The original QANTAS hangar.
Day One. Emerald to Longreach.
Nine decades in two hours, give or take. That is the equation.
Emerald falls away behind me as the Jabiru and I set course to the north-west over yet more expansive plains. There is a green tinge to the earth below that provides sound evidence of the rains that have fallen in recent months after years of drought. Even now, a few towering Cumulus clouds water random paddocks and I nudge to the left and right to remain clear of these downpours. Little havens like Alpha and Jericho pass by beneath the nose of the aircraft as the miles to Longreach and the first day’s flying counts down.
The Jabiru hums along as I tick off waypoints on my chart and flight plan. It is only the first day, but already I am making better time and using less fuel than I had planned. Preparing for the worst and being pleasantly surprised is always a sound philosophy in aviation. Glancing at my panel-mounted GPS and its
Even below me, the roads are a far cry from the muddy tracks that the pioneers traversed. It was along these muddy lines in the scrub that two of the founders of QANTAS had driven a Model T-Ford in 1919 to survey the route for an air race. At the end of the arduous
The QANTAS Model T Ford. (Photo: State Library of Queensland)
Their first aircraft had been an open cockpit biplane from World War One, an Avro 504K. Now my Jabiru is
Back in the present, Barcaldine passes by right on time and I have another thirty minutes until I arrive at Longreach. I run through my checks and ready my cockpit for the end of the first day. Reaching back, I adjust the camera to film the landing out of the passenger’s side window in an attempt to change the angles from time to time. Now I just have to remember to turn it on.
Roads converge from the left and right and then Longreach looms through the spinning disc of the Jabiru’s propeller. I pitch the aircraft slightly nose-down and begin the descent to the airport which sits a few miles from the town. Even at a
As I sweep overhead I see that the 747 is flanked by a DC-3 and a Boeing 707. Three of the all-time great aircraft of civil aviation have gathered together once more in a space about the size of a football field. I shelve the pleasant distraction until I land and focus on flying the
The Longreach Fleet. (Photo: QANTAS Founders Museum)
I roll out to the far end of the runway and taxi to the apron where a Dash-8 airliner is parked awaiting its passengers. I transmit my arrival to ‘Brisbane Radio’ and reverently pass the giant QANTAS airliners of yesteryear who form the most impressive welcoming committee I could ask for. Bringing the aircraft to a halt, I park the brakes, confirm all of my engine indications are normal, check the magnetos and then shut the engine down. The Jabiru’s propeller comes to a halt and my first sector of flying solo around Australia is over, but the day is still far from done. Across the way sits the QANTAS Founders Museum and while time is short, I must at least make a flying pass through its hallowed halls.
The QANTAS Founders Museum.
The sun is getting lower as I refuel and tie down the Jabiru in what is to become a daily ritual. Safe and secure, I remove my ‘nav bag’, overnight gear, camera equipment, laptop computer,
I enter the QANTAS Founders Museum to find mementos from every era of the QANTAS story. The history of those first pioneers is outlined, recounting their war service in Palestine and how the great airline ever came to be. Posters and plates from another bygone era relate to when air travel was more akin to a cruise-liner with extended layovers in exotic ports of call. Uniforms, engines, film and photographs, it is all here. And that’s not forgetting the fleet of
It seems incongruous that such a modern museum is located relatively remotely, but then again, it makes perfect sense. For these are the lands that QANTAS first sought to cross and these are the communities that they first sought to serve. And while the very first home base was Winton, it was only a matter of months before Longreach became the thriving headquarters for the fledgling airline and even the site where they built their own
After a little more pondering I hitch a ride with the owner of the Jumbuck Motor Inn where I am to spend the night. I am more than a little exhausted by the time I make it to my room and unpack to sit down and write my blog for the newspaper, website and all of the media following the flight. I type away and download images before sending off the long line of emails and phone calls from radio stations. My head is spinning as I write the dot points of the day in my diary and ready my gear for the next day. Then there is one last review of tomorrow’s flight plan and the weather forecast; it looks good. All done!
Finally, I begin to settle. The music outside has almost reduced to a hypnotic bass beat, drumming me to sleep as my breathing slows to the rhythm. And then the beat changes, half-stirring me from my slumber as it is a song I knew from many, many years before. As a mere boy, the 7-inch black disc with its blue and white paper
Snoopy Versus The Red Baron.
It is four decades since I have heard Dad’s song and here I am on the flight we promised to complete together. Perhaps he has decided to make this journey with me after all. In my mind I can see him standing there, my smile widens and I fall to sleep.