PETE WELLS: We've just taken off from Karumba, and today's the day
we're on our way to the tip of Australia, Horn Island.
We'll be making a stop in Kowanyama,
and we're going to drop in and say a big g'day
to some of the kids from the local state school.
What I love about trips like this...
..is just how remote some of these towns are that you can fly into,
and we're just coming into Kowanyama now.
This is on the Gulf of Carpentaria side of the cape.
We're about 10 miles in from the coast.
-I think we're being treated...
..to a very warm welcome by the locals.
-Hello. What's your name?
You're Bradley. And you're...
PETE: Kowanyama is quite a remote Aboriginal community.
It means 'the place of many waters'.
During the wet season, which runs from October to May,
access is cut off or restricted by road
and can only be serviced by aircraft using an all-weather airstrip.
Aviation is such a vital part of this community.
Enthusiastic community, that is, if the kids are anything to go by.
We enjoyed sharing our journey and aviation experience with them,
and they enjoyed playing pilot for a little while.
PETE: Good! Good one. I like that.
OK, grab onto that and then swing up and put your right foot there.
You can pull them backwards and forwards as well.
Alright, that's it. The decision has been made.
Not by me, it's not my decision to make.
The pilot in command, Catherine, has just made the call.
We are not going to Horn Island.
Now, the reason for that is that the weather's going to come in.
I mean, we're in the tropics, you know. It's quite unpredictable.
And she's been telling me this the whole time too,
you know, that we've got to plan
for the next few days, not just for today.
And it's not always about the destination anyway,
it is about the journey.
Am I disappointed? Yeah, I am.
But Horn Island will still be there next time.
There's just too much risk with not being able to get out of Horn Island,
so flexibility is what it's all about.
Horn Island, next time.
What a fantastic bunch of kids they were.
I reckon there's some future pilots in that crowd.
So, Catherine, we're going to...Laura first,
en route to Cooktown, but are we going to get through?
CATHERINE: Well, we don't know.
The forecast is for intermittent periods of reduced visibility
and low cloud with precipitation associated with it.
We've added on into our fuel planning,
which is also part of the reason we're stopping at Laura.
We think from the weather forecast,
that the worst-case scenario, we'll just need to hold for a little while
before we can make our approach.
We've also looked at the map and found a low-terrain route in
via the Endeavour River.
CATHERINE: So I'm very confident we will get to Cooktown.
To be on the safe side, we'll stop at Laura,
take on fuel and reassess the situation.
Just because the weather in these parts, coastal,
can change very quickly.
I think that what is very important in these situations
is to make a decision early and make a decision
when you still have access to options,
whether that be more fuel, somewhere else to spend the night,
somewhere to turn back to or somewhere else to land.
Those are critical facts to consider.
We've just flown into this remote little town
called Laura on Cape York Peninsula,
and our refueller Harold has just told us
about one of the biggest hazards here at Laura, and it's this.
Have a look at this ant hill. Look how sharp this is.
You just imagine the tyre of the Cessna - oof! - just hitting that.
That could really cause some damage.
And have a look at this one over here.
(LAUGHS) This is how big these ant hills can grow overnight.
So one afternoon, nothing on the airstrip.
Come out the next morning to take off
and this is what you've got to contend with right on the airstrip.
Such are the hazards in Laura.
Laura is a small town 100 k's to the west of Cooktown
on the other side of the ranges.
Because of the high terrain that surrounds Cooktown,
it's often socked in.
So we made the decision to stop in Laura to reassess the weather
and take on more fuel just in case we had to go to plan B.
We rang well ahead of time to make sure they had fuel,
as Laura doesn't have a bowser - it's drum refuelling only.
And when it comes to drum refuelling,
there are some pretty strict guidelines to follow.
Drums must be stored on their side,
on rails, chocked,
with the bungs at the three
and nine o'clock positions.
The aircraft must be five metres from a sealed building
and nine metres from an unsealed building.
Inspect the drum for damage.
Make sure it's the right fuel and it's less than 12 months old.
Make sure the aircraft is grounded,
the master switch is off and there's no-one on board.
Before refuelling, guard against ignition
and have fire extinguishers on hand.
Catherine's checked the weather
and it looks like we are going to get to Cooktown this afternoon.
Now, Cooktown has been a real godsend,
a really good option to Horn Island.
At Cooktown here, you've got a sealed strip,
you've got good internet access as well.
So if you want to check the weather over the next few days, you can.
Phone reception is really good,
and of course we're very close to medical facilities here as well.
Cooktown is just one of those places that just sticks in the mind.
It's really rich in Australian history here.
Of course, this is where Captain Cook struck the reef
just off the coast here
and had to bring the crippled ship in to work on that,
and of course set up camp here for seven weeks.
Some amazing history here at Cooktown.
So, this now forms the eastern part of our trip,
the east coast of Australia.
We're going to head down now towards Cairns,
and on that final approach we'll be in the Western VFR Corridor.
It's just an exciting part of the trip.
The other thing I'm looking forward to today is a change in aircraft.
