Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Flying High in San Antonio

Each year in San Antonio, the city's two large air bases, Randolph and Lackland, take it in turn to host their annual air show. This is always a great show, with plenty of US Air Force demonstrations alongside the civilian performers.

This year it was the turn of Randolph AFB to host the show, this year named 'Forging the Future', and for the first time I was lucky enough to be granted a media pass, along with access to the show's media preview day. This was held at San Antonio International Airport on the Thursday before the show.

The media day was being held in conjunction with the organisation Disabled American Veterans (DAV), whose mission is to build better lives for American veterans and their families. They do this in a number of ways, by offering free advice and assistance in obtaining medical care, legal issues, rehabilitation, transportation to medical facilities and counselling, amongst many more. This makes DAV a real resource for those in need.

One of the ways in which DAV publicises their activities is by outreach programmes involving two B-25 bombers; 'Panchito' in California, and 'Special Delivery' from the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, TX. This is done in order to raise public awareness of the sacrifices made by both past and current troops, on behalf of the American people. DAV had arranged for Lone Star's B-25 to be present in order to give flights to some of the local veterans from the Warrior Transition Unit of the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston.

Many of the civilian performers wanted to join in, so the ramp was filled with not only the B-25, but also a P-51, the Aeroshell team's four T-6 Texans, two 'Tora Tora Tora' Zeros, Kent Pietsch's Interstate Cadet and Warren Pietsch's clipped-wing Taylorcraft, Ed Hamill's Air Force Reserve Biplane, Greg Poe's MX-2 and also his Beech Bonanza.

Veterans and pilots gather around the P-51:

A veteran rides in John Mohr's Stearman:

This fleet of aircraft was assembled in front of a couple of dozen eager veterans. Five at a time could ride in the B-25, while others were flown in different aircraft. Two lucky individuals were given a ride in the P-51 'Gunfighter' and the huge smiles when they returned said it all, as demonstrated here by Staff Sgt. Richard Pollock:

A veteran poses by the aircraft she flew in:

Some of the pilots involved in the afternoon's events (L-R): Warren Pietsch, Ed Hamill and Greg Poe, in front of Greg Poe's Beech Bonanza photoship:

This brings me on nicely to the highlight of my own afternoon. Heck; one of the highlights of my year! TSgt Sonny Cohrs of the Randolph AFB Media Relations Team had told me it was likely I would be able to fly in something this afternoon, but there was no scheduled plan as to who would ride in which aircraft. The first wave of veterans taxied out in the various aeroplanes, which I was glad to photograph.

Then, I was told that I'd be riding in Greg Poe's Beech Bonanza. This is a highly capable General Aviation aircraft, which has been fitted out to suit the needs of photographers and videographers. As you can see in the picture above, the door has been removed completely, while the seats are complete with full-body harnesses that attach each occupant directly to the aircraft.

I was to ride with Billy Calzada of the San Antonio Express-News, who was shooting both stills and video. We were strapped in by the other members of Greg Poe's team; Greg Gibson and the Bonanza pilot, Dax Wanless.

Greg Poe got into his MX-2 after putting Capt. Theresa Chrystal into the front seat. Capt. Chrystal is an officer in the AF Wounded Warrior Program at Randolph AFB. The two aircraft started up and we taxied out, already in formation, with Greg hanging off our starboard wingtip. We made our way around San Antonio International until it was time to take the runway. In formation, we took off; the MX-2 very swiftly leaving the ground.

We left the airport and headed over the top of San Antonio. I was totally caught up in photographing the MX-2; it was an amazing sight, so close you could almost reach out and touch it.

I've really no idea where we went over the city, although we were orbiting in a racetrack pattern to take advantage of different sun angles; I do remember realising at one point that the centre was the other side of us, so grabbed some shots and didn't even know until I got them home that you could see the Alamo in some of them. Sadly, I don't think it is visible with the aircraft. I'm not ashamed to admit I was bouncing up and down with excitement in the Bonanza, and you can imagine my joy when the B-25 slid into view from behind the Bonanza's wing!

We spent the next 15 minutes or so welded together as a formation flight of three. The B-25 was bristling with cameras; I could see all the folks inside waving and taking their own pictures. After giving the city folks something to look at for a few minutes, we headed over to Randolph AFB. I think perhaps Billy's seat (facing backwards, and able to see more of the view below) allowed for a slightly better sense of geographic position than mine (facing sideways), for it was only once we got over the field that I knew we were there.

The aircraft visible on the ground in this shot are static display aircraft, in position for the weekend's show.

