Monday, February 26, 2007

Old skool fun'n'games

This video probably shows the best use of a balloon burner when the pilot is too drunk to fly.

It was also a good way to test pilot light reliability in wet and windy conditions.

Not much else to say other than I probably should not mention Justin's name.

For more of Justin's ballooning videos, search for growingupisoptional on youtube.

Car parks and drop lines

I just spent the weekend down in Canberra doing some private instruction for a friend. She is very close to getting her private pilots certificate and we just need a few more flights to get it finished.

Unfortunately the weather only gave us one flight on the Saturday morning but it was good to get another hour done and a good excuse for me to get out of Sydney for the weekend.

The interesting thing though was that this was a city flight and the landing was in a car park - not really an issue, indeed two other balloons landed in the same car park that morning. We very successfully used a drop line to make sure we got in, talked about what was going on and how to control your crew and fly the balloon, the risks and times to try it and when not to. All very important stuff and a great experience for the student.

What was interesting was in the flight debrief, there is no box to tick for handling line use. It appears that there is no need to know how to use one or as an instructor, no need to talk about it. Very odd. Even weirder that I have never noticed this before with other students.....Anyhow, now I have a question to pass onto the ABF Operations/training manager.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Relaxation in far north Queensland

So what is a guy to do when the wind kicks in and the flight is canceled on the field as it was today? Go shooting of course!

But Back to the cancellation for a moment. You probably read in my previous post how great the weather is up here and how they don't normally miss but a few flights per year. Well I got one today. After waiting for a rain storm that never really made it over the ridge, we decided that it was not going to get us and it was time to go. Half way through the inflation (6 balloons for Hot Air and 4 for Raging Thunder) we got whacked by a 90 degree wind change and an increase in speed on the surface that made sure we were not flying. The panorama shows it all once it had settled down. We had been about to start the hot inflation just moments before. It all looks calm in the picture but when balloons this big start flogging about, it too exciting even for me.

Anyhow, so after getting down to cairns it was time to go shooting with a friend of John Medlock's (my very generous host and another one of Hot Air's pilots). The fun thing here is that I have not done much shooting for years and I have never played with hand guns - they just don't exist out side of the police, gun clubs and armed robbers in Australia.

We started off with a laser sighted 22 semi automatic which was light and easy to handle. We followed this with a 9mm semi Auto which again felt very light, had open sights and in my untrained hands seemed deadly accurate.

It was time for bigger metal. Out came a Ruger 357 magnum with a laser sight. It feels heavy and deadly. The others felt like toys by comparison. Being a revolver it spits flame and smoke as it bucks in your hand. It is also very loud even with hearing protection. The rounds must be expensive as you only get 3 shots with this one.

Then the grand daddy. The Smith and Wesson 44 magnum, again with laser sight. Bigger again and heavier still. This gun was made famous by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies (without the laser sight). The dude must have wrists of steel to fire it single handed - well done Hollywood. I have a couple of dry fires to get the feel before loading it up with the full six rounds. It is now heavier still and the potential of this hand canon sits heavy too.

The kick is not much more than the 357 but the noise is immense and the weight requires two hands to get a good aim.

In the end I am pretty chuffed, every shot of about 30 in total over all the guns are within the 8, 9 and bulls eye rings so my eyes still work and hand is reasonably steady. I think I may look into joining a pistol club in Sydney when I get home - it was good fun in a sad macho way.

I used to shoot 22 prone competition about the time I finished school and did ok at it too. The focus and the relaxation to do it well was almost like meditation. I was surprised at how that same feeling came back today. Right up until the 44 went BANG! Then I just grinned like an idiot for a bit, cocked it and squeezed again.

Note: having just re-read this and looked at the photos I see a scary resemblance to David Hicks as portrayed in the Australian media....heres hoping I don't get a one way ticket to Guantanamo Bay for looking like a seditious gun nut...

PS: All this fun took place at CRM Gunsportrs, 293 Draper St, Cairns, Qld 4870
Phone : 07 4031 4440 - and ask for Tony

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Year of the Pig

It is the year of the pig (DingHai) and the Chinese are partying hard here in Australia.

I have come to Cairns for a week and a half to fly passengers for Hot Air, in what has to the largest passenger operation here in Australia if not the world. Chinese new year brings huge numbers of tourists into this area for a few crazy weeks of adventure activities and shopping on top of the already steady stream of tourists coming out to see the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree rain forest.

The flying takes place up on the tablelands at Mareeba, about a 60km drive over the range from Cairns. Up here the weather is generally kind for 340 days a year and pilots go to work on a roster like any other 9-5 job. Hot Air and Raging Thunder both regularly have 3 or more 350's or 400's or 450's out for double hops. Right now it is more like 6 or 7 for Hot Air which is why I am here. I probably can't go into detail on numbers but if you work backwards from the above with each balloon getting through between 30 and 40 passengers per morning you can get the idea of just how big these businesses are.

I have to say it is quite good fun and even challenging getting two half hour hops into a valley that will easily be 45minutes wide if you are not smart about your flight. The guys up here are absolute professionals at all levels and it great fun when a bunch of these big balloons all use the same field for our change over and then all land in a smaller one for the final landing - every one within a minute or two of the perfect half our hop.

Right now it is very hot and muggy which is best cured by lounging in a pool when not flying. Quite a nice way to spend a break from my day job at the factory and a great chance to keep in touch with how our big balloons are put work day in day out.