Presenting at the AEWG during Avalon 2017


Thanks to having my Data Access and Analytics article published in Australian Defence Magazine, I was given the opportunity to provide a short presentation on the topic at the RAAF’s Aeronautical Environment Working Group (AEWG) seminar during Avalon 2017. The AEWG is a part of the RAAF’s “Plan Jericho” initiative that is converting the RAAF to a “Fifth Generation Air Force” to take full advantage of the new capacities being introduced by platforms such as the F-35, F-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler.

The one day seminar was held on the Thursday in a large conference room during the Avalon Air Show and included a number of top-brass from RAAF, including the Deputy Chief of Air Force and a number of Air Commodores. Based on the article, I prepared a short slide-pack of info-graphics that highlighted the key elements and presented it to those assembled.

Who, me, nervous? :)

I’m told the presentation went well and, hopefully, it influenced some of those present to consider their information systems when bringing a new platform on line or approving the installation of a new Command & Control system.

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The Airline Pilot Guy Podcast: The view from his side of the cockpit door


Captain Jeff Nielsen has been producing the Airline Pilot Guy podcast for over six years, not including his early episodes that were produced as the Catholic Pilot show. In addition to releasing his show as an audio podcast, Jeff also releases his episodes as videos on YouTube, allowing his audience to watch the stream live as it’s recorded and interact via a chat room session (I think he was the first aviation show to do live feed recording with a chat session).

While the show was initially produced as a solo effort by Jeff, over recent years he’s been joined by friends who are known as The APG Crew and contribute to the fun and help provide additional points of view. The crew typically includes Doctor Steph, Miami Rick, Captain Nick (aka Old.Pilot) and First Officer Dana, most of whom are able to join in the fun on a regular basis. Other guest hosts are also included here and there including hosts from other shows, Maine Man Micha, Captain Al and many more.

Jeff produces an episode per week with each one typically lasting from one & a half to three hours which is an absolutely amazing feat. The episodes start with updates on what the hosts have been up to in the past week, discussions on recent news stories and feedback from the audience (“The most important part of the show” says Jeff :) ). The feedback can easily be the largest part of the show and even with hours per week the crew don’t get through all of it. The feedback can range from aviation related questions for the crew to answer through to trip reports and commentaries.

All up an excellent show and well worth listening to if you have time (or watching if you have even more time to not do other tasks while listening :) ). Depending on my workload I’m usually relatively up to date with episodes but some times I get behind on the show, even when listening at 1.7x normal speed :)

Show: Airline Pilot Guy
Style: News & Topics discussion, released weekly
Online at: Airline Pilot Guy Website (
Facebook page
Aviation Xtended at Twitter
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RAAF C-27J Spartan Media Flight


Back on Friday the 24th of February I was given the opportunity to fly with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in one of their new C-27J Spartan twin engine tactical transport aircraft. I would have posted this information earlier but I’ve been flat out with work, a small item called the Avalon Air Show and now the Canberra Balloon Spectacular :)

Our ride for the day: the RAAF’s new C-27J Spartan.

Designed to deliver cargo and troops into front line environments, the C-27J is derived from the Alenia Aeronautica G.222 transport manufactured by Leonardo, the conglomerate that absorbed Alenia Aermacchi along with a number of other companies including AugustaWestland. The aircraft provides the RAAF with a battlefield lift capability they’ve not had since the withdrawal of the DHC-4 Caribou some years ago and allows them to deliver loads to 1,900 airfields in the region compared to about 500 for the C-130J Hercules.

Occasionally referred to as the “Baby Hercules” due to having the same avionics and engines as a C-130J Hercules, the aircraft also has the same floor strength as a C-130 and is able to accommodate the same pallets if they’re turned sideways. This feature allows loads to be moved from a Hercules directly to a Spartan without requiring re-packing, which is a major time saver when breaking out loads for onward delivery.

Peter Meehan (the voice of Avalon) opens the media launch event.

The flight was being arranged as part of the media launch for the Australian & International Aerospace & Defence Exposition (aka Avalon 2017). This event involved some speeches and a number of military & civilian airshow aircraft putting on displays to give the media a taste of what they could expect when the show commenced in the next week.

I had received notification of the event from the RAAF’s media group and submitted my Expression of Interest for the media flight. About a week before the event I received a confirmation email from them with details of what to wear and where to meet on the day. Despite being rather busy at work, I was able to wrangle a day off and drove to Avalon Airport in the morning, entering the airshow precinct via the main event entrance on a side-road away from the usual airport entrance.

