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

Aeroprakt A32 crosswind at Tyabb

Crosswind at TyabbYesterday there was a fairly strong and gusty crosswind on Tyabb’s 35/17 runway. The crosswind was made even more tricky as the wind was blowing from the north west over the hills and trees near the airfield, making for very uneven and turbulent conditions.

Quite by chance, Mike Rudd, our video producer, was there trying out a new video camera, capturing a couple of aircraft landing – but due to the conditions, there weren’t many up and about in the skies! However, my colleague Ido Segev was flying an A32 Vixxen demonstration with a prospective owner. (Thanks to Stuart for the loan of his aircraft).

This very short video (click the photo or here to view on YouTube) first shows a landing by a Beech Travelair twin, piloted as it turns out, by Roger Merridew, a very experienced pilot and owner of Lilydale Airfield. He is followed closely by Ido and his passenger (who was sitting in the left seat) in the A32 Vixxen.

It’s interesting to note the different techniques used to land each aircraft in what was a 12-15 knot gusting crosswind. In many ways, as you can see, the A32 Vixxen handles the conditions better than the Travelair. The secret to making a successful crosswind landing in the A32 Vixxen is speed management and the minimal use of flap. The aircraft was down safely and exited at the first cross-taxiway, about 70-75 metres from the threshold of runway 35.

Good demonstration Ido!

PS – the prospective customer placed an order after the flight!

Aeroprakt A32 Y-stick arrives in Australia

a32-y-stickSome 15 months after the arrival of the first A32 ‘Vixxen’ aircraft in Australia, the first Y-stick control version has now landed and was handed over to its new owner on 24 December 2016.

This bright red aircraft with a chequerboard rudder design looks great – click on the photo or here for a short video explaining the controls: A32 Vixxen with Y-stick controls

Thanks to Mike Rudd for the video, which also shows a take-off of the ‘youngest’ P-51 Mustang in Australia.

How to land a Foxbat

jacobson-01Landing an aeroplane is potentially one of the trickiest aspects of flying and, if you get it right, one of the most rewarding. However, most of us learn to land through repetition and experience – I wonder how many countless ‘circuits and bumps’ I have done in my life, practising landings in all kinds of wind and weather… and still I get the occasional one wrong and end up going around.

What if you could land an aeroplane every time, right on the spot you picked? And had a process you could use which works on any type of aircraft?

jacobson-03Enter David Jacobson – discoverer/designer/inventor of the ‘Jacobson Flare‘* – a way to land an aircraft, based on simple mathematics. I first met David a few months ago when we were both making aviation related presentations at Box Hill Institute near Melbourne. And I must confess, not being much of a mathematician, I just could not follow David’s logic. All his references to angles and aim points left my head spinning and, because most of what he said seemed to be directed at pilots of passenger jets, I (wrongly) assumed it had no application to something as small and simple as an A22LS Foxbat. After his presentation, David asked me what I thought about his approach(!) to landing and I told him I hadn’t a clue.

Roll on a couple of months and David was kind enough to pay a visit to Foxbat Central at Tyabb Airport and take us – me and my Foxbat colleague Ido Segev, and friends Mike Rudd and Ross Porz – through the theory and practice of his Jacobson Flare. As it turns out, the Jacobson Flare is much simpler than I thought, consisting of (a) determining an aim point along the runway (based on approach angle, aircraft size/type etc), and (b) determining a flare point by coming back towards the threshold a further, aircraft based, distance. Although the maths behind it can seem incomprehensible (at least to me) the end result is very straightforward. I had already taken the precaution of loading David’s app on my iPad, and with a very short introduction, I was soon calculating aim points and flare points for all kinds of aircraft, including the A22LS Foxbat and A32 Vixxen – the process will work for anything from an A380 to a sailplane!

Before we go any further, on David’s advice, I have to slaughter one of aviation’s most sacred cows – that on approach to land, you control descent with throttle and speed with elevator – if you want to slow your descent, add throttle; if you want to add speed, push the nose down. This was drummed into me right from the start (is it was for David too, initially) and, generally speaking, it is an approach I have used all my life. David firmly believes this is complete rubbish on modern aircraft because it’s utilising the secondary effects of the controls. He unequivocally states you should use elevator to hold the aircraft pointing at your aim point and use the throttle to keep the speed in the required zone – thus utilising the primary effects of the controls. Once you get the old height/throttle – speed/elevator combo out of your mind (no easy task), the rest quickly falls into place. Indeed, this is how an ILS approach is flown and has been the mainstay of civil and military aircraft for decades.

