Day 18: Lesson 24 – Training Area Familiarisation/Intro to Navigation

Date: 28/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.50 0.00 0.00
Total to date 22.64 1.40 0.70

Having done the Training Area Familiarisation briefing on Saturday, John decided to link today’s 2 scheduled lessons together to allow a good 1.5 hour Training Area “familiarisation” flight. As it sounds, this flight involved some elements of familiarisation with our local training area (adjoining the Bankstown control zone), but equally it introduced some basic concepts of navigation via map reading and “dead reckoning”.

I’ve been looking forward to this lesson for some time. After 13 or 14 consecutive hours on the circuits I’m ready to get away from the airport again, and this was an ideal lesson with which to do this.

I got to the clubhouse about 0900 and pre-flighted NFR, my ride for today. She was all good, with a full tank of AVGAS on the right wing and about 70 litres in the left – no fuelling needed. Oil about 1cm above 6 litres, brake fluid about half full in the brake fluid cylinder. Fuel quality was good, no water in the fuel despite rain and heavy condensation overnight. The aircraft checked out fine, perhaps a little stiffness in vertical movement of the stabilator, but this was due to the slightly restricted movement of the control yoke in NFR – it didn’t interfere with safe flight.

Apart from the usual kit (headset, flight procedures, airport map), my extra equipment today was my VTC (Visual Terminal Chart) for Bankstown, and a couple of 6B pencils carefully notched at intervals to match the scale of the 5 nm (nautical mile) intervals on the VTC. This is a cool little technique John taught me in Saturday’s briefing which allows you to use your navigation pencil as a quick means of measuring distances and – more importantly – time intervals while in-flight with your map on your knee.

After starting up and taxiing out to the runway, I found to my surprise that I’d somehow managed to mix up this morning’s runway direction in my head. I’d been visualising a departure on 11 left, hence I headed out expecting to take off from that direction. However a cue from John and a quick check of the ATIS revealed that takeoffs were from the opposite direction – that is, on 29 right – so I found myself taking a slightly longer taxi than necessary.

Insight #21

Always take a moment before start-up to mentally orient yourself on the airport and with reference to the current ATIS and current operating runways. Be sure you have a clear idea of the runway and direction from and in which you intend to depart!

After the usual run-up and pre-takeoff checks in the run-up bay, John also had me set radio frequencies for the nearby Camden aerodrome, as that was part of our intended flight today. In addition to Camden ATIS and tower, we also set the Camden NDB (Non Directional Beacon) frequency on our ADF (Automated Direction Finder), as an additional navigation aid to assist us en route to Camden.

Not expecting today’s lesson to be Training Area familiarisation, I hadn’t written down the Camden radio and NDB frequencies so they were at hand in the cockpit. Not beating myself up about this, but having said that, it did highlight the value and importance of thorough pre-flight planning. I had to rely on John’s knowledge of the Camden frequencies, but as a local alternative to Bankstown if ever I can’t get down at Bankstown, these are frequencies I should have with me at all times. I will add them to my laminated “procedures and frequencies” cheat sheet, but also in general:

Insight #22

Always have written down and in immediate reach all relevant radio and navigation aid frequencies that you will (or may) needed along your intended flight route.

Taking off, I found – despite the temperature still being only about 20 degrees C – that NFR didn’t want to climb as readily as in previous flights. (There was little or no headwind, and there were of course 2 of us in the cockpit). So on rotating out of the takeoff roll, I found that I pulled the nose up a little too sharply and just briefly sounded the stall warning horn, a clear signal that I’d not yet built up enough airspeed to climb as sharply as in my recent flights. This also happened on take-off out of Camden. It was a very interesting illustration of how conditions influence aircraft performance!

Insight #23

In addition to the payload you’re carrying in the aircraft, day-to-day atmospheric conditions have a major impact on aircraft performance. Just because it climbed like a bat out of hell yesterday (just you in the aircraft, steady headwind, cool temperature) doesn’t mean it will today (2 in the aircraft, no headwind, warmer temperature). Be aware of the prevailing conditions and the likely impact on your aircraft’s performance.

Tracking on 290 degrees magnetic and having levelled out at 1000 feet, John took over the controls and had me pull out my VTC and pencil. We then engaged in four successive exercises designed to navigate to different parts of the training area and give me experience in quick calculation of intended headings and anticipated/actual times to destination waypoints.

