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.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More info on June 3rd Class D changes

A week into the new Class D rules at former GAAP airports, here are some useful bits of information I gleaned around the web. I haven't flown under the new rules yet, but that should be fixed very soon, more on that further below.

CASA released an updated version of the Sydney Basin Visual Pilot Guide. The 78-page document contains detailed information for safely navigating the airspace around Sydney under the VFR. This includes flying in and out of Bankstown and Camden which are now Class D aerodromes, the Victor 1 and Harbour Scenic procedures as well as tips on avoiding violations of controlled airspace.

The June edition of From the Tower, the newsletter from the kind ATC folks at Bankstown Tower, has a map of the manoeuvring area at Bankstown that I mentioned in the previous blog post, which can also be found on the official website of the airport. The newsletter also contains very useful examples of typical radio calls at Bankstown on the ground and in the air under the new Class D rules. And, as icing on the cake, they used Schoies airplanes and parking areas as examples!

A few changes to the Bankstown procedures as published in ERSA on June 3rd are available through NOTAMs. Pilots now need to report on downwind, and establish contact with ground after landing and clearing all runways, not just monitor ground as stated in ERSA. If you need to know more, you certainly know where to find NOTAMs too.

I flew a short dual flight last week to regain recency in the Arrow. We went to Camden via Mayfield, did a few circuits and came back even before the morning surface inversion disappeared: we could still see smoke plumes from local factories rise a little and then go flat.

Apart from that over the last few weeks I have been preparing for an exciting flying trip over the coming Queen's Birthday week-end: from Sydney to Brisbane and back in Arrow VH-SFJ, together with two other Schoies pilots. With a bit of luck we may even make it to Fraser Island for some very scenic flying.

We had a planning session in a meeting room where I work that was really successful. The 450NM journey from Sydney to Brisbane fits within four VTC charts, which when put end to end almost cover the entire length of this table.

Ed had brought in his laptop with Command Flight Planner, an awesome Australian flight planning software. With the flight planner on the video projector and all the maps on the table, this normally boring corporate meeting room took the allure of a RAAF briefing room. Or so we liked to believe.

Pizzas and Coke were brought in to sustain the intense cerebral activity. The plan so far is on day one to fly coastal from Sydney to Archerfield, the GAAP Class D aerodrome of Brisbane, with a stop in Coffs Harbour, fly to Fraser Island and back to Brisbane on day two, this time overnighting at Redcliffe aerodrome, and hopefully fly back to Sydney inland on day three.

That's the plan, and of course things won't go completely according to plan, which is always half the fun as long as you have a backup plan or two. Whatever happens you'll read about it either here or in the newspapers. :-)