Remote area, off course, bad radio

After completing my work near Tennant Creek, Mother and I flew east to Cairns, Queensland, on the Australian northeast coast, with a refueling stop in Mount Isa.

The Department of Civil Aviation had designated the country east of Mount Isa as a remote area, requiring that an aircraft either carry a distress beacon or use full radio reporting, giving its position to area control every half hour.  The VHF radio in our Comanche did not have the range.  Since we didn’t have a distress beacon, we had to depend on our HF radio for the reporting.

Departing Mount Isa, I planned for a forecast crosswind that required me to head 7.5 degrees off my desired track.  As I took off I misidentified some landmarks and didn’t discover, until much later in the flight, that the forecast crosswind didn’t develop.  As a result I reported myself on a flight track that was 7.5 degrees north of my true track.  My flight was to take me over the airport at Georgetown.  My actual track was farther south.  If I were forced down, Search and Rescue would have had a hard time finding us.

I did the radio reporting on schedule, and got acknowledgements from area control, but I couldn’t understand their response because of my faulty radio.

Then, right on time and on my track, I saw an airstrip!  At first, I rejoiced, but as I got closer I could see that it was an old pair of dirt runways that had clearly not seen traffic for a long time.

I checked my aeronautical chart.  It showed an abandoned airstrip some tens of miles south of Georgetown.   My suspicions that I was off course were confirmed.

I made my planned turn over the airport and saw, ahead of me — mountains!  It was clear from my chart that I had not turned at the Georgetown airport, but at the abandoned airstrip shown on my chart.

Happily, I had plenty of fuel.  I judged that if I continued on my new course that eventually I would reach the Australian coast, probably some distance south of Cairns.

Of course, I discussed none of this with my mother.

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