Thursday, August 9, 2012

Exercise Pitch Black and a B24 wreckage


At present the residents of Darwin are whinging about thunderous aircraft noise shaking the city as the joint air force exercise Pitch Black is in full swing. I took the above picture whilst waiting at a hold point and if you look hard enough you may see a Thai air force F-16 taking off. These aircraft are impressive to watch close up as long as you are wearing hearing protection. The Indonesian air force Sukhoi flankers which are cutting up the skies over Darwin at present are a seriously impressive machine even if one got lost only forty miles Southwest of Darwin last week. It was an entertaining dialogue on the radio listening to Australian air traffic controllers attempting to talk the Indonesian pilots lost in one of the worlds most advanced fighter aircraft back to Darwin airport.


Last week another pilot from work and myself headed out in our four wheel drives to a small remote river mouth to go fishing (we didn't catch any fish) on the way we came across the wreckage of a world war two B24 Liberator named 'Milady' that crashed whilst returning from a training mission to an off shore island that was used as a bombing range. The above picture is of the B24 'Milady' pictured earlier on in her colourful career. The below picture is the remains of the large tail section of 'Miladay' at her final resting place in the Northern Territory bush.


Shortly after leaving the B24 wreckage the track got a little more swampy.


It's only natural to have the sunroof (emergency escape hatch) open on a sunny Sunday afternoon drive.
 I am the first to admit that a Swedish flight attendant posing out the top of Saab sunroof is more appealing than a slightly chubby kiwi first officer doing the same.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dry season in the Top End

 Seven plus weeks since I last submitted a blog post to the greater interweb...I thought I ought to justify my absence. These cooler months of June, July, August and a large proportion of September are for living in this part of the world. Summer days of 400% humidity, crushing downpours, tropical lows, iced up Saab's (does not deal with ice well) and having to squeeze on extra fuel for potential alternate aerodromes due adverse weather are long gone....until next summer.
Instead of blogging in my spare time I have either been enjoying a cold beer without sitting in air conditioning, or fishing (I will still go fishing in 400% humidity) or loading up my 4wd with my dog, camping gear and wife to head off bush. The above picture is our camp fire on the banks of the Daly river.
 Out on a Billabong (lake/river/swamp) catching Barramundi (tasty fish) with a Saab captain from work....believe it or not he was on standby to fly this day its a seriously hard life some days!
 Recently I had to trudge down to Melbourne for a few days of real winter and tick the boxes of a six monthly simulator check ride. Had to make sure I still have a rough idea of what to do in an emergency....eject. While I am perfecting an ungracious pose outside the Sim some poor REX (Regional Express) crew are sweating away inside hoping they still have their jobs at the end of their simulator session.
 A small bonus to living in Darwin is that Bali (an island full of Indonesians) is only a two hour flight away. Above my wife is giving me a lovely gesture whilst enjoying sun downers in Bali on our wedding anniversary.
 The intellectually disabled looking person swimming in the above picture is me enjoying the thermal springs at Mataranka on a long weekend camping trip.
 Now after just showing you pictures of myself flailing about in Northern Territory water ways, these prehistoric creatures also inherit Territory water ways. The big one below is called Brutus and is over six metres in length. Adelaide river jumping crocs is a must do if you somehow ever find yourself in Darwin.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Subtle hints of my aviation career progress!

 Yesterday I took this snapshot of the domestic departure display board at Cairns airport in Queensland. I know there is nothing overly special about it, but it is the first time I have seen a flight where I am a member of the flight crew on the departure display at any airport! Admittedly the destination was Groote Eylandt a nondescript island in the Gulf of Carpentaria that does not boast much more than a manganese mine...However it is a far cry from the days of  flying Cessna 206's which often involved walking through some back water airport terminal yelling out at the top of my voice the names of my passengers.

