Tag Archives: flapless landings

Mission accomplished: I am now a licensed Private Pilot!

Date: 14/09/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Total
This flight 2.70 0.00 2.70
Total to date 51.2 15.2 66.4

Well, it’s official. I flew my PPL test yesterday and passed with (dare I say it) “flying colours”!

Well, not quite … in fact there were plenty of mistakes, on which I will reflect in this blog post. However, evidently none of them were deal-breakers.

I can’t quite express how happy and satisfied I am at having reached this landmark goal that I’ve held for so long. In fact I think despite 8 months of regular flying I still can’t quite believe I’ve actually done it. For so long, for so many years, being able to fly seemed like an impossible dream. Then opportunity knocked in the form of a TV game show, and all of a sudden it was within reach. Now it’s done.

Perhaps the best way to express my frame of mind today, the morning after, is “quiet but intense satisfaction”.

Now, my customary “long blog post” warning should probably apply from here on in. I don’t know how long this will take, but I’ve got so much to download, this could be fairly lengthy. Totes props to any of you readers who make it to the other end.

Preparing for the flight

I got to the club at 0730 sharp. And I’m very glad I did. Given the packed morning I had (as I’ll relate) before finally getting away at 1245, getting there early and getting the aircraft squared away definitely paid dividends.

I bumped into my instructor, John, who wished me well. The weather looked pretty good – CAVOK conditions – and he asked me where I was going. I told him I didn’t know, and would ask my test officer (our CFI, Bill) when he came in. John opined that I should have called Bill previously to sort this out. Well, I hadn’t (I’ve had a pretty distracting week at work), so I was a little apprehensive at that remark, but not overly so. I had the skeletons of 9 different flight scenarios already pre-planned, at least for the outbound leg. And there are only so many places you can go ex-Bankstown for a 2-3 hour round trip flight. So I figured I was reasonably prepared for whichever way Bill wanted to go.

I grabbed a cup of tea and walked out to the flight line. I was able to spend a relaxed ½ hour with the aircraft, NFR. I called up the fuel truck and while I was waiting, turned on the master switch and checked lights and stall warning indicator. The landing light was out (as had previously been noted on the Maintenance Release) but all good otherwise. Oil was just over the minimum 6 litres, brake fluid reservoir nearly full. All else was good. I then sat in the cockpit and spent 10 minutes re-familiarising myself with the NAV/COM systems so as not to repeat my radio error on my previous flight.

With full fuel on both tanks (and good luck wishes from the fuel guy), I filled a bucket of water and swabbed down the front and side windows, closed the aircraft and headed back to the clubhouse.

Flight planning twice over

As luck would have it, Bill was in the clubhouse when I got back from the flight line. I greeted him and asked him where he’d like to head for the test. Eyeballing the weather, Bill said he’d like to head to Bathurst, then down to Crookwell for some air work and back home via Bindook. I pulled out my flight plan for Bathurst via Warragamba and Katoomba and asked him if that worked – he said yes. So I downloaded the relevant weather reports and spent the next hour developing the full flight plan.

Once done, I checked in with Bill. We started on some of the preliminary paperwork, then I commented that there was still a SIGMET in place indicating possibility of severe turbulence below 6000 feet over and in the lee of the ranges. As it was, winds of up to 35 knots were forecast around the 5000 and 7000 foot levels. After reflecting on this, Bill decided (with my fervent agreement) that perhaps heading across the ranges in a Warrior was not perhaps the best idea for today’s test (downdrafts, anyone?) so we quickly decided on an alternative: Cessnock/Scone via Warnervale. While still windy and somewhat turbulent, the weather looked decidedly better if we stayed east of the Great Dividing Range.

So off I went for another 45 minutes or so of furious flight planning. I was thanking my stars (or more correctly, my pre-test preparation) for the fact that I already had that flight planned out as far as Cessnock, so I wasn’t starting from scratch.

I only had this thought this morning: thank goodness I chose to fly the Cessnock/Scone with diversion scenario as my last dual training flight before the PPL test. I didn’t have to do that last training flight: I could have gone straight to the PPL without it. But had I done so, I would have gone into yesterday’s PPL flight a bit “blind”. I wouldn’t have had the extra experience of flying through the Lane of Entry. I wouldn’t have had the familiarising experience of flying for the Singleton NDB (Non Directional Beacon) and navigating to stay clear of the restricted Dochra military area around Singleton. Nor would I have had the experience of having to divert to and locate the Warkworth aerodrome to the west – which is exactly what eventuated yesterday.  So I consider the fees for that last dual cross-country flight as money incredibly well spent.

Ground quiz

The second flight plan finally done, I swallowed hard and approached Bill to say that I was ready.

“Will you walk into my parlour?”, said the Spider to the Fly

Mary Howitt, 1829

Well that’s melodramatic of course – nothing so evil, though it does portray my moderate level of apprehension at that point. We closed the door, sat down, and got into the ground quiz.

