Tag Archives: lesson diary

Nav 7: Final cross-country navex Bankstown-Cessnock-Bankstown (next stop: PPL test!)

Date: 01/08/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 2.60 0.00 0.00
Total to date 46.64 13.10 2.00

Last Monday, on probably the best day for flying I’ve enjoyed in my nearly 60 hours so far, I finally managed to get out for my final cross-country navigation exercise. It was a truly magnificent flight: I think I enjoyed it more than any other so far. However, like all flights, it was not without its challenges and hiccups, as I’ll relate.

Flight route and objectives

Yesterday’s flight took me, in simple terms, north from Sydney to Cessnock in the Hunter Valley, then further northwards towards Scone, followed by a diversion west to Warkworth and then south back to Bankstown. The flight was planned and flown using the following waypoints:

  • Depart YSBK (Bankstown)
  • Fly north to PAA (Patonga) via northbound Lane of Entry (overflying Parramatta, Pennant Hills, Hornsby)
  • Direct north to YCNK (Cessnock) for landing
  • Then further north via YSGT (Singleton) to YSCO (Scone)
  • South to YWKW (Warkworth), MQD (Mt McQuoid) and Brooklyn Bridge (BBG)
  • Then south to PSP (Prospect) via southbound Lane of Entry (overflying Berowra, Dural, Pennant Hills)
  • And home to Bankstown.

In actual fact I didn’t get as far as Scone, as one of the main objectives of the flight was to practice a diversion in that general area so that I’m reasonably prepared if I fly up that way for my final PPL test with the club CFI. (I’ll describe that exercise shortly). Other objectives were to:

  • Fly again up and down the Sydney Lanes of Entry. (These routes have to be flown quite precisely and I’d only been through them once before, on my first navigation exercise. Club policy is to require students to have flown these routes twice dual before being allowed to go solo through them).
  • Become familiar with flying around and avoiding the Singleton Army Base restricted area “Dochra” to the west of Singleton, and
  • Generally do a last “consolidation” cross-country flight before heading into my final PPL test.

Sorting out the aircraft and getting away

I’d booked one of the club’s Archers, SFA, for this flight. I’ve only flown it once before. It’s a slightly better touring aircraft than the Warrior as it has a bit more grunt up front (cruising at 110 KIAS vs 105) and is a better performer – in terms of range vs passenger load – than the Warrior.

Unfortunately, SFA was due and into its 100-hour maintenance on Monday, so I missed out. Denied SFA, I quickly rebooked Warrior UFY (flown on my first cross-country solo flight) only to find out that my instructor had booked another Warrior, IJK, which I hadn’t yet flown. (IJK was undergoing a comprehensive engine replacement and external/internal refit in the earlier stages of my training, which is why it was new to me on Monday). I’m always up for flying a new aircraft, so I elected for IJK. Weather checked (CAVOK conditions) and flight plan done, I headed out to the flight line.

IJK, my ride for this flight

For an aircraft just out of a comprehensive refit, IJK was mildly suss, I must say. Landing light was not working and the strobes on the wings were only functioning intermittently. However, given the weather conditions we decided these were not issues requiring a change of aircraft.

Of ever so slightly more concern was what appeared to be a slightly stuck or damaged fuel drain below the right fuel tank. After fuelling, the standard test for fuel quality involves draining a sample of fuel, via the fuel drain valve, into a container to identify any water or impurities in the fuel. On doing this, the fuel drain developed quite a steady drip of fuel. On manually pulling the drain down, the drip stopped.

Given that the fuel drip had ceased, we decided to fly to Cessnock on the right tank and (upon landing) check our fuel situation there. If the right fuel tank drain was leaking in any way and our fuel supply was diminished, we could refuel at Cessnock and in any case have more than enough fuel in our full left tank to make it back to Sydney comfortably. In the unlikely (in our judgement) event of running out of fuel in flight en route to Cessnock, we could always switch to the left tank. (In any event, as I’ll relate, we suffered no loss of fuel whatsoever).

Another view of IJK that I love - with Bankstown's resident DC3 parked in the background near our flight line

I started up,  taxyed out to the run-up bay and ran through the pre-flight checks, deciding to do the pre-takeoff checks before engine run-up as engine temperature was not yet quite in the green. All done, we taxyed to the runway and took off to the west on Bankstown’s runway 29R (right), climbed to 500 feet and then made a right turn towards Parramatta on a magnetic heading of about 010 degrees. Reaching 1000 feet, I levelled out until over the pipeline that runs east from Prospect Reservoir to Potts Hill, then climbed to 1900 feet to clear Parramatta, changing to area frequency (124.55 mHz) and transponder code to 1200 as I did so.

Parramatta to Cessnock: Over the hills

The Parramatta to Cessnock leg was essentially two stages. First, head north up the Lane of Entry from Parramatta to Patonga. Second, track direct from Patonga to Cessnock.

The Parramatta-Patonga stage was the first time I’d navigated along the Lane of Entry without any assistance. It went well enough. AirServices Australia publishes a handly little spiral-bound guide for entering and exiting Bankstown Class D airspace, complete with landmarks and navigation references, magnetic track headings, radio frequencies and altitude limits, that made it (relatively) easy to map-crawl all the way to Patonga. Once over Parramatta I climbed to 2400 feet and changed to area frequency 125.8 just before overflying Pennant Hills. Then it was further northwards over Hornsby, and another 10 minutes or so before identifying the small Hawkesbury area communityof Patonga lying in a small sheltered beach north of Berowra.

Along the way, John recommended making a radio call when northbound just before Pennant Hills, which is just south of Hornsby. Hornsby is the point at which northbound aircraft can turn right to track towards the coast for Longreef (usually aircraft planning to do Harbour Scenic and/or Victor One flights down the coast). They also track back from Longreef to Hornsby to rejoin the Lane of Entry and can be a traffic hazard, especially if they don’t make appropiate radio calls/position reports. So John recommended I make a this call to alert any traffic in the area to my presence. Good safety tip!

At Patonga I turned north onto a track of 349 degrees magnetic direct for Cessnock, put the aircraft into a climb for target altitude of 6500 feet and settled in for the 25-minute flight to Cessnock. Climb performance was not fantastic as we were still carrying close to a full load of fuel, we were probably only achieving a rate of climb of 400 feet per minute, so it was a good 10 minutes before I levelled out in the cruise.

The flying was magnificent! Still air, no turbulence, and despite some building high cloud, CAVOK in all directions with clear views off the coast to our right, the Hawkesbury area and Blue Mountains to our left, and the Hunter Valley to our north. This is how conditions remained all day (despite one shower on approach back to Bankstown), which meant that I was able to climb to and maintain optimum altitudes for the entire flight. I was rapt. It’s so much fun to get up into the clear smooth air and be able to stay in it all the way, and the views are magnificent. This is one of the many things that make flying so much fun for me.

After about 10 minutes in cruise, we approached the northern reaches of the coastal ranges and the southern end of the Hunter Valley. I put IJK into a 500 feet-per-minute descent, ran through the top-of-descent checks and started scanning for local traffic (visually and via the radio) as well as looking for the airstrip. Radio traffic informed me that runway 35 was in use, which at Cessnock involves flying a right-hand circuit. So I descended to the west of the aerodrome to circuit height of 1200 feet and joined the circuit mid-crosswind, behind an aircraft doing circuits from the airstrip. Still not 100% sure of the fuel situation in the right tank, I switched to the (full) left tank as a safety precaution in case we had to do a go-around and needed power in a hurry.

The landing was solid, though as John pointed out, my feet weren’t as awake as ideal. (I find this is one of the “feel” things that erodes as your time between flights increases). Regardless, we taxyed for the Cessnock southern run-up bay and parked and shut down for a quick stretch of legs and a fuel check.

John checked the fuel. Full in the left tank (as expected) and about 30 litres down in the right tank. This squared precisely with my expectations of the fuel we should have used (according to my flight plan and fuel log), so we were 90% reassured that we weren’t losing any fuel.

With that said, John – being ever-cautious, which I like about him as an instructor, because it teaches me good habits – suggested a 2-prong strategy for our return leg:

  1. Take off and climb on the left (full) tank – reason being that these are the most “vulnerable” phases of flight during which running out of fuel is to be particularly avoided; then at the top of the climb switch to the right tank and
  2. Run on the right tank for another hour so as to conserve fuel in our known “best” tank for the later stages of the flight and return to/landing at Bankstown.

Cessnock to Warkworth – Diversion practice!

So, start-up, run-up and pre-flight procedures and checks, and I made the very short taxy  to Cessnock’s runway 35. “Entering and rolling”, I made an upwind departure and climbed to 1500 feet above circuit height. Reaching that altitude, I turned direct for the Singleton NDB (non directional beacon), which is situated to the northwest of Singleton township. I was heading for the NDB as a means of skirting well clear of the Singleton Army Base, a restricted area located immediately south and west of Singleton.

