Category Archives: Blogs – Aviation

Down the Sydney coast with my father – an unforgettable flight

View flight photos here

Yesterday, Easter Monday, my father and I flew down the coast of Sydney to land at Wollongong, then returned to home base. It was a magnificent flight, for many reasons but most significantly for the sheer joy and pleasure that it clearly brought to my father. I’m blogging about this one because I don’t want to forget the sheer enjoyment of it.

Dad has flown with me before, just the once, not long after I attained my GFPT. (This, for those who may not know, is what used to be called your “restricted license” and in my case permitted me to fly within the environs of the Bankstown training area.) But that was about a year ago, and wasn’t a particularly memorable flight, marred slightly by some radio problems. And the opportunity to take Dad flying doesn’t come up much as he lives interstate from me. So an Easter visit from him offered the opportunity to finally show him what it’s all about.

Weather

Sunday was a bit questionable weather-wise and the evening brought some moderately severe storms, prompting some careful review of the aviation weather forecasts. However, both the aviation forecasts (AirServices Australia) and the general forecast (WeatherZone) offered reasonably encouraging news, so I was fairly confident we’d at least get a start. The possibility of isolated showers was out there and it was clearly a case of “see how things look in the morning”. I’ve learned from experience that crap weather the night before a flight is in itself no firm predictor of similar conditions on the following morning. Once or twice in the past I’ve cancelled a flight because the weather “looks bad” only to rue my decision when the day in question turns out fine – or at least, perfectly flyable.

And, I was right. Yesterday morning dawned cool and clear, with a light to moderate southwesterly breeze blowing. It was absolutely stunning.

Pre-Flight

I’d booked SFM, a club Cherokee that I’ve not yet flown. However a quick (and well advised) familiarisation check of the cabin, controls and instruments revealed that the seat belt retractable shoulder sash was firmly stuck at about 3/4 retracted and there was absolutely no budging it.

Faced with the choice of trying to get some assistance to get it fixed, or grabbing an older but perfectly serviceable aircraft (FTU), I chose the latter option.

Fuelled up and pre-flight checks done, we returned to the clubhouse to file the flight plan, check the latest weather and the ATIS. All continued to look lovely. We were started up and away only slightly behind schedule, which in my experience for a cross-country flight of any kind is not bad going.

Harbour Scenic

First main leg of the flight was (hopefully) to do a Harbour Scenic, what I consider to be the jewel in the crown of flights available to light GA aircraft in the Sydney Basin. However you can’t always get clearance to do this flight – depends on prevailing conditions and controller workload at Sydney Airport – so you never quite know until you get out there if it’s going to happen or not. Filing your flight plan early, as we did, helps – but it’s no guarantee.

Taking off to the west and tracking north over Parramatta, I radioed Sydney Radar approaching Pennant Hills from the south and made my initial clearance request. I was directed to track to Longreef, as per the standard procedure, and stand by. Sounded good.

Reaching Hornsby and turning right for the coast just over the railway sheds, I was pleased when Sydney Radar contacted me with the instruction to “squawk zero four six one and contact Sydney Departures on 123.0 when approaching Longreef for clearance”. Awesome! That looked as though they were going to let me in. So with 0461 on my transponder (and confirmation from Radar that they had me identified) I proceeded for the coast, descending to the required altitude of 1500 feet just by the time I overflew the Narrabeen Lakes. Turning south for Longreef over the golf course, I radioed for and received my clearance for Harbour Scenic One, and I was off headed straight for Sydney CBD and the Harbour Bridge. Conditions were CAVOK and visibility was crystal clear, I was able to head straight for the Bridge with a clear visual fix.

Once approaching the bridge I throttled back slightly and put out one stage of flap to slow us down a bit for a better look. We then executed the standard 2 left hand orbits (remaining east of the Bridge, north of the Opera House and west of Garden Island as required), Dad enthusiastically snapping away with the camera on my smart phone so that I could finally have a visual record of one of my Harbour Scenic flights.

Orbits done – and with yesterday’s flawless weather we got some truly magnificent views – I retracted the flap, throttled up and headed east over the harbour. I requested and received permission to track directly out through the Sydney Heads and descend directly into Victor One South, the low-level coastal route that runs from Longreef in the north to Seacliff Bridge in the south. Once Radar had us out off the heads and over the water, I was cleared to descend to 500 feet and switch to the Victor One radio frequency.

Victor One

It was just one of those rare, gorgeous days, not only due lovely flying weather but also because we seemed to have the sky all to ourselves. There simply was no one up there with us.

Dad enjoyed this bit in particular I think. It’s hard not to. Down low, you’re up close to the magnificent sandstone cliffs that mark nearly the entire southern coastline of Sydney. We could clearly see the heavier traffic in and out of Sydney Airport on our way past.

We coastal flew the beach at Cronulla, then passing south of Jibbon Point, I climbed to 1000 feet. I’m always happier with at least 1000 feet of air below me, preferably more (not that much of the Sydney coastline gives you any decent forced landing options). Past Marley Beach, then Wattamolla, my signal to climb higher as it marks the southern end of the 1500 feet control step. I climbed to 2000 feet and levelled out.

Notwithstanding a little mild turbulence due to the effects of the westerly wind blowing over the coastal ridges and peaks of the Royal National Park, it was a reasonably smooth ride down to Seacliff Bridge. I switched radio frequencies (back to the area frequency 124.55) and consulted my Visual Terminal Chart. This final part of the southwards leg to Wollongong was new to me: on previous flights in the area I’d approached only from the west.

Not much to my surprise, I didn’t need to work too hard to identify relevant ground features to determine where I was. Not far south of Stanwell Park and Seacliff, you’re already abeam the northern sprawl of the Wollongong area with districts and townships like Thirroul. And it’s pretty hard to miss the dark rusty red hues of the sprawling Port Kembla steelworks on the northern reaches of Lake Illawarra, let alone the massive chimney stack on the headland. At nearly 800 feet in height it’s definitely an attraction you do want to miss …

Once south of Port Kembla and and established at a circuit overfly altitude of 1500 feet, I headed southwest over Lake Illawarra in search of Wollongong airport. Again, fairly hard to miss as it’s located right on the southeastern reaches of the lake, not too far south of the easy-to-spot Dapto dog track. I picked the airport up visually about 5 or 6 nautical miles out. Having already checked the AWIS weather report and picked up some radio traffic indicating that the 16 (north to south) runway was in use, I decided to head slightly inland at overfly altitude and then descend to circuit height of 1000 feet on the “dead” side. This allowed me to join the circuit on the crosswind leg and get properly established in the circuit for approach and landing, also (hopefully, by virtue of my radio calls) fully alerting other traffic in the area to my presence and intentions.

(I could just as validly have joined the circuit on the downwind leg, or – less preferably – on the base or even a straight-in final approach, but from my own personal experience, recommendations from others and some of the safety reading I’ve done, I’m a reasonably big fan of doing the full circuit at CTAF aerodromes where possible.)

Ironically, the importance of staying alert and observant in and around the aerodrome area was reinforced to me by virtue of the fact that despite my crosswind, downwind and base radio calls, a light aircraft on the ground announced his intention to “enter and roll” just as I was turning on final and having to delay my radio call due to the broadcast of another aircraft departing the area. I quickly made my “on final” call with only the mildest tone of reroof, fully prepared and ready to go around if no response from the aircraft on the ground. However, he was quick to respond with a call of “holding”, leaving me free to execute a crosswind landing that to be frank was probably only a 5 out of 10. However, we made ground safely and taxied to the parking area next to the HARS (Historical Aviation Restoration Society) museum hangar for a stretch of legs.

We had a half hour of aviation geekdom, gawking in at the lovely aircraft on display in the hangar, especially the RAAF DC3 and the fully operational Lockheed Super Constellation, named (naturally) “Connie”. Dad loved this bit, which was rewarding for me too, as I’d envisioned and planned this as a fun part of the trip for him ever since my first visit to Wollongong back before my first cross-country solo.

Back home: north and inland to Bankstown

In striking contrast to the 94 nautical mile outwards leg of our trip, the inwards/home leg was only 45 miles – it’s a much more direct trip between Bankstown and Wollongong directly overland via the Royal National Park rather than going the coastal route. I expected that the trip would take us less than half an hour, and indeed with the moderate southwesterly behind us we achieved that easily. Having climbed up to 3500 feet to clear the escarpment and head north to Appin, we quickly picked up the Hume Highway and – by the simple device of keeping the highway just on our right – we stayed well clear of the Holsworthy Army Base restricted area and enjoyed an easy trip leading us straight to the junction of the M5 and M7 motorways, with the 2RN radio tower just beyond.

(I have long wanted to do another trip back in via 2RN, as I’ve never found it particularly easy to locate visually. It has a strobe nearby, which I’ve sometimes picked up but which isn’t always easy to spot on a bright and clear day. As things turned out, I dialled the 2RN frequency of 576 kHz into my Automatic Direction Finder and used the ADF needle to guide me in. With the knowledge that the tower is just beyond the M5/M7 junction I was able to school myself on the surrounding ground features a bit more, and feel more confident about locating the tower without the aid of the ADF the next time I fly in from that direction.)

