Avalon Airshow 2007 – The aftermath

Well, it’s been a couple of days now and I’m pretty much recovered from the Avalon Airshow (although my feet are still a bit sore now & then :)

The big thing about this airshow was that it all just worked (aside from the traffic jam on Monday :). This was the first time that we had an AGO rep in the box with the “Ring Master,” allowing them to discuss the impacts of changes to plans, placement of aircraft and so on. In the past, this had happened via relaying between multiple people over radios and so on. Now that an experienced ground control person was involved from early planning through to execution, good decisions were made, people knew what was going on and bottlenecks were, on the whole, avoided.

This was reflected in comments from pilots saying how well it worked and that it was the best organised airshow they’d been to. It was also reflected in my general feeling that a lot of the chaos, madness & stress I’d experienced in past shows wasn’t present in this year’s show. Sure, we were running about and busy at times, there were occasional stuff ups but, on the whole, it just flowed.

A couple of negatives were the lack of radios for the ground staff (it’s frustrating trying to sort things out when there’s not enough people around with a good picture of what’s going on – doubt they can ever fix this one) and (the biggest annoyance of all) serving tuna sandwiches for the lunch. Not all the sandwiches were tuna on a given day, but if you were a bit late getting back to the Green Room for lunch, the “real food” would have already have been eaten. Bad luck if you hate fish, eh?

Another interesting item from this airshow included a friend of mine launching a new flight simulator based company, Flight Experience. They have a fixed-base 737-800 simulator and are offering flights to people – you can come in and see what it’s like on the cockpit of a new jet. You can also get type endorsement training and so on. Their big market though is people who just want the experience.

Once again I was able to bring Kitt and Nykolai down to have fun at the show on the Sunday, although they weren’t really impressed with the traffic hassles. Perhaps next time we can look at getting them in & out via train to Lara and the shuttle bus over. At least they had a great time and I got Nykolai into the cockpit of the Kittyhawk thanks to Steve Death (the pilot).

All up, I enjoyed it immensely and will definitely volunteer again (if I’m in Melbourne, etc :)

Avalon Airshow 2007 – Day 8

Another beautiful day at Avalon Airport – even better than yesterday. Today was my last day with the Airshow, working to help the remaining aircraft leave.

I arrived early and walked around taking some “early morning” photos of the large aircraft in the “keyhole” area and the combat jets on their tarmac. There were a couple of early folks getting ready to leave and I helped them organise fueling, take down barriers and so on.

The most “fun” was when I helped drag the Whitney Boomerang out of some soft ground. We’d parked it on grass in the corner of the warbird tarmac last night as the pilot had radio troubles and couldn’t leave. This morning, the main wheels were half-sunk into the soft earth. Ooops – didn’t think it was *that* soft when we parked it there…

The pilot and I wound up sitting under the wing (it’s a low wing – not much room) and rolling the wheels forward. We got both forward about 1/2 turn each and they were sinking again, so we hooked the tow bar into the nose wheel and with me pulling on that while the pilot went back to turning one of the wheels, we were able to pivot it out onto firmer ground, eventually getting it onto the tarmac itself. Whew.

Shortly after the Roulettes arrived, prepared their aircraft and left. The ground crew were wearing standard camo fatigues instead of their performance outfits but still went through the usual formation start-up and departure. Some of the photos I have will show the various ground crews from the Hornet, F-111 and Hawk teams in their standard camo fatigues that are being worn these days.

There were some escort duties including bringing the A-37 Dragonfly team in so they could prep their aircraft and then fly home. We also escorted the Roulette ground crew in to pick up their trailer and then head over to their two static display aircraft so they could prep them for travel.

The RAAF 707 left not long after then we wound up sitting in our vehicle on the tarmac waiting to get back to the warbird tarmac. We were in a queue behind a DC-3, Catalina, RAAF C-17 and 6 F-18’s. We couldn’t cut across the combat jet exit because they had an F-15 sitting there doing engine runs. Eventually we got through in time to help clear a couple of lighties, the last few warbirds and the RAAF Hawks (they’d moved over to the warbird tarmac before the F-15 could move out and block their exit).

