Sport Avex 2008 - Sunday 17 Feb 2008

Arrived at the club around 8.00am to get everything organised. It was a glorious Sunday morning, with a few wisps of stratus around and some cumulus building out to the west but we were heading east so it was no big deal.

I was going to fly FWS over to Tauranga with flying buddy Gav, along with Chris, Aaron and one of the Clubs life members Mike in JGP. The plan was that we'd take off as together as separation allowed and fly to Tauranga together. As it happened they called ready first and was cleared for takeoff on Runway 18. I decided to request the same since we were two up with full tanks. Chris said later that he enjoyed watching our takeoff and climb from the upwind leg as they headed out to the Scott sector.

We had planned on choosing an unused frequency to talk on but on the way over we had the wrong one selected so neither plane could talk to each other. That brought home the usefulness of a thorough preflight briefing.

We eventually called clear of Hamilton airspace with JGP a nice speck in our window against the dawn sky about a mile ahead. I settled in to follow them. Gav pointed out another aircraft at 10 o'clock and we saw a Vans RV fly past at our altitude about 300m away. I wondered if he was supposed to pass us on the right but he was far enough away not to cause any alarm.

It wasn't until we were approaching the Kaimai's that things started to run not so smoothly for us. Chris the old hand got cleared into the control zone with plenty of time and space to use. I reported in at the same spot but the poor radio discipline of some pilots meant that calls were not as concise as they should be and I had to turn away from my track lest I bust airspace. Eventually I got cleared in on a Racecourse 1 arrival which I proceeded to follow. By now we'd lost sight of Chris and he was about 3-4 miles ahead happily radioing in at the holding point and being cleared to descend into the circuit for 25.

I reported approaching the hospital but some pilot in another plane (I know which plane but will not divulge it to the open net) decided to have a lengthy chat on the tower frequency about his parking spot. I made a split second decision to orbit but chose the wrong direction and realised this when I was already in a place I really shouldn't have been. The tower called me up and asked my intentions. I replied that I was holding at the hospital and they cleared me to descend into the circuit. By the time I was downwind, Chris was on finals for the grass and was cleared to land on Grass 25. I reported downwind and was instructed to orbit to maintain separation. I bit back the impulse (this is a joke by the way) to tell the controller he owed me two beers (the Archer costs NZ$3 a minute to fly and one orbit is 2 minutes in length) and started the orbit. Once complete I was cleared to approach the tarmac runway 25 behind a Devon I spotted on base turning finals.

I reduced power and began to make my approach and we landed without further incident. I was instructed to hold on the taxiway as there was aircraft landing on the Grass adjacent to me and eventually I was instructed to taxi to the apron and contact the Ground controller for parking instructions. When I called ground they said to "park behind the Tomahawk." So we taxied forwards slowly dodging planes going in all sorts of directions till we spotted a Tomahawk and I slotted in behind it and shut down.

It was an interesting contrast between Chris's flight and my own and as we discussed it as we strolled over to the show area.

There was a lot of interesting aircraft at the parking area as well as a fair number of people for 9am in the morning, so we wandered around snapping photos of things of interest and chatting to enthusiastic owners of aircraft as well as salesmen (and saleswomen too!) trying to generate interest in the latest sport planes. I must admit, there certainly were some tasty aircraft on static display there that caught my eye. I particularly liked the Alpi Pioneer but my favourite plane was the futuristic looking Seawind.

The flying display was of a standard similar to the 2006 show which I really enjoyed. Highlights were the Yak 52 display team, the RNZAF Red Chequers display team, the original P51 Mustang and the De Havilland Vampire. Some people have commented that the Vampire sounds like a vacuum cleaner. After hearing one do some low passes I'd have to agree, but that didn't detract from the amazing show the display pilot put on.

We made our way back to the aircraft and had preflighted, boarded and were ready to depart when the airport reopened at 1430 hours. There were a couple of aircraft ahead but we didn't face the same queues we had in 2006. I had a lump in my throat as I lined up FWS onto Grass 25. They had shortened the runway length to 550m and although we were only two up with full tanks on a hot afternoon I have had a few moments of worry getting FWS off the ground in similar conditions (although with hindsight the 12 knots of headwind meant I need not have worried). I chose to make a short field take off so I lowered two notches of flap and after being cleared for take off I stood hard on the brakes as I slowly opened the throttle to full power, then I released the brakes and off we went. It was with huge relief that I saw the airspeed indicator flick and come alive after about 100m (being a pressure differential instrument it requires airflow to become effective). I checked the engine instruments again and everything was as they should be so I rotated at 50 knots indicated and FWS sprang into the air at 55. I made a slight left turn away from the display line as the public area was right underneath the Grass 25 centreline. We were cleared for a racecourse 1 departure so I climbed to 1500 feet and looked ahead for Chris and the guys in JGP who yet again had gotten ahead of me.

Before I began the preflight I was speaking to some guys who were milling around an immaculate 172 about the flying conditions. One of them said they were heading back to Whenuapai, which made them Airforce guys. When I said I was bound for Hamilton he wished me luck as things would be pretty lumpy overhead the Kaimai's. They were intending to climb to 5500 and cruise back to Auckland in controlled airspace. I considered climbing into controlled airspace too for the trip back to Hamilton for a moment or two but in the end I chose to simply follow Chris back.

As soon as I was clear of Tauranga airspace I began a climb to 3500 to clear the Kaimai's with enough ground clearance to hopefully get above the worst of the turbulence. It was actually surprisingly smooth, sure there was the odd bump here and there but it wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting.

In a replay of the mornings flight I was again following Chris at about a mile trail, his plane again a speck in the windscreen highlighted this time by the setting afternoon sun. We both made calls as we descended through the Matamata MBZ and he called up Hamilton tower some distance from the control zone and was cleared in 2500 feet or below to join right base for Grass 25. I called up about 15 seconds later and after the tower had established that I had Chris insight I was given the same clearance with instructions to follow him.

I noted that during the flight back in the climb I could catch Chris but on descents he rapidly got away from us. I lost him a couple of times but finally picked him up again as he made a left turn to join right base for Grass 25. He was quite wide so I chose to cut the corner and make up some of the gap. He was about to turn finals for 25 when a Beech 1900D on a visual approach was cleared into the downwind. I could not see Chris but was instructed to separate myself from the Beech which I picked up visually fairly quickly. He was downwind so I slowed FWS up and dropped two notches of flap. Eventually I settled on a nose attitude that would give me 80 knots and turned final with about 3 miles to the threshold. During this time Chris had been ordered to go around and was nicely sequenced in behind me. I then made sure that the Beech would be on the ground and clear before I was even remotely close to landing in case the controller might decide to send me around as well. There was plenty of low level turbulence and chop on the Grass 25 approach as there normally is in the prevalent westerly winds at Hamilton, but I was expecting it and played with the throttle to maintain our descent profile. I also chose to come in fairly quick, 75 knots to smooth out some of the chop. Once we cleared the boundary fence I let the airspeed drop too quickly and had to lower the nose and apply some generous throttle to sort things out. We eventually crossed the markers and I cut the power and let the airspeed bleed off and we touched down with a couple of skips.

I taxied us back, shut down and begun to secure FWS for the night. It had been an interesting day, a trying day, but a lot of fun. When FWS and JGP were tied down and had their covers on we retired to the clubhouse for a beer, and it was there that I learned of a triple fatality involving an aircraft and a helicopter near Paraparaumu (which is close to Wellington). While the accident is indeed tragic and it was sheer luck no bystanders were injured or killed, I'd like to contrast this sad event with an airshow occurring at the same time involving over 100 aircraft of many different types all arriving, performing and then departing with not one reportable incident. Any loss of life is indeed regrettable, but civil aviation is not as dangerous as the news media would have you believe.


Rodney said…
Sounds like you had a good day. Nice report :-)
Chris Nielsen said…
Good one Euan! I'll be posting mine today some time... I am surprised you didn't say anything about High Intensity Strobe Lights :)