Making my inbound call to Bankstown Tower at 2RN, I received an unusual traffic instruction, specifically to track direct over the control tower at 1500 feet to remain clear of a Beechcraft Duchess which was about to take off from 29R. Halfway there I radioed to confirm the instruction, just to be sure … then, reporting overhead the tower, I was directed to join crosswind for 29R as per the usual procedure. He chipped me slightly for flying too far west before turning crosswind, however he wasn’t unkind and quickly cleared me for my visual approach to the runway. I quickly dropped down to circuit height and, receiving an early landing clearance, turned base conscious of the growing crossswind. This time the landing was a 6/10, nowhere close to my best, but I, pax and plane were home safely and in one piece.

Reflecting

Hands down, this is one of the best flights, overall, that I’ve done. Others have, of course, been special for various reasons – my cross country solo flights, flying into Canberra’s controlled airspace, my first Victor One/Harbour Scenic, taking my son flying, and of course my GFPT and PPL flight tests. But yesterday’s – because I was flying my dad, who is significantly responsible for my love of aviation; because Dad is by far the most enthusiastic passenger I’ve had so far, and he had an absolute ball flying with me; because it was my fastest visit to another airport since I qualified for my PPL; and because it was just such a spectacularly beautiful day that showed off scenic Sydney in all it’s glory; for all these reasons, plus the fact that it was another successful, enjoyable and instructive flight – it was probably the best one so far.

This is why I learned to fly.

Update from an intermittent private pilot

Committed 2.3 hrs of aviation today. And it was GOOD. Good landings, smooth flight, nice radio work. Very satisfied with today’s effort ūüôā

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Back in the circuit: Brushing up on some fundamentals after 5 weeks no flying

Date: 13/07/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.00 0.80 0.00
Total to date 44.04 13.10 2.00

After nearly 6 weeks since I last flew (on my final cross-country solo) I managed to get out to the airport today for an hour of solo circuits. (Well, nearly an hour … 48 minutes to be exact, as circumstances conspired against me getting a full hour, but hey, it’s all good).

I’m scheduled (weather permitting) to fly my final dual cross-country navigation flight next week, and I’ve already postponed it once. If this flight happens as scheduled, it will have been over 6 weeks since my last cross-country flight and in any case it’s been my longest interval so far between flights. I blogged recently on the topic of “how much flying is enough“, knowing that for some years to come my flights will be at a maximum of 4-6 week intervals. So apart from a desire to get out amongst it for an hour or so, I also genuinely suspected that I’m probably facing the problem experienced by all part-time pilots – that is, getting rusty. I figured I’d rather work out the kinks in the circuit, rather than cross-country next week, so today was my first time back in the circuit since my 4th circuit solo back in March, some 3 1/2 months and 33 flying hours ago.

In short, it was great. Circuits may not be all that exotic in terms of things we prefer to do when we fly, but they’re valuable, they’re necessary, and I enjoyed the hell out of today’s flying. It felt good not only to just get out there, but also to circle back after my advanced training and my cross-country exercises and revisit some of the basics. And as it turned out, I was right. I am rusty, and today was an invaluable refresher course.

Getting up

I had my Warrior of choice, NFR, booked today, but the flying gods intervened as they are wont to do and I ended up flying UFY, another aircraft I know well (though slightly less so).

I had my instructor John sign me out with the aircraft and do the DI (Daily Inspection) for me – remember I can’t sign off on a DI myself until I’ve got my PPL – and it all looked good. But, turned out that NFR’s stabilator was sticking – it was not moving up and down freely to the full extent of its normal range of movement. There was no obvious cause of this problem, and it simply wasn’t something I was comfortable ignoring. So, I quickly switched my booking from NFR to UFY.

UFY was all good – John doing the DI for me on this also – but also was lacking air in the left landing wheel, causing me further delay while I called out the fuel truck and borrowed their air pump. So between all the frigging around waiting for someone to sign me out and DI my aircraft, inspecting NFR, switching to UFY, inspecting UFY and then waiting for the fuel truck, it wasn’t until 08:40 that I was ready for engine start and radioing Bankstown Ground for permission to start. (This against an 07:30 booking, for which I only had the aircraft until 09:30).

But, c’est la vie. Start-up clearance received, I started UFY easily enough for such a cold morning (Sydney’s coldest in some 8 years or so) and headed out to the manoeuvring area and runways, feeling just ever so slightly rusty and keyed up after several weeks off. The weather was reasonable enough: bitterly cold (by Sydney standards at least) and with some nasty looking cloud above 5,000 feet, but CAVOK and with only an 8 knot crosswind blowing, so perfectly adequate for the purposes of a circuit flight.

There’s not an awful lot of highlights to describe from an hour of 5 or 6 takeoffs and landings, so I’ll simply reflect on what was good about today’s session, and what could have gone better.

What was good

Heaps of stuff. Stand-outs:

  • Safety first. Doing the right thing in switching from NFR to UFY once the stabilator issue was identified: absolutely no point or future in taking a gamble on whether or not your aircraft is going to fly safely.
  • General radio and airport procedures. It’s quite a rigmarole when you fly in the circuits at Bankstown. Clearance for engine start; clearance to taxi; clearance when ready in run-up bay; taxi to runway holding point; clearance for takeoff; the mandatory downwind calls on each circuit; clearances to land; and the final clearance to taxy back¬†to the parking area. But despite several months out of the circuit, it all came back quickly and easily. (I had been practising the calls out loud for the last week or so, which I find definitely helps).
  • Situational awareness in the circuit. There were 5 others in the circuit with me this morning – a full house, as it were – and therefore at its busiest. But it didn’t phase me. I saw all the traffic I needed to, well in advance, including a Cessna 152 that overtook me in the circuit (much to the displeasure of Tower).
  • I got better the more circuits I did. This might seem self-evident, but there was a marked difference between my first circuit today and my 5th or 6th (and last). The first 3 circuits – takeoffs in particular – were a bit scratchy, but the last few were hugely better.
  • Flapless landing. I managed to get in a flapless landing on my final landing today, and it was far and away the best I’d done – a universe away from the 85-knot screamer I unleashed on my instructor back in my pre-GFPT checkride.
  • Still got my pilot mojo. My blog friend and colleague Flying Ninja likes to refer to his “pilot mojo”,¬†a concept I like a lot and completely understand. It takes a while to get it. I got it probably around the time of my first cross-country solo flight, and today I was relieved to feel that I’ve still got it despite so many flightless weeks. Long may it stay with me!

What could have gone better

In general, not a lot, but the things that stand out were:

  • Finding BROC on first take-off. On climb-out after my first take-off I was accelerating into the climb at around 200 feet AGL and could see the ASI touching 85 knots and rising. Weirdly, for a second or two I registered this fact and that I was going too fast – I really wanted to be climbing at about 80 KIAS to achieve Best Rate Of Climb. And for a split second – I still don’t know why – the answer seemed to be to lower the nose of the aircraft. My right hand even crept towards the trim wheel ready to trim the aircraft into a nose-lower attitude. Fortunately, sanity and my flight training prevailed and I remembered to my chagrin that to lower my airspeed in the climb-out I needed to raise the nose – which I did, and quickly found myself the desired airspeed of 80 knots for BROC. A bit disturbing that something so basic eluded me momentarily after a few weeks out. Yet another salutory argument for staying focused, sharp and alert at all time.
  • My third landing. An absolute dog, a bone-crunching shocker. Totally took my eyes off the far end of the runway, don’t know where I was looking. Fortunately it was only 1 of 6, the other 5 being either good or very good.
  • Forgetting to fly in balance. The first 3 takeoffs had me edging over the left hand boundary of the runway, the gyroscopic effect in UFY being so pronounced. Once I remembered to use some right rudder on takeoff and climb, this fixed itself and I managed to take off in a straight line.
  • Maintaining 1000 feet in the circuit. Again, this got better in the 2nd half of the flight, but in the first 2 or 3 circuits I climbed up to 100 feet higher than the target 1000 feet, simply due to poor nose attitude and use of trim once I reached the downwind leg and levelled out.
  • Landing roll on the first 2 or 3 landings. My use of pedals to control the aircraft’s direction via the nosewheel was not as strong, positive and proactive as it needed to be on the first few landing rolls, resulting in drifting off to the left of the runway centreline and a limited amount of (controlled) wobbling from side to side. Again, this problem disappeared in later circuits.
All to be expected, I think. But as I said, I had fun. Which is the whole idea. And I feel a lot more confident going into next week’s cross-country nav flight.

Nav 6: 2nd solo nav flight Bankstown-Cowra-Orange-Bankstown

Date: 03/06/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.00 4.00 0.00
Total to date 44.04 12.30 2.00
Second solo nav
 
On Friday 3 June 2011¬†I flew my second – and final, pending my Private Pilot License tests – cross-country solo flight. It had been a full month since my last cross-country flight to Canberra. Since then I’d had a short flight in the training area, but nothing too substantial, so it was really good to get out and stretch my wings, as it were.
 
