Just recently, there seems to have been a spate of low flying accidents in LSAs and ultralights, some of which have involved even experienced low level pilots. And a couple of incidents where the pilot had no low level approval or endorsement. And I’m not talking about landing or take-off accidents.
A lot of LSAs and ultralights – including Foxbats and Vixxens – are bought by landowners for use on their properties – which sometimes includes low flying. By which I mean at heights often well below the 500 foot (normally) legal minimum height. Landowners can fly at any height over their own land.
However, there is a safety reason for the 500 foot height limit – even a small error made at heights under 500 feet can rapidly develop into a major disaster unless you have the right training to avoid and/or quickly correct. The risks rise exponentially if you’re flying at heights as low as 100 or 200 feet, and losing concentration even for a second or two can be catastrophic. Add in slow flight, obstacles, wires and wind and you really need to know what you are doing at low level.
So, first off – if you’re going to do low flying at all, GET A LOW FLYING ENDORSEMENT! There’s a lot more to flying close to the ground than at first you may think. See CASR 1998, Subpart 61.Q – Low‑level ratings, for the main requirements.
Both CASA and RA Australia have published clear requirements for low level flying endorsements both of which have minimum flying hours on type and passing a flight test – normally after a minimum of 5 hours’ instruction at low level on type. To stay legal, there are also currency requirements – eg completion of at least 2 hours of low level flight during the previous 6 months – and flight review requirements, eg CASA requires an instructor flight review for the low level endorsement every 12 months to ensure you retain the skills needed. RA Australia also requires the pilot to give good reason why they should have a low-level endorsement in the first place.
Second, if you have a low level endorsement and you plan to fly low on a regular basis, it is highly recommended that you WEAR A HELMET! In another life, I used to ride a motorcycle for a couple of hours every day. We had a saying then – ‘if you’ve got a $10 head, put it in a $10 helmet…or even better, save your money!’ Now I don’t know about you but I reckon my head is worth a lot more than $10 (some might argue otherwise), so make sure it’s a good quality helmet with a good quality headset.
Unlike motor vehicles, most aircraft – certainly LSAs and ultralights – are not fitted with airbags. However well designed to absorb impact, an airframe can only do so much to protect you. As your head can so easily be injured, protect it with a helmet!
Third, MAKE SURE YOUR PLANE IS IN TOP CONDITION! The last thing you want when you are flying close to the ground is an engine failure or some part of the airframe or control system to malfunction. It is highly likely that there will just not be enough time to recover before the ground rises up and hits you. Regular maintenance – even more frequently than required – and a sharp eye for any abnormalities in the aircraft are one of the keys to keeping yourself safe.
Finally, MAKE SURE YOU ARE IN TOP CONDITION yourself. We have all heard about ‘Human Factors’, we even had to pass an exam on them to get our license. So, to remind you, if you’ve been on the booze the night before, you’re taking medication that could affect your concentration or you’re feeling unwell in any way at all – don’t fly! Something else to remember – when you are low flying, you need a lot more concentration than plain ordinary flying. You’ll need to take regular and frequent rest breaks.
When you are a pilot, low flying can be very exhilarating. But it’s also very dangerous. However easy it looks, make sure you have the right training, your aeroplane is in perfect flying condition and you are 100% fit and ready. And, for what it’s worth – wear a helmet!
Happy (low) flying!
Monday 16 December 2019 dawned clear and cool – with a forecast of a hot and sunny, 35+ degrees celsius (that’s 95+ degrees Fahrenheit in old money), later in the day. Just after 07.00, my colleague Ido Segev and I collected two Ferrari-red Alto aircraft from Moorabbin Airport and flew them to our home base at Tyabb Airport (home of the Peninsula Aero Club), about 15-20 minutes flying time to the south. The air was ‘smooth as’ as they say and the brand new Alto I was flying purred along at an indicated 110 knots. Just behind me in our Alto demonstrator, Ido was enjoying the silky smooth air too.
At Tyabb, we met up with Matt McPhee, who would pilot one of the Altos in formation with Ido, and Mike Rudd, our videographer/photographer extraordinaire, who would be flying with me in our company Foxbat.
After about 45 minutes of planning, Mike and I took off, followed by Matt and Ido – Matt would be ‘number one’ closest to the camera and Ido ‘number two’, further out. Above about 1,000 feet, the air was still smooth so we climbed to about 1,500 feet for the shoot to begin.
We started off flying big circles, with maximum bank of about 15 degrees, to capture the sun and shadows from all angles. First, a right turn with Devilbend Reservoir and the ground as background and then left with the sky as background. Finally, we ran south along the beach area near Mornington, on the peninsula. There were a few bumps developing on the south lee side of the hill at Mount Martha, so we climbed to 2,000 feet, tracked in a big loop back to the north and tried the beach again. We also got some good pictures over Martha Cove Marina.
All too soon – although it was in fact well over an hour – we were done and the two Altos broke away to have some fun on their own while Mike and I returned to base at Tyabb.
As if I needed it, this flight reminded me yet again of the superb platform the Foxbat makes for photography, particularly air-to-air photography of LSA and ultralight type aircraft. The huge glazed doors allow such good visibility and the strut is far enough forward that positioning the target aircraft is very easy. Although the Foxbat is approved for doors off flying, on this occasion we opted to leave the doors on, to minimise wind buffeting. Unfortunately, our company Foxbat does not have the optional photo doors.
Nevertheless, the results are amazingly good. The lexan doors are relatively distortion free and both the video and photos are as clear as you could possibly need – Mike was shooting on 4k for the video and equivalent resolution for the stills.
You can see a short 3-minute video of the mission by clicking here: Alto Formation Shoot
There is a selection of Alto photos, including the formation, here: Alto Gallery
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!