Tag Archives: first solo

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

Date: 23/03/2011

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

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

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

Second Solo

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

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

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

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

Insight #20

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

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

Third Solo

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

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

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

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


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


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

Day 14: lesson 17 and First Solo!

Date: 22/03/2011

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

My first solo finally happened today!

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

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

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

Pre-Flight and Fuelling

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Insight #19

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

First Solo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Date: 18/03/2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circuit training

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

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

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

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

Basic Instrument Flying

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

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

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

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

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

My most interesting recollection of today’s lesson is:

Insight #17

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

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

Insight #18

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

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

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

Day 12: Lesson 15 – 10th circuit lesson


OK, not an awful lesson. In fact not a bad one. But a really great one for reminding me of the dangers of complacency, and also with a salutary lesson about coming to a full stop on runways.

We’d wanted to get a 2nd lesson on stalls in today, but weather just too marginal, so as with this morning we stayed in the circuit, in which I’ve now clocked up 10 hours! In preparation for my pre-solo checkride with a more senior instructor (scheduled for tomorrow), John threw in a series of simulated engine failures as he knows the instructor tomorrow will want me to handle these.

Apart from the first simulation – which was an engine failure on late downwind and on which I failed to immediately initiate a glide approach to the runway – the engine failure stuff was all good. A couple of simulated engine failures on climb-out and on crosswind went well. Despite failing to initiate the glide on the first time around, we did 2 glide approaches to the runway and I handled these pretty well. Oddly enough, my best landings seem to happen when I’m gliding the aircraft in!

The other stuff was OK, although the last 2 landings very damn scratchy indeed. On the 2nd last landing I approached too fast and too high, resulting in me landing skewed on the runway and requiring immediate work on the pedals from my instructor to control the nosewheel properly. For some reason I’d been reluctant to immediately correct my direction on the runway using the pedals, thinking I might somehow damage the nosewheel assembly? Not sure. Anyway, instructor simply asked me where my feet had been – they should have been on the pedals from the get-go, firmly correcting the direction of the aircraft.

Insight #15

If you land with your nose not properly aligned with the runway direction, use your feet and pedals immediately to correct the aircraft’s direction and get it back in alignment with the runway centre line.

And the last landing was pretty ordinary as well. I forgot my learning from Day 11 Lesson 13 about not letting the airspeed go too low on finals. So I applied heaps of power on late final, managed not to balloon too much but took ages to get down on the ground, and in my haste to exit the runway I braked too hard and nearly lost control of the aircraft! Instructor intervention again required. I think I was still smarting from the crap previous landing plus the one I’d just done and let the pressure get the better of me. What would have been far better would have been to ease off and use the next left exit off the runway. I had plenty of runway remaining, I still had a fair bit of speed and would have reached the exit quickly enough to avoid disrupting any traffic behind me.

Insight #16

On landing roll, avoid applying brakes so heavily that you risk locking them up and losing control of your aircraft. If you can’t safely turn for an earlier runway exit, take the next one down. You’re on the runway, you’ve got right of way, so don’t be in such a hurry that you take risks. Don’t dawdle, but by the same token, don’t let haste make things unsafe.

Apart from the above John was pretty complimentary about the lesson. I just don’t want to repeat the above ever, let alone in my pre-solo checkride tomorrow (weather permitting).

Ah well. It’s all good learning.

Day 12: Lesson 14 – 9th circuit lesson

Date: 17/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 2.20 0.00 0.00
Total to date 14.94 0.00 0.00

Weather this morning is a bit ordinary, but it’s been OK for circuits and we got up for an hour at 0830. Hopefully it will hold off enough for another lesson at 1100.

Not much to write about for this lesson. More circuits. Right circuits today (runway 11R). Basic feedback from instructor is that he thinks I’m ready to solo, but he still wants to get me doing smoother landings with flare a little lower than what I’m doing, and holding back a bit further and better on the control yoke. He describes it as “the difference between learning to fly, and learning to be a pilot” – he wants to train me to do the latter. As do I.

