Flying in the Hunter Valley Fiesta: another ballooning article


Back in October 2013, Kitt & I went to the Hunter Valley Balloon Fiesta north of Sydney where I flew VH-BRR (a Kavanagh E-120) and we got to experience the food, beers & views of the Hunter region.

On Sunday one of the pilots decided to go for a splash-n-dash

On Sunday one of the pilots decided to go for a splash-n-dash

As you might expect, I wrote an article about the experience and it was published in Volume 36, Issue 1 of Aeronotes, the official journal of the Australian Ballooning Federation.


I’ve posted a copy of the article, A Newbie Experiences the Hunter Valley Fiesta, on this site along with a few more of the photos that my lovely wife Kitt took while we were there.


It's a tunnel full of beer. Quite the chalenge! :)

It’s a tunnel full of beer. Quite the chalenge! :)

If you ever get the chance to visit the Hunter, I highly recommend it for the local produce markets, restaurants & a few good beers (yes, there’s wines there, but with a Tunnel of Beer just outside Cessnock, well, why bother with wine??? :) ). If you’re there at the time of the Fiesta, the morning skies will be filled with balloons (on a good day :) ) and you should really get up early and go for a flight. The views are well worth it.

Click here to read my Hunter Valley Fiesta article

Some of the commercial & private balloons flying at the Fiesta

Some of the commercial & private balloons flying at the Fiesta

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So, were there EVER any Spitfires buried in Burma?

Back in April 2012 there was a bit of excitement in the aviation world, especially amongst those who love old World War II aircraft. This was when the news was running that a collection of Spitfires had been buried in their shipping crates in Burma towards the end of World War II and that David Cundall, a 62 year old farmer from Scunthorpe in the UK, claimed to have found where they were.

Temora Aviation Museum's Spitfire Mk VIII showing off its distinctive wing planform

Temora Aviation Museum’s Spitfire Mk VIII showing off its distinctive wing planform

There was much to’ing & fro’ing with even the British PM, David Cameron, getting in on the act and intervening to ensure the aircraft would be returned to Britain. There was all sorts of commentary & reports regarding political issues of access, Burma’s opening to democratic processes, dropping of sanctions against the country and the inevitable questions of who would get to sell the aircraft to salivating restorers/collectors and (most importantly) collect the profit.

An official recovery project was set up with the backing of who provided about 1 million UK pounds (approximately AUS$1.5 million back then) and set up a “Project Spitfire” blog. Sadly, by the end of January 2013 the team had not found any evidence of buried Spitfires in the locations Cundall had nominated. With that, Wargaming wound the project up and the team returned to the UK with no other entries in the blog beyond a last project entry explaining where things were at and that a report on the other artifacts they did find would be released in the UK Spring. As yet I’ve not been able to find this report published online.

I find it very interesting that no evidence of the Spitfires was found as back in April 2012 Cundall was quoted as having sent a borehole camera down to look at the crates, which seemed to be in good condition. There were further reports of large crates being found (but water prevented good access?) and that they were “digging in the wrong place” ??? There were also reports of not being able to dig where they wanted in a location near the main runway at Yangon International Airport due to encountering buried power cables and restrictions put in place by officials.

Temora Aviation Museum's Spitfire Mk XVI taxiing past

Temora Aviation Museum’s Spitfire Mk XVI taxiing past

Given talk previously from Cundall of ground radar returns indicating large metal objects and having put a borehole camera around a crate, you’d think they’d have dug right away in the right location(s) and been able to tell us what they’d found. Apparently the Burmese officials prevented this from happening.

While many may have throught that was the end of it, Cundall has kept pushing forward and in August 2013 there was a report of new scans providing evidence of man-made objects buried up to 11 metres deep near the Yangon airport runway. These new scans appeared to corroborate others made in January by the previous attempt backed by

Next we heard in December 2013 that Claridon Group had stepped forward to fund another dig to attempt recovery of the buried objects.

