Thursday, August 27, 2009

iPhone for Pilots - NAIPS for iPhone

This post will be one of several on this theme, and it's unashamedly focused on Aussie pilots. Others may find it useful but the applications I talk about will be Australian. There's plenty of info on US applications elsewhere.

The first application I want to talk about is of the "you can't leave home without it" variety. In fact I think that's literally true if you have an iPhone. It's called NAIPS and its written by Rowan Williamson. Search for it on the App Store.

This application gives you access to most of the functionality of NAIPS on your iPhone. The interface is nice and clean and the application is fast and simple to use.

This is the main screen for a location briefing. All of the elements from this screen will be familiar to people who use the web version of NAIPS - except for the button labelled "Common". This is one of the great things about the app - it remembers where you've been and you can just click and load past locations. In just the same way as you can with NAIPS you can type in a location (YMML for instance) or a forecast area (30, 21 whatever) in each cell. When the briefing comes up you can choose to save it. Again a really nice piece of functionality that allows you to quickly access often used briefings. You will need your own username and password for NAIPS. This is free and simple from Airservices Australia.

When you retrieve the saved briefing you have the option of clicking the update button to get a current version of the saved briefing. The application does support sideways viewing so you can get the full width and bigger text. (What do they call that sideways viewing on the iPhone?)

There's lots more including an alternates briefing. But simply do yourself a favour and go and spend the $7.99 AUD. It will be the best money you've ever spent.

Rowan is working on the capability to submit flightplans from NAIPS. That will be absolutely the icing on the cake!

Footnote: I see from visiting Rowan's site that the first part of the flightplan submission functionality should be available any day and that there's some exciting new stuff with charts coming.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Enterprising audio

For about 3 years we've been planning to put a small but good sound system in our bedroom. We often sit in this room - either to work at the desk or to ponder the view across the urban sky line. There's also some lounging on the bed reading or whatever.
We wanted a system that brought out the best in our CDs (sorry no vinyl here) and yet didn't cost an arm and a leg. As well it had to be a small, un-intrusive system, the room's not that big.
We decided on the speakers about 3 years ago, but for some reason (maybe cash availability) we've procrastinated. Whatever the reason the moment came to do something about it.
The first step was to snatch a couple of shelves from a component rack that housed the main system in the living area. That effort segued into a major re-organisation of the TV, surround system, speakers, power wires, power amp, speaker cables, furniture, floor rugs and just about everything else in that room. A day and a half later we were pretty happy with that revamp. There was still some grumbling about the weight of components and the seemingly insurmountable problem of making all the cables and interconnects neat and tidy. How do you make that happen? I can't work it out, particularly in an old house.
So having freed up the component shelves we thought we needed we then set forth on the bedroom. That again turned into a major adventure in moving, removing and throwing stuff away. Good for the soul!
All this work meant that I was ready for a serious listening session to sort out whether I did really want the speakers I thought I did and to decide which amp and CD player to put with them. This is where our local hi-fi place is so good. The crew there are pretty Rabid when it comes to being passionate about hi-fi and they are happy to lug speakers and components around while you say "can we just try those speakers with this amp now please?". How they cope with all the different tastes in music is beyond me but cope they do with exhortations to "turn it up if you like".
The first marathon session re-confirmed the speaker choice from 3 years ago (albeit a newer version) and settled on a modestly priced amp and CD player. Now for the hard part: the second session involved my significant other listening to my choice and giving assent or otherwise. She's not one for deep analysis, it tends to be "yes I like that" or "that doesn't really do it for me".
We started with a "hi-fi mini system" which sounded good and then moved our way up to the amp/CD player I had chosen. At each stage she could hear a clear improvement and we ended up listening to and choosing the next amp up in the series from the one that I had chosen. It was so clearly an improvement that it was the obvious thing to do LOL.
The good part of this story though is the speakers. They are little - and I mean seriously small - "bookshelf" mini monitors. They are also seriously good. They're designed and made in Australia by a guy who has proved that you can make a business like that work here without resorting to sweatshop labour in Asia somewhere. When we got them home the speakers just came alive in our room. It was a case of the room and the speakers really suiting each other. They are so transparent and clear that you really do hear stuff that you didn't know was on the track. The speakers are Legend Acoustics Joey 6 SE. I really applaud Rod Crawford and the way he has built his business and the way he constantly seeks improvement in his speakers.
The end result is that I'm sitting writing this blog listening to a CD that I've had for ages and yet really enjoying it all over again. The CD's Yothu Yindi, Tribal Voice. For those who object to Amazon, there are other and better places to get it such as here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The meaning of freedom

