Solo Flight. Chapter 4. By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Monday, October 16, 2017

 Owen Zupp. Jabiru J230D

 

Chapter 4. Growing Wings.

 

 

Armed with a clear vision I took a deep breath and sent off proposals to various aircraft manufacturers and distributors, humbly requesting the use of one of their aeroplanes. Some replied very quickly, others never replied at all. In the end there were three contenders, but one seemed to perfectly fit the flight’s ‘mission statement’ of an affordable Australian-based venture. The Bundaberg-based Jabiru.

 

I had visited the Jabiru factory in Queensland some months before when I wrote a story on their J230D aircraft. Physically capable of carrying up to four people, it would be an ideal choice for the solo flight. With only me on board, an amazing amount of equipment could be uplifted while still filling the tanks to their filler caps. It would cruise at my desired two miles per minute and give me a range of close to 600 miles with ‘reserves’. Furthermore, the aeroplane was Australian-designed and built and had a purchase price about the same as a four-wheel drive motor vehicle.

 

Sue Woods is the daughter of the Jabiru founder, Rod Stiff, and was amongst the first to reply to my request for the provision of an aeroplane for ‘There and Back’. From day one the relationship with Jabiru seemed right. Their enthusiasm and vision was identical to mine. They obviously had a passion for aviation in this wide brown land and together we had the opportunity to spread the message to the greater public, not merely the niche of aviation enthusiasts.

 

Owen Zupp. Jabiru J230D

The logo of ‘Jabiru Aircraft and Engines’.

 

I could hardly contain my excitement knowing that the last major component of the foundation had been established and now the job was to build upon this. With Jabiru’s commitment made public, very quickly other companies came on board; Hawker Pacific and David Clark, ‘Spidertracks’, Champagne PC Flight Planning, Australian Aviation and Global Aviator magazines. Through the supply of critical equipment and increasing media coverage, There and Back’s pulse became a pounding heart-beat.

 

As Rob Brus brought the new website to life, Hayley Dean from ‘Me Marketing’ began to liaise with media outlets. Radio stations, TV networks and newspapers were all interested in the fact that this was an all-Australian affair marking an Australian centenary. However, for the moment, the general response was “Fantastic!.....please contact us closer to the date”. I only hoped that there would be time “closer to the date”.

 

Owen Zupp. Jabiru J230D

A Jabiru J230D off the coast of Bundaberg. (Photo: Jabiru)

 

I now had solid performance data on a real aeroplane to work with. I sat down with my charts to one side and the new computer flight-planning software to the other. I confess to being a Luddite in some ways and carefully drew my pencil lines with their 10 mile markers across forty maps. Once I had done this in long-hand, I then entered the flight route into the computer as a second line of defence. Fortunately, everything matched.

 

There were so many places on my ‘to-see’ list. Longreach, the home of QANTAS. Tindal, Australia’s northern fighter base. Darwin, where the pioneer aviators first touched down on their flights from England. My old stomping ground of Kununurra in the beautiful Kimberleys. The pioneer aviators’ graves at Murchison Station. Woomera and its space heritage. Point Cook, the spiritual home of the Royal Australian Air Force. Toowoomba, my family’s original hometown and my father’s final resting place. The list went on and on. 8,000 nautical miles and a continent full of wonder.

 

I continued to draw more circles and rub out lines as either fuel availability was an issue, or there was no accommodation left in town. In the end a circumnavigation of sorts was etched out, as much defined by history as geography. Unfortunately, there were people and places that would be bypassed, including my own sister in Cairns. Nevertheless, the route that emerged filled me with anticipation as I finally stepped back from the charts and looked at the miles that I was destined to fly. I couldn’t wait for the next six months to pass.

 

Owen Zupp. Jabiru J230D

The Original Route of ‘There and Back’.

Of all the wonderful equipment provided by the sponsors of the flight, one particular piece took my interest. It was provided by Rob Brus in his role with a company called ‘Spidertracks’. This inconspicuous black box was not much larger than a television remote control and plugged into the aircraft’s “cigarette lighter” outlet. Sitting on the dashboard, this aerial used satellite technology to beam my position back to a nominated web-address, allowing people to track my flight on their computers. Even better, Rob had designed a ‘phone app’ for portable tracking.

