Reflections on flying…

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Aeroprakt A22LS Foxbat

I have loved aeroplanes and flying as far back as I can remember and was lucky enough at the age of 17 to be taught to fly in the UK by the Royal Naval Fleet Air Arm under their cadet flying scholarship scheme.

Many years later, after a serious dalliance with hot air ballooning, I revitalised my fixed-wing license and came to live in Australia, where my life in the air has been transformed in many wonderful ways I could never have dreamed. Flying became my business and viewing Australia from the air became my pleasure.

The main vehicle for this transformation has been the Aeroprakt A22 – known fondly in Australia and several other countries as the Foxbat.

The Foxbat is one of a relatively new breed of simple yet hi-tech aircraft designed and manufactured using modern technology and materials. It fits the ‘Light Sport Aircraft’ (LSA) category developed in the USA nearly 15 years ago and enthusiastically adopted in Australia in 2006. In many ways, LSAs – including the Foxbat – represent the cutting edge of current light aviation and are well-suited to flying in Australia.

They often carry more weight, usually fly faster, stall slower and use far less fuel than most of their old General Aviation 2-seat counterparts. And into the bargain, they are more manoeuvrable, more fun to fly and are much much less expensive to maintain. Learning to fly in an LSA is a delight – and costs much less than you may think.

Glasair Sportsman

My logbook now shows that, apart from the Foxbat (and its various versions) I have flown almost 30 different aircraft types (excluding various sizes of hot air balloon). Probably my all-time favourite was a Glasair Sportsman, which I bought, as a ‘two weeks to taxi’ used aircraft, from the USA. Apart from its ‘desert’ camouflage paint scheme complete with ‘wild pig’ teeth at the front  (which you either loved or loathed – she who must be obeyed loathed it!) it was a real delight to fly. Fitted with oversize tyres, it would get you in and out of small strips, carry full fuel plus two good sized people and about 70kgs of luggage. And it cruised around 140 knots into the bargain. I had to sell it to give a bit of cash injection into my business but it was a sorry day when I flew it to its new owner.

Seabird Seeker

Perhaps the most disappointing was the Seabird Seeker. Since first seeing photos of one when I lived in the UK, I’d always wanted one but a new one was way way out of my budget. Until a used version – in fact the original factory demonstrator – came up for sale at less than the price of a new Foxbat. The Seeker looks a bit like a fixed wing helicopter, with a ‘bubble’ cabin in front and a pusher configuration propeller and engine up behind your head. The aircraft was designed and built, by the renowned Adams family in Queensland, as a surveillance aircraft. And this is where I should have listened to a few warning signals….the plane was amazingly stable in all modes of flight; whatever you did with the controls, it always wanted to return to straight and level – perfect for a surveillance role but not really much fun for the pilot! The mogas approved 160hp Lycoming engine was a bit under powered for a biggish plane in hot and high density altitude flying in Australia. And it was incredibly noisy. And very complex to maintain – I suppose it was primarily designed for civil/military use rather than private flying. But I held on to it for a couple of years before a buyer in the USA made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Interstate Cadet

I’ve also owned an Interstate Cadet, still the only one in Australia. A beautiful old thing, built in 1942, well refurbished in the mid-2000s as a bush plane, with a surprisingly nimble turn of speed and take-off. Apart from needing a degree in contortionism to get in and out of the front (pilot) seat, it was very comfortable and forgiving to fly. Over the years, the type has been made famous by Kent ‘Jelly Belly’ Pietsch who flies a couple of great routines – one with engine off aerobatics, including a dead stick landing, as well as a comedy routine where pieces of the aircraft ‘fall off’ – notably an aileron. In a testament to the airframe, the aircraft remains aerobatic even after the aileron is detached. Kent also lands his Interstate on top of a mobile home, albeit with a flat ‘runway’ top, which is quite something to see.

