This is an ongoing tale of Alan and Jo's exploits in Austin, TX. Alan hopes there will be plenty of tasty beer involved, while Jo hopes to find lots of interesting aircraft.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Guest Blogging

I was invited recently by Dan Pimentel of to be a guest blogger for his site. So, I wrote this piece on Evening Flying for him. I hope you might like to pop over there and read it.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Flying High in San Antonio

Each year in San Antonio, the city's two large air bases, Randolph and Lackland, take it in turn to host their annual air show. This is always a great show, with plenty of US Air Force demonstrations alongside the civilian performers.

This year it was the turn of Randolph AFB to host the show, this year named 'Forging the Future', and for the first time I was lucky enough to be granted a media pass, along with access to the show's media preview day. This was held at San Antonio International Airport on the Thursday before the show.

The media day was being held in conjunction with the organisation Disabled American Veterans (DAV), whose mission is to build better lives for American veterans and their families. They do this in a number of ways, by offering free advice and assistance in obtaining medical care, legal issues, rehabilitation, transportation to medical facilities and counselling, amongst many more. This makes DAV a real resource for those in need.

One of the ways in which DAV publicises their activities is by outreach programmes involving two B-25 bombers; 'Panchito' in California, and 'Special Delivery' from the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, TX. This is done in order to raise public awareness of the sacrifices made by both past and current troops, on behalf of the American people. DAV had arranged for Lone Star's B-25 to be present in order to give flights to some of the local veterans from the Warrior Transition Unit of the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston.

Many of the civilian performers wanted to join in, so the ramp was filled with not only the B-25, but also a P-51, the Aeroshell team's four T-6 Texans, two 'Tora Tora Tora' Zeros, Kent Pietsch's Interstate Cadet and Warren Pietsch's clipped-wing Taylorcraft, Ed Hamill's Air Force Reserve Biplane, Greg Poe's MX-2 and also his Beech Bonanza.

Veterans and pilots gather around the P-51:

A veteran rides in John Mohr's Stearman:

This fleet of aircraft was assembled in front of a couple of dozen eager veterans. Five at a time could ride in the B-25, while others were flown in different aircraft. Two lucky individuals were given a ride in the P-51 'Gunfighter' and the huge smiles when they returned said it all, as demonstrated here by Staff Sgt. Richard Pollock:

A veteran poses by the aircraft she flew in:

Some of the pilots involved in the afternoon's events (L-R): Warren Pietsch, Ed Hamill and Greg Poe, in front of Greg Poe's Beech Bonanza photoship:

This brings me on nicely to the highlight of my own afternoon. Heck; one of the highlights of my year! TSgt Sonny Cohrs of the Randolph AFB Media Relations Team had told me it was likely I would be able to fly in something this afternoon, but there was no scheduled plan as to who would ride in which aircraft. The first wave of veterans taxied out in the various aeroplanes, which I was glad to photograph.

Then, I was told that I'd be riding in Greg Poe's Beech Bonanza. This is a highly capable General Aviation aircraft, which has been fitted out to suit the needs of photographers and videographers. As you can see in the picture above, the door has been removed completely, while the seats are complete with full-body harnesses that attach each occupant directly to the aircraft.

I was to ride with Billy Calzada of the San Antonio Express-News, who was shooting both stills and video. We were strapped in by the other members of Greg Poe's team; Greg Gibson and the Bonanza pilot, Dax Wanless.

Greg Poe got into his MX-2 after putting Capt. Theresa Chrystal into the front seat. Capt. Chrystal is an officer in the AF Wounded Warrior Program at Randolph AFB. The two aircraft started up and we taxied out, already in formation, with Greg hanging off our starboard wingtip. We made our way around San Antonio International until it was time to take the runway. In formation, we took off; the MX-2 very swiftly leaving the ground.

We left the airport and headed over the top of San Antonio. I was totally caught up in photographing the MX-2; it was an amazing sight, so close you could almost reach out and touch it.

I've really no idea where we went over the city, although we were orbiting in a racetrack pattern to take advantage of different sun angles; I do remember realising at one point that the centre was the other side of us, so grabbed some shots and didn't even know until I got them home that you could see the Alamo in some of them. Sadly, I don't think it is visible with the aircraft. I'm not ashamed to admit I was bouncing up and down with excitement in the Bonanza, and you can imagine my joy when the B-25 slid into view from behind the Bonanza's wing!

We spent the next 15 minutes or so welded together as a formation flight of three. The B-25 was bristling with cameras; I could see all the folks inside waving and taking their own pictures. After giving the city folks something to look at for a few minutes, we headed over to Randolph AFB. I think perhaps Billy's seat (facing backwards, and able to see more of the view below) allowed for a slightly better sense of geographic position than mine (facing sideways), for it was only once we got over the field that I knew we were there.

The aircraft visible on the ground in this shot are static display aircraft, in position for the weekend's show.

All too soon, the B-25 left formation and returned to the airport, leaving us to make our own way back. Greg Poe took the opportunity to throw his MX-2 around a bit, with smoke on and some unusual attitudes, like this:

I love this shot; Capt. Chrystal is really enjoying herself here!

I've been fortunate enough to do some air-to-air work before, and it is safe to say that every time I go up, I learn a whole ton of new things. This shoot was amazing, the first time I've flown in a plane with the door off, the first time I've been harnessed in, and the first time I've worked with professionals of such a high calibre. Their flying was a joy to watch, and done with utmost precision.

New experiences; the sensation of the wind rushing past, the sound of the MX-2 being gunned into some energetic manouevers thirty feet away, the fact you can see and communicate with the other pilots because they're right there. You're not going to fall out (not that this worried me) and your cameras are pretty safe too, after all, the photo ship is not being thrown around, so they won't be tipped out of the door (which had crossed my mind). Being able to move about to get the shots and not have to twist around in a cramped cockpit, or avoid photographing wing bracing wires, struts, etc is just luxury.

We flew for about thirty minutes, although I didn't land with the formation. I floated down gently over the span of about the next three days!

HUGE thanks are due to TSgt Cohrs of Randolph AFB, Greg Poe and his team, Larry Gregory and his Lone Star Flight Museum team, and of course the DAV. I heard that many of the veterans said this was the best day of their lives. I sure won't forget it, either. Thanks to you all.

Finally, here is a short video from the day:

And if you'd like to see more photos, Click this way...

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Wings over the Rockies

Denver's fine air museum contains many shiny things, including this Jet Wing.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

A few more #OSH09 pictures

A few random shots from the week. Enjoy!

Kirby Chambliss doing one of his trademark takeoffs

Matt Younkin leaving trails of smoke

Greg Koontz in an unusual attitude

Super Chipmunk

Waco on floats in the morning light

Airbus A380 takeoff

This helicopter was filming the crowd along the flightline

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cessna Riding

In my last blog entry, I mentioned that I'd had the opportunity to fly in a couple of Cessna aircraft during Oshkosh. Here's how it happened.

Rod Rakic of has been hard at work organising media rides for himself and other Podcasters/Bloggers, with Cessna and other manufacturers. It turned out that two of these rides were in a Cessna 206 Stationair and Cessna Citation Mustang, both of which are six-seater aircraft.

David Allen of the Pilot's Flight PodLog called me about sitting in the back of the 206 while he flew it, to get some photos. Of course I was game for this! So on the Wednesday afternoon of Oshkosh, we got the bus up to Appleton, to Outagamie County Airport where Cessna were basing their demo flights from. We were met by Angela Baldwin, one of Cessna's media people, who looked after us splendidly.

Dave @daveflys, Rod @rodrakic, Damon Favor @pilotdamon and I got into the Cessna 206, with Cessna's chief propellor pilot, Kirby Ortega. Meanwhile, Frans Dely and Gisela Kirsten from South Africa, and Mike Miley @mike_miley got into the Cessna Citation Mustang.

The 206 is similar to the 172/182 models of Cessna, but it contains a larger, 300HP engine up front, and an extra row of seats in the back. It has much more 'ramp presence' than the other models, being that bit longer and deeper in the cabin. This particular one was also really shiny and new, with leather seats and airbags in the seat belts.

Sitting in the middle row of seats, it felt on the ground almost like you're riding in a taildragger, since the aeroplane sits down low towards the back of the cabin. Damon was in the last row and sat significantly lower again. It's a comfortable cabin with easy access and plenty enough room for two to sit without bashing elbows.

Dave got into the left seat of the 206 and we taxied out. The Mustang overtook our Cessna while Dave was doing his power checks near the runway hold, so we had a grandstand view of first the EAA's B-17 landing in front of us, and then the Mustang taking off. Then it was our turn. Dave lined us up and off we went.

The Cessna climbed out quickly from Appleton and we headed west, away from the busy airspace around Oshkosh.

This aircraft came with a full Garmin G1000 equipped panel, which Kirby demonstrated many things with. As well as the main flight instruments (heading, airspeed, artificial horizon etc), you can have it show sectional charts, engine readouts, GPS tracks and small curved lines to show where you will be in 30 seconds while making a turn. It even shows where you are superimposed upon an airfield plate diagram while taxiing about, and has virtual scenery so if there's a hill or building outside, you see it drawn on the screen too. Handy when there's cloud about. I'm sure that is only a fraction of what this will do; it's a really nice piece of kit.

Dave flying on autopilot while Kirby looks on:

Self-portrait, with Rod on the right and Damon in the back. You can see how big the cabin is here, and even though the rear seats are not as wide, they are still comfortable:

David made a lovely landing at a small airfield way out to the west after making a practise approach. There were some interesting aircraft parked up which we examined, after taking this group shot. (L-R) Rod, Dave, Kirby and Damon pose in front of the Cessna 206:

We then swapped pilots. Here's Rod enjoying himself, flying the aircraft on the way back to Appleton:

This is a small video I shot on my phone during the flight, which gives some idea of the space inside this aeroplane:

Here's a link to another video shot and narrated by Damon. (Warning: you can see me in it!)

On arrival back at Appleton, we found the Mustang had also returned, and Steve Tupper, better known as Stephen Force of Airspeed, had arrived. Steve was booked in to fly the Mustang, with Cessna's chief jet pilot in the right seat. Rod and David were to fly with them, as well as Steve's 7-year old son, Cole. That left one seat, which Damon very graciously gave to me, since I had a camera with me. Thanks, Damon!

Stephen Force, in the left seat, primed and ready to fly the Mustang:

David grins in the doorway. He wasn't the only one smiling!

Small but perfectly formed jet turbine Pratt & Whitney engines power this thoroughbred with 1460 lb of thrust. This aircraft will do 340kt true air speed. Compare this to the 206, which does 150kt, and you can see we're really about to go places in this airplane.

There's those Garmin G1000 panels again, which enables an easy transition from the 206 to small jets. Steve has just finished G1000 training with the Civil Air Patrol, so he was able to really work the system, and he did it so well.

Steve concentrating on his stick time:

We flew north towards Sawyer AFB, 134nm away from Outagamie (about 150 standard miles), with Steve getting accustomed to the aircraft. We reached 32,000 feet in a matter of minutes; the Mustang leapt off the runway and scooted into the flight levels with ease.

The cabin in this aircraft was very plush, as you might expect from a private jet. Leather seats all round, with the four seats facing each other. Neat stowaway tables are hidden in the cabin walls, and each seat has two cup holders (I assume one holder for your gin, the other for your tonic...?). There's even a tiny fridge between the rear seats which holds a few cans of drink, and a drawer full of snacks. Cole took good advantage of these ;-) The windows are nicely placed for each passenger to have a good view, and it's unusual but fun to be able to look at the engines so closely.

Here's another video showing the cabin area, as well as Steve up front doing some flying:

Once we had made a turn back to the south, we descended to 15,000 feet and were cleared for a 2,000ft block of airspace, so that Steve could explore the flight characteristics of the aircraft. He started with some steep turns in both directions, the aircraft turning very neatly with the wings pointing not-quite-vertically towards the ground. It's always difficult to judge the bank angle when you can't see the instruments, but it was fun and the Cessna felt solid and safe.

Next up came some stalls. I have read about stalls but not really experienced them before, but as the aircraft first buffeted and then came that feeling of weightlessness, I recognised and thoroughly enjoyed the motion. Cole in the next seat was whooping with excitement. Steve did the next stall during a 20-degree right turn which really brought on the weightlessness. By this time I had noticed the speed brakes on the wing outside my window. It's only about the size of a large book but it makes a big difference. One more stall at slow speed and we were done. Cole had a big grin on his face :-)

We turned back for Outagamie and descended through the clouds. Just before we went through, there flashed a Sun halo and shadow on the cloud tops. I love to see these; it was there only for a moment; but then so were we.

Steve made a great landing - he says the aeroplane makes it easy but he was in command, right? - and we taxied in. As you can see, Steve really enjoyed logging that hour of jet time!

Many, many thanks to Angela and Cessna for making these flights possible, and to Rod Rakic for setting it up, and to David for calling me. It was a fabulous opportunity to experience the higher end of Cessna's aircraft range, and I know we all really enjoyed it.

Follow @Fly_Cessna on Twitter for Cessna news.

Here's a video shot by Damon after the Mustang flight showing people's reactions to the flight.

Steve Tupper wrote a blog entry on flying his son for the first time.

Steve also wrote his own version of events spoken as a pilot.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Oshkosh 2009 Recap

Once again, I am back home after a great week at Oshkosh, and wondering how to write about all that happened during my time there. I'll start at the beginning...

(Quick aside; all @names refer to Twitter folks. EG; @futureshox means visit to find that person.)


I got a flight from Austin to Chicago, and from there to Appleton. The flight was pleasant - watching the dawn from several thousand feet - and uneventful. Only trouble was, when I arrived at Appleton, I discovered that my bag containing clothes and tent has made a separate journey to Monterrey, California. This was not in the plan! I was assured of a phone call to let me know what was happening and I had no other choice but to get the bus down to Oshkosh as planned.

All was not lost though as I still had all my camera gear and there were aeroplanes to be examined, so into the show I went. My first stop was Hangar A, in which I found Lynda (@girlswithwings) in her trade booth. Lynda kindly offered me a tent to sleep in. Then it was on to the flightline, just in time to see Thunderbird F-16 #8 zoom past:

Next up was the arrival of White Knight 2, the new spacecraft launching vehicle from Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites. It arrived overhead looking like two aircraft in formation, joined by the longest wing. Apparently this is the largest all-composite aerobatic aircraft ever built, and if the wing were to split in the middle (though it won't), the two halves could be flown back to Earth independently.

It really is very graceful in the air. When SpaceShipTwo is ready, it will be hung in the middle between the two fuselages and the whole assembly will be flown to the edge of space, where the rocket-powered ship will detach and fly into space itself. Can't wait to see that one.

Also in this afternoon's showcase was the Erickson AirCrane helicopter. This was very cool, it is the first time I've seen an AirCrane, and this one was geared up to do water bombing over large fires. It scooped up a load of water from the nearby Lake Winnebago and arrived on site where it dumped the water on the grass in between the runways. Very impressive.

After this, I decided to make tracks for the campsite. There was a lot of black clouds and stormy weather heading directly for the showground. So I got going, heading for the @MyTransponder RV which has been promoted on Twitter as being the HQ for all the new media folks that were gathering on site. Of course, while walking the mile-long camp site, the weather arrived, so I got to the RV looking like a drowned rat. @Mike_Miley and @RodRakic and @DaveFlys were inside and made me very welcome, providing a towel and a beer. They also offered me a spare bunk for the night. This was fabulous! We all stayed inside the RV and waited for the rain to stop.

Later on, we visited @Av8rdan's tweetup/book exchange which he was holding at the Media Centre. I met a few folks there and exchanged a book. @Av8rdan provided some of us (the first 10 to respond, earlier in the week) with shiny Twitter nametags which were cool. I met with @DanBeauvais from ISAP (International Society for Aviation Photography) as well as Dick Knapinski from EAA, @MaxTrescott and plenty more. Then it was back to the RV for a beer and a most welcome bed.


An impressive sight to behold was an endless stream of Vans aircraft processing down the taxiway while I wandered around the homebuilts area. On and on they came, including the Falcon Flight aircraft from Texas leading the pack. Some time later, they all took off and disappeared off. A little later on, they came back in formation - here are thirty seven Vans RVs all at once!:

I'd had a phone call from the baggage guy the previous afternoon advising me my bag would be delivered this morning, and sure enough I got another call from the delivery guy telling me he was on his way. I met up with him at noon and reclaimed my bag from him. *Whew*! I moved into the next field of aircraft and plonked everything down onto the grass while I undid the rucksack straps from my big bag. It was a long walk even to the bus park from where I'd met the guy. At this moment, an angel with a golf cart stopped and asked if I wanted a ride somewhere. Dee took me right down to Camper Registration, snuck me into the line and whisked me away to find Lynda's campsite, where Lynda had saved me a space. Thanks, Dee, you are a star! Dee saved me so much time, I was able to get camp set up and get back to the flightline in time to watch the A380 arrival.

The Airbus A380 is the world's biggest passenger airliner. It can seat a maxiumum of something like 850 people in economy class, although most airlines will install a mixture of seating classes and carry 500 or so. It has a double-decker seating arrangement, you can clearly see the two rows of windows in the fuselage. It is a massive aeroplane but very agile for its size. This example has no seats installed, and was light on fuel, to enable it to land at Oshkosh. The runway here is at the short end of the usable size of runway for an A380. The pilot made a very good display of the aircraft, showing off its many wheels and even doing a Cobra maneuver, showing 30-degree pitch up and down. A very big, impressive aircraft.

By this time, I was quite fatigued and wandered off to the media center in search of anyone I knew. Chances were slim to find anyone since the airshow was going on, but I also wanted to sit at a table and solar-charge my phone which was running down. @pilot2b showed up not long after, so Marty and I sat and talked for a little while. Then my phone rang, it was Mark Twombly seeing if I wanted to visit the seaplane base. Of course I did! So I went over to the Seaplane Pilots' Association (SPA) booth to meet with Mark. Mark's son Ian was also there. We headed for Mark's car but while en route, he called to see what was going on at the seaplane base - the wind was very gusty and nothing was flying, so we went back to the house Ian was staying at and had a couple of beers, before going into Oshkosh and finding a restaurant at which we had a nice meal. I was also lucky to meet a couple more AOPA guys including Chris Rose, whose photo work I have always admired.


I had promised Lynda that I would spend a couple of hours working at her booth this morning, as she was short of staff. So from 09:00-11:00 I asked passing folks if they were familiar with the Girls With Wings project, which encourages young women into aviation as a means to achieve their potential. I sold a few T-shirts and pieces of jewellery which was an entertaining way to spend the time.

Once released, I went to find some food, and charged my phone again whilst eating. I switched my phone on just in time to receive a message from Dave Allen (@daveflys), asking me if I'd be around at 13:00 as he needed my help. It turned out, he was due to fly in a Cessna 206 and wanted to put me in the back to take some photos! Of course I was up for this!

I will spend more time on this subject in a separate blog post, but for now here is the 206 that we flew in:

And after this ride, we were very lucky to be able to jump into this lovely Cessna Citation Mustang, which was flown by our own Steve Tupper aka @StephenForce!

We didn't get back from Appleton until 19:30 in the evening, so we all ended up having beers and brats at Firebase @myTransponder.


After the glorious weather of the last couple of days, it was a rude awakening on Thursday to find the skies coated in grey rainclouds. It drizzled and poured alternately for much of the day. However, this is Oshkosh, so a bit of rain doesn't dampen one's spirits! Off to the seaplane base as planned.

It was, as expected, pretty quiet at the seaplanes, but although it was raining, the wind was calm, so there were a few movements. I took a pontoon boat tour around the harbour to get closer to the aircraft, and found some very nice examples moored around and about. For example, here's an Aviat Husky floating in amongst some water lilies.

