Category Archives: Flying

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 🙂

Shared via TweetCaster

Back in the circuit again … (aka: You can never do too many circuits)

Date: 18/09/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Total
This flight 0.0 1.1 1.1
Total to date 51.2 16.3 67.5

Well, life has taken an interesting turn since I passed my PPL test last month. Specifically, I have taken a redundancy package from Suncorp after 5 years service there, and as of last Friday I am officially unemployed!

A strange feeling. I’ve never been out of work since leaving university.

In actual fact, I’m straight back on to the job market and have reasonable expectations of picking something up in the next few months. But, one of the side benefits of a little time off – within prudent budgetary limits, of course – is I might get a little more flying in!

So I kicked off my sabbatical proper with an hour in the Bankstown circuit today in one of my old warhorse favourite aircraft, UFY.

Cherokee UFY

Today’s objective was simple. It’s been a little over a month since I last flew an aircraft, and I have plans to take a friend up in a couple of weeks time, armed (hopefully) with my new PPL. So I felt in need of a little brushing up on basic technique, and of course now being a PPL, I need to maintain my currency for passenger flying by making a minimum of 3 takeoffs and 3 landings in the 90 days immediately before taking anyone with me.

My erstwhile Grade 1 check ride instructor, Ashley, was kind enough to sign me out, and also reckoned I was good to sign off the DI (Daily Inspection) on the aircraft by myself – a privilege enjoyed at the PPL level. That’s one less minor hassle I now have to deal with: I’m empowered to sign off the aircraft by myself.

Getting out there

Takeoffs were to the east this morning on runway 11R, with information Golf and a light variable breeze. Despite 4 weeks out and a rather turbulent frame of mind due to my job situation, I went through the routine and mantra of my pre-fligh, taxying, run-up and pre-takeoff checks, and soon found myself at holding point Y2 for 11 right. Clearance duly received, I opened the throttle and was away.

I am getting better – slowly, incrementally better! How do I know this? Because today I remembered to use a bit of right rudder pedal pressure from the very first takeoff, thus avoiding the fearsome drift to the left I experienced on my last circuits outing. Runway alignment today was maintained consistently, thank goodness.

What was not pleasing – but perhaps not surprising – were my initial landings. The first four were – well – dodgy. Not unsafe dodgy, but poor technique dodgy. It took me until the 5th of my 7 circuits to execute a decent landing. 6 and 7 were also OK, once I hit my stride. (This was interspersed with a go-around on my 4th approach for landing, the tower having neglected to give me landing clearance by the time I was on very late final).

I think I learned something though. My landings improved when I really narrowed my focus on the runway threshold and the piano keys ahead of me, and really concentrated on nailing my approach speed, using my feet actively to maintain runway alignment, and lifting my eyes to the far end of the runway after I was over the threshold. For some reason, holding off in the landing flare was a bit of a challenge for me today and it took me several goes to really get it right.

Ah well, all good. As I’ve noted many times – any any good experienced flyer will also tell you – having a new PPL is basically having a license to learn. I’m under no illusions as to my ability and skills. Yes, I can fly a light aircraft competently and safely, but if there’s 100 steps between being a novice and a master, I reckon I’m on about step 5.

On the 7th circuit, having achieved 2 decent landings, I decided to call it a day and requested a landing on the north side of the airport – if possible – to minimise taxying time. Tower cleared me to land on the big runway (runway 11C, or one one centre) and I made my 3rd decent landing of the day. Taxying back and shutting down, I was well pleased with the session and very, very happy to be back to doing what I love. Truly, any more than a month without flying and I get jumpy.

Something unusual back at the club

Having parked UFY on the flight line, I walked back to the club and was pleased to see this rather lovely Tiger Moth parked out the front of the Schofields clubhouse.

Tiger Moth

I don’t know whose aircraft this is, or where they were off to today, but it’s not every day you see one of these classic aeroplanes. Talk about a serious blast from the past. I gawked at this lovely machine for several minutes, marvelling at the basic simplicity of its “instrument panel” as shown below:

Instrument panel of visiting Tiger Moth

They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.

Progress of my license

Before writing this blog post, I called CASA to check on the progress of my license. I’m told my application is on the top of the pile, and if (as is highly likely) they get to it tomorrow, they should be posting my license before the end of the week. I’m as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof – I can’t wait to get the piece of paper in my hand!

So, what next with my flying?

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

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

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

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

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

Just get out there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn the ropes on Victor One/Harbour Scenic

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

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

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

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

Learn about GPS navigation

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

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

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

Get CSU/retractable endorsement

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

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

Try out some different aircraft

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

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

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

In the long term

That’s plenty to be going on with.

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

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

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

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

Mission accomplished: I am now a licensed Private Pilot!

Date: 14/09/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Total
This flight 2.70 0.00 2.70
Total to date 51.2 15.2 66.4

Well, it’s official. I flew my PPL test yesterday and passed with (dare I say it) “flying colours”!