 If anybody has read back far enough in my blog I have blogged on about dry season bush fires in the past in a post called 'Bush fires in Africa' and also posted an impressive picture of a bush fire in a later post called 'Taking the private jet lifestyle on safari'. Last night whilst flying over the Kakadu national park at night I photographed these flame fronts from twenty thousand feet above...note the navigation light at the top of the picture.
 The May/June edition of Flight Safety Australia had a small write up on a crash which I mentioned in my April 12th post about the Air Tanzania crash. In that post I said the aircraft involved was only four years old, but according to Flight safety Australia the aircraft was built in 1997. It goes on to say that the number two engine actually penetrated the fuselage, how nobody was killed I do not know. The more I speak to contacts in East Africa this incident looks more and more like negligence on the flight crews behalf.
Looking down at Cairns airport from surrounding hills. This a perfect position for any plane spotter / aviation geek to observe aircraft movements.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Aeroplane tyres in Africa are a delicacy for Hyena!

They are already quite famously known as the scavengers of the Savannah, but a little known fact is hyenas also love to eat aircraft tyres. These scavenging dog like creatures have a biting force of about 11400 pounds per square inch (quite strong). Take that biting force and an absolute fascination with aircraft tyres, a bush pilot can find himself stranded after leaving an aircraft at a bush airstrip overnight. The common practice I use to go by when leaving an aircraft on a airstrip overnight where hyena were known to lurk was to cover the aircraft tyres in branches from the nearest thorn bushes as a deterrent to any passing hyena.
The picture above is my hearted attempt to cover this tyre on a Cessna Caravan in the Seronera airstrip in the Serengeti national park. I did not have alot of spare thorn branches so each tyre only got a token gesture. The next morning after I had taken the above picture my tyres were untouched however the strap used to hold the propeller from windmilling in the wind (spinning around as the Caravans engine is a free turbine meaning the propeller is not physically attached to the engine) was chewed up into five pathetic pieces on the ground. A colleague of mine was overnighting one night at Kiba airstrip in the Selous Game Reserve with a Cessna 206. He too had covered his tyres with thorn bushes only to find in the morning that the Elevators (flappy things on the rear tailplane that make the nose pitch up or down) had been chewed by hyenas. The Aluminium sheet metal which the elevators are constructed from were no match for the 11400 pounds of hyena biting force.
Though hyenas have an unhealthy obsession with aircraft they are not the only animal with such a fetish. In Botswana I constantly would wake up to find my aircraft sabotaged by Baboons. One airstrip I use to frequent in particular called Delta in the Okavango Delta was the worst. I would walk to the aircraft in the morning for a pre breakfast preflight to find pitot covers missing, aerials bent or turned around, doors open, wheels unchocked, oil inspection hatch open and feaces on the wings or windows.
One of my very early post talks about animals on airstrips from baboons to elephants. In Australia the most I have experienced in the way of animals on airstrips is cows and scrawny little wallabies...

Some aircraft designers obviously have a sense of humour!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Breaking the monotony at 20000 feet.

 Yesterday whilst on the second four hour sector of the day returning from a remote mine in Western Australia all the usual forms of busy pilot stuff had been exhausted....Paper work was done, magazines read, newspaper read (I don't do crosswords), lunch eaten, two coffees drunk and even browsed through the operations manual. I do not own an Ipad so I could not play that stupid game 'Angry birds' so I took it upon myself to reacquaint/play with the first officers emergency oxygen mask. Even though in six weeks time I have my half yearly simulator check in Melbourne and will no doubt get to play with the system then...I was just bored. Five minutes of sucking on one hundred percent oxygen sure gives you a lift in the middle of the afternoon.
Maybe the Air Canada pilot who mistook the planet Venus to be an oncoming cargo plane whilst suffering from sleep inertia should have sucked on one hundred percent oxygen for a few minutes after waking from his nap. The slight boost from pure oxygen may have made him alert enough to avoid injuring fourteen passengers.....But then being aviation which is inherently swamped by rules and regulations this would have probably be illegal.
 Front page of yesterdays edition of the Pilot Operating Handbook. I walk my dog on this beach everyday. My dog loves going swimming too, even after showing her this picture of the crocodile on the beach chasing dogs she still found the temptation of running through the waves irresistible.
The physics that keep an aircraft in the sky slightly simplified

