Tag Archives: circuits

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!

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.

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 – 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 – back on 3 June – and saw that this is an interval of 47 days between flights.

Which is probably (a) pretty common for “weekend warrior” 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’ve yet had, and – though I freely confess to being paranoid – I do feel a little rusty already. (Think I’ll 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 “bare minimum” for keeping reasonably abreast of your meagre skills as a VFR private pilot, part time? Once I’ve got my PPL, I’ve 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 “minimum” frequency with which you try to fly, so that you feel “current”?

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.

Close encounters in the circuit: Was the other guy in the wrong, and what can I learn?

It’s been nearly two weeks since I last flew, and in that time I’ve returned to full time work. The balance of my PPL – perhaps another 15 hours – will now have to be done on a part-time basis, maybe once a week. Factoring weather variability in, I anticipate it will take another 2 to 3 months.

Back in late April I made my maiden cross-country solo flight, a 2-hour return trip down the Hume Highway nearly to Marulan, then east direct to Wollongong, land, then direct north back to Bankstown. It was a fantastic trip on which I learned a lot.

But there’s one thing that stands out particularly, and the more I think about it, the more it’s got me reflecting on the question of safety in the circuit.

Standard circuit legs

To set the scene, for any non-flying readers, there are standard “legs” that you fly when flying in the circuit around a landing strip. As described in the diagram below, these legs are always relative to the “active” runway in use. This in turn depends on the prevailing weather conditions, in particular the direction from which the wind is blowing.

For illustrative purposes: in the below diagram, the runway runs in the 11 (110 degrees magnetic) direction (from top to bottom of page) and in the 29 (290 degrees magnetic) direction (from bottom to top of page). Let’s assume the wind is currently blowing from 110 degrees magnetic. In this situation, the runway in use would be runway 11 – that is, takeoffs and landings take place in the 11 direction, “into the wind”. The standard circuit legs are sketched accordingly, assuming a standard left-hand circuit.

The situation at YWOL

When I landed at Wollongong (YWOL) back in April, this was the standard circuit in operation that day. (YWOL’s north/south runway has different headings to the example I’ve sketched in the diagram, but the principles and circuit legs are the same).

I approached YWOL from the west and made the standard 10-mile inbound call on the YWOL CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency). I then descended to circuit height by doing a couple of orbits on the “dead” side of the YWOL circuit (on the left hand side of the runway with reference to the above diagram).

At circuit height, I made the mandatory CTAF call indicating my intentions and joined the circuit “mid-crosswind”. That is to say, I flew at circuit height across the runway, from left to right as you view this diagram, more or less right across the middle of the runway between the north and south ends.

Once across the runway and on the “live” side (on the right hand side of the runway with reference to the above diagram), I then turned onto the downwind leg of the circuit, making the mandatory CTAF call as I was doing so.

Now, here’s where things got interesting. The following amended diagram hopefully illustrates the situation.

As I flew downwind, and (as I recall it) not long before I was due to make my base turn, I heard a call over the CTAF, “Traffic Wollongong, Diamond XXX [I don’t remember his call-sign] joining base for 11”. (Actually it was for runway 16, but I’m trying to stay consistent with my diagram). I glanced ahead of me and to my right, and a second or two later, there he was, joining the base leg from my right – and it was the first time I’d seen him! I was not a little surprised. Here I’d been happily tooling along, alone in the YWOL circuit, and all of a sudden I had traffic joining the circuit ahead of me and flying directly across my flight path from right to left.

(The diagram may be a bit misleading insofar as the scale is off. The Diamond was not as close to me as the diagram suggests. But having said that, I felt the separation between our two aircraft was more than a tad too close for comfort).

A split second’s assessment and I decided on two things:

  1. That I was not at risk of colliding with the Diamond – he flew right across my flight path from right to left, and was quickly clear of my flight path. I did not need to take any sort of evasive action. Having said that, if he was any slower, or if he’d been much closer to me when he joined base, I do feel that I would have had to take evasive action.
  2. To maintain adequate separation between the Diamond and me, I would have to fly an extended downwind leg and then turn base later than I usually would, in order to give the Diamond time to land and clear the runway before I came down behind him. (I would have course had the option to go around had I approached the runway and felt that landing was still not safe, but this did not eventuate).

So that was that. The Diamond landed. I flew a slightly longer downwind leg, then turned base and final and landed uneventfully.

My take-outs

The more I’ve thought about this since, the more I think it’s one of those classic learning situations in aviation in which, regardless of who’s “in the right” and who’s “in the wrong”, the critical importance of maintaining situational awareness and practising alerted see-and-avoid techniques is highlighted.

Was I in the wrong, or was the Diamond?

