Tag Archives: crosswind

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.

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Nav 7: Final cross-country navex Bankstown-Cessnock-Bankstown (next stop: PPL test!)

Date: 01/08/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 2.60 0.00 0.00
Total to date 46.64 13.10 2.00

Last Monday, on probably the best day for flying I’ve enjoyed in my nearly 60 hours so far, I finally managed to get out for my final cross-country navigation exercise. It was a truly magnificent flight: I think I enjoyed it more than any other so far. However, like all flights, it was not without its challenges and hiccups, as I’ll relate.

Flight route and objectives

Yesterday’s flight took me, in simple terms, north from Sydney to Cessnock in the Hunter Valley, then further northwards towards Scone, followed by a diversion west to Warkworth and then south back to Bankstown. The flight was planned and flown using the following waypoints:

  • Depart YSBK (Bankstown)
  • Fly north to PAA (Patonga) via northbound Lane of Entry (overflying Parramatta, Pennant Hills, Hornsby)
  • Direct north to YCNK (Cessnock) for landing
  • Then further north via YSGT (Singleton) to YSCO (Scone)
  • South to YWKW (Warkworth), MQD (Mt McQuoid) and Brooklyn Bridge (BBG)
  • Then south to PSP (Prospect) via southbound Lane of Entry (overflying Berowra, Dural, Pennant Hills)
  • And home to Bankstown.

In actual fact I didn’t get as far as Scone, as one of the main objectives of the flight was to practice a diversion in that general area so that I’m reasonably prepared if I fly up that way for my final PPL test with the club CFI. (I’ll describe that exercise shortly). Other objectives were to:

  • Fly again up and down the Sydney Lanes of Entry. (These routes have to be flown quite precisely and I’d only been through them once before, on my first navigation exercise. Club policy is to require students to have flown these routes twice dual before being allowed to go solo through them).
  • Become familiar with flying around and avoiding the Singleton Army Base restricted area “Dochra” to the west of Singleton, and
  • Generally do a last “consolidation” cross-country flight before heading into my final PPL test.

Sorting out the aircraft and getting away

I’d booked one of the club’s Archers, SFA, for this flight. I’ve only flown it once before. It’s a slightly better touring aircraft than the Warrior as it has a bit more grunt up front (cruising at 110 KIAS vs 105) and is a better performer – in terms of range vs passenger load – than the Warrior.

Unfortunately, SFA was due and into its 100-hour maintenance on Monday, so I missed out. Denied SFA, I quickly rebooked Warrior UFY (flown on my first cross-country solo flight) only to find out that my instructor had booked another Warrior, IJK, which I hadn’t yet flown. (IJK was undergoing a comprehensive engine replacement and external/internal refit in the earlier stages of my training, which is why it was new to me on Monday). I’m always up for flying a new aircraft, so I elected for IJK. Weather checked (CAVOK conditions) and flight plan done, I headed out to the flight line.

IJK, my ride for this flight

For an aircraft just out of a comprehensive refit, IJK was mildly suss, I must say. Landing light was not working and the strobes on the wings were only functioning intermittently. However, given the weather conditions we decided these were not issues requiring a change of aircraft.

Of ever so slightly more concern was what appeared to be a slightly stuck or damaged fuel drain below the right fuel tank. After fuelling, the standard test for fuel quality involves draining a sample of fuel, via the fuel drain valve, into a container to identify any water or impurities in the fuel. On doing this, the fuel drain developed quite a steady drip of fuel. On manually pulling the drain down, the drip stopped.

Given that the fuel drip had ceased, we decided to fly to Cessnock on the right tank and (upon landing) check our fuel situation there. If the right fuel tank drain was leaking in any way and our fuel supply was diminished, we could refuel at Cessnock and in any case have more than enough fuel in our full left tank to make it back to Sydney comfortably. In the unlikely (in our judgement) event of running out of fuel in flight en route to Cessnock, we could always switch to the left tank. (In any event, as I’ll relate, we suffered no loss of fuel whatsoever).

Another view of IJK that I love - with Bankstown's resident DC3 parked in the background near our flight line

I started up,  taxyed out to the run-up bay and ran through the pre-flight checks, deciding to do the pre-takeoff checks before engine run-up as engine temperature was not yet quite in the green. All done, we taxyed to the runway and took off to the west on Bankstown’s runway 29R (right), climbed to 500 feet and then made a right turn towards Parramatta on a magnetic heading of about 010 degrees. Reaching 1000 feet, I levelled out until over the pipeline that runs east from Prospect Reservoir to Potts Hill, then climbed to 1900 feet to clear Parramatta, changing to area frequency (124.55 mHz) and transponder code to 1200 as I did so.

