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

Tyabb Airshow

Well, how quickly have another 2 years sped by? It’s time again for the bi-annual Tyabb Airshow, to be held this year on Sunday 11 March 2018. Gates open at 08.30 and the air display starts at 11.30. The theme of this year’s show is ‘War & Peace’ and there will be many of the old warbirds, for which Tyabb is famous, on display on the ground and in the air. In addition, many Tyabb hangar owners will be opening up their doors to show aircraft old and new.

The airshow this year is sponsored by BP and Eastlink, as well as the Peninsula Aero Club, which has a proud tradition of supporting local community service clubs from the proceeds of their airshows.

The 2018 Airshow is no different with the major beneficiary to be Riding for the Disabled (RDA). RDA Victoria is a not-for-profit organisation that enables individuals with a variety of disabilities, ages and backgrounds to develop independence, a sense of freedom and to reach their equestrian goals, through adaptive coaching techniques and equipment.

The Aero Club will also be supporting the Tyabb CFA, a vital service for all of us, the Mt Eliza Lions Club which exists to support the comminity through a variety of initiatives and the Tyabb Football & Cricket Clubs which serve local youth.

You can save $5 per head by purchasing your tickets on line by clicking here. This will also save you having to queue at the gate to get into what is always a very popular show.

Foxbat Australia will have several aircraft on static display, including the Kelpie and Vixxen, as well as the evergreen Foxbat – come along to Hangar 11 and say hello – we are just across the grass to the south of the main club house.

Bi-Annual Flight Review (BFR)

AFRWell the time came again – all too soon – for my PPL medical and bi-annual flight reviews. I can’t believe it’s two years already since the last one… they tell me the speed of time passing is something to do with age, even though I don’t feel a day over 40!

First, the medical. At my age, I have to do a PPL medical every 2 years. My previous doctor, who did about 3 or 4 medicals for me over the years, has decided the demands of CASA are too great and so I had to find a new ‘DAME‘ (designated aviation medical examiner) to go to. Although I left 2-3 weeks before my old medical expired, it was still a bit of a push to get an appointment before the expiry. LESSON 1: leave plenty of time to book your medical!

On the due day, I arrived at 08:30 in the freezing cold and pouring rain of a typical Melbourne winter morning – note: the sun was shining by midday and the temperature was up by about 10 degrees.  I did all the usual tests – eyes/eyesight, ears/earsight (or should that be ‘hearing’?), reflexes, colour vision, peripheral vision, height, weight, blood pressure, and more. In preparation, you now have to fill in an online medical questionnaire on the CASA website and the doctor checks this all through with you. Interestingly, I didn’t have to undergo the dreaded ‘rubber gloved finger’ test this time. I understand that this check is not as reliable as once it was believed to be.

Everything was completed OK and then the doctor told me I had to get an ECG done, as I hadn’t had one in a while. Conveniently, there was a cardiology place almost next door. Indeed I haven’t had an ECG since I can remember and it’s amazing how much the process has changed over the years. The cardiologist wires you up and switches on the machine, which then automatically goes through the individual traces and beams it all via the internet to the central cardiology analyst. It must all have been OK because the medical was issued.

Total cost for the medical: $110 plus $75 CASA processing fee – less than the $210 annual cost of renewing my RA-Aus membership. The ECG was bulk-billed. LESSON 2: the annualised cost renewing your PPL is less than half as much as the annual cost of belonging to RA-Aus.

Next my bi-annual flight review – which I have always called a BFR – but I’m told is officially now called an Aeroplane Flight Review or AFR. Here, at least, some sense has prevailed at CASA and RA-Aus because you can do your AFR in a general aviation VH-registered aircraft and, as well as revalidating your PPL, the same flight also revalidates your RA-Aus Pilot Certificate. LESSON 3: make sure your instructor is both PPL and RA-Aus rated if you want to do just one AFR covering both categories. (If you don’t want to search the CASA website for information on AFRs – a should destroying process – click here for the relevant information; then click the link to download the ‘ratings’ pdf)

I was originally aiming to do my AFR in my A32 Vixxen demonstrator, but a few weeks ago, a flying school made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I was in the tandem-seat tail dragger Interstate Cadet.