What is it about this portion of the practical tests? As was the case with my GFPT ground quiz, I got through it OK, but on several questions I found myself stumbling and on a couple I flat out said, “I don’t know”.

Bill worked his way through the “Knowledge Deficiency Report” that spat out from my PPL theory test and satisfied himself (more or less) that I had adequate knowledge in each of the areas.

  • Refuelling precautions? Check – good answer there.
  • License privileges? No problems – nailed that one.
  • Take-off and landing distance calculations? I’d already had them done and reviewed them with Bill earlier in the morning. No further questions, y’r honour.
  • Interpret ARFOR? Fortunately the ARFOR for area 21 was reasonably straightforward. Bill asked me about the validity of a TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast) and I fluffed half of the answer through simple mathematical error but nailed the other half and quickly corrected my error. It was enough to convince Bill I knew was I was talking about. OK, move on, nothing to see here.
  • Engine temperature control? Pretty good answer. Pass.
  • Pitot static systems? No worries.
  • Lift? Man. Try as I did, I just couldn’t seem to understand the gist of the question Bill lobbed at me here. Went around it for 5 minutes or more. Whether he moved on out of pity, or I actually gave him the answer he was seeking, I’m still not sure. Less said the better.
  • Visual scanning? Correct technique described, all good.
  • Threat & Error Management? Flubbed the actual answer, though I think again Bill was convinced I have a general understanding of the TEM model. Mercy was shown.

A couple of other technical questions which evidently were satisfactorily addressed, and Bill declared stumps. Time to get into the sky.

Getting away: Bankstown to Patonga

The ATIS was information Golf, with takeoffs on 29R to the west, with moderate and gusting variable headwinds with crosswind up to 10 knots. Nothing too arduous. As I walked out to NFR, having signed out and grabbed the flight bag, I thanked myself for having gotten in early and readied the aircraft. All I had to do at this point was the fuel checks (first flight of day and after the morning’s refuel) and another quick walk-around, untying and removing the pitot cover. I opened up the cabin, got my stuff organised and by the time Bill got to the aircraft I felt squared away.

I asked Bill whether he wanted me to demonstrate the aircraft inspection or go through the standard pre-flight passenger brief. He indicated that we could take those as read, so it was straight into the aircraft and into the start-up procedures.

I think Bill liked the look of the little custom-assembled Flight Procedures Manual I’ve put together. I have A5-sized copies of the Bankstown aerodrome map, our club PA28 Cherokee flight procedures, a list of essential radio and NDB frequencies (Bankstown, Camden) and my own custom-developed pre-flight procedures checklist all mounted on cards and filed in a book with plastic sleeved pages. As I pulled it out and ran through the pre-start and post-start checks, I heard a quiet grunt of approval and saw the pencil go to his checklist – so a solid start, I thought. Bill also had a squiz at my flight plan and liked what he saw, at least I didn’t get any challenges about that.

Out onto taxiway Mike 2 and taxi clearance obtained from Ground, I gave Bill a verbal Departure Brief and then pulled into the run-up bay. Run-up and pre-flight checks completed and the Emergency Brief delivered, we taxied for the holding point for runway 29R and held for a couple of minutes for a preceding aircraft to take off. Clearance obtained from Tower, I lined up and we were away.

At 500 feel AGL I turned on to 010M for Parramatta and immediately felt the influence of the moderately strong westerly wind that was to dog me for the entire day. Flying a more or less northerly track for Parramatta, I had to lay off about 20 degrees to the left just to avoid getting blown over into Class C airspace. OK, at least I knew what I was dealing with.

Over the Prospect-Potts Hill pipeline and it was up to 1900 feet over Parramatta. Pretty soon I picked up the Pennant Hills strobe light and was able to track direct for that point. Transponder to 1200 (for class G airspace) and radio to Sydney Centre on 124.55, I commenced a brief climb to 2400 feet and reported just south of Pennant Hills to alert any traffic possibly heading west to the Lane of Entry via Hornsby from the coast. This was a trick I picked up from John in my last dual training flight, and I think Bill liked it.

Conscious of the westerly all the while, I was mildly stressed about finding the right angle of drift to lay off, varying between about 10 and 20 degrees left. Fortunately the various northbound landmarks (M2 interchange, Pennant Hills CBD, the Sands hospital, Thornleigh covered reservoir, Hornsby rail sheds etc) all materialised into view and kept me honest. The only real area of uncertainty for me was north of Hornsby: there’s about a 5-minute period there where you’ve got no more immediate landmarks and you have to trust your flight plan to pop you out correctly over Patonga. As I approached the Hawkesbury River area I sighted Brooklyn Bridge a little too close on my left, indicating that I’d been laying off a little too much drift and was in danger of impinging on the southbound Lane of Entry. I corrected this and made for what I was reasonably sure was – and which turned out to be – Patonga. Phew. First leg done.

