Tom Grieve was the founder of FlyThailand.com and Nongprue Airfield. He passed away in November 2012. We will continue to add more information to this memorial page over the coming months and years.
My name is Tom Grieve and I first got involved in flying flexwing microlights as a student pilot in June 1988. I purchased a new Pegasus XL 447cc and proceeded to get myself a private pilots licence at Eshott airfield near Morpeth, under Tony Anderson, the resident instructor. I went solo six months later and passed my GFT (general flying test) after 10 months training. I was now free to do all the adventures I had dreamt about !!!! My first task was to enrol in a Scottish club and though it is 110 miles from my home, I opted to join Connel Flying Club near Oban. My first recorded flight from Connel was in December 89 and little did I realise then just how much encouragement Dave Whitelaw, the Q.F.I. was to affect my input into the clubs achievement records.
My first year was full of cross country excursions but the highlight for me was landing at Aberdeen airport and winning the spot landing trophy much to the dismay of all the “proper pilots”. With only 90 hours under my belt and my nerves going crazy I was well pleased with my effort. I replaced my trusted XL in July 91 for a Mainair Alpha which I purchased from a friend on the Island of Mull. I was now into upmarket touring mode and almost one year to the day of getting the Alpha, Dave suggested Pete Oldham a fellow club member and myself enter the Dawn to Dusk competition. We followed the first ever mail route to the Orkney Islands which was flown by Cpt E.E.Freeson in 1933. Our route started from Inverness airport at 0545 and throughout the day we landed on every island in the Orkneys arriving back at Inverness at 1815 tired but jubilant. Our efforts were rewarded by being presented with the first prize from HRH Duke of Edinburgh.
Eleven months later found Peter and I leaving Dingwall, Inverness to follow Bonnie Prince Charlies escape route after the battle of Culloden, this took us down the Great Glen the full length of Loch Ness, past Mallaig and landing on the Island of Skye. Next stop was to get to Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides which we managed in good time. The local T.V. came and interviewed us and Peter did the honours. Our return to Dingwall was very scenic and for the second year we won first prize not only for ourselves but also for Connel Flying Club.
Again, eleven months later (29-05-94) with only 200 hours in my log book found me and another pilot, Hugh Knox with another challenge, this time I was to attempt the first flexwing crossing of the North Sea from Sumburgh, Shetland to Haugesund in Norway. I completed the 220 mile flight in 0505hrs safely, “what a feeling” reaching the other side. I continued down the Fjords to Kristiansund then faced another 120 mile water crossing to reach Denmark. Germany came next then fate took a twist in Holland where I met Ellen Heijnsdijk who became my partner for four years. I left Holland and crossed the North Sea again arriving at Ipswich. The rest of the journey was through England, Wales, Ireland and back home to Scotland. For this we won the Steve Hunt trophy for exceptional airmanship. Not long after this Pete Oldham was killed flying an XL in Zambia, an enormous sadness and loss to both the club and myself.
The next two years were spent mostly touring Scotland and Ireland. I became involved in an expedition with two other pilots, Chris Cullen and Keith Ingham. The purpose was to circumnavigate the continent of Australia. This meant investing in a new Pegasus Quantum 582 Super Sport microlight, I took possession of G-MYZK in May 96 at Insch airfield. A lovely piece of aeronautical engineering and by far the best aircraft I had owned to date. On the 24th August 1996 I encountered an unplanned impact with mother earth and suffered a dislocated left arm with a fracture thrown in. Two months later I had a frozen shoulder and no prospects of flying round Oz in February.
Ellen came to the rescue and got a physiotherapist friend of hers named Jan in Holland to treat me for free. It was hard work but his perseverance paid off and though limited to movement I recovered enough to embark on what was to be my best flying adventure yet. We left the Avalon airshow near Melbourne on the 23rd February 97 to begin our circumnavigation, a task which flying friends thought was terrific and they wished they could go too. We flew anti-clockwise and Ellen joined me just North of Sydney at Warnervale. We experienced 1000 miles of the East coast of Australia together filled with exceptional happy memories.
The top end came all too soon, a desolate yet awe inspiring scenery filled with mangroves, not the place for a forced landing. The Gulf of Carpenteria was crystal clear allowing us to see sharks, manta rays and of course salt water crocodiles. We met Aborigines at the reservations we visited, everyone we encountered was very friendly and helpful. There are far too many instances to mention, Kimberly’s, Darwin, West Coast, and the Nullabor where I had a ground speed of 120 mph. Now that’s flying !!! Our adventure ended safely at Avalon airport on the 5th May 97.
