Past and Present. Bradman, Bowral and Beyond.

Owen Zupp - Friday, December 16, 2011

Only a little more than an hour from Sydney lies the NSW Southern Highlands and the hamlet of Bowral. Set to a backdrop of green fields that would not be out of place in Britain, it was the boyhood home of Sir Donald Bradman, the famed cricketer. Today it is home to the International Cricket Hall of Fame, which includes the Bradman Gallery.

As I wandered through the halls past intriguing artefacts and interactive displays, I couldn’t help but be impressed at this tribute to not just a man, but a wonderful game. And yet, something even more striking pervaded my thoughts; just as the game had changed, so had we. Time has seen an amateur game grow into a global business being instantaneously flashed across the globe via satellite. Families no longer huddle around the wireless to hear the broadcast from far flung fields, but check the latest scores on their iPhone Apps.

It’s almost a case of innocence-lost in an effort to keep pace with the ever-changing world and ever-increasing competition for market share. And yet in these halls, there are interviews continuously broadcast with elder statesmen using well chosen words in modest tones; there are no ‘high-fives’ here. One can only wonder at the sponsorship dollars ‘The Don’ would have accrued in the 21st Century.

And yet, just as the Hall of Fame takes the guest on a journey through the ages, I recognise that change is inevitable. I respect the professionalism and dedication displayed by our modern players in a game that now demands so much of their lives beyond the picket fence. But like life in general, we all have a secret longing for a ‘simpler’ time I suspect. Furthermore, all too often the good that stems from the sport can be overlooked. The Bradman Foundation is a charitable organisation with a specific charter. A number of players past and present have their own foundations; Glenn McGrath,  Steve Waugh and  Ricky Ponting just to name a few.

As we move forward at an ever-increasing pace and seemingly demand instantaneous gratification from everything, including our past-times, maybe we should stop and pause. Stop and pause to remember those who have founded our institutions, those who have excelled and those who have tirelessly kept the dream alive. Stop and pause to think about the simple pleasures and the sheer joy of youngsters playing the game for the game’s sake and little else. Stop and pause about where the future lies and making change for the right reasons.

Sport in itself is not life, but is rich in life’s lessons. From a young age, it teaches humility, disappointment, determination and joy. It teaches co-operation, patience and the fact that anything worthwhile takes time and effort. There are so many fledgling qualities that can be introduced through sport and carried through on the larger stage of life.

For my part, I will continue to wander these hallowed halls in Bowral and step lightly between yesteryear and today, trying to learn what I can from past and present. I will recognise that it’s ‘only a game’ but value the lessons and respect the traditions. Places like the International Cricket Hall of Fame are national treasures and not just for the sporting enthusiast, for they offer a glimpse into the past with one foot in the present. And as we know, there is much to be learned from those who have gone before.



Please support these very worthy foundations.

The Bradman Foundation.

The McGrath Foundation.

The Steve Waugh Foundation.

The Ponting Foundation.


Outside the Square. The future of aviation? An Aviation Blog By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, December 15, 2011

By the year 2050, the world’s population will have grown from 7 billion people to 9 billion. In terms of the aerospace industry, this represents a potentially huge growth in passenger numbers for a world that is becoming increasingly lower on fuel reserves, more unable to accommodate sprawling airports and ever-vigilant of the environmental impact of industry. What is equally alarming is that 2050 is closer to 2011 than man’s first steps on the moon. With this in mind and with a keen eye for the marketplace, Airbus has just released their vision for air transport midway through this century. And it’s eye-catching to say the least.

Armed with global survey figures that showed that passengers are seeking a ‘greener’ in-flight experience that allows greater access to the new digital world, they set about imagining their aircraft of the future. An aircraft that not only boasts enhanced efficiency, but an aircraft that makes the flight an ‘experience’ in its own right, rather than a mode of travel that merely provides a means to an end.

