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!

Foxbat Australia – new website coming!

After almost 5 years with our current website at www.foxbat.com.au we have developed a new, much more modern site design for Foxbat Australia which will be going live in the next week or so.

Although the old website has been widely used and favourably commented on, apart from making it more visually attractive, we have aimed to make navigation simpler – particularly for the many visitors seeking technical specifications and maintenance information.

All the details from the old site have been retained and updated, including the ever-popular ‘Used Aircraft‘ page, which is statistically the most visited single page on the site! In addition, if you want to find a school or club in Australia using Aeroprakt aircraft, we have introduced a clickable map to help you find one near to you.

There are also additions of an in-site photo and video gallery, so you don’t have to navigate away from the site to see visuals. However, our linked Foxbat YouTube channel and Foxbat Facebook Page will remain in operation – have a look, we post new items regularly on Facebook and are planning more YouTube videos over the coming months.

Once the new site is up and running, feel free to send me your comments!

Blue Angels and Willie Nelson

Blue Angels – this picture is not photoshopped!

The Blue Angels are the US Navy’s precision formation aerobatics team. Originally formed in 1946 using Hellcat and Bearcat aircraft, the Blue Angels are famed for their amazingly tight formation flying. Currently using F18 Hornet jets – which have a very short wingspan – they often seem to be flying so close their wingtips are overlapping. One of their signature formations includes mixed inverted and upright aircraft, which often look quite weird.

Two for the price of one – not photoshopped

One of my favourite vocalists/guitarists is Willie Nelson, now in his late 80’s, a country singer of global stature. I first heard him too many years ago on a track called ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, a song written by Kris Kristofferson which is probably way more famous for Janis Joplin‘s recording, although I personally find her tempo a bit too fast. Over the years, I collected a variety of Willie Nelson albums – sadly mostly on vinyl, now long gone. In an unlikely combination, Willie Nelson pays tribute to the men and women of the Blue Angels in a short YouTube video, singing another of my favourites: ‘Still is still moving to me’.

Click the picture below to see the video – sorry the resolution is a bit low; there are better videos of the Blue Angels in action, and of Willie Nelson singing, but none of the two together.

The elephant in the aeroplane

In Light Sport Aircraft (LSAs) and Recreational Aviation (RA) – indeed in all flying machines – weight is a key factor. In fact it could be said that weight is THE factor when it comes to light aircraft design – strong (meaning heavy) enough to do the job, yet light enough to carry a reasonable load within the legal regulations of its category. Of all categories, LSAs and RAs have probably the most stringent weight limits applied to them.

Yet in almost all LSA/RA flight reviews I read, there is little or no mention of usable load, empty weights or maximum gross weights. How come nobody discusses this key topic – the elephant in the room? The aircraft may look and fly great but if the usable load is so limited that carrying a couple of typically sized people and a reasonable amount of fuel will take you outside the legal limit for the aircraft – what use is it?

At the recent Avalon Airshow, I wandered around looking at a wide selection of LSA and RA offerings. Many of them were kind enough to display data including empty and maximum weights alongside the aircraft.

All the aircraft I looked at posted a maximum gross weight of 600 kgs or, in a couple of cases, 550kgs and 544kgs. There was a seaplane with a maximum of 650kgs.

The declared empty weights varied between 312kgs and 530kgs although one of them went to the trouble of blanking out the empty weight for some reason. Excluding the anonymous empty weight and the 530kgs machine, the average empty weight of all the LSA/RA aircraft I photographed worked out at a whisker over 360kgs.

One well-known LSA showed – for what appeared to be identical models – empty weights of 360kgs and 390kgs. What, I wondered, could make such a large difference? there appeared to be no parachute rescue system in either, so I (at least) was puzzled.

