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The dream of flying by Leigh Taylor (Student Story)

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leigh happy to be a pilot

 

Ever since I was about 15 I had this dream of flying. I loved everything and anything with altitude. The higher I was, the better. As a kid I would always climb on roof of the house and look over the other houses to get a better view. I wanted to make flying my profession so upon leaving school, I drove to Moorabbin airport to investigate flight schools. In my investigations, I learned that you needed at least 1000 hours flying time before any commercial airline would accept you into their programme. Flying for Qantas would have been a dream come true. However my dreams were soon crushed when  I  found out to obtain a commercial pilots licence would cost in excess of $20,000 and to gain 1000 hours flight time meant trying to find a job in the aviation industry and as a rookie is not easy. I was told that the best way to gain hours quickly was to move to remote areas of Australia where flying is the main source of transport. Not only was $20,000 an extreme amount of money back in those days (1990), my parents were not wealthy and I had just left school, so the thought of moving so far away from home was daunting. So my dream was crushed and  my studies then lead me into Engineering as a metal fabricator. The money was good and this is where I have stayed until today. I still had a love for flying and found myself taking Joy flights where ever I could. I did an acrobatics flight in a Pit Special over Queenstown in New Zealand. I also went Heli-skiing whilst in New Zealand. I got to fly to the first ever Australian Grand Prix held at Albert Park in a Bell 206 Helicopter. I was also lucky enough to have many helicopter flights as my wife’s father worked at Jayrow Helicopters as the chief engineer. I also did a flight in a DC3 over to King Island just to go there for lunch. Something to do on a Sunday afternoon. These are just some of the many times I took to the sky, unfortunately it was with someone else at the controls.

Then in September 2016 a good friend of mine Rick and I were talking about our exploits of flying and our love to actually fly. Many years ago Rick mentioned to me he was taking flying lessons to obtain his Private Pilots Licence, but recently was looking into powered parachutes. He showed me some videos. “Now that looks awesome” I said. Rick owns a large property out the back of Tarneit, west of Melbourne and his recent investigations led him to Aerochute Industries. Rick and I both thoroughly investigated the safety of powered parachutes and found by all accounts claimed to be one of the safest forms of flying in the world. So it was decided this is what we want to do to finally fulfil a dream and a phone call was made to Stephen Conte from Aerochute Industries. Stephen is the founder and Chief Flight Instructor for Aerochute industries and talked to us about all aspects of flying his Aerochutes. It all sounded so perfect, so a booking was made to do an Introductory flight in November 2016 with Stephen.

The trial flight was nothing short of amazing and exhilarating and Stephen showed us how easy it was to fly an Aerochute. We did some low level flying and many turns at Stephen’s training ground. As we were flying, Stephen said over the intercom “take the controls and turn left and then right.  “Are you sure” I was thinking, knowing there were 2 sets of toggles so Stephen could control the Aerochute at the same time.  “I thought this is fantastic”. As I pulled down on the left toggle, the Aerochute began to banked left. Then a pull on the right toggle and off to the right we would go. It was so easy to fly and the view we had all the way to the City of Melbourne left me wanting more. Then over the intercom as we were flying in circuit,  “Were are going to do some touch and go’s” Stephen said. Touch and go’s are were you land and take off again.  Stephen made the landing feel so smooth, I couldn’t believe it. Four years ago prior to this day, I had broken my back in 3 places and have 2 titanium pins supporting my L1 vertebrae.

While my back feels 100% today,I did have a slight concern that the landing would be a little bumpy and maybe cause some aching in my back. However, not the case in the Aerochute. Stephen made the landings so soft that you could hardly tell you were back on the ground and then as the engine roars,  you are off completing another touch and go.