Whither Warnervale? And the terminal velocity of apple cores

My next leg was planned to overfly the Warnervale Aerodrome. Over Patonga, I did the standard Time-Twist (heading bug)-Turn procedure, turned for my planned heading for Warnervale and shortly afterwards commenced a climb from 2400 to 7500 feet.

Bill questioned me about the height I was planned to fly to – did I really want to get to 7500? My following track to Cessnock was going to require descending to 6500 feet anyway, why go so high? This conflicted somewhat with the advice I’ve always received from my instructor John – to wit, “height is your friend”. I didn’t feel it was the right time to say, “the Grade 3 instructor who trained me would disagree with you, Bill” so I kind of played a straight bat and continued climbing. Having reached 7500 feet and flown for a few minutes, Bill was kind enough to observe that “at least it’s smoother flying up here” – which it was!

Then came the first glitch of the day. Searching for Warnervale Aerodrome, I started to form the view that I was too far north! And, I think in hindsight, I was also too high to accurately spot the aerodrome.

Bill agreed, and opined that I’d already passed it. Clearly I was so focused on the climb to 7500 feet (during which, in the last 2000 feet or so, climb performance had been woeful due thinner air and my full fuel tanks) that I’d neglected to get my head outside the cockpit enough. A glance to the left and I saw the end of the mountainous area north of Sydney that borders the southern end of the Hunter Valley, confirming that I was already entering into the general vicinity of Cessnock Aerodrome, which was my next destination after Warnervale.

So I decided to cut my losses and head straight for Cessnock. I relayed this decision to Bill, who agreed calmly enough. I changed course and descended to 6500 feet. Bill also commented that our groundspeed had been quite slow (he’d been monitoring the GPS in the cockpit, more on that later) and that as a consequence he’d like to do a few touch-and-goes at Cessnock, rather than overflying direct for Scone per the original plan. OK.

Levelling out at 6500 feet, Bill asked me to crack open the storm window on my side of the cockpit. About 10 minutes earlier he’d pulled an apple out of his pocket and had eaten steadily through it. So I complied, at which point he leaned across and neatly lobbed the core out the window! I was mildly taken aback – though reflecting on this, we were over what looked like unpopulated and bushy territory so there was probably no immediate safety risk to life or property below us. But much as this may have been a habit born of Bill’s (doubtless) thousands of hours of flying, it’s not something I’ll be doing in a hurry. I wouldn’t want to be the unlucky recipient of an apple core to the head from 6500 feet …

Over the ranges and into the Hunter Valley, I informed Bill that I would approach Cessnock Aerodrome on the dead side of the circuit and would descend to 1700 feet to overfly the aerodrome if needs be. Bill commented that while a lot of training material recommends overflying at 1500 feet AGL, this is in fact circuit height for heavy aircraft (jets, RPT etc) and the strictly recommended height is 2000 feet AGL. My question was, how can you see the windsock from that height? Good question, Bill replied! Basically it comes down to conditions and common sense, in Bill’s view – for example, there is no RPT operations around Cessnock that he is “aware of”, and 1500 feet was OK for today.

Down to 1700 feet and approaching Cessnock from the west, I had tuned in to the Cessnock CTAF in an effort to identify which direction the traffic was using. I had intended to overfly the aerodrome and spot the windsock (mainly to show Bill that I was aware of proper procedure), however we heard a couple of transmissions and saw traffic confirming that circuit direction was on runway 35.

So Bill recommended we descend to circuit height and get on with it, which I did quickly, dropping to 1200 feet and joining mid-crosswind. As I did so, I ran through the prelanding checks and saw another box get ticked off on Bill’s worksheet.

Circuits and bumps at Cessnock

First up was a standard landing with 2 stages of flap. Radio calls were fine and so was the approach, though the wind was pretty choppy down low and I was struggling a bit to fly proper square circuit legs. Final approach was fine, though – of course – I had to drop it down hard, having fallen prey to my old bugbear of flaring too early above the runway. Bugger. Oh well, anyway, down we were and then with flaps quickly retracted we were off again. Put it out of the mind and move on.

Second circuit was much better. Managed to fly the legs reasonably square, and I remembered to fly an extended downwind leg as this was to be a flapless landing. In any case, traffic ahead of me was doing the same. On the way in, Bill advised that after this landing we would depart to the north and head for the Singleton NDB.

And fortunately, this one was a greaser! I more or less intentionally managed to keep my speeds 5 or so knots above normal – is as the procedure for a flapless landing in Cherokees – touching down lightly at around 75 KIAS. Much better. Flaps in again, and off we went.

Climbing to circuit height, I levelled out and continued on runway heading for 2 nautical miles, extending the upwind leg so as to depart the area safely. Once clear of the aerodrome, I made a departure radio call, then as per Bill’s instructions set course for the Singleton NDB and commenced a climb to 4500 feet.