For those not wanting to read about this flight in detail but wishing to have a look at the pictures I took (with my humble Blackberry), see the Google Picasa slideshow.)
 
The flight requirements and route
 
Flying a few hours solo cross-country is part of the curriculum requirements for the Private Pilot License. On this flight it was necessary for me to achieve three things. First, minimum flight duration of 3 hours. Second, minimum flight distance of 150 nautical miles. And finally, 2 landings at 2 separate aerodromes.
 
For practicality and safety reasons it made sense for me to fly solo a route I’d previously flown dual with my instructor back on my 2nd navigation exercise. So the planned route was YSBK-WAD-YCWR-YORG-YBTH-YKAT-WAD-TWRN-YSBK. Which translated means:
  • Start from my home airport of Bankstown (YSBK)
  • Fly to Warragamba Dam (WAD)
  • Thence direct to Cowra¬†for first landing (YCWR)
  • Thence direct to Orange for second landing (YORG)
  • Then home flying Orange direct over Bathurst (YBTH),
  • Then Katoomba¬†(YKAT),
  • Then back to Warragamba Dam
  • Reporting inbound to Bankstown at the 2RN radio tower (TWRN) then home.

Getting away

For weather and schedule reasons I’d postponed this flight several times. It was reassuring, during the preceding few days, to read consistently favourable forecasts, and conditions were CAVOK at my place when I woke up that morning, and out at the airfield a few hours later. Having already done most of my flight planning, it was relatively quick to check the ARFOR¬†(Area Forecast) and TAFs¬†(Terminal Air Forecasts) and factor the forecast winds into my flight plan for my planned tracks and time and fuel calculations.

My instructor had a quick look at my flight plan and at the weather forecast and quickly signed me out to go. He DI’d¬†the aeroplane for me (that is, he did the Daily Inspection – I can’t sign off on this until I’m qualified), wished me an enjoyable flight and left me alone without further ado. I taxied¬†NFR to the edge of the taxiway and called up the fuel truck. (Fuel trucks being unable to go on the grass due to recent rain). I performed my own inspection of the aircraft as well – I make it a rule that I always do this even if an instructor has already DI’d¬†my plane and signed off on it – and after getting a full load of Avgas in both tanks¬†I was ready to go.

Leg 1: Bankstown to Cowra

Taking off to the west in calm and nearly CAVOK conditions, I exited the Bankstown control zone and climbed to 4000 feet, flying through the Bankstown training area and tracking for Warragamba Dam. At Warragamba I climbed to my planned altitude of 6500 feet and maintained the same heading to track for Cowra.

As I crossed the Great Dividing Range I could see large patches of morning fog abeam both sides of the aircraft. I knew from my pre-flight planning that Bathurst was fogged in, which was of mild concern as I planned to overfly Bathurst on my return leg later in the day. However, I figured I could check the weather conditions from both Cowra and Orange when  landed at both those aerodromes, and if necessary steer clear of Bathurst. As things turned out, the Bathurst fog cleared well before I was back in the area later in the day.

Morning fog off to my right, outbound to Cowra

Once across and west of the mountains I noted an increasing build-up of cloud up ahead, roughly level with my altitude. I decided fairly quickly not to try to fly about the cloud, firstly¬†because from what I could see it was building up to be¬†at least 4 to 5 OKTAS (that is, covering four to five-eighths of the sky), and I felt that flying above the cloud layer would exceed my personal minima. Secondly, an increase in flight level would have taken me to 8500 feet (per regulations for flying levels about 5000 feet) which would put be just under Class E airspace. There’s nothing that would have forbidden me to enter Class E, but having never done so before, I decided my first time would not be on this day. Possibly over-cautious, but I prefer this to not being cautious enough.

Cloud building up, outbound for Cowra

So it was down to reducing altitude and seeing how the flight progressed, being ready to turn around if the cloud forced me below the LSALT (lowest safe altitude) listed on my flight plan. So down I went, progressively, to about 5200 feet, putting up with the more turbulent air.

As things turned out, the cloud didn’t force me any lower – albeit things were darker once I was under the cloud layer – so my passage to Cowra¬†was unimpeded. I flew the rest of the 1-hour leg uneventfully, noting more cloud off to my right around the Blayney¬†area. Passing Mt Misery on my left and skirting the northernmost edge of the Blayney¬†Wind Farm, I selected the frequency for the Cowra NDB (non-directional beacon) on my ADF¬†(Automatic Direction Finder) receiver, making my inbound call to the Cowra CTAF when I judged myself within 10 nautical miles of the aerodrome and descending gradually to circuit height.

Tracking for Cowra, approaching Mt Misery

There was not much wind evident¬†in the Cowra¬†area but as luck would have it there was a bit of traffic around the aerodrome, including a light trainer and a paraglider, both making radio calls indicating that runway 33 (landing towards the north-west) was in use. So I joined the circuit mid-crossfield¬†and flew a standard circuit approach, making my mandatory radio calls as I did so, and made a decent landing at Cowra. I decided to park and take a toilet break, so taxied off the runway to the small Cowra terminal and parked on an otherwise empty tarmac. It was bitterly cold with no-one about (apart from a Diamond trainer who landed shortly after me), so I didn’t hang around too long.

Leg 2: Cowra to Orange

I took the opportunity to check the current weather conditions at my next destination of Orange, courtesy of the web browser on my Blackberry phone, and while indications were low-ish cloud around the aerodrome, nothing suggested that I alter my flight plans. So without further ado I started up, backtracked on 33 then turned around and took off to the north-west, circled left and climbed to circuit height, then overflew the aerodrome and tracked direct for Orange.

Instrument panel, 4200 feet inbound for Orange

It’s only about 20-25 minutes flying in a Warrior from Cowra¬†to Orange and a pretty straightforward leg of flying, apart from staying well clear of a designated danger area off to your left in the form of an open-cut mine. So aided by my ADF turned in to the Orange NDB¬†I pretty quickly found myself in the Orange area and listening to the CTAF for clues on local traffic and runway in use.

Turned out there was quite¬†a bit of traffic around the Orange circuit – probably the busiest day I’ve so far experienced at a non-towered aerodrome. Amusingly, one pilot in the area was clearly from the West Indies, broadcasting his position¬†and intentions with a lovely Caribbean drawl that made me picture Bob Marley in the cockpit (“November Mike Lima, turnin’ ba-a-a-se”) and brought a smile to my face.

Fortunately, my experience from my first solo flight landing at Wollongong had taught me the value of extreme vigilance in and around the circuit area and I made sure not to rely solely on what I was hearing through my headset and to keep a very sharp look-out. Despite the several aircraft in the area, I felt calm and in control of the situation, which as a small but satisfying confidence boost.

Traffic was landing in the 29 direction (towards the west), unlike my previous visit to Orange¬†when landing was in the easterly direction. Finding myself approaching the aerodrome on the live side of the circuit, I decided to join on the downwind leg and announced my intentions accordingly. I was quickly down on the ground with another satisfactory landing. On roll-out and approaching the main taxiway connecting the Orange runway with the terminal area, my path on the taxiway was blocked completely by a large twin (not sure what it was, possibly a King Air) or something larger, so I was left with no choice but to taxi the full length of the runway to exit on the smaller taxiway which I knew to be¬†at the runway’s far end. So I kept up my speed – not wanting to hang around on the runway and knowing that other aircraft would soon want to be landing behind me – and fairly sprinted for the taxiway, breathing a small sigh of relief than I was able to radio my “clear of all active runways” message.

I taxied to the Wade Aviation hangar where the fuel bowser is located, and finding another aircraft already fuelling, parked just across the taxiway and shut down. Once he was clear, I started up, taxied to the bowser and shut down again, then hunted down someone in the Wade hangar to help me with fuelling. Armed with one of their swipe cards, I filled NFR up, returned the swipe card, paid for the fuel and sat down in the adjacent small lawn area for a quick lunch.

Warrior NFR, parked in fuelling area at Orange Airport (YORG)

Leg 3: Orange to Bankstown via Bathurst and Katoomba

It being time to go – and wanting to get back to Bankstown so I could get home in a reasonable time – I was back in the cockpit and going through pre-startup checks still wiping crumbs from my mouth. A quick check on the CTAF frequency told me that the traffic pattern had changed and Orange traffic was now using the 11 runway – a takeoff to the east. So without further ado I was away, with the usual pre-takeoff checks and the mandatory radio calls.

Tracking east¬†direct for Bathurst I climbed to 5000 feet and levelled out, with cloud still above me and not wanting to move above 5000 and be in contravention of the regulation requiring any flight tracking between 0 and 179 degrees magnetic above 5000 feet to maintain altitude of “odd plus 500” thousand feet (eg. 5500, 7500).