I climbed back to 6500 feet before reaching the NDB. As soon as I overflew the NDB John diverted me to Warkworth – diversions being part of the final PPL flight test, and something that I’d only done twice before. So with Scone out of the picture (as planned), I pulled out my VNC (Visual Navigation Chart) and quickly sketched a line between Singleton and Warkworth. Visually, the line was a straight line to the west, which I estimated meant a track of 270 degrees true, or about 258 degrees magnetic when adjusted for local magnetic variance. Laying my pencil – specially notched with 10 mile/6 minute increments – I estimated my time to reach Warkworth at 8 minutes. I then set course for Warkworth and set about making my radio calls to Brisbane Centre to amend my flight plan.

This radio exchange went OK, though the controller sounded a tad frazzled and impatient. In fact before I spoke with him I heard him flaming a Virgin flight somewhere in the area, whose pilot could not seem to get the controller’s message that he was using the wrong radio frequency. Equal parts heartening and disturbing to realise that a commercial pilot with the airlines could make this mistake also, but I suppose that’s human nature …

I was very quickly in the Warkworth vicinity, overflying several large open-cut mines (this being the lower Hunter Valley). But could I locate the aerodrome? Could I hell. 5 or 10 minutes of circling around was fruitless. John encouraged me to bank the aircraft to both sides to improve my visibility of the ground, but to no avail. Finally John took pity on me and banked the aircraft steeply to the right to reveal that I was in fact right over the aerodrome! A grass strip used for gliding, I could even see the twin crosses marked on the aerodrome to indicate gliding operations. Oh well – didn’t find it that day, but I now know what the place looks like if that’s my diversion destination during my final test.

Warkworth to Mt McQuoid – Just cruising

After circling Warkworth for a couple more minutes I turned south to begin the southbound trip back to Bankstown, putting the aircraft into a climb to 7500 feet as I did so. Conditions remained beautiful – there was some cloud around, but well above us, with great visibility and no turbulence to speak of.

South of Warkworth I still had to be mindful of remaining clear of the Singleton Army Base restricted area, so with a bit of map shuffling and visual reference to the ground I decided that if I could stay to the west of the road joining Warkworth and Broke – which is to the south of the Army base – I would remain in the clear.

Once over Broke, I turned to align myself with the ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) needle, set the DI (Directional Indicator) bug and made straight for McQuoid. I checked the radio freqencies I’d need for the return trip and then “relaxed” for a few minutes with nothing else to do but steer for McQuoid and maintain straight and level flight at 7500 feet.

McQuoid to Brooklyn Bridge: On track, or heading into controlled air space?

We were over McQuoid after about 10 more minutes of cruising. I switched maps to my more detailed Sydney VTC (Visual Terminal Chart) and put the aircraft into a 500 feet-per-minute descent. (Estimated time from McQuoid to Brooklyn Bridge was 16 minutes and I needed to get down from 7500 to 2400 feet by that point, so a steady but not drastic descent was called for). I set course of about 161 degrees magnetic and started visually scanning for the general vicinity of Brooklyn Bridge, expecting to reach it in around 16 minutes.

About 10 minutes in, John remarked that the area immediately south of us didn’t look much like what he was expecting, and he wondered if we were too far off to the right and heading for the controlled airspace of Richmond RAAF Base. A quick check of the map and a scan outside suggested he might be on to something, so I pointed us another 20 degrees or so towards the east. After another few minutes we caught sight of Brooklyn Bridge, which from its position off to our left confirmed John’s suspicion that we’d been far off track to the right. Had we maintained that track, unquestionably we would have busted into Richmond air space. This would not have been a good situation, either in general terms or particularly if this had happened to be my actual PPL test flight.

Flight track adjustments made, we arrived over Brooklyn Bridge at 2400 feet and ready for our final leg home via the southbound Lane of Entry.

Brooklyn Bridge to Prospect and Bankstown: Map crawling, looking for strobe lights, and virga

As with navigating through the northbound Lane of Entry, going southbound it’s necessary to maintain pretty specific altitudes and headings to avoid infringing on various areas of controlled air space to the right and left. This also involves looking for some prominent land marks, and a couple of strobe lights as well.

The first thing you’re looking for is the Berowra strobe, a visual navigation aid for pilots that lies just south and west of the Berowra township. Trouble is, the strobe wasn’t working on this day – and apparently has been out of action for at least 4 days. Anecdotally, it’s often out of action or hard to spot anyway. So I was a little unsure of what I was actually looking for. Another good reason for having done this flight today, as John was able to point out the general location of the strobe in relation to Berowra township, and also the actual location of the strobe, in a kind of cleared area.

Next up are a couple more prominent features left and right of your required track – being particularly important not to stray right into Richmond air space – and in particular the South Dural strobe situated atop a water tank. This strobe was fortunately easy to spot, though CASA’s Class D procedures recommend that you be able to identify the water tank (green sides/orange top) without the aid of the strobe if needs be.

At Berowra John commented on a couple of virga showers of rain in the vicinity up ahead. In simple terms, these are rain showers where the water evaporates in the air before reaching the ground. So amazingly, in a day of mostly CAVOK conditions with only high cloud and no precipitaion, I found myself briefly flying through a rain shower!

From the South Dural strobe it’s a track of about 205 degrees magnetic to Prospect Reservoir and the inbound reporting point for entry to Bankstown. As I flew this final part of the leg I descended to 1500 feet and progressed through the required sequence of radio frequencies. Monitoring the ATIS for local weather and runway in use, I made my inbound call, then approached Bankstown and landed towards the east on runway 11L. Landing was reasonable, though in the light 8-knot crosswind I should have used more rudder on late final to achieve better alignment with the runway centre line.

The usual short taxy back to parking and I shut down with the satisfaction of a great flight and the knowledge that the next cross-country flight I do will be my final test for my Private Pilot License!

Checking the fuel in the tanks, I haven’t done the exact numbers but the fuel remaining in my right tank was about 35 litres, consistent with the additional hour or so I flew on the right tank between Cessnock and Bankstown before switching to my left. So I conclude that we in fact experienced no leakage of fuel from the suspect fuel drain underneath this tank.

Flight post mortem: Reflecting on the Richmond air space thing

Reflecting on what could have caused me to be off track southbound from Mt McQuoid and heading straight for Richmond air space, I’ve come up with the following possibilities:

  1. Incorrect magnetic track determined during initial flight planning. I have yet to go back to the map to check the track and heading I’d planned between McQuoid and Brooklyn Bridge, to see if I calculated it inaccurately. A mistake is obviously possible. However, I planned the flight weeks ago slowly and methodically, so I’m not inclined to think this is the most likely cause of the problem. Probability as a contributing factor: LOW
  2. Incorrect heading determined when adjusting for forecast wind during final flight planning. I was under some time pressure that morning before the flight – I’d had to dash down the road to buy a new E6B flight computer and was conscious of needing to get the flight and weather stuff done so I could fuel and check the aircraft and get away at a reasonable time. As mitigating factors, I’m getting more proficient at doing the final flight planning immediately pre-flight, and despite time pressure, I consciously forced myself to slow down and focus on doing the planning right. But if I was to make a mathematical error regarding this leg of the flight, the morning flight planning definitely involved a bit more stress and pressure than usual. Probability as a contributing factor: MEDIUM
  3. Incorrect heading maintained due to misreading flight plan during flight. Looking now at my flight plan, I see possible error resulting from misreading my flight plan. My planned track from McQuoid to Brooklyn Bridge involved a magnetic heading of 166 degrees. However – and I can’t be sure of this – I may have inadvertently set a course of 161 degrees, which was my planned heading for the preceding leg from Warkworth to McQuoid. My memory is a bit hazy on this point – but I seem to recall having a figure of 161 degrees in my head at the time. Having said this, a magnetic heading of 161 degrees should have actually pointed me more towards Brooklyn Bridge than a heading of 166 degrees. So I’m inclined to feel that if I did in fact make this error in reading my flight plan, it should actually hav worked in my favour. Probability as a contributing factor: LOW
  4. Stronger than expected easterly winds blowing me off course and to the west. It’s of course always possible – even probable – that the winds you experience in-flight are totally different to those which were forecast. You can be flying in the smoothest possible conditions and still be subject to a 20 knot wind blowing you sideways. It’s one of those things you can never predict, and have little control over, other than remaining watchful and making regular checks of your actual versus planned position and track. Probability as a contributing factor: HIGH
  5. Inadequate monitoring of position when actually flying that leg. I must confess to “letting my guard down” a bit flying the initial part of that leg back to Brooklyn Bridge. I knew (or thought I knew!) where I was, where I was going, and what I was doing next. I took the opportunity to chat for a few minutes with my instructor about life, the universe and everything. And in doing so probably didn’t remain as vigilant about my navigation as I should have been. Probability as a contributing factor: HIGH

In my defence on point 5 above, it was the first time I’d navigated southwards over this area towards Brooklyn Bridge, so it was unfamiliar ground – and, flying over the hills in the Hawkesbury area away from the coast can make visual identification quite challenging, ground features being an extensive series of green hills interspersed by the occasional waterway, with only isolated and hard-to-spot landmarks or distinguishing features.

What I learned: Things to do in future

At this stage – and subject to checking my flight plan in point 1, I’m inclined to think my track error was a combination of factors described in points 4 and 5. So, what can I do in the future to minimise the likelihood of making this mistake again – particularly when flying in this region north of Sydney?

