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 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.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Oshkosh 2009 Recap

Once again, I am back home after a great week at Oshkosh, and wondering how to write about all that happened during my time there. I'll start at the beginning...

(Quick aside; all @names refer to Twitter folks. EG; @futureshox means visit to find that person.)


I got a flight from Austin to Chicago, and from there to Appleton. The flight was pleasant - watching the dawn from several thousand feet - and uneventful. Only trouble was, when I arrived at Appleton, I discovered that my bag containing clothes and tent has made a separate journey to Monterrey, California. This was not in the plan! I was assured of a phone call to let me know what was happening and I had no other choice but to get the bus down to Oshkosh as planned.

All was not lost though as I still had all my camera gear and there were aeroplanes to be examined, so into the show I went. My first stop was Hangar A, in which I found Lynda (@girlswithwings) in her trade booth. Lynda kindly offered me a tent to sleep in. Then it was on to the flightline, just in time to see Thunderbird F-16 #8 zoom past:

Next up was the arrival of White Knight 2, the new spacecraft launching vehicle from Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites. It arrived overhead looking like two aircraft in formation, joined by the longest wing. Apparently this is the largest all-composite aerobatic aircraft ever built, and if the wing were to split in the middle (though it won't), the two halves could be flown back to Earth independently.

It really is very graceful in the air. When SpaceShipTwo is ready, it will be hung in the middle between the two fuselages and the whole assembly will be flown to the edge of space, where the rocket-powered ship will detach and fly into space itself. Can't wait to see that one.

Also in this afternoon's showcase was the Erickson AirCrane helicopter. This was very cool, it is the first time I've seen an AirCrane, and this one was geared up to do water bombing over large fires. It scooped up a load of water from the nearby Lake Winnebago and arrived on site where it dumped the water on the grass in between the runways. Very impressive.

After this, I decided to make tracks for the campsite. There was a lot of black clouds and stormy weather heading directly for the showground. So I got going, heading for the @MyTransponder RV which has been promoted on Twitter as being the HQ for all the new media folks that were gathering on site. Of course, while walking the mile-long camp site, the weather arrived, so I got to the RV looking like a drowned rat. @Mike_Miley and @RodRakic and @DaveFlys were inside and made me very welcome, providing a towel and a beer. They also offered me a spare bunk for the night. This was fabulous! We all stayed inside the RV and waited for the rain to stop.

Later on, we visited @Av8rdan's tweetup/book exchange which he was holding at the Media Centre. I met a few folks there and exchanged a book. @Av8rdan provided some of us (the first 10 to respond, earlier in the week) with shiny Twitter nametags which were cool. I met with @DanBeauvais from ISAP (International Society for Aviation Photography) as well as Dick Knapinski from EAA, @MaxTrescott and plenty more. Then it was back to the RV for a beer and a most welcome bed.


An impressive sight to behold was an endless stream of Vans aircraft processing down the taxiway while I wandered around the homebuilts area. On and on they came, including the Falcon Flight aircraft from Texas leading the pack. Some time later, they all took off and disappeared off. A little later on, they came back in formation - here are thirty seven Vans RVs all at once!:

I'd had a phone call from the baggage guy the previous afternoon advising me my bag would be delivered this morning, and sure enough I got another call from the delivery guy telling me he was on his way. I met up with him at noon and reclaimed my bag from him. *Whew*! I moved into the next field of aircraft and plonked everything down onto the grass while I undid the rucksack straps from my big bag. It was a long walk even to the bus park from where I'd met the guy. At this moment, an angel with a golf cart stopped and asked if I wanted a ride somewhere. Dee took me right down to Camper Registration, snuck me into the line and whisked me away to find Lynda's campsite, where Lynda had saved me a space. Thanks, Dee, you are a star! Dee saved me so much time, I was able to get camp set up and get back to the flightline in time to watch the A380 arrival.

The Airbus A380 is the world's biggest passenger airliner. It can seat a maxiumum of something like 850 people in economy class, although most airlines will install a mixture of seating classes and carry 500 or so. It has a double-decker seating arrangement, you can clearly see the two rows of windows in the fuselage. It is a massive aeroplane but very agile for its size. This example has no seats installed, and was light on fuel, to enable it to land at Oshkosh. The runway here is at the short end of the usable size of runway for an A380. The pilot made a very good display of the aircraft, showing off its many wheels and even doing a Cobra maneuver, showing 30-degree pitch up and down. A very big, impressive aircraft.

