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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Hi-tech vs no-tech

15 January 2018

I had an interesting weekend.

The weather was better than it's been for a while, warm temperatures (so the rain wasn't quite as uncomfortable) and light winds. This meant I was at the airfield enjoying a little flying.

It was interesting to watch the stark contrast between hi-tech and no-tech.

Whilst we were flying our "state of the art" camera-equipped radio controlled models with all manner of super miniaturised electronics which, through the use of video glasses and micro transmitting equipment, provide a fantastic ability to take to the skies whilst staying firmly rooted on the ground -- others were going old-school.

Yes, whilst the model-fliers were leveraging new technology to its maximum, the manned aviation community were firmly rooted in the middle of last century and it was interesting to see just how much that affected the safety of events.

While we were whizzing about the skies with our models using spread spectrum telecontrol and telemetry systems, the full-sized aircraft were putting on a good show of how not to do things.

We had one (soon to be) pilot who was under instruction and doing "circuits" in a Jodel D11. To be fair, he's doing very well in respect to his flying and right now he's probably just racking up hours so that he can start going solo.

He started flying counter-clockwise circuits because the wind was blowing from the East when he first taxied out onto the runway -- however, neither he nor his instructor were paying close attention to the windsock as the day progressed. This meant that within 45 minutes he was doing downwind takeoffs and landings.

Okay, the wind was light -- no more than 5 knots, but the result seemed to be a lot of tail-wheel-first landings.

Then another aircraft, a microlite came on the scene.

The microlite, having less power, took the prudent step of performing its take-offs and landings into the new wind direction.

Unfortunately, this meant we now had two manned aircraft using the same strip of tarmac but approaching from different directions. Yes, one was flying left-hand circuits, the other was flying right-hand ones.

While the pilot in the Jodel had a radio, the pilot in the microlite did not. Strangely enough, it's not a legal requirement to have a radio in an aircraft unless you're operating in controlled airspace and Tokoroa's airfield uncontrolled.

Eventually the inevitable happened and both aircraft tried to use the runway at the same time -- from opposite directions.

Sigh!

This is just the latest in a increasingly frequent series of incidents involving manned aviation at the local airfield and it was only due to some quick stick banging and luck that things didn't go badly wrong on this occasion.

All this for the lack of a simple VHF AM transceiver that represents decades-old technology.

Eventually, the bucket of luck that has kept someone from being badly hurt (or worse) will run out -- but nobody within the ranks of the local council (the airfield owner and operator) is listening to my warnings.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen of us were flying ultra-high-tech models made of space-age materials and filled with state-of-the-art electronics -- in total safety.

As someone who's been involved in aviation for many decades, I still scratch my head when I see just how old much of the industry's designs, materials and technologies are. Now, when you compare them to the hobby of flying models, the technology-gap seems even more outrageously large.

What a shame that manned aviation isn't really keeping up, especially when there's clearly a much greater risk associated with full-sized aircraft than with models.

Is the onerous process of certification and the huge bureaucratic overhead associated with manned aviation actually making flying more dangerous rather than safer these days?

If the authorities lightened up a bit on such things, might not the aviation community be better able to take advantage of advances in materials and technologies so as to improve performance and safety?

Join Mr Latewings (who I'm sure will have something to say) and voice your opinion in the forums :-)

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