Category Archives: Recreational flying

Down the Sydney coast with my father – an unforgettable flight

View flight photos here

Yesterday, Easter Monday, my father and I flew down the coast of Sydney to land at Wollongong, then returned to home base. It was a magnificent flight, for many reasons but most significantly for the sheer joy and pleasure that it clearly brought to my father. I’m blogging about this one because I don’t want to forget the sheer enjoyment of it.

Dad has flown with me before, just the once, not long after I attained my GFPT. (This, for those who may not know, is what used to be called your “restricted license” and in my case permitted me to fly within the environs of the Bankstown training area.) But that was about a year ago, and wasn’t a particularly memorable flight, marred slightly by some radio problems. And the opportunity to take Dad flying doesn’t come up much as he lives interstate from me. So an Easter visit from him offered the opportunity to finally show him what it’s all about.


Sunday was a bit questionable weather-wise and the evening brought some moderately severe storms, prompting some careful review of the aviation weather forecasts. However, both the aviation forecasts (AirServices Australia) and the general forecast (WeatherZone) offered reasonably encouraging news, so I was fairly confident we’d at least get a start. The possibility of isolated showers was out there and it was clearly a case of “see how things look in the morning”. I’ve learned from experience that crap weather the night before a flight is in itself no firm predictor of similar conditions on the following morning. Once or twice in the past I’ve cancelled a flight because the weather “looks bad” only to rue my decision when the day in question turns out fine – or at least, perfectly flyable.

And, I was right. Yesterday morning dawned cool and clear, with a light to moderate southwesterly breeze blowing. It was absolutely stunning.


I’d booked SFM, a club Cherokee that I’ve not yet flown. However a quick (and well advised) familiarisation check of the cabin, controls and instruments revealed that the seat belt retractable shoulder sash was firmly stuck at about 3/4 retracted and there was absolutely no budging it.

Faced with the choice of trying to get some assistance to get it fixed, or grabbing an older but perfectly serviceable aircraft (FTU), I chose the latter option.

Fuelled up and pre-flight checks done, we returned to the clubhouse to file the flight plan, check the latest weather and the ATIS. All continued to look lovely. We were started up and away only slightly behind schedule, which in my experience for a cross-country flight of any kind is not bad going.

Harbour Scenic

First main leg of the flight was (hopefully) to do a Harbour Scenic, what I consider to be the jewel in the crown of flights available to light GA aircraft in the Sydney Basin. However you can’t always get clearance to do this flight – depends on prevailing conditions and controller workload at Sydney Airport – so you never quite know until you get out there if it’s going to happen or not. Filing your flight plan early, as we did, helps – but it’s no guarantee.

Taking off to the west and tracking north over Parramatta, I radioed Sydney Radar approaching Pennant Hills from the south and made my initial clearance request. I was directed to track to Longreef, as per the standard procedure, and stand by. Sounded good.

Reaching Hornsby and turning right for the coast just over the railway sheds, I was pleased when Sydney Radar contacted me with the instruction to “squawk zero four six one and contact Sydney Departures on 123.0 when approaching Longreef for clearance”. Awesome! That looked as though they were going to let me in. So with 0461 on my transponder (and confirmation from Radar that they had me identified) I proceeded for the coast, descending to the required altitude of 1500 feet just by the time I overflew the Narrabeen Lakes. Turning south for Longreef over the golf course, I radioed for and received my clearance for Harbour Scenic One, and I was off headed straight for Sydney CBD and the Harbour Bridge. Conditions were CAVOK and visibility was crystal clear, I was able to head straight for the Bridge with a clear visual fix.

Once approaching the bridge I throttled back slightly and put out one stage of flap to slow us down a bit for a better look. We then executed the standard 2 left hand orbits (remaining east of the Bridge, north of the Opera House and west of Garden Island as required), Dad enthusiastically snapping away with the camera on my smart phone so that I could finally have a visual record of one of my Harbour Scenic flights.