For this we were awarded the Steve Hunt trophy for outstanding aviation achievement. Winning this trophy for a second time in a space of only three years was exciting for me and I was very happy that my efforts were appreciated at Connel.
The Boomerang Gang on the Tailwind Tour. Flight Aid Trust Team 1997
Two British Microlight Pilots and one Scottish pilot have been attempting a complete circumnavigation of Australia in their Pegasus Quantum 15 Super Sport Aircraft, a three month journey in excess of 10000 miles across some of the most inhospitable uninhabited terrain known to man. The pilots, Keith Ingham from Cheshire, Tom Grieve from Strathclyde and Chris Cullen from Somerset were selected for the expedition after responding to an advertisement placed in Microlight Flying asking for volunteers to help promote ‘The Flight Aid Trust’, a Christian charity seen at many events exhibiting a Microlight and raising funds for the victims of leprosy at a colony in Lusaka, Zambia. The plan had originally been to fly around Africa but this proved to be politically difficult so Australia was chosen as an alternative as it was sufficiently daunting to be a true test of both man and machine and of interest to the public in general. Planning the flight took over a year of late night phone calls and faxes by the Pilots and after a meeting at the Farnborough Air Show last year, a start date was established for the 23 February 1997 thanks to the organisers of Australia’s largest air show (ASDU) at Avalon, near Melbourne. This was a well attended show and featured plenty of GA aircraft that were allowed to fly in, an F 111 doing its famous ‘dump and burn routine at night and a brace of F16’s as well as our three intrepid pilots who flew a short display for the 250000 strong crowd before commencing their flight around the continent. Pilot Keith Ingham takes up the story.
“After shipping the aircraft in December last year we spent a week at base camp near Clunes in the Historic Victorian Goldfields, courtesy of Bill White of the Australian Ultralight Federation. This gave us the chance to prepare the trikes for the rigours of the task ahead in 40 degree heat and to debate the one major unresolved dilemma – which way to fly round Australia – clockwise or anti-clockwise? Right up to the last minute this was hotly contested as even Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology could not give us a definitive answer. However, we decided to fly anticlockwise up the Eastern seaboard first as this was the most densely populated part and we were more likely to find help if we needed it. But would we reach the tropical North and its monsoon season too soon?
After a nervous but successful departure in front of the crowds at the Airshow we quickly began to experience the incredible hospitality of the average Australians who were only to pleased to help us out. Civil Flying School at Moorabin airport took us under their wings so to speak, providing email facilities, arranging clearances to fly with CASA (safety authority) and providing many of the 52 charts we needed for our flight free of charge and we were often fed and watered by friendly locals one of whom even barbecued a freshly slaughtered sheep for us! Flying conditions were reasonably good for the first few days and we soon realised that by using the ground speed feature on the Garmin GPS 2 units supplied by Sky Systems Ltd, we could exploit the numerous low level inversions we experienced to find a reasonable tailwind to help us along over the vast Eucalyptus forests, their fragrance detectable at 2000’. When flying over the coast, we were also able to make the most of the smooth air coming straight off the Pacific Ocean allowing us to skim along Ninety Mile Beach (it really is that long) at low altitude and ground speeds at times in excess of 100mph. How long could such excellent conditions last we asked ourselves?
We always got a good reception from the media who were keen to follow our story which probably also helped ease our transit through the various military restricted zones where we have always been given clearance, albeit once by mistake, at Maroochydore, where we had been assured by other Microlight pilots that clearance would not be given. After a brief phone call by pilot Chris Cullen, we were cleared at 1000’ and it was not until we reported abeam the airfield that a confused controllers voice said “I thought you were three tri-pacers”? having clearly misunderstood our precise description of ‘three Ultralight trikes’. One-Nil to the Flight Aid team!
