X-Air Adventures

X-Air's to Bankstown.... The southern hemispheres busiest airport

Another triumph for the X-Air's being amongst the first ‘rag and tube’ Ultralights to be granted permission to fly into Bankstown controlled airspace, the southern hemisphere’s busiest airport.Saturday dawned as the perfect day to stay in bed 30-knot winds, heavy rain and rolling storms all day.... Not a good day for crossing the divide I thought to myself so I left for the airport to finish off a few jobs I had left on my new X-Air, with only 10 or so hours on the clock from the preceding couple of weekends I still had to fit a couple of gauges and the luggage compartment. Contacting fellow X-Airian, Phil Allen in Canberra he confirmed conditions were pretty ordinary all over and we put off our adventure until Sunday Morning.

The Sunday in Mudgee started at 6:30 am with X-Air 19-3231 firing up after a thorough pre flight check, a short taxi to the fuel bowsers revealed my first problem of the day.... The big storm on Saturday night had disabled the BP Avgas bowser and I thought it was too early to ring the flying school owners for assistance. After an impatient 1-hour wait and the consumption of breakfast...... two Mars bars, I was advised to check the circuit breaker in the fuel storage yard and to my satisfaction it just needed resetting and we were pumping away.In Goulburn the day started for Phil Allen with an early pre-flight at 8:00am.  All systems checked out and X-Air 19-3123 departed Goulburn enroute to Hoxton Park, just west of Sydney.  A slight headwind, and sightseeing, made the trip a little longer than usual, but enjoyable non the less.With a keen photographer as passenger, there were numerous requests to transit above the clouds so, in an attempt to maintain groundspeed, Phil climbed at 60 knots (5600rpm on the Rotax 618) to 5500'.  With cloud base below, he flew to maintain visual reference with the ground so that he wasn't caught off guard with nowhere to go.Unfortunately, he was having so much fun that he neglected to check the maps for the boundary of the control zones.  Realising that he was coming close to the boundary, he decided to find a hole and punch through to the safety of OCTA.  A quick dive at 75kn and he was well clear of the control zone, better to be sure than having Air Services chasing him up on landing.Hoxton Park was fairly uneventful, apart from the myriad of aircraft that were appearing - obviously the numerous air shows in the area were attracting more than the X-Air's.After a short 10-minute wait at Hoxton Park the flight leader appeared on the horizon - X-Air 19-3231 piloted by Michael Coates was to lead our formation into the skies and on to Bankstown.The trip from Mudgee was a little more adventurous than from Goulburn, after departing Mudgee and climbing to 5,500 I tracked direct to Lithgow, the peaceful morning air gave me ample time to catch some of the trip on video for the next club meeting, passing over the power stations at Lithgow was rewarding, huge chimneys tower into the sky and flying overhead offered a panoramic view of the facility.Navigating around a restricted zone at Lithgow I started my decent for landing at Little Hartley, the air which was quite still for most of the trip erupted into the most severe turbulence I have ever encountered as I crossed over Hassons Walls Lookout, I thought to myself if it was going to be like this over the divide I would rather head back home. Landing at Charles Dalglesh's property at Hartley for a quick chat revealed two things, that the Hassons Walls Lookout area is always rough and probably not a good indication of the rest of the trip and a problem with the battery..... I needed a jump-start to get going again... I put this down to the fact I was running a landing light and a strobe for my trip from Mudgee maybe this had flattened the battery?
The departure from Hartley and the trip along the western escarpment to Katoomba is one of the most picturesque I have ever done, huge cliffs and menacing valleys.... I was leapfrogging golf courses and schools in case the always-reliable Rotax 618 ever gave up. Turning east at Katoomba it was a brilliant view down to the Sydney basin the Harbor Bridge and the CBD in the distance, even this early there were plenty of cars on the Great Western Highway and I thought I had the world to myself... maybe I spoke to soon.

Shortly after passing the Nepean it turned into tinnie pylon racing, it seemed every other aircraft in the area was out and flying in this fantastic weather all at 1500ft AGL and all heading aimlessly over the western suburbs, I descended to 1400ft just to make sure I didn't become windscreen fodder and tracked direct for Hoxton Park, the battery was still a concern as I noticed the radio was not transmitting very well, every time I pushed the PTT switch the LCD screen went blank.... not good for flying into controlled airspace but after thinking my options over I had Plan B ready for action.

