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Leg 17 - Part 1... Broome Intl (YBRM) to Balgo Hill (YBGO)

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I was mentally tired from the last week of travelling ‘by any means possible’ to get to Australia. I could really have done with a few days relaxing, before my next leg, but it was not to be.  Philippe, my friend from years back, who also pushed SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) flight jobs my way, must have been out of his mind when he arranged my passage from Jakarta to Broome Intl via Mau Hau.  Had he known that Joe would be piloting the flight particularly with Otis accompanying me, I doubted he would have placed us in such a precarious situation… would he? My cover as ‘Sharon’ the globetrotting Flight Attendant’, that had remained intact for almost 15 years, was blown for certain, even with my brunette wig, sickeningly flowery perfume, and bright red lipstick, which were about as far away from my normal self as possible.


I had to act fast and contact Philippe before Joe started asking too many questions, but as I was travelling light through Indonesia, where it was more likely I’d be searched, I hadn’t been able to carry my usual ‘covert travel essentials’ pack, so my options for using the satellite radio with the Dr. Rumack, Otis and Joe about, were zero. I needed to get Joe out of the cockpit, but how?  I went into trolley-dolly mode and took Joe a can of Pepsi.  Hopefully the few drops of ###### (can’t divulge details) I’d added to the can would do the trick, and just give him a bit of an upset tummy for a few hours. I would have enough time to take over the controls, get on the Sat phone, and then no one would be any the wiser…


Leaving Seringapatam Reef behind, I crossed my fingers that Joe had fallen for my story of the last 10 years. Although there was a lot of truth in it, there were also a few embellishments, and some downright fabrications. Unfortunately, in my line of covert work, the fantasy is often easier to digest than the truth, and Otis’ presence did seem to cause a bit of a distraction for Joe who couldn’t stop looking at him in a quizzical way, then to me, and then back to Otis.  I had no choice but to complete my mission, and leave as few loose ends as I could!  The less he knew about my ‘other’ work, and Otis the safer he would be.


As we landed in Broome Intl, and made our way to the Pilots lounge, I briefly nodded to my contact as we walked past him into the building. To everyone else, he was just a member of the airport staff brushing up any F.O.D. (Foreign Objects Damage) which might get sucked up into an aircraft engine.. in truth, he was there to collect the ‘package’ and get him safely to his destination.


I needed to hand Otis over to my contact as soon as possible but Joe seemed keen to stay and chat for a while longer. I was wondering how long my contact could keep sweeping in the darkness before being challenged, and I began contemplating having to intervene again to speed up the process, when the prawn sandwich Joe had procured from the Café area brought back his nausea from earlier that day, and apologetically he passed the baton to me and left in a hurry.


The handover went smoothly, Otis was finally on the next part of his journey, and I was on my way to my hotel. The taxi driver looked in his rear-view mirror at me when I pulled the horrible brown wig off, and started to pull out the pins that kept my long blonde hair in place. I’d have enough time to check the weather for the following day before I got a few hours’ sleep, and then I would need to be at the airport again by 3:45am for my onward leg.


At 11pm, the temperature was hovering found 16°c but in the late morning it would be in the mid 30’s so an early morning departure was essential, given the aircraft I would be flying to Uluru in Central Australia.


The Cessna C188 Ag Waggon was being ferried from Broome Intl to its new home just north of Alice Springs where it would be used to dispense fertilizer at one of the new up and coming grape farms in the Northern Territory. Although most of the wine production is located on the South and South-East regions, the early cropping of vines in central Australia is a distinct advantage as they can beat the southern producers to market. The Ag Waggon was going to be an important part of the future success of the grape farm.


Although Broome Intl is very close to sea level, Balgo Hill was 1440ft AMSL and the high temperatures would adversely affect the performance of my Ag Waggon, and that combined with the weight, would play a very important part in my journey.  The MTOW for my aircraft was 4000, but I should be within limits even if I used the ‘hopper’ as a secondary fuel tank. She wasn’t a spring chicken, but had received a major overhaul before she was sold to the grape farm, so I shouldn’t expect any problems, that is, until I realised just how little navigation I had at my disposal.  Apart from the standard Whiskey Compass, there was just an ADF which had been Gerry-rigged and gaffer-taped to the right of my seat, and no Sat Nav!..  I was annoyed to say the least that Philippe hadn’t arranged for what I felt was ‘basic’ equipment for the flight I was about to undertake.  At this ungodly hour, I was unlikely to be able to contact the seller of the aircraft to give them a piece of my mind, and I was on a tight schedule to get the Ag Waggon to Balgo Hill before the temperatures got even more restrictive.


The GPS in my top of the range smartphone would be ok while I was near ‘civilisation’ but I had no idea how accurate it would be at altitude, and out in the bush, so ADF and compass, it would have to be! I settled into the compact cabin, and adjusted the seat. What is it with these ‘practical’ aircraft.. don’t they ever have pilots that are 5’ 6”? I spent a good 10 minutes trying to move the seat and my gear around till I was satisfied, then I did my run up, taxied up to the end of Runway 15 and was soon airborne.


