This flight marked a few aviation milestones for me. Firstly, just before I entered the Southbound VFR lane at Brooklyn Bridge I logged my 100th hour as a pilot. Secondly it was my longest ever flight at 3.8 hours. And finally, it was the furthest North I’d flown myself as I made it up to Taree.
Top all that with beautiful weather and perfectly still conditions and it made for one of my favourite flights of all time.
The plane was VH-SFM from Schofield’s Flying Club. A PA28 Warrior with a recently rebuilt engine. We took off from Bankstown around 10.30am turned right towards Parramatta and started to make our way up the Northbound VFR lane towards Patonga.
Upon reaching Patonga we adjusted our heading towards the Maitland VOR, tuned in the VOR and NDB and waited for them to be picked up as we made our way North.
It took around half an hour to get to Maitland and is really easy to navigate with the lakes of Tuggerah and Gosford to your right and the ridge of hills to aim for that mark your entrance to the Hunter Valley.
Once we got towards Maitland we followed the VOR to, well the VOR, which marked the entrance to the VFR lane.
This was a really fun part of the flight. 1,500 feet for the first half then a climb to 2,000 for the second half and following the railway line all the way. It makes a nice change from the “set a heading and hold altitude” flying that you get used to sometimes as you’re spending most of your time outside the cockpit tracking the railway line and all the time looking out for traffic – it’s a two-way lane after all and at some points is as narrow as 1nm.
After we exited the lane it was a short 10 minute vector to Taree before turning South towards Sugarloaf Point (shown left), the start of the Williamstown Delivery (aka ‘Willy Delivery’) reporting zone.
It was here we suddenly performed 3 unexpected orbits to the left… why? Because we’d just spotted a whale!
Ironically we’d been chatting about whales and whether we’d see one on this trip as I’d never seen one in the wild before. I caught sight of it out of my window before we had to report to Williamstown so we quickly descended from 2,000 to 1,500 feet above the water turned a few times to get a better view as it made its way up North. An amazing sight and a real highlight of my aviation career to date.
After reporting 5nm North of Broughton Island and getting clearance from Willy Delivery we were handed over to Willy Clearance to make our way down the coast but were asked to orbit around Anna Bay for around 5 minutes as a few military jets (one with the callsign ‘Cougar’) and a Jetstar flight came in to land at Williamstown.
The last 2 orbits we were asked to perform at 500feet, a good test of your turn coordination over water. I’m sure the yacht we were inadvertently circling was wondering what we were up to.
Upon receiving clearance Southbound we tracked down the long sand dunes of Stockton Beach waving at the surfers and people driving in their 4×4’s.
You fly this leg at 500 feet so get some great views of the beach and shipwrecks down this part of the coast, just keep an eye out for the birdlife. We did get rather close to an eagle at one point.
After reaching Nobby’s Head and being cleared out of Williamstown CTR we climbed up over Newcastle and headed back South.
From there it was all back to familiar territory – Brooklyn Bridge, the Southbound VFR lane, Prospect Reservoir and touching down on 11L after a late runway change at Bankstown.
A really enjoyable day; and when you reach 3 aviation milestones and see a whale in the same flight it’s got to go down as one of your best.
Here’s our flight track – note the orbits down the coast for the whale and waiting for clearance from Williamstown.