Aero Club Flyaway to Bundy

Bundaberg – Macadamias – Bert Hinkler Museum – Fire fighting aircraft – Q400

On the weekend of 15th-16th October 2022 the Redcliffe Aero Club organised a club flyaway to Bundaberg. Aircraft taking part were Cherokee VH-BHN (piloted by Sam Keenan), Archer VH-FRF (Ron Ennis), Cherokee VH-WKE (Luc George), C182 VH-NDP (Mark Roberts-Thomson), C182 VH-ROC (Paul Smeath) and Cirrus VH-MSF (Mike Cahill), Brett Silvester and I flew in MSF with Mike. For the flight to Bundy Mike was PIC with Brett as co-pilot and I was in the back seat (flying business class) and so able to take a few photos. The weather enroute was forecast to be a bit cloudy, so Mike submitted an IFR flight plan over the Sunshine Coast and Maryborough.

We took off and flew past the mouth of the Caboolture River as we climbed over the bay.

Caboolture River Mouth and Beachmere

Further on we climbed through the clouds to cruise at 9000ft. Mike had chosen this level as the cloud tops were forecast at 8000ft. It was amazing how green the country looked after all the rain we’ve had over the winter.

Near Gympie

Bundaberg is famous for its sugar and Rum and on our descent we passed over plenty of cane fields.

Over the radio ATC informed us that there was also a Virgin Dash 8 on descent into Bundy with arrival time about the same time as us. Soon Mike was co-ordinating with the Dash 9 pilot how we’d sequence ourselves. The wind was from the south so the active runway was 14. This allowed us to join left downwind to the east of the airport as the Dash 8 flew the RNAV approach from the northwest and Mike extended a looooong downwind to allow time for the Dash 8 to land, roll out to the end of the runway and backtrack to the apron. He asked me to tell him when the jet turned at the end of the runway as that would be a good time for us to turn onto base. He timed it well so we were on short final just as the jet exited the runway and we could land, roll through to the exit point and taxi to the apron.

Most of the other RAC aircraft had arrived before us so after we’d tied down and unpacked the aircraft we chatted and watched as the last member of our party, much to our surprise, flew a right downwind and landed the wrong way on RWY14. There was much discussion about this indiscretion later.

Walking to the terminal we called the taxi company and waited. And waited. And waited.

Apparently they have limited taxis in Bundaberg. There is another company called who we should have booked with but didn’t on this occasion. We’ll know for next time.

It was about 90 minutes before we were finally transported to our lunch spot – the Macadamias Australia information centre and restaurant. This was a very impressive building located on their farm on the southern outskirts of Bundaberg. The family that owns it was originally into sugar cane farming but diversified to macadamias about 30 years ago and have been very successful.

As we were a large group they’d put us on a long table in a shady setting in the Macadamia orchard that was great for lunch.

They gave us some macadamia tastings as well, including the vanilla infused macadamias that were delicious. After a very relaxed and chatty lunch we explored the shop and bought some nuts to take home with us.

Having booked our taxi for the 3pm trip into town we assembled out the front of the Macadamia farm and were soon on our way to our overnight accommodation.

Having checked in I went for a walk/run along the river and inspected the main street. Not too busy on a Saturday afternoon. I also discovered the Ballistic Brewery just off the main street so after a quick walk back to the motel to meet up with Mike and Brett we headed to the brewery to sample one of their IPAs.

That evening we had a group dinner at one of the restaurants with a view over the Burnett River and chatted about our flight, the next day’s flight and future trips amongst other things.

Sunday dawned and from the motel balcony we could see a bit of sun and cloud and after checking the NAIPS we agreed it was a generally positive weather forecast. We could fly VFR home along the coast.

On Saturday evening some in our party had held fears of rain and too much cloud on the tirp home but these fears were dismissed as we assembled at a cafe overlooking the river for breakfast. More talk about flying and people getting their breakfast orders mixed up but generally good coffee and food.

The shuttle guys picked us up at 9am and we headed for the Bert Hinkler Hall of Aviation on the outskirts of town. Now this was the real reason for coming to Bundy. It’s a really good collection of aircraft and tells the story of Bert Hinkler’s youth in the town, learning to fly starting with his own home made glider on a nearby beach, travelling to the UK to learn how to fly powered aircraft and his world record flights in Australia, across the Atlantic and from England to Australia. It was very unfortunate that he was killed at 40 when he crashed in the Tuscan hills outside of Florence. The reason for his crash is unknown but he was always pushing the envelope so maybe it was just a matter of time till his luck ran out.

There were a couple of simulators there that we could play on. We quickly realised that simulators aren’t as easy to fly as you might think. Also that it’s not a big deal if you crash a simulator, as a couple of us did.

Bert Hinkler’s cottage “Mon Repos” is also located nearby. It’s named after the nearby beach where Bert undertook his first trial glider flights when he was 19 years old. The house was dismantled at its original home in England and rebuilt brick by brick by the local community in the 1980s and formed the first part of the Hinkler Aviation Museum.

After a quick sandwich at the cafe we climbed aboard the shuttles again for the quick trip to the airport where Paul Smeath had arranged a tour of the fire fighting aviation services for us. Paul works for the Queensland Fire and Rescue and co-ordinates the firefighters when they have a large bushfire to fight, as was the case around Bundaberg in 2019. He knows the guys well so was able to get them to come out on a Sunday to show us around. While he organised things I took the opportunity to preflight MSF ready for the trip home.

There were a couple of helicopters and a fixed wing spotter plane as well as a Q400 that is leased from a Canadian company.

Assembled outside the Q400

It can carry and dump 10,000 litres of fire retardant mix at a time and the pump station is capable of refilling its tanks in 8 minutes while the props are idling. This make a pretty fast turn around time. This winter they have had almost no work as it’s been so wet. They’ll be moving south to Avalon in Victoria in about one month to work there for the southern fire season over summer.

It was very impressive equipment and a great tour of the facility.

Mark and I inspect the Q400 cockpit

Following our tour it was back to the GA apron where I submitted my VFR flight plan. It was VFR as the weather was fine, with a bit of cloud at 6000ft so we could fly at 3500ft down the coast all the way. After letting Brett get acquainted with the avionics so he could input the flight plan, we taxied over to the runway. Mark Roberts-Thomson was right behind us and requested an intersection departure while we back tracked to the start of the runway. He’s a long-term 747 pilot with his own plane so obviously had more faith in his engine than we did. As my dad used to say – “It’s no use having runway behind you” – meaning always use all the runway that’s available to you.

Taking off we climbed quickly to 3500ft and headed directly for Hervey Bay, passing Mark at 1500ft below us. At Urangan we turned left and headed direct to Orchid Beach at the northern end of Fraser Island.

Orchid Beach

After a quick orbit over the village and airstrip to check it out (it was very green) we headed south along the coast past Happy Valley, Rainbow Beach, Double Island Point and Noosa. We were catching Sam in BKN by this stage who had not done the dog leg to Orchid Beach but was significantly slower than us and was held up by ATC at the Sunshine Coast. We were waved straight through at 1500ft and were soon over Bribie heading for Redcliffe. 

For our approach into Redcliffe I did the conventional overhead pass at 1500ft and mid field crosswind entry to join mid downwind on RWY07, while some guy in a tail dragger joined base in front of us and landed on the grass stip. I managed to slow our approach enough to give him time to leave the runway before we touched down. Then it was back to Mike’s new hangar that he’d bought a few weeks before. Much more room than the old hangar and doors that actually work smoothly. A big improvement.

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