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Reasons why pilots fly

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Occasionally in the past I’ve tried to describe the sense of magic, freedom and exhilaration that comes with flying aeroplanes. Each time my vocabulary has disappointingly lacked appropriate superlatives. Now I’ve discovered a 4-minute video which does the job much better.

It is a pilot’s eye view of the final approach into Queenstown, New Zealand. Beginning with breathtaking views of solid gold mountain tops before descending through a blanket of cloud. We are then treated to aviation’s most astonishing conjuring trick; making an airport runway appear out of nowhere.

Instrument Landing Systems must surely be high on the list of mankind’s greatest technological achievements.

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PS….It does however worry me slightly that the aircraft still seems to be traveling rather fast when the video cuts out at the far end of the runway.

 

http://www.chonday.com/Videos/pilotnewzdalnd1

A flight back in time. (Part 2 of 2)

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Part One is here.

So we’ve already established that GOF did something strange and irresponsible back in 1983 by moving his young family to an isolated, abandoned and waterlogged paddock in the middle of the tropical rainforest.
No services.  No close neighbours.  Access to the nearest road via six kilometres of disused logging track which was trafficable only by tractor during the worst of the wet season.  A place which would guarantee permanent financial uncertainty, but also offer the greatest challenges and rewards of a lifetime.

Mrs GOF must be one of the most tolerant women on the planet.  (Quite apart from the most obvious cross she’s had to bear for 34 years.) Together we have dug house foundation trenches with picks and shovels, built the house and numerous sheds, installed tanks, irrigation and water supply systems, grown food crops, constructed plant nurseries (then rebuilt them each time they were blown away in cyclones)  and re-forested the farm…..mostly just the two of us with some help from Inga’s child labour.
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In December 2013 we decided to overfly our little piece of paradise so Mrs GOF could take some aerial photographs.

Today these pictures remind me of our long journey and I feel some pride that we have made a living from our land when many people said it could not be done, but more importantly that we will leave most of it in better condition than when we arrived.  In return, the spirits of this country have always looked after the three of us.

The photographs also prompt me to remember all the sweat and swearing and occasional blood and tears which went into this place, but I still can’t help wondering whether we’ve done the right thing by the planet…..we’ve brought an awful lot of crap onto this land which previously had none.

And so my friends, this is how GOF’s Paradise evolved;

GP1

 

GP2

 

GP3

 

gofs place 6     …………………….                                  Click to enlarge.

A flight back in time. (Part 1 of 2)

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Given that I’ve been contentedly living my modest dream for the last 30 years, it is highly unlikely that I could ever be bothered compiling a Bucket List which might provide me with one or more of the following enrichments;

1. Being carjacked and mugged in Nairobi.
2. Accidentally discovering a ladyboy in Thailand.
3. Having my cranium dunked underwater whilst dangling upside down on the end of a bungee rope.
4. Experiencing little cannibal fish swimming up my penis or worms eating me from the inside out in the Amazon.
5. Learning Russian in order to completely satisfy the urgent needs of Hot Olga who keeps reappearing in my email spam folder no matter how many times I delete her.

No, when I’m ready to kick the bucket none of these things would bring the slightest smile to my pallid wizened face. 

Just one thing has been on my wish list for several years.
I wanted to fly a light aircraft one more time.

In 1983 I relinquished a perfectly good flying job along with my pilots licence, a company-supplied house and car and many other perks of civilisation including electricity and a flushing toilet.    Then I dragged Mrs GOF, the Infant Inga and a 10 foot caravan onto an abandoned 46 acre horse paddock in the middle of nowhere at the beginning of the tropical monsoon season.  All of this just to follow my lifetime dream of living sustainably from the land.

I never flew again.

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As the years went by, doing some circuits at the local aerodrome with a flight instructor always seemed to be nothing but a fanciful dream and a complete waste of our precious money.  Truth be told I seriously doubted whether I still had the courage or sufficient residual skills after 30 years to do it.
I no longer have the unbridled self-confidence of a thirty year old, but every time a little Cessna flew over our farm I felt nostalgic yearnings to relive the magic of flight and the unique sense of freedom and detachment from mundane events on earth which pilots feel.

Recent events in my life convinced me it was now time to cough up the cash, confront my fears and just DO IT.

Doing ‘circuits’ (touch and go’s) with an instructor is a demanding and stressful business which requires precise flying technique and intense concentration.

basic_circuit_profile

Pre-flight, the instructor sat me down for a half hour lecture in the classroom.  By the end of this time my head felt like exploding with all the instructions and numbers relating to altitudes, engine settings, flap extension, climb-out, approach and landing configurations. I very nearly aborted the entire exercise to go back into town with Mrs GOF for a quiet cup of tea instead.

Having come this far, I reluctantly, nervously and perfunctorily carried out the pre-flight inspection of the aircraft before buckling myself into the drivers seat.  Instructor next to me.  Mrs GOF in the back.

IMG_7982

IMG_8002

Then something quite magical and unexpected happened.

