Sunday, February 19, 2017

Some "Cirrus"-ly Awesome Adventures

Working at a busy flying school and for an aviation software company can certainly have its advantages!  Every now and then, trips come up where I can tag along.  From time to time, Cirrus aircraft tour around the country to be placed on display and meet potential buyers.  The other part of my job involves promoting our Electronic Flight Bag software - something I can do at the same time as promoting the aircraft.

So far, I've been lucky enough to tag along and travel to Cirrus events in Wagga Wagga, Bacchus Marsh, Deniliquin and even a tour to Tasmania.  All of these trips have been with an IFR rated pilot and (with the exception of Bacchus Marsh), flown under the IFR system. For me it has been a fascinating glimpse into the next level of flying... through and above the clouds!

First trip was to Bacchus Marsh with James (commercial pilot with Avia/Cirrus Melbourne).  James was excited about this flight because he got to hand-fly it the whole way...normally company SOPs dictate that the autopilot must be used for the cruise portion of the flight.

Cirrus SR20 on display at Bacchus Marsh airport.
While we were there, I got to catch up with a friend Dan who built his own aircraft.  The RV10, nicknamed "the Beast", for before it received it's beautiful paint scheme it flew for a few months with no paint.  This made it look almost like a piece of military hardware.  It looks a little different now!

Dan didn't want me to leave without going for a fly in his plane, so he kindly took me up for a local jaunt!  You can see the gliding club operating on the grass to the left of the runway.

James, climbing for an overhead departure back to Moorabbin. 
Even though the flight time was less than 20 minutes each way, it was a great day.

Next, was Wagga Wagga Aero Club's open day.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn't particularly helpful for all but the most highly equipped aircraft - low cloud, hanging around almost all day. Thankfully, Charles is qualified to make use of the ILS (instrument landing system) installed at Wagga for training airline cadets.  It was lucky, because we only 'broke out' just above the minimum level required visually acquire the runway position.

Breaking out of the bottom of the cloud on the ILS moments before the avionics announced "Minimums...Minimums".  Wagga had experienced sustained and heavy rainfall, so we could see the swollen creeks.   Eagle-eyed viewers might be able to make out the very beginning of the runway just up ahead and below the cloud line.

The SR22 GTS on display at Wagga.  We used an open hangar for some protection from the passing showers.

On the return journey, I got to experience my first sunset/night flight in a General Aviation aircraft!  It didn't disappoint.

Not too long after, it was time to get back in the Cirrus with James and head over to a little town in NSW called Deniliquin.  Normally, the drive from Melbourne to 'Deni' takes around four hours... The Cirrus covers the same ground in around one hour!

The weather was much better for this particular trip... No need for an ILS this time.

Beautiful blue skies and friendly locals greeted us in Deniliquin. 
In flight catering is important!

There was even time for a selfie on the way home.

Next trip on the agenda was a big one: Tasmania!  This would be my first serious over-water operation in a single-engine aircraft.  We'd fly directly across Bass Strait, down to Hobart, up to Launceston and back home - spending one night in each destination.  As well as life-jackets, we took a full life raft with us too. The extra weight of the raft was worth it, as the thought of floating around in the chilly Strait awaiting rescue didn't seem too appealing.

Goodbye Victorian coastline!

There is a LOT of water in Bass Strait....Just in case you didn't know!

First glimpse of Tasmania.

The beautifully green North-Western Tasmania.

Just before we reached the Tassie coastline, air traffic control called us up and asked if we would climb one thousand feet higher they'd be able to offer us a more direct route down the centre of the island, rather than the one we'd planned.  The extra height is to give an extra buffer against the much higher ground in the middle of the state.  I'm glad the controller offered us this, because that region is amazingly beautiful from the air!

The hundreds of interconnected lakes and streams of the Central Plateau.  Some of the most rugged landscape I've had the honour of viewing from the air.
After passing the Central Plateau, we entered cloud prior to our descent into Hobart.  It wasn't until a few miles out from Hobart that we got our first look at the airport.  We weren't going to land at the Hobart International Airport, as there is a small general aviation airport nestled in right next door.  As Cambridge airport is so close, it is still under control of Hobart tower so the arrival is designed to bring everyone to the main runway... It was a simple case of breaking off at the right point to fly a circuit and land on one of the smaller runways.

