Beach flying at 500ft, Harbour Scenic flight, aviation museum and training lectures in Orange

Port Macquarie – Newcastle – Warnervale – Sydney – Harbour Scenic – Victor 1 – Shellharbour – Wollongong – HARS museum – Orange – Cirrus CPPP – Glen Innes

The Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) organise training weekends in Australia every two years. The 2022 event was at Orange on the weekend of 11-13th November. Brett Silvester and I decided to go and to make it all the more worthwhile we decided to fly down the coast to Wollongong the day before so we could enjoy the views past Newcastle and Sydney and visit the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) museum at Shellharbour Airport.

We departed Redcliffe on Thursday 10th November at about 9am. The flight plan I’d prepared originally was to depart IFR at 7000ft over the top of Brisbane airport then track via the Gold Coast and follow the coast to our first fuel stop at Port Macquarie. There were a couple of snags however. First, the RAAF was doing maneuvers and the whole Evans Head restricted area was active so we couldn’t plan or fly through it. So, I submitted a plan via the Gold Coast but around the restricted area. After takeoff however ATC didn’t clear us directly over Brisbane Airport. Instead, we were vectored out over The Gap and between Amberley and Archerfield airspace. This was apparently to avoid Brisbane International traffic. By the time the traffic around Brisbane had been avoided there was no point heading for the Gold Coast anymore, as it would’ve been a roundabout way, so ATC asked whether we wanted to fly direct to Coffs Harbour and we agreed. Even then ATC vectored us well clear of the Evans Head restricted airspace as we passed. Those jets must have been having dog fights. It was fairly cloudy on the way Coffs so views were limited but it started to clear as we progressed, and we had good visual conditions approaching Port Macquarie.

We refuelled at YPMQ then took off again, this time VFR along the coast at 2500ft, passing Taree, Forster and then descended over water at Sugarloaf Point for the VFR coastal route past Williamtown RAAF base. Flying past Broughton Island we were at 500ft and obtained a clearance from ‘Willy Delivery’. He passed us over to ‘Willy Approach’ who we monitored as we flew at 500ft and 150knots over water next to the beach past Hawks Nest, Point Stephens Lighthouse, Anna Bay and the very, very wide Stockton Beach and the Williamtown runway itself.

From there it was on past the mouth of the Hunter River and Newcastle.

Passing out of Williamtown controlled airspace we climbed to 2500ft and tracked for Warnervale, our lunch stop. We passed over the Lake Macquarie airstrip on the way.

The half hour lunch stop gave us time to collect our thoughts and plan our next leg via Sydney to Shellharbour. This time we’d fly at 1500ft along the coast from Terrigal to Barrenjoey Head at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, then request a clearance for a “Harbour Scenic” from Sydney Terminal. All went smoothly and as we approached Long Reef ATC told us to expect Harbour Scenic 2 in 5 minutes. This meant we wouldn’t be flying directly next to the Harbour Bridge and Opera House but a few miles north at Chadstone. Never mind. We still had excellent views of the CBD as we orbited over Middle Harbour.

After the regulation two orbits we tracked back to Manly and then towards Long Reef where we descended to 500ft to be below controlled airspace and commenced our flight along Victor 1, the VFR route along Sydney’s beaches.

After passing the heads we saw Bondi Beach…

then Coogee Beach…

then Botany Bay and the Sydney International Airport.

It wasn’t long and we were out from under the controlled airspace and could climb as we were abeam the cliffs of the Royal National Park.

Our flightpath then took us past the 665 metre long Sea Cliff Bridge, a highlight along the Grand Pacific Drive on the coast of the Royal National Park.

We were soon approaching Wollongong.

We passed the Wollongong Boat Harbour and the motel where we would stay the night…

and then past the Port Kembla Steelworks.

From there it was short hop across to Shellharbour airport where we refuelled, tied down and watched an RAAF Wedgetail do missed approaches.

After a quick inspection of the HARS museum from airside we climbed into an Uber and headed into Wollongong where we checked into the Boat Harbour Motel and then had a walk along the promenade, followed by a cooling ale in the local brewery and dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Next morning, I was up early and walked along the promenade in the opposite direction, joining the masses of early morning joggers, swimmers, yoga devotees and caffeine addicts.

Some extra keen bods were partaking in ice baths. They had plastic drums that were filled with water and bags of ice that they would lower themselves into and sit in until the pain was unbearable. Certainly, one way to wake up.

I read the weather report as I drank my decaf flat white. It indicated that rain and storms would approach from the west in the afternoon so when Brett arrived we agreed to head out to the HARS museum as soon as it opened so we could get away at lunch time for Orange.

The Uber dropped us at the airport around 9:15. We carried our bags to MSF and I completed the preflight. Then it was a short walk over the apron to the museum. It was the day before the annual “Wings over Illawarra Airshow” weekend so there was lots of activity. A very kind volunteer took Brett and me on a private tour of the collection. First stop was the QANTAS 747-800 that was in service until 2015 and is still in top condition. Apparently, it held the record for the longest 747 flight and the shortest. The delivery flight from Heathrow to Sydney was the longest. The final flight from Sydney to Shellharbour was the shortest. We spent two hours on our private tour and then I had to cut it short because we had to depart by 12:30 as they would close the airspace at that time for few hours so they could practise some flight routines for the following day’s events.

