22 December 2014

Wrapping up the Year

2014 has definitely been the most enjoyable of the last few years that I've been fortunate enough to be employed as a pilot, with the move up from single engine jumper-dumpers to a twin engine aerial photography role, along with the relocation back to an Auckland base.

Throughout the last 10 months with my current company, I've flown sorties all over the country, with jobs ranging from Northland down to Canterbury, and everywhere in between. The day to day variety is the main factor that keeps my enthusiasm for flying renewed, with a different view out the window and new airports to land at each flight.

The majority of our contracts come from the aggregate industry, requiring regular flights overhead quarry sites as their physical dimensions change on a monthly basis. Other large scale industrial projects such as canal construction, pipeline construction, tidal sandbank evaluations and highway modifications have required large areas of top down photographic coverage. We fly these at a variety of altitudes, with a single flight line at around 3000 feet AGL for the smaller sites, up to large scale grids at 9000 feet AGL, with the runs all plugged into a GPS mounted on the yoke then flown by hand.

My boss also took delivery of a high end quad-rotor UAV later in the year which I've been trained to use and have been flying commercially for the company in a similar manner to the aeroplane, all be it on a smaller scale at low levels. The drone is controlled from a tablet style interface, with flight line grids easily placed over the top of existing aerial photos of the area, and it's on board camera then able to capture and compile high quality up to date imagery for the client. Once downloaded and imported into the accompanying software, this can generate digital 3D models and be used to calculate volumes, dimensions and distances, and is often used for stockpile sites to ensure the sites actual production is matching the companies forecasts.

I also get employed to assist during ground level surveys, collecting GPS 'control' co-ordinates off certain road markings, or custom made wooden crosses around the perimeter of the area we are planning to fly, that are easily visible from the air. Once we have flown the area and photographed it, this survey data can be used to tie the imagery with an exact latitude, longitude and elevation, down to an accuracy of around 1cm in most cases. Thanks to this necessary requirement for each new location that hasn't been flown previously by our company, I get to do a fair bit of exploring off the beaten track to places that I most likely would have never visited otherwise, and it's always surprising just how different the terrain can look from ground level compared to out the cockpit window!

To finish off the year, I've assembled my a collection of snaps taken on the job since March, both from the ground and from the sky. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to visit the blog, and all those who have taken the time to comment or get in touch. Enjoy the Christmas break if you get one, see you in 2015!

Pacific Coast Views

At the beginning of last week, a large anticyclone was covering the South Island and created perfect weather for an aerial photography job waiting to be flown near NZCH. I took the 310 down from Ardmore to Christchurch IFR on the Monday, and enjoyed some stunning views along the way:

A cloudless Cook Straight
Marlborough Sounds
'Big Lagoon' and the Awatere Valley
The Kaikoura coastline
A few specs of snow left on the Kaikoura Ranges
Kaikoura Peninsula
A few days later up in the Northern Canterbury foothills
The Hurunui River, nearby Lake Taylor

14 November 2014

Aerial Photography

It isn't just about taking pictures whilst flying! There's plenty more to the job than that, and I've been intrigued to learn about all sorts of post processing applications of the top-down imagery captured whilst on photography operations over the last nine months at my current employer.

I've been given permission to share the following output files from a recent flight over White Island, off the coast of the Bay of Plenty. I flew directly overhead the steaming crater at 6000 feet, whilst the camera operator in the rear of the aircraft shot a line of overlapping images through a special hatch in the floor. After landing, the film roll then got sent away, processed and returned to our head office a few days later ready to be scanned in at an extraordinary high resolution digital format for further analysis. Once on the in house computer system, this allows for the generation of simple .JPEG previews of individual frames if required, scaled down from several gigabytes to just 1 megabyte in this 1000 pixels wide example:

Next is where the real magic happens. I don't understand the process completely, but my novice attempt at an explanation goes as follows: The scale of the aerial photographs get geometrically corrected to remove angular distortions and the vertical variations from the topography underneath. The resulting flattened orthograph can then be used to accurately measure distances, depths and volumes relative to known GPS points on a countrywide database. The clever software it gets fed into reads thousands of X,Y and Z coordinates from the photography data, and is then able to create three dimensional 'point cloud' reconstructions of the terrain that was below the flight path. This quick video that I put together on one of the work computers this morning, showcases the interesting volcanic landscape from the above picture set, comprising of over 12 million separate data points. The accuracy achieved to display each individual contour like this is fascinating to me!