  1. Never assume I’m “on the right track”. At all stages of flying a leg, make regular checks of your actual vs planned position and track using all means at your disposal: estimated vs actual flight times and positions, time checks over known landmarks, reference to navigation aids, general scanning and assessment of “am I, within reasonable limits, at or near where I expect to be”.
  2. Make sure I’ve read my flight plan correctly. No matter how clearly you’ve planned your flight, in-flight with other demands on you, it’s quite possible to focus on the wrong line on the plan and read a heading for a leg other than the one you’re actually flying. Take an extra second to make sure you’re reading the right figure.
  3. Assume that the winds you experience in-flight are different to those forecast. In other words, expect to be blown off track and to have to navigate and correct accordingly. Make it part of your work routine to always be looking for how far off track you are and what you have to do to correct it. If you find you’re maintaining track without any additional effort, so much the better.
  4. Southbound from McQuoid to Lane of Entry, incline towards the coast. In this specific area north of Sydney, flying the McQuoid-Brooklyn Bridge southbound leg, a safe way to leave plenty of margin between yourself and Richmond air space is to incline to making track error towards, rather than away, from the coast. Once the Hawkesbury waterways start to come into sight – assuming reasonable visibility – Brooklyn Bridge is reasonably prominent and you can always adjust your southbound track to arrive overhead. If you’re flying south on this leg and you can’t see any water, or the water is way off to your left, it’s a safe bet you’re headed into restricted air space.

Next

So that’s it. So far as my PPL is concerned, the training flights are over. The PPL flight exam is scheduled for Wednesday 14 September, hoping the weather is suitable. I’ll go out and do a solo hour in the training area a couple weeks prior to practise emergency procedures (stalls, forced landings, precautionary search and landings, steep turns) to brush up as it’s entirely possible I may have to do one or more of these during my final exam flight.

And some study and revision between now and then, especially on the areas listed in my “Knowledge Deficiency Report” from my PPL theory exam. Can’t believe I’m nearly there!

Advertisements

Nav 6: 2nd solo nav flight Bankstown-Cowra-Orange-Bankstown

Date: 03/06/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.00 4.00 0.00
Total to date 44.04 12.30 2.00
Second solo nav
 
On Friday 3 June 2011 I flew my second – and final, pending my Private Pilot License tests – cross-country solo flight. It had been a full month since my last cross-country flight to Canberra. Since then I’d had a short flight in the training area, but nothing too substantial, so it was really good to get out and stretch my wings, as it were.
 
For those not wanting to read about this flight in detail but wishing to have a look at the pictures I took (with my humble Blackberry), see the Google Picasa slideshow.)
 
The flight requirements and route
 
Flying a few hours solo cross-country is part of the curriculum requirements for the Private Pilot License. On this flight it was necessary for me to achieve three things. First, minimum flight duration of 3 hours. Second, minimum flight distance of 150 nautical miles. And finally, 2 landings at 2 separate aerodromes.
 
For practicality and safety reasons it made sense for me to fly solo a route I’d previously flown dual with my instructor back on my 2nd navigation exercise. So the planned route was YSBK-WAD-YCWR-YORG-YBTH-YKAT-WAD-TWRN-YSBK. Which translated means:
  • Start from my home airport of Bankstown (YSBK)
  • Fly to Warragamba Dam (WAD)
  • Thence direct to Cowra for first landing (YCWR)
  • Thence direct to Orange for second landing (YORG)
  • Then home flying Orange direct over Bathurst (YBTH),
  • Then Katoomba (YKAT),
  • Then back to Warragamba Dam
  • Reporting inbound to Bankstown at the 2RN radio tower (TWRN) then home.

Getting away

For weather and schedule reasons I’d postponed this flight several times. It was reassuring, during the preceding few days, to read consistently favourable forecasts, and conditions were CAVOK at my place when I woke up that morning, and out at the airfield a few hours later. Having already done most of my flight planning, it was relatively quick to check the ARFOR (Area Forecast) and TAFs (Terminal Air Forecasts) and factor the forecast winds into my flight plan for my planned tracks and time and fuel calculations.

My instructor had a quick look at my flight plan and at the weather forecast and quickly signed me out to go. He DI’d the aeroplane for me (that is, he did the Daily Inspection – I can’t sign off on this until I’m qualified), wished me an enjoyable flight and left me alone without further ado. I taxied NFR to the edge of the taxiway and called up the fuel truck. (Fuel trucks being unable to go on the grass due to recent rain). I performed my own inspection of the aircraft as well – I make it a rule that I always do this even if an instructor has already DI’d my plane and signed off on it – and after getting a full load of Avgas in both tanks I was ready to go.

Leg 1: Bankstown to Cowra

Taking off to the west in calm and nearly CAVOK conditions, I exited the Bankstown control zone and climbed to 4000 feet, flying through the Bankstown training area and tracking for Warragamba Dam. At Warragamba I climbed to my planned altitude of 6500 feet and maintained the same heading to track for Cowra.

As I crossed the Great Dividing Range I could see large patches of morning fog abeam both sides of the aircraft. I knew from my pre-flight planning that Bathurst was fogged in, which was of mild concern as I planned to overfly Bathurst on my return leg later in the day. However, I figured I could check the weather conditions from both Cowra and Orange when  landed at both those aerodromes, and if necessary steer clear of Bathurst. As things turned out, the Bathurst fog cleared well before I was back in the area later in the day.

Morning fog off to my right, outbound to Cowra

Once across and west of the mountains I noted an increasing build-up of cloud up ahead, roughly level with my altitude. I decided fairly quickly not to try to fly about the cloud, firstly because from what I could see it was building up to be at least 4 to 5 OKTAS (that is, covering four to five-eighths of the sky), and I felt that flying above the cloud layer would exceed my personal minima. Secondly, an increase in flight level would have taken me to 8500 feet (per regulations for flying levels about 5000 feet) which would put be just under Class E airspace. There’s nothing that would have forbidden me to enter Class E, but having never done so before, I decided my first time would not be on this day. Possibly over-cautious, but I prefer this to not being cautious enough.

Cloud building up, outbound for Cowra

So it was down to reducing altitude and seeing how the flight progressed, being ready to turn around if the cloud forced me below the LSALT (lowest safe altitude) listed on my flight plan. So down I went, progressively, to about 5200 feet, putting up with the more turbulent air.

As things turned out, the cloud didn’t force me any lower – albeit things were darker once I was under the cloud layer – so my passage to Cowra was unimpeded. I flew the rest of the 1-hour leg uneventfully, noting more cloud off to my right around the Blayney area. Passing Mt Misery on my left and skirting the northernmost edge of the Blayney Wind Farm, I selected the frequency for the Cowra NDB (non-directional beacon) on my ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) receiver, making my inbound call to the Cowra CTAF when I judged myself within 10 nautical miles of the aerodrome and descending gradually to circuit height.

Tracking for Cowra, approaching Mt Misery

There was not much wind evident in the Cowra area but as luck would have it there was a bit of traffic around the aerodrome, including a light trainer and a paraglider, both making radio calls indicating that runway 33 (landing towards the north-west) was in use. So I joined the circuit mid-crossfield and flew a standard circuit approach, making my mandatory radio calls as I did so, and made a decent landing at Cowra. I decided to park and take a toilet break, so taxied off the runway to the small Cowra terminal and parked on an otherwise empty tarmac. It was bitterly cold with no-one about (apart from a Diamond trainer who landed shortly after me), so I didn’t hang around too long.

Leg 2: Cowra to Orange

I took the opportunity to check the current weather conditions at my next destination of Orange, courtesy of the web browser on my Blackberry phone, and while indications were low-ish cloud around the aerodrome, nothing suggested that I alter my flight plans. So without further ado I started up, backtracked on 33 then turned around and took off to the north-west, circled left and climbed to circuit height, then overflew the aerodrome and tracked direct for Orange.

Instrument panel, 4200 feet inbound for Orange

It’s only about 20-25 minutes flying in a Warrior from Cowra to Orange and a pretty straightforward leg of flying, apart from staying well clear of a designated danger area off to your left in the form of an open-cut mine. So aided by my ADF turned in to the Orange NDB I pretty quickly found myself in the Orange area and listening to the CTAF for clues on local traffic and runway in use.

Turned out there was quite a bit of traffic around the Orange circuit – probably the busiest day I’ve so far experienced at a non-towered aerodrome. Amusingly, one pilot in the area was clearly from the West Indies, broadcasting his position and intentions with a lovely Caribbean drawl that made me picture Bob Marley in the cockpit (“November Mike Lima, turnin’ ba-a-a-se”) and brought a smile to my face.

Fortunately, my experience from my first solo flight landing at Wollongong had taught me the value of extreme vigilance in and around the circuit area and I made sure not to rely solely on what I was hearing through my headset and to keep a very sharp look-out. Despite the several aircraft in the area, I felt calm and in control of the situation, which as a small but satisfying confidence boost.