Very soon after arriving I was reminded that these events are not just about the aircraft as it was also an opportunity for me to catch up with some of the aviation media people I’ve worked and socialised with previously. After the speeches we all moved outside the chalet to enjoy the show with many of us moving to the fence line to get as close as possible to the aircraft as they took off and landed on the runway.

Experienced crew know how to ‘Hurry up & wait’ :)

During the air display the call went out for those people selected for the media flight. Leaving the others to enjoy the displays and take more photos & videos of the action, we went back inside the chalet for a briefing by the 35 SQN personnel on topics such as personal breathing equipment, what could be brought on and how the flight would proceed. We also had to fill in a standard RAAF passenger declaration form confirming that we were not bringing any dangerous goods aboard (eg: loose unprotected batteries, flammable substances, etc).

Following the briefing we were escorted out to the taxiway where some of the demonstration aircraft were being parked and many of the display pilots were assembling. Once again I was able to catch up with many of the pilots I knew and Avalon Air Ground Operations volunteers who were working in the area. There were so many folks to quickly say Hi to that I wound up very quickly at the end of the queue of people heading to the aircraft with a RAAF minder giving me the “hurry up” wave :)

We entered the aircraft via the ramp at the back which was lowered but not touching the ground, leaving us with a bit of a step up. One of the load masters was on the end of the ramp with hand extended, ready to help each of us on. Once inside we were directed to sit in the fold-down webbing seats lining both walls of the cargo compartment.

On board and waiting to go (the esky is full of water bottles :) )

As you would expect of a combat aircraft, the interior is purely functional and designed to be able to accommodate pallets, vehicles and/or people with minimal re-configuration between loads. The walls are padded with standard military style diamond pattern insulation material that cuts down on some of the noise, but ear plugs were definitely necessary to reduce hearing damage once the engines fired up. The floor and walls were adorned with tie-down points to facilitate safely locking down loads and each of the seats had at least one personal breathing kit in case of emergency. This kit is intended to be used should the cabin fill with smoke or other gasses on board and consisted of a head covering and neck seal, clear plastic face panel and oxygen supply bottle. We had been briefed on its use prior to boarding.

I made sure I was seated next to a window although given the seats closest to the ramp had filled first, this placed my under the wing root which meant the GPS on my phone was unable to obtain a good signal, preventing accurate tracking of our flight. At least it gave me opportunities to look out, often at some of the best moments :)

With the engines fired up we taxied out and were soon in the air. The acceleration on take-off with a comparatively light load on board was certainly spirited to say the least. After a very short take-off we headed towards the South East and wound up passing over Phillip Island, going right over the race track which I was able to see out the small window (not really designed for seated viewing – it’s a military transport, not an airliner :) ).

Ramp partially opened, safety barrier erected and we’ve got our safety helmets on :)

Eventually the loadies rigged a safety barrier using some tie-down straps and the ramp was opened. One of the TV cameramen, a stills photographer and the RAAF photographer were tethered to the aircraft and got to sit on the ramp itself while the rest of us were allowed to move around in the cabin once we’d put on white crash hats in case we took a tumble during turbulence. During this time I had my opportunity to be at the barrier and shot some stills & video out the back past the guys on the ramp. This was also when I wound up with a cameo on one of the local news team’s coverage as the TV cameraman had turned back to shoot at the rest of us in the cabin :)

I moved back to my seat and gave my helmet to one of the other media guys who hadn’t left his seat as yet. At this point the aircraft then turned back to the north and came up over Mount Eliza and past Carrum Downs and Moorabbin, over St Kilda and up to the city where it commenced a right hand orbit starting low over the Docklands. One of the loadies let me shoot video out a right-hand side window as we did the big orbit from the Docklands to Parkville, around Collingwood and the Melbourne Cricket Ground then over Southbank and back out to the Docklands. I’m hoping to get the video edited and up on the site in the not too distant future but, given how long it’s taken to get this review posted, I wouldn’t be holding my breath while waiting for it :)

The lucky trio who got to ride on the ramp

When this media flight had first been announced the indications were that our flight would have been in formation with the RAAF Roulettes formation aerobatic team but, sadly, this was not to be. I’m guessing the certifications and clearances required to allow the Roulettes to fly a tight formation on a C-27J had not yet been completed, thus preventing them from joining us, which is a shame as it would have made for some fantastic photos and videos.

