Flying over Leeton in Easter is highly recommended

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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!

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.

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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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.

CorporateAir

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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