Next, many bitumen runways have ready-made length markers painted on the runway. At most major airports (but certainly not all) the ‘keys’ are 100 feet long (about 30 metres) and the centre lines are each 100 feet long, with 100 foot spaces in between them. In these cases, it’s easy to calculate lengths along the runway from the threshold.

Here in simple terms are the distance points for the A22LS Foxbat and A32 Vixxen (there are slight differences between them but small enough to ignore at this stage). These figures assume a main wheels height of about 10 feet above the ground at the runway threshold and the pilot’s eye height above the wheels of between 4.5 and 5 feet:

jacobson-02
1. Work out where in the aircraft windscreen the horizon line lies in straight & level flight.
This is the height of the pilot’s eyes above the glare shield where it meets the windscreen. Either make a clear mental picture, or find some, non-permanent, way of marking the line on the windscreen. Tip: get a thin strip of white sticky tape and lay it on top of the instrument binnacle so it reflects in the windscreen, move the tape backwards or forwards until it coincides with the horizon in straight & level flight. Another way is to use white tape to mark one or both of the diagonal struts inside the A22LS windscreen. This line becomes your main reference marker for your initial aim point.

2. On final approach, line up your reference marker with an aim point about 60 metres down the runway from the threshold. Using elevator, keep the reference mark lined up with this aim point. Maintain 50 knots with throttle. Note: this is just your aim point, it is also the point of intended touchdown.

3. Determine a flare point about 20 metres closer to you than your aim point – ie about 40 metres down the runway from the threshold. Together with the pilot’s line of sight towards the aim point, the flare point creates a visual fix. In other words, the flare point is visible, rather than being a guess of height. When this point disappears from your sight below the glare shield, reduce power to idle if needed and begin a 4-second flare to land. An easy way to do this is to raise your eyes from the windscreen/instrument panel joint towards the far end of the runway and gently pull back on the elevator as you do so, mentally counting 1001 – 1002 – 1003 – 1004. The wheels should touch down on the count of 1004 about 60-100 metres from the runway threshold at a speed of about 35-40 knots. Hold off the nose wheel as long as possible and gently brake to walking pace before exiting the runway.

There are a few provisos:
– these figures only apply to A22LS and A32 Vixxen aircraft. Different aircraft will have different aim point and flare distances!
– if the runway has painted lines, be sure you know how long they are before using them for your calculations! For example, at Tyabb the distance between the start of the keys and the top of the runway heading numbers is 100 feet – about 30 metres.
– if there are no distance markers on the runway – for example if it’s a grass or dirt strip – you’re going to have to estimate aim and flare points based on experience. If it’s your own strip, you can white-paint rocks or other solid objects and place them to each side of the runway at the measured distances.
– it doesn’t matter whether you use flap or not, using this process the aim and flare distance points are the same.
– the distances in 1-3 above assume a 4 degree approach angle and no obstructions at the approach end of the runway. A sharper angle of approach will reduce the figures.
– this system applies to landings on runways which are level r have an up or down slope; if you can follow the maths, the aim and flare points remain the same.
– distances will change if you want to achieve a very short landing or want to 3-point a tail dragger.
– crosswind landings are easily accommodated.
– runway width is no longer a distracting factor, as you are not just relying on a guess of flare height.

We don’t currently have a Foxbat or Vixxen demonstrator, so I have only been able to try this system on a Glasair Sportsman. In three landings it was starting to work OK – even though the aircraft is a taildragger, so it has somewhat different distances from the Foxbat for aim and flare points. Hopefully, we will be able to try it on an A22 and/or A32 soon and will report back.

Meanwhile, if you own a Foxbat or Vixxen, give it a try – I’d be very interested to hear/read your feedback.

*The Jacobson Flare has been demonstrated, since 1985, to work well on a wide range of aircraft. Full details can be found in the Jacobson Flare App in App stores. Many thanks to David for his patience in talking to the mathematically unwashed! For more information, click here to see the Jacobson Flare website.

Trip to (the edge of) the outback and back

Edge of the outback

Jack, Peter, Ido & Norm. And the Bush Hawk

Now the dust has settled (or rather, the water has dried) a bit after our trip to the outback, here are some links to photos taken and videos made by our incumbent chronicler – Mike Rudd.

Although we never made it to our intended destination, Innamincka and the famous ‘Dig Tree’, we nevertheless enjoyed about 10-12 hours’ flying and saw some memorable sights from the air, as well as on the ground. And enjoyed excellent company, a variety of overnight rooms (from the sparse to the almost opulent), not to mention the occasional glass of electric soup.

