Photo File – The Right View

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Back during Achtung, Skyhawk!‘s early days in the years around 2010, I had every once in awhile tried to liven things up by posting short collections of in-flight photos taken from a variety of light aircraft above northern Croatia (and occasionally beyond). Dubbed, somewhat unimaginatively, “The View From Up Here”, the three-strong set (Parts 1, 2 & 3) had been quite well received by readers, prompting me to – belatedly – put together a new & improved batch to keeps things rolling 🙂 .

However, since the time of 1, 2 & 3, most of my flying had taken me onto bigger machinery, having landed a job in the right seat of the Dash 8 Q400 a little over a year ago. While the “straight & level” nature of airline operations might suggest that interesting, unusual and attractive shots – as possible in GA – would be few and far in between, the realities of life aboard a turboprop – operating at lower levels, day & night and often in the weather – had meant that I had pretty quickly managed to amass quite a nice heap of interesting material.

Sprinkled additionally with a handful of ground shots that had taken my fancy, I am thus glad to be able to present – for more-or-less the first time – “the view from the right”… 🙂

An unusual perspective of QC as it soaks up the last sunlight of this beautiful summer day at Munich Airport (MUC/EDDM). The day must had also been interesting for the four handlers sitting in a pushback truck behind me, wondering why was this guy with a big camera clambering all over a baggage trolley…

An old aviation book I have – printed back in the late 70s – states that “a fascinating range of vehicles can be seen at any airport”… somehow I doubt they had had this in mind!

You know you’re at Zagreb (ZAG/LDZA) in the winter when the tail of a 30 meter long aircraft starts disappearing into the fog… the bane of the Balkans, the winter fog is often more than a passing nuisance, and can persist – with little variation – for days on end.

When you don’t have a tripod on you, you have to use whatever you have at hand – even a main gear tire! CQA is seen waiting about for one of its last flights of the day as company traffic further out prepares to taxi out for a short hop north.

The colorful cockpit of the Q400. The yellow panel floods, white switch backlighting and green sidewall map lights really give a lot to play with when you have a camera on you!

A snap I’d borrowed from a previous post – but one I just couldn’t leave out. Saluting the setting sun on another beautiful, calm and crisp summer evening. Traversing southbound above the Northern Adriatic Sea – just off Pula Airport (PUY/LDPL) – we were treated to this fantastic view by a large high pressure area that had been parked over the region for several days…

Waking up at the crack of dawn does have its advantages! A telltale sign of the approach of winter on the Balkans, thick morning fog and layer upon layer of stratus cloud often conspire to make aeronautical operations rather… interesting. At least while we’re up here – in this instance just above northeastern Albania – we do get a nice consolation prize!

The importance of being at the right place and right time… soaking up the stunning view outside as we enter a high-level cloud bank somewhere over eastern Belgium.

Blue skies, dark clouds, a fiery sunset above the silhouettes of the Alps – and Innsbruck, Austria in the distance… not a band end to another anti-cyclonic day above Europe!

When one little cloud is all that stands between calm heaven above and fiery hell below. Enjoying a smooth ride (for now) above southern Germany as far above an A380 races past to points west…

Having covered everything from the Baltic to the Adriatic in one day – flying across eight countries in two legs – we prepare to bid the final day of 2015 goodbye as we race the sun on our way back to base… of interest, many will note that in most shots taken from the cockpit the wipers will be parked in the upright position. While their normal “resting stance” is horizontal and outside the field of view of the crew, in that position they cause quite a bit of wind noise – up to 5 dB according to unofficial measurements – leading most crews to park them vertically during cruise.

Breaking through the cloud deck at speed as we cross Croatia’s Velebit mountains on another early morning run. Even though summer may be far more enjoyable down on the ground, the odd winter weather patterns of the Western Balkans sure make for better views aloft!

A momentary escape from the rain and grayness below as we speed homewards at 25,000 ft above the eastern edges of the Alps.