Again, it’s a fairly quick hop from Orange to Bathurst and I was soon overflying the aerodrome, intentionally seeking it out for the sheer discipline and exercise of doing so (rather than¬†turning early on to my Katoomba heading). You never know when you might be in need of any local knowledge during a future flight …

Overflying Bathurst

From this point, it was uncovered territory for me. On my previous flight in the area, Bathurst was the point at which my instructor had given me, as an exercise, a diversion south to Oberon. This time, no diversions were necessary and I was bound direct for Katoomba.

So I set course south-east for Katoomba, noting that as I tracked eastwards the cloud appeared to be lifting again. As I approached Katoomba I decided not to overfly the airfield proper, preferring to skirt west of Katoomba and over lower ground, giving me more options in the event of an engine problem at that point in the flight.

Heading south-east abeam Katoomba

To my pleasure – especially given the mountainous terrain of the Great Dividing Range that I was crossing for the second time that day – abeam Katoomba just before crossing the range proper I was able to climb my planned altitude on that track of 7500 feet. This was the highlight of the day’s flight, not only allowing me (albeit briefly, as I was close to home) to climb into some gorgeous still air, but also affording me some truly majestic views of the Blue Mountains and the Great Dividing Range, with serried ranks of imposing sandstone cliffs and escarpments rising above the greenery. These moments truly make recreational flying worthwhile.

I was struck, although still some 50 nautical miles away from home, just how early I could see the smudge-like look of the entire Sydney Basin open up before me as I glanced left from 7500 feet up. Which reminded me that I was pretty close to home and I should start thinking about how I was going to get there!

Looking east towards the Sydney Basin from 7500 feet

Approaching Sydney from the north-west as I was, the logistical issue to be dealt with was to avoid infringing on controlled military airspace in the Richmond area (that is, Richmond RAAF Base), which lay directly between me and Bankstown as the crow would have flown. (The alternative would have been to seek an airways clearance to enter Richmond airspace, which is frequently done in certain circumstances, but¬† hadn’t done it before – my flight¬†through Canberra’s Class C airspace¬†notwithstanding¬†– and wasn’t about to attempt it now). I started descending, knowing that I had to get down from 7500 feet to 4000 feet by the time I reached Warragamba¬†Dam to fly under the Sydney Class C control step.¬†And as a quick means of confirming how far south I was on my track towards Warragamba¬†Dam – enabling me to skirt the Richmond area – I tuned my ADF receiver to 576 kHz, the frequency of ABC Radio National as broadcast by the 2RN tower which is one of the two inbound reporting points for Bankstown. Noting the ADF needle swinging to roughly 45-450 degrees to my left, I reasoned that it wouldn’t be long before I’d be needing to turn east to head home and that I must be¬†getting close to Warragamba. Almost immediately, I sighted what I now know to be Lake Burragorang – the main water storage that is impounded¬†by Warragamba Dam – up ahead and knew that all I had to do was to turn left and follow it all the way to the dam. Which I did, continuing to descend to 4000 feet, and I was soon overflying the dam, seeing the expanse of the Sydney Basin open up before me.

Tracking Lake Burragorang east towards Warragamba Dam

Ten minutes more and descending to 1500 feet, I was quickly at 2RN and, inbound clearance received, joined “right crosswind” (a slightly unusual direction from Bankstown Tower) for my approach and landing from the east on runway 29R. Down with a light landing, I was soon parking, shutting and then tieing down the plane, knowing that the next time I fly solo cross-country will be after I have gained my Private Pilot License.

Joining right crosswind leg for landing on runway 29R Bankstown

Reflections and learnings

The main thing I took away that I think I need to work on is to work on the strict discipline of tracking my progress against my flight plan. I think I was a little bit spoilt on this flight in that I’d done it before (albeit with an instructor beside me) and therefore didn’t perhaps have to work quite¬†as hard on staying aware of where I was as I might otherwise have had to.¬†I feel that I could definitely improve in terms of using my watch to maintain frequent estimates of how far along (and off) a flight planned track I may be, and cross-checking those estimates against visual indicators on the ground. I’m not saying I’m not¬†doing these things – far from it – but I think there’s plenty of room for improvement in terms of how often I do it, and how accurately.

What’s next

Since making this flight I’ve passed my final theory exam¬†and once cancelled my final cross-country dual training flight due to illness. I’m¬†hoping to do this final flight in¬†a couple of week. Once that’s done, all that¬†remains ¬†is the PPL test!

How much flying is “enough” to “keep current”?

As regular readers of this blog may have noticed, the blogging frequency has dropped way down. The main reason for this is that, unlike my intense training period in March/April of this year, I’m not flying every day, but only every few weeks. In addition, I’m now in the very late stages of my path to achieving my PPL, with all exams now done and only a single dual cross-country nav flight standing between me and my final PPL test.

So the vaguely vexing issue of long-ish intervals between training flights has been somewhat on my mind. As I write, it’s been nearly 4 weeks since my last flight, which I believe is the longest interval since I started my flight training.

I had the final dual nav flight scheduled for Wednesday of this week, but as fortune would have it, I was ill over the weekend and as of Monday this week I was still recovering. As a precaution ‚Äď not wishing to take to the air with any remnant whatsoever of the stomach bug I was suffering from – I cancelled the flight. For various reasons, the next workable day on which I can do this flight is 20 July, a few weeks from now. I compared that to the last date on which I flew ‚Äď back on 3 June ‚Äď and saw that this is an interval of 47 days between flights.

Which is probably (a) pretty common for ‚Äúweekend warrior‚ÄĚ student and private pilots like me, and (b) by no means as extended an interval as that practised/suffered by many part-time pilots. Having said that, it will be the longest interval between flights that I‚Äôve yet had, and ‚Äď though I freely confess to being paranoid ‚Äď I do feel a little rusty already. (Think I‚Äôll try and squeeze in an hour of circuits late next week, just to get back into the swing of things a bit.)

It got me thinking, though, about how much flying is a ‚Äúbare minimum‚ÄĚ for keeping reasonably abreast of your meagre skills as a VFR private pilot, part time? Once I‚Äôve got my PPL, I‚Äôve got the following rough plan which I think is both realistic and adequate:

  1. At least one one-hour local flight per month, alternating between circuits and training area flights (each training area flight to focus on one or two key manoeuvres eg stalls, forced landings); and
  2. A cross-country navigation/pleasure flight every 3 months, including the occasional Victor One/Harbour Scenic flight for friends/visitors.

What do you guys think: what is the ‚Äúminimum‚ÄĚ frequency with which you try to fly, so that you feel ‚Äúcurrent‚ÄĚ?

Postscript

A few weeks after writing this blog entry I ventured back into the circuit after nearly 6 weeks of no flying. This gave me some insight into just how rusty you can get after even a relatively short break from flying. Something to be well aware of for “weekend warriors” such as myself.

Nearly there: All the theory tests are done!

I passed my final PPL theory exam yesterday with a mark of 83% (minimum 70% pass mark). The exam wasn’t too hard, though there are a few areas I’ll need to work on (guided by the ominously-named “Knowledge Deficiency Report” which the computer spat out at the end). Our club CFI Bill said as much, telling me that he may grill me on these areas when we go for my final flight test.

The two final questions (out of 54) I flat-out guessed, as they both related to Threat and Error Management (TEM), a subject completely absent from the theory materials I’ve been working from. My CFI seemed a little dismissive of these questions, apparently regarding them as over-fanciful technical terms for basic good airmanship, but I’m not so sure and¬†I will read up on this a little bit. Any handy references from readers of this blog post would be most welcome!

(I’ve started a TEM discussion thread on downwind.com.au, check out the thread there if you’re interested, some good comments from the Downwind community).

I went into the exam feeling a bit undercooked in terms of preparation. I lightly revised the PPL theory material in the last fortnight, but it wasn’t a really heavy hitting-of-the-books. I’d meant to do the 3 Bob Tait PPL cyberexams I’ve still got access to, but (family) life got in the way and the nights I’d meant to devote to the sample exams slipped through my fingers. My wife Laura confidently told me that I’d nail the exam regardless, and¬†I was in cautious agreement as I usually perform pretty well in theory exams. But for maximum comfort I’d always planned to do as many sample exams in the week prior as I could – well, it just didn’t turn out that way. But it’s done, I’ve passed, and as my CFI said, I wouldn’t have wanted to get 100% anyway else CASA would think I was cheating!

Something different: photos from early years of Australian aviation

This link to the Sydney Morning Herald features 15 fantastic photographs from the early years of Australian aviation, including Harry Houdini’s famous flight at Diggers Rest in 1910, the late Nancy Bird Walton, and Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm with the magnificent 3-engine Fokker Southern Cross.

Brief update

I did my 2nd solo cross-country navigation flight – Bankstown-Cowra-Orange-Bathurst-Katoomba-Bankstown, with landings at Cowra and Orange – back on Friday 3 June. Just a great flight. You can find a detailed account of that flight here, but if you’re interested, here is¬†a series of in-flight photographs taken with my humble Blackberry. Quality of the shots is not bad, considering.