So let’s have a look at usable loads. Taking a maximum gross of 600kgs, minus the average 360kgs empty weight, leaves you with 240 kgs for fuel, people and baggage. Typical pilots these days tend to weigh in at around 95+ kgs, passengers anything from 60 -100kgs+ – a total for people from around 165-195kgs. Some would say I’m being optimistic! I have certainly seen two big 100kgs+ people get out of an LSA on many occasions. But let’s stick to an average of 180kgs total for people. That legally leaves about 60kgs for fuel and bags. Fuel weighs around 0.72kgs per litre, so without bags you have about 80 litres of fuel. As an absolute minimum, you probably need to allow at least 5kgs for ‘bags’ – remember, tie-down kit, maps, aircraft cover, removable navigation/GPS equipment, headsets, cameras, clothing etc all count as ‘bags’.

Worst case scenario: your aircraft empty weighs 390kgs – see above. You weigh around 100kgs with your boots, headset and clothes on, your passenger the same. You’ve got a 2kgs tie-down kit in the back and your trusty portable GPS on board, plus your passenger’s camera kit. It all adds up to well over 590kgs – leaving less than 10 kgs for fuel, or around 13-14 litres….any more and you’re flying illegally in a 600kgs maximum gross aircraft.

So, what can you do with the elephant? Setting aside the regulations for the class, which lay down maximum empty weight limits based on engine power and number of seats, what implications does this have for buyers and, in particular, flying schools, who want to stay within legal load limits?

First, make sure, before you buy, what is the actual empty weight and thus the usable load. Beware of statements like ‘from 295kgs’ as this weight is often an absolute factory minimum, with no oil, or battery, or bigger ‘standard’ wheels/tyres, wheel spats, radio, antenna, even (in one case I know of) seat cushions and flight instruments. Don’t accept assurances that the factory already weighed your aircraft so you don’t need to – I know of a number of occasions where a repaired aircraft had to be re-weighed and came in much heavier than before repair – in one case somehow gaining over 40kgs (yes, really!) compared with the original factory weight sheet.

Get a written guarantee of the empty weight of the aircraft you’re buying or ask for the aircraft to be weighed just before you take delivery, it’s worth the money – and remember, the manufacturer wants to sell you an aircraft and won’t be the one copping it when you get ramp-checked, or the insurance company refuses to pay out because the plane was flying over the legal weight limit. Or your flying school is audited with a random weight check.

Next, work out your true weight and that of your passenger/co-pilot – including boots/shoes and clothing. Add that to the real aircraft empty weight to work out how much fuel and baggage you can carry. Can you still carry full fuel as well as people and bags? If not how much are you prepared to compromise? Personally, I have a 2-3 hour bladder, so I don’t often need full (fuel) tanks. But what about that 2-hour flight to a place with no fuel, plus the journey home?

Even if you and your passenger are quite light, remember that when you come to sell the aeroplane, the customer might be a flying school, or a lot heavier than you, potentially limiting your sales options.

There’s another one I hear a lot: ‘the plane’s safe to 750kgs gross, so you don’t need to worry’. But you DO. Safe it may be, legal it’s not…remember ramp checks and insurance companies?

Last but not least is the issue of centre of gravity (CofG). The CofG limits are calculated to fit in with the maximum gross weight of the aircraft – how many owners/pilots of LSA/RA aeroplanes actually calculate the CofG before taking their (maybe slightly heavier) friend for a quick morning flight? Tanks full? Feels a bit slow to lift off? Or maybe too quick, with a rearward CofG? No problem, the plane will fly OK…until it doesn’t. Read some accident reports about exceeding CofG limits.

Some people might feel I’m being a bit picky – after all, how often do you get ramp checked? Or insurance companies weigh the aircraft before paying out? Actually, surprisingly often. But the laws of physics can’t be denied; if you frequently fly at or over the aircraft weight limit, it will wear out much quicker. Safety margins are compromised and the flying characteristics will become more and more like a heavier GA-type aircraft. The cruise will be slower, the stall will be higher and you stand much more chance of bending the landing gear if you come down a bit heavy.

Ignorance of the true empty weight of your aeroplane is no defence. Don’t ignore the elephant! You have been warned!