There are mutterings about another trip in the spring – maybe September or October – north east to Tumut via Yarrawonga, then south east to Polo Flat via Canberra, flying home along the south coast via Merimbula and Gabo Island. Maybe the weather will be unusually benign along the coast and over the mountains, although judging by our outback experience, we might be ‘enjoying’ country pleasures up in the hills! Perhaps I’ll fly the new Aeroprakt A32 on that trip, although I really enjoyed taking the 74 year-old Interstate Cadet to Broken Hill; somehow those old slow-revving engines are very soothing.

Here are the links:

Photos: To the edge of the outback & back 2015
Trip video part 1: Trip to the outback & back, Part 1
Trip video part 2: Broken Hill & back Part 2
Another video: Interstate Cadet – short flight at Mungo Lodge

Reflection-free aerial photos

Photo adapterWhen taking photos from an aeroplane, if you want pin-sharp pictures suitable for magazines or blowing up to poster size or bigger, you have no choice but to shoot through an open window or door.

However, in many aircraft opening a door or window in flight is not permitted for safety reasons. You either have to remove the door before flight (very cold and draughty, specially in winter and/or at altitude) or live with the minor distortions of shooting through the perspex windows. Let’s face it, most photos we take from planes do not need to be ultra-sharp and capable of massive blow-ups, so shooting through the door transparency is probably not a major issue.

The doors on the Foxbat can be removed before (but not opened during) flight, so as a result, most people end up taking photos through the perspex which, in the main, is relatively distortion free. However, the real problem is not distortion but reflection – the doors on the Foxbat are convex and in bright weather are excellent reflectors of anything in the cabin. Light coloured shirts are a particular problem and bright yellow portable EPIRBs, light coloured caps and jeans have all been known to appear. It is these reflections which have rendered many of my potentially best photos unusable. Even flat windows can produce big, unwanted reflections.

Enter Mike Rudd and his Bunnings Aerospace plumbing grommet – technically a ‘dektite’ – for stopping photo reflections in Foxbat (or any other aeroplane) doors/windows. See picture above.

DektiteThe dektite comes in a range of shapes and designs but in essence is a bit like a big rubber conical sucker, with different diameter steps. The one in the picture on the left has a minimum diameter of about 25mm (roughly an inch to our imperial measure friends). Mike’s lens is 77mm in diameter, so he cut the rubber cone at that size and removed the square flaps. The cone is held on the lens with a (very hi-tech) plastic cable tie/zip tie.

When taking photos through the window, you just push the sucker up against the perspex and bingo! all reflections are eliminated. Being rubber, the cone is flexible, so you can move the camera around a fair bit to point in different directions without risking the reflections re-appearing.

Hastings from Westernport BayClick on this hi-res photo Mike took through the middle of a convex perspex door while using the dektite attached to his camera. The file is quite big – around 7Mb – so allow time for the download. The picture is a good example, contrasting the sky and dark colours of the bay, which could easily be swamped by reflections. The photo can be enlarged on screen, so you can see there are no reflections at all and any distortions due to the curved perspex are not intrusive.

Dektites come in a very wide variety of materials, shapes and sizes and, of course prices – which range from about $15 up to several hundred dollars or more for specialist applications and large sizes. They are available (as they say) from all good quality hardware and plumbing stores.

Unfortunately the dektites FAQ page I found offered no advice on uses with a camera, so you’re on your own. Happy reflection-free photos!

A22LS Foxbat – advanced short take-off

Short take offMike Rudd has made a new video showing how to take-off in your Foxbat in half the normal distance.

Click here for the full 2-minute story: Foxbat – advanced short take-off technique 

In summary:

– line up on the runway/take-off area
– do not apply flap, keep the elevator neutral
– apply the brakes and increase throttle to full power
– when full power is reached and stabilised, release the brakes
– be ready to correct the nose swing more than normal due to the full power
– as the airspeed goes through about 25 knots, smoothly pull on full flap and nudge the controls back a little to ‘unstick’ the aircraft
– fly level until the airspeed builds above 50 knots, then climb away as usual

This technique is useful on short strips or take-off areas which are soft.

CAUTION: be careful if the take-off area is covered with gravel or stones, as it is very likely the prop will be damaged if you apply full power when static on the ground. There is a slightly different technique for short field take-offs in these circumstances.

Here’s another link to a YouTube video of a Foxbat doing a short take-off using this technique.