29 October 2015


Another cross country trip that I was fortunate enough to be involved in recently was the ferry flight of ZK-DAK back from her annual winter maintenance visit, from Palmerston North up to Ardmore. This was my first flight on the DC3 since I had finished my type rating, after several scenic and charter opportunities that I had been rostered to fly were cancelled due wx.

I'd pax'ed down to NZPM with the Captain on Air NZ earlier in the morning, filled the mains with avgas and started her up just after lunchtime. Wind gusts of 39 knots were reported on the ATIS, so I was more than happy to let the much more experienced pilot in the left seat get her off the ground before being handing over control for the remainder of the flight.

We were able to zip up to 9500 feet controlled VFR for the stretch home, with the snowy summit of Mount Ruapehu only partially revealing itself from the surrounding banks of CU on our way north.

Auckland's ATIS was playing OVC by the time we were in close enough range to pick up the frequency, so we ducked down through some scattered layers to pop out under the base just south of Raglan, and continue the remainder of the flight low level back into NZAR.

A few currency circuits later, DAK was parked up once again next to the UNICOM tower at Ardmore ready for a busy summer of flying.

25 October 2015

737 Final Call

Looking back through my camera roll, the next bit of excitement came in the form of an unexpected invitation to ride as a passenger on a late afternoon 737 flight just over a month ago.

This wasn't just any old commuter flight however, it was Air New Zealand's final ever passenger carrying flight with ZK-NGI- their last Boeing 737-300 in service- put on for Air New Zealand employees and their families. And it wasn't an A to B flight either, rather a scenic lap around the Auckland region, up at 6000 feet with the thrust levers sitting much further back than they're used to!

I'll let the piccys do the talking:

40 on the Nose

I had finished flying the C310 with the aerial survey company in the Autumn, with the expectation of starting the scheduled passenger run with my new operator come the beginning of winter. However with red tape being what it is, this start date was continually pushed out from 'any day now' to 'just a couple of weeks' and then 'a couple more weeks' as the year rolled on.

Finding myself without steady income, I ended up starting my own UAV company using a small camera drone that I had originally purchased for fun to sell stabilised aerial video footage to real estate agents and land developers. This quickly became a full time gig during my downtime and I had a job request come in from the Wairarapa through a friend of a friend.

As it turns out, this friend was also a pilot and after accepting the job, we flew down to Wellington together to meet the client. This trip was originally planned to be flown in his own PA34, although due to unscheduled maintenance requirements it became unavailable at the last minute and we ended up hiring a C172 from the North Shore Aero Club.

We preflighted the aircraft at dawn with the hopes of arriving in the Capital mid morning, although 40 knot headwinds forecast all the way up from 3000 feet delayed our ETA significantly. The groundspeed was painfully slow at every level we tried, down as low at 52 knots at one stage even with the RPM set towards the top of the green range. If I recall correctly, 45 minutes after getting airborne from NZNE, we had only just passed Port Waikato, and I could still see my house in the distance out the side window!

Fortunately the private 172 was a newer model equipped with the G1000 avionic suite and we utilised the range ring on the moving map to check our what endurance we could achieve with the fuel on board. To start with, it looked like we just stretch it to NZWN in one hop, although that soon became unachievable and we talked about diverting to NZPP for a fuel top up. Half an hour later, that option went out the window too and we ended up dropping into NZWU on the RNAV for a splash of gas a staggering 3 hours and 50 minutes later. Funnily enough this was the first time since leaving AFS that I had the opportunity to make use of the dubious single engine two pilot instrument rating, and with it's decent autopilot system, we actually managed to get clearance to fly a coupled ILS into Wellington upon our eventual arrival.

The rest of the day went according to plan, with beautiful clear skys in the 'Rapa and the lower wind dropping right off. It was dark by the time we got back to the airport for the return flight home, although fortunately we were able to take advantage of the tailwind up high with a non standard flightplan at 10,000 feet giving us 162 knots GS and getting us back to North Shore in 2 hours, 10 minutes including a reversal turn on the approach!

Descending over Tiger Country for Wangavegas
XOX at the WU pumps (try saying that callsign a couple of dozen times!)
On vectors for the approach
Titahi Bay, Porirua
Makara Wind Turbines
Looking over Newlands towards Wellington City
Lining up on runway 34 for our return leg

Bush Bashing in the 206

Another mid winter assignment for the Aviation News was a writeup on MAF's freshly imported C206 that had just arrived at Omaka, designated as a testing platform for pilots wishing to join the organisation and fly humanitarian missions for the organisation in the third world.