It’s difficult to say. I definitely felt that the Diamond’s entrance to the circuit was too sudden, that he did not give enough notice of his intentions, that he was too close to me, and that he was unaware of my presence in the circuit.

Checking the current AIP (Aeronautical Information Publication), I note that para 47.7.1 in AIP ENR 1.1 notes the following (the italics are mine):

Joining on Base

Joining in base leg, whilst not prohibited, is not a recommended standard procedure. CASA recommends pilots join the circuit on either the crosswind or downwind leg. However, pilots who choose to join on base leg should only do so if they:

  1. have determined the wind direction and speed;
  2. have determined the runway in use;
  3. give way to other circuit traffic and ensure the aircraft can safely (no traffic conflict likely) join the base leg applicable to the circuit direction in use at the standard height; and
  4. broadcast their intentions.

I am aware, from some introductory Googling, that there is a wide variety of opinion around the practice of joining circuits on the base leg (and even more so around joining on final). Some are for it, some against it. And CASA does not make things easier by not recommending, but then failing to forbid, joining on base. Based on the above, it must be acknowledged that the Diamond was not breaking any rules simply by virtue of joining the circuit on base. However, I certainly believe that the Diamond contravened provision (c) in that he did not give way to me, and in that he did not ensure adequate separation between his aircraft and mine. I also feel that he contravened provision (d) insofar at it was literally only a second or two between his radio call for joining base and his proceeding to do so.

On balance, I’ve arrived at the view that – strictly speaking – the Diamond was in the wrong.

So what? What about my situational awareness?

With all that said, I have to acknowledge the fact that I was completely unaware of the Diamond’s presence until his base call and joining base. I did not see him until alerted to his presence by his radio call. And I can’t say for sure whether he did, or didn’t, make his inbound call at 10 miles or closer. If he had made an inbound call, you could certainly make the case that good airmanship on my part – had I been listening out carefully on the YWOL CTAF – would at least have put the Diamond somewhere in my “mental picture” of the YWOL traffic situation and made me at least aware that he was out there somewhere and inbound. Had this been the case, I could perhaps have been more vigilant when joining and in the circuit, perhaps been slightly more ready to respond to his arrival, and perhaps have seen him earlier through more active scanning.

What did I learn?

  1. Be super-vigilant in the circuit, especially at non-towered aerodromes. Just because you haven’t heard radio calls from other aircraft doesn’t mean they aren’t out there – somewhere – perhaps quite close to you.
  2. Don’t assume you’re alone. Even if you can’t see any other traffic – if you’re not hearing any – expect the unexpected. Keep scanning during all legs of the circuit, including directions from which you may not normally expect traffic to appear.
  3. It doesn’t matter who’s “right” and who’s “wrong” – you’ve still got to stay safe. This was not a particularly close call, but it could have been, and in the heat of the moment, no-one cares who was the good guy and who was the baddie. It’s still my responsibility to remain alert and to see-and-avoid, to keep myself and my aircraft safe, even if the other guy’s not doing the right thing.
  4. I did the right thing and handled the situation well. I heard the Diamond’s call; I immediately spotted him; and I took positive steps to avoid him and to ensure adequate traffic separation.

As a result of this experience, hopefully I am now a safer pilot. But I’d be really curious to hear the views of any other pilots reading this.

Day 17: Lesson 23 – Crosswind takeoffs and landings

Date: 26/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.10 0.00 0.00
Total to date 21.14 1.40 0.70

Just a quick post to get up to date. Went up Saturday in IJD for my mandatory crosswind circuits lesson as weather was finally suitable. Wind from south min 10 max 25 knots, gusting, which was pretty much ideal crosswind conditions with crosswind maximum of 17 knots.

That said, during the lesson the crosswind I actually experienced was not above 10 or 12 knots, but it did quality as crosswind, fortunately. I made a reasonable fist of the hour, crabbing into the wind on my approaches and trying to dip my right wing into the wind on landing.

I would very much like to have more crosswind exposure to the same conditions before experiencing any heavier crosswind, however!

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

Day 16: Lesson 22 – Circuits/circuit emergencies in strong gusty wind

Following my highly successful and gratifying 4th solo this morning, the wind really got up and we decided to head out for an hour of dual circuits in the hope of knocking off my mandatory hour of crosswind circuits instruction. Unfortunately, the wind – while really starting to blow a gale with gusts of up to 20 knots, first from my left on takeoff and then from my right as the lesson progressed – didn’t have enough of a serious crosswind component to qualify. So that lesson remains to be done. However, John did tell me I could log this hour as “circuits in strong, gusty 20 knot winds, with circuit emergencies”.

