"Nancy Bird Walton" Touches Down! An Aviation Image by Andrew McLaughlin.

Owen Zupp - Monday, April 23, 2012

Nancy Bird Walton Touches Down!

I have just received this image of "Nancy Bird" touching down from my friend and aviation journalist Andrew McLaughlin. It was too good not to share.

Thanks Andrew!

Track "Nancy Bird", the QANTAS A380, on her way home. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, April 22, 2012

Click on the link below to follow "Nancy Bird" in real time with 'Flight Aware.

CLICK HERE to track VH-OQA on its way home.

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 www.owenzupp.com.

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.

"Please, Think About It." An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Please,Think About It.

By Owen Zupp


From the outset, I’d like to say that this blog went very close to being called, ‘Airmanship’. However, I neither wanted to shrink such a significant topic into a relatively small space, nor did I want mislead the readership when the point I wanted to make was the relative absence of airmanship. You see, I was recalling a day some time back when I witnessed some acts that made my hair curl. And I’m as bald as they come!


What is even more sobering is that the time frame in which these unsavoury events occurred. I was flying a relatively low performance aeroplane which was to be the subject of a written review and by low performance I mean single-engined, fixed undercarriage and a cruise speed of around 110 knots. Nevertheless, this was typical of the category of aircraft arriving as I re-joined the circuit area to fly a variety of differently configured circuits.


The first incident was relatively benign as the aircraft ahead of me landed with inadequate clearance while the preceding aircraft was still on the runway. I shook my head, but was not overly shocked. As I flew downwind on the next circuit, an aircraft flying a very standard circuit had broadcasted his position and intentions in a very standard manner. As he called on ‘final’ a departing aircraft called “rolling” on the same runway. The problem was that this aircraft was still about 200 metres from actually being on the runway. Regardless of the warnings, he broadcast “Too late, mate!” and pulled out in front of the landing aircraft who prudently conducted a go-around. By the time I turned downwind for my final circuit, the offending aircraft was now overhead the traffic pattern and I suspect conducting a sales demonstration flight. With minimal clearance from the circuit traffic he was turning, stalling and generally throwing the machine around the sky. I should stress that there was miles and miles of clear air away from this rural airfield he could have chosen to use.               

To add to the congestion, my downwind call was quickly followed by a higher performance Mooney joining the circuit behind me. I re-affirmed my aircraft type and performance to subtly suggest to the pilot that he might like to slow down, but his circuit calls kept coming and it was evident that he was getting closer and closer. He was obviously right behind me on final approach and when I landed I looked back over my shoulder as I turned off the runway and onto a taxiway. There he was a couple of hundred metres behind me, on the runway and enveloped in a huge plume of blue smoke emanating from his tyres. Personally, I suspect he landed with his feet on the brakes such was the pall of smoke.



I parked my aircraft clear of the runway for a static photo session and caught this chaps radio call on the Unicom frequency that confirmed he hadn’t read his ‘Notices to Airmen’ either. One final point; the aircraft the had rudely lined up in front of the landing aeroplane earlier was now sitting forlornly off the runway amongst the grass and its pilots were walking away. I do not know the reason why, but it was not the scheduled arrival plan.


All of these events took place in the space of a few circuits. All of them were totally avoidable and were solely caused by poor management by their pilots. With the exception of the aircraft running off the runway, they were not directly attributable to poor manipulative skills, but more in line with poor airmanship. The Mooney could have lowered his landing gear earlier or widened his circuit slightly, while holding short of the runway or going around would have solved the problems of the other two offenders. Forward thinking, simple manoeuvres and early decisions would have solved these issues. Sometimes airmanship is little more than common sense and good manners and yet those two skills also seem to evade a number amongst us.


And it is not just the private pilots at fault. Airliners can at times be at fault, taxiing too fast, cutting taxiway guidance lines or pushing on with approaches to land even when the aircraft is not really in a stable position to do so. Granted, some incidents are the result of the pilot ‘getting behind’ the aeroplane and not managing it in a timely fashion. However, sometimes it is simply a case of rushing or straight out laziness.


As pilots, more is expected of us than the average motorist and those who fly with us as passengers have a higher level of expectation too. They entrust us to always take the safe and conservative option. They respect that as pilot licence holders we have jumped through the rigorous hoops to be deemed fit and safe to fly with. I would suspect that after most of the aforementioned incidents, the passengers were still unaware of the danger or given some rationalised half-truth by their pilot. And I use the term ‘pilot’ extremely loosely. So many incidents are totally preventable if a conservative decision is made early in the piece, or as I say, “If in doubt, bug out!” There is no shame in conducting a go-around, waiting for a stream of aircraft to land before you depart or choosing to hold away from the circuit area until the traffic decreases. Moreover it is sound airmanship.


Airmanship starts in the planning phase and carries through until the aircraft is locked away in the hangar. Rather than an onerous duty, it should be seen as one more skill that pilots need to possess in order to take care of their aircraft and passengers. I don’t mean to sound judgemental and if I seem frustrated by the actions of these pilots, it is because I have attended too many funerals of experienced people who have chosen poor options for very little reason. To name a few, scud-running beneath weather in an IFR aircraft, conducting unauthorised low-level flying and intentionally operating their aeroplane beyond the scope of its design. These were not incidents of bad luck, more to the point they were pushing their luck beyond the bounds of airmanship. There are enough genuine threats lurking out there without introducing a bagful of our own. Next time the developing picture starts to raise some questions, pause for a moment and really think about it. Please, think about it.