I pre-flighted the aircraft and double-checked the weight and balance (the instructor sits in the back) to make sure we were well within limits. Typical of Tyabb, the wind that day was exactly 90 degrees across the main runway, so first test: which is the preferred runway direction in these circumstances? LESSON 4: check ERSA and/or the rule book for your airfield before your AFR.

We taxied out behind a couple of spam cans (sorry, Cessnas) and waited our turn at the holding point. After take-off (watch for that cross-wind!) we turned and climbed out towards French Island, a largish area of land in the middle of Westernport Bay, notorious for its own climate. But above a couple of thousand feet everything was smooth, so we did a few ever-increasingly steep turns and an engine-out forced landing (without actually touching down!). We then trundled over towards Port Phillip Bay – a bit bumpier here, even at almost 3,000 feet and then back towards the naval college at Cerberus. All the time, the instructor was asking me questions, sometimes about the aircraft, sometimes about its flying characteristics, sometimes about the controlled and restricted air space around the area, all gently checking my airmanship and knowledge. LESSON 5: relax, the instructor wants everything to be OK too!

Eventually after almost an hour, the command came to return to Tyabb. We could hear traffic on the radio, so joined down-wind, this time for runway 17. Because of the recent rain, the grass at Tyabb was unserviceable that day so we were landing on the bitumen – not my first choice in a tail dragger with a stiffish cross-wind breeze from the east, which makes for a nice little bit of turbulence as it comes over the hangars on that side of the airfield. Should I 3-point or wheel it on? Decisions decisions… With someone in the back seat, the Interstate likes to 3-point, so in spite of the cross-wind that’s what I opted for. In the event, the wind gods were with me and the landing was OK – not my best greaser but certainly quite acceptable. So we taxied in and shut down.

The AFR is really quite straightforward, particularly if you fly regularly as I do. I guess if you haven’t flown for a year, you’ll need to do a fair bit of swotting to make sure you have the answers and a few circuits to re-awaken your flying skills before the AFR!  There’s no pass or fail with an AFR – just useful reminders, even lessons, to keep you flying safe. Thanks to Nick Caudwell at Peninsula Aero Club for his advice and signing my logbook! Thoroughly recommended – 5 stars.

Outback trip to Innamincka – day 5

Aeroclub stranded

Aeroclub stranded

The less said about today, Wednesday, the better. Although one highlight – if you could call it that – was our appearance in the local newspaper under the banner ‘Areo Club Stranded’. The short piece featured a photo of the suitably photogenic Ido in front of the suitably photogenic Bush Hawk. (click the picture to see one big enough to read)

The day dawned grey and drizzly. We ate breakfast at Charlotte’s Cafe (again) and checked the weather forecast several hundred times. It looked like we might be able to fly south to Mildura, starting around midday. But there was low cloud both at Broken Hill and Mildura.

So we went out to the airfield and once again enjoyed the hospitality of the Aero Club. As the drizzle slowly cleared and the cloud lifted, so did our hopes. Further improved by the local charter Cessna 206 departing to the north and some delayed REX flights arriving from Adelaide and Sydney.

We were getting set to go – cloud was lifting at Mildura too – and it was all looking good. However, a couple of check phone calls, one to the aviation BoM weather forecaster and one to the flying club at Mildura dashed our hopes. Although there had been an improvement, conditions were predicted to worsen appreciably by the time we could arrive at Mildura, a couple of hours later.

Reluctantly we called off the trip, again hoping for better weather on Thursday. If the worst came to the worst, at  least Friday and Saturday are forecast to be ‘mainly sunny’ all the way back to Tyabb.

At around 1430 one of us was foolish enough to check the Mildura AWS (Aerodrome Weather Service) automated phone-in weather report. Oh, cruel weather! Cloud base was 5,700 feet and visibility over 10 kilometres! But by then it was too late to untie the aircraft, pack them up and safely make Mildura before last light.

