Oshkosh 2011 – Day 3 – Arrival en Mass

Saturday morning opened with thunderstorms and rain covering us at Rockford, the radar showing rain, rain & more rain plus the TAFs agreeing that the weather wasn’t getting better soon. Convective activity was dominating this area of the USA and a massive storm was slowly working its way towards us from the west. The leaders of Bonanzas to Oshkosh had been talking to some senior weather briefers who confirmed that any predictions beyond 2-3 hours would be wild guesses at best.

We gathered at Rockford airport terminal for a great breakfast supplied by Hawker Beechcraft, watching the rain on the tarmac outside and the weather radar updates on our phones & tablets. Eventually there was a break in the rain and the indications were that the weather was lifting so we headed down to the Embry Riddle auditorium for the pre-flight briefing. This involved reviewing procedures, frequencies, what-if scenarios and the announcement that there would be 109 aircraft in the formation (down on previous highs but still a very sizeable number).

From the briefing everyone headed out to the UPS ramp where all 109 aircraft were parked on the wet tarmac, starting their pre-flights and going through final briefings for the pilots in each element. Excitement was building as everyone could see the skies clearing and the few remaining light showers that passed through didn’t dampen spirits.

Starting up on time at 11:45am, the first rows of Bonanzas taxied out to the runway, each successive row following them out until they were all moving, at which point the Barons joined the conga line. Once the first aircraft entered the runway, Rockford airport closed to all other traffic as we lined up, three abreast across the runway & 10 feet between the nose of one aircraft & the tail of another. A group photo was taken using a hoist truck then it was time to go. Each element of three aircraft was cleared to launch at 15 second intervals while every few elements an additional 15 second pause was introduced. Eventually all aircraft had taken off and an enormous line of aircraft was making its way towards Oshkosh.

The flight itself passed uneventfully aside from the need to descend to pass beneath a cloud layer over Oshkosh. There were a few sightings of traffic but none came close enough to be a concern. Our route went from Rockford (KRFD) through a set of way points (TIRRAN, BADAN, POBER) and then direct to RWY36 where each element’s lead & left wing aircraft landed on the runway while the right wing aircraft landed on the taxiway (designated RWY36R for the duration of our arrival).

Upon landing we taxied off the end of RWY36 where we were directed onto the grass & marshalled into the North 40, parking in rows of about 10-14 aircraft each. Before tying down the aircraft, planks of wood or sheets of metal were produced and everyone joined in to help push aircraft onto them, the goal being to spread the weight of the aircraft & stop them sinking into the soft ground. It didn’t take much effort to refer to this as “planking the plane” :)

With that, we had arrived and the celebrations commenced. Beers were produced and a large number of pizzas appeared ready for hungry pilots to consume while tents were set up between aircraft. Unfortunately for us the temperature was in the high 30′s (Celsius) and extremely humid, so after the party we tried to find whatever shelter we could in the hope that a breeze would help cool us off, all while watching aircraft come & go on RWY27.

Eventually the temperature reduced a little and the winds increased, blowing away the humidity. At this point a few of us headed out to dinner and to do some shopping for items we’d forgotten or delayed until our arrival. Returning to camp, we spent time chatting about aviation, adventures and the day’s flight into Oshkosh. All agreed that flying into Oshkosh was the only way to arrive and that a mass arrival was definitely the best way to fly in.

By this time, tents had sprung up between & around aircraft where they were parked and decorations had already begun to appear on some aircraft. People were relaxing and enjoying a rest, a chat, an adult beverage or two and the chance to watch the arrivals & departures on RWY 09/27 right next to them. Not a bad spot to enjoy some aircraft watching!

No matter what, we had arrived and were on the grounds of Oskhosh. The fun was just starting to begin…

Oshkosh 2011 – Day 2 – Rockford Bonanza

After doing some essential shopping for local equipment (mobile phone & data access, cables, batteries & so on) it was time for team PCDU to split up and take different paths to Oshkosh. Steve was staying in Chicago to continue preparing the camping & production equipment required to set up our base camp while Bas & Grant were heading to Rockford to meet up with the Bonanzas to Oshkosh group. Normally a 2 hour drive or more from their location in Chicago, Bas & Grant were able to avail themselves of a ride over with Rob Mark in a Cirrus.

Taking a short drive from Rob’s place over to Chicago Executive Airport (KPWK) where we encountered two “We’re not in Australia” aviation reminders:

A B17 landing and taxiing past Lots of bizjets taking off & landing – way more than you’d see at Essendon, Parafield or Sydney

Rob tells us that aside from the B17 this is pretty normal traffic levels at Chicago Executive. Wow!