Firstly, they addressed the overwhelming issue of future energy sources. Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of man-made CO2 emissions of which 80% is generated on flights of over 1,500km. With a goal of halving aviation’s CO2 output by 2050, Airbus envisages the increasing use of ‘biofuels’, such that they will make up 30% of jet fuels by 2030. By utilising algae, woodchip and general waste, new energy sources are being pursued, while utilising salt water plants may offer a feasible option to the use of great land masses. However, there are other means by which energy may be saved. The ‘Fuel Cell’ combines Hydrogen with Oxygen through cold combustion to generate electricity, resulting in water, heat and oxygen depleted air as the only by-products. While this may not be a means to generate engine power, it can serve to provide the energy for engine starting, cabin lighting, air-conditioning, and the waste water can be recycled for use on board. The use of solar power is also being researched as a means of providing power to ancillary services. Another futuristic concept is ‘energy harvesting’, by which body heat is ‘harvested’ from the passenger seats and used to power such systems as cabin lighting.

Improving the efficiency of aircraft and their engines, as well as more productive use of the airspace, all offer potential contributions to a cleaner atmosphere. It has been said that reducing each flight time by one minute would shave off 4.8 million tonnes of CO2 released into the air by aviation. It is in everyone’s interest to seek out initiatives that result in quicker flights, shorter routes and consequently less fuel burn. Airbus looks to mimic nature to find some of these solutions through ‘ecological’ design. We have already seen aircraft winglets that resemble the upturned tips of a bird’s span result in increased efficiency of the wing, but Airbus sees the idea going further. Like the new generation of competitive swim-suits, perhaps the features of the shark’s skin can enhance the surface of future aeroplanes. The owls serrated feathers may offer a means to noise reduction and the stiffening and relaxing of the membranes in a butterfly’s wings may create a whole new idea of what wing design entails.

Bionic structures may copy the skeletal frame of the bird in place of the existing metal framework of ribs, spars and longerons. Lighter in weight and more sparsely distributed, the futuristic fuselage frame facilitates not only larger windows, but the potential for 360 degree views. For Airbus have even suggested that the new skin of aeroplanes be transparent; made from a biopolymer membrane. The world above and below could be viewed and enjoyed in all their unobstructed majesty, making the journey as exciting as the destination. One school of thought is that fares could even be free, funded by on-board casinos. Enhancing the flight experience is central to the theme for Airbus and they perceive that the cruise liners of tomorrow will be found in the skies rather than on the seas. Offering pools, spas and even golf ranges, these soaring entertainment centres will have passengers not wanting to disembark.

On the topic of disembarking, the face of joining and leaving an aeroplane may well change in the future. Crowded airports may be replaced by time-efficient boarding platforms that allow a mass transfer of passengers in the same manner afforded by the rail systems of today.  Even more modular is the concept of ‘boarding pods’. In much the same way that freight in aircraft’s holds has become ‘containerised’, passengers will be pre-loaded into pods that are ready to attach to the aeroplane as soon as the pod of passengers leaving the flight have been transferred.

For all the eye-catching changes, the grass roots engineering concepts Airbus foresees are equally bold. To this end they have conceived a ‘Concept Aeroplane’ that showcases the many features, while recognising that they may well not feature on a lone design. In addition to a see-through skin, there are engines that are smoothly blended and almost concealed into the aircraft’s form.  Traditional tailplanes are replaced by a sweeping V-Tail, like a pair of blended winglets at the aeroplane’s rear. There will be ultra-long, slim wings that are designed to maximise lift and minimise induced drag, unencumbered by under-slung engines and composite materials used throughout the airframe to slash the aeroplanes weight and permit flexibility in the design shape. Within the cabin, new materials will permit the seats to ‘morph’ their shape, harvest energy and even clean themselves.

As Airbus sees it, the look, feel and function of tomorrow’s aeroplanes will be vastly different to the airliners of today. This world of dreams, concepts and ongoing change is nothing new and has in fact characterised aviation since man first took flight. As we browse the internet and contact the world through our iPhones, it is little wonder that Airbus’s brave new world of air travel is held in tangible wonder for aviation has proven time and again that virtually anything is possible. And if these concepts are being broadcast freely around the world, it makes one wonder about the even more fantastic, but  commercially sensitive, ideas that are being developed by designers around the world. Without doubt, for aviation to forge new frontiers, the answers cannot lie in the solutions of the past, they must continue to come from outside the square.

