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.

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.

Oshkosh 2014

Oshkosh 2014At this time of the year – end of July/beginning of August – there’s one thing many pilots dream of doing: visiting the EAA Airventure show at Oshkosh, in Wisconsin USA. It’s on every year and is without doubt the biggest regular gathering of aircraft on the planet.

The numbers are staggering: during the week long event, typically over 10,000 aircraft fly in (and out) and more than half a million visitors pass through the gates. There are more than 800 exhibitors selling everything from bizjets to nuts and bolts.

Although I have never attended the show (what an admission for a flying nut like me!) I know there’s something there for everybody. From heavy metal civil aircraft and warbirds, current and yesteryear, to the lightest of ultralights, and even aeromodels for aspiring full-scale pilots, the show covers the whole spectrum. And not only pilots are catered for – there are sideshows of all descriptions, vast food courts and funfairs, a concert arena and a drive-in movie screen. And, of course, flying displays day & night.

You can learn to build your own aeroplane. You can buy your own aeroplane. You can attend one or more of over 1,000 aviation workshops and presentations. You can wander up and down the rows of parked aircraft, which are grouped together by type. Or you can position yourself near the main runways and watch the day-long stream of arrivals and departures. Friends who have been to Oshkosh tell me that a week just isn’t enough time to see everything – so (unfortunately!) they have to go back for another year.

I keep promising myself…next year. In the meantime, I’ll just have to make do with following along on the EAA Airventure Video site. If I put the video on full screen and dim the lights, I might almost be there….

For anyone thinking about going, next year’s Airventure Oshkosh dates are 20-26 July 2015.

Pietsch Jelly BellyPS – Interstate Cadet pilot, Kent ‘Jelly Bean’ Pietsch is due to perform at the show this year on 30 July and 1 August. No doubt YouTube will have clips of his exploits.

Interstate S-1A Cadet

Interstate Cadet VCQAs announced in earlier posts, I have been lucky enough to acquire a 1941 Interstate S-1A Cadet aircraft. This particular example  – serial number 9 – originally rolled off the Interstate Aircraft and Engineering Company production line in Segundo, California, in January 1941. It has recently been restored to better than new condition in the States, with an 0-235 115 hp engine replacing the original Continental A-65 hp, toe brakes replacing the original and much disliked heel brakes, raising the MTOW to 1,650 pounds (750 kgs) from the original 1,200 pounds (544 kgs) and a host of other improvements, including an improved tail wheel.

As far as I know, this is the first Interstate Cadet in Australia, registered VH-VCQ, replacing its original USA registration N28317. Around 320 S-1’s were built by Interstate during 1940-1942, then later some more by Callair, who acquired the Interstate manufacturing rights. The aircraft was also built as a military variant – the Interstate L-6, which had a bigger glasshouse to facilitate its observation role. The Interstate Aircraft manufacturing rights were eventually purchased from Callair in the 1970’s by Arctic Aircraft in Alaska. They have developed the S-1 into the Arctic Tern by adding a 160 hp engine and many other upgrades and improvements.

A small piece of trivia – interesting mainly to me – is that Interstate originally sold the S-1 manufacturing rights to the Harlow Aircraft Company, who then sold them on to Callair. I’m hunting through the family tree to find out which (probably none) of my relatives were involved in this venture.

The Interstate Cadet was one of several similar aircraft types made at the time by competing manufacturers – Piper, Stinson, Aeronca and Taylorcraft to name a few. However, although the Interstate was much bigger and more rugged than these other aircraft, it was also much more expensive – in fact, almost three times the cost of a J-3 Cub. So Piper went on to make literally thousands of Cubs, while Interstate disappeared by the mid-1940’s.

A final historical footnote – an Interstate Cadet, flying on a Sunday morning training flight, was the first US aircraft to be shot at when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbour – not, as incorrectly portrayed in the film ‘Tora Tora Tora’ a Stearman Kaydet biplane.  Thankfully, the instructor – Cornelia Fort (yes, a woman! and only 23 years old too) – was able to evade the fighters and get back on the ground safely. This very aircraft is now apparently owned by Kent Pietsch – he of the ‘Jelly Belly’ comedy aerobatic display, seen all over the world, including at our own Avalon Airshow. However, the provenance of some of these older aircraft can be difficult to confirm and at least one other person lays claim to ownership of the Pearl harbour Interstate.

I’ll be posting some more about flying the Interstate and some links to videos of the aircraft in due course. Meanwhile, here are a few YouTube links to whet your appetite:

Me introducing the Interstate Cadet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCOyvn_fL0s
D
oug’s Super Cadet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIgVrkXZUn4
Dick O’Reilly’s Christmas Crosswind Flight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLyOtNgv9hM