The HARS Neptune left followed by the USAF C-17 and then the Super Constellation. The Connie’s brakes make an amazingly loud metal-on-metal sound – you can hear it for miles. Very distinctive.

About this time I wound up going over to Yellow section with Veggie in case they needed help clearing out their aircraft. They had everything under control so we sat and watched as a few lighties and a pair of Super Puma helicopters went past via Charlie to the runway.

Shortly after that, JD came back for us and dropped me off down in G1 (near the warbird tarmac) where a couple of lighties were getting ready to leave. We had some jets moving about plus Jetstar coming in and the RAF E-3 Sentry taxiing on the runway so we wanted to be sure the lighties were looked after. They had to monitor tower but didn’t want to drain their batteries so they switched off and I kept an ear open (I’d been monitoring tower frequency all airshow). When tower advised they could start up, I relayed the message and they got ready, heading out before the RAF E-3 came around.

The RAF E-3 was basically a 707 airframe with one of the giant radar dishes on the top. They’d been parked with the USAF E-3 up the other end of the airport and wound up taxiing down to Charlie and then around the loop to Bravo. Along the way they stopped and spent a bit of time inspecting the ground at a pedestrian/vehicle crossing (they were concerned about FOD) then slowly crawled around the loop with people out under their wingtips to ensure they wouldn’t hit anything on the edges. This caused some tension for ground ops as we’d already ensured the way was clear and we had a Jetstar aircraft that had landed and was back tracking on the runway to get to Charlie then follow the E-3 around the loop (delaying Jetstar is not an option).

They finally got around and were far enough forward that Jetstar could get into their terminal area and all without appearing to cause any delays. Eventually, the E-3 got on the runway, started to roll and wound up aborting their takeoff. They sat on the runway and did an engine run up to 80% power on their outboards. Something was still wrong though so they taxied all the way up the other end of the runway and off onto one of the taxiways. There they had to be towed around to the bottom of the runway as there was too much FOD for their liking. Last I’d heard about them, they’d completed a full engine run up and sorted out their hassles and were trying to get slotted back into the departures queue.

By this time, we’d finished with everything at Green and the last few were leaving Yellow. The USAF combat jets were still there but going back on Wednesday, a RAAF F-18 had a problem with its INS and a RAN Seahawk had a problem and couldn’t fly. The F-18, Seahawk and a Sea King wound up parked at the top of Bravo near the QANTAS maintenance hangars.

So, with all that, we headed back to AGO, handed in our equipment, said goodbye to everyone and headed for home. Another Avalon Airshow completed – three now for me (plus one as a spectator :) but others have done 6 to 8. Wow.

Avalon Airshow 2007 – Day 7

The last official day of the Airshow and I left home early to arrive at 7am. I would have been on time, except I forgot to set my clocks back 1 hour before I went to bed (daylight savings ended last night). So, I wound up opening up the Green Room tent at 6:10am – no wonder there weren’t any other people on around. Oh well – the sunrise was great and the peace & quiet on the airfield was wonderful.

Soon enough the warbirds started to arrive and I put a few of them in on my own until some of the others arrived to help. A QANTAS 737 (painted in aboriginal designs) and 747 arrived and were squeezed into the keyhole. Not long after a BAe 146 from National Jet arrived and I wound up batting it into a tight space at Green-5. Lots of fun.

By now the whole team was on site and we were gearing up for another day much like yesterday. There were some slight changes to the schedule and a few additional shows, but otherwise it ran very well and everyone was happy. Early in the day we moved the majority of the light aircraft who wanted to leave at the end of the show down to modified holding areas near the Bravo holding point.

Kitt and Nykolai came down with UK Balloon Pilot Chris and his family in time to see the Super Hornet, B-52, RAAF F-18, F-111, USAF F-15 and the RAAF formation F-18s. They were all very happy to come on down and hang out – I even managed to get some time to join them when we had some quiet moments on the warbird tarmac.

All too soon the show was over and we had a mass exodus of lighties crossing over 18-Center to 18-Right, all the while charters were taking off from further down the runway (at Charlie or Foxtrot intersections). We slotted a number of warbirds in that were leaving and then just worked through the remaining lighties. It all went very well.