Parramatta to Cessnock: Over the hills

The Parramatta to Cessnock leg was essentially two stages. First, head north up the Lane of Entry from Parramatta to Patonga. Second, track direct from Patonga to Cessnock.

The Parramatta-Patonga stage was the first time I’d navigated along the Lane of Entry without any assistance. It went well enough. AirServices Australia publishes a handly little spiral-bound guide for entering and exiting Bankstown Class D airspace, complete with landmarks and navigation references, magnetic track headings, radio frequencies and altitude limits, that made it (relatively) easy to map-crawl all the way to Patonga. Once over Parramatta I climbed to 2400 feet and changed to area frequency 125.8 just before overflying Pennant Hills. Then it was further northwards over Hornsby, and another 10 minutes or so before identifying the small Hawkesbury area communityof Patonga lying in a small sheltered beach north of Berowra.

Along the way, John recommended making a radio call when northbound just before Pennant Hills, which is just south of Hornsby. Hornsby is the point at which northbound aircraft can turn right to track towards the coast for Longreef (usually aircraft planning to do Harbour Scenic and/or Victor One flights down the coast). They also track back from Longreef to Hornsby to rejoin the Lane of Entry and can be a traffic hazard, especially if they don’t make appropiate radio calls/position reports. So John recommended I make a this call to alert any traffic in the area to my presence. Good safety tip!

At Patonga I turned north onto a track of 349 degrees magnetic direct for Cessnock, put the aircraft into a climb for target altitude of 6500 feet and settled in for the 25-minute flight to Cessnock. Climb performance was not fantastic as we were still carrying close to a full load of fuel, we were probably only achieving a rate of climb of 400 feet per minute, so it was a good 10 minutes before I levelled out in the cruise.

The flying was magnificent! Still air, no turbulence, and despite some building high cloud, CAVOK in all directions with clear views off the coast to our right, the Hawkesbury area and Blue Mountains to our left, and the Hunter Valley to our north. This is how conditions remained all day (despite one shower on approach back to Bankstown), which meant that I was able to climb to and maintain optimum altitudes for the entire flight. I was rapt. It’s so much fun to get up into the clear smooth air and be able to stay in it all the way, and the views are magnificent. This is one of the many things that make flying so much fun for me.

After about 10 minutes in cruise, we approached the northern reaches of the coastal ranges and the southern end of the Hunter Valley. I put IJK into a 500 feet-per-minute descent, ran through the top-of-descent checks and started scanning for local traffic (visually and via the radio) as well as looking for the airstrip. Radio traffic informed me that runway 35 was in use, which at Cessnock involves flying a right-hand circuit. So I descended to the west of the aerodrome to circuit height of 1200 feet and joined the circuit mid-crosswind, behind an aircraft doing circuits from the airstrip. Still not 100% sure of the fuel situation in the right tank, I switched to the (full) left tank as a safety precaution in case we had to do a go-around and needed power in a hurry.

The landing was solid, though as John pointed out, my feet weren’t as awake as ideal. (I find this is one of the “feel” things that erodes as your time between flights increases). Regardless, we taxyed for the Cessnock southern run-up bay and parked and shut down for a quick stretch of legs and a fuel check.

John checked the fuel. Full in the left tank (as expected) and about 30 litres down in the right tank. This squared precisely with my expectations of the fuel we should have used (according to my flight plan and fuel log), so we were 90% reassured that we weren’t losing any fuel.

With that said, John – being ever-cautious, which I like about him as an instructor, because it teaches me good habits – suggested a 2-prong strategy for our return leg:

  1. Take off and climb on the left (full) tank – reason being that these are the most “vulnerable” phases of flight during which running out of fuel is to be particularly avoided; then at the top of the climb switch to the right tank and
  2. Run on the right tank for another hour so as to conserve fuel in our known “best” tank for the later stages of the flight and return to/landing at Bankstown.

Cessnock to Warkworth – Diversion practice!

