Chapter 4. Growing Wings.
Armed with a clear vision I took a deep breath and sent off proposals to various aircraft manufacturers and distributors, humbly requesting the use of one of their aeroplanes. Some replied very quickly, others never replied at all. In the end there were three contenders, but one seemed to perfectly fit the flight’s ‘mission statement’ of an affordable Australian-based venture. The Bundaberg-based Jabiru.
I had visited the Jabiru factory in Queensland some months before when I wrote a story on their J230D aircraft. Physically capable of carrying up to four people, it would be an ideal choice for the solo flight. With only me on board, an amazing amount of equipment could be uplifted while still filling the tanks to their filler caps. It would cruise at my desired two miles per minute and give me a range of close to 600 miles with ‘reserves’. Furthermore, the aeroplane was Australian-designed and built and had a purchase price about the same as a four-wheel drive motor vehicle.
Sue Woods is the daughter of the Jabiru founder, Rod Stiff, and was amongst the first to reply to my request for the provision of an aeroplane for ‘There and Back’. From day one the relationship with Jabiru seemed right. Their enthusiasm and vision was identical to mine. They obviously had a passion for aviation in this wide brown land and together we had the opportunity to spread the message to the greater public, not merely the niche of aviation enthusiasts.
The logo of ‘Jabiru Aircraft and Engines’.
I could hardly contain my excitement knowing that the last major component of the foundation had been established and now the job was to build upon this. With Jabiru’s commitment made public, very quickly other companies came on board; Hawker Pacific and David Clark, ‘Spidertracks’, Champagne PC Flight Planning, Australian Aviation and Global Aviator magazines. Through the supply of critical equipment and increasing media coverage, There and Back’s pulse became a pounding heart-beat.
As Rob Brus brought the new website to life, Hayley Dean from ‘Me Marketing’ began to liaise with media outlets. Radio stations, TV networks and newspapers were all interested in the fact that this was an all-Australian affair marking an Australian centenary. However, for the moment, the general response was “Fantastic!.....please contact us closer to the date”. I only hoped that there would be time “closer to the date”.
A Jabiru J230D off the coast of Bundaberg. (Photo: Jabiru)
I now had solid performance data on a real aeroplane to work with. I sat down with my charts to one side and the new computer flight-planning software to the other. I confess to being a Luddite in some ways and carefully drew my pencil lines with their 10 mile markers across forty maps. Once I had done this in long-hand, I then entered the flight route into the computer as a second line of defence. Fortunately, everything matched.
There were so many places on my ‘to-see’ list. Longreach, the home of QANTAS. Tindal, Australia’s northern fighter base. Darwin, where the pioneer aviators first touched down on their flights from England. My old stomping ground of Kununurra in the beautiful Kimberleys. The pioneer aviators’ graves at Murchison Station. Woomera and its space heritage. Point Cook, the spiritual home of the Royal Australian Air Force. Toowoomba, my family’s original hometown and my father’s final resting place. The list went on and on. 8,000 nautical miles and a continent full of wonder.
I continued to draw more circles and rub out lines as either fuel availability was an issue, or there was no accommodation left in town. In the end a circumnavigation of sorts was etched out, as much defined by history as geography. Unfortunately, there were people and places that would be bypassed, including my own sister in Cairns. Nevertheless, the route that emerged filled me with anticipation as I finally stepped back from the charts and looked at the miles that I was destined to fly. I couldn’t wait for the next six months to pass.
The Original Route of ‘There and Back’.
Of all the wonderful equipment provided by the sponsors of the flight, one particular piece took my interest. It was provided by Rob Brus in his role with a company called ‘Spidertracks’. This inconspicuous black box was not much larger than a television remote control and plugged into the aircraft’s “cigarette lighter” outlet. Sitting on the dashboard, this aerial used satellite technology to beam my position back to a nominated web-address, allowing people to track my flight on their computers. Even better, Rob had designed a ‘phone app’ for portable tracking.
A Spidertracks display as followers would see the flight on the internet.
Every six minutes my position, ground speed and altitude would be beamed across the internet. Additionally, in the case of an emergency, I could hit a button for more rapid updating of my whereabouts and an ‘alert’ would be sent immediately to nominated phone numbers. The Spidertracks system was a great device to have on board for both safety and connecting with the public. It also reminded me that although I was flying ‘solo’, I had the internet on the seat beside me. So don’t mess up!
As I busily went about my planning and emailing, the Jabiru team had decided to build a new J230 especially for the flight. It was exciting news and the thought of flying a brand new aeroplane around Australia gave the entire project a very shiny new edge. However, with Christmas looming, I wondered if there would be sufficient time to build and entire aircraft by the departure date in May. And not just build the aeroplane, but equip it and have it flown enough to ‘bed’ the engine in.
I needn’t have worried as an email arrived from Sue Woods showing the aircraft laid out on the factory floor. Like a massive Airfix model, the bare white components were arranged in an orderly manner, eagerly awaiting assembly. Over the coming weeks these pieces would morph into a sleek looking aircraft, resplendent in the markings of ‘There and Back’.
The Jabiru J230D. Ready to take shape.
For now the aircraft, like the entire project, was a maze of components needing to be put together in the right order. And just like the Jabiru, if it was to be completed in a timely fashion, more than one set of hands was needed. I was fortunate to have a team behind me attending to the details as I made the broad brushstrokes and focused on the flying. There was no doubt that this was a significant exercise in logistics, but the romance of the flight was never far away either. Furthermore, an unforeseen mystery and disappointment was lurking just around the corner.