Latrobe Valley Ferry Flight, June Long Weekend 2023.

This trip is not really related to Sonex’s, however I did see one and have a quick chat with Michael over a snag and a coffee at the Latrobe Valley Aero Club.

Our mission by the Southern Chapter of the Adelaide Soaring Club (where the cool kids hang out at the 13/31 runway end of hangars) this weekend was to bring back Anthony Lock and Danial Maik’s new second hand Jabiru 170 that they had purchased recently. Originally the plan was for Bradley Leksas and myself to fly over in his Jabiru SK and then return with the J170. As both of us are on the ‘generous’ size it is a real squeeze in my Sonex hence using his Jab SK for the trip over. This would have given us ample time to argue over who got to fly the new aircraft back.

The aircraft in question is a very interesting combination, one of a very small number in Australia. It is a factory assist kit built J170 that was fitted with a six cylinder engine at the factory. It’s fitted with a Camit now but with a 3 blade carbon ground adjustable prop. It currently is a little under pitched, but man does it accelerate! It is the only Jabiru powered thing that I’ve flown in that actually pushes you back in the seat when you open the throttle. I’ve only flown it heavy so far with two fatso’s on board, it must really be sprightly when flown solo.

Naturally Plan ‘A’ failed! The aircraft’s annual expired a couple of weeks ago which meant that it had to have an annual done by someone before it could be flown. RAAus was very firm on the idea that it could be flown back here and then the Annual completed….don’t even think about it! So Plan ‘B’ was put into effect. Anthony and maybe Danial as well would drive over there, do the annual over a day or two and then I would fly it back. As you can imagine, Plan ‘B’ failed as Anthony got Covid last week and you can imagine the windows of opportunity for when the weather behaves itself in both South Australia and Victoria at the same time during June are very rare. So Plan ‘C’ was activated. Bradley, his girlfriend Kayla who most of you know, her sister Brooklyn and myself acting as chaperone would drive over, the girls would drive back and us two would fly back. Please understand that this is work, we were not enjoying this at all! Don’t tell Anthony we rigged his RAT test so that we could weazel him out of flying his own aircraft!

As you can imagine, Bradley and I are two knights in shining armour who do not do this sort of exercise whilst thinking only of ourselves. While we were doing the annual on the aircraft on Saturday, Kayla and Brooklyn traveled into Melbourne to hit the discount outlet stores. Naturally, real men like ourselves wouldn’t be caught dead in a location such as this and elected to sort the plane out for the trip home. The friendly people at Latrobe Valley invited us to their Saturday BBQ as they knew we were missing out on going shopping.

The girls dropped us off at the airfield around 6.30am. The sun was just rising, the temperature was not, and both of us had not had time to complete our morning ablutions… you think that we could find a loo at Latrobe Valley Airport that we could access?? NO! Luckily, there is a caravan park down the road which involved a brisk walk for about a kilometre to find salvation. We both walked back, two relieved people with a spring in our step. Bradley’s watch even told Kayla while she was driving that Bradley had done some exercise that morning.

Bradley and myself waiting for the Sun and the temperature to rise at dawn on Sunday morning. You might think that we look a little generous to fit in a little Jabiru, but honestly the camera adds at least 10 kilograms each. This is Jabiru J170A 19-7604 in it’s glory at 7.30am Sunday morning. You can’t see it, but I swear that it was snowing. It was only about 8 degrees at the time. The countryside around this area is stunning.

We eventually lifted off the ground at around 8.00am. The countryside along the Latrobe Valley is beautiful. Apparently the Victorians have this thing called ‘rain’, it has the effect of turning the whole world green. Us South Australians don’t see much of the stuff. We took this soon after lifting off from the Latrobe Valley runway, luckily the cabin heater worked a treat as the ground temperature was only 8 degrees first.

Our flight plan was to fly due west to the edge of Port Phillip Bay at Carum, turn north and then follow the VFR route that follows the edge of Port Phillip Bay, straight past the CBD and Port Melbourne, exiting over the BOM tower near Point Cook. The weather was dicey over the hills directly west of this position, low cloud and fog. At this point we turned South West and headed just outside of the Avalon airspace near Lethbridge and headed to the coast towards Colac. Now opportunities like this don’t happen very often, we had completed one of my bucket list items, now for another one. We flew down to the coast with the rising ground of the Otway Ranges immediately off to our left. Following the ERSA rules for this area, we flew at 1000 ft ocean side of the cliffs and flew along the 12 Apostles through to Peterborough where we climbed up to 2500 ft to continue on past Warnambool and onto Portland for a pitstop. If you are interested, read up on the rules for these areas. There were only a couple of other aircraft around, with each other following the rules to maintain separation, it is a stunning area to fly along.

Portland airport is about 10kms out of town, luckily we had planned ahead and purchased sandwiches and fruitboxes to keep us going. They have AVGAS requiring just Visa or MasterCard to work and it was just under $3.00 a litre which wasn’t too scary. As we were fluffing around, a bloke yelled out to us from the fence asking us if we wanted a coffee? Is the Pope Catholic? Our 10 minute stop took 45 mins with a couple of members from the local club making us welcome, talk about airplanes and make us a coffee. I recommend calling in there if you are passing through.

I grudgingly swapped seats with Bradly to let him fly the next sector home. Our ground speed was even worse now as we headed in a North Westerly direction towards Penola and Lyndoch. Do you know that it is a dead straight line from Portland to Lyndoch over Murray Bridge just avoiding the CTA and the restricted airspace around Tailem Bend? But we battled our way against a 20-30 knot headwind. Most of the time our ground speed was 75-80 knots and it was still bloody cold outside. We had experienced carby ice about 15 minutes after setting of from Latrobe Valley first thing in the morning. I had left the heat on for most of the morning’s sector due to the extreme cold and humidity.

Our slow ground speed did make for an interesting competition…the girl’s left us around 6.30am or so in the morning. Kayla was on a mission! We thought that we would catch them around Packenham, then it turned into waving at them on the Westgate bridge, then it turned into passing them when they went through Arrarat. Coffee and talking too much held us back at Portland…so maybe we will see them at Keith? Well you know how much faster it is to fly? We eventually overtook them when passing overhead Tailem Bend. We were still talking at Gawler when Kayla and Brooklyn rolled up to the airport to take Bradley home. They had travelled in a fairly straight line from Traralgon, whereas we had zig zagged our way all over the country side, but overall had spent most of the day travelling. We did have fun though!

This is what we missed out on at 8.00am on a Sunday morning no less. She was not happy!

Total stats for the trip, flying distance 533 nm which is 986 km, with a hobbs time of 6.8 hours. Total driving distance is 905 km. No, I can’t figure it out either. But the important thing is that flying is quicker just don’t let anyone with an ounce of common sense analyse the data too closely. It was so bad that I want to do it all over again, I know that in a hired aircraft on your own it is a big deal. However, if you can share the load it does make it easier both financially and especially coping with the radio frequencies as you navigate your way through enemy territory. In my Sonex I’d need a couple of more fuel stops, maybe Naracoorte and Lethbridge as I just don’t have the range to make it.

Thanks Anthony and Danial, we’ll let you come next time!