A Ghost in the Machine. An Aviation Blog By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Thirty years ago my school careers guidance counsellor suggested that I investigate a future in the leisure industries. His skewed logic was that the growth of computers would overrun the workforce, availing people of a mountain of free time in which they would need to be entertained. So how’s that working out for everyone?

He also warned me off a career in aviation as by the year 2000, pilots would be increasingly redundant as automation replaced the man in the cockpit. Fortunately, I ignored all of his recommendations and pursued my chosen vocation in the air. Even so, his apocalyptic vision for pilots is coming a lot closer than his prediction regarding computers. Automation has indeed encroached heavily into the pilot’s domain and the growth of technology such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) is no longer futuristic.

Early steps in the pilot’s demise could be seen in the disappearance of their former comrades; the navigators and flight engineers. With the advent of autonomous navigation systems and automated power management, two crucial members of the flight deck have disappeared into obscurity. Only a small fleet of older generation aircraft and some specialised operations still call for a ‘Nav’ or ‘FEO’. And so the role of the pilot has diminished, offering up numerous manual tasks to onboard computers.

So the role of the pilot evolved to a more managerial position where crews, systems and aircraft are managed. The ‘stick and rudder’ skills became less crucial as autopilots were able to perform the task, freeing up the pilot’s brain-space to oversee the operation and maintain heightened situational awareness. The Captain’s of Ernest Gann’s books letting down on the NDB to the sound of rain thrashing against the fogging windscreen are rapidly becoming something of folklore. Today it is autopilot, auto-coupled and auto-landed and with the technology rapidly flowing downhill into small single pilot operations, the evolution is being witnessed across the full spectrum of aircraft.

Perhaps the most notable impact upon the brotherhood of pilots can be seen in UAVs. Rather than having pilots perched at the sharp end of the aircraft, they are seated at a ground-based console flying the aircraft remotely. Crews can be based in a mobile control van, or seated in a room on the other side of the planet. In any case, they are far removed from their UAV when it is on station and potentially in harm’s way. When the first unmanned Global Hawk flew non-stop from the United States to Australia in 2001, it highlighted that these vehicles had definitely come of age. With a range in excess of 12,000nm, a ceiling of 65,000 feet and an ability to remain aloft for periods in excess of 30 hours, the Global Hawk demonstrated immense potential to survey and gather data or intelligence.

Yet surveillance proved to be only one of many roles suited to the UAVs. No longer merely ‘drones’ these vehicles are able to patrol borders, carry remote sensing equipment relaying information about the atmosphere or flying into the heart of tornadoes where no sane pilot would venture. They possess a potential to transport goods or provide assistance to ‘Search and Rescue’ teams with onboard thermal sensors or cameras. The UAVs may be fixed wing in form, or rotary wing, such as the Northrop Grumman RQ-8A and MQ-8B ‘Fire Scout’. This UAV helicopter was successfully flown from a US naval vessel in 2006 and has been considered in roles as varied as over-horizon-communications to an airborne weapons platform. Bell Helicopters have also ventured down the tilt-rotor path with the ‘Eagle Eye’ which first flew in 1998 and struck a chord with the United States Coast Guard. It seemed that there were few roles and configurations that could not be encompassed by UAVs.

Yet it is in theatres of war that the Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV) is attracting the most headlines. Heavily armed MQ-1 Predators and more recently MQ-9 Reapers have had an impact on operations in global hot-spots such as Afghanistan and are re-writing the way that warfare is conducted. Carrying sensors and cameras, the UCAV has nasty teeth in the form of ‘Paveway’ laser-guided bombs, ‘Hellfire’ air-to-ground missiles and air-to-air ‘Sidewinders’. Such Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) provide pin-point precision targeting without the need for exposing a pilot or his aircraft to the associated danger.

