Tag Archives: emergency procedures

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

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

Practiced my emergency procedures

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I’m hitting the books

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

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

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

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

On the day

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

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

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

Will report back …

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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.

General update: Passed my GFPT! (and some earlier lessons)

Date: 06/04/2011 to 13/04/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 4.00 1.40 0.80
Total to date 32.54 4.60 2.00

OK, for regular blog readers (not that there’s many of you), I know it’s been quiet for over a week now. I’ve been crazy busy with flying plus life and family commitments. So I’m behind on my blogging, but with limited time, I’m going to try to do a quick catch-up just to keep the blog current and you all in the picture.

GFPT (General Flying Proficiency Test) passed!

That’s the big news. My GFPT was yesterday (13 April 2011), and I passed! I am now endorsed to fly single engine aircraft weighting less than 5700 kilograms, and to fly solo or carry passengers in the Bankstown training area. When I’m comfortable with my flying, I’ll take friends and family up. (Some conditions apply: I can’t fly more than 15 consecutive solo hours, or fly after an interval of more than 90 days between flights, before first having a dual checkride with an instructor. This condition is removed once I attain my full Private Pilots license.)

GFPT was with our CFI (Chief Flying Instructor). Ground quiz went OK, and apparently flight test too. Frankly I thought I’d failed, but he said I’d done pretty well for someone of my experience. I had this feedback indirectly via my instructor as well. So despite one pretty awful landing (out of 3) and a few other minor things, evidently I satisfied him.

It almost didn’t happen. Filling out the pre-test paperwork, turned out I was short 1/2 an hour of Instrument flying. For a minute there I thought I would not be able to do the test. Fortunately the CFI had time available and said if I wanted I could do the 1/2 hour with him before we switched into GFPT mode. As you can imagine, I said yes.

It was unusually turbulent, apparently a SIGMET was in force warning of moderate to severe turbulence below 5000 feet. We certainly caught some. I think the CFI factored this in to the way in which he judged my performance. As it was, we did not do any steep turns, and he decided against asking me to do a short-field landing (opting instead for 2 normal landings with 2 stages of flap, one touch-and-go and one full stop).

So – elated! My major goal for my 8 weeks full time flying achieved in 6.5 weeks. And still a bit of room to start the navs before I return to work full time and start to fly part time.

Preceding lessons

I won’t describe these in much detail, but preceding yesterday’s GFPT were:

  • 6 April 2011 – a lesson on short-field take-offs and landings. This was an hour in the circuit practising specific short-field take-off and landing manoeuvres. I won’t go into detail about these. What I do remember is some moderate turbulence and crosswind, and a couple of idiots in the circuit with me which made it difficult to get much done as we had to do no fewer than 2 go-arounds due to some poor airmanship (not mine thank goodness) and also some poor traffic management from the tower. My instructor got a distinct fright on late base on one of the circuits when looking behind to see a recalcitrant Diamond way closer to us than it should have been. As he later described it to me, it was a decent short-fields lesson considering “Degree of difficulty: Dickheads In Circuit”!
  • 7 April 2011 – my third area solo. I took an extended solo flight in the training area as I had to log a further 1.2 hours solo. So I did it all: stalls, steep turns, practise forced landings, precautionary search and landings, and some general tooling around the area. There was some wind out there which made it a bit bumpy below 2000 feet, and my landing was frankly appalling, fortunately my instructor wasn’t there to see it.
  • 8 April 2011 – my final consolidation session out in the training area with my instructor to get me ready for the GFPT. Basically we ran through the GFPT so I got a chance to see where I needed work. As it turned out, afterwards John said that it was one of the better pre-GFPT checkrides he’s done. But could have fooled me. My flapless landing was 10 knots too fast (way fast, although ironically and as noted by John it was a very good landing!) And my short field landing nearly missed the runway threshold. Needless to say I boned up extensively on technique for these 2 operations in particular.

Today – Start of Cross-Country Navigation component

Today was an extensive ground briefing to introduce me to the science, art and discipline of good flight planning. All very cool and interesting stuff. Once I finish this blog I have a ton of work to do tonight to prepare for tomorrow.

Tomorrow (weather permitting) – first Cross-Country flight

If weather permits, tomorrow we will do a return cross-country flight either to Cessnock (north of Sydney) or to Goulburn (to the south-west). Both are about 90-minute return flights actual flying time. Will let you know how it turns out.

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 21: Lessons 29 and 30 – Pre-Area Solo Checkride and First Area Solo

Date: 01/04/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.10 0.90 0.00
Total to date 27.64 2.30 1.20

An hour or so after my Incipient Spins and Steep Turns lesson, it was back into SFK with Ashley (the instructor who also authorised me for my First Solo) for a pre-Area Solo checkride. If this worked out and weather permitted, I hoped then to do my first Area Solo this afternoon.