So, start-up, run-up and pre-flight procedures and checks, and I made the very short taxy  to Cessnock’s runway 35. “Entering and rolling”, I made an upwind departure and climbed to 1500 feet above circuit height. Reaching that altitude, I turned direct for the Singleton NDB (non directional beacon), which is situated to the northwest of Singleton township. I was heading for the NDB as a means of skirting well clear of the Singleton Army Base, a restricted area located immediately south and west of Singleton.

I climbed back to 6500 feet before reaching the NDB. As soon as I overflew the NDB John diverted me to Warkworth – diversions being part of the final PPL flight test, and something that I’d only done twice before. So with Scone out of the picture (as planned), I pulled out my VNC (Visual Navigation Chart) and quickly sketched a line between Singleton and Warkworth. Visually, the line was a straight line to the west, which I estimated meant a track of 270 degrees true, or about 258 degrees magnetic when adjusted for local magnetic variance. Laying my pencil – specially notched with 10 mile/6 minute increments – I estimated my time to reach Warkworth at 8 minutes. I then set course for Warkworth and set about making my radio calls to Brisbane Centre to amend my flight plan.

This radio exchange went OK, though the controller sounded a tad frazzled and impatient. In fact before I spoke with him I heard him flaming a Virgin flight somewhere in the area, whose pilot could not seem to get the controller’s message that he was using the wrong radio frequency. Equal parts heartening and disturbing to realise that a commercial pilot with the airlines could make this mistake also, but I suppose that’s human nature …

I was very quickly in the Warkworth vicinity, overflying several large open-cut mines (this being the lower Hunter Valley). But could I locate the aerodrome? Could I hell. 5 or 10 minutes of circling around was fruitless. John encouraged me to bank the aircraft to both sides to improve my visibility of the ground, but to no avail. Finally John took pity on me and banked the aircraft steeply to the right to reveal that I was in fact right over the aerodrome! A grass strip used for gliding, I could even see the twin crosses marked on the aerodrome to indicate gliding operations. Oh well – didn’t find it that day, but I now know what the place looks like if that’s my diversion destination during my final test.

Warkworth to Mt McQuoid – Just cruising

After circling Warkworth for a couple more minutes I turned south to begin the southbound trip back to Bankstown, putting the aircraft into a climb to 7500 feet as I did so. Conditions remained beautiful – there was some cloud around, but well above us, with great visibility and no turbulence to speak of.

South of Warkworth I still had to be mindful of remaining clear of the Singleton Army Base restricted area, so with a bit of map shuffling and visual reference to the ground I decided that if I could stay to the west of the road joining Warkworth and Broke – which is to the south of the Army base – I would remain in the clear.

Once over Broke, I turned to align myself with the ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) needle, set the DI (Directional Indicator) bug and made straight for McQuoid. I checked the radio freqencies I’d need for the return trip and then “relaxed” for a few minutes with nothing else to do but steer for McQuoid and maintain straight and level flight at 7500 feet.

McQuoid to Brooklyn Bridge: On track, or heading into controlled air space?

We were over McQuoid after about 10 more minutes of cruising. I switched maps to my more detailed Sydney VTC (Visual Terminal Chart) and put the aircraft into a 500 feet-per-minute descent. (Estimated time from McQuoid to Brooklyn Bridge was 16 minutes and I needed to get down from 7500 to 2400 feet by that point, so a steady but not drastic descent was called for). I set course of about 161 degrees magnetic and started visually scanning for the general vicinity of Brooklyn Bridge, expecting to reach it in around 16 minutes.

About 10 minutes in, John remarked that the area immediately south of us didn’t look much like what he was expecting, and he wondered if we were too far off to the right and heading for the controlled airspace of Richmond RAAF Base. A quick check of the map and a scan outside suggested he might be on to something, so I pointed us another 20 degrees or so towards the east. After another few minutes we caught sight of Brooklyn Bridge, which from its position off to our left confirmed John’s suspicion that we’d been far off track to the right. Had we maintained that track, unquestionably we would have busted into Richmond air space. This would not have been a good situation, either in general terms or particularly if this had happened to be my actual PPL test flight.

Flight track adjustments made, we arrived over Brooklyn Bridge at 2400 feet and ready for our final leg home via the southbound Lane of Entry.

Brooklyn Bridge to Prospect and Bankstown: Map crawling, looking for strobe lights, and virga

As with navigating through the northbound Lane of Entry, going southbound it’s necessary to maintain pretty specific altitudes and headings to avoid infringing on various areas of controlled air space to the right and left. This also involves looking for some prominent land marks, and a couple of strobe lights as well.