One of the highlights of the first leg of our trip was the passage along the coastal VFR route that is specifically reserved for light aircraft wanting to pass Sydney’s vast control zone. We had just spent a couple of days at Paul Haines’ magnificent facility at Wollongong – a wonderful place to learn to fly a Microlight in perfect conditions whilst on holiday – and had superb weather for the 120 mile flight. The VFR route dictates that you fly one mile out to sea at 500’ altitude and like so many of Australia’s provincial airports there is no need to contact ATC, despite its close proximity to numerous 747’s on short finals over the coast! You simply put out an ‘all stations’ call on the required frequency regularly reporting your position for all other users in the area, a system that works very well in practice. Any initial nerves about wake turbulence and the long water crossing were soon dispelled by the stunning scenery of the Sydney suburbs and the views inland to the harbour, the Opera House and its famous ‘old coathangar’ harbour bridge. As we flew further North along the evocatively named ‘Sunshine Coast’ and ‘Gold Coast’ we began to keep a weather eye on a Tropical Cyclone named ‘Justin’ loitering with intent off the coast of Cairns in Northern Queensland. Its effects were being felt hundreds of miles further South and when we landed at a grass strip in Nambucca Heads we found it was saturated after heavy rain. The adjacent river was in full flood and we were asked by the local authorities to help in a search of the river, from the air, for a drowned swimmer. Fortunately we found nothing. Departing from a wet strip in an early morning dew, fully laden with no head wind, took the full length of the runway and covered the trikes with mud but once again we were able to take in the magnificent sights as we flew along the coast past Coffs Harbour seeing Dolphins playing in the surf, shoals of Mackerel and huge Manta Rays flying gracefully along just below the surface. We explored the rain forest hinterland of Byron Bay for a couple of days flying over its stunning jagged peaks as we crossed the border into Tropical Queensland.
We had had remarkable weather so far and only put down at a planned ‘alternative’ airfield once, in the village of Seventeen Seventy, (named after the year of Captain Cook’s passage along these shores), having flown through an intense rain shower which soaked us to the skin. We managed to reach our destination of Gladstone just as ‘Justin’ hit came ashore at Cairns. This time we were grounded but we did have a bonus as Australia’s only flying Spitfire, and one of its three Mustangs, flew into Gladstone after finding it impossible to get home in the low cloud. The father and son team parked right next to our Microlights and were happy to swap stories. (Dad got to fly the Spit). We were well battened down for a few days but as the cyclone burnt itself out we departed once more, the only technical problem being a temporary lack of voice transmission on Chris’s damp ICOM. We could still communicate with carrier wave – one burst for ‘yes’, two bursts for ‘no’ but Tom suggested a visual system of communication might be better – a ‘wingover’ for yes and a ‘whipstall’ for no. Two long bursts of carrier wave followed!
We had been granted special permission to land at Cairns International Airport and enjoyed a smooth flight until we were instructed to descend to 1500’ at which point we declined the invitation from the tower to conduct a formation landing in the lee of a mountain which presented some extremely rough air. We turned onto finals in single file trying desperately not to be too slow as there was other traffic in the area. Even flying at 85mph, instead of the usual approach of 55mph, a large Ansett Airbus was closing very quickly on Chris who was last to land and told in no uncertain terms to vacate the runway ‘immediately’. Cairns marked the end of the first leg of our expedition and we were all only too aware that we had enjoyed the luxury of being able to take our time exploring the wonderful scenery of Australia’s eastern seaboard, safe in the knowledge that we have never been too far away from a good airstrip, civilisation, food, fuel and accommodation. But the Bitumen highway and the railway stop here. The oldest rain forests on earth meet the sea just North of here and Crocodile infested mangrove swamps would flank any beaches for the next few weeks of our expedition. We therefore spent a few days ensuring the planes were suitably prepared and equipped before departing Cairns after conducting TV and press interviews and armed with local knowledge courtesy of the Royal Flying doctor Service, the Mail service and Chris Bolton who had flown these parts in a trike before. We were heavily laden, carrying 100 litres of fuel, emergency food and water, EPIRB’s, clothing, spares, camping and cooking equipment and 16 litres of Castrol TTS….each!
We had been assured that much of the terrain was flat grazing pasture but this was not so. It was in fact relentless rain forest, gum trees and rocky escarpments! Fortunately, despite side panniers restricting the airflow to the radiators, our Rotax 582 engines never missed a beat in the intense heat and we were astonished at the good quality of the airstrips where we landed. So often, even small communities featured multi- directional bitumen strips but the outback telegraph station at Musgrave was the first of the red dust variety and landing at a strip flanked by the graves of early settlers among cattle and huge ant hills was a new experience for us. After refuelling at remote Aboriginal communities we successfully rounded Cape York, the Northernmost tip (12 degrees South) of the continent and flew along some of the most spectacular beaches to date with an abundance of Sharks, Manta Rays and Saltwater Crocodiles in the warm shallow seas.
