Thursday, July 31, 2008

More Classics in Bad Dürkheim

The airshow I went to in Bad Dürkheim about a month ago had other classic airplanes on display besides the two beautiful Cessna 195 I mentioned in a previous post. In order of photographic appearance below, we have an Antonov An-2, three Yak-52, a Bücker Bü 181 and a Piper Cub.

The Antonov An-2, registered as D-FAIR, is one of the four An-2 operated by Classic Wings. The An-2 is still to this day (and probably for the foreseeable future) the largest biplane in the world. You will notice it only has one (radial) engine. Initially developed as an agricultural airplane, it later found a lot of other applications, such as parachute drop, water bomber or air ambulance. There's a video of the engine start-up checks on YouTube for those interested.

According to this very detailed history of the An-2, even though the An-2 was entirely designed in the USSR, most of them were built in Poland and China, where production still continues to this day. Interestingly, while planes used for spraying crops are known as "crop dusters" in the English-speaking world, they are called Кукурузник (Kukhuruznik) in Russian, meaning corn eater.

Continuing with another iconic Russian airplane, there were three Yak-52. The Yak is often found at airshows and has now become a popular aerobatics airplane, after having served as a basic trainer for many countries of the former Eastern Block. Despite its classic look, production actually only started in 1974. Today, it is AeroStar in Romania who keep on producing small batches of Yak-52. It is powered by a 9-cylinder radial engine, and one peculiarity of the type is that pneumatics are used for engine start, flaps, landing gear, and also braking and steering.

I learnt recently that one of the most renowned specialists on the topic of Russian military aircrafts is Herbert Leonard, who is is better known in France for being a romantic crooner that many people, including myself, would not hesitate to call cheesy.

Sherry Ditmer wrote a very nice story for AvWeb about her first flight in a Yak. And if you think (or dream) about buying one, RussianAeros in the UK have the lowdown on why the Yak-52 is a better value aerobatics aircraft than most of its Western competitors. There's even a tailwheel version of the aircraft.

Another military trainer, this time from WWII Germany, was the Bücker Bü 181 D-ENKM. Designed in Germany in the first few years of the war, it was produced in Germany but also in a number of countries that were either neutral, such as Sweden, or under German occupation at the time such as the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia. The German-language Wikipedia page reminds us that the Bü 181 was a departure from previous training aircrafts, such as the Bücker Bü 131, being a monoplane and, more importantly, allowing student pilot and instructor to sit side-by-side rather than one behind the other.

On the other side of the fence that prevented spectators from getting any closer to the airplanes, the local aero club had emptied one of their hangars and lined up tables for everyone to taste the local food and drinks...

...while the young ones could enjoy a ride in a non-FAA certified full-motion flight simulator for only a few euros:

Another WWII trainer, this time from the American side, was also there: a Piper Cub D-EKBO, in its original characteristic yellow livery:

Notice the tandem seating, with typically the instructor at the back and the student pilot in the front seat.

So that was all for Bad Dürkheim. The nice thing about Europe is that there are more airshows during the summer months than there are week-ends, and that most of them are within a few hours flying time from a place such as Bad Dürkheim in Germany. Which cannot exactly be said about Australia. But then again, there's many things that make flying in Australia a unique experience, including the remoteness of the place, so I guess one cannot have it both ways.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Nav 6: the part that went well

After busting controlled airspace within the first hour of Nav6, life went on in the cockpit of VH-SPQ. The end of the flight even turned out to be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Approaching Mount Warning, we did some low-level flying to simulate a low ceiling. I chose to follow the side of the mountain chain, which eventually put us right back on track for Kyogle. I think I did quite well, the only thing Lee commented on was that I had forgotten to hold the map at eye level while flying low. The shorter the distance the eyes have to travel between the map and the outside, the less likely we are to fly into something, which obviously can happen very fast when flying low.

After that I spent some time under the hood, and when I came out I was lost and had to find out where I was. It actually took me a while to come up with the (right!) answer. What made it hard was that I only used features from the terrain, trying to read ground-to-map, while in fact I could also have used navaids. After getting un-lost, Lee asked me to perform a diversion and go straight to Archerfield rather than Glen Innes, as initially planned.

