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,

Monday, February 29, 2016

Marvellous Mount Gambier

I'd like to begin this post with a gush alert: ALERT, ALERT! I LOVE MY JOB! WHAT FOLLOWS WILL REFLECT THAT IN SPADES.

And now, with that disclaimer laid down, let me tell you about the most marvellous weekend I've had since Hamilton Island.

Having recently taken delivery of the most beautiful Australis in the country - VH-FIF, or FIFi, as she's now lovingly known - I've begun the most exciting part of my job: showing her off to pilots and potential pilots all over my territory. So, when OzRunways' Bas Scheffers mentioned he'd be at Mount Gambier Aero Club for a masterclass, and that I might like to come along and demonstrate the new SR22, I hopped (well, flew) to it.

Firstly, of course, I had to get those landings up to speed. Having not had a demo aircraft since the sale of ZZD, I had become rusty, to say the least. With my transition training completed in Avia's SR20 VDR, I hadn't landed a 22 since Tasmania in November. I booked in a few sessions with CSIP Nige Clark and hit the Bankstown circuit. I'd forgotten so much about the power differences between the SR20 and SR22 (nearly a THIRD more horsepower in the 22) that my right leg was aching after an hour of training and I went to bed that night dreaming of yaw dampers.

The very patient Nige Clark
After a few hours of re-training, Nige declared me ok to go. So, with Graham Horne along to assist, and OzRunways pilot Dean Sewell as passenger, we loaded up FIFi for the very first demo visit of the year: to Mount Gambier. With the still-new-smell of leather seats and the cupholders loaded with water (no coffee in my new bird!) we loaded up the Perspective with the plan for Mount Gambier, and I applied my newly taut right leg muscles to rudder pedals for take-off.

Team Cirrus!

Oh what an amazing machine the SR22 is! While I dodged the clouds (instrument rating this year!) on climb, we whizzed up to 8500, where everything was smooth and calm. I set up the autopilot, leaned the aircraft and settled back to a smooth and comfortable 61% power, with a TAS of 168kts and a fuel burn of 12.6USG. The flight time to Mount Gambier tracking via Canberra and Melbourne was a minute over three hours, with a 26kt headwind! I spent the rest of the flight taking the opportunity to familiarise myself with some of the more sophisticated features of the Perspective, with Graham setting me challenges such as adding an extended centreline, locating end of daylight information and customising the panel with my own options (I like the man's voice telling me what to do; by that I mean the lovely gentleman in the Cirrus Perspective - not Graham Horne!)

On approaching Mount Gambier, Graham took over to demonstrate the IFR features to Dean, conducting an RNAV with vertical guidance, which blew all our socks off! I took over at 1000ft and managed a very passable landing (still more practice for me!) which set me up for a great evening (who doesn't let bad landings ruin their day?!)

Upon arrival we were met by the warmest reception from the members of the Mount Gambier Aero Club, with event organiser Paul Goodman and his lovely wife Sue offering us their car for the weekend. After a beer, we headed into to town for a gorgeous meal at the Commodore Hotel.

The next morning, we were joined by Cessna, showcasing their new 182 (which, suprisingly, has a 100KG smaller payload than the SR22!) and pilots from all over the state in Sportscruisers, Diamonds, Pipers and of course, Cirri, as well as a few C210s.

With FIFi parked up on the grass shining in her fullest glory, I commenced my favourite part of the job: showing people the aircraft and organising demos. With three lined up for Sunday morning, OzRunways commenced their masterclass.

Much to my surprise, Paul had asked me to present a dinner speech for the club's dinner that evening, and, strangely for me who has much room for improvement in the public speaking department, and so I went back to prepare the images and subject Graham to my speech. Having tidied up the images and tightened the speech, we headed out to the aero club and braced ourselves for the usual club fare of tough steak and sausages. Well, may we be struck for tarring all aero clubs with the one stick! Treated to a three course fare that would satisfy any restaurant goer, we feasted on fresh seafood, tender steak and magnificent cheese, swilled down with local wines from the vineyards of
The wonderful chefs of Mount Gambier
some of the club members. Oh, I do SO love aviation events!

After the first course, the crowd were regaled by tales from Horsham Aviation's Tony Brand, a natural public speaker who presented with charm and grace. During the first course, it became apparent that my images were not going to play on the club's projector, and so I sought out Paul and told him it might be better if I abandoned my speech and let people simply enjoy the wine. However, Paul was having none of it, claiming he'd made up a great intro and I was simply to get on with it.

