Australia Road Trip

I plugged along till a sudden bump stalled the plane nearly dead, causing the slots to fly open with a loud clang. The plane dropped, and the stalled ailerons and elevators made the control stick feel like a dead man’s hand. The plane did not pick up flying speed until it cushioned, just above the surface of the water. I breathed again, but decided that I had had enough fooling. I turned about to make for the first landing-ground I could find.

It seemed easy flying back through the storm; which shows the difference between the first and second times of attempting anything. I passed between the masts of a junk drawn up on the beach and another in the water fifty yards away. Half the Malays on the beach threw themselves on the sand, and the rest bolted up the beach. This cheered me up. I soon came to the emergency landing-ground I was looking for, circled it, and touched down. The ground felt soft, so I gave the motor a burst at full throttle to keep the tail down with the slipstream. The landing finished well.

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The glued fabric surface of the propeller was worn right through in some places, and the inside of the propeller blades had marks as if they had struck a cloud of stones. I wrung the water out of my flying helmet, and made a hole to let the water out of the canvas pocket in the cockpit where I kept my papers and maps. A stream of Malays, like a column of ants, was winding towards me from the trees. Most wore coolie hats; some held banana leaves over their heads. I had a few sentences in Malay written down and tried these out. ‘Saja minta satu orang djaga,’ etc. In a few minutes I had engaged a watchman, sent for a policeman, sent a telegram, and successfully made signs that I wanted to sleep. I set off with the policeman. I walked round the first few pools of water on the airfield, but soon got tired of that, and waded through them. We came to a big house, which seemed to be the policeman’s. We entered a large room floored with hard mud, with a pigeon in a cage hung from one corner, a parrot in another corner, and two other birds I did not know. There was a big cane chair, and within thirty seconds I was asleep. An hour later I woke up, to find the room empty except for a very old man who was expert at spitting. I sensed a lot of life and activity behind a bamboo curtain. I asked for something to eat, and was given a bowl of rice, and some incredibly tough curried chicken for which I was grateful. The weather was clearing up, so I made a sign that I wanted to fly off again.

After I had presented some guilders, the policeman marshalled about 400 Malays clear of a take-off lane, and I took off. It had taken me an hour and twenty-two minutes to cover the 57 miles between Cheribon and this place, Pemalang, which must surely be a record in slow flying.

I landed at Surabaya after six and a half hours in the air for a flight of only 420 miles for the day. The Gipsy Moth’s wheels bogged down on the airfield, and she refused to move with full throttle; it required all hands from the hangar to pull her in. The morning’s antics from the monsoon upset my plans. I did not reach Surabaya until 3.35 p.m. when it was too late to fly the next leg of 300 miles before dark. That cost me an extra day.

Next morning I flew 150 miles before I began dodging rainstorms. I think that if I had started earlier, perhaps before dawn, and landed in the middle of the day when these rainstorms were at their worst I should have been better off. And, of course, if I had flown over the route before, it would have all seemed rnuch easier; but then the great romance of the unknown would have gone.

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