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.

Antique Aeroplanes at Echuca

AAAA Echuca 2016This weekend sees the annual Antique Aeroplane Association of Australia (AAAA) national fly-in at Echuca in northern Victoria. Has yet another year passed so quickly?

My partner and I will be flying from Tyabb on Friday in the Interstate Cadet. The main day for the show is Saturday 16 April with many pilots/owners (including me) starting their journey home on Sunday morning.  There’s a dinner at the Moama Bowling Club on Saturday evening – last year the food and entertaining speeches (thankfully brief!) were most enjoyable.

I’m sure there will be plenty of wonderful old planes to see and Echuca is only just over a couple of hours’ drive from Melbourne, so it would make a great family day out – there is no entrance fee, you can just come along and soak up the atmosphere.

Hope to see you there – come and say hello!

Event reminder – AAAA annual fly-in at Echuca

AAAA Echuca 2015If you’re an old aeroplane enthusiast, here’s your once-a-year chance to see dozens of them all in one place – Echuca Airport, on the Murray River, north Victoria, on Saturday 28 March.

The Antique Aeroplane Association of Australia – AAAA – is holding their 39th National Fly-in over 27-29 March 2015.  Aircraft will start arriving on Friday 27th and departing on Sunday morning, 29th. In between, Saturday should see a wonderful array of old flying beasts on the flight line (as well as their aircraft!).

On Saturday evening, AAAA is holding its annual dinner at the Moama Bowls Club across the river – tickets will be on sale on Friday and Saturday.

The last time this event was held at Echuca in 2011, I flew up from Tyabb in a SportStar with Mike Rudd, who made a couple of great videos about the show. You can click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

Apart from the flying, Echuca is a great place to visit at this time of year, with paddle steamer trips on the Murray River as well as a great selection of cafes, shops and restaurants. Echuca is under a 3-hour drive from Melbourne, and less from Albury-Wodonga, Wagga Wagga, Bendigo and the like, so even if you can’t fly-in, the location makes it a reasonable day-trip.

Fingers crossed for good weather and I’ll be taking the Interstate Cadet to join the festivities. Hope to see you there!

International Aircraft Services – buyer beware!

Cadet door damage 01Now, I’m usually a very positive person, generally looking for the upside to most problems but occasionally I reach the end of my tether…what follows is not a whinge – just a warning to would-be aircraft shippers.

As regular readers will recall, last year I bought an aircraft from the USA – an Interstate Cadet – and shipped it to Australia. I used a company called International Aircraft Services LLC, based at Hayward Executive Airport in California, to disassemble the aircraft and pack it into a container and arrange shipping to me. They did this well, even helping to fix a problem with one of the seats, which was broken during the ferry flight from Idaho.

But there was one important exception. They didn’t shut the upward opening pilot door properly and during the travel, somewhere between Hayward and Melbourne, the door came open and, aided by its gas strut, the door contacted the side of the container, which damaged the bottom edge.

Cadet door damage 03No problem – I thought. I’ll claim on the insurance for the A$1,500 or so it cost to fix – I’d already paid International Aircraft Services for the insurance, which was a specified item on their invoice.

To cut a long long story short, I have been unable to get any insurance money to cover the cost of fixing the door. Not because the insurance company refused the claim but because International Aircraft Services will not tell me who the insurance cover is through and how to make a claim. They do not return my calls and emails (over two dozen documented at the last count) asking for the details of how to make a claim. The person I dealt with is Ed Therrien, who I believe is either the owner or a senior person in the company.

So, if you’re thinking of shipping anything via International Aircraft Services, particularly an aeroplane, learn from my expensive experience – get the insurance details in writing before going ahead. Or don’t use International Aircraft Services.

UPDATE – in mid-December 2014, after emailing International Aircraft Services of my intention to post this blog article, they asked me to send them my bank details for a payment – which I did. They said they would make a wire transfer – which after over 7 weeks they still haven’t. Cynical or what?

Fly with Kent Pietsch in his Interstate Cadet

Kent Pietsch RenoThere are hundreds, if not thousands, of internet videos of Kent Pietsch performing his flying routines in the ‘Jelly Belly’ aeroplane. Kent is famous for his ‘dead stick’ and ‘landing on a recreational vehicle’ (RV) displays in his 70+ years old Interstate Cadet. However, this one is a favourite of mine – riding along in the back seat during his ‘comedy’ display. View it full screen and I guarantee you’ll be feeling a little queasy by the end!

There’s everything here, some of it in fast-motion: stall turns, spins, steep turns, low level. It includes Kent throwing things out of the window (which is open for much of the display) including an old tyre. What fascinates me is that the pilot door always looks like it’s going to come open but somehow doesn’t. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the throttle lever (bottom left of the screen) to see when he uses power.

It looks like he isn’t wearing a seat belt the whole time but sharp-eyed viewers will, near the beginning just before a cut, see him reaching down with his right hand  to pick up the lap belt-end; the original Interstate only had lap belts, although many have been later modified to add shoulder straps too.

