Tag Archives: instrument flight

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

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

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

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

GFPT (General Flying Proficiency Test) passed!

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

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

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

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

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

Preceding lessons

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

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

Today – Start of Cross-Country Navigation component

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

Tomorrow (weather permitting) – first Cross-Country flight

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

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

Date: 31/03/2011

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

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

Basic Instrument Flying

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

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

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

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

Simulated Radio Failure

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

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

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

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

Pre-Area Solo Exam and next steps

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

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

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

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

Things are accelerating!

Day 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.