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Sam's history

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Microlight history

Sam’s history - Flying to Arnhem Land


 Newcastle, Nhulunbuy (Arnhem Land, NT)
 4,200 km flight back home by Sam Payne

I was moderately sceptical when Airborne asked me to train Sam Payne to fly a microlight in just a few days. The resident of Arnhem Land in NT bought himself a new XT-912 Outback and wanted to fly it back home!?
Well, a trip not many undertake, a great experience and… it jogged my memory of my first flight from Tumut to the Simpson Desert right after completing the X-Country endorsement.

Sam completed his training converting from flying fixed wing aircrafts to the weightshift microlight type in a very short time. The minimum requirements by RAA Ops Manual were sufficient and the very intense few days of flying gave me the opportunity to check his readiness to fly a microlight safely and  pass on all my practical experience flying a  trike on long distances in outback Australia.

Sam was exposed to aviation when he was 14 flying ultralights with his father and later completed formal training on 3x aeroplanes. His additional experience flying a Cesna 172 , his GA training as well as his recent hang gliding training show versatility in his pilot skills. (RT)

Getting ready for the departure from Wallsend airfield, Newcastle


Getting up on top of the clouds was spectacular, with the sun shining and zero turbulence! Flying hands off for a while I enjoyed the sight, managing to snap a couple of photos. - photo Sam Payne


Upon finding the airstrip/road I did a quick couple of 360's over the homestead to let them know I was around. I did my usual fly by of the airstrip at 50 feet to check for ant hills and any hazards. - photo Sam Payne


A country site on the way up North.
- photo Richard Tabaka


I was quite surprised with how much gear I have with me on the trike. - photo Sam Payne


Sitting at 6500 feet so that I had plenty of gliding distance to glide to safety while passing some tiger country. - photo Sam Payne


A cost at low tide north of Burketown.
- photo Richard Tabaka


The beauty of the rivers and the way they meander their way to finally break free into the sea can only be appreciated from the air- photo Sam Payne


Along the way I descended down and flew down low to check out some of the river systems. - photo Richard Tabaka


 A quick picture with the friendly locals and the trike in the background (see attached photo) and I was once again away on my last leg of the trip. - photo Sam Payne

Monday, 19 July 2010

Well I wasn't planning on leaving today but I was forced to due to weather. If I didn't get inland today I could have been stuck in Newcastle for the next three days!

I didn't get all the stuff I needed but you gotta do what you gotta do. I made it to Narrabri today,
app 175 NM along the way of a 2300 NM trip. Flying out of Newcastle was a little tricky because I had a lot of rain and cloud to dodge. Had to fly through some light rain on the way but all is good. So after having a light coating of water I had to climb to 5500 feet to clear the range. Not to bad I thought until it got a little chilly when it dropped to 4 degrees. Not too cold but after about 10 minutes I was frozen! After I cleared the range I very quickly descended to about 1,800 feet (about 500 feet above ground level) this is as low as you can legally fly. This was much more comfortable as it was a nice balmy 12 degrees.

I enjoyed flying along over paddocks of what I think was wheat, plenty of landing options so it was safe flying. I made it to Narrabri with about 15 minutes till sunset (carefully calculated). Shortly after I landed they turned the lights on. All safe on the ground I tied the trike down and headed into town to try to find some accommodation, not an easy task! Turns out all those huge holes I saw dug in the ground were coal mines so the mining companies basically book out all the motel in town. I managed to find a motel with one room left, a deluxe room with a spa, I didn't really care as I had a nerve racking day. Expensive at $160 a night but hey, beggars can't be choosers.

I'm really happy with the trike and fuel economy, its averaging 11 litres an hour for around 60 kts (app 110 km/h) ... not bad. I may trim it a little faster later on when I have more experience.

Anyway my spa bath is full, I'm going to relax and settle the nerves! Off to Roma in the morning then hopefully make it to Emerald or Moranbah if the winds are kind! No photos today as I was busy dodging weather, polishing my trike flying skills and trying to defrost.

