Tag Archives: flight theory

Nearly there: All the theory tests are done!

I passed my final PPL theory exam yesterday with a mark of 83% (minimum 70% pass mark). The exam wasn’t too hard, though there are a few areas I’ll need to work on (guided by the ominously-named “Knowledge Deficiency Report” which the computer spat out at the end). Our club CFI Bill said as much, telling me that he may grill me on these areas when we go for my final flight test.

The two final questions (out of 54) I flat-out guessed, as they both related to Threat and Error Management (TEM), a subject completely absent from the theory materials I’ve been working from. My CFI seemed a little dismissive of these questions, apparently regarding them as over-fanciful technical terms for basic good airmanship, but I’m not so sure and I will read up on this a little bit. Any handy references from readers of this blog post would be most welcome!

(I’ve started a TEM discussion thread on downwind.com.au, check out the thread there if you’re interested, some good comments from the Downwind community).

I went into the exam feeling a bit undercooked in terms of preparation. I lightly revised the PPL theory material in the last fortnight, but it wasn’t a really heavy hitting-of-the-books. I’d meant to do the 3 Bob Tait PPL cyberexams I’ve still got access to, but (family) life got in the way and the nights I’d meant to devote to the sample exams slipped through my fingers. My wife Laura confidently told me that I’d nail the exam regardless, and I was in cautious agreement as I usually perform pretty well in theory exams. But for maximum comfort I’d always planned to do as many sample exams in the week prior as I could – well, it just didn’t turn out that way. But it’s done, I’ve passed, and as my CFI said, I wouldn’t have wanted to get 100% anyway else CASA would think I was cheating!

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On matters of exactitude, my official exam score should have been 86% – as one of the exam questions and answers is no longer valid since the elimination of GAAP airports in favour of standardised Class D airspace in mid-2010.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.

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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.

Finally, all the flight theory is starting to gel

I’m meeting on Saturday with my flight instructor, prior to (hopefully) starting my training on Monday after next. As a means of gauging how well I’m going with my theory study, last night I took the first of the 4 Bob Tait PPL “cyber exams” that I’ve signed up for. According to Tait, these online exams are “the most realistic simulation of the CASA CyberExam available”.

Long story short, I’m encouraged. I scored 70 out of a possible total of 80 marks, equating to an exam mark of 87%. I completed the 56-question exam in just under 2 hours, well short of the 3:15 timeframe allowed. So in general I feel that I’ve realised my goal of having a reasonably solid base of theoretical knowledge going into Day 1 of my flight training.

There are caveats, of course. First, this is only a trial exam – it’s not the real thing, and it may not necessarily fully simulate the real CASA exam. Second, it’s only the theory knowledge set out in the PPL syllabus. It’s only the minimum knowledge legally required to fly a light aircraft. It doesn’t reflect the practical learning and experience, nor the 1001 tips and tricks that experienced flight instructors (hopefully) share that don’t appear in any training manual. In the wise words of Han Solo – Don’t get cocky!

A thing I really like about the Bob Tait cyberexams is that, after your exam is marked (takes only a few seconds), you receive a “Knowledge Deficiency Report”. It tells you the questions you answered incorrectly, but it doesn’t actually tell you what the correct answers were, just the area of study you need to go back to and revise further. In other words you can use it to really learn about where your theory is strong and where it needs more work. In my case, areas for revision before I do the next sample exam include:

  • Human performance. I incorrectly answered questions about metabolizing alcohol, and about how humans adjust to jet lag.
  • Meteorology. I squibbed a question on conditions associated with cold fronts, and two questions on interpreting ARFORs (Area Forecasts) – clearly an area I have to look back at in detail.
  • VFR operations. I incorrectly answered a question on flying OCTA (out of controlled airspace). Will have to look back closely at this – I really thought I got this one right.
  • Aircraft performance. Gave a wrong answer on reason for maximum take-off weight.
  • Navigation. I incorrectly answered a question on indications of station passage on an ADF (Automated Direction Finder). I already know where I went wrong on this one – stupid mistake!

