Montgolfier Day, 2014 – Another year done :)

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Happy Montgolfier Day once again :)

It’s hard to believe that another year has shot past since last I made a post about the celebration of the anniversary of the first manned ascent in a hot air balloon. It’s also hard to believe that I’ve not posted anything to my blog since August!

Montgolfier Balloon of 1783 (Public domain image via Wikipedia)

Montgolfier Balloon of 1783
(Public domain image via Wikipedia)

I blame it on being too busy at work, trying to get out & go flying and keeping up with other aviation events. I’ll get around to writing about a few of them over the next few weeks (I hope :) )

Meanwhile, let’s celebrate the fact that thanks to the Montgolfier brothers those of us who fly aerostats are able to out rank fixed wing pilots. After all, we’ve been looking down on people since 1783. They’ve only being doing it since 1903 :) :)

Now, where did I put that bottle of champagne? :)

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The Airbus A350 XWB in Australia

We were recently contracted by Airbus to shoot video of the A350 XWB on its first arrivals into Sydney & Perth. The aircraft was MSN5 (the 5th test aircraft in the fleet) and it was in the middle of its world tour of route-proving flights, demonstrating that it could make the required long haul legs that its initial customers would be performing (including the all important turn-around times after landing).

A350 XWB MSN5 departing Sydney

A350 XWB MSN5 departing Sydney

While MSN5 had passenger seating, overhead bins, In Flight Entertainment, galleys & bathrooms installed, it also had plenty of test equipment on board including a large engineering station around the middle of the cabin & air data samplers through the various cabin areas. Copies quantities of raw information was captured covering the operation of the engines, the crew’s inputs, the flight computer decisions and the air quality in each section of the cabin. At the end of each leg of the flights the data was exported to a hard drive & sent back to France for analysis.

Comprehensive engineering station in the mid-cabin

Comprehensive engineering station in the mid-cabin

I got to check out the cockpit - very cool!

I got to check out the cockpit – very cool!

As the Sydney arrival was scheduled for 6am, we flew up the night before and stayed at the Ibis Budget Hotel near the domestic terminals. We knew we were in for an “interesting” experience as these hotels used to be the Formula 1 series and we certainly weren’t left thinking we’d missed out on the “Cell Block H” prison experience. Calling it a 1 star would be doing a disservice to the star rating system, to say the least…

The next morning saw us out on the tarmac eagerly awaiting the aircraft’s arrival. Well, almost all of us: I left my ASIC behind in Melbourne (DOH!) so I couldn’t join the guys out by the runway. Instead, I grabbed the train & went back to the domestic terminal then walked around to Gate 11 where media & guests were to be allowed in. As I was on the media list, I was able to get in to the special events area and set up well before the aircraft landed.

Score! :)

We spent the day filming the aircraft’s time on the ramp including all the media & guests being shown through the aircraft. We also managed to record a couple of audio interviews and I managed to get a few minutes in the cockpit with its amazingly huge screens (& great visibility). When it was time for those flying on to Auckland to go through customs & immigration, I went with some of the media to get a Visitor pass so I could join the general group going by bus to be near the runway. Steve & Paul stayed with the aircraft for the water arch departure from the ARFFies and then wound up out near the runway but closer to the likely lift off point.

Once the aircraft had departed, I joined Steve & Paul and we were dropped off at the domestic terminal to catch our flights home.

A350 XWB MSN5 arrives in Sydney

A350 XWB MSN5 arrives in Sydney

You know, I think it might just be landing in Perth

You know, I think it might just be landing in Perth

After going to Auckland, the A350 was heading to South America and then back to France. It would next return to Australia on Sunday as it arrived in Perth from Doha. It was scheduled to stay in Perth for a few hours before turning around & heading back to Doha and then on into Russia & Eastern Europe.

For the Perth arrival, we also needed to take photos as well as video so Paul & I went over as camera operators while Steven Pam joined us as photographer. Our “WA Correspondent” Ben Jones also joined the team to help us with gear & ensure we kept a steady stream of content flowing on our Facebook & Twitter feeds. Steve stayed in Melbourne as he had prior plans for the weekend & couldn’t make it.

This time the aircraft was scheduled to arrive at 3pm so we were able to get away with a day trip. My first visit to WA and I arrived in Perth airport at about 10:30am & departed about 8pm. Oh well :)

For this arrival we sent Paul & Steven out to the runway to capture the landing while Ben & I stayed at the parking bay to get it coming in & parking. Once again we shot plenty of content around the outside of the aircraft and caught up Mike Bausor (Director of A350 XWB Marketing) as he came down the stairs. Mike has been accompanying the aircraft on every leg of the flights around the world which is an amazing thing as it’s only stopping for a few hours at each location. Fortunately the demo business class seats on board can go to horizontal for sleeping :)

Happy crew after their flight from Doha to Perth

Happy crew after their flight from Doha to Perth

In Perth the aircraft was to be cleared of all staff although a group of guests were going through later in the afternoon. The Airbus media team on board would capture content from that visit so, as the aircraft wasn’t departing until 11pm, our work was done after a couple of hours.