The latest word as of earlier in March this year (2014) was that the digging had resumed and permission had been obtained to break through concrete near the perimeter of the airport where scans had indicated something was buried.

Temora Aviation Museum's Spitfire Mk VIII taxiing away

Temora Aviation Museum’s Spitfire Mk VIII taxiing away

So, were there ever any Spitfires buried in Burma? Much of the paperwork that the team examined seemed to indicate they weren’t. They also found that the weather conditions & man power at the time the aircraft were supposedly buried would have precluded anything like that from being achieved. Despite this, Cundall’s still chasing anecdotal stories and indications of unknown & likely man-made items buried at the airport.

I just hope that this latest expedition can drain the water to examine the crate found previously and also dig down to the deeper objects to examine them via more borehole cameras. We really do need more information about what the heck it is that’s buried at Yangon International airport, regardless of what it turns out to be :)

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Do you miss the ‘Good Ol Days’ of the airlines? Well, pay up!

I am sick & tired of hearing people lament the passing of the “good ol’ days” of flying on airliners, when people would dress up and service was fantastic and the seats were roomier.

Sadly they must be having selective amnesia as not once do I hear any of them remember how expensive the tickets were back then!

The last Ansett logo (Source: Wikimedia)

The last Ansett logo
(Source: Wikimedia)

Back in the mid-90′s when Australians had a choice of Ansett or Qantas to fly with between Sydney & Melbourne (after Compass Airlines had collapsed), the cheapest fare between the two cities was $239 return. In today’s money, that’s about $450.

Today you’d only expect to pay that for a last-minute purchase where you had to pay for one of the top economy saver fares to get there & back. More typical fares are around $100 per person each way, or less if you book well in advance.

It was even worse in the 70′s & 80′s with people paying multiple hundreds of dollars each way per person if they wanted to fly. No wonder everyone was doing road trips, taking the bus or getting on trains for those interstate journeys.

Luxury Interior

Empire Flying Boat Luxury
(Photo from Australian Government Archives)

If you go back far enough, prices were even higher still. When the flying boats were travelling from London to Sydney in 10 days (instead of 40 days by steam ship), the fare was about 200 UK pounds. That was on par with the average annual wage of the time! Any surprise that it was first class all the way with plenty of room.

These days, the average annual wage in Australia is about $70,000. Imagine paying that for a trip to London?

Yes, the days of luxury, respect & romance are gone from the airlines and it’s largely our fault. We have chased the cheapest fare and the airlines have responded by cutting services & squeezing more people in, helping to keep some form of profit whilst offering super low prices.

Business class on a Virgin Australia 737 (Source: Virgin Australia web site)

Business class on a Virgin Australia 737
(Source: Virgin Australia web site)

If you want to return to the “good ol’ days” of airlines, how about you cough up the money and go business or first class? You’ll be paying about the same in today’s dollars as people used to pay for full economy back in the 70′s & 80′s but in return you’ll get space, comfort, service and quality.

What’s that? You have better uses for your money? Well then, go pay $60 each way for Melbourne to Sydney but don’t let me catch you bemoaning the super-tight seating, lack of amenities and the hygiene of the person sitting next to you.

Sardine class in the economy section of Jetstar's 787

Sardine class in the economy section of Jetstar’s 787

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Crossing the Pond for Aviation Xtended

Many years ago, Pieter Johnson started to produce a segment for the Airplane Geeks podcast called “Across the Pond” which provided news & views on UK & European aviation for the Geeks. In a similar manner to Steve Visscher & I leveraging our Australia Desk segment into the creation of Southern Skies Online Media and the Plane Crazy Down Under show, Pieter created the aviation media entity XTP Media which, in turn, lead to the creation of the Aviation Xtended podcast.

Which is a rather long way of saying that the Airplane Geeks has become the parent of Plane Crazy Down Under and Aviation Xtended. Scary thought, no?