We manage to load ourselves & our gear into the Cirrus SR20 without too much hassle, get clearance & then taxi out to RWY34, launching into the humid air & turning left to track out towards Rockford. The flight was short but surprisingly free of turbulence despite the heat & clouds forming. The TCAS was kept busy showing us traffic going in & out of O’Hare and the many other airports around us. For such a short flight it was amazing the number of airports we passed that were around the sizes of Camden & Lillydale as well as some strips similar in size to Tooradin or Coldstream. Bas made the comment there were possibly more ILS approaches at airports around Chicago than in the whole of Australia :)

It’s amazing to see the level . . . →

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Oshkosh 2011 – Day 1 – Getting there isn’t always the best part

As usual, it seems that there’s never enough time to get everything done before commencing a long journey but, despite an ever increasing “to do” list, we managed to arrive at the airport with just enough time to grab a quick photo at the gate with a phone before boarding. The flight itself went about as well as any other 14 hour slog across the Pacific, passing the time with movies, magazines and chatting. Attempts at sleep were unsuccessful even though we’d not had a lot of sleep lately as our bodies were sure it was still only mid-afternoon. The cabin crew were friendly, service was efficient and everything else about the flight went well except for not being able to sleep through it.

Arrival at LAX provided plenty of views of aircraft from around the world and the chance to experience the “park & tow” arrival at our gate. Surprisingly our transition through customs & immigration was much less of an ordeal than some recent stories we’d heard, taking only an hour to get from the aircraft and out into the Los Angeles summer air. A quick walk through the heat soon returned us to the cooler air of a domestic airline terminal where we checked in almost painlessly via computerised kiosk and a bag drop counter.

Passing through the TSA screening point was surprisingly easy and about on par with going through the scanners at Melbourne’s domestic terminals. The staff were courteous and aside from Grant’s belt buckle triggering a metal detector for the first time ever, it all went smoothly and we were soon walking through the concourse looking for a place to set up a base while we waited for our flight.

Being limited to Starbucks, Burger King or a standard US eatery, we went with . . . →

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A Happy Birthday….or not…

It seems that QANTAS is never far from the news these days, and lately, it has been for all the wrong reasons. In this, the week that is meant to celebrate their 90th birthday, much of the partying has been overshadowed by two in flight engine failures in the space of three days. And worse, that brings the total to three since the start of September. So the question is, are these engine failures are the result of falling maintenance standards? And if the answer comes back as “yes”, then to what extent can such a fall in standards be attributed to overseas outsourcing of maintenance?

It has become a hotbed topic of discussion in the aviation sector, as it has in many other industries here in Australia, and around the world. In the case of the Flying Kangaroo, there are multiple factors at work here with interesting points of view being expressed from both sides of the fence. The QANTAS media machine has kicked into overdrive and is out selling the “safety first” message to anyone who’ll listen, but they are facing a sceptical public who is becoming accustomed to seeing images of badly damaged engines on even the most modern aircraft in the fleet.

To a certain extent, QANTAS finds itself in a lose/lose situation here. They are a publicly traded company and as such, have a large and almost overriding responsibility to maximise return to their share holders. On the other hand, they have previously enjoyed a long history for having a sterling safety record. As we see in many industries, it often becomes tempting for executives to focus solely on the immediacy of the next profit report. So naturally it follows that the “safety first” mantra is clouded by the “safety costs money” theory instead.

But . . . →

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Podcasting advice straight from the source!

Podcasting is a concept that goes back only a few years, but in this short time, it has grown at an exponential rate. For amateurs, it is only natural to find a level to aspire to, and many of us find ourselves watching the big guys, wondering if we too could some day rate up there with them. In my case, I had become a big listener to the TWiT Network – Leo Laporte and his plethora of shows.

Central to the running of the network at that time, was Dane Golden. His official title was President and Senior Producer, and listeners would often hear Leo calling for him during shows. When I was making preparations to travel to the United States last year, I had this mad idea of emailing Dane and asking – begging – to be allowed to drop by the studio while I was in California. I almost hesitated to send it at first – I mean, how audacious? Some underling from their huge audience, asking if he can visit? They must get thousands of these requests each week.

In the end, I thought that the worst they would say was “Sorry pal, we’re busy” So imagine my great surprise when Dane emailed me straight back suggesting times. I was thrilled, and the visit was amazing. You can read about it on my Ausflier blog if you haven’t already.

Well, Dane has now moved on from TWiT, and is seeking new challenges – a fact I only discovered when he recently emailed me offering advice on podcasting, should I ever need it. Of course, I’m always looking to learn new things about this field, and the chance to work in some small way with a person who helped build TWiT from a small podcast network to . . . →

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What’s in the Tranquiliser Trolley on Your Flight?

Do you enjoy a few drinks when you’re flying on the airlines? Do you recall the “good ol’ days” when the drinks were free even in economy? How about when cocktails were mixed for you or when drinks weren’t served in a little plastic cup?

For most of us those days are pretty much gone unless we can pony up the cash for business or first class or happen to be flying on an airline that’s trying something retro (like V Australia’s self-service bars in Business Class and Premium Economy). That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t some good drinks being served on airliners around the world as they carry people from place to place high above the usual levels where drinks are consumed.