Not too much to write. Needless to say it was by far the windiest and most challenging conditions in which I’ve flown so far. The wind played hell with all legs of my circuit, blowing me every which way, and introducing me to the subtle joys of learning to “lay off your drift” by angling the aircraft into the wind so as to fly straight circuit legs. By and large I failed miserably at doing that today. I spent an hour getting thoroughly bounced around and wrung out, making a series of successful but not pretty landings. John – I swear there’s a malicious streak in him somewhere – decided to make 2 of these simulated engine failures. So, 2 circuits in a row, we cut engine power on our monstrously fast downwind legs and made glide approaches to the runway.

Both times I came in too high and, fighting an almost 20 knot headwind to get down to the runway, had much difficulty in doing so. John showed me how to sideslip down to the runway – basically a controlled technique involving opposite rudder and aileron to rapidly lose height without gaining airspeed. My heart jumped into my mouth both times, we lost so much height so quickly that the runway seemed like it was just rushing vertically up at me through the cockpit window. At what seemed like the last moment, John brought the plane out of sideslip perhaps 25 feet off the runway and handed her over to me to land, which I did (though not prettily). I think I’ll need a lot more practise to do the sideslip manoeuvre that close to the ground without needing a change of pants.

(John’s a glider pilot also – it really shows in the confidence with which he sideslipped SFK today).

Less said the better about the landings, but both we and aircraft got back in one piece, so in one sense, mission accomplished.

Day 16: Lesson 21 – Fourth Solo

Date: 24/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.90 1.00 0.00
Total to date 20.94 2.40 0.70

Fourth solo now done and out of the way! Wham, bam … from 1st solo circuit just 2 days ago to a full hour of circuits today, go-to-whoa. Amazing how fast things can move if you’ve got good weather and the time to fly twice a day.

This morning was clear, though a 12-knot wind from 300 degrees (coming from about 10 degrees to my right as I was taking off from 29 left) gave me some moderate headwind and minor crosswind to deal with, as I’ll relate.

It was NFR (November Foxtrot Romeo) again this morning, my ride from yesterday’s 2nd and 3rd solos. After John arrived at the clubhouse I walked out to NFR on the flight line to check her out. Tabs of fuel in the left tank and a full tank on the right meant I didn’t have to worry about fuel this morning. Oil was good at 6 litres and brake fluid just an inch down from full. The aircraft checked out OK and John signed off the Maintenance Release to record that the daily inspection had taken place.

John asked me to talk him through what I was going to do, so I related my plans for pre-start and start-up procedures (including getting radio clearance for start-up), taxi and the taxi call to Ground, run-ups, pre-takeoff, safety brief (which I gave to myself), circuits, landing and taxi back to clubhouse. Satisfied, John told me to have fun and left me alone with NFR.

There’s not an awful lot to relate in terms of detail. I went through the routine as I’ve learned it (thoroughly, hopefully) over the last 12 or so training hours. Start-up radio call. Start-up. Taxi to Mike 2. Radio call for taxi clearance (Ground asking me whether I’d got start-up clearance, my reply, “Affirm”). Taxi via Kilo, November and Lima to run-up bay for runway 29L. Run-up and pre-takeoff checks. Safety brief. Taxi call from run-up bay. Call to tower from runway holding point. Clearance to line up. Clearance for takeoff, and away we go.

The wind really gave me an extra dimension to deal with. Climbing almost straight into it, and with only myself on board, I climbed like the Millennium Falcon and was ready for my crosswind turn almost before I knew it. I reached 1000 feet on crosswind and was already at circuit height turning downwind. And the 12-knot wind, nearly 100% behind me, gave me an absolutely mothering-fast downwind leg. Precious little time to throttle back at start of downwind and run through my BUMFISH checks before I’m at the runway threshold needing to pull back to 2000 RPM and put out flaps.

The landings were actually really very good. Of the 4 or 5 touch-and-gos, all but one were lovely light landings, straight and aligned with the runway. (I so wish John could have been in the plane to experience these … my afternoon lesson, as I’ll relate in my next post, featured much rougher attempts).

Repeated glances at the VDO (forget what this stands for, but it’s basically the meter in the cockpit that measures how long the engine’s running – it’s the basis on which they bill you and you log your hours) showed that my hour was nearly up, so I radioed for a full stop landing with a request to land on 29R (“north side”) to land closer to the clubhouse and minimise taxiing time. Not getting clearance for 29R, I landed on 29L having been granted permission to make a right exit across the other 2 runways. Holding short of these both until cleared to cross by the tower, I quickly made it back out of the manoeuvring area, made my final taxi call and got over to Schofields and parking. Parking her on the grass, I shut down and allowed myself a moment of congratulation on getting through my first completely solo sortie!