With that in mind, I present to you my review of the Aviation Xtended podcast from the UK. Despite the fact that I was recently a guest on their show, I’ll give you an honest appraisal (in short, it’s yet another great show & well worth adding to your collection if it’s not there already :) ).

Show: Aviation Xtended Xtended Logo
Style: “Audio Magazine” (variety of content), typically released monthly
Online at: Aviation Xtended Website (
Facebook page
Aviation Xtended at Twitter
First Episode: May 2012
Overview: Aviation Xtended brings together Pieter Johnson (XTP Media), Gareth Stringer (editor of Global Aviation Resource) and Tim Robinson (editor of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Aerospace journal) to present a variety of content on aviation and aerospace topics. From interviews with guests to reviews of products, informative discussions, news reviews and reader feedback, the show’s UK based hosts don’t just focus on their own backyard but also cover international topics.
Grant’s Thoughts: You don’t have to be a Pom to enjoy this show, that’s for sure. If you’re interested in aviation & aerospace, this show will have plenty of great content to keep you informed & educated. I particularly like how they have a good focus on aerospace topics, occasionally dedicating an entire episode to space craft, projects and astronauts/cosmonauts. It’s well presented and the hosts know their stuff, so if you’ve not got Xtended’s feed in your podcatcher, you’re missing out :)
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My first published hot air ballooning article: Getting to 20

My first article about flying hot air balloons was published back in September last year (2013). It appeared in Volume 35, Issue 3 of Aeronotes, the official journal of the Australian Ballooning Federation.

Nice & peaceful here but the landing was quite an adventure (winds picked up in the last 10-15 minutes of the flight :) )

Nice & peaceful here but the landing was quite an adventure (winds picked up in the last 10-15 minutes of the flight :) )

The topic of the article was “Getting to 20″ and it covered how I’ve tried to ensure I consolidate my skills in the “I just got my license” period of my flying. I’ve taken careful steps as I moved out into the big world of being Pilot In Command and chose to grow my knowledge while flying in the company of others. I’ve also flown in many new locations & conditions, all of which has helped reinforce & support all that I’d learned during my training.

Since the article was written, I’ve managed to get from 13 hours to 22 and have had a couple of flights where I was the only balloon in the sky. No doubt I’ll be covering those adventures in a future story or two, but for now, check out “Getting to 20” by clicking the link below.

Click here to access the ‘Getting to 20′ article

Three balloons flying together over Maryborough

Three balloons flying together over Maryborough

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Corporate Air: A potential new guest for PCDU

Over at the Plane Crazy Down Under show, we often receive requests to feature a company in an editorial article on our site. I have a usual boiler plate response I send out advising that we’re primarily an audio & occasional video show so a written piece just won’t cut it. I also note that their client will need to be aviation related so we have a reason to bring them on our show for an interview.


A few weeks ago one of these emails really stuck out from the rest. It mentioned up front that the client was Corporate Air, an aviation organisation here in Australia. I did a spot of investigating & found that Corporate Air were established back in 1972 with a fleet of aircraft including Beach Barons, Cessna Titans & Conquests, Metros & SAAB 340s. They also have a great reputation with their customers and provide a number of regular operations as well as FIFO charters, regular charters & on-demand flights, including last minute flights with their 24 hour, 365 day on-call service.

bars_logoCorporate Air also have a number of ISO certifications and are quality endorsed to the Basic Aviation Risk Standard from Flight Safety International. This important standard was developed by FSI based on extensive work performed by their Australian branch to improve the safety & reliability of aviation services provided to the mining industry.

Perhaps more telling, at least from my perspective, is that they appear to have a good reputation with pilots & others in the GA scene which is rather rare as there’s usually someone out there who’s willing to write a bitchy comment in a forum or two. Indications are that they’re a good company to work for who look after their equipment and their people. Given their operations are run at RPT levels due to their recurring charter flights, it’s no surprise that staff are well trained & equipment is well maintained.

