The reason why Otmar Birkner, the manufacturer of these amazing gyroplanes, and I went on a flight like this was to demonstrate the reliability of modern gyros.
In general, gyros have a very bad reputation, due to lack of proper training, and 99 per cent of all gyros are home-built using converted car engines. The Auto Gyro MT-03 is a fully factory built and certified aircraft – quite capable of flying a gyrocopter around Australia. This makes the plane so fantastic, easy to fly, safe, and reliable.
When Otmar came out from Germany in October last year to set up the first three imported machines, we just talked about a trip, flying together here in Australia.
I had already circumnavigated Australia in a little ultralight aircraft in six days a couple of years ago. “So why not fly around Australia in the gyros”, I said. Otmar thought it was a fantastic idea, and I started to organize the trip.
It took me about three months to get everything organized, like WAC, NTC, VNC, new ERSA, new airfield guide, get proper GPS, and new Jeppesen Flight Star software. To get the route sorted out, I used the Jeppesen software, and the WACs.
The problem was to find airfields with fuel available, in the correct distances. With our long-range fuel tanks, the same set up as the original tanks, we had 135 liters usable on board, which gave us about eight hours endurance.
Depending on wind, we could cover anything up to 900 km. The longest in the “flying a gyrocopter around Australia” leg through the Great Victoria Desert was about 700 km, but I expected a tailwind, so thought it would be very safe.
As the idea was to fly to the most easterly – northerly – westerly – and southerly point we had to cross three deserts: The Tanami, the Great Sandy, and the Great Victoria. Nobody had done this before, so I could not get any info about where to refill, and airports are very rare in the deserts.
As we had to fly to Horn Island, up at Cape York, to Dirk Hartog Island at Shark Bay, and to cross Bass Strait to fly to Tasmania, we needed CASA approval to fly the gyros over water. This took about three months. In fact, I got the permission two days before we left.
Further down the track one of my trike students, Don Mclntyre, became very interested, and envious. I told him he could come with us flying a gyrocopter around Australia. He had a think about it, and two days later he was on board.
As Don is a sailor and adventurer, he organized all the necessary survival equipment, such as EPIRB, life vests, survival suits for Bass Strait etc. Don started his training in my gyro and ordered a machine.
About four weeks before the trip his “Red Devil” was ready for delivery. He flew as much as he could, to get some hours up, and some experience in different weather conditions.
With me and Otmar as highly experienced pilots, Don thought he would not keep up with us, but he did very well. Last but not least, Mick Riddle started his gyro conversion two weeks before we left. As a highly experienced commercial pilot, he learned very quickly.
He was always whinging, “I want to come as well” – flying a gyrocopter around Australia. I had a spare gyro in my hangar and quickly organized the engine, putting his gyro together at the last minute. In fact, I had his machine ready the night before we left.
The next morning we tracked the blades with the Vibrex, a tracking/balancing computer to have perfectly running rotor blades. Finally, the four of us were ready to go for this amazing trip.
Flying A Gyrocopter Around Australia – Day 1
Base to Kingaroy via Cape Byron
Saw us take off for the most easterly point of Australia, Cape Byron. After refueling in Lismore, we rounded the Cape and flew on to Kingaroy, landing two hours before sunset.
Conditions were quite windy and the temperature was about 18 degrees which caused some condensation in the carburetor bowls that resulted in some slight engine “rumbles” when a water drop went through the engine.
Kingaroy to Townsville via Shute Harbor
Just before sunrise it began to drizzle. We took off for Gladstone regardless of the light rain. The cloud base was high enough, and the rain very isolated.
The 300km to Gladstone went quite quickly with a 10 kt tailwind. About 100 km inbound Gladstone we experienced heavier rain, and it was wall-to-wall grey when we landed.
From Gladstone we headed up to Rockhampton then onto Townsville stopping for a much needed, but unscheduled, coffee break at Shute Harbor. I went through my ERSA, quite a challenge in an open cockpit, found the runway and circuit directions. The approach to Shute Harbor is quite unique.
As the strip lies in a valley and the high mountains around it create a fair bit of turbulence. After landing we were told about the incorrect CTAF frequency which incidentally is wrong in the ERSA.
To fly in the Whitsunday area was one of the highlights. Crystal clear water, white sandy beaches, and the green hinterland is a fantastic mixture of colors.
Because we cut this leg of the journey in half, the second half went quickly, and we landed at Donnington Airpark, Townsville long before sunset.
Ray Smith, the operator and owner of this great set-up welcomed us, and he even remembered me from a few years back when I had dropped by in my Fascination. Smiling like always, he’d organized our fuel and gave us a warm welcome.
Days 3 & 4
Townsville to Horn Island via Atherton and Coen
The rain was following us where ever we went. We enjoyed the light tailwind again, and had to fly around some hills, as the cloud base was not high enough to fly direct line.
Thank God we were in gyros, and not in fixed-wing aircraft. There would have been no way to fly on days like these: low cloud base, showers, rain, and partly poor visibility, just at VMC.