At this point we headed back to the public areas of the terminals and went our separate ways. Steven Pam was heading home on an earlier flight and Ben was going back to his place while Paul & I went to the lounge to review content & work before our flight home. At least this allowed me to complete a full tour of Perth airport:

1) Arrive via Qantas at Terminal 4 (the Virgin flight was later than Qantas, leaving very little contingency time in case of delays)
2) Meet our Perth Airport contact at Terminal 2
3) Go airside
4) Go back to Terminal 1 to chat with Airbus staff after they’ve gone through Customs & Immigration
5) Leave via Virgin at Terminal 3

Aside from the freight area, I think I pretty much covered it all :)

Despite all the running around, being paid by Airbus to go and capture content of cool aircraft has been a wonderful thing. It’s like getting paid to do something you love and would have done anyhow if you had the spare cash to cover the costs. Sure, there’s more planning & liaising plus higher levels of responsibility, not to mention all the post-event follow up tasks (uploading “best of” content, preparing & sending all content on hard drives, client liaisons, etc) but that’s all part of the gig.

I guess all that hard work we did at Avalon 2013 is still paying off as our videos on the ACJ319 & KC-30A helped to get us the gig :)

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Flying over Leeton in Easter is highly recommended

Back in Easter I was flying the Zolvix balloon (VH-ZOV – aka “Sheep Dip”) over Leeton as part of the Sunrice Festival. Held every two years, the event draws people from far & wide for many attractions to see & experience, not least of which is a bunch of crazy balloonists who show up for a relaxed, fun long weekend of social flying.

While at Leeton I was flying VH-ZOV, the Zolvix balloon, aka "Sheep Dip"

While at Leeton I was flying VH-ZOV, the Zolvix balloon, aka “Sheep Dip”

Yet again I wrote about my experiences at the event for the Australian Ballooning Federation’s “Aeronotes” magazine and it was published in Volume 36, Number 2 (June 2014). I’ve posted a copy of the article (“Sharing the Fun in Leeton“) here on the site along with a few photos Kitt & I took during the event.

The Leeton event is a laid back, relaxed, fun social flying event. I highly recommend going there as it’s a beautiful place to fly with friendly locals and lots of non-flying activities to enjoy.

I’ve loaded all the photos we took at Leeton into an album on my Flickr stream (click here to view them all).

Click here to read my Leeton article

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Space Rocket History: Well Worth the Listen!

(Updated on August 1st, 2014)

Thanks to the guys at the Aviation Xtended podcast, my attention was directed to Michael Annis’ Space Rocket History podcast. This fantastic show is covering our voyage into space from the earliest rocket pioneers right up to the present day.

I really can’t recommend this show highly enough and have been listening to the early episodes in high rotation. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve listened to about 40 episodes and I’m loving every one of them.

Update: August 1st, 2014:
Having just listened to Episode 73 (Gemini VIII with Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott – Part 2), I’m finally caught up with all the episodes that have been released. I also scored a shout-out in Episode 72 (Gemini VIII with Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott – Part 1) after making a donation to help keep the show running.

Suffice to say, the show continues to be well produced with excellent detail and information about our flights into space. Here’s hoping Mike can keep the energy going and continue on producing shows up to the ISS, Spaceship 2 and beyond :)

Show: Space Rocket History SpaceRocketHistory-logo
Style: Historical review, each episode covering a specific mission (or set of related missions)
Online at: Space Rocket History Website (http://spacerockethistory.com/)
Facebook page
@SpaceRocketHist on Twitter
First Episode: Feb 2013
Overview:

Space Rocket History is a labour of love by Mike as he works hard to present detailed coverage of mankind’s steps out of our atmosphere. From the ancient Chinese rockets & Greek steam “engine” through World War 2, Sputnik, Telstar, Mercury and beyond, each episode covers a specific topic in amazing detail.

Mike’s level of research is fantastic and he really digs in deep to uncover the details & specifications of equipment, mission parameters and results. His narration is supported by audio clips where possible and each episode has plenty of photos & additional information in the show notes on the website.

At the time of writing, Mike has produced 70 episodes and is currently covering the early Gemini missions and lunar exploration probes. Many missions are taking more than one episode to cover & I suspect this will be the case for future, more complex missions, especially the Apollo series.

Grant’s Thoughts:

I’ve always been a fan of space missions and our steps beyond the cradle of planet Earth so to find an audio series dedicated to recording & summarising these efforts has been a wonderful encounter. I don’t always have time to stop & watch TV documentaries and, due to my workload, reading books can take a while (that said, I’m always trying to grab time here & there to read :) ). Being able to listen to Mike’s information as I drive or perform manual chores is a major benefit.