While a blog post wasn’t going to work for PCDU, Corporate Air certainly seemed like a professional and well run organisation we’d like to get on the show. There are a number of items we’d like to cover with them including a history of Corporate Air, the services they offer, the state of FIFO flights to mining operations (especially as the mining boom seems to be settling down) and their recruitment process & requirements.

Who knows, they could even wind up advertising with us or sponsoring us as our audience certainly includes their potential staff and, in some cases, potential clients. Regardless of this, I think they’ll make for an interesting group to interview for our audience.

With that in mind, we’ve asked their marketing contact to find out if they’d be interested in appearing on the show at the least. Here’s hoping :)

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Pioneers & Aviators – Avolon

Some time ago I helped a friend of mine based in Ireland who performs research & production tasks for documentaries. The project team she was part of were putting together a new movie about Irish aviation and its heritage. It turns out that the movie was commissioned by Avolon (an aircraft leasing company) and is called Pioneers & Aviators.

The movie covers the history of aviation in Ireland ranging from Alcock & Brown landing in Derrygimla bog after making the first trans-Atlantic air crossing through to modern airlines and the 787. It is due for screening as a two part series in February 2014 by RTE, Ireland’s National Television & Radio Broadcaster.

The world premier for the movie was held on January 22nd in Dublin and guests were given a special memento of the event that consisted of a silver disc with the movie name & premier date on one side and a map of Alcock & Brown’s route from Newfoundland to Ireland on the other. The disc had a chain attached to it which was in turn connected to a small silver container with a glass vial inside it. The vial contains some of the turf from the Derrygimla bog, giving the holder a link to the landing spot of that historic flight.

As a way of saying thanks for my help, my friend has sent me one of these mementos. Suffice to say, I’m very happy to receive it and will treasure it in my collection of aviation items.

I’m looking forward to when the movie is available on DVD so I can get a copy and watch it. For now, you can learn more about it by visiting:

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California Dreaming – Wish I Could be There

I usually dream of getting to the USA to visit aviation museums (Fantasy of Flight, Udvar Hazy Centre, etc) or recurring events (Oshkosh, Reno, etc). Today I learned of a one-off event that has trumped every other reason for me to get over there: Bob Hoover is being honoured for his aviation legacy!

R A "Bob" Hoover, The Gentleman Pilot

R A “Bob” Hoover, The Gentleman Pilot

Known as “The Gentleman Pilot,” Bob Hoover is a living legend in the aviation scene and if you’ve not already read his autobiography “Forever Flying” you owe it to yourself to do so. His feats range from exploits during World War II through to test piloting advanced aircraft and performing amazing displays for adoring crowds at airshows.

To honour Bob, there will be a tribute evening on February 21st at the Paramount Studios Theatre in Los Angeles with dinner under the Paramount Gate. In addition to the big names from aviation who will be attending (Harrison Ford,
James Lovell, Eugene Cernan, Sean D. Tucker, Herb Kelleher, Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger and any more) there will be those who can afford the US$950 tickets. They’ve already sold almost all of the tickets (the indicator on the site is showing 81.6%) and it promises to be quite the event as they’ll also be screening the premier of a documentary on Bob’s life.

An interesting point I noted while reading the tribute website: the contact person if you have any questions is Lesley Poberezny, grand-daughter of Paul Poberezny, the founder of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). Quite an auspicious name to be associated with the event and rather appropriate given Bob’s long association with the EAA & his frequent appearances at Oshkosh.

You can get a good summary of some of Bob’s achievements at the bottom of this post as supplied in the press release distributed about the event. You can also see some of Bob’s classic airshow display maneuvers in the video below, including his famous “pouring iced tea while flying a barrel roll” :)

Would that I could afford the airline ticket and some spending money to be there as I suspect it will be a fantastic night. Sadly, it’s not to be as my cunning plan for world domination by winning the lottery still hasn’t come to fruition :(

Short collection of Bob Hoover highlights
Robert A. Hoover has thrilled millions of men, women and children over the last five decades with his acrobatic flying maneuvers. In addition, he has flown over 300 types of aircraft and flight tested or flown nearly every type of fighter aircraft.