Tuesday 20, July 2010

Had a short day today only doing about 3 hours flying. I have ended up in St George, although I am further north the weather isn't getting any warmer!

With a bit of a sleep in I managed to get away at 9am, not without a few little self inflicted issues. All suited up, helmet on all the checks done all ready to go I went to turn the master switch on, hmm no key. Turns out it was safely packed under the seat right on the bottom, under the carefully strapped in  jerry cans of extra fuel I have been carrying. 15 minutes later repacking and strapping everything down I took off to the south on runway 18 and climbed to 3000 feet.
A bit chilly but a manageable 6 degrees. Cruising along picking up a 10 knot head wind all was well, until about 25 miles out of Narrabri I was faced with low level cloud. Getting the current weather at Moree via the radio the news wasn't good. Overcast with a cloud base of 100 feet! With dads stern warning about flying over cloud firmly stuck in my head I did the safe and sensible thing and turned around. Heading back to Narrabri now punching against a 15 kts head wind burning precious hand carted fuel I found a nice dirt road facing almost into the wind. With a couple of low passes checking for power lines and the condition of the road I picked a suitable spot to land. With no cars or trucks in sight I lined up and safely landed on the road. I taxied up the road and found a suitable place to "park."

triplogA couple of trucks passed and waved like it was an everyday occurrence. While waiting around it was evident that the cloud was lifting and conditions would be suitable to continue on. So I taxied back up the road and lined up on the road come runway. With the cloud base about 500 feet I made my way north. Tuned into the area frequency I called up Brisbane centre and requested the current conditions for St George. Another aircraft was about to take off so they relayed the current weather to me.

To my delight the weather at St George was only one octa of cloud cover and a nice 10 knots of wind. Getting thrown around a bit flying under the cloud I was looking forward to getting above it when it started to break up. In the distance I could see sunlight on the ground and not too long after the blue holes started to emerge from the grey sky. With a nice big hole appearing from ahead I stepped on the throttle and powered up through the hole at 1000 feet per minute (these trikes climb like there is no tomorrow). All was going well with about 50 miles until I get into st George. With the clouds tops slowly rising I kept climbing. At around 6000 feet things were starting to get a little chilly. At 2 degrees and not equipped for these temperatures the decision was made to descend below the clouds. With a nice big hole in the near distance lined up I dropped the throttle down to 3000 rpm and began my decent. There was no more hands off flying with moderate turbulence giving me a work out. To my dismay when arriving at St George the wind was dead crosswind at about 10-15 knots. With my hands practically frozen going on was not an option. I spent about 10 minutes looking for alternate options but came up dry.

I started doing a low pass over the airstrip crabbing along. Everything felt OK so I reduced the crosswind component as much as possible by landing across the strip (something Richard taught me). The landing wasn't the best with a bit of a thump as I touched down, I held the bar in tight against my chest to firmly pin it down (very good advantage flying weight shift). With the adrenaline pumping to the point where I couldn't stop shaking for about 10 minutes. I firmly tied the trike down to the cables and had a walk around the airfield. Jones Air at St George offered me a hangar for the night and a ute to run into town and get fuel. I couldn't resist so I called it a day and went into town to find some thermals and better gloves. Now equipped with this gear it will be more comfortable and I should be able to knock over some serious miles tomorrow.

Wednesday 21,  June 2010

Bit of an update today as its been a long one. I managed to get to Moranbah today. Knocking over approximately 365 miles in just under 6 hours flying time. I took some pictures with the SLR but I can't download them until I get home, I did however snap a couple of photos with my phone while I was on the ground.

The day started off with the owner of Jones's air picking me up from my motel room in town. These guys have been amazing making me feel at home and being very helpful. When I arrived at the hanger the trike was safely waiting for me. Unlike The previous day where it was covered in heavy due and probably frost if I had gotten out there earlier!

The staff of Jones Air were very impressed with the build quality of the trike but they thought I was a little crazy flying it all the way back to gove. Mind you these guys are in the crop dusting business, now I reckon that is crazy. I kept them entertained for about 15 minutes as I crammed all of my gear into every possible spot on the trike. They were impressed by how much you can fit into such a little plane. I took off soon after 8 and began the days trip.

