G'day! and welcome to my blog's new home. I'd like to say a big 'cheers mate' to Clay for building me such a fabulous new house.

Here you will find my articles and blogs from the sky documenting my aerial adventure across Australia, and sometimes - when I'm very lucky - around the world!

Lots of airyplanes, plenty of new shoes and hopefully many undiscovered places.

Blue skies,

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seven ks in heels....

A Prison Break

A week ago, my cousin asked me if I would fly him and a friend to a prison west of Canberra (just for a visit, not for anything longer term). As I had recently restarted studying for my final CPL exam (fourth time lucky!), I was rather keen to escape my new pals - lift coefficient, critical angle of attack and coanda effect. While I happily agreed to split the cost of the flight, I was under no illusion we'd actually make it. After all, it's Dreadful December; the Evil La Nina - patron saint of pilots' migraines - has set up residence in her Nimbostratus castle. I recognised this erratic lady from last year, and refused to let her disappoint me. Nonetheless, as we are nothing without hope, I went ahead and filled in the paperwork necessary to gain clearance to a 'correctional facility' and began the planning.

On the Saturday morning of the proposed date, the weather was hopeful. While the TAFs were a little more than three lines, the trend was improvement, and it was CAVOK at the airport closest to our little strip. It looked like it was Madame Nina's rostered day off.

The flight was uneventful, which of course for a pilot is always a good thing, and the destination strip was lovely - long and neatly mown. It was, however, in the middle of nowhere. I had (idiotically) relied on my cousin to sort out the transport. The nearest taxi station turned out to be 50kms away. Turns out they put prisons in rural areas for good reason. There was no choice but to walk the 7kms to the facility. In heels.

Mercifully, a gallant farmer stopped to pick us up, carrying us the final two kilometres. And then, suddenly, we were in a correctional institution.

Having never visited a prison, I expected merely to wait in an area while my friend went to visit his nephew. After all, why would a prison inmate incarcerated for twelve years want to meet me?

Not so. As this was a low security facility, the inmates were permitted to meet their family and friends in a garden, with a barbecue area. I was invited along. There was a great hoo-ha about my mobile phone, which I was supposed to have "left in the car” and not brought anywhere near the main gates, ‘didn't you see all the signs’ etc. The lengthy explanation of our having flown in, and not even having thought of leaving the phone in the aircraft - after all I needed the GPS to find the prison - and the mighty, final realisation that I was in a Different World.

A ‘Shut Up and Obey the Rules’ kind of world. They played the "we don't HAVE to let you in card", confiscated our dried fruit salad (because inmates have been known to ferment the fruit to make alcohol), removed all phones, cameras and penknives, and declared themselves unimpressed by my cousin's description of his profession: clown. He IS a clown, in Guatamala; the leader of an educational circus troupe. The warders, of course, took him for a comedian (which, frankly, as a clown, he is).

By the by, they let us in, and summoned my friend's nephew, Martin (not his real name). As we sat in a leafy garden, eating veggie burgers grilled on the barbecue provided, Martin asked me lots of questions about flying. Before he was incarcerated, he dreamed of becoming a chopper pilot. I reached for my phone to show him our route and then it dawned on me. No phone. Martin, having been inside for twelve years, had never seen an iPhone; he'd never been on the Internet; never played Angry Birds and barely knew what GPS was, let alone an iPad . And I, sadly, was lost without my phone, for even two hours.

It struck me there and then how much the world will have changed for Martin. Due parole in August, he will be released into a new world. A world where people feel naked without their phones, where they set their GPS every time they leave the house, and sleep with their iPads on their bedside tables (or is that just me?)

As our two hours came to a close, I began to get fidgety not being able to check NAIPs. With the garden being so damn leafy, I could see very little of the sky, and was loathe to get up and start drawing attention to myself. We said goodbye to Martin, with me promising him a flight as soon as he got parole (and, as I still fly steam gauges, he wouldn't feel too freaked out by technological development) and hopped into the mini bus the kind officers provided for us back to the airstrip.

As we approached the aircraft, I decided to try an experiment. I would fly like it was 1999. No GPS, no Dial-a-Wis, no NAIPs, no bluetoothing phone calls to my headset. Alright, I didn't actually swap the Bose for the ole David Clarks, but aside from that it was just me, my pencils, maps and large wristwatch. And guess what?

I didn't get lost once.
And, I really enjoyed it.

Finally - the money shot

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Red Lady

November's Cover

They say, 'never work with amateurs' but what if YOU are the amateur?

That was most certainly the case when the job of photographing November's cover fell to me. My friend, Paul Turner aka Bert, has the most splendidly elegant aircraft - a tandem, tail wheel Cub replica, known (strangely) as the Savage Cruiser. From day one, I had longed to see her on the cover. Almost as much as I longed to fly off in her into the sunset (except she has no DI, or cabin heat. And I wouldn't bank on my being able to actually land her..)

And then, one day, the elements came together seamlessly. Suddenly we had the aircraft, the pilot, a spare aircraft with a high wing, another pilot AND the weather, all on the same day. The only thing we didn't have was a photographer. In place of a photographer, we decided we would use me. A person so unco I was picked after the fat girl at school in any team sport. A person who had to wear velcroed shoes until she was 12. I have two talents, and neither of them amount to the skill required to take a photograph; never mind a cover photo.

Giving Bert 15 minutes to get ahead of us (our paparazzi plane being a Jab 230) we took of from Dixon's Creek with the aim of using the local mountain range as a backdrop. My pilot, Martin Smith of Eagle Aviaion - aka The Stig - flew in steep turns around our slow and graceful red lady, while I engineered myself into a twist to take photos from the back window (with a hangover, no less!)

The result was: 115 shots taken, 3 useable. And then only with a talented designer to make them glow. The other 112 each featured a third or so of the aircraft, and the rest sky. I had 38 shots of the aircraft's wheels. Perhaps I should make a jigsaw of Bert's aircraft as a gift for him.

I now have a newfound respect for photographers, and will certainly never work without one again. I can also see that whilst journalists have a repuatation for being hard drinkers, photographers seldom do. They're up there with tattooists and surgeons when it comes to the 'steady hand' component of their profession.