At the end of the day, Chuck Yeager came out to meet the F-15 and F-16 pilots so I managed to get some photos of him during these sessions. After this it was off to AGO for a couple of beers (light, unfortunately) then ASDU for dinner and home.

I’m back tomorrow to help remaining aircraft leave, then it’s all over for me.

Avalon Airshow 2007 – Day 6

As yesterday was hot n windy, today was cold n windy with rain. What a change. The carparks were a sea of mud, as were the public areas around the airfield. It dried quickly but it took until the afternoon to settle down.

With the wind came FOD (Foreign Object Damage – bits of garbage blowing around the place) – a small plastic bag was seen being sucked into the right-hand engine intake of one of the RAAF F18s as it taxied back to its parking spot. Fingers crossed it’s not done any damage as this aircraft is part of the Lion formation aerobatic team (also known as the Green Lemons). They put on a very spirited demo in tight formation and with flares, earning them 10 from those of us judging the shows.

The day started off with a flurry of warbirds coming in, then settled down until about 11am when we had to get the Mustangs, Yak 9 and Kittyhawk into starting positions. Once they were started and had moved out to the warm up area, we pushed the A-37 Dragonfly into place so he could start up his jets then move out. About then it started to rain so we headed for the tents, coming out again to retrieve the first lot and then the Dragonfly.

After that it was “time off” for lunch as we had no more work on the warbird tarmac until the Southern Knights formation team went out in their Harvards. A quick push out to start up and they were off. We all headed down to the crowd line to get photos of the RAAF F-18 & F-111, USAF F-15, the F-18F Super Hornet and a fly by by a B-52 (including one pass at high speed at 500′ – wooo :)

Somewhere in there the Super Constellation came out (with brakes squealing) along with the Catalina and three Dakotas. They did a streamed take-off and then a few fly bys although Connie had to pull out and just land as they’d been forced to shut down #2 engine due to some problems (gotta love those big old radials :)

After all that, I wound up working the intersection (where Bravo meets Charlie’s loop section), handling aircraft coming back and going out. Eventually it all settled down and we closed up our tent (known as “The Green Room” ‘cos we’re section Green on the map).

One more public day then I’m back again on Monday to help get everything out that hasn’t managed to get out on the Sunday night.

Avalon Airshow 2007 – Day 5

Today can best be summed up as 40 degrees on the tarmac, 40+ knots wind and dust everywhere. We had dust sticking to our sunscreen, dust on our food, dust in our mouths, dust in our eyes – crazy.

The high winds kept many of the lighties from flying into Avalon, so we had a few moments of peace & quiet, then the warbirds came in and suddenly Green 2 was full. With the Roulettes, RAAF Museum heritage flight & Mustang, Bob’s Mustang, the Yak 9 and a Harvard, we had a warbirds tarmac that was almost full. Yay :)

During the day, we had a chance to go and see Chuck Yeager – he was checking out the cockpit of an F-18 so we hung out near by and took pix (a few at a time, so we didn’t crowd the place out :) Word is he may be near a P-51 Mustang later during the show, which would be great (‘cos hey, that’s the tarmac I’m on – can you say “Full Access”? :)

Not long after, one of the Super Hornets went up with the RAAF Chief on board – it was only a quick flight due to the airshow starting around 2:30, but it seemed to go OK. I was sheparding a RAAF photographer around – he was using a mega-lens but finding it a bit hard due to the wind – he gave me the camera to see what “fun” it was to keep steady in the 40+ knot winds. Ouch!

With the warbird tarmac full and things going quiet, I took some time to get a few photos of the warbirds, then we headed back to the tent to relax. The guys from FightPath TV came by and I escorted them around the warbirds area. They were due to interview the Roulettes so, after they came back from their show, the guys did their interview while I organised a few sessions tomorrow with the warbirds pilots.

Most of us were pretty amazed that the Roulettes went up given the 40+ knot winds over the site. The Airvan and Caribou both looked like they were hovering during their low speed passes due to the high winds.