Endorsement on type

Having completed my mandatory 1st through 4th solos, John had Ashley (my instructor from first solo on Tuesday) retrospectively stamp and authorise my logbook with an endorsement to certify that I am now competent to fly by day, in VFR conditions, on PA28 type aircraft (that is, Piper Cherokee Warriors). My first endorsement and I couldn’t be prouder of it!

Video of a landing from 3rd solo

John got some video of my final approach and landing during my 3rd solo yesterday afternoon at Bankstown. It’s taken from his iPhone, so there’s no zoom and it’s a bit shaky, but should you care, at about 29 seconds in to the 1-minute footage, you can see me in NFR make my final approach and landing.

Day 15: Lessons 19 and 20 – 2nd and 3rd solos

Date: 23/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.90 1.20 0.00
Total to date 20.04 1.40 0.70

Well, no wasting time. Today dawned clear and nearly cloudless, and my usual instructor John wasted no time in getting me out for my 2nd and 3rd circuit solos.

The MO seems to be about gradually letting you do more consecutive circuits each time, loading you up with more responsibility with each solo sortie. 2nd solo was some dual circuits followed by 2 solo circuits – 1 takeoff, 1 touch-and-go, 1 full stop landing. 3rd solo was 4 solo circuits – 1 takeoff, 3 touch-and-gos, 1 full stop landing. (Gotta say by the way, these solos are hard on the cheque book – each full stop landing costs me $15, and over my 3 solos so far I’ve shelled out $45 in addition to the usual!)

Second Solo

I was a tad rushed and bothered when I got out to Bankstown this morning. Had a difficult early morning with the baby – she’s taken to waking up in the middle of the night now and again, and at 4am this morning she managed to climb out of her cot with a big thump onto the wooden bedroom floor. She wasn’t harmed, and we got her back to sleep, but I and particularly Laura were pretty tired and I didn’t feel totally rested. I was conscious of this when I arrived at the club, took a few breaths and just got on with it, but the upshot was that I ended up pre-flighting and taking out an aircraft I hadn’t actually booked! (I’d booked UFY, but I took out NFR). Fortunately my error and lateness in getting out to the circuit resulted in us being no more than 15 minutes late back to the club, but someone else was waiting for the aircraft after me, and it wasn’t great form to bring it in late when I hadn’t even booked it.

Anyway. (As it turned out, the person/people who had NFR after me cancelled their flight, but still.)

John and I did 3 or 4 circuits – one in particular being a “very good circuit overall” according to John, so I dropped him at the run-up bay on 29 left and headed back for my 2 circuits. Being in NFR this morning and things still being fairly cool, the plane climbed like a bat out of hell! (Unlike UFY in my first solo yesterday – it was hotter yesterday and UFY is an older aircraft).

Not much to say about the circuits that I didn’t describe in detail yesterday. It was wonderfully clear and smooth, nil turbulence. Only issue was a sharp surprise when I was about to turn downwind on my 1st circuit when I noticed a Cessna 152 on my left at about my height and turning downwind himself! Turned out he’d been behind me while I was taking off and he’d done a go-around – that is, he didn’t land but headed back up into the circuit for another go. Tower didn’t see fit to tell me about this until after I’d seen the Cessna myself. Fortunately however I did see him. I didn’t need to take any really drastic evasive action, but it still affected my circuit. I slowed down much earlier than I otherwise would have done just to make sure I didn’t run up the back of him. (My Piper Warrior cruises at about 10 KIAS more than the Cessna 152). I also extended my downwind leg considerably to give him space to land before I did.

Insight #20

This was another good early lesson in the importance of maintaining a vigilant watch outside your aircraft. Even in controlled airspace, the tower won’t always tell you about conflicting traffic. Rely on your own “see and avoid” vigilance first and foremost.

Making a decent landing roll – avoiding a repeat of my unfortunate landing after yesterday’s Advanced Stalls lesson – I taxied back to pick up John, who took a few happy snaps of me for the “first solo” page on the club website and newsletter.

Third Solo

As things turned out, I went out again in NFR for my 3rd solo. In yesterday’s stalls lesson I’d discovered that the stall warning horn was not working (even though I’d tested it before takeoff), and had made sure Ashley had made an entry on UFY’s maintenance release. Consequently, UFY was in maintenance today and unavailable, but NFR became available for my 2nd session today, so it worked out well.

