The next couple of weeks were to prove a strange time. I was supposed to be returning to work but the COVID-19 travel restrictions were starting to bite, and travel to my work place in Iraq had just been stopped. Over the next few days I spent a while with Planey at Warbirds, doing a thorough empty and organise of the interior. I was able to identify quite a quantity of items that would no longer be needed, and packed them up to be sent home rather than flown with me across the Pacific.
While I did this one of the managers from a flying school on the field stopped by to say hello, with his daughter and a couple of other individuals from the school. His daughter had just secured a job with Air New Zealand. She had been following the flight on social media and had wanted to say hello, which was very flattering! It was good fun to chat with them about the flight and their respective flying endeavours in New Zealand.
I also stopped in to visit Oceania Aviation again and drop off some liquid treats to thank them for their great assistance with my maintenance work. Shaun and Lewis had just come back from collecting an aircraft that had landed out with a rough running engine, and we spent a bit of time enjoying some refreshments and chatting about their work.
On the Saturday a group of local pilots had organised a small fly-in get-together at Raglan airport, a little grass strip at a town down the coast from Auckland. It was billed as a Piper Cub meet-up, with the opportunity to go for rides! The flight down from Auckland was smooth; the weather for the weekend was lined up to be perfect. All the fields were still looking parched and dry; it was a miracle that no big fires had started.
Raglan was a beautiful little seaside town. The airstrip is located on a strip of land a short walk from the center. I did a particularly poor landing which luckily nobody seemed to notice, and taxied in to park on the edge of the field at the end of a row of visiting airplanes. A couple of pilots walked over to say hello, having recognised the airplane. They invited me down to their “command center”, set up in a mobile home down one end of the airplane parking, and offered me home made brownies and other snacks. This was shaping up to be a good fly-in!
We watched a couple of other aircraft arrived, including a de Havilland Beaver, while the Cubs came and went. The pilot of the Beaver chatted to the Cub pilots and learned that they were heading out to land on the beaches near the strip; despite having never landed on a beach before, and having a much heavier airplane, he jumped right in to the Beaver and set off alone to try the same thing. This was to prove a mistake. We received notice not long afterwards that the Beaver was stuck in soft sand; both Cubs loaded up with pilots and passengers to go and try to help.
A C172 arrived from North Shore airport with 3 on board, who all turned out to be very friendly. I joined them to walk into town where they headed for lunch; I settled for a walk around and an ice cream. When I returned to the field the news was bad. It turned out that after freeing one wheel on the Beaver, they had been trying to free the other; with 3 pushing hard on the strut and the engine at full power the airplane had suddenly come free, spun round, and floored the helpers with its tail. The two ladies were in bad shape and the air ambulance helicopter was on the way. We later discovered that they were both OK with only minor injuries but it was a sad end to a lovely day.
The Cubs returned soon afterwards and one of the pilots offered me a ride. I’d never flown in one so I jumped at the chance. We headed out to explore the coast and land on a few of the beaches; thankfully without any drama. After getting back to Raglan I said my goodbyes and jumped in Planey, heading north back to Ardmore.
The following day was the day of the Auckland Aero Club fly-out to Pauanui Beach airport. Members of the Airline Flying Club from Ardmore, and also the North Shore Aero Club, were joining in. This meant we had a good fleet of about ten aircraft going out. We all met at the club at 1400 and received a briefing from one of the flight instructors to ensure that everybody knew what the plan was, and that we could safely operate with so many aircraft all heading to the same place at once. Briefing complete, we all scattered to our respective aircraft and started up!
I took my time and came out near the end of the queue. I was one of the fastest aircraft, so I knew I’d need to be keeping a good look-out for the slower C172s that had gone on ahead of me. We all flew a fairly direct route over the Firth of Thames towards the Coromandel peninsula, so life jackets were essential! My jacket, set up for long term ocean survival, looked a little over-equipped compared to the rest of the day-trippers.
The Coromandel was soon in sight. It didn’t take long to cruise across it and descend into the traffic pattern at Pauanui. I was number three behind a pair of club C172s and touched down gently on the smooth grass runway; a big improvement on my Raglan arrival. I parked up on the end of the long line of aircraft already lined up on the southern side of the strip, making sure not to block the hangar door of any of the homes built alongside the runway.
After a short wait the final visitor touched down, the C162. We grouped up and walked into town; most of the eateries were closed but we managed to find an open bakery to get hold of some snacks and drinks. It was extremely hot and sunny so a bunch of the group headed off towards the beach. I joined a few of the North Shore pilots to visit one of their number who had a weekend house at the strip. His C172 was parked outside, signifying that he was home! We sat at the kitchen table eating ice cream and drinking tea, and swapping stories about flying and sheep farming. These guys were an endless supply of entertaining tales.
After a while, it was time to head back. The North Shore crew invited me to join them at North Shore for the Sunday evening drinks; although I’d be sticking to soft drinks, of course. I lined up behind the Yak and the C180, and took off following them in trail across the Coromandel. They were fast! I had to keep power well up to slowly close the gap on them. The Yak peeled off as we went past Rangitoto to go and enjoy some low flying along the shore; the C180 and I continued to North Shore. We gathered in the bar overlooking the runway, and watched a final couple of aircraft land while we enjoyed beers and soft drinks.
I decided to head back to Ardmore before it got dark. The flight was short and gave me beautiful views of Rangitoto on the one side and the downtown area on the other. I was the only aircraft in the pattern at Ardmore and was soon parked back up in my home spot at Warbirds. It had been a great day of flying!
The next morning I took Planey back to Oceania Aviation. Arriving at Warbirds to taxi him over, I bumped into Christine from North Shore; that made three days in a row! She was taking a lesson to fly the Chipmunk military trainer, which looked like great fun although quite basic and spartan compared to the C182 luxury that I was used to. I left them to it, and taxied across to the Oceania hangar on the other side of the field.
Over the weekend I had found a couple of other items that I wanted to take care of and they’d kindly offered use of their facilities once again. I spent a while with the vacuum cleaner, carrying out the first really thorough vacuuming of the interior since leaving the US. That done I finally got around to repairing a loose trim piece on the passenger door. I’d been flying around with it stored in the seat back pocket for too long!
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