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Page 169

 

Water Bombers at Temora . . . and not training this time.

Some campers had extinguished their fire before they moved on, or so they thought. The wind was blowing hard and an ember they had missed flared up. Soon a dangerously large bush fire was raging out of control. The local Country Fire Service called for backup from two water bombers. This involved deploying a ground crew at Temora Airfield to operate the water pumps and hoses and a fire appliance (the professionals don't call them fire engines) duly arrived with blue and red strobes flashing. The water bombing aircraft arrived simultaneously and they all set about the task of filling the aircraft water tanks with cool efficiency. And water.



Water Filling

The aircraft never stopped their engines necessitating ear protection for the crew. There were several of those clever little trolleys for holding the heavy hoses clear of the ground. Less hose damage and easier to drag clear.

The aircraft raced back and forth between the fire and the airfield, dumping their loads and returning for a refill. The air time, out and back, was about ten minutes so the fire wasn't very far away, however the smoke wasn't visible from the airfield. Ideally the aircraft cycle times should have been equal so one was refilling while the other was bombing and neither had to wait for the other. It didn't work out that way as the two pilots had very different operating styles.

One pilot followed approved procedure, overflying the airfield on his return from the fire, performing a wide left-hand circuit before touching down at the far end of a long bitumen runway and taxying in to the refill position. On leaving he taxied back to the far end of the bitumen, turned and took off.

The other pilot, on returning from the fire, began his descent as he approached the airfield, skimmed low over the perimeter fence . . .

Dromader Landing

. . . and landed on a dirt strip close to the water refill point. His taxying time was much reduced. On leaving he returned to his dirt runway, backtracked a few metres, turned and was gone, trailing a cloud of dust in his wake.

Dust Wake

Away back to the fire, dust billowing in his wake.

I was quickly turfed off the airfield by the boss fireman but found a good vantage point nearby. After a while a truck arrived towing a large tank of fire suppressant. Although the suppressant is far more effective than just water, it took an inordinate time to transfer to the aircraft through a comparatively small hose.

Holding at the Main Runway

The M-18A Dromader holds on the dirt strip while the Air Tractor 802 takes off from the bitumen.

From the picture above, and from the aircraft registry, it is possible to determine that the Dromader has had an upgrade from its original nine cylinder radial piston engine to a turbine engine driving a five-bladed propeller - a turboprop. You can see where the old paint job ends just ahead of the cockpit and the longer, grey nose cowl, as yet unpainted, replaces it. The large diameter pipe, which is on the right side only, is for the jet exhaust. At the time I checked, the aircraft registry had yet to be updated, stating the aircraft still had a piston engine.

Did they extinguish the fire? We can only suppose so. It would have been nice if the crew had came across to the caravan park to let us know how things had gone, don't you think? (I'd better add that I'm not serious.)

Did I ever tell you that my brother, Jim, works for the Canadian equivalent of the Country Fire Service? They have a much sexier name though; something like the Fire Suppression Squad. They have very rugged and inaccessible terrain to cover and use spotter aircraft to scan for smoke from the sky, thus gaining the earliest possible warning of a fire.

Jim's seen some horrific sights in his time. At one stage in his career he used to parachute in to the forest with chain saws and other equipment in order to clear an area large enough for helicopters to land with more men and equipment. How dangerous is that? Imagine getting your parachute caught up in a giant tree and swinging high above the ground with a fire approaching. Not for this cookie!

On one occasion the wind changed without warning and the fire swept towards him. He dragged his equipment into a swampy area and a rescue helicopter used its rotors to smash down saplings until Jim could reach it and climb in. He owes his life to that pilot who risked his own life for Jim. The fire swept over the swamp just minutes after he was lifted out. All his equipment was lost.

I sent him photos of the Dromader and AT802. He responded with a story of a water bomber pilot who went in to bomb so low that a tree branch jammed his elevator. His aircraft would only climb slowly as he circled, unable to free the controls. Eventually it was decided he would, on attaining sufficient height, close the throttle, open the canopy and jump. His parachute had been used as a seat cushion for several fire seasons and nobody knew whether it would open. Fortunately it did but his abandoned aircraft started a good old blaze when it crashed. All he could remember afterwards was grabbing his very expensive aviator sun glasses just before he jumped; the slipstream blew them straight off his head. Recently the same pilot returned for a water refill with a treetop jammed in his undercarriage. Needless to say, his water bombing days with that company were over.

No, we're not sick.