 

Owen Zupp. Jabiru J230D

A Spidertracks display as followers would see the flight on the internet.

 

Every six minutes my position, ground speed and altitude would be beamed across the internet. Additionally, in the case of an emergency, I could hit a button for more rapid updating of my whereabouts and an ‘alert’ would be sent immediately to nominated phone numbers. The Spidertracks system was a great device to have on board for both safety and connecting with the public. It also reminded me that although I was flying ‘solo’, I had the internet on the seat beside me. So don’t mess up!

 

As I busily went about my planning and emailing, the Jabiru team had decided to build a new J230 especially for the flight. It was exciting news and the thought of flying a brand new aeroplane around Australia gave the entire project a very shiny new edge. However, with Christmas looming, I wondered if there would be sufficient time to build and entire aircraft by the departure date in May. And not just build the aeroplane, but equip it and have it flown enough to ‘bed’ the engine in.

 

I needn’t have worried as an email arrived from Sue Woods showing the aircraft laid out on the factory floor. Like a massive Airfix model, the bare white components were arranged in an orderly manner, eagerly awaiting assembly. Over the coming weeks these pieces would morph into a sleek looking aircraft, resplendent in the markings of ‘There and Back’.

 

Owen Zupp. Jabiru J230D

The Jabiru J230D. Ready to take shape.

 

For now the aircraft, like the entire project, was a maze of components needing to be put together in the right order. And just like the Jabiru, if it was to be completed in a timely fashion, more than one set of hands was needed. I was fortunate to have a team behind me attending to the details as I made the broad brushstrokes and focused on the flying. There was no doubt that this was a significant exercise in logistics, but the romance of the flight was never far away either. Furthermore, an unforeseen mystery and disappointment was lurking just around the corner.


 

 Read the full story of 'Solo Flight' here.

 

 

Solo Flight. Chapter 2. By Owen Zupp

Owen Zupp - Thursday, September 28, 2017

 

 

Chapter 2. Solo Around the World?

 

 

They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My journey began sitting down.

 

The credits were still running on the documentary about Ewan MacGregor’s motorcycle trek when I turned to my wife and suggested that I should fly around the world solo. Yes, alone. Unstartled, her measured reply was that maybe I should start with flying around Australia. And so the deal was struck.

 

This exchange with my wife occurred many months before my wheels would leave the ground, however the genesis of such a flight was even more deeply rooted in my past. As a young charter pilot I had driven with my father to the far side of Australia to a new job in the Kimberley township of Kununurra. Each day as we set out on that week-long drive, I was increasingly overwhelmed by the raw, expansive beauty of the land. Horizons too far away on which to focus and bounding kangaroos too close to my car for comfort.

 

Unloading freight in the Kimberleys

 

To this raw, red dirt backdrop, my Dad and I agreed to fly across Australia together one day. We had already shared a cockpit many times over the years, including those hours when he had taught me to fly. There had been many memorable moments: words of wisdom aloft, informal lunches in the shade of a wing and the odd quiet word between a father and son. Aviation had been the common thread between us from the time I was a boy when he had hoisted me up to peer into cockpits through cupped hands. It had been a common language throughout my teenage years that had meant our communication never suffered. He then mentored me until I could fly in my own right, and now it seemed like it was time for us to share the sky across Australia as peers. But that day never came.

 

Within a year, cancer had my father in its vile grip. The old warrior who had never walked away from a fight had finally met an enemy that he could not best. He fought each battle with the knowledge that ultimately his war was lost. He was a hero to the end, until that dark morning when his chest rose for the final time. He gasped, and then relaxed into the longest slumber.

 

Dad in his fighter jet during the Korean War

 

Twenty years later, his loss seemed so far away and yet still so vivid. I now sat in my own home with the fire warming the room and my own children beside me. Part of me felt selfish for wanting to disappear for a few weeks and soar through the skies without them, but something had been stirred inside me and I knew the time for the flight had come.

 

It was 2009 and the following year would mark the centenary of powered flight in Australia, when the visiting American escape artist Harry Houdini had slipped the handcuffs of gravity and taken his frail flying machine into the skies. So, 2010 seemed to be an ideal time to celebrate the event by flying around Australia. The first box was ticked. However, other boxes started to emerge at a startling rate. Accommodation, fuel availability, route selection, emergency equipment, and so on. Not to mention that I might also need an aeroplane.