Yet more cloud hopping above the Alps as we skip along this pristine altostratus in the company of our shadow and the resident halo effect…

Photo Report – Spring at Pleso

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Even though this year’s flying season has already started to pick up at Lučko – albeit slowly – there’s still not all that much going on to provide for a steady stream of quality photo material. Having been invigorated by several days of straight sunshine and 20-odd Centigrade temperatures, I was, however, desperately itching to photograph something with wings, be it big, small,  fast or slow. Not unexpectedly, this desire had in the end taken me to Pleso (LDZA), which – while a bit weak on the GA front – nevertheless has a number of other gems at its disposal… 🙂

One of several MiG-21 flights of the day, “Knight 96” is seen recovering into RWY 23 after a training flight. The morning had also seen sorties by the Croatian AF’s AT-802 and Mi-171Å , making for a thoroughly impressive spectacle!

A little visitor from Germany that will eventually become the newest resident of the Croatian register. A type that’s not all that common in around here – its population standing at just two examples – the Arrow is one of Piper’s most popular newer-generation singles, and combines retractable gear, a constant speed prop and (in the Turbo version) a turbocharger into one relatively cheap package. D-EPAP seems to be one of the better examples, having been manufactured in 1982 and equipped with a full IFR suite, Garmin GNS430 moving map GPS, stormscope and digital CHT/EGT gauges.

Another very interesting visitor caught taxiing towards RWY 05 for departure to Munich under callsign “RAFAIR 7160”. While not the first Chinook to visit Zagreb, ZA704 is definitely one of the more interesting ones, being in fact a “composite” airframe sporting the rear rotor boom of CH-47D ZH257. The latter is a nugget as well, having originally flown with the Argentinian military as AE-520 – and captured by the British on the Falklands in 1982. Going on to serve as an instructional airframe, it would donate its behind to ZA704 following the latter’s tail rotor strike in Oman in 1999.

A far more dynamic scene than in real life as ZA704 accelerates after lift off from RWY 05. Like all other RAF Chinooks, it is based at RAF Odiham in central England, a straight-line distance of 1,400 km from Zagreb… meaning ZA704 has quite a bit more to fly yet!

Pick your turboprop! From the big and fast to the small and slow, we have it all! Representing 75% of the companies engaged in commercial passenger transport in Croatia, this lineup consists of Dash 8 Q400 9A-CQB (flown by Croatia Airlines), ATR-42-300 OY-CHT (owned by Fly Denim, but operated on behalf of Air Croatia) and Embraer EMB-120 HA-FAL (flown for local carrier Trade Air).

While not really a rare aircraft in itself, Air Croatia’s sole ATR-42 nevertheless deserves some mention – if anything because of the operational mash-up behind its existence. While it does say “Croatia” on the tin, Air Croatia is actually a Swedish-owned company – and is in fact not an airline, but a tour operator just selling tickets. The flights themselves are operated by Fly Denim of the Netherlands (with its own Air Operator Certificate), using an aircraft registered in Denmark and flown by a cockpit crew provided by Spanish company Aeronova…

Photo Report – The Simulated Experience

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Even though I have stated time and again that I generally do not deal with “large aviation” topics here at Achtung, Skyhawk!, I was nevertheless always glad to deviate from this rule if the material I’d come across was unusual or interesting enough. Somewhat predictably given the above, I am about to do so once again, having recently gotten the opportunity to dive into one aspect of modern aviation that few enthusiasts (sadly) get to see: the fascinating world of “proper” flight simulators 🙂 .

The last link in the commercial aviation training chain – and just one short step away from the actual cockpit – these devices are often subject to a great deal of naming confusion, so I thought it best to clear the air first before proceeding on. Even though pretty much any replica of an aircraft (or its systems) intended for training is generically labelled a “simulator”, the word is technically reserved only for those devices that provide:

  • an accurate physical representation of the cockpit with working controls throughout
  • fully simulate in detail all of the aircraft’s systems (including those not in the cockpit itself)
  • emulate the aircraft’s flying characteristics to a very high degree of accuracy (90+ %)
  • provide the pilots with a seamless wide field of view outside the cockpit
  • and, most important of all, provide a sense of motion around all three axes to complete the immersion

When all of the above is ticked, the device in question becomes a “proper” simulator, known more accurately as either a Full Flight Simulator (FFS) or a Level D Simulator (the latter being more informal and taken from the name of the standard defining the requirements for civilian units). Devices which do not simulate motion – no matter how advanced they may be in other respects – are called Flight, Navigation and Procedures Trainers (FNPT), often shortened to just “procedural trainers”. However, both forms of the latter have shown themselves to be unwieldy to use in casual conversation, leading to their replacement – by popular choice – with the plain old “simulator” 🙂 .

The device I’ve had the chance to use is a Full Flight Simulator for the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, owned and operated by the world-renowned Flight Safety International training organization, and located in the equally-famous UK town of Farnborough. A very sophisticated piece of kit that can cost upwards of EUR 10,000,000 – almost half a real Q400 in its most basic form 🙂 – this particular FFS is approved for use for both recurrent and initial (type rating) training, and is I believe one of only three or four Q400 units located in Europe. Given the number of Dash 8 operators gravitating towards the region, this had naturally meant that its schedule was quite busy at times, leaving little to no breathing space between successive runs; nevertheless, my camera and myself were undeterred, using whatever breaks we had to have a look around… 🙂

A view of just part of ONE OF the simulator halls at the FSI training center, located at the northern end of Farnborough Airport. With space for five units, this hall contains devices for the King Air B200 (where a party is currently in progress), Hawker 400XP and the Dash 8 Q400, with a Gulfstream 450/550 located behind me. There’s also a separate hall reserved solely for various Citation models – and another which contains, among others, units for the Sikorsky S-92 Helibus and the C-17 Globemaster.

A look at what hides inside the white cube of the Full Flight Simulator. Pretty spacious and comfortable (often more so than the actual aircraft!), higher-grade FFSs contain an inch-perfect replica of the real cockpit, complete with fully-simulated systems – as well as a control panel for the instructor, which allows control over all aspects of the simulation.

A close-up of the instructor’s panel. Even though it doesn’t look like much at first glance, the control and recording system behind it is very sophisticated, and when paired with networked computers in on-site classrooms, allows detailed analyses of the exercise from all aspects. Interestingly, the “soft” simulation parameters – position, traffic, weather, system failures and so on – are controlled via touchscreens, while elements such as the crew interphone and interior cockpit lighting by hard switches on the right sidewall.

Having a bit of creative fun between two training sessions. Since Bombardier offers several avionics options for the Dash 8 – including one or two FMS units, different flight director visual styles and imperial or metric weight measurements – the FFS can also be configured to simulate all possible setups, which are then tailored to the needs of specific operators using the sim.

And for reference to the above, a similar (but not quite there) daylight shot from an actual Q400 sporting the same avionics and equipment setup.

An important part of every simulator and FNPT is the visual system, which is responsible for the view outside. The Vital 9 unit used for the Dash 8 FFS provides a field of view of 180 degrees horizontally and 40 degrees vertically, with the picture provided by three cross-mounted projectors located on the top of the cab. And while the graphics quality may be inferior even to PC-based games, for training purposes it is more than enough, since most of the time the crew need look out only on take-off, approach and landing (where the runway and its lighting systems are the most important cues).

Along with the aircraft simulation, one of the most important parts of the FFS is the motion system, seen here pitching down on the aforementioned Gulfstream 450/550 unit (which is broadly identical to the one on the Q400). Intended to simulate a number of forces felt aboard the actual aircraft, this system is actually far more clever than it initially appears to be, and uses the fact that the occupants have no visual reference to the simulator hall to trick their senses into believing the aircraft is continually accelerating, braking or maneuvering. As most modern systems, this one is electrically powered, as indicated by the motors on each suspension leg.

NOTE: some of the shots may not be up to my usual standard – however, the lighting situation in both the FFS and the simulator hall itself was (as can be noticed) not ideal, and due to “baggage weight saving measures” I was forced to work without a tripod…