Minions in the Cockpit: What could possibly go wrong?

Grus' Minions: Hoarde of them

You wouldn’t trust them but you have to love them.

I’ve been a big fan of the Minions characters ever since I first encountered them in the original Despicable Me movie. They are insane, indestructible and hysterical characters that bumble about and create mayhem wherever they go. What’s not to love?

If you don’t know about Minions, well, where have you been hiding? You can learn more about them and their particular brand of insanity on the Minions Wikipedia page, naturally :)

Gru's minions: Kevin, Stuart & Bob

The three main Minions in most films.

In the latest movie, Minions: Rise of Gru, the three main Minions (Kevin, Stuart & Bob) need to get to San Francisco, so they decide to dress as pilots and a flight attendant then fly themselves there in an airliner. The results are, as you might expect, totally insane, including reading the manual, pushing buttons at random and dealing with zero-G. I haven’t laughed so hard in ages and I recommend that you check out the clip below, it’s worth it :)

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Cracker flight in a Cirrus SR22 G3 from Moorabbin Airport

Evan & I in the Cirrus

Evan & I in Cirrus SR22 VH-KJN

A couple of weeks ago, I went for a flight with my friend Evan in a Cirrus SR22 G3, which is a four seat general aviation (GA) aircraft. This particular aircraft is registered VH-KJN and amusingly referred to as “Cajun” or “Juliet.” The aircraft was manufactured in 2008 in the USA and brought over to Australia where it has flown ever since.

Manufactured by Cirrus Aircraft, the SR22 has become the world’s best selling GA aircraft, topping the annual sales charts since 2003. Together with the SR20, Cirrus are the most produced GA aircraft of the 21st Century. With sleek lines, plenty of safety features and a beautiful interior, it’s no wonder they’re extremely popular although the $1m to $2m price tag means many are owned by groups of pilots or companies/flying clubs/schools that then rent them out to approved pilots.

VH-KJN (a Cirrus SR22 G3)

VH-KJN, a Cirrus SR22 G3
(Photo by Evan)

One of the safety features on all Cirrus aircraft is the whole aircraft ballistic parachute that can bring everything (and everyone on board) back to the ground safely in the event of pilot incapacitation, engine failure or other issues. Known as the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS), it has saved many lives and is considered a major selling point for many pilots, their significant-others and their passengers. Additional features include a strong composite airframe, a roll cage for the passenger cabin, seats designed to absorb vertical impact G-forces, a glass cockpit with traffic displays, seatbelt airbags and more.

Box Hill in the distance

On our way towards the CBD, looking North through the smog towards the suburb of Box Hill which is turning into a mini-city of its own.

While I’ve flown in SR20s (and even a Vans RV-10), I’ve don’t recall having ever flown in the flagship SR22 which features a more powerful engine, larger wing and greater fuel capacity than the SR20. Having taken Evan up in a hot air balloon some years back, we’d always been meaning to go for a flight where he was pilot in command. Finally in early January this year, the stars aligned and we agreed to go for an early morning flight out of Moorabbin airport so we could enjoy a couple of city orbits before it got hot and bumpy.

Taking this as a good excuse for a run in my recently restored 1982 RX-7, I left home early, driving down to meet Evan at his work by 0700. After a quick catch up and tour of the hangar, we stepped outside where I was introduced to VH-KJN. I was so busy checking out the aircraft and its features that I forgot to get photos of the aircraft itself. Ooops.

Melbourne CBD

Good view of Melbourne showing the main CBD, the Yarra River, Southbank and the Docklands.

Getting in wasn’t too hard compared to some other aircraft I’ve flown in (especially the WW2 warbirds) although once again I was reminded that I could do with losing lots of kilos and maybe doing some stretches to improve my flexibility. There is a well placed handle to help get up on the wing (keep your feet on the non-slip surfaces within the marked areas) and then another sturdy handle within the cockpit to help as you lower yourself into the very comfortable seat. It’s like a luxury car interior with plenty of leather but a much, much better panel. It also has a four point harness as you might expect but the inertia reel belt on the shoulder is a nice touch and makes it all very comfortable. Another bonus is that it has a door on both sides (pilot & passenger) which is so wonderful when compared to some other GA aircraft (yeah, I’m looking at you Piper and Beechcraft!).

Fitzroy Gardens, Olympic Precinct, Botanical Gardens, Albert Park Lake & on to the Bay

East & South of the CBD: Fitzroy Gardens, Olympic Precinct, Botanical Gardens, Albert Park Lake & on to the Bay

Once settled in, Evan started running through checklists (all displayed nicely on the screens – very handy), fired up the engine and then ran through a few more checks before taxiing down to the runup bay. We were early so Moorabbin tower hadn’t opened as yet, thus the airport was running under Common Traffic Advisary Frequency (CTAF) procedures and there was almost no-one active on the radios. Moving through even more checklists, Evan ran the aircraft through its run-up and magneto checks, verifying that all systems were good to go.