 

As I looked at the sea of charts unfolded on my dining table, I sought to select the most appropriate route for May the following year. That month presented the best chance of favourable weather and advantageous winds. Geographically, there were certain aviation-significant places I wanted to visit, as well as landmarks from my own life and career. In the time frame available, I wouldn’t be able to crawl around the entire coastal strip of this island continent and anyway, so much aviation history was connected to the remote inland. I circled towns, drew lines and measured distances.

 

Piece by piece, the flight began to take shape. Now I stepped back and looked at the pencil lines that circled my nation, and for the first time it struck me that this was quite a journey, even for someone with thirty years experience. I was acutely aware of safety as my first priority and considered the route in terms of terrain, water crossings and what equipment I would need to cater for all contingencies. If I couldn’t execute the flight safely, then it couldn’t be done at all. As they say, “Mission First. Safety Always.”

 

Charts, flight plans and crumpled paper

 

My head began to spin. Would there be media coverage? Should I have a website? Should I give the flight a name? There were so many secondary issues beyond the act of flight. In fact, taking to the skies seemed like it would be the easiest aspect of the undertaking. I knew that preparation was paramount, and I had to focus on the core priorities. I set about a strategy to have everything in order from the ground up, for the success of the flight operationally would hinge upon the work in these months before departure.

 

With a basic route drafted, I could now grasp what was required of an aircraft to undertake the journey. My own little Piper Tomahawk was sitting in the hangar, but it didn’t seem to be suited for the task. It was 30 years old and only cruised at about 95 knots, or 175 kilometres an hour. Furthermore, its endurance was such that the longest sector it could manage would only be about 4 hours before a fuel stop would be necessary. On a 7,500 nautical mile-journey, all of these operational constraints excluded the Tomahawk from being considered.  

 

My trusty little Piper Tomahawk

 

In choosing an aeroplane, firstly I assessed what I wanted the aircraft to be capable of. Ideally it would cover at least 2 miles each minute; that’s a speed of 120 knots. It would be able to fly for more than 4 hours at that speed and land with reserve fuel still safely in the tanks. That would give me 500-mile legs if I needed them, which was at least 100 miles more than the Tomahawk could offer and at a higher speed. I would not always land at major airfields on sealed runways, so the aircraft had to be capable of outback operations. Philosophically, I also wanted the aircraft to send a positive message about aviation in Australia.

 

Rather than a rich man’s hobby, I wanted to demonstrate the affordability and accessibility of aviation in Australia. A business jet might make the flight a breeze, but it wouldn’t send the message that I wanted folks to receive. I needed an affordable, light aircraft with suitable performance that could carry the banner for Australia’s centenary of flight. But which aircraft would do that?


 

 Read the full story of 'Solo Flight' here.

 

 

Solo Flight. Chapter 1. by Owen Zupp

Owen Zupp - Monday, September 18, 2017

 

 

Chapter 1. Solo Flight. 

 

Another mile and another minute passes. Uneventful and yet awe-inspiring.

Perched at altitude in my small two-seat aeroplane, the canvas below me is the vast Australian landscape. Beautifully remote, I sit in isolation with nothing but my thoughts and the task of flight to distract me from the view outside the cockpit. The instruments in front of me and the gentle hum of the controls beneath my hands assure me that all is right with the trusty little Jabiru as it cuts through air that is so very still.

 

It is too early in the day for the bubbles of warm air to rise and buffet me about the sky. So cool and calm, with the coastline behind me and the raw, rich reds of the inland ahead. Amidst this barren beauty a lone patch of white seems to be wafting above the terrain like a ghostly quilt. I tilt my head and alter my focus, trying to define the sight ahead, below and to my left. I nudge the Jabiru like a trusty horse and she moves her nose towards the alabaster carpet, gaining on it at an impressive rate.

 

Now closer, my eyes focus and see the faults in the stitching. For rather than a massive blanket, it is made up of many miniscule moving parts. Wings, like mine, but very much smaller. Waving gracefully in tight formation, this is not a renegade paddock or field, but a massive flock of birds moving south. Their graceful harmony of flight makes my man-made attempt look relatively primitive and I admire the ease with which they wheel to the left as one and continue on their way.

 

Geographically I am as far from home as I can be and still be flying over Australian soil. Surrounded by the country’s majesty it’s hard to decide if I am half way from my origin, or half way to my destination. I long for the familiarity of family and yet what I have witnessed as Australia has passed by will be with me forever. There have been sights as varied as the crashing waves on rocky shores to the remote stock routes threading like capillaries across this nation. Military jet fighters have rested a wing tip away and retired giants of the sky towered over me, never to fly again. Thriving cities and isolated ghost towns. Colours, sounds, sights and smells that change with every new horizon.

 

There is still a way to go and yet already this journey has changed me forever. This wide brown land that I call home has spoken to me in a way that can only be heard amongst the clouds and clear blue skies. And I have had to listen carefully, not distracted by the voices of others or the pressures of the day-to-day grind. To truly hear the land and understand the magic that is all around me I have had to be alone; all alone, on this solo flight.

 Listen to the Podcast of 'Solo Flight' here.

Solo Flight. Australia. Day Seven. By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, May 21, 2013






Solo Flight. Australia.


Day Seven.






Today revisits my flight into Australia's centre to the remote township of Forrest. There is such raw beauty to be found in this rich outback. For the full amazing story contact me about the upcoming book, "Solo Flight".


After a fantastic rest day in Perth, it was time to take to the skies again.

But first I had to bid farewell to my wonderful wife who had flown over for our wedding anniversary and then there was also a very important media interview with 2GB's Alan Jones.It was fantastic to receive support for the flight and the RFDS from someone of the calibre of Alan Jones. My thanks go to Alan and the 2GB network.

For the first time on this trip, the morning sun was in my face and it was apparent that the eastbound journey had begun. As the hills, ridges and reservoirs to the east of Perth merged into a more consistent plateau, the greens began to give way to earthy reds and yellows. Overflying airfields at York and Southern Cross, my tailwinds had now swung to a crosswind of around 60 kmh. All the while Kalgoorlie grew closer and tell-tale mines and mounds began to appear in the distance.

On arrival at the famous mining town I was met by a local aviation enthusiast and the staff of the RFDS. This wonderful base consists of a modern facility beside a rather historic hangar. After fuel and food, the cavernous mine was flown by on departure and a course was set that was to parallel the road and rail for the next 3 hours. Despite all the equipment and training, the simplest navigation sat just outside my window. And so the rail line continued into the vast expanse of the Nullarbor.

The endless horizon is far from featureless, but it is almost overwhelming in its infinite nature. Yet there is also something very relaxing about scenery that reaches beyond the eye's focus. Apart from the occasional vehicle or train, the scene defined isolation and one cannot help but admire the original explorers and pioneers.

An oasis then loomed on the ahead in the form if Forrest with its newly painted runway and sizeable hangar. My home for the night is a cottage and dinner at the main homestead is nearly ready.

Until tomorrow, keep safe.




Day eight will take me to Australia's dramatic southern coastline and its breathtaking cliff-faces and onto the Eyre Peninsula. These beautiful waters are a far cry from today's red centre. Make sure you check back here for the next blog in the coming days. Or subscribe to my newsletter for the ‘alert’. Thanks again and I'll see you all soon.


Cheers,

Owen.


The full story of this solo flight will be the subject of my upcoming book.

Subscribe to learn more and be amongst the first to read it.





                                                                 

Select a Cover for Solo Flight. By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, May 21, 2013
               



Which Cover for 'Solo Flight'?


You be the Judge!



Hi All,

Well, the launch of "First Solo. Australia" grows closer. Thank you for following the 'Around Australia' blog this far and subscribing for the latest updates.

I now have a major decision to make. The designer for the cover has offered up two impressive covers shown above and it is a difficult choice to make. The cover is vitally important to any book and on Amazon it has to be clear and impressive at 'thumbnail' size. That's something that the wonderful success of my previous title, '50 Tales of Flight', has shown me.

I am throwing the door open at this point and would appreciate you, my valued readers, to offer me some feedback. Simply contact me at "Contact Owen Zupp" and let me know your preference. You can do this simply by entering either 'air-to-air cover' or the 'sunrise cover' in the comments section of the Contact Page.

I'll keep you posted of the progress score and the final outcome here and on my Facebook page at Owen Zupp: Author.


Thanks in advance for your valued input and opinion.