I tracked for the Laravale VOR, which was one of the turning points in my original flight plan. Approaching from the south, the entry point to Archerfield is the Park Ridge Water Tower. I knew from reading the NOTAMs that the flashing light on top of the tower was not working, so I didn’t waste any time looking for it. The tower appeared right under the nose of the plane at exactly the time I expected it to be there, so that was an easy one.

I made an inbound call and Archer Tower asked me to report crossing the Logan Motorway. We joined downwind for runway 10R. On base the tower gave us the option to use 10L instead, which we accepted since it meant a shorter taxi to the terminal.

We stretched our legs briefly and started up again. No taxi clearance required since this is a GAAP aerodrome, and we taxied for 10L. The run-up bay is huge and could easily hold a half-dozen of small aircrafts. The weather at Archerfield was very ordinary, which showers of rain and a few low-hanging dark clouds.

We called ready, lined up and took off, mindful of not drifting into the circuit of the parallel runway. We aimed for the south end of Mount Coot-Tha, found the Centenary Bridge, then tracked north to Petrie at 1000ft. We landed at Redcliffe on 07 then debriefed the flight. Lee said I would have to do the controlled airspace part of the nav again, which I was absolutely fine with.

Little did I know at the time that it would be more than two months before I could do Nav6 again. A bad case of overseas trip, sick instructors, high demand for flying training and bad weather.

The plan for the Nav6 re-run is to go Redcliffe - Gold Coast - Laravale VOR - Archerfield - Toowomba - Redcliffe, and is scheduled two weeks from now. Fingers crossed the flight actually goes ahead, otherwise that'll really put a big spanner in the works. I also have my CSU (Constant Speed Unit) endorsement on the C182 lined up for about the same time, so that's going to be a long week-end packed with lots of aviation, with hopefully a sign-off for the solo nav in controlled airspace, the actual solo nav and the CSU endorsement at the end.

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!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cessna 195s in Bad Dürkheim

About a month ago I went to a small airshow at the Bad Dürkheim aerodrome (EDRF), in the Palatinate (Pfalz) region of Germany. The airshow was a celebration of the 40th birthday of the aerodrome, and featured open-air concerts, in-flight and static demonstrations, and even a religious service on Sunday morning. Unfortunately I could only spend an hour or so there on Sunday afternoon, but this was definitely worth it.

The most beautiful aircraft on display was certainly the Cessna 195. There were two of them actually: N3446V, a Cessna 195A and N3081B, a Cessna 195B. Both were manufactured right at the beginning of the 50s.

Actually, this airshow was more of a fly-in than an airshow: only pilots and their guests could approach the planes, the rest of us had to stay behind the fence. This wasn't too bad since on our side of the fence was the mobile beer machine, with good local German beer on the tap.

Contrary to later models such as the 172 which uses bracing struts for transferring some of the wing load effort from the wing to the fuselage, the 195 uses a cantilever wing and therefore can do without the bracing struts. This of course makes the plane look a lot more elegant, and surely provides for better in-flight pictures. It's hard to find a photo taken from inside the cockpit of a 172 that does not have a bracing strut somewhere.

The engine is a Jacobs 7-cylinder radial engine, which immediately gives the airplane this "classic" look. The paint job on N3446V above very nicely highlights the 14 "bumps" around the engine. I suspect these bumps house the cams and cam springs for the valves on either side of the cylinder head, hence 14 such bumps for 7 cylinders. But that's only my educated guess based on this vintage advertisement for a Jacobs radial engine.

The model A had a Jacobs R755-9, 245 hp engine, while the model B got upgraded to a R755-B2 engine with 275 hp. According to, the engines were relatively cheap to buy after the war due to the large amount of military surplus, and some engines can still today be found in their original crate!

The website of the International Cessna 195 Club has a very nice recording of the sound of a radial engine starting up. Their website is actually a mine for information, including a report on a test flight of the 195 published in the October 47 issue of Flying. The editor commented on the lack of visibility due to the big radial engine in front and on the price tag of $13,750, which put it outside of the reach of most private plane owners at the time.

