It was little more than a slow-moving dot in mid-morning sky – barely enough to make a cockatoo look twice.
But the ‘nanolight’ that landed quietly at Tyagarah airstrip last Thursday was anything but insignificant.
The plane and its pilot, Mark Rindel, had just completed a record-breaking flight across the country, travelling from Australia’s most westerly point to its most easterly tip, here in the Byron Shire.
Rindel flew the tiny, 80kg plane up to six hours a day for more than a month, breaking the record for the lightest flight from one end of Australia to the other, and he is the first solo nanoflight pilot to cross the red centre.
‘It’s such a light plane – I was like a cork in the ocean up there at times,’ the Melbourne-based pilot said.
‘I would get tossed around and thrown around – some days I just about wanted to give up,’ he said.
‘Other days, it was just absolutely serene.’
After leaving from Western Australia’s Shark Bay on June 24, Rindel flew the tiny plane for up to 300km a day – the maximum its matchbox engine could manage.
There were more than a few hairy moments, including the flight over Tenterfield, where he had to soar to 6,000 feet to safely clear the Great Dividing Range.
Thankfully, he was supported by a ground crew, led by his wife Penny, who accompanied the flight by car, carrying supplies of fuel, food, and water.
‘There is absolutely no way I could have done it without her,’ Rindel says.
‘There was a whole stretch of about 1,000km where there was nothing – just desert as far as you could see, so we needed to pretty much carry everything with us.’
The inspiration for the flight came from one of Rindel’s dear friends, who came up with the idea but never got the chance to bring it to fruition.
‘John unfortunately passed away, and one day I just thought: “What the hell – why don’t I do it anyway”,’ he says.
‘So I did. You’ve just got to do these things sometimes.’
Rindel is already planning his next nanolight adventure.
‘There’s an old postal route in the US, with white marker stones that are still visible,’ he says.
‘It’s another journey West to East. I’d love to give it a go.’