By this time, I was quite fatigued and wandered off to the media center in search of anyone I knew. Chances were slim to find anyone since the airshow was going on, but I also wanted to sit at a table and solar-charge my phone which was running down. @pilot2b showed up not long after, so Marty and I sat and talked for a little while. Then my phone rang, it was Mark Twombly seeing if I wanted to visit the seaplane base. Of course I did! So I went over to the Seaplane Pilots' Association (SPA) booth to meet with Mark. Mark's son Ian was also there. We headed for Mark's car but while en route, he called to see what was going on at the seaplane base - the wind was very gusty and nothing was flying, so we went back to the house Ian was staying at and had a couple of beers, before going into Oshkosh and finding a restaurant at which we had a nice meal. I was also lucky to meet a couple more AOPA guys including Chris Rose, whose photo work I have always admired.


I had promised Lynda that I would spend a couple of hours working at her booth this morning, as she was short of staff. So from 09:00-11:00 I asked passing folks if they were familiar with the Girls With Wings project, which encourages young women into aviation as a means to achieve their potential. I sold a few T-shirts and pieces of jewellery which was an entertaining way to spend the time.

Once released, I went to find some food, and charged my phone again whilst eating. I switched my phone on just in time to receive a message from Dave Allen (@daveflys), asking me if I'd be around at 13:00 as he needed my help. It turned out, he was due to fly in a Cessna 206 and wanted to put me in the back to take some photos! Of course I was up for this!

I will spend more time on this subject in a separate blog post, but for now here is the 206 that we flew in:

And after this ride, we were very lucky to be able to jump into this lovely Cessna Citation Mustang, which was flown by our own Steve Tupper aka @StephenForce!

We didn't get back from Appleton until 19:30 in the evening, so we all ended up having beers and brats at Firebase @myTransponder.


After the glorious weather of the last couple of days, it was a rude awakening on Thursday to find the skies coated in grey rainclouds. It drizzled and poured alternately for much of the day. However, this is Oshkosh, so a bit of rain doesn't dampen one's spirits! Off to the seaplane base as planned.

It was, as expected, pretty quiet at the seaplanes, but although it was raining, the wind was calm, so there were a few movements. I took a pontoon boat tour around the harbour to get closer to the aircraft, and found some very nice examples moored around and about. For example, here's an Aviat Husky floating in amongst some water lilies.

Without much action happening here, I returned to the main showground and texted a few people to see if they were about. Rodolfo answered and we arranged to meet near the Warbirds, which eventually happened.... I spent some time looking at the Warbirds on my own before we found each other and wandered back towards Jon and Hofy who were waiting by the flightline. Meanwhile, I got a text from Larry Grace of ISAP, bidding me to meet him at the Media Center at 13:15. Leaving Rodolfo and the others, I found a bunch of ISAP folks there so we chewed the fat a while before Larry showed up.

Larry is a true star and one of those guys who looks out for his friends, especially when they're ISAP members. He found me a really good place to watch the afternoon's air show from.

Cirrus Jet

That night, it was scheduled to be the @MyTransponder party back at the camp site. This turned out to be a riot (the pleasant kind!) with about 40 people showing up from all over the twitter/blogosphere. Kind folks from Remos Aircraft (Gordon Suttie, @remospilot) and @ForeFlight were dishing out T-shirts and hats - thanks guys! It was great to see @JenniferWhitley there too, with her friend Bo, both from the Austin area. I've met Jennifer before at Temple airshow. There was a big inflatable video screen showing a live feed of tweets, anything sent to Twitter maked '#osh09' was showing up there. I was pleased to meet Christopher O'Callaghan of AOPA; we spent some time chatting. I was very happy to see Will Hawkins @pilotwill again after our jaunt down to San Antonio a couple of months ago with @stephenforce, we shared a beer and conversation and talked about photos and Will and Rico's forthcoming film, A Pilot's Story. It was a real shame Rico wasn't about, I spent the entire week looking for but not finding him; hope you're doing OK, Rico! @pilot2b, @airpigz, @bilwil, @pilotdamon, @DaveFlys, @adamcanfly, @OnTheFlightLine, @rodrakic and our gracious host @mike_miley were all present (did I miss anyone?); it was a fab party and great to spend time with everyone, making new friendships and reinforcing existing ones.


