Friday, April 30, 2010

Rough Reputation

Found these Wellington classics on the Tube of You recently.

This is at least ten years old judging by the aircraft and colour schemes. I've been a passenger on days like this. The last landing makes me wince a little.

Next to the airport is Cook Strait......

It's not always like that though, as this last one proves. Note the smooth lack of bumpiness of both the flightpaths and the sea, and the glorious sunshine. You don't need to watch the whole thing, just skip up to about the one-minute mark (its a bit repetitive). Plus Blogger appears incompatible with YouTube Widescreen, even on its smallest embed setting:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Factcheck Fail

So while the articles I commented on a couple of days ago were average at best, today media comment on the subject descended to a facepalming new low:

Helicopter had crashed before

This article is just flat out wrong. No-other way to say it. And the way it is phrased, I am kinda baffled as to how it got past the editors at all. Why did no-one in the writing or editorial process think to ask why an aircraft serialled 3809 was known as '06'? That sentence got my attention immediately as being weird, and it took about ten seconds of googling to figure out the actual story.

There is a bit of truth in it. NZ3809 did suffer an accident in 1990, was repaired, was returned to service, was used to support UN operations (albeit not being 'transferred' as stated). The only trouble is, it wasn't the aircraft that crashed on ANZAC day. That aircraft was serialled NZ3806, (which makes the '06 reference much more logical).

And which also makes the headline wrong, the lead and third paragraph wrong, and the whole article without merit. It's a misleading pile of high order inaccuracy which ties in well with a widespread media and uninformed public bias and perception that our armed forces are outdated, ineffectual and token at best, a joke at worst. And given its coverage in the print edition of at least two city daily's as well as on line, it is now going to be accepted as truth by many readers.

The media in this country have seldom covered any defence related story well in the past, and they aren't doing themselves any favours with this one either.

In the meantime spare a thought for the three families burying sons, brothers or husbands tomorrow*, and for the lone survivor.

*One of them was my age. It occurred to that if I had been able to join the service like I wanted, and succeeded in becoming a pilot, we would have been contemporaries. It's something that I've been pondering a bit over the last few days, the what might have been.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Just a few random plane pics I have taken in the past week or two. Nothing too flash, I just like the way they came out. Enlarge by clicking.

Out at the airport practising with all the manual settings enabled. Dusk is a good time to shoot virtually anything. The light is softer, colours get a nice tint, and reflections start to show. I didn't notice the seagulls in the forground until I came to editing. I like how there is one kind of bird scrambling to get out of the way of another.
The RNZAF brought their Harvard to the WW1 show on the weekend. I liked how the sun was reflecting of the skin of the aircraft and the canopy, with the bright colours and reflections contrasting with the dark sky. Together with the pilots gear on the wing I thought it worked.
Same aircraft. This is a really good attitude for an aircraft to be photographed in, nice and dynamic and hard to take a bad picture of. I like how the bank angle combined with the wing dihedral and the smoke gives a really good impression of travelling through the frame. The propellor is nice and blurred as well, while the rest of the aircraft is quite sharp, something I have been having issues getting right.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Well that didn't take long

Only 24 hours after a tragically fatal and bitterly ironic helicopter crash, and the media is already barking up the wrong trees:

Air Force defends use of Iroquois after crash
An ageing fleet on verge of retirement
Is NZ's ageing military equipment a liability?

There aren't any factual errors in the above, but what annoys me is the focus and implication that the age of the aircraft must be a factor, with liberal use of the term 'ageing', which seems to be a favourite when running down equipment deemed to be past its useful date.