Circles over Singleton

As we climbed, Bill took me to task for the way I was flying the aircraft in terms of controlling pitch. I was struggling to reach the Best Rate Of Climb airspeed of around 80 KIAS, and was probably falling into the trap – in my admittedly overanxious state – of chasing the VSI (Vertical Speed Indicator) as it dipped above and below the zero mark in the choppy air.

The gist of what he was communicating to me was that I was failing to use my Attitude Indicator properly. He told me to choose the correct attitude for the climb – in this case about 5 degrees above the horizon I think – then trim it out and leave it alone.

This frankly has not been a big part of my training to date. In the climb, the main instrument I’m used to using is the Airspeed Indicator – making sure I’m at the correct speed (usually around 80 knots BROC), not too fast and definitely not too low, risking a stall. The only time I’ve had to really pay much attention to the Attitude Indicator is during my mandatory 2 hours of instrument flying – under which circumstances the Attitude Indicator becomes all-important.

Bill offered the view that many instructors tend not emphasise the importance of using the Attitude Indicator during PPL training, resulting in the need to breaking “bad habits” when pilots progress to higher levels of training and instrument flying.

Anyway, he was at me about this all the way to the NDB and intermittently for the rest of the flight. I was of course unsure whether this meant black marks against me for not flying within altitude tolerances, or whether it was in a more general sense part of Bill’s approach, which is to instruct in ways that don’t influence the outcomes of the actual check ride. Also he may have been intentionally building up some pressure on me to see how I would perform under a bit of pressure.

A few miles south of the NDB Bill informed me that once past the NDB he wanted me to do a 45-degree of bank steep turn to the left. Oh, great. Just the thing I’d been hoping to avoid having forgotten to practice this manoeuvre on my recent solo flight in the training area.

Well, I’m not sure if it was the accumulated pressure and stress, but quite simply I ballsed up the first attempt. In a nutshell, I didn’t bank past 30 degrees but (as per steep turn procedure) I did open the throttle full wide and consequently found myself over-revving the engine and climbing well outside of desired tolerances for a steep turn.

Bill was not overly pleased with this. Not sure if this was strictly allowed in terms of stepping outside his role, but Bill saw fit to demonstrate a short steep turn to me, driving home again the importance of using the Attitude Indicator to maintain desired pitch.

I humbly (and quickly) asked for a second chance, to which Bill agreed, and this time – thank goodness – I managed a reasonable attempt. I find steep turns a bit of a challenge, and of course while I should really have been observing whether I was maintaining a constant attitude (relative to the real horizon or to the Attitude Indicator), what I was of course watching were my altimeter (to try to avoid climbing or descending too far during the turn) and my Directional Indicator (to try to ensure that I anticipated the roll-out to straight-and-level by 30 degrees or so).

It was a bit up and down, but I pretty much nailed the roll-out on the desired heading and managed to bring it out flat on 4500 feet, from which I’d started the turn. Whether out of eventual satisfaction or despair I can’t be sure, Bill said that would do for now.

Diverting activities: Return to Warkworth

And then – this was where I was so thankful for having done the previous cross-country flight up in the area – Bill said that instead of heading for Scone he would like me to divert to Warkworth. He offered to take the controls while I sorted out maps, headings and so forth.

Fortunately, this took me all of 30 seconds or so. I pulled out my VNC (Visual Navigation Chart), and sketched a quick line from the Singleton NDB to Warkworth Aerodrome. Reading from this line a true heading of about 270 degrees, I subtracted local variance to arrive at an estimated required track of 258 degrees magnetic. And laying my notched pencil over the flight planned track, I quickly estimated about an 8-minute flight to Warkworth.

Resuming the controls, I quickly radioed Brisbane Centre and made my request for a flight plan amendment. This exchange went perfectly, with Bill’s only comment being that I should also have identified myself as a VFR flight.

So, we were off west to Warkworth flying at 4500 feet, with me anxiously searching for the airstrip. Fortunately, I arrived more or less directly overhead the airstrip and was able to identify it quite distinctly from 4500 feet altitude, a good 2000 feet lower than when I’d last been over the area. (Having located the aerodrome a few days previously on Google Maps didn’t hurt, either).

I pointed out the aerodrome to Bill and indicated that I would overfly it before changing course southwards. Bill concurred, and then asked me to prepare a track southbound for the Mount McQuoid NDB.

As it happened, I’d planned the flight assuming a southbound leg from Scone to Warkworth and thence to McQuoid and home, so I already had the required magnetic heading at hand. Therefore over Warkworth it was a simple matter to do Time-Twist-Turn and get sorted out for McQuoid.

Heading home: Instruments, NDB’s and GPS’s

Once established on the southbound track for McQuoid, Bill asked me to hand over the controls and to put on the hood. I hadn’t expected this, but I’ve been quite comfortable with the hood work so far in my training and saw no reason to be scared of it this time around. Bill said that he wanted me to fly on instruments for a few minutes.

