While Mother was in Sydney with us I got a consulting job near Tennant Creek, Northern Territory (see an earlier post about my experiences there), and another near Cairns in the northeastern part of the continent. It seemed sensible to rent an airplane and fly directly from one to the other, rather than flying commercially to one and then returning to Sydney. For the trip I rented a Piper Comanche airplane from the Royal Aero Club of New South Wales.
As an afterthought I asked my mother whether she might like to make the trip with me. She readily agreed. It was an intrepid, risky decision, since the flight would take us into the tropical center of the vast Australian continent, and then across an officially designated remote area across northern Queensland.
Furthermore, I only had 100 hours of total flight time. And, only four hours’ time in the Comanche.
Just before we left Bankstown airport in Sydney, an Aero Club mechanic mentioned that the long range radio transceiver relay had been acting up a little, so they had cleaned its contact points. I asked them if they had a radio beacon, as we were planning to fly into a remote area. He said that their only beacon was gone on another flight. I would have to use full radio reporting procedure across the remote area.
Hmm. Well, I had to go, and I hoped the radio would hold out for me.
The first leg of the trip was uneventful. I had aeronautical charts of eastern and central Australia to guide me, skies were blue and cloudless. At ten thousand feet the ride was a little bumpy due to air turbulence.
I made one error, which was a learning experience. I set the engine power for no wind, but we did experience a headwind. I should have set the power higher so that we’d fly faster and spend less time bucking the wind. The result was that we had only thirty minutes’ fuel reserve when we landed at Charleville, Queensland, fifteen minutes short of the desired 45 minute fuel reserve.
From Charleville I tested my long range radio calling into Mount Isa. Their reply was broken up and intermittent. Apparently they could hear me, but their signal to me was breaking up.
I had a long-range radio problem. And it looked like it could be serious.
We refueled at Winton and flew on to Mount Isa, where I had a mechanic look at the radio relay. He did some more cleaning and said it seemed to be working OK for the moment.