It was that moment despite the exhilaration and adrenaline pumping through me that this is what I wanted to do. After a few touch and go’s, thinking that was the end of the ride,  Stephen said “you can do a touch and go now”. The feeling of nervousness and excitement with some adrenaline thrown in as well was overwhelming. I was actually flying this thing and it feels amazing. Under his expert tuition, I circled the runway and lined up for my first touch and go. With Stephen coaching me through every step, I still couldn’t believe I was flying.  As we lined up the runway, concentration levels at the highest, ground rushing up at me, running through all the checks, then the  instruction came over the radio to “flare the parachute” and the Hummerchute we were flying gently touched down. “full power” was the next command and we were off flying again. “Did I really just do that” I said over the intercom. “You sure did” said Stephen. Wow, I can’t believe it and it’s so hard to put into words the feeling of flying an Aerochute, you just have to experience it yourself to understand. With no cockpit in your way, the air blowing in your face, un-obstructed views and knowing you are flying in one of the safest aircrafts in the world, I was hooked.

The introductory flight lasted about an hour in the air which in reality,only felt like 10 minutes, but it was time to land. After landing, the feeling of satisfaction and excitement was amazing. I was almost lost for words, which is unlike me. I shook Stephen’s hand and said “thanks so much for that, it was simply awesome”.

The smile on both mine and Rick’s faces said it all. This was it,  this was what we wanted to do. All the way home this was all we could talk about. For weeks after both Rick and I would call each other and talk about that day and how we need to enrol to do out pilots licence with Aerochute Industries. Whenever Rick and I got together, flying and Aerochute was the only topic of conversation. I’m sure our families were getting sick of it.

Then it was decided. It was time to enrol and a visit to the Aerochute factory in Coburg, we were shown how the Aerochutes are designed and built. Stephen also explained the steps taken to obtain CASA certification on his Aerochutes. With all the boxes ticked, we decided to book in for the training course.  This is finally real, this is really going to happen. I couldn’t sleep that night whenI got home due to the excitement. I became an overnight weather expert and I watched the weather forecast and waited in anticipation for Stephens phone call to say the weather was right and we will be flying this weekend.

Then the phone call came and we were to be at the airfield at 6.30am Saturday morning to start training. That night I was like a little kid on Christmas eve. I couldn’t sleep due to the excitement. Next minute the alarm goes off and I jump out of bed and get ready. Off to the airfield to start my dream. Rick was already there are well, obviously as excited as me.

Stephen showed us around and introduced us to James who is another flight instructor. We were showed how to do a safety checks over the aircraft and then a pilots brief on wind direction,  runways, flight circuits,  safety and basically how the day was going to run.

We then warmed up the aircraft and moved out onto the run way to set up the Aerochute. After being taught all the correct procedures in setting up the Aerochure, both the machine and the canopy,  it was time to climb aboard with our instructors. A check of our comms complete, checking the wind direction done, Runway clear, harness secure, “CLEAR PROP” was the next command and the Aerochute roared into life.  A small amount of acceleration and the canopy began to fill with air from the prop. As we slowly crept forward and the canopy centred directly over head it was  full power and up into the air we went. It was amazing how quick and easy the Aerochute can take off.

Without boring you with all the details, both Rick and I spent the next several weekends flying beside an instructor leaning all the technical aspects and emergency procedures of flying an Aerochute. We had completed just over 5 hours flight time  when Stephen said, “tomorrow we’ll do a dual flight check for solo”. That means if we pass and Stephen is satisfied we are competent, the next flight we will go up on our own.

During the flight check, both Rick and I demonstrated the necessary skills to satisfy Stephen that we are ready to go solo. With the solo examination complete, Stephen said we are both ready. So the following weekend it was time to do our first solo flight. Being a little nervous, but knowing we are in good hands and constant radio communications with Stephen, the first solo flight was totally exhilarating. Whilst enjoying the scenery from the air, Stephen maintained constant radio contact from the ground and  was observing us closely.  Whilst flying over the training ground, a herd of kangaroo’s were moving south, hopping graciously along the ground, what a sight. Looking at the horizon I could see the coastline around the bay. Looking a little further east and there was the city skyline. Wow…what a view!  

