Hot Take off:


Still on our month flying trip. It was 18 April 1984. We were at Karratha having continued around the coast via, Albany and Perth, then up to Carnarvon and thence to Newman. I worked with the Mount Newman Mining Company in 1971. I started as a cleaner working in the town before being moved to The Hill crib room and the mine site crib room. After a while on The Hill, I joined the powder crew. This flying visit was my first return to Newman since 71.


Back in January 1971 I flew up to Newman from Perth on a company paid for seat with MMA in one of their F28 Fokker Fellowship jets. The trip found me sitting next to a man doing the same thing – starting work with Mt Newman at Newman. But he was qualified, a diesel fitter, unlike myself, fresh out of school. He and I shared a room in the single men’s quarters. He was John Cartwright. When we returned in 84, he was still there! We camped on his back lawn. Back in 71 we had arrived at Newman on 5 January at 8.50am. At that time, it was 90F degrees of pure heat! The company flew you into Newman, but you had to pay the airfare back over the next two pays. Stay 6 months and the company refunded your fare. I stayed the six months.


Newman is close to Marble Bar, the place known in those days as recording the hottest temperatures in Australia. Newman was hot, damn hot but that’s another story. On 17 April 84 we had left Newman after a lovely catch up and tour of the mine. We tracked for Karratha via the infamous asbestos mining town of Wittenoom. We were originally going to land there for lunch and fly on. However, the convectional turbulence on this hot day was too much for us to bother with a bouncing landing. That is, we decided not to go through the heat and land on what would have to be a frying pan. We did however, fly over the gorge where they mined asbestos.


From there I set course for Karratha. Because it had been our intention to land at Wittenoom, we now had little water to drink while flying – we retained our emergency supply. It was so hot and dry we all drank freely thinking we would restock on landing at Wittenoom. I remember being very hot and thirsty all the way from Wittenoom. Never a good scenario for a pilot, let alone in extreme heat!


The landing was uneventful if with a very high ground speed due to high density altitude. We were booked into a Motel for the one night. A taxi took us there after refuelling the plane. I was exhausted. I walked out of my room still dressed in my clothes and walked straight into the swimming pool save for the fact I had replaced my shoes with thongs. Jick had observed how the temperature was hitting me. On returning to the surface, she greeted me with a large glass of cold beer. I consumed it resting in the water. I remember the cover of my waterproof watch condensing over.


The next morning, we flew none stop to Broome a flight of 3 hours 35 minutes. On arriving at the Karratha airport, I attended to filing a flight plan. It was hot, really hot! No movement of air or cloud cover, just blazing sun. Paper work done, we were good to leave the air-conditioned terminal for the walk to the aircraft. Loading the plane was terrible. Perhaps we should have made an effort and left earlier! Sweat formed immediately on leaving the terminal.


Baggage secured, everyone strapped in, I went through my pre start engine checks. It was so hot in the cabin that sweat continually ran down into my eyes. So bad was it, I had to tie a handkerchief around my head above the eyes. It hurt to take a fast or big breath. The air was simply too hot. While I was doing the pre start the temperature in the cabin was close to unbearable. We were desperate to get the big fan going. The plane had a cabin temperature gauge. I glanced up to see 57 C. I started the engine. The big fan (the prop) blew a welcome breeze through the open windows. The engine was fine. I then checked that the controls were free and easy.


What’s that strange noise when I pull the yoke back? I did it again. Same noise! Damn I’ll have to shut down and investigate. Can you imagine the passengers - having relief from the propeller moving the air, to go back into a sauna?


I dropped down onto the ground to stand and investigate inside what this noise was. On moving the yoke out, I could see that a plastic panel adjacent to the bottom of the yoke’s shaft had warped with the heat. It touched the yoke as it moved in and out. The out movement caught it, making a harsh scratching noise. Problem identified and not now concerned, we got under way using runway 26.


I had refuelled the night before to overflowing. We were heavy. Runway 26 put us over the water after a short flight above some salt making pans. The density altitude was high. I don’t recall what it was and I may not have calculated it given MMA jets were operating on this long runway. However, I remember getting airborne albeit eventually, but then being unable to have a normal climb away without inducing the stall warning. It was too hot, resulting in the airspeed staying lower than usual but with a great ground speed. On reaching the ocean it was as if someone had turned on the air conditioning. The air was cool and dense. We climbed away in comfort.


© C McKeown 2021