So with the hood on, I focused on my Attitude Indicator as the primary instrument, and my other instruments as secondary, and moved into the rather zen-like state (at least that’s the way it seems to me) of relying solely on your instruments. At the PPL level, I believe the goal is to stay within 5 to 10 degrees either side of your desired heading, and within plus or minus 100 feet of your required altitude, all the while of course maintaining a steady desired attitude for straight and level flight, turns, climb or descent as the case may be. Four or five minutes in, evidently this part of the flight was successful and I was allowed to remove the hood and resume visual navigation.

With a good 20 nautical miles or so to go, Bill took the opportunity to quickly demonstrate some of the features of the (rather antiquated) GPS system installed in NFR’s NAV/COM stack. I’d already indicated in conversation earlier in the day that I was keen to get my head around GPS navigation, about which Bill was very supportive as he’s a keen advocate of “use every bit of equipment available to you in the cockpit”. Whereas I think my instructor John is more of the “navigate by dead reckoning” school of thought, at least so far as PPL training is concerned –hence my training has had no GPS content to it.

Didn’t take Bill long to convince me that my next learning step is to get into GPS navigation (as a secondary means of navigation, of course, to back up the traditional methods I’ve learned). For a start, knowing just how far I had to go to reach the NDB was invaluable – no need to guess, you know at any point exactly how many nautical miles away the waypoint is. And further, knowing exactly what my current magnetic track across the ground was, versus the track required to get to McQuoid, took all the guesswork out of chasing the needle on my Automatic Direction Finder. And this was just an old GPS unit – lacking all the fancy features of more recent ones, with on-screen maps and what-have-you.

Once at McQuoid, Bill took the controls while I practised entering our next waypoint – in this case, the NDB at Calga just north of Brooklyn Bridge – into the GPS unit. And bang, there it was. Too easy.

Descending to altitude 3300 feet to be under the 3500 foot control step by the time I reached Calga, I was well set up for the Lane of Entry and well clear of Richmond airspace as well (which had nearly been my nemesis in my previous flight up that way). So note to self: when southbound for the Lane of Entry, use Calga NDB as final waypoint before Brooklyn Bridge!

As we approached Calga, Bill also pointed out to me a region of some cleared spaces on low peaks off to our left, one of which is (apparently) an airstrip at Mangrove Mountain. Useful to know in the event of a forced landing or PS&L scenario, over an area otherwise consisting pretty much of hills and bush.

Anticipating flying down the Lane of Entry and approaching Prospect and Bankstown, I already had my required radio frequencies dialled up and had a sneaky listen to the Bankstown ATIS to find out conditions there. Bankstown was on information Juliet, with landings on 29R to the west and with a crosswind alert. Great, good to know well in advance.

Lane of Entry and the ever-present Richmond restricted airspace

Descending to 2400 feet to be under the control step, I flew over Brooklyn Bridge and made my southbound call to Lane of Entry traffic. Conscious of Richmond to the right, I scanned keenly for the Berowra strobe, which Bill informed me had been inoperative the previous night. (It’s out very frequently, apparently). I was all set to have to visually identify the Berowra township itself and the strobe area just to the southwest, when I saw the strobe and was therefore able to relax a bit and head straight for it.

Once there, I set the required southbound track for the next waypoint – being the strobe on top of the Dural tanks – and started to scan for it. With the westerly wind very stiff now, I had to lay off drift to my right to avoid getting blown left into controlled airspace, and as a result allowed myself to stray a bit too close to Richmond airspace on the right for Bill’s liking. He alerted me to this but was kind enough to allow me to correct the situation – which in any case was not out of control as I’d correctly identified the electricity substation at Galston and was keeping it well clear to my right.

What I hadn’t spotted – until Bill pointed it out to me – was the second strobe flashing quite prominently just out and off to my left. Additional note to self: actively scan when up and down the Lane of Entry. Use my head and neck, lean forwards, don’t allow the windscreen pillars to obscure my vision of important landmarks.

Once the second strobe was reached, it was then a matter of heading south over Castle Hill and visually locating Prospect Reservoir, and descending to the required height of 1500 feet for the Prospect reporting point. I made another check of the ATIS – still on Juliet – and then dialled in the Tower frequency, to monitor local traffic and prepare for contact with the tower.

And it was at this point – though I didn’t realise it until down and parked – that I made my last mistake of the day. And a blood annoying, niggling mistake it was too. I forgot to change my transponder back from 1200 to 3000 once I dialled up tower frequency and approached the Bankstown control zone. Simple mistake, but not a good one to make. Fortunately, this didn’t finish me off as I’d correctly set the transponder when exiting the Bankstown zone at the start of the flight. I reckon Bill put this down to stress of the flight, and let it slide. It pissed me off though: after all the flights on which I’d correctly executed this simple part of the procedure, I had to pick my PPL test flight as the first (and only!) time to forget it.

