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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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Taking the Long Way to California

Story and photos by Michael Magnell

So, you think you may need a change in your life? Well then, I've got a deal for you: Australia. That's right, the Land Down Under, as in below the Equator. It's definitely loaded with an English flare. So anyone with a propensity for right hand drive cars and the desire to imbibe lots of tea will do well. Of course, there are other differences from the USA, or interesting obstacles depending on one’s point of view. For instance ordering lemonade will get you 7UP, any small truck regardless of make is a Ute, and an approaching weather front is called a change. Which brings me to the real reason why I went to the land down under in the first place - to purchase a 1979 Cessna Turbo 210N and fly it home to Southern California!

A transcontinental ferry flight was something that I had coveted doing for quite some time. My first professional stop on this odyssey was the CASA Office (Australian FAA) in Melbourne to get an Aussie Pilot License, since it would be best to leave the Cessna 210 in Australian Registry. CASA issued me an Australian Private Pilot License with no testing required, based on my US ATP License. Right off the bat, the CASA Representative tried to persuade me to ship the plane back as opposed to flying.

The Cessna 210 I was interested in (VH-KTM) was reportedly owned at one time by singer John Denver, and had been shipped by boat to Australia from the US in 1989. It was located in the middle of the State of Victoria, about 150 miles North of Melbourne in the small town of Boort. I purchased VH-KTM from Trevor and Maryanne Wright, owners and operators of WrightsAir, which is predominately an outback air taxi service. To their credit, the plane was in really good condition.
It was a real pleasure to fly in Australia. It’s something I most definitely look forward to doing again in the future. There are some noteworthy differences from flying in the USA, however. Charts and many procedures are different. For instance, altimeters are set in millibars. The equivalent of 29.92 (1013 millibars) is set at 10,000 feet, not 18,000, though Class A Airspace starts at 20,000 feet. There is no VFR flying between 10,000 and 11,000 feet. The airport traffic area is called the circuit, and more importantly, "line up and wait" means "taxi into position and hold." Radar advisories are not provided in uncontrolled airspace. And, an unpleasant surprise for me, I was not allowed into Class C Airspace while flying into Sydney because I had not filed a flight plan. (This had to do with their User Fee system, see sidebar.) These are just a few of the differences this Yank pilot encountered in Aussie land. On top of all this, the spoken accent is guaranteed to add to the anxieties.

Because of the magnitude of this trip back to California, it rapidly became evident that I needed to employ the services of a professional aircraft ferry service to help with tanking, flight planning, and the necessary international clearances. After careful research, I decided on Clamback & Hennessy at the Bankstown Airport in Sydney. Ray Clamback has been ferrying GA aircraft all over the world for 35 years, and has over 200 Pacific Crossings. He is completely set up for such long ferry flights. I hired Clamback & Hennessey to tank VH-KTM, install a suitable portable HF radio, file all necessary International Flight Plans and clearances, and generally tutor me, since I was completely green to this type of flying.

Installation of a ferry tank is very important, and should only be done by someone highly experienced in this field of expertise. Phil, the Maintenance Engineer at Clamback & Hennessy, installed one of Ray's 250 US gallon collapsible rubber bladder ferry tanks inside the cabin of VH-KTM. This is enough capacity for a light twin, and VH-KTM would never need to even come close to filling the bladder on this trip. A combination electric/manual pump was installed on the floor next to the ferry tank, and plumbed to transfer fuel from the ferry tank directly into the fuel cap on the top of the right wing. The idea on this ferry flight was to keep the aircraft tanks full until the ferry bladder was empty. That gives the pilot the largest wet footprint at all times. In other words, the plane will be able to fly as far as possible if, for some reason, fuel cannot be transferred from the ferry tank. Ray then instructed me to buy a large Bowie Knife to carry as an emergency procedure if ditching was imminent: slicing a large hole into the ferry bladder, so fuel could run out! This prevents the bladder from coming forward, and crushing or pinning the pilot in the plane upon hitting the water.

In all of Ray's many hours of exposure to the big risk - ditching - he's only gotten wet once. It occurred at night 300 nautical miles from the Hawaiian Islands. The US Coast Guard dropped flares on the water and Ray made a successful landing, to be picked up 10 hours later by a Yugoslav freighter. The New Piper Archer he was ferrying had lost oil pressure, most likely the result of Piper having just relocated the engine oil cooler to a new spot on that model aircraft. This had only a stoic effect on Ray, as he is still ferrying planes across the big pond today at 65 years old.

I hung out at Clamback & Hennessy for a couple weeks while they were getting me and my plane ready, and I certainly learned a lot from these Aussie pilots. Australian pilots are masters at ADF flying because even today the ADF is still the predominant navigation aid. In the old days, these folks ferried aircraft across the pond using primarily ADF. Can you imagine!? For myself, I was completely happy to have two GPS units for my pacific crossing.

Finally, on March 11, the big day came – the main event of the trip for me. It was an absolutely gorgeous CAVU morning in Sydney when I rolled down the Bankstown Airport Runway 29C destined for Tontouta Airport, New Caledonia, 1090 nautical miles to the northeast over nothing but ocean. Watching the Australian shoreline disappear behind me was memorable, knowing that I had 6,500 nautical miles, or halfway around the world, of over water flight lying ahead of me to reach California. Intensifying the feeling was the fact that the only insurance company that had agreed to insure me for this trip backed out at the last minute, saying nay because I had no prior experience over this route. Like it or not, I was to be self-insured for this long trip home!

