Saturday, February 27, 2010

A fellow flying blogger visits Sydney

Without any doubt, the highlight of writing an aviation blog is meeting in real life pilots I first got in touch with through the blog. This is how I had a coffee at Frankfurt airport with Vincent in 2008, and how I went flying with Chris in 2009. 2010 promises to be a bumper year in that respect, something I am really looking forward to.

Early January I had the pleasure of playing host for one day to Michael and his lovely wife who had the very inspired idea of leaving the Michigan winter behind and spent a few weeks in Australia and New Zealand over the holiday season. Michael is the blogger behind Cleared for the Option and flies out of Willow Run airport (KYIP), near Detroit and is currently working on his instrument rating.

The three of us went for a local flight around Sydney on a Sunday morning, leaving the circuit for 11L at Bankstown on crosswind in the Archer VH-SFA.

We flew the GA lane northbound across Sydney's northern suburbs and turned southbound around Palm Beach.

I started descending to 1500ft over the water. Approaching Long Reef, we experienced some radio problems when requesting a clearance for the Harbour Scenic One procedure: the transmission was perfect one moment, chopped and hardly audible the next. I tried switching radios, still the same. I advised ATC I would do orbits outside of controlled airspace and contact them again when the problem is fixed.

Michael suggested that since I was low and doing orbits, my wing may be blocking the signal intermittently. That made a lot of sense, so I climbed and flew straight for a moment and the problem fixed itself. Thanks Michael!

Tracking towards the Harbour Bridge our traffic was a helicopter towing a massive red banner over Manly Beach. He was not going terribly fast so we overtook him on the right hand side.

This was a banner ad for WeightWatchers. I find it kind of cruel to fly a weight loss ad over the beach on a Sunday afternoon, it's really preying on beachgoers' insecurities, which I guess makes for effective advertisement.

We did a couple of orbits over the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House which offered great views of Sydney CBD. Did I already mention that The Matrix was shot here?

After that we tracked south along the coast on the Victor One route. Clouds were starting to build up, time to head back to Bankstown!

Below is Stanwell Park, not too far from where Laurence Hargrave flew his box kites which inspired many of the early pioneers of heavier-than-air flight, including the Wright brothers. Today hand gliders launch from there, the launch pad can be seen on the right-hand side of the carpark.

We flew back to Bankstown via Appin, followed the M5, called inbound at 2RN and joined final for runway 11R at Warwick Farm. All the details in the video below, and as you can see I had a lot of fun playing with Youtube's annotations feature!

Before saying goodbye we exchanged out-of-date aviation charts as we had agreed beforehand. When Michael opened the Detroit sectional chart to show me his local airspace, I couldn't believe the density of aerodromes. The scale of the chart is the same as our VNC in Australia, but there's many, many more airports. Granted, the population density of the US is eleven times that of Australia, but that's still very impressive. Michael also gave me some approach plates for his home airport of Willow Run, my first time holding approach plates in my hands actually since I do not have, nor am I training for, an instrument rating (yet).

It was great meeting Michael and his lovely wife, we had a great time flying around Sydney and exchanging pilot stories. Now I only need to find a valid reason to pay Michael a visit in Detroit and go for a local flight with him out of Willow Run. And I'm afraid setting a new record with a $2,000+ trans-Pacific hamburger run is not a valid reason.

Update: Michael posted his write-up of our flight with some extra photos, make sure to visit his blog! Thanks again Michael for getting in touch with me in the first place, this was awesome!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saturday morning flight to Camden

I realised a few days ago that I had to become current again if I wanted to fly with passengers to Wollongong next week-end for the Wings over Illawarra airshow. Three take-offs and landings within the last 90 days are required for carrying passengers, and I only had one in my logbook.

The weatherman promised all Sydneysiders that Saturday would end a long string of IFR-only week-ends, so I booked Warrior VH-SFM for a few hours in the early morning. Time to shake the rust off with a flight to Camden, only 17 nautical miles south-west of Bankstown. The weather didn't disappoint.

Of course the world and his wife had also come to the conclusion that this was a perfect day to resume VFR flying in the Sydney area. All five spots in the run-up area for 29R at Bankstown were taken, so I did my pre take-off checks and engine run-up on the taxiway. I then joined the line for the holding point, making sure to apply the park brake so that my Piper would not creep forward and chew on the tail of the Cessna in front of me.

It may have been smarter to go straight for runway 29C rather than wait for everyone else on runway left. Something to keep in mind for next time. This is a very similar dilemma to that of choosing a check-out lane at the supermarket. The other lane always go faster.

I eventually took off on 29R and flew around the training area, identifying landmarks such as the pipeline south of the Penrith R536 restricted area and Warragamba Dam. With all the rain we received in the last weeks the area was very green. I called inbound at Mayfield and advertised myself as unfamiliar with Camden. The controller gave me an upwind join for 06 rather than a base join and I made a decent (for a solo flight) full-stop landing despite flaring too high. This was my first time landing at Camden in daylight, all the previous times had been at night.