The thermals, new gloves and scarf worked wonders. I was able to fly for about two hours at 5 degrees before I was in need of thawing out. Passing roma after a hour and a quarter I was contemplating landing to have a break and a pee, however the air was so smooth and I had a 15 knot tailwind pushing me along. So the plan was to continue on to rolleston which was about another 125 miles. All was going to plan until I was starting to regret not stopping at Roma for that pee!

Sitting at 6500 feet so that I had plenty of gliding distance to glide to safety while passing some tiger country the temperature dropped to two degrees. We all know what cold weather does to the bladder! After passing the tiger country the top priority was to find somewhere to land, after checking the gps for nearest aerodromes, nothing within the distance I was willing to hold on for came up. It just so happens that after I passed the range, I saw what looked like to my delight a strip. Sure enough it was a strip and I did a low pass to check it out. It all looked good apart from a few scattered cow pats. I lined up and made an approach, getting thrown around in a bit of turbulence I managed to keep it straight and land safely, even dodging all of the cow pats.

I relieved myself and decided to pour in a jerry can of fuel. Feeling a bit bad I thought I better rock up to the homestead and explain myself. The station owners wife was quite surprised to see me and asked where did I come from, I pointed to the sky and she said that she didn't even hear me come in despite the low pass I made.

All was good so I did a quick check on the trike and I was away again. The ground was starting to heat up a bit so the air temperature rose and the thermals started to kick off. I ascended to just over 5000 get and found some really nice air complete with a 10 knot tailwind. I dropped into Emerald to make a couple of phone calls to let everyone know I was ok and after a 20 minute break tracked for Moranbah. I did a really nice landing despite the gusty conditions and was glad to be on the ground.

My good mate Blue left his ute at the airport for me to use and he is putting me up for the night. I will probably stay here for a couple of nights to recover from the long day today. The turbulent air takes its toll on the arms after a while. Anyway hoped you enjoyed reading about my adventures it looks like we're off to the pub for dinner.

Friday 23, June 2010

Had a day off yesterday, took my mate Blue for a fly and checked out the local coal mines. They are digging bloody big holes up here and that is all you can see from the surface. Most of what they do is underground, amazing stuff!

Looks like the weather isn't going to play the game for the next few days. There is a strong wind warning current because of the strong high in the bite. On top of that it looks like a trough is headed our way too.  Anyway, can't change the weather so I'm just going to wait it out, I'm not due back to gove until the 3rd and I have the option of leaving the trike on the Tablelands.

Looks like I'm going deer hunting this weekend. We might jump in the trike to go and spot them, take a couple of marks on the gps and then try to find them walking through the bush.

Monday 26, June 2010 (day 4 of travelling)

Well I made it through to charters towers today, about 160 nautical miles further along the track. I have been stuck in Moranbah for the last few days, not a bad thing as I had really good time there hanging out with my mates blue and Craig. We got up to all sorts of thing from riding horses to collecting eggs and raising young chicks. It was good to be doing some farm work, I really miss it.

The plan was to leave early this morning and get up to charters and beat the weather. All packed up ready to go I headed out to the airport to discover it blowing a good 20 gusty knots of crosswind. Not keen to take off in those sorts of winds I decided to see if it would drop off like it did the last afternoon, sure enough it dropped to a more manageable 15 knots by mid afternoon.

Take off wasn't an issue with plenty of airspeed before lifting off for maximum control to manage the cross wind. About 20 feet off the ground the crosswind really kicked in and I was crabbing my way up the strip. Settling in at a cloud base of around 3000 feet I made my way north. With the weather looking better to the north I followed the rising cloud base up to 4500 feet.

Taking in the view of Burdekin Dam I continued along my northward path towards charters towers. Climbing up to 6500 feet for a little safety of the up and coming tiger country the air was nice and smooth with the occasional bump of turbulence.  In the distance I could see some fairly solid cloud ahead so I throttled off and decended down to 4500 feet. With some slight turbulence my dream run high altitude cruising was over, I also lost my much appreciated 10 knot tailwind component.