Amanda Brooks, over here, posted an interesting story back in April. Briefly she was stopped and harassed by the cops in east Texas and she felt angry and violated by it (my words not hers).
I'm not going to second guess Amanda, she clearly had a rough time and nobody deserves that. But without commenting directly on Amanda's experience I want to use it as the stepping off point to discuss freedom.
In the late 18th and early 19th century Britain convicted massive numbers of people, mainly for petty property crime, they were either hung or transported. That's how Australia got going - transported convicts. The response was disproportionate to the crime, the punishments excessive and the outcomes for the poor bastards that were convicted were awful.
The key point about British society at that time was the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots". The gap was large and the "haves" acted aggressively to ensure that there was nothing and nobody that would threaten their position. I would argue that many western countries and particularly the United States find themselves in a similar position right now. That situation is further exacerbated by the creation of wars on faceless things: the War on Drugs, The War on Terror.
The problem branches into two parts from there. The first is the thing that many of us find so confronting, so gobsmacking and so hard to stomach: the line from being one of the people protected by the law to one of the people victimised by the law is razor thin. The journey from one side to the other takes a mere breath. So as we advocate judicial murder, long imprisonment, zero tolerance, three strikes and you're out...none of us think it might be us. Yet all too easily we can slip from privilege to prejudice. It can be us and it can be us really simply and quickly.
Worse if we are poor, black, poorly educated it is more likely to be us. We are the "have nots". We don't have money, education, the right friends or political influence. If we had those things we wouldn't find ourselves in the noose and even if we did, those things would extricate us from the noose.
Circling further, the key thing that removes our personal freedoms is us - it's our fear. We are scared that somebody might bomb us, we are scared that somebody might rob us, knife us, shoot us or otherwise harm us. So we conspire with the politicians to allow increasingly punitive laws and sentencing guidelines; we conspire with politicians to send our loved ones to far off lands to die in the name of freedom; we conspire with politicians and bureaucrats to make us stand in long queues and remove our belts and shoes before we can board an aircraft, to make us leave our bottles of water at home...endlessly in a downward spiral.
Our fears mean that we allow "them" to take our freedoms from us, because until the very moment we realise that we aren't them but us, we think we are safe, we are of them and they are doing these things to make the haves safe. Of course we are a have...until just the point that we realise we are not.
As for the terrorist: his intent is to cause damage to others. The greater damage (beyond the death of the innocent) is the economic damage that we inflict on ourselves by layering "security" of every sort upon the whole population. The cost to the economy, the cost to the individual, the slowing of activity and the curtailment of sensible and reasonable activity, all in the name of security, is simply aiding those who would seek to commit terrorist atrocities upon us.
As I read Amanda's post I wondered whether that was the seat of what affected her so profoundly about this very unpleasant experience. She had suddenly, as any of us might, found herself across the line and realised that this chant of freedom is illusory.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The way a day should be!