Pre-Area Solo Checkride

We got out to the training area via downwind departure from 11L, climbed to 3200 feet and first thing Ashley wanted was for me to demonstrate some stalls. I started to set up for a stall without thinking – and failed to do my HASELL checks. Serious and failable mistake in an exam situation. I definitely learned from this!

Insight #28

HASELL checks are done for very good, real safety reasons. If an instructor asks you to demonstrate recovery from a stall, do the HASELL checks on your own initiative and don’t wait for the instructor to ask for them. If you fail to do the HASELL checks, you’ll probably fail your exam.

A couple of stalls done and recovered (one flapless, one with 2 stages of flap), Ashley then asked me to talk through my responses in the event of a forced landing. Satisfied with my response, he then asked me to simulate one and demonstrate how I would respond. At 3200 feet I closed the throttle, adopted best glide speed and went through my Forced Landings routine. After a downwind, base and final turn I got us down to 700 feet above ground level and well set up for a forced landing in a field. Satisfied that I would have landed, Ash then asked me to demonstrate some steep turns.

These were done well enough, Ash providing me with some valuable additional tips on picking my nose attitude relative to the horizon and watching it to make it easier to maintain height in the turn.

All done, Ash asked me to get us home. I headed initially for the reporting point at Prospect Reservoir, but after some prompting from Ash, I headed instead for the other reporting point, the 2RN radio tower. It’s a little harder to locate and see than Prospect, and I didn’t descend to the required report-in altitude of 1500 feet as quickly as I should have, but we got there. Reporting in from 2RN, we joined final for 11L by heading straight for Warwick Farm Racecourse, then we were down with a reasonable landing.

Ash was satisfied with the checkride and cleared me for my first Training Area Solo flight!

First Area Solo

I took a half-hour break, then refuelled SFK up to tabs on each tank, and headed out by myself. Very excited, probably feeling a bit more capable and competent than when I did my first solo circuit. The ATIS report had changed, but departure was still from 11L.

Run-up and pre-takeoff checks completed, I approached the Juliet 2 holding point and made my call. “Bankstown Tower, Warrior Sierra Foxtrot Kilo, ready for downwind departure on 11 left.” Receiving takeoff clearance immediately, I lined up and off we went.

Climbing on downwind at about 900 feet I had a call from tower concerning a helicopter doing a circuit on 11L and that I should look out for it. I couldn’t locate the helicopter and never did, but at least I was aware of the traffic and was keeping a steady lookout.

Levelling off at 1500 feet and heading for Prospect, I crossed the Liverpool-Fairfield railway tracks and climbed to 2000 feet. Bearing left and well clear of Prospect, once I passed the reservoir I changed transponder to 1200 and radio to monitor Sydney Radar on 124.55. Sighting Tadpole Lake ahead and 3 Lakes off to the left, once over the imaginary line joining these 2 landmarks, I then climbed to 2500 feet as I was now in the training area. I could have climbed higher – bottoms were at 3500 feet – but on advice from instructors I stayed low for this first solo.

And I then kind of just tooled around the training area for half an hour. I kept Prospect Reservoir within sight at all times, so I didn’t go as far as Warragamba Dam or anything like that – might do that next time. I just did a few long turns, being careful not to cross over the Warragamba-Prospect pipeline. I took a few happy snaps with my Blackberry just to commemorate the event (see below). Then once I had been out long enough, turned for Prospect and headed for home.

Descending to 1500 feet before I reached Prospect, I changed the transponder back to 3000, dialled up the tower on 132.8 and flicked on my landing light. “Bankstown Tower, Warrior Sierra Foxtrot Kilo, over Prospect one thousand five hundred, received information Juliet, inbound”. Receiving instructions to join final for 11 left, I turned right and headed for Warwick Farm Racecourse, descending to 1000 feet and completing my pre-landing BUMFISH checks. Lining up with 11 left, I turned and once over the railway tracks made my call, “Sierra Foxtrot Kilo, 3 miles”. Established on final, I received an early landing clearance and all that was left to do was to get down on the ground. With a bit of left crosswind, my landing wasn’t the best I’ve done, but I and SFK got down in one piece, then I was parking on the flight line and shutting down. 0.9 hours in command, and the first time I’d been let loose away from the airport by myself! I was well pleased. 2 more training area solos to follow early next week.

Photos

SFK, my ride for First Area Solo

View down to left outside my window (Bankstown Training Area)

Off and under my left wing

Cloud shadows off to the left

View over the nose, straight ahead

 

Day 21: Lesson 28 – Incipient Spins and Steep Turns

Date: 01/04/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.10 0.00 0.00
Total to date 26.54 1.40 1.20

Today was busy as hell. I had 3 flights, this one and two following which I’ll describe in my next post. With a total of 3.0 hours flying time today, I’m knackered. But enthused!

We’ve meant to get a lesson on Incipient Spins out of the way for a while, and we needed to get it done before I could do my first area solo. (When I did my Advanced Stalls lesson with Ashley, we covered a variety of stall situations but not recovering from incipient spins). Ditto for Steep Turns. So we covered these two elements in my first hour of training today.