Seconds after breaking out of the clouds at Hobart.  Cambridge airport can be seen to the lower-right of the main runway.
Tying down FUF for the night at Cambridge airport.
We spent the next day speaking with the very friendly members of the Aero Club of Southern Tasmania.  The weather was a little cold and miserable, however there was plenty of cups of tea and coffee on offer in the club to keep us warm!  After lunch we began packing the aircraft ready to head North to Launceston.

This flight - however short by comparison - was largely flown in IMC (instrument meteorological conditions, otherwise known as "in cloud").  Only a short time after leaving Hobart we climbed into cloud.  Every now and again holes in the various cloud layers would line up, giving us a fleeting view of the landscape.  Other than that, I have little idea of the places we flew over!

Our view for most of the flight.
Two thirds along the route, we were asked by air traffic control to complete a right orbit - which James happily complied.  It was to give some time for an air ambulance to descend and land at Launceston.  The controller thanked us as he gave us our vectors to our approach.  Once we were handed over to Launceston Tower, the tower controller also thanked us!  We didn't mind at all; especially for an ambulance!

Mid-final on a rainy approach to Launceston.
The situation at Launceston for the big jets was - bedlam!  Several jets had become unserviceable, parts and engineers needed to be ferried from the mainland, causing several crews to run out of duty time - requiring more crews to also be sent!  As we were taxiing to our parking spot, the tower was talking with airport logistics on the radio, asking if one of the far-flung parking spots is certified to support a 737.  It did.  Later that night, we heard the extra 737 arrive over the city carrying the necessary parts and people.

The next day, we displayed the Cirrus and AvPlan EFB to the members of the Launceston Aero Club. Once again, the club members and visitors were very welcoming and great fun to chat with through the day.  Soon, it became time to turn our thoughts to our return journey over the Strait.  We figured it would be best to pack the plane, go and grab some late lunch, then fuel up at the fuel bowser before departing.  Unfortunately, after our lunch we pulled up at the bowser to refuel, only to find it totally unresponsive!  No power at all.  Not even the helpful club members that use the bowser often could rouse it from its slumber.  We had to call the local refuelling truck to come over and fuel us.  We eventually got our fuel, but we had to wait until all the big jets received theirs first - then the guy had to go and get the AVGAS truck.  It had also been so long since he had processed a credit card payment that he had to get out the step-by-step instructions!  We eventually managed to get away with plenty of sunlight to spare - it was just less of a margin that we'd have liked in a perfect world.
It was awesome to mix it up with the big birds!

Departing Launceston.

Back over the water!

An unforgettable view!
The whole trip was an amazing experience - James is a very capable and skillful pilot, far beyond his years.  I learnt so much from listening and observing his polite and efficient operations within the IFR airspace system.  Any passengers that fly with him will have nothing but a positive experience - especially if the said passengers offer jelly snakes during the flight! (I did)

Next adventure - time to do some of my own flying, and fly places myself!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Making the move to GA

On September 1st 2014 a new Civil Aviation Safety Regulation, simply called "Part 61" came into effect.

What does this have to do with me, you might ask?  A lot, it turns out.

After flying exclusively within the Recreational Aviation Australia (RAAus) sphere (i.e. aircraft with numbers on the side, rather than letters), there now was the opportunity to bring that aeronautical experience and credentials across and qualify for a Recreational Pilots Licence (RPL).  Prior to this, I'd held a Recreational Pilots Certificate.  If the naming convention is confusing you, don't fret - you're not alone!

There were a few limitations associated with the Pilot Certificate that weren't a big issue when flying from somewhere like Ballarat.  However, moving to Moorabbin for work means that I'd have to travel a long way away from work (which is actually at an airport!) in order to fly.  Why?  Moorabbin is a controlled airport - there is a tower there and a pilot must be qualified in order to speak with the controllers.  This option is not offered in the RAAus stream.