I would have at least 30 minutes to work my way up to my intended altitude of 10,000 feet before the sun came up and the temperatures soared.  The performance of my Ag Truck wasn’t great, but in the heat of Central Australia it could cause me a lot of grief. Leaning the mixture correctly was essential, as was flying to the indicated airspeed when having to deal with ‘Density Altitude’.



Getting to my intended altitude before the sun came up


The Ag Waggon had no Auto Pilot so I would have to be on the ball for the entire flight, and trying to work out how far the winds would take me off the course the woeful navigation equipment was telling me to go.



Sun up..


As with Joe’s flight from Indonesia, there wasn’t a lot to look at, just a dusty, gently undulating sea of red. I was content to marvel at the beautiful sunrise that replaced the starry sky, until it became imperative for me to pull out my sunglasses.




Without the extra fuel stashed in the hopper, I knew that even if I miscalculated my wind drift a bit, I should have enough to get to Balgo Hill.  I smiled as I thought of the similarities between my journey and those of a much more monumental C188 flight…


Known as the Mercy Mission of 1978, a ferry flight of a C188 from the United States to New Zealand turned into a race to save the pilot when he became lost over the open waters of the Pacific. A commercial DC10 flight, piloted by an accomplished Air New Zealand Captain, Gordon Vetee, used some unorthodox, but ultimately successful solutions involving ‘Aural Boxing’, and location triangulation using the sun and the knuckles on their fists to locate the lost pilot. Like Jay Prochnow, I was flying alone and with minimal navigational equipment, but at least I wasn’t over an ocean, and despite the desolate landscape before me, I was also reassured by the fact there were a few farms below, some with airstrips used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service based in Broome, and Alice Springs.



Gordon Vetee and Jay Prochnow – cameo appearance in the film depicting the monumental rescue


Tuning into the YBGO NDB on 206 Htz, I adjusted my course. I had definitely gone off track a bit.

The sight of Lake Gregory was a relief as I knew I was only about 30 Nautical Miles from Balgo Hill, and my fuel wasn’t looking too good.



Approaching the lakes near Balgo at 10,000 feet


As I neared my destination I began my slow descent and dialled in 126.70 on the radio for the Multicom given that the airport didn’t have its own assigned frequency. Balgo Hill, or Wirrimanu to use its proper name, is a small indigenous community on the edge of the Great Sandy and Tanami Deserts. The airfield has no manned control tower but I checked the ATIS primarily for the temperature which was climbing as each 1000 feet slowly wound down on the Altimeter. The weather in the outback regularly reached the mid 30’s by lunchtime so I needed to be on the ground and sipping a cold one before then.



On final at Balgo Hills


Surrounded by hills, plains, bores, and weird and wonderful communities such as Killi Killi, Nobby Hills, and Yagga Yagga. This was the Outback as I had imagined it, with red earth, prickly bushes which were, without doubt, hiding places for scorpions, spiders and all sorts of other creepy crawlies, but the welcome was anything but ‘sparse’ like the landscape. A group of aboriginal children had gathered at one end of the ‘runway’ and were wildly waving at me as I taxied back to the stand.




My contact was Dale, who was, strangely, a native of Wales, who had arrived in Balgo with a desire to study the incredible art of the local aboriginal community before heading back to the UK and finishing his Masters. He put my backpack and pilot bag in the back seat of his Land Rover as I climbed into the wonderfully cool air-conditioned interior. We drove over to what served as the main airport building and arranged for the refuelling of the Ag Waggon. Once again, the temperature would be a deciding factor in what time I would depart given that the longest runway was the 5282 feet 15/33 gravel runway that could ground aircraft as soon as there was even a thimble-full of rain.  Patchy rain was forecast but not till the following day. As long as I could get in and out, I wouldn’t risk being stuck.


Dale wanted to take me to the Warlayirti Arts Centre but I needed to freshen up and get some fluids to counteract the dehydration which would rapidly overtake me if I wasn’t careful. Dale’s place was a veritable oasis in the desert, courtesy of some very wealthy parents. When Dale headed back to the UK, it would be rented out to those with deep pockets and visitors to the local artist centres.


We had a light lunch before heading to the Arts Centre where the credit card took a bit of a hit.



Hey, it’s not every day that you get to pick up some of the most collectible art in the world, and speak to the person that created it.


Back at Dale’s place, I contemplated my new persona.. obviously my final decision is secret…





The efficient temperature control in my room was enough to send me off to sleep immediately….

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I think you should have attributed Joe's tummy ache to the lunch...I fear you are now you are in big trouble with more than simply the underworld...you're in the Doghouse now lady.


Loved your 'choice' of travel contraption...because no one would ever suspect an AG truck to be up to mischief...cough cough, unless they are flying uselessly over barren dessert/outback at 10k...cough cough. :D


Regarding alter egos, I'm kind of partial to that Charley's Angels look in the top second from the right. :)


Last thought, wonder how much a smack at a kissing booth would cost if the Kisser was wearing 14 million dollar lipstick? :faint:

Edited by Captain Coffee
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Ha! I am allowed to comment, reputation intact.

I was confident you would make that flight OK. I didn't recognise your persona when you left Broome, I hope the next one works to keep your true identity a secret.

Back to now, I am very  impressed with your attention to detail, again, you are setting the bar for the rest of us... PS can you give me Otis' email address?

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