Orbits done – and with yesterday’s flawless weather we got some truly magnificent views – I retracted the flap, throttled up and headed east over the harbour. I requested and received permission to track directly out through the Sydney Heads and descend directly into Victor One South, the low-level coastal route that runs from Longreef in the north to Seacliff Bridge in the south. Once Radar had us out off the heads and over the water, I was cleared to descend to 500 feet and switch to the Victor One radio frequency.

Victor One

It was just one of those rare, gorgeous days, not only due lovely flying weather but also because we seemed to have the sky all to ourselves. There simply was no one up there with us.

Dad enjoyed this bit in particular I think. It’s hard not to. Down low, you’re up close to the magnificent sandstone cliffs that mark nearly the entire southern coastline of Sydney. We could clearly see the heavier traffic in and out of Sydney Airport on our way past.

We coastal flew the beach at Cronulla, then passing south of Jibbon Point, I climbed to 1000 feet. I’m always happier with at least 1000 feet of air below me, preferably more (not that much of the Sydney coastline gives you any decent forced landing options). Past Marley Beach, then Wattamolla, my signal to climb higher as it marks the southern end of the 1500 feet control step. I climbed to 2000 feet and levelled out.

Notwithstanding a little mild turbulence due to the effects of the westerly wind blowing over the coastal ridges and peaks of the Royal National Park, it was a reasonably smooth ride down to Seacliff Bridge. I switched radio frequencies (back to the area frequency 124.55) and consulted my Visual Terminal Chart. This final part of the southwards leg to Wollongong was new to me: on previous flights in the area I’d approached only from the west.

Not much to my surprise, I didn’t need to work too hard to identify relevant ground features to determine where I was. Not far south of Stanwell Park and Seacliff, you’re already abeam the northern sprawl of the Wollongong area with districts and townships like Thirroul. And it’s pretty hard to miss the dark rusty red hues of the sprawling Port Kembla steelworks on the northern reaches of Lake Illawarra, let alone the massive chimney stack on the headland. At nearly 800 feet in height it’s definitely an attraction you do want to miss …

Once south of Port Kembla and and established at a circuit overfly altitude of 1500 feet, I headed southwest over Lake Illawarra in search of Wollongong airport. Again, fairly hard to miss as it’s located right on the southeastern reaches of the lake, not too far south of the easy-to-spot Dapto dog track. I picked the airport up visually about 5 or 6 nautical miles out. Having already checked the AWIS weather report and picked up some radio traffic indicating that the 16 (north to south) runway was in use, I decided to head slightly inland at overfly altitude and then descend to circuit height of 1000 feet on the “dead” side. This allowed me to join the circuit on the crosswind leg and get properly established in the circuit for approach and landing, also (hopefully, by virtue of my radio calls) fully alerting other traffic in the area to my presence and intentions.

(I could just as validly have joined the circuit on the downwind leg, or – less preferably – on the base or even a straight-in final approach, but from my own personal experience, recommendations from others and some of the safety reading I’ve done, I’m a reasonably big fan of doing the full circuit at CTAF aerodromes where possible.)

Ironically, the importance of staying alert and observant in and around the aerodrome area was reinforced to me by virtue of the fact that despite my crosswind, downwind and base radio calls, a light aircraft on the ground announced his intention to “enter and roll” just as I was turning on final and having to delay my radio call due to the broadcast of another aircraft departing the area. I quickly made my “on final” call with only the mildest tone of reroof, fully prepared and ready to go around if no response from the aircraft on the ground. However, he was quick to respond with a call of “holding”, leaving me free to execute a crosswind landing that to be frank was probably only a 5 out of 10. However, we made ground safely and taxied to the parking area next to the HARS (Historical Aviation Restoration Society) museum hangar for a stretch of legs.

We had a half hour of aviation geekdom, gawking in at the lovely aircraft on display in the hangar, especially the RAAF DC3 and the fully operational Lockheed Super Constellation, named (naturally) “Connie”. Dad loved this bit, which was rewarding for me too, as I’d envisioned and planned this as a fun part of the trip for him ever since my first visit to Wollongong back before my first cross-country solo.