All too soon, the B-25 left formation and returned to the airport, leaving us to make our own way back. Greg Poe took the opportunity to throw his MX-2 around a bit, with smoke on and some unusual attitudes, like this:

I love this shot; Capt. Chrystal is really enjoying herself here!

I've been fortunate enough to do some air-to-air work before, and it is safe to say that every time I go up, I learn a whole ton of new things. This shoot was amazing, the first time I've flown in a plane with the door off, the first time I've been harnessed in, and the first time I've worked with professionals of such a high calibre. Their flying was a joy to watch, and done with utmost precision.

New experiences; the sensation of the wind rushing past, the sound of the MX-2 being gunned into some energetic manouevers thirty feet away, the fact you can see and communicate with the other pilots because they're right there. You're not going to fall out (not that this worried me) and your cameras are pretty safe too, after all, the photo ship is not being thrown around, so they won't be tipped out of the door (which had crossed my mind). Being able to move about to get the shots and not have to twist around in a cramped cockpit, or avoid photographing wing bracing wires, struts, etc is just luxury.

We flew for about thirty minutes, although I didn't land with the formation. I floated down gently over the span of about the next three days!

HUGE thanks are due to TSgt Cohrs of Randolph AFB, Greg Poe and his team, Larry Gregory and his Lone Star Flight Museum team, and of course the DAV. I heard that many of the veterans said this was the best day of their lives. I sure won't forget it, either. Thanks to you all.

Finally, here is a short video from the day:

And if you'd like to see more photos, Click this way...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reklaw Fly-In 2009

Once again, October is upon us and this brings the delights of Autumn in Central Texas; cooler weather, bright blue skies and generally lovely outside.

Perfect timing, then, for what has been referred to as the Oshkosh of East Texas - Reklaw!

Twenty-five years ago, Dave and Marcia Mason carved themselves a runway out of their forested ranchland, forming a canyon of trees over 3000 feet long. They invited a few friends over to fly in and join them for a barbeque. The event has grown over the years, and for the last three years they have hosted well over five hundred aircraft.

The place is magic - only open to aviation enthusiasts, so there's none of the hassle of a public event.

Alan and I have driven up there in previous years, but this time he couldn't come. Rather than spend four hours in the car by myself, I figured - why not try and catch a ride up there in an aeroplane? Cue the University of Texas Flying Club. They allowed me to join their club fly-out. Woo-hoo!

So off we went, in Cessna 172 N413ES, here seen at our campsite later on:

It took about an hour and a half (with a tidy tailwind) to reach the Flying M Ranch. Listening to the Houston air traffic controllers was fun; it seemed that every flying thing in Texas was heading up there. I think the comment was, "They're arriving like mosquitos!"

The controller wasn't kidding. Here's a shot looking down the runway, taken during a fly-by early afternoon. Check out all the aircraft lining each side, and there's a whole field to the left filled with more:

It's a bit smoky due the fact we were following the An-2, which we overtook on the next circuit as he's so slow. Here he is emitting a pufflet of smoke, once he saw my camera pointing at him!:

Here's the club's Cessna 182 arriving, a bit later than we did on the first flight:

All kinds of aircraft visit Reklaw, including plenty of Piper Cubs of course. There's tiny things like this Legal Eagle:

Right up to big turbines like this Cessna Caravan:

At night, everyone eats in the big hangar and listens to the presentations, which include awards for such things as the newest pilot, the pilot who flew the furthest, etc. Once these are done, people drift to their tents or to the big communal campfire. The stars are astounding; this part of East Texas is miles from anywhere with very little light pollution. Here's a Waco at the head of a line of aircraft - check out the stars, they're not Photoshopped!

I loved seeing this Wilga fly. It has massive front slots on the wings, and levitates off the ground as a result.

And how about this nice RV-6A by the lake?

On Sunday morning, we struck camp and swapped aircraft, which meant I was to fly back in the 182. Our pilot, Shane, made good use of my ForeFlight iPhone application to check the weather for the flight. We made a quick hop over to Cherokee County airport to get some fuel (and a more in-depth weather check) before heading back to Austin Bergstrom. The whole trip was a real blast - can't wait for next year!

More photos, as ever, are this way...

And finally, below is a video I made of the weekend in general. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Forney Museum

This transport museum has a flying car!


Drop sondes at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Red Rocks

This is a natural amphitheatre at which many famous bands have played.


Less rain today, so into the mountains we went. Took a ride on a train which was fun. And cold - it was snowing!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Breckenridge 2

Beer and football bingo at Breckenridge's downtown location.