Glider towing with the A22LS Foxbat

Sunday 17 March 2017 dawned clear and a relatively cool 20 celsius at Tyabb Airport. My friend Mike Rudd and I were flying that morning up to Benalla, north of Melbourne, to submit our A22LS Foxbat demonstrator to the Gliding Club of Victoria to test-tow a couple of gliders.

The flight from Tyabb to Benalla was uneventful except for a thick smoke haze up to about 6000 feet due to the smouldering remains of some large bushfires in the area and an almost total lack of wind. About an hour and 20 minutes after take-off, were touching down at Benalla. Gliders were already in the air, albeit in much smaller numbers than the last time we visited, just over 3 years ago.

I flew a short acclimatisation flight with Rob Pugh, the tow pilot for the day (I am not licensed to tow); he made one of the smoothest landings I have experienced in someone who had never flown the type before. Very reassuring for the remainder of the morning! Rob then did a couple of circuits on his own to check out the Foxbat handling without my 85 kilos of ballast in the passenger seat – anyway, towing is only permitted with one person on board.

The first glider – a single seat SZD51 Junior with gliding instructor Steve Hobby on board – was hooked up and, with GoPros activated on the Foxbat, Rob applied full power and took off. Temperature on the ground was about 30 Celsius (about 85-86 Fahrenheit), giving a density altitude at ground level of well over 2500 feet. There was almost no wind at all. Tow time to 2000 feet AGL (2500 feet on the QNH, about 5750 density altitude) was almost exactly 6 minutes and Rob was back on the ground just over 3 minutes later.

Next up was a 2-seat Twin Astir glider with just one person on board. This glider is affectionately known as the ‘concrete swan’ – the heaviest 2-seater in the club, so it would be interesting to see how long it took for the trip. In the event, tow time to the same altitude took only 30 seconds longer and Rob was back on the ground again, around 3 minutes after release.

We are making a short video of the test-towing which will be uploaded to our YouTube channel shortly. Meanwhile, Rob had a few candid comments about Foxbat towing. “Of course”, he told us, “with only 100hp available, the Foxbat won’t be competing with our Pawnees [my note: one of which has a liquid cooled Chevrolet V8 engine!]. But the Foxbat performed very well, considering the lack of wind and the high density altitude. The total take-off to landing times of just over 9 minutes worked out much better than the 13-14 minutes we were expecting. I think the high lift wing really helps it outperform many other Rotax engined types when towing”.

Successful glider towing is a complex equation – it’s not just how long it takes to reach altitude, it’s also the total air time on the tug (based on which, the glider pilot/customer pays), fuel costs, maintenance costs and any depreciation costs on the aircraft tug – many club towing aircraft have been written down to zero in value over the years.

However, the overall exercise was to determine how well the A22LS Foxbat performed – and the answer seems to be ‘much better than expected for such a small aircraft’. This feedback, together with excellent reports from other countries using the A22 for glider towing, confirms our belief that the aircraft will handle 75-80% of  typical towing tasks at around a third of the costs.

 

Aeroprakt CEO at Avalon Airshow

Terrific news! Yuriy Yakovlyev, CEO of Aeroprakt, 2018 World Ultralight Champion and designer of the A22 Foxbat and A32 Vixxen aircraft will be joining us at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon Airport near Melbourne.

Show dates are Tuesday 26 February to Sunday 03 March – with trade days from Tuesday to Friday and public days Friday to Sunday. Yuriy will be with us from Tuesday to Saturday inclusive – come along to our static display at area EN13 near the main entrance and say ‘Hello!’.

Foxbat Australia will have a high spec A32 Vixxen and an A22LS Foxbat on display.

Next to us, our new venture partners, AeroEdge Pty Ltd, will be launching the DirectFly Alto 912TG in Australia.

We still have a few trade tickets left but hurry, it’s first come first served!

Flying with my grandchildren

On New Year’s Eve I spent the most wonderful day flying in a Foxbat with my grandchildren and their mother (my eldest daughter) and her partner. All the grandchildren wanted a second flight, so I must have been doing something right. But then again, it’s quite difficult to do something wrong in a Foxbat! What a magical day….

Click on the picture to view; enable HD and expand to full screen to enjoy to the max!