Vans RV7A

Then at completely at the opposite end of the scale there was a Vans RV7…I have always been very wary of buying, without a personal inspection, an amateur built aircraft but an engineer friend checked it out and pronounced it straight and well-built. Again, it was one of my dream planes and great to fly, particularly if you wanted to get somewhere fast! Up at 8,500 feet it would true out at around 170 knots. The downside to all this haste was a bit of a jittery ride in turbulence, which got a bit tiresome after a couple of hours in the saddle. In contrast, the Interstate just loped along at 80 or 90 knots with much of the turbulence absorbed by those big fabric covered wooden-sparred wings.

Other aircraft on the list include Piper Colts (in which I initially learned to fly), Piper Cherokee 140s, a Chipmunk, a couple of Super Cubs, many different Evektor SportStars, a Tecnam or two, a Cessna 152, a Thorp T211, a Slingsby T67, a Beagle Terrier (for flying training when spinning was on the syllabus and the Colt just couldn’t cut it), a Beagle Pup (which, although severely underpowered, was a delight to fly once you got off the ground…which took quite a while), a Dimona motor glider, and a Cubcrafters Carbon Cub. Also on the list is a Grumman AA-5 Cheetah which the instructor (only half-jokingly) told me that I wasn’t allowed to put the notoriously fragile castering nose wheel on the ground until the aircraft was parked.

Just lately, I have been doing quite a bit of flying in a new, Czech built LSA called a DirectFly Alto…but that’s another story.

I am very happy to have made Tyabb Airport my flying home and that of the Aeroprakt A22 Foxbat in Australia – come and visit us in Hangar 11 just south of the main Peninsula Aero Club House.

Foxbat Alto photoshoot

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

DirectFly Alto LSA

Short video of trip to Parkes, September 2019

Over the last 6 months or so, I have been flying a new-to-Australia low wing all metal Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) built in the Czech Republic, called the DirectFly ALTO. In particular, as mentioned in my previous post, I flew the Alto from our Tyabb Airport base to the recent Australian AirVenture 2019 airshow at Parkes in New South Wales and back again with my friend Mike Rudd.

The return trip totalled 9.6 hours of flying – mostly into moderate to strong headwinds – burning an average of 17.2 litres an hour. We were only around 5 kgs (about 11-12 pounds in the old fashioned measure) under the maximum gross weight of 600 kgs (1,320 pounds). Nevertheless, the Alto still had plenty of get-up-and-go and we cruised along happily – if a little bumpily at times – at around 105-115 knots True Air Speed.

The horrendous dust storms in Parkes, followed by rain, reminded me how easy it is to clean a low wing aircraft; I think we washed and leathered it off at least 4 times over the two main days of the show. I suppose the drawback is that you can’t shelter from the rain by standing under the wing!

My friend Mike, whose backside can be very critical of aeroplane seats, commented that (a) it was one of the most comfortable planes to sit in for several hours’ flying, and (b) that it handled the sometimes moderate turbulence very well. The Alto adopts a sort of ‘fishtail’ waggle through the worst turbulence – if you leave it to find its own way rather than fighting it, the ride is not bad at all.

Although I’m a definite high-wing pilot, I must say that the view out of the Alto is superb – most of the time it feels like you’re flying on a magic carpet, with an almost unobstructed view forward through about 270 degrees. With a high wing, I guess you tend to look more at the ground when flying; with a low wing, you see much more of the sky and the eve changing cloudscapes around you.

The tinted canopy and 4 powerful air vents kept us cool and un-burnt. And the forward-sliding design of the canopy presented no worries about it popping open in flight or blowing over if left open on the ground.

All-in-all a very nice low wing all metal alternative to a Foxbat or Vixxen – and the pricing is good too! PS> This demonstrator aircraft is now for sale – please contact Ido Segev 0431 454 676 for information and pricing.

Click here for more information on the ALTO.
Click here or on the photo above to take you to the YouTube video Mike made of our flight.

