So, what next with my flying?

So, I’m waiting for CASA (or Air Services Australia, whichever does the paperwork) to send me my shiny new PPL paperwork in the mail, so I can start to exercise PPL privileges. (I’m led to believe this can take several weeks, and believe me, the time is already dragging).

After I passed my PPL exam last week, my blog friend Jeanne (who writes as “Flying Grandma“) commented rather perspicaciously:

Anyone who has accomplished this knows how you feel at this moment. For me it was a little bit of a let down after I finished, like….What now?? I had spent so much money achieving the goal that I didn’t feel like I had a lot of extra money sitting around to actually fly a lot of places.

Truer words could not be spoken or written about my present situation. There are plenty of things I want to do with my PPL, but right now – as I’m sure is the case with most like myself who fly for fun – money is very limited. There’s still heaps of money on our mortgage, #2 stepson has another 2 years of private school to pay for before he’s finished, there are school fees to be saved for when the younger kids (currently 5 years and 20 months old respectively) hit high school, and I’m presently starting down the barrel of a possible redundancy from my job.

Such is the challenge for most new pilots, I suppose. Lest anyone interpret this as a whinge, it’s most definitely not – I know I’m part of a very privileged group of people here – it’s just articulating a critical stage that many new pilots reach on achieving our coveted “wings”.

Just get out there

The most obvious and immediate path of action – limited budget permitting – is to create opportunities to just get out there and log a few Pilot In Command hours.

Several friends and family have expressed interest in going flying with me – including my sometime-mentor Chris who now flies 767’s with Qantas! – and with the freedom of a PPL, there are plenty of short but entertaining local flying options. The main challenge will be to convince everyone to share the flying costs with me. I’m not allowed to charge for flights, but I am allowed to split the costs with my passengers, and realistically this is the only way I’ll be able to afford to do many “friends and family” flights.

Fortunately with the private hire rates of around $200 per hour on most of the club aircraft I can fly, this doesn’t work out too expensively for anyone who wants to come up for a quick hour or so with me. I guess I’ll see pretty shortly how many want to put their money where their mouth is …

Second thing I’d like to do is to take my wife on a “weekend away” flight. Laura is definitely not in love with aviation the way I am, and is really not that interested in “flying for flying’s sake”. However, if it’s an enjoyable trip to a desirable destination, then that’s probably enough for her to fly with me now and again. We’ve often talked about going to Mudgee, a “heritage” town and noted wine and food destination about 3.5 hours drive from Sydney or perhaps 90 minutes in a Cherokee. I think I’ll work up the flight plan on that trip pretty soon as well as a fuel/load scenario that allows for a case or two of wine in the baggage compartment on our return. Probably a good trip on which to take one of our club Archers with the somewhat gruntier 180 horsepower engine!

Third, I want to try to make sure that I fly every 6-8 weeks if at all possible. I’ve blogged before on the topic of “How much flying is enough to stay current” and while there’s no satisfactory solution to this beyond flying frequently, experience since I wrote that blog entry has taught me that I’m perfectly capable of stepping into a Cherokee after 6 weeks or so off and flying safely and competently. So I’ll settle for this kind of interval as a rough goal.

With these flights, I guess it will be a mix of 1-hour forays (circuits, training area practice flights to refresh on emergency procedures, or friends/family flights as the case may be) punctuated by the occasional cross-country flight. Have to play it by ear a bit with this.

Next time my father is in town I’d certainly like to take him on a cross-country someplace: he would love it. Perhaps a short trip down to Wollongong to the HARS (Historical Aircraft Restoration Society) museum there. OK, not exactly cross-country, but still out of town and picturesque.

Learn the ropes on Victor One/Harbour Scenic

From a General Aviation point of view, probably the jewel in the crown if you live in or around Sydney is the Victor One coastal route, which allows GA aircraft to fly just off the Sydney coastline affording a magnificent scenic view of Sydney’s beaches, coastal cliffs and communities. Depending on your direction, you either cross the coast south of Sydney at Stanwell Park and head north, or cross the coast north of Sydney at Longreef and head south. Either way, it’s a low-flying path, in some places dropping down to just 500 feet above the water to stay clear of the overhead Class C airspace. Great for sightseeing, but also demanding precision in flight altitude and direction, along with the fact that life jackets are called for as a safety precaution.

Depending on permission required from Sydney Air Traffic Control, you can also do one of two “Harbour Scenic” circuits, one over the Chatswood area (north of Sydney) and the other – by far the preferred one – over the centre of Sydney Harbour immediately east of the Harbour Bridge and north of the Opera House.

As you may imagine, flying these routes requires you to know what you’re doing. Good awareness of the published procedures and flight paths; mandatory radio calls and diligent monitoring of radio frequencies; keen situational awareness; and alertness to potential trouble situations. All these and more are called for.

Which in my view are good enough reasons to not fly these routes solo before having an experienced instructor in the right hand seat showing me the ropes. I will definitely be bringing my instructor John along the first time I do this flight! After that – I can’t imagine a better treat for visiting family and friends.

Learn about GPS navigation

As highlighted last week during my PPL checkride, use of GPS technology can add immeasurably to the ease and safety of any cross-country flight. (With the eternal rider, of course, that at my level of flying you never rely on it as your primary means of navigation and always have a “traditional” flight plan up your sleeve and maintain awareness of your position).

I think it’s very good that I reached PPL level without using GPS navigation. I’m supposed to be able to navigate without GPS – and I can. But now that I know how to do it the old-fashioned way, I’m ready to embrace GPS as an additional navigation aid. Knowing exactly how far I have to go to my next waypoint; knowing my exact groundspeed; knowing my exact current track versus that required to reach the next waypoint – all of these reduce uncertainty from a cross-country navigation flight and therefore make the flight easier. As long as I never become reliant on GPS as my primary means of navigation, which I understand is a trap into which pilots can be quite prone to fall.

From time to time my club runs 1-day GPS courses, and I believe I’ll attend the next one that is scheduled. Meanwhile, I’ll hunt down the user manuals for the various Garmin units installed in the aircraft I fly and find out as much as I can …

Get CSU/retractable endorsement

Less immediate, but something I’d really like to do, would be to get my CSU/retractable undercarriage endorsement. These tend to come together: retractable undercarriage being exactly what it sounds like (that is, undercarriage that retracts into the aircraft fuselage/wings in flight), and CSU standing for Constant Speed Unit. This is a type of propeller that can change its blade pitch to make better use of engine power – a bit like the transmission in a car – essentially making for better propeller efficiency, improving overall fuel efficiency and performance.

My flying club does this endorsement on our Piper Arrows (yet another variant of the Cherokee), which cruise at about 130 knots (compared to the Warrior’s cruise of 105 knots and the Archer’s cruise at about 110). Apparently it’s about 3 hours of dual training (plus a 2-hour cross-country)? At any rate it would be a relatively quick endorsement, with the double benefit of being checked out on the Arrows as well as being endorsed for CSU/retractable. They’re an additional $50 per hire hour relative to the Warriors and Archers, though.

Try out some different aircraft

In addition to checking out on the Arrow, what I’d really like to do is get behind the controls of a classic Cessna 172. My blog fried the Flying Ninja, based over in Perth, has recently checked out on a C172 and is full of praise for them. I would love to get checked out in one, if only to experience a different aircraft of comparable size to the Cherokee.

My club, sadly, has no C172’s but neighbouring organisations at Bankstown do, and my flying instructor John informs me that it is no big deal so hire one so he can sort me out.

For some more exotic options, my club has two Diamond trainers (one 2-seater DA20 and one 4-seater DA40) and also has leased access to a Cirrus SR20 – owned by a club member with a day job as a prominent Australian musician. It would be interesting to check out these enticing aircraft as well, though they’re significantly more expensive than our more prosaic fleet of Cherokees …

In the long term

That’s plenty to be going on with.

In the longer term, I’d like to investigate doing a Night VFR rating (NVFR), possibly as part of doing a Private Instrument Flight Rating (PIFR).

The Night VFR rating would not be for the express purpose of flying at night – I’ve heard enough about night flying in single-engine aircraft to know it’s not a good option – but it would add a margin of safety to the day flying I am going to do. And the PIFR would extend my flying skills considerably, whilst making it easier to fly en-route in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).

While these things would be great to do, they take significant additional time and money. Neither of which I have at the moment. But there’s no hurry – plenty of time to build up my day VFR experience in the meantime.

Ultimately, if I want to become a flying instructor as an optional for semi-retirement, I’ll need to have a Command Pilot License and an Instructor Rating. Again, significant additional time and money. Sort of thing I might try to do around the 50+ mark. Again, a long-term option, but there’s nothing to stop me getting my head around the CPL theory whenever I want. Might look into that in the not-too-distant future …

4 responses to “So, what next with my flying?

  1. G’day Dave,
    Congrats on getting the PPL… be prepared for a long wait, mine took almost four months and a couple of phone calls to CASA to arrive after I did the flight test (this was in 2005). Maybe they’ve got better in the last few years though.
    If I can throw another idea into the mix for ‘what to do next’… I did a tailwheel endorsement (out at Camden) fairly soon after getting my PPL. It sharpened my flying considerably and opened up a whole new world of interesting flying machines to go for a burn in – many of which are aerobatic 🙂 Well worth considering I reckon.
    I definitely concur with taking an instructor along the first time you do a harbour scenic. Once you’ve done a couple though, it’s easily the best way to see Sydney – and you can comfortably do it in an hour from Bankstown. Good fun!


    • At least I can confirm that CASA’s received my PPL application – the online “Self Service” portal provides that much transparency at least!

      Thanks for the tailwheel endorsement idea, too, that slipped my mind but I will definitely pursue at some point.


  2. It’s a new world of wants and needs alright once your PPL is in your back pocket. I’ve managed to stay current by doing my 3-landings-in-90-days but just barely. I did my first x-country flight two weekends ago since passing my flight test in Feb. All the others have been either circuits, a short joy ride in Bunbury last Easter or a lazy jaunt to the training area.

    I think flight training does take a toll and it’s not a bad thing to let the system recharge after the intensity of the program.

    Work and family will always get in the way of aviation, but one day – I swear flying will somehow be part of my weekly routine! Not sure how yet… working on it 😉

    • Ironically, I’m now in a redundancy situation at work and kind of wishing that I now had my CPL (as opposed to PPL). If I had that in my back pocket I would feel a lot more comfortable about chasing low-paying flying options for a 2nd career. However, that’s not the case so will have to putt along as a private pilot for some years to come. But at least I can start to learn the CPL theory and get my PIC hours up …

      Having said that I think you’re right, training is very intense and it’s good to take a break. I’ll do a GPS course in December and maybe a CSU/retractable endorsement in the next 6 months. But nothing too heavy.

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