Saturday, March 26, 2011

That sinking feeling

In my list of little victories I am proud to have defeated my addiction to watching blog traffic statistics every day. To be fair, visits to this blog have become very predictable, with around forty visits per day, half of them coming from Google searches and the other half from aviation bloggers kind enough to link to some of my posts. I get an automatic notification when this blog receives more than a hundred visits in one day, which only happened a few times in the past when A-List aviation bloggers such as Aviatrix or Ben Sandilands linked to one of my stories.

One such spike occurred earlier this week, this time caused by Google searches. What search keywords drove visitors in (relative) droves to my blog? And why did most of them go read my $100 burger at Wollongong story? The answer was VH-NRF, the Archer we had flown on that day. And that's where the sinking feeling started.

A Google search on "vh-nrf" later I realised my story appeared as number 4, while the number 3 search results was an ATSB investigation report. The Daily Telegraph has the story with a few photos of VH-NRF upside-down on a suburban street in the suburb of Smithfield.

The Archer II suffered an engine failure while approaching Bankstown at the end of a flight from Ballina. It performed a forced landing on a street and both occupants and their dog walked away from the wreckage with only minor injuries. The incident happened 5 miles north west from Bankstown, which is consistent with using Prospect Reservoir as the entry point to Bankstown coming from the north. Congrats to the pilot, a forced landing in a populated area from a height of 1500ft at most is what many pilots' nightmares are made of.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: Fly and Earn Aerial Photography Business Kit

At first I didn't completely get the tagline on the front page of Your “$100 Hamburger” days are over. Let your “$1,000 Saturdays” begin. I mean, sure, we can all find a way to spend $1000 in one day of flying, but earning $1000? While flying? As a private pilot? We've all spent hours dreaming up schemes for lowering the cost of flying, let alone making money out of it without a Commercial license, so I was pretty sure I had explored every possible loophole. But maybe not.

Jay Taffet is the man behind and was kind enough to give me a copy of the Fly and Earn Aerial Photography Business Kit ebook for the purpose of this review. This ebook is available for $35 through the web site and describes every aspect of how Jay, as a private pilot, started an aerial photography business without a CPL, and without breaking any law or regulation. Jay lives in the US so obviously the business concept he describes in the book has only been tested there. I think it's a great idea, but I still have doubts it would work in Australia.

In short, since shooting aerial photography for profit is clearly not within the privileges of the private pilot licence, the idea is to have a Commercial pilot on board to cover for this. Jay even suggests enrolling an instructor and combining flying lessons with photography. This way even student pilots can start their own aerial photography business and support their flying addiction at the same time.

I have to say the book is a pleasure to read and Jay's enthusiasm for his idea and clear, friendly writing style will get even the most sceptical private pilots thinking. A large part of the book covers the basics of setting up and operating the business, but the aviation side of things is not forgotten, with instructions on how to fly a pattern around the site to be photographed, and how to communicate with ATC in order to maximise the chance of getting a clearance should the site be in controlled airspace. And of course the ebook also addresses aerial photography and post-flight photo processing.

I am not sure at all the concept would work in Australia though. First, there is a difference here between holding a Commercial Pilot Licence and being able to operate a business that sells services linked to the use of the CPL. The latter, as far as I understand, requires an AOC (Air Operator's Certificate), which means an immense amount of paperwork with CASA. Ask any Chief Pilot. From my limited understanding, the rules in the US are a lot simpler, which allows for self-employed flying instructors for example, a concept unheard of in Australia.

If you think the idea might work in the country you fly in, this business kit is a very good use of $35 and will save you tons of time. And if your local aviation regulator killed the idea in the bud, well, you still have the $100 Burger, which is not such a bad way to spend a Saturday or Sunday either after all.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One day down the coast: the video!

Please excuse my tardiness, here's the video of the flight we took last July from Bankstown to Merimbula, Moruya, Gabo Island and back. I took this video on the first leg while Chris was flying, so it really only covers the Bankstown to Merimbula leg. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Because I'm lazy I didn't put any explanation in as to what is what, so I'll use a time-honoured trick favoured by teachers all around the world: I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader. See if you can spot the aerodromes of Camden, Moruya, Nowra but also Mount Dromedary and all the little coastal towns. All the scenes are in chronological order, that should help!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

MBX Airways to take delivery of first all-metal Boeing 787 Dreamliner

You read it here first: in order to get its delivery schedule back on track, Boeing took the dramatic decision to abandon the use of composite materials in its next-generation Boeing 787 airliner and instead revert to a traditional construction technique known as die-casting. In a statement, Boeing indicated the impact on take-off weight and payload would be "marginal".

MBX Airways took delivery of the first all-metal Dreamliner, a move that surprised even seasoned industry observers who had always assumed launch customer All Nippon Airways would get the first production 787 to roll out of the Everett assembly line.

Qantas executives were seen walking the aisles of the Woolworths supermarket in Neutral Bay, Sydney, but would not comment on when they expected the Dreamliner to enter service with the Australian flag carrier.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce further refused to comment on whether using the corporate Everyday Rewards card to purchase the all-metal Dreamliner from Woolworths would constitute double-dipping, and denied seeking a 4c a litre rebate on jet fuel.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Paragliders at Cooks Terrace

A few months back I fortuitously discovered the existence of paragliding spots along Sydney's Northern Beaches. Today my wife and I were celebrating the end of winter by spending a Sunday afternoon at Bongin Bongin Bay when suddenly a big rectangular shadow swept across the beach. I looked up and here they were, big colourful paragliders in the Sydney sky!

These paragliders were taking off from a point at the top of the cliff known as Cooks Terrace and described as suitable for novice pilots on the Sydney paragliding and Handgliding Club web site.

I was amazed at how long they could stay in the air. They would fly from one end of the cliff to the other and back and didn't seem to loose any altitude. As can be seen from the windsock on the photo below, we had a nice steady sea breeze throughout most of the afternoon. Wind blowing from the sea rises over the cliff and creates ideal conditions for soaring.

Cooks Terrace is the cliff on the right-hand side of the photo below. Other paragliders can be seen in the distance on the left-hand side, this is the Warriewood paragliding side. Under the right conditions, paragliders can go from Warriewood to Cooks Terrace and back.

Seen from the beach it always looked like the paragliders just cleared the cliff edge, but that's clearly just an optical illusion.

The good thing with coastal soaring is the landing on the beach is almost always a backup option if one cannot land on top of the headland.

The paragliders fly a sort of circuit around this headland with one leg along the ridge and the return leg further out at sea.

My wife commented that only an aviation tragic like me can spend a day at the beach looking upward and taking photos of paragliders and not a single time point the camera in the direction of the surfing girls in bikinis right in front of us. I had not even noticed the surf babes.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

One day down the coast: Nowra, Moruya, Merimbula, Gabo Island

I think I am cursed. In nearly two years of flying out of Sydney, I have not managed to fly cross-country to a destination west of the Great Dividing Range a single time. A combination of weather and bad luck are to blame for that. I had an opportunity for a morning hop to Mudgee a while ago but had to bail out because of last-minute work commitment.

All my cross-country trips have therefore taken me up and down the coast and they have been fantastic trips such as Taree or Brisbane. A few weeks ago I ventured for the first time south of Sydney with a one-day trip that took Chris, myself and our passenger Ted down the coast to Gabo Island, just across the border with Victoria and back.

We had managed to book the nicest single-engine Piper the club has on offer, the Arrow VH-SFJ. It's not really the extra 10 knots in cruise that make a difference, or the retractable undercarriage, but for me it's the constant-speed propeller and the bigger engine.

Compared to the Archer or the Warrior, the engine in the Arrow is a lot smoother and the level of noise and vibration in the cabin definitely lower. I don't know if fuel-injected engines are fundamentally smoother than carburated ones, but I love this 200HP Lycoming. The advantage of the CSU is also being able to select a lower RPM for reduced noise and vibrations and still maintain a respectable cruise speed.

This aircraft comes with a DME receiver. It is not coupled to the VOR receiver so the frequency needs to be entered separately. Here we had tuned Sydney VOR and the receiver tells us we are 35.2 NM from it with a ground speed (along a radial from the navaid) of 102 knots, and that it would take us 21 minutes to get there if we were aiming for it, which we were not. Nice Australian invention by the way, just like the CVR whose Australian inventor passed away recently.

We exited the Sydney Basin via Wollongong at 4500ft. The photo above was taken just as we came on top of the escarpment, with Lake Illawarra and Wollongong in front of us. After Wollongong we had to fold the map again as we entered the airspace of Nowra.

The airspace was de-activated, as is usual over the week-end. We nevertheless followed the VFR transit lane at 2000ft, with an excursion off-track to check out Nowra aerodrome, part of a Navy base known as HMAS Albatros, the Australian Navy's only Air Station.

South of Nowra we found a thin layer of broken clouds with a base of about 2500ft so we decided to go VFR on top. A few minutes later, after climbing, we could see that the layer ahead of us was definitely overcast, so we decided to get back under through a hole over the water.

Chris decided to do a touch-and-go at Moruya. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the camera to focus on anything else than dust on the windows, which resulted in this rather artistic view of runway 18/36 at Moruya, with runway 05/23 to the bottom left.

Once on the Melbourne WAC chart we flew coastal, past Mount Dromedary. This was the name given to the mountain by Captain Cook in 1770, it's been since renamed back to its original aboriginal name of Mount Gulaga. I can't help but think that one of the hardest aspects of Captain Cook's voyages must have been to come up with names for things. Maybe they ran brainstorming sessions onboard HMS Endeavour. Or used a branding consultant.