While UCAVs currently fly alongside piloted combat aircraft, is the day coming when all combat aircraft are unmanned? Northrop Grumman’s X-47 Pegasus project seems to be headed that way. Powered by a single high-bypass turbofan, the X-47 has the ability to fly at “high subsonic” speeds and bears a shape to reduce its radar signature, a little reminiscent of the B-2 bomber. Developed into the X-47B, the new improved UCAV is set to fly this year and has already been dubbed by some as the first nail in the fighter pilot’s coffin. Immune to physiological limitations, G-forces won’t render this aircraft unconscious in a tight turn and there is not a human life in harm’s way.

So is this the future of all aviation; faceless and guided by a remote hand? It is apparent that we are already moving steadily in that direction. The common catch-cry in civil aviation is that passengers won’t board a flight without a human crew ‘up the front’, yet passengers happily commute around Paris on trains that are void of drivers. Culture rather than technology is shaping as the limitation of this brave new world.

In aviation, science fiction has a long history of rapidly evolving into science fact. Whether we see human faith in automation mature to the extent that oceans are crossed without pilots on the flight deck will only be revealed in time. However, we are already seeing unmanned vehicles performing admirably in a diverse range of roles that could once only have been imagined. As their track record grows and their reliability is established, scepticism will slowly be eroded away. How long this will take is yet to be seen, but already there is little doubt that we are witnessing the growth of the ghost in the machine.

An Aviation Website and Blog?

Owen Zupp - Monday, December 12, 2011

Firstly, thanks to everyone who has subscribed, emailed, commented or contacted me. It’s great to receive such feedback so early in the life of the new website.


One comment that has recurred is whether this is an aviation website and blog? The succinct answer is,.....well, yes and no. With such a strong link to aviation through my life thus far, it is inescapable for so many reasons. Not only has it been my prime interest for over forty years, but it was the means by which I have also entered the wonderful world of writing. However, is not purely an aviation website.


From 2012 I will have a number of projects starting up. There is a reprint of an existing book, a new title, a DVD of ‘There and Back’ are just some of the tasks ahead of me. There are also some forays into new fields outside of the spectrum of flight. Amongst these are manuscripts that step away from the theme of my past writings and will not necessarily possess an aviation theme. Similarly, my speaking engagements have not been solely limited to aviation in the past. There have definitely been events where I have spoken about the ‘There and Back’ flight around Australia and such items as the decision-making process in aviation, however, there have been others. There has been interest in what is involved in moving forward after being retrenched, just as I was following the Ansett collapse. There have also been occasions when my experiences in the Ambulance Service have played a central role in discussions.


So, yes and no, does possess an aviation theme, but that is not its limit. There will be a constant flow of varying viewpoints on a range of topics; particularly through the blog. So check back regularly, read the blog and see what’s new. If you get a chance, drop me a line, or sign up for the newsletter as the journey is only just beginning and as always, the more the merrier.



Names on a Wall.

Owen Zupp - Friday, December 09, 2011

The Australian War Memorial is both a remarkable and sacred place. Within its walls are not only the artefacts, but the voices and tales of those who have gone before. The smallest item may be of tremendous significance, while the impressive Lancaster bomber cannot help but invoke a sense of awe within the appropriately darkened hall.


Yet for all of the amazing relics that are housed within its walls, the surface of some of the outer walls is what can take the breath away. For these walls are home to the names of the fallen. Column after column of name after name rise up from their bronze base, with red poppies adding colour to the solemnity. For every small name represents a life; a son, a brother, a father. A cricket captain, a nervous public speaker, or the lad with that rusty old bike who broke Mrs. Gilby’s window. Every name is so much more than a soldier, sailor or airman, although that final task is what has defined them on these walls.


To me the names have changed over the years. As a small boy they were a massive list and while significant, kept me from looking at tanks and aeroplanes. As I grew older, I would walk by my father’s side while he scanned the columns looking for his units of wars seemingly long past, although as a man I now realise how relative time can be. He would occasionally point and say a name out aloud; Les, Ian, Bruce or ‘Bluey’. He might recall a few words to my mother about being ambushed or ‘clobbered’ by ground fire, but little more. He would then walk along and look for family whose names are etched upon the walls and like his friends, never came home.