Once the orbit was completed the loadies closed up the ramp and we returned to our seats as the pilots commenced a low-level tactical run on the way back to Avalon. By craning my head around I could look out the window behind me and recognised a few of the landmarks as we raced back at around 500′ above the ground. During this time a couple of the media guys took the opportunity to record their commentary while sitting on the step up into the cockpit with one of the loadies helping to steady the camera guy. I was fortunate to be looking out the window when we came barreling in over the top of Avalon at about 200′ and going flat out which let me see the hangars, display halls and runway flash past as we cranked over pulling a few G’s in a banked turn going roughly perpendicular to the runway. Fantastic! :)

The view out the back was impressive but would have been better if there’d been another aircraft with us.

Following our buzzing of the airport we went and had some more low level fun as the last of the media recordings were wound up, then everyone buckled up for the landing. With the low-level bouncing around and no view, many people were starting to look a bit green while some took out their barf bags just in case. I’d already double-bagged mine at the start of the flight and had it ready to grab in my pocket but never wound up needing it.

Note: Double bagging means putting one paper barf bag inside another to try & avoid the problem where any fluids dissolve the paper and dump the bag’s contents. Not a pleasant thing thus putting one inside another helps give you more time to get the bag into a garbage bucket :)

We had been warned to expect some intense deceleration as we’d be doing a tactical landing and they certainly didn’t skimp on the stopping power. We’d barely touched down when the propellers were cycled to full reverse pitch, the revs came up and the brakes went on. Even with a good grip on the seat frame with one hand and the wall behind me it was rather intense and we stopped in a VERY short distance!

Two pilots with one of the Squadron staff members in the jump seat.

Once off the runway the ramp was opened once again and the aircraft again used its reverse pitch to back into its parking space with the loadies on the ramp giving directions to the pilots. Nice trick!

I stayed on board to thank the crew and RAAF media people while the rest of the group got off, many looking very relieved to be back on the ground. From the aircraft we were taken back to the chalet where they fed us some sandwiches and drinks. I was ravenous and very happy for the feed, not to mention a can of Solo that went down extremely quickly :)

My thanks to the RAAF for accepting my application and allowing me to come along for the flight. It was an awesome experience and helped demonstrate what an amazing aircraft the C-27J Spartan is. I’m very happy that my first official RAAF media flight was in the Spartan :)

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Data Analytics Article in Australian Defence Magazine


In February this year I had an article published about data access and analytics in Australian Defence Magazine. Focusing on Command & Control (C2) systems and the issues that must be addressed in order to access and analyse the copious amounts of information contained within them, the article also discussed the importance of having a “Whole of force” view of the C2 system data.

The full text of the article appears below. You can also access the article as a PDF by clicking on the link below.

Read the article as it appeared in the February issue of Australian Defence Magazine

Making the most of a consolidated C2 framework

As Defence Forces around the world increasingly utilise computer based Command and Control (C2) systems, they are accumulating an enormous amount of information relating to operations at the unit level within their databases.

Ideally, this information should be converted to knowledge and insight that supports tactical, operational and strategic decision making, provided staff have full and easy access to the information and can apply effective metric based analysis reporting.

Computer based C2 systems are not solely restricted to operational information and processing as many also include training courses, asset management and personnel status. This in turn opens up access to historical information relating to unit currencies, personnel currencies, asset utilisation, course results and much more.

Unlocking the historical trove of information within these systems will allow the savvy operator to identify trends, determine the impacts of procedural change and perform “what if” analysis to assess potential future changes. Unfortunately, this information remains locked within a system unless staff are able to easily extract the information as and when they require, and in a format to suit their need.

While most C2 systems are installed on a Force’s servers and networks, in many cases their information can only be accessed through the system’s screens and existing reports. A handful of data extract reports are then provided which produce spreadsheets that are subsequently used by staff to perform further reporting. Additional updates made by staff to these spreadsheets can introduce errors and omissions if information is manipulated incorrectly or by accident.

Staff must be able to produce and run ad hoc reports directly on a system’s database using applications such as Crystal Reports or Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services, and not incur the costs and delays associated with engaging the system vendor for each new or changed report. Staff also require a data dictionary that describes the data elements and their relationships within the database in order to facilitate effective report production. Your C2 system vendor should be able to provide training and guidance for staff in the use of these tools and the best way to navigate the data elements and relationships within their system.