Mercifully, it’s a bit cooler today so we missed (or, in fact, didn’t miss) the routine sweating in the cockpit during start-up and taxi.

Probably the main thing today was the amount of traffic in the circuit. Maybe it’s because I usually only fly on weekdays at the moment, but I’ve been fortunate in having the circuit mostly to myself up to now. Which is great when you’re learning the basics, but in fact I also need to know how to fly safely in a circuit with other traffic, and there were 2 or 3 others out there with me this morning. This increases the onus on you to maintain a safe lookout and separation from traffic, and also to manage your radio calls with the tower with other aircraft communicating as well.

On the last circuit John simulated an engine failure on climbout. Frankly, at Bankstown there are not many emergency landing options in either the 11R or 29L direction. Lowering my nose, the best I could identify was a busy road off to my left …

Roll on 1100, then an early afternoon home with Laura and Lilu.

Passed pre-solo theory exam!

Woohoo! Passed my pre-solo theory exam with mark of 83% (needed minimum 70% to pass). On to the solo – maybe early as Friday? Who knows?

On matters of exactitude, my official exam score should have been 86% – as one of the exam questions and answers is no longer valid since the elimination of GAAP airports in favour of standardised Class D airspace in mid-2010. But I didn’t argue the point too strenuously, as I passed anyway.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

Taking care of theory – pre-solo exam

Expecting to take my pre-solo exam tomorrow. Not overly stressful hopefully – 30 multiple-guess questions and I’m pretty down with most of the theory. Wish me luck.

Also will be checking out the answers for the Endorsement questionnaire I’ve had to fill out for the PA-28 Warrior. All sorts of stuff: aircraft weight, speed & limitations; emergency procedures; fuel and other systems, blah blah. Have had to pull this together from 3 or 4 different sources as even the aircraft operating manuals don’t seem to hold all the answers. Will be interesting to see how much I get right with this.

Day 10: Lesson 12 – 7th circuits lesson

Date: 14/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.70 0.00 0.00
Total to date 11.64 0.00 0.00

Two lessons were scheduled today, but only 3/4 of one happened due weather. The low cloud and gusty wind conditions forecast didn’t arrive until a bit later than anticipated, but arrive they did and after about 40 minutes and 3 circuits my instructor pulled the pin on the lesson. In fact the crosswind was so strong that he made the final landing himself, judging (quite reasonably) that I was not yet ready for it.

But at this stage I’m reasonably sanguine about it all. Possibly foolishly? Here’s my thinking:

  • I’ve still got nearly 5 weeks full time to throw at this before I go back to work (though clearly I’m going to be doing some of my PPL training part-time after then – hopefully I’ll get the GFPT done though!)
  • My landings are getting better – made my best one so far today (though my instructor only rated it a 5 out of 10)
  • I at least got up today, which always feels better than a day with no flying at all
  • I got some additional much-needed study time in, and
  • I can’t do much about the weather anyway.

Not an awful lot to relate in terms of detail about today. We were only up for 35-odd minutes and only did 3 or 4 circuits. But today was notable in 2 respects:

  1. As mentioned above, I made my best landing so far. John only rated it 5/10, but he did say it was “good”. The approach was stable (this was while the wind was on the rise but hadn’t really come up yet in terms of serious crosswind), use of rudder was reasonable, hold-off was good up to the point when main wheels touched the ground with only a light “chirp” sound, and I actually heard the stall warning sound at that point, which is ideal. However I then dumped the nosewheel on the ground rather than continuing to hold off and allow the aircraft to fully land itself. But it was a key learning step and I can’t wait to improve it next lesson.
  2. It was my first experience of serious crosswind. Circuits were on 11 right today, and wind was initially from 150 degrees magnetic (that is, from about 40 degrees to my right) at 10 knots. This threw new variables into the equation. I needed extra right pedal to stay in line with runway on takeoff. And, I had to contend (and struggle) with the crosswind blowing me too close back to the runway on my downwind and final legs in particular.