Under Part 61 and its new RPL, converting consisted of some comparatively straightforward paperwork, paying some fees, and one or two check flights with an instructor.  If I was a student pilot, the RPL would be a test - however as I already have the experience in RAAus it's more of a check than a test.  I could then also optionally qualify for a Controlled Airspace and Controlled Aerodrome endorsements.  This would then unlock the rest of Australia's airspace - including Moorabbin!  The aircraft types I can fly expand too - previously an upper limit of 600 kilograms, under an RPL I can fly an aircraft of up to 1500 kilograms.  This greatly expands the aircraft types I could potentially fly.

So, in February of 2016 I set out to obtain an RPL.  I had discovered that a little two seat trainer over at Avia Aviation was available.  It was a quirky and out-there design with many technological advances compared to the Tecnam or Jabiru.  Called the Liberty XL2, it was a rare certified piston aircraft with a full FADEC engine (Full Authority Digital Engine Control...or what is in practically every car today!).  The computer (two of them, actually) constantly monitors engine parameters and works out the best settings, based on the desired power level set by the pilot.

The Liberty XL2

There were many aspects of the Liberty that were very closely related to the Tecnam Sierra.  Low wing, bubble canopy, floor mounted control stick, conventional instrumentation.  It also had some things I'd never had before; two radios, a modern GPS and a free-castering nosewheel. On the ground, the aircraft was steered with two finger-operated brake handles mounted on the centre console.  Very different indeed.

In the air, it flew beautifully.  Over the previous few months, it had received a reputation of being very difficult to land.  Granted, it was much faster on final than the Sierra, but near to the ground it was very similar.  All I had to do was treat it as the Sierra with a little less flap deployed and I had very little troubles while learning to land it.

I took a couple of flights to get used to the aircraft and Moorabbin procedures in general.  It was a distinct advantage working on the airport, as I could listen to the tower frequency as I worked at my desk.  Listening to how things worked when it was all working well was one thing, but the biggest eye-opener is when things aren't going so well.  Whether the wind can't decide which way it wants to blow from, or a student pilot has muddled up their radio call, or even an experienced pilot doesn't follow instructions and turns at the wrong time - hearing how these scenarios played out gave me much better confidence to speak to the tower staff.  A visit to the tower cab also helped a lot - to put faces to the disembodied voices heard on the radio was a great help.  Something I wish more pilots get a chance to do.

A couple of weeks after completing the paperwork for the two check-flights (both including a stop and go at Essendon airport), I received my Part 61 licence in the mail.  I was officially a GA pilot! Really enjoying my new-found aircraft, I began getting into it and starting to get to its ins and outs better.

On my birthday, I took my friend Shane for a local flight around the Mornington Peninsula.  It was an overcast morning, but despite this it was perfectly smooth and a wonderful flying day.

Next in line!
A little bit of cloud to keep clear of.

Really starting to feel comfortable with this aircraft!
Frankston Pier

Cleared for a straight-in approach! 
This flight included my first straight-in approach.  At uncontrolled airports, it is recommended that aircraft fly some or all of the circuit when coming in to land.  Not so at a towered airport - they know what traffic are around and will clear you for the straight in if appropriate.  Thankfully, I even managed to keep my height and speed correct all the way down the approach!

Unfortunately, it turns out that the aircraft being readily available also meant that I was (nearly) the only client regularly renting it!  The decision was then made to sell it.  Even more unfortunate for me was the fact it sold quite quickly.  It was a heck of a capable aircraft for the money!

So, once again I was on the lookout for an aircraft to fly.

I dabbled with Aeroprakt's latest model, the A32 Vixxen...but I never really felt as comfortable with it as I did with the Liberty or even the Tecnam Sierra.

The A32 Vixxen

When a secondment came up in my work to administer Avia's flying school operations, I moved across to their building.  Avia are Australia's largest operators of Cirrus aircraft - arguably, the most advanced and beautifully designed GA aircraft around today.  After settling into the role, the time was right to also begin my Cirrus Transition training; which consists of an online course, some simulator training and several flights.  All Cirrus aircraft come standard with a complete airframe parachute in the event of a catastrophic event - a very nice 'Plan C' to have up one's sleeve!

