The Departure Time Grows Close for the QANTAS A380 "Nancy Bird Walton" . An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Saturday, April 21, 2012


For the QANTAS A380 "Nancy Bird Walton" the departure time grows close.

By Owen Zupp.


I have been overwhelmed by the interest in my blog over the past 24 hours. Thank you!

As the hours count down to VH-OQA's departure from Singapore, here is a look inside the A380 simulator. Shortly I'll be posting a story on what it's like to fly and an update on the return of "Nancy Bird", so for the latest on the A380, keep checking back here at

Thanks again for your tremendous support of this aviation blog.

Safe Flying,


"Safe Travels Nancy Bird." The QANTAS A380 VH-OQA is Set to Head Home. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, April 20, 2012

Safe Travels “Nancy Bird.”

By Owen Zupp


It’s curious how things work out sometimes.


In the same week that marked a hundred years since the sinking of the Titanic, a gargantuan of the twenty-first century is set to rise from the ashes. Like the Titanic, the Airbus A380 is a marvel of technology in its time, boasting dimensions that still leave us in amazement as it rumbles down the runway. And yet, when the QANTAS A380’s ‘iceberg’ loomed ahead, its crew were able to limp the crippled machine home amidst a maze of systems failures and warning flags. Unfortunately, the Titanic did not possess the same level of automation, redundancies and support as it floundered on the Atlantic that icy night and its fate is now cemented in history.


So often the sinking of the Titanic is referred to as a prime example of nature reminding man of his arrogance and faith in technology. To me that is all a little too cliché. Since we emerged from the caves, carved flint and invented the wheel, humankind has strived to venture beyond the horizon by the most impressive means available. Sure, the Industrial Revolution saw an extremely accelerated rate of development but the spirit that drove it was as old as time itself. Only the tooling and resources had really changed.


In all fields where man steps beyond the safety of his familiar borders there is risk and danger. In retrospect, the failure to provide adequate emergency equipment aboard the Titanic proved a tragic mistake and in the wake of the accident the rules were changed. Such is the history of all forms of transport where lessons are unfortunately often learned from unspeakable losses. Aviation is no different and the last century of flight is filled with accidents that have led to change. In the wake of QF32’s mid-air emergency over Singapore, there was fortunately no loss of life a good many lessons were still learned.


As aviators, QANTAS Flight 32 offers a number of reminders that regardless of the scale of the aircraft, the prime task at hand is to fly the aeroplane. When the engine exploded and systems dropped off-line, there was less and less of the remarkable technology available to the crew. In fact, some fairly core flight systems had ceased to operate as well. As such the crew called upon their experience to prioritise and assess the issues as they arose, but throughout I would suspect that controlling the aircraft, remaining clear of terrain and monitoring their fuel stocks would have been premium. This is pertinent whether you are at the helm of an Airbus, Boeing or a Beechcraft.






Even when the aircraft found the relative safety of the earth once more, one engine could not be shut down and the safety implications for an evacuation were obvious. Consequently, both the flight and cabin crew were managing this emergency right up until the last passenger was safe and the aircraft was secure. As an old aviator told me very early on in my training, “The flight isn’t over until the aeroplane is tied down, or in the hangar.”


Inevitably the ‘coffee room quarterbacks’ emerged from the shadows and later dissected the crew’s actions from the comfort of their lounge chairs and espoused wonderful solutions with the heroism that is indicative of hindsight. Yet for anyone who has been under the very real pressure of a critical emergency will attest, when the pulse rate elevates even the best simulator replication cannot quite capture the same atmosphere and stress; let alone the coffee room. Amusingly, for all of the armchair critics, no-one is a harsher critic than a pilot undertaking self analysis and undoubtedly the QF32 crew wrestled with aspects of the emergency after the event. But the bottom line is that they returned the aircraft relatively intact with no loss of life and all importantly; THEY WERE THERE not the critics. Well done, I reckon.


As the crew readies themselves and VH-OQA awaits at Singapore, the drama of QF32 cannot be escaped. However, as always in fields of human endeavour we must positively learn from the past and not negatively dwell on it. Man will continue to push new frontiers, be they into space or along well worn routes in more modern craft; it is our nature. And before that first step forward there will be a glance behind to check that some tragic aspect of history is not about to be repeated, but once that has been addressed progress will continue. This QANTAS A380 proudly bears the name of Nancy Bird Walton, a pioneering aviatrix who forged her own unique path in aviation history. I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy on a number of occasions and I can’t help but think that she’ll be casting an approving eye down from the heavens as her namesake wends its way home.


