Up at 04.45 hours; early light breakfast with Richard; me just toast and jam; absolutely no liquid; Richard phoning Darwin 24-hour met. Service for latest update; hotel dining room deserted; head-winds strong between 5,000-10,000 feet, so planning on aiming towards Truscott; if deserted on Sunday, estimate can fly on to Windham only 115 miles further.
Taxi trip to airport comical- helps reduce tension; taxi leaking puncture, so stopping at every opportunity to top up tyre pressure; also buys couple of 1-litre bottles of fuel by vendors on roadside; apparently quite common to buy fuel like this here- we wonder if we will get there! At converted badminton court/hangar difficulty getting microlight out of there; just sufficient headroom with aircraft ariel taken down, then re-assembled; Richard taxis through boundary hedge via dirt road and gate into airport precincts, with me on back of small Honda motorbike ridden by Baggus, our very helpful handling agent here!By 0630 hours on airport area, waiting for fuel truck promised, but long delay!
Put waterproof safety bag around neck, with our mobile phones inside, in case of ditching; Richard similar bag with emergency beacon, sat. nav. and satellite phone.
My batteries in blue-tooth keyboard to input waypoints on my GPS dead, so Baggus buys more; me inputting different map references dictated by Richard; fuel truck arrives; fill up, with us now surrounded by local people eager to see microlight after media coverage; lots of not just men but women and children; lots of requests for us to pose with then/children for photos- our last perhaps? Me crouching, with little 3-year old Henry on my knee, father Johannes airport employee taking picture- great little guy!
Fuel truck man overfills tank; difficult communications; fuel truck nearby, with engine running to provide pumping; man by microlight, filling each of four tanks in turn; difficult to control flow of fuel, being governed by man at fuel truck; lots of shouting between Richard, me and fuel men either side, attempting to limit spillage- evaporates quickly fortunately; fuel everywhere; strong stench of raw av. gas; nobody smoke please!
Finally getting into flying suit; no fleece underneath, due to misunderstanding; hot on ground, now around 0900 hours, so sweating, but knowing may be very cold at altitude; as always, locals loudly commenting to each other about us putting on thick thermal flying suits whilst sweat running down faces; Richard little subdued, keen to get away with no further time delay, as winds increasing all time. Wave at well wishers, shake hands all around, then helmet on, visor down, gloves on, harness secure, boot up, pre-flight checks, then taxiing down towards runway, waiting ATC clearance. Take off into increasing winds, circling to gain altitude before setting course towards Australia, a continent away… Soon over sea, West Timor and Indonesia fading behind us, with nothing but empty expanse of sea ahead of us. Climbed to 7,500 feet, temperature dropping to 11 Centigrade; me soon feeling cold as sweat stops evaporating, with me trying to zip up suit more tightly.Little conversation between Richard and I, realising head-winds good 30 knots, with ground speed well below our air speed; glad we are not attempting Darwin- would have been a good swim at least!
My navigational kit operating well, with me able to keep on track towards Truscott with little deviation.
Being over the deep blue sea, with no land in sight for some 5 hours, thermals are absent, and relatively smooth flying, as always the case over the sea. Funny feeling, knowing that, even at this altitude, will be many hours before Richard gets first glimpse of land. Any engine problems means some smart radio work advising ATC, them getting wet! Local ATC advise us to transfer to Brisbane, Australia’s controller of airspace here, but no joy, so we go back to Indonesian Cupang ATC for a while. Then, wow, Aussie voices as we again tune into Darwin channel; good old Aussie twangs, and European sounding accents for the first time in weeks and weeks!As my headphones only channelled ATC through a single headphone (my guidance kit in the other), I often struggled to interpret their instructions!I was visualising where we were, slowing heading from South-east Asia over the Timor Sea into Australia, understanding how insignificant our little microlight was compared to the vast ocean far below, whilst, at the same time, starting to get more and more excited as I listened to the Aussie voices, realising we were soon to reach our 21st and final country of our flight across the world.
Richard told me we were now flying over a tiny island below, still far off the Australian Coast, where Brian Milton had landed to refuel during his epic flight to Australia many years ago. He did not have the luxury of a GPS system to pinpoint his destination, but had to rely on fine navigation, with no room for error. He was guided in by a helicopter crew in the area, and we reflected on that pioneering spirit Brian had, attempting such a massive flight with limited navigational equipment- well done Brian!
We sighted land around 1440 hours, with Richard describing the arid, deserted landscape of Western Australia below us. No joy attempting to raise Truscott on their frequency; sounded like someone had left their channel open. Circled the small airfield, originally a WWII airfield for American bombers fighting the Japanese in nearby Indonesia. Landed 1515 hours on a blazing hot Sunday afternoon, with me stopping shivering at about 2,000 feet as the heat soaked into my cold bones. Nobody around, it appeared; we taxied to outside some hangars and switched off; several Aussie guys sauntered out from nearby buildings, and good-naturedly gathered around us, asking us who we were, and where had we come from!
I was all for a cold Australian beer to welcome us, but I was told in typical Aussie straight-faced/promise on my mothers heart that the placed was dry, with no beer anywhere.
Soon realised they were all highly trained helicopter pilots and technicians, flying huge 18-man Super Puma’s out to the nearby oilrigs under contract. Great to get out of flying suit and stretch legs after 6 hours 15 minutes flying time; no desire to have a pee- not had a drink since 2300 hours the night before- it pays off hey?!
Tim Medhurst, extremely hospitable Station manager saunters over and suggests we phone ATC in Melbourne/Brisbane/Darwin to register our unofficial “illegal” entry into Australia via this airport; we explain all already in our flight plan, with Richard heading off to confirm our safe arrival.
We are offered wonderful accommodation for the night in air-conditioned rooms and offered that magical Aussie can of ice-cold beer- a wonderful welcome, made even more special by meeting a fellow Zimbabwean technician, with us talking our local Shona lingo to each other, swatting buzzing flys from settling around our eyes, nose and mouth, all agreeing it is great it is not yet the fly season!
After a very welcome shower, another beer and some really excellent food, meeting other pilots and crew at the same time, we were given a demonstration of how the Super Puma flys, with Greg, their senior instructor, sitting me in the pilots seat and him behind me, going through the start sequence of the huge Puma, cancelling the whining jet turbines above me before they had reached sufficient revs. To start engaging the massive 35-foot rotor blades above, with one of the slightly anxious technicians looking up at the clearance between the blades and other choppers parked alongside in the huge hangar! Helicopters are definitely still outside my ability to fly, but I think I have got the start sequence memorised now…
By 2200 hours Greg was helping Richard find some maps of Australia and giving us our heading and distances (nearly 300 miles) from there to Darwin tomorrow, with ongoing headwinds to contend with.
Into bed and sleep before 2300 hours; very, very tired, but extremely happy to realise we have done it- now on the home run, so to speak, with the most difficult leg of the flight behind us.