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An Aviator Passes.

It’s with a very heavy heart that I read reports this afternoon that one of the Red Arrows has crashed, and the pilot hasn’t survived.  The Red Arrows are a true credit to The Royal Air Force and are nothing short of absolutely awesome to watch — it’s impossible to describe just how skilled these aviators are.

I’m a happy chap if I can keep my airspeed and height within the standards expected of a newly qualified commercial pilot (which I am not, but no harm in aiming high) — these guys and girls fly fast jets at almost 4x my speed, often only inches apart.  It’s a real treat to watch.

I have had the privilege to see this years Red Arrows (part of the team changes every year) twice.  Only earlier this week they overflew my home town and my son had to ring me straight away to say he’d seen them again; and wanted to know why they had no smoke on – I was 150 miles away; but this gives you an idea of how inspirational they are; my 3 year old adores them.  I haven’t the heart to tell him one has crashed.

My thoughts are with the pilots family, friends and his colleagues; it’s always awful when a fellow pilot passes, especially when flying.  Rest In Peace.

Flying West

Capt. Michael J. Larkin 

I hope there’s a place, way up in the sky,
Where pilots can go, when they have to die-
A place where a guy can go and buy a cold beer
For a friend and comrade, whose memory is dear;
A place where no doctor or lawyer can tread,
Nor management type would ere be caught dead;
Just a quaint little place, kinda dark and full of smoke,
Where they like to sing loud, and love a good joke;
The kind of place where a lady could go
And feel safe and protected, by the men she would know.

There must be a place where old pilots go,
When their paining is finished, and their airspeed gets low,
Where the whiskey is old, and the women are young,
And the songs about flying and dying are sung,
Where you’d see all the fellows who’d flown west before.
And they’d call out your name, as you came through the door;
Who would buy you a drink if your thirst should be bad,
And relate to the others, “He was quite a good lad!”

And then through the mist, you’d spot an old guy
You had not seen for years, though he taught you how to fly.
He’d nod his old head, and grin ear to ear,
And say, “Welcome, my son, I’m pleased that you’re here.
“For this is the place where true flyers come,
“When the journey is over, and the war has been won
“They’ve come here to at last to be safe and alone
From the government clerk and the management clone,
“Politicians and lawyers, the Feds and the noise
Where the hours are happy, and these good ol’boys
“Can relax with a cool one, and a well-deserved rest;
“This is Heaven, my son — you’ve passed your last test!”

Slowest Race Ever? – Gordon Bennett Cup

Thanks to a couple of people I follow on Twitter (mainly @apgphoto) I have become  aware of the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett – which is currently taking place.  It is the oldest Air Race, having started in 1905 in which Hot Air Ballons “race” to see who can travel the furthest… making it perhaps the slowest race ever too!

When I started looking into this competition, it truly amazed me!  As I write the lead ballon is Swiss 2, currently at 9,800′ just to the west of Rome travelling at 46 knots.  They left Bristol, UK on Saturday evening.  The pilots travel in a wicker basket.  Yep, a wicker basket at nearly 10,000′ and 40kts!

The human element of taking part in this race is amazing, but the shear planning and strategy which goes into must be phenomenal.  Currently the bulk of those ballons still flying are having to make strategy decisions about whether to continue, or slow down… if they don’t clear Italian airspace by nightfall then they will have to land because VFR flight is prohibited in Italy at night.  The leaders should clear it in time, but the rest of the pack will need to avoid it.

Of course all of this forecasting, and organisation is taking place back at a base in the UK with a team of people dealing with ATC clearances and the like.  A colleague joked “what will they do, shoot them down?”   It turns out that is exactly what the Belarussians did in 1995 resulting in the death of 2 American competitors.  Hardly a proportionate response.  I doubt Italy would do that, but I can’t see them being happy either!

I’ve tried to find out some more about what equipment the ballons carry in terms of radio’s, transponders and other flight equipment; it must be interesting to be an Air Traffic Controller and try and accommodate these guys!