The sleek lines of the Cirrus SR20.

Add to this feature, niceties like leather seats, tinted windows and.... AIR Freakin' CONDITIONING!!!  The best invention in aviation ever!  No longer does one have to perspire within a human-sized terrarium under the blazing sun.  Engine start, air con on.  Brilliant.

Tipping the scales at a little over a ton and being so smooth and slippery through the air presented some challenges for me.  Firstly, it's quite a bit faster in almost every phase of flight.  Climb out is 85-90 knots, versus 60-70 in the Tecnam.  Cruise is around 135-140 knots versus the Tecnam's 100 (105 if I was lucky).  Final approach is 85 knots, coming back to 78 knots over the fence.  Contrast this to the Tecnam, which was 60.  It did take some getting used to. Thankfully though, the training took me through the circuit standard operating procedures in great detail.

The Garmin Perspective avionics make all sorts of tasks really easy - from entering your flight plan to working out which taxiway you're currently on.  That's if you know where to find the information! To my rescue came Avia's excellent simulator, where I'd slip in before work and practice some circuits and a short nav.  I flew one or two extra circuit sessions in the real aircraft, just to consolidate the new skills I'd learnt.

The instrument panel is modern and clean, with design cues taken from the automotive industry.
Being also a fully-capable IFR machine, the Cirrus contains avionics capabilities not seen in a RAAus aircraft.  Two Comms radios, two Nav radios, full engine/fuel telemetry, autopilot, active traffic alerting and much more!  It can be a little confronting with all that information being thrown at you.

I elected to take a couple of extra circuit flights with a workmate aboard, just to make sure I didn't mess any operating procedures up.  After one or two of those flights, I felt comfortable enough to strike out on my own.  So, in November I flew a Cirrus SR20 solo.

Two thumbs up for a successful solo flight - I think the aircraft is even reusable!
So, I am signed off to fly a more than two seat aircraft - this model Cirrus has five seats, in fact!  Add to this new RPL a class 2 medical, I can also put more than one passenger in the seats.  The fact that I was cross-country certified in the Recreational world also comes across to my RPL... So for the moment, I have all I need - a "Claytons* PPL" if you will.

One little surprise that I noticed while entering my solo Cirrus flight into my logbook - I passed 100 hours as pilot in command!

One more small milestone in the journey.

* For overseas readers (or, for that matter, those born in the >2000's):  In Australia, there is a famous non-alcoholic drink made by Claytons that has  entered our vernacular to refer to near reproductions of other things.  Even though the ad hasn't been on TV for many years.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

An Australian goes to Washington (-or- An Aviation Pilgrimage) ...Part 1

Some of these blog posts are easy to write - I book/organise/get invited/plan some sort of act of aviation.  I can then tell you about it pretty easily - I just imagine I'm talking to you, telling you about it.

This post has been hard.

Hard to get started.  Not because I don't want to - it's just that so much awesome stuff happened on a recent trip that I find it hard to get my thoughts in order about it - let alone try to express my amazement/delight/avgeekiness without descending into ever-increasing use of fluffy adjectives.  I think it is important to try - so try I will.  Please excuse me if I do sound like an Energizer Bunny.

I recently went to America.  (Hmm...That wasn't so hard, after all.)  It all came about when my work (AvPlan EFB) needed an extra person to travel to Florida and assist Bevan with manning a booth at Sun 'n Fun, among the larger of the many airshows/pilot gatherings. I had heard of this event in previous years through the magic of podcasting, and was honoured to be selected to go.  During the planning process Bevan mentioned that if I wanted to tack on some personal travel before or after the show that would be fine with them.

I began thinking about things to do.  I've technically stood on US soil before, but a US Air Force Base in Japan probably doesn't really count, so visiting places like New Orleans or New York is definitely on my to do list, however I'd decided that this trip was going to be aviation-themed. At the top of my avgeek list was seeing some flight museums.    There are some aviation museums in Florida, however I had three aircraft in particular I wanted to see:

1. SR-71 Blackbird
2. Concorde
3. Space Shuttle

Anything else was going to be a bonus.