Things have been quiet lately. Tomorrow¬†I will sit my final theory exam – the PPL (Private Pilot License) exam – wish me luck! Weather permitting, next week I’ll do a cross-country dual flight up north of Sydney. Once that flight is done, it will be time to schedule the CFI for my final PPL test …

Marking time

I’m supposed to fly my second cross-country solo flight tomorrow, but looks as though weather is going to get in the way. There’s a large cold front pushing up from the Antarctic via the southern states and – quite apart from forecast rain and low cloud base – winds of 40 to 45 kilometres per hour are forecast. Unless the weather between now and 9am tomorrow changes drastically – nuh-uh, not this little black duck.

My back-up plan, so’s I don’t waste my drive to the flying club tomorrow, is to sit the exam for my Flight Radiotelephone Operators Licence (FROL) and get that out of the way.

I’m quite sanguine. It’s 3 weeks since my last major flight (to Canberra), but I went up locally with my parents just over a week ago and I now know that between flights I don’t actually forget everything I ever learned about flying! There’s always next week …

So, stuff still to go:

  • FROL theory test (mentioned above)
  • PPL theory test (must sit this soon)
  • 2nd cross-country solo
  • 2 more dual flights – should include Sydney Harbour scenic flight(s) which will be way cool, and
  • Finally, the PPL test flight.

Even if I do just one of these flights every 4 weeks – with some short local or circuit flying here and there, in between – 4 months max and it will all be done.

First time up with the parents: A short joyflight, with some sound issues

Date: 13/05/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.00 1.00 0.00
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.

Wind concerns

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.

Insight #38

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 Рevidently 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.

Insight #39

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.

Nav 5: First time in Canberra, and in Class C airspace with airways clearances

Date: 04/05/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 3.90 0.00 0.00
Total to date 44.04 7.30 2.00

Last Wednesday Р4 May, after a break of nearly two weeks (the longest interval yet, since I started my flying training, in which I’ve not flown), I had a fantastic dual cross-country navigation flight to Canberra and back. Many things stand out in my mind, with lots of learning.

*** Warning: Long blog post follows ***

Pensive but positive frame of mind!

Last Wednesday’s flight was twice rescheduled in recent weeks ‚Äď once due to weather, and once due to my family circumstances. I was therefore champing at the bit to get out there amongst it again. In fact I didn‚Äôt think I‚Äôd get up on Wednesay, either, but the weather improved a bit unexpectedly. I‚Äôd been more or less resigned to not flying ‚Äď or at least satisfying myself (weather permitting) with an hour in the circuit, so getting out for nearly 4 hours flying was a total bonus.

Having had the unusual luxury, for a private pilot, of flying nearly full time since the start of my training, I was slightly (and probably a bit neurotically) worried that in the 11 days since I last flew I may have forgotten how to do so! Fortunately, as the day proved (and as my Qantas pilot mate Chris opined), I didn’t forget. While it may not yet be as second nature to me as riding a bicycle, it’s not far off. Thank goodness for that. I feel a bit more sanguine about the inevitable multi-week (and realistically, for some years to come, perhaps multi-month) absences from flying.

Pre-flight planning and briefing on Class C airspace and airways clearance procedures

I‚Äôd planned the flight several weeks ago, leaving out only the things you do on the day ‚Äď checking for weather, estimating headings and ground speeds, time estimations, finalising fuel requirements etc. I spent half an hour in the club checking the area forecast and finalising my flight plan.

We had a detailed discussion about procedures for obtaining and flying with airways clearances in Class C airspace. This was my first foray into a Class C area. As is the case in most countries, Class C airspace is that which surrounds most major metropolitan areas with significant or international-grade airports. In Australia’s case, this includes all state capital cities as well as that of Canberra, our nation’s capital.

What’s special about Class C airspace?

Among other things, Class C airspace is typically characterised by having to handle large (‚Äúheavy‚ÄĚ) aircraft up to and including the size of your 747s and A380s as well as (in many cases) their military counterparts. Civilian and military aircraft of this size carry large payloads of passengers and/or freight over vast distances. They fly at high altitudes that we GA pilots in our prop-driven planes rarely (if ever) reach and are generally flying to IFR (Instrument Flight Rules), as opposed to the VFR (Visual Flight Rules) which is the limit for most private (and student) pilots like me. With the rapid advancements since WWII in the use of radar and electronic systems for maintaining air traffic separation and control, Class C airspace is managed by sophisticated air traffic control operations with radar capability.

So what did this mean for Wednesday’s flight?

Up until last Wednesday, my flying had been confined to Class D airspace (around my Bankstown home aerodrome) and the Class G airspace that lies outside most of our controlled airspace areas. Class G airspace is not subject to air traffic control, and for both VFR and IFR traffic, responsibilities for traffic separation lie squarely and solely on the pilots in command. You don’t need anyone’s permission to enter or fly in Class G airspace. In Class D, you do, but there’s no radar separation involved (for VFR traffic anyway, which is me), and the air traffic control procedures are somewhat more elementary than in Class C.

Not so in Class C. In Class C airspace, air traffic control facilities using radar-guided tracking and control techniques to control all air traffic, both VFR and IFR. As with Class D airspace, you cannot enter Class C without establishing two-way communication with Air Traffic Control and obtaining clearance to enter. Class C airspace takes this a step further. You require a specific “airways clearance” both to¬†enter¬†and depart¬†the Class C airspace, and you are usually assigned a specific and unique 4-digit code to “squawk” on your aircraft’s transponder – which allows ATC to uniquely identify your aircraft, including your height and heading.

Once you’re under the tender guided care of ATC, they control you all the way in and all the way out, giving you specific headings and altitudes to fly, with which you must¬†comply unless unable to do so.

Slight change of plan

We’d originally planned to report in to Canberra Approach over Lake George South, a reporting point just clear of the eastern limit of the Canberra control zone. However, we decided to use a slightly more distant reporting point at Lake Bathurst, giving us a bit more time between reporting in to Canberra Approach and actually entering the Canberra airspace. So, I spent 10 or 15 minutes rejuggling my maps, tracks and flight plan to reflect this alteration.

My instructor John checked my flight plan against his and, satisfied, we were good to go.

Change of aircraft

Just as we were finalising our briefing and flight plan, my flying club’s General Manager, Nelson approached us and asked us whether we would mind a change of aircraft. We’d planned to take UFY, a venerable Warrior that I’ve now flown on many occasions (including my first solo¬†and¬†first cross-country solo. Nelson asked us if we’d care to take the newest addition to the club’s fleet, EOM (Echo Oscar Mike) instead? A newly reconditioned Warrior with 200 hours on the engine, Nelson told us that EOM was lovely to fly and that he would like to get our feedback on how it flew. Neither John nor I needed asking twice – we jumped at the opportunity!

Takeoff from Bankstown

For a change in recent weeks, takeoff was to the southeast in the 11 direction (runway 11L). EOM certainly looks the goods – it’s in pretty good nick and has nice new, comfortable seats.

Take-off clearance received and we were rolling. Going through our rolling checks – checking that engine revs are max¬†and stable, T&P’s (temperatures and pressures) good and ASI (Air Speed Indicator) live, we found straight away that revs were not yet max. In the other Warriors in our fleet, opening the throttle gets you max revs around 2500 or 2600 RPM almost immediately, whereas with EOM, revs on takeoff seemed to be sitting around 2300 and increasing a bit more slowly. But the airspeed was fine, T&P’s were fine and the engine felt and sounded fine, so we proceeded with takeoff.

Rotating at the usual 55 KIAS and climbing away, trying to maintain the usual Best Rate of Climb airspeed of around 79 KIAS, things started to seem a bit – well, lengthy. It took a bit longer than usual to reach 500 feet AGL (above ground level) which is the minimum height before you can commence your turn. After turning, we both started to monitor the aircraft’s performance and saw immediately that our climb performance was woeful. We were climbing at less than 250 feet per minute. OK, we had full tanks, maybe EOM was just a bit underpowered. But it took us an awfully long time to reach circuit height.

Continuing our turn onto downwind, we were still climbing OK – more slowly than usual, but acceptably. Then before we reached 1500 feet AGL, I spotted another Warrior climbing below me and to my left, which obviously had taken off after us and was overtaking me. He accelerated well ahead and climbed out with no threat to me. However, it was a great illustration of just how piss-poor my climb performance was. Consquently, we were extra vigilant about climb performance for the rest of the flight. And, as I’ll describe below, ultimately we decided (to my regret) not to land at Crookwell’s lovely-looking grass strip for fear that our our take-off performance on climb-out from Crookwell wouldn’t be enough for us to clear the hill that lies west of the strip.

Track to Menangle

So, I climbed to 2000 feet and it was a quick 10 minutes or so past the 2RN tower and down the M5 to Menangle Park, being careful to keep the Camden (Class D) control zone well on our right.¬†Over the Menangle Park racecourse (or perhaps it’s a trotting track) I turned right onto our new track direct for Lake Bathurst and commenced a climb. I’d wanted to climb to 6500 feet on this leg but scattered cloud prevented this so I settled for a cruise level of 4500 feet.