Back home: north and inland to Bankstown

In striking contrast to the 94 nautical mile outwards leg of our trip, the inwards/home leg was only 45 miles – it’s a much more direct trip between Bankstown and Wollongong directly overland via the Royal National Park rather than going the coastal route. I expected that the trip would take us less than half an hour, and indeed with the moderate southwesterly behind us we achieved that easily. Having climbed up to 3500 feet to clear the escarpment and head north to Appin, we quickly picked up the Hume Highway and – by the simple device of keeping the highway just on our right – we stayed well clear of the Holsworthy Army Base restricted area and enjoyed an easy trip leading us straight to the junction of the M5 and M7 motorways, with the 2RN radio tower just beyond.

(I have long wanted to do another trip back in via 2RN, as I’ve never found it particularly easy to locate visually. It has a strobe nearby, which I’ve sometimes picked up but which isn’t always easy to spot on a bright and clear day. As things turned out, I dialled the 2RN frequency of 576 kHz into my Automatic Direction Finder and used the ADF needle to guide me in. With the knowledge that the tower is just beyond the M5/M7 junction I was able to school myself on the surrounding ground features a bit more, and feel more confident about locating the tower without the aid of the ADF the next time I fly in from that direction.)

Making my inbound call to Bankstown Tower at 2RN, I received an unusual traffic instruction, specifically to track direct over the control tower at 1500 feet to remain clear of a Beechcraft Duchess which was about to take off from 29R. Halfway there I radioed to confirm the instruction, just to be sure … then, reporting overhead the tower, I was directed to join crosswind for 29R as per the usual procedure. He chipped me slightly for flying too far west before turning crosswind, however he wasn’t unkind and quickly cleared me for my visual approach to the runway. I quickly dropped down to circuit height and, receiving an early landing clearance, turned base conscious of the growing crossswind. This time the landing was a 6/10, nowhere close to my best, but I, pax and plane were home safely and in one piece.


Hands down, this is one of the best flights, overall, that I’ve done. Others have, of course, been special for various reasons – my cross country solo flights, flying into Canberra’s controlled airspace, my first Victor One/Harbour Scenic, taking my son flying, and of course my GFPT and PPL flight tests. But yesterday’s – because I was flying my dad, who is significantly responsible for my love of aviation; because Dad is by far the most enthusiastic passenger I’ve had so far, and he had an absolute ball flying with me; because it was my fastest visit to another airport since I qualified for my PPL; and because it was just such a spectacularly beautiful day that showed off scenic Sydney in all it’s glory; for all these reasons, plus the fact that it was another successful, enjoyable and instructive flight – it was probably the best one so far.

This is why I learned to fly.

Update from an intermittent private pilot

Committed 2.3 hrs of aviation today. And it was GOOD. Good landings, smooth flight, nice radio work. Very satisfied with today’s effort ūüôā

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So, what next with my flying?

So, I’m waiting for CASA (or Air Services Australia, whichever does the paperwork) to send me my shiny new PPL paperwork in the mail, so I can start to exercise PPL privileges. (I’m led to believe this can take several weeks, and believe me, the time is already dragging).

After I passed my PPL exam last week, my blog friend Jeanne (who writes as “Flying Grandma“) commented rather perspicaciously:

Anyone who has accomplished this knows how you feel at this moment. For me it was a little bit of a let down after I finished, like….What now?? I had spent so much money achieving the goal that I didn’t feel like I had a lot of extra money sitting around to actually fly a lot of places.

Truer words could not be spoken or written about my present situation. There are plenty of things I want to do with my PPL, but right now – as I’m sure is the case with most like myself who fly for fun – money is very limited. There’s still heaps of money on our mortgage, #2 stepson has another 2 years of private school to pay for before he’s finished, there are school fees to be¬†saved for when the younger kids (currently¬†5 years and 20 months old respectively) hit high school, and I’m presently starting down the barrel of a possible redundancy from my job.