Without much action happening here, I returned to the main showground and texted a few people to see if they were about. Rodolfo answered and we arranged to meet near the Warbirds, which eventually happened.... I spent some time looking at the Warbirds on my own before we found each other and wandered back towards Jon and Hofy who were waiting by the flightline. Meanwhile, I got a text from Larry Grace of ISAP, bidding me to meet him at the Media Center at 13:15. Leaving Rodolfo and the others, I found a bunch of ISAP folks there so we chewed the fat a while before Larry showed up.

Larry is a true star and one of those guys who looks out for his friends, especially when they're ISAP members. He found me a really good place to watch the afternoon's air show from.

Cirrus Jet

That night, it was scheduled to be the @MyTransponder party back at the camp site. This turned out to be a riot (the pleasant kind!) with about 40 people showing up from all over the twitter/blogosphere. Kind folks from Remos Aircraft (Gordon Suttie, @remospilot) and @ForeFlight were dishing out T-shirts and hats - thanks guys! It was great to see @JenniferWhitley there too, with her friend Bo, both from the Austin area. I've met Jennifer before at Temple airshow. There was a big inflatable video screen showing a live feed of tweets, anything sent to Twitter maked '#osh09' was showing up there. I was pleased to meet Christopher O'Callaghan of AOPA; we spent some time chatting. I was very happy to see Will Hawkins @pilotwill again after our jaunt down to San Antonio a couple of months ago with @stephenforce, we shared a beer and conversation and talked about photos and Will and Rico's forthcoming film, A Pilot's Story. It was a real shame Rico wasn't about, I spent the entire week looking for but not finding him; hope you're doing OK, Rico! @pilot2b, @airpigz, @bilwil, @pilotdamon, @DaveFlys, @adamcanfly, @OnTheFlightLine, @rodrakic and our gracious host @mike_miley were all present (did I miss anyone?); it was a fab party and great to spend time with everyone, making new friendships and reinforcing existing ones.


A slower start this morning, perhaps just as well after the late night before! Larry picked me up at 08:30 with his friend Jonathon (who lives about 5 minutes away from my Dad in the UK, as it turns out!) and we went back to the seaplane base - this morning, in beautiful sparkling sunshine. We met up with Jon Berry (@gonjon), David Leininger and Jurgen Radler; we were a mixture of ISAP and Fred Miranda members, all enjoying the seaplanes in the morning sun.

One aircraft we had come to see was this Icon seaplane, a new kit plane with folding wings which I believe is a first for a seaplane:

Plenty of other aircraft were floating about, including this Micro Mong, here seen doing a spirited takeoff:

One unexpected delight was the sight of the Canadian Lancaster flying overhead! This had sat on Aeroshell Square all week but could not fly much due to the 50-hour time before overhaul (TBO) on this aircraft type; the Canadians need to keep some hours on it for their own shows.

After a few hours of watching aircraft splash about, we repaired back to the main site and got lunch in Arby's (I think) before going back inside. We also met up with Frans Dely and his friend Gisela, both from South Africa. Frans is the man responsible for those stunning T-6 formation waterskiing shots a few years ago. Larry took us all down to meet with Paul Bowen who is one of the world's top aviation photographers, an ISAP member and an all-round great guy. He was signing his Air To Air books in the Flying Magazine tent. He was extremely kind, and gave us each a signed copy of whichever book we chose. Thanks Paul, you're a star!

Around this time, White Knight 2 was flying another demo:

Larry, Jonathon and I tried to get a photo spot on the flightline with Jon Berry, Hofy and Jurgen but it was way too crowded, so we jumped into Larry's car and drove right across to the southern end of the runway, just in time for the A380 takeoff. We watched the afternoon's air show very comfortably without too many people crowding around. Here's Ed Hamill's Pitts landing:

We regrouped after the show with more ISAP folks at the media tent where we enjoyed a group discussion about ISAP and the forthcoming symposium in Las Vegas, and other ideas for the organisation. Later on we decamped to Applebees restaurant for dinner, and as luck would have it, Dan Beauvais, Bryan and Claudia Stock joined us at the next table which made a good gathering even better.

Larry dropped me off at the campsite, where I made a bee line straight back to the @MyTransponder base camp, with a slight detour via the @Airpigz gathering which was almost next door. I sat and talked with the assembled company before they dispersed, then rejoined Mike and some others in the RV, unwilling to end my last night at Oshkosh. But after a while my own campsite beckoned...


I awoke to the sound of thin rain pattering on my tent fabric. Scrambled to strike camp before the rain got worse. Managed to shove everything under Lynda's shelter where I was able to dry the tent a bit with a towel before packing it up, it wasn't perfect but it got the worst off. Lynda kindly gave me a ride over to @MyTransponder to dump my heavy bags for a few hours. @Daveflys was there, so I walked with him up to the showground before we parted ways; him to the EAA radio station, me to the classics and ultralights, where I spent a merry hour or so examining those.

I came back through Aeroshell Square and the EAA tent, and saw this Canadian Lysander again (here photographed a couple of days earlier)

Back to Firebase @MyT and by now, everyone was up and had just eaten pancakes. Star that he is, Mike made a fresh batch for me :-) So now, I could bid my farewells to folks on a hearty breakfast, and catch my bus ride back to Appleton, and my flight back through Chicago to Austin.

So here I am, now reflecting on a fine week in Wisconsin. Once again, just like Sun'n'Fun earlier this year, the week has unfolded with surprises and unexpected delights, old friends and new, and it might sound cheesy but it leaves me with a warm glow inside. I am lucky to have such kind and generous friends, and I really hope I can repay the favours they have done for me.

Roll on #OSH10!

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Greetings from Chicago

Drinking a Honkers Ale while waiting for my flight back to Austin. It is tasty.

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Cessna 206 taxi

Here is the Cessna taxiing out with @mike_miley inside, after I flew in it.

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Cessna 195

Just one of the many gorgeous classics dotted around the field.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tuskegee Airmen motor gliders

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Seaplane base

It is pouring with rain but I came out here anyway; had to be done. Will probably return tomorrow if wx improves.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cessna Citation Mustang

And then they threw us into this beautiful jet for another hour! Photos and more words to follow :-)

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Cessna 206

Thanks to several friends and Cessna, I got to fly in this for an hour! It was very cool.

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A380 is quite large!

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Canadian warbirds

Lysander and Lancaster

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Gratuitous WK2 pic

WK2 on Aeroshell Square

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dear God, no!

Not everything here is beautiful ;-) however, camp has arrived and is now set up and is a sight for sore eyes. We also got a proper demo from White Knight 2 and the A380 which were so, so good.

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Monday, July 27, 2009


This helicopter did a huge water bomb drop demo.

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White Knight 2

Virgin Galactic's finest shiny new spacecraft launcher.

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Oshkosh 2009

Made it to Oshkosh! Shame my bag full of clothes and camping gear went to California. I hope to be reunited with it soon. Meanwhile, there are aeroplanes to be examined!

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Of Birds and Flying

I spent a good day on Saturday.

First stop was New Braunfels airfield, for their Pancake Breakfast fly-in. This is always entertaining and hey, they offer free pancakes! So I enjoyed a pleasant hour or so socialising with the usual posse of local pilots that attend these things.

When they all flew away, my attention turned towards the many swifts that were flying about, back and forth to their nests. There were at least four swift nests in an overhang close by, with chicks in.

Next stop was Aquarena Springs, which is a natural area in San Marcos that is home to freshwater springs and several rare species, as well as plenty of other wildlife. I wanted to see herons. I was not disappointed!

Green Heron

Great Blue Heron

Blue dragonfly

These fish live in deeper holes (bottom left) and come up now and again. This one is blowing the bubbles seen top right.

And a cute little green anole that leapt up to have his photo taken.

There were many other birds, fish, turtles, dragonflies etc; the place is teeming with life and is generally splendid.

Later on, I went into Austin and met up with Jim, in the Thai Kitchen restaurant. Not the most upmarket of places but the food was very good. We then decamped to Taylor airfield, and Jim took me in his aeroplane, a Vans RV-7A, for a bit of sunset flying. Most excellent!

Jim taxiing to the gas pump

Sunset over the ski lake

We watched the sun creep below the horizon, from 4000 feet. It was glorious. Thanks, Jim.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Things I have been flying in

I have been lucky enough to fly three times in the last two weekends!

Last week was Kingsbury fly-in, which is always an excellent festival of classic and WW1-era vintage aircraft and vehicles. John kindly took me up in this Meyers OTW for a few circuits:

I love flying in the Meyers, it's a great aeroplane. Not so good for taking photos from as there are so many wing wires and struts, but a nice stable yet agile flyer, it is.

Later on, we went up in this Luscombe Silvaire, which has a bit more horsepower and a nice open window. Alan took this one when we taxied in after landing:

We flew to do some air-to-air shots of this visiting Nieuport 28!:

This weekend, the balloon club decided to try and fly on Saturday morning as the winds were looking promisingly light. I was crewing for Rusty again. I was put onto the crown line this time which was cool as I've not done that before. It involves stabilizing the balloon as it inflates, with a long rope from the crown (top) of the balloon. When Rusty called me to run in towards the basket, she told me to get in; woo-hoo! So we enjoyed 30 minutes of glorious sunny morning flying across north-east Austin.

Looking up into Rusty's envelope, with the burner producing flame:

Sunny morning, shortly before landing at the UPS depot out of shot to the right:

When we landed, we found this little chap waiting for us! He was THIS BIG! No, actually he was about eight inches long. Kinda cute as snakes go. One of the other balloons found a five-foot-long viper, however, so we got off lightly!


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dad's Visit

It's been a while since the last update, mainly because I have been busy playing tour guide again - my Dad, Steve, came to visit for two weeks. Which was very splendid. So of course he needed the whistle-stop tour of Texas.

I picked him up from Austin Bergstrom airport on the afternoon of Thursday 28th, took him home, then once Alan was back we introduced him to Tex-Mex food at the Texican Cafe.

On Friday we started with Austin; went to Taco Deli for early lunch tacos, then downtown and had a mosey about. Looked in the Capitol Building. Went into the Chamber of Representatives and watched them conduct government. Here's a pic of the voting - all the green lights are votes for the motion, activated by buttons pressed by a few people who seem to run up and down empty desks, voting for those absent. It's a bit odd.