Well, not quite … in fact there were plenty of mistakes, on which I will reflect in this blog post. However, evidently none of them were deal-breakers.

I can’t quite express how happy and satisfied I am at having reached this landmark goal that I’ve held for so long. In fact I think despite 8 months of regular flying I still can’t quite believe I’ve actually done it. For so long, for so many years, being able to fly seemed like an impossible dream. Then opportunity knocked in the form of a TV game show, and all of a sudden it was within reach. Now it’s done.

Perhaps the best way to express my frame of mind today, the morning after, is “quiet but intense satisfaction”.

Now, my customary “long blog post” warning should probably apply from here on in. I don’t know how long this will take, but I’ve got so much to download, this could be fairly lengthy. Totes props to any of you readers who make it to the other end.

Preparing for the flight

I got to the club at 0730 sharp. And I’m very glad I did. Given the packed morning I had (as I’ll relate) before finally getting away at 1245, getting there early and getting the aircraft squared away definitely paid dividends.

I bumped into my instructor, John, who wished me well. The weather looked pretty good – CAVOK conditions – and he asked me where I was going. I told him I didn’t know, and would ask my test officer (our CFI, Bill) when he came in. John opined that I should have called Bill previously to sort this out. Well, I hadn’t (I’ve had a pretty distracting week at work), so I was a little apprehensive at that remark, but not overly so. I had the skeletons of 9 different flight scenarios already pre-planned, at least for the outbound leg. And there are only so many places you can go ex-Bankstown for a 2-3 hour round trip flight. So I figured I was reasonably prepared for whichever way Bill wanted to go.

I grabbed a cup of tea and walked out to the flight line. I was able to spend a relaxed ½ hour with the aircraft, NFR. I called up the fuel truck and while I was waiting, turned on the master switch and checked lights and stall warning indicator. The landing light was out (as had previously been noted on the Maintenance Release) but all good otherwise. Oil was just over the minimum 6 litres, brake fluid reservoir nearly full. All else was good. I then sat in the cockpit and spent 10 minutes re-familiarising myself with the NAV/COM systems so as not to repeat my radio error on my previous flight.

With full fuel on both tanks (and good luck wishes from the fuel guy), I filled a bucket of water and swabbed down the front and side windows, closed the aircraft and headed back to the clubhouse.

Flight planning twice over

As luck would have it, Bill was in the clubhouse when I got back from the flight line. I greeted him and asked him where he’d like to head for the test. Eyeballing the weather, Bill said he’d like to head to Bathurst, then down to Crookwell for some air work and back home via Bindook. I pulled out my flight plan for Bathurst via Warragamba and Katoomba and asked him if that worked – he said yes. So I downloaded the relevant weather reports and spent the next hour developing the full flight plan.

Once done, I checked in with Bill. We started on some of the preliminary paperwork, then I commented that there was still a SIGMET in place indicating possibility of severe turbulence below 6000 feet over and in the lee of the ranges. As it was, winds of up to 35 knots were forecast around the 5000 and 7000 foot levels. After reflecting on this, Bill decided (with my fervent agreement) that perhaps heading across the ranges in a Warrior was not perhaps the best idea for today’s test (downdrafts, anyone?) so we quickly decided on an alternative: Cessnock/Scone via Warnervale. While still windy and somewhat turbulent, the weather looked decidedly better if we stayed east of the Great Dividing Range.

So off I went for another 45 minutes or so of furious flight planning. I was thanking my stars (or more correctly, my pre-test preparation) for the fact that I already had that flight planned out as far as Cessnock, so I wasn’t starting from scratch.

I only had this thought this morning: thank goodness I chose to fly the Cessnock/Scone with diversion scenario as my last dual training flight before the PPL test. I didn’t have to do that last training flight: I could have gone straight to the PPL without it. But had I done so, I would have gone into yesterday’s PPL flight a bit “blind”. I wouldn’t have had the extra experience of flying through the Lane of Entry. I wouldn’t have had the familiarising experience of flying for the Singleton NDB (Non Directional Beacon) and navigating to stay clear of the restricted Dochra military area around Singleton. Nor would I have had the experience of having to divert to and locate the Warkworth aerodrome to the west – which is exactly what eventuated yesterday.  So I consider the fees for that last dual cross-country flight as money incredibly well spent.

Ground quiz

The second flight plan finally done, I swallowed hard and approached Bill to say that I was ready.

“Will you walk into my parlour?”, said the Spider to the Fly

Mary Howitt, 1829

Well that’s melodramatic of course – nothing so evil, though it does portray my moderate level of apprehension at that point. We closed the door, sat down, and got into the ground quiz.

What is it about this portion of the practical tests? As was the case with my GFPT ground quiz, I got through it OK, but on several questions I found myself stumbling and on a couple I flat out said, “I don’t know”.

Bill worked his way through the “Knowledge Deficiency Report” that spat out from my PPL theory test and satisfied himself (more or less) that I had adequate knowledge in each of the areas.