Such is the challenge for most new pilots, I suppose. Lest anyone interpret this as a whinge, it’s most definitely not – I know I’m part of a very privileged group of people here¬†– it’s just articulating a critical stage that many new pilots reach on achieving our coveted “wings”.

Just get out there

The most obvious and immediate path of action Рlimited budget permitting Рis to create opportunities to just get out there and log a few Pilot In Command hours.

Several friends and family have expressed interest in going flying with me – including my sometime-mentor Chris who now flies 767’s with Qantas! – and with the freedom of a PPL, there are plenty of short but entertaining local flying options. The main challenge will be to convince everyone to share the flying costs with me. I’m not allowed to charge for flights, but I am allowed to split the costs with my passengers, and realistically this is the only way I’ll be able to afford to do many “friends and family” flights.

Fortunately with the private hire rates of around $200 per hour on most of the club aircraft I can fly, this doesn’t work out too expensively for anyone who wants to come up for a quick hour or so with me. I guess I’ll see pretty shortly how many want to put their money where their mouth is …

Second thing I’d like to do is to take my wife on a “weekend away” flight. Laura is definitely not in love with aviation the way I am, and is really not that interested in “flying for flying’s sake”. However, if it’s an enjoyable trip to a desirable destination, then that’s probably enough for her to fly with me now and again. We’ve often talked about going to Mudgee, a “heritage” town and noted wine and food destination¬†about 3.5 hours drive from Sydney or perhaps 90 minutes in a Cherokee. I think I’ll work up the flight plan on that trip pretty soon as well as a fuel/load scenario that allows for a case or two of wine in the baggage compartment on our return. Probably a good trip on which to take one of our club Archers with the somewhat gruntier 180 horsepower engine!

Third, I want to try to make sure that I fly every 6-8 weeks if at all possible. I’ve blogged before on the topic of “How much flying is enough to stay current”¬†and while there’s no satisfactory solution to this beyond flying frequently, experience since I wrote that blog entry has taught me that I’m perfectly capable of stepping into a Cherokee after 6 weeks or so off and flying safely and competently. So I’ll settle for this kind of interval as a rough goal.

With these flights, I guess it will be a mix of 1-hour forays (circuits, training area practice flights to refresh on emergency procedures, or friends/family flights as the case may be) punctuated by the occasional cross-country flight. Have to play it by ear a bit with this.

Next time my father is in town I’d certainly like to take him on a cross-country someplace: he would love it. Perhaps a short trip down to Wollongong to the HARS (Historical Aircraft Restoration Society)¬†museum¬†there. OK, not exactly cross-country, but still out of town and picturesque.

Learn the ropes on Victor One/Harbour Scenic

From a General Aviation point of view, probably the jewel in the crown if you live in or around Sydney is the Victor One coastal route, which allows GA aircraft to fly just off the Sydney coastline affording a magnificent scenic view of Sydney’s beaches, coastal cliffs and communities. Depending on your direction, you either cross the coast south of Sydney at Stanwell¬†Park and head north, or cross the coast north of Sydney at Longreef¬†and head south. Either way, it’s a low-flying path, in some places dropping down to just 500 feet above the water to stay clear of the overhead Class C airspace. Great for sightseeing, but also demanding precision in flight altitude and direction, along with the fact that life jackets are called for as a safety precaution.

Depending on permission required from Sydney Air Traffic Control, you can also do one of two “Harbour Scenic” circuits, one over the Chatswood area (north of Sydney) and the other – by far the preferred one – over the centre of Sydney Harbour immediately east of the Harbour Bridge and north of the Opera House.

As you may imagine, flying these routes requires you to know what you’re doing. Good awareness of the published procedures and flight paths; mandatory radio calls and diligent monitoring of radio frequencies; keen situational awareness; and alertness to potential trouble situations. All these and more are called for.

Which in my view are good enough reasons to not fly these routes solo before having an experienced instructor in the right hand seat showing me the ropes. I will definitely be bringing my instructor John along the first time I do this flight! After that – I can’t imagine a better treat for visiting family and friends.

