Trips To Australia


I opened the throttle wide, but the seaplane thrashed on and on through the water without a sign of leaving it. After more than a mile’s run I had to stop because of the opposite shore ahead. As I turned and taxied downwind, I tried to think of a reason for the failure; at dawn, the seaplane had taken off in less favourable conditions; the motor was the same; were the floats leaking? They had been tested; when filled up with water scarcely a drop had leaked out, and if none could leak out none could leak in? (So I thought, but one float had been steadily filling all the time I was down on the water.) I turned into the wind for another attempt, but the seaplane bumped and porpoised with no sign of rising. I snatched at the control-stick and jerked up the seaplane’s nose; she jumped out of the water, and settled back again with the waves dragging at the float heels; but she was not as deep in as before. I snatched again, and again she jumped, settled down after the jump, but this time held off the water. Slowly she gathered speed, overcame the heaviness of her stalled condition, and rose. I was away.

Trips To Australia Photo Gallery

I headed for my imaginary point 90 miles to the left of Norfolk Island. Ahead, I could see an edge to the layer of black cloud with clear sky beyond. I slipped off my goggles and lifted the helmet flaps, so that I could stuff each ear with a plug of cotton wool, which muffled somewhat the roar from the open exhaust. At noon I flew over the edge of New Zealand; it was Spirit’s Bay, where the Maoris believed there was a vast cavern through which all the spirits of the dead passed. I flew from under the cloud into clear sky. All my miserable anxieties and worries dropped away, and I was thrilled through and through. Over my left shoulder, the last of New Zealand receded rapidly. Ahead stretched the ocean, sparkling under the eye of the sun: no sport could touch this, it was worth almost any price. I seemed to expand with vitality and power and zest.

Although I could not rely on dead reckoning, I intended to work it up carefully. It was most important to determine the speed and direction of the wind. For example, a 30-mile wind from the north-east would cause the seaplane to drift 24 miles to the side of its route during an hour. At the time pilots said that it was impossible to determine what the wind was over the sea when flying alone, because it was impossible to read the drift of the plane. I had devised a new way of doing it, however, by reversing the ordinary method. Instead of looking over the side, and trying to decide how much the plane was drifting by looking at the sea, I looked over the side, fixed a point in the water such as a fleck of white, and flew the plane so that this fleck left the side of the fuselage at an angle of, say, five degrees. In other words, I made the plane drift five degrees as it flew away from that speck. Then I looked back quickly at the compass, and if the compass reading showed that the plane was still on course, then the five degrees of drift must have been correct. If the compass showed that the plane was now off course, say, two and a half degrees, then I had judged the drift wrongly and I would try again. The next time I would make the plane drift seven and a half degrees, and if the compass showed that the plane was on course afterwards, then the correct drift was in fact seven and a half degrees. I reckoned that I could tell the drift to one and a quarter degrees by imagining a five-degree angle split into four. Of course, one drift was only part of the data needed, because lots of different winds could make a plane drift seven and a half degrees. I determined the drift on three different headings, and then plotted them on the chart for those headings. Whereas lots of winds could cause any one of the drifts, there was only one wind that could cause the different drifts on the different headings at the same time. I observed and plotted three drifts every half hour, and used the mean of the two winds for the hour’s flight.

The chart I used was one that I had drawn up myself, on Mercator’s projection. I made it of a suitable scale, so that it would fit into a map case of aluminium that had a small flat surface and a roller at each side. I rolled the chart on as I flew along the route. There was not room in the cockpit to use an ordinary folded chart or map. The wind I was getting was an ideal tail wind, which seemed wonderful. I worked out how long it would take me to reach the ‘turn off point’ if this wind held. I made it 5 o’clock.

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