Cheers,

Owen

Solo Flight Australia. The Route. By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, May 05, 2013




Solo Flight Australia.



The Route.


The map above outlines the route that was planned for my solo flight around Australia.This best laid plans were altered slightly along the way as nature and other powers placed obstacles in the way.


To learn more about this fascinating journey, follow this blog series. For the inside story, captivating photographs and so much more, the new book about this amazing solo flight is not far away.

Cheers.


This solo flight will be the subject of my upcoming book.

Subscribe to learn more and be amongst the first to read it.






                                                              

Solo Flight. The Day Before. By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Saturday, May 04, 2013





Solo Flight. Australia.


The Day Before.



The first in a series by Owen Zupp.


Three years ago, six months had come down to one day.The preparation and planning was behind me and now the actual flight loomed a mere 24 hours away.

That lone fact seemed to be beyond comprehension and only the Jabiru 230 in front of me, resplendent in its 'There and Back' scheme, could convince me otherwise. I busied myself rehearsing wheel changes and checking that all was right with the Jabiru's 120 horsepower engine. It was. My phone rang consistently as the trickle of media interest grew into a swell with anticipation. TV crews and newspaper reporters filed through the Bundaberg factory with regularity as I endeavoured to keep some degree of focus and tick every last operational box for the flight.

Outside the weather was low, wet and threatening to spoil my plans. However, a closer look at the charts suggested that if the weather system maintained its momentum, a departure tomorrow could still take place. In fact, I was confident that clear skies and fair winds were lurking behind this slow moving drizzle.

With the aircraft fundamentally fueled, loaded and ready to go by late afternoon, I decided that rest was now the priority. I checked the camera rig's security one last time and that everything in the back of the Jabiru was in its place. This little aeroplane afforded me the space to carry everything for the next few weeks and still some more. I needed gear that would not only take me to the furthest reaches of the Australian outback, but a life jacket and survival gear in case I went down over the chilly waters of Bass Strait. Despite my last minute checks, there was no doubt that the aeroplane was ready. I reassured myself of the fact, picked up my kit bag and flight planning materials and headed for the hotel. Everything was set to go.

Back in my room I fielded a few last phone interviews, ironed my clothes, wrote a pre-departure blog and plugged in my laptop, phone and cameras; still and video. I reviewed the next day's flight plan and route and confirmed it against the GPS. Everything was laid out in its place and I was determined not to leave anything behind, almost to the level of being paranoid. A hot meal, a warm shower and there was nothing left to do.

I switched off the light with the anticipation of a kid on Christmas Eve. Despite being in my mid-forties, there was still a child-like excitement breaking through my well-ordered thoughts and laughing at the old bloke I'd become. The work had been done, now all that was left to do was put the plan into action. To fly around Australia in the safest fashion and along the way, raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.To celebrate the centenary of powered flight in Australia and show that flying is affordable and accessible in this great land.

The thoughts continued to spin around until I forcibly put them to rest and buried my head in the pillow. It was time to sleep, for tomorrow I would begin my 7,500 mile flight. Now was the time to rest. My breathing slowed and my thoughts drifted off in a disorderly fashion.

...and outside the rain continued to fall.


This solo flight will be the subject of my upcoming new book.

Subscribe to learn more and be amongst the first to read it.






                                                              

"The Jabiru's Nest." (Part Two) An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, May 20, 2012

"The Jabiru's Nest" (Part Two).

 

by Owen Zupp

CLICK HERE for 'The Jabiru's Nest. (Part One)

 

Many Hands.


The global reach of Jabiru is one of the many impressive aspects of this company, but equally notable is the logistics and co-ordination of the Bundaberg operation. Rather than a sole company handling all aspects of production, Jabiru oversees and manages a series of smaller locally based contractors who specialise in their own particular Jabiru component. Alongside the lines of fuselages and wings and wooden crates of engines with ‘Jabiru’ stencilled on the side are shelves of vacuum sealed packs of wheel kits, cables, nuts, bolts and the myriad of other components that make an aeroplane. All produced locally, they represent a team effort for the district and an exercise in organisation as Jabiru ties together its various partners.