We shall never forget the lessons from the Titanic and the tragedy suffered as it plunged to the depths, nor shall we mark time. Humanity will continue to challenge itself and pay due respect to the domains of land, sea and air that it seeks to navigate. However, we will never conquer these greater beings, but must be satisfied to merely achieve safe passage through their vast realms. This can only be achieved by bravely going forward while listening to the voices of those who have gone before.

Safe travels “Nancy Bird.”

(Check back here for updates on the A380's flight home.)

QANTAS A380 Airbus VH-OQA "Nancy Bird Walton" Returns to the Skies. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, April 20, 2012

QANTAS A380 Airbus VH-OQA "Nancy Bird Walton" Returns to the Skies.


By Owen Zupp

As this blog is being written, QANTAS A380 "Nancy Bird-Walton" is preparing to return home from Singapore for the first time since its mid-air engine failure in November 2010. That emergency involved multiple systems failing in addition to the uncontained turbine failure and attracted worldwide media attention. Check back here for more on the return of VH-OQA.

A Glass Revolution. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Glass Revolution

By Owen Zupp


The era of digital avionics and glass cockpits is undoubtedly upon us. From Boeings to Beechcraft, the traditional dials are making way for dominant screens presenting a wealth of data with a tremendous visual impact. But are we mere mortals keeping pace as well?


The Decision.

The decision for an aircraft or fleet owner to move into the era of glass cockpits is, in the first instance, a practical one. The costs must be weighed against the benefits and the budget balanced against the available hardware. For pilots without a direct financial interest, the upgrade of equipment and new gadgetry is almost unanimously welcomed.


Before taking the plunge, it is worthwhile assessing the aircraft to which the new equipment will be fitted. Whether the new flight panel is to supplement the VFR operation of a private aircraft or form the information hub for an IFR workhorse may well determine the style and cost of instrumentation that is needed. Also, is the airframe or engine on their ‘last gasp’ and would a new flight panel be a classic case of over-capitalisation? Perhaps the desire for a new cockpit is actually a catalyst for a fleet renewal or upgrade. In this case, the ever expanding range of low time aircraft with factory fitted EFIS may be an option.


However, if breathing new life into an existing aircraft is the more viable scenario, then those glass units suited to retrofitting should be sought out.  The Aspen ‘Revolution’ range is specifically designed to be slotted into the circular voids vacated by the traditional dials, while Bendix-King’s ‘Apex Edge’ series have dimensions that comfortably fill the space normally consumed by a standard panel.


The purchase price of these units are significantly less than some of their larger more fancied competitors, but even so, labour costs must be factored in. Retrofits in these relatively early days can be labour intensive and not without hiccups. It is well worth researching an avionics specialist who has experience with the type of equipment you are seeking to fit. Their experience will reduce the man hours involved and they have probably seen any potential issues previously.


Ultimately, EFIS will become the dominant format in cockpits of all levels. As the numbers in glass grow and those aircraft with clocks and dials shrink, the balance of costs will reverse to the point where ongoing maintenance of traditional instruments will far outweigh the costs involved with the ‘new generation’. The point at budgetary requirements and operational tasking dictate the change-over to a glass cockpit will rest with the individual owner and operator.





A Brave New World.

The rapid emergence of glass cockpits at all levels of aviation is partly about technology and partly about philosophy. Humans have a tremendous capacity to advance technology, sometimes without considering why and frequently before implementation is adequately planned. The modernisation of cockpits can be seen as such a case.

The rapid emergence of glass cockpits at all levels of aviation is partly about technology and partly about philosophy. Humans have a tremendous capacity to advance technology, sometimes without considering why and frequently before implementation is adequately planned. The modernisation of cockpits can be seen as such a case.


A core philosophical argument that commonly arises relates to the training of students on glass from their very first lesson and whether they are losing their ability to truly fly the aeroplane. There is little doubt that when placed in a pilot’s seat and confronted by general aviation’s equivalent to a big-screen TV, the effect can be distracting, if not absolutely hypnotic. Beyond basic flight information, there is a world of moving maps, traffic awareness symbology and synthetic vision technology; all presented in impressive full colour format!


