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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The long way back home

On the second day of our two-day trip to Brisbane we started with a clockwise flight around Brisbane and a VFR transit of both Brisbane and Gold Coast control zones before heading back to Sydney inland via Armidale.

We took off at Archerfield on 28R and tracked northbound via the Indooroopilly Bridge, which only comes into view when one is nearly overhead it. Not too good for a tracking point, especially considering that the Centenary Bridge downstream becomes visible a lot earlier, and is an inbound reporting point. Confusing the two may have consequences.

The locals know to aim for the southern tip of Mount Coot-Tha first when flying northbound out of Archerfield and also know to stick to the hill side in order to avoid violating the nearby Brisbane CTA. From then we aimed for Lake Samson, then Deception Bay via Beachmere.

Making a radio call on 118.8 at Beachmere at 1500ft brought back lots of memories of learning to fly at Redcliffe Aero Club. Back then, flying from Redcliffe to the training area at Bribie Island felt like a cross-country flight.

Near Redcliffe we got a clearance through Brisbane CTR via Sandgate Pier, Brisbane control tower and Manly Boat Harbour at 1500ft. Flying over a large airport is always a treat. A couple of airliners took off under us on runway 19, such as this Virgin Blue 737 in the photo above.

We left the CTR and tracked to Gold Coast via Jacobs Well VOR. After that we used the VFR lane across Gold Coast CTR southbound, with Chris flying and myself navigating. I had never flow it before, and I'm not sure I'd like to do it for the first time on my own. There are plenty of navigation fixes to visually identify and things happen rather fast. The lane offers great views of the Gold Coast cluster of high-rise buildings as well as the Gold Coast hinterland.

After Stotts Island we tracked for Lismore, climbing carefully under the Gold Coast CTA steps. Clouds prevented us from climbing as high as we wanted to, and the controller cancelled flight following since he could no longer see us on his scope as we crossed the ranges.

From Lismore we navigated by dead reckoning to Tenterfield. Or at least we tried to. At some point we found ourselves not entirely sure of our position. Although the GPS had no moving map, it could still give us latitude and longitude though. I was nearly finished fixing our position on the paper map when the kind controller asked us if we were still going to Tenterfield as planned, because we were tracking west and Tenterfield was 12 miles to the south. We took the hint and followed the valley south.

Lenticular clouds were forming over the ranges, the result of wind blowing sufficiently hard across the ranges and creating mountain waves. Better stay above them. The few little puffs in the foreground are regular cumulus, the lenticular clouds are right behind and below the wingtip.

From there we tracked for Glenn Innes in the New England Highlands, the largest elevated area of land in Australia. Flying over it, it is easy to forget that the vast expanse of land below sits well above 3000ft. Glen Innes airport above was used as a base for firefighting operations last December during bushfires in the Northern Tablelands area.

The little black dots on the photo above are cows on their way to or from the watering holes. This scene reminded me of a very funny encounter Sylvia once had with cows near a VOR in the UK.

Approaching Armidale we joined the circuit downwind for 05 and Chris landed us there after 3.2 hours, which concluded the longest leg of the whole trip. The temperature on the ground was rather chilly. It reminded me of spending Easter week-end in a cottage in nearby Walcha last year. Great area, lovely people but rather cold.

We stretched our legs, had a bit to eat and visited the bathrooms in the terminal. Passengers were waiting for a QantasLink flight to Sydney. Would we make it out of Armidale before the Dash-8 arrived? After? More details in the next episode.

The local refueler topped up our tanks with fresh AVGAS. With the mixture on full rich, the fuel consumption in the Archer is about 42 litres an hour. Even though we leaned the mixture to rich-of-peak in cruise, I would be surprised if we burned less than one hundred litres on that 3.2 hour leg. There's no fuel flow meter or totaliser on the Archer.

Since we hired the airplane "wet", i.e. with fuel included, I had to surrender the fuel receipts to the club in order to get a refund, and forgot to write down how much we burned. Which is probably just as good, I would hate to know what the carbon footprint of that week-end was. Being environment-conscious and everything though, we walked to the pub and back in Brisbane on Saturday night. This must compensate for the carbon (and the lead) oxides released in the atmosphere in some way.

We swapped seats for the final leg back to Sydney. This time I was in the left seat and Chris in the right seat. It's true that sharing flying duties means one gets double the experience for the same amount of money, but the flip side of the coin is that one also gets double as tired. But I'm not complaining.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Coffs Harbour to Brisbane Archerfield

The second leg of our trip from Sydney to Brisbane took us from Coffs Harbour to Brisbane Archerfield in 2.4 hours. All still without a functioning GPS. This was a bit of an aviation homecoming for me since I learned to fly in Brisbane but moved to Sydney soon after I got my PPL, and this was my first time flying back in a GA aircraft.

We departed Coffs on runway 21 in-between two arrivals: a Virgin Blue 737 and a QantasLink Q400 who was asked to extend his downwind leg to accommodate our departure.

We made a right turn and the photo below, taken on the crosswind leg, illustrates quite well what I described in the previous post: runway 10/28 is difficult to spot when coming from the south, and can momentarily be confused with that oblique taxiway. That's runway 03/21 in the foreground, the photo is looking to the north.

Soon after we left Class D airspace and tracked for Grafton. We could no longer follow the coast since our planned track took us inland in order to avoid Evans Head airspace. Navigation became a little bit harder than keeping Australia on the left as we did on the first leg. We flew IFR (I Follow Roads) to Casino, which we identified by the runway orientation and the horseshoe lagoon, which I had already spotted once from a higher altitude.

From then to the Lismore NDB, then to Byron Bay lighthouse. Byron Bay is not too difficult to find since it is the easternmost point on the Australian continent. Chris identified the lighthouse from as far away as Lismore. The photo below is my smiling self in a left turn over Byron Bay township. Notice the overhead row of switches on the Archer III, which gives it that airliner feel. The switch that's off is the fuel pump.

At Byron Bay we requested flight following because we would be flying over tiger country soon and wanted to make double sure we did not violate any controlled airspace, with Gold Coast CTA steps nearby and later on approaching Archerfield and Brisbane. And also of course ATC provided us with an extra pair of eyes, pointing traffic that we may not be able to see flying west near the end of the day. All good reasons to request flight following. And it's free.

We tracked via Nimbin TV Towers, which offered superb views of Mount Warning. Nimbin is the unofficial weed growing and smoking capital of Australia and is famous for its annual MardiGrass festival. Mount Warning is the first point of Australia to receive sun rays in the morning, even before Byron Bay which is more to the east but at sea level.

We tracked via the Laravale VOR and ATC was very helpful pointing traffic out to us. We called inbound for Archerfield at Park Ridge water tower and followed a Cessna inbound. I ended up too high and too fast for runway 28 and was instructed to join upwind instead of landing.

After a short left-hand circuit on 28L we were cleared to land on 28R. We touched down at the first taxiway and exited at the next one. The landing was slightly left of the centreline. I have since manufactured the following excuse: I did it deliberately so that the picture would look right on the video that Chris was shooting from the right seat.

The ground controller provided us with detailed taxi instructions to a grass area where we could tie the aircraft down for the night. We shut down near the biggest single-engine biplane in the world, the Antonov AN-2.

We refuelled, cancelled SARTIME and took a cab to our hotel. This was a long day with 4.8 hours in the air. A lot of work, but very rewarding work. We managed to increase our store of experience without having to draw from our store of luck.

Dennis, our student pilot passenger got a taste of what a long cross-country flight is like. He assured us that the whole flight decupled his motivation to get his PPL. Very soon, with knowledge fresh in his mind, he will be able to look back at this flight and list the mistakes we made.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Keeping Australia on the left

Remember how I mentioned in a previous post a plan to fly from Sydney to Brisbane and back over Queen's Birthday week-end, and also remarked on how things in aviation have a habit of not going according to plan? Both prophecies came to pass.

The Arrow we had booked became unserviceable the day before our planned departure. The trim cable had snapped, and a replacement part wouldn't be available before the next Tuesday. Which left us without an airplane.

Ed (let him win the next AOPA Sweepstakes, his weight & balance always come 5kg under MTWO and his weather forecasts always read CAVOK), who had planned to fly with us part of the way in another airplane displayed the most amazing generosity and let us have the Archer VH-SFR for two days. Our three-day trip was shortened to two days, but we had an airplane!

With three blokes onboard, a little bit of baggage and full tanks we were about 5 kilos under maximum take-off weight when our wheels left runway 29R shortly before 9AM.

A few minutes into the flight I could see Chris repeatedly press the CLR button on the Garmin 430. Whatever the level of details selected, the moving map would only show the coastline and major roads, but no airspace at all. We restarted the unit and a message came up saying it couldn't read the Jeppesen memory card. We swapped memory slots, same story. The GPS could give us our position, track and ground speed, but didn't know any airport, waypoint or airspace. Great.

So this all turned into a week-end of visual navigation supplemented by the use of NDBs and VORs. This gave us the measure of all the bad habits we had developed relying on the GPS, so in the end I would say these 10.4 hours of hard work were also a great educational experience. It felt like a long PPL navigation exercise.

We enlisted all the help we could find, which meant following roads, applying large buffers to make sure we were not violating controlled airspace, and requesting flight following from ATC.

They say an image is worth a thousand words, so a video is probably worth one million words.

I had recently purchased a suction camera mount and was eager to try it. The good news is, it works great and provides a very solid seal with the window. The inevitable problem though is that the vibrations of the airplane reach the camera, much more so than when the camera is handheld or held on top of the soft padding on the dashboard, such as when filming a landing.

Despite having a built-in stabilisation feature, the footage captured by the camera was so shaky as to be absolutely unusable. Moving the suction pad to the bottom corner of the window, or leaving my hand on the camera while filming removed some of the shake, but not enough.

Fortunately Vegas Movie Studio, now comes with a very powerful image stabilisation feature that removed nearly all the shake. On the downside, the wing now seems to move in weird ways in front of a smooth landscape, while previously the landscape was shaking in all directions while the wing was reasonably stationary. I guess you can't have it both ways.

We flew via Patonga, Nobbys Head, followed the coastal VFR lane at 500ft around Newcastle as we had done once before, then continued on to Old Bar, Camden Haven, Port Macquarie, Kempsey and Macksville before landing at Coffs Harbour. I could have added overlays for identifying those places on the video, but I felt lazy, so this is left as an exercise for the reader.

We flew through some light showers of rain north of Newcastle, then the weather became progressively better, allowing us to climb up to 5500ft before descending to Coffs where Chris landed VH-SFR on runway 29 in a stiff crosswind.

Even though the GPS had packed in, navigation wasn't too much of an issue since it consisted in keeping the ocean to our right and the big landmass called Australia to our left. We called Coffs Tower inbound at Macksville and were given a clearance over land while another traffic was tracking in the opposite direction over water. The wind was favouring runway 21, but this would have given us a very long taxi to the AVGAS fuel pump, so we decided to go for the much shorter runway 28 instead.

This photo was taken when flying a left base leg for 28, which looks very much like a downwind leg for 21. Runway 28 comes into view quite late in the approach because of a slight rise in the terrain to the south of it. To add to the confusion, taxiway E3-E5 is the old runway 19, just without runway markings.

We landed, attended to the necessary biological functions, had a little look around in search of the refueller, found him in his little cubby house of an office, refuelled the aircraft and had a bite to eat. We swapped seats for the second leg: I took the left seat for the leg to Brisbane, with Dennis was in the back and Chris in the front right seat as radio man and navigator. All the details in the next episode.

Thanks everyone for your kind donations after I posted about my participation in the Oxfam Trailwalker fundraiser! The readers of this blog have already contributed $100, congratulations! More information on our team page here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Sydney VFR Lane of Entry, on foot and under 48 hours

Together with three friends from work I decided to participate in the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker Sydney in order to raise funds for Oxfam to fight poverty and injustice around the world. This is a 100km bushwalking race to be completed under 48 hours, sleep (or lack thereof) included, in teams of four.

This will be my first time participating in a so-called extreme sporting event. I'm very excited about it and I hope you will be able to support our team and Oxfam.

If you feel like contributing to a good cause (and get it back on tax if you're living in Australia), you can donate to Oxfam on behalf of our team here. If you've ever learnt anything useful on this blog and wondered how to show your appreciation, here's your opportunity!

We called our team the Mountain Devils after the flower of a beautiful native scrub that can be found in numerous places along the track. The track itself starts near Brooklyn Bridge (the start of the southbound VFR lane to Bankstown) and ends in Mosman, right under the flightpath of the Harbour Scenic One procedure.

So far we have walked the entire track once in three training sessions of 30, 30 and 40 kilometres respectively. The next training session will be 50km long and will start with a night section where we'll test our headlamps and try not to get lost in the Australian bush in the dark. The hardest thing with this track is going from water level to the top of the hill down the water level again many, many, many times as you can see on the track profile below.

Oxfam works in more than 26 countries around the world including Indigenous Australia. By raising money for Oxfam Australia we can all make a tremendous difference to the lives of some of the world’s most disadvantaged people. The event began in 1981 as a military exercise for the elite Queen's Gurkha Signals Regiment in Hong Kong, and has since grown into one of the world's leading sporting challenges. Oxfam Trailwalker is a global event, taking place annually in New Zealand, UK, Hong Kong and Japan.

If you would like to find out more or donate on behalf of our team please visit

All donations, however small, are deeply and sincerely appreciated!

The photo above, taken from the back seat of Archer VH-SFR on our way to Brisbane recently, shows the area where the first couple of sections of the race will take place. That's a lot of hills to climb and a lot of creeks to cross to get to the finish line!

I hope you will forgive this departure from the usual theme of this blog in the name of a good cause. Our usual aviation programme will resume shortly.