Once established, these tools will allow trained & authorised staff to produce and quickly tailor reports that best suit the changing needs of the Force.


With access to information and reporting tools in place, it is important to be able to perform comparisons across units and asset types using common assessment elements such as availability, utilisation and readiness. To facilitate this, senior managers must avoid creating silos of information around assets or divisions. If a C2 system is only managing a specific asset or division, significant effort will be required to include its information in whole-of-Force reporting.

An additional barrier to information analysis across an entire Force is a lack of common structures and classifications for assessment elements such as qualifications, mission outcomes and training results. The specification of common assessment elements must be driven from the headquarters level and used by all units to provide a solid foundation for common reporting across the entire Force. Having a shared C2 system for all assets and divisions with centralised management will facilitate this.

Removal of information silos and the establishment of a common classification system will enable comparative benchmarking across the entire Force, facilitating the identification of issues that may have common organisational root causes or be specific to a given asset or division. Without this environment, significant effort will be required to produce reports and perform detailed analysis of the information contained within C2 systems.


Defence Forces that are unable to remove the silos created by separate C2 systems or incompatible classifications for assessment elements are faced with the need to invest resources into the creation of a single, whole-of-Force information store. Referred to as a data warehouse, such a system will receive or extract information from the various C2 systems and apply business rules to convert each system’s assessment element classifications into the common values established previously at the headquarters level.

The creation of a data warehouse involves determining which systems will be involved, specifying the business rules associated with transforming their information and negotiating with vendors to set up regular extraction processes. The data warehouse will require its own computer hardware with associated maintenance and backups and will require ongoing reviews and updates as business rules are impacted by changes in processes and C2 systems.

The effort required to produce a data warehouse can be considerable but is often the only solution when attempting to provide whole-of-Force reporting and analysis without a common C2 system.


Once the necessary tools, training, authorisations and access to whole-of-Force information in place, the focus can then be placed on producing effective reports. Reports must be aligned with the key objectives of the unit, division and entire Force to avoid an overload of information that will hinder the insights and knowledge that can support tactical, operational and strategic decision making. Effective metrics and comparisons are necessary to highlight the patterns and issues contained within the information.

From an operational perspective, key metrics such as asset availability, asset utilisation and mission loss rate including cancellation reasons can highlight the impacts of changes to maintenance processes and spares management. Comparisons and benchmarking across units and divisions can identify areas of improvement, highlight developing issues or provide evidence of the impact of aging assets on availability.

While it is likely that vendor assistance and development may be required to report automatically against complicated Force Readiness Directives, effective reviews of operator currencies and qualifications can be generated to assist with assessing readiness at all levels of the Force. Well-designed reports that monitor operator hours and missions will ensure opportunities are balanced across all available operators.

Training assessment metrics are capable of going beyond simply reviewing failure rates and general course results as the information captured can be used to gauge exam effectiveness and analyse responses to individual questions. These advanced level analytics can identify questions that need to be re-written and course materials that should be updated. They can also identify students who are struggling to pass and improve consistency across instructors.

Selection of the relevant metrics to use when assessing information from C2 systems is best performed by the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) within a Defence Force. Working together with trained reporting staff the SMEs can apply metric analysis to extract the insights and knowledge that support decision making across the entire Defence Force. As experience is gained using the reports, the SMEs and report producers can rapidly improve, replace and expand the reports to derive additional benefits without requiring the ongoing costs and delays associated with vendor-developed reports.


Computer based C2 systems in use with Defence Forces globally contain a wealth of information that can support strategic, tactical and operational decision making across the entire Force. The application of effective metrics aligned with the Force’s objectives can produce insights and knowledge from that information when they are applied across all the Force’s assets and divisions. The application of metrics via whole-of-Force reporting is facilitated by having trained, authorised staff using reporting tools and by the elimination of information silos through common C2 systems and assessment elements.

Given this, Defence Forces should be considering their computer based C2 systems and consolidating them where possible across all assets and divisions. New C2 systems must be assessed against their ability to interface with existing systems to avoid the creation of information silos. If a single C2 system is not possible, a data warehouse will be required to ensure whole-of-force reporting and analytics can be achieved. Defence Forces should also be providing selected staff with the tools and training necessary to facilitate the rapid production of reports to extract information from their C2 systems.