 Knowing that I am now flying by myself, whist still respecting the limitations and keeping constant vigilance on the task at hand, I realised, I have finally fulfilled my dream.

 I was flying!

Rick and I continued our training until we reached the required flight time and were granted our pilot licence to fly.  With an Aerochute each on the trailer, pilot licence in hand we were ready to let the adventure begin!

I just want to thank Stephen and James from Aerochute Industries for their professional tuition and for enabling me to finally live my lifelong dream.

 

 


My Dream by Sam Rutten (Student Story)

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Ever since I was young I fell in love with the idea of flying. I am now an electrician working a roster which gives me the flexibility of having seven days off at a time. During my weeks off from work I had the opportunity to train and fly and in 2015 I gained my 3 Axis Recreational Pilots Certificate.

I’ve been hiring fixed wing aircraft for a few years and have done a lot of research into buying my own but with the running cost and hangarage it was never an affordable option for me, until I considered the aerochute. With an aerochute I could drive it around the country, save money on running cost, store it at my own home and nothing beats the set up time.

I had never had anything to do with aerochutes in the past and only knew of what I read in Sport Pilot magazine so I decided to check out a nearby training school. I organised a trial flight, and from the get go I was hooked. I loved it instantly.

I bought an aerochute through the factory and did my conversion training in Werribee. The RPL training was straightforward and uncomplicated having already trained for a Class A Licence. After just 3 hours I was ready for my solo. Stephen from aerochute had me more excited than I should have been at that time of the morning in the cold Victorian winter. It definitely had me wearing a few more layers than I am used to in sunny Queensland. With nobody beside me in the seat, the chute took off like a rocket.

I’m honestly so happy with my decision to buy the aerochute. After many years of hiring I have finally realised the dream of owning and flying my own aircraft. The freedom and flexibility it comes with is paramount and extraordinary. Now I’ve got the chute and the trailer I am looking forward to taking it on a road trip through to the Northern Territory to enjoy the scenery from the air and the ground. Camping, hiking, exploring, flying. The dream.




Bringing Flying to the Masses with an Aerochute Powered Parachute

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It happens so quickly there’s virtually no time for second thoughts. After a rapid-fire pre-flight check of seatbelts, helmets and fuel delivery, pilot Stephen Conte fires up the engine, the propeller’s backwash fills the trailing parachute and our spindly conveyance goes bumping across what looks suspiciously like a cow paddock. 

After barely 15 metres the wheels stop hitting the bumps and begin to float: we are airborne, and climbing into the wide blue yonder.

This is flying, no doubt about it. We’re just beyond Melbourne’s suburban fringe near Werribee and there’s the city in the distance, Port Phillip Bay to the right and the Dandenongs far beyond. Directly below, the flat fields have visually expanded: the hills on the horizon are now almost touchable, there are tracks, dams, windmills and yes indeed, plenty of cows.

Business class travel it isn’t. Pilot and passenger are crammed onto a small settee and apart from the seatbelt there’s nothing between you and the elements apart, of course, from an amply stuffed pair of overalls to keep the wind at bay. I see my knees, the tips of my boots then the ground below.

Welcome to the world of Aerochutes, surely one of the cheapest ways to achieve powered flight in absolute safety. 

If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a pilot but don’t have the time or money to get your licence then how does this sound: spend as little as five hours being taught how to take off, steer and land an Aerochute and you’re ready for solo flying. It’s that easy. Alternatively you can turn up on a Sunday morning and just go for a ride, like we did.

Part of the secret to an Aerochute’s accessibility is the simplicity of the machine itself. This particular example is manufactured in Melbourne by Aerochute International Pty Ltd, a company not coincidentally owned by my pilot. It consists of a roughly triangular frame with a Rotax two-stroke engine and propeller mounted on the back, a seat at the front, four wheels underneath and a few basic instruments.