Learn about GPS navigation

As highlighted last week during my PPL checkride, use of GPS technology can add immeasurably to the ease and safety of any cross-country flight. (With the eternal rider, of course, that at my level of flying you never rely on it as your primary¬†means of navigation and always have a “traditional” flight plan up your sleeve and maintain awareness of your position).

I think it’s very good that I reached¬†PPL level without using GPS navigation. I’m supposed to be¬†able to navigate without GPS – and I can. But now that I know how to do it the old-fashioned¬†way, I’m ready to embrace GPS as an additional navigation aid. Knowing exactly how far I have to go to my next waypoint; knowing my exact¬†groundspeed; knowing my exact¬†current track versus that required to reach the next waypoint – all of these¬†reduce uncertainty from a cross-country navigation flight and therefore make the flight easier. As long as I never become reliant on GPS as my primary means of navigation, which I understand is a trap into which pilots can be quite prone to fall.

From time to time my club runs 1-day GPS courses,¬†and I believe I’ll attend the next one that is scheduled. Meanwhile, I’ll hunt down the user manuals for the various Garmin units installed in the aircraft I fly and find out as much as I can …

Get CSU/retractable endorsement

Less immediate, but something I’d really like to do, would be to get my CSU/retractable undercarriage endorsement. These tend to come together: retractable undercarriage being exactly what it sounds like (that is, undercarriage that retracts into the aircraft fuselage/wings in flight), and CSU standing for Constant Speed Unit. This is a type of propeller that can change its blade pitch to make better use of engine power – a bit like the transmission in a car – essentially making for better propeller efficiency, improving overall fuel efficiency and performance.

My flying club does this endorsement on our Piper Arrows (yet another variant of the Cherokee), which cruise at about 130 knots (compared to the Warrior’s cruise of 105 knots and the Archer’s cruise at about 110). Apparently¬†it’s about 3 hours of dual training (plus a 2-hour cross-country)? At any rate it would be a relatively quick endorsement, with the double benefit of being checked out on the Arrows as well as being endorsed for CSU/retractable. They’re an additional¬†$50 per hire hour relative¬†to the Warriors and Archers, though.

Try out some different aircraft

In addition to checking out on the Arrow, what I’d really like to do is get behind the controls of a classic Cessna 172. My blog fried the Flying Ninja, based over in Perth, has recently checked out on¬†a C172¬†and is full of praise for them. I would love to get checked out in one, if only to experience a different aircraft of comparable size to the Cherokee.

My club, sadly, has no C172’s but neighbouring organisations at Bankstown do, and my flying instructor John informs me that it is no big deal so hire one so he can sort me out.

For some more exotic options, my club has two Diamond trainers (one 2-seater DA20 and one 4-seater DA40) and also has leased access to a Cirrus SR20¬†– owned by a club member with a day job as a prominent Australian musician. It would be interesting to check out these enticing aircraft as well, though they’re significantly more expensive than our more prosaic fleet of Cherokees …

In the long term

That’s plenty to be going on with.

In the longer term, I’d¬†like to investigate doing a Night VFR rating¬†(NVFR), possibly as part of doing a Private Instrument Flight Rating¬†(PIFR).

The Night VFR rating would not be for the express purpose of flying at night – I’ve heard enough about night flying in single-engine aircraft to know it’s not a good option – but it would add a margin of safety to the day flying I am going to do. And the PIFR would extend my flying skills considerably, whilst making it easier to fly en-route in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).

While these things would be great to do, they take significant additional time and money. Neither of which I have at the moment. But there’s no hurry – plenty of time to build up my day VFR experience in the meantime.

Ultimately, if I want to become a flying instructor as an optional for semi-retirement, I’ll need to have a Command Pilot License and an Instructor Rating. Again, significant additional¬†time and money. Sort of thing I might try to¬†do around the 50+ mark. Again, a long-term¬†option, but there’s nothing to stop me getting my head around the CPL theory whenever I want. Might look into that in the not-too-distant future …