Insights and knowledge can be obtained from the information in C2 systems but the identified issues must be addressed to facilitate access and analysis through the application of effective metrics.


About Grant McHerron:

Grant is a Project Manager with Ocean Software, a Melbourne based provider of software and services for military and commercial aviation organisations around the world. Grant has a passion for aviation combined with an extensive career in the production and delivery of information systems.

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Lockheed Martin will be at Avalon 2017 in force


F-35A in RAAF Colours

Last week I took part in a media teleconference with Lockheed Martin’s media representatives and a number of local journalists. The purpose of the call was to discuss Lockheed Martin’s presence next week at the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition (aka Avalon 2017).

RAAF F-35As to be on site:

The big news is, of course, that Australia’s first two F-35A Joint Strike Fighter aircraft will be taking a break from their training duties at Luke AFB in the USA and are scheduled to arrive at Avalon on Friday the 3rd of March. Unlike previous events where we had the full scale mock-up on display, the RAAF are going to have two of the real things there. There’s no indication whether they’ll be doing any flying during the show but they will be on static display at least. We’re waiting to hear from the RAAF Media team as they’re the ones coordinating the aircraft, not Lockheed Martin.

F-35 Expo Tent:

Checking out the F-35 full scale mock up at the Pt Cook air show in 2014.

Lockheed Martin’s big drive will be their F-35 Expo tent which will be featuring 14 Australian companies that are supplying to the global F-35 program. Among many other items, the tent will feature a mock-up Pratt & Whitney F135 engine on a Maranz engine trailer which will be quite a feat to get into the display given how large and heavy it is.

Tuesday’s media briefings will commence in the morning with LtGen Davis from the USMC who will brief on the F-35B’s operations in the Asian region with particular attention to their deployment to Japan. The F-35B model features the forward lift fan and rotating rear exhaust nozzle which work together to provide Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) capability.

Later on Tuesday there will be a combined briefing from the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) division within Australia’s Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) and the JSF’s Joint Program Office (JPO) featuring LtGen Bogdan (head of the JPO) and Lockheed Martin’s Tod Mellon. This will focus on industry involvement and how the F-35 is impacting Australian industry.

F-35 Cockpit Demonstrator

On Wednesday morning there’s a tentative plan to have a social media event where I’ll be with Lockheed Martin and once again we’ll get to check out the F-35 Cockpit Demonstrator, receive a briefing and inspect the F-35 mockup. We’ll know more about this closer to next week so watch this space for news :)

On Thursday the F-35 tent will feature a round-table where journalists can come in, walk around and do one-on-one interviews with industry executives from the 14 Australian companies on display at the tent. This was described by one person on the conference call as a “Speed Dating” type of event :)

Finally, on Friday morning there will be a briefing from Jeff Babione (Lockheed Martin’s General Manager of the F-35 program) with a production update on the program going forward.

Other Lockheed Martin Divisions at the Show:

Of course there’s much more to Lockheed Martin than the F-35 and at Avalon 2017 they will have a number of displays and staff members on-site relating to their involvement with the following items:

  • RAAF’s Plan Jericho, including AIR6500’s joint battle management system which could include integration of the F-35s sensors with the AEGIS system on Navy’s new Air Warfare Destroyers
  • Submarine systems (at an air show? Hey, why not! :) )
  • Radar & surveillance systems (especially the Jindalee Operational Radar Network, aka JORN)
  • Missiles & Fire Control including the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), Javelin, Hellfire, Paveway 2, Inferno and F-35 systems including advanced electro-optical components
  • Training
  • Logistics

They expect to have a pair of MH-60R “Romeo” helicopters there from Navy and will be celebrating the fact that all of the aircraft have been delivered within five years of the contract being signed, including having some aircraft already undertaking operations at sea.

Stock image of a PC-21 aircraft supplied by Lockheed Martin and Pilatus.

There’s also a good chance that Australia’s first two Pilatus PC-21 aircraft will be on display at the show which would be a big plus for Lockheed Martin’s training division who are providing the PC-21 and their integrated pilot training system under AIR5428. This program will see pilot training migrated to the PC-21 at East Sale and Pearce under a consortium from Lockheed Martin, Pilatus and Hawker Pacific.

