January 2021 News

Home News January 2021 News

Happy new year folks! On the back of a truly exigent 2020, we’re especially thrilled to kick-off 2021 with some exciting announcements, followed by very fun and informative articles on ‘Transponders’ and the ‘I’m Safe’ mnemonic courtesy of Gray and Alex T.

Student Congratulations!

We are stoked to welcome on board three of Australia’s newest pilots. Massive congratulations to Chris, Mike and Stuey for ending 2020 on such a high (quite literally) despite all odds. Well done lads, what a proud achievement!

Chris Oates – PPL
Mike Smith – PPL
Stuart Beard – PPL
(pictured from L to R)

Back in action - R44 Cadet

R44 We are delighted to announce the much awaited return of the R44 Cadet. A brand new VH-RJB joins the Melbourne Heli fleet as of today, 9 January. The lightweight, high powered two seater boasts of an increased endurance and power to weight ratio and provides for increased safety by allowing for carriage of more fuel on training flights.

The Cadet will allow students to obtain an R44 endorsement at a reduced cost.

What better time to brush up on those rusty flying skills? Come on in for a refresher on those emergencies, get back to old school navigation or simply take it for a spin!


Masks have found their way back into our lives. Wearing masks on site is mandatory when indoors and whilst flying!

New Contact Number: (03) 9118 8841. Our new number has gone live and as such reflected on our website and communication channels. The old number will be gradually phased out. Please make sure to save the new number.


Transponders. No, not alien robots that turn into vehicles. These are the reassuringly expensive but otherwise nondescript black boxes, usually fitted near your radio/s that do more than you might think.


The word transponder comes from a portmanteau of the words ‘transmitter’ and ‘responder’. Transponders were first used in aviation by the British who fitted them to allied military aircraft during the second world war, to assist in clarifying friend from foe when operating the first radar sets. These Primary Surveillance Radars (PSR) blast out huge amounts of radio energy, which was necessary to detect enemy aircraft that don’t want to be found. However, they were not especially efficient since the amount of energy reflected by the target is quite small and they were also unable to provide elevation information. A complimentary system was soon implemented. This new method, called Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) would broadcast requests that, if detected by a transponder, would trigger each aircraft to actively transmit a far more powerful reply back to the ground receiving station.

The transponders fitted to the aircraft were referred to, at the time, by the top-secret codename “Parrot”. In fact, the word “squawk”, that we still use to this day, came from the phrase that air traffic control used when commanding the aircrew to activate their transponder; “Squawk your Parrot”.

After the war, radar networks that had been built to detect an airborne enemy and control friendly military aircraft were now available to track civilian aircraft. With increasingly busy skies due to a boom in air travel, transponders were also being fitted to civilian aircraft.

To help the controllers make sense of all the blips being displayed on their screens, early ‘mode A’ transponders allowed a four-digit octal code (eight possible numbers, from zero to seven, allowing up to 4096 possible codes) to be transmitted. Using distinctive transponder codes in different airspaces helped controllers locate aircraft vertically, as well as enabled specific emergency codes to be emitted for scenarios such as hijack, loss of communications, or fire.

The next version to come along; Mode C (yes, we skipped mode B – it was planned for, but never used) added altitude information to the reply transmission. Since we don’t set the QNH (air pressure at sea-level) on our transponders, the international standard organisation (ISO) air pressure of 1013.25 hPa is used instead; the resulting pressure height then rounded to the nearest 100 ft. TCAS (Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System), if fitted to your aircraft, allows you to receive information from transponders giving you warnings about aircraft nearby.

Air traffic controllers now had distance, azimuth, altitude information, and a four-digit code to uniquely identify individual aircraft, if required. This was certainly an improvement, but with more and more aircraft in the air, especially when flying in close proximity to each other, all those replies were beginning to cause their own problems for the controllers trying to make sense of the information on their screens.


In the last few years, there have been significant upgrades to radar networks and transponders. Although trailing behind the US and Europe in implementation and capabilities, all new and newly imported aircraft with a VH registration must be fitted with a transponder capable of the newer Mode S.

Mode S follows on with the same basic capability as Mode C, but with several new features. Firstly, transmitted data is tagged with a 16-character ID tied to your aircraft rego. No longer can you claim “it wasn’t me” if you bust airspace! Extra data such as rate of climb or decsent, GPS location, and airspeed may be transmitted and/or received and relayed to other systems using ACAS data for use in TCAS units. TCAS boxes can even talk to each other, using the data to suggest which course of action you should both take to avoid a collision. Clever stuff indeed!