Track to Lake Bathurst

As we flew the early stage of this leg and I prepared to switch from the Sydney VTC (Visual Terminal Chart) to the larger-scale VNC (Visual Navigation Chart), John looked at the VTC and noted our close proximity to Wilton, a marked Danger area that frequently plays host to sky-diving activities. The track John had asked me to plan took us very close to this area. John got on to Sydney Radar, who informed us that no parachuting was taking place that morning. So we proceeded as planned, though I noted that from now on I will plan that track to avoid Wilton on future flights. (It’s not that you’re forbidden to enter a Danger area – hell, the Bankstown training area in which I fly regularly is also marked as a Danger area. You’ve got a perfect right to be there. You’ve just got to be careful, sensible, and where possible and appropriate, steer clear or proceed with extreme caution).

Clearing the clouds?

Clearing Wilton, John remarked on the bumpy ride we were having, and wouldn’t I prefer to see if we could get above those clouds to smoother air? Personally I was reluctant, as I thought the clouds – though not more than “scattered” – were too extensive for me to feel comfortable flying above them. However, I was with my instructor and I’d never actually had to deal with this particular decision before, so I decided to have a go. I¬†put the aircraft into a climb and headed upwards.

We reached the bottom of the (scattered cumulus) cloud base at about 5500 feet and I asked John whether he really felt that we could fly on top of them. There were very distinct breaks in the cloud Рblue sky areas that we could easily use to get above or below the cloud. And, as I mentioned earlier, flying above clouds (for VFR flights) is certainly permitted under specific conditions. John suggested that we go up to have a look; we could always get back down quickly through the breaks in cloud that we could clearly see.

So I continued the climb and almost immediately, once above the cloud bases, I experienced by far the most gorgeous still air I have yet been in during my roughly 50 hours of flying. Flying in and up the random, shaded corridors between these 1000-foot high cumulus clouds was, quite literally, one of the most other-worldly experiences I have ever had, despite my reluctance about even being up among the clouds in the first place. I was floating. Turbulence was absolutely zero: evidently the air about about the 5500 or 6500 foot level was no longer cooler than the rising air below, hence there was no further ability for the warmer rising air to rise. On either side of me, and ahead and to one side, 1000 feet of puffy white cumulus clouds with opalescent hues inlaid in their sides sat Рapparently Рstill while I strung my way between them and attempted to peek around, up and over them.

I have lost count of the number of times I would have flown in exactly these conditions as a passenger on large commercial airliners. In a 747 or 737 or whatever you may be in, you can feel¬†the exact moment, through the seat of your pants, in which the aeroplane makes the transition between the bumpy air below and the smooth higher air.¬†But the big difference, of course, is that in a 747 or 737 you’re a passenger. You can’t see out the front, you can’t see where you’re going, and you’re pretty much enclosed in the aluminium and composite cylinder of the plane’s fuselage. If you’re lucky you might get a limited view out your side window, but what you don’t get (well, I don’t, anyway) is the sense of awe, mystery and discovery that comes with intentionally choosing your path through the clouds, picking and ducking your way between them, exploring whether you might be able to get above them while remaining¬†in a state of heightened alert, ready to duck back below at any stage while you still can, if things don’t look so good up top. But flying a light aircraft in this situation – you’re looking out front, you feel much closer to the outside elements and much more connected with them. And above all,¬†you’re in command.

Anyway, enjoying this experience for the 1000 feet or so between the bottoms and tops of the clouds we were climbing above, I got up to¬†my originally¬†planned flight¬†level of 6500 feet. Looking in the direction of our planned track, I certainly didn’t like our chances of flying above them and being able to maintain visual fixes on the ground at the required time intervals. Much¬†higher and I would have been¬†scraping the lower reaches of Class E airspace.¬†And, the cloud to the southwest also looked as though it could well build up from “scattered” to “broken”. I voiced this view to John, who agreed with my reservations and recommended that we take the next available gap in the clouds and drop back down below. I did so very readily, having enjoyed the experience but glad to be clear of an above-the-cloud¬†situation I didn’t think would have been all that prudent. I said as much to John, who – not at all to my surprise, and with the hint of¬†a sly grin¬†– said that he’d fully expected this to be the outcome but he’d wanted to take me up above the clouds just to give me a taste of this new situation. Hah – suspected as much.

OK, where are we?

We were up in the clouds for about 10 minutes all up, picking our paths left and right to steer among them and consequently deviating from our planned track to Lake Bathurst. So as we started to descend, it seemed like a good idea to try to figure out exactly where we were. I have to admit that I hadn’t been really vigilant with the CLEAROF(F) checks and map checking while mucking about in the clouds, so it was with more than a little uncertainty that I started to attempt to orient myself. Peeking up through the clouds off to the left was what could¬†well have been the Mittagong/Bowral area in the southern highlands – the time seemed about right – but it seemed much further off to the left than it should have been relative to our planned track.

Another few minutes trying to identify landscape features that we could pinpoint on my map, we spotted another locality off to the far left that (again) could have been Marulan (the locality I totally failed to identify on my first cross-country solo!) From other map features we developed a reasonable certainty that it was in fact where we were Рthen I spotted the cement factory and we were 100% sure. Which put us a fair bit north of my planned track to Lake Bathurst, due wind drift and/or mucking about in the fluffy stuff.

Getting back on course

It was time to test the efficacy of the 10 degree wind drift lines that John recommended I sketch on my maps to aid in-flight dead reckoning. A few seconds assessment and I decided that I had deviated a good 10 degrees right of my planned track, and further that I probably needed another 10 degrees left as closing angle to reach Lake Bathurst, for a total required course correction of some 20 degrees left. So a time check, a 20-degree left turn and I was testing my in-flight navigation skills. Passing abeam Goulburn off my right wing (verifying it by dialling in the Goulbourn NDB) I started to feel better, because Goulburn should have been off to my right. Had I maintained my original track it would have been off to the left. So that was good. With Goulburn positively identified I could now switch over to the Canberra Visual Terminal Chart and navigate in to Canberra with much more map detail.

Finding the lake

After another 10 or 15 minutes I spotted a large collection of wind turbines off on the horizon just over the nose of the aircraft. Searching the VTC, the only place I felt these turbines could be were the Bungendore wind farms south of Lake George. But I couldn’t for the life of me spot Lake Bathurst, which should have been somewhat closer to me and a bit further left. We turned towards Lake George to see if we could locate Lake Bathurst closer in – with John in my ear enjoining me to keep searching out my left window. After a minute or so I identified two rather small pond looking bodies of water off to my left which could¬†in fact be extremely dried-up forms of the two lakes that comprise Lake Bathurst. I turned left again for a closer look, and on arriving over them, John confirmed that this was in fact Lake Bathurst. So, caught out by a rookie error!

Insight #34

Just because a map shows a lake¬†doesn’t mean you’ll actually find water when you get there. In Australian conditions – prominent lakes can frequently dry up completely! Don’t rely on seeing water.

Having noted the above, the good news was that – either by good luck or good management – my track correction back before Goulburn had been reasonably successful, as¬†we’d approached the Lake Bathurst/Lake George area without further navigation difficulties and more or less on time. So it was my first experience of (succesfully) making an in-flight track correction using the visual “best estimate” approach with pre-drawn track error lines. It worked!

(I was, of course, also using my ADF – Automatic Direction Finder – for added orientation, dialling in first the Goulburn and then the Canberra ADF freqencies to confirm my general location and orientation via nav aids. But my dead-reckoning had also proved pretty useful as well. Nice.)

Radio calls at Lake Bathurst

We had to start thinking about getting in to Canberra. I dialled up the Canberra ATIS and received information Hotel, with current runway, conditions etc. It was time to get in touch with Canberra Approach. Circling over Lake Bathurst, John ran me through my radio call routine again. Rehearsed, I dialled up Canberra Approach on COM1, then a deep breath and I had a go:

ME: “Canberra Approach, Echo Oscar Mike”.

CANBERRA APPROACH: “Echo Oscar Mike, go ahead.”

ME: “Canberra Approach, Echo Oscar Mike, a Warrior, over Lake Bathurst at 4500, heading [whatever it was], inbound, received information Hotel, 2 POB (Passengers On Board), unfamiliar with airport, request airways clearance”.

CANBERRA APPROACH: “Echo Oscar Mike, squawk 0405, maintain 4500, stand by”.

ME: “Squawk 0405, maintain 4500, Echo Oscar Mike”.

I switched the transponder to “Standby”, dialled up 0405 and switched it back to “Alt”. I stayed on my path towards Lake George, and about 30 seconds later, Canberra got back to me. Without replaying the conversation verbatim, Canberra then asked me to confirm the QNH setting I was using on the altimeter (I confirmed I was using 1017 as received from the ATIS) and the altitude I was reading (I confirmed 4500 as read off the altimeter). Canberra had positively identified us on radar but was showing me variously at 4700 and 4800 feet. This suggested a problem with the transponder or with the altimeter. Canberra told me that the variation was “within tolerances” but that I would be well advised to get the aircraft’s transponder checked out on return, which of course I acknowledged in the affirmative!

Inbound to Canberra

Once in established contact with Canberra Approach, John more or less leant back in his seat and folded his arms, saying to me that “from here on in, it’s easy”. Which I have to say was largely the case. Apart from watching my altitude lik a hawk (wanting to maintain that 4500 feet at all costs, especially given the transponder issue), and maintaining a watch outside the aircraft, flying conditions were reasonably easy and all I had to do was wait for the vectoring instructions from Canberra Approach, repeat them back and obey them promptly. Example:

CANBERRA APPROACH: “Echo Oscar Mike, turn left heading two two zero”.

ME: “Turn left heading zero two zero, Echo Oscar Mike”.

We spotted some air traffic nearby doing aerial work of some kind (photography, agricultural, not sure exactly what they were doing), which Approach steered us clear of. Approach advised me that they were going to bring me in to runway 30 from a long-ish 5-mile final, and vectored me in accordingly, bringing me down to 4000 feet and on to approach for 30 from the south-east. It was an unusual experience to be hand-held all the way in until suddenly there I was, beautifully lined up with the runway and with approval from Approach to switch over to Tower frequency.

ME : “Canberra Tower, Warrior Echo Oscar Mike, with you”.

TOWER: “Echo Oscar Mike, cleared visual approach for runway three zero”.

ME: “Cleared visual approach for three zero, Echo Oscar Mike”.

I ran through my pre-landing checks, started to slow the aircraft down to approach speed and commenced my descent, pretty soon receiving my landing clearance from the Tower along with instructions to exit the runway by making a left turn onto taxiway Kilo and when clear contacting Ground for further instructions.¬†I made¬†a good landing on 30 – far and away the biggest runway I’ve landed on thus far! – and kept the speed up on roll-out until nearing the exit point, not wanting to taxi slowly while still on the runway. Sighting Kilo (thank goodnesss for an airport with signage, unlike my local aerodrome where you have to rely on maps and memory), I turned left, passed the manoeuvring point line, stopped, contacted Ground and received clearance to taxi to GA (General Aviation) parking.

Passing the domestic terminal on my left – a Qantas 737 parked just outside – I turned right past the Brindabella Airlines hangar and found a parking spot and shut down, feeling very stoked to have landed at a major airport for the first time.

Break and refuelling

I’d expected to have a bite to eat in Canberra – it was after all about 1.15pm and I’d not eaten since before 9. However John’s preference was for a quick stretch, refuel if needed and then head up to Crookwell on the 2nd leg of our trip, Crookwell apparently being a grass strip with rather more scenic surrounds.

So after a quick stretch and toilet break we looked at the fuel situation and had quite an extensive discussion around what additional fuel, if any, we would take on board. There were several factors at play here. The first, obviously, was having sufficient fuel to get back to Sydney with at least the required 45-minute fixed reserve still in our tanks, taking into account the interim leg to Crookwell and about 15 minutes fuel usage at Crookwell conducting a (simulated) precautionary search and landing. The second was not wanting to have too much fuel on board at Crookwell, as being a grass strip with a hill immediately to the west, John didn’t want unnecessary weight impacting our climb performance. The third was that this (EOM) was a new aircraft both for John and me, and John was clearly conscious of not wanting to make any unfounded assumptions about EOM’s fuel efficiency or climb performance, especially given our climbing performance at Bankstown earlier on.

After some haggling and figuring John (with my agreement) decided that we would take on an additional 20 litres of Avgas, which we felt would give us sufficient fuel to meet all of the above conditions while adding only 15kg or so in weight to the aircraft. We would do this by filling up our left tank to full and leaving our right tank as it was.

Unfortunately while reaching this decision another aircraft taxyed across and moved in front of the credit-card activated self-serve Avgas bowser, so we sat for a good 15 minutes waiting for this aircraft to fuel up. I took the opportunity to listen to the ATIS and orient myself with my Canberra Airport map in my ERSA (En Route Supplement Australia).

Once the guys in front had finished, we started up and taxyed closer so as to let them know we were waiting to use the bowser – they got the message and moved out. I shut down and we hopped out. Following the instructions on the bowser, I swiped my Visa debit card to activate the bowser, then John attached the earthing lead to the aircraft and filled up as per our plan. Finished, I swiped my card again to get my fuel receipt – 24.05 litres of Avgas for $50.24 – then, having quickly checked the fuel quality, started up¬†and moved to the corner of the GA apron to do our run-ups and get going. I looked somewhat ruefully at my watch: it was nearly 2pm and Crookwell was at least a half hour away – my stomach not being pleased at the prospect of waiting until probably 3pm for a refuel of its own …

Outbound from Canberra

Run-ups complete, it was time to get my outbound airways clearance. This time I was talking with Ground:

ME: “Canberra Ground, Echo Oscar Mike”.

CANBERRA GROUND: “Echo Oscar Mike, go ahead.”

ME: “Canberra Ground, Echo Oscar Mike, a Warrior, at GA parking, received information India, for upwind departure direct Crookwell at 4500, 2 POB, unfamiliar with airport, request airways clearance”.

I also asked Ground for advice and assistance in remaining clear of the Mt Majura military restricted area directly to the north of the airport. Ground advised that that area was not active at present (despite the information provided in ERSA), so that did not present any issue for our departure.

Ground obviously accessed my previously-filed flight plan and noted that I’d filed an altitude direct Crookwell of 6500 feet: did I wish to amend the flight plan to 4500? I replied in the affirmative and received my airways clearance, with code to squawk on the transponder, authorisation to climb to 4500 and instructions to proceed on runway heading. Ground also noted (as the ATIS had indicated) that I would be taking off from runway 35. Acknowledging these instructions, I then requested taxi clearance and was instructed to taxi to and hold on taxiway Kilo adjacent to runway 30 (the taxiway from which I’d earlier exited the runway on landing).

As an exercise, John also set our nav radio to the Canberra VOR/DME (Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Radar/Distance Measuring Equipment) frequency and set our VOR indicator so that it tracked our orientation relative to the outbound 003 (3 degrees magnetic) radial from the Canberra VOR. I’ll talk more about this in a moment.

Reaching Kilo, I radioed Ground and advised my position. Ground replied that there’d been a change of plan, and instructed me to enter runway 30 and backtrack¬†on the runway for a takeoff from runway¬†30 (instead of 35), authorising me to switch to Tower frequency. I acknowledged this and switched to Tower, radioing “Canberra Tower, Warrior Echo Oscar Mike, backtracking on 30 for upwind departure”. As with my landing on this large runway, I didn’t hang around and made the long taxy back to the runway threshold with considerable dispatch, turning around to line up and report ready.

Given our planned track to Crookwell, John had questioned me regarding whether we wanted an “upwind” departure or in fact a “crosswind” departure, but on lining up on 30 and noting Mt Majura ahead and to our right in what would pretty much have been the crosswind direction, I/we decided that “upwind departure” was the correct radio call and in any case were were in the hands of Canberra Departure so far as vectoring out of Canberra’s control zone was concerned. So, “Canberra Tower, Warrior Echo Oscar Mike, ready for upwind departure on three zero”, and with clearance received we were on our way.

Climbing out to clear Mt Majura directly¬†on our right and the ridge from which it rises coming directly below us, we were again conscious of relatively poor climb performance similar to that which we’d experienced at Bankstown earlier in the day. I could almost hear the gears turning in John’s mind so far as the advisability of actually landing on Crookwell’s grass strip was concerned.

Somewhere close to 1000 feet¬†AGL Tower authorised us to switch to Canberra Departures frequency, which I did and delivered a position report to Departures. Departures instructed me to maintain present course for a short while. Following this, we levelled out at 4500 feet (approaching which I managed to observe central Canberra, the northern parts of Lake Burley Griffin and Black Mountain/Black Mountain Tower to my left) and were vectored to the right. Departures asked me if I wished to resume my own navigation or whether I’d like to be vectored on to my original planned track direct to Crookwell. John suggested I take advantage of the “full service”, so I indicated this and we received further instructions tracking me direct to the township of Gundaroo.

Tracking towards Gundaroo, John took the opportunity to demonstrate the VOR/DME in action. Set to the Canberra VOR/DME frequency and to the 003 outbound radial, this told me 2 things of value to how we were tracking towards Crookwell:

  1. Our distance from Canberra Airport (at this point we were some 20 nautical miles away from the airport and increasing); and
  2. Our position relative to our desired track of 3 degrees magnetic from Canberra to Crookwell. Essentially the 003 outbound VOR radial from Canberra was the radial along which we wanted to be tracking in order to track direct to Crookwell, and was a useful navigational aid to confirm whether Canberra Departures had us on the right outbound track (and whether, later on, we were maintaining that track under our own navigation).

So a very useful (if brief) object lesson in using VOR/DME as a nav aid. No more than a minute after this discussion, we lost the Canberra VOR/DME thus confirming that a nav aid is only useful when you’re within radio communication distance of the aid itself!

