Tenerife Day 1

July 19th, 2011

Our first full day in Tenerife. The hotel is excellent, a surprise considering what we paid. Today we went to Loro Parque which is kind of like Sea World in Orlando, with Whale, Dolphin and Sea Lion shows, as well as parrots. It’s very close to the town of Puerto de la Cruz where we’re staying too.

In the afternoon we ventured up onto the high mountain road to see the Tiede volcano. The climb up was incredible, with villages appearing to hang on the edge of steep hillsides. We climbed through the cloud to emerge into clear blue sky just below the treeline. A few hundred more metres and we entered an incredible landscape at 2300m. Our poor VW Polo rental and its 1.4 litre engine worked hard to get there – The trip back down worked the brakes hard too!

This evening we walked down into the town for dinner, down being the operative word as the whole island seems to be clinging to the side of the mountain with the only flat bit being the walkway by the water.

All Photos

First Orbit

April 12th, 2011

12th April 1961 at 06:07UTC, Vostok 1 launches from Tyuratam, Kazakhstan and carries Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin to the first manned spaceflight and one complete orbit of Earth. Today a film called “First Orbit” premieres on YouTube and features footage shot from the International Space Station that recreates as far as is possible what Yuri Gagarin would have seen.

In the years after Vostok 1 we built ever more powerful spacecraft, travelled to the Moon with Apollo, and explored onwards to the planets and stars with Voyager.

Yet the vehicle that captured my generation’s imagination is the Space Shuttle.

Exactly Twenty years after Gagarin’s flight, and exactly thirty years ago today,  the Space Shuttle Columbia lifted from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Centre on STS-1, the first space shuttle spaceflight with astronauts Bob Crippen and John Young.

Columbia launches on STS-1 (Nasa : Public Domain)

Unfortunately after the first flights the shuttle only appeared in mainstream headlines in tragedy. Challenger was lost in January 1986 on STS-51-L and Columbia on STS-107 in February 2003.

I was 7 years old when Challenger was lost, and still remember watching TV when the show was interrupted with the news – I couldn’t believe what I was watching. President Reagan said later “Sometimes when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on despite the pain.”

The shuttle program did continue after both disasters, with Discovery leading the return to flight in both cases. The continuation of the shuttle program has lead to significant achievements in space.

The shuttle facilitated the Hubble Telescope, and the uncomparable Hubble Ultra Deep Field image.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field (Nasa : Public Domain)

Every few days the unaided eye can now watch the International Space Station soar overhead just after dusk – and without the shuttle the space station would not have existed.

The ISS from Discovery on her final flight (Nasa : Public Domain)

Even the elevation data on my humble aviation GPS is provided thanks to Endeavour on STS-99 Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.

Discovery has already been retired, Endeavour and Atlantis will be following later this year, then we’ll be back to rockets and capsules for orbital spaceflight.

It took 32 years from the Wright Brothers to get to the DC3 and reliable, comfortable air travel, and 14 years later the de Havilland Comet made it’s contribution to jet transport and aerostructure materials science. In SpaceFlight the Shuttle was a massive leap ahead compared with Gagarin’s Vostok capsule, and was flown only twenty years later.

Yet in the thirty years since STS-1 have we moved forward significantly?

Would the Comet have been built if we were happy with the range and speed of the DC3?  Therein lies the problem – where do we go from here? Low Earth Orbit has become the desination rather than a waypoint. We’re going on holiday to the departure lounge.

Perhaps the Shuttle has reached the end of it’s useful life. Perhaps Low Earth Orbit is now solely the domain of commercial launch systems, but I for one long for the day when awesome sci-fi-esque spaceplanes once again convey humans to orbit, from where they can embark on journeys to the stars.

October & November

December 4th, 2010

No web updates for three months – what gives? Well, basically October and November weren’t much fun for me..

At the start of October we found an issue with the some of the bracing structure inside the Auster’s port wing. If it needed the wing fabric removed and recovered we’d be looking at costs of around £7k

The very next day I had my Class 1 aviation medical at Gatwick. My Class 2 (Private Flying) medical was due to expire anyway, and as I hope to do flight instruction at some point the Class 1 (Commercial) seemed a good course of action. There are issues with eyesight where there are limits on correction for initial Class 1 medical issue, but not renewal, so sooner rather than later seemed to make sense. However, I failed the Class 1 medical and had a two month limit on my Class 2 due to something called an ectopic heartbeat. These hadn’t shown up on my first ECG in 2006.

My heart was beating early approximately every 10 to 15 beats, and the beat was originating in the wrong place. Stress, alcohol and caffeine can cause these ectopic beats, but in my case only stress seemed likely. The people at the CAA Aeromedical division were great and went to great lengths to assure me these ectopics were the sort of thing that a GP wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at, had no life threatening or life shortening implications, but nevertheless needed investigation for flying.

I had to have a device called a holter monitor fitted for 24 hours that records heart patterns over a long period to ascertain exactly how big the issue was. It would take a further five weeks until this could be done. Cue careful eating, lots of extra exercise and sleep, and avoiding stress and caffeine full stop – not so easy working in IT! In the lead up to this test I was convinced I would probably end up with some serious restrictions on flying.

When the test results finally came though I had recorded 9 ectopic events out of 90’000 heartbeats. Most normal people have one or two every day, but my GP said even 9 was completely normal. A week later and the CAA had the results and verbally confirmed I was Class 1 fit. The same day I spoke with our Auster engineer who told me the repairs were nearly complete, and it shouldn’t be too expensive. (Relatively speaking). Finally at the end of November I had the Class 1 medical in my hand.