Safe Flying.




"The Value of Curency." (Part Two) An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, April 15, 2012

"The Value of Currency." (Part Two)

By Owen Zupp.

CLICK HERE for Part One.


......Re-assess the difficulty you encountered on the previous occasion and how it may have been avoided. Slowing the aircraft down earlier and selecting flap may have offered some breathing space, reviewing the taxiways before engine start may have saved some confusion. Whatever the issue, consider the risk and mitigate against it occurring again. As always, rehearsing by ‘armchair flying’ can offer a great means of mentally preparing for busy phases of the flight. If it’s good enough for aerobatic champions and Red Bull Air Race pilots, then it’s good enough for us mere mortals.

Also, review the flight ahead, just as if it was a flight test. Consider not only the operational perspective, but the procedural items and aim to get those calls and checklists just right. Re-visit the handling notes for your aeroplane and ensure that the crucial numbers are in your head. If flights are few and far between, use the opportunity to brush up on any changes that may have occurred in the intervening period and a chat with a flight instructor could be worth its weight in gold. Furthermore, it is vital to make every minute count when the meter is running. That is not to say that the flight should be all hard work, but it should be productive as well as enjoyable.

Making the Most of the Minutes.

The aircraft is booked and the home preparation is complete. Arrive at the airfield early and avoid rushing as haste often walks hand in hand with oversight and omission. Use the preflight inspection as an opportunity to revisit the various components and limitations of your aeroplane; flaps and limit speeds, fuel tanks and capacity and consumption.



With all of the ground aspects covered, the time has come to maximise the benefit of the actual flight. While there is great satisfaction to be found in the safe carriage of passengers, ensure that adequate flights are planned to be flown solo. Solo flight facilitates the ability to conduct exercises such as glide approaches and also permits full concentration without the distraction of passengers.


Rather than a mere series of take offs and landings, plan a sortie that encompasses as many tasks as possible. Once you have committed to going flying and you are paying for start up and taxi time, there is actual value in extending the flight a little more to maximise the content. Too often certain manoeuvres only see the light of day at periodic reviews. While they should obviously be flown to enhance handling, a pleasing by-product is a sound state of readiness when the flight review ultimately rolls around again.

The format of a solo session may include a normal departure, then cruising to the training area through a combination of normal, slow and high speed cruise. Perhaps a segment within the 'white arc' with a stage of flap extended as preparation for those circuit situations where a slower preceding aircraft has gone wide. Established clear of the circuit and at a safe height, some steep turns to the left and right, followed by a practise forced landing. Consider your fuel status and consider changing tanks before returning to the circuit via standard joining procedures and flying a mixture of normal, STOL and flapless circuits. Make the first one a normal touch and go to re-establish the base line clearly in your mind and make the final landing to full stop a short field approach to remind you how much runway is actually used.

In all sessions conduct a go-around. It is a very under-valued manoeuvre that can be called for under any number of circumstances. Even from a perfect approach, a runway incursion can necessitate a go-around, similarly, it is the safest solution to an untidy approach or unsatisfactory landing. If in doubt; bug out! The ability to conduct a safe missed approach is a tremendous ace up the sleeve and should be part of a pilot’s armoury at all times.

Such a session as described offers a very good workout; far more so than simply a session of circuits. The individual pilot may wish to bias the format to suit their own areas of weakness, but regardless it should be a rounded exercise in handling and procedures. Such a session can comfortably be achieved in a little over an hour if it is planned and time is not wasted dawdling around wondering what comes next. Make your flying count, it may not be frequent, but it can still be of quality.



True Value.



Even with a genuine effort to maintain relevant, quality currency, skills can erode with time. For this reason it is a sound investment to fly with a flight instructor periodically to assess your standard and to offer advice. Before the flight, let the instructor know what you wish to achieve from the flight and even present the format that you’d like to fly. Not only will a quality flight be the result, but the fear and loathing of flight reviews will subside.  


Private pilots are not the only ones who reap the benefits of a dual check. Highly experienced commercial pilots recognise that the relevance of their current operations may not prepare them ideally to take the family for a leisure flight in a light aircraft. They are the first to recognise the importance of recency and seek the counsel of a youthful instructor with his finger on the relevant pulse.


Much of flying is about enjoyment and this can be greatly enhanced by a degree of confidence and proficiency. Maintaining a level of proficiency is always difficult in the face of fiscal reality, but that being said, it is no excuse for cutting corners. Every flight should be treasured. Plan it thoroughly, maximise the value of the air time and then honestly review your performance once the aircraft has been tied down for the night. These are the hallmarks of a good pilot and the means by which one’s standards can improve.


It is one thing to be highly experienced, but just as in life, age is no guarantee of wisdom. Maintaining a quality of skill and airmanship calls for far more than meeting bare legal requirements, it calls for thorough preparation and execution. Being recent is not merely a function of dates, take offs and landings. It is a combination of confidence, competence and readiness to cope with all aspects of the impending flight. When this is appreciated, so too is the true value of currency.





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