“Generation Beyond” STEM module:

On Saturday the F-35 expo tent will be converted into a virtual-reality experience for younger students to experience F-35, Orion spacecraft and future space directions. This module was first rolled out at Farnborough Air Show in the UK and is intended to inspire students to become our future aerospace engineers, pilots & astronauts.

It’s going to be a busy show for Lockheed Martin and I’m looking forward to catching up with as many of their groups while I’m there.

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Preparing for Avalon 2017


Avalon 2017 Promo

Every two years the Australian International Air Show is hosted at Avalon Airport to the west of Melbourne. Generally referred to simply as “Avalon” or “Avalon Air Show,” the event comprises a trade show (the Australian International Aerospace & Defence Exposition) and an air show that’s open to the public on Friday afternoon through to Sunday.

As usual, I will be attending Avalon for the trade show industry days with a media pass to gather content for Plane Crazy Down Under but, for the first time ever, I’ll also be attending as an aerospace corporate (aka “trade”) visitor. Thanks to my job with Ocean Software, I have a number of clients & prospects to meet with and some events to attend during the trade days. It’s going to be interesting for me to attend the event with a more critical & technical interest in some of the exhibits than I’ve had previously.

During the last few Avalon events the trade and aircraft displays have been starting to feel rather “same-same” with only a couple of new items to be interested in, otherwise it has all been follow-ups and incremental information. This year’s event, however, has a number of new platforms from the RAAF that will be of great interest, including:

  • Australia’s first two Lockheed Martin F-35As.
  • Boeing’s EA-18G Growler.
  • The C-27J Spartan will finally be here in RAAF colours.
  • Hopefully the RAAF will have one of their new Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft on static, or at least a crew to talk to (the USN crew last time were very limited in what they could discuss).

USAF F22 Landing

There’ll also be a couple of F-22As which are always spectacular to watch (and hear), some conference events I’m interested in attending, the warbird tarmac, a number of GA aircraft to check out and much more.

Of course, the classic Avalon rule of thumb applies for many aircraft (especially the military ones) that are promoted as attending the event: “Until the aircraft crosses the fence, lands, taxis in and goes unserviceable, it hasn’t really arrived at Avalon!”

I much prefer attending Avalon events on the trade days as the feel is quite different to public days. There are no barriers on the trade stands in the exhibit halls and the aircraft aren’t as heavily barricaded while the company & military representatives are more willing to discuss detailed technical aspects of their products. Of course, it’s also a whole lot less crowded!

Pitts Special Looking Great

By Friday morning the barriers are up in the exhibit hall to stop people just wandering onto the stand and trying to take anything not bolted down (this has actually happened in the past), some of the aircraft are leaving and the barricades around static displays get expanded. Given this, I’m planning to attend Tuesday to Friday for business and only attend on Saturday if I need an extra day to complete my content gathering for PCDU.

Despite everything, I do enjoy being at Avalon and have since I started working tarmac way back in 2001. Between the new platforms, the client work and catching up with friends, I’m actually looking forward to Avalon 2017 more than I have the previous two events. Watch this space!


It really gets crowded on the weekend

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Geeking Out on Aviation – ROFLCopter


ROFLCopter as a T-Shirt

ROFLCopter as a T-Shirt

Many years ago I picked up the “ROFLCopter” t-shirt from ThinkGeek in the USA. It’s based on an online meme but for me it’s combining aviation & geeking so hey, double plus good :)

Always good for a few fun reactions from either geeks or pilots :)

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I’m hosting an exclusive F35 Cockpit Demonstrator session :)


Check out the F35 Cockpit Demonstrator at this exclusive PCDU event!

Check out the F35 Cockpit Demonstrator at this exclusive PCDU event!

Thanks to the folks at Lockheed Martin, I’m getting the chance to host an F35 Cockpit Demonstrator session on Thursday evening (17th March) while I’m here in Canberra for the Canberra Balloon Spectacular. If you’re in town and interested in coming along, send an email to to join the fun (first 30 people only).

Exclusive PCDU F-35 event limited to 30 places – first in first served

Plane Crazy Down Under is proud to present:

F-35: From the Cockpit with F-35 Program Chief Test Pilot Alan Norman


When: 5:20PM, Thursday, 17 March 2016

Where: Dialogue, 4 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600


You’re invited to learn more about the unique capabilities of the F-35, the world’s most advanced multi-role fighter aircraft.  At this exclusive event, you’ll have an opportunity to ask Al questions, before Al puts Grant through his paces in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 interactive cockpit demonstrator, a visually and audibly interactive simulator that highlights the fighter aircraft’s advanced technology and combat capabilities.

