I thought; not knowing of the adventures which lay ahead.
Australia had been experiencing some terrific weather over the past week and my trip from Brisbane to Canberra was a little over 1000kms and an absolutely beautiful trip following the Great Dividing Range down Australia's East Coast to Canberra, plans were already well made for a sunrise departure the next day tracking via Tumut to Bendigo where the local boys had organised a bit of a meeting then on the Lethbridge just west of Melbourne before an overnight at Tyabb. Well with Phil by my side we started with Curse No 1. Canberra was fogbound..... Reports were for about 4 to 5 hours of fog before we were able to fly out and the forecasters were usually very accurate at Australia's capital city airport. Waiting, waiting, waiting (and telling Phil he was cursed and I would never fly with him again) we finally got away at around 10.30 am about 4.5 hours later than planned, some quick calcs and we determined that we could still keep the days appointments until we climbed out of the Canberra fog into a 100 km plus headwind, right on the nose!, Muttering aloud again about being cursed Phil was eagerly punching the GPS trying to estimate our best levels and speeds for the quickest transit... well to cut a long story we eventually arrived at Bendigo Airport about 4 hours after we had expected and only 6 of the diehard aviators had waited for our arrival.
Giving the Bendigo locals the royal tour of the aircraft and taking on fuel we departed shortly after to Lethbridge and guess what.... The headwind had also swung around about 60 degrees, right onto the nose again and our normally quick transit was stretched out to about 1.5 hours, guess who I blamed for that!.
The guys at Lethbridge Airpark have got a nice setup, only a short distance from the centre of Melbourne but far enough away to keep the public happy with planes buzzing overhead all day. We were greeted on touchdown into a 15 to 20 knot crosswind by about 60 club members all whom waited patiently all day for our delayed arrival. The hospitality and professionalism of the club left other clubs wanting, when I first arrived I thought the guys looked a bit dicky in their matching shirts and hats, almost like a uniform I thought but after a few minutes of talking the shirts proved invaluable as they all had the members name embroidered to the front which made introductions and name remembering very easy. After a few test flights and chin wagging we finally left for our overnight stopover at Tyabb just South of Melbourne, flying East this time we had a nice tailwind and we averaged well over 320 kph across the ground. Phil argued with me about the curse scenario but I reckoned it was reset by taking those other people for a ride at Lethbridge and that's why we had a tailwind.
Arrival at Tyabb was in light showers and the forecast for the following day was unfortunately not that great so after refuelling and putting the aircraft to bed we headed off to the motel adjoining the airport for some well deserved food and flight planning.
The next day dawned with constant showers and a swift wind from the south west, this wasn't our best conditions for the crossing of bass straight but after checking the weather with the guys in Tasmania and they reported 'clear blue skies' we decided to at least head off and see what was up ahead.
Solid cloud greeted us at 1000 ft but we knew approx 5500 was the top layer so we stooged around looking for holes ahead.... Suddenly there was a shaft of sunlight as the clouds opened and we climbed up through to be between two separate layers of cloud. I didn't really like it so we turned around to drop back down but the hole was gone !!, slowing the plane down so everything didn't happen too quickly I was ready to go to instruments as we were getting surrounded by rain squalls and cloud when I could make out the sun through the thinning clouds. I went to climb mode at stabilised myself on the artificial horizon and compass and we climbed through another 1500 feet of light cloud to get on top in brilliant blue sunshine and cloud as far as you could see, we continued our climb to about 9500 feet and continued down Wilsons Prometery towards the Southern parts of the Australian Mainland.
Remember the 'Phil from Canberra' curse ??, well I had him playing with the GPS entering waypoints and somehow he managed to lock up the Garmin 295 playing in the towns area adding waypoints (I have since downloaded the software upgrade to stop this from the internet). The Garmin refused to do anything even the on/off button wouldn't work and I wasn't that comfortable with no GPS above cloud because Phil had been playing with it for at least 15 minutes I knew we were miles off course !!. The Garmin was wired in as the only instrument that would operate with the master switch either on or off, I did it that way so I could pre-program it at the airfield before turning anything on and the only way to reset it was to pull the dash out in flight and physically pull the power cable from the back of the instrument.