With some heavy looking almost ready to drop rain cloud ahead I cautiously continued looking above. Sure enough the cloud couldn't hold on any longer and I started to see spots of rain on my visor. No dramas as it was only a few miles wide, I made my 10 mile call into Charters with no one responding all was quiet on the CTAF frequency a nice change compared to the busy area frequencies.

I touched down softly at Charters considering I had a gust of wind upset my perfect approach just before settling on the ground. Mark was there with the hangar doors open awaiting my arrival, its always nice to have someone waiting for you when you get somewhere and even better if they got a home for the trike! Mark and Peg have taken me in for the night feeding me some awesome dinner and a few frosty beers. Thanks guys, much appreciated! Well I'm going to try and get up to the Tablelands tomorrow, dad and I have been talking tactics to get around the cloud that guards the entrances to it.

Thanks to John and Lyn Merritt for looking after me in Moranbah I really enjoyed my time there. Blue thanks for the loan of the ute and tarps and Craig for letting me ride your horses around!  Well better get some sleep.

Tuesday 27, June 2010 (day 5 of travelling)

Well today was a big day, where do I start? In summary I'm in Normanton, yes that's right the Normanton in the bottom of the gulf. Six hours of flying, over 400 nm covered and a hell of a time with weather!  I was supposed to be relaxing at home (Atherton Tablelands) with mum and dad, telling flying stories about the first half of the trip, but it wasn't to be, read on for how it all unfolded.

The day started of quite casually with Mark taking me to the hangar where we wheeled the trike out just clearing the top of the door frame (i'm glad I got the strutted wing). While pre flighting it started to lightly rain, not a good start for the day. The raining stopped so I donned my gear and took off to the north, barely reaching 500 feet above ground level I found myself near cloud base. This continued for about 5 miles until the cloud base gradually rose another 500 feet. With the outlook for the weather improving I continued on flying until I came up against what could be best described as a wall of cloud sitting on the ranges ahead. With no scope to continue I turned back to look for somewhere to land. Checking out the GPS I had a waypoint for Hillgrove AD about 5 miles to the south of my current position.

Upon finding the airstrip/road I did a quick couple of 360's over the homestead to let them know I was around. I did my usual fly by of the airstrip at 50 feet to check for ant hills and any hazards, none were found although it was a very narrow strip with the cleared center part being only about 3 meters wide with long grass either side. I picked out the best part to land and made my approach. Landing was uneventful and I managed to put it down in the center and avoid the long grass. I guess this is why my instructor Richard was onto me about landing exactly in the middle or putting the trike where you want it not where it ends up.

Tom the owner of the station wasn't too far behind in the Hilux ute and was quite happy to have me land on his property. Being a pilot himself he understood the predicament I was in and invited me back to his place for a coffee and to check the latest weather forecast on the internet.

With the forecast saying that the weather was improving and the skies up north getting brighter I was soon on my way again. I made my way north to the Lynd Junction with moderate turbulence giving me a workout along the way. The weather was improving and I had about 1500 feet agl, still strictly flying IFR (I follow roads) because of the tiger country I continued on.

Having made the Lynd Junction I turned east and it wasn't pretty. I pushed on to find another wall of cloud. Having worked out a way around the hill from the terrain tracking on the GPS I flew around the hill to find a gap in the cloud. My next waypoint was Mount Garnet but the weather wasn't going to let me get there. On the way east towards my waypoint the cloud was closing in with my height above ground slowly reducing to 500 feet. While getting lower the turbulence was increasing to a level that I had not ever experienced before, getting thrown around and my arms getting tired and with the deteriorating weather the decision was quickly made to get the hell out of there and head west. I set the gps to head for Georgetown and made my way west. About 10 minutes after heading west the sky started to open up and blue holes started to appear.

With the cloud breaking up more the further west I travelled the first decent blue hole up to the heavens was taken advantage of. With the power of the 912 Rotax boosting me up at 900 feet per minute it wasn't long before I was above the clouds in smooth air with a 20 knot tailwind to boot.