On the positive side, the editor remarked that "maneuverability in the air is excellent,and the controls are light and easy to operate, even for a woman". I wonder what kind of reaction the last four words of that sentence would attract if they appeared in Flying today. More than one aviatrix would certainly be offended, but then again, judging a past era according to today's standards is a major sin in historical research, so I won't go there.

Writing this blog entry I realised I didn't know much about radial engines. After a bit of research I realised they are really just like "regular" in-line piston engines, except that the pistons are arranged in a circle on a single plane. The video below sums it all.

The advantages of using radial engines for airplanes are multiple. They can be very efficiently air-cooled because they all move in the same plane, which happens to be orthogonal to the incoming airflow. They deliver power at lower rpms, which means no gearbox needed between the engine and the propeller. And near the middle of the twentieth century, their power on weight ratio was much better than for other types of engines, which obviously helped with aircraft performance.

The 195 is now firmly on my list of airplanes I want to fly some day, or at least sit in as a passenger. But flying would be so much better. According to the VH-Register, there are only 4 Cessna 195 in Australia: VH-KES, VH-ONF, VH-AVZ and VH-BVD. The last one is even registered to an owner near the Redcliffe aerodrome, but I haven't seen it there yet. Its latest red and white livery is absolutely gorgeous with the Southern Cross painted on the tail.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Spot the airfield: Lombadina

On a Qantas flight from Brisbane to Singapore, right as our flight was about to leave the Australian continent, I spotted the Lombadina airstrip (YLBD) in the Dampier Peninsula.

Between the airstrip and the beach is the Lombadina Aboriginal community. According to the Lonely Planet guide, this community has a church built from mangrove wood. The local Aboriginals are the Bardi people.

In the larger picture below, the airstrip is the red line in the bottom-right corner. Lombadina used to be a simple red dirt strip and was upgraded to a sealed runway in 1998, at a cost of $800,000. Another airstrip can be seen near the leftmost piece of land, it is Cape Leveque (YCLQ), close to the Kooljaman wilderness camp.

Identifying the airstrip was made very easy by the use of the GPS functionality of my smartphone. OK, that's cheating, I know. I had a window seat, and putting the phone against the window was enough for the GPS receiver to pick up five satellites and give me a fix. And if you wonder, an altitude of 10821m means FL350. Computing the area QNH is left as an exercise for the reader :-)

I have to say I hesitated a bit before starting the GPS in-flight, being not really sure if it was allowed or not. So I had a look at the safety section of the Qantas in-flight magazine, which says pretty much the same as what can be found on their website:

Flight mode capable mobile phones and portable digital assistants (PDAs) may be used inflight provided the phone has been switched to flight mode before take-off. Flight mode enables you to operate the basic functions of your mobile phone or PDA while the transmitting function of your phone is switched off. You cannot make phone calls or send SMS whilst in flight mode.

My phone was obviously in "flight mode" and still allowed me to start the GPS, so I took that as an indication from the phone manufacturer that it was safe to operate the GPS in-flight. In addition, the GPS functionality is clearly not a "transmitting function" since it is only a receiver.

Writing this post I came across a list of airlines that explicitely allow the use of GPS receivers on board, and those who don't. Qantas is listed among the GPS-friendly airlines. The Web page makes an interesting point about GPS receivers generating less radiations than most portable devices, and certainly less than laptops whose users forget to turn Wifi or Bluetooth off. I even remember using Wifi Internet once in-flight on Singapore Airlines, before they shut down the service for commercial, not technical, reasons.

In related news, Qantas finished a trial phase for texting from mobile phones in-flight. Apparently everything went well, the avionics of the 767 used for the trial didn't suffer any disruption from the cell phone signals, and Qantas may start rolling out in-flight text messaging (during cruise only of course) as soon as the end of this year. Reading between the lines, it sounds like the set-up consists of a base station on the plane that uses a satellite link to connect to the telco wired backbone, similar to what was used to provide in-flight Internet access.

Sounds like the days of the extortionately-priced, credit-card-activated in-flight phone that one can find in the armrest are counted. In twenty years of flying airlines, I've only seen a passenger use this functionality once. But maybe that's because almost all of my flying as a passenger is done in economy class.