After my “prize” landing, the last circuit I flew fully today was really difficult. The weather was coming in fast and the wind was both changing direction and increasing in terms of speed and gusts. Things were really bouncy and difficult for me on this circuit, and the landing not awful but the approach pretty scratchy. I’ve not yet been properly schooled in “crabbing” the aircraft into the wind on final approach – though I get it in principle, and this will come in my training.

On the last circuit John checked the wind with the tower and decided that this was our last circuit and we would land. On late base he further decided that the conditions were too challenging for my present level so he took over and landed. Crosswind was gusting up to about 28 knots at this point – the aircraft is only rated up to 17 – so I had no problems handing over the controls!

But it was good early exposure to the joys and challenges of crosswind circuits, takeoffs and landings. I’d like to have got 2 hours of flying in today, but at least I got 45 minutes, and I feel as though the turning point with my landing flare is just around the corner.

Stayed in the clubhouse to (almost) complete my endorsement questionnaire for flying the PA28 Warrior, which is a necessary step before first solo. Tomorrow is no-fly Tuesday – forecast weather would probably ground me in any case – so I’ll bone up for the pre-solo exam and hopefully get that out of the way on Wednesday.

Weather doubtful for rest of week though. Hope I can scam at least a couple more hours of circuits in the air this week at the very least. Otherwise, fear – as a very possible outcome – that Friday’s scheduled pre-solo checkride (and possible solo?) will delay into next week.

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Day 9: Lesson 11 – 6th circuits lesson

Date: 11/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.12 0.00 0.00
Total to date 10.94 0.00 0.00

Today was an excellent circuits lesson. My instructor speaks in very positive terms about every aspect of it now except the landing flare, which I still haven’t worked out fully. But progress was made on that today too. So we’re getting there.

He’s scheduled a checkride with one of the club’s Grade 1 instructors for next Friday (a week from now) as the last step before first solo, so looks like week after next for first solo if weather cooperates and I get the theory stuff done. (Theory shouldn’t be too much of an issue as I’ve done most of it and just need revision).

Some interesting tangential aspects to today’s lesson:

  1. As I was walking out to my aircraft (SFK again today), a couple of the club’s commercial students brought a twin-engine Duchess in to the area just outside the clubhouse and whipped it around, very rapidly. I don’t think they saw me and I had to scramble to get out of the propwash when they turned it around. My instructor was most scathing about the professionalism of these two pilots, especially that they turned the aircraft so quickly on a rough surface where there are loose stones and gravel (injury risk) and on which there was a good chance of propeller strike. He was at pains to tell me that “they’re not our students” but not sure what he meant by that.
  2. My aircraft was not properly closed out when I got to it. The pilot side window was open (a risk in today’s showery conditions), the flight controls had not been secured with the seat belt, the throttle lock was incorrectly positioned, there was a loose piece of paper in the cabin and the seatbelts had not been arranged as a courtesy to the next occupants. I must be starting to become as crotchety as the old aviators because all I could think of was “poor airmanship”!
  3. We’d planned 2 lessons today, but my aircraft this morning was unserviceable and I have time constraints this afternoon, but we managed to squeeze in today’s lesson with SFK around 1130. Interestingly it was showering only minutes after I got back to the clubhouse! So today’s lesson was lucky indeed. Poor weather over the weekend and possibly into Monday as well.
  4. I had a poor flare-out on one landing which my instructor turned into a “go-around”. We executed this reasonably well. We then had to do another go-around later in the lesson as the tower switched the circuit runway from 29 left to 11 right. So got some go-around practice in today!

But it was all good today. I handled 2 surprise engine failure simulations well.

Best indication so far that I’m making progress given John’s now set up the pre-solo checkride for me. Nearing that awesome first solo.