  • Refuelling precautions? Check – good answer there.
  • License privileges? No problems – nailed that one.
  • Take-off and landing distance calculations? I’d already had them done and reviewed them with Bill earlier in the morning. No further questions, y’r honour.
  • Interpret ARFOR? Fortunately the ARFOR for area 21 was reasonably straightforward. Bill asked me about the validity of a TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast) and I fluffed half of the answer through simple mathematical error but nailed the other half and quickly corrected my error. It was enough to convince Bill I knew was I was talking about. OK, move on, nothing to see here.
  • Engine temperature control? Pretty good answer. Pass.
  • Pitot static systems? No worries.
  • Lift? Man. Try as I did, I just couldn’t seem to understand the gist of the question Bill lobbed at me here. Went around it for 5 minutes or more. Whether he moved on out of pity, or I actually gave him the answer he was seeking, I’m still not sure. Less said the better.
  • Visual scanning? Correct technique described, all good.
  • Threat & Error Management? Flubbed the actual answer, though I think again Bill was convinced I have a general understanding of the TEM model. Mercy was shown.

A couple of other technical questions which evidently were satisfactorily addressed, and Bill declared stumps. Time to get into the sky.

Getting away: Bankstown to Patonga

The ATIS was information Golf, with takeoffs on 29R to the west, with moderate and gusting variable headwinds with crosswind up to 10 knots. Nothing too arduous. As I walked out to NFR, having signed out and grabbed the flight bag, I thanked myself for having gotten in early and readied the aircraft. All I had to do at this point was the fuel checks (first flight of day and after the morning’s refuel) and another quick walk-around, untying and removing the pitot cover. I opened up the cabin, got my stuff organised and by the time Bill got to the aircraft I felt squared away.

I asked Bill whether he wanted me to demonstrate the aircraft inspection or go through the standard pre-flight passenger brief. He indicated that we could take those as read, so it was straight into the aircraft and into the start-up procedures.

I think Bill liked the look of the little custom-assembled Flight Procedures Manual I’ve put together. I have A5-sized copies of the Bankstown aerodrome map, our club PA28 Cherokee flight procedures, a list of essential radio and NDB frequencies (Bankstown, Camden) and my own custom-developed pre-flight procedures checklist all mounted on cards and filed in a book with plastic sleeved pages. As I pulled it out and ran through the pre-start and post-start checks, I heard a quiet grunt of approval and saw the pencil go to his checklist – so a solid start, I thought. Bill also had a squiz at my flight plan and liked what he saw, at least I didn’t get any challenges about that.

Out onto taxiway Mike 2 and taxi clearance obtained from Ground, I gave Bill a verbal Departure Brief and then pulled into the run-up bay. Run-up and pre-flight checks completed and the Emergency Brief delivered, we taxied for the holding point for runway 29R and held for a couple of minutes for a preceding aircraft to take off. Clearance obtained from Tower, I lined up and we were away.

At 500 feel AGL I turned on to 010M for Parramatta and immediately felt the influence of the moderately strong westerly wind that was to dog me for the entire day. Flying a more or less northerly track for Parramatta, I had to lay off about 20 degrees to the left just to avoid getting blown over into Class C airspace. OK, at least I knew what I was dealing with.

Over the Prospect-Potts Hill pipeline and it was up to 1900 feet over Parramatta. Pretty soon I picked up the Pennant Hills strobe light and was able to track direct for that point. Transponder to 1200 (for class G airspace) and radio to Sydney Centre on 124.55, I commenced a brief climb to 2400 feet and reported just south of Pennant Hills to alert any traffic possibly heading west to the Lane of Entry via Hornsby from the coast. This was a trick I picked up from John in my last dual training flight, and I think Bill liked it.

Conscious of the westerly all the while, I was mildly stressed about finding the right angle of drift to lay off, varying between about 10 and 20 degrees left. Fortunately the various northbound landmarks (M2 interchange, Pennant Hills CBD, the Sands hospital, Thornleigh covered reservoir, Hornsby rail sheds etc) all materialised into view and kept me honest. The only real area of uncertainty for me was north of Hornsby: there’s about a 5-minute period there where you’ve got no more immediate landmarks and you have to trust your flight plan to pop you out correctly over Patonga. As I approached the Hawkesbury River area I sighted Brooklyn Bridge a little too close on my left, indicating that I’d been laying off a little too much drift and was in danger of impinging on the southbound Lane of Entry. I corrected this and made for what I was reasonably sure was – and which turned out to be – Patonga. Phew. First leg done.

Whither Warnervale? And the terminal velocity of apple cores

My next leg was planned to overfly the Warnervale Aerodrome. Over Patonga, I did the standard Time-Twist (heading bug)-Turn procedure, turned for my planned heading for Warnervale and shortly afterwards commenced a climb from 2400 to 7500 feet.

