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The Tasman crossing

Now that we’ve had a couple of nights’ sleep after a fairly full on rush from Perth we can divulge a bit more about the flight from Lord Howe.

Peter, the local aviation historian and Rachael, Border Force, bio security and several other roles, met us early with good advice on getting away in one piece. The airfield and approaches are very turbulent at times and our small aircraft felt very insignificant against the huge cliffs. The departure went well and Lord Howe slipped behind us as we slowly climbed to 10 000 feet. 

Every half hour we swapped over fling the aircraft and every 100 miles calculated fuel and time to Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island Cape Reinga and Auckland. At first we had a headwind, then a steady tailwind built, just as forecast (thank you JOMOC and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology). We saw just 2 ships on the whole journey. We were out of radio range for most of the trip, so we relayed messages through airliners, Velocity 110 and Cathay 189; thank you both. 

Eventually we could see the surfline and the welcome hills of NZ. Another hour south and we were over Auckland. Landing at Auckland International in 30 kts of wind was hard work, but thanks to the team at Sky Care we soon had the aircraft tied down on their front lawn. Thank you all. 

1035 miles, 8 hours, 45 litres of fuel remaining, happy team, made it!

 

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The official arrival of GB-NZ

Thank you to RNZAF Base Auckland for giving us such a spectacular welcome to NZ . The news crew have complied a wonderful compilation of the events that proceeded including the fire-engine water arch and the Haka! Once again, thank you to all involved for it was a truly memorable event.

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/12/kiwi-pilots-complete-epic-trip-from-uk-to-new-zealand-in-two-seater-plane.html

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GB-NZ has made it to NZ!

The RAF 100 GB-NZ expedition has arrived in NZ! We departed from beautiful Lord Howe Island this morning; more will follow on the spectacular hospitality we received there. After 7 hours over water, seeing no other soul except two freight ships, we were grateful to spot the sandy shores of the North Island! Now for a week of meeting people and exploring NZ…

 

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Preparations for the Tasman crossing

Over the past week we have rapidly covered as much of Australia as possible, and as much as the weather would allow! We have met some lovely and helpful people, who will all be mentioned when we cover our journey in more detail..

Having carefully watched the weather, we have identified a two-day period suitable for a crossing to New Zealand. Unlike our original plan, this involves a stop-off at the remote Australian island of Lord Howe. 

Today we travelled down south from Cairns, battling through the smoke and reduced visibility produced by the bush fires, and finally arrived in Caloundra. There, Tony from AMS services gave the Rotax engine a thorough service and didn’t leave an inch unchecked, giving us the piece of mind to make the crossing to Lord Howe tomorrow.

Keep upto date on the tracker over the next couple of days (gb-nz.com/tracker) … and fingers crossed for the weather!

 

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RAFC flying club

A big thank you to James, Travis, Tom and Henry from RAFC at Amberley. Not only did they help us refuel and hangar the Eurofox, but we got an escort north as we set off for Airlie Beach, and some good pictures too! Thank you all for your support and we hope to see you again.

 

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Western Australia

We’re off again. 3 rapid hops, Perth, Esperance, Forrest then Broken Hill. We’ll cover the hop to Esperance later. From Esperance, we flew along the beautiful beaches of the Cape Arid National Park, then across the red, arid desert to Forrest.

The airfield is run by Lee and Ilsa. Their welcome and hospitality was amazing. Quickly refuelled, we tucked the aircraft in the hangar, built in 1929 to help service the aircraft connecting east and west Australia. The airfield itself was sealed and used by RAAF and USAAF aircraft during the Second World War. Now it is a critical staging post for RAAF and civilian aircraft flying east west or deeper into the outback to the north. The airfield is supplied by train once a week and has several aircraft drop in each day.

Our accommodation was the old school house, converted into a lovely 3 bed house with history. Lee and Ilsa took us to see a majestic eagle’s nest, hosted a great dinner and chatted over beer about travel and adventure. We were joined by Graham and David, flying a much faster Cirrus in the opposite direction. A meeting of travellers.