After doing some googling, it was apparent the best place for the above list in one hit was none other than Washington DC - more specifically, the National Air and Space Museum (part of the Smithsonian network of museums).  Excellent. I had a destination.

The simple act of travelling to America was going to be an avgeek's delight, for it turns out that United Airlines offers a MEL - LA direct service flying the Boeing 787-9.  An aircraft that is incredibly advanced, but not without its development hiccups.  The -9 model is the second and slightly longer version of the original -8, that had all the famous battery troubles.  This aircraft seems to have polarised the avgeek community, they either love it or hate it.  I was prepared to reserve judgement until I had actually flown on it.

The morning of departure dawned clear and cold.  I had splurged the extra $10 over the projected cost of the taxi and booked a limousine service.  Unfortunately, it didn't turn out so great.  Standing at the end of my driveway in the dark, fifteen minutes after my booking I was informed that my driver had slept in and another car was being scrambled - but won't be there for another 20 minutes or so.  Not such a great start, so I ended up phoning and going in a taxi anyway.  The car company was very apologetic - but that doesn't get me to the airport.
Arriving at the airport, I checked my luggage and happened to walk past the doors leading to the old observation deck.  It was sad to see the lights off and a big closed sign in the door windows. Thinking of number of aviation fans and potential young avgeeks missing out on an amazing view of the micro-city that is a modern international airport dragged me down a little.  But, before long I was through security and found myself (at 6:15 AM I might add) perusing the single malt scotch on offer in the Duty Free shops. One shop assistant even insisted I try one that I expressed curiosity in. I wasn't driving anywhere, so what the hey! That helped me forget the sad locked doors.

Roll up, roll up!

Our chariot for this ride - the Boeing 787-9,  registration N19951.
I made my way to the departure lounge and was there early enough to watch the 787 pull into the gate.  It looked so big - and yet so small at the same time.  The sleek features were easy to spot - the four segment windscreen, the chevrons at the rear of the GEnx engines, and those raked wingtips. Getting on board, it struck me that the interior still had that 'new plane smell'.  We all took our seats - both myself and the lady I was sharing a row with were hoping the empty seat between us would stay that way. We both breathed a sigh of relief when it did.

From my window seat, just behind the starboard wing leading edge, I had a good view of the cargo being loaded on to the aircraft.  I started to get curious when all other activity around the aircraft had died down, yet the loading machine wasn't detaching and moving away.  Then the flight crew announced over the PA that there was some cargo that was delayed getting released from customs.  Aaah....That's why.  I watched the last couple of pallets get lifted up and sent into the hold - by this time we were a little over 30 minutes past our scheduled departure time.  The captain got back on the PA and assured us that "This is a fast airplane, we have some extra fuel so we're going to keep the speed up and we'll most likely have an on time arrival at LAX".

Eventually we pushed back and made the long taxi down to the end of runway 34.  I couldn't see it until we held short, but we were number 2 to the Qantas A380, who was also heading to LAX direct. I was thrilled to have an almost front-row view of the initial takeoff roll. It struck me then how awesome the really large windows are in the 787.  They go much higher, so when on the ground there's no need to crane one's neck in order to see other aircraft movements like you do on other aircraft where the window is designed to look down during flight - not look along the horizon.

After a suitable pause to allow the preceding Super's vortices to dissipate, it was our turn.  I kept a close eye on those wingtips as they loomed up by the more and more lift being generated.  They really do bend!

Wing bend on the ground versus in the air.

We turned right and departed out over Gippsland.  For a fleeting moment I was treated to an awesome view of Melbourne city as we climbed out.  After only a short time, we hit the cloud base - I didn't see any more of Victoria after that. When we punched out on top the sun was super bright, so I instantly made use of the electrochromatic window glass. Perfect!  Just like having transitions lenses for your window.  I could dim the brightness, but still be able to keep an eye out for traffic! At the darker levels, though, I did notice quite a green/blue tint to the glass...but that's not a deal breaker.