As we come closer to Cairns, we approached the rain forest, and the tablelands west of Cairns. This was one of my greatest flights ever. The scenery is now burned in my head. To overfly a rain forest is something special: the tall trees, huge ferns, flashing green leaves, and plenty of eagles above it. It was a real sightseeing trip.
At 12:15 we arrived at Coen to refuel before preparing to head off to Horn Island. We attached our life jackets, and EPIRB to our flying suits, because we had to cross water.
As we came closer to the end of the main continent, the clouds eased off a bit, the visibility got better, and we could see Horn Island in the distance.
After traveling an exhausting 1000 km during the day through rain and stormy conditions we arrived at our second turn point, Horn Island for a well deserved rest day at the local resort.
We pre-flight check the planes and make them ready for the next big leg of the journey. We couldn’t find anything wrong with the planes, nothing to fix. That’s why I love this MT-03 and was a natural choice for flying a gyrocopter around Australia. Turn the key, and go, every day!
Horn Island to Burketown
Our plan was to fly the Cape York down to Burketown. Weather and wind permitting. The 1050 km could be done within a day. It was raining once again when we arrived at the airport at 05:45. After delaying our departure by 30 minutes we eventually headed off south, escaping the island before the weather got worse.
I did not know what to expect, but the western side of the Cape York surprised me big time. We had an 800 km beach in front of us. Flying at 300 ft, our minimum legal height, we wandered along the beach, saw plenty of sharks, sting rays, mantas, even crocodiles getting a feed in the sea. That was an amazing flight. We refueled at Kowanyama and went on towards Burketown.
Burketown to Halls Creek via Elliot
At twilight we readied ourselves for the longest leg so far, 650km to Elliot and then a further 630km to Halls Creek. We left behind the humid coastal conditions and were amazed at the dramatic change in scenery, from flat bush land to rocky stone formations, dark red soil, flashing green trees with yellow bark to green grassland.
We flew through big thermals that boost you up to 6500 ft (what a ripper!), freezing cold, and minutes later, a big sink, and you think you are going straight for a landing.
After landing in Halls Creek, we all had huge smiles on our faces, tired, but also overwhelmed by the landscape we just went through. We made over 1200 km on that day!
As we were sitting down enjoying a drink, we realized that we had crossed the Northern Territory in one flight! From Queensland straight to WA across two time zones!
Halls Creek to Telfer
The day began as normal. We pre-flight checked the planes, strapped the equipment in and started the engines. My engine started to hesitate at full throttle. I had to abort the take-off, and turned around, and tried again. Same story.
We found out that at full throttle the carburetor bowls were empty, so, lack of fuel! We checked the fuel filter, replaced it, and tried again. With our 790 km leg over the most isolated desert in Australia to Telfer, I wanted to have a 100 per cent working engine. Another test run went ok, and we thought we had the problem fixed.
All four in the air, on course, not even 10 minutes after take off, same story. We had to turn around, back to the airport. Obviously, we hadn’t fixed the problem. We needed a fuel pump! We made it back to the airport, and found a Repco dealer who had an electrical fuel pump on the shelf. Exactly what I needed!
About $150 later, I was the proud owner of a second fuel pump, with all the necessary hose clamps and connections. The MT-03 is pre-wired for a second fuel pump, so it wasn’t a drama to get it installed. A quick test run, a test flight, and everything went smoothly.
I have to admit, it is a strange feeling to head for the desert, hoping the fuel pump would work properly. As a precaution, we had also called Bert Flood, Rotax importer, and organized for two fuel pumps to be sent from Melbourne to Shark Bay, on the remote west coast of Australia, with the additional challenge of them getting there within two days! The Great Sandy Desert surprised me. I expected sand, sand, sand, but it was green and beautiful. The most beautiful desert I have ever seen!
Telfer was a welcome oasis in the middle of nowhere. We landed at the private airstrip of the second biggest goldmine in the world. There was a huge swimming pool, palm trees, and plenty of cabins. Keith, the manager of the mine, gave us a warm welcome and offered us beds and as much food and drink as we liked. It was paradise — thanks big time Keith!
Telfer to Carnarvon, via Paraburdoo
We took off over the huge mining hole of Telfer and enjoyed the sunrise over the desert at about 1000 ft. What amazing scenery! Too hard to describe.
Our luck with tailwind is ancient history, and we’re facing headwind all day long. But dingos, emus and plenty of creamy colored kangaroos make it worthwhile to be here.
How lucky we are to see this part of Australia from a perspective that probably nobody has ever seen before. We have the best aircraft for flying a gyrocopter around Australia to see, enjoy and feel these great landscapes!
The closer we came to Carnarvon, the more headwind we had to face. The last hour was just fighting the elements, only one thing in mind: arrive! After eight hours in the cockpit we were looking for the next planned rest day at Shark Bay.
Don wanted to detour around the next day’s water leg and fly down south over land and then over to Dirk Hartog Island, however this would have added another 400 km to the trip.
We continued with our planned route as we had permission from CASA, radio contact with Melbourne Center, had all our survival gear, and the machines were running, so, no problem!