13 November 2014

Rangitoto Airspace Closed

With heads of state from Canada, Chile, and Germany in town, a temporary restricted area around Rangitoto Island and Motutapu Island has coincidently been NOTAM'ed for tomorrow. NZR193 is active between 1400 and 1530 hours local on Friday 14 November 2014. No low level buzzes over the crater in the afternoon!

Auckland Airspace Changes 2014

With the latest VNC maps becoming current as of today, I thought it may be beneficial to make a quick post mentioning the numerous changes to airspace in the Auckland region for those local pilots who haven't managed to get their hands on their own copy yet. These are are all detailed further on AIP Supplements Airspace effective 16 October 2014.

Firstly, the explosives storage facility at Waitawa Bay, near Kawakawa Bay (previously D223) has been disestablished. The small peninsular where it was located still remains clear of Low Flying Zone L266 however.

A small new General Aviation Area, G152 titled Moir Hill has been added at the northern edge of the North Shore CFZ, stretching between the Northland railway line and the eastern coastline just north of Puhoi. It is active from 3500 to 4500 feet, with ATC approval during daylight only.

Woodhill Forest GAA, formerly G158 has now become G155 from 2500 to 3500 feet. A new layer has been added on top of that, named Waitoki (G153) and extends from 3500 to 4500 feet, with ATC approval during daylight only. This upper layer also covers all the old G159 (Whenuapai GAA) and the entire portion of the North Shore CFZ that lies over land, exuding the new Moir Hill segment mentioned above.

The old Whenuapai G159 has been changed to G154, still from 2500 to 3500ft with ATC approval.

A new thin triangular slither has been created overhead the circular danger area surrounding the RNZAF base, now known as G156 (Hobsonville) and can also be entered between 2500 and 3500 feet with ATC approval (From Auckland Approach 124.3, not Whenuapai Tower).

Parakai has now been given it's own MBZ (B178), from the surface to 2500 feet on frequency 123.5 MHz.

As seen in the diagram above, North Shore's CFZ now extends well out into the Gulf, encompassing the Whangaparoa Heads, Tiritiri Matangi Island all the way to the 20DME boundary line from NZWP, cutting into what used to be the Hauraki Gulf CFZ.

Danger Area D130 (The defence force live firing area on the Whangaparoa Heads, not shown in the diagram above) and its neighbour D125 (the larger Navy exercise area) are now encompassed within North Shores' CFZ limits from the surface to 1200 feet, and from either the surface or 1200 feet to a higher NOTAMed upper limit respectively. (Page 12 of the AIP supplement explains this with a easy to understand graphic)

The Great Barrier MBZ (B174) now stretches further to the south east to Cuvier Island, formerly well within the (Coromandel) Peninsular CFZ.

Auckland International's control zone has had a kink
chipped away in its northern boundary overhead Onehunga, to facilitate the re-establishment of Pikes Point heliport that falls inside the Auckland City MBZ (aka City Traffic). With the change in the MBZ dimensions, it has changed designation code from B177 to B179.

Ardmore Military Zone, formerly M200 and now labelled M201 that sits close to the downwind leg of both runway directions at NZAR, has had a boundary increased slightly further to the south and east to meet Hunua Road and Ardmore Quarry Road, as well as up from 1700 to 2300 feet. Pilots who are navigating the often flown path between M201 and the Drury D235 danger area should be careful not to breach it, particularly those flying the visual segment of the SY3G instrument departure.

The north eastern fringe of the Ardmore MBZ (B272) has also been stretched out to encompass Clevedon VRP, with the base leg of the 21 circuit often getting pushed out that far during busy traffic periods.The upper limit of the MBZ has changed from an all inclusive 2500 feet to LLCA, with a portion of the MBZ now falling underneath Aucklands CTA with a lower limit of 1500 feet.

Mercer has had it's D222 danger area disestablished, with the removal of parachute landing area P212 from the charts. Commercial skydive operations have not been conducted at the airfield since Part 115 rules came into effect, although caution should still be exercised with a high amount of training aircraft from Ardmore visiting, and large scale model aircraft often flown from the field during weekends.

11 November 2014

Eagle Dropping Routes

A big announcement out of Air NZ HQ today, confirming the following routes are to be dropped by Air NZ Link as of April 2015:
  • Kaitaia - Auckland
  • Whangarei - Wellington
  • Whakatane - Auckland
  • Taupo - Wellington
  • Palmerston North - Nelson
  • Westport - Wellington
Unfortunately this means Kaitaia, Whakatane and Westport will no longer be served at all by Eagle, who have reportedly been loosing NZ$1 million per month for the last two years. Today also marks the public confirmation of the circulating rumours that the regional fleet will be consist exclusively of Q300 and ATR-72's types by August 2016 when the last B1900D is forecast to exit service. A significant reduction in outside recruitment from the national carrier is now expected as a result of the provincial restructuring, that will undoubtedly have a knock on effect throughout the general aviation industry nationwide.

