In March 2018, senior flight instructor Joe Knighton got a request that was a little out of the ordinary. Through the generous donations of supporters, following a fundraising appeal by MAF Australia, MAF had the opportunity to purchase a Cessna 182 aircraft for training purposes … except the previous owner and the aircraft were based in Perth, which is over 2,000 miles away from Mareeba as the crow flies and more than double that by road. Just a week later, along with fellow instructor David Curtis, the two pilots went on an adventure which would literally span the width of Australia, with a total flying time of 16.7 hours over three days, back to the training centre in Mareeba. Here is the experience in Joe’s own words …

“It was a fairly ordinary Thursday afternoon. I was sitting in the flight simulator watching one of my students grapple with an instrument approach, when the operations manager popped his head in and asked if he could “have a quick word?”. What happened next was the last thing I was expecting. He asked if I would fly over to Perth on the coming Monday and pick up the aircraft we had just purchased. This kind of blew me away, as I had only heard the rumour a week before that we might be getting a new plane and now I was being asked to go to the other side of Australia to get it. These things never normally happen this quickly, however it seemed clear that God was in this and wanting us to have a Cessna 182.

Following a very brief chat with home I happily accepted the mission and booked up some flights. One of my colleagues, David Curtis, asked if it would be possible for him to come along as well and again I happily accepted. It was going to be 3-4 days solid flying and I would be glad of the company. Also ferrying an aircraft is a fair bit easier with two as you can share the jobs.

We spent the following day planning and gathering all of the relevant equipment required. Flying across the centre of Australia is not to be taken lightly. You can fly for hundreds of miles without seeing a sign of civilisation and should things go wrong out there, they get serious very quickly. Things like survival equipment, rations, water and satellite tracking are an absolute must. Then there are the little things, like the aircraft tie down kit or spare cash. It would be awful to overnight somewhere only to find the aircraft had been wind damaged or you couldn’t get fuel because there was no credit card machine.

I have ferried a few aircraft around the country and the one thing that you can be sure of is that things never go as planned, the worst thing you can do is get stressed about it. So with this in mind, in the wee small hours of Monday morning I boarded the Qantas jet Perth bound. The trip down went without a hitch and I met up with David at the airport. We then spent the afternoon completing the trip paper work and getting the final supplies.

The handover was scheduled for 0930 Tuesday morning. This is crunch time for us. I don’t know why but no matter how much research you do you never quite know what you are going to get until you see the aircraft and inevitably they are never in quite as good condition as you had hoped for. The owner met us at the airport and ushered us through to his hangar. It became clear very quickly that this aircraft was going to be the exception. It was beautifully maintained and seemed to have been hardly used, the inside even still had the smell of new leather. The owner was obviously quite sad to say goodbye to his baby but we assured him that it could not be going to a better home and told him about the wonderful work it will be doing.

We gave the aircraft a thorough once over, then all that was left was to top up the fuel, file a flight plan, pray and go. Hardly able to contain our excitement we blasted off into the cloudless Western Australian sky nicely ahead of schedule.

The Cessna 182 is not an aircraft to be taken lightly. It is by no means a basic training aircraft and this particular one has very advanced avionics and systems, however once you’ve mastered these and they all behave, it is a dream to fly. I struggle to think of a nicer aircraft for this kind of trip. It is fast, smooth and equally at home operating out of a busy international airport, as it is from a rough farm strip. Everybody raves about the C182 and now I can see why! Before we knew it, a day and a half of flying had passed and we were cruising into Alice Springs over halfway home, with a couple of turns over Uluru for some photos. It is not every day you get that chance.

This time of year the one variable that you cannot control is the weather. Being wet season, it impossible to get a reliable forecast more than a day or so ahead of time, and traveling to the Northwest this was only going to get worse. Needless to say we kept a very close eye on the weather, expecting it to change for the worse at any moment. As it turned out we never even saw a cloud in the sky until the final leg home and even then it was nothing that was going to cause us any problems, just a friendly welcome back to the tropics. Talking of a friendly welcome, we had quite the reception of family and colleagues alike all gathered at the airport to see our shiny new arrival … and I’m sure they were quite pleased to see us too.

All in all I don’t think the trip could have gone any better. We made it in just over 3 days and it’s was a real privilege to see so much of Australia from such a comfortable seat. I am very excited to think about the great work this new aircraft will do for the next generation of mission pilots and I enjoyed flying it so much that, if you’d asked me at the time, I would have happily kept on going!”