November 29, 2015

A weekend with the Toyota GT86

Not long after my VIP experience with Mazda and their new MX-5 and lots of tweeting about it, Toyota starting flirting with me on Twitter trying to tempt me to look at their sports car, the GT86.  After many years of driving MX-5s I couldn't see me switching my allegiance from Mazda, but I'm always open to trying new things.  So last weekend the Toyota press team delivered me a GT86 to try out and photograph.

The first thing that struck me about the GT86 were the looks. There's no doubting it's a very good looking and photogenic car.  It clearly takes some design concepts from its ancestors like the Celica and looks classic Toyota both outside and in.  When driving around I got lots of admiring looks.

Upon starting the car I found another great thing, the boxer engine.  Having previously owned a Subaru Impreza, which also has a boxer engine with its distinctive sound, the engine sounded immediately similar albeit without the swoosh of a turbo.  The bucket seats also made me reminisce of my Subaru days.

All of this makes the GT86 a drivers car - it's a nice place to be, a great car to drive, and perfect for anyone wanting to stand out from the crowd.

What disappointed me about the car were the rear seats and the lack of gadgets.  The car is a 2+2, two seats in the front, two in the back.  But there's so little space between the front and back seats that they're unusable.  The lack of gadgets on the GT86 was surprising, especially for a Japanese manufacturer.  The dual zone climate control, touch-screen bluetooth stereo with satellite navigation, and gear change indicator were all welcome.  But things I'd expect as standard were missing.  No parking camera or sensors, no puddle lights, and a clock which has been lifted straight from the '80s. The only 'old' technology I was thankful for was the handbrake, the modern push button ones just aren't my thing.

Photography-wise I really wish I'd had the car in summer rather than autumn when the daylight hours are limited.  I didn't have time to experiment with lighting, but maybe next time I do a car shoot I will.  I tried to get photographs which are a bit different to the ones you'll see on any car review website, ones which highlight the features which make it a GT86, which make it unique.

Colourful beach huts make for a good contrast against the dark night and red car.
The dials are quite colourful, but oddly the speed dial isn't the main focus.
The modern GT85 contrasts nicely against an old Oxfordshire pub.
I do love a start-stop button.
The GT86 with Weston-super-Mare's Grand Pier beyond.
The 86 branding on the steering wheel.
Looking good in the evening light.
The carbon fibre effect dash was a nice addition.
Lots of sleek lines.
A nice rear three quarters.

November 14, 2015

Piloting a Boeing 737

As well as photography, aviation is a major passion of mine... In fact, if I had my time again I'd probably have a career as a pilot or air crash investigator.  It probably stems from growing up around aviation, my father worked on various aircraft (Concorde, Hercules, Tornado, Nimrod) and we both spent many hours on Microsoft Flight Simulator on the home computer.

The 'real' flight simulators were always out of reach, used only by airlines to train their pilots, but over recent years have become accessible to the public.  Before today I'd done two flight simulator sessions - a static Boeing 737 simulator (April 2012) and a full motion 737 simulator (August 2015) - as well as having a real flying lesson in a Cessna.

Today I had a two hour experience with Fly a Flight.  Fly a Flight run a 737 simulator built into a residential garage (will add that to my list of lottery win buys!).  Although that might sound a bit odd, it's actually been done really well and it's the same simulator that Ryanair use.  The simulator is based on a real 737, with seats from a 737, video screens and surround sound.  All in all it's the best simulator I've piloted, even better than the full motion one.

To get to grips with this simulator I took off from an airport I know well, Bristol Airport, and had a short hop over to Cardiff Airport.  Next, I relived my recent Canadian holiday and took off from Toronto Pearson Airport, did a lap of the city, and landed there again.  The instructor said I was doing well, and with lots of time we decided to make it a bit more interesting...

So I headed to St John's Airport, also in Canada, to try flying in the fog with a cross-wind.  When I was in St John's on holiday earlier this year I got chatting to Air Canada pilot Tracy Barrett who said "taking off is easy, it's the landing that's hard", and that's certainly the case in fog.  With fog the runway can be seen from a distance, then suddenly disappears from view, before reappearing again at the last minute.  Once I'd mastered that, it was time for a final challenge.

Any aviation fan knows of Kai Tak airport - the airport in Hong Kong (now closed) where pilots had to dodge skyscrapers and do a sharp final turn to reach the runway.  I had three landings here, in the dark, with fog, and a cross-wind.  Luckily I avoided the skyscrapers, landed on the runway, and apart from my pounding heart and sweaty palms there were no dramas.

The Boeing 737 cockpit - a lot smaller than you'd think and the seats are always a squeeze to get into.
My first challenge, taking off from Bristol Airport.
St John's Airport on a foggy and windy day, landing here was fun!
Hong Kong's Kai Tak Airport makes for an 'interesting' landing... lots of concentration required.
The flight computer.
The throttles, one for each engine.  In this simulator they can move, controlled by the autopilot.
The red light means the brake is on.
Check lists are crucial to piloting.
The flight director / auto pilot allows for hands off flying by setting heading, speed, altitude.
Yes, it really is built into a garage... amazing.

November 09, 2015

A Wet and Windy Weekend in Wales

Just back from a wet and windy weekend in Wales, I thought I'd quickly share just ten photos from the trip (yes I know I've a huge backlog of Canada photos to share... all in good time!).  

I've been to south Wales a few times in autumn and winter but it's the first time the weather has been quite so bad.  Rainstorms and gusty winds overnight meant some missed sleep, but luckily the worst of the daytime weather came when I was under cover.  

Saturday morning was rained out, and Plantasia in Swansea offered a watertight glass dome filled with plants and animals.  As the weather brightened up a lunchtime trip to Verdi's Cafe in Mumbles gave the opportunity for views across Swansea Bay.  Being close to 5th November there were lots of fireworks to choose from in the area, and seeing a bonfire and fireworks in the shadow of Coity Castle was a treat.  

On Sunday a trip to the Cats Protection Bridgend Adoption Centre left me feeling a little sad that there were so many cats waiting to be adopted.  But I was perked up by a visit to St Fagans, and all the dark clouds didn't lead to a drenching.  This was my second visit to the museum, which is a huge site with various buildings from all over Wales.  The buildings are dismantled brick-by-brick and rebuilt at St Fagans.  The Pen-rhiw Chapel, for example, took twenty years to dismantle and move.  Autumn is a great time to visit and see all the buildings set amongst the colourful trees.

A very slinky lizard at Plantasia.
The clouds did break for a while in Mumbles.
Quite a grainy photo, but it shows how good modern cameras are with a hand-held
shot in the dark - Coity Castle was barely visible to the naked eye. 
The bonfire quickly burned and the fireworks began.
Some of the fireworks were very colourful against the night sky.
The Melin Bompren Corn Mill, originally built in 1853 and moved to St Fagans in 1970.
From the Pen-rhiw Chapel.
Appropriate for a Remembrance Sunday visit, The Newbridge War Memorial
The chimney at the Abernodwydd Farmhouse, which was much bigger than modern chimneys.
A small waterfall by the Dovecote.