The aircraft is an almost stock standard S-1A Cadet with a 90 hp engine and no electrics (you can see his hand-held radio attached to the left side windshield strut). I believe the only mod to the aircraft – apart from the jelly bean paint job – is to enable him to jettison an aileron early in the routine, which demonstrates how manoeuvrable the aircraft is, even with half its roll equipment missing!

You can see the routine from outside the aircraft by clicking here.

PS – I know the title of the video should say ‘aerobatic’ pilot, not ‘acrobatic’ pilot but I guess we have to make allowances for our non-aviation friends…

PPS – For more about the Interstate Cadet, you can click here.

Antique Aeroplane spring fly-in at Swan Hill

Swan Hill AAAA

Interstate & Ercoupe, Swan Hill 4 October 2014

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend the AAAA Spring Fly-in and AGM at Swan Hill in Victoria.

Swan Hill is a great little town on the River Murray, towards the north west of the state. There is a good selection of cafes, restaurants and hotels/motels. I stayed at the Comfort Inn Lady Augusta in the middle of town which has recently been refurbished. The room was spacious and the bathroom new and stylish – not something I usually say about motels! During the stay, I also visited the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum, about 10 kilometres south of the town – there will be a separate post about this soon. The same weekend saw the annual Swan Hill show but unfortunately, by the time we had visited the Flying Boat Museum, had some lunch and wandered the flight lines, it was getting on well for late afternoon, so we didn’t get to join some of the Antiquers who went.

Speaking as a pilot, the weekend weather couldn’t really have been much better – light winds for both the trip up and back, and high 20’s (celsius) sunny days in between.

I flew up from Tyabb in very loose formation with Jack Vevers in his Ercoupe – so loose in fact that on several occasions we completely lost sight of each other! But his ‘Coupe and my Interstate Cadet are well-matched in terms of performance, so it all worked well. It’s interesting to note that when flying such old aircraft – typically at between 75 and 85 knots – that you are happy to just chug along and enjoy the view. Not once, either way, did I wonder ‘when are we going to be there?’ The Interstate returned just on 20 litres an hour for the entire 5.2 hours of the return trip. Jack, having a smaller engine, recorded about 14 litres an hour – not bad for a couple of old timers!

The AAAA 2014 AGM was conducted at the Saturday evening dinner, between the entree and main courses. And commendably short – at around 20 minutes – it was. I like the AAAA because everyone is there to enjoy themselves, no axes to grind about ‘my plane goes faster than yours’ or ‘mine is older than yours’. Around 50-55 AAAA member aircraft were parked at Swan Hill over the weekend and around 90 people attended the dinner/AGM.

AAAA Peoples Choice AwardThe icing on the cake for me – and completely unexpected – was that the Interstate won the ‘People’s Choice Award’ at the fly-in. There are no ‘official’ awards but members fill in a small ballot paper to say which aircraft at the fly-in they liked the most. I was surprised (and very pleased) because there were some lovely aircraft there. In particular an Auster J5G Autocar, resplendent in silver and teal green paint, as well as a beautiful silver and blue Cessna 170B. Thank you to the AAAA members who voted for the Interstate – my plaque will be proudly displayed in my trophy cabinet. Well, it might be a bit lonely but who knows? perhaps there will be others. Special thanks to Nathan Eyers (also an AAAA Committee Member) of the Aviation Centre at Tyabb, who helped make sure that the Interstate was at its best for its first trip away in Australia.

Pictures of some of the other aircraft at Swan Hill over the weekend can be found here at the Foxbat Pilot Flickr Swan Hill Photo Gallery.

A small PS – I believe the beautiful Auster is for sale at a fantastic price, considering the bare metal restoration and improvement it has been given. Have a look here if you are interested: Best Auster

Date for your diary: AAAA National Fly-in at Echuca, Victoria, 27-29 March 2015.

Spring fly-in: Antique Aeroplane Association

AAAA Swan HillMy next planned trip is to the Antique Aeroplane Association of Australia (AAAA) spring fly-in at Swan Hill in Victoria. This is being held – as usual, weather willing – over the 3rd, 4th & 5th of October.

Here’s what the AAAA says on their website:

“This weekend is a long weekend in most states (except ironically in Victoria!) so should provide everyone a good opportunity to make it to this riverside town. It’s been quite a few years since the Antiquers visited Swan Hill and the local Council, Aero Club and community are keen to see us back in strength.

While in Swan Hill, why not visit the many tourist attractions including the Pioneer Settlement Village and Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum, home of the Catalina flying boat.  There will be a bus service to ensure people are able to get to and from Lake Boga. For full details about Swan Hill, visit their comprehensive tourism site at http://www.swanhillonline.com/
I’m aiming to take the Interstate Cadet on its first cross-country outing since completing flight trials at Tyabb.
Come along and say hello if you can!