Suddenly it was 1977 all over again.  It was wonderful and exhilarating and no-one got killed and the aircraft came back in one piece, even though the first landing seriously tested the strength of Mr Cessna’s tricycle undercarriage.

IMG_8001

IMG_8004

Yep……in exchange for all my memories of flying I’ll give you my broadest jaundiced and toothless deathbed grin.

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With P2-WKD at Mindik airstrip, Papua New Guinea, 1977

With P2-WKD at Mindik airstrip, Papua New Guinea, 1977

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Mrs GOF’s video of recent events is here.

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Lae – Horn Island – Brisbane 1978

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P2-WKD at Pindiu ….with my apologies for having scanned transparency as a mirror image.

In 1978 our nineteen year old Cessna 182 had to be ferried from PNG to Brisbane for it’s mandatory major overhaul, a procedure which required 2 weeks of dismantling, primping and pampering in Mr Curley’s Archerfield airport workshop.

Even before I got hold of her and treated her like a farm truck, P2-WKD had won no beauty pageants.  In 1978 the  exterior  looked like a mongrel dog who’d been in one too many junkyard scraps.

One sniff inside the cabin was enough to remind you of what cargo this aircraft had carried in recent times;  jute bags full of cabbages and coconuts jammed in from floor to ceiling, pigs, chooks, cows (alive and dead), fish (alive and dead), kerosene, engineering parts for waterwheels and micro-hydro electricity installations, one deceased person, and a live tribal warrior with an axe half-buried in his skull.

The flight time to Brisbane was 16 hours with 8 refuelling stops along the way as a precaution against strong headwinds, and an overnight break in Cairns.  It was a memorable trip for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, my friend and co-pilot Robert was at the time undergoing training for his Instrument Flight Rating, so despite my frequent protestations involving selections from GOF’s Dictionary of Bad Language, he still insisted on diverting to and through the middle of every little bit of cloud he could find along the way just to get some extra practise and hours to enter into his pilot’s logbook.

Not being a born aviator, my idea of safe flying (i.e. keeping the wings level and the wheels permanently pointing towards the ground, a position in which they tend to be most useful) involved two primary instruments.
My left eye and my right eye.

Robert wanted to put his faith in the ancient little cluster of steam gauges in front of him, and the Lear direction-finding radio, a relic from World War 2 which I knew could be as reliable as a blind alcoholic butcher performing cut-price circumcisions.

Rob must have known what he was doing, for we arrived safely and he eventually ended up flying jets around the world, whilst I discovered my true destiny and contentment back on terra firma growing tropical vegetables and decorative garden plants.

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The most memorable part of this journey was the Customs and Immigration procedure at Horn Island which is Australia’s most northerly entry point for light aircraft.

All International air travelers arriving at major airports in Australia during the 1960’s and 70’s will undoubtedly remember that before disembarking they had to wait in their seats until they, and the cabin, had been thoroughly fumigated by a uniformed man discharging numerous aerosol cans of insecticide.

Prior to departing PNG, Robert and I had been advised by other more experienced pilots;
When you arrive at Horn Island, whatever you do, DON’T OPEN THE WINDOW of the plane before the Customs/Quarantine Officer gives you permission to do so.
Flight Service in Weipa will have advised him of your estimated arrival time at Horn Island, so he’ll be waiting for you.”

Right. No opening windows. We understand Australia is serious about not allowing malaria-carrying mosquitoes past it’s borders.

Arrival at Horn Island. Midday, Day 1

At around 10 degrees south of the equator, Horn Island is seriously hot and humid at the end of summer. We taxied to the parking bay, stopped the engine and waited.

And waited.

There was only one other aircraft, a Britten Norman Trislander, parked on the other side of the airfield.

No movement anywhere.

No sign of life in the ‘Terminal/Customs Office” which was about the same size as Beyonce’s walk-in wardrobe.

We waited,……… and we broiled and felt nauseous from the sickly rotting sauerkrauty smell coming from beneath the seats.

We were just discussing how long it might take to run out of oxygen when a nondescript gentleman arrived at the airport in an old car and a cloud of dust.  He wandered nonchalently out towards us. He was wearing daggy shorts, thongs (the footwear variety) and a tee-shirt which thankfully supported a “Customs and Immigration” badge.

He tapped on the window and said “What the hell are you two silly buggers doing inside there with the windows shut…..y’know it’s bloody hot out here today.”

We presented passports, signed a few pieces of paper, refuelled, then headed off into the southerly gale towards Iron Range.

To this day I do not know if we had been ‘set up’ by pilot pranksters, or if there was indeed a pile of skeletons with single bullet holes in their heads buried in a nearby mass grave…….the only remains of pilots who had dared to open their windows prematurely.

Border security today is much tighter in an effort to combat the smuggling of people, weapons and drugs between PNG and Australia.

We have sadly lost much of our innocence and relaxed attitude towards life during the last 34 years.

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(Other stories about flying in Papua New Guinea may be found by clicking the  ‘aviation’  tag  near the bottom of the sidebar on this page.)