A friend of mine from back in my crazy days living in Boston is now based in San Francisco and is a freelance writer covering the world of cocktails & spirits. He also runs the Alcademics.com, a blog about drinking and travelling.

He’s recently started a page on his site where he’s listing drinks menus from airlines around the world. In addition to his own travels, he’s asking for people to help by taking photos of the drinks list (usually found in the inflight magazine) and sending it to him along with the date and the airline. Also supplying what route you were travelling would help but the key is the drinks, the date and the airline.

So far his collection is primarily from US airlines with a couple from Aer Lingus and Virgin Atlantic. Given it’s a great idea and a good start, how about we help add to the stash. Next time you’re flying, don’t forget to take a photo of the drinks list and send it in. You can also help by . . . →

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Steve’s Deep Thoughts on the Plane Crazy Journey

Steve’s written a great piece about his thoughts on producing podcasts and Plane Crazy Down Under in particular. Unfortunately, he put it on our Southern Skies Online Media site instead of here. Ooops.

Now that the post is getting picked up and tweeted by folks out there, it’s a bit late to move it across to this blog where these sort of messages would usually live. So, if you want to read an awesome post about why we’re producing PCDU and Steve’s thoughts on the subject, you can read it in the Southern Skies blog entry.

You know what? You should go and read it no matter what :)

Click here to read Steve’s great post on why he’s making PCDU

Shakey Alliances for Virgin Blue

John Borghetti at Virgin Blue is getting some bad news lately with both the Department of Transport and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission raising objections to proposed alliances. The DoT have said they don’t like the look of the alliance with Delta (aka Delta-V) while the ACCC have said the same about the proposed alliance with Air New Zealand. The ACCC have also said they’re going to expedite their review of the recently announced alliance with Etihad so hopefully that one doesn’t get blocked too.

While I wouldn’t necessarily say that these alliance plans are in tatters, they are certainly taking some body blows and aren’t looking too healthy. Unless Virgin Blue, Delta & Air New Zealand can put up some good responses to the various objections, the proposed linkages aren’t going to happen for a while.

So the big question from this is what will Borghetti do if the Delta & Air New Zealand alliances are blocked? He’s already shown he is not adverse to culling failing operations or routes as he has removed Pacific Blue’s domestic operations in New Zealand and pulled the V Australia 777s out of Johannesburg, Fiji & Phuket.

If he can’t get cosy with Delta across the Pacific, will he ramp up V Australia’s presence in the market or pull out entirely and settle for a code-share with Delta, channeling Virgin Blue’s domestic passengers onto Delta and taking their passengers around Australia. If he leaves the Pacific to a linkage with Delta, will he redirect the 777s to routes into Abu Dhabi to supplement flights from Etihad? Could he decide to drop the long haul 777s all together to focus on the Australian domestic market and short international flights to the Pacific and South East Asia with 737s and A330s?

It’s always an . . . →

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Matt Hall teaches us all how to “take our lumps”

By now most of you have seen the dramatic footage of Matt Hall’s incident in Windsor, Canada. A high G turn that went wrong saw him plunge downward, recover to wings level and do a little surfing on the river before climbing out to safety – all in a matter of seconds.

Although I’m not an expert on high performance aircraft such as the MXS-R, I’m fairly certain that it’s not an amphib, and to say Matt was lucky to survive with little more than battered pride and some cosmetic damage is clearly an understatement. The quick recovery to flight is testament to his high skills and military training. The ability to instantly assess the situation and instinctively take the required corrective action is something that I believe certain pilots are born with. The military training just perfects that ability.

There have been many articles written about the incident itself, so I need not re-hash it any further here, but the aspect of this story that fascinates me is the way in which Matt has handled the events that have followed since that day in Windsor.

. . . →

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F35 for $60 million each (batteries not included :)

Recent reports state that Lockheed Martin are willing to put a fixed price limit on the F35. Indications are that it will be about US$60 million or so BUT we need to note the caveats:

This is for Low Rate Initial Production 4 (LRIP 4) aircraft, not an aircraft that matches the final production specification It’s based on the assumption that a very large number of aircraft will be produced (more than anyone’s currently talking about ordering) The US$60 million is for the Conventional Take Off & Landing (CTOL) version of the F35, as opposed to the carrier based version or the Short Take Off, Vertical Landing (STOVL) version that’s to replace the Harrier. This isn’t such a big deal for Australia though as we’re going for the CTOL F35A and officially not looking at the other variants.

The mainstream media are reporting on LM’s fixed price offer and some are even pointing out a few of the caveats listed above (especially the more aviation focused groups). The big issue I’ve not seen being discussed though relates to capability. Some are touching on it, but we need to have this asked in the headlines of the mainstream media and have real answers provided:

. . . →

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