But having said all this, I’m feeling good and confident. The hard theory work, snatched in 15 minute, 30 minute and 1 hour increments here and there over the past 4 months, is paying off. And there’s just over a week to go until Day 1!

Air Law is killing me …

My head is swimmming with half-digested facts about Air Law. And I’m not that confident that I actually remember that many of them.

It’s not that it’s all particularly hard. And it’s very, very necessary. Even vaguely interesting in parts. But I find that, of the entire theory syllabus for the Private Pilot Licence, Air Law is the stuff I struggle with most.

It’s probably not been helped by the fact that my theory textbooks are 3 years old and partly out of date, so far as the Air Law component is concerned. Since those books were published there have been major amendments to Australian air traffic control regulations (the introduction of Class D airspace in mid-2010) and – in general – a lot of consolidation and reorganisation of the Aeronautical Information Package (which is one of the major repositories of aviation regulation to which Australian pilots refer). Consequently, some of the Air Law references and exam questions in my old text books are out of date. I’ve had to work extra hard at figuring out which stuff is still current, and which is superceded.

By way of compensation, and to make sure I’m working off current rules and regulations, last week I bought a recent text focusing specifically on Air Law. I’ve read and worked through it, and that’s helped. Thank goodness. But now, I’ve been rolling around in Air Law for a week and it’s done my head in. Time to step away, I think.

Thank goodness the exams are open-book and I can have all of the rules and regulations in there with me!

First Things First (via The myFlightCoach Blog)

I really like what Chris says here about attacking the theory at a steady pace. I’ve been doing this for about 4 months, a little bit at a time, and I find it all starts to stack up and make sense. And at the PPL level, it’s not all that hard really.

First Things First When you first begin flying you may feel overwhelmed with the amount of information you encounter.  It seems like there is so much to learn and much of it sounds like a foreign language!  You’ll hear your instructor and other pilots talk about things like: Class B, ATC, VSI, Static Port, Asymmetrical Thrust, Nimbus, ATIS, and the Pattern.   In the air the radio will crackle with odd sounding phrases that seem only vaguely related to English.  A l … Read More

via The myFlightCoach Blog

First meeting with my instructor: A mild dose of reality and some good learning

So I met on the weekend, for the first time, with the bloke who has been suggested as my instructor for my March-April training. On first meeting I was reasonably favourably impressed. Professional, well presented, clearly speaking bloke of 29. In first conversation he seemed like the type of person who’s able to listen – always a good quality in a flight instructor!

What I liked most is that he didn’t shy away from immediately communicating a couple of things to me that some prospective students may not necessarily want to hear. He imparted two views to me that have prompted me to do some thinking and mild adjustment of expectations over the weekend.

Can I get it all done in 8 weeks?

As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’m not sure whether 8 weeks full-time flying will be enough time to fully achieve my PPL (Private Pilot Licence). Weather being probably the most important variable, followed by my general learning pace and progress. (Possibly with aircraft availability thrown into the mix as well). My instructor – let’s call him “Brian” since I don’t want to use his real name in this blog and because I love Monty Python’s Life Of Brian – painted a rather more conservative picture. In addition to underlining the weather uncertainty – he pointed out that March in particular can be variable as the season changes from summer into autumn – Brian suggested a rather more definite scenario might be that I do my GFPT (General Flying Proficiency Test) in my 8-week timeframe, perhaps with some progress towards my PPL as well.

This is well short of the aim I’ve set myself of knocking over the PPL in 8 weeks, particularly given the discussions I’ve had with other people including the General Manager and CFI of my flying club, and a friend of mine who’s flying heavy aircraft for Qantas. The general impression I’ve had so far is that 8 weeks should give me a reasonable (though not definite) shot at knocking over the PPL. However it’s probably a good reality check at this preliminary stage. I always knew that weather could be a factor. This has simply prompted me to adjust my expectations towards the possibility that it just might not be all done and dusted in 8 weeks. In which case, whatever part of my training remains uncompleted after that period – which would probably be some part of my Navigation training towards achievement of the full PPL – may have to be completed on a part-time basis.