It's true the aircraft are old. It is also irrelevant to the issue at hand. The Chief of the Air Force was spot on when he said the age of the aircraft is 'immaterial'. Age is mitigated by careful maintenance, and the RNZAF UH-1's can be considered among the best maintained in the world, something evidenced by the fact the last serious incident involving one occured fifteen years ago, with only one other fatal crash in forty-four years of continous service in all kinds of places and conditions. Maintenance is not the only issue governing flight safety, but it is a vital one and there are few airforces world wide that can match that kind of safety record (that applies to all RNZAF aircraft by the way, not just the Iroquois). At its most basic level, an airframe is just that, a frame to which functional equipment is added. So while the frame may be technically forty years old, it may have had the engine or some other critical component replaced last week, as well as having all of its critical components inspected at regular intervals.

Military aircraft fleets worldwide have been steadily increasing in average age since the 70's and 80's or so, as costs and capabilities have increased. A few examples off the top of my head:
-The Australian F-18's that were at Wanaka a few weeks ago (that I posted about here). Not a one less than twenty years old.
-Some F-15's in USAF service are now between twenty-five and thirty years old, and will be a lot older when they are retired.
-Again with the Australians, they got forty-five years service from their Caribou transports, and will have gotten thirty-seven years service from their F-111 bombers when they are retired later this year (the actual airframes are forty or so).
-Finally, the legendary B-52 is planned to remain in USAF service for some time to come. They stopped building those in 1962, meaning the youngest airframe in service is now approaching forty-eight years old.

Relatively new designs being fielded now are anticipated and designed to have operational lives of thirty or forty years or more at the outset, rather than the examples above, some of which have comfortably exceeded even the most optimistic expectations of their original designers.

Aircraft do have finite useful lives, and older aircraft won't necessarily be as economic or easy to support, or as role capable as newer ones, but that doesn't make them unsafe. The Iroquois are nearing the end of their careers and are being phased out over the next few years, to be replaced by a more modern design, but the reason for replacement has more to do with increased capability and reduced ongoing costs than any other.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Vintage Aviation

Just some shots from The Vintage Aviator Ltd's airshow at Masterton yesterday. This was a neat little event, small and self contained, very informal, and showcasing an aviation era I haven't delved into so much historically. I've only latterly realised how photogenic they are. TVAL (link) was set up and is owned by Peter Jackson, who happens to be a historical aviation enthusiast as well a film director (he is also responsible for this amongst other things, and has a hand in this as well). The company specialises in restoring and manufacturing replica and reproduction aircraft of the 1914-18 period (replicas are only designed to externally resemble their subject; reproductions are built as closely as possible to the original plans and specifications. There is some excellent discussion of this on their site if you want to know more). Some of the aircraft in the pictures are only a few years old, despite their appearance.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Not that much better than Avatar

Warning, Spoilers dead ahead!

I finally saw 'The Hurt Locker' after much anticipation the other night. The basic plot (apparently loosely based on a true account by an embedded journalist) follows a three man Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD, basically guys that defuse bombs) team trying to get through the remainder of their tour in Baghdad after the trusted leader of the team is killed and replaced by an unorthodox adrenalin junkie.

Since it won Best Picture and all, I was interested to see if it was worthy of the hype. And if it was better than Avatar. Or Up. Or District 9, or the other nominees.

I'm not sure it is to be honest. It does some things very well. And does some other things really badly. I hated the cinematography, which was nauseatingly wobbly and zoomy to the point I actually got motion sickness and had to turn away from the screen for the second half of the movie, snatching occasional glances when I thought my stomach could stand it. I understand why handheld cameras are used, I appreciate the intimacy and feel it provides for the viewer and normally it doesn't bother me so much, but it was complete overkill the way they are used in this film, with jumpy quick pans and zooms everywhere, in almost every shot.

Where this film excels is in evoking the tension, dread, paranoia and the anything-could-happen-at-anytime-and-when-it-does-it-will-be-bad feeling of being part of an occupying force in the middle of an insurgency. The scenes on the streets of Baghdad where not only anyone, but possibly everyone might be out to get the protagonists while they are defusing improvised explosives in the streets are completely captivating. The three main protagonists are wholly convincing in their roles, and the way they interact with each other, doing a dangerous job, usually with an audience of local citizens ranging from the curious, apathetic, suspicious to openly hostile never fails to convince. It is one of the best depictions of unglamourous, dirty front line everyday soldiering I've seen so much so, that when the focus moves to more relatively domestic scenes back at the secure base camp, the pace and engagement noticeably flags.