Traffic was landing in the 29 direction (towards the west), unlike my previous visit to Orange when landing was in the easterly direction. Finding myself approaching the aerodrome on the live side of the circuit, I decided to join on the downwind leg and announced my intentions accordingly. I was quickly down on the ground with another satisfactory landing. On roll-out and approaching the main taxiway connecting the Orange runway with the terminal area, my path on the taxiway was blocked completely by a large twin (not sure what it was, possibly a King Air) or something larger, so I was left with no choice but to taxi the full length of the runway to exit on the smaller taxiway which I knew to be at the runway’s far end. So I kept up my speed – not wanting to hang around on the runway and knowing that other aircraft would soon want to be landing behind me – and fairly sprinted for the taxiway, breathing a small sigh of relief than I was able to radio my “clear of all active runways” message.

I taxied to the Wade Aviation hangar where the fuel bowser is located, and finding another aircraft already fuelling, parked just across the taxiway and shut down. Once he was clear, I started up, taxied to the bowser and shut down again, then hunted down someone in the Wade hangar to help me with fuelling. Armed with one of their swipe cards, I filled NFR up, returned the swipe card, paid for the fuel and sat down in the adjacent small lawn area for a quick lunch.

Warrior NFR, parked in fuelling area at Orange Airport (YORG)

Leg 3: Orange to Bankstown via Bathurst and Katoomba

It being time to go – and wanting to get back to Bankstown so I could get home in a reasonable time – I was back in the cockpit and going through pre-startup checks still wiping crumbs from my mouth. A quick check on the CTAF frequency told me that the traffic pattern had changed and Orange traffic was now using the 11 runway – a takeoff to the east. So without further ado I was away, with the usual pre-takeoff checks and the mandatory radio calls.

Tracking east direct for Bathurst I climbed to 5000 feet and levelled out, with cloud still above me and not wanting to move above 5000 and be in contravention of the regulation requiring any flight tracking between 0 and 179 degrees magnetic above 5000 feet to maintain altitude of “odd plus 500” thousand feet (eg. 5500, 7500).

Again, it’s a fairly quick hop from Orange to Bathurst and I was soon overflying the aerodrome, intentionally seeking it out for the sheer discipline and exercise of doing so (rather than turning early on to my Katoomba heading). You never know when you might be in need of any local knowledge during a future flight …

Overflying Bathurst

From this point, it was uncovered territory for me. On my previous flight in the area, Bathurst was the point at which my instructor had given me, as an exercise, a diversion south to Oberon. This time, no diversions were necessary and I was bound direct for Katoomba.

So I set course south-east for Katoomba, noting that as I tracked eastwards the cloud appeared to be lifting again. As I approached Katoomba I decided not to overfly the airfield proper, preferring to skirt west of Katoomba and over lower ground, giving me more options in the event of an engine problem at that point in the flight.

Heading south-east abeam Katoomba

To my pleasure – especially given the mountainous terrain of the Great Dividing Range that I was crossing for the second time that day – abeam Katoomba just before crossing the range proper I was able to climb my planned altitude on that track of 7500 feet. This was the highlight of the day’s flight, not only allowing me (albeit briefly, as I was close to home) to climb into some gorgeous still air, but also affording me some truly majestic views of the Blue Mountains and the Great Dividing Range, with serried ranks of imposing sandstone cliffs and escarpments rising above the greenery. These moments truly make recreational flying worthwhile.

I was struck, although still some 50 nautical miles away from home, just how early I could see the smudge-like look of the entire Sydney Basin open up before me as I glanced left from 7500 feet up. Which reminded me that I was pretty close to home and I should start thinking about how I was going to get there!

Looking east towards the Sydney Basin from 7500 feet

Approaching Sydney from the north-west as I was, the logistical issue to be dealt with was to avoid infringing on controlled military airspace in the Richmond area (that is, Richmond RAAF Base), which lay directly between me and Bankstown as the crow would have flown. (The alternative would have been to seek an airways clearance to enter Richmond airspace, which is frequently done in certain circumstances, but  hadn’t done it before – my flight through Canberra’s Class C airspace notwithstanding – and wasn’t about to attempt it now). I started descending, knowing that I had to get down from 7500 feet to 4000 feet by the time I reached Warragamba Dam to fly under the Sydney Class C control step. And as a quick means of confirming how far south I was on my track towards Warragamba Dam – enabling me to skirt the Richmond area – I tuned my ADF receiver to 576 kHz, the frequency of ABC Radio National as broadcast by the 2RN tower which is one of the two inbound reporting points for Bankstown. Noting the ADF needle swinging to roughly 45-450 degrees to my left, I reasoned that it wouldn’t be long before I’d be needing to turn east to head home and that I must be getting close to Warragamba. Almost immediately, I sighted what I now know to be Lake Burragorang – the main water storage that is impounded by Warragamba Dam – up ahead and knew that all I had to do was to turn left and follow it all the way to the dam. Which I did, continuing to descend to 4000 feet, and I was soon overflying the dam, seeing the expanse of the Sydney Basin open up before me.

Tracking Lake Burragorang east towards Warragamba Dam

Ten minutes more and descending to 1500 feet, I was quickly at 2RN and, inbound clearance received, joined “right crosswind” (a slightly unusual direction from Bankstown Tower) for my approach and landing from the east on runway 29R. Down with a light landing, I was soon parking, shutting and then tieing down the plane, knowing that the next time I fly solo cross-country will be after I have gained my Private Pilot License.

Joining right crosswind leg for landing on runway 29R Bankstown

Reflections and learnings

The main thing I took away that I think I need to work on is to work on the strict discipline of tracking my progress against my flight plan. I think I was a little bit spoilt on this flight in that I’d done it before (albeit with an instructor beside me) and therefore didn’t perhaps have to work quite as hard on staying aware of where I was as I might otherwise have had to. I feel that I could definitely improve in terms of using my watch to maintain frequent estimates of how far along (and off) a flight planned track I may be, and cross-checking those estimates against visual indicators on the ground. I’m not saying I’m not doing these things – far from it – but I think there’s plenty of room for improvement in terms of how often I do it, and how accurately.

What’s next

Since making this flight I’ve passed my final theory exam and once cancelled my final cross-country dual training flight due to illness. I’m hoping to do this final flight in a couple of week. Once that’s done, all that remains  is the PPL test!

First time up with the parents: A short joyflight, with some sound issues

Date: 13/05/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.00 1.00 0.00
Total to date 44.04 8.30 2.00

Last Friday I had the pleasure of flying my father and stepmother for the first time, on a short flight in the Bankstown training area. (It was Friday 13 May, which if you believe that sort of thing is not an ideal day for flying, but I find superstition to be total bollocks, so it didn’t bother me!)

There’s not an awful lot to recall or relate about the details of this flight – it was a relatively quick hop out of Bankstown out to Warragamba Dam and back. But, as ever, I learned a few things. As I’ve blogged before (I think) – there’s never a flight I take, however brief, on which I don’t learn something. Which is one of the eternal beauties of flying for fun, I guess.

Wind concerns

I’d watched the weather anxiously for a few days, quite prepared to cancel the flight if conditions were beyond what I currently consider to be my “personal minima”. A late-autumn cold snap had reached Sydney by mid-week, bringing lovely cool air, but also some wind that could have presented problems if it had been too strong in general, or (in particular) if it had presented too strong a crosswind for the aircraft or for me. In fact right up until an hour or so before the planned flight I fully expected to cancel it as I was aware that some other pilots had experienced some significant turbulence that morning, one instructor in fact hitting his head twice on the roof of the plane! However I saw no evidence of that being a risk in the immediate local training area, and the conditions in general were quite benign. I therefore decided to proceed with the flight. We could always return quickly and land if turbulence turned out to be an issue.

Getting my passengers sorted out

My dad and stepmother are pretty limber, fit types in their late 60’s, so it was no problem at all getting them into the aircraft. (I’d snagged my trusty little chariot-of-choice, NFR, for this flight – I must have at least 15 hours flying time in that particular plane.) However I paid particular attention to making sure that I’d briefed my parents appropriately as per standard passenger briefing requirements, and also that they were comfortably seated, seat belts safely fastened and headsets plugged in, adjusted and working. This did take extra time – not an issue if you’re not trying to work to a schedule, but worth noting for the future.

Insight #38

Whenever you take passengers with you – especially if they’ve not flown before, either at all or with you – expect to spend additional pre-flight preparation time briefing them and attending to their needs. Factor in another 10 minutes or so if you’re trying to take off to a schedule. And don’t underestimate the amount of your attention that passengers need both on the ground and in the air – this adds to your work load as a pilot.

In-flight sound issues

After engine start, I was running through the rest of my checklist before taxying when we heard an intense, high-pitched humming sound coming from the in-cabin speaker. It lasted for about 60 seconds and was nearly ready to shut down and abandon the flight, having checked everything I could think of in my radio and comms stack. But then the sound disappeared abruptly and did not reoccur, so I decided to continue with the flight.

We taxyed out and took off, all good and normal, but during climb-out we all started to experience an extremely intense and annoying hissing sound through each of our head sets. It was intermittent, but recurring frequently. Again, I checked headset plug connections, volume levels and everything else I could think of but could not lick the problem. It quickly became so annoying that I became mildly concerned and decided to cut short the flight.

By this time we were approaching Warragamba Dam at 3,000 feet, so after a gentle left hand turn to allow my parents a view of the dam, I turned around and headed back to Prospect, descending to 1,500 feet to come in under the 2,500 feet control step and arrive at Prospect at 1,500. The sound problems persisted and while I doubted that they related to an imminent radio failure, I nonetheless mentally rehearsed my radio failure procedures should they be required.

