Tag Archives: aviation

Taking a Ride in a Balloon

My visit to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was for an article I was going to write and, since I was there on a media pass, the organizers made a flight available.  I didn’t know who I would be flying with until close to the time but the opportunity was one I was really excited about.  When the time came, I was set up with a balloon crew from near Ottawa in Canada.  The pilot spoke mainly French with very little English but we managed to find a way to communicate well anyway.  Nancy was able to hang out with the ground crew.

I asked what I could do to help but they had things well sorted out and I was likely to be a hindrance rather than a help.  Besides, it did mean I could photograph everything that was going on.  The inflation of the envelope and then heating it up and getting it upright was great to see close up.  Then it was time to climb onboard and await our designated takeoff time.

When the wind is blowing in a certain direction, the balloons will fly off towards the river and is is common for them to drop down to the water and touch it with the basket before lifting off again.  I was hoping that this would be something we could do but the winds were not coming from that direction on this occasion.  Instead, they were doing something that is not uncommon at Albuquerque but is actually really cool.

The field is aligned north to south and, when the wind is blowing the right way, something they call the box is formed.  At about 1,000’ the wind is blowing north to south but, at about 2,000’ it reverses to south to north.  Consequently, you can climb up to 1,000’ and head south for a while before climbing up to 2,000’ and reversing course.  Once you get far enough north, you can descend and repeat the whole process.

Having never flown in a balloon before, I knew little about the process.  You can’t see upwards because the envelope is above you.  However, you can see sideways and down very clearly.  Therefore, the balloon above is responsible for maintaining separation from any balloons below.  We were all required to keep an eye on everything around is to be sure we stayed suitably separated.  Looking directly down on balloons with the ground behind them was something I found really cool.

The other thing I wasn’t prepared for was how quiet it was.  Sure, when the burner fires, the noise is loud.  However, most of the time you are drifting along with the wind so there is no breeze and everything feels remarkably still.  The main noise is other people’s burners or the conversation in the baskets nearest you.  You can hear a lot of other chatter.  It is a very peaceful experience and the views are lovely.  No windows between you and the view so a totally immersive experience.

After making our way around the box a couple of times, it was time to land.  Normally a balloon flight involves the ground crew tracking you across the sky and aiming to get to your landing zone when you do.  Flying the box meant we were able to land about 50 yards from where we had taken off and they could just wait for us to come back.  We drifted back down and touched down without any issues and it was time to jump out and let them deflate the envelope (which happened surprisingly quickly).

This is, so far, my first and only balloon flight.  I would be very happy to do it again.  I am not so sure that I would want to be in one of the large balloons that we see flying around here with big baskets to carry lots of passengers since that might feel slightly less relaxing but I would like to go again at some point.

Have Fun Miles

I went to SFO the other day to try and get some shots of a type before it is withdrawn. I was down on the bayshore later in the day but, in the short time I was there, I met three different groups of people who I ended up talking to. All of them were very nice people and it made for a very pleasant time. However, I want to single out one person and his name is Miles.

I got chatting to a guy and his wife who were watching the planes with their two sons. They explained that the older boy, Miles, was a total aviation enthusiast. The reason they were there was because he wanted to come and see the planes. He liked a lot of different types and airlines but his clear favorite was the British Airways Airbus A380. It was delayed on this particular day but would be in just before 8pm so they were waiting for it to show up. However, Miles was on his game identifying everything else coming in. Like a lot of young kids, he was a bit shy when it came to talking to a stranger so I spent most of the time chatting to his parents but he would periodically chip in with something he had spotted.

Miles seems to have been bitten by the aviation bug a little younger than me. He also is somewhere good for watching a lot of planes which was something I didn’t really have at that age. Best of luck Miles. I hope you continue to find aviation cool as you grow up and maybe, one day, you will be flying your favorite plane. Meanwhile, I hope you aren’t too jealous that I shall be trying the BA A380 out in a few weeks.

Oblique Wing

wpid12596-C59F2972.jpgHiller Aviation Museum has another aircraft I find interesting. This is the AD-1 Oblique Wing research aircraft from NASA. I have crossed paths with this machine before. I have seen it at Hiller before but it was also still at Edwards when I paid a visit to the NASA facility there in 1990. The oblique wing concept is an interesting one. Swing wing aircraft aim to combine he low speed and high speed characteristics required into one plane by having multiple wing sweep angles. The oblique wing approach aims to simplify this by having a single wing that pivots. The sweep angle is the same but eh CG is unaffected and the pivot mechanism much simpler.

wpid12578-CRW_9972.jpgForward swept wings are fine so, while the oblique wing looks odd, it should be practical. It will have some interesting aeroelastic issues to be dealt with but, it should be possible to engineer. Whether it will then deliver the benefits has never been tested. The AD-1 was a low speed research aircraft only but it flew many times over the years it was in service. Now it hangs from the roof of the museum.