Phil in his typical 'cursed' way managed to drop two of the eight screws which held in the centre part of the dash panel as we pulled out the dash in flight to reach in and pull the power lead to reset the Garmin. Mission accomplished I though as we had our GPS back up and running and we were at the point of leaving the mainland and crossing over Bass Straight, because of the distance of ocean to be crossed SKED's are advised for any light aircraft crossing the straight so we dialled up the correct frequency and called Melbourne Centre to set up our details for the crossing, try and try we couldn't raise Melbourne or any other aircraft and we were now out over the main ocean with little chance of return due to the bad weather behind us which we could hear from other aircraft was getting much worse than when we left.
Frustrated and puzzled because we could hear the other aircraft 5 by 5's we decided pulling the dash out had done something to the aircraft radio and we quickly pulled out the centre panel again to try and find a problem which I expected would be as simple as a disconnected or loose aerial lead. Unfortunately we couldn't locate an obvious problem so we looked through the ERSA for the emergency transponder codes and dialled up 6100 for radio failure..... It only took about 10 seconds for Melbourne radar to come back with....' Aircraft crossing Bass Straight Squawking 6100 Radio Failure can you read Melbourne Centre ??' we tried calling back but it was fruitless as they could not hear our transmissions even when we swapped headsets.
Melbourne Centre then advised ' Aircraft crossing Bass Straight press IDENT if you can hear our transmission' we pressed IDENT and anxiously waited for a reply.... Melbourne centre came back after about 10 seconds and said 'We have identified you and please press IDENT if you are crossing Bass Straight and Operations Are Normal' to which we pressed IDENT again... 'OK aircraft crossing the Straight... please stand by'..... Phil and myself looked at each other amazed at how quickly air traffic control had picked up our call for help on 6100, it would have been no more than 10 seconds after dialling it up that they were aware of our radio failure and trying to help us out, it's comforting to know when assistance is needed there are people who respond and offer assistance so quickly.
Anyway to cut a long story short we managed to eventually relay through a Qantas jet flying Sydney to Hobart and set up SKED reporting every 15 minutes, once the Qantas jet was out of range we then relayed through a Royal Flying Doctor Service Super King Air and then almost as mysteriously as we had problems the radio suddenly came good and we were booming in 5 by 5 to Melbourne ??, unsure what caused the problem and what fixed it I just put it down to the Phil from Canberra curse....
Crossing the major ocean part of Bass Straight we then tracked by the Flinders Island group to the Northern tip of Tasmania and then along the coast to land in Georgetown. The trip across Bass Straight went really quickly because of the radio problems and the weather had finally turned to clear blue skies although there was still quite a wind and there was at least 40 knots at sea level as the huge swells were having their white caps blown off in near gale force winds that originated in the Antartic, I was later informed that the only major places further south of Tasmania were the bottom of New Zealand and the bottom of South America.
Georgetown is a pretty little place and quite an active airstrip which is home to our Australian Ultralight President Eugene Reid, there were about 40 AUF members there to check out the Sting and Phil and myself were kept busy answering all the questions and enjoying a bbq lunch of rissoles and sausage sandwiches put on by the club.
Farewelling Tasmania after visiting Georgetown, Launceston and Hobart we hightailed through rainy conditions via Tyabb to return our life jackets to Canberra and I flew onto home on the Gold Coast making this trip about 5000 kms.
Returning to home base I meet up with Joe Mikus at Caboolture to get our next Sting from the container and into the air. Joe and myself eagerly opened the container like excited kids at a Christmas tree and after a quick walk around we were relieved to report another Sting arrived in excellent condition even after a 30,000 km journey from the manufacturer in the Czech Republic. From opening the door to flying the aircraft was around 2 hours and that included lunch !! These aircraft are complete in every respect and only require assembly of the rudder, elevator and wings and some fuel to make them ready for the first flight in a new country.
Joe's aircraft is part of a Sting syndicate at Caboolture and its now being put to good use in the local area, there are currently about 8 of the total 12 shares sold in the syndicate and they fly for around for only $35 per hour and $100 per month for upkeep and maintence. This is real cheap flying for a high performance aircraft like the Sting and most of the members have been signed off as solo and hooning around the Caboolture area. Joe's Sting arrived with a really nice paint job and panel layout and has so far run up about 40 trouble free hours.
A WORLD RECORD ATTEMPT...........