Bill questioned me about the height I was planned to fly to – did I really want to get to 7500? My following track to Cessnock was going to require descending to 6500 feet anyway, why go so high? This conflicted somewhat with the advice I’ve always received from my instructor John – to wit, “height is your friend”. I didn’t feel it was the right time to say, “the Grade 3 instructor who trained me would disagree with you, Bill” so I kind of played a straight bat and continued climbing. Having reached 7500 feet and flown for a few minutes, Bill was kind enough to observe that “at least it’s smoother flying up here” – which it was!

Then came the first glitch of the day. Searching for Warnervale Aerodrome, I started to form the view that I was too far north! And, I think in hindsight, I was also too high to accurately spot the aerodrome.

Bill agreed, and opined that I’d already passed it. Clearly I was so focused on the climb to 7500 feet (during which, in the last 2000 feet or so, climb performance had been woeful due thinner air and my full fuel tanks) that I’d neglected to get my head outside the cockpit enough. A glance to the left and I saw the end of the mountainous area north of Sydney that borders the southern end of the Hunter Valley, confirming that I was already entering into the general vicinity of Cessnock Aerodrome, which was my next destination after Warnervale.

So I decided to cut my losses and head straight for Cessnock. I relayed this decision to Bill, who agreed calmly enough. I changed course and descended to 6500 feet. Bill also commented that our groundspeed had been quite slow (he’d been monitoring the GPS in the cockpit, more on that later) and that as a consequence he’d like to do a few touch-and-goes at Cessnock, rather than overflying direct for Scone per the original plan. OK.

Levelling out at 6500 feet, Bill asked me to crack open the storm window on my side of the cockpit. About 10 minutes earlier he’d pulled an apple out of his pocket and had eaten steadily through it. So I complied, at which point he leaned across and neatly lobbed the core out the window! I was mildly taken aback – though reflecting on this, we were over what looked like unpopulated and bushy territory so there was probably no immediate safety risk to life or property below us. But much as this may have been a habit born of Bill’s (doubtless) thousands of hours of flying, it’s not something I’ll be doing in a hurry. I wouldn’t want to be the unlucky recipient of an apple core to the head from 6500 feet …

Over the ranges and into the Hunter Valley, I informed Bill that I would approach Cessnock Aerodrome on the dead side of the circuit and would descend to 1700 feet to overfly the aerodrome if needs be. Bill commented that while a lot of training material recommends overflying at 1500 feet AGL, this is in fact circuit height for heavy aircraft (jets, RPT etc) and the strictly recommended height is 2000 feet AGL. My question was, how can you see the windsock from that height? Good question, Bill replied! Basically it comes down to conditions and common sense, in Bill’s view – for example, there is no RPT operations around Cessnock that he is “aware of”, and 1500 feet was OK for today.

Down to 1700 feet and approaching Cessnock from the west, I had tuned in to the Cessnock CTAF in an effort to identify which direction the traffic was using. I had intended to overfly the aerodrome and spot the windsock (mainly to show Bill that I was aware of proper procedure), however we heard a couple of transmissions and saw traffic confirming that circuit direction was on runway 35.

So Bill recommended we descend to circuit height and get on with it, which I did quickly, dropping to 1200 feet and joining mid-crosswind. As I did so, I ran through the prelanding checks and saw another box get ticked off on Bill’s worksheet.

Circuits and bumps at Cessnock

First up was a standard landing with 2 stages of flap. Radio calls were fine and so was the approach, though the wind was pretty choppy down low and I was struggling a bit to fly proper square circuit legs. Final approach was fine, though – of course – I had to drop it down hard, having fallen prey to my old bugbear of flaring too early above the runway. Bugger. Oh well, anyway, down we were and then with flaps quickly retracted we were off again. Put it out of the mind and move on.

Second circuit was much better. Managed to fly the legs reasonably square, and I remembered to fly an extended downwind leg as this was to be a flapless landing. In any case, traffic ahead of me was doing the same. On the way in, Bill advised that after this landing we would depart to the north and head for the Singleton NDB.

And fortunately, this one was a greaser! I more or less intentionally managed to keep my speeds 5 or so knots above normal – is as the procedure for a flapless landing in Cherokees – touching down lightly at around 75 KIAS. Much better. Flaps in again, and off we went.

Climbing to circuit height, I levelled out and continued on runway heading for 2 nautical miles, extending the upwind leg so as to depart the area safely. Once clear of the aerodrome, I made a departure radio call, then as per Bill’s instructions set course for the Singleton NDB and commenced a climb to 4500 feet.

Circles over Singleton

As we climbed, Bill took me to task for the way I was flying the aircraft in terms of controlling pitch. I was struggling to reach the Best Rate Of Climb airspeed of around 80 KIAS, and was probably falling into the trap – in my admittedly overanxious state – of chasing the VSI (Vertical Speed Indicator) as it dipped above and below the zero mark in the choppy air.

The gist of what he was communicating to me was that I was failing to use my Attitude Indicator properly. He told me to choose the correct attitude for the climb – in this case about 5 degrees above the horizon I think – then trim it out and leave it alone.