Mike’s work is impeccable and his presentation is informative and well paced. He is to be credited for taking the effort to produce this show and I highly recommend you add it to your podcatcher as soon as possible, especially if you’re at all interested in our efforts to go into space. If you enjoy it, please also take the time to donate & rate his show highly on iTunes. As a podcast producer myself, I can recognise effort & enthusiasm and applaud Mike’s willingness to make this show happen. Highly recommended!

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Heritage Recognition for B24 Restoration Project & its Hangar

In my role as co-host & producer of the Plane Crazy Down Under aviation show, I’ve been fortunate to have a few visits of the B24 Liberator Restoration Project‘s hangar in Werribee. A group of enthusiastic volunteers have been working for many years to restore a Consolidated B24 Liberator heavy bomber from World War II to an all-but-flyable state.

Doug Lindsay (President of the B24 Restoration Project) presents to the crowd

Doug Lindsay (President of the B24 Restoration Project) presents to the crowd

Back in 2010 we produced an episode entirely on the B24 project, including a chat with Ed Crabtree & John Temby who flew the B24 during World War II. I also had a subsequent update on progress during a visit back in 2012.

In keeping with the “every two years” aspect of my visits, I dropped by again last weekend to see how the restoration was progressing. Admittedly, it wasn’t just to catch up & show my support for the project: I was also there to capture content as a very special ceremony was taking place.

The ceremony was arranged by Engineers Australia who have recognised the significance of the B24 aircraft (& its restoration) along with the hangar it sits in as part of their Engineering Heritage programme. Presentations were made by Professor Alex Baitch (National President of Engineers Australia), Doug Lindsay (President of the B24 Restoration Project) and Andrew Elsbury MLC (State Member of Parliament) After this, two plaques & explanatory signs were unveiled at the site, with one inside next to the aircraft and the other outside next to the hangar’s wall.

I was able to record some content with a number of the people there and will be presenting that in a future PCDU episode. I also got to catch up with the state of the restoration as lots of amazing work is being done inside the fuselage & wings to run electrical cables, fuel lines, hydraulics and more.

Even better was hearing that the B24 project team are extremely close to securing permanent residence at the Werribee site and even have a very good chance of getting a new hangar. It’s not a done deal but they’re a lot closer to that big goal than they have been and the Engineers Australia Heritage Recognition is certainly helping.

I’m looking forward to going back for another visit to see how the restoration is progressing. Hopefully it won’t be another two years before I can get back down there :)

You can view all my photos of the event on my Flickr stream

B24 Restoration Heritage Sign

B24 Restoration Heritage Sign


Hangar Heritage Sign

Hangar Heritage Sign

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Fighter Pilot: Mis-Adventures beyond the sound barrier with an Australian Top Gun

Some time ago I picked up a copy of Serge’s book on his career flying the F/A-18 with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). If you don’t already have a copy of this book in your bookcase (or e-Reader) then you owe it to yourself to do so ASAP.

Serge's book on flying F18s with the RAAF is fast reading & a must-read

Serge’s book on flying F18s with the RAAF is fast reading & a must-read


While my father managed to read the book in a day (being retired has a few benefits) it took me about 3 days to get it read around everything else I was doing. It would have taken me longer but I managed to re-prioritise a few things so I’d have time for the book. I just didn’t want to put it down :)

From his early start & interest in aviation and the RAAF to graduating from the Fighter Combat Instructor (FCI) course & wearing the coveted badge on his shoulder, the book takes you through Serge’s career but also includes his experiences with hang gliders and gives a hint into what he’s been doing since leaving the RAAF. He even touches briefly on his short stint as a long-haul pilot (definitely not his cup of tea :) ) and with luck one day there’ll be a second book that focuses solely on those stories.

We’ve had Serge on the show back in 2012 & spent over an hour talking about his career in the RAAF, his views on aviation (especially UAVs), that incident on the bridge of a Royal Australian Navy ship, the F35 and his final fight where he went one-on-one with Matt Hall. You can hear it all in PCDU Episode 96.

Click here for show notes & to listen to our interview with Serge

Since having Serge on the show I’ve been fortunate enough to meet him a couple of times. Like many F18 pilots I’ve met, he’s a rather intense but fun kind of guy who likes to push himself & work towards his goals. He’s also got an opinion and isn’t afraid to let you know it.

Like I said: If this book isn’t in your collection, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Race out & get it now. You won’t be disappointed :)

Click here to find Serge’s book on Amazon.com

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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 Wargaming.net 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 Wargaming.net.

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 Wargaming.net 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 (http://aviation-xtended.co.uk/)
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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