Wings over the Rockies

Denver's fine air museum contains many shiny things, including this Jet Wing.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Denver capitol building

With flowers and everything! Not used to those in Texas!

Breckenridge Brewery

So, we made it to Wyndkoop Brewery in town, where we enjoyed some tasty ales.

Later, we walked down South to Breckenridge Brewery which also had a BBQ bar, so we had some very tasty food with our beer. Yum!

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Made it to Colorado on holiday! Look at the colossal size of this Yukon we have as a rental car. It is mad. Now to park it up and find some brewpubs.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Marble Falls Drag Boats 2009

Marble Falls Lakefest

Lakefest is a three-day extravaganza of power, noise and speed on water. Various classes of drag boats compete to complete a quarter-mile sprint in the shortest time possible. These boats range from River Racers to Top Fuel Alcohol manic machines.

Drag boats are much like drag cars; they have huge, supercharged, V8 or V12 engines that are insanely loud. They have to be completely stripped down and rebuilt after every run.

They require teams of people and there is a pit area just like the pits at a car circuit. They race to the same 'Christmas tree' of lights that count down the time until the start.

The boats leap out of the water as their pilots mash the throttle forward, hurtling towards the start line. Timing the launch is an art form, to cross the line at maximum power in order to make the quickest run.

Here's a 3-minute video of the Lakefest experience. This is from the Saturday morning qualifying sessions.

Onwards with the pictures...

Now we're on to the faster ones.

Did I mention these are loud? If you watched the video up above, it gives you some idea. They offer earplugs as you enter the show, with good reason.

This one lost a piece of something

With these fast boats, the driver sits in a sealed pod. If the boat has a problem, the driver will be OK. We saw a boat pitch nose-first into the water a couple of years back; it disintegrated behind the plume of the other boat. The only things left were a few bits of foam and the driver pod, lifted out by the crane boat. The driver got out, unscathed.

I'm faster than you

Just go back and play the last 20 seconds of video, above, and imagine this making THAT noise, only 30000000 times louder. It's awesome!

Roll on Marble Falls Lakefest 2010!

Monday, August 10, 2009

A few more #OSH09 pictures

A few random shots from the week. Enjoy!

Kirby Chambliss doing one of his trademark takeoffs

Matt Younkin leaving trails of smoke

Greg Koontz in an unusual attitude

Super Chipmunk

Waco on floats in the morning light

Airbus A380 takeoff

This helicopter was filming the crowd along the flightline

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cessna Riding

In my last blog entry, I mentioned that I'd had the opportunity to fly in a couple of Cessna aircraft during Oshkosh. Here's how it happened.

Rod Rakic of MyTransponder.com has been hard at work organising media rides for himself and other Podcasters/Bloggers, with Cessna and other manufacturers. It turned out that two of these rides were in a Cessna 206 Stationair and Cessna Citation Mustang, both of which are six-seater aircraft.

David Allen of the Pilot's Flight PodLog called me about sitting in the back of the 206 while he flew it, to get some photos. Of course I was game for this! So on the Wednesday afternoon of Oshkosh, we got the bus up to Appleton, to Outagamie County Airport where Cessna were basing their demo flights from. We were met by Angela Baldwin, one of Cessna's media people, who looked after us splendidly.

Dave @daveflys, Rod @rodrakic, Damon Favor @pilotdamon and I got into the Cessna 206, with Cessna's chief propellor pilot, Kirby Ortega. Meanwhile, Frans Dely and Gisela Kirsten from South Africa, and Mike Miley @mike_miley got into the Cessna Citation Mustang.

The 206 is similar to the 172/182 models of Cessna, but it contains a larger, 300HP engine up front, and an extra row of seats in the back. It has much more 'ramp presence' than the other models, being that bit longer and deeper in the cabin. This particular one was also really shiny and new, with leather seats and airbags in the seat belts.

Sitting in the middle row of seats, it felt on the ground almost like you're riding in a taildragger, since the aeroplane sits down low towards the back of the cabin. Damon was in the last row and sat significantly lower again. It's a comfortable cabin with easy access and plenty enough room for two to sit without bashing elbows.

Dave got into the left seat of the 206 and we taxied out. The Mustang overtook our Cessna while Dave was doing his power checks near the runway hold, so we had a grandstand view of first the EAA's B-17 landing in front of us, and then the Mustang taking off. Then it was our turn. Dave lined us up and off we went.

The Cessna climbed out quickly from Appleton and we headed west, away from the busy airspace around Oshkosh.

