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. A local tourism operator called Pacific Trailways has successfully sold two nationwide VFR charter tours in the aircraft, that'll see us taking her all the way down to Te Anau and back on 12 day flyaways during February and March. All going well, I'll hoping to be crewing some of these flights and will do my best to collect as many photographs as possible from our travels!

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!