Those same names mean even more to me today. For they are no longer a mysterious reference tied loosely to an event he may have discussed at another time. Now I know who these people are and how they entered my father’s world. How he trained, shared a tent and fought alongside these men. And on occasions how he had watched them die. To me there names have bridged the gap from memorial to a living, breathing soul and I now look upon their raised names while my children place their own red poppies. They stand beside me and listen as I explain as best I can who these people were and why their sacrifice is so important to remember. They are no longer just names; they are Grandad’s friends and family.


ANZAC Day was revered in my home growing up. The Dawn Service held a special significance, while around the house faded photographs would appear each year, of young men in uniform with names I still remember. Today their names, like so many others, grace the walls of the Memorial. Fortunately, I now know the stories too, from their farms to the foreign fields in which they now lie. These sons, brothers and fathers must be remembered for the life they forfeited for our tomorrows. They are so much more than names on a wall, they are our heritage.

The years shall not weary them.

Lest We Forget.

A Solitary Endeavour.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, December 04, 2011

Last night the annual National Aviation Press Club awards offered an opportunity to get together and recognise those who have made a contribution over the last twelve months. The team at 'Australian Aviation' magazine did well once again and the evening was an all-round success.

Yet amongst the awards and accolades I was reminded of some very valid considerations in the world of journalism and magazine publishing. For across from me sat proof readers, photographers, production staff and a sea of others. It is the old story that for every writer with a by-line, there is a valuable team of professionals compiling the finished product that the public reads over their morning coffee or in seat 26E enroute to Melbourne. Accordingly, I want to dip my lid to those great folks who make the writer look good.

That is not to say that the solitude is necessarily a burden. Personally, I appreciate those quiet hours before the sun rises when the only noise in my home is the tapping of the keyboard and the occasional mutterings under my breath. The day is yet to be born and the mind seems fresher while thoughts move relatively effortlessly between the mind and the mouse. And should the task become stagnant, there is always the kettle to boil and a comfortable hair to watch those first shreds of daylight creep above the tree-line. If the dawn doesn't inspire and the cob-webs still adhere to my thoughts, then a peaceful jog along a country lane is the perfect way to welcome the day.

Yes, writing can be a solitary, one-way street of communication, punching words out into the world beyond and rarely hearing a voice echo back with comment. Yet that somehow makes the exercise a cleansing journey through one's own thoughts, offering clarity to concepts that may otherwise annoyingly rumble around inside the head.

I am fortunate to write, but blessed to have others take the time to read. And to those brilliant minds in the engine room that turn words into a quality journal, thank you. Until tomorrow, it's time to sleep. And then to write. Goodnight.

Hello and Welcome to my new website

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In the wake of last year’s solo fund-raising flight around Australia I received an ever increasing amount of email about all manner of topics. Obviously the flight itself, but also queries regarding my writing, questions relating to aviation and requests to speak at various venues on a range of topics. Essentially, there seemed to be a level of interest in my projects beyond the ‘There and Back’ flight.

I had entertained the idea of my own website for some time, but spurred on by colleagues and with my book ‘Down to Earth’ looking like it may be entering a second edition, I thought it was time to act. It was actually a difficult exercise in many ways, but essentially I responded to those queries that I’ve been receiving about writing, flying and speaking in determining the format.

There will be a steady stream of information about my projects including upcoming articles, books, flights and all manner of projects. I’ll commit to entering the world of ‘blogging’ which was a fantastic tool of communication on the around Australia flight and I will even endeavour to try my hand at the so-called ‘social media’. As such, I welcome any feedback and participation from those who have emailed me over recent months and any new visitors to the website.

‘There and Back’ will continue to exist with the help of the energetic Rob Brus who was a great supporter of the ‘There and Back’ concept from the outset. In fact, there are some exciting plans for ‘There and Back’ and as such it still warrants and deserves its own website. Over the coming years you can expect to see a growing involvement of ‘There and Back’ in aviation and charitable causes.

For now, I would like to repeat my welcome to and trust that you will find the content interesting as me move towards a very interesting future.




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