Sleeping out under the wings of our planes ensured we were usually up at the crack of dawn before the noisy fruit bats returned to their roosts and airborne at first light, the best time of day to fly. The hospitality was even more extreme at outback cattle stations like Rutland Plains, still cut off after weeks of flood damage to the only road, where we provided welcome entertainment and were given free food and cut price fuel. At Karumba we were grounded for several days as our promised Castrol TTS supplies had not arrived. However, this gave us a chance to experience its laid back life style, do some fishing and experience its diverse wildlife including rare green tree frogs that only came out of their home under the rim of the toilet when you flushed it!
Once we were finally underway again we tracked via the wreck of an American world war two bomber that had crashed in the remote bush in the 1940’s and then on to ‘Hells Gate Roadhouse’, the gateway to the Northern Territories, so called because it used to mark the extent of police protection to the early settlers who were often attacked by marauding Aboriginals after passing this point. The road was deserted so taxiing across it to the forecourt fuel pump presented no problems.
Our route took us on through the Aboriginal settlements of Boroloola and Roper River to Mataranka where we stopped to languish in the natural hot springs there before tracking back across the spectacular waterfalls that dot the escarpment on the edge of Arnhem land and the Kakadu national park. Once again, the scenery was stunning and our tail wind stayed with us, but there were precious few landing sites among the rocky outcrops of the Katherine River Gorge. We finally arrived at Darwin and were once again given special permission to fly into its International Airport. By this time we were ready for a rest and the contents of our kit bags needed fumigating! Fortunately we were taken in by some locals who once again demonstrated extraordinary hospitality. We were guest of honour at their Ultralight club Fly in at Emkaytee and on our last night there, Fay and Jim hired a White Stretch Limo to transport us to a BBQ where we could watch the sun set. It was a stark comparison to sleeping rough in the bush.
So we had made it to the half way point after flying 47 legs covering 4522 miles at an average of 60mph thanks to the generous tailwinds we had had so far and the superb reliability of the Pegasus Quantum’s. “After leaving the Aboriginal community of Port Keats we once again found ourselves wrestling with the intense midday thermals over the mangrove swamps as we headed further West and over ‘Bobs Knob’ – the highest hill in the area – at an impressive 45ft! Despite our each being heavily laden with almost 100 litres of fuel in addition to all of our camping equipment, some of these thermals were so powerful that we were taken up from 3000-6000 in minutes without touching the throttle, finding ourselves soaring alongside big Wedge Tailed Eagles. Fortunately, the air temperature was still 26C at this altitude so at least we didn’t get cold and if it hadn’t been for a lack of storage space for our flying suits, we might have flown in our underwear! We were apprehensive about the mountainous “Kimberley’’ region we were approaching which, despite its stunning scenery, offered precious few landing opportunities in the event of an emergency. Our descent into Kununurra, (pronounced perfectly by pilot Chris Cullen who had been practising saying the name for a hour to avoid making a fool of himself on air), revealed a pleasant town where we decided to stay overnight after learning that we had lost 1½ hours of our day flying through an unusual time zone change.
The following day we once again found ourselves back on the ‘Tailwind Tour’ as a stiff Easterly breeze pushed us through the stunning Leopald Mountain range with a ground speed of over 80mph, to a crude grass strip at Mornington Station which we would never have found hidden away in the bush but, for the accuracy of our Sky Systems supplied Garmin GPS’s. Unfortunately, we were unable to refuel as it became apparent after a five hour wait that no one was home, so we pressed on instead along the Crocodile filled river of the Geike Gorge to Fitzroy crossing.Camping under our wings ensured we were up at first light when the air was cool and still. The scenery below us remained spectacular as we skimmed across the sun baked rocky wilderness of the Looma Aboriginal reserve and we reached the former pearl fishing town of Broome ahead of schedule and enjoyed some local flying. I went to find some fossilised Dinosaur footprints that should have been visible from the air at low tide only to find that somebody had stolen them! How do you steal a cliff? I was also able to experiment with some of the technology we were carrying on board. With an IBM donated lap top computer strapped to my knees, a Kodak Digital camera on the wingtip and Teleadapt Ltd modems plugged into my GSM mobile phone, I was able to transmit a ‘live’ photograph, whilst flying, to the Charity’s Internet web site at http://www.mersinet.co.uk/flight-aid/ West of Broome, the spectacular mountain scenery gave way to flat plains and an opportunity to refuel at a roadhouse on the Great Northern Highway, much to the amusement of the very occasional passing motorists. Our flight along ‘90 mile beach’ and some never-ending dead flat salt pans beyond, allowed for some fun chasing our own shadows as we skimmed along for mile after mile, occasionally over the unfortunate skeletons of stranded cattle and turtles. At Onslow we were met by its one and only policeman and a local prawn fisherman cum Gold prospector who had seen us fly over his boat and had come to investigate and tell us all about the 15 ounce nugget he had recently unearthed! As we rounded the North East corner of Australia, we found ourselves at Coral Bay with the most magnificent coral reef just off shore. From our privileged vantage point we could once again see Sharks and Manta Rays swimming just below the surface and we succumbed to the wishes of its hotel proprietor (who fancied a flight) and his bar-maid (who I managed to persuade to take one anyway) and accepted an invitation to stay a night in the hotel, a good excuse for us to go snorkelling among the turtles on the reef next morning.