Camden is a great GA airport with more interesting aircraft types than are usually seen around Bankstown. I mentioned this airport already as a possible place for me to do a tailwheel endorsement later this year. Grass trips have magical powers when it comes to attracting vintage aircraft such as this Tiger Moth above or Curtis Aviation's T-6G Texan below.

After a little look around I departed Camden on downwind for 06 at the circuit altitude of 1300ft. On late downwind the controller gave me a traffic, a Cessna in my 2 o'clock, on descent and about to join base. By the time I found him he was right in front of me and quickly disappeared in the bottom left corner of my windscreen.

I would not call it too close for comfort, but I would have appreciated if the controller had kept him at 1800ft for an upwind join rather than descend him in front of me, even if that meant an extra circuit for the Cessna. That being said, separation is the responsibility of the pilot in a GAAP control zone, and I probably could have anticipated the traffic by listening more carefully for the inbound aircraft who most likely was inbound from Mayfield. Lesson learnt.

I followed the ranges to Warragamba Dam then kept the pipeline on my left all the way to Prospect Reservoir. An aircraft was performing aerobatics near an unnamed airfield south of Penrith so I gave it a wide berth. A Cessna and an Extra reported inbound at Prospect before me and we all joined downwind for 29R. I flared too high on that one too and all the credit for the decent landing goes to the oleo suspension of the Warrior.

After crossing the holding point I stopped for a few seconds to perform my after landing actions and checks (landing lights and strobes off, transponder on standby, flaps up, fuel pump off, switch frequency to ground) and started taxiing back to the clubhouse. That's when the ground controller called me asking me to next time please avoid stopping right after vacating the runway since I prevented the aircraft behind me from vacating. Point taken, I won't do it again.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Spot the airfield: Canberra

On a flight from Sydney to Melbourne in a Qantas 767 we flew over Canberra airport. Which is not terribly surprising since Canberra is on a straight line between Sydney and Melbourne.

It is actually for this very reason that Canberra was chosen as the Australian federal capital in 1908 since neither Sydney nor Melbourne would accept the rival city as the federal capital.

The longuest of the two runways at YSCB is 17/35 with a length of nearly 3300m while runway 12/30 is about half the length. There's a great video taken from the control tower of a Russian IL-76 using every single inch of runway 17 on take-off. I'll let you decide how much chance and careful planning were involved in this successful take-off.

Right near the left edge of the photo above you can see two concentric ring roads around Capital Hill on top of which sits the Australian Federal Parliament.

It took me a while to realise which airport this was. I had only been to Canberra once before, it was at night and it was a disaster. For previous photos of airfields I took from airliners, you can start here.

It feels good to know I'm not the only one filling up blog posts with photos taken through the windows of airliners: don't miss this awesome photo of Grand Canyon taken by Rob Bremmer, the blogger behind why2fly who nicely captured the two pillars of spotting things from the sky: always carry a camera and look out the window often.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Foxbat, the Gazelle and the mysterious Stollite

After posting about the trip Chris and I took to Taree, I received an email from Jamie Honan from the Sydney Recreational Flying Club who pointed me to a slideshow of photos he took on a similar trip to Taree in a Foxbat A22.

The Sydney Recreational Flying Club is based at The Oaks, an airfield 25 nautical miles west of Bankstown. I have to admit I was never curious enough to visit the airfield and only knew The Oaks as one of the entry points to Camden aerodrome. It is now firmly on my list of places to fly to.

Looking at their web site I realised The Oaks is home to a vibrant community of aviation enthusiasts. It's not often that one comes across a flying club where a significant portion of members are not only owners, but builders of airplanes. And not only builders of kit aircrafts, which is increasingly popular and already a great achievement, but also the type of builders who master the entire process, from initial idea to flying aircraft.

The photos were taken from the FoxBat and show a Skyfox Gazelle and a Stollite in formation. Don't try to look up the manufacturer's web site for the Stollite because there's none. Arthur Armour, an instructor with SRFC who runs the Taree Wing of the club, built it himself and called it Stollite as in STOL Lite. A few performance figures and design details can be found here.

Digging deeper into the web site, I discovered SRFC members do not only build airplanes from scratch, they also build their own hangars. My hat off to them, they sure know how to keep the spirit of the pioneers of aviation alive.

Speaking of plane crazy people, I will be attending the Wings over Illawarra airshow organised by the Historical Aircraft Reconstruction Society on February 28th at Wollongong aerodrome. There's a fantastic program with the RAAF Roulettes and Connie among others, and all the profits go to a good cause. Now let's just hope the weather cooperates.

Updated: Arthur Armour kindly sent me a link to his photo gallery. Building stuff seems to be a common theme in Arthur's life: the house, the hangar and multiple airplanes: the Super Cricket, the LR-2, the Stollite and Arthur's ongoing project, the 'T'Star. An amazing range of skills.