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Crash on the front page of the Pilot Operating Handbook

 A few days ago when I was in the cruise I pulled out a copy of that days Pilot Operating Handbook (NT News) to be confronted by a bent Cessna 210 on the front cover. Slightly disconcerting when I have nicknamed the NT News the Pilot Operating Handbook. Also a slightly misleading headline "'Tornado' causes plane crash". It was a Dust devil or whirlie whirlie if your Australian. If your wondering what a 'dust devil' is, they are the swirling winds you occasionally see in a park nearly always associated with a few crisp packets swirling around inside. I know some of you are maybe wondering; how can these little whirl winds with their swirling crisp packets bring a plane down?
When I began my first flying job in Botswana my bare foot boss warned me to never fly through a 'dust devil'. The rotating air of a 'dust devil' is enough to disrupt the airflow over the aerofoil (wing for the non technical sorts) therefore disrupting the lift created by the aerofoil (wing). Without lift a fixed wing or rotary wing (helicopter / contraption) will simply fall out of the sky. These dodgy 'dust devil' types are not always easily seen especially if it they have not picked up any dust or crisp packets. I believe this poor pilot was just caught off guard.
 Where's the Captain?
 Beech 1900 fleet on the ground outside the company hangar in Darwin.
 I had to take this picture of a 1900 in the hangar. it has the new after market box air conditioning unit modification installed on the side of the aircraft. It's not a pro aerodynamic modification at all but it does actually keep the 1900 pressurized and cool unlike the standard bleed air system....No this unit is just connected in the hangar to keep the engineers working / sleeping inside the aircraft cool.
 I took these two pictures late yesterday afternoon. The sun is behind the Saab resulting in a small rainbow silhouetted Saab shadow on this cloud layer as we are about to descend through it.
One last thing for all Australians and New Zealanders today is ANZAC day

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Flying into Arusha by the seat of your pants in cloud amongst terrain (big as rocks)

Above: Mount Meru from Arusha airport.
 After bagging out / insulting Air Tanzania in my last post about their mishaps I thought I may as well expose a practice that occurs in modern bush flying in mountainous third world back waters.
What I am talking about is using unofficial waypoints saved to GPS (Global Positioning System) and later used for sole navigation purposes between mountains in bad weather. Official GPS approaches are not a new thing, but they are professionally designed and are updated in GPS databases each month....Then there is homemade GPS approaches which is the scary illegal by product adopted by bush pilots and made by self GPS qualified pilots as a way of getting the job done in all weather. Mostly this happens in places off the beaten track like Irian Jaya in Asia or somewhere crazy like that. However there is one city called Arusha in Tanzania which serves as a hub for thousands of tourists flying in and out the Serengeti National Park. Regularly these tourists are flown unknowingly between mountains in cloud with the pilot relying on the co-ordinates of each homemade waypoint still being correct from when they last flew that particular route.
 I am guilty of flying via homegrown GPS tracks amongst mountains when I use to fly in Tanzania...it was excepted as part of the job! The above is a section from a Operational Navigation Chart put together by the American Defence Mapping Agency during the early nineties but still used by pilots today a little old but then mountains don't move often...unless your god. The markings I have obviously done myself. The large two red circles are Mount Kilimanjaro (the largest) and the other Mount Meru. The black circle things are peaks in the Ngorongoro Highlands over ten thousand feet. The Pink line signifies a track starting near the Serengeti National Park then crossing the Nogorongoro highlands by the lowest points which we called the Western and Eastern rim (Nogorongoro crater), from there overhead lake Manyara airport and from there direct to Arusha this track puts you on the centre line for runway '09' at Arusha airport. As long as you descended by the steps set out in homemade approach which is pictured below you would end up safely in Arusha, in theory. This was the route myself and many other Cessna Caravan pilots preferred. The red dots of the Eastern and Western rim were just positions that pilots saved  as waypoints when flying over in nice weather. So when the weather turned to crap I would do one hail Mary and then transfer the rest of my faith to the GPS with its make shift approach / saved co-ordinates. Thankfully I now fly in the land rules (Australia) and such cowboy antics are not expected from me at all.
 Arusha quite often has very low cloud around the airport and surrounding mountains and the airport has no legitimate legal published instrument approach....Pilots have taken measures into their own hands and created the above GPS approach for Arusha. It looks legit, it is even set out like a Jeppesen instrument approach chart. It is a uncontrolled GPS approach and any person who can push buttons is able to change the saved co-ordinates in a GPS unit with the potential of a disaster. However thousands of tourists are subjected to it daily without consequence, so far....If your planning a holiday to the Serengeti that involves flying into Arusha just consider it part of your African adventure...
 Kilimanjaro International Airport is less than thirty nautical miles away as the crow flies and it has a beautiful precision Instrument Landing System....but no, I am guessing it is uneconomical and impractical for operators to base themselves at this airport.