In the morning we followed the 297 mile long straight railway track to the east, passing several sand airfields used to get people in to mend track and repair broken locomotives and wagons…driving somewhere takes forever out here. The scale of the country and the challenges faced by the pioneer explorers and aviators really became apparent to us. The salt lakes could have been an arctic tundra vista from our height; what a country.

Arrival at the historic mining town of Broken Hill was hard. The sun was setting directly down the into wind runway making it virtually impossible to judge height, so we changed to the sand cross runway. Despite teaching people to land aircraft many times and emphasising that you must look out the front into the distance, not look down…I looked down to check the surface was ok and promptly arrived, firmly, bounced then landed again. Oh well, any landing you can walk away from is a good one! 

Tomorrow, to Narromine.

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How do you choose a little aircraft to build…

Well, it obviously needs to be strong, reliable and good to fly, but possibly more important is whether you can be sure you’ll receive the support you need during the build and flight. We visited several manufacturers, but one really stood out, Eurofox.

I was nervous about the build; time, skills, technical challenges. With the Eurofox you go out to Slovakia and get taught to cover the aircraft, learning the skills required under close supervision as you complete your own pride and joy. The factory then paints it and sends the kit to the UK. I then built the rest of the aircraft in the Eurofox UK factory; all the tools are to hand, expertise is available when you get stuck and the camaraderie, banter and encouragement from Steve and Luke helps gets the job done. The first flight, on a still, May evening, will live with me forever, amazing.

During the trip we’ve met torrential rain, nasty turbulence, very high temperatures and density altitudes, and she’s always come through, filling us with confidence in some tricky situations. I’ll write about the mountain ridges and thunderstorms in Malaysia another time! When you are a long way from help confidence in your equipment is everything. It’s also great fun to fly!

It would be great to meet fellow Eurofox enthusiasts as we cross Australia and New Zealand, do give us a shout. I’ve lost the details of the club with 3 Eurofoxes near Brisbane, sorry, please say hi again!

We restart the trip on Monday…bookmark the tracker page to keep upto date with where we are, some alterations to the original route due to weather!

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A little more on the route history…

Whilst we take our 3-week break, it provides us with the opportunity to look back at more of the historical significance of our route thus far:

Bahrain

Bahrain itself is a group of 33 islands situated in the Arabian Gulf, off the east coast of Saudi Arabia. RAF history with Bahrain dates back to 1924. With its perceived strategic importance, the RAF established RAF Bahrain on 22 May 1943 as part of RAF Iraq Command. In 1963 it was renamed RAF Muharraq and was finally closed on 15 December 1971. The UK has enjoyed a long-standing defence relationship with Bahrain, and it was enjoyed as a restful stop for out team! Furthermore, in 2016 the Royal Navy opened a new Navy Support Facility in Manama, confirming the UK commitment to the Gulf and Bahrain

 

Al Ain in the UAE

The RAF has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the UAE. Notably, a war memorial was erected in Dhadnah, Fujairah,  to commemorate an RAF serviceman, Sergeant Billy Donnelly, who died in February 1943 when his Wellington number crashed there during the Second World War. Furthermore, in Sharjah stands the Al Mahatta Museum, the UAE’s only aviation museum, which was part of the RAF base in Sharjah from early in the Second World War until 1971.

On 15 January 2013, 906 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) was stood up in the UAE, tasked with the provision of support to air transport links between the UK and deployed operations in Afghanistan, as well as logistic support to deployed forces.

 

Jinnah International Airport, Karachi

In 1939 the first Fairey Long Range Monoplane, J9479, reached Karachi from RAF Cranwell, after just over 50 hours in the air. After their departure had been delayed for several days due to weather, Sqn Ldr A.G. Jones-Williams and Flt Lt N.H. Jenkins set off for Bangalore, attempting a long distance record. Strong headwinds forced them to land in Karachi, however, and the flight was short of the record.

As well as this early example of long-distance flights by the Royal Air Force, Jinnah Airport was used extensively by the USAF in WW2, and today it is Pakistan’s busiest international airport.

