Canberra Aero-Club aims to bring together people with a common interest in aviation in order to enjoy and experience the challenge and freedom of flight as safely as possible. The Club believes that sharing aviation with people from all walks of life not only makes us better pilots but better people too. So come down to the club and have a look at our aircraft, talk to our members or share a flight with one of our pilots.
Operating since 1938, the Canberra Aero-Club is one of the oldest Aero Clubs in Australia. We are situated at Canberra Airport and enjoy being able to fly in both controlled and uncontrolled airspace. We are less than an hour’s flight to the southern NSW coast and close by to the Snowy Mountain ski fields. Flying throughout the wide and scenic spaces of the Murray-Darling Basin is also enjoyed by our member pilots.
The club operates a growing fleet of aircraft available for hire. We try and maintain a fleet that caters across different pilot budgets. With over 100 members, a great location and an increasing fleet of aircraft, we create an ideal environment for members and visitors alike.
Flying is a challenging exercise. Unlike driving a car there are no places to simply pull over, you have to worry about the ups and downs and not just the lefts and rights, you have to tell people what you're doing. To make matters worse all of this has to happen simultaneously and we still have to figure out where we're going. Despite these basic challenges some of us figured it might be a good idea to add the additional difficulty of flying in close proximity with another aircraft.
On the weekend ending with April Fool’s Day (how appropriate) a few of us headed down to Moruya start learning how to do this type of flying while remaining safe. Amy, Brian, Josh, Paul and I rocked up to the Moruya Aero Club on Saturday morning to take the first steps in becoming endorsed for formation flying.
The day started with a brief about what to expect, how to guide the aircraft into place and, of course, a safety brief. The latter consisted of establishing what was a threat around us with the usual things such as other traffic including the RPT services operated by Rex but also the obvious one - that other aircraft that is looming large in the window and trying to form up on your wing.
We discussed three basic formations - right echelon, left echelon and line astern. The right and left echelon formations consist of placing the aircraft in a position to the right or left of the lead aircraft accordingly and slightly behind. Line astern invloves sitting in behind the lead aircraft. There was also some instruction on how to guide the aircraft into place using rudder while keeping the wings level with aileron. All of this sounded reasonably straight forward and once everyone was on the same page we headed out to the aircraft for our first experience.
The training saw us use four aircraft, two Cessnas (a 172 and a 150) and two Brumby's. We assigned the callsigns to each formation as Cessna formation and Brumby formation to keep it simple with the lead aircraft being called Cessna/Brumby 1 and the following aircraft being called Cessna/Brumby 2. The callsigns changed around as we swapped lead aircraft during each flight.
The take offs were fairly standard with the lead aircraft heading off and the second aircraft following behind. As the first turn commenced the second aircraft cut the corner to catch up and the formation began. It soon becomes apparent how much the aircraft is moving in a parcel of air when you are flying straight and level. Small but positive movements are required to keep your aircraft in a nice tight formation with the lead. This was hairy in the beginning but we soon progressed into changing formations, breaking and re-joining and turns in formation.
By the end of the first day we were all pretty stuffed and looking forward to grabbing some dinner and having a relaxing dinner. War stories were swapped over a light beverage and some good steaks and we all laughed at each other and bragged about our own skills. This was all good light hearted fun but there is one story worth recalling that sent shudders down the spines of many pilots sharing our frequencies during the day.
When manoeuvring the aircraft and changing the formation the lead pilot will make a call. The calls are generally pretty simple and consist of nothing more than something along the lines of "Left echelon... Go." The intention is to let the following aircraft know what is going to happen, give them a short pause so they can process the information and then call go at the beginning of the exercise. Amy was a star at these calls and you could hear her regularly calling position changes for the crew in the Brumby aircraft.
Each time they altered their position everyone on frequency would hear Amy's calls - "Line astern... Now." Instead of 'Go' she would use 'Now' which is completely acceptable. Of course it sounds more like an order than 'Go' but it is still acceptable nonetheless. Amy of course put her own touch on this and emphasised the 'Now' in her calls such that they became "Left turn... NOW!!!". At this point everyone in Area 21 turned left and one of our instructors, Graeme White, was heard to mutter "I think I was married to that woman once"…
Day 2 was more of the same but this time it was pretty much all up to us. On day 1 we were pretty much just doing what the instructors told us to do with them making a lot of calls, requesting a lot of manoeuvres and so forth. By day 2 we were all competent enough to be able to fly the aircraft and make decisions at the same time so a lot of this responsibility fell back to us and the instructors became passengers. Although we were making progress on each flight and we were taking on this responsibility more and more a few thank you's were offered by the instructors when a safe return to the airfield and a good landing was completed.
Everyone returned to Moruya to finish off the endorsement a couple of weeks later. More of the same flying was done although we were now held to a higher standard by our instructors. Some climbing turns, descending turns and break and rejoins while turning were introduced just to add a little more difficulty to the flying and, I’m sure, give the instructors some enjoyment by watching us struggle once again.
A few of us even did some position changes while in the turn. These are especially difficult as the speed of the aircraft has to change when moving from the inside of the turn to the outside (or vice versa) and you also have to control the altitude – from low on the inside to high on the outside. All of this co-ordination really forces a pilot to think about primary and secondary effects of controls, the inertia of the aircraft and really focus on not hitting the poor bugger in the lead aircraft!
So we're all pretty much Roulette pilots now. Albeit with less experience. And less skills. And not aerobatic. And not Air Force. Ok, so we're not really Roulettes at all but we are feeling pretty good about ourselves and looking forward to practising our skills over Canberra. If anyone has a suggestion for a team name then let us know, we’re keen to increase our cool factor with a name to remember!
The weekend was a great opportunity to improve and refine our flying skills and share the experience with a bunch of other great faces. Our instructors – Sheldon, Graham, Ben and Mark – all deserve a huge thanks for taking us through the syllabus. We also owe Linn, Sheldon’s wife, a thank you for organising a place to stay, feeding us on both weekends and generally ensuring that we were all organised and could focus on our flying without worrying about anything else. And a general thanks goes out to the Moruya Aero Club for opening their house and letting us come and go as we please. This old style aero club atmosphere is brilliant and it was great to talk to other members and pilots as they came and went throughout the day.
The Moruya Aero Club are keen to do more of this flying so it would be good to get some more new faces on board to join us 'old hats' for some more fun and shenanigans. If you’re interested in getting involved then get in touch with Les and let him know. I’m sure that something could be arranged.