Since Pam mentioned on FaceBook that we're off the grog, we've had a few people enquire after our health. Clearly the implication must be that only something dire would prise us off the delectable 'red'. Well, thanks for your concern, but we're both fine. For some time we've wondered whether our rather excessive intake was causing us harm. Finally we decided to see if we could stop, cold turkey. That was just over a month ago and we haven't touched a drop since.


But again, thank you to those who were concerned and apologies to those with shares in the wine industry.

What next, where next?

We're still ensconced next to Temora airfield. We had decided to leave here next Sunday and head for Batemans Bay but there's another flying day here on the following Saturday, December 1st. It will be the last flying day until 19th January and it would be a pity to miss it as we're already here, wouldn't it? Besides, it's a nice town and the caravan park charges very reasonable rates. And we're not in a hurry. And one of the Spitfires will be flying, perhaps even the Mark 8 with its new engine.

Convinced? I am.

What a storm!

At around four in the afternoon we noticed the sky to the west was black and moving our way. As it approached the wind began to pick up and we could see lightning in the distance. Soon the sky above was black, the wind howled, the thunder crashed and the rain lashed down. By the brilliant illumination of the lightning flashes we could see the trees doubled over as if in agony, their outer foliage violently thrashing.

We sat on the bed and waited, the caravan rocking as if it might turn over any minute. We'd unplugged the television and disconnected the aerial cable, lowering the roof antenna at the same time; no point in inviting a strike. Outside we could hear a loud scraping sound - perhaps something had blown against the caravan side. When I tried to open the caravan door to go out and see, the wind jammed it shut again. I had to use a lot of force to open it far enough to squeeze out. When I finally made it I found nothing to account for the noise so fought the door again to re-enter the 'van. I was soaked to the skin and I'd hardly been out ten seconds.

Although we didn't know it then, our neighbour had gone out to secure his door. As soon as he stepped outside the wind whipped his glasses from his face and he never saw them again. A large tree snapped in half at the airfield entrance, falling across a brick wall, damaging it. Some shower shoes that we'd left outside the 'van were returned to us from the other side of the park.

A little reminder from Mother Nature not to take her for granted.

The Grand Pacific Drive

We've covered much of the accessible coast of mainland Australia over the past eight years but we have missed the south east corner - the bit from south of Sydney round to Gippsland in Victoria. We're about to remedy that starting at Batemans Bay. However, that would leave out a very special bridge between Sydney and Wollongong. It is called the Sea Cliff Bridge and it was completed in December 2005.

Sea Cliff Bridge

Sea Cliff Bridge taken from Bald Hill lookout on an overcast, dreary day.

It is a round trip of 900 km from Temora to the Sea Cliff Bridge and back. We decided we'd leave the caravan at Temora and drive across, staying overnight in a motel. Apart from the weather on the coast, all went well.

Here's a potted history of the coast line in the area of the bridge:

  1. 1769 Sailors from a storm-damaged ship discovered coal on the beach and found a seam of coal in the cliff close to the water line.
  2. 1797 George Bass visited the area and confirmed a coal seam 6' to 7' thick along the cliff base.
  3. 1878 A jetty was built so that the coal could be mined and transported by sea. Storms wrecked the jetty several times but it was rebuilt.
  4. 1909 The mine was renamed Coal Cliff Colliery. A shaft was sunk to access the mine and a railway built to transport the coal.
  5. 1912 The jetty was used for the last time and the railway took over its role.
  6. 1992 The Coal Cliff Mine finally closed.

Meanwhile, in the 1860's a road had been constructed along the cliff face to link many coastal villages. It was one of the most scenic roads in Australia but it was built above a seam containing a mix of coal, sand and stones. The sea eroded the coal and the remaining layer of sand and stone collapsed causing land slippage under the road. In fact, the road was plagued by slippage below and rock falls from above. Finally, in 2003, a particularly severe embankment slip caused a section of road to be closed for good - it was just too dangerous for motorists to use.

Over the ensuing two and a half years a replacement road was built on concrete pillars, out from the cliff face and over the water. The Sea Cliff Bridge is safe from erosion below and any rock falls from above land harmlessly at the foot of the cliff or roll down under the road.

Landslip

As the picture shows, the bridge may be free from the problems of landslip but it remains elsewhere.

Looking up

From the bridge looking up . . .

. . . and looking down.

Looking down

As I set out to walk the bridge along the path adjacent to the carriageways, I came across a puzzling sign . . .

Lock Sign

. . . followed by an even more puzzling sight!

Locks

Couples buy a padlock, have it engraved, take it to the bridge, secure it to a railing then . . . go home.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 169 was completed on 4 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.