After another stopover in Carnarvon, we donned our life jackets for a 20 mile crossing of the ominously named ‘Shark Bay’ and landed among some Emu’s on a rough stony strip at the Nanga Homestead for fuel before traversing Steep Point, the most Westerly point of Mainland Australia,. This took us over Dirk Hartog island, named after the Dutch explorer who landed here in 1616. Who said that Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia in 1770?
Our transit along the western Seaboard was straightforward until we neared Perth and found there were no coastal airfields where we might refuel and the huge Pearce military base was just inland and active with a variety of jet trainers. They had insisted on 24 hours notice before allowing us to transit their zone so we elected to stay instead at a friends farm near Bindoon. To manage his million acres of farmland, Colin Dunham flew a Cessna 210 from a rough grit strip which presented us with the biggest challenge of the expedition so far. As we approached in heavy turbulence we realised that his strip was cross wind, on a slope and on the lee edge of a forest. It was like landing in a washing machine but at least we survived the ‘arrivals’ and were treated to a slap up meal to make us feel better. After filing a flight plan with the military authorities, we pressed on for Perth’s Jandakot airport at an obligatory 1000’ through some very uncomfortable inversions with their associated wind shear and turbulence and into smoother air over the sea as we once again followed a thoughtfully placed VFR route that hugs the coast affording a magnificent view of the city centre skyscrapers in the distance. Jandakot is one of the busiest airports in Australia but fortunately for us, in our ‘Golf’ registered formation (a great way to confuse foreign controllers), we confessed to being ‘unfamiliar with circuit procedures’ and were given a straight-in approach, no doubt frustrating several other faster aircraft who were forced to go around as we landed in formation to a superb reception from The Royal Aero Club and local news journalists covering our story.
We were aware that this was the three quarter mark of our expedition and that the previous 7500 miles had gone very smoothly but the Antipodean winter was literally just around the corner and some cold fronts were forecast so we pressed on to tackle the final leg across South Australia, a distance greater than that from London to Moscow and including a crossing of the potentially hostile Nullabor Plain.
We first landed through a surreal smoke inversion at Brendan Watts’ trike school at Bunbury and eventually left (after test flying an Australian ‘Edge 582’ trike) with a temporary aerial escort from our new friends including an enthusiastic student pilot who relished the novel experience of an extended trike formation. As we neared Margaret River we were met by two more escort aircraft, their owners having read about us in Pacific Ultralights magazine. Because of our tight schedule, we had not expected to land here but the offer of hot coffee (and dancing girls) proved to be a stronger lure so we followed Andrew Linfords’ Pegasus XL into his private strip – and ended up staying for three days as the cold fronts swept in from Antarctica! We were treated incredibly well and would have loved to stay longer but the forecast looked increasingly bad as more cold fronts built in the Southern seas.