This time it was just 2 dual circuits before John hopped out. (1st dual was marred only by my forgetting to reduce power to cruise on early downwind, but a reminder from John was enough to set that right). Can’t recall all the detail, but a couple of noteworthy specifics:

  • On late final approach for landing after my first circuit I was 99% sure I hadn’t received my landing clearance from tower – there was plenty of radio traffic, perhaps they forgot. I did have the option of checking with them before landing, but I opted to do a go-around – my first solo one, and reasonably well executed I think.
  • Either the 2nd or 3rd touch-and-go was bloody ordinary. Hit the runway OK, but not well lined up with the centre line, so my takeoff roll had me heading for the left hand side of the runway and I had extreme difficulty re-centreing the aircraft. Fortunately I reached 55 KIAS before over the edge so I just lifted the nose and got up. Not the best takeoff I’d ever done.
  • Conditions for this solo were significantly more difficult – a rising crosswind and a fair bit of turbulence so I was bounced around a wee bit. Handled it OK. Made it extra important to focus on my airspeed on base and final legs though, the wind was gusting enough that sometimes my airspeed – which I’m trying to keep at 70 KIAS – would increase up to nearly 80 or down to nearly 60. Proved to myself that my throttle use on landing is getting much better though.

Touching down for my full stop landing, I was glad to get down. The wind was getting up and my work rate in the circuits had been pretty high. But it was a good landing roll, and John grabbed another photo or two and then showed me video of my landing that he’d taken on his iPhone. (I believe he’s emailing it to me, will get it on YouTube when available). It looks good from a distance, anyway.

Next

Weather permitting, tomorrow’s first session is my first completely solo circuit session. I’ll have the aircraft entirely to myself, from startup at the club to taxiing, takeoffs, circuits and landings, to shutdown back at the club, including all radio calls. Can’t wait!

Addendum

John got some video of my final approach and landing during my 3rd solo yesterday afternoon at Bankstown. It’s taken from his iPhone, so there’s no zoom and it’s a bit shaky, but should you care, at about 29 seconds in to the 1-minute footage, you can see me in NFR make my final approach and landing.

Day 14: lesson 17 and First Solo!

Date: 22/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 2.00 0.20 0.00
Total to date 19.14 0.20 0.70

My first solo finally happened today!

It absolutely poured rain this weekend, and to cap it all off, I contracted a stomach bug on Sunday which put me out of action. I pulled the pin on my 2 planned lessons yesterday, as I was still feeling crook and the weather yesterday anyway still being pretty dodgy. (The south coast of NSW has got an absolute drenching and floods in the last few days – it’s clearly been a pretty big trough system). So when I woke up this morning I was very mindful of being “behind” by 2 more lessons. OK, you can’t do anything about the weather. But it was still a lost day.

This morning didn’t look great either, early on there was fog down to 500 feet which would definitely have kiboshed any flying. However the TAF (Terminal Air Forecast) for Bankstown for today forecast some clearing, and I figured that you need to be out at the aerodrome to capitalise on breaks in the weather. (And after all, forecasts are only forecasts). So after dropping the kids off I hared out to Schofields noting some clearing cloud along the way.

Getting here about 0915 and meeting the Grade 1 instructor with whom I’d been slated to fly today, we checked the ATIS and called the tower, as conditions were still marginal but appeared to be clearing. Tower said that we should be right to fly in about half an hour. My instructor (Ashley) reckoned we’d be right to get the pre-solo checkride done, so I preflighted the aeroplane, which today is UFY (Uniform Foxtrot Yankee), possibly the club’s oldest Piper Warrior.

Pre-Flight and Fuelling

I called Shell to get some AVGAS in UFY’s tanks. Chris at Shell asked me to taxi the aircraft to the edge of the tarmac and he’d meet me there with the truck. (Apparently due the heavy rain there’s a NOTAM – Notice to Air Men – requiring vehicles to stay clear of the grassy areas of the aerodrome to avoid churning up the ground and making mud). I advised Ashley of this, and to my surprise, he asked me to start up the aircraft and taxi it over to the clubhouse. (Up until today I’ve not been allowed to start or taxi the aircraft unsupervised, so this was a first.)

I ran through the pre-flight checks, primed the engine and attempted to start it, but repeated attempts were to no avail. Not wanting to flood the engine or do something stupid, I advised Ashley, who jumped in the aircraft with me and advised me to pump the throttle twice. Which I did, and then I got a start! So a small trick picked up there that may come in handy. Taxi over to the apron in front of the hangar next to Schoies, shut down the engine, then follow Ashley’s directions on left and right rudder as he turns the aircraft around to a suitable position for fuelling.

Circuits

With clearance to start up, we taxied out to 29 left and on the way Ashley talked me through the plan. He hadn’t flown with any of my usual instructor’s (John) students before so his preference was to sit back, let me do a couple of circuits and only speak or intervene if I was doing anything that was unsafe or dangerous. He was at pains to emphasise that this wasn’t to make me nervous – which I appreciated.