With a C206 rating under my belt, I was able to first partake in the local air to air photography flight on a murkey windy day around the Hunua ranges out of Ardmore for the front cover shot, before flying down to Blenhiem a couple of weeks later to be put through my paces in a pseudo flight test scenario for the sake of the article.

Anyone interested can read the article online for a limited time here, but for the rest of you, here are some happy snaps from the day:

ZK-MAF, formerly VH-UBV
MAF electronic check list box mod above the panel
Off airport landing site 1
The Awatere Valley
Off airport landing site 2, previously visited last year
Lake Grassmere salt flats
Cape Campbell airstrip

Flying Aboard SOFIA

Starting in chronological order with these photo dumps, the first noteworthy bit of aviating I was lucky enough to partake in was a flight aboard NASA's 747SP back at the beginning of July. This came about through communication with the operating crew over a two year period prior whilst researching an article I was freelance writing on the side for the New Zealand Aviation News; with the purpose of my invitation aboard this year being the documentation of the rather unusual aircraft's presence in our neck of the woods again.

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (abbreviated to SOFIA), is based out of Christchurch during our winter in order to take advantage of the clear dry skies in our corner of the world during the northern summer. 17 missions were flown out over the Southern Ocean under the cover of darkness, with the large onboard telescope able to measure infrared light targets not visible from the Northern Hemisphere.

I was on board flight 224 on July 3rd, a 10 hour sortie that with a flight path of 9197 kilometres down to a latitude of -64.105°S (A good 690 nautical miles south of the worlds southern most commerical airliner route) made the 19 of us aboard the aircraft, the 19 southern most souls airbourne globally at that time!

We progressively climbed up to 43,000 feet to cruise approximately 16,000 feet above the tropopause, well and truly in the stratosphere and with the equivalent air clarity of being in space itself. I had access to both the big monitors showing a live feed from the telescope, as well as the cockpit on the upper deck and free roam of the cabin, where I observed the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) for the first time.

On completion of the scientific data gathering, I took the jumpseat on the flightdeck at top of descent. It was a full moon night with CAVOK conditions and the entire South Island was visible from the cockpit, with my night vision so well adjusted by this time, it looked almost as clear as day. It's a pity I couldn't capture the view my eyes were seeing quite so well with my camera, but it's something I'll never forget!

SOFIA on the NZCH ramp
Flight Deck
Telescope Assembly
Live feed from the visual spectrum telescope attachment
Our flight path
The Flight Engineers' "Christmas Tree"
Long exposures of the Aurora
The Aurora again, very tricky to photograph!
The Aurora seen through NVG
FE's station- without a flash
Top of Drop
Over the Alps at 0330 AM local
Back on the apron, mission complete!

Quarterly Update

It's been nearly three months since I posted anything new here- an excuse usually blamed on my lack of flying, however during this time I've fortunately been getting airborne on a fairly regular basis for a change, and have a fair bit of new aviation related content to share.

A quick summary of my activity since I last blogged includes a trip aboard NASA's 747SP, a stint of bush bashing with MAF NZ's C206 down in the South Island, formation flying with a Harvard, and a new type rating on the PA31 along with my third MEIR renewal to begin charter and scheduled passenger operations for North Shore Air. I also hit 1000 hours total time and completed my first logbook, paxed on Air New Zealand's final B737 flight, as well as piloting some enjoyable (relativity) long distance cross country trips in both a C172 and a DC3 between Auckland and the lower North Island.

I had a camera, or at least my smartphone handy on most of these flights, and have always said to myself that the day I stop taking pictures from the sky is the day I no longer belong up there- so without further ado, I'll begin the uploading said photos into the following posts for the sake of documenting these occasions to look back on if nothing else!

One of my last flights on the C310, over the Central Plateau volcanoes

05 August 2015

Graphical SIGMET

As of 29th July, MetFlight users will now see Graphical SIGMET diagrams when loading up a weather briefing for the NZZO and NZZC flight information regions.