AirVenture 2019 – a bit of a disaster

My friend Mike and I flew from Tyabb to Parkes on Thursday 19 September, full of anticipation for the upcoming AirVenture 2019 show. A couple of owners/friends were bringing an A22LS Foxbat and an A32 Vixxen to complete our static display along with the DirectFly Alto we were flying.

We set out nice and early (well, it was for us!) leaving the ground at about 07:45. Tracking north for Wangaratta, we immediately hit some strong headwinds coming over the ranges. And so this was the story pretty well all the way to Parkes, where we arrived at about 15:00 after stopping at Wangaratta and Temora – where, by the way, we briefly ran into Ian McDonell, A32 Vixxen syndicate manager, flying down from Caboolture to Tocumwal in the opposite direction.

At that stage, the weather forecast for Parkes didn’t look too bad; breezy but clear on Friday, with strengthening winds and a late possibly showery change on Saturday, and light (head!) winds on Sunday and Monday for our trip home.

In the event, the ‘strengthening winds’ on Saturday turned out to be 30+ knot northerlies gusting 45-50 knots (YES!) raising an almost impenetrable cloud of dust in the air. The seminar and main indoor exhibitor tents were rated to about 75 km/h (that’s about 40 knots) so the whole site was evacuated at about 10:30 and did not re-open until 15:00 that afternoon. Even after that, there were intermittent and heavy rain showers, so the day was pretty well a wipe-out. However, thanks to Bob (you know who you are!) for braving the weather to come and order a new Foxbat on Saturday afternoon!

Our three planes were all pointed into wind and well tied down so we suffered no damage. They were all covered with a thick layer of dust – made to look much worse by the developing rain showers – although the insides remained mercifully clean.

As forecast, Sunday dawned beautifully clear with almost no wind…it was almost as if the previous day had just been a very bad dream.

We flew home in the Alto on Monday 23 September, again with headwinds most of the way and a dessert helping of showers as we approached the Kilmore Gap through the ranges, plus one final, very big shower overhead Tyabb – we circled out to the west for about 30 minutes, waiting for it to pass through.

The Alto performed faultlessly. Mike even commented that it was probably the most comfortable Light Sport Aircraft he’d flown in – which is high praise indeed, considering his rear end is noted for its predisposition to numbness in less accommodating aircraft! Overall, the return trip was 9.6 hours’ flying, using a whisker under 165 litres of fuel. True airspeed lingered between 105 and 115 knots but average ground speed on the two trips was just under 75 knots – which included take-offs and landings.

It was a shame that the main exhibition day was such a disaster. I hope the organisers had insurance cover (if such a thing is available) because total visitor entries must have been a fraction of what they were hoping. One of our competitors commented that there were ‘more exhibitors than visitors’, even on Sunday, when the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

I hope the organisers survive to fight another day and run the show again next year.

AirVenture 2019

This year’s AirVenture fly-in and airshow seems to have come round all very quickly! Last year the show visited Cessnock, near Newcastle in New South Wales.

This year we are at Parkes in central west New South Wales – famous for the nearby ‘Dish’ radio telescope which was involved in communications for the first human landing on the moon.

The show runs from Friday 20 September to Sunday 22 September inclusive, with an airshow planned for Sunday, 10.00-14.00. We’re told there will be hundreds of fly-in and drive-in visitors this year – so why not join them and come and see all manner of light and very light aircraft, warbirds and aerobatic displays. Plus a huge range of aviation related merchandise ranging from nice little toys, all the way up through avionics and beyond.

As usual, Foxbat Australia and our sister company, AeroEdge, will have Foxbat, Vixxen and Alto aircraft on static display. A couple of schools/clubs using Foxbats for training will also be giving ‘TIFs’ – trial instruction flights – so you can find out just how much fun it is to fly a Foxbat.

Come and say hello! We’d love to see you there!

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!