Hoover was born in Nashville, Tennessee January 24th, 1922. He learned to fly at Nashville’s Berry Field and worked at a grocery store to earn the money required for flight instructions. Almost immediately, Hoover began to try his hand at rolls and loops and taught himself aerobatics. The young pilot enlisted in the Tennessee National Guard and later received orders to Army Pilot Training School.

At the time that Hoover graduated, World War II was in full swing and the Allied invasion of North Africa had begun. Hoover’s first assignment was in Casablanca, Morocco, where he tested planes before they were sent into combat. Hoover’s next assignment was in Corsica with the 52nd Fighter Group, one of two Spitfire outfits in the Army’s Air Forces. After flying 58 missions, he was shot down off the coast of southern France and spent sixteen months in a German prison camp. He escaped by ‘pirating’ a German FW 190, flying to freedom.

Upon his return to the United States after the war, Hoover was assigned to the Flight Evaluation Group at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. There he flew Japanese and German airplanes captured during the war. He also flew the latest aircraft being tested by the United States Air Force.

Alternate pilot for the Bell X-1, Hoover flew the chase plane as close friend Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, October 14th, 1947.

Only person to serve two terms as president of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

Hoover accepted a position with General Motors in 1948 as a test pilot for high altitude performance testing of Allison jet engines and the development of propellers. In 1950, Hoover would begin a 36-year association with North American Aviation and Rockwell International. He performed experimental flight test work on the Navy FJ-2 jet fighter and then the F-86D and the F-100. Hoover demonstrated the safe handling and flying qualities of the F-86 and F-100 series fighters to pilots all over the world.

Bob Hoover was the first man to fly the XFJ-2 Fury Jet and the Navy’s T-28 trainer. He is also the holder of several aviation records. In 1978, he set three climb-to-altitude records at Hannover Air Show in West Germany. And in 1985, he set a coast-to-coast record flying a P-51 from Daytona Beach to Los Angeles in five hours and twenty minutes.

During his career, Hoover has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Soldiers Medal, Air Medal and Purple Heart. He is the only person to serve two terms as president of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and was captain of the United States Aerobatic Team in the 1966 International Competition in Moscow.

His famous yellow P-51 has been one of the main attractions at the Reno Air Races. His well-known “Gentleman You Have a Race” guided the finest air racers in the world! His performances in the Shrike Commander thrilled audiences as he swooped, rolled and looped the airplane to a dead engine landing. His energy management is unmatched in the air show world to this day.

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Hanging out in Hangar 49

It's a long way from Spokane to Melbourne

It’s a long way from Spokane to Melbourne

Last Friday I had the privilege of recording with the crew from the Hangar 49 podcast from northern America. Based in Spokane, Washington (USA) and Kelowna, British Columbia (Canada) we had timezones, temperatures and accents to contend with but, being the true professionals that were are (*coff* :) ), we managed to record some good content AND have a LOT of fun :)

I really enjoyed recording with Al, Jim & Tony and look forward to doing it again some time in the near future. Even better would be to catch up in person at the Arlington Fly-In but, sadly, I suspect I’ll need to win the Lotto to afford that trip :(

You can hear the Hangar 49 episode I got to be part of by clicking here :)

Show: Hangar 49 Hangar 49 Logo
Style: News review, discussion, interviews, book, movie, website, song & sound
Online at: Hangar 49 Website (
Facebook group
First Episode: February 2010

Hangar 49 is a laid back, fun hangar flying podcast where the hosts Al, Jim & Tony chat about aviation news items and their recent flying adventures. Each episode features an aviation movie, book, song, website & a sound. Some episodes have a guest or interview but most commonly its the guys having fun talking about aviation.