A slower start this morning, perhaps just as well after the late night before! Larry picked me up at 08:30 with his friend Jonathon (who lives about 5 minutes away from my Dad in the UK, as it turns out!) and we went back to the seaplane base - this morning, in beautiful sparkling sunshine. We met up with Jon Berry (@gonjon), David Leininger and Jurgen Radler; we were a mixture of ISAP and Fred Miranda members, all enjoying the seaplanes in the morning sun.

One aircraft we had come to see was this Icon seaplane, a new kit plane with folding wings which I believe is a first for a seaplane:

Plenty of other aircraft were floating about, including this Micro Mong, here seen doing a spirited takeoff:

One unexpected delight was the sight of the Canadian Lancaster flying overhead! This had sat on Aeroshell Square all week but could not fly much due to the 50-hour time before overhaul (TBO) on this aircraft type; the Canadians need to keep some hours on it for their own shows.

After a few hours of watching aircraft splash about, we repaired back to the main site and got lunch in Arby's (I think) before going back inside. We also met up with Frans Dely and his friend Gisela, both from South Africa. Frans is the man responsible for those stunning T-6 formation waterskiing shots a few years ago. Larry took us all down to meet with Paul Bowen who is one of the world's top aviation photographers, an ISAP member and an all-round great guy. He was signing his Air To Air books in the Flying Magazine tent. He was extremely kind, and gave us each a signed copy of whichever book we chose. Thanks Paul, you're a star!

Around this time, White Knight 2 was flying another demo:

Larry, Jonathon and I tried to get a photo spot on the flightline with Jon Berry, Hofy and Jurgen but it was way too crowded, so we jumped into Larry's car and drove right across to the southern end of the runway, just in time for the A380 takeoff. We watched the afternoon's air show very comfortably without too many people crowding around. Here's Ed Hamill's Pitts landing:

We regrouped after the show with more ISAP folks at the media tent where we enjoyed a group discussion about ISAP and the forthcoming symposium in Las Vegas, and other ideas for the organisation. Later on we decamped to Applebees restaurant for dinner, and as luck would have it, Dan Beauvais, Bryan and Claudia Stock joined us at the next table which made a good gathering even better.

Larry dropped me off at the campsite, where I made a bee line straight back to the @MyTransponder base camp, with a slight detour via the @Airpigz gathering which was almost next door. I sat and talked with the assembled company before they dispersed, then rejoined Mike and some others in the RV, unwilling to end my last night at Oshkosh. But after a while my own campsite beckoned...


I awoke to the sound of thin rain pattering on my tent fabric. Scrambled to strike camp before the rain got worse. Managed to shove everything under Lynda's shelter where I was able to dry the tent a bit with a towel before packing it up, it wasn't perfect but it got the worst off. Lynda kindly gave me a ride over to @MyTransponder to dump my heavy bags for a few hours. @Daveflys was there, so I walked with him up to the showground before we parted ways; him to the EAA radio station, me to the classics and ultralights, where I spent a merry hour or so examining those.

I came back through Aeroshell Square and the EAA tent, and saw this Canadian Lysander again (here photographed a couple of days earlier)

Back to Firebase @MyT and by now, everyone was up and had just eaten pancakes. Star that he is, Mike made a fresh batch for me :-) So now, I could bid my farewells to folks on a hearty breakfast, and catch my bus ride back to Appleton, and my flight back through Chicago to Austin.

So here I am, now reflecting on a fine week in Wisconsin. Once again, just like Sun'n'Fun earlier this year, the week has unfolded with surprises and unexpected delights, old friends and new, and it might sound cheesy but it leaves me with a warm glow inside. I am lucky to have such kind and generous friends, and I really hope I can repay the favours they have done for me.

Roll on #OSH10!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Greetings from Chicago

Drinking a Honkers Ale while waiting for my flight back to Austin. It is tasty.

Cessna 206 taxi

Here is the Cessna taxiing out with @mike_miley inside, after I flew in it.

Cessna 195

Just one of the many gorgeous classics dotted around the field.