Shortly afterwards we were overhead Gundaroo, at which point Departures informed me that I was exiting controlled airspace, cleared me to resume my own navigation and to switch to area freqency, and instructed me to squawk 1200 (the standard transponder setting in Class G airspace). I confirmed these instructions and thanked the controller for his detailed assistance. He signed off with a firm reminder to us to have our transponder checked as he was reading us intermittently at altitudes of up to 4800 feet (versus my altimeter reading of 4500), which was now “outside tolerances”. I promised that we would have this looked at on our return!

Inbound to Crookwell

Our track to Crookwell was only some 50 nautical miles from Canberra, about half an hour’s worth of flying. Soon after overflying Gundaroo I sighted another wind farm to our north, which I identified as the Gunning Wind Farm (noting Gunning township off to my left) and which confirmed us as being on the correct track for Crookwell. Steering to keep the wind farm just to my right (to avoid flying over the turbines and to be as close to my planned track as possible) I started looking out for Crookwell and confirmed it initially by spotting the Crookwell Wind Farm off to my right in the distance, and then sighting Crookwell township in the distance dead ahead.

I switched to the Crookwell CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) and made an inbound call at 10 miles out. So with Crookwell located, attention shifted to finding the airfield. John wanted to do a precautionary search and landing exercise over Crookwell’s grass strip as – unlike our previous exercises in the Bankstown training area¬†– we could actually get down real low to the ground as you would want to do in a real precautionary search and landing situation. But – where was the airfield?

Locating the Crookwell airstrip

My VNC showed the airfield as south of Crookwell and adjacent to a road running south. Try as I had, inbound to Crookwell, I sighted nothing that looked likely. Flying past the edge of town and to the west towards the wind farm, and scanning the roads underneath, still nothing. Looking at my map I reasoned that I was looking at the wrong side of town and that I needed to go back to the southern approaches to Crookwell in the direction from which we’d come. So I turned left to pass over the township and headed back along the southbound road out of Crookwell.

Try as I might,¬†I couldn’t locate the airfield! John suggested¬†I slow the aircraft down, which of course in a precautionary search and landing situation you’d need to do anyway, so I throttled back and put out a stage of flaps to bring us down to 80 KIAS. Straining my eyes out of the window and circling left and right still revealed nothing, until I spotted a shed and what could have been a windsock. And there looked as though there might be white gable markers on either side of a field, indicating a landing strip. I asked John for confirmation. He indicated that this was indeed the airfield and (not unkindly) that I’d flown right over it on our way in! (And to ease my discomfort he noted that he’d been brought to this very airstrip during the final test for his Commercial Pilots License and done much the same thing).

So I’d learned a bit about how challenging it can be to locate an airfield or landmark you’ve not seen before. Particularly for the purposes of precautionary search and landing, sometimes you really do have to slow down and (conditions permitting) do a methodical search and scan of the area.

Insight #35

It can be quite hard to locate a not-very-prominent ground feature from 1500 feet above ground level!

Precautionary Search and Landing

Now I went into Precautionary Search and Landing mode. John made a call on the Crookwell CTAF to indicate we were engaged in a precautionary search and landing, and I prepared to run through the drill. First of all I noted the wind direction and determined that landing should be towards the west. I then prepared for and commenced a series of circuits around the airstrip:

  1. Letting down to 1000 feet, I circled both downwind and then upwind, counting the seconds abeam the airstrip and estimating it at some 800m length
  2. Then down to 500 feet, estimating strip length again as well as noting ground features more clearly, including the rather large hill immediately west of of the airstrip, then
  3. (This was a first) letting down to just 50 feet above ground level and flying the length of the airstrip, right above the deck, so close¬†I could almost see the individual blades of grass! On this approach you are of course searching for detailed ground features that can’t be seen from higher up, using this as your final check that it’s safe to land, as well as scaring away any¬†livestock present on the landing area.

This done, John directed me to climb out and steer slightly left to clear the lowest point of the ridge/hill west of the airstrip. At this stage, having cleared the hill and somewhat to my disappointment (I’ve yet to land on a grass strip), John decided that we would not land. He just wasn’t satisfied that the climb performance of EOM was equal to the task of clearing the hill to the west on takeoff. So we overflew the airstrip a final time and set course for Menangle on our trip back to Bankstown.

I established myself¬†in cruise on the return track to Menangle¬†at just under 5000 feet. This was slightly¬†higher than my planned cruising altitude but we weren’t sure if our altimeter was correctly calibrated and the ground below seemed just a little closer than ideal, despite us being higher than the Lowest Safe Altitude I’d calulated. Once done, John took control and I snarfed half a sandwich – it was now 3pm and my stomach was protesting. A quick drink and I resumed control, not wanting to lose flying time by eating, and to allow John a chance to eat as well.

Track to Menangle

Established on the track back to Menangle and into the Sydney Basin, there wasn’t much to do apart from a couple of CLEAROF(F) checks and attempt to locate ground features to verify my exact position. Sighting water which delineates¬†the lower reaches of the Warragamba Dam system, I knew we weren’t far away and (with a gentle reminder question from John asking about the upper airspace limit) I started descending to 2500 feet as soon as we’d cleared the ranges and it seemed safe to do so.

Tracking direct to Menangle – which is also an inbound reporting point for Camden Aerodrome – involved going quite close to Camden controlled airspace, immediately on my left as I approached Menangle. On the other hand there was a 1500-foot ridge immediately on my track to Menangle, so I didn’t want to let down to 2000 feet too early. Had I been flying solo I would probably have tracked southeast and then north to Menangle to give a wide berth both to Camden airspace and the ridge. However it was by no means a safety situation – just a matter of tolerances – and John seemed comfortable with the track we were on, so we continued on track. I gained Brownie points from John for the fact that I had accurately forecast that we would hit Menangle at 40 (3:40pm).

Back home

After reaching Menangle, we were on home turf. I dialled up 576 (the frequency for ABC National radio 2RN)¬†on the ADF and enjoyed the luxury of being routed straight towards the 2RN tower, descending to 1500 feet before reporting in. Spotting the ground beacon, I zeroed in on 2RN, made my inbound call to Bankstown and was routed to join final approach for runway 11L. Clearing Warwick Farm Racecourse, I was cleared for visual approach and then to land on 11L. And much to my satisfaction I made probably the best landing I’ve yet done in the presence of my instructor – so much so that he gave a short grunt of approval and asked me, “Who taught you to land?” Praise indeed. About time I showed that bugger the sort of landing that I’ve been frequently capable of doing when on my own!

Post flight

A couple of interesting things post-flight.

Firstly, the aircraft. Talking with our club’s maintenance supervisor about the poor climb performance in EOM, it emerged that EOM is one of the earlier models of Warrior with a 150 hp (or perhaps even 140 hp) engine as opposed to the majority of our Warrior fleet that enjoy 160 hp engines. No wonder it seemed underpowered on the climb! According to Joe the maintenance guy, Best Rate Of Climb airspeed in EOM is in the region of 67 KIAS, not the 75-79 KIAS range that most of our Warriors use. So …

Insight #36

In a new aircraft ostensibly of the same type/model you’ve flown many times before, don’t assume it will perform the same way as all the others. Check the Pilot Operating Handbook for operating speeds etc before you fly!

Secondly, fuel. Imagine my surprise, checking my bank account later that night to see if the $50 fuel purchase had hit my credit card, to instead see a $1000 charge against my account! It took me 2 days to sort this out. Evidently the Canberra Avgas fuel bowser in the GA area is managed by Aero Refuellers, an aviation fuel company based in Albury. Like most major aircraft fuel companies, they have their own fuel card system but also endeavour to make fuel available for purchase by Visa/Mastercard at major aerodromes such as Canberra.

For reasons I don’t yet fully understand, this involves partnering with some merchant bank or another to provide the online credit card facilities at the point of sale at automated fuel bowsers, and involves the bank taking an up-front $1000 “security” charge against the credit card, fully refundable once the actual¬†cost of fuel purchased hits the credit card. Unfortunately for the unwary – which included me – sometimes it takes 48 hours or more for this security charge to clear your card. And there was no signage on the bowser to forewarn me that this charge would hit my card (according to the fuel company, there is normally a sign there but apparently this was missing).

So on Wednesday night I cancelled my credit card – I couldn’t figure out how this charge had happened and I even suspected that my credit card details had been skimmed – and then had to make 8 or 10 phone calls to both the fuel company and my bank over the next 48 hours to get it all sorted out. The only bright spot in all of this drama was that Aero Refuellers, once aware of the situation, were profusely apologetic and extremely helpful and proactive in assisting me to get the matter resolved.

Insight #37

Beware using your credit card at self-serve aviation fuel bowsers! Make sure you understand the charges you may be up for in advance, to avoid nasty surprises.

But that unfortunate situation aside, it was an incredibly enjoyable and educational days’ flying. As you can see if you’ve read this far, there was much to observe and learn and I thought it worthy of describing in print in such detail. I’d very much like to relive this flight in detail 20 years from now.