Chopper 2, the Rescue Helicopter that’s always around when the Roulettes do a show, came in and dropped off the Roulettes ground crew. There was dust everywhere thanks to their prop-wash then it left. Meanwhile, the Roulettes crew took down their tents before they were blown away. Chopper 2 came back a while later with the Roulettes pilots, again kicking up some dust and wind that knocked us about.

A USAF B-52 did a low fly-by down the runway at around 1,000′ then turned around and came by at high speed at 1,000′. It was pretty amazing.

The rest of the day was spent trying to avoid the dust and doing what we could to help aircraft coming in, going around the loop and so on. Eventually the RAAF Heritage Flight and the Mustangs left, doing a quick beat up of the field and a bit of a show from the Mustang.

Later in the afternoon, the winds shifted around from northerly to westerly and then, shortly after, southerly. With this came a drop in temperature of about 5 degrees and all new dust being blown back at us. Rain was on the horizon and a few drops were coming in. If we get the rain as predicted, at least it’ll end the dust :)

Around 6pm a few of us went to dinner at AGO (a BBQ dinner of sausage and hamburger :) then I headed for home. I have to start early tomorrow morning and I’ve seen a few “night shows” already, so I figured it was better to head home, relax and come in very early.

Avalon Airshow 2007 – Day 4

Today started out chilly and with beautiful whispy fog clouds around 200′ – just below the tops of the hangars in the QANTAS maintenance part of the airport. We got to enjoy it for a little while then it was back to yet another day of marshalling lighties as the Regatta went out for a tour of the bay and then back in before the airshow started. One guy in a Texan had some radio problems, coming out, trying it, going back, etc. He eventually scrapped the flight and went off to have a chat with the reps of the company he was renting it from.

During all this, a number of RAAF Hornets came in along with the Roulettes. In between them (and the lighties) was another Atlas Air freighter who had to go-around before landing. Apparently Melbourne ATC had kept him at altitude for too long so he was too high to make a good landing. On his second approach the height was right and he landed. One of our marshalls was going to try to “bat him” as he came onto the taxiway – not a good idea, especially not when you’re standing about under where his outboard engine would be going – oops. I managed to get his attention and got him well out of the way.

HARS came in with their Catalina, DC-3, Constellation and Neptune. There was a bit of a pause while Connie sat on Bravo waiting for clearance to go behind the A320 – it was a tight fit, but they made it.

Once the show started, we got to relax again and I left early as I wanted to be back in town for Nykolai’s school “parent sports event.”

Avalon Airshow 2007 – Day 3

Day 3 of this airshow can be summarised by one thing: crazy lighties…

The day was running reasonably slowly so we took a break down near the entrance to Bravo. Soon enough, we had a number of light aircraft (Cessna’s, Pipers, Beechcraft and ultralights/RAAus aircraft) come in, most on runway 18R (the grass strip to the west) and many were classic “weekend flyers.” For every one that had read the briefing info, came in smoothly, taxied well and followed marshalling instructions, there were about 5 that were clueless. We had lighties that couldn’t figure out which one was 18R, didn’t know the approach procedures and lined up on 18C despite being told they were for 18R and that 18R was grass. Then there were the ones who came straight at you when you were trying to tell them to keep going the same way they were currently pointing, etc. Sure enough, it came down to us giving up on “normal” marshalling and just pointing them in the rough direction, often having to yell instructions.

Oh well, we survived and there were not crashes, collisions or injuries…

The RNZAF 757 came in to the usual collection of sheep & Kiwi jokes then the RAAF 707 came in, trailing more smoke than an aerobatic aircraft. The F-111 that had been doing engine runs yesterday evening went out for a test flight and came back shortly before an Atlas Air 747-400 freighter came in (under a QF7000 series flight number).

The freighter was here to pick up the Grand Prix Formula 1 vehicles and equipment. Quite amazing to see everything packed up and wrapped in cocoons.

Once the display started, we were able to take a break and have lunch. Part way through, the Atlas Air freighter left on the tail of a Jetstar that was leaving their terminal.