Reaching the quarry east of Prospect which serves as the reporting point, I reported inbound and was cleared to join downwind for runway 29R and maintain 1500 feet. I turned left and headed for the airfield, searching as I did so for the Dunc Gray Velodrome which now serves as a landmark for GA VFR aircraft approaching runway 29R. I ran through the BUMFISH checks and, once more or less abeam of the velodrome, I reported downwind and was cleared for a visual approach to 29R, being number 1 for the runway.

Down and dusted

Happily, I made a pretty good job of the approach and landing. As I’ve blogged before, I’ve found the quick drop from 1500 feet to circuit height (1000 feet) and then getting set up for approach and landing to 29R a bit of a rushed challenge in the past. But thankfully yesterday it worked out well.

I can’t quite recall my exact sequence of actions (throttle back and nose down, carby heat on, 2 stages of flap) to get down to 1000 feet on time to reach circuit height on late downwind, but the base turn was right on schedule, at the right height and airspeed, and after a bit of initial juggling to get aligned and on the right approach path, I nailed the final landing. Lovely to hear those tires go “chirp” for the CFI on the last lap of the day!

Off the runway and with taxi call made to Ground, I taxyed for parking and ran through my CFROST checks. Bill was asking me why my switches weren’t off yet – not sure if I’d adequately demonstrated to him that I had the right post-landing procedure in hand – but I told him I was using CFROST and he seemed happy enough.

I taxyed very carefully off onto the grass and into parking, ran through the shut-down procedures, and then took one deep, deep breath. I was mentally and physically exhausted! 2.7 hours on an often-choppy PPL check ride, with no break for a stretch, and my right leg had been a bit crampy on the way home. There’s no question but you do plenty of work on a PPL check ride.

So? Did I pass?

Bill started to debrief me on the flight and review the things we’d discussed and he recommended I focus on. Not wanting to interrupt him, I listened patiently for about 10 or 15 minutes, until I could stand it no longer. My gut said I’d probably passed – just – but I needed to hear it one way or the other. So I said, “So, how’d we do here, Bill?” And the bugger just offhandedly looked at me and said, “Oh, yeah, that was alright, you passed” and then grinned at me. He then offered me his hand and congratulated me, and I thanked him – genuinely – for being part of what was one of the proudest days of my life.

Bill tied the plane down and put the cover on the pitot tube while I did the paperwork and squared away the cabin. On the walk back to the clubhouse I was regaled with stories of Bill’s time as a Head Teacher of Aviation Studies with TAFE, in the days when TAFE owned and operated a Beechcraft Baron. Those were the days …

Paperwork, and silly English scenarios

To cap off the afternoon, some CASA paperwork to finalise outcomes of the test and apply for my PPL, and then the last thing that had to be done was an English language proficiency test. This consisted of Bill playing me a couple of audio tracks from his computer, put together apparently by people at CASA and consisting of imaginary “in flight” scenarios and conversations between pilot and air traffic controllers, speaking variously with very heavy, impenetrable “foreign” accents. The gist of the exercise was for me to listen to these scenarios and then describe to Bill exactly what was going on.

Simple enough for me, as a proficient English speaker, though I can see that this would have been a stiff test for those with not proficient with English – which I suppose is the whole point. I had enough trouble listening carefully for 5 or 10 minutes as it was, after the often-arduous flight, but evidently Bill was satisfied. A final handshake and a promise to mail the papers to CASA immediately, and we were done.

Mistakes and things I learned

  1. Missing Warnervale. I think 7500 feet or so AGL is just too damn high an altitude from which to visually locate a small aerodrome. I had the same challenge when I was trying to locate Warkworth Aerodrome from 6500 feet back in my last dual cross-country flight. Conversely, as I related earlier, I had no problems locating Warkworth yesterday from 4500 feet. (Though admittedly I’d been there before). So my tentative thinking here is: if I’m trying to locate an aerodrome I’ve not previously been to, 4500 feet or so AGL is about the limit from which I can hope to spot it.
  2. Overflying the aerodrome. Strictly speaking this should be at 2000 feet AGL to avoid circuit traffic at 1500 feet AGL (heavies, RPT etc). But it’s kind of a “common sense and circumstances thing”, according to our club CFI.
  3. Maintaining desired pitch attitude during flight. Whether you’re climbing or descending, or in straight and level flight, pay attention not just to your attitude as indicated by looking out the window, but also to your Attitude Indicator. If you use the AI to set and maintain the desired pitch attitude, and trim the aircraft properly, you won’t need to chase the needles and should be able to fly effectively “hands off”.
  4. Use GPS technology where available. Of course, only as a secondary means of navigation. But man oh man, it’s handy.
  5. Actively scan for the strobes and landmarks on the Lane of Entry. One might be hiding just behind the windscreen pillar and out of your sight if you’re not actively and fully scanning – left, right and forwards.
  6. Setting the transponder when exiting/entering Bankstown control zone. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS make the required change to transponder setting at the same time as I change radio frequency, both when exiting Bankstown control zone (radio to 124.55, transponder to 1200) and entering it (radio to 132.8, transponder to 3000). No exceptions.