The devil for this movie is in the details though. While the action scenes are superb, the contrivances and plot holes to engineer some of them and drive the movie forward are not. Moreover, for a film that seems to be trying very hard to present itself as an accurate depiction of this particular aspect of modern warfare, based on what I have read, it just isn't. I've never been in anyone's military, and wouldn't even claim to be well informed on specifics of weapons and tactics, but I do have a lifelong interest in these things, and based on what I have learned around the subject, there are a lot of things depicted on screen that go beyond implausible to flat out would-not-happen, or just don't make any sense (the sniper duel in the middle of the film is a perfect example, a scene that encapsulates both the best and worst aspects of the film). At times the film doesn't even adhere to its own internal logic and rules.

I accept the need for fictionalisation and license to be taken for dramtic purposes (even if this assumes that bomb disposal work isn't dramatic enough), and most of the time it doesn't bother me. I wouldn't comment on it except for the fact that this movie seems to be trading on being an accurate (albeit fictionalised) depiction of 'the way things were' (it is set in 2004), and that a lot of the audience will probably perceive it that way. The general opinion of the film amongst those who have actually been there and done the things portrayed seems to be very low because of the numerous and glaring inaccuracies.

I respect that this film doesn't treat its audience like idiots who need to be explicitly told every detail of exposition and set up, but at times this approach is taken too far (like the camera work), and leads to assumptions and presumptions being required by the audience that are often false, which is quite annoying when you are aware of it, and breaks the immersion into the film.

So basically when it is good, it is really really good, but it is also quite flawed. It is better than main rival Avatar, but I'm not sure it is 'Best Picture' good either. I thought fellow nominee UP was a better film than both of them at times.

The Judger saw it with me, if you want his take on the film, here 'tis.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Project Progress

After a few hours here and there of snipping, painting, hacking, trimming, fettling, finagling and glueing, the collection of parts shown here, is now an assemblage of parts (and some putty) roughly resembling an English Electric 'Canberra' B(I).12 in 1/72 scale.

Still at an early stage of things.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Have bike and camera will travel

The only real issue I have with riding my mountain bike to work, is that I live roughly hereish:

Since that picture was taken somewhere near where I work, I'm sure you can all realise the con when it comes to negotiating the journey on a vehicle powered solely by me (as well as marvelling at my ability to free draw arrows in microsoft paint).

The average gradient to get there is something like this, for about a kilometre and a half.

I've had a couple of people say how impressed they are that I do this, but it really isn't that terrible once you have done it a few times. It doesn't get easy, but it does get less difficult. I have noticed I am getting better at it in that the willpower element is now focused on being bothered to ride in the the first place, rather than keeping going. Another measure of fitness on this is I don't notice the climb so much anymore. I have the energy to think about things over than 'just keep pedalling', and my legs aren't so rubbery when I dismount.

I had a play last week with using the video mode on our little point and shoot camera while cycling to and from work. While it's not exactly C'etait un Rendevous, I like the results anyway.

Reading around various traps inspired little confidence in blogger's video hosting abilities, so I herded a couple of clips on to Youtube instead. These were made with a camera held against the handlebar, so the image stability isn't so great.