The first thing you’re looking for is the Berowra strobe, a visual navigation aid for pilots that lies just south and west of the Berowra township. Trouble is, the strobe wasn’t working on this day – and apparently has been out of action for at least 4 days. Anecdotally, it’s often out of action or hard to spot anyway. So I was a little unsure of what I was actually looking for. Another good reason for having done this flight today, as John was able to point out the general location of the strobe in relation to Berowra township, and also the actual location of the strobe, in a kind of cleared area.

Next up are a couple more prominent features left and right of your required track – being particularly important not to stray right into Richmond air space – and in particular the South Dural strobe situated atop a water tank. This strobe was fortunately easy to spot, though CASA’s Class D procedures recommend that you be able to identify the water tank (green sides/orange top) without the aid of the strobe if needs be.

At Berowra John commented on a couple of virga showers of rain in the vicinity up ahead. In simple terms, these are rain showers where the water evaporates in the air before reaching the ground. So amazingly, in a day of mostly CAVOK conditions with only high cloud and no precipitaion, I found myself briefly flying through a rain shower!

From the South Dural strobe it’s a track of about 205 degrees magnetic to Prospect Reservoir and the inbound reporting point for entry to Bankstown. As I flew this final part of the leg I descended to 1500 feet and progressed through the required sequence of radio frequencies. Monitoring the ATIS for local weather and runway in use, I made my inbound call, then approached Bankstown and landed towards the east on runway 11L. Landing was reasonable, though in the light 8-knot crosswind I should have used more rudder on late final to achieve better alignment with the runway centre line.

The usual short taxy back to parking and I shut down with the satisfaction of a great flight and the knowledge that the next cross-country flight I do will be my final test for my Private Pilot License!

Checking the fuel in the tanks, I haven’t done the exact numbers but the fuel remaining in my right tank was about 35 litres, consistent with the additional hour or so I flew on the right tank between Cessnock and Bankstown before switching to my left. So I conclude that we in fact experienced no leakage of fuel from the suspect fuel drain underneath this tank.

Flight post mortem: Reflecting on the Richmond air space thing

Reflecting on what could have caused me to be off track southbound from Mt McQuoid and heading straight for Richmond air space, I’ve come up with the following possibilities:

  1. Incorrect magnetic track determined during initial flight planning. I have yet to go back to the map to check the track and heading I’d planned between McQuoid and Brooklyn Bridge, to see if I calculated it inaccurately. A mistake is obviously possible. However, I planned the flight weeks ago slowly and methodically, so I’m not inclined to think this is the most likely cause of the problem. Probability as a contributing factor: LOW
  2. Incorrect heading determined when adjusting for forecast wind during final flight planning. I was under some time pressure that morning before the flight – I’d had to dash down the road to buy a new E6B flight computer and was conscious of needing to get the flight and weather stuff done so I could fuel and check the aircraft and get away at a reasonable time. As mitigating factors, I’m getting more proficient at doing the final flight planning immediately pre-flight, and despite time pressure, I consciously forced myself to slow down and focus on doing the planning right. But if I was to make a mathematical error regarding this leg of the flight, the morning flight planning definitely involved a bit more stress and pressure than usual. Probability as a contributing factor: MEDIUM
  3. Incorrect heading maintained due to misreading flight plan during flight. Looking now at my flight plan, I see possible error resulting from misreading my flight plan. My planned track from McQuoid to Brooklyn Bridge involved a magnetic heading of 166 degrees. However – and I can’t be sure of this – I may have inadvertently set a course of 161 degrees, which was my planned heading for the preceding leg from Warkworth to McQuoid. My memory is a bit hazy on this point – but I seem to recall having a figure of 161 degrees in my head at the time. Having said this, a magnetic heading of 161 degrees should have actually pointed me more towards Brooklyn Bridge than a heading of 166 degrees. So I’m inclined to feel that if I did in fact make this error in reading my flight plan, it should actually hav worked in my favour. Probability as a contributing factor: LOW
  4. Stronger than expected easterly winds blowing me off course and to the west. It’s of course always possible – even probable – that the winds you experience in-flight are totally different to those which were forecast. You can be flying in the smoothest possible conditions and still be subject to a 20 knot wind blowing you sideways. It’s one of those things you can never predict, and have little control over, other than remaining watchful and making regular checks of your actual versus planned position and track. Probability as a contributing factor: HIGH
  5. Inadequate monitoring of position when actually flying that leg. I must confess to “letting my guard down” a bit flying the initial part of that leg back to Brooklyn Bridge. I knew (or thought I knew!) where I was, where I was going, and what I was doing next. I took the opportunity to chat for a few minutes with my instructor about life, the universe and everything. And in doing so probably didn’t remain as vigilant about my navigation as I should have been. Probability as a contributing factor: HIGH