But as events would have it, I remained in acceptable radio communication with the tower – evidently they could hear me just fine. Landing for runway 29R I was fairly close behind another Warrior just ahead of me. Just as I was preparing for a go-around on late final, tower kindly informed me that runway 29C was available if I wanted to use that. I gladly jumped at the opportunity. (The go-around would not have been a problem, but by this time we all wanted out of the aircraft to ease our suffering ears).

So I made a pretty nice landing, was cleared to cross runway 29R, and had us back at parking pretty quickly. The sense of relief when I shut down the engine was palpable.

Bumping into a fellow student, I described my predicament and he related a similar recent experience, oddly enough in that same aircraft. Perhaps a maintenance issue for attention? (NFR is nearly due for a 100-hour service and in fact as I write is probably already in the maintenance hangar). However he also asked me if I’d checked the squelch on the radio?

As a matter of fact I’d been unable to even locate the squelch knob on my COM1 radio. Couldn’t find it in-flight – it just didn’t seem to be there.

From a quick glance before I closed the aircraft out, I located a small panel on the bottom left hand side of the dashboard with – you guessed it – a Squelch knob. NFR is in fact fitted with an avionics master switch, which provides power to all of the aircraft’s radio/navigation equipment, so I’m wondering if that squelch knob is also a kind of “master” squelch control? At any rate, I wasn’t even aware it was there, so it wasn’t much use to me in-flight.

I’m still not at all convinced that the problem was related to squelch. But I was a bit mortified that I hadn’t even been able to find the squelch knob. It’s something every pilot should know – it’s a very important part of the controls for the radio. In every flight up until that one, I’d never had to adjust squelch levels. I knew about squelch, and I knew where the squelch knob should be. Usually on the radio stack. But in NFR, it was just in a different place, a place in which I didn’t think to look when I actually had need of it.

Insight #39

Part of knowing your aircraft is knowing your radio stack. If you fly different aircraft every time – as I and my flying club colleagues tend to do – you are usually dealing with subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences in each aircraft’s radio-communication setups and controls. Familiarise yourself with the specifics of each and every aircraft you fly – you owe it to yourself and your passengers.

Notwithstanding the sound problems, my parents enjoyed the flight immensely and I think gained confidence through the quality of my landing. I think they were able, for the first time, to truly appreciate the discipline and effort that goes in to making a flight pleasurable, smooth and uneventful.

Nav 5: First time in Canberra, and in Class C airspace with airways clearances

Date: 04/05/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 3.90 0.00 0.00
Total to date 44.04 7.30 2.00

Last Wednesday – 4 May, after a break of nearly two weeks (the longest interval yet, since I started my flying training, in which I’ve not flown), I had a fantastic dual cross-country navigation flight to Canberra and back. Many things stand out in my mind, with lots of learning.

*** Warning: Long blog post follows ***

Pensive but positive frame of mind!

Last Wednesday’s flight was twice rescheduled in recent weeks – once due to weather, and once due to my family circumstances. I was therefore champing at the bit to get out there amongst it again. In fact I didn’t think I’d get up on Wednesay, either, but the weather improved a bit unexpectedly. I’d been more or less resigned to not flying – or at least satisfying myself (weather permitting) with an hour in the circuit, so getting out for nearly 4 hours flying was a total bonus.

Having had the unusual luxury, for a private pilot, of flying nearly full time since the start of my training, I was slightly (and probably a bit neurotically) worried that in the 11 days since I last flew I may have forgotten how to do so! Fortunately, as the day proved (and as my Qantas pilot mate Chris opined), I didn’t forget. While it may not yet be as second nature to me as riding a bicycle, it’s not far off. Thank goodness for that. I feel a bit more sanguine about the inevitable multi-week (and realistically, for some years to come, perhaps multi-month) absences from flying.

Pre-flight planning and briefing on Class C airspace and airways clearance procedures

I’d planned the flight several weeks ago, leaving out only the things you do on the day – checking for weather, estimating headings and ground speeds, time estimations, finalising fuel requirements etc. I spent half an hour in the club checking the area forecast and finalising my flight plan.

We had a detailed discussion about procedures for obtaining and flying with airways clearances in Class C airspace. This was my first foray into a Class C area. As is the case in most countries, Class C airspace is that which surrounds most major metropolitan areas with significant or international-grade airports. In Australia’s case, this includes all state capital cities as well as that of Canberra, our nation’s capital.

What’s special about Class C airspace?

Among other things, Class C airspace is typically characterised by having to handle large (“heavy”) aircraft up to and including the size of your 747s and A380s as well as (in many cases) their military counterparts. Civilian and military aircraft of this size carry large payloads of passengers and/or freight over vast distances. They fly at high altitudes that we GA pilots in our prop-driven planes rarely (if ever) reach and are generally flying to IFR (Instrument Flight Rules), as opposed to the VFR (Visual Flight Rules) which is the limit for most private (and student) pilots like me. With the rapid advancements since WWII in the use of radar and electronic systems for maintaining air traffic separation and control, Class C airspace is managed by sophisticated air traffic control operations with radar capability.

So what did this mean for Wednesday’s flight?

Up until last Wednesday, my flying had been confined to Class D airspace (around my Bankstown home aerodrome) and the Class G airspace that lies outside most of our controlled airspace areas. Class G airspace is not subject to air traffic control, and for both VFR and IFR traffic, responsibilities for traffic separation lie squarely and solely on the pilots in command. You don’t need anyone’s permission to enter or fly in Class G airspace. In Class D, you do, but there’s no radar separation involved (for VFR traffic anyway, which is me), and the air traffic control procedures are somewhat more elementary than in Class C.

Not so in Class C. In Class C airspace, air traffic control facilities using radar-guided tracking and control techniques to control all air traffic, both VFR and IFR. As with Class D airspace, you cannot enter Class C without establishing two-way communication with Air Traffic Control and obtaining clearance to enter. Class C airspace takes this a step further. You require a specific “airways clearance” both to enter and depart the Class C airspace, and you are usually assigned a specific and unique 4-digit code to “squawk” on your aircraft’s transponder – which allows ATC to uniquely identify your aircraft, including your height and heading.

Once you’re under the tender guided care of ATC, they control you all the way in and all the way out, giving you specific headings and altitudes to fly, with which you must comply unless unable to do so.

Slight change of plan

We’d originally planned to report in to Canberra Approach over Lake George South, a reporting point just clear of the eastern limit of the Canberra control zone. However, we decided to use a slightly more distant reporting point at Lake Bathurst, giving us a bit more time between reporting in to Canberra Approach and actually entering the Canberra airspace. So, I spent 10 or 15 minutes rejuggling my maps, tracks and flight plan to reflect this alteration.

My instructor John checked my flight plan against his and, satisfied, we were good to go.

Change of aircraft

Just as we were finalising our briefing and flight plan, my flying club’s General Manager, Nelson approached us and asked us whether we would mind a change of aircraft. We’d planned to take UFY, a venerable Warrior that I’ve now flown on many occasions (including my first solo and first cross-country solo. Nelson asked us if we’d care to take the newest addition to the club’s fleet, EOM (Echo Oscar Mike) instead? A newly reconditioned Warrior with 200 hours on the engine, Nelson told us that EOM was lovely to fly and that he would like to get our feedback on how it flew. Neither John nor I needed asking twice – we jumped at the opportunity!

Takeoff from Bankstown

For a change in recent weeks, takeoff was to the southeast in the 11 direction (runway 11L). EOM certainly looks the goods – it’s in pretty good nick and has nice new, comfortable seats.

Take-off clearance received and we were rolling. Going through our rolling checks – checking that engine revs are max and stable, T&P’s (temperatures and pressures) good and ASI (Air Speed Indicator) live, we found straight away that revs were not yet max. In the other Warriors in our fleet, opening the throttle gets you max revs around 2500 or 2600 RPM almost immediately, whereas with EOM, revs on takeoff seemed to be sitting around 2300 and increasing a bit more slowly. But the airspeed was fine, T&P’s were fine and the engine felt and sounded fine, so we proceeded with takeoff.

Rotating at the usual 55 KIAS and climbing away, trying to maintain the usual Best Rate of Climb airspeed of around 79 KIAS, things started to seem a bit – well, lengthy. It took a bit longer than usual to reach 500 feet AGL (above ground level) which is the minimum height before you can commence your turn. After turning, we both started to monitor the aircraft’s performance and saw immediately that our climb performance was woeful. We were climbing at less than 250 feet per minute. OK, we had full tanks, maybe EOM was just a bit underpowered. But it took us an awfully long time to reach circuit height.

Continuing our turn onto downwind, we were still climbing OK – more slowly than usual, but acceptably. Then before we reached 1500 feet AGL, I spotted another Warrior climbing below me and to my left, which obviously had taken off after us and was overtaking me. He accelerated well ahead and climbed out with no threat to me. However, it was a great illustration of just how piss-poor my climb performance was. Consquently, we were extra vigilant about climb performance for the rest of the flight. And, as I’ll describe below, ultimately we decided (to my regret) not to land at Crookwell’s lovely-looking grass strip for fear that our our take-off performance on climb-out from Crookwell wouldn’t be enough for us to clear the hill that lies west of the strip.