This aircraft came with a full Garmin G1000 equipped panel, which Kirby demonstrated many things with. As well as the main flight instruments (heading, airspeed, artificial horizon etc), you can have it show sectional charts, engine readouts, GPS tracks and small curved lines to show where you will be in 30 seconds while making a turn. It even shows where you are superimposed upon an airfield plate diagram while taxiing about, and has virtual scenery so if there's a hill or building outside, you see it drawn on the screen too. Handy when there's cloud about. I'm sure that is only a fraction of what this will do; it's a really nice piece of kit.

Dave flying on autopilot while Kirby looks on:

Self-portrait, with Rod on the right and Damon in the back. You can see how big the cabin is here, and even though the rear seats are not as wide, they are still comfortable:

David made a lovely landing at a small airfield way out to the west after making a practise approach. There were some interesting aircraft parked up which we examined, after taking this group shot. (L-R) Rod, Dave, Kirby and Damon pose in front of the Cessna 206:

We then swapped pilots. Here's Rod enjoying himself, flying the aircraft on the way back to Appleton:

This is a small video I shot on my phone during the flight, which gives some idea of the space inside this aeroplane:

Here's a link to another video shot and narrated by Damon. (Warning: you can see me in it!)

On arrival back at Appleton, we found the Mustang had also returned, and Steve Tupper, better known as Stephen Force of Airspeed, had arrived. Steve was booked in to fly the Mustang, with Cessna's chief jet pilot in the right seat. Rod and David were to fly with them, as well as Steve's 7-year old son, Cole. That left one seat, which Damon very graciously gave to me, since I had a camera with me. Thanks, Damon!

Stephen Force, in the left seat, primed and ready to fly the Mustang:

David grins in the doorway. He wasn't the only one smiling!

Small but perfectly formed jet turbine Pratt & Whitney engines power this thoroughbred with 1460 lb of thrust. This aircraft will do 340kt true air speed. Compare this to the 206, which does 150kt, and you can see we're really about to go places in this airplane.

There's those Garmin G1000 panels again, which enables an easy transition from the 206 to small jets. Steve has just finished G1000 training with the Civil Air Patrol, so he was able to really work the system, and he did it so well.

Steve concentrating on his stick time:

We flew north towards Sawyer AFB, 134nm away from Outagamie (about 150 standard miles), with Steve getting accustomed to the aircraft. We reached 32,000 feet in a matter of minutes; the Mustang leapt off the runway and scooted into the flight levels with ease.

The cabin in this aircraft was very plush, as you might expect from a private jet. Leather seats all round, with the four seats facing each other. Neat stowaway tables are hidden in the cabin walls, and each seat has two cup holders (I assume one holder for your gin, the other for your tonic...?). There's even a tiny fridge between the rear seats which holds a few cans of drink, and a drawer full of snacks. Cole took good advantage of these ;-) The windows are nicely placed for each passenger to have a good view, and it's unusual but fun to be able to look at the engines so closely.

Here's another video showing the cabin area, as well as Steve up front doing some flying:

Once we had made a turn back to the south, we descended to 15,000 feet and were cleared for a 2,000ft block of airspace, so that Steve could explore the flight characteristics of the aircraft. He started with some steep turns in both directions, the aircraft turning very neatly with the wings pointing not-quite-vertically towards the ground. It's always difficult to judge the bank angle when you can't see the instruments, but it was fun and the Cessna felt solid and safe.

Next up came some stalls. I have read about stalls but not really experienced them before, but as the aircraft first buffeted and then came that feeling of weightlessness, I recognised and thoroughly enjoyed the motion. Cole in the next seat was whooping with excitement. Steve did the next stall during a 20-degree right turn which really brought on the weightlessness. By this time I had noticed the speed brakes on the wing outside my window. It's only about the size of a large book but it makes a big difference. One more stall at slow speed and we were done. Cole had a big grin on his face :-)

We turned back for Outagamie and descended through the clouds. Just before we went through, there flashed a Sun halo and shadow on the cloud tops. I love to see these; it was there only for a moment; but then so were we.

Steve made a great landing - he says the aeroplane makes it easy but he was in command, right? - and we taxied in. As you can see, Steve really enjoyed logging that hour of jet time!

Many, many thanks to Angela and Cessna for making these flights possible, and to Rod Rakic for setting it up, and to David for calling me. It was a fabulous opportunity to experience the higher end of Cessna's aircraft range, and I know we all really enjoyed it.

Follow @Fly_Cessna on Twitter for Cessna news.

Here's a video shot by Damon after the Mustang flight showing people's reactions to the flight.

Steve Tupper wrote a blog entry on flying his son for the first time.

Steve also wrote his own version of events spoken as a pilot.