In my defence on point 5 above, it was the first time I’d navigated southwards over this area towards Brooklyn Bridge, so it was unfamiliar ground – and, flying over the hills in the Hawkesbury area away from the coast can make visual identification quite challenging, ground features being an extensive series of green hills interspersed by the occasional waterway, with only isolated and hard-to-spot landmarks or distinguishing features.

What I learned: Things to do in future

At this stage – and subject to checking my flight plan in point 1, I’m inclined to think my track error was a combination of factors described in points 4 and 5. So, what can I do in the future to minimise the likelihood of making this mistake again – particularly when flying in this region north of Sydney?

  1. Never assume I’m “on the right track”. At all stages of flying a leg, make regular checks of your actual vs planned position and track using all means at your disposal: estimated vs actual flight times and positions, time checks over known landmarks, reference to navigation aids, general scanning and assessment of “am I, within reasonable limits, at or near where I expect to be”.
  2. Make sure I’ve read my flight plan correctly. No matter how clearly you’ve planned your flight, in-flight with other demands on you, it’s quite possible to focus on the wrong line on the plan and read a heading for a leg other than the one you’re actually flying. Take an extra second to make sure you’re reading the right figure.
  3. Assume that the winds you experience in-flight are different to those forecast. In other words, expect to be blown off track and to have to navigate and correct accordingly. Make it part of your work routine to always be looking for how far off track you are and what you have to do to correct it. If you find you’re maintaining track without any additional effort, so much the better.
  4. Southbound from McQuoid to Lane of Entry, incline towards the coast. In this specific area north of Sydney, flying the McQuoid-Brooklyn Bridge southbound leg, a safe way to leave plenty of margin between yourself and Richmond air space is to incline to making track error towards, rather than away, from the coast. Once the Hawkesbury waterways start to come into sight – assuming reasonable visibility – Brooklyn Bridge is reasonably prominent and you can always adjust your southbound track to arrive overhead. If you’re flying south on this leg and you can’t see any water, or the water is way off to your left, it’s a safe bet you’re headed into restricted air space.

Next

So that’s it. So far as my PPL is concerned, the training flights are over. The PPL flight exam is scheduled for Wednesday 14 September, hoping the weather is suitable. I’ll go out and do a solo hour in the training area a couple weeks prior to practise emergency procedures (stalls, forced landings, precautionary search and landings, steep turns) to brush up as it’s entirely possible I may have to do one or more of these during my final exam flight.

And some study and revision between now and then, especially on the areas listed in my “Knowledge Deficiency Report” from my PPL theory exam. Can’t believe I’m nearly there!

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.

Day 22 – Lessons 31 and 32 – Precautionary Search and Landing / 2nd Training Area Solo

Date: 04/04/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.90 0.90 0.00
Total to date 28.54 3.20 1.20

NFR was back online today after replacement of brake lining on right wheel. Conditions this morning looked a tad windy – ATIS forecast a maximum crosswind of 15 knots and John said he would not send me solo in conditions like this. And he was also reluctant to do our other outstanding lesson – short field takeoffs and landings – in a strong crosswind. So he elected to do our other outstanding lesson, Precautionary Search & Landing.

Precautionary Search & Landing

Unlike forced landings, a precautionary search and landing is usually done under power – that is, you have full or partial power. So in essence and theory, you’re able to do a bit more of a methodical, thorough search for an appropriate landing site than under engine failure conditions.

When would you do a precautionary search and landing? Various situations, including:

  • Running out of fuel and can’t make destination
  • Weather closing in eg. unavoidable storms and/or lowering cloud
  • Ground rising with low cloud
  • Close proximity to last light and you won’t make your destination

Etcetera.

John was at pains to point out that all of the above factors are well within your control and with normal planning and airmanship you should never find yourself in any of these situations. However, situations can develop and obviously you want to know how to land if you absolutely need to.