Track to Menangle

So, I climbed to 2000 feet and it was a quick 10 minutes or so past the 2RN tower and down the M5 to Menangle Park, being careful to keep the Camden (Class D) control zone well on our right. Over the Menangle Park racecourse (or perhaps it’s a trotting track) I turned right onto our new track direct for Lake Bathurst and commenced a climb. I’d wanted to climb to 6500 feet on this leg but scattered cloud prevented this so I settled for a cruise level of 4500 feet.

Track to Lake Bathurst

As we flew the early stage of this leg and I prepared to switch from the Sydney VTC (Visual Terminal Chart) to the larger-scale VNC (Visual Navigation Chart), John looked at the VTC and noted our close proximity to Wilton, a marked Danger area that frequently plays host to sky-diving activities. The track John had asked me to plan took us very close to this area. John got on to Sydney Radar, who informed us that no parachuting was taking place that morning. So we proceeded as planned, though I noted that from now on I will plan that track to avoid Wilton on future flights. (It’s not that you’re forbidden to enter a Danger area – hell, the Bankstown training area in which I fly regularly is also marked as a Danger area. You’ve got a perfect right to be there. You’ve just got to be careful, sensible, and where possible and appropriate, steer clear or proceed with extreme caution).

Clearing the clouds?

Clearing Wilton, John remarked on the bumpy ride we were having, and wouldn’t I prefer to see if we could get above those clouds to smoother air? Personally I was reluctant, as I thought the clouds – though not more than “scattered” – were too extensive for me to feel comfortable flying above them. However, I was with my instructor and I’d never actually had to deal with this particular decision before, so I decided to have a go. I put the aircraft into a climb and headed upwards.

We reached the bottom of the (scattered cumulus) cloud base at about 5500 feet and I asked John whether he really felt that we could fly on top of them. There were very distinct breaks in the cloud – blue sky areas that we could easily use to get above or below the cloud. And, as I mentioned earlier, flying above clouds (for VFR flights) is certainly permitted under specific conditions. John suggested that we go up to have a look; we could always get back down quickly through the breaks in cloud that we could clearly see.

So I continued the climb and almost immediately, once above the cloud bases, I experienced by far the most gorgeous still air I have yet been in during my roughly 50 hours of flying. Flying in and up the random, shaded corridors between these 1000-foot high cumulus clouds was, quite literally, one of the most other-worldly experiences I have ever had, despite my reluctance about even being up among the clouds in the first place. I was floating. Turbulence was absolutely zero: evidently the air about about the 5500 or 6500 foot level was no longer cooler than the rising air below, hence there was no further ability for the warmer rising air to rise. On either side of me, and ahead and to one side, 1000 feet of puffy white cumulus clouds with opalescent hues inlaid in their sides sat – apparently – still while I strung my way between them and attempted to peek around, up and over them.

I have lost count of the number of times I would have flown in exactly these conditions as a passenger on large commercial airliners. In a 747 or 737 or whatever you may be in, you can feel the exact moment, through the seat of your pants, in which the aeroplane makes the transition between the bumpy air below and the smooth higher air. But the big difference, of course, is that in a 747 or 737 you’re a passenger. You can’t see out the front, you can’t see where you’re going, and you’re pretty much enclosed in the aluminium and composite cylinder of the plane’s fuselage. If you’re lucky you might get a limited view out your side window, but what you don’t get (well, I don’t, anyway) is the sense of awe, mystery and discovery that comes with intentionally choosing your path through the clouds, picking and ducking your way between them, exploring whether you might be able to get above them while remaining in a state of heightened alert, ready to duck back below at any stage while you still can, if things don’t look so good up top. But flying a light aircraft in this situation – you’re looking out front, you feel much closer to the outside elements and much more connected with them. And above all, you’re in command.

Anyway, enjoying this experience for the 1000 feet or so between the bottoms and tops of the clouds we were climbing above, I got up to my originally planned flight level of 6500 feet. Looking in the direction of our planned track, I certainly didn’t like our chances of flying above them and being able to maintain visual fixes on the ground at the required time intervals. Much higher and I would have been scraping the lower reaches of Class E airspace. And, the cloud to the southwest also looked as though it could well build up from “scattered” to “broken”. I voiced this view to John, who agreed with my reservations and recommended that we take the next available gap in the clouds and drop back down below. I did so very readily, having enjoyed the experience but glad to be clear of an above-the-cloud situation I didn’t think would have been all that prudent. I said as much to John, who – not at all to my surprise, and with the hint of a sly grin – said that he’d fully expected this to be the outcome but he’d wanted to take me up above the clouds just to give me a taste of this new situation. Hah – suspected as much.

OK, where are we?

We were up in the clouds for about 10 minutes all up, picking our paths left and right to steer among them and consequently deviating from our planned track to Lake Bathurst. So as we started to descend, it seemed like a good idea to try to figure out exactly where we were. I have to admit that I hadn’t been really vigilant with the CLEAROF(F) checks and map checking while mucking about in the clouds, so it was with more than a little uncertainty that I started to attempt to orient myself. Peeking up through the clouds off to the left was what could well have been the Mittagong/Bowral area in the southern highlands – the time seemed about right – but it seemed much further off to the left than it should have been relative to our planned track.

Another few minutes trying to identify landscape features that we could pinpoint on my map, we spotted another locality off to the far left that (again) could have been Marulan (the locality I totally failed to identify on my first cross-country solo!) From other map features we developed a reasonable certainty that it was in fact where we were – then I spotted the cement factory and we were 100% sure. Which put us a fair bit north of my planned track to Lake Bathurst, due wind drift and/or mucking about in the fluffy stuff.

Getting back on course

It was time to test the efficacy of the 10 degree wind drift lines that John recommended I sketch on my maps to aid in-flight dead reckoning. A few seconds assessment and I decided that I had deviated a good 10 degrees right of my planned track, and further that I probably needed another 10 degrees left as closing angle to reach Lake Bathurst, for a total required course correction of some 20 degrees left. So a time check, a 20-degree left turn and I was testing my in-flight navigation skills. Passing abeam Goulburn off my right wing (verifying it by dialling in the Goulbourn NDB) I started to feel better, because Goulburn should have been off to my right. Had I maintained my original track it would have been off to the left. So that was good. With Goulburn positively identified I could now switch over to the Canberra Visual Terminal Chart and navigate in to Canberra with much more map detail.

Finding the lake

After another 10 or 15 minutes I spotted a large collection of wind turbines off on the horizon just over the nose of the aircraft. Searching the VTC, the only place I felt these turbines could be were the Bungendore wind farms south of Lake George. But I couldn’t for the life of me spot Lake Bathurst, which should have been somewhat closer to me and a bit further left. We turned towards Lake George to see if we could locate Lake Bathurst closer in – with John in my ear enjoining me to keep searching out my left window. After a minute or so I identified two rather small pond looking bodies of water off to my left which could in fact be extremely dried-up forms of the two lakes that comprise Lake Bathurst. I turned left again for a closer look, and on arriving over them, John confirmed that this was in fact Lake Bathurst. So, caught out by a rookie error!

Insight #34

Just because a map shows a lake doesn’t mean you’ll actually find water when you get there. In Australian conditions – prominent lakes can frequently dry up completely! Don’t rely on seeing water.

Having noted the above, the good news was that – either by good luck or good management – my track correction back before Goulburn had been reasonably successful, as we’d approached the Lake Bathurst/Lake George area without further navigation difficulties and more or less on time. So it was my first experience of (succesfully) making an in-flight track correction using the visual “best estimate” approach with pre-drawn track error lines. It worked!

(I was, of course, also using my ADF – Automatic Direction Finder – for added orientation, dialling in first the Goulburn and then the Canberra ADF freqencies to confirm my general location and orientation via nav aids. But my dead-reckoning had also proved pretty useful as well. Nice.)

Radio calls at Lake Bathurst

We had to start thinking about getting in to Canberra. I dialled up the Canberra ATIS and received information Hotel, with current runway, conditions etc. It was time to get in touch with Canberra Approach. Circling over Lake Bathurst, John ran me through my radio call routine again. Rehearsed, I dialled up Canberra Approach on COM1, then a deep breath and I had a go:

ME: “Canberra Approach, Echo Oscar Mike”.

CANBERRA APPROACH: “Echo Oscar Mike, go ahead.”

ME: “Canberra Approach, Echo Oscar Mike, a Warrior, over Lake Bathurst at 4500, heading [whatever it was], inbound, received information Hotel, 2 POB (Passengers On Board), unfamiliar with airport, request airways clearance”.

CANBERRA APPROACH: “Echo Oscar Mike, squawk 0405, maintain 4500, stand by”.

ME: “Squawk 0405, maintain 4500, Echo Oscar Mike”.

I switched the transponder to “Standby”, dialled up 0405 and switched it back to “Alt”. I stayed on my path towards Lake George, and about 30 seconds later, Canberra got back to me. Without replaying the conversation verbatim, Canberra then asked me to confirm the QNH setting I was using on the altimeter (I confirmed I was using 1017 as received from the ATIS) and the altitude I was reading (I confirmed 4500 as read off the altimeter). Canberra had positively identified us on radar but was showing me variously at 4700 and 4800 feet. This suggested a problem with the transponder or with the altimeter. Canberra told me that the variation was “within tolerances” but that I would be well advised to get the aircraft’s transponder checked out on return, which of course I acknowledged in the affirmative!

Inbound to Canberra

Once in established contact with Canberra Approach, John more or less leant back in his seat and folded his arms, saying to me that “from here on in, it’s easy”. Which I have to say was largely the case. Apart from watching my altitude lik a hawk (wanting to maintain that 4500 feet at all costs, especially given the transponder issue), and maintaining a watch outside the aircraft, flying conditions were reasonably easy and all I had to do was wait for the vectoring instructions from Canberra Approach, repeat them back and obey them promptly. Example:

CANBERRA APPROACH: “Echo Oscar Mike, turn left heading two two zero”.

ME: “Turn left heading zero two zero, Echo Oscar Mike”.

We spotted some air traffic nearby doing aerial work of some kind (photography, agricultural, not sure exactly what they were doing), which Approach steered us clear of. Approach advised me that they were going to bring me in to runway 30 from a long-ish 5-mile final, and vectored me in accordingly, bringing me down to 4000 feet and on to approach for 30 from the south-east. It was an unusual experience to be hand-held all the way in until suddenly there I was, beautifully lined up with the runway and with approval from Approach to switch over to Tower frequency.

ME : “Canberra Tower, Warrior Echo Oscar Mike, with you”.

TOWER: “Echo Oscar Mike, cleared visual approach for runway three zero”.

ME: “Cleared visual approach for three zero, Echo Oscar Mike”.

I ran through my pre-landing checks, started to slow the aircraft down to approach speed and commenced my descent, pretty soon receiving my landing clearance from the Tower along with instructions to exit the runway by making a left turn onto taxiway Kilo and when clear contacting Ground for further instructions. I made a good landing on 30 – far and away the biggest runway I’ve landed on thus far! – and kept the speed up on roll-out until nearing the exit point, not wanting to taxi slowly while still on the runway. Sighting Kilo (thank goodnesss for an airport with signage, unlike my local aerodrome where you have to rely on maps and memory), I turned left, passed the manoeuvring point line, stopped, contacted Ground and received clearance to taxi to GA (General Aviation) parking.

Passing the domestic terminal on my left – a Qantas 737 parked just outside – I turned right past the Brindabella Airlines hangar and found a parking spot and shut down, feeling very stoked to have landed at a major airport for the first time.

Break and refuelling

I’d expected to have a bite to eat in Canberra – it was after all about 1.15pm and I’d not eaten since before 9. However John’s preference was for a quick stretch, refuel if needed and then head up to Crookwell on the 2nd leg of our trip, Crookwell apparently being a grass strip with rather more scenic surrounds.

So after a quick stretch and toilet break we looked at the fuel situation and had quite an extensive discussion around what additional fuel, if any, we would take on board. There were several factors at play here. The first, obviously, was having sufficient fuel to get back to Sydney with at least the required 45-minute fixed reserve still in our tanks, taking into account the interim leg to Crookwell and about 15 minutes fuel usage at Crookwell conducting a (simulated) precautionary search and landing. The second was not wanting to have too much fuel on board at Crookwell, as being a grass strip with a hill immediately to the west, John didn’t want unnecessary weight impacting our climb performance. The third was that this (EOM) was a new aircraft both for John and me, and John was clearly conscious of not wanting to make any unfounded assumptions about EOM’s fuel efficiency or climb performance, especially given our climbing performance at Bankstown earlier on.

After some haggling and figuring John (with my agreement) decided that we would take on an additional 20 litres of Avgas, which we felt would give us sufficient fuel to meet all of the above conditions while adding only 15kg or so in weight to the aircraft. We would do this by filling up our left tank to full and leaving our right tank as it was.

Unfortunately while reaching this decision another aircraft taxyed across and moved in front of the credit-card activated self-serve Avgas bowser, so we sat for a good 15 minutes waiting for this aircraft to fuel up. I took the opportunity to listen to the ATIS and orient myself with my Canberra Airport map in my ERSA (En Route Supplement Australia).

Once the guys in front had finished, we started up and taxyed closer so as to let them know we were waiting to use the bowser – they got the message and moved out. I shut down and we hopped out. Following the instructions on the bowser, I swiped my Visa debit card to activate the bowser, then John attached the earthing lead to the aircraft and filled up as per our plan. Finished, I swiped my card again to get my fuel receipt – 24.05 litres of Avgas for $50.24 – then, having quickly checked the fuel quality, started up and moved to the corner of the GA apron to do our run-ups and get going. I looked somewhat ruefully at my watch: it was nearly 2pm and Crookwell was at least a half hour away – my stomach not being pleased at the prospect of waiting until probably 3pm for a refuel of its own …

Outbound from Canberra

Run-ups complete, it was time to get my outbound airways clearance. This time I was talking with Ground:

ME: “Canberra Ground, Echo Oscar Mike”.

CANBERRA GROUND: “Echo Oscar Mike, go ahead.”

ME: “Canberra Ground, Echo Oscar Mike, a Warrior, at GA parking, received information India, for upwind departure direct Crookwell at 4500, 2 POB, unfamiliar with airport, request airways clearance”.

I also asked Ground for advice and assistance in remaining clear of the Mt Majura military restricted area directly to the north of the airport. Ground advised that that area was not active at present (despite the information provided in ERSA), so that did not present any issue for our departure.

Ground obviously accessed my previously-filed flight plan and noted that I’d filed an altitude direct Crookwell of 6500 feet: did I wish to amend the flight plan to 4500? I replied in the affirmative and received my airways clearance, with code to squawk on the transponder, authorisation to climb to 4500 and instructions to proceed on runway heading. Ground also noted (as the ATIS had indicated) that I would be taking off from runway 35. Acknowledging these instructions, I then requested taxi clearance and was instructed to taxi to and hold on taxiway Kilo adjacent to runway 30 (the taxiway from which I’d earlier exited the runway on landing).

As an exercise, John also set our nav radio to the Canberra VOR/DME (Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Radar/Distance Measuring Equipment) frequency and set our VOR indicator so that it tracked our orientation relative to the outbound 003 (3 degrees magnetic) radial from the Canberra VOR. I’ll talk more about this in a moment.

Reaching Kilo, I radioed Ground and advised my position. Ground replied that there’d been a change of plan, and instructed me to enter runway 30 and backtrack on the runway for a takeoff from runway 30 (instead of 35), authorising me to switch to Tower frequency. I acknowledged this and switched to Tower, radioing “Canberra Tower, Warrior Echo Oscar Mike, backtracking on 30 for upwind departure”. As with my landing on this large runway, I didn’t hang around and made the long taxy back to the runway threshold with considerable dispatch, turning around to line up and report ready.

Given our planned track to Crookwell, John had questioned me regarding whether we wanted an “upwind” departure or in fact a “crosswind” departure, but on lining up on 30 and noting Mt Majura ahead and to our right in what would pretty much have been the crosswind direction, I/we decided that “upwind departure” was the correct radio call and in any case were were in the hands of Canberra Departure so far as vectoring out of Canberra’s control zone was concerned. So, “Canberra Tower, Warrior Echo Oscar Mike, ready for upwind departure on three zero”, and with clearance received we were on our way.

Climbing out to clear Mt Majura directly on our right and the ridge from which it rises coming directly below us, we were again conscious of relatively poor climb performance similar to that which we’d experienced at Bankstown earlier in the day. I could almost hear the gears turning in John’s mind so far as the advisability of actually landing on Crookwell’s grass strip was concerned.

Somewhere close to 1000 feet AGL Tower authorised us to switch to Canberra Departures frequency, which I did and delivered a position report to Departures. Departures instructed me to maintain present course for a short while. Following this, we levelled out at 4500 feet (approaching which I managed to observe central Canberra, the northern parts of Lake Burley Griffin and Black Mountain/Black Mountain Tower to my left) and were vectored to the right. Departures asked me if I wished to resume my own navigation or whether I’d like to be vectored on to my original planned track direct to Crookwell. John suggested I take advantage of the “full service”, so I indicated this and we received further instructions tracking me direct to the township of Gundaroo.

Tracking towards Gundaroo, John took the opportunity to demonstrate the VOR/DME in action. Set to the Canberra VOR/DME frequency and to the 003 outbound radial, this told me 2 things of value to how we were tracking towards Crookwell:

  1. Our distance from Canberra Airport (at this point we were some 20 nautical miles away from the airport and increasing); and
  2. Our position relative to our desired track of 3 degrees magnetic from Canberra to Crookwell. Essentially the 003 outbound VOR radial from Canberra was the radial along which we wanted to be tracking in order to track direct to Crookwell, and was a useful navigational aid to confirm whether Canberra Departures had us on the right outbound track (and whether, later on, we were maintaining that track under our own navigation).

So a very useful (if brief) object lesson in using VOR/DME as a nav aid. No more than a minute after this discussion, we lost the Canberra VOR/DME thus confirming that a nav aid is only useful when you’re within radio communication distance of the aid itself!