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Hiller Aviation Museum

wpid12592-C59F2947.jpgI took a trip to the Hiller Aviation Museum recently. The trip was to see a speaker who was appearing there and that will be part of another post. However, I did have a good look around the museum while I was there. Located on San Carlos Airport, I have been to the museum a few times in the past when I was visiting the area for work but I hadn’t been since we moved west. My buddy, Hayman, is a volunteer there so I have no excuse for not having been recently!

wpid12584-C59F2880-Edit.jpgA few things have changed since I was last there. The SST mockup has now gone freeing up some space for other exhibits. This post isn’t a comprehensive review of all that is there. It is more a focus on some of the things that caught my eye while I was walking around. One item I have to mention is the Boeing Condor unmanned vehicle. It is a cool thing to see but, since it is so large, it is squashed in amongst all of the other exhibits. I decided that I should try and get something to show it in all its glory. There was a balcony which would have had a better angle but that was restricted to some simulation experience. Instead, I decided to try a pano approach instead. It came outs reasonably well although taking out some of the distortion in post processing was necessary.

wpid12588-C59F2915-Edit.jpgI had another go at a pano with the interior of the Albatross. It is a lovely looking aircraft with a great interior which is visible through the side door so getting too much of a shot of the inside was hard to do. A pano gives a bit more of a feel for the layout in there. It looks like a nice plane to take around the world!

wpid12586-C59F2898.jpgThe museum is great and the gift shop is pretty cool too. I have to admit a model helicopter left with me and now sits on my desk. It is an AW101 in Canadian rescue colors and looks pretty sharp!

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Biz Jets Too!

wpid6191-AU0E1129.jpgI am always partial to a corporate jet or two.  Since Boeing Field is closer to downtown Seattle, it is a popular base of operations.  There are a couple of FBOs on the field and a few movements took place while I was there.  While the end of the line has come for the Hawker business jet as far as production is concerned, there are a huge number of them in service so seeing them will be common for many years to come.  A nice Canadian example came in while I was there.

wpid6276-AU0E2290.jpgA departing Falcon 2000 was another nice one to see.  Falcons are a very popular line and the 2000 looks okay to me but as it takes off over you, I think you get the best angle on it.  There were a selection of jets departing as well.  Heat haze was a small problem but not terrible and, for web sized images, it doesn’t cause too much trouble.

wpid6198-AU0E1266.jpgA Learjet came in while the sun was out but the sky in the background was a touch more moody.  That certainly made me happy as it makes for a more interesting shot.  It was a brief visit but still resulted in a fair bit of interest so I would happily stop back again.

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It’s ISAP Time Again

wpid4590-C59F3417.jpgOnce again the annual symposium of ISAP, the International Society of Aviation Photographers is back around. This year it is being held up in Seattle. It is always a good chance to meet up with old friends and spend a few days discussing planes and taking pictures of them. I am looking forward to seeing how it all plays out this year. Hopefully, it will be a great event. We shall see.

No doubt, there will be some pictures from this event that make their way onto the blog. Stay tuned to see what shows up here in the coming weeks! As to the reason for the A-10 picture above, it has nothing to do with ISAP. It’s just a picture of a plane that I like!

ISAP Here I Come

It is that time of year again when ISAP members get together to share knowledge, learn knew things, see what each other have been up to and generally have a lot of fun.  Throw in some chances to shoot some great airplanes and you have a great time.  I can hardly wait.  Hopefully more to report from the trip.  We even have an air show tucked in at the end of the weekend so it should be fun.

You shall find out more when it happens – or a little while afterwards…  Blogging might be a bit sporadic while I am gone.

Changing Your Name – Even if You Are a Building Pt 2

And so we progress to Part 2.  Attentive readers will already be aware that the Unitrin sign had been removed.  I was a lazy boy and watched from my living room.  The following weekend the new sign was scheduled to go up.  Fortunately, we had friends staying with us.  Mark is a flight test engineer and a pilot so the suggestion that some aviation action could be added to the weekend was good for him.  Since it was close to home, we wouldn’t be missed for a short while on a Sunday morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The replacement of the sign was pretty much the reverse of the previous week.  The letters and the logo had been assembled on the street on the back of trucks.  Two sides of the building had to be done and fortunately our side was to be first.  The placement of the signs was a touch more tricky than the removal.  Pulling them off meant getting them clear and dropping them down to the street.  Lifting the new ones up was complicated by the way in which the letters – which are large but don’t weigh much – can catch the wind and start to rotate.  The crews on the building have to catch the tag lines and then pull them steady before positioning them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They soon got a good rhythm going and we watched the letters and the logo go up on the first side of the building.  We then retreated to further away as the other side was dealt with, not least because a lot of it was out of sight from the better locations.  Midwest did a great job as always and it was good to see the team.  Thanks everyone and Mark certainly was glad to see one of these jobs in person.

Changing Your Name – Even if You Are a Building Pt 1

This story comes in two parts (if the title didn’t give that away already!) and it is one that is a little bit of luck.  Regular readers know that I do a lot of jobs with Midwest Helicopters.  This was a job of theirs but not one that I was involved with.  However, it just happened to take place outside my window so I got to watch anyway.  There I was on a lazy Sunday morning (I was being lazy even if others obviously weren’t) catching up on a bit of TiVo viewing when a helicopter comes in to view out of my living room window.  Familiar shape and colors but what were they up to?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turns out a building across the river from me was due to have its name changed.  The company had renamed from Unitrin to Kemper.  Unitrin was plastered on two sides of the building in large illuminated letters so they needed to come down.  The first week of the job was to take down the old letters.  I could have hurried outside and grabbed some shots but this was a lazy day (did I mention that before?) and so I just grabbed a camera and shot through the windows.

It was about an hour’s work to get the letters from each side of the building and drop them down to the truck on the street.  All of this from the comfort of my living room interspersed with a bit of Grand Prix watching!  Of course, if something comes down, there is probably something to replace it?  And so we shall progress to Part 2…

Dreamliner Introduction

The development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner has been a protracted story filled with technical and programmatic challenges which have led to financial challenges as well.  However, while the program is not yet out of the woods, production aircraft are now making their way to service with customers and Boeing is undertaking a promotional tour for those who have been involved in the program or are potential customer.

One of those events was at Rockford, not far from me.  I covered the event for Global Aviation Resource and you can see the full piece at this link.