Tuesday was a dodgy sort of day in Melbourne. As I headed for the airport at 0700 it was raining and looking generally crap. Check in was easy and Sherry - the captain on the flight - did a good job of getting us to Sydney, smoothly and on time.
During our descent we popped out of the cloud at around 8,800' and serendipitously just about over the little airstrip I was eventually heading for. That made me feel positive about our chances of flying. The ARFOR was for a trough to approach from the west with showers, rain, low cloud ahead of it. Maybe some TSRA.
When we got on the ground in Sydney it was raining and the vis progressively worsened. Maybe this wasn't going to work. The weather radar (search on the Apple App Store for Pocket Weather AU if you are in Aussie) showed a great band of rain across the Southern Highlands but it was clearing to the east and appeared to have nothing following it.
An hour later and we were at the Mittagong airstrip (YMIG). Its 06/24 1200 metres of sealed strip at an elevation around 1,840 feet with a row of hangars. It was a WWII training strip and is now run by the Berrima district aero club.
The surrounds are a little tricky - the strip is in a hollow with higher ground in several directions. The wind favoured 06 but with a left cross wind. Final approach to 06 has some high ground so you sort of follow the terrain down as you approach. I tended to aim well into the strip as there was a little curl over going on final with some sink.
I love flying the Storm Century 5XL - it's a wonderful aircraft, a LSA with a cruise in excess of 120 knots TAS. It handles so smoothly and responsively, a great roll rate and very light control forces.
First flight we headed off for some upper air work, stalls, steep turns and a general fly about. There was scattered cloud at about 5,000' so we stayed just under that and had a barrel of fun!!
Returning to the strip was a little different. Some mechanical turbulence, a little sink and some xwind. Nothing major but enough to make you fly the aircraft.
The next flight was in a way even more fun. My passenger just loved the aircraft, after we had been flying around for a bit we headed back and then he said "can we just keep doing this for a while longer?". A man after my own heart - there's nothing better than just flying around (except perhaps, as Rattie said, messing about it boats).
Finally however we had to pack it in and get into the car to head back to Sydney airport. I managed to change my flight so that I left almost as soon as we got to the airport. 80 minutes later I was back in Melbourne. So from YMML in the morning and back to YMML in the evening all within 12 hours with some great flying at Mittagong in the meantime.
Isn't that how every day is supposed to be?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tailwheel Travails - Lesson Three

The weather today was 17G23 from about 330 degrees at the nearest weather station. We were planning to do circuits on 36. So we had a little left crosswind. Not much on the ground, though it was unpredictable and occasionally gusty. This was our first session of circuits and I was looking forward to it. This is where the rubber meets the road - or whatever the appropriate flying metaphor is. In order to fly a taildragger you have to be able to take off and land reliably and safely.
Gusty days have never concerned me, however they play into one of my little weaknesses as a pilot. When things get busy, particularly in the landing phase I can slip from my usual "Mr Smooth" into over-controlling mode. Something to do with my early days in gliders I think.
The first circuit was pretty good, a few bumps but nothing much really. As we came down final we were high and even with full flaps we weren't getting down so we crossed it up and that made her settle down. Nice to know how fast you can come down. As I came into the flair two things conspired to make my landing less than I would have wished for. Firstly my over-control tendencies as the aircraft got busy in the gusts, together with the Classic's great control effectiveness at low speeds. Many aircraft need buckets of control deflection at landing speed but the Classic has good authority right down to the stall. So the first landing had a bit of a zoom in it as I over-flared. Nevertheless we settled nicely and pointed in the right direction.
The next few were variations on the theme. I worked on controlling my inclinations to take the controls to the stops and the Classic behaved better and better. The landings were still a little ropey, but nice and workmanlike. My daughter wouldn't have approved but they were OK.
On final there was a fair old crosswind from the left together with some sink mid-final and then a bit of lift just over the fence. We did lots of full flap landings and some with only first stage. All in all it was a good workout. On the last circuit we were talking about whether to take a break and go again or whether to wait for some better weather so that I could work on being Mr Smooth again. We decided to do a few more and then wait for the weather to improve.
On to final, we were nicely lined up with about 20 degrees of crab, I coped nicely with the sink and the lift and I was working on being nice and smooth. It was working too! Into the flair smoothly, left wing down to hold the centre line. Nice and straight, settling, settling some more. Left wheel and tailwheel down and then the wind vanished entirely. The left wing headed for the grass - accompanied by a terse comment from the back seat, I banged in right aileron and as we came level a gust from the left caught the left wing and the right wing headed for the grass, aileron back towards the left. At this point the Classic finally decided that it had had enough of the oaf in charge and gently pirouetted to the right. I just focused on keeping the wings level, stopping the ground loop from tightening and getting on the brakes so that we stopped before the fence.
And stop before the fence we did - about 20 feet away. We shut down and got out to check for damage. Whilst those wing tips had got mighty close, there were no scrapes and aside from some evidence of a slide on the tyres all was well.
Interestingly I don't think either of us got our heart rates up much. My greatest admiration is reserved for the back seat. He confined himself to a single terse comment. I suspect if it was me, I'd have let forth a mighty oath or two!
There's a reason I called this series Tailwheel Travails. There's also a reason I love the Classic. I reckon that lots of other aircraft would have made a complete fool of me, rather than given me a gentle kick up the bum.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tailwheel Travails - Lesson Two