  1. Track direct to Warragamba Dam. More or less due west on the map, allowing for local variation, this was a heading of about 258 degrees magnetic. We successfully reached the Warragamba waypoint just one minute later than anticipated, identifying a couple of notable map features along the way.
  2. Track direct to “Three Lakes”. More or less due south-east from Warragamba, I estimated this as a magnetic heading of 123 degrees. We knew we were half way there when passing over line of power lines as indicated on the VTC. We arrived at Three Lakes after tracking slightly south of their actual location but having sighted them visually off to the left hand side (and noted Camden aerodrome off to our right).
  3. Track direct to Warragamba-Prospect pipeline. John asked me for a heading north to where an “H” is printed over the pipeline on my VTC. Looking due north on the map, I gave John a heading of 12 degrees magnetic but after realising my error “Variation East,  Magnetic Least”, I quickly revised this to a heading of 348 degrees magnetic and we reached our waypoint just over St Mary’s landing strip. (Phew!)
  4. Track direct to Mayfield. John then asked me for a track to Mayfield, an area on the VTC just on the edge of the mountains and in the vicinity of Camden. Again successfully getting their with my estimated track and time, the challenge was to locate the waypoint as there is not much there by way of clear landmarks. Noting on the map that there is an  intersection of power lines and water (a small river), we then located the intersection and confirmed our location over Mayfield.

It was then time for a foray to Camden. Dialling up Camden ATIS and then tower, we established a track to Camden and reported inbound. John then handed the plane over to me and we made a base approach to Camden on runway 06. Finding myself a bit high, I extended full flaps and made a visual approach and a “reasonable” landing despite arriving a bit to the left of the centre line and not holding the nose up long enough. (John later noted that one’s best landings are always when one is alone and never when one is with one’s instructor!)

Turning right, we made a quick taxiing inspection of Camden aerodrome then radioed Camden ground to obtain taxi permission back to the runway. Holding at 06, we ran through run-up and pre-takeoff checks again, then obtained takeoff clearance and took off from 06 towards the east. An interesting feature of Camden is that the hills just to the east of the aerodome come up at you very quickly indeed when taking off to the east!

I made a very rookie error which John took in his stride but which nevertheless was another good learning experience. Local procedures at Camden require you to maintain 1300 feet outbound until 2 nm from the aerodrome. After take-off and at 300 feet above ground, I somehow had it in my head that this was my level-off altitude and queried John about this as the hills looked awfully close! John looked at me like I had 2 heads and informed me that we level off at one thousand three hundred, not three hundred!

Insight #24


Pay attention! Read the altimeter carefully and avoid elementary mistakes like the one I made today.


Tracking nearly due east, John pointed out Sydney CBD off in the distance and nearer features including a built-up industrial area along the M5, and a large white tower and (further south) a large brown area of land that are both useful as visual references when trying to locate the Bankstown inbound reporting point of the 2RN radio tower.

Sighting 2RN just off to our left, we made our inbound call, then John handed the aircraft over to me again and we tracked towards and over Warwick Farm Racecourse as instructed, descending to 1000 feet by the time over Warwick Farm. Reporting at Warwick Farm, we were cleared for a visual approach to 11 left (they switched runway directions since we’d been out). Cautioning me to not “cut the corner” on my approach (to avoid traffic in circuits on 11 right), I turned final on 11L and, finding myself a bit high, applied full flaps and got us down with a “reasonable” landing but still short of the best ones I’ve done. Heigh ho.

Clear of the runway, radio calls done and taxiing back, John’s assessment was that the navigation exercise had gone well. I felt so, too. I realise today was only very basic nav, but you have to start with the basics and I seemed to have my head around them. We were unable to do any practise of correcting track error, but the distances we’d travelled today were very short and it was really quite difficult to have experienced any significant track error anyway. This will have to wait for the nav exercises I suppose.

So, another 1.5 hours dual and a very welcome change to circuits, including my first landing and takeoff away from Bankstown Airport. And a lot of interesting little bits and pieces learned, and a salutary lesson on the challenges of flying into new territory and the paramount importance of pre-flight reading and planning. Good stuff for the future.


2 responses to “Day 18: Lesson 24 – Training Area Familiarisation/Intro to Navigation

  1. Just wondered if your Tower asked you to make your downwind call when inbound for landing? It’s been usual for me to slot into the pattern and wait for my clearance to land once I’m cleared for visual approach. No need for another call on downwind. I’m told this is a new Class D requirement and I had a gentle reminder last weekend when returning to YPJT.

    Have you played with the whizz wheel yet? Great little invention for flight planning as you start on your navs.

  2. Downwind call mandatory at Bankstown, on circuits and when joining circuit for 29R. When landing in other direction – 11L – it’s a mandatory report over Warwick Farm Racecourse (if tracking in from 2RN reporting point) or at 3 miles out (if tracking in from Prospect Reservoir).

    After downwind call we get cleared for visual approach, then cleared for landing usually on late final from what I’ve experienced!

    I’m well versed with whizz wheel from my previous BAK/PPL theory study. Haven’t pulled it out yet though. Lovely bit of technology.

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