As a sweetner, the same media release included details of the planned launch of a new "Regional Gotta Go" fare structure from February 2015. With the idea behind it being flexibility for last minute travel to and from the provinces, costing a flat rate of $169 per single sector, or $249 for a double sector purchased from 90 minutes prior to the first flights departure.

Read the full story here.

29 October 2014

Singapore A380

Singapore Airlines have started operating their Airbus A380 equiptment on the SQ285  SIN-AKL route as of yesterday. The airframe used on the inaugural flight was 9V-SKB, one of the oldest in service being the 5th A380 off the Airbus production line delivered in 2008. All things going to plan, I'll be able to book myself a staff travel airfare through the family on the return SQ286 route for a planned holiday to the Northern Hemisphere next year, thanks to the codeshare agreement with Air New Zealand.

Further photographs and more comprehensive information on the new flight schedule can be found over at MRC Aviation. Below are a couple extra photos of aircraft at NZAA that were going about buisness just before the superjumbo landed late morning.

One of two remaining F27 Friendships
Sharklet configured ZK-OXF, delivered on July 25th 2014
VH-VGA, hopping between domestic and international ops
ZK-NCJ unusually parked at a domestic gate

12 October 2014

VFR to Tauranga

Like many others, I'd made a promise to a family friend that I'd take him up for a flight one day so he could get an understanding for the reason I always babel on about aviation and flying. Plan A was to fly him and his son down from Ardmore to the grandparents in Whakatane, but 40 knots of wind at 2000 feet last Saturday led to me delaying the flight untill yesterday, when conditions were much more favourable for the first time flyers in the back seat.

I'd hired the same trusty C172 that I'd been using to build my night flying hours in, and enjoyed a change of pace from my recent flying, low and slow VFR down to Tauranga (where granddad was waiting) and back, with a headwind of 20 knots on the way, and a matching tailwind on the reverse leg. Skies were mostly clear, and we dropped down to 1000 feet AGL where we could for the passengers to check out the scenery. Accompanying kid 1 in the back was his friend, who had come along for a surprise birthday treat. Everyone enjoyed themselves, no one chundered from the occasional bump (bonus) and even though I was about five days away from becoming uncurrent in the one-seventy-twice, I managed to pull off relatively smooth landings and keep the ball in the centre for the most part!

Below are some snap from my front seat passenger, pinched from his facebook. Cheers Rik!

Ardmore Airshow, 23rd November

More information on the NZ Warbirds facebook event page.

18 September 2014

Astore Air to Air

These air to air shots of Tecnam Astore, which I flew at the end of August, come from NZ Aviation News editor John King and retain his copyright. Expect to see some higher resolution copies of these in the October issue alongside my review.

Flying a Rolls-Royce

Last week I flew a Rolls-Royce. Or to be more specific, I flew an aircraft powered by a Rolls Royce engine.

As much as I would have liked to claim said engine belonged to the Trent turbofan family, this wasn't the case. It was actually a 4 cylinder Continental piston engine, designated the Rolls-Royce O-200A, and manufactured under licence in Britain.

The powerplant belonged to Piper Super Cub, ZK-BQY, an Ardmore based taildragger which I have been taking some lessons in to recement the basic tailwheel principles after 900 odd hours flying tricycles. The last time I'd logged anything other than a nosewheeler was in Andrew Hope's Citabria, ZK-CIT, way back in 2007.

The reason I felt the need to do so was the realisation that my skills needed a definite brush up after accepting an offer to soon be flying another much larger Ardmore based taildragger. I don't want to mention the aircraft by name just yet, although if you've visited Hamilton Airport within the last week, you might have noticed it sitting outside on the western apron minus one of its propellers...

Anyhow the main difference between the taildragger and the tricycle design is it's directional stability, or apparent lack there of. With the centre of gravity positioned aft of the main landing gear, the design is inherently unstable during the takeoff and landing phase. When only the main wheels are in contact with the runway surface, the natural motion of the aircraft will be to swap ends on itself, with rearward weight wanting to pivot itself around the tyres.