I submitted an IFR flight plan direct to Orange and we headed back across the apron to MSF. The TAF at Orange indicated low cloud so we briefed the RNP instrument approach. Starting up, we heard plenty of traffic in the vicinity and the main taxiway was blocked with some aircraft so we worked out we’d have to back track a bit and would need to allow time for other aircraft in the circuit. After the runups we waited for a Jabiru who seemed to take forever on downwind, base and final. Then we could backtrack, turn and take off to the north, turning right and climbing over the field as other aircraft joined downwind below us. We gave our departure call and obtained a code from Melbourne Centre for the 40 minute leg to Orange. Passing over the Southern Highlands we could see Mittagong but then the cloud closed in below us and we flew between cloud layers for a while then eventually entered IMC. Forty miles out of Orange we informed ATC that we’d be tracking for the RNP instrument approach, and they advised of other traffic heading to Orange. Brett and I rebriefed the approach then started our descent, popping out of the cloud about 1000 ft above ground level with the runway straight in front. It was a smooth touchdown and we taxied to the bowser to fill with fuel. As we experienced in March 2022 the AvGas price was the cheapest in the country.

Then we had to find a place to tie down. After a bit of confusion, we found Rodney from COPA who guided us into a parking spot on the grass.

So started our COPA training weekend or CPPP (Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program). It was held at the Orange Aeroclub, a very well-equipped building that used to be the airport terminal until a new one was built a few years ago. Rodney who was the “local” organiser (he was from the Gold Coast while the main organiser was from Germany and had just flown in) drove us into town in his Tesla Model X so we could check into our motel, then picked us up again later so we could attend the welcome drinks at the aero club. We caught up with old friends and made new ones and inspected the flock of Cirrus that had landed including two Cirrus Vision Jets that everyone was keen to inspect.

After the drinks and canapes, we were taken by specially organised bus into town where we had dinner at the Hotel Canobolos aka the “red pub” with a few of our new friends. Some locals had told us to go there and not across the road to the “white pub” as the food is much better. A couple of steaks and a few glasses of house red later and we toddled back to the motel.

Saturday was a day of lectures and thunderstorms.

One of the lectures was actually about thunderstorms, which was very useful as the forecast for our trip home the next day included a possibility of storms. A few passing rain showers and thunderstorms perked our interest during the afternoon.

A couple of Cirrus simulators had been set up in one of the smaller adjacent rooms and some of the attendees took the opportunity to fly the simulator under the watchful eye of an instructor.

By Saturday evening it was clear again, the sun was out, and Brett and I had a quick beer in the motel beer garden.

Then we headed to the course gala dinner, held at one of the better restaurants in town where a few of the attendees who had undertaken flying lessons during the weekend received some awards.

Knowing that we had a long day and a long, and potentially challenging, flight home the next day (weather permitting) we retired early.

The next morning the weather was foul. Low cloud and rain. We walked in the rain to a nearby cafe for breakfast, where a few other Cirrus people also appeared. Back at the motel we were ferried with our luggage to the aero club again. The weather forecast left us wondering whether we’d be returning that evening for another night’s stay. Keeping one eye on the TAFs for Orange, Mudgee, Tamworth and Glen Innes (our planned route home) we had the other eye on the lectures. These were useful again with quite a few interesting tips. During lunch I preflighted MSF and submitted my IFR flight plan so we were ready to depart as soon as the weather cleared. Looking at the skies and again at the forecast Brett and I decided to grab the moment as the lectures were about to begin again. The weather was clearing, and it looked like it’d worsen again later in the afternoon.

We said some quick goodbyes (many of the other attendees had already left) and loaded up the plane. It was still overcast at about 1500ft but the TAF indicated the cloud layer was thin and above it was clear air all the way up to 8000ft. So, we took off and entered IMC over the aerodrome. Orbiting up in the clouds we climbed up into clear air and were pleased to see no towering cumulus clouds (a sign of thunderstorm activity) in any direction. We tracked for Mudgee and climbed to our cruising level of 7000ft between the cloud layers.

It’s moments like these you think “thank God I’m instrument rated”. If we couldn’t fly IFR we would not have got home that day, that much was clear.

It was still cloudy over Mudgee and we didn’t see anything of the town. By the time we reached Tamworth however we could see parts of it between the clouds.

The forecast had indicated that the cloud was only present a bit north of Tamworth and sure enough it soon cleared and we had a great view of the amazing green countryside as we approached Glen Innes.

Originally, I’d planned to fly non-stop to Redcliffe but on the way to Glen Innes I decided to land there. I had two reasons. First, it’d give me a chance to practise an instrument approach at very little additional cost or time. And second, I was feeling a bit of pressure in my bladder and thought it would be prudent to relieve myself before it became too painful. So, we flew the RNP approach into Glen Innes, following an air ambulance who was parked on the apron when we arrived.

The kind ladies at the Orange aero club had given us some sandwiches for our journey so we ate them while the air ambulance started up and taxied out. Then it was our turn. Taking off we turned over the airfield then tracked for Redcliffe, via the Scenic Rim.

The light from the late afternoon sun was stunning as we passed over the border ranges around Tenterfield and Stanthorpe. Soon we were descending from overhead Amberley and past the winding Brisbane River.

ATC gradually descended us in the controlled airspace as we approached Redcliffe.

The airfield was deserted. Amazing on such a great Sunday afternoon. We did a nice smooth landing and put MSF away in the hangar. A great ending to a great experience.

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