What makes ultra light flying so adventurous?  The answer to this question would have to include all of the things that may go wrong on a seemingly well-planned journey.  Again a problem with the battery on the plane required a jump-start of X-Air-231 at Hoxton Park and we were off for the 15-minute flight to Bankstown.  The radio was still not functioning properly but I had my hand held Icom in the flight bag and I thought it would be OK to receive on my main radio set through the headsets and transmit on the handheld Icom while yelling above the cabin and engine noise.

'Bankstown Tower X-Air 231 accompanied by X-Air 123, Warwick Farm 1000 Inbound, Received Foxtrot, Request Airways Clearance'.   'X-Ray 231 expect short delay. Two A4 Jets conducting air work overhead the airfield.  Remain clear of controlled airspace.'  Was the reply. Apparently they had renamed the X-Air to X-Ray! A call to Paul Middleton of the AUF days earlier to tell him about our planned adventure to Bankstown had suggested a revised route into the airport and with consultation with Airservices I was allowed to lodge a flight plan along the best route of entry in event of an engine problem, we left Hoxton and followed some huge golf courses to Warwick farm and then the Georges River to the airport, It is also the same path as used by the helicopters to and from the training area.

After 40 minutes of circling in formation and watching the A4s do their stuff, we again tried to call for clearance.  Unfortunately there were now numerous other aircraft also in the area awaiting directions and they all had more powerful radios than ours, my guess was approx 20 aircraft out over Prospect Reservoir all got inbound clearance and then the next performance started at the airport. We finally broke through on the radio after the chatter abated and declared that after 40 minutes of circling we were getting low on fuel.  Miraculously, we were granted permission to land whilst the airshow was on and we were instructed to fly a 500-foot left hand circuit for a short landing on 29 left. I am really appreciative of the efforts the control tower put in for our arrival, they were not only handling about 20 aircraft at any one time they were also controlling the airshow performance and clearance, well done.

We landed and receiving taxi clearance to cross the two other runways we taxied over to the staging area where we were greeted and marshaled to our allotted showcase point.  A large crowd formed around the two aircraft as soon as we pushed them into the arena and within five minutes, a small child had stood on Phil's wheel spats and loosened them - nothing a pair of shifters wouldn't fix, the signs 'please don't touch' probably don't mean to much to a three year old who thinks the X-Air looks like something he rides on and climbs over at the local park.

We showed the aircraft for the next few hours and answered many an inquiry - there must be a few sales from that trip!  And then it was time to head off again.  Another jump-start for X-Air 231 and we were taxiing away for another formation take-off to the delight of the large crowd of onlookers, some who waited all afternoon for our departure, it's a great feeling to be in the run up bays with two twins in front of you, a Harvard and Strikemaster jet behind you and they let the Ultralights depart first!

Departure details were for a formation take off and climb to 1000 before departure to the west, I was giggling to hear the tower advise less than a minute after departure to leave the circuit and break for the west, with a 15 knot headwind on take- off we weren't even half the length of the runway to achieve that height and it was funny to see the aircraft which departed before us some 5 kms or more away and just passing through 1000 ft.

Just West of Warwick Farm the two X-Air's parted ways again - Phil heading south back to Goulburn while X-Air 231 braved the mountains and a huge headwind for the trip back to Mudgee.

Unfortunately Phil also hit quite a headwind for the trip home making good 45 knots over the ground with an indicated speed of 70 knots.  After 2˝ hours Phil was finally home in Goulburn- another wonderful flight in the X-Air. The trip over the divide was again eventful, with 65 to 70 knots on the dial the GPS was showing 28 knots over the ground for most of the trip and it only once jumped over 30 knots, I looked forward to turning the corner at Katoomba for a tailwind trip home to Mudgee. I again landed at Hartley and told Charles of our success at Bankstown and my personal satisfaction of conquering the divide, the engine started without hesitation on departure and this confirmed my suspicions of a loose wire in the wiring loom. Ground roll on departure was about 8 meters into the 15 plus knot headwind and I was soon tracking North West for Mudgee, the sun was heading towards the horizon and the weather abated into a typical country afternoon, beautiful still air and hands off flying for the rest of the trip. On landing at Mudgee I caught Phil on the phone to check he safely arrived home, we were both full of enthusiasm at our day's activities and eagerly planning our next trip away.

The following week we checked over the electrics and found that a bayonet fitting had pushed out of the main wiring plug and was only making contact every now and then, pushing it back in I made sure I heard the audible click of the fitting hitting home and with another 10 hours on the aircraft now I have not had an electrical problem since.