The first is going through the poky little subway that takes you under the main highway at the bottom of the hill. It's a cheap thrill, but I like the rush of riding through such an enclosed space. Feel free to make any Star Wars/Dambusters/633 Squadron comparisons you feel appropriate:

The second is the full 2 minute downhill from the crest of the road below my place. If I ride, this is how my commute begins, which is good for waking you up if nothing else. I live in a dip on the ridge, so perversely I have to go uphill before I can go down. I pedal to the crest, then let gravity take over and coast (the bike can't be pedalled faster than 35kph or so anyway. not enough gears). The first 15 seconds or so are a bit shaky as I figure out how I am holding the camera but bear with it (the shakiness halfway through is due to the rough road surface at that section. I love front fork suspension). I have the brakes on for most of the way, from about the first bus stop at 00:27, to stay at the 50kph speed limit, which makes for very hot discs at the bottom. I followed another cyclist with rim brakes down once and all I could smell was burning rubber. I could easily go faster, but since it is both illegal and terrifying, I don't. An off at 50 kph will be bad enough, although overtaking cars would be fun. Rain, early morning flying insects, or ice, particularly on the long corner near the bottom which doesn't see any sun in winter can make this descent muuuchhh more interesting.

I quite like the bit where my shadow stretches out on the road in front of me :)

I could add some clips of the ascent, but it takes ten times as long (literally), and is accompanied by liberal amounts of 0900 line style heavy breathing.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Random pics 4-9

Apologies for the gap in posts, I have been faffing around trying to figure out how to upload videos to blogger, which is nowhere near as simple as it appears (although I am apparently not alone, since by the looks blogger doesn't let you upload videos directly anymore. Google owns Blogger and YouTube, and apparently they shut down Google Video which was hosting blogger videos in favour of steering people to YouTube. That is the story I have gathered so far, I could be completely wrong. Enlightenment on a postcard please).

In the meantime, here are some random pics from the vaults, linked together solely because I liked the way they turned out

Self portrait using the CCTV on the airport bus (I am on the bottom right), November 2009.
Morning sun breaking over the hills by my work, November 2009
One of the neighbours cats scowling at me across the backyard, September 2009
Sunset looking across the pond at Avalon Park, October 2009.
High altitude rain catching the last of the sunlight, November 2009
Abandoned farmhouse in Manawatu, September 2009.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mild inconvenience

Listening to: Twilight Singers - A Stitch In Time

I've been ruthlessly exploiting both the nice autumn weather and Fi being on break lately to ride to work as much as I can, managing to use the bike for every commute last week.

This went like a box of swimming fluffy ducks until Friday morning, when I encountered The Shard (so named because it reminded me of The Dark Crystal). I had my camera on me, so here it is recorded for posterity.

I must have picked it up crossing the gutter to get onto Melling Bridge, since I didn't get a few metres across the span before the tire was completely flat. It didn't pop (which I have done to a bike tyre before), or instantly deflate at speed (which I have also done after running over a nail. Entry and exit hole in the tube, plus stress induced cracks either side), but it fell off quickly enough that I carried the bike the rest of the way across the bridge to somewhere I could safely investigate.

The offending piece of glass turned out to be pretty gnarly on removal, enough to pierce the thickest part of the tread and go straight through the tube. Probably part of a beer bottle. I don't know what the story is, but it is hard not to notice the sheer amount of shattered glass around the edges of the road that cyclists inhabit.
Luckily (or self fulfillingly, depending on your outlook), I had bought a spare tube to carry around for this exact eventuality only a couple of weeks ago. I figure it was either just as well, or tempting fate. A few minutes of wayside surgery later and it was sorted.
I patched the incumbent tube over the weekend and put it back on the bike, so retaining the perfect tube as a spare.
So there you have it, an exemplary blog of the mundane :)
I wasn't even annoyed. It was only a minor inconvenience. Reminding me of the relative cosmic scale of things on the other hand, someone I know got refused entry to the US and deported back here last week, which goes somewhat beyond inconvenient, beyond ruining your whole day even, especially as she was going to rejoin her partner who has been working there for the last few years. That sucks on all kinds of levels.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The same thing we do every night Pinky....

Listening to: State of Mind - Faster than Light

TRY TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!*In other recent events, Little Miss World Domination here reached the milestone age of 18 months a couple of weeks ago. Looks like she has plans.

So watcha doing Charlotte?
Oh nothing much, just cruising ay.
A few of us hired a waterfront croc cycle on the weekend. Charlotte ably fulfilled the important roles of navigator, mascot and director of chillaxing.
* More excellent Pinky and the Brain quotes here

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Listening to: Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge Of Town.