 

In its own right Jabiru employs 25 personnel.  Around 30 people are employed by Camit who produce the engines, while two businesses, AMI and Leisure Build, assemble the aircraft and employing 20 staff. Fibreglass parts originate from over 30 small businesses and others provide numerous other components such as upholstery and livery.   For a Queensland regional centre, Jabiru accounts for the creation of over 100 jobs and sizeable amount of income for the local economy. As a result, they enjoy a strong relationship with the local community.

 

Quality Control.

 Throughout the Jabiru facility, each component has a small plastic bag hanging from it. On closer examination, the bag contains the ‘biography’ of that particular component and forms an integral link in the demanding Jabiru Quality Control process. The documentation contains all of the relevant details relating to the who, how and when of production. For the wings it will also contain information relating to the angles, measure and aerofoil.

 

Throughout the Jabiru facility, each component has a small plastic bag hanging from it. On closer examination, the bag contains the ‘biography’ of that particular component and forms an integral link in the demanding Jabiru Quality Control process. The documentation contains all of the relevant details relating to the who, how and when of production. For the wings it will also contain information relating to the angles, measure and aerofoil.

 

For those composite parts, the documentation relates to the date, time and temperatures involved in its creation amongst other things. Along with the documents there is also a small sample of resin from the same batch that can be used for quality control testing. The entire history of the process of each part is retained for reference at a later date should it be required. Such a rigorous ‘QC’ process stems from the fact that Jabiru was fundamentally a pioneer in the composite manufacturing of certified aircraft in Australia. While these stringent procedures are mandatory for certified aircraft, they are not required for the kit aircraft of home builders. To Jabiru’s credit, they do not discriminate and apply the same quality control and audit procedures to ALL components of both kits and certified aircraft.

 

 

                             

 

 

Where To?

At the end of one of Jabiru’s production buildings is an annexed section where the company casts its gaze towards tomorrow. It is a small ‘research and development’ area, which reinforces that Jabiru is building solidly to the future. This is an important aspect of any aircraft ownership; the ongoing support of the product well into the future. Here moulds are ‘tweaked’ and refurbished and existing fairings are refined to a new design. There is an air amongst the employees, some of whom have been there since day one, that they are always trying to make things even better. There is a project Jabiru for export striving to meet the weight requirements of a foreign Authority while not compromising on any other aspect of the aeroplane.

 

Alongside the Jabiru airframes, the Jabiru engines are used in a number of aircraft built by other manufacturers. Many light aircraft and experimental types around the world have a Jabiru engine under the cowling. To assist with engine installation into Jabiru kits and these other aircraft types, Jabiru has developed, “Firewall Forward Kits”; or “Firewall Rear Kits” for pusher types. This range is continually being developed to suit an even greater range of aircraft.

 

From ‘outside of the box’, there is even a significantly Jabiru design tucked away in the corner. A single-seat model with folding wings that seeks to offer an economical equivalent to the trailer-sailor in a bid to circumvent the increasing problem and cost of hangarage. The owner would keep it in the garage and tow it to the airfield to go flying. While it is a project in its infancy, its significance lies equally in what it says of the company’s mindset; looking ahead.

 

Back to the Nest.

 

A periodic gathering of Jabiru owners titled, “Back to the Nest” sees the birds fly in from far and wide. At one Wide Bay Airshow that I attended, a long line of Jabirus was parked side by side, forming an impressive array of these native Australian aircraft. They were of varying ages, designs and origins, but all shared a common thread; affordable flying for pleasure.

 

In achieving this, Jabiru has not only produced a line of fine aeroplanes but nurtured an industry that is pivotal in its local economy. Its employees and contractors seem to possess a genuine interest and pride not only in the product, but the process. With such an attitude it is not hard to understand why Jabirus are flying right across the world, supported by a rural Queensland company. Furthermore, with such constant attention to detail and improvement, one can see why Jabiru should continue to do so for many years to come.

 

                          

The Flying Podcast. A Chat with Steve Cooke.

Owen Zupp - Friday, May 18, 2012

The Flying Podcast

Hi All,

Just a 'heads up' to let you know that my chat with the 'Flying Podcast' has now gone 'live' at their website.

CLICK HERE to listen to the FLYING PODCAST.

The Jabiru's Nest. (Part One) An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Monday, May 14, 2012

The Jabiru’s Nest (Part One)

 

By Owen Zupp

 

The allure of a new aircraft on the ramp is undeniable. Yet beyond the highly glossed finish and the impressive array of avionics, each aircraft represents the complex co-ordination of personnel and production processes. A closer look at Jabiru’s Bundaberg facility illustrates just what is required to make the bird fly.