We've been put off a number of times by the rubbish weather - wind, rain, more wind.
It looked as though this was going to be another miss. The forecast was 18G32 with a front coming through from the west. When I first arrived it wasn't flyable - a nasty squall line from the NW and the wind just as forecast. We waited a while and there, miraculously was a clear spot.
I started up, taxied to the run-up bay and then down to the end of the runway. "You're taxiing pretty well" from the back seat. Well thanks for that, all of a sudden I feel like I can taxi this demon! Two things contribute to the sudden improvement: first I always look over the nose and don't let anything continue that I haven't specifically instigated and approved. Second I work on the basis that this aircraft will keep doing whatever it's doing and probably do more of it unless I stop it. So when I start a taxi turn I don't use much rudder and then I give it some counter rudder to keep things seemly. All of a sudden my taxiing appears half professional.
Lined up on the runway, open the throttle, tail up and we're airborne. The problem is that out of apparently nowhere there's a squall line obscuring the far end of the runway. We turn immediate left and by the time we are at 500 feet the strip has disappeared behind us. There'll be no circuits today and we may miss our lunch!! Away to the west we can see for miles but to the NW it is completely closed in with a big ugly squall line.
We climb and do a couple of practice forced landings. With the wind at 1,500' blowing about 35 knots all the action takes place right above the intended paddock. The Classic instills absolute confidence in these situations. This is proper flying, the best fun you can have sitting in an aircraft. You know when you are sitting in an aircraft and it is so responsive and predictable that you can set all thoughts of flying and deciding aside and just do it? You don't have to think, you don't have to second guess the aircraft you just execute the plan. That's what forced landings are like in the Classic - the thought is the deed and everything goes how you intended it to.
Meanwhile the squall line is getting thicker and heavier. We are in no danger - in fact we are in clear, smooth air, with the sun shining and able to see for miles to the west. We've got a handful of alternative places to roost - local strips, other airports - so we don't even feel anxious except that our lunch will be getting cold!
We decide to explore the flank and the back of the squall line just to see how thick it is. Wherever we go we stay away from the cloud and make sure our back door is firmly propped open. We wander around the back and side of the line, looking for a way forward. At one point it looks like we can run straight home, but as we proceed it becomes clear that the cloud and rain have completely blanked off the ground where we want to go. We roll around in a lazy turn and head for the sunshine again. Our tanks have plenty of fuel and the flying is such good fun anyway. There is no hurry, no anxiety...except that we hope someone has put our lunch in the oven!
As we loiter on the flank we see another hole appearing. We can get in but leave our back door wide open. We slow down and drift downwind staying in the clear area. A couple of turns to slow us down and then there ahead of us the hangars and airstrip. The downwind end of the strip is still wreathed in rain and cloud but it's clearing by the second. We join and set off downwind. As we do the last of the squall line moves away and we make a flapless approach. This strip is notorious for a bit of a curl over on final in this kind of wind. Apart from a couple of little gusts it's all pretty placid, into the flare, and as I touch down a crosswind gust gets under one wing. I counter with some aileron, a little bounce and we're down. I concentrate for the taxi and realise I can still do even that.
This has got to be the best flying I can remember for a long time. Pure flying for the sake of flying, in an aircraft that makes me grin widely just thinking about it.
The best bit: two plates of lunch, covered with foil sitting nicely in the oven keeping warm!! I'll be back for more - flying the Classic that is.
Part 1 of Tailwheel Travails and a brief review of the Classic.