Monday, February 9, 2009

Barkly Mail

So i said i would write about my trip to Tennant Creek, and here it is! The photo below shows Tennant Creek in all its glory. You can see airport in the distance. I was on base turning finals for rwy 29.

This mailrun is known as the 'Barkly.' The name Barkly refers to one of the 5 regions of the Northern Territory of Australia. Every Thursday evening to Saturday morning, my company is contracted to fly and deliver the Barkly mail which runs from Tennant Creek (YTNK) on the friday. The mail mostly goes to the remote stations located all the way towards the Gulf of Carpentaria. The township of Tennant Creek is a small town about 500km north of Alice Springs, which has a population of about 3000, making it the 5th largest township in the Territory.

So getting back to the Barkly mailrun. For this flight we need to leave on the Thursday evening and overnight Thursday night and Friday night in Tennant Creek. This due to the restrictions on our duty time. So on thursday when i arrived at our base in Alice, the weather showed bad storms in the area of Tennant Creek and the Barkly region. I did a phone around to the stops on the mailrun, and most of them (suprisingly!) reported serviceable runways. (If we can get to at least 50% of the stops then we go. Less than 50% and we cancel the run). So after preflighting the plane, refuelling and waiting for the company phone to recharge, i blasted off to Tennant Creek in the C210. I conducted the flight IFR due to the forecast weather. We fly IFR in the single engines due to them being IFR compliant with autopilots and being freight only configuration. We dont have this luxury if we are carrying passengers. A lot of people get worried about single engine IFR, and sometimes i get hesitant about it, but generally i figure "the plane doesnt know its in cloud."

The photos above show some shots of the conditions on the way up to Tennant Creek. Although its probably nothing compared to what you see when you fly long haul in jets, its still a handful in a single engine piston. The last photo shows rain and big clouds out the east as far as the eye could see. Luckily i missed flying into it by about 20 minutes, as it had just passed over Tennant Creek. When i arrived the place was virtually underwater. Flying in over the fields (its meant to be the desert!) was like flying over water and i could see the suns reflection off everything. When i arrived i was positive my mailrun flight would be cancelled for sure. Nonetheless i met up with Phil and Adrian who both work for my company and had dinner with them. Phil was covering for the aeromedical pilot in Tennant, and was flying a modified 402C, and adrian was on a Royal Flying Doctors Service charter in a Beech Baron.

When i woke up early on Friday morning, i was suprised to do the phone around and discover that only 3 out of 11 strips were unserviceable due to the rain. You have to be careful sometimes as a lot of people will tell you that their strips are ok just to get their mail. And since all the strips are dirt, its very easy to become bogged or worse, propstrike. Luckily they were being honest with me and i didnt have trouble with landing at any of the strips. In fact, at one of the stops called Kiana, i received word that a cattle station called Calvert Hills had called them to tell me that their strip had dried up enough for me to land. I usually say to people when im unsure if i can land that i expect to see that they have driven up and down the length to make sure their strip is ok and the tyre tracks arent too deep. Any tracks deeper than a 10c piece and it becomes risky to land.

However, the main places that i needed to land at for the compulsory fuel stops were ok which is the main thing. This run is impossible to do without a fuel stop, sometimes two. I'll let the pictures do the talking in describing the mailrun.

This photo was taken right after departure. The rain had made the air humid, and the desert ground was an unnatural green! However, the damp ground meant that the flight was virtually smooth. However i think i fail to recognise light bumps these days as im so used to the savageness of desert thermals.

This is a photo of the landing area of the first stop. I forget the name of this station, but they are friendly and usually get to the plane quite quickly, which makes my job a lot nicer as i dont have to deal with the flies.

This is an aerial view of Walhallow. This is the 3rd stop and we refuel here. Surprisingly they have a bowser, so refuelling is easy. The photo below shows a picture of my plane after refuelling.

As ive mentioned before we have had insane amounts of rain this year. And to highlight this, the next photo is meant to be part of the "red centre." But as you can see, its more like rolling green fields. Quite an amazing site.

The photo below is one of the last stops on my mailrun. Its called Redbank mine. This strip has been closed for about a month due to the rain. This is quite close to the Queensland border in the Gulf country, which is the far north area of the Northern Territory. Half of the strip was underwater, but i could see that the rest of the strip was serviceable, so naturally i gave landing a go! Flying a C210 the way it should be flown is always fun.

This is another photo which shows the amount of water we have had. Massive lakes! Im not sure where they were geographically, but i was pretty amazed to see roughly 20 miles of water in the middle of the desert.

So after doing the mailrun, and dodging the rain and storms all Friday, i made it back to Tennant Creek in one piece mid-afternoon. Was a good flight and logged just under 7 hours for it. When the weather is marginal, this mailrun is hard to keep legal, as its long enough that even after refuelling once, you arrive back in Tennant Creek with the minimum amount of fuel required legally. However today i needed tempo fuel as well for my return to Tennant Creek. Basically this means i needed the ability to hold for 60 minutes due to the forecast rain and storms or have a suitable alternate. The 'suitable alternates' do not exist in the desert! However, because i bypassed 2 stops with unservicable runways, it saved me enough fuel to give me the right amount to arrive at Tennant Creek with.

This is a photo of one of the cells i flew past on the way back to Tennant Creek.

Instead of continuing onto Alice Springs, we also overnight the Friday night as i previously mentioned. This is because we need to bring back the Saturday edition of the Northern Territory newspaper. These come from Darwin, and arrive at midnight in Katherine. From Katherine, they are flown to Tennant Creek, and from Tennant Creek i fly them to Alice springs, at around 6am. We have a work phone and a pilot sms's me the details of his arrival into Tennant Creek for the transfer of cargo. I usually have the plane run-up, and refuelled so i can blast off when the papers are loaded.

After having to hand fly the plane for 2 hours back to Alice Springs since my trusty autopilot wasnt being so trusty, i arrived back in one piece and unloaded the papers for delivery. Part of my saturday duty is to man the office till 1pm on the saturday. So i washed the plane which was filthy from rain, dirt and bugs, and helped a few guys out getting their planes ready.

This is a photo of final approach into Tennant Creek. I look low and i was a little bit, however for a good reason which i probably shouldnt state on this blog. You can see how my dirty my screen was due to the bugs! Was a good 3 days, but im always happy to be back from Tennant Creek. Alice Springs isnt the best place to live, but compared to Tennant Creek, its paradise.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for letting me go along for the ride, as it were. Great entry, especially the photos.