And that’s about it except, of course, for the chute which acts as a wing for lift. It is also a fairly comprehensive safety device because it cannot be stalled (lose lift, that is), does not spiral and if the engine should cut out it lowers the whole shebang reasonably gently to earth, much like a normal parachute.

“We had a few incidents like that in the early days of Aerochuting,” says Conte. “But not any more and there’s never been a death or even serious injury so the safety record is excellent.”

The whole thing fits comfortably into a medium sized trailer and keen Aerochutists tend to take their aircraft on holidays with them. 

Get permission to use a suitably flat piece of ground, keep out of restricted air spaces and you could be whale watching off the coast, circling the Bungle Bungles in Western Australia or checking out any of Australia’s marvels from the air.

There are costs involved, of course, not least of which is purchasing your very own flying machine. Aerochute International has two models, the basic 52 horsepower Aerochute for around $20,000 or the more powerful Hummerchute which can carry more weight and costs around $26,000. That’s fully built to Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) standards and includes everything from the engine, the chute and even air in the tyres. It’s not chickenfeed, but it’s a lot less than a Cessna.

Far from being a backyard operation, the company employs 10 people and is an Aussie export success story with its Aerochutes going to the USA and Europe where they are valued for their light but strong frames and handy side-by-side seating arrangement.

So, how do they go? Top speed is limited to about 70km/h mainly because the 10 metre-wide chute creates plenty of aerodynamic drag as well as lift. Perhaps more importantly they can go much slower if you want to get down to treetop level and investigate something interesting. 

Maximum legal ceiling height is 5000 feet although because “our” cow paddock is not far from Avalon Airport we don’t go above 1000 feet. Which seems plenty, given we’re basically in a propeller-driven go-kart hanging from a nylon bag.

And that’s what we do for a good half hour, buzzing around the area, heading down almost to ground level to follow a rutted track, practise a few touch-and-go landings and some steep turns. There’s a pilot-to-passenger intercom and a radio to contact other flyers but considering you have everything hanging out in the breeze, sometimes it’s just as easy to wave.

The controls are amazingly simple: there’s a foot operated throttle for maximum power on take off and steering is done by pulling the chute’s two cords to turn left or right. Throttle down to land, flare the chute back like a parachutist and you’re back in the paddock. Conte is a qualified instructor and has taught hundreds how to do it.

There’s a club, of course, called the Aerochute Association of Australia which operates out of Victoria, although members are from all over the country and even New Zealand and the USA. They’re hoping to get the biggest massed flight of at least 38 Aerochutists airborne sometime soon, which might even make Werribee’s nonchalant bovine population give a second glance upwards.

On this particular Sunday morning there’s just the four Aerochutes, two taking some pretty excited civilians on joy flights, the others just there for the flying. It’s all very pleasant and you can’t help feeling this was how flying used to be: no airports, queues or aggravation, just a bunch of guys and gals in a paddock tinkering with machines then taking them for a spurt. It’s something anyone with half a hankering to get airborne could get used to.

 

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Come Fly With Me

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TEN kilometres to the west of Werribee lies a small airfield that’s home to an unusual aircraft. While a Jetstar Airbus flies overhead, inbound to Avalon, a small engine roars as a strange-looking cart with two people on board moves forward, attached to a large parachute that fills with air. Inside, pilot Steve Conte is introducing potential student Darryl Deller to the joys of flying an Aerochute.

A short run along the bumpy runway and the cart, which looks ungainly on the ground, lifts off and heads skywards, suddenly gaining a smooth grace like a soaring bird.

Conte has been operating from the strip for 15 years, teaching people to fly the Aerochute aircraft his company builds in Coburg. “We get a lot of people who just want to have a try flying in something that’s different. It’s an unusual, but very safe, way to get into the air,’’ Conte says. ‘‘It’s a lot of fun and very easy to fly. You can’t stall them or spin them, and if you have an engine failure you just parachute slowly down to the ground.”