So off back to town we went, this time staying at the Ibis Styles Motel and eating at the Cafe Alfresco Italian restaurant. Maybe Thursday will be flyable, although the weather forecast is not encouraging. Present plans, which could change any time, are to fly to Mildura and if the weather is kind, on to Robe on the South Australian coast.

Whatever, goodbye to reaching Tibooburra, Camerons Corner, Innamincka, the Dig Tree and White Cliffs. Maybe I should change the titles of these posts to ‘Enjoying a week in the rain at Broken Hill’. So it goes.

Tyabb Airport upgrades

Tyabb FlypastOver the next few months, Tyabb Airport will be undergoing some significant works to repair and improve the main apron, taxi-ways, drainage and runway lighting. Money for these works was granted through the regional airports development fund – other airports near to Melbourne which have also benefitted significantly from the development fund include Coldstream and Lethbridge.

Tyabb is home to the Peninsula Aero Club (PAC) – a club and school open to anyone interested in flying, whether as a social or flying member. Current PAC membership stands at almost 600. On pretty well any sunny day, families can be seen picnicking on the grass in front of the club house, watching the aircraft taking off and landing. PAC organises the bi-annual Tyabb Airshow, the last of which was held in March 2014, with an attendance of well over 5,000. Plane Crazy Down Under has produced a video of the 2014 Airshow – details and ordering information can be found here: Plane Crazy Tyabb Airshow DVD

The airport is also home to a number of other aviation related industries, including service and maintenance facilities, as well as to Cubcrafters Australia, agents for the Carbon Cub, and of course to Foxbat Australia!

Of particular interest is The Old Aeroplane Company (this is a link to very nice current video), which is based on the western side of the airport. Owned and operated by Judy Pay, The Old Aeroplane Company not only restores and services older aircraft (as well as new ones), it also houses a unique collection of warbirds and other interesting aircraft – here’s a link to a Flickr gallery of some of them: Old Aeroplane Company pictures . You can visit – but phone to check first to ensure they are open: 03 5977 3355. Here’s another article and pictures about the recovery and restoration of a Curtiss P-40F Warhawk, one of the gems of the Old Aeroplane collection.

For those who want to fly in, Tyabb Airport is one of the few regional airports offering both Avgas and 98 Octane Mogas at the bowser. Daily and overnight parking is available.

If you’re visiting come over and visit Foxbat and Cubcrafters at Hangar 11 – the first hangar due south of the PAC club house.

Flaps podcast

Flaps Podcast

Flaps Podcast

I must confess – I am a bit of a podcast addict. I subscribe to all sorts of podcasts including comedy, short & long audio-stories, plays & drama, science fiction, and news. Unfortunately, good aviation audio podcasts seem to be few and far between, but one of my favourites is Flaps Podcast.

I like it because each issue is reasonably short – about 30 minutes long – and always leaves you wanting to hear more at the end. The downside is that some episodes lately seem to be very UK-centric, although earlier issues (for which they won Sony and New York Radio podcast awards) are much more general in their coverage and so overall more interesting. Every episode includes the ‘Pablo Mason Minute’ in fact usually about 3-4 times that long – where Pablo, an ex-RAF jet pilot and Squadron Leader recounts some specific flying experience, often quite hilariously.

One episode in September 2011, and its companion ‘Flaps Extended‘, was particularly interesting – they covered an interview (in both short and extended form) with Manuel Queiroz, who flew an RV-6 round the world. He was quite a low time pilot until he did the flight – an inspiration to us all. Click here for Manuel’s website ‘Chasing the Morning Sun‘, which has all the details of his flight.

There is an Australian aviation podcast called Plane Crazy Down Under but most episodes are well over an hour – sometimes over two hours – and are just too long for me. I’m usually ready to switch off after 40 minutes. If they broke up the episodes into shorter lengths and published them more often, I think that would suit people better. And maybe if they included an interview with Foxbat Australia along with all their other aircraft manufacturer/importer segments, it would be nice…….

Plane Crazy Down Under recently completed the DVD of the recent Tyabb Airshow (see my earlier blog post here) which is now available from Peninsula Aero Club by calling 03 5977 4406 with your credit card number.

Do you know any good aviation podcasts – or blogs?