Monday, March 29, 2010

Paragliding Sydney's Northern Beaches

Aeronautical information published by Airservices Australia goes through four amendment cycles every year: information contained in the AIP book, DAP and ERSA is updated with each amendment cycle, while charts are only updated every other amendment cycle.

This is why VFR pilots need to buy a new VTC (Visual Terminal Chart) every six months. The other reason is the constant folding, unfolding, marking tracks, erasing tracks and using the Tasman Sea area for writing clearances and the ATIS. There's only so much abuse a chart can take. I just added two bits of tape to my current VTC and it has to last me till June. And I didn't fly that much. Charts seem to be designed for self-destruction when no longer current.

Now, what happens when a chart needs urgent updating that cannot wait for the next amendment cycle? That's when NOTAMS come in, such as this one found in the FIR section of the NOTAMs for Area 21:

FROM 12 142123 TO PERM

Clearly, if pilots expect hand gliders only at these two points while they can in fact be found anywhere in-between, this is a safety issue. So I took my nicest red pen and joined the two points with a nice, thick and conspicuous red line.

After patting myself on the back for having read the NOTAMs in full and spotted this one, I was left wondering where those hand gliders on the Northern Beaches would launch from. The roof of the Bahá'í Temple? The top of the lighthouse at Barrenjoey Head? Or are we talking about parasailing? It's all relatively flat out there, and I couldn't remember seeing nice cliffs such as those found near Stanwell Park.

Thanks again to the Almighty Internet, I discovered the Northern Beaches Hand Glider Club. They launch both hand gliders and paragliders from a number of locations along the aforementioned red line: Newport, Mona Vale, Cooks Terrace, Warriewood, Turimetta, and all the way south to Long Reef.

Most of the launch sites have an elevation of about 100 feet. My guess is that they use a combination of thermals and ridge soaring to stay up in the air, otherwise that's a very short glide down to the beach. Pretty impressive. A pity they do not offer joyflights or instruction, those sites are much closer to my house than Bankstown airport.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wilkins Runway, Antarctica

If you had to choose between Iceland, Greenland and Australia as the country which built a runway out of compacted snow and ice on top of a glacier you would be forgiven for discarding Australia straight away. And you'd be wrong.

I found the ad below in the aviation section of The Australian a while back, which reminded me of the existence of the Wilkins Runway, a 3500 meter-long (that's 11,500 feet) runway built a few years ago in Antarctica.

The scientists and support staff working at the various scientific bases over there can now enjoy the convenience of a weekly airline service, which beats having to spend two weeks on a boat crossing some of the roughest seas on the planet.

Skytraders operates this very peculiar airline with one Airbus A319 fitted with long-range tanks. The flight from Hobart, Tasmania to Wilkins Runway takes approximately 4.5 hours and takes place about once a week during the summer period.

Since meteorological conditions are rather unpredictable and unforgiving, and alternate airports are few and far between in that corner of the world, the airliner always has the option of flying all the way back to Hobart. That's quite smart, since it also eliminates the need for refuelling in Antarctica.

Photo by AAD. © Commonwealth of Australia.

The runway is actually made of hard blue ice on top of which a layer of compacted snow was laid down. Snow provides better grip than ice and also does not melt as much under the sun. Still, the Airbus 319 Flight Policy issued by the Australian Antarctic Division says that at times during the summer, flights will be constrained by temperature and friction issues at Wilkins Runway. Flights during this period may only occur during “night” hours.

There is no entry in the ERSA for Wilkins Runway, but an RNAV approach can be found. The runway is called 09T/27T. The letter T refers to the fact that all headings are in degrees true, as opposed to degrees magnetic. That's what happens when you get too near a magnetic pole: magnetic declination is too large and unpredictable to predicate aerial navigation on compass readings. The aerodrome chart mentions the existence of a PAPI on 09T.

Another thing I didn't know is that the Australian Antarctic Territory is the largest chunk of Antarctica. Amazing what you can learn through an interest in aviation.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wings over Illawarra 2010

Three (not four) of us flew down to Wollongong last Sunday for a half (not full) day of aviation fun at the excellent Wings over Illawara airshow. The short version of what we saw and heard is in this video, the longer version follows further below.

Wollongong being only 30 nautical miles from Bankstown, every aircraft on the club's booking sheet was booked with the same destination, except one 152 and the simulator. The plan was for four of us to fly down for the day in Archer VH-SFA.

The skies over Bankstown looked friendly and flyable, however the forecast for Wollongong quickly curbed our enthusiasm: light showers of rain and overcast at 1500ft. Not very good for a VFR flight over the escarpment with a highest point at 1860ft. We decided to go anyway and have a look at the actual conditions, and fly back home if landing at Wollongong was not possible.

Chris had computed beforehand that with fuel tanks only filled up to the step (68 litres for each tank) instead of full (91 litres), we would stay under MTOW and keep the CG within limits even with four blokes in the Archer. This would give us about three hours of autonomy, more than enough for the trip, legal reserves and a comfortable safety buffer.