Diana had invited us to her house on Saturday for a pool party with Tamzin and the gang, so after a bit of shopping in the morning, we spent the afternoon splashing about which was good. Alan thoroughly enjoyed the water.

Sunday morning is shooting time, so we took Dad up to Capitol City Trap & Skeet where we normally shoot and met Larry for a round of sporting clays. This was (as always) a lot of fun and Dad shot pretty well, especially considering it's been years since he fired a shotgun. So here he is, obliterating a clay pigeon:

Monday morning saw us in Kerbey Lane Cafe on South Lamar, for a proper Austin breakfast. Here's Dad in the cafe:

After this, we went over to the LBJ Presidential Library to look around the museum there. This is always interesting but made more so right now as they have an exhibition relating to the space missions going on at the time of LBJ's Presidency.

We ate in Nonna Gina's Italian in Buda this night, which is one of our favourite places. The food is good, the portions sensibly sized and the place is friendly and local.

Tuesday was to be our jaunt into the Hill Country. We started at 7am in order to get over to Enchanted Rock early, before it got too hot. It takes a couple of hours to get there, so we enjoyed driving across country. The roads here stretch for miles and have almost no cars on them. It's still a place where other cars wave to you, simply because you're there.

Enchanted Rock was looking lovely. I'd been up there six weeks ago with Diane and the rock was looking very dry and barren. It had completely transformed during the intervening time, and was now covered with bright yellow flowers and lush grass in islands over the top, interspersed by rockpools with tiny creatures swimming inside. It was a beautiful day.

We spent the best part of two hours on the Rock before heading to Fredericksburg. I wanted to take Dad to the Airport Diner which is a fabulous 50's style diner, covered in chrome and colour, right at Gillespie County Airport. Unfortunately it was shut Mondays and Tuesdays. Here's an old DC-3 on the airport grounds:

So we repaired into town and got lunch in the Brewery; of course Dad took advantage of their flights of taster-size (2oz) beers so he could try them all :-)

Next up was the Admiral Nimitz Museum. This is supposed to be one of the best Pacific War museums in the country. Unfortunately they have closed off one of the biggest areas for renovation and expansion, which I'm sure will be a good thing in the long run, but meant Dad wasn't going to see their B-25 today. We did the rest of the museum though which was good and includes this Avenger:

Wednesday was forecast to be stormy but turned out into a lovely day again, which pleased me as I wanted Dad to see Kingsbury Aerodrome in the sun. This is where all the WW1-era aircraft live and Roger Freeman, who owns the place, was quite happy for us to come down and have a look around. He let us wander around the hangars so I gave Dad the tour, before Roger took us for lunch at the Chinese place in Seguin. Here's Dad outside one of the hangars:

Dad had made very good salad the night before, which we augmented with some extra veg. This was all we needed after eating well during the days.

Thursday took us down to San Antonio, as every guest has to go and see The Alamo. They don't let you leave Texas unless you've been there, you know. We stopped for breakfast on the way into town at a completely randomly-chosen Mexican cafe and had some really excellent breakfast tacos.

On we went, the Alamo has been seen and duly remembered. We then went into the Riverwalk and took a boat tour. This was quite amusing.

Next stop was on the south side of town, at Stinson Airfield. I'd not actually been to this airfield before. It is the second oldest airfield in the USA and is beautifully kept, with loads of GA aircraft about and a monument to the Stinson family who started it all. They also have a small museum at one end which was the object of our visit. Here is one of their two Curtiss Pusher aircraft, from the same era as the Wright Flyer and Bleriot:

We left there and managed to escape San Antonio before most of the rush hour traffic kicked in and got back in good time. Once Alan came home, we drove up to the Salt Lick and made sure Dad had some proper Texas barbeque while he was here.

Breakfast was taken in the Root Cellar Cafe in San Marcos on Friday. I'd spotted this place on the interweb and seen plenty of good reviews. We were not disappointed, the breakfast was really nice. This set us up for visiting San Marcos airport. This is a very nice airfield at which one may still walk on the live side amongst parked jets and turboprops without causing anyone to bat an eyelid, much to Dad's amazement and my delight. After examining the GA side, we drove round to the CAF hangar to look at the WW2 aircraft they keep inside; most of which are airworthy and appear at various shows in the region. This T-33 lives outside:

We continued south and visited the outlet mall, before going on to Gruene, a pretty town on the edge of New Braunfels.

After this, we headed back and boucned off the house to freshen up, before heading into Austin to meet Alan at the Ginger Man pub for a beer. It was very pleasant - and Dad was suitably impressed by the 150 or so beers on tap! - but it was heaving, so we walked over to Little Woodrow's where we were able to get a seat. Then it was only a short step to Hut's Hamburgers for dinner, where they serve onion rings so giant, they deserve to exist around planets.

That night, we got a huge thunderstorm in a cloud, although it didn't seem to quite reach us here. It looked good though:

Saturday was mostly spent shopping in preparation for the events of the weekend, although we did go up to Fry's Electronics via breakfast in Taco Deli North. We had been invited to a wedding on Saturday night; Phil and Renee from the balloon club got married. They held the ceremony on the front lawn at their house which was unusual but very pleasant. And then of course there was partying to be done!

We took Sunday morning slow, although we hadn't drunk a lot, but for some reason were very full. Eating catches up with you. Too bad we had to make a monster curry to feed the gang who were coming round later on! Tamzin, Diana and their families all descended on us about 3pm. Of course I had vastly underestimated the time it takes to make a curry for 12 people - I usually cook for two - so spent a lot of time having to finish that rather than be sociable, but hey ho. I made chicken tikka masala (we had marinaded the chicken the day before and Alan grilled it Sunday morning) and it turned out pretty good, everyone seemed to enjoy it.

(This photo © 2009 Steve Mitchell)

Monday was our last free day and we spent it fairly quietly; did some shopping for sports gear in Academy, looked at camping gear in REI. Alan had come home not feeling well so we came back to make sure he was OK. We did go out for tea but only locally, to the Galaxy Cafe for a light dinner. Alan went home again while Dad and I went into town, to Zilker Park, where the balloon club were doing a demo for anyone who cared to watch. Unfortunately not many general public folks turned out, and the winds were too high to properly inflate the balloons, so they were packed up again. The club tailgated but Dad and I went home to be with Alan.

Tuesday was very cool. Alan was feeling better so went off to work as normal. Dad and I met Diana and Tamzin in the Kyle HEB parking lot, before I tailed Diana down to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. Her brother, Col. Mike Kelley, flies F-16s for the Texas Air National Guard, and trains new F-16 pilots for the Air Force. He had invited Diana and the rest of us to the base for a visit. They got us on base and we had to wait a while during his briefing, and then we went for lunch in their BX. After this, we were bussed out to the flightline from where we could watch the F-16s taking off. There was also a huge C-5 Galaxy doing circuits. Mike flew for an hour but unfortunately we missed his landing as we were stuck in a traffic jam on base, trying to get to the other side of the airfield where the jets were parked. We had to return and have our guide grab a radio so she could drive us directly across the active runway. We arrived just in time for Mike to be walking away from his plane; he had just enough time to give us a close up look at the jets and a few quick photos before we all got on the bus with some other crew to be taken back to the squadron HQ. Thank you Col. Kelley, Diana and the 149th FW for our day out, it was fabulous!

Of course the pictures are on my main site, but here's Mike taking off:

The day was rounded off with a visit to Trattoria Lisina, a very nice Italian resturant alongside Mandola's Winery, out in Driftwood. We did the wine tasting and enjoyed a very splendid meal there.

We left on Wednesday morning at 6AM sharp, in order to drive to Houston and get to the Johnson Space Center by 10AM. This we did with no mishaps, stopping at a Whataburger for breakfast along the way (not great but it's fuel). Visits to NASA are always good. Dad enjoyed the tour greatly, in which you get to see the old control room:

Followed by the ISS training/mockup room which is huge, and finally a stop at the rocket park:

Back on site, you can wander around the spacecraft exhibits which for some reason are almost hidden behind the raucous children's area. Once inside, however, there are Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules to look at, spacesuits, equipment and moon rocks to examine. They have the old training simulator for Skylab which you can walk through; this is really quite big:

Following this, we drove over to the hotel. I'd chosen the same place as we stayed at when Diane was here, for the same good reason: you can walk to the Ginger Man Houston from it! This we did. Hot and humid as it was, we needed our beers by the time we got there, so plenty of Real Ale's finest Rio Blanco Pale Ale was consumed, before we left in search of food. The next block contained a very fine Vietnamese resturant in which we enjoyed a lovely meal and a TsingTao, before walking back to the hotel and one last beer (Chimay Red) before bed.

Next morning, we had breakfast at Einstein's Bagels, before I drove Dad to Houston International Airport for his flight home. It has been a wonderful two weeks.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Airspeed at Randolph AFB

On Thursday 14th May I had the most excellent opportunity to visit Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, to photograph Steve Tupper of Airspeed Online, while he got a ride in a T-6A Texan II aircraft. Will Hawkins of Wilco Films was also there to video the whole thing.

The Texan II is the primary fixed-wing training aircraft of the US Air Force and looks like one heck of a ride. We were the guests of 559th Flying Training Squadron, the Flying Billygoats. Steve's callsign was 'Goat 7'.

Here's Steve kitted out in front of the plane:

Taking off:

Taxiing back in after copious amounts of aerobatics during a 1.25 hour flight:

And a visiting T-38 Talon:

More pictures and video will be showing on Steve's blog which is well worth a look.

Many thanks to Beverley Simas and Gabe Myers of Media Relations, and of course to Steve's pilot, Major Jarrett Edge, who was kind enough to give him his flight. All the folks at Randolph AFB were brilliant and looked after us very well indeed. Thank you!

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sun'n'Fun and the power of Twitter

You can see from the posts below that I spent most of last week in Florida, at the Sun'n'Fun fly-in. Second in size only to Oshkosh, this fly-in marks the beginning of flying season for most folks. I managed to visit it last year by cadging a ride in a Piper Aztec which was great fun, but this year I'd have to fly commercial.

Now, for the uninitiated, Twitter is like a cross between text messaging and a chat room. You can access it from virtually anywhere, on any device, and send messages telling what you're doing, where you are, how you're feeling or whatever. People choose to follow you, so your followers will see these messages (tweets) and likewise, you will see those for people you follow. It's one of these things that the more you use it, the better it becomes.

So (like most people) I'd been mentioning on Twitter that I was going, and @foxwhisperer and I decided to share a cab from Tampa airport. @girlswithwings decided to join us, so when I arrived at Tampa, they were waiting for me. We jumped in a cab and although we had Greyhound bus tickets, we elected to take the cab all the way to Lakeland as between the three of us, it really didn't cost much more than getting a second cab at the other end as we'd otherwise have to do, and meant we didn't have to wait for buses etc: two extra hours at the show!

In the cab: @girlswithwings on the left, @foxwhisperer on the right

When we arrived on site, @foxwhisperer was being met by one of the Seaplane ladies, Sharon, who was very kind and bundled the lot of us into her car to take us into the show. We bought our wristbands and went in. @girlswithwings wanted to go to the Ultralight area to find her friend, Arty Trost, who flew a Maxair Drifter from Oregon to Florida for the show. Read about her here, she's a star. We ended up camping next to Arty's aeroplane - that's my little yellow tent in the background of the pic in the link! This was great as the ultralight field is pretty central in the showground. We also lucked out in the facilities - there was a very shiny shower truck near us. Always important ;-)

So the week passed in a blur of early mornings - up at 6am each morning to watch the balloons - and evenings at the bar and/or at the presentations that were happening on site.

@wilcofilms, @pilot2b and @girlswithwings at the bar

There's glorious video action of us all at the bar too, courtesy of @Daveflys! Click here to see us all (warning: even me!). @Daveflys is a star, he supplied many of us with breakfast waffles, coffee, beer and transport during the week.

Days were spent watching the world-standard aerobatic shows and, of course, the masses and masses of aircraft that abounded on site. Also, off site; the seaplanes were based at Fantasy of Flight again on Lake Agnes and were even better than last year!

Here's Kermit Weeks flying his gorgeous Grumman Duck for our pleasure (and his, I'll bet!) - wish I had sound on this:

And how about a Micro Mong while we're at it?

I could rave on about seaplanes all day; go see the pics here if you want more. I spent all day at the seaplane base before catching the last shuttle bus back to Lakeland. I wandered over to the Sun'n'Fun Radio station which seemed to be the Twitterers' impromptu base for the week and got there in time to watch and listen to @Daveflys (left) and @Pilotwill (right) record their podcast. @Girlswithwings was their first guest:

After this, we all decamped to the restaurant at the end of the field, Brima, for a Tweetup which had been organized on-line before the show. This turned out to be really good, with about 25 people showing up for it. Hello to @airpigz and @bladedoc and anyone else who was there that I've missed. Big thanks to @stephenforce, @rodrakic and @foreflight for dinner. There's pictures here but you may need to be a member of MyTransponder to view them.

I have met a lot of really cool people during this week; lots of new friends, many of whom are active in the blogging/podcasting/new media sphere, most of whom are pilots, some of them get paid to fly, some don't. It has been my absolute pleasure to spend the week with them all.

This is not to forget the people I already knew, of course! It was great to see Nic, who I spent a lot of time with talking about various things; also friends from San Antonio and Lakeland itself, and also some folks from ISAP, who I see at these events.

One new experience I'd been looking forward to for a long time was the night airshow. They had a few acts that each had more and more lights, flares, fireworks and anything else that could give off light attached to the aircraft, as darkness fell the acts got brighter.

Here we have the AeroShell aerobatic team with flares illuminating their smoke:

They were preceded by the Aerostars Yak team with flares, and followed by the Super Chipmunk which also left bright smoke trails while it flew lazy aerobatics, firing off Roman candles every now and again.

The Army Golden Knights came out to play, with each parachutist trailing a giant sparkler. Then last came Otto the Helicopter, who was almost undiscernible amongst the massive amount of fireworks radiating from him.

The last major event was on Saturday morning with the balloon launch; this is also in a blog entry just below this one. I got very lucky; because @girlswithwings and I had been out each morning to watch and help them launch, when I wandered along the crowdline, I managed to catch the eye of Kevin the pilot. He beckoned me over and allowed me to get in amongst the balloons. This was cool, and even cooler when he told me to remove my shoes and get inside the envelope - a few other photographers and I got the opportunity to image the burner flames from inside the envelope! Pictures yet to come - I've not had time to process the entire week's shots yet.

The last one here is from just before the balloon launch - every morning, we had this fabulous ground mist on the showground. Here's a shoal of aeroplanes swimming through the dawn...

Later on, I packed up my camping gear and was picked up by @pilotwill and @wilcofilms in the ubiquitous golf cart (standard Sun'n'Fun transport!), which took us to their car. They very kindly took me back to Tampa airport, thus avoiding the whole taxi/bus/taxi/several hours scenario that otherwise awaited me.

So this whole week was completely transformed; from the expectation that I'd be on my own (with the exception of meeting up with Nic), to spending so much time socialising with like-minded people; all because of one little Web application: Twitter.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Florida here I come!

I'm off to Sun'n'Fun in Florida next week. It's the second biggest fly-in in America, after Oshkosh. Check back for live blogging of interesting aircraft or activities that I encounter; I'll be sending updates from my phone!

Meanwhile, here's a T-34 from Burnet Airshow last Saturday:

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Friday, March 27, 2009


Spending the day at NASA in Houston, where they have very large space vehicles like this Saturn V. Cool.

Edit: Here's another one from the day since I got my photos onto the computer. This is a Mercury capsule which is just large enough for one man to orbit the Earth. 'Faith 7', to be precise.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Collings Foundation Tour

The Collings Foundation operate various warbirds and tour them around the country each year. You can get rides in most of them or just have a look round.

I went down to San Marcos this time and was fortunate to see them all arrive.

First in was the Mustang...

Shiny, eh?



Blackhawk, just passin' through...

And last but not least, the Huey.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Taylor Air Race

Last Sunday was Taylor Air Race, in which a bunch of pilots with go-faster stripes on their planes (amongst other mods) compete in a timed lap of the local area. Although it's not really a spectator sport, the takeoffs and landings are photographable, so off I trotted to Taylor to do just that.

This was the biggest and fastest competitor, a Swearingen SA226:

More pictures are in the usual spot.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Moon and Venus

The Moon and Venus were in conjuction on the 27th February. There was a lot of high cloud haze but it was very thin; enough that we could see the sights but it caused a big halo around them, especially later on after I took this shot.

The streak on the right is an aircraft passing by ;-)


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Washing planes

I washed this Bleriot earlier before photographing it for a client.

Here's the aircraft after a bit of magic pixel dust:


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Ballooning again

The balloon club decided to grab a flight on Saturday morning as the winds were forecast to be calm and the sky blue.

So lots of people assembled at a school off Braker Lane to fly. Five balloons turned out which they tell me is a bit of a record for a club flight.

I ended up crewing for Rusty, who had me on the inflation fan to begin with, followed by radio and navigation duty in the chase car. I can see that I might have to get some practise in driving vehicles with trailers if I'm going to make a habit of crewing. Lynn drove this time though so all was well.

The balloons flew about 30-40 minutes although it didn't feel that long at all. They found themselves heading directly for Bird's Nest Airport, so landed in that nice friendly space while they could.

Back to the launch site for some tailgating; strawberries and champagne!

Sam's Texas Twist and Dick's Big Boy

Phil's home-made balloon

Rusty's Confetti

Nick and Dick


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sunset Flight

Yesterday evening, Jim asked if I'd like to accompany him to Taylor airfield. Never being one to refuse such a request, I gladly joined him for a splendid afternoon of some hangar flying, followed by some real flying at sunset, once the howling winds had died down.

Here's a few pics:

Jim taxiing around to the gas pump.

Lifting off from the runway.

sunset from 2000 feet.

Taylor airfield.

Jim gave me some practise at co-ordinated turns and we flew for something like 20-30 excellent minutes. Thanks Jim!


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Building an Aeroplane

I had my first bash at helping to build a plane yesterday!

I'd been down to New Braunfels first thing in the morning, to visit their Pancake Breakfast fly-in. Winds were gusting to 30+ mph so I wasn't expecting much action and sure enough, not many planes were about. No matter, all the pilots drive in anyway and sit around in the cafe, hangar flying. I sat for a while with the pilots and another photographer, Dennis, who I see around at these things. Which was all very pleasant.

Onwards to Kingsbury, where I had to deliver some photos to Roger who owns the place. We sat for a while looking through those.

Then I asked if I could get involved in doing something. It was a work day, in which lots of volunteers show up every two weeks or so, to build planes, repair vehicles etc etc.

So, they put me to work on a Thomas Morse Scout wing which had been restored and had a loose cover of Ceconite fabric over it. They gave me an electric iron and set me to work heat-shrinking the fabric over the wooden rib structure.

Tom Gaylord kindly sent me these photos.

Here's me ironing out wrinkles under Roger's tutelage:

Once all the wrinkes were flattened, and Roger had inspected the wing, it was time to apply the first coat of nitrate dope. This is (as I understand it) a base coat to strengthen the fabric. Beyond this lies rib stitching and dope-based paint.

Here's me painting on the dope:

And (as Tom put it) the usual supervisor-to-worker ratio, or one worker; four BSers!

I probably spent 3-4 hours working on this lot. It was a lot of fun though and it felt good to be involved in doing something. Hopefully I can get down there again and do a bit more.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

A glorious morning

Or, snatching victory from the jaws of despair...

I'm a member of the local hot air ballooning club and yesterday one of the pilots asked for some crew for a flight this morning. We were to meet at Old Settler's Park in Round Rock at 06:30.