So, taxi via Kilo, Lima and November to run-up bay for 29L, then into the bay for our run-up checks. Run-up and pre-takeoff checks complete, I ran through my now-learned safety briefing – which Ashley seemed content with. Then clearance to taxi to the holding point S4 short of the runway, switch to tower frequency and make the call. “Bankstown Tower, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, ready for circuits on two nine left”. After a brief hold, we were given takeoff clearance and off we went.

Running through the circuit routine, everything went pretty smoothly. I was a little more apprehensive than usual, due to new instructor I guess. After two circuits, landings for both of which were quite good, Ashley commented as such and joked, “Wait till you see what I’ve got in store for you!” Nothing, he added, that I shouldn’t already be ready for, but it was a somehow welcome effort to lighten things up. Ashley did add, though, that my approaches had seemed a little low, and asked what I was aiming for. The runway numbers, I replied. Ash’s suggestion was perhaps to aim for a mark or two above the numbers, seeing as I had plenty of runway and to try to make sure my approaches weren’t too shallow. So I tried this on the next few landings, with good results.

Then Ashley put me though my paces! Over the next 3 circuits we did:

  • Simulated engine failure after takeoff (handled well)
  • Go-around (handled well)
  • Simulated engine failure on downwind (handled OK. This was a glide approach to the runway and I should have got full flaps out earlier than I did. Landing was fast and bouncy. Ashley’s assessment was that I would have been able to stop the aircraft by the end of the runway, but that the glide approach was safe enough and that given my proximity to the runway I could have used full flaps much earlier than I did. It was a really good bit of feedback!)

Insight #19

In an emergency situation necessitating a glide approach to the runway (or other suitable landing area), if you’re confident you’ll make the runway, use your flaps early. It will make your approach and landing slower, easier and safer!

First Solo

After 2 more circuits – one very good, one good except for wobbly landing roll – Ashley judged that I was ready to go. So we came to a full stop on 29L, then taxied back to the run-up bay. Ashley hopped out and asked me to pick him up at that spot after one circuit. He closed the door and walked away.

Wow! I was immediately hit by a feeling of space in UFY’s cabin. No instructor sitting beside me, no-one to have to squeeze my arm and hand past to get my right hand down to the trim wheel between the seats. Funnily enough things also seemed really quiet, too.

“Bankstown Ground, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, ready for first solo in run-up bay for two nine right.”

And acknowledging Ground’s directions, “Taxi to holding point Sierra four for two nine right, Uniform Foxtrot Yankee.”

Reaching the holding point, I switch to tower and make my call. “Bankstown Tower, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, ready for first solo circuit on two nine right”. Takeoff clearance received, I lined up and opened the throttle.

Made my rolling checks as I was under way – engine revs max and stable, T&P’s (temperatures and pressures) good, ASI (Airspeed Indicator) live. Hitting 55 KIAS (knots indicated airspeed), I eased back on the control column and up we go, climbing out much fast than usual with only one passenger on board (me!) at a best-rate-of-climb speed of around 75 or 76 KIAS. 300 feet and I check engine RPM, T&P’s, carby heat cold, fuel pump on, alignment with runway. 400 feet I start clearing my turn (right-centre-left) and picking a reference point 90 degree to my left, then at 500 feet into a 15-degree banked turn to the left, keeping an eye on my airspeed.

Looking out my window down at the airfield I’m picking when I’m 45 degrees to the runway, then at about 800 feet I roll into my downwind turn, radioing tower as I do so, “Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, turning downwind, full stop”. Tower advises me to follow traffic (was it a Cessna?) on late downwind, I can’t see it yet so I acknowledge, “Number 2 in circuit, looking for traffic, Uniform Foxtrot Yankee”. Settling down at 1000 feet (fighting off my tendency to gain height in early downwind), I throttle back to 2350 RPMs and start to run through my pre-landing checks, cruising at about 95 KIAS. Brake pressure – good. Undercarriage – fixed to aircraft. Then I sight the plane in front of me so I radio tower, “Traffic sighted Uniform Foxtrot Yankee”. Then the rest of my checks – Mixture, full rich. Fuel Pump – on. Instruments – T&P’s good. Switches (that’s magneto switches) to Both, Hatches and harnesses secure.

Level with the threshold of 29L I throttle back to 2000 RPM and put out 2 stages of flaps, quickly bringing UFY back to about 70 KIAS. Checking again for 45 degree alignment with the runway, I put my carby heat on, throttle back to 1500 RPM, lower my nose and turn left onto base. The aircraft ahead of me has just landed. I fly my base leg, making sure my IAS stays at 70, also that I’m losing height as I go, using combinations of pitch and throttle. At 550 feet I turn left onto final, trying to wake my feet up and conscious of my airspeed.