This is an excellent move by the provider, replacing the confusing paragraphs full of coordinates that took place of the plain English SIGMET descriptions back in November 2013. Skyvector.com was a go to place for many of us, as the website coding overlays these latitudes and longitudes onto the VFR and IFR sectional charts without requiring a log in- however having it all in one place by one provider is far more convenient and informative to the layman!

An example of today's weather is shown below as an example:

Further information about the new product can be found here:

It should also be noted that MetFlight GA access has once again been made free of charge to use, four years after the CAA controversially changed it in August 2011 to a pay to access service. To log in, use your pilots licence number in the Username box, and the initial issue date for the Password. (This is to entered d/mm/yyyy format, with no leading zero on the day but with a leading zero on the month.)

New Excel Logbook Product

Recently I was sent a sample of the CAA New Zealand Pilot Logbook product from www.excelpilotlogbook.com which I'm happy to report is now my go to digital backup of my paper book.

When I began flight training I originally designed my own spreadsheet to keep a digital copy of my flight hours, that I ended up uploading a blank template of to the blog for others to use. However, the commerical product that I've copied all my data into far supersedes this with plenty of customisable total tabs, IFR currency and duty hour countdowns, graphical analysis of the last month's flying, as well as individual aircraft totals, and behind the scene formulas that calculate the amount of take off and landings you have made in each type within the last 90 days for legality sake. 

A one time payment of $29 US will get you your own copy, compatible with desktop Microsoft Excel, the Excel App, as well as Numbers on Mac & iOS. Download it from: http://excelpilotlogbook.com/caa-new-zealand/

19 July 2015

Ardmore 'Tornado'

A powerful low pressure system made its presence felt in Auckland yesterday, tracking over the region from west to east during the late morning. The active band of thunderstorms it contained wasn't particularly thick, however the preceding gust front winds caught many by surprise- uprooting trees, blowing down fencing and even overturning several light aircraft out at Ardmore that had previously been tied down!

The mainstream news reported several 'mini tornadoes' witnessed my members of the public, with social media linking the buzzword to the events that occurred at Ardmore, although having been at home just three minutes drive away, I can't say I noticed any form of rotational wind myself during the passage of the storm. Gusts of 40 knots had been forecast in NZAA's morning TAF, with the highest gust of the day being recorded as 41 knots (76km/h).

The rain radar as of 11:20AM on the 18th
ZK-AWN ('Merv') resting inverted on the tail of fellow C162, ZK-VCG
ZK-JAZ on it's back outside the Auckland Aero Club
A camera installed inside Yuri Vorontsov's car happened to capture the exact moment that the 172 above was flipped vertically, which he has sent in to me and given permission to be reposted here:

Jaribu ZK-DIZ parked a few meters away also succoured a similar fate, and has been documented over on the NZ Civil Aircraft blog.

15 July 2015

DC3 Update

Managing to complete my type rating in the DC3 required a lot of patience. Waiting for the sun moon and stars to align was an analogy that was thrown around more than once, with our chief pilot only being available on select days that he wasn't captaining a B777 around the globe for his day job, and my friend who I'd been paired with for our simultaneous conversion training taking several holidays over the last couple of months. That and the weather- always an excuse that's used with delays relating to anything of significance in aviation, which I'm guilty of using myself countless times on this blog.

Anyhow since my last update, we managed to schedule a several more sessions of circuits in the old girl, and I think I've made something like 25 or 30 landings now, only really getting the hang of keeping it straight down the middle of the runway towards the end of the training program. With our left hand engine producing slightly less power output than the right, we were taught to lead with the left throttle to keep the thrust as symmetrical as possible. I'd found setting the right amount of split between the two levers a bit of a challenge resulting in a swing off to one side during the go around roll, but managed to kick the habit after swapping into the jumpseat and being able to observe my buddy's hand positions during the same procedure, and then mimic them.

I also achieved some rather 'positive' touchdowns during those circuit lessons, either chopping the throttle too early- a habit I'd picked up flying the much smaller twins, or flaring too high and picking up a high rate of descent. Thankfully it all started gelling together in the end and I now have the privilege of reading the words 'Douglas DC-3' inked on my type rating page in the front of my logbook!

All going to plan, I'll have several flights in ZK-DAK to report back on later in the month, but for now I'll just add a couple of great photos captured by my brother who came out to Ardmore back in March during the aforementioned training sessions, and a cheeky selfie from last weekend: