|Total to date||44.04||8.30||2.00|
Last Friday I had the pleasure of flying my father and stepmother for the first time, on a short flight in the Bankstown training area. (It was Friday 13 May, which if you believe that sort of thing is not an ideal day for flying, but I find superstition to be total bollocks, so it didn’t bother me!)
There’s not an awful lot to recall or relate about the details of this flight – it was a relatively quick hop out of Bankstown out to Warragamba Dam and back. But, as ever, I learned a few things. As I’ve blogged before (I think) – there’s never a flight I take, however brief, on which I don’t learn something. Which is one of the eternal beauties of flying for fun, I guess.
I’d watched the weather anxiously for a few days, quite prepared to cancel the flight if conditions were beyond what I currently consider to be my “personal minima”. A late-autumn cold snap had reached Sydney by mid-week, bringing lovely cool air, but also some wind that could have presented problems if it had been too strong in general, or (in particular) if it had presented too strong a crosswind for the aircraft or for me. In fact right up until an hour or so before the planned flight I fully expected to cancel it as I was aware that some other pilots had experienced some significant turbulence that morning, one instructor in fact hitting his head twice on the roof of the plane! However I saw no evidence of that being a risk in the immediate local training area, and the conditions in general were quite benign. I therefore decided to proceed with the flight. We could always return quickly and land if turbulence turned out to be an issue.
Getting my passengers sorted out
My dad and stepmother are pretty limber, fit types in their late 60’s, so it was no problem at all getting them into the aircraft. (I’d snagged my trusty little chariot-of-choice, NFR, for this flight – I must have at least 15 hours flying time in that particular plane.) However I paid particular attention to making sure that I’d briefed my parents appropriately as per standard passenger briefing requirements, and also that they were comfortably seated, seat belts safely fastened and headsets plugged in, adjusted and working. This did take extra time – not an issue if you’re not trying to work to a schedule, but worth noting for the future.
Whenever you take passengers with you – especially if they’ve not flown before, either at all or with you – expect to spend additional pre-flight preparation time briefing them and attending to their needs. Factor in another 10 minutes or so if you’re trying to take off to a schedule. And don’t underestimate the amount of your attention that passengers need both on the ground and in the air – this adds to your work load as a pilot.
In-flight sound issues
After engine start, I was running through the rest of my checklist before taxying when we heard an intense, high-pitched humming sound coming from the in-cabin speaker. It lasted for about 60 seconds and was nearly ready to shut down and abandon the flight, having checked everything I could think of in my radio and comms stack. But then the sound disappeared abruptly and did not reoccur, so I decided to continue with the flight.
We taxyed out and took off, all good and normal, but during climb-out we all started to experience an extremely intense and annoying hissing sound through each of our head sets. It was intermittent, but recurring frequently. Again, I checked headset plug connections, volume levels and everything else I could think of but could not lick the problem. It quickly became so annoying that I became mildly concerned and decided to cut short the flight.
By this time we were approaching Warragamba Dam at 3,000 feet, so after a gentle left hand turn to allow my parents a view of the dam, I turned around and headed back to Prospect, descending to 1,500 feet to come in under the 2,500 feet control step and arrive at Prospect at 1,500. The sound problems persisted and while I doubted that they related to an imminent radio failure, I nonetheless mentally rehearsed my radio failure procedures should they be required.
But as events would have it, I remained in acceptable radio communication with the tower – evidently they could hear me just fine. Landing for runway 29R I was fairly close behind another Warrior just ahead of me. Just as I was preparing for a go-around on late final, tower kindly informed me that runway 29C was available if I wanted to use that. I gladly jumped at the opportunity. (The go-around would not have been a problem, but by this time we all wanted out of the aircraft to ease our suffering ears).
So I made a pretty nice landing, was cleared to cross runway 29R, and had us back at parking pretty quickly. The sense of relief when I shut down the engine was palpable.
Bumping into a fellow student, I described my predicament and he related a similar recent experience, oddly enough in that same aircraft. Perhaps a maintenance issue for attention? (NFR is nearly due for a 100-hour service and in fact as I write is probably already in the maintenance hangar). However he also asked me if I’d checked the squelch on the radio?
As a matter of fact I’d been unable to even locate the squelch knob on my COM1 radio. Couldn’t find it in-flight – it just didn’t seem to be there.
From a quick glance before I closed the aircraft out, I located a small panel on the bottom left hand side of the dashboard with – you guessed it – a Squelch knob. NFR is in fact fitted with an avionics master switch, which provides power to all of the aircraft’s radio/navigation equipment, so I’m wondering if that squelch knob is also a kind of “master” squelch control? At any rate, I wasn’t even aware it was there, so it wasn’t much use to me in-flight.
I’m still not at all convinced that the problem was related to squelch. But I was a bit mortified that I hadn’t even been able to find the squelch knob. It’s something every pilot should know – it’s a very important part of the controls for the radio. In every flight up until that one, I’d never had to adjust squelch levels. I knew about squelch, and I knew where the squelch knob should be. Usually on the radio stack. But in NFR, it was just in a different place, a place in which I didn’t think to look when I actually had need of it.
Part of knowing your aircraft is knowing your radio stack. If you fly different aircraft every time – as I and my flying club colleagues tend to do – you are usually dealing with subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences in each aircraft’s radio-communication setups and controls. Familiarise yourself with the specifics of each and every aircraft you fly – you owe it to yourself and your passengers.
Notwithstanding the sound problems, my parents enjoyed the flight immensely and I think gained confidence through the quality of my landing. I think they were able, for the first time, to truly appreciate the discipline and effort that goes in to making a flight pleasurable, smooth and uneventful.