So I asked where this place was and was given a map, upon which was marked two pavilions suitable for meeting up at. Off I trot to Round Rock at 05:30 this morning. It's pitch dark still when I arrive so I just followed the road into the park where I found both pavilions but nobody else, so I parked up and waited. And waited. And waited. And called the pilot - no answer. Waited some more. Drove around a bit looking for people. Phoned again; no answer. Drove around some more - by now almost an hour had passed since our allotted meeting time - and saw a balloon in the sky. DAMNDAMNDAMN Where the hell are they then?!!! Drove out of the park to find the balloons (for there were two more) inflated and ready to go, outside the park entrance, in a parking lot right by the main road.

So I careened up, leapt out of the car and being honest, was a bit upset. I had been looking forward to crewing; wanted to hang on ropes and operate fans, and felt I'd let my pilot down by not being there. He knew I was coming because he phoned me while I was en-route. Bloody maps that point you to the wrong place.

Anyway, Joe the pilot simply told me to get in the balloon... which is very nice of him since I had totally not expected to fly today.

Joe's Burner and Envelope

We lifted off and flew right over the top of the Dell Diamond baseball park, and spent the next hour flying at about 18mph and 500 feet across to Taylor, across industrial estates and housing estates, our way marked by a trail of barking dogs. Waving at folks on the ground, at cars slowing down to have a look at us. Taking loads of pictures of the other balloon which lifted off behind us. Watching cranes fly out of creeks and cattle running away from us. Watching the chase crew following us around. Marvelling at how little people had in their back yards in Hutto, just grass and bicycles (don't people plant trees around here?).

The other balloon

Joe was on his check ride so he did a couple of touch-and-goes in a nice wide field. Most of the fields around were ploughed so the landings were a bit bobbly as we hit the furrows. We had a little bit of wind steerage - different altitudes often have winds blowing in different directions - but not quite enough to put us into Taylor airport (which would have been quite cool).

Holding the balloon upright just after landing

We landed into a field just to the North. The other balloon landed in behind us. The basket tipped over a bit and we dragged for a few yards but it was all fine. I stayed put as I'd been told to do; passengers are merely ballast after all! Eventually enough air had been released from the crown of the balloon to deflate it suffiently that it would no longer be taken by the wind, and we were properly down.



Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Last night a friend, Jim, took me flying! It was my first time aloft in ages, since Oshkosh in fact. (Flying buses don't count, it's gotta be small and interesting)

He roped in a friend to fly with us, so I got to do some air-to-air photgraphy. My favourite :-)


Monday, August 04, 2008

Oshkosh Recap

I figured I'd post this to fill in the gaps about Oshkosh that my photos would not have conveyed, and to tell the whole story. First let me say, just in case you hadn't figured this out: Oshkosh is awesome!

I lucked out big time for the show. Took a commercial flight to
Milwaukee and then a Greyhound bus through the very pretty Wisconsin
countryside to Oshkosh. The bus drops you right at the main terminal
so all I had to do was get a shuttle bus round to the main site, and a
second one down to the camping registration.

There, I signed in, paid my money etc and asked where I should camp.
Of course I only needed about 4x6 feet to camp in due to my tiny tent.
The lady fetched her husband and because I was a first timer and on my
own, asked him to find me somewhere good to camp. He put me with some
people he knew to be OK, who were camped right near the front entrance
gate. This was a blessing because it meant I didn't need to get
shuttle buses to the nether regions of the huge camping ground/city.

A secondary blessing occurred when the people who I was camping next
to noticed me. These folks turned out to be Mr Bill Rose and his friends, who invited me - actually I didn't have a choice! -
to join them for dinner every night and breakfast in the morning. They
had a circle of wagons (OK, RVs) and one of them contained two cooks,
who worked overtime preparing mountains of food. So I ate well during
the week! Thanks, Bill!

I arrived around 3pm on the Monday, just in time to get my tent set up
and wander into the showground to find my bearings. I got to the
flightline in time to see the DreamLifter arrive. Now that's a big
boy! Very impressive. They towed it onto Aeroshell Square where many
other aircraft were parked, including a Spitfire, P-38, KC-135 and the
SB2-C Helldiver. There was a stand set up next to the Helldiver and I
recognised the nametag on one of the gents manning it - Mark Novak,
who flew me in his T-6 about five years ago. We had a chat for a few
minutes which was cool.

Most of Tuesday was spent around the centre of the showground, slowly
spiralling out as I found my way around. I headed over to the Pioneer
airport and got myself a ride in one of the Bell 47s that were buzzing
the site all day long. This was fab as you got to see the expanse of
Oshkosh all laid out before you. I confess I was a bit daunted at the
size of it and started wondering how I was ever going to see all of
it! Great flight though, I like flying in helicopters.


On Wednesday morning I got the first bus over to the seaplane base
which is about 5 or 6 miles away to the east (I think). This proved to
be a good move as the place was lovely first thing in the morning. Not
too many people about at first but it soon got busy. Luckily I'd got
my name down early, to ride in the Cessna 185 on floats that was
giving flights around the lake. $50 well spent for the joy of flying
in a floatplane for the first time! The sensation of being on water is
quite different. The transition between water and air happens quicker
than I imagined; with a skoosh of spray from the floats, you're off
and flying up over the lake with a gin-clear view of the surrounding
countryside. You can see Oshkosh laid out to one side and a whole
forest of wind turbines on the opposite shore of the lake. Seabirds
fly below over the shallow water and small islands. A long slow turn
back towards the shore and a pass over the top of the seaplane base
(camera working overtime here) before lining up into the wind and a
gentle landing back on the water. Stick the camera out of the door to
catch the spray. Watch other aircraft water-taxi around. Back to the
jetty with the silly grin plastered firmly to the fizzog.

I headed back to the main site slowly, via the rotorcraft/ultralight
area and the Vintage aircraft parking (filled with lots of very shiny,
lovely things including that Boeing 40 mail carrier) and to the media
building, where I hung around waiting for familiar faces to show up.
Sure enough, they did. I belong to the International Society for
Aviation Photography as does a good percentage of the folks with media
passes. So I met up with several friends from previous ISAP
conventions there, many of whom berated me for not having told them I
was coming! (I was most pleasantly
surprised by this!) I ended up shooting the afternoon airshow with
Larry and Brian which was a lot of fun.

On Thursday I went back to the Pioneer airport to have a close up look
at the Goodyear Blimp which was parked there. Then I did the EAA
Museum which is well worth a look at any time of year. Some very cool
stuff in there - I loved the Bugatti Racer. Lots of lovely jet noise
announced the arrival of the F-22 Raptor. The afternoon's show
featured both the Raptor and the V-22 Osprey, neither of which I had
seen fly before. Both were deeply impressive in their own unique ways.
Unfortunately we didn't get to see the full Raptor display due to
airspace/display box restrictions but the thing can turn on a sixpence
and it just generally rocks. They say it can do a slow speed/high
alpha pass down to 35 mph! Although if the engine quits it will fall
out of the sky, so we got a pass at 85 mph instead, which still looks
impossibly slow.

That evening, Larry, DK and DK's son and I drove back out to the
seaplane base to catch the evening sun. We got there only just in time
but got some great photo opportunities in the golden light, helped
enormously by the fact we got a water tour in the aircraft tender
boats which sit very low in the water. (I'd ridden one of the pontoon
boats the day before too). Yellow Cubs look great in this kind of
light. So did the Beaver painted with the American flag on one side
and the Canadian flag on the other. Pizza and beer after this (thanks
DK), followed by a bit of night shooting in Aeroshell Square.

By Friday I was feeling the week's exertions (hauling heavy camera
gear around such a large site takes its toll on one's back and feet)
and took a slow wander through the Warbird park, down to the other
runway, where I watched the comings and goings of the GA traffic. Wow,
I can see why this place is so busy. I looked across at the North 40
parking area and all I could see was aircraft that seemed to go on for
ever. Coloured spots on the runway indicate where touchdowns should
take place; multiple aircraft landing at once. Once down, clear off
immediately to the side to allow the next one in. Quickly please,
before the T-33 on your tail runs you down in your Citabria! Hordes of
Yak 52s and Nanchang CJ6s taxi out, reappearing twenty minutes later
at the head of the queue for takeoff, doing so in mass formations.
Business jets interspersed with Piper Cubs; Cessna 172s mixed up with
unusual designs I'd never seen before.

Back to the media building to meet up with Larry again. We shot the afternoon airshow together along with some other ISAP members. The airshow in question features lots of warbirds in addition to the
world-class aerobatics we had been treated to all week. We'd already
seen a formation of fifty Nanchang CJ-6 (in the shape of '50')
celebrating their anniversary. Today we got I don't know how many T-6s
and T-28s in a huge metal cloud of aeroplanes. P-51s featured, of
course, alongside a circling mass off Cubs, Cessnas, Stearmans,
Chipmunk and L-birds of varying natures, showing off the training and
liaison roles. Finish it off with a pair of B-25s and an A-26. On the
second pass, let off a monster wall of flame from which you could
really feel the heat. Toast, anyone?

After the show it was back to the media centre again for an ISAP
gathering featuring pizza, chicken wings, fruits and beer. I sat with
Richard, Dave and Jim. We finished eating and slipped away to
Aeroshell Square to catch that lovely golden light again, of which
there had been so much this week. Richard dropped me back to my
campsite where I shared a couple of drinks with Abel the cook.

Up at the crack of sparrowfart, strike camp, onto the bus and head home after a
bloody brilliant week.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Detroit airport

The terminal building here is very large and very posh, full of interesting shops and this mirror fountain - looks cool but attracts small children and gets them wet!

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General Mitchell international airport

Fittingly, there is a Mitchell B-25 acting as a gate guard here in Milwaukee. Readers wanting to know more about these should go and look up the Doolittle raid.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Final day of the show for me

Sitting outside the media centre waiting for some ISAP guys to show up. Maybe we will shoot the afternoon airshow together. Been around the warbird area this morning which is full of shiny things, which we will probably see a lot more of later on. Also spent some time warching arrivals and departures on the other runway which really gives one an appreciation for just how busy this place is. This week has been very hot and sunny, snd my feet are tired. Even if you use the many buses around the site, this place is truly enormous and it does take it out of you. So, this afternoon should be good and there is an ISAP gathering this evening. Tomorrow morning I strike camp and head for home. I may post again before then but let me just say this week has been a blast!


