Thursday, July 17, 2008

From Mig 23s to a Cessna 172

Today's post is a guest post from my friend and colleague Marek.

After a long string of posts on old airplanes, airport spotting, NAVx, and the superiority of kangaroos over airplanes, the time has come for some amateur's report on flying with Julien. He was kind enough to invite me to write a guest post after a flight we made a few weeks ago, so here it is!

But before I go into details of the flight with Julien, let me try to give you an idea of what planes and flying mean to me.

I spent most of my childhood in northern Poland in a town 10 kilometers from a Soviet Air Army base watching and listening to the roar of MiG 23s flying a few hundred meters or so above beaches. The Soviet base was exterritorial, surrounded with barbwire with only one or two official entrances and dozens of soldiers making sure comrades from Poland did not invade them. During that time it was often hard to buy even basic goods, including petrol, sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, or even toilet paper.

Together with a few friends, we once were very desperate to get into the base because we had heard that in one of their stores they had very cheap sweets - and you could just enter the store and buy it, no vouchers needed! Pretty exciting for 10-year olds. However, we couldn't enter the base - the soldiers wouldn't let us through the gate - we didn't have proper documents. So what would a desperate kid do? We went into the woods and crawled under the barbwire. We got our "kanfiety" (sweets), and used the main entrance to exit the base. But before that, we peeked at the MiGs. They were great! I guess this was my first close contact with "real" planes. The Soviets are gone now, but I still visit the former base every few years to see if the huge plane hangars are still there.

I hadn't flown until 2000. Living in Europe, most of the attractions were reachable by car, and that was much cheaper than flying. My first flight was actually one to Australia, and since then I have been keeping notes on every commercial flight I have taken. And there were quite a few of them. I keep all the dates, times, airport names, flight numbers, durations, even seat numbers. Now you get the idea of what kind of person I am. And Julien was the first person to appreciate this peculiar hobby of mine (or at least that was the impression I had). It became quite natural, that one day we would fly together with him as the pilot.

After Julien has passed his GFPT he invited me to fly together with him. I was in Europe at that time, and the suggested date was the very first weekend after my come-back to Australia. That was a very exciting idea, but I feared that I wouldn't be very welcome at home after having spent my first few hours in Australia with Julien instead of being a good family man. So I had to reject the offer and ask to change the booking. Julien was quite flexible, and finally we decided to fly together on another Saturday. It was just after Julien had returned from his trip to the Outback, so it was a tight schedule again.

In the morning, following the good tradition of using GPS to get to the airport we took a completely new and unintuitive way to the Redcliffe Aero Club, which turned out not to be too bad after all. We went there with my wife, who claimed that since airplanes are means of taking one from A to B, and we were planning to fly from A to A, it made no sense for her to jump onboard. The Jura coffee machine in the Aero Club was the ultimate nail in the coffin. She just loves coffee. Good coffee.

At the airport, Julien took me through all the steps required to start your flight. And so now I know that renting a plane is not much different from renting a car. You just go to a desk, ask for keys and a few pieces of paper, then go to the plane, check the mileage, look for scratches, make sure there's enough fuel, then leave all the documents and off you go.

Well, not quite. Checking the plane is much more crucial than examining a car. And so I learnt a bit about flaps and what could happen to them, why even the smallest cracks on propellers might be a big problem, why adding water to petrol (hey, why does this remind me of my childhood?) is not a good thing, why I should not push these big black pedals when taking off and landing, and so on... That was exciting!

Well, exciting for me. Before you get too bored, dear readers, here's a quick summary of what happened next. We taxied to the landing strip just like regular large planes, and we even had to wait a bit for our turn. Apparently Redcliffe Aerodrome is quite a busy place, especially on week-ends.

Taking off went smoothly and it was a bit surprising that the speed needed to take off is much lower than in large commercial airplanes. We took off even before I started to prepare for it.

We took a nice scenic route around Bribie Island and the Glasshouse Mountains. Below you can see the map of our route. This time we had to draw it ourselves (thanks for help, Julien!), but we have made a decision to do a proper GPS tracking of the route we take the next time.

Julien was the pilot, but our Cessna, as most small planes, had yokes on both sides. I was even allowed to put my hands on the yoke for a while! (Below you can see Julien's hand, but you get the impression, right?) Observing Julien's actions, the first impression is that flying an airplane is not much different than sailing. There's just one additional dimension to take into account.

Since Julien was piloting and taking care of all the flight parameters, I had the very responsible role of a plane spotter. Actually I didn't spot any of the two planes we saw while flying (Julien did that), but keeping my eye on them after that was much easier. There was not much traffic in the area, just one vintage plane and another small vessel.

Flying over Glasshouse Mountains gave us an opportunity to see things one doesn't normally see when driving there. We had a peek at the Australia ZOO, completely free of charge! In fact, with a bigger lens we could probably have spotted a few crocodiles. Speaking about lenses: as you can see, most of the photos have none of those pesky reflections that usually appear on photos taken from inside a plane. We managed to get rid of most of the reflections by using a standard polarising filter. It takes a while to find an appropriate orientation of the filter, and it is extremely hard to find one if there are reflections coming from different sources. But in general the result is really good.

While flying above Glasshouse Mountains, we could also see the huge construction site of the Northern Pipeline Interconnector. So far, I only read about it and never had a chance to see it. And it really is a huge construction work, comparable in size to a highway.

We could get really close to Glasshouse mountains, and flying between them was pure fun! That was when we spotted the second airplane this day. We quickly changed the direction of our flight, and didn't have to worry about the other visitor to Glasshouse mountains anymore. From Glasshouse mountains we flew almost directly back to the airport - first towards the beaches and then along the shore. At this stage we had to change our altitude. Going down 5m/s is pretty quick, and you can really feel it in your ears if you're descending too quickly. Apparently humans are equipped with a pretty sensitive avionics! Note from Julien: sorry for that, will try not to exceed a descent rate of 500 feet per minute next time!

And then we approached the airport and, after a couple of minutes, landed. I was quite surprised that Julien was talking so much over the radio, and yet I couldn't hear anyone responding to him. Normally I would worry a bit, but so far I had such a positive impression, that I understood that this was how it was supposed to be. Later on Julien confirmed that. It seems that before landing you have quite a long monologue to perform... The touchdown was pretty smooth. Definitely much smoother than a typical airliner. I am pretty sure I wouldn't have spilt my coffee, would Julien have served it en route.

After landing, Julien had to refuel the plane. He used a fleet card that comes with a plane. The refuelling was very similar to refuelling a car, there was just a small difference - Julien had to use a ladder. There's not much choice when it comes to petrol type, and dockets from Coles do not give you any discounts...

Then he taxied back while I was shooting a few planes

And finally we parked the plane, using some manpower to push it to its proper position at the very last moment.

We found Anetta in the airport building, a few metres away from the coffee machine. We took a few must-take photos before leaving...

And off we went... Back to the real life!

No comments: