Aviation accident reporting

I’ve just experienced at first hand appallingly wrong media reports of an aeroplane accident at our local airport in Moorabbin, near Melbourne. If the media can get so wrong a basic report like this, how can they ever be believed when it comes to more complex issues?

However, irrespective of the wrong reporting, our thoughts are with the pilot, who was taken to hospital with serious injuries.

The story goes like this: accompanied by stills and video of the accident site, reports – so similar they must have just been blindly copied from one source – said a light aircraft had ‘come down’ at Moorabbin Airport. Two people were on board and the aircraft was a ‘high wing A22 Foxbat, made in Ukraine’ owned by a local flying school. 24 emergency personnel were on site, currently working to free the pilot, who remained in the aircraft.

Even a cursory glance at the picture of the inverted aeroplane (see above) shows it to be a low wing, not a high wing. It also turns out that there was only one person – the pilot – on board and the accident almost certainly resulted from a runway departure, either on take-off or landing. Quite an exaggeration to say the aircraft had ‘come down’.

I tried to find phone numbers for the various news media which published the report – ABC, Channel 9 News, 3AW, Herald Sun and The Age newspaper – to advise them of the errors. Have you ever tried to find a phone number for these people to correct their mistakes? Forget it, they just don’t publish such numbers. Presumably, the last thing they want is people calling to point out errors in their stories, as their lines would be permanently clogged!

In the end, I sent ‘urgent’ emails to the various newsrooms to say the aircraft was not a Foxbat. Only The Age newspaper responded with an apology by email and immediate correction on their online news page. Without any kind of acknowledgement, over the next half an hour most of the others removed the reference to the Foxbat, substituting with words like ‘a small 2-seat light aircraft’. I still don’t know if the Herald Sun changed their feed as they insist you pay a subscription to see their news!

This kind of erroneous reporting brings to mind another event at Moorabbin, where one of our Vixxens made a heavy bounced landing in very windy conditions and bent the nose landing gear. Right or wrong, the pilot elected to go round after the impact, only to be warned by the tower of the bent gear. At that time, almost all the media reported that the aircraft was ‘circling while the pilot attempted to fix the landing gear’ – a clearly ridiculous statement if you thought about it for only half a second! In fact, following emergency personnel advice, he was waiting for a foam blanket to be laid on the runway before making a successful landing, during which the nose leg fully collapsed and the aircraft remained upright. Both pilot and passenger walked away without a scratch.

In my personal experience, I have learned these lessons about news stories:
1. They have almost certainly not been given even a basic facts check.
2. The media makes it as difficult as possible for you to correct their mistakes.
3. If they get even simple, easy to check, stories wrong, how on earth can their reporting on more complex issues be believed?
4. It is very easy for people to state complete lies and the news media will publish it.

You have been warned!

Aeroprakt A32 1,000 nm ferry flight

ido-shaun-at-emeraldMy colleague Ido Segev and his friend Shaun just got home from an almost 1,000 nautical mile ferry flight of a new shiny Ferrari red Aeroprakt A32 Vixxen, registered VH-ACL, to its new owner Will Graham.

The aircraft is fitted with a Dynon SkyView system, including a 2-axis autopilot, transponder and fuel computer. In addition to the standard dual-watch VHF radio, the aircraft also has an 80-channel UHF radio, operating through the headsets.

ido-shaun-ferry-02Their flight took them from Moorabbin Airport, near Melbourne, via Temora and Parkes in New South Wales, to an overnight stop at St George in southern Queensland. Most of the flight was made at 8,500-9,500 feet AGL, which at times translated into a density altitude of over 11,000 feet. Said Ido: “Even at 7,500 feet were were still climbing in excess of 500 feet a minute – not bad with two of us, full fuel, luggage and some spare parts on board.” The next day, the weather wasn’t so kind, with strong headwinds and a 2,000 foot cloud base. Nevertheless they made good time and arrived at Emerald, Queensland, before lunch, after a short wait at Roma while some weather passed through.

Total flight distance was about 950 nautical miles with and average ground speed of slightly over 95 knots. Average fuel burn was a shade under 17 litres an hour. In metric fuel economy terms, that’s about 10.3 litres per 100 kilometres – not bad for an average speed of over 175 kilometres an hour! Ferrari and co, eat your hearts out!

Aeroprakt A32 incident at Moorabbin

a32-damaged-moorabbinOn Sunday 8th January 2017, an Aeroprakt A32 Vixxen – registered VH-VBQ – was involved in a much-publicised landing incident at Moorabbin Airport. The final landing was recorded on video by a Channel 9 helicopter, as well as by several people on the ground.

As I understand it, briefly, here is what happened.

The aircraft was on hire to a pilot, who was not an instructor, to go for a local flight with a friend. Conditions at Moorabbin Airport recorded an increasingly gusty cross wind. When the aircraft returned to land, a gust caught the aircraft and it landed heavily on the nose wheel and right side main gear. The plane bounced and, in my opinion correctly, the pilot initiated a go round. However, it quickly became obvious that the nose landing gear was bent and also, to a lesser extent, the right main gear.

An emergency was declared and the aircraft circled nearby while the airport was closed and a foam blanket laid at the end of runway 17R – the most into-wind runway and also the closest to apron and emergency services access. The pilot made a couple of trial approaches to this runway before making a final approach and successful landing. During the touch down, as might have been expected, the nose leg collapsed completely and the aircraft slid to a halt just beyond the end of the foam layer. The pilot and passenger were not injured and were able to exit the aircraft quickly. There was no fire and the aircraft is currently being assessed for damage before repair.

The pilot had relatively low flight time recorded on the A32 and is to be congratulated on making a successful emergency landing in the conditions, which not only included a gusty cross wind but also limited rudder control due to the damaged nose leg, which is control-rod connected to the pedals.

Afternote – news programs and publications variously reported the following: ‘the nose wheel failed to lock into position’; ‘the front wheels of the plane malfunctioned’; ‘the pilot circled the runway numerous times while he tried to fix the issue’  and ‘the aircraft made a nose landing’. I would like to re-assure customers and owners of the A32 Vixxen that (a) it is not built as a retractable gear aircraft, and (b) there is no inherent problem with the nose gear. But if you bang anything hard enough, it will bend, and it’s quite difficult to fix the bent gear while you’re flying the aircraft.

Foxbat safety

Foxbat safetySoar Aviation – a major operator of A22LS Foxbat aircraft at Moorabbin Airport (Melbourne) and Bankstown Airport (Sydney) – place pilot & passenger safety at the top of their priorities. Recently, they approached me to write a short piece for them on what aspects I felt made the Foxbat a safe aircraft to fly.

Here’s a link to the article on their own blog – Safety in a Foxbat

Happy reading!

First Aeroprakt A32 arrives in Australia

A32 ready for inspections

A32 at Moorabbin – click photo for full size

The first production Aeroprakt A32 – a demonstrator for Foxbat Australia – arrived at CAE Aircraft Maintenance, Moorabbin Airport, near Melbourne on Monday 29 June 2015. Glowing in bright yellow, the aircraft was unpacked from the container in no time and was soon being prepared for re-assembly after its journey from the factory.

First impressions? Well, the obvious ones relate to the external appearance – smoother, sleeker, lower, plenty of new speed fairings and a snugly fitting engine cowling. To my eyes, it appears quite conventional although everyone who’s seen it so far has waxed lyrical about its looks. Comments like: ‘Much better in the flesh than photos’, and ‘Clear family similarities with the Foxbat’ were mixed with very positive overall comments about the shape and stance.

Personally, I love the quirky looks of the A22 Foxbat, which are a clear differentiator from many other more traditional high-wing LSAs. But I’m getting used to the much more streamlined looks of the A32.

Can’t wait for it to be registered and given a C of A so I can fly it….but I must.

More soon…

Spotlight on training – Soar Aviation

SOAR 03Every now and again I’m aiming to have a look at an Australian based flying school or club, usually but not always, operating Foxbats. The first is Soar Aviation, based at Moorabbin Airport, Melbourne, and also in Sydney, Bendigo and Hong Kong. The idea is to give you a bit more feedback than the stuff available in brochures and on internet sites.

Soar is a young organisation – both in company and employee terms. The company was founded in 2011 and since then has grown rapidly and is now among the most popular flying schools in Australia.

Like many youthful organisations, Soar has targeted its marketing through an attractive, modern & interactive website, Facebook page and Instagram. Through these, they have quickly built a loyal following – their Facebook page alone has well over 4,000 ‘likes’. Not bad for an aviation organisation which is hardly three years old!

Their website, in particular, is the result of a great deal of thought and attention to the needs of the novice pilot and clearly leads the viewer through the various stages, from Trial Introductory Flight (TIF) through to night ratings, a commercial license and beyond. Soar also carries out charter flights,  from the heat of the Red Centre, to the snows of Falls Creek.

Soar has a broad mixture of aircraft, to cater for all flight training needs – two Foxbats, two Jabirus (you can’t win them all!), a Piper Warrior, a Cessna 172 and a Piper Seminole twin. Their first Foxbat – a blue one – was purchased used from an owner in Queensland earlier in 2014. Many people have commented to me about ‘that blue plane’ which always seems to be in the circuit at Moorabbin. Now it has been joined by a second – new – Foxbat, resplendent in bright yellow. Hopefully the two of them will continue to be frequent fliers at Moorabbin.

Recently, Soar acquired a flight training facility at Bendigo, north west of Melbourne. They are also very active in marketing to the growing Chinese market, through their base in Hong Kong. Apart from GA training, one of their key focuses is recreational flying, for which they have an exemption to enable flight training in RA-Aus registered aircraft at Moorabbin.

What immediately strikes you when you visit them at their Moorabbin base is their infectious enthusiasm and the excitement they seem to generate about all things flying.  From my own experience, I think Soar is bringing a fresh new and very customer-focussed approach to flying training.

Too many schools I’ve seen operate tired looking aircraft from tired looking premises, with instructors who seem to have very little enthusiasm for what they are doing. In particular, I recall visiting one recreational flying school during one of my Foxbat sales trips only a couple of years ago, where the school aircraft was low on fuel. So the student spent the first half-hour of their booking going to the local service station for 40 litres of fuel. At their own expense! The instructor thought this was good for the student and made himself a cup of tea, sat back in his armchair and moaned to me about the lack of business and how young people always expect something for nothing…

Soar couldn’t be more of a contrast with this attitude and I wish them every success in their enterprise – and not just because they might buy another Foxbat when demand keeps growing!

PS – Soar is currently looking for a Business Development Manager. If you’re interested – even excited! – by the prospect of joining this young, innovative organisation, SEEK here for more information.

The Bush Hawk arrives in Australia!

Bush Hawk 01My friend Steve (Australia’s Cubcrafters Agent) has bought himself a Bush Hawk aeroplane and today it arrived at Moorabbin Airport near Melbourne after its long journey in a container from Alaska.

For those of you not familiar with this aircraft type, it is, as its name suggests, a bush plane – big wheels, slow stall, taildragger etc etc. What makes this one different is that via its four door configuration, it will carry five people and their luggage into and out of pretty well most places – paved or unpaved – that you could expect to take a plane. Almost uniquely for a bush plane, it has a single, cantilever wing (no lift struts). It will cruise around 140 knots and it goes without saying that it is as rugged as they come.

What makes it even more interesting is that its gross weight falls below the 1500 kgs limit for the new Australian Recreational Pilot License (RPL). OK, Steve currently ‘only’ holds an Ultralight Pilot Certificate and an RPL so he will need a co-pilot with a PPL or higher if he wants to carry more than one friend or get a class 2 medical. But in the meantime, he can carry everyone else’s luggage when we all go off on a trip!

The Bush Hawk (or Bush Pig to its friends) has a bit of a varied history – originally designed back in the 60’s by the Found brothers of Ontario, Canada, the design was updated put into production for a while by Found Aircraft. In the late 2000’s it morphed into the Expedition Aircraft but alas, as of early 2014 Found Aircraft no longer manufactures aircraft – Steve’s Bush Hawk was was built in 2005 as a company demonstrator, then put to work in Alaska by Mountain Flying Services as an air-taxi and sight-seeing aircraft.There are some great pictures of Steve’s Bush Hawk on the Mountain Flying Services website.

Bush Hawk 02 copyHaving helped unload the aircraft from the container, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer size of the thing. Even without its wing installed, it’s impressive. On it’s 29″ bush tyres, it will look truly massive and even at 1.86m (6’2″ in old money) I will be able to walk under the wing without ducking my head. Space in the second row seats is palatial – I can sit behind the pilot and stretch my legs all the way out in front of me. Hopefully there will be room for a table for our in-flight service!

The aircraft is now being re-assembled at the CAE Aircraft Maintenance hangar at Northern Avenue, Moorabbin. For the time being it will remain on its USA N-registration. Although Steve has many hours of tailwheel experience on the Carbon and other cubs, he’s very wisely arranging some further training and familiarisation with an experienced instructor. Although by all accounts, one of the great features of the Bush Hawk is that it handles like a happy pussycat on the ground and in the air.

More news and pictures when the aircraft is ready to fly.