300 feet and I flip the carby heat to off, adding just a little throttle as my airspeed was creeping a touch below 70 KIAS. Then lower the nose and pull the throttle back to nearly closed. Using my feet as I’m getting blown off runway centre line just a little bit, then I’m just over the threshold, throttle back to full idle and eyes on the end of the runway to judge my landing flare. Bringing out down, I didn’t achieve quite the “chirp” sound of the tyres I was looking for, landed just a bit too hard for that, then I’m on the ground and on my landing roll-out. I manage to make this one a good one, braking smoothly and only remembering belatedly to pull back on my control column.

Turning left off the runway, I radio ground that I’m taxiing back to the run-up bay to pick up my instructor. As I taxi it hits me that I’ve just flown an aircraft, alone, for the first time in my life! A life-long ambition realised and the excitement hits me. I whoop like an idiot into my microphone, glad that I’ve done it and glad that I had my thumb off my radio switch so no-one else had to put up with hearing me.

I enter the run-up bay and pick up Ashley, who grins at me, shakes hands and says “Congratulations!” I then make my last call for the lesson. “Bankstown Ground, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee in run-up bay for two nine left for Schofields, request taxi clearance”. Ground clears me to taxi back to parking via Lima, and adds a welcome note of congratulations on my first solo, which I acknowledge warmly. A long taxi back to Schofields, a quick shutdown, and I’m done.

So. Everyone always raves about the day they did their first solo. I can now proudly join their ranks. Awesome. Between my memory, and this written account, I’m sure it will stay with me for many years.

Day 13: Lessons 15 and 16 – 11th circuit and Basic Instrument Flying (a little bit of awesome)

Date: 18/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 2.20 0.00 0.70
Total to date 17.14 0.00 0.70

My newly qualified Private Pilot blog friend Flying Ninja told me recently that his experience training for his PPL was a mixture of fantastic highs and serious lows. I’ve come today – in a good way! – to realise the truth of his words.

Today’s flight training – 2 lessons, in spite of crappy weather – was a just a sweet little bit of awesome.

On the negative side, today’s pre-solo checkride did not happen. The weather has been dodgy for 3 or 4 days now (and is expected to remain so until at least Tuesday next week). Today was broken cloud with bottoms of 2000 to 2500 feet, which in itself would not have ruled out a possible solo, but there was just enough crosswind – about 10 knots – for my instructors to rule it out for today. I’d more or less expected weather to step in today, so I wasn’t that perturbed. The weather will improve, John thinks I’m ready to solo and it’s just a matter of finding the right day (hopefully next week). Fortunately, there’s still a heap of other things we can knock off while waiting for the solo, including – started today, as I’ll relate – basic instrument flying.

Right now I’m pretty sanguine about the solo situation. I’m flying nearly every day at the moment, hopefully – surely! – an opportunity will arise in the next few days?

On the hugely positive side, today was a day where almost everything just worked out well – no, what I should say is, I did almost everything well. So much so that after today’s 2nd lesson, not only did I feel a huge surge of satisfaction and confidence, but my instructor clearly did too. Afterwards in the clubhouse he came over to me expressly to shake my hand and express how well I’d done today.

Praise indeed, and music to my ears. John’s not a hard man, but he is a professional flying instructor and he wants me to learn to a high standard – as he said yesterday, not just to learn to fly, but to learn to be a pilot. He is not miserly with praise, but nor is he lavish with it, so when you get some, you know you’ve done well. So after today, details of which I’ll relate below, I felt an injection of confidence that, in addition to John’s assessment, makes me personally feel ready for my solo.

At the end of yesterday, I did not feel ready to solo. Almost, but not quite. Today, I feel ready.

So. Today I was back in November Foxtrot Romeo (NFR), in which (coincidentally) I did my first hour on circuits. I feel so fond of NFR after today that I felt bound to photograph her this afternoon when I closed her out.

Circuit training

This morning was quite dark, with cloud bottoms at 2100 feet, no good for the 2nd lesson on stalls that we still want to get done in the training area but still perfectly OK for circuits. With the maxim that “you can never do enough circuits”, we hit the runup bay for runway 11 right and ran through our run-up and pre-flight checks, only to be informed by the tower that there would be a 10-minute delay and we were advised to position ourselves within sight of the tower and shut down. Which we did. For no clear reason, as the circuit only appeared to have 2 or 3 aircraft in it at the time, but after 10 minutes a wave from the tower got us back onto the radio, to hear that the aircraft ahead of us was cleared for the circuit and we were cleared for startup. Another few minutes and we were lining up and away.

Unfortunately the crosswind this morning was not strong enough to qualify technically as a crosswind lesson, but it was enough that on takeoff and landing I had to crab the nose of the aircraft a good 10 degrees to my right to maintain course and not get blown over onto runway 11 centre. Particularly for my landings, this was a good challenge, as I dealt with it much better than one of my earlier circuit lessons which entailed mild crosswind. So score a few marks for that.

Not much else remarkable about the lesson itself. 5 or 6 circuits – with plenty of traffic, requiring me to slow down even from late upwind and onto my crosswind and downwind legs. But 2 of my landings scored a “7.5/10” from John – by far the best so far – and they felt fantastic. Alignment lovely all the way down. Sufficient use of pedal to stay in line (though I could do more still). Good control of airspeed around 70 knots right over the airport fence and down to 65 then 60 on the runway threshold. And that lovely chirp sound as the tires gently kiss the runway – I got them! Several times! It wasn’t just chance, my best landings are just getting better.

John remarked afterwards that he’d actually enjoyed that lesson. Lovely feedback. I’m sure I will do many poorer landings in my flying career, but I now can truly say and claim that I’m getting that final landing flare sorted out.

Basic Instrument Flying

With no chance of a solo checkride this afternoon, John decided – with wholehearted endorsement from me – that we’ll plough ahead with other lessons that we can do straight away while we wait to get the first solo done. So, today I had my first experience of instrument flying. And I’m happy to say that – by either luck or some natural skill, or a bit of both – I did very well indeed.

After 10 hours on the circuits it was nice to get on a different runway (11 left for arrivals/departures) and out into the training area. Taking off and turning left, we made for Parramatta while climbing to 1500 feet. While we were doing this, John directed me to keep my eyes on my cockpit instruments to get an initial “feel” for flying the aircraft on instruments only. My primary reference was my attitude indicator (angle of the aircraft’s nose above or below the horizon) with constant reference also to airspeed indicator and altimeter, and also to my other instruments and my tachometer.

After five minutes of this, out came the hood! This slips over your head and is like a visor that blocks your view straight outside but lets you look at your instruments. And for the next 40 minutes I wore that hood and flew NFR entirely by reference to my flight instruments, following John’s directions to climb, descend, turn, maintain directed headings and on 3 occasions do a 180-degree level turn.

It sounds a bit scary, perhaps, but I honestly didn’t feel that. (Though I’m sure that if I found myself in real IMC – instrument meteorological conditions – the fear would be equally real). It was more of a very enjoyable and interesting challenge. And according to John afterwards, I handled it very well. (Perhaps those hundreds of hours on Microsoft Flight Simulator had to count for something!)

Apparently during the Private Pilot License training you must have 2 hours of “Basic Instrument Flying”. This, apparently, is intended to try to give you some sort of fighting chance of surviving if you ever find yourself trapped in real IMC conditions – though as a VFR pilot this should theoretically never happen. Apparently the statistics say that non-instrument rated pilots survive for an average of just 90 seconds (or 147 seconds according to a CASA publication I saw last year) in cloud. So it’s a pretty serious deal. At the very least, it’s intended to set you up to attempt to fly out of cloud by being able to execute a level 180-degree turn and go back the way you came.

My most interesting recollection of today’s lesson is:

Insight #17

Everything you read about instrument flying is true. Your senses can have you absolutely convinced that you’re flying straight and level when in fact you’re in a 10 degree (or worse) bank. As happened to me today. Or when you’re in a far more dangerous flight attitude. So the discipline is simple, if extremely challenging, as I can now relate from personal experience: you have to ignore what your inner ear tells you and trust and fly to your instruments.

On the way back I flew “blind” as far as Warwick Farm Racecourse, then took off the hood and executed an extremely satisfying flapless landing on runway 11 left – of similar quality to my best landings from this morning – followed by 2 left-hand circuits with similar results. And I finally got the picture of what to do on my landing rolls.

Insight #18

On the landing roll, don’t apply the brakes straight away! Use your feet to align the nose of the aircraft with the runway centreline, and then start to smoothly apply brake after everything’s under control. Don’t take an early exit off the runway if you’re still rolling too fast, be patient and take the next one.

I don’t exactly know what kind of mental block I had around this one – subconsciously I was obviously feeling the need to throw out the anchor as soon as the aircraft was on the ground after landing. But funnily enough I needed to learn this rather obvious but of landing technique all over again. I don’t think I’ll forget it this time.

So all in all, an enormous amount of achievement, satisfaction and positive learning coming out of today. I may not have soloed, but I’m ready for it when it happens, and I’ve proven to myself that I can land like a real pilot. Maybe I’ll become one yet.