Home at last! The only thing I could think about today was getting home. This is all that was on everyone else’s mind too. If we didn’t get home today, with the weather that is coming, we probably wouldn’t get home for another week.
With the high passing over us, there was plenty of wind, so today there was no fog, which was great. Checking the weather forecast at 6 am, indicated good weather & reasonably high cloud around 3,500 feet. This all meant we had a good chance of getting home today.
We went down to the airfield at 7 am & we quickly got the planes prepared. I wasn’t going to last long in the bitter cold that we were experiencing today. While I did my checks on my plane, the wind just penetrated my body to the core.
Before I got in the plane I was already cold. I wasn’t sure how I would cope with today if I couldn’t heat up.
We got up in the air by 8 am, & as I climbed to 2,500 feet, I was pleasantly surprised with the smooth air & the fantastic tailwind. I had a tailwind of about 25 knots which gave me a ground speed of 138 knots – I was flying!
The aircrafts were low in fuel as Kingston SE didn’t have any so we tracked coastal to our original planned refuel stop of Portland (VIC).
I was a little concerned at Portland because the weather forecast said the wind would be gusting to 25 knots but as I came in, it was fairly light & straight down the strip – so it was not a problem. The team rushed me out of the aircraft & got me into the Portland Aero Club house, plugged in my trusty heater & I sat there in front of it warming up & eating a cup-a-soup followed by noodles for the next 1.5 hours. I hate the cold!
Thanks to Peter Tapscott, President of the Portland Aero Club, for donating a tank of fuel for my aircraft & providing a warm spot for us during our Portland stop.
As I was about to leave a local reporter came down & I quickly had an interview & got photos taken for their local paper. Then into the plane, as we had to leave by 11.30 am so we could make it to Tooradin by 1.30 pm – our final stop.
Up in the air again, the tailwind was still there, so I rocketed toward home, passing the Twelve Apostles, & then rounding Cape Otway. As I passed Cape Otway, a strong north wind coming over the mountains was generating rotor & I was being battered around by the rough air. I was having flash backs to Airlie Beach.
All I could do was slow the aircraft down a bit & hang on. I was so glad once I was passed the mountains, the air smoothed out & I could see familiar landmarks. I knew I was going to make it home.
For this last leg, both support aircrafts stuck with me as we flew towards Tooradin. Just after crossing Port Phillip Bay heads towards Rosebud, I could hear the Tooradin traffic on the radio – I was almost home.
As I approached Phillip Island, I gave a call to Dan, one of the instructors at Tooradin, just to let him know that I was coming in with the 2 support aircrafts & that we’d like to do a low-level pass to celebrate completion of our journey around Australia.
As I lined up for my final approach to Tooradin, I could see all these yellow things in the distance. As I got closer, I realised that there were lots of people with yellow balloons. The sight was really amazing.
I throttled up, climbed, turned right & then joined downwind to come in for my final landing of the trip. There was a little bit of turbulence when I came in but this all settled just before my wheels touched down. I planted my wheels on the ground. I had made it!
I was so surprised by the number of people who were there. The Channel 7 film crew wanted to get a shot of me taxiing down the runway so I had to taxi back onto the runway, do a 180 & taxi back toward the camera. The trip was now definitely over.
As I shut the engine down, I felt a sense of relief. I’d achieved my huge goal after 6 years of planning. It was fantastic to be met by the crowd, with family & friends & also people who had been following my journey who I had never met before.
After all the photos, & interviews, I had time to meet & chat to people who had made the effort to come & see me.
This has been a remarkable journey over the last 6 years, I’ve learnt a lot about myself, about other people, made mistakes & had successes. The flight itself, was amazing, at times I loved it, hated it, it challenged both my skills & physical endurance, but more than anything, it was tougher mentally.
To all of you who have followed & taken the time to write comments & shown your support, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. At times when I was finding it difficult, & I wondered why I was doing this, it was your support & the support of my family & friends who helped give me a boost when I needed it.
Even though I was a solo pilot, it has been the flight team who have made this trip possible. As I got to know each member over the last 38 days, I greatly appreciate what a dedicated & amazing group of people they are. Each member brought a different skill set, view & energy to the team. If it wasn’t for them, this would not have been possible. This is a team’s success, not an individual’s success.
From this flight, I’ve become the first quadriplegic to fly solo around the coast of Australia. However, more than this, I hope we have achieved what we set out to – to raise the publics expectations about what people with disabilities can achieve & provide inspiration for all, to get out & have a go at their own dreams & goals.
Over & out – for the final blog for the On a Wing & a Chair Around Australia Flight.