Sunday, November 30, 2008

Flight of Passage - book review

I knew I would enjoy this book when I read the description that called it a “Huckleberry Finn meets The Spirit of St. Louis”. Having turned the last page, I realized I loved it.

This book was a memoir, a coming of age story, a father-sons relationship story and an aviation adventure of pure kind. It is about two teenagers flying across America in a Piper Cub with 85hp engine and no radio in 1966. One of the teenagers grew up to be a successful writer and the language of the book and descriptions of the scenery and people was borderline poetic.

It was the book about simplicity and freedom of flying a very simple machine across the continent, relying on a compass, maps and dead reckoning. The trip had the moments of sheer terror, disappointment, pure joy and a side-splitting laughter. I felt like I was right there with them, living the adventure instead of reading about it.

It was also the book about good old days gone by as I do not believe the flight like this would be possible today with all the rules, restrictions and regulations. This book made me realize why I liked flying the Citabria and gliders that much – because it lets me recapture that very simplicity and freedom and a joy of living in the moment.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Window views from 36,000 ft

These were taken on YYZ - YEG - YYC - YYZ trip.

Taking off from Toronto Pearson (YYZ), i could see the lake effect snow that resulted in quite a bit of snow on the ground where I live. The lake effect and otherwise clear skies gave way to stratified cloud formations coming close to Edmonton.

Descending to Edmonton, I enjoyed the clouds, light and rainbows show.

Take off from Calgary to Toronto was during sunrise and I lucked out to be on the mountain side of the airplane to get a little bit of pink mountains in the background.

Visibility over Toronto was unlimited and we once again were landing on Rwy 24 with final approach right over downtown and i was once again on a proper side to get the pictures.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Speyer Technik Museum and Airfield.

The day after the Wasserkuppe visit, I picked up my parents at FRA airport and drove them to Heidelberg where my Dad’s clinic is located. Later that afternoon, my mom wanted to show me the little town nearby with nice pedestrian area that they discovered on a previous visit, so we left my dad to rest in the apartment and took off.

We were driving towards the town of Speyer when I noticed lot of little airplanes doing circuits over where we were going. As we were turning off the highway onto the road leading downtown, I noticed airplanes on the left – lots and lots of airplanes. Crossing three lanes of the road and making sharp turn towards the airplanes I discovered it was a place called Speyer Technik Museum. Before my mother had a chance to speak, I announced that we were going there and turned into the parking lot.

We got out of the car and immediately saw the little single engine airplane on a very low final approach going straight overhead. Figuring that the destination runway should be very close, I grabbed my cameras and went towards the field, jumping a few fences and crossing a road, followed by my mother who was starting to wonder if we’d get downtown at all that day.

We discovered a nice little GA airport with the cafĂ© on site and free access to the side of the field that I could shoot from. It was the answer to the problem the bugged me about my Wasserkuppe visit – the only thing I did not do there was to shoot any flying – it just was not the best day for it. That little GA field with lot of activity was the perfect for shooting. Planes ranged from a conventional Cessna to some unfamiliar motogliders to strange looking ultra light contraptions. They offered 30 mins flights too, but converting 130 Euros into dollars per hour, I realized I did not quite want to go flying that badly.

I shot for a while, but eventually remembered I still had the whole open sky museum to see and so we made our way back. Getting closer to the airplanes on display, I realized there was a lot more to it than I initially thought and that I would have to practically run to see it all. My mother very smartly decided to sit on a bench and enjoy the sunny warm weather while I bought the ticket and started running from plane to plane, literally, as there were over a 100 of them. And then there were ships, automobiles, trains, u-boat and even a space ship.

Many years ago, visiting USAF museum in Dayton I was impressed by the numerous airplanes there, but there were lots of military airplanes that I did not know about and no GA or commercial airplanes. The Speyer museum had what I called an “idiot’s guide to airplanes” collection – it had famous airplanes, planes that everyone interested in aviation had heard of. It was aviation enthusiast and photographer's paradise as most of the collection was out in the open with the very good light (although some airplanes, including Royal Canadian AF Sabre jet, were in the hangar).

Walking through the museum, I could not help but wonder how in the world did they manage to put the Boeing 747 and Antonov 22 (largest airplane on Earth at the time) hundred feet about the ground. All larger planes had ladders leading to the inside, but I was too tired to even think of climbing and decided to save the insides for the next time.

The creators of the museum placed two Antonov airplanes right against each other – giant AN-22 with four propellers and much smaller single engine AN-2 bi-plane that was a workhorse of so many fleets in small regional airlines in Russia. That was an interesting contrast.

Another exhibition that I could really relate too was the fighter jets from many different countries, including those involved in aerobatic displays.

The final highlight was the real space shuttle – the Russian Buran. I saw one of the American shuttles on display at the Cape Canaveral museum, but this was the first time I saw the one from my homeland. Thinking about homeland, I looked at my watch, realized that my mom was sitting on a bench for over 3 hrs and it was getting dark, so I reluctantly made my way back to the entrance.

We never made it to downtown Speyer that day …

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Wasserkuppe Glider Museum

Many years ago, before I was a pilot, I spent the whole day in the US Air Force museum in Dayton, Ohio and enjoyed every second of it. I thought that being a glider pilot, and knowing what I was looking at would make the visit to a glider museum much more special.

I was at Wasserkuppe on Friday on a very cold and foggy day. People must have decided to stay away as not only I had the whole monument to myself, but a glider museum to myself for the most time. The museum was right across the road from the glider flight school and contained both full size gliders and scale models.

The side walls of the museum contained the history of gliding, all of it in German, but surprisingly with some illustrations, some animations, lots of numbers and the knowledge of 3 other languages, I could understand most of it. The was also information about different lift patterns (thermal, wave, hills) and where in the world the different patterns were. But the gliders were definitely the stars of that show.

Middle of the two halls of the museum contained actual gliders, which ranged from basic 10:1 wood and fabric machines to the high performance composite gliders.

It was nice to spend few hours walking though the history of gliding and seeing how the materials and designs changed with time starting with designs resembling bird wings and finishing with the delta wing. Interestingly, the shape of fuselage appeared to have been settled long ago, but the shape, angle and size of the wing changed quite dramatically with passage of time.