Changing the subject entirely from bush pilot approaches, I read an article yesterday stating Viktor Bout was sentenced to twenty five years in prison on terrorism charges. If you have not heard of Viktor Bout he use to operate a transport service using a fleet of old Soviet-era aircraft to apparently supply undesirables in various African conflict zones with arms and other frowned upon cargoes. Viktor Bout is one of two people who Nicolas Cages character in the film 'Lord of War' were loosely based on.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Air Tanzania - always maintaining their high standards!

 A few days ago Air Tanzania Corporation limited (ATCL) reaffirmed its position as a typical sham African national carrier. On the 10th of April 2012 this Air Tanzania Dash 8 crashed off the end of the end of the runway at Kigoma (Kigoma is on the shores of Lake Tanganyka). This Q300 (the Dash 8 model) was apparently the last operational Dash 8 at Air Tanzania after purchasing two brand new aircraft only in 2008. Four years to wreck two new aircraft not a bad effort...i think only in World war two were aircraft destroyed quicker.
 From various media reports I have read what happened is conflicting....apart from the fact they crashed! From what i gather apparently the crew aborted the take off and subsequently ran off the end of the runway. Now there is procedures to stop this kind of behaviour (incident). If the crew had aborted the take off before V1* this problem should have been avoided with the aircraft stopping by the end of the runway...after V1 what ever happens the aircraft is taking off no matter what happens unless your wings fall off.
*V1 - For those who are not a self professed aviation geeks is a nominated airspeed determined by aircraft weight, ambient weather conditions like temperature and a few other factors. It means if there is a failure or problem below below V1 on the take off roll it is safe to abort and pull up safely before the end of the runway. Once the aircraft reaches this nominated speed (V1) even if an engine fails the crew will continue the take off and take the issue into the air....It is safer to do this than crash off the end of the runway, this could possibly be the case with these clowns at Air Tanzania.
Back in 2010 whilst I was still flying in Tanzania this decrepit old Air Tanzania Boeing 737 (hand me downs from various western airlines) had its nose wheel collapse on landing in torrential rain at Mwanza airport on the Southern shores of Lake Victoria. Though one confused article says this incident occurred in fine weather and on take off.
From my simple maths I believe Air Tanzania have no more serviceable flying machines left in their fleet.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dili flights cancelled & beer makes you skinny!?

 I am not the quickest blogger for news around, but last week the operator I fly for cancelled their regular service from Darwin to Dili in Timor. It probably means nothing to you however now my liquor cabinet is deprived of regular cheap replenishment from duty free. The flights rarely sold enough seats to make the route variable....so now there is a Saab at work cruising around with a Timor Air chocolate soldier / crocodile logo thing painted on the tail and it flies no where near Timor. The above picture is the mentioned Saab in Timor colours parked at Comoro Airport (Or according to wikipedia; Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport) in Dili.
 Final approach to runway '08' Comoro / Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili...we actually went around off this approach due to a controller being absent from the tower and not providing a clearance to land.
 On the top of this headland centred in the picture is Dili's very own twenty metre tall statue of Jesus, which even has its own one mile radius no fly zone. It was built by the predominantly Muslim Indonesians as a gift to the Christian East Timorese people. Apparently the Jesus statue points directly at Jakarta the Capital city of the most populace Muslim nation on Earth. If this is true it was a great piece of subtle humour from the Indonesians.
Thursdays edition of Pilot Operating handbook claims beer can make you skinny....I am sold! But to tell you the truth I have seen the reverse effects over my ten year love affair or maybe I should blame those late night Kebabs.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Toilet humour

