Have you ever woken up and just known this was going to be one of THOSE days? Well today was the day… with an important meeting in Bathurst, and a heavy rainstorm threatening to reincarnate Noah, I just knew it was going to be a long one.
Fortunately standing in the departure hall waiting for our tame pilot, Mike, there was no mist on the runway at Coolangatta. I could quite clearly see the Hawker 400 XP – the ultimate in have-to-have boy’s toys, lurking on the apron! Decked out in its livery of white with Regal Blue and Clarette striping, the 400 XP is more function than form.
It’s obvious in the smooth aerodynamic lines, that results in a wind-tunnel had more input than human vanity. Even after flying in her every month for the past three years I still can’t get passionate about the styling .. Not something I’d have a poster of, hanging above my bed.
With the arrival of Mike we make our way out to plane; Brolly’s inside out, briefcase held over our heads to keep us from drowning, we manage to survive the monsoon long enough to make it up the stairs.
Once inside, it’s as if I’ve been transported to Nirvana. As if by Magic, the Storm’s gone, replaced by Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride; Somewhat fitting, I think. I sit my butt down in one of the lavishly padded seats, while poor Mike ducks outside to go fiddle with whatever pilots fiddle with that makes them money.
Today I’m the only passenger (Besides our co-pilot, who’s just arrived), and so I adjust the dual zone climate control to warm up the 10 m3 cabin to my liking. I’ve travelled so many miles in this ‘plane that I overlook the effort the designers went to, to ensure my comfort. Little touches such as the seven leather seats arranged in “Center-club” format so that you can have a meeting without having to rearrange your Armani. And just to make you feel at home in this flying boardroom, you have wood panelling that extends down the length of the cabin and doubles as an armrest. All very comfy…
With the door closed the two Pratt & Whitney Turbofan engines come to life. With each one capable of delivering the equivalent of 13 KN Force these things can be brutal. To put this in perspective: Our Silver Bentley parked in VIP parking weighs in at about 2485kg, and can accelerate from 0 – 100km/h in 4.8 seconds. Now if we had to bolt these 2 engines to the roof and light them up, we’d be thrown down the same road in 2.6 seconds. But today they’re at the back of the ‘plane and rapidly accelerating us to the point of no return.
With a vapour trail already spiralling off the wingtip, we lift off the runway on our way to our cruising altitude of 35,000 ft. (I never really understand why, in the air everything is in ft, knots and gallons?) Unbelievably this arrives in about 18minutes, long before my first cup of coffee, and long after we enter a thick bank of cloud. In any of the smaller ‘craft, these weather conditions would have me looking for that horrible little bag, but in the 400 XP there’s only a gentle buffeting as we navigate the turbulence.
This eerie darkness outside brings me to think about the strides that commercial ‘planes have made in Navigational equipment. The XP’s fitted with Pro Line 4 Avionics, which not only looks the part, but also incorporates a Flight Instrument System (EFIS) that depicts all flight information in a clear, easy-to-understand graphical display: Feeding you vital information on things like airspeed, bearing, altitude, aircraft attitude, ground proximity warning, Traffic Alert And Collision Avoidance and weather radar. And for safety’s sake, all critical systems are duplicated.
With just under 500 miles to Bathurst, we should be airborne for less than an hour before we touchdown. The XP is a good 30mph faster than anything else in its class, which, in this age of time and money is certainly worth having. And even at these speeds you can cover close to 1500nm before having to fill her up again. And then you’d better have a suitcase full of money to pay for the whopping 500 odd gallons that you’re going to need.
Once through the cloud it’s safe to undo the safety belt and take a stroll to the business end of the ‘plane. One peek into the office reminds me why I have no interest in flying a commercial ‘plane. There are enough lights and gauges here to put Times Square to shame on New Years Eve. So after some small talk I wander back to my seat and get ready for the landing.
The descent through the clouds into Bathurst is quite a bit bumpier than the ascent, obviously something to do with currents off the mountain. Again I marvel at the competence of the 400 XP: For a relatively small aircraft it’s an amazingly stable platform in these conditions. Even at USD Mio 7.5 the speed, relatively economical fuel-burn and comfort, has to get it onto the shopping list for any businessman that has to travel a lot. Sure beats Qantas hands down!
Although weather conditions are not ideal, with visibility drastically reduced in the thickening fog, touchdown is a very subdued event. With a stall speed (With Flaps utilised) of just over 100mph the XP needs almost 1100m’s to come to a standstill. Not bad considering it has two main wheels of only 24 x 7.7 and a nose wheel of 18 x 4.4 and comes in at five Ton. Our two and a half Ton Bentley, on the other hand, can come to a stop from 120km/h in an eye-popping 51m. Both are equipped with ABS.
Strangely after an hour in the comfort of the Hawker 400XP, the wet and windy day doesn’t seem so bad after all..