Flying a Helicopter

I was pleasantly surprised to find the websites Adrenaline and RedBalloon, which showcase many activities such as driving a supercar, horse riding, flyboarding, flying a plane, and many more. I didn't realize that so many activities can be done around Sydney!

I went through the activities listed on the websites and noted down ones that I'd want to try. I saw there's scenic helicopter flights over the Sydney Harbour (picture from RedBalloon), which looked very cool. Then I noted that I can even fly a helicopter myself, which is even more awesome! However, both websites only had 30-min long trial flights, which seem quite short. So I searched on Google and found Bankstown Helicopters offering a 2-hour long flight discovery experience.

I booked one for Saturday morning, and started doing research online on how to fly a helicopter. This is after the lesson I had flying a plane, where I knew very little and the instructor had to explain many things to me. I read through several Wikipedia articles and webpages that explain helicopter aerodynamics, which turned out to have prepared me well for the actual flying.

Flights are usually better in the morning where winds are calmer, and the flight discovery experience ended up taking the full morning (8~12). It started off with watching a short video on introducing the three controls of a helicopter (cyclic stick, collective lever, and anti-torque pedals), which I mostly knew already from the self-study. The instructor then explained things in more detail and make sure I understand the basics of flying a helicopter, before introducing me to the real helicopter.

The helicopter is an R22 two-seater and has dual controls so that it can be controlled by either sides. The instructor did everything -- start up the helicopter, take-off, radio calls, and initial climb -- until the helicopter is flying 500ft in the air, and I just observed next to him seeing how the controls are moved. The instructor then handed over control of the three controls one-by-one so I can learn the effect of each of them and be able to fly the helicopter over where I wanted.

I saw Wet'n'Wild was close by, so of course took the opportunity to fly over it (picture from Internet). We flew for about one hour before the instructor takes the helicopter back and then did a post-briefing on the flying lesson. He then explained what we would do for the next one-hour lesson and we took off again. Overall, I enjoyed the experience very much, and look forward to fly more in the future!



Just got my first traffic fine in Australia for going 10km/h over the speed limit on a highway in ACT. Learned a few things.

First is that there is indeed automatic speeding cameras (with adequate warning signs in my case) here in Australia. In contrast, a friend in California said that they don't have speed cameras and only police vehicles would catch offenders. I found that people there would drive a lot faster than the indicated speed limit on highways.

Second is that the traffic fine is quite expensive. My penalty of $167 would already be considered a lot in countries like Taiwan or India, even though it's actually on the low end of the spectrum here. Looking at the RTA website, an unrestrained passenger or driver can get a penalty of at least $298, speeding 45km/h over the limit (e.g., 135km/h on a 90km/h highway) would cost over two thousand dollars, and drinking and driving can cost more than $3000 of penalty.

Third is that there's a points demerit system. Smaller offences cost 1 to 3 points, and more serious offences 6 or more. When a driver accumulates a certain amount of points in a period (usually 3 years), his/her license would be suspended for a certain period (such as 3 months). A driver may be disqualified for life for serious offences.

In comparison to Australia's relative "safe" and strict traffic regulations, it's interesting to note countries such as Germany that have expressways without speed limits (German autobahns). Here's an YouTube video showing a bike going at 299km/h (probably electronically speed-limited), and yet there's still a car going faster than it.


Mercedes Benz B200 CDI

I have driven cars by more than a dozen different car makers, and had very good impressions for Mercedes Benz cars. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality and cost of the new B-class (cheaper than Lexus), so it was a no-brainer for me to get one.

I love the overall interior and exterior of the car. I like that there's nothing in the centre aisle, with the hand-brake shrunk to a button on the right-hand side panel, and the gear selector moved to the steering wheel -- though some car reviews pointed out that this may be hazardous if the driver mistakes it as the indicator. For me, the single control that combines indicator and front&back wiper is actually quite easy and simple after using it for a few days.

There are numerous features that I liked about the car.

  1. There's convenient built-in GPS with large LCD and easy-to-use turn dial + numeric keypad controls. Concise navigation information is also available in the dashboard so the driver doesn't need to move his/her head. Personal POI can be saved to memory card, which can also be used to play back my favorite MP3s on the nice 7.1 sound system.
  2. Mercedes Benz has very nice parking sensors with visual and audio indicators (I have yet to rent a compact car in the US that has even basic parking sensors). There's also a rear camera that dynamically indicates the trajectory as you turn the steering while reversing.
  3. Large and accessible trunk. Rear seats can fold down to carry large items.
  4. Numerous safety features (several "assistants" and the usual ABS/ESP/9-airbags/etc).

As I am a relatively lazy person (perhaps due to being a Software Engineer), I appreciate the many small convenience features such as:

  1. Parking hold (depress brake a second time after stopping to auto-hold the brake).
  2. Automatic opening/closing of all windows and sunroof+blind on deep depress (and there's obstacle detection too).
  3. Momentary turn indicator (indicates for just 3 times).
  4. Wiper with rain detection.
  5. Automatic headlight.
  6. Cruise and speed-limit controls.
  7. Easy to use star-like air vents.
  8. Auto-fold side mirrors on door lock.
  9. Many controls available on the steering wheel.

There's even a wow feature where the car would automatically detect parallel parking spots and turn the steering wheel fully automatically for you!

One thing to complain is that I am not able to achieve an average fuel consumption of less than 5.5l/100km. The "ECO" automatic-off is also sometimes annoying, when the engine would shut down even though you know you would start to drive in seconds. In addition, the AC would effectively be off when the engine is off.

Some drivers might also be a bit overwhelmed by all the features provided by the car. I have no such issues though, and enjoyed reading over the some 800 pages of manuals. I also got to realize that my model is still missing many advanced features such as the numerous safe-driving assistants and conveniences like "PARKTRONIC" that can follow the car in front and automatically accelerate/de-accelerate.

Anyhow, I am very pleased with the car. Look forward to even better cars in the future, such as Google's self-driving cars. (Yes, yes, I am lazy;)