 Last Friday with the Auto pilot on in the cruise at twenty thousand feet I was having a quick browse through the Pilot Operating Handbook (The NT News), when I saw this article about a "UFO" crashing to Earth. Just in case your respected real news media reporting source had not informed you that a UFO to Earth in Siberia...the breaking news was not missed by the reliable NT News!
 The article goes onto say the object appears to be constructed from Titanium. Now I am not really a Science fiction geek, but I would expect a suspected piece of "Alien craft" to made of something more impressive than our Earthly Titanium. For example I would be impressed if it was a composite material comprised of Diamond-Kryptonite-Titanium.....etc.
Just Titanium, makes this sceptic believe it was just common space junk falling from orbit. I guess on a slow news day anything to fill the front page. However after a quick search I did find this "UFO" fanatic website that has a picture of the said "UFO" in Siberia....UFOdigest.
On a more serious note pictured above is a staff toilet door in the hanger at work. It is great to see that the Dangerous Goods training that "Security Sensitive Aviation Employees" must undertake every two years is being put to good use identifying potentially hazardous materials (would not call it goods).
The label 1.4 EXPLOSIVE means; Moderate fire, no blast or fragment.
That's a suitable explosive class in my books

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Three years in the making

Happy Third Birthday to my blog! I know it is not the largest milestone around, but it does signify that my random loosely aviation based ramblings have been floating through the interweb for three years. Admittedly I did vanish from the blogisphere for nearly eighteen months after leaving Tanzania. I have provided a few pictures as a form of time line to depict my haphazard progress over a the nine years I have been flying.
The above picture is a Saab 340B which I am flying at present. As a matter of fact I have my 100 hour route check (A test to make sure I am safe to fly with all captains) tomorrow morning out to a remote island in the Gulf of Carpentaria called Groote Eylandt. Fingers crossed it all goes smoothly. From 2011 - present.

Before the Saab there was the Shrike Aerocomander which I flew for one year in North Queensland to build up my multi-engine hours on these old flogged work horses that should really be museum pieces. From 2010 - 2011.
During my time driving Aerocomanders my little Aussie lady who has followed me literally to Africa and and back finally became my wife. From 2011 - we'll see how long she lasts.
For a little over two years I bashed around the bush of East Africa in Cessna Caravans. I know the Caravan can be a career killer for some pilots their ambitious careers stall here and do not progress much further. I do not blame these pilots for staying on the van its a really great machine to fly...though I did have an engine failure on approach into Zanzibar airport in a caravan with ten passengers on board. From 2008 - 2010.
I had a mad idea to become an agricultural pilot at one stage. Though I never flew this Cessna 188 Ag wagon I did load and mix chemicals for it for most of 2007. For this outfit I managed to accumulate only a handful of hours flying in a Cessna 172 ferrying aircraft parts to broken down aircraft literally in the field. This was a seriously eye opening side of aviation.
One of the most amazing places I have been lucky enough to live and work in was the Okavango Delta in Bostwana. Here I flew Cessna 206's and Cessna 210's (not both at once I am not that clever) around Botswana and various other parts of Southern Africa. This was also my first ever flying job. From 2004 to 2005.
The sausage factory as I have come to term it is where I learnt fly. This pilot factory which is better known as the International Aviation Academy of New Zealand in Christchurch did an alright job qualifying this high school drop out as a pilot.....well I haven't crashed yet. From 2003 -2004.