This is an exclusive opportunity open only to PCDU followers.  Spaces are limited so please send an email to to secure your spot. We’re looking forward to seeing you there.

Light refreshments will be served.


Alan Norman - Chief F35 Test Pilot

Alan Norman – Chief F35 Test Pilot

A bit about Al

Prior to assuming his F-35 Chief Test Pilot responsibilities in 2011, Al was a Lockheed Martin Experimental Test Pilot for the F-22 Program for 12 years as well as Lockheed’s Chief Pilot for the TX program.  Al has flown more than 6,000 flight hours in over 70 different kinds of aircraft. He was an operational F-4 and F-16 fighter pilot in the USAF in Korea and Germany. He served as an F-16 RTU instructor pilot at MacDill AFB for 5 years and then attended the USAF Test Pilot School in 1994. Subsequently, Al was an F-16 experimental test pilot for the USAF.


A big thanks to Lockheed Martin for making this happen.

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On the importance of checking paperwork & Grade 3 Instructor limitations


First printed in Aeronotes (the Official Journal of the Australian Ballooning Federation) Volume 38 No 1 (March, 2016) as a guide for student pilots, instructors and examiners.

There is a phrase that goes something like “Assumption is the mother of all … problems!”

Sadly it happens to all of us and it can lead to some regrettable situations. This is no less true when undergoing instruction or sending a student on their first solo.

I have recently had some new pilot applications cross my desk where I encountered the following:

  • First solo conducted without a ROC.
  • Insufficient tether hours.
  • Incomplete paperwork.
  • Advanced flight exercises signed off by a Grade 3 Instructor
  • Instructor/examiner out of date.

The first item in the list is somewhat surprising as it means it wasn’t picked up by the student, their instructor OR the examiner who should have checked their paperwork (including sighting the student’s ROC) prior to performing their check flight. Given the Ops Manual says that an ROC is required before first solo, technically that student’s flight was against the rules & should not have been included in their totals (no, I wasn’t that nasty!).

While the other items listed above could have occurred due to a lapse by single person in the chain, for an ROC to be missed means two people who should have known better didn’t do the required checks. The worst part of the situation is that this situation has occurred to two students from different instructors & examiners within the past six months!

I’ve said it before but it appears to warrant a repeat mention: paperwork is an annoying but important part of our flying, especially when learning to fly.

We need to be able to prove to CASA that our students are being trained correctly and in accordance with our syllabus & procedures. I need to verify that all the hoops have been jumped through when handing out a new PP(B)C. Instructors & examiners need to be attentive to detail and check that the preconditions listed in the Ops Manual have been met at all times. Students need to ensure that their instructors & examiners are current.

I am working with Ronald to prepare a new Instructor Alert notice to be sent to all instructors & examiners and placed on the ABF website (members only section, of course). Hopefully it will be out by now but to help spread the message, here is a summary of the checks I must perform when assessing the issuance of new PP(B)C. Hopefully it is of assistance to instructors, examiners and students when checking that their application is complete.

Ops Manager checks for a new PP(B)C application

The following steps are required to be completed as part of the Ops Manager’s verification that a new PP(B)C applicant has met the required standards and their PP(B)C can be issued. If all the required paperwork has been sent in prior to and/or with the application it dramatically reduces the time required before the PP(B)C can be issued.

  1. A completed application form with the relevant sections completed has been received.
    • Students should be sure to fill in the back side of the form with their medical declaration (I’m working on improving the medical section so it’s not as confusing).


  2. A copy of the student’s training record has been provided.
    • This is the student’s training booklet and either a photocopy or scan of the filled in pages should be provided.
    • The student should keep their original.


  3. Has the student’s training record had the “Recommendation for a flight test” page filled in by their instructor and completed by their examiner?
    • The instructor should have flown with the student.
    • The examiner should provide a summary of the flight check & indicate whether the student passed or failed.


  4. Has the “Flight Training Exercises Completed to a Competent Standard” document been supplied & filled in correctly?
    • The student must sign to confirm they believe they have been trained and are competent.
    • The instructor who has supervised their training must sign to confirm they believe the student is competent.
    • Each training exercise must be signed off by the instructor who confirmed that the student was competent in that exercise.
    • Only a Grade 2 or Grade 1 examiner can conduct & sign off the exercises in section 6 (advanced conditions) as per section of the Ops Manual.