We approached Merimbula from the north and flew a left-hand circuit for runway 21. With 1602m of concrete, that's a very long runway for this neck of the woods, big enough to get turboprops.

The photo below was taken when joining crosswind for runway 21. Note that the magnetic compass indicates roughly 210 degrees while we are obviously not parallel to runway 21. This illustrates the fact that one should not trust a magnetic compass in a turn or when climbing or descending. Or accelerating. Or decelerating. Basically, the magnetic compass should only be trusted when cruising straight and level.

Once on the ground we headed for the local café in the terminal building of Merimbula Airport called the Port Coffee Shop. Very nice food there and very friendly service. I was amazed to find such a nice place given the low volume of traffic at the airport, before realising that the main road runs at the back of the place, which obviously drives most of the traffic to the café.

The cakes were very fresh and very yummy. I should have brought a few back home, as I was reminded when I showed the photos of the trip to my wife once back home.

I flew the leg back to Bankstown. We first went south to check out Gabo Island before heading back north. Approaching Merimbula on the way north we had to orbit for a few minutes while a Rex SAAB 340 joined the circuit since out estimates for the field were exactly the same. In hindsight, we could have flown coastal at 1000ft since his circuit was 1500ft, but we played it safe and enjoyed the view.

We made a full stop at Moruya for fuel. The same aircraft that was in the circuit a few hours earlier was still in the circuit, with the same female voice on the radio. Someone must be practising circuits before the GFPT. Or maybe there's two twin sisters learning to fly at the same time.

Moruya has a very convenient 24h fuel bowser that accepts most credit cards. Convenience comes at a price though. I haven't kept the receipt, but off the top of my head the price was nearing $2 a litre. Since the jet fuel bowser is only located a few meters away, a number of checks are built into the refuelling process to make sure we get the right fuel. I think I had to confirm at least three times that it was AVGAS I wanted and not jet fuel.

VH-SFJ all tanked up for the flight back. With 136 litres in each tank, that's more than six hours of endurance, a lot more than we needed for the return flight, but as they say the only time you have too much fuel is when you're on fire. And in case of emergency or if we had to hold, that's one less thing to worry about.

Since there is no parallel taxiway I had to backtrack the whole length of runway 36 before lining up for take-off, which caused two airplanes in the circuit to go around. The first airplane understood what was going on, the second one on the other hand needed a bit more prompting. Despite my radio calls he still insisted on "turning final for touch-and-go", so I had to make a call directed specially at him, after which he wisely decided to go around. Would he have continued his approach, I always had the option of taxiing into the grass area adjacent to the runway. Which I think is technically a runway excursion that needs to be reported.

On the way back to Bankstown we crossed the Nowra airspace using the VFR lane at 2000ft. This time there was someone manning the unicom frequency, who got a bit confused with my position reports but eventually everything got sorted out. Then we tracked via Wollongong, Appin, the 2RN inbound reporting point and landed on 11 at Bankstown.

All in all in very nice day trip. Maybe a bit too much if I had flown it single pilot, but perfect for two pilots. I realised that flying down to Moruya for the day is definitely an option, and the fact that the beach there is right on the other side of the fence definitely adds to the attraction. I'll post more photos and videos from this trip as soon as I get my act together.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

All downhill from here: Armidale to Sydney

On the fourth and final leg of our round trip from Sydney to Brisbane I was flying and didn't take any pictures. Thanks to Chris and Dennis then for the photos and especially for the one right below, which deserves some explaining.

There is only one taxiway connecting the apron to the runway at Armidale. We had just finished our run-ups on the apron when a QuantasLink Q400 turboprop called inbound on the CTAF frequency. Rather than wait on the apron and taxi our way around him, always a risky affair, we waited at the holding point for him to land.

After he landed we entered the runway and backtracked to the threshold of runway 05, while the Q400 was backtracking the runway from the other end in the direction of the taxiway. We made all the required radio calls and then some so at all time the crew of the Q400 knew what we were doing. The photo was taken as we were already lined up for departure and holding and the Q400 was still backtracking.

From Armidale we followed the New England Highway to Tamworth. Tamworth tower was very helpful in helping us identify the visual navigation landmarks to transit their airspace. Once back in Class G airspace we kept following the Hunter valley past Willow Tree, Murrubundi, Scone, Muswellbrook, Lake Liddell, Singleton, Cessnock, Maitland and reached the coast again at Lake Macquarie.

From there we tracked for Brooklyn Bridge for the VFR lane southbound, reported inbound at Prospect and landed on 11C at Bankstown. Total time 10.4 hours, 4.8 hours northbound and 5.6 southbound. The longer return leg of course a result of our little scenic flight around Brisbane.

The photo above really speaks for itself. This was a tiring trip that left a smile on my face for the whole week after. Intense and demanding because of the failure of the GPS unit right at the start, and also a lot of fun thanks to great company and a good mix of familiar, formerly familiar and unknown places.