We eventually managed to make a run for the South West corner of Australia and after rounding the lighthouse at Augusta, we picked up even more significant tail winds to push us on to Albany, dodging showers between rainbows as we went. For weeks we had been anticipating strong winds along this coast, and after a night sleeping in Albany airports baby changing room (!) we taxied out for our usual dawn departure. The wind on the ground was quite manageable, but within seconds of turning onto track at 1000’ our GPS’s indicated a ground speed of over 90mph – surely that couldn’t be right – but sure enough, as we climbed higher, the speed increased at times to over 115mph, a howling tailwind in anyone’s book! As we were making such good progress at 5000’ we decided to leapfrog the roadhouse where we had planned to land for breakfast, and went on to Esperance, completing the 250 mile leg at an average speed of 96mph, not bad when you consider we cruise at 50mph! We were apprehensive about landing in such a strong wind but all made it down safely as the air was at least smooth. The biggest problem was handling the flexwings’ on the ground as we taxied into somebody’s open hangar for some shelter. We were advised that the horizontal windsock here was de rigour, hence the location of the countries biggest wind farm so after a couple of hours we pressed on yet again for Caiguna, three hours away in the middle of the hostile Nullabor Plain.
Unfortunately however, despite flying at 5000’, our tremendous tailwind died on us and we realised that we would not make our planned destination before nightfall. We were flying over barren bush with nowhere to land! What should we do? We decided our best option was to track due North until we found the Eyre Highway, the long lonely road that traverses East West across South Australia, and to try and find somewhere near that where we might land and pitch camp. Fortunately there was very little traffic on the road and no telegraph poles to compromise a safe landing adjacent to a sandy lay-by. We had inadvertently picked the middle of one of the longest straight stretches of road in the world at over 100 miles without a bend but I can’t resist telling you one of us (mentioning no names) flew a missed approach on what must be the longest runway ever and had to go around for another landing attempt as the sun set over a cloudless horizon! We quickly pitched camp and cooked a basic meal from our emergency rations, which we ate by the roadside looking up at the billions of stars that form the Milky Way without their view being spoiled by any light pollution, the dead quiet of the desert only occasionally being interrupted by the eerie squeaking sonar of bats hunting inches over our heads. Were we attracting flies? Whilst we were sat in the middle of the road chatting, we noticed a faint glimmer of light in the distance and watched it grow brighter and brighter for a full thirty minutes before it finally materialised on the front of a road-train and passed our camp, such was the straight length of the highway.
At dawn we taxied out onto the road once more and took off to fly the remaining fifty miles to Caiguna. We were able to fly low along the highway safe in the knowledge that we could see any other vehicles long in advance and from this vantage point saw numerous ‘road kills’, usually big Kangaroos, being eaten by scavenging Eagles that simply refused to leave their prize even when you flew near them. The Nullabor was also littered by millions of discarded glass bottles, thrown out of car windows, mostly during the last twenty years that this road has been paved and Chris found a big mob of Kangaroos to video film bounding along the desert in front of him. We refuelled at Border Village and the Nullabor roadhouse, each time taxiing right up to the petrol pumps and as we pressed further East, we overflew magnificent 300’ high cliffs that dropped sheer into the Ocean, and on past the ‘Head of Bight’ a favourite location for watching the arrival of the Southern Right Whale each October.
After further stops in Penong, Wudinna and Balaklava (and a 28 mile sea crossing over the shark infested Spencer Gulf) we made it to Adelaide, a week after setting off from Perth. We had been told that a permit to land at its busy Parafield airport would take 28 days to secure but overcame this by flying in before it became active at 8am. Everything was going smoothly until on short finals when I negligently found myself caught in Toms wake turbulence which nearly ended my expedition for good as my wing was suddenly lifted through ninety degrees. Fortunately, I was able to sort it out and landed safely further along the runway.
Once again, we were spoilt rotten by the Australian Aviation College (where poor old British Airways cadet pilots get sent for a year to learn to fly nowadays) and next morning, after conducting another TV interview to promote the charity, we set off on a three hour leg to Kingston SE which was having its annual fly-in that day. As we got nearer, we caught up with some rain clouds hanging over our destination and on joining the circuit downwind it finally started to pour and we landed in torrential rain to the obvious disbelief of a few hardy local aviators who had turned up – on foot! As the weather improved later in the day however, more flew in and after the obligatory barbecue we were collectively honoured with a prize for the most meretricious flight. Our trophy? A large frozen Crayfish! Leaving Kingston, we were aware that this was to be one of the last flights of our expedition. Could it really be coming to an end so soon? A cold front had passed through overnight and the metfax suggested more was on the way so we pressed on evading scattered showers to Portland. Fortunately, the sun came out for our cameras as we passed the visually spectacular ‘Twelve Apostles’ rock formations at the foot of the cliffs but we soon realised that we would not be able to maintain our heading as big black clouds had gathered in intensity and overtaken us once again. We got another drenching as we flew through the only gap in a spectacular squall line but soon found ourselves at Torquay airfield for our last overnight stop.