This monstrous flight was divided into five legs. After New Caledonia, landings were made at the Faleolo Airport in Western Samoa, Christmas Island, Hilo, Hawaii, and finally in Santa Barbara, California. Without question the most beautiful part of the whole trip was flying over Fiji and its 300 islands and associated reefs. What a spectacular view this made in the clear, aqua blue waters of the South Pacific! With those islands and reefs as a reference, it looked like I could see forever down into that clear pristine water. Sights like that from an airplane can’t help but make one feel truly blessed to be a pilot.

The nicest hotel I stayed at was the famous Aggie Grey's, right on the harbor in the little picturesque Town of Apia, Western Samoa. This hotel was a popular meeting place for our American WW II servicemen. Many notable Hollywood types have stayed there too. I had really been looking forward to spending some time at this colorful establishment. I was not disappointed; this hotel was truly a South Pacific oasis that I thoroughly enjoyed for a couple of luscious days.

Christmas Island, located right on the equator, was another interesting stop. It is very primitive, and some of the natives enjoyed watching us fuel VH-KTM from 55-Gallon drums with a hand pump. Only one scheduled airline flight a week stops there. It comes from Honolulu bringing sport fishermen to the island. You have to go over a thousand miles in any direction to find an island with an airport, so you can imagine the surprised look on the sport fishermen's faces the afternoon I flew over on approach to the island in a single engine Cessna. Needless to say, I was the star attraction at dinner there that night, with these people’s questions coming at me fast and furious.

Hilo turned out to be almost nonstop rain. For the four days I was there it was rare when rain was not falling. During these four days, I made a shuttle flight between Hilo and Honolulu to get my HF radio transmitter repaired. And while I could easily see that the rest of the islands were enjoying clear weather, guess what it was doing in Hilo? By the time I took off from Hilo for Santa Barbara, VH-KTM and I were both feeling a bit waterlogged. The flight from Hilo to Santa Barbara was the longest of the trip at 2070 nautical miles. The forecast was headwinds for the first half of that leg, followed by tailwinds, with an overall component of a plus l8 kts on my day of departure. I didn't want to put too much trust in the weatherman on his promise of a tailwind halfway, so I put on extra fuel just in case the tailwinds didn't develop. Consequently, I landed in Santa Barbara with the wing tanks still completely full. Now that's a reserve!

It was 13:08 flight hours from Hilo to Santa Barbara. Of course, upon arrival in Santa Barbara the tower operators had to ask where VH-KTM was from. When I replied that I left Sydney, Australia last week they absolutely loved it, and replied "good day mate."

I actually enjoyed flying over the Pacific. It was serenely beautiful with its always-present scattered and constantly changing cloud patterns, which I was generally flying above at 10,000 feet. The serenity was occasionally broken by sounds emitting from my HF radio that one would expect to hear emerging from a 1950's science fiction movie. But then, like it or not, that's the nature of the HF beast.

Weather in the Pacific was mostly benign. I guess that's why it is called the Pacific. I flew through several storms, but they didn't have the punch that you see over land. In fact, approaching them at first could look a bit pernicious as they topped out in the vicinity of 30,000 feet, but after closer inspection the clouds just didn't have that bold looking texture like the ones over land. The nastiest storms I encountered were equator related. This is typical because of the Northern and Southern Hemisphere coming together there. These storms are usually located a few hundred miles below and again a few hundred miles above the equator. This distance will change a little depending on the time of year. Again, they were nothing that couldn't be flown through in a light aircraft.

After my great experience had ended in California, Ray Clamback called. He welcomed me into the ranks of the few who have crossed the Pacific in a single engine plane, and added, "I had no doubt you would make it."

Michael Magnell is a retired Delta Airlines Captain with over 12,000 total flight hours. He has recently completed his second transoceanic ferry flight, flying his newly acquired F33A Bonanza from Germany back to his home in Southern California.

Australia’s Aviation User Fees: No Pay - No Play
While flying from Melbourne to Sydney in VH-KTM, to get to Clamback & Hennessy, I was exposed to Australia's two year old system of User Fees. All I can say is we definitely do not want or need that sort of thing here in the US. We, as general aviation pilots, should do every thing possible to prevent that bag of tricks from being dropped on us. I believe it is doable in Australia only because they do not have as much air traffic as in the US.

I talked to a few flight instructors about their experience with User Fees while I was hanging around in Sydney. One interesting story I heard was chilling. A particular instructor was happily flying along VFR with a student one day under a 3,500 ft ceiling when all of a sudden a Metroliner drops out of the clouds right in front of him, also VFR. The Metroliner was obviously IMC, but was flying VFR to save money, because it costs more to file an IFR Flight Plan than a VFR Flight Plan. Needless to say, this particular flight instructor is not a fan of User Fees.

I was not allowed into the Sydney Class C Airspace when arriving because I did not file a flight plan, so since I didn't put any money into the system I was denied the use of that airspace. Oh well, live and learn.

The price of avgas did go down a little when User Fees were introduced in Australia, but doesn’t appear to be anywhere near enough to compensate for the user costs and turmoil. The majority of pilots I talked to in Australia did not like User Fees. And all of these charges have definitely hurt flight schools there. All in all, I thought flying in Australia was great and User Fees were the only real negative I saw there.
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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it
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