What better way to introduce a new aircraft to Australia than to set a few world records, on the 2nd May 2002 I completed a non stop flight from Adelaide's Parafield Airport to Archerfield Airport in Brisbane to set a new FAI world record of 1583.43 kms without landing for Microlight / Ultralight Aircraft. The past record had been set around 1300 kms about 15 years ago by a French Pilot.
Preperation for the trip was made several weeks before the attempt with a special aluminium fuel tank constructed to sit in the passenger seat for the flight, all was going well until I arrived in Adelaide to find the transport company had 'lost' the tank after it arrived in Adelaide.......
The special tank was custom made and took about 5 minutes to connect and secure in the seat beside me, after I finally gave up on the transport company finding the tank I decided to start looking around Adelaide for a new manufacturer to make one, all my efforts were in vain as every sheet metal manufacturer in Adelaide were just too busy to even talk to me let alone get a new tank made in 24 hours, I decided the only option was to visit the local hardware stores and fit several 20 litre tanks into the seat beside me. The funny thing about this maze of tanks and plumbing was that it actually cost me more to do this than it did for the original aluminium tank...... This substitute arrangement took about a day to organise and test and late in the afternoon I fuelled everything up ready for a sunrise departure the next morning.
Other preperation was the instalation of a Colibri Data Logger, the Colibri is a GPS based data logger in a special tamper proof shell, it records altitude, coordinates, engine noise and a host of other functions every 12 seconds for the duration of the flight, when the aircraft comes to a rest the data file is encrypted and then closed preventing any altering of the data recorded.
The Colibri is quite expensive but vital to verifying world record attempts as it provides an accurate record for the FAI to accept the flight as a new world record. On the personal side preperation is sensible light meals the preceding day and a couple of imodium (anti diarrhoea tablets) with the evening meal to clog up the number two's for the next day, number one's are handled by using the disposable 'little johns' that are sold in pilots shops.
Food on route consisted of a packet of chips and a few Mars bars and a 1 litre bottle of water, which surprisingly I only had a few sips from ?? After landing though I polished it and a couple of bottles of coke really quickly.
Your on your own in the air across Australia's outback with only small towns every couple of hours, I used the mobile phone network for communication to 'Phil from Canberra' who acted as my ground crew for this event, every hour or so he would get the latest weather reports and sms them through, when I flew over a town the message would come through and if I was lucky I would get a message out before the coverage dropped out, only once did I manage to talk to him in the air whilst I overflew Cobar. His assistance to the flight was invaluable only problem was he kept saying 'go higher - the winds are lighter' at around 13,000 feet I sent him a message that I wasn't feeling so good with a headache starting and I descended back to around 11,500 which I was more comfortable with. Next town I got the message.... I have searched the internet and 14,000 is OK for a fit person.... Guess I wasn't fit enough!!
The run for the last hour into Brisbane was a slow decent from 11,000 feet trying to get maximum speed for minimum consumption.... I was getting low on fuel and running out of sunlight, I radioed Brisbane Centre and told them what we were doing and they vectored me in for a straight approach to Archerfield without going through the normal entry lanes, the ATIS at Archerfield was reporting a cross wind of up to 27 knots!! Great I thought, all this way and a demanding landing to finish it off, other traffic was asked to hold as I lined up on final and a smile from ear to ear just happened as I touched down at Archerfield and rolled through to clear the runway and taxi to the general aviation terminal for the night. Here I was.... Just completed a world record of some 1580 kms and over 10 hours in the air and there was no-one there to greet me, never mind I got on the phone and passed on our success to basically anyone in my phone book as I waited for a lift back to the Gold Coast planning the next few attempts in coming months.
Again a special thanks to 'Phil from Canberra' for his assistance during this trip, I am sure he didn't get to much work done that day.
Well that's it..... 150 hours on the plane and still having fun meeting fellow aviators all round Australia, everything is performing better than expected and we are still completely satisfied with the aircraft and its performance. For our overseas readers we will be attending Oshkosh this year at Site 47 in the homebuilt area, on show will be a new Sting and several other Australian made products we are involved with including a new radio based on the successful Microair range but boasting higher output, voice activated intercom, music in etc.... Stay tuned for this exciting new release at Oshkosh.
Until next time....... Have fun
Michael Coates - May 2002.