Reflecting on the journey

So here we are. 8 or so months after my first flight, and with many significant landmarks along the way. Lots of things stand out.

All in the space of 8 short months. And here I was – here I am – suddenly having reached the goal that so many have shared over the years since general aviation became accessible to members of the general public. Not to over-romanticise too much, but I do feel as though I’ve joined a very privileged and select group of people: those who are lucky enough to be able to step in an aircraft and “slip the surly bonds of earth”* for a few hours at a time.

* With a nod to John Magee, an American pilot and poet killed in a flying accident while serving in the Battle of Britain. Magee wrote the famous and rather lovely poem High Flight.

Where next? Not sure. Money doesn’t grow on trees, and I don’t know when I’ll next fly. Somewhere in the next 6-8 weeks I guess. Somewhere in the general scheme of things to do next are:

  • First flight with my wife (maybe a weekend to Mudgee at some point?)
  • Joy flights with family members and friends
  • And, hiring John to show me the ropes of the Victor One/Harbour Scenic flights over Sydney.

Plus I also want to get my head around using GPS as an additional navigation tool. And I wouldn’t mind getting a CSU/retractable endorsement in the near-ish future as well.

Whatever lies next, I now have my “license to learn”. Can’t wait for the piece of paper to come in the post …

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.

Nav 1: Bankstown – Cessnock – Bankstown

Date: 15/04/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.90 0.00 0.00
Total to date 34.44 4.60 2.00

View flight overview on Google Maps

Yesterday my cross-country navigation training began! After 3 hours of ground briefing on Thursday, John asked me to have at least 2 flights planned so that we could choose either, weather depending. Following Thursday’s nav briefing I planned the bare bones of a YSBK-YCNK-YSBK (Bankstown-Cessnock-Bankstown) flight, then arriving at the Club early yesterday morning I put together same for a YSBK-YGLB-YSBK (Bankstown-Goulburn-Bankstown) flight. For those unfamiliar with geography around Sydney, the YSBK-YCNK-YSBK flight gives you a northerly coastal flying route option, while YSBK-YGLB-YSBK gives you a south-western inland option.

Pre-Flight Planning

It took me a fair while to put these 2 plans together, and I was under the hammer because we needed to be ready for the off by 1.30pm. 12.30pm rolled around and I hadn’t even looked at the area forecasts for each of the 2 routes nor done my winds, headings and estimated times for either of the plans. Fortunately I was able to do this fairly quickly, and I opted for the Cessnock option (a good, short introductory nav flight anyway) as the forecast clouds around the inland slopes and ranges didn’t look too hot.

Insight #29

This won’t be earth-shatteringly surprising for experienced aviators, but a good flight plan takes time to put together. Certainly at my stage and level of experience, it’s a matter of hours. It’s not something to be rushed. Time taken to plan a good flight, and to get real familiar with the map routes, is time well-spent.

1.30pm rolled around, John was back from his last ride and I hadn’t checked out my aircraft yet! OK, I wasn’t massively behind – only about 15 minutes or so – but it did give me added pressure to get through it all and get going. To be fair, it was also a slightly artificial situation in that I’d had to plan two flights prior to departure time. I wasn’t in anyway underprepared in terms of lack of application – I’d been at the club since 9am and I’d been up late doing flight planning the night before, having only had the nav briefing the previous day – but the pressure was indeed on. I learned a couple of things out of this.

Insight #30

Try as hard as you can – without compromising the quality of the pre-flight planning process – to be ready to go on the dot of planned departure time. The more time you have up your sleeve, the less rushed you feel. And, the earlier you’re ready to go, the better the chance you have for avoiding unfavourable weather that might affect your flight.

And …

Insight #31

You can have most of your flight plan completed well in advance of your flight. Waypoints, lowest safe altitudes, magnetic tracks, ideal altitudes, distances, radio frequencies and nav aids, aerodrome details, all of these can be done early and can then form the “template” for your proposed and future flights. On the day of flight, you can then take the flight plan, get your weather details and relatively quickly make your altitude decisions, wind, heading, groundspeed and estimated time interval (ETI) calculations, your fuel calculations, last light, estimated times of departure and arrival and of course your weight and balance and takeoff/landing calculations and checks.

Getting into the air

My ride was SFA (Sierra Foxtrot Alpha), a new aircraft for me and in fact it’s a Piper Archer – basically a somewhat more powerful version of the Piper Warrior I’m now used to flying. It was only due to my original aircraft being in unscheduled maintenance that this eventuated. But I jumped at the opportunity to fly the Archer! It’s a more powerful and slightly faster version of the Warrior, while being basically the same plane – so it was pretty painless to have to get my head around this as we started up and taxied. I’ll be doing some nav flights on the Warriors as well, but for later navs and my own cross-country flights the Archer will be my chariot of choice.

