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.

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 – magnificent airshow

Tyabb14 (120 of 137) copyPeninsula Aero Club celebrated ‘A Salute to Veterans’ with an airshow on Sunday 9th March. For once, the weather was perfect – high 20’s to low 30’s with unbroken sunshine. I am told over 10,000 people came to see the (mainly) old warbirds flying in formations of all kinds. There were several more modern aerobatic stunt pilots to thrill the crowd. The finishing display was a paired fly past – in fact several – by a WWII Mustang and the current jet fighter in service with the RAAF, the Hornet. There will be an official DVD of the show available soon, made by Southern Skies Media. Copies can be pre-ordered through the Peninsula Aero Club – here’s a link to their website, which has contact details: Peninsula Aero Club Meanwhile, the whet your appetite even further, here’s a YouTube video with some photos which capture the event: Tyabb Airshow, 2014