Finally, ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast) further enhances Mode S capabilities (although not all Mode S transponders support ADS-B). At least once a second, blocks, known as squitters, of Mode S data are broadcast automatically, not just when specifically requested.

So now you know; a Mode-S squitter might sound like the sort of thing you should speak to your doctor about, but is in fact nothing more than a technical phrase that means ‘burst transmission’.

Since ADS-B data is unencrypted and can be received by an inexpensive ($25) USB stick, it can be collected for free with a small desktop antenna and displayed on a very basic spec computer, although you’ll be limited to what your antenna can pick up.

By sharing your data with thousands of other enthusiasts on websites such as flightaware.com, you will be able to view flights in almost real time from all over the world. For obvious reasons, police and military flights are usually excluded, so if you’re trying to figure out who is hovering over your house at 3am, don’t be surprised if you don’t see anything on your screen… and it probably isn’t aliens.

Safety Corner - I'M SAFE


Have you heard the words “I’m Safe” used in aviation before? Well, you know how in aviation we love mnemonics? It’s one of those. It has almost two meanings in a way; the statement itself dictates that you are safe but each letter stands for an important aspect to individual safety that you need to take into consideration.

Illness: What do we need to think about with regard to illness? An obvious one is something long lasting or infection of some kind. It can be as simple and benign as a cold. If you have a cold, will it mess with your ability to sense directional changes? Something to think about.

Medication: As aviators, we have to deal with regulations about whether we can take certain medications. You must talk to your DAME about any medications that you have been prescribed or might take once or regularly. Don’t take meds that can make you drowsy or change your behaviour in anyway and then expect to jump into a cockpit and be as safe as you can be. It’s not just your life you have to consider. Some medications can act as masking agents and may cause you to fail a drug test.

Stress: We all love stress don’t we? It’s almost all we hear about nowadays. Now jokes aside, it’s extremely important that you take stress seriously. A little stress is good for you! Have you heard of the stress curve? If not, look it up. There are also heaps of TedTalks about how stress is good for you. But too much stress, and your performance degrades; now you’re distracted and “did I check the oil? Ah, she’ll be alright mate…” Nah. Don’t risk it for the biscuit.

Alcohol: We’ve all heard the saying “8 hours bottle to throttle” followed by the typical “yeah, but they don’t specify which bottle, eh Steve? hahaha.” We’re technically allowed 0.02% in our systems but we recommend zero as the best option. Just don’t have a big night before you intend to fly. Or if you do, cancel your flight.

Fatigue: Fatigue is a big one in the industry. We all know how some operators can be with regards to flight and duty which is why our governing body has such strict and lengthy rules and regs on them. But at the end of the day, it is individual. If you’ve had a poor night’s sleep, or have been working tirelessly for a few days and it’s catching up with you, or if you just feel fatigued for no apparent reason, then just say so and leave the flight for another day. If you can’t see any obvious reason for your fatigue, take a blood test. I went through a phase where I was tired all the time and it turned out I was low in iron, which is incredibly common in both men and women.

Emotion/Eating: E is a funny one and strikes a bit of debate in the industry. Some people say Emotion, while others say Eating. I reckon we can mention them both because they’re both equally important. In your Human Factors book, you will see The Holmes/Rahe Survey of Recent Experience which relates to emotion somewhat, in that if your spouse just died, you are not fit to fly my friend. Just take personal/work issues into consideration if you’re about to fly. Eating can be an issue if you eat the wrong thing and you get IBS or food poisoning. Those two are debilitating and if you’ve never experienced either, then lucky you!

A lot of people still fly with stressors in their lives and that’s totally cool. But this mnemonic is a good guide to things you should consider before you fly. Be safe everyone!

Adios Sophie!

Last month we bid farewell to the lovely Sophie after having her with us for just over 3 years. As sad as it was to say goodbye, we wish her the very best for an exciting new life on the coast and all her future endeavours!

Thanks a ton for all your great work Soph, you will be sorely missed!!!


Instructor's tip of the month

Advice from the boss to everyone, student or otherwise:-

When moving helicopters in and out of the hangar, ensure that the hangar doors are kept wide open. Attempting to squeeze a helicopter through a narrow gap is an accident waiting to happen!