So, with perhaps a little more wine on board than is professional, I shot from the hip and told the story of the careers officer who claimed I was too stupid to learn to fly. Thank goodness for the generosity of the Mount Gambier club members, who were kind enough to offer applause!

After partaking in the very best red the region had to offer, and meeting some of the loveliest pilots in the state, I realised I was getting a little too glassy, and designated driver Bas drove us back for a great night sleep.

The next morning, we were served a breakfast fit for any Sydney cafe, followed by Geoff's very own freshly brewed espresso; I declared Mount Gambier my kind of town. Had it not been for my beautiful demonstrator needing to be flown back to Bankstown, I might have just stayed.

Mount Gambier Aero Club, Cirrus Australia thanks you for your wonderful hospitality; you have set the bar so very high for the rest of the Cirrus Demo Tour!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Cirrus Life

According to the late American psychiatrist William Glasser, we are driven by five genetic needs: survival; love and belonging; power; freedom and fun - and it just occurred to me that aviation caters to each of these needs, sometimes in turn and sometimes simultaneously. I have just returned from an experience of the latter: The Cirrus Life event at Hamilton Island.

With SR22 FER at Roma

While no pilot on earth could argue they need an aircraft for their survival, any pilot who remembers their first solo (and that's all of us!) can attest to the fact that flying is a survival exercise. The moment that giant piece of metal (or carbon composite!) is in the air, the pilot's impending survival is dependent on their ability to land the aircraft; we literally take our own lives into our hands when ever we go flying. Of course, flying a Cirrus aircraft which boasts the lowest accident rates in the industry [0.49% compared with the average of 1.2%, 2014. For more info visit http://whycirrus.com/safety/cirrus-history.aspx] with their in built safety features: the blue button, the CAPS, ESP, hypoxia alerts and FIKI, significantly increases the chances of survival, should an unfortunate incident occur.  So, while take offs are optional and landings mandatory, it's clear to see that once a pilot is airborne, flying is about survival.

Co-pilot to the fabulous Rob Fuller

The Cirrus Life event placed a big focus on training, improvement and learning. For two days, seminars were offered on engine maintenance and management, avionics, flight planning and advanced handling techniques. Specialist mentors were on hand to aid pilots with advice and support and senior American staff were present and approachable across the entire event. I myself manage to catch CEO Dale Klapmeier, to ask a few Cirrus specific questions, including what does the SR stand for in SR20 and SR22...answers in the comment section, pilots...

Dale Klapmeier presenting a seminar on the Vision Jet

Of course, flying is about so much more than survival. Although for many a job in the industry is their mode of financial survival, for the majority of us, flying begins (and often continues!) as fun. There are as many ways to have fun as there are aircraft types, and while flying inverted isn't my favourite way to get my kicks, for some it's the only way. For me, the fun is in the travel, the journey, which is why I'm at home in a comfortable, well-equipped tourer (with cup holders!) Fun, too, is belonging to a group of like minded individuals. Like many mammals, humans are pack animals, for whom the group is vital. Birds of a feather do indeed flock together. 36 Cirrus aircraft flew in from all over the country (which represents nearly 25% of the total Cirrus aircraft in Australia) including five Australis (Australi?) with 143 people in attendance at the dinner on Saturday night. Although I was at the previous Cirrus Life event in 2013, this was my first Life event as Cirrus staff. The contrast is that now I am part of the Cirrus family, which extends to everyone involved in Cirrus - pilot or not. Not only do I have the chance to fly amazing aircraft, I also have access to an enormous body of group knowledge; between the attendees at the Cirrus Life event the knowledge and experience of the company - its history, its future - every aspect was covered. There's nothing there one couldn't learn about any aspect of Cirrus. But, in addition to the knowledge, is the shared experience. I could literally walk up to any person and start a conversation (not hard for me, I know..) and be certain we would have something very vital in common - our love for Cirrus aircraft.

Landing at Hammo with Rob Fuller

But, aside from learning, the event's focus was equally on fun. The Friday night cocktail party hosted a steel band, alongside drinks and canap├ęs at the breathtakingly beautiful yacht club. Saturday night's dinner was headlined by the side-splittingly funny - and extraordinarily talented - James Morrison (former Cirrus owner, who arrived in a Piper as Dale pointed out in his intro speech, with comic derision!). The James Morrison band, made up of his (giant!) sons and the most fabulous scat singer I've encountered since Kurt Elling, provided a diverse and amusing evening, which ended in a raffle and a happy birthday to my boss, Cirrus Melbourne CEO Charles Gunter. 

The Sunday evening leaving drinks, set around the pool, had no planned entertainment. However, half way through the evening, one of the event waiters made an announcement that a staff member was getting married. He invited her to step up and sing a song in order to receive her wedding present, and blushing, she stepped up to the mic and issued a painful rendition of Waltzing Matilda. The crowd applauded her bravery, when the waiter, Mario Lasagne, broke into Pavarotti, claiming 'THIS is how you sing!" As the crowd stared in disbelief, Rebecca, the tone deaf waitress, declared he hadn't mentioned she should sing opera and burst into the aria from Carmen. After a duet, followed by a rendition of Hey Big Spender, the team announced they were hired by Graham Horne (regional director of Cirrus) from a company called Undercover Entertainers, whereupon they proceeded to thrill the audience with their outstanding opera selection. Finally, Vice President of Marketing, Ben Kowalski, was added to the mix, with his outstanding performance on the triangle!

In addition to seminars, presentations and musical fun, the Cirrus Life event provided an opportunity for interested pilots to fly with mentors, both CSIPs from Australia and the USA. As I'm midway through my Cirrus transition, I took advantage of this opportunity by booking a session with Andy Hartel of Cirrus Sunshine Coast, and Kevin Korteum from the factory in Duluth. And here is where I had the chance to experience both power and freedom in the same session. The SR22 is the most powerful aircraft I've flown to date, with a 310hp IO-550 six cylinder Continental engine. To date, my command experience has been on the smaller IO-360, 200hp. 

Short final, Hamilton Island, me in command

With Kevin Korteum
I spent the next two days, in two sessions of two hours, flying circuits (in challenging coastal weather!) and learning about power management in higher performance aircraft. By the end of session two, I could barely walk from all the rudder inputs (oh for a yaw damper!) but had finally earned the right to change my name to Kreisha 'nails the centreline' Ballantyne. And while I'm not fully certified as Girl With a Side Stick just yet, I now have the confidence and the knowledge and experience to know it won't be too long. Both Andy and Kevin were incredibly laid back, and made me feel confident and capable, despite the unfamiliar surroundings and challenging winds. I cannot reiterate the value of spending the time with qualified mentors, something I lacked in my early flying experiences (but more than made up for in the later part of my journey: you know who you are, dear mentors of mine!)

For me, flying has always been about freedom. From my very first flight, a TIF back in 2008, aviation has represented liberty to me. As someone who believes that travel begins when you pack your bags, the process of travel - flying - has always been my favourite part of the journey. When I became licenced to BE the pilot of that journey, I gained the absolute freedom: to combine travel and flying, my two passions, into one event. To fly to the Cirrus Life event (although not PIC, I was fortunate to be co-pilot to the fabulous Rob Fuller in his lovingly cared for and immaculate SR22) on Hamilton Island, and then spend the weekend amongst like-minded people, eating, drinking, learning and making new acquaintances, is about as good as it gets. Cirrus Life? Yes please!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

One week; three lovely birds!

My life has taken a very exciting turn: I have been offered and accepted a position at Cirrus Melbourne as Sales and Marketing Manager!

Suddenly, everything is Cirrus, and while the learning curve is huge, I have had the opportunity to learn on the job over the course of the last week. The first flight in an SR22 GTS to Wagga, detailed in the previous post, was the start of many more flights in many more Cirruses (I still like Cirri better as a plural).

For my second flight of the week, I was fortunate to be present for an 'acceptance' flight: a customer had purchased an aircraft from the factory and had it shipped to Blue Demon in Moorabbin for assembly. 

After the test fight and signing of documents, the aircraft was released and Regional Director Graham Horne and I conducted the acceptance. This involved checking each item - the doors, the air con, the anti-ice, the EVS camera, etc - were all in tip top working order. This aircraft, an SR22T, was top spec, and very very exciting, not to mention luxurious, to fly.

After the acceptance flight to the training area, where a few minor issues were noted, we refuelled and prepared to return the aircraft to Air Gold Coast, with Graham dropping me off at Bankstown on the way.

As this aircraft is turbocharged, and fitted with oxygen, we climbed up to FL170 for the return leg. Check out our TAS at 17,000ft! The trip between Moorabbin and Bankstown took an incredible 2 hours and ten minutes!

The following weekend, I was back in Melbourne for Avia's Cirrus Life open day. The first perk of the job - other than the privilege of working for a progressive, forward thinking company with the best selling piston aircraft in the world - is travelling everywhere by Cirrus! I felt like a celebrity as I waiting at the Bankstown passenger terminal for Graham to arrive with Avia's new Australis -  (so new it's still in N reg - N9ZN). 

In the passenger seat was Graham's son and co-pilot Benjamin, who as a fine young gentlemen, slipped into the back so I could take over as co-pilot. Once more, we had a lightening IFR trip to Moorabbin, at a little over two hours and fifteen minutes, with Benjamin in the back listening to his own iPod, whilst Graham and I shared tunes in the front.

With the weather gods on our side, Avia GM Shannon Taylor - a professional chef - fired up the barbecue. No soggy old snags for Avia, though: Shannon prepared steak and salad for the Avia audience, who turned out to admire Avia's new Australis. AvPlan, Jacobson Flare and Wingmate presented seminars, while Avia CEO conducted tours of the facility including the state of the art six axis simulator. The day was an enormous success, as I experienced the fear and fun combo of giving my first on-the-ground demo.

Like all good things, it was over all too soon. However, my fine fortitude continued for the remainder of the day, as Graham and Benjamin were returning the aircraft to Ballina, with myself as lucky passenger as far as Bankstown. It was passed last light when we arrived, and I experienced the glory of the SR22 by night, where the massive 12 inch screens are really seen to their advantage. Graham demonstrated a superb night landing, before refuelling and heading straight off for Ballina, leaving me on the ground in an absolute whirl.

Three Cirruses in one week! It doesn't get better than that!

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Cirrusly Good Day...

I am not known as a 'morning person' and there are very few things that can entice me out of bed at lark o'clock. In fact, there are three: the possibility of travel, the chance to fly an aircraft at dawn and a giant diamond at the end of the bed. Sunday offered two out of three, which is good enough for me to set my alarm for 05.00 on a Saturday night.

Woken by the smooth tones of Mr Sinatra offering to fly me to the moon, it was still dark when Charles Gunter from Avia Aviation rolled up in his car and drove me to coffee. It was still dark when we pulled back the hangar doors to reveal a bevy of Cirruses (Cirrai? Cirrarum?) not yet glinting in the morning sun. Refuelled, preflighted and ready to go was the magnificent, the awe-inspiring beauty known as VH-XTS - an SR22 GTS Platinum. It was still dark when I opened her gull-wing doors and reclined onto her magnificent leather seats, and still dark when we taxied to the run up bay.  Indeed, it was so early, the tower had yet to become operational and we received our departure clearance from Melbourne Centre.

With Charles - Director of Avia Aviation and Cirrus Melbourne, and former airline pilot with over 14,000 hours - in command and AvPlan EFB open on my lap, we ran up and rolled for take-off, the only aircraft on the airfield. With power on the magnificent XTS emitted a sound halfway between a growl and a purr and within seconds we were airborne and turning, taking up the course for Tumut, our first stop of the day.

I, having had the enormous good fortune of being invited on the first stop of Cirrus Melbourne's Australia Tour, was heading to Tumut for breakfast, and Wagga for lunch. The Australia Tour  is set to showcase the latest in Cirrus technology, visiting flying schools and aero clubs to showcase the magnificent aircraft for which every pilot pines (even the ones who claim they don't can't help but feel awed after a demo flight in an SR22T).

Our 228nm trip to Tumut was, according to AvPlan EFB, going to take a speedy 81 minutes, as a cruise speed of 173kts. At top of climb, Charles requested direct to MUSOP, and with a ground speed of 184, the flight was a little over an 70 minutes. But my, what a seventy minutes! Flying above the clouds, in the silky morning air in an aircraft that purrs, that feels like a luxury car with wings, is as good as it can get; better perhaps than finding a vintage diamond, or discovering your tax bill is actually a rebate. It's up there with the most pleasant thrills in life. And, on an early morning in Melbourne, an aircraft with 'reverse cycle' air-conditioning just topped it off.