So I'm getting out of the Cessna 172 and into the Airvan with pilot Dan.
Now, Dan's already given me a safety briefing for this aeroplane,
so now it's time to fly.
Wow, this has got some juice compared to the Cessna.
(LAUGHS) Yeah. Got a little bit of up and go.
The GA8 Airvan is a great workhorse.
It was developed to fill a market niche perceived by the manufacturer
between the Cessna 206 and the Cessna 208 model.
The Airvan's used for a variety of roles, such as passenger services,
freight, sightseeing, parachuting and search-and-rescue operations.
It's been perfect for this outback trip,
purely because of the amount of gear
you can fit in the back of this aeroplane.
This is a special day flying over the Daintree Rainforest,
the only location on planet Earth
where two World Heritage listed sites are located side by side -
the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.
Oh, this is special.
Brisbane Centre. Echo Hotel Sierra request.
CONTROLLER OVER RADIO: Yeah, go ahead, Echo Hotel Sierra.
Brisbane Centre, Echo Hotel Sierra
is 1-1 miles to the north-west of Dain.
Currently maintaining an amended 2,500.
If possible, can I please request a flight following service?
CONTROLLER: Echo Hotel Sierra, squawk ident.
Squawking ident, Echo Hotel Sierra.
PETE: Dan was a bit unfamiliar with the area,
so he decided to use a service called flight following.
It's a VFR service and is provided by Airservices.
We speak to Greg Hood,
who provides some further explanation around flight following.
This is an on-request service
and it's dependent upon workload of the air traffic controller,
but I've never been knocked back.
And it allows me to call up air traffic control,
they identify me and they provide me with a service
that's commensurate with the IFR services that we deliver.
And that'll give me traffic information,
it'll give me hazard alerting for weather information,
and it'll allow me to stay in regular contact with air traffic control
as I fly through surveillance airspace,
and I think it's an excellent service and I would encourage you to use it.
In talking to a number of VFR pilots,
they tell me that they're reluctant to talk to air traffic control
because air traffic control sound busy.
But let me tell you that we are delighted at any time
to provide assistance or traffic or other information to any VFR pilot.
Obviously, it's busy, we'll say, "Stand by."
But, please, feel free to get on the radio
and call up air traffic control,
particularly if you're feeling apprehensive about anything,
and share that information, and we can help you out.
CONTROLLER: Yep, that's you. Got your... Just identified.
Just eastern side of the coastline to the north of Port Douglas.
No reported traffic in that area. QNH 1017.
QNH 1017. Echo Hotel Sierra. Thank you.
PETE: Very accommodating.
DAN: So now he's just advised us we can contact Cairns Approach.
He'll let them know of our position
and they'll guide us in for a landing.
-Glad you asked.
PETE: Dan also made good use of the CASA OnTrack program
before flying today.
It's a great reference when planning your flight,
especially if you're unfamiliar.
(INDISTINCT RADIO CHATTER)
Alan Faggotter is the head of ATC at Cairns Tower.
We had a chat to Alan about flying in
and around Cairns controlled airspace.
So any pilot flying into Cairns, what can they do to make your job easier?
Get out your books, get out your maps,
have a look at the frequencies, have a look at the ERSA.
Check out your NOTAMs, make sure you're up to date,
and check your weather forecasts.
You must get some pretty unpredictable weather around here.
ALAN: We do indeed. We have our two seasons up in the north.
We have the dry season and the wet season.
During the wet season, the cloud does get down low
and the visibility reduces to
anywhere from, you know, 2,000-3,000m.
It can be sunny up in Mareeba. They get 300 days of sunshine a year.
Whereas we don't get that, so if you take off from Mareeba,
always give us a call because it might be raining here and socked in
and you're not going to get in as a general aviation pilot.
Are there limitations with you guys reading planes here?
Like, out at Stony Creek, are you reading transponders?
Definitely. Our radar, limited coverage.
It's all line of sight,
so the terrain plays a big part here in Cairns.
And if you're coming up the Western VFR Corridor, say,
anything between Earlville and to Stony Creek
and you're 1,500 or below, we're not going to see you on the radar.
So we're relying on you and your knowledge and your skill
to keep yourself in the Western VFR Corridor.
And on that Western VFR Corridor, is there a part
where it's pinched a little bit, that space,
because the topography's a little bit higher, low cloud?
Definitely. Especially up near Palm Cove there.
The cloud sits on the deck up there, on the top of the mountains,
and the Western VFR Corridor does hug the terrain,
and if you need lower
or you need to get out of there because of the cloud,
wind turbulence, anything like that, ask us,
and we'll do the best that we can to get you out of there safely.
Usually you're in there for a reason and that's to keep you separated
from aircraft jets that are coming into Cairns.
What about flight following? Do you get many requests?
ALAN: At Cairns, plus the airspace, we provide a full service,
so the flight following is part of that.
We get you identified, labelled up on radar,
and then we get you into Cairns or transit through, as may be required,
and then landing safely at Cairns.