That’s an outcome I was specifically trying to avoid. The whole idea of taking time off work and learning to fly full-time is to minimise the impact on my family – avoiding the need to be away every (or every other) weekend. I called my Qantas pilot mate Chris, who pretty much endorsed what Brian told me, though suggesting that Brian may be thinking on the particularly conservative side at this stage.  But Chris also reinforced the view I’ve heard from pretty much everyone else, which is to stay flexible, be ready for some setbacks, and not get frustrated.

Sound advice! I certainly embrace the idea of setting realistic expectations, so what I’m determining to do is go as hard at this as I can in the 8 weeks full-time I’ve got, and just see how it goes. If it’s not all completed by end of week 8, it’s not the end of the world. With my mid-week flexibility and weather permitting, I could probably take every 2nd Wednesday and every 2nd Saturday or Sunday and get the rest done in 2 or 3 months. We’ll see how we go. At least I can target achievement of my GFPT in 8 weeks with confidence, and we’ll see how much further beyond that we can take it.

The importance (and cost) of instructor briefings

This was something that I hadn’t really heard mentioned before I spoke with Brian. Though when I reflect on it, it seems both obvious and necessary. Brian indicated that I would need to plan for several “instructor briefings”, which are one-to-one sessions with your instructor prior to certain flight lessons. Makes total sense.

While I had received some pretty detailed cost estimates from the General Manager of my flying club, which I’ve used to budget my spend on all of this, these did not mention anything about the separate cost of briefings. Which come, in the case of my flying club, at $65 a pop. So I’ve asked Brian roughly how many of these sessions I should be expecting to need and be budgeting for.

I’m hoping that this is the only surprise I’m going to get in terms of training costs! I’ve got a pretty conservative budget outlined, but the money’s not unlimited.

But it’s all good

So …  a couple of unanticipated issues to negotiate, but I’d far rather be uncovering this stuff now – still 5 weeks in advance of my training start date – than on Day 1 of training. Actually, I’m feeling pretty good about the approach I’ve taken over the last 6 months of talking to basically everyone I can think of about all this stuff. I’ve got advice from pilot friends, I’ve spoken with both the General Manager and the CFI of my flying club, and I’m now in the loop with my prospective instructor. In fact I think I’m ready to record my first official “insight” which I would recommend to others contemplating learning to fly. So here’s my first good insight:

Insight #1

Before you get very far down the path towards learning to fly, talk to everyone you can think of. Talk to friends, colleagues, people at the club, instructors, whomever may have some knowledge and experience to impart. This will help you establish realistic expectations about how long it’s all going to take, what it’s going to cost you, and what variables you need to expect to have to deal with from time to time.

I’m not saying, with the above, that I’ve got it all sorted and that the path is totally predictable from this point onwards. But if I hadn’t put in the legwork that I have over the past 6 months, my expectations at this point would probably be a whole lot more unrealistic, setting me up for surprises, frustration and disappointment down the track. Bottom line, when you spend something like $20k on learning to fly, you want to make sure you’re directing that spend as best you can and that you know – within reasonable boundaries – what to expect.

General update – less than 6 weeks to go!

Things went a bit quiet over Christmas. But with the 28 February 2011 start date just over a month away, here’s the current situation:

  1. Training plan/assignment of flight instructor. After a couple of phone chats with the CFI, I’ve been put in touch with one of the Schofields club’s instructors who also runs the flight theory courses for the club. Seems like a pretty good bloke. I’m headed out to the club on Saturday to meet with him and to hammer out a training plan that (hopefully) gets me qualified by end of April, weather and my aptitude permitting. I’ll also discuss ways of doing a few of the theory exams in advance – be good to get some of this out of the way.
  2. BAK/PPL theory study. Completed the BAK study manual before Christmas – that’s twice I’ve been through the BAK stuff now. Am well into the PPL manual, just completing Operational Meteorology and about to get into Navigation.
  3. Club membership. My membership of Schofields Flying Club is now official, as announced on the club home page.
  4. ASIC/AVID ID and student license. Just before Christmas I received the final bits of paperwork from CASA that I need to legally fly – my Student License and my ASIC card. All square now.