Initially climbing to FL023 (23,000 feet), we departed Victoria and headed out over the water. It struck me at that moment that we wouldn't be over land again for another 14 hours. As we burned off fuel and became lighter, the crew step-climbed to higher levels. True to their word, they kept the speed up.  We were now cruising at .86 mach (86% of the speed of sound).

Somewhere north of New Zealand I noticed a white dot in the sky that was moving - but not very fast.  After watching it for some time I realised that it was the A380 that had departed ahead of us, now on a parallel track. We were slowly but surely catching up to them, as the now clearly white/red dot was now passing behind our wingtip we were leaving them behind in our wake! It IS a fast plane!

Most of the cabin went to sleep after the 'lunch' (it was 9:30 AM).  The cabin went from bright light to a twilight colour scheme, then finally to a dark theme.  I was too excited to sleep, so I kept a keen eye out for storms as we passed through the Intra-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). It is a region where the two main parts of the equatorial tropical air flow from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres meet. Always good cause for numerous isolated, yet powerful storms. I didn't see much lightning action, but I did see some impressive Towering Cumulus topping out well above our altitude.

We were already fairly high by this stage - this Towering Cumulus was higher still, though!

As we were heading straight towards it, night fast approached.  I didn't see much during that time because the cabin crew had completely dimmed the entire cabin's windows - which I wasn't all that happy about. I tried to doze.  At some point, about half way between Hawaii and the mainland USA, I realised that we were now a loooong way from anywhere. I hoped those GE engines kept turnin' through the night!

My first glimpse of the USA in the early morning light.
The crew kept their word during the night - kept the speed up the entire trip. We were given a straight in approach to LAX, and arrived at the Tom Bradley International Terminal gate three minutes early! I got off the plane, and in the process started talking to another Australian bloke, Glen - who had saved all his money and was going to travel South America for six months.  We were both flying to Texas before heading on to our final destinations, so we grabbed our bags and headed through Customs.  If you really want to confuse Customs officials, wear a shirt bearing the name 'Rusty's Floatplanes - Alaska' while holding up an Australian passport and heading to Florida.  The shirt was a gift my 'folks-in-law brought me back from their trip, and it was a perfect garment to wear on the long flight.  It just happened to make this bloke's head explode slightly....but he stamped my passport, so that was a relief!

Rounding the corner to exit the international terminal, my new friend and I were told that our next flight had been cancelled.  A quick check of the weather RADAR showed why... Massive frontal storms throughout Texas.  Bummer.  To a small, but slowly moving line we were directed to be re-booked on other flights.  When I finally got to speak with the booking agent, she typed, and typed, and typed....(three minutes later)....and typed, until finally she said "I'm sorry, the only way I can get you to Tampa today is via Washington... Otherwise it wouldn't be until tomorrow." I replied that it would be ok.  My new flight wasn't leaving for another couple of hours, so it was time to settle into the departure lounge (not enough time to explore outside the airport and return).  My new friend Glen  bid me goodbye, for his re-booking process was going to take much longer than mine - with no guarantee he'd make it to his flight to South America.

Strolling down the airport footpath to the other terminals, I heard a familiar sound... "The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers...There's no parking in the white zone."  I giggled with delight - Airplane! (or Flying High, as it was titled down here) had it down pat!

My next adventure was the TSA security check to enter the domestic terminal. I'd heard a lot about these over the years.  I strolled up to the beginning of the lines.  The TSA agent tapped the screen of an iPad mounted on a pedestal, where I briefly saw the words "TSA Randomizer" before it flashed up "RIGHT" in large letters.  The agent then gestured for me to not go to the left where everybody else was lining up, but skip that and go over to the other, mirror image setup 30 metres away. ...With no one lining up!  I went straight through and was done in seconds.  Thanks Randomizer!

After a burger, some Facebook piss-farting around and some window shopping it was time to board the flight to Washington Dulles.  This was another first for me - a Boeing 757.  We departed LAX over the water, then turned and departed on a left downwind.  Giving me a glimpse of the airport and some of LA.  I only was able to see part of California - I was struck by the sheer number of airports I could spot. They seemed to be everywhere.  After that, we climbed through the overcast that persisted for almost the rest of the flight.  So much for seeing the country!