Georgetown was about 60 miles away but I was just happy to be out of the turbulence and picking up a good tailwind. Flying over the windsock at Georgetown revealed a stiff breeze blowing almost directly down the strip. I set up for landing and made my approach. Something felt weird like I didn't have enough speed on but a quick glance at the airspeed indicator revealed that everything was ok. The landing was good and with the bar held tightly I taxied to the parking area. While taxing I noticed the airspeed indicator was reading over 30 knots, it sure was windy.

I surprised a few people telling them I had safely landed in Georgetown. While waiting I hitched a ride into town and got some fuel. With full tanks of fuel, 3 hours of light left and only 150 nm to Normanton I was on my way again. Averaging around 73 knots all the way with the tail winds I landed in Normanton with plenty of light to spare. I had Croydon as a backup plan if Normanton didn't work out.

So here I am in Normanton at the Gulfland motel. What a day, what an experience. I'm sore from getting thrown around in the turbulence but I'm only 640 nm from gove and the mighty trike is in one piece.

Well I'm going to get some hard earned sleep and I'm off to Borroloola tomorrow morning, finally back into the territory, yeehaa.

Wednesday 28, June 2010 (day 6 of travelling)

Today was probably the best days flying I have had all trip. The weather played the game and the scenery was amazing. I covered 330nm in under 5 hours and have ended up in Borroloola.

I took off around 9am tracking for Burketown. With a quick search for tailwinds from 500 feet to 7500 feet I settled in at 2500 giving the best compromise between turbulence and tailwind. With the ocean on the left and the flood plains below the scenery was sensational. With the smooth air and picking up about 15-20 knots of tailwind I managed to take some photos while enjoying the view.

Landing at Burketown I topped up the tank with fuel from one of the jerry cans and was soon on my way again. My chosen flight path had me following the coast, with the beaches within gliding distance I felt quite safe being in the middle of nowhere.

Along the way I descended down and flew down low to check out some of the river systems. I didn't manage to spot any crocs but saw some tracks. It was a little turbulent down low so that only lasted about half an hour or so. A good way to break up the trip though. With the tunes pumping from the GPS I made my way back upto 8500 feet to cool off and cut a few corners to save some time, having all that height ment I could glide 8.5 miles quite easily.

Landing at Borroloola was quite tricky as it was blowing a good 15 knots crosswind and very gusty to boot. Coming in with power on I felt out the air above the runway. It was quite lumpy but manageable. I practically flew the trike on keeping as much airspeed as practicable. Lucky I did as I hit a massive amount of sink and started what felt like falling out of the sky. I gave full throttle and was going to go around and have another go, however even full throttle still had me sinking out. Getting closer to the deck I instinctively pushed out at the last second and before I knew it the back wheels gently touched the ground. I was lined up on the runway so I dropped the throttle and pinned it on the ground. Not the prettiest landing but as dad always says, "every landing you walk away from is a good one."

I'm glad I came in fast with the power on as if I did a normal approach I would have ended up smacking into the ground quite hard. Talking with a few of the other pilots here there were several tales of the same thing happening to them. Just goes to show that when landing in unfamiliar places you should always be on your guard and be prepared for anything.

Anyway I'm planning on flying home to gove tomorrow via the coast and that will be the end of this journey but only the start of my flying adventures to come in the mighty trike. I had to totally unload the trike tonight as I have been warned the local kids like to play and there have been a few cases recently of stolen bits and pieces. I took a photo of all the gear I am carrying so you can get an idea of what you can fit on these little machines, even I was quite surprised with how much gear I have with me.

Thursday 29, June 2010 (day 7 of travelling)

Today was the final leg of my trip, covering the last 300 nautical miles to end my journey from Newcastle NSW to Gove NT.

