For today’s episode of Flying Podcast I went down to the Flying Show at Birmingham’s NEC. I had interviews lined up with Breezer UK, The Light Aircraft Company, Dave Sykes, GASCo and the Airspace & Safety Initiative. An interesting cross section of the people attending the show I think.
The show was pretty much as it had been in previous years, not overly busy but there were plenty of interesting folk to chat to. So all-in-all probably worth going down to if you’re into aviation. We arrived at 11.30 on the Sunday and the traffic into the NEC wasn’t too bad. The £10 parking fee is a bit steep but they have a bit of a monopoly going on there so we have to stump up the cash.
Breezer Aircraft – Russ Gordon
Well first up I met with Russ Gordon of Absolute Aviation who market the Breezer Aircraft in the UK. Russ gave me the low-down on the Breezer which is manufactured entirely in Germany. Certified as an LSA by EASA, the Breezer’s max weight is 600kgs, more than enough for 2 people, fuel and even some baggage. Its normal cruise speed is just over 100kts with a fuel burn of 17-18ltrs per hour.
As you’ll see from the pictures, the Breezer is a low wing, 2 seat aircraft. It is of all aluminium construction with a robust GFR main undercarriage.
The engine is the ubiquitous Rotax 912, 100hp unit and Russ claims that it is the ideal touring aircraft.
Having been around for over 10 years in Germany, where there are 160+ flying, the Breezer has only been available in the UK for a couple of years.
With full EASA certification Russ is hoping that the aircraft will be an attractive proposition for flying schools in the UK.
Russ says that at current exchange rates you’ll expect to pay upwards of £85,000 for the basic model but this rises to over £110K, inc VAT if you add in the glass cockpit, auto-pilot, parachute and other customising type goodies. The company is keen to offer training on the aircraft too and they are in the process of setting up a training package with The Flying Shack who are also based at Gloucester Airport.
So, watch out for a Breezer at an airfield near you next year.
The Light Aircraft Company – Paul Hendry-Smith
Based at Little Snoring Airfield in Norfolk, TLAC build kits for a pretty niche market biplane.
They own the rights to the Sherwood Ranger aircraft, currently available in 2 forms: the ST microlight and the XP Cat A aircraft. The main difference between the 2 is that although they both weigh in at 450Kgs the XP has shorter wings and so does not qualify as a microlight due to wing loading and stall speed characteristics.
The Sherwood Ranger is a 1930’s style, 2 seat tandem biplane. Construction is of aluminium tube and fabric for the fuselage and wings of aluminium tubes, spruce ribs and fabric covering.
The kits are available as fast build options which, claims Paul, will save the builder 350-400hrs.
The company is developing an XP aerobatic model and a ST ballistic for the German market, a microlight with parachute. The aeros model, although being a standard 2 seater will only be certified for single seat aerobatics.
The original design was by Russ Light in the mid 80’s and I believe was named after a pub in Worksop. After the death of its designer in 2000 the company eventually ran into trouble and was rescued by Paul and his father in 2007. Since then they have refined the drawings, the materials, suppliers, and manuals. Paul says that they now have 15-18 kits in production and he claims that ¾ of all sales are exports.
Whilst chatting, Paul aired his concerns for the ‘fragile’ aircraft industry in the UK. He sees a big threat from low-cost producers in Eastern Europe, not to mention the Chinese once they get into aircraft production in a big way. Once the local manufacturers have gone he reckons that they won’t be coming back. He’s also active in trying to persuade the powers in the world of aviation that they should be lessening regulation for home based aircraft manufacturers. He said that if TLAC were to go into production of a factory built model they would be allowed to sell it in most markets of the world but not the UK.
If you’re looking for something uniquely British with a British manufacture then go and have a look at the distinctive Sherwood Ranger.
Dave Sykes – Flexwing microlight to Australia.
I was eager to meet up with Dave having read his book ‘A Wing and a Chair’ which describes, in a diary style, how he flew his flexwing microlight from Rufforth, near York, to Sydney. A quite incredible feat for an able bodied person but for someone who uses a wheel chair, really unbelievable. And what’s even more impressive is that Dave says he’s scared of heights.
I first asked Dave why he decided to fly to Australia and he said that it was because he couldn’t afford to fly around the world and someone bet him a bottle of lager that he couldn’t fly to Oz.
Dave was inspired by previous long distance microlight pilots and he wanted to raise money for Yorkshire Air Ambulance too.
The aircraft was a Pegasus Quik 912S flexwing which Dave picked because of its small wing helping him with handling on the ground with hand controls.
According to Dave he encountered varying levels of service with Egypt, in particular, charging him $800 just for landing.
He admits to setting off a little late in the year and the weather was pretty horrendous for most of the way, It was hard to believe, when reading the book, that the weather could have been much worse. If fact Dave came close to meeting his maker on a couple of occasions most notably a sandstorm over Saudi Arabia where he lost contact with the ground for nearly 2 hours and Dave was, as he describes, ‘scared to death’.
In some places Dave says he was treated like royalty. In Burma he says that he arrived with no money and left with no money 3 weeks later. At the other end of the spectrum in Gwadar he required an armed escort and guards as Bin Laden had been killed not too far away.