Turning downwind for departure.  That's LAX in the centre.
Santa Monica Airport
My view for *almost* the entire remainder of the flight.

By the time the flight arrived at Dulles, it was already dark.  I had to walk briskly to the next departure gate.  Better than a couple of people that really had to sprint from one to the other because of the design of the terminal.  I made it with a couple of minutes to spare.  It was hilarious seeing everyone try to cram their exceedingly large and heavy carry-on items into the overhead bins - especially the latecomers.  It made me glad I decided to travel light in the cabin and only have a small backpack that could easily fit under the seat.

I generally like to pay attention to the flight attendants' safety demonstration (like a good little avgeek).  This was my first flight on a Boeing 737-900 model (yet another first!), so I thought I should at least pay some attention.  My sleepiness had other ideas.  I ended up having microsleeps through the entire demonstration.  I felt bad, but I couldn't keep my eyes open through a wave of tiredness that had swept over me!

I didn't see much for that flight - it was dark and I was in the middle seat.  Arriving in Tampa at 12:45 AM local time (original plan was 7PM), I worked out that I had been in transit for around 25 hours!  The longest Friday I'd ever had!  I was so fatigued, I couldn't work out how to properly use the hotel's strange mixer tap in the shower - so I simply had a cold shower.  There was no markings on it at all.  In the morning I realised that one must turn it through about 270 degrees to get the hot water. Duh!

Bevan arrived the next afternoon at about three, where we'd meet up, grab a rental car and head to our hotel for the week long show.  Walking to the car, I was saying to myself "I won't walk to the wrong side of the car...I won't walk to the wrong side of the car...I won't walk to the wrong side of the car..." After loading our luggage in the boot, I found myself (out of habit) on the same side as Bevan, making us both very confused for a microsecond!  Another duh moment!

We had a day up our sleeve before the show started, so Bevan offered to take he and I to the Kennedy Space Center over at Cape Canaveral. My aviation museum geekery would start early! It was an easy drive almost directly East along the highway. Figuring "how often would you get the chance to come here?", we shelled out some extra money for a bus tour of the facility - which included getting fairly close to some of the launch sites.

Our chariot at the first stop on our bus tour.

The famous Crawler that brings the spacecraft from the assembly facility to the launch pad. Massive!

Launch Complex 31A, where the Space Shuttle and Gemini spacecraft launched.
The Vehicle Assembly Building - the largest single story structure in the world. Built in the '60s to assemble the massive Saturn V rocket, each star on that flag is over six feet across!

The bus tour ends with a fleeting trip to the Shuttle Landing Facility (basically a big long cement runway in between swampy bushland) and finally it drops us off at the Saturn V display.  This hall has an introduction theatre, then opens out to reveal the massive rocket sitting on its side (lifted up slightly on poles, though).  Those five F1 rocket engines tower above you as you enter the room.

The view of the Saturn V and its five massive F1 rocket engines as you enter the building.

When the Shuttle launched, there was a two mile exclusion zone around the launch complex, due to the noise.  When the Saturn V launched, that zone was doubled to 4 miles!

The Command and Service Modules (foreground).

There was also some other impressive pieces on display:

The actual Apollo 14 Command Module.
Moon rock!

After a spot of lunch, it was time to head back to the main display, Rocket Garden and to see Space Shuttle Atlantis!  I was going to see not one but two Shuttles on this trip!

The Kennedy Space Center's Rocket Garden.

Atlantis is presented as if it is in orbit; wheels up, rolled to the left slightly, with the payload bay open and Canadarm deployed.  There is a mezzanine level that means you can look down into the payload bay.  The dark theme that the interior of the building is painted in mimics the look of space.  Pretty cool, actually.

The display also includes a Space Shuttle Launch simulator, which was a bit of fun.  They'd have you believe you're being tilted up to 90˚, but I'm sure we were closer to 30˚ nose up.  Some big thumping subwoofers and vibrations happening under the 'ride'.  One of the best parts was lining up to go into the sim, they play interviews of astronauts that have flown on Atlantis and they give their personal thoughts and observations about the experience.