Evan then followed the taxiways to a suitable into-wind runway, checked for other traffic, made the appropriate radio calls and moved onto the runway. Demonstrating a short field take-off, he ran up the engine while using the brakes to keep us in place until, satisfied all was well, releasing the brakes and commencing the roll. With the airspeed increasing and the aircraft becoming lighter on its wheels, we both noticed a small flock of Galahs on the runway ahead of us. A member of the Cockatoo family of parrots, the little buggers were just sitting there starting to wonder what the damned noise was. No wonder Galah is a phrase meaning “idiot” in Australian slang

Southbank, Freeway and Bridges

South of the CBD with Southbank, Freeway, Bolte Bridge and, in the distance, the Westgate Bridge.

Should you encounter birds while flying, the standard practice is, where possible, to go above them as they will typically dive out of the way of an approaching aircraft (if they have time, that is). Fortunately KJN had reached take-off speed and, as Evan lifted us off the runway, I watched as the birds finally realised they were in trouble and launched themselves into the air, staying low over the tarmac and racing off to the side and out of the way.

Happily in the air and established on climb out, Evan put us in a left hand circuit, climbing through the downwind leg and departing to the North of the airport. Once clear of Moorabbin’s airspace, he turned us towards Albert Park Lake and began getting ready to contact Essendon Tower.

Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the Botanical Gardens

Sidney Myer Music Bowl, botanical gardens, Victoria Barracks and the Shrine.

While Moorabbin is Class D airspace when the tower is active, it sits in an area of Class G (uncontrolled) airspace to the South of Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD) where the controlled airspace is above 2,500′. Further South and East of Moorabbin, the controlled airspace starts at 4,500′. So long as you stay below those altitudes, you can fly as you want provided you’re above the minimum altitude of 1,000′ over populated areas. As you get closer to the CBD, the lowest level of controlled airspace descends to 2,000′ and 1,500′ until, just south of the CBD, it’s all the way down to the surface. Aircraft can’t go into controlled airspace without clearances from Air Traffic Control (ATC) and, for a city orbit, you have to talk to ATC at Essendon Airport just North of the CBD (aka Essendon Tower) when it’s open, otherwise you’re talking to Melbourne Approach at the International airport to the Northwest of the CBD.

Evan called up Essendon Tower, got permission and we started a couple of right hand orbits around the city at about 1,500′. It was a beautiful morning with clear visibility and calm air, although there were a few bumps on the downwind side of the CBD. No surprise given all the buildings that were creating turbulence for us.

Caulfield Race Track

Caulfield Horse Racing Track
(I used to fly RC aircraft from the middle of this space)

After a pair of city orbits (and plenty of photos), we headed to the Southeast towards the Cranbourne area where we hoped to orbit the house of Steve, my co-host in the Plane Crazy Down Under show. More photos were taken and the correct freeway was followed to get down to the area in question. We used some landmarks to determine where his house was likely to be and then did some left-hand and right-hand orbits in the area at about 2,500′ before heading West towards Frankston on the coast of Port Phillip Bay where we planned to start our run back to Moorabbin.

The intention was to be at about 1,500′ when we arrived at Frankston and, as we dropped below 2,000′ we started to get some bumps and shakes from turbulence. Checking the wind direction and strength displayed on the primary flight display screen, we could see it shifting and also changing speed, indicating we were descending through an inversion layer.

Major Shopping Centre

Any idea what this one is? Looks like a major shopping centre to the South East of Caulfield.

Arriving at Frankston we turned North and followed the coast up to the Southern Moorabbin reporting point at Carrum pier. By now Moorabbin Tower was operating so Evan called in and was instructed to join the downwind circuit for runway 13R. Descending further to 1,000′ the bumps continued, remaining with us all the way through the circuit until, on short final, everything settled down and Evan made a cracker landing.

Once off the runway, Evan went through his after landing checks, called Moorabbin Ground and received clearance to taxi with instructions to get back to the main aircraft parking area (generally referred to as the ramp or apron). During our taxi route we passed through a couple of “collision hot spots” where multiple runways and taxiways crossed but, fortunately, the taxi clearance had included approval to cross both inactive runways. It was during this time on the ground that we noticed the heat rising inside the cockpit, at which point Evan was able to turn on the airconditioning which cooled us back down quite quickly. Did I mention how much I enjoy being in a Cirrus?

Moorabbin Airport via Google Maps

Moorabbin Airport
(via Google Maps)

Following a short time taxiing back to the parking area in front of the company hangar, Evan parked the aircraft and shut it down. We shook hands, got out and made sure the interior was clear of our gear (tablets, headsets, etc) and the harnesses were back the way they should be.

It was a cracker flight and a lot of fun so, to help say thanks, I took Evan for a drive in the RX-7 before dropping him back at work and heading for home. Suffice to say, my desire to get my fixed wing license has been rekindled and now I’m thinking about how to juggle my finances so I can get current again in hot air balloons AND finally finish my private pilot license.

Hmmm, maybe if my cunning plan for World Domination Through Lottery Win finally works…

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One Hundred Years of Gyrocopters

Fairey Rotodyne Prototype

Fairey Rotodyne Prototype
(Photo: J Thinesen, SFF photo archive –

On this day (9th January) one hundred years ago, Juan de la Cierva flew the first gyrocopter (then called an Autogiro) in Madrid, Spain. They’ve come a long way since then and we’ve had the Fairey Rotodyne and Benson Gyrocopter in the 1950s then Ken Wallis‘ aircraft in the 1960s, including the famous Little Nellie seen in the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice.”

While some gyrocopters being made today are similar looking to those of the 60s to 80s, the newer designs are more streamlined and take advantage of modern materials. Some are tandem while others have enclosed, side-by-side cockpits and larger payload capacity.

Benson Gyrocopter In Flight

Benson Gyrocopter In Flight
(Public Domain image)

They all operate on the principle of an unpowered rotor that is in continuous autorotation and an engine driven propeller to provide forward thrust. This provides gyrocopters with a very short take off and landing capability and, by not powering the main rotor, there’s no need for a tail rotor to counter the torque as found on helicopters, reducing the complexity and cost of the aircraft.

Ken Wallis with Little Nellie

Ken Wallis flying his WA-116 “Little Nellie”
((c) Ken Wallis)

I find gyrocopters to be a rather fascinating form of aviation and would, if time and funds permitted, like to have a modern one to fly, especially a tandem one. I’ve had a few flights in gyrocopters with others and have really enjoyed them. While some folks consider them to be dangerous, they are like any other aircraft: safe if flown within their operational parameters. In fact, the ATSB’s occurrence statistics report for 2010 to 2019 shows that the accident rate for gyrocopters is less than half that for fixed wing recreational aircraft while the fatality rate is slightly less.

Grant returning from a flight in an ELA-07 gyrocopter

Grant returning from a flight in an ELA-07 gyrocopter
(Photograph by Steve @ PCDU)

The Australian Sport Rotorcraft Association (ASRA) administers gyrocopters and they’re the folks to go to if you want to learn more about these amazing aircraft. They’ll help you find an instructor and understand the path towards getting your pilot certificate. You can also do a search online to find organisations who can arrange a Trial Introductory Flight, sell you an aircraft and more.

Cabin class gyrocopters

Cabin class gyrocopters parked at NatFly 2011

So, happy centenary to the gyrocopter and here’s to many more years of production and enjoyment. Hopefully I don’t have to wait 100 years before I can afford to have one :)

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Presenting Two Papers at MilCIS 2017

Thanks to my article on extracting information from C2 systems that was published in Australian Defence Magazine earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to present a paper at MilCIS 2017. MilCIS is the Military Computer Information Systems conference that has been running for multiple years in Canberra.

My paper was assigned a 1/2 hour slot towards the start of the session on day one and I managed to get through it reasonably well but in a rushed manner. One of these days I’ll get around to slowing my pacing a bit :)

You can find my presentation for this paper with the MilCIS 2017 program on the MilCIS website. Just search for McHerron or, better yet, click on this link to go directly to it:

Ocean Software – Grant McHerron – Making the Most of a Consolidated C2 Framework

As if presenting one paper wasn’t enough, I was also asked by the company I work for to present a second paper on a topic that I was assigned to me by our CEO. Fortunately I was able to put something together for the assigned topic but the big challenge was that I had one hour to present it and run a Q&A afterwards. At least for this one I managed to slow down my pacing somewhat and didn’t race through my slides too quickly :)

You can find my second paper’s presentation by clicking on the link below:

Ocean Software – Grant McHerron – Extracting a Real-Time Force Readiness Picture from Big Data

MilCIS will be occurring once again in November 2018 (Nov 13th to 15th) but I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be presenting anything this year. Time will tell so watch this space :)

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Uncontrolled Airspace Podcast

UPDATE – 2023-01: Sadly, Dave Higdon passed away in 2022, leaving a hole in the aviation experience for many of us around the world. Jack & Jeb are continuing to produce episodes, often with guests to maintain the balance “3 or more voices” aspect of the show. Its still a great show and, if you’re into aviation, it has to be on your podcatcher.