Is this a plane show or a car show?

HondaJet looks very glitzy in the bright lights

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

John Travolta is (probably) here

This is his very shiny Boeing 707 in original Qantas livery.


New Cirrus jet

Flew in yesterday and looks very sweet


Honorary 30,000th homebuilt

This Vans RV9 was chosen from the thousands of aircraft here


Another beautiful morning

The sun is shining on my third morning at Oshkosh. Here is my wee tent! Now I am off to find some planes :-)


Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I just flew in this Cessna 185 on floats and it was totally excellent!



At the seaplane base where things are more tranquil


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Monster sized plane

This is the Boeing Dreamlifter, their new big transport


Grumman goose

Just one of many beautiful things here


Monday, July 28, 2008

I made it to Oshkosh!!

Someone please pass me a shovel to pick my jaw off the floor! This place is HUGE!


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Britain, family and friends

One of the things people asked us most whilst in the UK was, "What's it like being back?". For me, it was my first time in the UK in nearly two years. Alan's had a couple of business trips during that time.

I made some notes in an attempt to answer this question while sitting eating breakfast at a London cafe last Friday morning. So here's a few observations, peppered with some photos of people and places...

People in suits were such an odd sight. Particularly in London as there were so many of them. You almost never see a business suit in Austin. Formal work attire means long trousers instead of shorts, but there's still a good chance of a Hawaiian shirt.

Jill and Steve

One thing the Americans just don't seem to have got quite right is bacon. Good, honest, tasty bacon. Alan and I availed ourselves of plenty of cooked English breakfasts whilst home to make up for lost time ;-)

Bury St Edmunds from the air

There's about a million Czech and Polish people around these days. In London it's actually very hard to hear an English accent, especially if the person is behind a shop counter or bar. Local corner shops advertise Polski food alongside English and Asian foods.

In fact, there is even more ethnic diversity in general than I remember there being. Again it was most obvious in London, but in other towns - Ipswich for example - there's people from everywhere in abundance.

Jane and Chris of the Mason's Arms in Bury; a proper British Pub

That breakfast cafe had one example of the many unfamiliar signs in shop windows. Some new review website network that we'd never heard of. New tehnologies, new websites, communication systems etc. The world moves on and we have missed the last two years of European tech development.

Peter, Alan, Kate, Sarah and Paul

They say there's a recession on, and it is evidenced by the many shops closed and/or gone. Places we once knew in Bury, Sudbury and Ipswich are boarded up or replaced with other things. RIP Kings Deli in Sudbury; a sad loss.

Tracy and Paul about ten minutes after we met them in Ipswich

Sadly, it is my duty to report that the British fashion sense has not improved any since we've been gone. There were staggering numbers of really quite unfortunate examples of how not to dress, in all parts of the country. Granted, neither Alan and I are ever going to be catwalk kings or queens but there are certain lines that should not be crossed. Shell suits is one of them. Tight hotpants on large ladies is another, and let us not forget the cropped shiny leather jacket and unfeasibly short skirts (Aeroplane skirts, a friend of mine used to say. So short, you can see the cockpit!).

Nairn, Paul, Tracy, Elizabeth

Alan and I made a discovery which may shock some people. It seems that in general, we now prefer US beer. Maybe it was Alan's cold (which lasted the whole trip) hampering his taste buds, but a lot of London beers we tried were pretty flat and just not as good as we remembered them. That said, we did find some outstanding pubs.
The Cittie of Yorke at 22 High Holborn has to be visited, if you're in the area. It's a Sam Smiths pub which is always a good thing, and the building is truly fabulous.

A ferry leaving Harwich, probably heading for Hook of Holland

I love the brilliant green English countryside. In summer it is a delight to behold. So lush and verdant. It was my privilege and pleasure to go flying with Nic, where we could see plenty of it from the air. Likewise, a summer evening's walk with Sarah through the pathways and water meadows in Bury St Edmunds was delightful. Early morning on the common lands of Sudbury, next to my hotel, was so refreshing. I do miss common lands and footpaths. Texas is all private land and has not had the weight of years in which to build these networks. Britain should cherish them.

I'm not so impressed with the Carbuncle in Bury, however. Otherwise known as the new shopping centre. They have built a rounded-corner monstrosity which is going to be a Debenham's store. It is actually a lovely bit of architecture; it just shouldn't be within a hundred miles of Bury. It doesn't suit the town At All.

Delightful cool British weather is the source of much moaning by Brits but much relief from the likes of us. Two weeks of not sweltering all the time was a luxury. It is a British sport to complain about the rain (and yes, we got our fair share during the trip) but being on a 5-day watering schedule during an alarm stage drought makes you appreciate it, for sure. Remember how I like the green countryside? It's very brown in Texas.

London has always been busy but seemed extra-busy this trip, and nowhere more so than in the British Museum. We went in there as it was so close to the hotel but didn't stay very long as you could hardly move for all the visitors. That said, here's some views of it.

British Museum new section

I was amazed at how many examples of Egyptian relics they had. There is a vast number of excellent things in here.

Egyptian heiroglyphics on a tomb

Egyptian gate guards

I'd love to go back when we had more time and it was less crowded. Granted, mid-July probably is not the best time of year to visit anywhere but you takes your chances when you can. Oh, and I was so delighted to learn that the Romans played marbles! They had five lovely, shiny, big round colourful marbles on display. Something so old, yet so ordinary. I just thought it was cool.

Near the hotel there were two Pavilions, built by architectural students. I like them. I like the big London terraces behind them, too.

This one is made of thin concrete sheets

This one is made of wood

So, a big shout out to everyone who looked after us in the UK. It was brilliant to see you all.

Next Monday, I'm off to Oshkosh. I intend to provide daily blogs from my phone, so watch this space!

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

of Flying and Brewing

At the top of this page, it says something about Alan and I wanting to find some interesting aeroplanes and beers. This post is to prove we're on the right track :-)

First up, some flying. It was Kingsbury Fly-in last weekend, at which we were looking forward to seeing some interesting vintage aircraft, both resident and visiting. Unfortunately the weather was decidedly iffy first thing and the clouds remained dull and overcast all day. However they did stay relatively high up which meant that flying could proceed, but visitor numbers were down nonetheless.

There's a nice chap with a Great Lakes who had promised me a flight in exchange for some pictures, so here's me in the front seat, about to enjoy half an hour of cruising over the Texas countryside with a couple of wingovers thrown in for good measure. We flew to Lockhart for some fuel and general adventure, then back to Kingsbury.

Once back on the ground, I was then bundled into a Cub with the intention of doing some air-to-air shots of a Rearwin Sportster. It was decided that I'd have much better camera range if I sat sideways, so here's me in a very unorthodox flying position!:

Yes, that is how we flew, with my legs dangling out. Cubs only go about 60 mph so it's just like driving my Jeep with the top down. (I do tend to stay inside the Jeep though) Click here to see the results.

So that was a fun day :-)

Right, I promised you brewing earlier so here we go. Alan has been making lots of tasty brews right here at home and yesterday saw the latest batch being created.

We start with a visit to Austin Homebrew Supply to buy a mini-mash kit. This consists of a big tub of malt extract, a bag of grain and some yeast and hops. The exact recipe will depend on the beer style that you're brewing but the actual brew is done in a big metal pot. You boil water with the grain in for an hour or so, then remove the grain and pour in the malt extract, then boil it for another hour or so, adding hops at various intervals as required.
Here's the brew pot assembly with the grain bag in place:

Note the attendant giant grasshopper just below the gas bottle. We had a group of these hanging around and watching us brew. They seem to like watching things happen; we went out later on and they'd all gone when we came back - obviously bored and gone to find something else to look at ;-) Here's a closer view:

The quarter next to it for scale is slightly bigger than a UK 10p, for our British readers.

Anyway, back to brewing. Once the boiling is done, you cool the wort (in the sink, with ice in water that you dunk the whole pot into) until it is down to 80F. Then you pour the whole lot into the brewing vessel. We use a 5-gallon plastic bucket. You attempt to measure the original gravity with a hygrometer. The one we brewed yesterday was a strong'un though and had way too many bubbles so too bad! Now we throw in the yeast (two phials this time, it's a doozer, this one - usually one phial is sufficient) and put the lid onto the bucket. The lid has an airlock to allow CO2 gas to escape. Stick it in the cupboard and wait for a day. By then you should see lots of bubbles rising through the airlock and then your beer is on the way!

After a week, the beer is siphoned into a secondary brewing vessel. In our case this is a plastic carboy bottle. It then sits for another couple of weeks.

Then it's time for kegging the beer! We use a keg rather than bottling it; much less hassle. In true Blue Peter tradition, here's one we prepared earlier (the blue topped cylinder; the smaller one is a CO2 cylinder):

This is one we just started drinking, that Alan made three weeks back. It's an IPA and is the best one Alan's done yet. Very nice it is! We decided to carbonate it naturally this time with extra sugar (the other way is to force-carbonate with the CO2) and it's worked very well.

And look, there's a few other bottles of tasty malt beverage in there too. How did they get in there, I wonder?

Cheers :-)

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Camping in East Texas, and other things that amuse me

I've had a complaint! I've been told off for not posting in ages, so here I am, back again :-)

(If, of course, there's anyone left reading and you haven't all given up in disgust!)

Been busy lately, hence the lack of posts. It's full-on airshow season here so my weeks have been spent going to flying events, sorting through pictures, work, going to flying events.... In the UK, flying season runs from about April to October with the peak airshow months being July/August. Texas summers are too hot - audiences don't want to stand about in the heat all day and the warm air makes for very bumpy flying, so flying season is best in the Spring and Autumn and you end up with a split season.

So, we've had fly-ins almost every weekend for the last month or so, and the odd airshow mixed in. I managed to wangle airside access at New Braunfels which was fantastic, they put me right under the main display axis of the show line, just off crowd centre, so I was able to get some very close shots at interesting angles. Some pilots took advantage of this and aimed right for me too! This particular show is facing into the sun - last year's shots were all silhouettes - but not this year! Pictures are here.