In a skill set that has traditionally called for ‘eyes outside’, an appreciation of the real horizon and phrases like ‘seat of the pants’, the new technology doesn’t quite gel. It is offering far more data, but is it dragging the attention away from the real world and losing critical information in the background hash of ‘bells and whistles’? The short answer is yes and no.


The wealth of information becoming available through the new systems can only serve to enhance the overall situational awareness of the crew and this is a very good thing. The shortfalls lay more in the interface with the human operator. Varying formats and switching, small displays and low background lighting are all issues that surface from time to time and model to model. The ‘standard six’ have made up traditional instrument panels for decades and cockpit cycles, instrument scans and checklists have all been based on this format. Now, in a period of rapid development, pilots are being asked to modify the previous skill set that has been ingrained from lesson number one. It is not merely a training exercise, it is a cultural shift.


It can be successfully achieved however, as evidenced by the implementation of glass and Airbus philosophies at airline level and the Metric system in everyday life. The generation caught in between will always have the greatest challenge, whilst the new minds will adjust their personal base line to the new standard and run with the technology. Whether this new “base line” compromises fundamental pilot skills is a moot point in some regards as the change will happen regardless of any protestations. What needs to occur is a training philosophy that seeks achieve the correct balance of basic flying skill retention while managing all of the resources that are now available.......

Check back soon for the conclusion to "A Glass Revolution."

Thanks! An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, April 19, 2012


To all of the supporters of this blog, I'd like to extend a sincere thank you.

Now in its fourth month, this aviation blog has far exceeded my expectations with 10,000 visitors dropping by each month and viewing the various stories that are written here. And the numbers keep on growing!

I appreciate the great positive feedback from you all and the ideas for new stories too. Growing straight out of that feedback are more flight training stories, "Five Tips" and a look at buying and owning aeroplanes.

Please keep using the website subscriber facility and contact forms to forward your ideas and thoughts; it reminds me that I'm not broadcasting into an empty void known as the internet, but speaking with like-minded people. Also, follow me on Facebook and tell your friends about the website and blog.

Thanks again and stay in touch.

Safe flying,


"Hawk Taking Flight." An Aviation Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Hawk Taking Flight."

A Royal Australian Air Force BAE Hawk 127 takes to the air at Broome, Western Australia.

"You Are Never Too Old." An Aviation Image.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, April 12, 2012

An Aviation Image from

"You Are Never Too Old"

This image was just too good not to share.


"Crowd Pleaser." A RAAF CA-18 Mustang An Aviation Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, April 10, 2012


"Crowd Pleaser."

A RAAF CA-18 Mustang makes its final approach under the keen eyes of the growing crowd.

CLICK HERE for more 'Mustangs and Memories'.


Check back soon for the next "Five Tips" article. This time we look at undertaking flight tests and upgrading your licence.

"Boeing Sun" An Aviation Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, April 08, 2012

"Boeing Sun."

A QANTAS Boeing 737 taxies in to the backdrop of a setting sun.

Vale. An Aviator and One of Life's Gentlemen. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Saturday, March 31, 2012

It's a sad day here at the aviation blog.

Yesterday I received the news that a friend had lost his life in an aircraft accident. He was an experienced pilot and an absolute gentleman.

As the details of the accident filtered out through an unreliable media, I chose to reflect on some good memories and interesting conversations that we'd had in those long hours on the darkened flight deck.

My thoughts are with his family at this time. As I said, he was a true gentleman.

Rest in peace, mate.




Over recent months tragic news seems to have become all too frequent for the aviation community. While on the other side of the Indian Ocean the loss of the two Albatross aircraft dealt a single massive blow, here a series of accidents in just a few days has further added to the count. The national broadcaster’s senior helicopter pilot and crew were lost, just as the news of an ill-fated mercy flight filtered down the wire. Only hours later, a senior sports pilot and his passenger went missing with a fatal outcome. The terrible loss of life in New Zealand when a hot air balloon was destroyed and only this week, a Tiger Moth crash saw the passing of John Fisher; a man who had once flown his Tiger from the UK to raise funds for charity. In the cruellest manner, it seemed we were all reminded that tragedy is the ever-present companion in the skies we seek to transit.