This frankly has not been a big part of my training to date. In the climb, the main instrument I’m used to using is the Airspeed Indicator – making sure I’m at the correct speed (usually around 80 knots BROC), not too fast and definitely not too low, risking a stall. The only time I’ve had to really pay much attention to the Attitude Indicator is during my mandatory 2 hours of instrument flying – under which circumstances the Attitude Indicator becomes all-important.

Bill offered the view that many instructors tend not emphasise the importance of using the Attitude Indicator during PPL training, resulting in the need to breaking “bad habits” when pilots progress to higher levels of training and instrument flying.

Anyway, he was at me about this all the way to the NDB and intermittently for the rest of the flight. I was of course unsure whether this meant black marks against me for not flying within altitude tolerances, or whether it was in a more general sense part of Bill’s approach, which is to instruct in ways that don’t influence the outcomes of the actual check ride. Also he may have been intentionally building up some pressure on me to see how I would perform under a bit of pressure.

A few miles south of the NDB Bill informed me that once past the NDB he wanted me to do a 45-degree of bank steep turn to the left. Oh, great. Just the thing I’d been hoping to avoid having forgotten to practice this manoeuvre on my recent solo flight in the training area.

Well, I’m not sure if it was the accumulated pressure and stress, but quite simply I ballsed up the first attempt. In a nutshell, I didn’t bank past 30 degrees but (as per steep turn procedure) I did open the throttle full wide and consequently found myself over-revving the engine and climbing well outside of desired tolerances for a steep turn.

Bill was not overly pleased with this. Not sure if this was strictly allowed in terms of stepping outside his role, but Bill saw fit to demonstrate a short steep turn to me, driving home again the importance of using the Attitude Indicator to maintain desired pitch.

I humbly (and quickly) asked for a second chance, to which Bill agreed, and this time – thank goodness – I managed a reasonable attempt. I find steep turns a bit of a challenge, and of course while I should really have been observing whether I was maintaining a constant attitude (relative to the real horizon or to the Attitude Indicator), what I was of course watching were my altimeter (to try to avoid climbing or descending too far during the turn) and my Directional Indicator (to try to ensure that I anticipated the roll-out to straight-and-level by 30 degrees or so).

It was a bit up and down, but I pretty much nailed the roll-out on the desired heading and managed to bring it out flat on 4500 feet, from which I’d started the turn. Whether out of eventual satisfaction or despair I can’t be sure, Bill said that would do for now.

Diverting activities: Return to Warkworth

And then – this was where I was so thankful for having done the previous cross-country flight up in the area – Bill said that instead of heading for Scone he would like me to divert to Warkworth. He offered to take the controls while I sorted out maps, headings and so forth.

Fortunately, this took me all of 30 seconds or so. I pulled out my VNC (Visual Navigation Chart), and sketched a quick line from the Singleton NDB to Warkworth Aerodrome. Reading from this line a true heading of about 270 degrees, I subtracted local variance to arrive at an estimated required track of 258 degrees magnetic. And laying my notched pencil over the flight planned track, I quickly estimated about an 8-minute flight to Warkworth.

Resuming the controls, I quickly radioed Brisbane Centre and made my request for a flight plan amendment. This exchange went perfectly, with Bill’s only comment being that I should also have identified myself as a VFR flight.

So, we were off west to Warkworth flying at 4500 feet, with me anxiously searching for the airstrip. Fortunately, I arrived more or less directly overhead the airstrip and was able to identify it quite distinctly from 4500 feet altitude, a good 2000 feet lower than when I’d last been over the area. (Having located the aerodrome a few days previously on Google Maps didn’t hurt, either).

I pointed out the aerodrome to Bill and indicated that I would overfly it before changing course southwards. Bill concurred, and then asked me to prepare a track southbound for the Mount McQuoid NDB.

As it happened, I’d planned the flight assuming a southbound leg from Scone to Warkworth and thence to McQuoid and home, so I already had the required magnetic heading at hand. Therefore over Warkworth it was a simple matter to do Time-Twist-Turn and get sorted out for McQuoid.

Heading home: Instruments, NDB’s and GPS’s

Once established on the southbound track for McQuoid, Bill asked me to hand over the controls and to put on the hood. I hadn’t expected this, but I’ve been quite comfortable with the hood work so far in my training and saw no reason to be scared of it this time around. Bill said that he wanted me to fly on instruments for a few minutes.

So with the hood on, I focused on my Attitude Indicator as the primary instrument, and my other instruments as secondary, and moved into the rather zen-like state (at least that’s the way it seems to me) of relying solely on your instruments. At the PPL level, I believe the goal is to stay within 5 to 10 degrees either side of your desired heading, and within plus or minus 100 feet of your required altitude, all the while of course maintaining a steady desired attitude for straight and level flight, turns, climb or descent as the case may be. Four or five minutes in, evidently this part of the flight was successful and I was allowed to remove the hood and resume visual navigation.

With a good 20 nautical miles or so to go, Bill took the opportunity to quickly demonstrate some of the features of the (rather antiquated) GPS system installed in NFR’s NAV/COM stack. I’d already indicated in conversation earlier in the day that I was keen to get my head around GPS navigation, about which Bill was very supportive as he’s a keen advocate of “use every bit of equipment available to you in the cockpit”. Whereas I think my instructor John is more of the “navigate by dead reckoning” school of thought, at least so far as PPL training is concerned –hence my training has had no GPS content to it.

Didn’t take Bill long to convince me that my next learning step is to get into GPS navigation (as a secondary means of navigation, of course, to back up the traditional methods I’ve learned). For a start, knowing just how far I had to go to reach the NDB was invaluable – no need to guess, you know at any point exactly how many nautical miles away the waypoint is. And further, knowing exactly what my current magnetic track across the ground was, versus the track required to get to McQuoid, took all the guesswork out of chasing the needle on my Automatic Direction Finder. And this was just an old GPS unit – lacking all the fancy features of more recent ones, with on-screen maps and what-have-you.

Once at McQuoid, Bill took the controls while I practised entering our next waypoint – in this case, the NDB at Calga just north of Brooklyn Bridge – into the GPS unit. And bang, there it was. Too easy.

Descending to altitude 3300 feet to be under the 3500 foot control step by the time I reached Calga, I was well set up for the Lane of Entry and well clear of Richmond airspace as well (which had nearly been my nemesis in my previous flight up that way). So note to self: when southbound for the Lane of Entry, use Calga NDB as final waypoint before Brooklyn Bridge!

As we approached Calga, Bill also pointed out to me a region of some cleared spaces on low peaks off to our left, one of which is (apparently) an airstrip at Mangrove Mountain. Useful to know in the event of a forced landing or PS&L scenario, over an area otherwise consisting pretty much of hills and bush.

Anticipating flying down the Lane of Entry and approaching Prospect and Bankstown, I already had my required radio frequencies dialled up and had a sneaky listen to the Bankstown ATIS to find out conditions there. Bankstown was on information Juliet, with landings on 29R to the west and with a crosswind alert. Great, good to know well in advance.

Lane of Entry and the ever-present Richmond restricted airspace

Descending to 2400 feet to be under the control step, I flew over Brooklyn Bridge and made my southbound call to Lane of Entry traffic. Conscious of Richmond to the right, I scanned keenly for the Berowra strobe, which Bill informed me had been inoperative the previous night. (It’s out very frequently, apparently). I was all set to have to visually identify the Berowra township itself and the strobe area just to the southwest, when I saw the strobe and was therefore able to relax a bit and head straight for it.

Once there, I set the required southbound track for the next waypoint – being the strobe on top of the Dural tanks – and started to scan for it. With the westerly wind very stiff now, I had to lay off drift to my right to avoid getting blown left into controlled airspace, and as a result allowed myself to stray a bit too close to Richmond airspace on the right for Bill’s liking. He alerted me to this but was kind enough to allow me to correct the situation – which in any case was not out of control as I’d correctly identified the electricity substation at Galston and was keeping it well clear to my right.

What I hadn’t spotted – until Bill pointed it out to me – was the second strobe flashing quite prominently just out and off to my left. Additional note to self: actively scan when up and down the Lane of Entry. Use my head and neck, lean forwards, don’t allow the windscreen pillars to obscure my vision of important landmarks.

Once the second strobe was reached, it was then a matter of heading south over Castle Hill and visually locating Prospect Reservoir, and descending to the required height of 1500 feet for the Prospect reporting point. I made another check of the ATIS – still on Juliet – and then dialled in the Tower frequency, to monitor local traffic and prepare for contact with the tower.

And it was at this point – though I didn’t realise it until down and parked – that I made my last mistake of the day. And a blood annoying, niggling mistake it was too. I forgot to change my transponder back from 1200 to 3000 once I dialled up tower frequency and approached the Bankstown control zone. Simple mistake, but not a good one to make. Fortunately, this didn’t finish me off as I’d correctly set the transponder when exiting the Bankstown zone at the start of the flight. I reckon Bill put this down to stress of the flight, and let it slide. It pissed me off though: after all the flights on which I’d correctly executed this simple part of the procedure, I had to pick my PPL test flight as the first (and only!) time to forget it.

Reaching the quarry east of Prospect which serves as the reporting point, I reported inbound and was cleared to join downwind for runway 29R and maintain 1500 feet. I turned left and headed for the airfield, searching as I did so for the Dunc Gray Velodrome which now serves as a landmark for GA VFR aircraft approaching runway 29R. I ran through the BUMFISH checks and, once more or less abeam of the velodrome, I reported downwind and was cleared for a visual approach to 29R, being number 1 for the runway.

Down and dusted

Happily, I made a pretty good job of the approach and landing. As I’ve blogged before, I’ve found the quick drop from 1500 feet to circuit height (1000 feet) and then getting set up for approach and landing to 29R a bit of a rushed challenge in the past. But thankfully yesterday it worked out well.