Though I had flown on my temporary medical once, I didn’t really enjoy it – at the back of my mind was the thought this could be my last ever powered flight as pilot in command. So today Catherine and I took the Tomahawk G-RVRL for a quick flight out of Ronaldsway to have a look at the snow on the hills, and it felt great to be airborne again without medical constraint. It was also great as this was the first flight where I probably wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t completed the IMC Rating (Instrument Meteorological Conditions – i.e. flying in cloud). Keeping an eye on the outside temperature as light aircraft don’t have de-icing gear, we avoided all the cloud, but it felt really reassuring to have an instrument capability should it be required.

  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow

Furthermore, with the Auster’s potential massive repair cost reduced to a slightly happier cost, we were also able to buy this:

  • RX8 at the Point of Ayre - October 2010
  • RX8 at the Point of Ayre - October 2010
  • RX8 at the Point of Ayre - October 2010
  • RX8 at the Point of Ayre - October 2010

She’s a 2008 Mazda RX-8, “Rotary Engine 40th Anniversary” Edition, number 31 of 400 in the UK. A rear wheel drive four door coupe with 231BHP that isn’t a dull and boring BMW or Mercedes eurobox. She handles beautifully and promises to be a lot of fun – provided we can live with the fuel economy. 20 – 22MPG. Still, better economy than the aeroplane! I feel a trip to Stelvio Pass coming on…

So December is starting off on a high – New car, new medical, excellent snow conditions in Scotland for Skiing, only two weeks of work left, all Christmas and New Year off work and off island, and a trip to Brussels on the Eurostar just before Christmas.

August Bank Holiday

August 30th, 2010

The weather today was excellent for flying, which is odd as we’d been planning to go away today for at least one week, and that’s usually a sure-fire way of ensuring low cloud, wind and general nastiness. We set off from Andreas at 09:35 and returned at 14:35, and in that time we’d been to Newtownards airfield near Belfast to uplift some fuel, then on to Enniskillen Airfield in the south west corner of Northern Ireland.

We had excellent weather throughout the day and other than the Auster’s radio had no major problems. Belfast City and Aldergrove were very accommodating clearing us through the controlled airspace rather than having to drop down to low level whilst still off-shore.

Navigation wise both portable GPS units did an excellent job, and the Skydemon software is much easier to use than PocketFMS.

Newtownards was busy with loads of microlights and training aircraft, and Enniskillen was really quiet, and has a nice cafe.

  • Coasting in at Ballyhalbert, Portavogie to the South
  • The Ards peninsula looking North
  • Newtownards Airfield with Belfast Lough in the distance
  • Alpha Uniform on the apron at Newtownards with Scrabo Tower in the background
  • Turning final at Enniskillen
  • Short final for Enniskillen runway 33
  • The church here is only a couple of hundred meters west of the final approach track.
  • Looking South East towards the Mourne mountains
  • Routing from Portadown to Portaferry
  • Dundrum Bay
  • The South end of Strangford Lough
  • Strangford Lough
  • Strangford Lough
  • 15NM West of Jurby
  • The Isle of Man, Northern Plain
  • Andreas town and airfield

Paris – Days 3 & 4

July 6th, 2010

On Sunday we went on the l’OpenTour hop-on, hop-off bus around Paris. We stopped off at the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.

We didn’t go up the Eiffel tower as the queues were ridiculously long, but had a pleasant time wandering around the tower and Trocadero. At Notre Dame we did a one hour walking tour of I’le de City.

In the evening we went back to La Defense and went to try and find a nice restaurant for Catherine’s birthday that was within walking distance – she insisted that heels were more appropriate than outdoor trainers. Unfortunately La Defense seems to be quite dead on Sundays, unlike the Thursday evening when we arrived. So we went back to the hotel, got changed and headed down to the Bateux Mouches for a trip along the Seine.

The trip on the Seine was excellent with really nice warm dusk lighting. We then headed back to the Champs Elysee, and found out to my surprise that it was still possible to order pizza in a kerbside restaurant at 23:30!

On Monday we went out to Le Printemps and Galleries Lafayette for Catherine to do some shopping before heading back to the hotel to check out.

All in all a great trip: a fantastic hotel, nice weather and we fitted a lot in to a very short time. I even got to see Concorde F-BVFF at CDG from the Dash-8 window! The only problem was the trip was too short.

  • Eiffel Tower
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Musée d'Orsay
  • Henri IV at Pont Neuf
  • Ecole du Louvre
  • Pont Alexandre III
  • On the OpenTour bus
  • Notre Dame de Paris
  • Notre Dame de Paris
  • Notre Dame de Paris
  • Notre Dame de Paris
  • Notre Dame de Paris
  • Notre Dame de Paris
  • The Grand Palace
  • The Grand Palace
  • Les Invalides
  • Les Invalides
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Catherine and the Eiffel Tower
  • Winged Victory at the Louvre
  • The Louvre
  • Sphinx at the Louvre
  • La Défense by night
  • La Défense by night
  • Catherine and La Grande Arche
  • La Grande Arche de la Défense
  • La Défense by night
  • La Défense by night
  • La Défense by night
  • Arc de Triomphe and Avenue de la Grande-Armée from la Défense
  • Catherine and the Grand Arch
  • La Grande Arche de la Défense