Since club aircraft are only refuelled to the steps every night, we were confident the plan would come together. I think you can see where this is going.

We found both tanks were near full, which brought us 40kg over MTOW. There is no safe way to pump or syphon fuel out and it would take 1.5 hours to burn the excess fuel doing circuits, clearly not an option. Carl very generously offered to give up his seat which allowed Chris, Ted and myself to depart Bankstown safely. Thanks again Carl!

We followed the M5 to the south then tracked direct to Wollongong from Menangle. Coming over the escarpment the cloud layer was a little higher and definitely not as dense as forecasted. We descended into Wollongong where Chris landed on runway 34 after a perfectly executed tight circuit.

We found a great little parking spot for the Archer next to the windsock and decided to set up camp there. That's Chris holding the fort on the photo below. We chose the spot in the hope that the Archer would learn a trick or two from the Mustang parked right behind, but much to our disappointment the Archer was still making the same 4-cylinder noise on the way back.

I was able to take photos of the airplanes on display without anyone standing in front since we flew in before the gates opened to the general public. That's a C-130 being towed by the HARS truck. Notice the clouds at the top of the escarpment.

HARS (Historical Aircraft Restoration Society) volunteers do a fantastic job bringing vintage aircraft back to airworthy condition. What they managed to achieve while running the organisation on a shoestring is just mind-boggling. Their network of volunteers is second to none, with more than 70 licensed aircraft engineers. I spoke with a truckie whose contribution to HARS is transporting aircrafts, or parts thereof, from anywhere in Australia to the HARS hangars at Wollongong. He may not be flying left seat in Connie nor rebuilding a Twin Wasp radial engine, but his contribution is just as essential as anybody else's.

This C-47 (i.e. a military DC-3) VH-EAF was built in 1945 but never saw any action in WWII and was later used for transporting dignitaries in Australia.

The Lockheed Neptune VH-IOY above was operated by the RAAF out of Townsville up until 1977 as an anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft. A similar Neptune was once flown from Perth to the US in 2.5 days without refuelling thanks to extra fuel tanks.

Walking through the HARS hangar one doesn't know where to look. Here a radial engine shares storage space with three jet engines. Elsewhere a wooden crate contains crankshaft, master rod and connecting rods for a Twin Wasp R2000 radial engine, probably for HARS's DC-4 VH-PAF.

The highlight of the day was the Roulettes display. The Roulettes are the aerobatics display team of the RAAF and are based at East Sale in Victoria. They fly the PC-9 turboprop twin-seat aeroplane, which is also the "basic" trainer for the RAAF.

All Roulettes pilots are also instructors with the Air Force. Although designed in Switzerland, the PC-9 used by the RAAF was built under license by Hawker de Havilland in Bankstown. This is the factory that Boeing recently decided to close down and relocate to Victoria.

This De Havilland Vampire VH-FJW was actually built in Australia, at the same plant in Bankstown mentioned above. It was used by the Telstars, one of the ancestors of the Roulettes.

Also coming out of the de Havilland factory in Sydney was this de Havilland Drover VH-DHM, only one of twenty built. The aircraft suffered from initial propeller problems which lead to the loss of three airframe, and was plagued with performance problems the rest of its life in service. Difficult to see in the photo is the third engine located in the nose.

From our vantage point near the windsock we could admire all sorts of aircraft taxiing for runway 34, such as this Yak-52 VH-VHV. The nose art reads "Red Hot and Russian".

This Thorp T-18C VH-AKO was one of the first all-metal homebuilt aircraft, and the first one to use an all-flying tail . It was designed to be built out of twelve 4' x 12' sheets of aluminium. The wings of this Model C can be folded against the fuselage for storage and transportation.

The Mustang VH-MFT parked right behind us had flown in from Caboolture, Queensland where he is operated by Mustang Flights and can be seen at the Caboolture Warplane Museum. Chris made a video of the Mustang starting up the big 27-litre V12 Packard V-1650-7 engine, a variant of the better-known Rolls Royce Merlin. This should be made into a ringtone for pilots.

We had to cut our day short because a trough coming from the south was bringing in more clouds and rain. We left around 1:30PM and missed the Hornet display. I flew the leg back to Bansktown.

We could see a dark area of weather moving towards Wollongong on our left wingtip. Sydney Radar was describing it as "severe" to another pilot on the frequency, but thankfully it remained west of Camden so was not an issue for us.

Approaching Bankstown I though for an instant that I had found the strobe light of the 2RN inbound reporting point only to realise I was looking at lightning between distant clouds. We clearly left at the right time. We landed on 11L, taxied back and spent some time at the club.

Later in the afternoon I was at home putting video clips together for the youtube video when thunderstorms came in and heavy rain started to fall over Sydney. I was glad, as the saying goes, to be on the ground wishing I was in the air rather than the opposite.