The final flight of our expedition was conducted in magnificent weather again back to our starting point, Avalon Airfields 3Km long runway on the outskirts on Melbourne. We were accompanied all the way by a helicopter film crew from Channel 9 Television who were covering our final leg but Avalon looked very different as we approached. We last saw it with tens of thousands of people, hundreds of planes and dozens of marquees everywhere. This time however, it was completely deserted as we landed in formation once again for the benefit of the cameras. Seeing familiar landmarks again instilled a tangible sense of relief among us combined with the anti-climax of not really knowing what to do tomorrow! Was it really all over? And so soon? Almost ten thousand miles in ten weeks and thanks to the tailwinds we had enjoyed for 95% of the time, our overall flight time was some 41 hours less than we had estimated! Should we go round again and experience yet more of the awesome hospitality thrust upon us? Unfortunately, families and careers dictated otherwise but we had at least silenced the numerous sceptics who had doubted whether such a flight could be done safely by Microlight and hopefully fulfilled our brief to increase the exposure of the Flight aid Trust charity who had been busy raising thousands of pounds during our absence.
Our thanks to all of you who made pledges. Statistically, perhaps at least one of us should have suffered a mishap but fortunately, we had no such problems thanks in no small part, to our sponsors without whom this trip would not have been possible. The Pegasus Aviation Quantum 15 Aircraft have been magnificent throughout, proving they are very reliable comfortable world beaters and quite capable of covering long distances under adverse conditions. The Rotax 582 engines never missed a beat, no doubt due in part to the fact that we have run them exclusively on fully synthetic Castrol TTS oil.
Lynx Micro communications systems, headsets and helmets enabled clear conversations between the three of us and air traffic controllers and navigation was made simple thanks to Sky Systems Ltd, suppliers of a wide range of Garmin GPS satellite navigation systems. We were kept warm and dry thanks to Ozee flying suits, our numerous maps and charts were held conveniently in place by Ben Mapboards and in the event that anything might have gone drastically wrong in a remote part of Northern Australia, we were confident that the EPIRB emergency locator beacons kindly donated by Kti Kinetic Technology Industries Pty would have enabled a swift rescue before the Crocodiles got to us!
Our Internet web site reports were made possible thanks to Mersinet who I know have spent many twilight hours administering the pages I downloaded from all over Australia. This in turn, would have been impossible but for the expertise of Teleadapt Ltd who specialise in getting people connected wherever they are in the world. They supplied the appropriate modems and telephone adapters to enable us to download reports from throughout Australia, even via my GSM mobile phone from remote field locations when ‘land lines’ were not available. The colour photographs on the web site have all been taken using the remarkable Kodak DC40 digital camera which does not use conventional film but stores images electronically. We have been using an IBM donated Thinkpad 365X lap top computer throughout our travels to write reports, process camera images and drag weather information off the Internet. This fulfilled our needs perfectly as it is compact, powerful and rugged enough to withstand the rigours of an expedition of this nature (Can I keep it please?).
We would also like to express our sincere thanks for the support offered by Emerson International Group, Orbit Developments Ltd and Jones Homes Ltd in Cheshire, Anglo European Developments Ltd in London and Nova Vitae Health and Fitness in Heeze, Holland for their support. Our early days in Australia were made considerably easier thanks to Bill and Beryl White from the Australian Ultralight Federation who allowed us to set up base camp at their private airstrip prior to our official departure from the Avalon International Airshow, kindly arranged by the organisers of ‘Airshow’s Downunder’. Michael and Ruth Sutcliffe and Nigel Hutchinson-Brookes of Civil Flying School at Moorabin Airport (an excellent facility for those wishing to learn to fly) provided us with so much help from start to finish with accommodation, paperwork, charts, route planning, personal contacts, use of telephones and fax and perhaps most of all, the provision of an appropriate Email address in Australia which has been used heavily for keeping in touch with people around the world. A million thanks guys!
But perhaps most of all, we have to extend our gratitude to the hundreds of ordinary Australians we met throughout our travels. We were staggered by the incredible generosity and hospitality of everyone we met and are only too aware that they all made our trip so much easier. Ultralight flying is popular throughout the continent and with weather and scenery as good as theirs, it must surely be the ultimate flying paradise? Anyone fancy flying back over there with us?”