The whole experience of Kennedy was very cool.  Seeing for real all these places I'd only ever seen on TV or in books.  The sheer scale of the overall facility is mind boggling.  Add to that, it is a protected wildlife area as well!

We drove back to the hotel and later Bevan went and picked up our third team member for the show, Clay.  He's a very highly trained gene scientist and has forgotten more about science than I'll ever know!  On top of that, he is building his own Zenith aircraft. We got along famously, which is lucky because we were sharing a hotel room!  Over the next week, he'd teach me American 'stuff'.

The Exhibitor credentials for Sun 'n Fun looked to me rather like a fun run participation award!

Before long it was time to head over to Lakeland Regional Airport and Sun 'n Fun, set up the display and start talking to American pilots.  Bevan and Clay had the advantage of having seen the finished display at least once before... I was flying blind.  After a little while we had it sorted.  On one side of us was two cool guys selling electronic hearing protection/enhancement, and on the other was a company that sells telescopic flagpoles.  Apparently, both us and them had been in the same positions last year. Bevan warned me about the '' of the poles going up and down all day.  He was right.

It was often very hot in the temporarily re-purposed hangar that the display booths were housed.  There was no air conditioning, so each vendor brought their own fans to bring some relief from the heat and humidity.  In the afternoon the air show would start, causing numbers in the halls to drop considerably.  This gave us time to go for a walk and see some of the other displays.

There were some amazing aircraft on display:
A Pitts with a radial engine.
The almost shark-like Piaggio Avanti II.
The Discovery 201 twin utility aircraft. Apparently, these are very popular in Africa.
The Lancair Legacy - a kit built pressurised turboprop.
B17 bomber "Alminum Overcast".  I had the pleasure of hearing it arrive overhead at Lakeland.
A Mitsubishi Zero.
B24 Liberator "Diamond Lil".
A-10 Tank Killer.  I made a model of one of these when I was a young kid.  It was great to finally see one for real!
F22 Raptor.

Strolling around the aircraft on static display - almost all of them had no protective fence around them.  With the exception of the F22 and the Zero (I'm guessing because one is still highly classified and the other is extremely rare), you could walk up to, under, around, look in open bays etc. Something you'd never get at Australian air shows.  The teams displaying their aircraft loved talking about them.
Oooooh....Is THAT what they are?! Time for a spot of lunch.
An unusual mode of land transport!

A DC-3 with a turboprop conversion!
A full-scale mockup of the new Mooney M10J aircraft.

Sun 'n Fun was amazing. I got to speak at length with many pilots - all with fascinating stories to tell. The most memorable was speaking to an ex-F-111 pilot.  He obviously didn't realise that Australia had them for many years, because he was amazed that I knew all about them.

After several hot days, it was time to pack up the stand and head our separate ways.  Bevan had headed off a day early to attend important business meetings, so it was up to Clay and myself to put it all back in the boxes.  The moment all the personal fans were switched off in the display hangar, the temperature soared.  Everyone was a sweaty mess that afternoon!

Somehow, we eventually fitted the gear back in the protective cases and figured out the paperwork to have it all shipped to OshKosh.  After all of that sweating I was ready for a coooooold beer!  Clay asked what I'd like to have as my last dinner in Florida. "Bearing in mind, I can have American food any time I want!", he'd say.  I had a hankering for some ribs, so I opted for the southern bbq place. Our waitress brought out a tall frosty mug of beer (Budweiser - eh, it was cold and there. No craft beer at this place!).  She placed it down in front of me and turned away to place a starter on an opposite table. Only a second or two later, she turned back around, to find me holding an empty glass - pointing at the base. In my most Aussie accent I could muster: "I think this one is faulty!"  She laughed so hard, she almost dropped the glass after I handed it to her.  We could hear her laughing all the way back to the drinks station. Good to know I made someone's day!

Those famous ribs at Sonny's BBQ.
Our waitress came back with an even bigger beer in a plastic cup.  It wasn't the same as a frosty glass mug.

The next day, Clay and I headed to Tampa airport.  He was heading home, but I was only just beginning the second phase of my trip:  Washington DC.  

To be continued.....