In the Beginning.

When Jabiru set out more than 20 years ago to develop and enhance affordable flying throughout the world, they logically started with a lone prototype. Initially seeking to develop a highly efficient, composite designed, light aircraft, they selected a lightweight Italian engine as the powerplant. As luck would have it, just after their first aircraft was type-certificated in Australia, the Italian engine manufacturer ceased production. As a consequence, Jabiru set about entering the lightweight engine market as well.

 

From these bold steps, Jabiru has gone on to boast around 2,000 flying airframes and more than three times as many engines spread over 30 countries. In achieving this, the Bundaberg facility has the capacity to produce 20 airframes and 90 engines per month. The range of aircraft includes both two and four seat versions while the engines are available with 4, 6, or 8 cylinders. The aircraft can come ready-to-fly as type-certificated, factory built aircraft or as amateur built or experimental kits for the more industrious would-be flyers.

 

The aircraft can have a tailored flight panel featuring traditional analogue instruments, or the ever-growing presence of Electronic Flight Instrument Systems (EFIS) in the cockpit. Additionally a range of Microair avionics are available, from transceivers to transponders, all of which are manufactured in Bundaberg. Jabiru is not a small concern, but an integral member of their local economy and a genuine export industry for Australia. From an external standpoint, this appears to have been achieved with minimal fuss, but on visiting the Jabiru factory it becomes immediately apparent that this is no ‘cottage industry’, this is a slick production facility.

 

 

                           

 

Home Grown.

The Jabiru complex is understated. A series of long hangar-style buildings are only given away by a small Jabiru sign near the office entrance, but from the moment you enter the door this operation has an air of professionalism. While the walls are decorated with awards and certificates of approval from across the globe, it is the people at Jabiru that offer the best credentials. Everyone encountered is not only enthusiastic and proud of their operation, but genuinely knowledgeable of aspects that obviously extend beyond their job description. This is no more apparent than in the manner of Business Manager, Sue Woods. The daughter of Jabiru founder, Rodney Stiff, Sue has literally grown up around the company and kindly offered to show me through the extensive facility.

 

Like any production process since Henry Ford, the first room encountered showed the very basic beginnings of lifting the Jabiru from the drawing board to the skies. On a series of long benches a worker very carefully measures and cuts the woven fabric of glass yarns that will ultimately become the composite airframe of the aeroplane. After a week, the entire ‘airframe’ can be folded and fitted into two 50 litre storage containers at this stage. From here, the containers are moved to the next stage of the process where they transition from fabric to a formed structure through the combination of moulds and resin.

 

Watching the craftsman rolling the resin and forming the components is something to witness. What is seemingly a case of rolling mini paint-rollers to and fro is actually a finely balanced exercise. Not only does the coating of resin have to be even and free of bubbles and lumps, but fundamentally; resin equals weight. A heavy handed application will result in the airframe being overweight, so the smooth rolling must result in just the right combination of strength and weight, which is the age-old quandary of airframe design.

 

Once set and freed from the moulds, the components are hardened and carefully sanded and finished to resemble an aeroplane for the first time. Notably, the seats are already in the aeroplane, in fact they are structurally integral to the airframe. It takes around 6-8 weeks, or 430 man-hours, for Jabiru to produce a flying aeroplane. In the hands of a home builder, the timeframe may be a little longer. However, in the spirit of innovation, Jabiru offers assistance in the form of an onsite, ‘Builders Education Program’. This allows the owner-builder to work alongside the experts at Bundaberg while still meeting the requirement for the owner to fabricate and assemble more than 51% of the aeroplane. Under this scheme, liability remains with the builders but they will have the opportunity to complete the aeroplane in 6 weeks.

 

Across the way in one of Jabiru’s other buildings, the fuselages are lined up and the wings are carefully stacked on shelves. These components are now ready for the next stage of the production process or to be crated for shipping to the far flung corners of the globe. Of the 37 dealerships around the world, some facilities in America and South African also possess approval for aircraft assembly. In South Africa, the little Jabiru has grown to now be more popular than the small Cessna singles..........

                  Check back soon for the conclusion to the "Jabiru's Nest".

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