The other situation in which a precautionary search and landing is typically done – and this is a relatively common situation in Australia, I would think – is when you’re landing on an unregistered/unrated airstrip, such as a bush strip on private property. In these situations, you will definitely want to make a close inspection of the landing strip/surface, slope, obstacles, wind, appropriate circuit pattern, approach path, climb-out path, hazards such as livestock etc.

So. Taking off from 11 left and making a 180-degree turn climbing to 1500 feet, we tracked out past Prospect Reservoir and, maintaining 1500, tracked towards a field that John likes to use for this lesson. Our simulated conditions were: fly no higher than 1200 feet (eg if cloud bottoms were at 1200), and no lower than 700 feet (ie no lower than 500 feet AGL, and spot height is about 200 feet out in that part of the Bankstown training area).

Approaching the field – which is just south of Tadpole Lake, a key landmark delineating the start of the training area – a column of smoke conveniently told me which way the wind was blowing (from my left, or roughly 170 degrees magnetic). Taking into account a large brickworks or dump immediately west of the field – which I decided I’d rather avoid so far as circuits were concerned – I decided on an upwind landing in about the 150 degrees magnetic direction, with a left hand circuit.

Dropping down to 1200 feet, I slowed the aircraft down and put out one stage of flap to slow to about 80 knots. Flying base, I looked down to make as good an initial inspection of the field as I could. Turning downwind, I noted a dam at the far left end of the field – to be avoided obviously – and a plantation of trees and shrubs marking the upwind end of the strip. Turning crosswind – still at 1200 feet – I made a closer inspection of the end of the strip and also noted trees on either side of the strip to be avoided.

Turning downwind – all the while doing as close to 80 knots as possible – I started counting seconds as I passed the end of the strip. “One potato, two potato, three potato …” etc. The rough rule of thumb, when flying at 80 KIAS, is that one second equals about 40 metres in runway length. Reaching the threshold of the strip at 22 seconds, I estimated the length of the strip at 880 metres.

Continuing downwind, I noted power lines on my right to be avoided, and on my left, a river or creek short of the landing area which would need to be avoided on approach or in the event of landing short of the landing strip. Then on turning base again, I lowered the nose and let down to 700 feet AGL. Turning upwind but staying to the right of the landing strip, I was able to look out my window and get a closer and better look at the landing surface.

I got a better look at the landing surface – looked relatively level from 500 feet AGL, but hard to be sure, and I thought I saw patches of what looked like concrete – could there have been a factory or some other building on this strip in the past? Hard to say. I also noticed – this time around – a few cattle grazing below, which in a real situation would have needed to be frightened away from the landing area by doing a lower altitude pass at (say) 50 feet AGL. However, we were unable to descend that low in this exercise.

While doing this, I also estimated the length of the runway again, and this time made it 20 seconds estimating 800 metres in length. Averaging my two estimates, I made it about 840 metres in length, give or take.

Crosswind turn gave me a closer look at the end of the runway, as did downwind and base. For final, we stayed at 700 feet AGL overflying the landing area, then did a go-around and climbed away. John declared himself satisfied that I’d flown the precautionary search and landing OK.

Climbing back to 1500 feet, John sprung an engine failure on me – which this time (unlike my Steep Turns lesson) I’d been anticipating! Raising the nose, I converted airspeed to height and quickly ran through my CMF routine – carby heat on, mixture full rich, fuel pump on, switch fuel tanks – to simulate immediate responses to an engine failure. I picked a field just ahead and to my right, and planned a downwind, base and final leg as I was not working with much height up my sleeve. During this I slowed a bit much – to about 60 KIAS – and the stall warning horn sounded, but I lowered my nose immediately to build up airspeed.

I was then about to simulate my squawk of 7700 on my transponder and my Mayday call, but John declared himself satisfied with my immediate responses and a good choice of landing site. So we climbed away without further ado. It was a good exercise in a situation in which I may not have had time to do anything other than immediate checks and plan and execute an approach. I had little time for my Mayday call and precious little still for the prescribed CFMOST checks. Priority number 1 is Aviate and get yourself down safely, even if you can’t make all your calls or do all your checks.

Tracking back via 2RN, I neglected to lean the mixture (which apparently our CFI likes us to do when inbound) and also to flick on my landing light. I really need to make sure I do these things during my GFPT test with Bill Cooper next week!

Approach and landing were good enough, no comment from John, so I’m assuming the landing was acceptable.

