karachi kala chapra

Kala Chapra & the airship era

At 260 metres long, 50 metres wide and tall, Kala Chapra (the Black Hangar) was the largest structure in the British Empire. Designed and built in 1927 as part of the British Government’s Imperial Airship Scheme, it was one of a number of airship stations that would connect the empire from Montreal in the west, to Karachi and eventually Australia in the east.

Airship Routes

Airship Routes discussed at the Imperial conference on the Future of Aerial Communications, 1926.


The British Government commissioned six R-100 airships to be built by the Air-Ministry and Vickers subsidiary the Airship Guarantee Company to operate the services, providing an alternative to the noisy, cramped aircraft of the time. The airships remain the largest man-made flying machines in history second only to Germany’s LZ129 Hindenburg.

Airship services never made it to Karachi. On its maiden voyage to India R-102 struck ground in France at 02:09 am on October 5, 1930, only hours after departing the UK. The crash killed 48 of the 54 people onboard, and brought British airship services to a premature end.


The man who put Helvetica on American Airlines, and your subway map

Every so often I like to explore outside the world of aviation. Flying and good design share many attributes: they’re visually powerful, require precision and need to be pragmatically understandable.

I came across news that the incredible Italian graphic designer Massimo Vignelli is ill and spending his last days at home. In his long career, Vignelli’s design influenced and touched millions, even billions, of people around the world across multiple industries, and probably added a touch of elegance to your own life.

In the aviation world, Vignelli’s presence was in the form of American Airlines’ former logo which adorned the tails of its aircraft for 45 years. AA’s decision to move from its timeless logo to a new motif in 2013 caused significant consternation. He is also well known for his fondness of the simple Helvetica type face, forming the basis of the brand designs he created for American, as well as the NYC and Washington subways, and other public transport systems around the world.

Vignelli’s biggest fantasy is to able to attend his own funeral. The family has requested anyone whom Vignelli influenced or touched to write a card, so he may be surrounded by huge mail bags full of letters – the next best thing.

Before writing, watch this interview with Vignelli filmed a couple of years ago. His loquacity and vision are clear as he discusses his life work, and the importance of semantically accurate design in developing countries.

You may send a card or note to Vignelli here:
Massimo Vignelli
130 East 67 Street
New York, New York 10021


Victoria’s Victorian era of aviation innovation

The once poster child of Australian aerospace, Victoria, is dying an uninspired death. The aerospace mantle passed to Queensland.

In 2010 Victoria’s aerospace industry including aircraft, systems and components had an annual export value of $300 million. The sector employed 20,000 people generating nearly $600 million in economic activity. Today it’s influence has waned as sector employment has dropped to circa 18,000 with export values dropping.

Continue reading “Victoria’s Victorian era of aviation innovation” »


ANA retires the B747

Yesterday ANA ended 35 years of continuous B747 operations, Boeing 747-400D JA8961 operating the final service from Okinawa’s Naha Airport to Tokyo-Haneda where it greased the tarmac for the last time at 15:13 local time.

It also marks the end of passenger 747 operations in Japan, during which ANA and JAL operated every variant of the B747 produced including the -SR and -400D produced specifically to service the high density Japanese market. The 747′s capacity and reliability created a unique niche facilitated by the growing Japanese economy and tourism during the 80s and 90s.

I thought it was a wonderful aircraft. There is no comparison” – ANA’s CEO, Osamu Shinobe.

Squadron 216's last two Tristars taxi out on their final sortie. Image: Alan Huse.

Farewell to the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar

As aviation continues its twin engine march, yesterday marked the end of an era for another Trijet with the RAF formally retiring its final two L-1011-500 series TriStars after 30 years of service.

Departing RAF Brize Norton  for a refuelling sortie over the North Sea before one aircraft conducted ceremonial fly pasts to mark the disbandment of the RAF’s 216 Squadron, formed in 1917 and in operation continuously for 97 years. Only 250 TriStars were manufactured by Lockheed, with the nine L1011s that saw service with 216 Squadron previously operated by British Airways and Pan Am joining the RAF in 1984.

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar prototype during its first flight on November 16, 1970. Image: Air Pictorial magazine, January 1971.

The TriStar began as a request from American Airlines for a widebody aircraft that was smaller than the 747, but offered equivalent range and capacity to the recently retired DC-10. The TriStar was a technical marvel in many areas incorporating aerodynamic, avionics, engine technology and a cabin design that surpassed the market offerings of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas. Continue reading “Farewell to the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar” »


Aviation’s next generation

For years Australia’s aviation industry, indeed the industry worldwide, has tepidly danced around the issue of what to do about the falling number of young people attracted to aviation. It’s not a new issue. But it’s an issue following a repetitive script, with an incomprehensible lack of engagement of the young people walking away to more lucrative careers in other industries.

For an industry that prides itself on innovation and renewal, why are the hangar doors so firmly closed to young people?

My new #AvGenY series launched in March Australian Aviation is about bringing recognition to this incredibly important issue – written from a young perspective. It’s an issue that has been revisited again and again, but never by anyone young – at least that I’ve come across. Every time it’s by a generation seemingly disconnected from the next, believing they know better, but delivering the same conclusions.

I’m part of a generation that is full of ideas, and I believe there’s an amazing opportunity to develop a conversation incorporating as many of these as I can.

The industry is flying through promising times. If it is to grow at the levels IATA and ICAO predict there needs to be serious debate and recognition of the people who will carry it forward.

As the series progresses we want to hear from you by commenting here, on Facebook or Twitter using #AvGenY.

  • What makes it hard to enter the industry?
  • Can we encourage a change in thinking?
  • Do you think young talent is recognised?
  • Is help readily available?
  • Would age quotas help?
  • What role can social media play to attract you?



9M-MRO captured at Singapore. Photo: wikicommons.

*this post will continue to be updated as official information is released.

Latest update Sunday, March 9 AEST18:00.

SAR operation continues across the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea in an unprecedented operation involving the deployment of 22 aircraft and 40 ships from six countries. Today, Malaysia’s DCA also confirmed there is no reason to ground the country’s Boeing 777-200 fleet following the disappearance of the aircraft yesterday.

Latest update at AEST18:25.

Malaysia’s Defence Minister and deputy Transport Minister have confirmed that multiple SAR assets have been deployed in search of missing aircraft 9M-MRO. The assets include Malaysian Navy ships, ships from other Vietnam and China, as well as a Malaysian Air Force Lockheed Martin C-130 and Airbus EC725 helicopters - equipped for combat SAR with electro optical/infrared sensors.

Continue reading “MH370” »

RAAF Centenary Airshow

Got my #avgeek on last weekend at the RAAF’s Centenary Airshow, and thought I’d share some photos of the incredible flying programme and static display that celebrated a centenary of military aviation in Australia. The airshow was held to mark the anniversary of the first Australian military aviation flight undertaken by Lt Eric Hudson of the Central Flying School who took off in a Bristol Boxkite on March 1, 1914.

Newer Posts
Older Posts