As the son of a fighter pilot who'd flown in combat, I had grown up around the potentially fatal nature of aviation. As I flicked enthusiastically through photo albums of fading photographs of fast jets, my father would answer my questions in an even tone. Often my enquiries with reference to individuals was met with, “He got clobbered by ground fire near Haeju”, or “I think he put a Mirage in off the coast during a training exercise”. Their young faces beneath flying helmets still stare back at me so many years later.

My own first encounter with the harsh lessons of aviation started as a student pilot. Still a paramedic by trade, I stood at the Royal Aero Club counter as the crash horn sounded and the ominous black, oily plume rose from beyond the runway’s end. Off duty, I drove my car the short distance around the airfield perimeter and entered the factory where the Cherokee Six had plunged vertically through the roof. One burnt survivor has been thrown onto the rooftop, while I dragged another from the smoke-filled building. Four remained in the wreck, still strapped into their seats; lifeless. Any complacency about aviation that youth may have been tempted to bestow on me was nullified at that very moment.

In the losses of recent times, as is so often the case, there are not necessarily any common themes. Each was in a different category of aircraft, with the weather varying from despicable to fine and clear. The pilots ranged vastly in experience and their operations covered the spectrum from private flying to commercial aviation. The only shared trait seemed to be the tragic outcome.

I flicked through the various news reports with a strong dose of suspicion, borne of decades reading of ill-informed, sensationalist reporting. Details seemed to change by the hour and rumours took on the status of fact until the next piece of hearsay could be generated in the public domain. What could not be disputed was life-altering impact of these accidents upon so many. To such a backdrop, one by one I recalled the faces of those that I had seen lost at the brutal edge of aviation. As I penned each name, the sobering truth was rammed home to me; no one is immune.



The list of names was far longer than I had anticipated. They ranged from pilots with whom I had shared a meal and conversation, to close friends and work colleagues. Nearly all of them were commercial pilots eking out a living in general aviation, though some had also been taken pursuing their passion just for the love of it. Some were just starting their journey, excited at their first gainful employment and some were experienced mentors in the service of the national aviation regulator.

One by one I recalled their faces. The ‘old hand’ Bill whose ultimate oversight in forty years of safe flying was not spotting the glider that sheared off his Bonanza’s tailplane. And Brinley, celebrating at the local restaurant at the news he’d secured a position with an airline only to perish nights later, circling into a black hole in rural Australia in the foulest of weather. Trevor, whose single-engined fish spotting aircraft had force landed at dusk into the frigid waters only to survive the impact, but not the swim to shore. Alan and Peter, who had been searching for another aeroplane when their Cessna’s had engine failed over inhospitable terrain. Fernando, who descended gently into the ground in the wee hours with a full load in his Beechcraft. My fellow freight pilots who had been lost within a couple of months in a bleak, wet winter of low cloud and icing levels. And my close friend who’d tried one too many hair-raising flying feats at too low an altitude, only to pancake into the rising terrain. On and on the list continued as face after face stared back at me.

Admittedly, there were those who had been sticking their neck out further than the rules and common sense would advise. But for most it was simply a case of the odds stacking up against them in a series a compounding smaller events; the classic ‘Swiss Cheese’ model of Dr. James Reason. For a few it was the simple bad luck scenario of wrong place-wrong time. Universally, however, they are all still with me; even though I had not thought of many in recent years. They are with me as I flight plan and as I retract the gear. They are with me as the day becomes night and as the weather turns dark and walls of water confront me. They are with me always.

They are not evil spectres awaiting my demise, they are those who have gone before and paid the ultimate price. They paid for their harsh lessons with their lives and I am now the benefactor of their loss. In many ways, I owe them for the joy I have experienced in the skies above. They may have gone before, but they have stayed behind to tell me when enough is enough and when danger is lurking. They are there when the hair stands up on the back of my neck. They level the playing field and stand on the kerb whenever the temptation to cut a corner may exist.

They were acquaintances, colleagues and close friends who lived and breathed for aviation. I count myself as fortunate to have thus far safely encountered my way, but this is not an automatic right. It requires an ongoing commitment to safety and discipline in all circumstances and anything less is to dishonour those who have sacrificed so much. We call the skies our home and it is not a dangerous place to encounter. However, as those who have been lost recently and in the distant past can attest, that aviation can be very unforgiving.

Clear skies, mate.


                                                       Dusk at Caboolture.



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