Days 9 & 10
Carnarvon to Shark Island via Dirk Hartog Island
We took off just before 07:00. Just north of Dirk Hartog Island, we turned to fly straight south. It was great. The sun was shining on the east side of the sandstone, beautiful. A half hour later we approached west point. We couldn’t go any further west! I tried to film the gang, and we turned east for Shark Bay.
A three-hour flight with lots of water, empty beaches, turquoise water and coral reefs, we landed at Shark Bay airport. We were met by a man with a parcel in his hand. Yes, the fuel pumps from Rotax. Great big thanks to Bert Flood, I call that customer service!
We made the most of our rest day and recharged our batteries, for once airborne again, there is no rest day planned until we are safe and sound back home.
Shark Bay to Laverton
The sun was up when we got airborne and we had to face a headwind again. We tried a few different heights; sometimes it was better up high than down low. The wind got variable later on, so we had to plan on a 5 kt headwind.
Always better to stay on the safe side. We quickly topped up the fuel tanks at a road house about 130 km south-west of Shark Bay, before heading off to Laverton 940 km away.
We overflew the Mines at Meekatharra before landing. I saw Mick pull over at the taxiway, stop his engine, get out of his gyro and walk around it. Flat tyre. Bloody cat’s head burrs!
We pushed the gyro off the taxiway, organized a jack and compressor, and changed the tube. While refueling the tire went down again, but instead of losing half the day, we pumped Mick’s tire up, and he took off straight away. Landing at zero airspeed is a real advantage of a gyroplane. So, no worries, keep on going.
Landing at Laverton about one hour before sunset, I tried to get some fuel organized, but the man from the council mentioned that there was no fuel available any more, and he was not really helpful in getting some organized.
Mick’s flat tire needed to get fixed as well. With the tire and the tube in hand we walked into town. The pub is normally the best place to get onto people we need.
Laverton to Eucla via Kalgoorlie
Faced with the problem of no fuel, Otmar and I go through all the options. We have our long leg in front of us 700 km to Eucla, straight across the Nullarbor Plain of the Great Victorian Desert.
One option was to fly down to Kalgoorlie, but it was not really on our track. We still had enough fuel for 300 km. The other option was to get some fuel here somehow. There is always a way, if you try hard enough. Don wasn’t so keen to fly that day, but we started together, so we should try to stay and finish together.
Without a huge discussion, we changed plans and flew to Kalgoorlie, over the salt lakes, fantastic colours; they changed rapidly – red, brown, white and yellow. The detour was almost worthwhile just to see that!
At this point Don decided he would rather sit at Kalgoorlie and wait for better conditions. We pressed on and when we ran out of light we landed on an airstrip about 100 km short of Eucla. It was windy and quite cool, but I had my best sleep on this trip.
Eucla to Ceduna
Mick couldn’t sleep well and was up early. We kept on going to Ceduna. Half an hour after take-off it started to rain.
We were pushing the gyros really hard, between 75 and 80 kt indicated just to get a 60 kt ground speed, and the rain killed our propellers. That couldn’t stop us from doing some filming over the Great Australian Bight.
The cliff is so huge! It’s fantastic and hard to describe the joys of flying low over the top and jumping off the cliff. I did this for about an hour, on top, then down the cliff. Unreal, what a playground!
It’s alright to fly through a bit of rain; the pilot is well protected from wind and rain, but after four hours flying through heavy rain, it’s too much. My 10-year-old flying suit was not really waterproof. I was wet, and cold. I needed a hotel today!
We fixed the propeller leading edges in our little chalet. Araldite does a fantastic job of fixing the leading edge.
Ceduna to Broken Hill via Port Augusta
The weather forecast for the southern part of the journey was shocking. The rain was clearing, just a few clouds on the horizon, the usual headwind, and we headed off towards Broken Hill away from the rain. Jumping over the hills, and a quick fuel stop at Port Augusta.
We covered some pretty boring country all the way to Broken Hill. It gets drier and drier, but at the time of arrival at Broken Hill, a few raindrops were falling. It never rains here. It looked like we were attracting rain!
A nice last dinner together at the restaurant on top of the mine, with a brilliant view over the town.
Port Augusta to Manilla
Flying today is just to make kilometers. The goal is the Skyranch, Manilla. One more fuel stop in Cobar before Skyranch. We formed a formation, like an arrow, when we arrived. About 30 people turned up to welcome us, local media, the former mayor, friends, students, neighbors.
After 12,000 kilometers in 13 flying days, we were exhausted, but the champagne tasted really good.
Flying a gyrocopter around Australia – Final thoughts
We had a fantastic trip, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Thanks to Otmar, Mick and Don for accompanying me on this journey.
Life is too short to do boring things, and I hope with this trip we have demonstrated that you can fly x-country in a gyroplane. It needs a bit of planning. Get your gear organized and stop talking. Flying a gyrocopter around Australia; Make it happen!
Congratulations to Don Mclntyre, he finished the four points. Don is now the first person to fly a gyroplane around Australia. Don decided not to cross Bass Strait on his own. Too much risk for very little additional reward.
Special thanks to Tina Ewig, my wife, for her endless support, and Margie Mclntyre, for our weather reports, SAR times, organization and internet updates.