At the end of his half-hour flight, Deller agrees. “It’s fantastic. You get up there and have the wind in your face. You look down and realise there’s nothing between you and the ground except the seat you’re sitting on.

“It’s certainly very adventurous. I’ve never done anything like this before. Steve’s a great pilot. He let me take the controls, which I didn’t expect.”

Another potential student, Jodie Wood, of Bonbeach, was equally impressed with her Aerochute experience. “It was like being on a flying motorbike just above the ground. My favorite part was watching the kangaroos as we flew above them.

“It’s definitely a thrill, but a very comfortable thrill. The seat is like sitting in your lounge chair.”


Weird and Wonderful Flying Machine

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It was dawn. It was cold. And Stephen Conte had to be kidding. I was in the middle of inspecting a hangar full of beautiful (and very airworthy) looking sailplanes when the sound of a loud two-stroke engine shattered the early morning tranquility. Outside the hangar sat a tricycle with the lanky frame of Aerochute manufacturer Stephen Conte hunkered down in its bench seat.

Gliders may not have motor but at least they have wings. Conte’s craft didn’t appear to have a prayer of flying let alone any visible means of aerial support. All the trike had – lying in the dirt behind – was a huge, multi-colored rag attached by a tangle of cords.

But then came a miracle. Conte cranked the two-stroke motor hanging off the back of the trike to full noise and the giant rag was transformed. First, the pusher prop blew it off the dirt. Then the trike rushed forward and a parachute swung up and blossomed above. One blink later and Conte was airborne, screeching into the distance like a lawnmower gone wrong. The whole process can’t have taken more than 15 seconds; it was like watching a parachute landing in reverse.

A few circuits for the camera and Conte lands. My turn to fly. On goes a mandatory open face motorcycle helmet along with a thick pair of gloves in deference to the early morning freeze. I strap in next to Conte – accommodation for two is tight on the thin bench seat.

Clear prop, zip start and we are off into the take off roll. Conte looks back and up to make sure we have a flyable wing, decides we don’t, chops the power and we roll to a halt. It’s my first aborted take off in any flying machine and I start to wonder whether the Aerochute is as safe as the promotional blurb makes out.

The Aerochute design idea came from a Ministry of Defence specification calling for a durable, easily rigged and transportable machine that was simple enough to fly for the dumbest grunt with the worst hangover. It also had to be hard to crash.

We get set for take off again. A heavy dew has wetted the nylon ‘chute causing deployment problems. But this time the wing swings up sweetly and, after a much longer roll than Conte’s one-up take off, the little ship gets off the deck. We climb to 150m and watch the world awake. All is serenely beautiful but my rational mind starts to wonder about the structural integrity of the four solitary D rings holding the ‘chute harness on (the karabiners are similar to those used in hang gliders and could probably secure the QEII). From there it wanders to the possibility of an errant propeller mowing through the lines – but they’re made of Spectre, which is strong enough to foul the prop before a line could possibly break.

My gloomy reverie is broken by Conte screaming something through the two stroke din. I shrug my hands up to motion that I don’t understand and Conte responds by handing me the controls. Oh my God, I’ve got the ship. Fear turns from illusion to the real thing.

Flying an Aerochute is bone simple. A foot throttle controls the climb and descent. Put the boot in and the Aerochute climbs; back off and it descends, and somewhere in the middle of the throttle travel it cruises level. Full tilt is 70km/h with a minimum airspeed of 40km/h. Aerochute flying controls consist of two steering toggles (or “brakes” in parachute talk), which hang down at shoulder height. Pull left to go left and right to go right. One foot goes on the throttle bar and the other can do what it likes. Conte has a hand throttle designed so that paraplegics can fly the craft.

The Aerochute has to be one of the world’s most austere powered aircraft. The only contraption more minimal is a Para glider with an engine that straps to the pilot’s back.