So – my excitement mounts! Some questions/challenges on my mind at this point:

  • Will the weather get in the way? The eastern states of Australia – in fact much of the country – is well and truly in the grip of La Nina, with summer rainfall well above average and once-in-a-century flooding in Queensland and Victoria. Rainfall above average is projected into early autumn. Which is when I’ll be flying – so the wild card is, can I get my 60-odd hours of flying done in the 8 weeks of March/April given the weather situation? I’m wondering if I need to plan a 9th week as some sort of contingency reserve of time.
  • Can I get enough theory study done? It’s been a challenge to focus on this satisfactorily, frankly. My ability to get through the theory has been severely limited by the fact that I can only do it in very small chunks of time – an hour here or there (mainly on our holiday week away in early January), and the 15 minute commute to and from work. It’s not been enough to get really solid study periods in. (Mitigating this to some extent is the fact that I’ve done the theory once already. Nearly 3 years ago admittedly, but it means that I’m not having to spend quite the same amount of time absorbing/learning the second time around – it’s more like a thorough refresher course). During the actual March/April period, I’m planning on getting a lot of my day-to-day study done at the club, because when I get home, available time will be scarce …
  • Can I balance training and family schedule? Apart from study requirements, the other thing is the family schedule during the week. Laura is back at work Mondays/Tuesdays. Lilu is in long day care on the same days and needs dropping off in the morning and picking up in the afternoons 4-ish. And Seth starts school full time in early Feb, meaning that most days he needs to be picked up at 3pm sharp (4pm on Mondays after his tennis class). Some days I’ll have the car to drive to Bankstown, some I’ll have to schlep over by train and bus. What does that leave me in terms of a time window for flying training Monday to Friday? Looks as though Mondays and Tuesdays will be the challenge days – I might have to have short flying days those days, or if Laura can do morning drop-offs, I get train/bus out to the club at sparrow fart and then leave after lunch to get the kids. Wednesdays through Fridays will be less of an issue, hopefully, with Laura not back full time. Wow.

But it’s all good. Can’t wait to get started. A lifetime’s ambition is about to be fulfilled, and it promises to be 2 of the most exciting months of my life.

Right, takeoff/landing and load calculation charts are under control

Did the 3rd BAK sample exam as mentioned yesterday, and nailed the “Piper Quebec” questions around takeoff, landing and load calculations.

Didn’t actually improve overall sample exam performance – scored a 77%, which means I really need to get my head more around some other stuff that I’m still not nailing, but by the sample exam’s standards, I’ve passed exams 2 and 3 after failing exam 1. I choose to take this as an extremely positive indicator that I’m across the BAK stuff sufficiently to start to do the PPL subjects.

But I definitely need to do more BAK revision and consolidation. Like to get my level of performance consistently above the 80-85% level.

CASA approvals

In tangential news, looks like CASA has completed my ASIC/AVID and Student License applications – woo-hoo! Look forward to getting those in the mail well in advance of day 1 on 28 Feb 2011.

Learning #1: Takeoff/landing and load calculation charts are not the same for each aircraft

I finally managed to do some revision on the “Piper Quebec” takeoff, landing and load calculation charts I struggled with as mentioned in my last post. The “Piper Quebec” charts look and (seem to) work quite a bit differently to the “Cessna Papa” charts I worked through a few years ago.

Once worked through, they seem pretty straightforward. I’ll verify whether I’ve now truly got my head around them by doing the 3rd BAK sample exam and see whether I can finally nail these “Piper Quebec” questions. But my learning is this: whenever I’m dealing with a new aircraft, I need to go back to first principles and figure out the basics of takeoff, landing and load calculations.

(I’m not saying the takeoff, landing and load calculation charts are totally different for each aircraft. They probably all work much the same. But my initial experience is that the Cessna vs Piper charts look different, and work a bit differently. This definitely threw me.)