After NFR and UFY both pulled up in maintenance, we managed to secure SFK for my flying today. Weather was cloudy but perfectly flyable, so we headed out into the training area (more good practise for me in departure and radio procedures, CTA steps and recognising training area landmarks) and got stuck into it.

Incipient Spins

Basically, an incipient spin is a condition that precedes a full spin. In most training aircraft it’s not a situation you want to get remotely near, but it can happen and you need to know how to recover from it. Most likely scenario is that you’ve got the aircraft into a stall (intentionally or unintentionally) and then a wing drops and stalls. You are then in a situation where the aircraft enters a spin in the direction of the stalled wing, and while your airspeed may be quite low (at least initially) your rate of descent increases rapidly and you lose height quickly.

Most training aircraft, including the Piper Warrior, are not actually able or rated to do spins – this is usually reserved for aerobatic aircraft – but you can practise recovery from the incipient spin. After reaching 3500 feet and doing our HASELL checks (more on this back in my initial Stalls lesson post), John stalled the aircraft and somehow got a wing to drop, and we were in an incipient spin.

This is not a fun manoeuvre. AT ALL. I swear the aircraft was banked at least 80 degrees if not 90, it certainly felt as though the dropped wing was pointing straight down at the ground. Do not try this at home.

Anyway, the critical aspect to recovering from this situation is to first level the wings, but as the dropped wing is stalled, you must not level the wings with ailerons as, with a wing already stalled, this can only make the situation worse. The correct response is to apply firm and full opposite rudder, which yaws the aircraft in the opposite direction but then as a secondary effect also induces the aircraft to roll in the direction of yaw, that is, opposite to the direction of the dropped wing. Once wings are level, feet off the pedals, raise the nose (not too rapidly) and once the nose is above the horizon, apply full power and climb away.

And it works. We did it 2 or 3 times with John in control and me following through on his movements, then he induced 2 incipient spins and had me recover from them by myself.

It was not fun. Interesting, yes. Challenging, yes. But not fun. My heart was thumping the entire time. But, I learned how to recover from an incipient spin and am now armed with the knowledge to get myself out of one should I ever f**k up enough to get into one.

Steep Turns

Incipient spins out of the way, we turned our attention to steep turns. Generally speaking, these are turns of more than 30 degrees angle of bank, and are usually used in emergency situations where you need to turn left or right in a hurry (eg in a traffic avoidance situation).

The thing about a steep turn is that much of the lift generated by the wings is directed sideways in the direction of the turn, rather than upwards, so you need to maintain a great deal of back pressure on the control column to maintain height in the turn. Additionally, so much additional weight is placed on the wings that the stall speed increases significantly, and to compensate for that you need to use full power once you bank beyond 30 degrees.

So, basically, roll into the turn, when at 30 degrees angle of bank apply full throttle and maintain firm back pressure on the control column to maintain height. If you start gaining height, release a little back pressure. If you start losing height, lesson the angle of bank, apply enough back pressure to recover desired height, and then steepen the turn again. All the while, keep a steady watch on the horizon outside relative to the aircraft’s nose – if you pick the right attitude and hold it, constantly checking your aircraft’s attitude and performance and then looking back out at the horizon, it’s easier to maintain height in the turn than if you chase your instruments.

When you want to roll out of the turn, start to roll out about 10 degrees ahead of your intended heading, and throttle back to cruise power once you pass 30 degrees angle of bank to wings level.

One possible outcome of a steep turn “gone wrong” is that it develops into a spiral dive. These are also not good news. However, like an incipient spin, you can get out of them – the trick is knowing how.

Unlike an incipient spin, in the spiral dive the wings are not stalled. So, correct procedure is to close the throttle (that is, cut power), level the wings with the ailerons, then as with an incipient spin, pull the nose up (not too sharply) out of the dive and then once nose is above the horizon, apply full throttle and climb away.

On the way back, John did the instructor trick and pulled an engine failure simulation on me without warning. Like an idiot, I dithered for 30 seconds before responding and going through my forced landing procedures. We ended up doing it twice before heading back, but I lost my cool a bit both times. I learned two very important things for the exams and future lessons though.

Insight #26

If an instructor pulls an engine failure simulation on you, don’t f**k around asking him or her if this is a real simulation. Recognise it as an engine failure and deal with it as you were taught. Your success in your flying tests depends on it, as could your survival in a real engine failure situation.

And …

Insight #27

As part of your first response to the engine failure, put carby heat on, check fuel mixture is on full rich, check fuel pump is on, and change fuel tanks. You can do diagnostics and troubleshooting later (if time allows), these are the things you should do every time to see whether any of them restarts the engine.

A few left and right steep turns, then we were back to the aerodrome, reporting in at Prospect Reservoir and making a landing on 11L. Not my best landing – I flared too high – but competent enough, and we were back in once piece. A busy lesson completed.

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!