I can’t quite recall my exact sequence of actions (throttle back and nose down, carby heat on, 2 stages of flap) to get down to 1000 feet on time to reach circuit height on late downwind, but the base turn was right on schedule, at the right height and airspeed, and after a bit of initial juggling to get aligned and on the right approach path, I nailed the final landing. Lovely to hear those tires go “chirp” for the CFI on the last lap of the day!

Off the runway and with taxi call made to Ground, I taxyed for parking and ran through my CFROST checks. Bill was asking me why my switches weren’t off yet – not sure if I’d adequately demonstrated to him that I had the right post-landing procedure in hand – but I told him I was using CFROST and he seemed happy enough.

I taxyed very carefully off onto the grass and into parking, ran through the shut-down procedures, and then took one deep, deep breath. I was mentally and physically exhausted! 2.7 hours on an often-choppy PPL check ride, with no break for a stretch, and my right leg had been a bit crampy on the way home. There’s no question but you do plenty of work on a PPL check ride.

So? Did I pass?

Bill started to debrief me on the flight and review the things we’d discussed and he recommended I focus on. Not wanting to interrupt him, I listened patiently for about 10 or 15 minutes, until I could stand it no longer. My gut said I’d probably passed – just – but I needed to hear it one way or the other. So I said, “So, how’d we do here, Bill?” And the bugger just offhandedly looked at me and said, “Oh, yeah, that was alright, you passed” and then grinned at me. He then offered me his hand and congratulated me, and I thanked him – genuinely – for being part of what was one of the proudest days of my life.

Bill tied the plane down and put the cover on the pitot tube while I did the paperwork and squared away the cabin. On the walk back to the clubhouse I was regaled with stories of Bill’s time as a Head Teacher of Aviation Studies with TAFE, in the days when TAFE owned and operated a Beechcraft Baron. Those were the days …

Paperwork, and silly English scenarios

To cap off the afternoon, some CASA paperwork to finalise outcomes of the test and apply for my PPL, and then the last thing that had to be done was an English language proficiency test. This consisted of Bill playing me a couple of audio tracks from his computer, put together apparently by people at CASA and consisting of imaginary “in flight” scenarios and conversations between pilot and air traffic controllers, speaking variously with very heavy, impenetrable “foreign” accents. The gist of the exercise was for me to listen to these scenarios and then describe to Bill exactly what was going on.

Simple enough for me, as a proficient English speaker, though I can see that this would have been a stiff test for those with not proficient with English – which I suppose is the whole point. I had enough trouble listening carefully for 5 or 10 minutes as it was, after the often-arduous flight, but evidently Bill was satisfied. A final handshake and a promise to mail the papers to CASA immediately, and we were done.

Mistakes and things I learned

  1. Missing Warnervale. I think 7500 feet or so AGL is just too damn high an altitude from which to visually locate a small aerodrome. I had the same challenge when I was trying to locate Warkworth Aerodrome from 6500 feet back in my last dual cross-country flight. Conversely, as I related earlier, I had no problems locating Warkworth yesterday from 4500 feet. (Though admittedly I’d been there before). So my tentative thinking here is: if I’m trying to locate an aerodrome I’ve not previously been to, 4500 feet or so AGL is about the limit from which I can hope to spot it.
  2. Overflying the aerodrome. Strictly speaking this should be at 2000 feet AGL to avoid circuit traffic at 1500 feet AGL (heavies, RPT etc). But it’s kind of a “common sense and circumstances thing”, according to our club CFI.
  3. Maintaining desired pitch attitude during flight. Whether you’re climbing or descending, or in straight and level flight, pay attention not just to your attitude as indicated by looking out the window, but also to your Attitude Indicator. If you use the AI to set and maintain the desired pitch attitude, and trim the aircraft properly, you won’t need to chase the needles and should be able to fly effectively “hands off”.
  4. Use GPS technology where available. Of course, only as a secondary means of navigation. But man oh man, it’s handy.
  5. Actively scan for the strobes and landmarks on the Lane of Entry. One might be hiding just behind the windscreen pillar and out of your sight if you’re not actively and fully scanning – left, right and forwards.
  6. Setting the transponder when exiting/entering Bankstown control zone. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS make the required change to transponder setting at the same time as I change radio frequency, both when exiting Bankstown control zone (radio to 124.55, transponder to 1200) and entering it (radio to 132.8, transponder to 3000). No exceptions.

Reflecting on the journey

So here we are. 8 or so months after my first flight, and with many significant landmarks along the way. Lots of things stand out.

All in the space of 8 short months. And here I was – here I am – suddenly having reached the goal that so many have shared over the years since general aviation became accessible to members of the general public. Not to over-romanticise too much, but I do feel as though I’ve joined a very privileged and select group of people: those who are lucky enough to be able to step in an aircraft and “slip the surly bonds of earth”* for a few hours at a time.

* With a nod to John Magee, an American pilot and poet killed in a flying accident while serving in the Battle of Britain. Magee wrote the famous and rather lovely poem High Flight.

