Cross-country flying: Perth to Melbourne in our new Aquila A210

Cross-country flying: Perth to Melbourne in our new Aquila A210

When our CEO, Neel, saw two Aquila A210 aircraft at an auction in Perth, it was love at first sight.

Compelled to bring these two aircraft into our fleet and under our wings (pun intended), there were only two ways of getting them back to the east coast to Soar Aviation flying schools in Melbourne and Sydney; in a shipping container or having someone fly them back.

Grab a coffee and settle in. This is where our story begins…

On the 20 July 2015, three Soar Aviation instructors – Koushik, Nish and myself (Ed) – departed Sydney airport on an A330 en route to Perth with a big responsibility: bring back these two Aquila aircraft safely.

With this enormous expectation on our shoulders, we began this leg of our adventure with a nap and a movie. We didn’t see much relaxation in the 72 hours after that.

It took just under five hours to cruise the distance from the east coast of Australia through to Perth. After the chocks were applied, the seat-belt sign extinguished and the aerobridge attached, it was straight to Jandakot Airport.

As soon as we laid eyes on the Aquila 210 aircraft, we were in awe. Photos really do no justice to this aircraft’s beauty: the manufacturer’s attention to detail is breathtaking; every part of it is engineered to reduce drag. From the winglets that reduce wingtip vortices on each wingtip, to the tapering along the wing’s leading edge; the extraordinary fineness ratio of the wheel fairings and rear fuselage that reduces slipstream effect, without jeopardising room for baggage in the rear of the cabin.

Inside the aircraft is an Avgeek’s dream: a full glass cockpit with CSU, TCAS, an array of circuit breakers and plenty of legroom. We were on cloud nine even before cranking its ROTAX 912 S3 engine.

Next we did our preliminaries: read the maintenance release, familiarised ourselves with the normal and emergency procedures, completed a weight and balance, calculated the take off and landing distances required, and submitted a flight plan… phew!

After receiving take-off clearance from Jandakot tower, we were ready to rock’n’roll. The Aquila accelerated at an extraordinary rate – as though it wanted to be in the sky as soon as possible. The speed built up and with the slightest backpressure, the nose pitched up and started to soar towards the clouds. The climb performance was incredible and it responded to any control input immediately.

Before long we were at 7,500 feet, cruising at 130 knots, with a heading of 090° towards Kalgoorlie, all the while listening to the pilots of jet aircraft above make their radio calls. It was like a dream.

A couple of bumps during the leg tested the aircraft’s static and dynamic stability, which it handled like a yacht over a light swell. By the time the aircraft was trimmed and in balance, the flight was smooth and very comfortable. The glass canopy afforded us a complete 180-degree view without any obstruction throughout the flight, permitting supreme visibility and traffic avoidance.

Our first stopover was Kalgoorlie, which is renowned for being a base for the Royal Flying Doctors Service and a major airport for many mining communities.

After entering the circuit during our approach, we had to deal with a Virgin 737 and Qantas 737, departing and arriving respectively. After giving way to the two Boeings and respecting their wake turbulence, Nish and Koushik both made spectacular landings at Kalgoorlie.

The Aquila’s low wing generates substantial ground effect when the plane gets close to the ground, allowing it to softly hover above the runway as the airspeed gently washes off. It basically floats to the ground.

We jumped out and stretched our legs, interested to see how fuel efficient the aircraft was. The published fuel burn is 20 litres per hour, but we struggled to comprehend such a small figure when we were cruising at 125 knots true airspeed. In comparison, a Cessna 172 will burn close to 40 litres an hour at 115 knots true airspeed. Could the Aquila be faster and consume half the fuel of a 172?

The dipstick revealed that we’d landed with slightly more fuel than we’d planned, meaning we had a burnt off closer to 19 litres per hour! This aircraft was performing far beyond our expectations.

The next day was the longest day on our journey: from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, via Forrest and Ceduna. This leg gave host to the Nullarbor Plain and the Great Australian Bite – scenery that gives new meaning to the word ‘baron,’ yet we couldn’t deny the views from the cockpit were jaw dropping and epitomised the beauty of Mother Nature. Navigating this leg wasn’t too difficult, thanks to the Eyre Highway and Australia’s southern coast. Throughout the entire flight the oil pressure and temperature stayed right in the middle of the green arc (normal operating range).

We stopped off in Forrest and Ceduna to refuel the aircraft and defuel ourselves. By the time we departed Ceduna for Port Augusta, the sun had long set and it was pitch black. Besides the moon and an array of stars, we couldn’t see a thing between Ceduna and Kalgoorlie – honestly, it was surreal. We fixated on our instruments to ensure the wings were level and we weren’t influenced by any sensory illusions.

As the city lights of Port Augusta glistened on the horizon, we began our gradual descent and approach, relieved to see the city lights after a long day flying. Having activated PAL, briefed the arrival procedure and made all necessary radio calls, the Aquila touched down in Port Augusta well after dinnertime – thank goodness for McDonalds!

Our last flight, the home stretch, was from Port Augusta to Moorabbin. We’d had smooth flying the entire way since departing Jandakot: the wind from the west was calm; clouds were few and the turbulence was nearly non-existent.

However, the moment we put a wingtip into the airspace surrounding the Melbourne Basin, the aircraft began to yaw, pitch and roll without the pilot’s control input. We were going to make it back to Moorabbin, but had some inescapable turbulence to endure first. Our plan was to track via Bendigo to Moorabbin, our hope pinned on obtaining clearance through Class C Airspace over Melbourne.

During the turbulence, the aircraft rode the waves beautifully. The wings absorbed the sudden changes in lift and the large vertical stabilizer sustained our direction without the slightest problem.

While Melbourne Centre tried their best to accommodate our request, we elected to remain outside the controlled terminal area and come into Moorabbin via the coastal VFR route due to the extensive amount of traffic at Melbourne Airport.

We used the CSU on our cruise and descent into Moorabbin, which allowed us to achieve a generous speed without over speeding the engine by balancing the aircraft’s speed with the propeller’s efficiency.

Once we had tracked to Brighton and received clearance to enter the Moorabbin control zone, we were asked to track costal to join base 35L and report in at Ricketts Point.

We arrived at Ricketts Point and made our call, but Moorabbin Tower apparently didn’t expect us to transit from Brighton to Ricketts Point so quickly. “Sorry, what aircraft type are you again?” They asked. Considering there are supposedly only five Aquila A210s currently operating within Australia, we’re not surprised they didn’t expect us so soon!

All in all, I’m thrilled with the performance and handling of the Aquila A210 and can’t wait to spend more time up in the air with it while training students.

I’d strongly recommend coming down to Soar Aviation at Moorabbin and to get your hands on this incredible aircraft.

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