The Pegasus performed very well despite the weather and Dave was surprised that it survived some of the turbulence.
The only issues he had en-route were with his transponder, fuel pump, altimeter, electric trim and magneto switch all of which he managed to overcome.
With a second tank he had 145lts of fuel in total giving him an endurance of 11+ hours.
I asked Dave what were the particular problems associated with his disability on the trip and he said that he managed as well as he does back home. I did mention one recurring theme in the book where he describes being thrown into vehicles to be transported backwards and forwards to the airport. Dave said that that is exactly what he asked them to do, “just throw me in and don’t worry about hurting me”.
The whole trip took 4 months flying for 257 hrs and covering 16161 miles.
Since his return Dave has received several very prestigious awards ranging from the Royal Aero Club’s Britannia Trophy to the RAC’s Segrave Trophy which has been won by such folk as Stirling Moss, Lewis Hamilton and Andy Green the world landspeed record holder.
Dave’s next planning to fly to the South Pole in 2014 and then around the world in 2015.
GASCo – Mike O’Donoghue
I took the opportunity to find out exactly what General Aviation Safety Council does whilst I was down at the show.
Mike O’Donoghue, GASCo’s Chief Executive, started by telling me who was involved with GASCo. Pretty much any body or association that is involved in GA is a member of GASCo. Included in the total of approx 34 members are the likes of the LAA, CAA, AOPA, BMAA and NATS.
Formed in 1964 the body is charged with bringing down the accident rate in general aviation and with promoting safety through education.
The General Aviation Safety Council is a Charitable limited company. As their web site claims: All forms of aviation are represented on the Council including ballooning, gliding, gyrocopters, home built aircraft, historic aircraft, microlighting, parachuting, paragliding, helicopter flying, large model flying and of course general aviation aeroplanes.
Through their own Flight Safety magazine and through attending shows like this one, GASCo aims to engage pilots and to try and convey their safety message. They run a series of low cost (£25-35) seminars throughout the year based around such subjects as meteorology, sea survival and ditching and helicopter safety.
In addition they run safety evenings at aerodromes around the country. Mike says that they try to make their safety messages entertaining rather than shocking. Details of the evenings are available on the GASCo web site. They have planned to do 40 this year across the UK and even over into Ireland.
The safety evenings are run by the half a dozen or so volunteer Regional Safety Officers in the team around the country that are there to spread the ‘safety’ word.
When I asked Mike what he would ask any pilot to do in order to make himself safer he said that he would recommend taking regular refresher courses and to treat every flight as if it was the first time you’ve ever flown this particular flight.
Airspace & Safety Initiative – Chris Finnigan
The Airspace & Safety Initiative (ASI) is a joint CAA, NATS, AOA, GA and MoD effort to investigate and tackle the major safety risks in UK airspace.
Their stated aims are to:
Enhance safety outside controlled airspace
Identify the hazards associated with the use of UKairspace,
Identify the needs of all airspace users,
Prioritize the hazards
Develop a strategy to mitigate those risks while meeting the needs of all airspace users.
Chris says that one of their main aims is to reduce airspace infringements to reduce risk to airline traffic and other airspace users.
The ASI has a number of projects that look at the various aspects of the use of airspace and safety and they also have a communication and education programme which meets with the GA industry, GA press and other representative bodies to get the safety message out to pilots. They are also interested in getting feedback via these associations from the pilot’s perspective.
The so called doomsday scenario where a light aircraft strays into controlled airspace and downs an airliner is something that would change GA permanently so the ASI are working to reduce to number of infringements. And, according to Chris, the number of serious infringements has reduced in recent years however the number of overall infringements has stayed somewhat steady. The ASI is aiming to get pilots to be more aware of airspace and to better prepare their flights to avoid infringements. They are also encouraging pilots to make better use of emerging technology like the Aware GPS and Sky Demon that notify pilots of their proximity to airspace.
Most pilots in the UK will be aware of the Airspace and Safety Initiative’s work on the Olympics. Chris says that the exercise was a great success, not just from an infringement point of view but also from the relationships built with representative bodies and regulatory authorities.
The ASI also arrange ‘visit your local ATC’ days where groups of GA pilots can come along to their local airport to see how ATC work and to help build an understanding of exactly what ATC are there to do. The ASI are trying to encourage GA pilots to see ATC as their friends and to speak to them to prevent a problem escalating or just to ask for help.
Chris described a particularly successful ‘safety day’ at RAF Benson where GA pilots were invited to fly in to meet the military, controllers and other users of the airspace to get a better understanding of how each other operates.
To find out more about what the Airspace and Safety Initiative are up to visit their web site:
As you heard in the podcast, I’m thinking of flying with Scott Beaver around the country next April.
Scott’s project is to set a record time for the flight around the UK in aid of a couple of charities: Rainbow Trust and the Make a Wish Foundation. The project is titled ‘Wings for Wishes.
If anyone would like to sponsor Scott or keep track of his progress then please visit the web page. wingsforwishes.co.uk