I grip the brakes as if they were Lotto cheques. “Turn left!” gets hollered in my ear and I give the left brake a half-inch tug. We keep sailing off to the right in the general direction of New Zealand “More!” and I give it another half inch. New Zealand remains the destination. A hand grabs my left wrist and reefs it down a good 12 inches. The ship responds smartly by swiveling left and heading for Brisbane. Aaah ha – a little bit of effort goes a long way in steering the thing. Bank in turns is gentle, even with the steering toggles pulled all the way to the stops. The ship will fly straight and level with hands off the brakes.

Conte is managing director of Aerochute Industries, which distributes the machine throughout Australia and overseas. He sees the domestic market for the Aerochute split between sport flyers wanting to get into the air quickly, safely and cheaply, and farmers using the Aerochute like an aerial trail bike. The Aerochute machines have been sold worldwide, with the majority going to recreation flying and farmers for aerial survey work.

Selling points are ease of use and safety. Australian regulations call for 20 hours instruction as per ultra-light pilots.

The Aerochute is certified under Air Navigation Order 95.32, which relates to powered parachutes and trike hang-gliders. Under ANO 95.32 the Aerochute can be flown to a maximum altitude of 1500m (true ceiling is 3050m) and can be flown cross-country so long as you stay out of controlled airspace. Gusty winds will keep an Aerochute pilot on the deck, as flying is not recommended in winds over 15 knots and the maximum allowed crosswind for landing is five knots.

Conte says the most obvious safety feature is the wing; if something goes wrong then you have already bailed out under a good ‘chute.

In more than 10,000 hours of operations world-wide there has yet to be a serious Aerochute crash. The aircraft is incapable of getting into a spin and stops in the brake lines make it impossible to stall the ram air wing. The machine has been flown 1500km across the Australian outback and has been tested for high altitude, high temperature performance in North East Africa. A variant equipped with skis and balloon tyres was flown around the Arctic for three months.

We land. This is achieved by leveling out close to the ground, backing off the throttle, and pulling on both brakes. The increase in drag on the wing pitches the nose up and the craft touches down back wheels first. Braking during the landing roll is accomplished by extending a Reebok until the ship stops.

My second flight is much more relaxed. This time I know the thing is a gentle flyer and I get involved with enjoying rather than worrying. The sensation of flying low and slow is fabulous: there is no cockpit to dampen the experience of being in the air and you can watch the countryside roll under in exquisite detail. The feeling is God-like. My grin has spread to the vicinity of my ears by the time Conte lands and I am hooked. As the ship rolls to a halt all I want to do is hand over the readies and make it mine !


Commonwealth Hill and Lake Gairdner South Australia

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Our trip to Commonwealth Hill and Lake Gairdner South Australia.

As soon as we left Victoria and crossed into South Australia, it stopped raining. Our first flight was at the Coorong Coastal Park in South Australia. On the second morning, we awoke to no wind and fair skies. Let’s go flying. From a dry dead flat salt lake, we flew off towards the coast. It was only 2 kms away but we did not reach it. At 1000ft we were down to 5 kph, but very very smooth. I turned into the wind and we were now doing 105 kph. It was a great view though. Spectacular small salt lakes parallel to the ocean finally leading to the main waters way off in the Coorong itself. We were camped at the foot of 100ft high sand dunes. We flew 3 x there at the Coorong before moving on. 

Our next flying was at Clayton South Australia. We had a contact there with a field. Clayton is a little recreation town for yachties. It is also where the mighty Murray River ends its long journey and enters the sea. Just before it enters the sea, it flows around Hindmarsh Island. We flew off into a 6km tail wind. At 1500ft we were doing 75 kms an hour, and the mouth of the Murray was 16kms away. What a fabulous view! All the water around the island is shallow and when the sun is out, the colours are just fantastic. Heading back, our GPS read 43kph. It was still very smooth flying. Flying the next day, we retraced our flight over the mouth, and then went on to the town of Goolwa and finally back to Clayton. In total 1.2 hours and 48kms covered. While chilling out back at camp, I SMSd our daughter, just to keep in touch. I also SMSd Tom to tell him how great our flying was. Within 5 seconds of sending the message to Tom, he rang back and yelled down the phone at me.”BASTARD”. He was so quick off the mark, I laughed and laughed. We were visiting Tom and Donna next. 