Second Area Solo

Once back at the clubhouse, John said that if conditions remained as they were, he’d be OK to send me for my 2nd solo. Basically I had to hang around for half an hour and hope that this was the case. So John went out in NFR with another student, and I grabbed a bite to eat and kept an eye on the weather.

The ATIS was India and suggested wind from 180 degrees at 10 knots with a crosswind maximum of 10. Back down, John said the conditions were quite OK and the crosswind not as bad as suggested by the ATIS, so he cleared me to go. I didn’t need prompting! So once signed out by John, I grabbed the flight bag and went out to pre-flight NFR.

Fuel was up to tabs on both tanks, so no fuelling was needed, and the aircraft was good to go. So I started up and headed out, taking off again from 11 left and doing the 180 degree turn climbing to 1500 feet to track south of Prospect.

Things were much bumpier than this morning! I stayed at 1500 feet and returned to the field we used this morning for our Precautionary Search & Landing lesson, and did another Precautionary Search & Landing exercise myself. It was a bit more challenging as the wind from the south was stronger and gustier, and I had to use a bit more throttle control to maintain 80 knots on the 1200 foot and 700 foot inspection circuits. Additionally, the wind blew me in towards the runway on crosswind and away from the runway on base. But I managed OK and felt pretty satisfied with the exercise.

After overflying the landing site, I climbed out to 3000 feet and further into the training area, trying to find some calmer air but it remained quite gusty and bumpy for the entire flight. Trying to stay out for 1.1 hours (as opposed to the 0.9 I managed in my first area solo), I did several slow turns out round Bringelly and Warragamba, and after I judged I’d been out long enough, started to lose height in stages so that I could arrive over Prospect Reservoir at 1500 feet. (Unfortunately, I managed to be out for only 0.9 hours again – bugger – so my next solo, hopefully tomorrow, I’ll have to make damn sure I’m out for at least 1.2 hours so as to get my minimum 3 hours of area solo time. The southerly blew me in towards Prospect way quicker than I’d anticipated, even after my noodling around out in the training area!)

I did everything as required when inbound, other than neglecting to lean the mixture on the way in, so I’ve got to make sure I do this tomorrow to be ready to do it for the CFI.

I had to point the nose a good 10 degrees to the right of Prospect just to track over it, which indicated the significant southerly blowing, and in fact the ATIS had changed to information Juliet with a crosswind of 12 knots. After my inbound call I tracked to Warwick Farm while descending to 1000 feet and was really bounced around by the headwind I was facing into.

Turning final for 11 left over the railway tracks and making my 3-mile call, I throttled back to 2000 RPM and put out 2 stages of flaps and commenced my approach. I realised shortly after that in the sort of wind I was in I probably should have used a maximum of 1 stage of flaps, or done a flapless landing, but the approach was OK and I was able to maintain airspeed with relatively minimal throttle inputs. But I was sharpened (I hope) to the need to make appropriate flaps decisions for landing based on conditions, and in similar in future I will do flapless landings or use a maximum of 1 stage of flaps.

The landing was OK. I think it was probably the strongest crosswind I’ve yet landed in, and when I was finally down I had landed pointing slightly right of the runway centre line, but it wasn’t a bad situation and I was able to roll out and stay aligned with the runway pretty easily.

Five minutes and I was back at the flight line, parking and shutting down NFR and breathing the sigh that always comes after my solos and I’ve been working and concentrating hard! Definitely bumpier and more challenging conditions than for my first solo, but I managed well and got down safely, so again, a good confidence booster.

Tomorrow – hopefully – my third and last Area Solo. I’ll need to make it a long one, 1.2 hours plus. But if conditions are right, I’ll do some practise stalls, forced landings and steep turns, which should keep me busy and out there for enough time.

Day 20: Lesson 27 – More instrument flying/simulated radio failure

Date: 31/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.80 0.00 0.50
Total to date 25.44 1.40 1.20

Today was an extremely ordinary day from a weather point of view. However, we did get up this morning to do my 2nd lesson of Basic Instrument Flying (building on my rather successful first instrument flying lesson several days ago) and to do a simulated radio failure on return to the aerodrome.