Either way, I am now hooked… this is a proper “spirit of adventure” type race, a real imagination catcher.  You can track the live progress of the ballons online, and there is a video of the launch / prep:

Two Days In Madrid

It’s been quiet around here for the past couple of weeks as I have been on holiday and I purposefully didn’t go on the computer very much at all while away…  and some kind soul in Portugal even helped me with my “de-tech” by relieving me of my iPhone by way of theft on the first day!

Setting aside the iTheft, I spent a few days in Portugal and some time in Madrid & Ibiza.  I had a great time; Ibiza & Albufeira were exactly as I expected – typical holiday resorts.  Madrid however was amazing.

The City That Never Sleeps

Except on a Monday. Madrid has a reputation as Europe’s New York, it never sleeps – it’s famed for Spaniards rolling out of night clubs and into work; sleeping at lunch time and starting all over again.  So, I arrived late on a Monday evening and was surprised to be told by the taxi driver that at 1AM nearly everywhere was closed; Monday is apparently a day of recovery from the weekend.  I contented myself with a beer from the hotel bar and hit the sack.

The following day I was sat in Plaza Mayor (the old main square), having a well earned drink after some exploring when a group of Segway’s rolled past.  You don’t see Segways very often in the UK because they are illegal to use on public roads (because our arcane traffic law has no way of classifying them), so they caught my eye.  The lead rider had a high visibility vest on, advertising City Tours on Segways….  what an absolutely genius idea.

Seg City Tours.

After a bit of research on line, the tours are organised by a firm called Seg City, so I thought I would take a walk down there and find out a bit more.  Jan, the owner, was super friendly and explained that they don’t normally do single person tours (I was travelling alone) but would try and fit me on another tour the next day.   He took my number, and text me later in the day to confirm a 10AM start the next day.

The Segway i2
The Segway i2

I was leaving at 5PM the next day, so figured it’d be a brilliant way to spend the bulk of the next day.  I wasn’t wrong.  The tour was nothing short of amazing.  I was paired with a Spanish family of 4, and we did the 3 hour full tour, on a fleet of new Segway i2’s, led by Jan.  Jan is incredibly knowledgeable about Madrid, and really keen to share the city with us.

I’d never ridden a Segway before (in fact I am not even sure I had seen one in the flesh), so the tour started with 10 or 15 minutes of getting accustomed to them outside the SegCity office, which is thankfully on a really quiet street only minutes from the Anton Martin Metro station.  They are so easy to ride, you just lean in the direction you want to go – the only “odd” bit is when the in built safety system kicks in and pulls back, this happens if you’re going too fast on rocky ground or up hill, but is fine when you get used to it.

After that we were off.  The tour is so much better than similar open top bus tours because you are taken through all of the back streets and get to see and find out about loads of the local background knowledge too!  I would say that a good 50% of the places we stopped at were not accessible by road and certainly weren’t in any of the guide books I had read.  As a side product, you also become a bit of an attraction as not many people have seen Segway’s before – loads of people say hello and ask the tour leader about it.

Seriously – if you’re going to Madrid; do this tour.   You won’t find a better way to see the city!  My only regret was that because my phone had been pinched I didn’t have a camera to take any photographs with.

Reality Check

Stephen Fry seems to have become something of an über celebrity of late, and I think this is driven largely by the fact that on the face of it he seems to be a jolly nice chap who is super bright and people can relate to.  I follow him on Twitter, he’s @StephenFry, but will confess I don’t always read every tweet or follow every link  he posts (especially as he has a habit of crashing servers he links to with volume of traffic).  However, yesterday a friend pointed me to a video interview he had tweeted about…

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 18.

The video is an interview of Stephen by Peter Samuelson, which nominally discusses what Stephen wishes he knew when he was 18.  Its actually a bit of a commentary on modern life, and serves as a bit of a reality check.  He discusses subjects such as technology, interacting with other people, work, egotism, seeing the world, internet trolls and much much more.

It serves as a massive reality check, and I largely agree with Stephen.  As usual its expressed very eloquently and I think its something we should all take the time to read and think about!

STEPHEN FRY: WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN WHEN I WAS 18 from Peter Samuelson on Vimeo.

Interesting Links for May 20th.

These are my interesting links for May 20th:

Interesting Links for May 5th.

These are my interesting links for May 5th:

Interesting Links for April 1st.

These are my interesting links for April 1st: