|Total to date||34.44||4.60||2.00|
Yesterday my cross-country navigation training began! After 3 hours of ground briefing on Thursday, John asked me to have at least 2 flights planned so that we could choose either, weather depending. Following Thursday’s nav briefing I planned the bare bones of a YSBK-YCNK-YSBK (Bankstown-Cessnock-Bankstown) flight, then arriving at the Club early yesterday morning I put together same for a YSBK-YGLB-YSBK (Bankstown-Goulburn-Bankstown) flight. For those unfamiliar with geography around Sydney, the YSBK-YCNK-YSBK flight gives you a northerly coastal flying route option, while YSBK-YGLB-YSBK gives you a south-western inland option.
It took me a fair while to put these 2 plans together, and I was under the hammer because we needed to be ready for the off by 1.30pm. 12.30pm rolled around and I hadn’t even looked at the area forecasts for each of the 2 routes nor done my winds, headings and estimated times for either of the plans. Fortunately I was able to do this fairly quickly, and I opted for the Cessnock option (a good, short introductory nav flight anyway) as the forecast clouds around the inland slopes and ranges didn’t look too hot.
This won’t be earth-shatteringly surprising for experienced aviators, but a good flight plan takes time to put together. Certainly at my stage and level of experience, it’s a matter of hours. It’s not something to be rushed. Time taken to plan a good flight, and to get real familiar with the map routes, is time well-spent.
1.30pm rolled around, John was back from his last ride and I hadn’t checked out my aircraft yet! OK, I wasn’t massively behind – only about 15 minutes or so – but it did give me added pressure to get through it all and get going. To be fair, it was also a slightly artificial situation in that I’d had to plan two flights prior to departure time. I wasn’t in anyway underprepared in terms of lack of application – I’d been at the club since 9am and I’d been up late doing flight planning the night before, having only had the nav briefing the previous day – but the pressure was indeed on. I learned a couple of things out of this.
Try as hard as you can – without compromising the quality of the pre-flight planning process – to be ready to go on the dot of planned departure time. The more time you have up your sleeve, the less rushed you feel. And, the earlier you’re ready to go, the better the chance you have for avoiding unfavourable weather that might affect your flight.
You can have most of your flight plan completed well in advance of your flight. Waypoints, lowest safe altitudes, magnetic tracks, ideal altitudes, distances, radio frequencies and nav aids, aerodrome details, all of these can be done early and can then form the “template” for your proposed and future flights. On the day of flight, you can then take the flight plan, get your weather details and relatively quickly make your altitude decisions, wind, heading, groundspeed and estimated time interval (ETI) calculations, your fuel calculations, last light, estimated times of departure and arrival and of course your weight and balance and takeoff/landing calculations and checks.
Getting into the air
My ride was SFA (Sierra Foxtrot Alpha), a new aircraft for me and in fact it’s a Piper Archer – basically a somewhat more powerful version of the Piper Warrior I’m now used to flying. It was only due to my original aircraft being in unscheduled maintenance that this eventuated. But I jumped at the opportunity to fly the Archer! It’s a more powerful and slightly faster version of the Warrior, while being basically the same plane – so it was pretty painless to have to get my head around this as we started up and taxied. I’ll be doing some nav flights on the Warriors as well, but for later navs and my own cross-country flights the Archer will be my chariot of choice.
Fuelled up, started up and then one of the ear pads fell off my headset! John took over and taxied while I got myself sorted out, but it took me 2 minutes of fart-arsing around and unnecessary stress to fix my headset, get it on my head and resume control of the aircraft. It’s only the 2nd time this has happened to me in nearly 40 hours of flying – evidently the earpads are made for easy replacement and can come off easily – but it’s enough for a little gem of practical learning for me.
While getting organised for flight, check the earpads on my headset to make sure they’re in place, and don’t put the headset on the floor of the aircraft – the earpads can get bumped loose.
Run-up and pre-takeoff checks and departure and emergency briefs done, we had a brief wait and then were cleared for takeoff on 11L for a crosswind departure. Up and left towards Parramatta and we were away, me instantly feeling the additional grunt that the Archer’s engine adds to the aircraft’s performance.
Getting away at 2:25pm, we were over Parramatta at 2:28 and then heading up the northbound lane of entry to Patonga, noting key landmarks on the route including Parramatta CBD, the M2/Pennant Hills Road interchange and Pennant Hills, the Sydney Adventist Hospital and Hornsby CBD. Over these and then we were up over the hills and gorges tracking towards the Hawkesbury area, arriving over Patonga at 2:38.
Turning left onto a heading of 333 degrees at Patonga, we headed direct for Mt McQuoid, which is equipped with an NDB (Non-Directional Beacon) which makes it very easy to track inbound. McQuoid reached at 2:53, we then turned right onto 018 degrees for Cessnock. Pretty soon we could see the greenery of the Hunter Valley ahead, and all of a sudden Cessnock Aerodrome in view (pretty good visibility yesterday). Entering the Cessnock area and making the necessary radio calls on the Cessnock CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency), we were in the Cessnock circuit and down for a quick touch-and-go, with arrival Cessnock at 3:08.
Not wanting to hang around due possible rain south of Sydney on our return, we headed straight out at turned left on 161 degrees for Warnervale Aerodrome. Overflying Warnervale at 3:25, we then turned right for Brooklyn Bridge. Achieving Brooklyn at 3:38, we then joined the southbound lane of entry and engaged in what John calls “map crawling” – that is, following a series of closely located landmarks on the ground rather than being guided primarily by the flight plan. So, southbound we tracked over Brooklyn, the Berowra strobe (according to John, he’d never seen the strobe as clearly as we saw it yesterday!), the Galston Sub Station, the South Dural tanks and strobe (ditto comment from John), the M2/M7 interchange and then the familiarity of Prospect Reservoir. I don’t have it recorded exactly what time we arrived Prospect, but it would have been around 3:51, and I know we landed at 3:55, so total flight time was just 1 hour and 30 minutes, about average for the YSBK-YCNK-YSBK flight apparently.
Conditions were pretty much ideal, apart from the last 5 minutes when the southerly wind in advance of rain was getting seriously up and I made a crosswind landing with just 1 stage of flap. John felt that I’d handled the first flight very well. He flew most of the outbound leg while I navigated, then I made the Cessnock landing and take-off and flew the return leg as well as navigating. I’d not had to worry about course error too much (it was only a short trip), the ride was pretty smooth so no distracting bumps, and we didn’t have to dodge any weather. But I suppose that’s ideal for the first nav flight. I know it will get more challenging.
There’s certainly plenty of work to do! I was busy pretty much the entire flight between the many activities involved, including:
- Flying the aircraft
- Keeping the DI (Directional Indicator) aligned with the magnetic compass
- Attending to the discipline of maintaining my flight log and managing my maps and times
- Checking for landmarks to confirm my position
- Checking the engine operations
- Confirming and managing my altitude
- Sorting out my radio and nav aid frequencies
- Making sure I was generally oriented
- Managing my fuel, and
- Making the radio calls