Basic Instrument Flying

We headed out into the murk (bottoms broken around 2000 feet) in UFY. After turning left off runway 11L, John almost immediately directed me to put on the hood. A few minutes of flying on instruments and then John made with the post-it notes, progressively blocking out more of my flight instruments (altimeter, vertical speed indicator, airspeed indicator, turn coordinator) to simulate instrument failures. Very difficult to fly on instruments without benefit of my altimeter – when John removed the post-it note I found that I’d lost a few hundred feet in altitude despite my best efforts to fly straight and level.

But all this must have gone OK, because we then progressed to the next part of the lesson. John directed me to put my head down (so I couldn’t see any of my flight instruments) while he put the aircraft into an “unusual” attitude (eg. nose high or nose low, wings banked, airspeed rapidly increasing or decreasing) and then had me resume control and quickly restore the aircraft to straight and level flight using only instruments.

Not easy. But again, must have done OK. In a nose-high attitude with airspeed decreasing, basic drill was to increase power, lower the nose and level the wings. Conversely, in a nose-low attitude with airspeed increasing, basic drill was to reduce power, level the wings and level out.

I’m under no illusions that I’m anything like a capable pilot on instruments. There is, after all, a reason that there are entire ratings devoted to learning this highly specialised flight skill. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not allowed to go anywhere near cloud and never intend to, but it’s good to have had at least an elementary exposure to instrument flying.

Simulated Radio Failure

Scenario: I’m out in the training area, returning to the airport and I tune my radio to the ATIS to find out latest weather, runway direction etc. No joy. I try to get the tower frequency, no luck there either. I try to figure out if there’s something easily fixable with my radio set – volume, squelch, correct frequencies, switches etc. Still no luck. What do I do then? I have to get back to the airport and get down somehow.

First thing is to remember that just because I can’t hear the ATIS or tower doesn’t mean they can’t hear me. My receiver may be faulty but my transmitter works just fine. So, in sequence:

  • Squawk 7600 on my transponder
  • Make my inbound call as normal including the phrase “transmitting blind” – at least if they can hear me, they’ll know I’m inbound and that I can’t hear them
  • Overfly the aerodrome at 1500 feet – 500 feet about circuit height – and identify wind and/or traffic direction (look at the windsock, other aircraft in the circuit or on approach etc.)
  • Once landing direction is determined, overfly the runway in the landing direction and let down to 1000 feet while overflying the runway
  • Make my crosswind turn, then turning downwind, make my standard downwind call including the phrase “transmitting blind”
  • Start looking at the tower for light signals – I’m looking for the green that signals me I can land if satisfied no collision risk exists
  • And start flashing my landing and nav lights – certainly on base leg, but no reason I can’t start doing this on downwind
  • Turn base and start to descend, keeping firm eye on the tower for my light
  • If green light sighted, I’m clear to land – acknowledge by flashing lights, then land
  • If red light sighted or no light sighted, go around and repeat until tower “wakes up” and signals me in!

Not a circumstance I want to encounter in real life, but at least I know what to do now.

Pre-Area Solo Exam and next steps

The weather turned filthy, so I sat my Pre-Area Solo exam and got that out of the way (86%). If the weather is good tomorrow, I may fly 3 times. Need a lesson on Steep Turns. Then I have a checkride booked with Ashley (from my first solo) to verify my readiness for my first Area Solo. And if that works out, and weather still permits, I’ll do my first Area Solo tomorrow afternoon.

Weather I do Area Solo tomorrow or early next week, I don’t mind so much, but really looking forward to it. First solo sortie away from the airport! First time around I’ll basically fly out into the training area and kind of float around for an hour, keeping good proximity to Prospect Reservoir so I can find my way back to the airport. One done, my 2nd and 3rd area solos will be similar but I’ll be able to do some more practice of stalls, forced landings etc.

And, we’re planning ahead now to the GFPT (General Flying Proficiency Text) exam. We’ve booked our Chief Flying Instructor for Wednesday 13 April! There’s plenty of flying to do before then, and also the BAK (Basic Aeronautical Knowledge) theory exam. But now it’s getting serious. The GFPT exam is a good 1.5 hours in the air and probably another 30 minutes or so on the ground. Exciting, a little daunting, but this is what I’ve been after. Once this is done, I’ll have my “restricted” licence and will be able to carry passengers in the local training area.

Following that point, it’ll be the cross-country navigation exercises and accompanying theory leading up to the full PPL (Private Pilots Licence). Some or most of this component I’ll be doing part-time, as my 5th week of my 8 weeks off work is almost done. But that’s all fine.

Things are accelerating!

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.