After the show, the RAAF 707 fired up in the keyhole and wanted to come out ASAP but Jetstar refused to let them pass behind them on Bravo. They waited for a while in the keyhole while a Caribou once again waited at the Bravo holding point with the old Ansett DC-3 behind it (VH-ABR). They were both eventually cleared and then we managed to sneak a bunch of lighties before the Jetstar aircraft at the terminal left.

The 707 came out of the keyhole and then wound up waiting at the Bravo holding point as a pair of lighties were allowed to land on 18C. One declared it couldn’t land on grass (a Rutan Long-EZ or something like that) and a RAAAus aircraft on floats that announced it was almost out of fuel due to being vectored a few times (possibly because they hadn’t read and/or understood the procedures info). They landed and then had to come off on Charlie, despite being told to go to Foxtrot, claiming they couldn’t go further. They then shut down still inside the runway boundaries, so had to be pushed further into Charlie. Eventually they were in and the 707 could go.

After another hour or two of marshalling lighties into fields there were no more, we’d hit 6pm and so it was time to call it a wrap. Another successful day completed but there’ll be a long one tomorrow. It’s going to be a busy time until next Monday :)

Avalon Airshow 2007 – Day 2

Another day at Avalon started with rain on the way down and a few very light showers at first. Once they stopped, it was cool for the first half and then warmed up around midday.

On arrival I went to chat with the DC-3 crew and find out what was news in their world before heading over to the Green Room. From here, I spent most of the day marshalling aircraft from a RAAF 707 to a Rutan Long Eze. I also got to help out with Jurgis Kairys and his three aircraft team called the Air Bandits – very crazy show they put on.

It was a little quiet just before the airshow and we took a break for lunch. About then my friend Carlo came over to chat with a film crew he’s working with. We had to cut our chat short though ‘cos I had to get back out onto the tarmac to help with aircraft going to/from the show.

After that it got busier and we were bringing jets in and out along with a few lighties that landed on Avalon West and had to track either via the loop or up through the “zig zag” taxiway between paddocks in Green & Blue.

One of the last items on the airshow was a P-3 but it had to cancel its show after a single pass due to a minor technical issue. Turns out they had indications of imbalanced flaps (not pleasant) but experimenting with them during various orbits above us indicated it wasn’t an issue. Still, they cancelled their show and returned to Edinburgh in South Australia.

Following this, a number of aircraft were lining up to leave, including a Caribou that wound up waiting at Bravo holding point right next to us for a while. Many hand signals and smiles between crew and ground staff as we waited for them to be slotted into the departures.

Around 5pm, all had been sorted out and we were getting ready to leave when a few lighties came in on Avalon West and we had to get them around the loop. Then the RAAF 707 fired up to leave but I had to hold it at Bravo & Charlie while we waited for a Jetstar A320 to leave and get out of the way.

After that, it was over and I could finally leave. At least today most of the problems with ground comms were sorted out (they’d had interferance on the UHF channel they’d been using). Tomorrow’s shaping up to be a busy one as we start the trade show and have more aircraft arriving. I’m looking forward to the warbirds arriving – they’re always a lot of fun.

Avalon Airshow 2007 – Day 1

From Grand Prix to Airshow, what’s the link? Yesterday I was at the Grand Prix watching cars and aircraft. Today I’m down at Avalon directing aircraft. Perhaps the link is the F18’s? The Roulettes? A 747? Yeah, them too – but there’s also the fact that the F1 cars will be shipping out via 747 freighters from Avalon. So, cars and aircraft – yesterday at Albert Park, today at Avalon.

I arrived in the morning and signed in, picking up my credentials, uniform and meal tickets (they’re important!). Going over to Airshow Ground Operations, I signed in there, picked up my AGO gear and headed out to the Green Room (tent right next to the combat jet tarmac). We already had the F-15s, F-16s and a few F-18s on the tarmac (they arrived last night) plus their support C-17 over in the keyhole next to a pair of Super Pumas.

Down the other end of taxiway Alpha (a kilometer or so) the parked aircraft looked to include a P-3 and a C-130. A C-27 was parked in the static area at the intersection of Alpha & Charlie.

First aircraft in were a flight of 3 Hawks that checked in on the light-jet tarmac (aka Green 2) then a QF 747 heading up Bravo to the QANTAS maintenance base. An E-3 Sentry (707 AWACS aircraft) arrived and was held on Bravo waiting for the C-17 to reverse out of the keyhole (on its own power using reverse thrust). The E-3 came in and then the C-17 went out to practice its demo sessions.

A Victorian Police PC-12 came around the loop and parked in G2 for a while. After the C-17, the F-15 headed out to strut its stuff and the Hawks were prepped to fly over the city. After the Hawks left, the glider team got ready to leave (this one has a pair of micro-jets installed just above to cockpit – amazing stuff) while the F-16 prepped to head out. With the glider launched, the F-16 went out and did his practice (not very good – would be lucky to get a 5.5 on the ratings) then the glider came back in and did his show.

About this time, an F-18 was dragged out to the exit from the combat jet tarmac. This is where a departing jet is started and checked before they head out. We parked the F-15 at the intersection of Charlie & Bravo (the end of the “loop”) and shut it down for towing back into the combat jet tarmac as soon as the F-18 was gone. Unfortunately, this was not to be so – flying as passenger on the F-18 was the current Defence Minister, which meant a media-scrum and more “posing” photos than I’ve ever seen before.

During this time, a Jetstar A320 comes in and taxis up to drop off its passengers then the F-16 finishes, taxis up next to the F-15 and shuts down. A group of Navy helos drops into the keyhole (Sea King, Sea Hawk and Squirrel) then taxi out onto the loop (aka Charlie). An Army Blackhawk also comes into the keyhole and taxis out behind the Navy group. The RAAF C-17 comes overhead with a Hawk on its wing with both doing a break and landing. Then an F-111 with two Hawks come over and also break and land. Then two RAAF F-18’s come in and land.

Finally the minister’s photo shoot is all done and the F-18 heads out and another F-18 comes up for yet another media scrum as another VIP sits in the back.

About now, the tower sends the RAAF C-17 back down the runway to Bravo with the F-111 right behind it. Next thing you know, the C-17 is stopped because it can’t pass behind the Jetstar A320 as there wasn’t enough space for it. So, we have the A320 waiting to turn around and head out, the C-17 waiting to get past it, the F-16 & F-15 ready to be towed and the F-111 behind the C-17 with its tail still technically into the runway (it was inside the gable markers).

Tower winds up landing a number of aircraft “long” to avoid the F-111’s jetwash until finally another Jetstar is on approach to land. The landing Jetstar crew decide that they’re not happy with the F-111’s position so they go-around – ouch – expensive.

During this time, the F-111 manages to do a 180 on Bravo and heads back up the runway to Charlie. Tower tells the F-111 to expedite its departure and to ignore any marshalls until he’s off the runway (actual words were “If a marshall tries to stop you before you’ve cleared the runway, run them over” – hmmmm). Getting the F-111 off the runway lets the new Jetstar A320 land and, while he’s rolling out, the C-17 backs out of Bravo to the runway and also taxis up to Charlie.

Tower takes the time to send the Hawks up to Charlie and the F-18s come up Bravo, getting a vehicle escort up to one of the parking bays near the QANTAS maintenance area. Once they’re through, the original A320 heads out and I’m kept busy marshalling commercial jets & light aircraft up Bravo and around onto Charlie (the loop). During this time I manage to grab a couple of shots of a Mil-8 helo landing on Charlie – big bugger – I’d seen it come into the general helo-pads over near the general public entrance – instant dust storm and brown-out as it came in.

Finally we had the RAAF C-17 come back up the runway to Bravo – I directed it onto Charlie and it went into the keyhole, along with a C-130 that I also “batted.” Eventually the Jetstar A320 went out and it all went quiet.

There’s more aircraft coming in this evening but I took advantage of the lull to head for home at 4pm, getting a great run in to Melbourne (40 minutes from start up at Avalon carpark to reaching the Kings Way in South Melbourne – not bad at all).

More news tomorrow – hopefully a little less chaotic (although then it’d probably get boring :)