We travelled to Adelaide to meet them and within 1 ½ hours we were out at Toms favourite strip and the weather was just perfect. Out we flew, Lyn and I, with Tom and Taylor. Climbing out to 1200ft over the coastline, the water was glass smooth to the horizon. In the warm sunshine, the colours of the water were blues and aquas and turquoise. See front page photo. It was one of the few times my GPS has read, 58kph out and 58kph back. Down the coast we flew for about 20kms, then turned inland and flew back over dry farmland , back to the strip. AH, it was SO GOOD. 

Next morning Sunday, the wind was up. Tom had arranged to meet up with his mate, an ex Aerochuter, Dean. We met up in a factory not far away. Dean is building motor homes now, half million dollar motor homes. They were impressive. So was the amount of work Dean was putting into them. Next morning, we are on the road again, heading north. We were meeting Tom and Donna again in 3 weeks time. For the moment, Lyn and I were heading to Commonwealth Hill sheep station. It is situated right in the middle of the Woomera Rocket Range. 

We stopped at the Woomera Caravan Park overnight so as to get permission to fly in the restricted Zone. One phone call to the Airport Manager at Woomera was all it took. He knew what the RAA was and he also knew what powered parachutes were. He took my details of where and when we would be and when we would be out of the place. No problem. Because there is very little mobile phone service on the Stuart Highway, we phoned ahead to the Station Managers wife, Angela, from the last public phone on the Highway closest to their place, at Glendambo roadhouse. 

Commonwealth Hill is 110kms from the bitumen. Angela told us we could expect to spend 2 – 2 ½ hours to reach the homestead. We actually spent 3 hours because we were towing and did not know the road. The road was pretty good. At an average of 40kph, a few wash a ways and corrugations, the only worry was staying on the right road, even with very good directions and maps. Finally arriving, we drove through the entrance to the homestead and passed all the outbuildings, including the rocket fall out shelter. Now that we will have to ask about later. Of course, the house dogs started and Angela came out to meet us with a 3 week old baby strapped to her front. She showed us around the very solid rock stone walled house. Built in 1947, it has 2 lounge rooms and 8 bedrooms, an attic and a cellar, and a wired in big wide veranda all around the house. The fridge was a separate room and the fully stocked wine cellar was where Angela escaped to when the temperature reached 52 Deg. C. for a couple of days over summer.

When Dougall, the manager arrived home we all had a friendly cuppa and then he announced he had to travel to the furthest end of the 1,000,000 acre property to check on the windmills and diesel pumps, 90kms away. Would we like to come along for the ride? The ride was in a 182 Cessna. Oh! Yes! This gave us the opportunity to see the property very quickly, without us having to drive ourselves around. It was a great flight. Dougall explaining lots along the way. Not a lot to see though. Flat, red sand, one type of light scrub, rather featureless desert, except for 30,000 sheep, vastly scattered though. Dougall explained when the wind did not blow, his little diesel engines had to raise the water to the 30 ft high tank. 

This tank water was gravity fed to up to 15kms away to water troughs. There were 30 tanks feeding a network of troughs, over the entire property. Dougals job as manager requires him to keep that water flowing at all costs. If the water stops for more than ½ a day, sheep start dying. The return trip was at a height of 50ft checking the water depth in holding tanks all the way home. It was interesting to note Dougall used a small GPS for the entire trip. 

There being no land marks, even he said he could get lost in the vastness. We all had lots to talk about over the evening meal. Next day was spent exploring the immediate property on foot, as it was too windy for our flying. The rocket shelter was interesting. It was build after the 2nd WW, for the first rocket tests out of Woomera. The shelter consists of curved steel roof, not unlike ……and railing all jointed together, with concrete ends and all covered in a metre of earth.

