Trip To Australia

The flap I had got into before starting had now disappeared, and my brain was ticking over coolly and steadily. I knew that everything depended solely on accurate work. Conditions were perfect; the sun shone in a cloudless light-blue sky. The exhausts gave off a steady rolling roar. The needle of the revolution indicator might have been the hand of a clock, it kept so steady. The time for the sextant work on which everything depended was rapidly approaching. At the end of the hour I observed the drift again three times, and after plotting the results found that the wind had drifted the seaplane twelve and a half degrees off course to the right.

Trip To Australia Gallery Photos

Trip To Australia

I altered course another ten degrees to the left to counteract this. This meant that the seaplane was in fact headed nearly 200 miles to the left of the island. It was difficult to convince myself that this was right. At 1.00 p.m. I had made good 103 miles in the past hour. Using the transmitting key strapped to my right leg, I tapped out a message in Morse to the Auckland air base operator, who should be listening as the hour struck. ‘Position by dead reckoning at 01.00 hours GMT 33° 15 S., 171° 35 E. Wind 24mph from 162 degrees true.’ I used exactly the same drill for the next hour, and at the end of it the wind was much the same though slightly stronger, and I had made good 105 miles in the hour. The wind had increased to 30mph from 155 degrees true; it was giving me a great lift forward, but I could not help thinking of the mountainous seas such a wind must be raising round Norfolk Island. I had to try a sextant shot to find out how far I was from the turn-off point, and at the same time to check my dead reckoning. I trimmed the tail as delicately as I could to balance the plane, but she would not stabilise, and I had to use the control-stick the whole time while adjusting the sextant. I sighted the sextant to catch the sun above the top wing and a piece of horizon underneath it. To be quite sure that I was using a piece of horizon vertically below the sun, I had to wipe out the plane’s balance from my mind, and concentrate only on the sextant. I had just got the sun and horizon together in the sextant, when terrific acceleration pressing my back made me drop the sextant. I grabbed the stick and eased the seaplane from its vertical nose dive into a normal dive, and then flattened it out. I reset the tail trimmer till the seaplane was bound to climb as soon as I left the control-stick alone. I tried again, and this time managed well enough, easing the control-stick forward with my left elbow whenever the seaplane climbed so steeply that the wing cut off the sun from view. I noted down the time to the nearest second, but when I turned to read the altimeter it showed 2,500 feet. Looking over the side I felt sure the height was not more than 400 feet. I must be mistaken. I had bought this altimeter especially for accuracy, and had been observing it every morning and night for six months. To prove whether it was right I dived down to the water surface. The altimeter still read 2,500 feet.

I tugged at the sextant to make sure that it was securely held by the lanyard round my neck. I still had the dashboard altimeter that had failed me over the English Channel. It would have to do after I had reset it at sea-level, although the height ought to be more accurately known for sextant work. I skimmed the surface, fascinated by the heaving sea. The seaplane was going fast enough to make each wave appear motionless as I passed, whether it was heaving up, leaping high, or with its top flicked into a white crest. It was like looking at the individual little pictures in a cinema film. The effect was to make the seaplane seem motionless, as if it were dead still over a dead sea. Glancing ahead, I was astounded to find that I was below the waterlevel, as if in a whirlpool with the rim of water above me; then I realised that in skimming the surface I was unconsciously rising to a huge swell, and dropping into the valley the other side. It was solitary down there, as if I was winging my way between this and another world. I was being hypnotised, and came to with a start.

I rose to 400 feet by the old altimeter, and took five shots at the sun. I had the results worked out and plotted twenty minutes later. They showed that I still had 230 miles to fly before turning off to the island.

I did not use log tables for working out the sight, for I had found that I always made mistakes when trying to use logs when flying alone: I would read a six-figure log in the table, glimpse a dashboard instrument while glancing from the tables to my notebook, my concentration would be broken, and I would record one of the six figures wrongly. Instead, I had a circular slide rule called a Bygrave position-line slide rule. This consisted of three cylinders revolving one inside the other, and they had over fifty feet of trig logs scaled off on them. This slide rule had to be used step by step, and I seldom made a mistake with it. When fully extended it was about nineteen inches long, and could just be used in the cockpit if held sideways.

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