The following weekend saw us travelling to East Texas, further than we have been before, about 4.5 hours drive to Reklaw, which is a tiny town in the middle of the Piney Woods. There is quite literally nothing around except trees for miles and miles. We actually drove about 2 hours from Waco to Reklaw and passed only three towns on the way, with nothing else but fields. This truly is a big country.

Anyway, we arrived at Flying M Ranch which is a privately owned ranch just outside Reklaw itself. This is owned by two aviators, who just happen to have carved themselves a runway in their patch of forest. It's a canyon of trees about 3500 feet long. Looks impressive from high above. Every year for about the last 20 years, they have invited aviators to join them for a weekend camping and flying.

This year, somewhere in the region of 500-600 aircraft showed up for the weekend. It was fabulous!

There was constant aero noise and action from dawn to dusk. Even by the time we arrived, about 14:00 on Friday, there were already two hundred aircraft present. On Saturday, you just couldn't move for aircraft. Clouds of them would appear in the approach, with another one touching down every few seconds. Heathrow, Silverstone; pah! As you might imagine, I have one or two pictures floating about on my site ;-)

I managed to talk a nice man with an Aviat Husky into taking me up for a ride about 1pm on Saturday, the busiest time, so I could get some aerial shots of the site. Those are on pages 2 and 3 of the Reklaw pictures. It looked great from the air, there were winged dots covering the entire place, up and down the runway, everywhere.

The weather was utterly perfect which helped. Azure-blue clear skies, very calm winds. Camping was a little chilly the first night but we were fine, wrapped up warm in our tent and sleeping bags. It was great to camp again, the last time we used this tent was at Stoke Golding in July 2006. We got up on Saturday morning quite toasty, actually, and got in line for breakfast at about 07:30. (The catering was quite excellent; plenty of good food and swift-moving queues) There we are in our shorts and T-shirts as it was a very pleasant morning. A little dewy and fresh but generally lovely. It dawned on me that every single other person in the place was dressed in jeans, coats, hats, gloves, balaclavas, scarfs, earmuffs and combinations thereof.... Shortly afterwards a chap came over and said, "This is Texas! You're meant to be cold!!" which caused much mirth! We had a few other people say similar things after that - but it wasn't cold, honest....!

The first evening was kind of quiet as everyone seemed to have vanished and gone to bed. We hung around with our stash of beer but ended up going to bed ourselves as there didn't seem to be much happening. A lot of people camped but a lot of others were staying in local hotels/motels so had gone from the site.

Ah yes, the Beer Situation. We figured, on the journey up there, that if we took beer with us it would just get warm in the car so we'd get some en route so it would stay cold. Logical, eh? Only one snag. Most of East Texas is pretty dry. And our East Texas shooting buddy, Larry, didn't warn us!

We didn't see a single beer shop from Waco onwards. We stopped at garages which sold all kinds of things but no beer. Not a drop. Or wine, whiskey or anything else. On arrival at the ranch we were still beerless, and we noticed everyone else had brought cases of their own. (Aircraft can only carry so much weight. Every campsite in the place seemed to have minimal camping gear and copious amounts of beer....!) So we had to ask a local, and were told that the nearest beer shop was 15 miles further along the road.

15 miles later, we found what looked like an oasis in the desert. We went in and were directed into the giant cooler in the back, which is basically a room full of beer. There was ample amounts of Bud, Miller, Bud Light, Coors, Miller Lite, Coors light.... just as we began to despair of finding anything good to drink (asking, "Do you have any Dogfish Head 60?", of the store owners drew the blankest look I have ever seen) we found a dust-covered box in the corner of Samuel Adams IPA, and another lonely box next to it, filled with Shiner Bock. We brushed the cobwebs off this lot and cleared them out!

Retreating back to our aviation haven, we put the beer in a giant coolbag with a load of ice and were set for the weekend. Woo-hoo! Moral: When visiting East Texas, bring your own beer!

Anyway, the weekend continued in the same excellent manner. There was a larger dinner on Saturday night. Alan won a hat in the raffle and we also won a silent auction (bought some 1950's aircraft prints). We chatted with some microlight pilots around the communal campfire and sank a few of those hard-won beers. Next morning we were away sharp as we had things to do, but we'll definitely be going back next year. What a gem of a place!

Now, some of you may have heard of a small chain of shops here in the US called Wal-Mart.

I had to go in there yesterday for some stuff Alan was after. This place really is a source of amusement, and a camera phone comes in handy. Feast your eyes on the following!:

A board game that I don't think you'll be seeing in WH Smith any time soon:

For those sticky aircraft that just won't come off your windscreen:

(it's an acetone-based paint stripper, actually)

Hunting/shooting/fishing shops sell a lot of things to attract animals. Scents, noise makers and pheromones are all common. This one is doe urine estrus. Ickiness aside, you gotta love the name!

(We are still inside Wal-Mart by the way. They sell ammo alongside the milk in here)

I didn't see too many vacuous buxom blonde ladies hanging around this sweet/cake stand but you never know...

And finally, proof that we are still within reach of civilization when we visit the grocery store, HEB:

Yay for Heinz Tomato Soup and Jaffa Cakes!


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tracy, Paul, Helicopters and Deer

Lots of pictures this time - let 'em download, they're nice, honest.

Tracy (Alan's sister) and her boyfriend Paul have been visiting recently. We had a great time while they were here. They arrived on June 1st. I met them back at the house after Alan had picked them up as I'd been down in Hondo for a big fly-in that day - furthest I've driven yet in my Jeep!

They arrived to a slight kitchen-based technical hitch - the sink had collapsed! We had to get the plumber out to fix it. He came out Saturday morning but it had to remain unused until the glue had set and they checked it Monday morning.

Not enough glue... you can't screw it into marble.

Other slight mishaps included the headlight on my Jeep getting shattered. No idea how or when; probably on the way back from Hondo. We eventually found a replacement light unit in O'Reilly Autoparts for $8 which was a damn sight cheaper than the $94 the dealership wanted for it!

We also took some tree damage on Saturday night, along with most of the other houses in the community here, from a truly monster thunderstorm that crashed its way through here. A neighbour said the news had spoken of a hurricane forming northwest of Austin and heading southeast - straight for us. We certainly got it, and with the winds came almost constant lightning - you could have eaten your dinner in the flickering light. It was a doozer! Woke up next morning to bits of tree scattered everywhere and two major branches down. We got off lightly; other people had roof damage and one chap lost eight trees. It also completely totalled the frame of the community pavilion that had been erected - a pile of matchsticks is all that was left.

Anyway, we went out for some Mexican food, the first of many far-too-huge meals we'd eat that week. Other eateries included Hula Hut, the Salt Lick, the Oasis (for lunch, not sunset), and just staying in to grill our own food after going out far too much.

Tracy and Paul at the Oasis, wearing their new Western hats!

We didn't really seem to actually do a whole shedload of specific activities; we went down to San Antonio to see the Alamo and take a boat ride around the Riverwalk, which was very pleasant. I took Tracy and Paul down to Aquarena Springs too.

Tracy and Paul at the Alamo.

Tracy and Paul at the Aquarena Centre boardwalk, where many turtles, fish and dragonflies reside.

The United States Post Office are celebrating 30 years of Star Wars with a special set of stamps, and these post boxes. This one is in San Antonio, right near the Alamo.

A lot of the time seemed to be spent in shopping, waiting for plumbers, and playing with tiny remote controlled helicopters. I bought one a couple of weeks back ($20 from Costco!) and Paul just had to have one too as soon as he saw it!

Paul's micro helicopter in full-on Ride of the Valkyries mode...

Still, they seemed to enjoy themselves and they have now gone off in a rental car. They should be in Dallas as I write, about to board an aeroplane for Las Vegas. We are due to meet them there tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, the deer have been visiting in large numbers. There must have been a dozen of them hiding in the trees yesterday, including a couple of young males, the first ones I've seen, and certainly more deer than I've seen together before.

Action shot of a baby deer, in weird soft focus because I shot it through a mesh screen.

Doe, a deer, a female deer (you knew that was coming at some point, right?)

The twins, eating. No idea if they really are twins but they seem to hang out together. I think there's a third baby around somewhere too.

I've got an audience! Five of the herd here, before they all ran away.

A young buck and doe in a Texas meadow.

A few other things to round off this altogether far too lengthy blog entry.

Here's the latest run-down of Things We Have Seen In Our Garden:

Wolf Spiders - these live around the outside and in the garage. They're lovely chunky spiders that pounce on insects.

Daddy Long Legs Spiders - these are less charming, with tiny bodies only 4-5mm across but long thin legs of about 8 inches span.

A Boxer Dog, taking itself for a walk - so that's what's been making the mysterious tracks across our driveway...

The aforementioned deer, of course. The neighbour across the way feeds them every afternoon, so it transpires.

Fireflies - these come out when it's quite dark and pulse their way across the garden, leaving you wondering if you really saw something or was it just your eyes?

Road runners - they don't say Beep Beep! They make a Craaak sound and run up and down through the garden on their way to places.

Humming birds - have been seen fleetingly, both here and elsewhere in the Ranch.

Cardinals remain happy and colourful in the trees round about.

Big giant crickets! About three inches long and very handsome. I hear them clattering around as they fly across the garden; not true flight but kind of an extended jump, I think. One found its way right inside Tracy's shirt where it hopped and jumped about - she was not amused!

Walking sticks - these are impressive. About 7-8 inches long, the longest insect in the USA, here spotted sitting on our windowframe. They are harmless; quite attractive really.

Scorpions are ever-present and occasionally appear on the kitchen floor. They apparently like the cooler insides of a house and are frequently found in new build properties. We'll just have to bide with them for a few months and they should disappear. Also noted for finding their way into Tracy's suitcase!

Pussycats still prowl through every now and then :-)

Big vulturey birds. There's two big birds about - one with white parts and one without. I think the all-black ones are Turkey Vultures. You see groups of them at the roadside now and then, feasting.

And in the flora world, our Mesquite trees are blooming:

We apparently have Persimmon trees as well, which should bear fruit if we're lucky.

Finally, here's a glorious Texas sunset as seen from our balcony.

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