More complaints

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Primrose Cottage,
13 Gladioli Crescent,
Bristol.  U.K.
20th April 2012

Dear Mr GOF,

I find you to be a very common and tedious little man. Your gift to literature is comparable to The Duchess of York’s contribution to good taste and the dignity of our beloved British Royal Family.
I suppose some fragments of your blog may be considered mildly amusing by a minority of lower-class descendant-of-convict Antipodean readers despite my judgment that you are unrefined, coarse and extremely vulgar. What I find especially irksome is the frequency with which you choose to resolve contemporary problems by resorting to primitive instincts and the use of explosive devices.

Disappointedly yours,

Lady Penelope Mountshaft.

.

.

Primrose Cottage.....30th April 2012

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On a much brighter note, one valued, observant, perceptive, intelligent, beautiful and impeccably well-bred close relative wrote regarding my ‘illustrations’;

(Editors note;  Another puff of air into GOF’s balloon of hope to eventually be placed into a humanely managed old folks home.)

“GOF, some of your helicopters lack landing gear”

Thank you Inga for bringing this omission to my attention.
In future, to comply with Aviation Authority operational requirements, all my helicopters will have landing gear…..of one sort or another.

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P.S.  No Lady Mountshafts, innocent bystanders, dogs, cats, sqwerls or sloths were hurt in the preparation of this story.

Siwea airstrip, Papua New Guinea

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This story is to jog the memory of all the old PNG pilots who will never forget Siwea.

It is also for all the arriving passengers who, during the final landing approach (when most of the airfield disappeared from view because of a steep uphill landing threshhold) were terrified and thought they were going to die.
Departing passengers too, whilst falling over the edge and dropping down into the Tewae gorge to gain flying speed with the Cessna stall-warning horn blaring, were also tricked into thinking that the future looked rather bleak.

To my knowledge the only person who ever did die in an aviation-related accident at Siwea was a pedestrian who was struck by the propeller of a landing aircraft.

The Siwea ‘strip was constructed circa 1970 by villagers using shovels to dig back into the mountain. It was 1500 feet in length at almost 6000 feet altitude which severely limited the performance of most light aircraft. The ‘runway’ surface was nominally grass but often just mud, and the airstrip provided an outlet for smallholder-grown arabica coffee, strawberries, onions and other fruit and vegetables.

Siwea was, in 2011, no longer an operational airfield.

(Photographs taken by Mrs GOF, 2011)

Siwea airstrip, view from the landing threshhold.

Siwea airstrip, view during landing roll.

Siwea airstrip showing total length in takeoff direction.

Siwea airstrip showing direction of takeoff and the typical weather conditions which made in unusable after 10 am on most days.

Please forgive this self-indulgence

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Holy cow!  Some memories just never fade.

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Apart from walking for a full day from the nearest roadhead, there  was only one way to arrive at Pindiu, Papua New Guinea, in 1972.

That was by light aircraft, a 25 minute flight from the old, now abandoned, Lae city airport.
The direct fine-weather track was via the 7000′ Landslide Gap in the Rawlinson Range. In poor weather it was safer to follow the coastline then head inland for the final 15 miles following the Mongi River.
This is the sector when most of the aeronautical fun began.

The interior of the Huon Peninsula is deeply dissected by a maze of valleys heading in all directions, and mountains up to 13,000′ high. Pindiu, at 3000′ elevation, could be extraordinarily difficult to find by visual navigation in deteriorating weather conditions.

Thanks to someone elses recent flying experience and camera work (below) I am now able to relive the final approach to the airstrip which is so indelibly etched into my memory. On more than one occasion the sudden appearance of this tiny strip of dirt through a hole in the clouds was the most beautiful sight I could have wished for.

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When enthusiastic young GOF was delivered by a Macair single-engined Pilatus Porter aircraft exactly 40 years ago onto Pindiu soil he had no idea that he would fall in love with the place and it’s people and spend most of the following 8 years living and working there.

He also had no inkling that three years later he would learn to fly and, according to his Log Book, eventually go on to repeat that landing approach himself more than one thousand times as he came back home after working in nearby villages which had even shorter and more interesting landing strips.

As I watch this clip today I get goosebumps. Serious goosebumps.

I see my old home, the highset house 50 metres off to the left, halfway up the ‘strip. I hear the various sounds of flight and my heart beats faster. My palms begin to feel a little sweaty. I still have an urge to make final-approach landing checks whilst peering through the windscreen trying to get a fix on the exact location of the ‘strip through all the murk. I get butterflies in my stomach knowing that on short-final approach it is too late to abort the landing on this one-way uphill strip.

But most of all, as the aircraft rolls up the hill and turns into the parking bay, I am left with the warm feeling that I have just come back home again.

Pindiu got into my heart in 1972 ………..and never left.

Dammit!  Do you have a box of tissues handy? If I watch this one more time I might just need one.

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Edit December 2012…..due to internet gremlins please copy and paste the following URL…….landing approach to Pindiu airstrip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBn4OYUJbpU&list=PLDD7563CA053A8759&index=6