There are a few tricks and tips to managing this, all of which involve very lively rudder inputs- almost a constant dance of the pedals as my instructor worded it- in effort to prevent a ground loop.

Raising the tail from the ground also provide its own challenge, with the relative slipstream from the propeller providing little response from the lower elevator and rudder control surfaces at slow forward speed.

Lesson one was to override my natural instinct to hold the stick back upon landing, deliberately checking forward instead to keep the tail flying for as long as possible upon touch down, maximising steering authority from the airflow past the rudder. The style of landing is known as a Wheeler landing, and I'm told is the more controllable option when compared to a Three Pointer landing.

This was done by applying full power, lifting the tail, gently pinching back on the stick to break ground, then reducing the throttle, relanding, holding the tail up, guiding myself as straight as possible down the centreline, before increasing throttle again and repeating the takeoff. This process was repeated up to four times along the length of Ardmore's 1300m sealed runway, before climbing away to join the circuit as per normal.

The whole process requires a much higher level of focus to be maintained when compared with driving the likes of a C172 on and off the deck, but felt rewarding when I pulled off touchdowns that didn't cause my instructor to cringe. More work will be required before I'm up to standard, but I'm looking forward to the enjoyable challenge!

Air to Air with BQY, last summer during an Auckland Seaplanes photoshoot

12 September 2014

Healthy Bastards Bush Champs 2015

Registrations are now open for the 3rd annual Healthy Bastards Bush Pilot Champs this coming summer at Omaka. The cost is $50 for one entry into either the Precision Landing competition or the STOL Takeoff and Landing contest, and an extra $25 if you would like to enter the second category.

Visit marlboroughaeroclub.co.nz for more info.

29 August 2014

Tecnam Astore

The latest aircraft I've had the pleasure of reviewing for the NZ Aviation News is Tecnam's Astore (pronounced Ah-story, in an Italian accent) with the demonstrator, ZK-AST being the first of it's type to be registered in New Zealand this month.

Expect a full write up in the October issue of the paper, but for now, here are a few snaps of mine from the day.

C180 ZK-SLM, also based at Ardmore came up with us on a second flight for an air to air photography formation flight at the end of the afternoon.

Resident Ardmore photographer Colin Hunter was also on hand to capture the aircraft from the ground, and sent me these photographs departing and landing from runway 03:

24 August 2014

Girlfriend's 1st Flight

After five years of patiently putting up with my aviation obsession, my girlfriend took her own first flight at the controls yesterday in one of Auckland Aero Club's C162 Skycatchers! Conditions were perfect for it, with beautiful clear skies and a gentle south westerly breeze allowing her to comfortably complete her first official lesson.

I'd definitely recommend AAC for anyone in the area considering learning to fly themselves. The club's been around for over 80 years- the staff are friendly and passionate about what they teach, and the aircraft hire rates are reasonable. Thanks to everyone involved in making yesterday happen!

15 August 2014

Saitek Simpit

Saitek have been sending me monthly instalments of hardware from their Pro Flight simulation range since May, which I've been reviewing for them in the NZ Aviation News. The first three articles have been shared to the official Saitek blog, and can be read by visiting: www.saitek.com/blog/new-zealand-aviation/

12 August 2014

News Round Up

A350 Demo
Hot on the heels of the Boeing 787-900 hype from July, Airbus brought their A350 XWB into Auckland International for a brief visit on the 5th August as part of a world tour. Chris Gee from StereoImage had a pass to photograph the airliner, and has a public album or images viewable on his facebook page.

SQ A380
Singapore Airlines have announced they will be utilising Airbus A380 aircraft on the AKL-SIN route for the duration of the Southern Hemisphere summer season. This will make the airline only the second operator to bring the super jumbo to Auckland on a regular basis, after Emirates' three daily flights to Dubai via Australia. From October 27th this year, the aircraft will fly SQ285, scheduled to arrive at Auckland at 11.45am local, and SQ286 will depart again at 1.30pm local daily. Full story here.

Crosswind Vector
A fellow pilot I met whilst flying together in Omaka last month has set her own blog up at Crosswindvector.blogspot.com. Bernice also writes for the Aviation News, but is reserving her blog publications for more 'left of field' articles. Be sure to check it out and be amused!

New Address
I've finally got around to pairing a shortened domain name, www.ardmorepilot.com to the original free www.ardmorepilot.blogspot.com URL. Both addresses will still work when you punch them in to your browsers, but for the sake of keeping it simple, remember to bookmark the newer shortened ardmorepilot.com!