Something I saw on line (a couple of things actually) today caused the above utterance.

Firstly, Stuff, I love you but (well, that's not really true, I just prefer your feedback sections and bloggers to the Herald, plus you are giving me a great education in how to sensationalise the mundane and spin it accordingly), but would it kill you to do some fact checking?

Noted after checking out this story with pictures of the Wanaka Airshow last weekend. Incidentally, if you think I take great pictures of planes, check some of these out. Admittedly I don't have the equipment, experience or skill to get images of this quality, but nonetheless I look at them and think "Why can't I get shots like that?", which is a bit silly and frustrating, but there you go (actually on consideration I have produced similar and arguably better shots of two of the subjects. Hmmph).

Anyway, two of the captions are embarrassingly wrong (earlier this afternoon it was three, but they have since corrected one). One is sort of an understandable noob error, but the other is laughably factually incorrect if you know what you are looking at.

So that was one of the FFS's.

The other was a follow up to this story about Erykah Badu filming a nude music video in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, which given the significance of the location hasn't been without some discussion.

Someone has complained and a charge of indecent exposure has been duly filed. Seriously. I guess no-one was thinking of the children on that one. It isn't stated whether or not the complainant was present to see the filming, or just the video that resulted.

Again, FFS. Honestly, I am neither here nor there on her music, or up with any related play, but jeeze, from where I sit there are more important things to get all het up about.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Exotic Beasts

Listening to: Album of the Year - Faith No More

Continuing the aviation at Easter theme...

Last weekend (27th March) the Wellington Aero Club held its annual open day at Wellington Airport. As they did last year, some warbird aircraft were invited to attend to make things more interesting. There was also a bonus flypast from another transiting warbird I blogged about earlier.

While admittedly giving the open day itself a miss, it was a good opportunity to get some shots of aircraft you don't see around here very often. I've seen them all many times before at various shows, but seldom or never on my home patch. There are a couple of good spots I know near the runway ends, so I went out to get some shots of the arrivals.

First up was a T-28 Trojan (link). These were used to train pilots for the US Navy and Airforce between the 50's and 80's. The thing sticking out the back is an arrestor hook so it can land on aircraft carriers. This one has been flying in NZ on the airshow circuit on and off for close to 20 years now. I'm not sure if the aircraft name predates the condom brand, but 'Hey baby, I'm a Trojan pilot' could be an awesome pick up line under the right circumstances.....

Next was a Catalina (link), a mid 1930's designed flying boat. This one is painted to represent the Catalinas used by the RNZAF in the pacific during the Second World War. Strictly speaking it isn't a true Catalina, it's an amphibious version known as a Canso. Wartime Catalinas didn't have wheels like this one, so were exclusively water based. This version can operate off both land and water.
I missed the Corsair (link) arriving, but got some good shots of it landing here last year, so didn't worry about it too much. Although it is one of my favourites to watch fly.
The Catalina was flying joyrides around Wellington for most of the day, giving
plenty of chances to get some different angles on it. It is an interesting combination of shapes, from some aspects very elegant, and from others not so much.

The boat aspect of the design is apparent here. This would have been a welcome sight if you were bobbing around in a life raft waiting to be rescued. The Cat could not only find you, but pick you up and give you a ride home.

A Catalina take-off is interesting compared to more conventional aircraft. Given the size of the wing and the angle it is mounted, a Catalina doesn't rotate nose-up and climb so much as it simply levitates into the air.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

By the light of the Balloon

At Not Kate's suggestion we jaunted up to Levin last night to catch the Night Glow event part of the Lift Off Levin Ballooning Weekend (link).

They had this at the basin reserve last year, but I missed it do to just having got back from the Omaka airshow and being too travelled out. It's not a form of aviation I have had any experience of, so this was kinda novel. And I really enjoyed it, it was good simple fun.