Grant’s Thoughts:

I’ve been enjoying Hangar 49 since I first found the show a few years ago. The trio work well together and the show flows well, even when it gets interrupted or sidetracked :)

It’s fun, it’s laid back and you’re going to learn something every episode (even if it’s something obscure, like the “dollars per kilo ratio” for a flying book that Tony’s found for us to read :) ). It’s not uncommon to find yourself getting a new song to try or adding another movie to your “watch” list. Meanwhile, it’s all aviation themed so you know it’s going to be good, right? :)

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Is Working at an Airshow Really Work?

The Commentary "Perch" at AusFly 2012

The Commentary “Perch” at AusFly 2012

I’ve just been down at Tyabb Airport this evening where the Tyabb Airshow 2014 planning committee were meeting at the Peninsular Aero Club. Once again we’ll be covering the airshow for our Plane Crazy Down Under aviation show so I was meeting with the committee to discuss options, etc.

As I sat in the meeting I considered the effort I’d be putting in with the team to cover the show. I’ve already been to a couple of meetings and there are a few more coming up before the show that I’ll also be attending. It’s about an hour’s drive to Tyabb from my place, plus there’s a couple of hours on site for each meeting.

Add to that there’s all the planning, discussions & emails I’ll be bouncing around with the team to get everything sorted out. Then there’s time on site a few days before the show & on the big day itself to run around like mad things capturing interviews, video and so on. Afterwards there’ll be the review sessions, documentation, emails and editing to get the content into episodes & released.

It adds up to a lot of effort and yes, it is work. A heck of a lot of it. And that’s just us – don’t forget the organising committee who have been planning the airshow, the volunteers who donate their time preparing for the show, the volunteers on the day who make it happen, the pilots who do the flying, the emergency services folks (some of whom volunteer) and so on.

B-29 "Fifi" at Oshkosh 2011

B-29 “Fifi” at Oshkosh 2011

While some people involved in organising & producing an airshow do get paid, many only get paid a token amount. Meanwhile, the majority of people involved in making an airshow happen are 100% volunteers. They’ll get fed & watered but many of them also have to cover getting to the show, accommodation during the show and so on. Yet still they turn up and seem to really enjoy themselves too.

Having volunteered at a number of Avalon Airshows & met volunteers at shows around the world, I can totally understand why people do it:

  • It’s being up close & personal with the aircraft
  • It’s being surrounded by aviation for multiple days
  • It’s working with people who also love aviation, who stop to watch a take-off or landing, who get it
  • It’s coming back year after year to catch up with the friends you’ve made in previous years
  • It’s knowing you helped make something amazing happen
  • It’s not being on the other side of the crowd barriers

These days I’m involved with airshows from the perspective of covering them for PCDU. Coming up in 2014 I’ll be covering the following shows:

My involvement varies for each show but I’ll be there with the team in some form running around & capturing content for our show. That’s a lot of effort but I love it because it’s aviation – go figure!

Crowds at Avalon 2013 (But I'm on the other side of the barrier :) )

Crowds at Avalon 2013
(But I’m on the other side of the barrier :) )

When we first started attending shows for Plane Crazy Down Under, we were volunteering our time & costs before, during & after the show. These days we’re starting to get close to covering most of our costs thanks to our advertisers & sponsors. We have a way to go before we get to earn enough to cover income lost when we’re at airshows (I don’t get paid vacations at my day job) but we’re starting to branch into some new areas to help generate a few extra funds that can go towards covering our time too (more on that another time :) ).

So yes, it’s a LOT of effort but I’m an aviation tragic & I love being in the middle of it all. I’m starting to move towards a point where all my expenses are covered and maybe even a tad more, but there’s a long way to go before I can make a living through aviation content (I doubt it’ll ever happen :) ).

For now, it’s for love of aviation & doing something I really enjoy so maybe, just maybe, it’s not actually “work” after all :)

The motley crew from PCDU just before heading home from AusFly 2013 (Would you let these guys run your airshow radio & commentary??? :) )

The motley crew from PCDU just before heading home from AusFly 2013
(Would you let these guys run your airshow radio & commentary??? :) )

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