  5. Copies of all seven exam sheets (eight if the student has also done the Aerodrome Endorsement) are with the Ops Manager.
    • Verify that the exams have indeed been passed.
    • Check that the examiner & dates on each exam paper matches the one who signed for it in the student’s training record (page 64).
    • These should have been sent to the ABF office by the Examiner who conducted the exams.
    • They can be sent via post, via scan & email or even by taking a photo of the sheet and emailing that in.
    • If sending via email, it’s best to also cc the account as that helps cut down on admin effort & gets the copies to me quickly.


  6. Did the applicant complete the Aerostats & Airmanship and Flight Rules & Procedures exams prior to their first solo?
  7. A completed Flight Test report form has been received.
    • This form is supplied by the examiner to confirm that the student has been tested in accordance with the ABF’s syllabus & standards.
    • Again, it can be sent by post or email (scanned or photographed)


  8. Are the applicant, their instructors and their examiner(s) current member of the ABF both at present and during their training
    • Check their records to ensure they were current during training as well as at present.
    • Also check instructors & examiners to verify they were current instructors & weren’t over two years past their last Instructor Flight Check.


  9. Did the applicant hold a Student Pilot (Balloon) Certificate for all their instructional flights?
    • Check the date of issue against their logged instructional flights


  10. Is the applicant at least sixteen years of age?
    • While instructional flights can be logged from fifteen years old onwards, the student must be sixteen before they can do their check flight.


  11. Did the applicant hold an ROC or CASA FROL and was it issued prior to their first solo?
    • Check the date their ROC was issued against their first solo.


  12. Has the applicant met the required number of hours of training?
    • The applicant must have completed sixteen hours of instructional flight time which includes:
      • At least nine hours of dual flight.
      • At least fifteen minutes of tether (note: only one hour of tether time counts towards the sixteen hour total required).
      • At least two hours of solo flight over at least three flights on two separate days
  13. Only flights that occurred while the student was a current member with an SP(B)C and their instructors were current can be counted.

  15. Has the applicant completed at least three flights (including inflation & deflation) within the twelve months preceding their application?
  16. Did the applicant’s checkflight include at least thirty minutes of dual and at least twenty minutes of solo time?
    • These should be logged as a final entry in the training record’s summary section (pages 60 to 63)

First printed in Aeronotes (the Official Journal of the Australian Ballooning Federation) Volume 38 No 1 (March, 2016) as a guide for student pilots, instructors and examiners.

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Talking Ballooning with Adam @ Go Flying Australia


Adam Knight Produces the 'Go Flying Australia' Podcast

Adam Knight Produces the ‘Go Flying Australia’ Podcast

I first met Adam from the Go Flying Australia podcast in Canberra when I was visiting for the Canberra Balloon Spectacular in March 2015. We caught up for beers at a local pub and talked about flying and also producing podcast episodes. Adam had released five episodes at that stage and was about to become a dad for the first time.

I enjoy listening to the content Adam has released and think his attention to detail & production quality is great. He is targeting his show at the Sport Aviation (RA-Aus, hang gliding, gliding, balloons, etc) and General Aviation markets as these are the areas he’s most interested in himself which helps explain what drives him to keep finding content & releasing episodes.

During our chat at Canberra we talked about what it’s like to fly hot air balloons (no surprise there, right? :) ) and Adam mentioned that he’d like to record an interview with me on that topic. As it turned out, it wasn’t until later in May that we finally got the chance to align our schedules and record a session over Skype.

We talked about what’s involved in flying a balloon, competition flying, learning to fly balloons, common rookie errors and the Australian Ballooning Federation. We also talked about the Plane Crazy Down Under show (funny that :) ) and how Steve & I started it way back in 2009 while producing content for the Airplane Geeks podcast.

You can listen to the episode on the Go Flying Australia site as well as finding it in his feed if you subscribe via iTunes or directly via his podcast’s RSS feed.

Click here to go to my episode on Adam’s Go Flying Australia podcast.

I highly recommend that you check out Adam’s Go Flying Australia podcast. It’s a well produced show with great content and should definitely be in your list if you enjoy aviation and/or aviation shows.

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