I’m still enjoying the show and I’m looking forward to meeting up with Jack & Jeb when next I get over to Oshkosh or some other aviation event they’re at.

Original Post: If you’re listening to aviation podcasts then you *have* to listen to Jack, Jeb & Dave from the Uncontrolled Airspace show (aka UCAP). With well over 400 episodes produced over more than eleven years, these guys are the power-house of the General Aviation podcast world and have deservedly won awards for their efforts.

UCAP was one of the first podcasts I was listening to way back in 2007 along with Come Fly With Me, Airspeed, The Airplane Geeks and the PilotCast. While some of these have stopped producing, UCAP is still going strong and is still and fun & interesting, a testament to the aviation knowledge of the hosts and the dynamic that exists between them.

I was fortunate to have dinner with Jack, Jeb & Dave back when the Plane Crazy Down Under team were at Oshkosh in 2011. It was a fun night with lots of aviation and podcasting discussions where the guys were asking us how we’d gone about attracting sponsorship and advertisers. We were blown away that the UCAP team were asking *us* questions about podcasting given how long they’d been producing episodes :)

Despite them asking us about tips on podcasting, UCAP is an excellent show and well worth subscribing to :)

Show: Uncontrolled Airspace (aka UCAP)
Style: News & conversation about the world of General Aviation flying presented in a “hangar flying” format
Online at: UCAP Website (
Jack Hodgson on Twitter
Jeb Burnside on Twitter
Dave Higdon on Twitter
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Published in the 2017 Sport Aviation Close Calls booklet

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority here in Australia (our version of the US’ FAA) prints a number of “Close Calls” stories in their various publications. The objective is to present stories where a pilot came close to an accident so that other pilots can learn from the mistakes that were made. Having read a number of these stories I can attest to their benefit as I’ve taken on some of the lessons and have recognised scenarios that, had I continued my flight, may well have put me in a similar (or worse) situation.

Given this, it was relatively easy to agree to provide an article for CASA’s 2017 Sport Aviation Close Calls booklet. The Sport Aviation people wanted to get close call stories from various executives & staff members within the Sport Aviation Organisations, such as RA-Aus, the Glider Federation of Australia, the ABF, etc. With my role as Operations Manager for the ABF and an existing article that I’d recently had published in the ABF’s Aeronotes magazine, my story was just what they were after.

Imagine when my surprise when not only was it published but it also appeared as the first story in the collection. Woo hoo :)

I’ve included the text below in case you want to read it. It’s not a long story but it does help point out the concerns associated with low flight, even in a relatively slow moving balloon!

Close Call at Bungendore

We’ve all been told again & again about being vigilant for powerlines & looking out for the poles rather than the wires. Some of us even make it a rule to not fly below powerline height except on our final approach to land.

While I’ve previously had a couple of “powerline moments” in the past, both of them were easily avoided and could be anticipated based on surroundings (eg: a pumping station near a lake had a SWER heading across a field, a set of powerlines were running along a road but the poles were hidden by trees, etc). We’re taught to look for these clues and generally do a good job of avoiding wire strikes.

My latest encounter with a powerline was a big surprise and could have been a major concern if the paddock I’d been flying over was one where I was landing.

Click image to view a larger version

While flying with other balloons at Bungendore near Canberra I was looking for more steerage to the right of our target in anticipation of the winds taking us left of the target later in the flight. I was flying over a large paddock with rows of powerlines running up the left and right sides (see diagram) and had dropped down with the basket about 20’ off the ground to see if I could get “more right.”

Looking at the power poles running either side of the paddock, it appeared that the lines were running parallel to my direction of travel. There did not appear to be any indication (nor expectation) that the two parallel sets would be connected in any way.

While flying up the paddock I noticed horses ahead in another paddock near a house so, using the quiet burner, commenced a gentle ascent. At about 60-70’ above the ground my passenger said “Power line!” so I immediately triggered the blast valve & increased our rate of ascent. I was then able to see the power line against the background and realised it was still a fair distance away. We would have cleared it had I continued the gentle ascent on the quiet burner but, had I not initiated the climb we may never have seen the line and would have experienced a very surprising wire strike event.

So, why was there a powerline running across the paddock? As per the diagram, there was a spur running off to a building some distance away. Rather than just run the spur from the powerlines running along the road, a line was transferred from the lines on the other side of the paddock over to the lines along the road and then off to the building. What the reasoning was behind this transfer line is not known to me at this time.

For myself it was very unexpected, quite eye opening and I’ll certainly think twice before dropping down below power-line height even if I think I’ve identified all the powerline tracks in the vicinity.

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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
Airline Pilot Guy (Captain Jeff) on Twitter
The APG crew’s communal feed on 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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