 

Nagpur

Nagpur was commissioned for the RFC/RAF in WWI and used by the Royal Air Force in WWII.

 

Chittagong

Chittagong was used by several squadrons from the RAF Third Tactical Air Force during WW2, in operations including the Battles of Kohima and Imphal, both major turning points in the war. Not far to the north is the Kohima War Cemetary, where a memorial bears the words of the Kohima Epitaph:

“When you go home, tell them of us and say,
“For your tomorrow, we gave our today.””

To the south-east lie the final resting places of many of the RAF ‘Missing’ and their aircraft, lost over Burma while serving with the RAF Far East Command, airmen of the so-called ‘Forgotten Air Force’.

 

Bangkok

Don Mueang Airport, Bangkok, was the birthplace of the Royal Thai Air Force. It spent the war under Japanese control, before a brief occupation by the RAF and then the USAF before becoming a commercial airport.

 

Butterworth

The RAF operated from Butterworth from 1941 to 1957 where they handed control over to RAAF who operated from there during the Cold War. In addition, the RAF provided support during the Malayan Emergency and also used the base as a stopoff when transiting to other RAF bases in the Far East region. The RAAF closed Base Butterworth on 30 June 1988, however it is now operational under the RMAF.

 

Christmas Island

Christmas Island is the flattish tip of a seabed 4200m volcano, not connected to any other landmass, but certainly a fantastic rest-stop for our team whilst en route to mainland Australia. Christmas Island formed a notable history during WW2 known as the Battle of Christmas Island.

Christmas Island was under British control, important due to its strategic control location for the East Indian ocean and also its source of phosphates which were important for Japanese industry. A garrison of a British Officer, four soldiers and 27 Indians plus one naval gun were installed 1941 – 2. After the occupation of Java, Japanese Imperial General Headquarters issued orders for “Operation X” to invade Christmas Island. Due to a mutiny by Indian soldiers against the British soldiers, the Japanese troops were then able to occupy Christmas Island without resistance. On 31st March the Japanese bombed the radio station and landed a construction battalion of 850 men to occupy the island and resume phosphate mining for Japanese industry.

HMS Rother then re-occupied the Island in October 1945 and later the island was transferred to Australia via Singapore.

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Christmas Island

The aircraft is safely hangared near Perth and the crew back in the UK, waiting for part two of the expedition to start on 25th November. We flew 13500 miles, in 125 flying hours, 15 flights in 17 days. We were unsupported en route and with no UK operations team it meant very long days, flying, planning, refuelling, maintaining, so there was limited time for updates. We will bring you these updates over the next 2 weeks as we build up to part two.

Christmas Island – Where to start?

We arrived after just under 12 hours in the cockpit, having fought through 3 walls of thunderstorms between Singapore and the southern Indonesian coast. The weather cleared leaving us to fly around the island on a beautiful sunlit evening, admiring the beauty and grandeur of this isolated island.

Paul the airport manager, Darryl the multi-talented refueller, marshaller and fixer, Chris the operations manager and many others hosted us superbly throughout. We presented to the school, held a static display, refuelled from the local garage, met the notorious Christmas Island Centipede and swam in the sea. What a place, we’d recommend it to anyone as a non-touristy island holiday spot. Superbly friendly 

and honest people who go out of their way to help a traveller. We were sad to leave having only just scratched the surface of what the island has to offer. Diving, trekking, red crab spotting and some general relaxation will have to wait for another visit! I’m surprised more GA and business aircraft from Australia don’t visit. We made our way onto the airport flight arrival and departure board, a first for us! 

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Armistice Day – 100th anniversary of the end of…

This photo of a poppy field was taken back in the UK in June, when the airframe had less than 10 hours on it, but comes to mind today as Remembrance Day marks 100 years since the end of the First World War.

The expedition aims to commemorate 100 years of the Royal Air Force, and this 3-week pause before we start again in Australia gives time to reflect on the lives lost and sacrifices made throughout this history.

Please visit our Fundraising page to help us support our charities RAF Benevolent Fund, RAF Association and Save the Children.

#WeWillRememberThem #ArmisticeDay100 #LestWeForget