Whenever a rocket was set for a launch, it was Woomeras job to phone all the homesteads to warn them to get into the shelters. After a while of nobody hearing anything from within the shelter, people started sitting on top of the shelter for a view. Very few people ever saw anything. Dougal did tell me though, a manager on a neighbouring property has told him he has found lots of broken up parts scattered over vast areas of his property. 

After lunch, Dougal asked us if we would like a truck ride to pick up 40 unshorn sheep that he was going to pick up and then bring them back to the homestead. No worries, let’s go. The corrugated station roads were murder on the 9 ton cab over truck. One hour later, we were glad to arrive at the holding pens where 2 young guys on motor bikes were holding the sheep. They had spent 2 days rounding them up. I watched the guys, yelling at the sheep up with a dog jumping excitedly all over their backs and nipping their heels. They were also grabbing fistfuls of the sheep’s fleece to guide them up the ramps into the truck.

At one point, I tried to help. When I saw one particularly stubborn sheep refuse to go the right way up the chute ramp, bone handed I grabbed for the sheep’s woolly back to guide him. Ahhhhhhh!!!!! I yelled in pain and unclenched the woolly critter. You’re on your own mate! I exclaimed. His wool was jammed full with every prickle, thorn, thistle and sharp object imaginable. That was the immediate end to my useful help. Finally loaded, after 2 hours, Dougal decided to show us some more of the property on the return trip to the homestead. Along the way he explained his method of how he manages 30,000 sheep, with 10,000 new lambs per year. 

His intricate computer aided method of always having at least of couple of 5 year old sheep to every bunch of young new ones, to show them around the paddock, where the water was etc. There are up to 70 paddocks spread over 1,500 sq. miles. And he absolutely loved his job and life style. Somewhere along the way home, we got bogged in soft sand. “Now we’re in trouble” Said Dougal. Lyn and I looked at each other. He tried forward and reversing a few times, but only managed to get us in deeper. One way to get out was to lighten the load. But there was no way Dougal was going to let those sheep go. Bugger, I’ll have to get out and help now, I thought. I looked around for a jack, a shovel, sand ramps, anything an experienced station manager would carry on one of his trucks. Nothing. No one thing to help us. I couldn’t believe it. 40kms from the homestead, in a Dario black stop, 40 bleeding sheep on board, no tools and 28 deg. C. Great! All we could do was DIG. DIG with our bare hands in the sand! And dig we die. 

After 30 minutes, we broke down a leafy desert bush and lined the ramped hole with it. With our hearts in our mouths we watched as the truck came straight out. Whew I Finally we had it back to the homestead, where we let the sheep out in to a home paddock. About 1530 hours the wind dropped suddenly.for a fly. Commonwealth Hill has a large dirt strip. Four actually. In a very large triangle. We climbed straight to 1000 ft and flew over the homestead. Dougal came directly out to the strip to watch us. There was no point venturing too far from home in this wilderness. So I landed and put Dougal on board. He was a bit puzzled by the craft itself, but absolutely loved the flying. Next, his two young workers on the motor bikes came out, so I gave each of them a quiet flight around the homestead. By that time it was pretty dark, but there were big smiles everywhere. That turned out to be our only flight time here. But it was a great one to put in the log book. 

After another delicious tea and lots of conversation late into the night, we had to retire, so as to pack and leave in the morning. Next morning we said our long good byes and started on our journey to our next adventure. The way out was a lot more relaxed as we knew our way and the conditions. Now we are into our next adventure. Meeting up with Steve from Yulara and Tom from Adelaide. We are all meeting at Glendambo Road House at 3pm. From there we travelled directly west to Kingoonya, and then turning south into the Gawler Ranges and the huge Lake Gairdner. Steve Bryan has written up this part of the story. So I’ll let him continue in his words. 

See Ya. John and Lyn.