When I woke up this morning I was keen to see if the Mighty Trike was still intact and okay, sure enough she was there waiting for me just as I had left her. The morning air was a nice pleasant 24 degrees getting away with wearing a tee shirt and a pair of shorts, something I had missed while being down south. The sky was clear with not a cloud in sight and a light breeze coming from the south east. It took me nearly an hour to cart all of my gear to the plane and fit it all in, the next job was to fuel up with avgas at $2.48 per litre. The procedure for getting fuel wasn’t simple because there was no power to the pump, a generator had to be started and warmed up, credit card swiped, load the fuel, swipe the credit card again and then shut the generator down. I must admit the system worked flawlessly and it sure beat carrying jerry cans. This was the first load of avgas that I had to buy as at Borroloola there is no standard unleaded or premium because of the petrol sniffing issues. Most communities are using opal fuel, thankfully Gove still has premium unleaded available as well as the opal.

After everything was finally ready to go I took off to the south and did a quick circuit overflying the motel I stayed at as per the request of the owners, they were below giving me a wave as I departed heading for the coast. Settled in on climb to 4500 feet I watched the ground speed slowly increase, wanting more I kept climbing to settle out at 6500 feet and a nice 20 knot tailwind. The extra height allowed me to slightly cut a few corners that I had on my flight plan still leaving a good margin of gliding safety to clear ground. The air was smooth and basically the trike flew itself with very little input required.

Overflying the coast and river systems was once again spectacular. I can only imagine the hungry barramundi waiting patiently in the mouths of the gutters waiting for an unsuspecting mullet to swim by and be turned into breakfast. It’s amazing how much detail of a river system can be seen from the air, the intricate details of the flats and the gutter systems will certainly help my chances of finding a few barra this wet season in our local river systems.

Anyway back to flying, next stop was Numbulwar to top up with fuel from one of they jerry cans and check the oil. Landing at Numbulwar wasn’t too bad with the airstrip perfectly aligned with the wind. Watching the windsock it was apparent that it was a little gusty and would require an approach with a little extra speed. The landing went to plan and I was safely on the ground once again. Upon checking the oil it came as a bit of a surprise that between Borroloola and Numbulwar it had fallen below the minimum mark on the dipstick (it was about 5mm above the minimum when I left Borroloola). A quick call to Rob from the Airborne factory for some advice had him ringing the importers of the Rotax engine for information. Rob was quick to call back with some suggestions, the set up with these engines is a dry sump arrangement, a few turns of the prop with the ignition turned off pumped enough oil back to the reservoir to get the level to the minimum mark. I also rang dad who suggested that any oil would be better than no oil.

Not entirely happy with running on the minimum oil level I caught a lift into town with some of the locals who were amazed that I had come from Newcastle in my little machine. We checked out all of the local stores and garage searching for some semi synthetic motorbike oil but didn’t have any luck. One of the local MAF pilots gave me a bottle of aviation engine oil which I could use as a last resort if required. Having this made me feel better if I saw the oil pressure drop off I could land on the beach and top up if required.

Everything was going fine until I was about 60 miles out of Gove when I was fronted with what looked like a huge wall of cloud, not going to take the chance of flying over it I descended below it to find the base at 500 feet. I continued along at 500 feet taking in the view of the ground rushing past a different perspective from travelling up high. The clouds slowly lifted to around 1000 feet as I got closer to Gove, the air was very hazy but I made out the aerodrome about 7 miles out. I had been flying over the water with the smooth sea breeze and little turbulence, what a shock I got when I turned to track for the aerodrome over the land, the air was turbulent and very messy. I made my approach into Gove sometimes being thrown so badly by turbulence I was almost 45 degrees off course on final at couple of times. Thankfully the air settled about 50 feet off the ground and I did my last landing of the trip.

Dan was waiting with the hanger doors open to welcome me home, I pulled up outside and shut the engine down. We quickly wheeled it inside to get it out of the wind that was trying to flip my little machine over. I was both excited and sad that my trip had come to an end, it meant that I had achieved what I had set out to do but I wouldn’t be getting up tomorrow morning flight planning and travelling somewhere new and exciting. However I will be able to sleep in and start planning the next adventure!

I would like to thank everyone that has helped me make this journey possible. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without your help, encouragement and support.

Sam Payne

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