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.

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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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Marble Falls Drag Boats 2009

Marble Falls Lakefest

Lakefest is a three-day extravaganza of power, noise and speed on water. Various classes of drag boats compete to complete a quarter-mile sprint in the shortest time possible. These boats range from River Racers to Top Fuel Alcohol manic machines.

Drag boats are much like drag cars; they have huge, supercharged, V8 or V12 engines that are insanely loud. They have to be completely stripped down and rebuilt after every run.

They require teams of people and there is a pit area just like the pits at a car circuit. They race to the same 'Christmas tree' of lights that count down the time until the start.

The boats leap out of the water as their pilots mash the throttle forward, hurtling towards the start line. Timing the launch is an art form, to cross the line at maximum power in order to make the quickest run.

Here's a 3-minute video of the Lakefest experience. This is from the Saturday morning qualifying sessions.


Onwards with the pictures...

Now we're on to the faster ones.

Did I mention these are loud? If you watched the video up above, it gives you some idea. They offer earplugs as you enter the show, with good reason.

This one lost a piece of something

With these fast boats, the driver sits in a sealed pod. If the boat has a problem, the driver will be OK. We saw a boat pitch nose-first into the water a couple of years back; it disintegrated behind the plume of the other boat. The only things left were a few bits of foam and the driver pod, lifted out by the crane boat. The driver got out, unscathed.

I'm faster than you

Just go back and play the last 20 seconds of video, above, and imagine this making THAT noise, only 30000000 times louder. It's awesome!

Roll on Marble Falls Lakefest 2010!

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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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Monday, February 09, 2009

Office Space

There's a film called 'Office Space' which has been a cult classic since it was released ten years ago. It was made by Mike Judge (who also does 'King of the Hill' and 'Beavis and Butthead') and filmed right here in Austin. I managed to snag two tickets to the 10th Anniversary screening of the film at the Paramount Theater on 7th and Congress.

Sadly, both Alan and I have been full of the lurgy. Mine has mostly gone now but Alan has been knocked for six by it for the last week and he's still not right. So much as he wanted to see the film, he didn't think he would last the night. So I called Tamzin to see if she wanted to go. Which she did.

Here's a blog post which shows some of the actors arriving ( You can also just see me in the last picture of Samir, I'm the one with the bright blue shirt holding my phone aloft which is bright with flash.

Here's a video report from KVUE News. Oh, and it's made the Rolling Stone too!

It was pretty cool; about a dozen of the cast were present for some Q&A after the film. When they arrived, a printer was placed on the pavement and each cast member had a go at it with a baseball bat! (This will only make sense if you have seen the film). We walked in over a 'Jump to Conclusions' mat and went upstairs to take our seats in the stratosphere, it's an old theatre with very steep tiers.

Watching the film with an audience who know and love the film was good, the place was filled with laughter and cheering from start to finish. Great atmosphere. I think Tamzin enjoyed it too.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vacuuming is such fun, I could watch it all day

We have a new addition to the household. A robot!

It's a Roomba vacuum cleaner... we've been eyeing these things up for ages and finally took the plunge at the weekend (Costco have a very good price right now). It is so cool; you literally just hit the 'clean' button and it goes and cleans.


It is covered in sensors and knows when it is going to run into something (walls etc) - it slows down before it makes contact. It finds its way around the room, sticks its little brush into corners, navigates around table legs, scoots under chairs, and knows about not falling down the stairs (as you can see in the video above)!

When either the room is clean, or it's about to run out of juice, it will return to its docking station and chow down on some nice tasty electricity. This happens automatically if you leave it alone but you can ask him to go back to base, like this:


So what this all means is that we now spend all our time watching the robot clean, instead of doing it ourselves - hours of entertainment! ;-) Alan, of course, is biding his time, waiting to hack it...


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Cool tunnel!

This walkway connects the terminals underneath Detroit airport.

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