We barely had time for Charles to show me the highlights of the Cirrus Perspective - oh the joy! The ease of flight planning, the wonderful traffic system, the terrain visible on the synthetic vision even when we're above cloud! Oh boy, I could gush for hours - before it was time to begin planning the approach.

As Tumut has no TAF, we were working on the forecast for Wagga, the METAR for which was claiming fog. Charles loaded the RNAV approach for Tumut, but as we neared, we heard two local gents on the radio, both of whom were ahead of us, and would serve as our canaries. John in a Mooney and Jim, in a Paradise, both landed without issue, despite some clumps of fog near, but not over, the runway.

Even throttled back, we orbited the field, for distance between us and the preceding aircraft, and we watched them both land from overhead before going in through a lovely hole just above the aerodrome (thank you, weather gods. It's been a while since you've been so kind!) The old adage that a great landing always follows a wonderful approach, we landed smoothly and in style at Tumut, just in time for breakfast.

Approach to Wagga

This was my first visit to Tumut Aero Club, but it certainly won't be my last. The standard of the aero club brekkie is legendarily high, but the banquet at Tumut would give a Sydney cafe a run for its money. And what a fine bunch the club members were, too; some of whom I knew from AvPlan and others from my time at AOPA, as well as some new faces I'll not forget in a hurry!

Charles with XTS

The interest in XTS was great, and Charles was lightning-quick in setting her up for the excited club members to have a look. It never fails to make me smile, seeing the reactions of grown men when they're sitting in a luxury aircraft! They really are like children at Christmas; a look I know I've worn many a time when having had the privilege of an amazing new aviation experience.

Me, John and Jim

All to soon it was lunch time, and time for departure to Wagga. The ever-generous Charles invited two lucky club members to join us in XTS and I happily gave up the front seat to experience someone else's joy. Nick and Ryan tossed a coin, and fortune favoured Ryan - student pilot and club Facebook admin and future Cirrus owner! 

Ryan, Cirrus Owner of the Future!

Sitting in the rear (the seats recline!) I was reminded of the Cirrus Life event on Hamilton Island back in 2013 when Cirrus CEO Dale Klapmeier spoke of how the Cirrus interior was inspired: wives and partners. He knew if he could persuade wives and partners to join pilots in long journeys by light aircraft, he would have to design something that was both safe and comfortable. And did he ever succeed: the rear seats of the SR22T are as comfortable as those in a luxury SUV; the cabin is cavernous, with plenty of room in the footwells, and the seatbelts are like that of a car, unlike the usual neck garrotting affairs that are found in the rear of your average GA aircraft. Of course, there's nothing average about the ST22T.

Charles, keen to show Ryan the brilliance of the Cirrus Perspective, set up a practice ILS at Wagga and XTS flew the aircraft right down to the minima, with perfect precision. Our flight to Wagga took a mere 18 minutes, and as we taxied in, the crowds were already waiting for demos in XTS. 

Leaving Charles to show prospective buyers the full range of features, I took the opportunity to experience something quite different - a ride in a Paradise. The Paradise, a two seat LSA manufactured in Brazil, is not an aircraft I'd encountered before. Having had breakfast with its owner, Jim, in Tumut, I was thrilled to be offered the chance to fly it. It was something very new for me - a high wing lighty with a CSU! It was so much fun to fly, and quite a different experience approaching at 55kts. My landing was a little bumpy, but Jim was super calm, used as he is to landing the Paradise in paddocks. I love regional NSW, and it was a pleasure to have a flight over the local area in an aircraft with such wonderful visibility.

The Paradise

Back on the ground I encountered a couple of gents who'd been participants of a recent AvPlan webinar, and who were keen for me to check their aircraft details, so I spend a happy half hour demonstrating the joys of AvPlan EFB, while Charles took club members on demo flights.

And, just like that, it was four pm and time for me to leave. I'd booked a Q-Link flight home (the Dash 8 being something of a come down to me, even in 2C right near the front, after the joys of the day) and had to depart, leaving behind the fabulous friendly folks of Wagga Aero Club to continue their Cirrus experience.

Charles' flight home

I woke to the sounds of "Welcome to Sydney" having fallen into the most delicious doze. My Cirrus cap, which had fallen over my eyes, was thankfully a reminder that the day hadn't been a dream. May there be many more...