Fuelled up, started up and then one of the ear pads fell off my headset! John took over and taxied while I got myself sorted out, but it took me 2 minutes of fart-arsing around and unnecessary stress to fix my headset, get it on my head and resume control of the aircraft. It’s only the 2nd time this has happened to me in nearly 40 hours of flying – evidently the earpads are made for easy replacement and can come off easily – but it’s enough for a little gem of practical learning for me.

Insight #32

While getting organised for flight, check the earpads on my headset to make sure they’re in place, and don’t put the headset on the floor of the aircraft – the earpads can get bumped loose.

Run-up and pre-takeoff checks and departure and emergency briefs done, we had a brief wait and then were cleared for takeoff on 11L for a crosswind departure. Up and left towards Parramatta and we were away, me instantly feeling the additional grunt that the Archer’s engine adds to the aircraft’s performance.

The trip

Getting away at 2:25pm, we were over Parramatta at 2:28 and then heading up the northbound lane of entry to Patonga, noting key landmarks on the route including Parramatta CBD, the M2/Pennant Hills Road interchange and Pennant Hills, the Sydney Adventist Hospital  and Hornsby CBD. Over these and then we were up over the hills and gorges tracking towards the Hawkesbury area, arriving over Patonga at 2:38.

Turning left onto a heading of 333 degrees at Patonga, we headed direct for Mt McQuoid, which is equipped with an NDB (Non-Directional Beacon) which makes it very easy to track inbound. McQuoid reached at 2:53, we then turned right onto 018 degrees for Cessnock. Pretty soon we could see the greenery of the Hunter Valley ahead, and all of a sudden Cessnock Aerodrome in view (pretty good visibility yesterday). Entering the Cessnock area and making the necessary radio calls on the Cessnock CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency), we were in the Cessnock circuit and down for a quick touch-and-go, with arrival Cessnock at 3:08.

Not wanting to hang around due possible rain south of Sydney on our return, we headed straight out at turned left on 161 degrees for Warnervale Aerodrome. Overflying Warnervale at 3:25, we then turned right for Brooklyn Bridge. Achieving Brooklyn at 3:38, we then joined the southbound lane of entry and engaged in what John calls “map crawling” – that is, following a series of closely located landmarks on the ground rather than being guided primarily by the flight plan. So, southbound we tracked over Brooklyn, the Berowra strobe (according to John, he’d never seen the strobe as clearly as we saw it yesterday!), the Galston Sub Station, the South Dural tanks and strobe (ditto comment from John), the M2/M7 interchange and then the familiarity of Prospect Reservoir. I don’t have it recorded exactly what time we arrived Prospect, but it would have been around 3:51, and I know we landed at 3:55, so total flight time was just 1 hour and 30 minutes, about average for the YSBK-YCNK-YSBK flight apparently.

Conditions were pretty much ideal, apart from the last 5 minutes when the southerly wind in advance of rain was getting seriously up and I made a crosswind landing with just 1 stage of flap. John felt that I’d handled the first flight very well. He flew most of the outbound leg while I navigated, then I made the Cessnock landing and take-off and flew the return leg as well as navigating. I’d not had to worry about course error too much (it was only a short trip), the ride was pretty smooth so no distracting bumps, and we didn’t have to dodge any weather. But I suppose that’s ideal for the first nav flight. I know it will get more challenging.

There’s certainly plenty of work to do! I was busy pretty much the entire flight between the many activities involved, including:

  • Flying the aircraft
  • Keeping the DI (Directional Indicator) aligned with the magnetic compass
  • Attending to the discipline of maintaining my flight log and managing my maps and times
  • Checking for landmarks to confirm my position
  • Checking the engine operations
  • Confirming and managing my altitude
  • Sorting out my radio and nav aid frequencies
  • Making sure I was generally oriented
  • Managing my fuel, and
  • Making the radio calls
I can certainly now attest from personal experience the old navigation maximum about “staying ahead of the aeroplane”! Preferably by 15 or 20 minutes at all times. Can’t wait for my next nav.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 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.

Dave, You’re Working Too Hard! (via )

Joe Clark is a blog friend and a very experienced pilot and flying instructor in Florida, who’s kind enough to take an interest in my blog and in my flying. His feedback on a recent post of mine is worth a read.

I read with interest the insights learned by an Australian friend, Dave, a middle-aged (as he refers to himself) young person as he is learning how to fly. For his insight #13, he wrote, “Watch the airspeed on late finals! I made one really slow landing on which I was going as low as 50 knots even before I was over the runway threshold. That’s too close to the stall (even though I had full flaps out). Need to maintain about 65 knots over the airp … Read More

via