Where next? Not sure. Money doesn’t grow on trees, and I don’t know when I’ll next fly. Somewhere in the next 6-8 weeks I guess. Somewhere in the general scheme of things to do next are:

  • First flight with my wife (maybe a weekend to Mudgee at some point?)
  • Joy flights with family members and friends
  • And, hiring John to show me the ropes of the Victor One/Harbour Scenic flights over Sydney.

Plus I also want to get my head around using GPS as an additional navigation tool. And I wouldn’t mind getting a CSU/retractable endorsement in the near-ish future as well.

Whatever lies next, I now have my “license to learn”. Can’t wait for the piece of paper to come in the post …

Gettin’ ready for the big one: PPL test next week!

Right, then. We’re getting down to the final 10 minutes of the game here. Specifically: if next Wednesday’s (14 September) weather holds up, I should know by about 3.00pm that day if I’ve finally got my coveted Private Pilots License.

Practiced my emergency procedures

Having completed my final dual cross-country flight, I also flew a quick hour in the Bankstown training area back on 26 August. Practised my stalls (power-off and in landing configuration), forced landings and Precautionary Search & Landings. Much to my annoyance, I forgot to practise my steep turns, on which I may be tested and to be frank I haven’t really got them nailed yet. But, c’est la vie and all that – will just have to focus and nail them if asked to do it on the day.

Stalls were fine. Forced Landings were OK – maybe a 6/10 – I only realised after I’d done them that I’d incorrectly put the aircraft into a glide at 80 knots, rather than the “Best Rate of Glide”speed of 75 knots. Won’t make that mistake in the PPL test!

Precautionary Search & Landing again OK, though I made a bunch of passes over the landing area at 1000 feet above ground level and neglected to drop down to 500 feet above for final pass and to simulate actual landing approach. Again, won’t make that mistake in PPL.

In any case I’ll be revising all these procedures in my Flying Training Manual over the next couple of days to make sure I don’t forget any detail. It’ll be OK.

Most annoyingly, before taking off at Bankstown for that flight I made the very rookie error of believing that I was transmitting from my COM2 radio while the transmission switch was on COM1. Consequently, I made repeated calls to the Tower over the Ground frequency. Convinced I had radio problems, I requested permission to taxi back to parking and was given permission to taxi via the runway (having already approached the runway holding point). Once off the runway and halfway to parking, I spotted the error, turned around and headed back, with apologies to Ground (who were very nice about it I must say).

One lovely thing about this flight: cloud was scattered puffs of fluffy white cumulus at about 2000 feet, so climbing up through and above them to 4000 feet to practise my stalls, I was treated to the lovely vista of white clouds immediately below me. There’s something new about every flight I do, and in this case, I do believe it was the first time I’ve flown solo in the training area with significant cloud below me. Made it a slight challenge to navigate visually so as to stay within the boundaries of the Bankstown training area – a new twist that I’d not had to manage before.

Now I’m hitting the books

It seems prudent to go over all the theory and all the practical stuff outlined in the Flying Training Manual as well. Here’s when I feel very blessed by my memory’s capacity for retaining heaps of stuff through short-term study.

Have been through the BAK and PPL theory materials, just working my way through Air Law again and then I’ll hit the Flying Training Manual (boning up in particular on Forced Landings, Precautionary Search & Landings and Steep Turns). Then it will be my little “cheat booklet” on the Piper Warrior with all the operating speeds and performance matters specific to the aircraft.

Then I think I’ll pull out ERSA and my maps and bone up on all of the aerodromes I’m likely to be possibly landing at or navigating to on  the day (depending on where the weather dictates that we fly to on the day). Make sure I’m clued in to aerodrome specifics (for example, at Cessnock you have to call ahead to get permission to land, and on runway 35 up there they only do right hand circuits).

Further, a survey of possible/likely diversion destinations would seem prudent. And finally, I think I’ll pull out my old flight plans and have them ready to choose/copy from when my flight route for the day is determined. The less flight planning I have to do from scratch on the day, the better.

On the day

Gonna get me a good night’s sleep on the night prior – not too much study hopefully. Make a decent lunch and take a big bottle of water.

Aircraft (my reliable old NFR, hopefully) is booked for 9.30am, but I’ll be there at 7.30. Will get it fuelled up and inspected early, and I wouldn’t mind 10 quiet minutes in the cockpit to completely refamiliarise myself with the radio and navigation systems. Make sure I have the radio buttons all sorted!

And focus. (As I write I have the spectre of a job redundancy hanging over me, which is of course quite stressful – I’ve gotta put it out of my mind for Wednesday). And – as several have advised me – take it carefully, treat it as a passenger flight, and enjoy it!

Will report back …

Flying with your little ones: great article today in Australian Flying

Australian Flying published this online article today from a Melbourne-based Canadian expat who just took his 5-year old daughter for her first light plane flight just recently. Great article about the feeling and responsibility of flying your loved ones as Pilot In Command … and got me thinking about the flight I took with Seth, my little bloke, a few months ago …