Shortly afterwards we were overhead Gundaroo, at which point Departures informed me that I was exiting controlled airspace, cleared me to resume my own navigation and to switch to area freqency, and instructed me to squawk 1200 (the standard transponder setting in Class G airspace). I confirmed these instructions and thanked the controller for his detailed assistance. He signed off with a firm reminder to us to have our transponder checked as he was reading us intermittently at altitudes of up to 4800 feet (versus my altimeter reading of 4500), which was now “outside tolerances”. I promised that we would have this looked at on our return!

Inbound to Crookwell

Our track to Crookwell was only some 50 nautical miles from Canberra, about half an hour’s worth of flying. Soon after overflying Gundaroo I sighted another wind farm to our north, which I identified as the Gunning Wind Farm (noting Gunning township off to my left) and which confirmed us as being on the correct track for Crookwell. Steering to keep the wind farm just to my right (to avoid flying over the turbines and to be as close to my planned track as possible) I started looking out for Crookwell and confirmed it initially by spotting the Crookwell Wind Farm off to my right in the distance, and then sighting Crookwell township in the distance dead ahead.

I switched to the Crookwell CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) and made an inbound call at 10 miles out. So with Crookwell located, attention shifted to finding the airfield. John wanted to do a precautionary search and landing exercise over Crookwell’s grass strip as – unlike our previous exercises in the Bankstown training area – we could actually get down real low to the ground as you would want to do in a real precautionary search and landing situation. But – where was the airfield?

Locating the Crookwell airstrip

My VNC showed the airfield as south of Crookwell and adjacent to a road running south. Try as I had, inbound to Crookwell, I sighted nothing that looked likely. Flying past the edge of town and to the west towards the wind farm, and scanning the roads underneath, still nothing. Looking at my map I reasoned that I was looking at the wrong side of town and that I needed to go back to the southern approaches to Crookwell in the direction from which we’d come. So I turned left to pass over the township and headed back along the southbound road out of Crookwell.

Try as I might, I couldn’t locate the airfield! John suggested I slow the aircraft down, which of course in a precautionary search and landing situation you’d need to do anyway, so I throttled back and put out a stage of flaps to bring us down to 80 KIAS. Straining my eyes out of the window and circling left and right still revealed nothing, until I spotted a shed and what could have been a windsock. And there looked as though there might be white gable markers on either side of a field, indicating a landing strip. I asked John for confirmation. He indicated that this was indeed the airfield and (not unkindly) that I’d flown right over it on our way in! (And to ease my discomfort he noted that he’d been brought to this very airstrip during the final test for his Commercial Pilots License and done much the same thing).

So I’d learned a bit about how challenging it can be to locate an airfield or landmark you’ve not seen before. Particularly for the purposes of precautionary search and landing, sometimes you really do have to slow down and (conditions permitting) do a methodical search and scan of the area.

Insight #35

It can be quite hard to locate a not-very-prominent ground feature from 1500 feet above ground level!

Precautionary Search and Landing

Now I went into Precautionary Search and Landing mode. John made a call on the Crookwell CTAF to indicate we were engaged in a precautionary search and landing, and I prepared to run through the drill. First of all I noted the wind direction and determined that landing should be towards the west. I then prepared for and commenced a series of circuits around the airstrip:

  1. Letting down to 1000 feet, I circled both downwind and then upwind, counting the seconds abeam the airstrip and estimating it at some 800m length
  2. Then down to 500 feet, estimating strip length again as well as noting ground features more clearly, including the rather large hill immediately west of of the airstrip, then
  3. (This was a first) letting down to just 50 feet above ground level and flying the length of the airstrip, right above the deck, so close I could almost see the individual blades of grass! On this approach you are of course searching for detailed ground features that can’t be seen from higher up, using this as your final check that it’s safe to land, as well as scaring away any livestock present on the landing area.

This done, John directed me to climb out and steer slightly left to clear the lowest point of the ridge/hill west of the airstrip. At this stage, having cleared the hill and somewhat to my disappointment (I’ve yet to land on a grass strip), John decided that we would not land. He just wasn’t satisfied that the climb performance of EOM was equal to the task of clearing the hill to the west on takeoff. So we overflew the airstrip a final time and set course for Menangle on our trip back to Bankstown.

I established myself in cruise on the return track to Menangle at just under 5000 feet. This was slightly higher than my planned cruising altitude but we weren’t sure if our altimeter was correctly calibrated and the ground below seemed just a little closer than ideal, despite us being higher than the Lowest Safe Altitude I’d calulated. Once done, John took control and I snarfed half a sandwich – it was now 3pm and my stomach was protesting. A quick drink and I resumed control, not wanting to lose flying time by eating, and to allow John a chance to eat as well.

Track to Menangle

Established on the track back to Menangle and into the Sydney Basin, there wasn’t much to do apart from a couple of CLEAROF(F) checks and attempt to locate ground features to verify my exact position. Sighting water which delineates the lower reaches of the Warragamba Dam system, I knew we weren’t far away and (with a gentle reminder question from John asking about the upper airspace limit) I started descending to 2500 feet as soon as we’d cleared the ranges and it seemed safe to do so.

Tracking direct to Menangle – which is also an inbound reporting point for Camden Aerodrome – involved going quite close to Camden controlled airspace, immediately on my left as I approached Menangle. On the other hand there was a 1500-foot ridge immediately on my track to Menangle, so I didn’t want to let down to 2000 feet too early. Had I been flying solo I would probably have tracked southeast and then north to Menangle to give a wide berth both to Camden airspace and the ridge. However it was by no means a safety situation – just a matter of tolerances – and John seemed comfortable with the track we were on, so we continued on track. I gained Brownie points from John for the fact that I had accurately forecast that we would hit Menangle at 40 (3:40pm).

Back home

After reaching Menangle, we were on home turf. I dialled up 576 (the frequency for ABC National radio 2RN) on the ADF and enjoyed the luxury of being routed straight towards the 2RN tower, descending to 1500 feet before reporting in. Spotting the ground beacon, I zeroed in on 2RN, made my inbound call to Bankstown and was routed to join final approach for runway 11L. Clearing Warwick Farm Racecourse, I was cleared for visual approach and then to land on 11L. And much to my satisfaction I made probably the best landing I’ve yet done in the presence of my instructor – so much so that he gave a short grunt of approval and asked me, “Who taught you to land?” Praise indeed. About time I showed that bugger the sort of landing that I’ve been frequently capable of doing when on my own!

Post flight

A couple of interesting things post-flight.

Firstly, the aircraft. Talking with our club’s maintenance supervisor about the poor climb performance in EOM, it emerged that EOM is one of the earlier models of Warrior with a 150 hp (or perhaps even 140 hp) engine as opposed to the majority of our Warrior fleet that enjoy 160 hp engines. No wonder it seemed underpowered on the climb! According to Joe the maintenance guy, Best Rate Of Climb airspeed in EOM is in the region of 67 KIAS, not the 75-79 KIAS range that most of our Warriors use. So …

Insight #36

In a new aircraft ostensibly of the same type/model you’ve flown many times before, don’t assume it will perform the same way as all the others. Check the Pilot Operating Handbook for operating speeds etc before you fly!

Secondly, fuel. Imagine my surprise, checking my bank account later that night to see if the $50 fuel purchase had hit my credit card, to instead see a $1000 charge against my account! It took me 2 days to sort this out. Evidently the Canberra Avgas fuel bowser in the GA area is managed by Aero Refuellers, an aviation fuel company based in Albury. Like most major aircraft fuel companies, they have their own fuel card system but also endeavour to make fuel available for purchase by Visa/Mastercard at major aerodromes such as Canberra.

For reasons I don’t yet fully understand, this involves partnering with some merchant bank or another to provide the online credit card facilities at the point of sale at automated fuel bowsers, and involves the bank taking an up-front $1000 “security” charge against the credit card, fully refundable once the actual cost of fuel purchased hits the credit card. Unfortunately for the unwary – which included me – sometimes it takes 48 hours or more for this security charge to clear your card. And there was no signage on the bowser to forewarn me that this charge would hit my card (according to the fuel company, there is normally a sign there but apparently this was missing).

So on Wednesday night I cancelled my credit card – I couldn’t figure out how this charge had happened and I even suspected that my credit card details had been skimmed – and then had to make 8 or 10 phone calls to both the fuel company and my bank over the next 48 hours to get it all sorted out. The only bright spot in all of this drama was that Aero Refuellers, once aware of the situation, were profusely apologetic and extremely helpful and proactive in assisting me to get the matter resolved.

Insight #37

Beware using your credit card at self-serve aviation fuel bowsers! Make sure you understand the charges you may be up for in advance, to avoid nasty surprises.

But that unfortunate situation aside, it was an incredibly enjoyable and educational days’ flying. As you can see if you’ve read this far, there was much to observe and learn and I thought it worthy of describing in print in such detail. I’d very much like to relive this flight in detail 20 years from now.


Navs 3 and 4: Going south this time, and first cross-country solo

Date: 19/04/2011 to 20/04/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 2.00 2.00 0.00
Total to date 40.14 6.60 2.00

Seems I have hit the wall in terms of blogging daily. Due general pace of life I have been unable to blog after each flight recently, so I’ll continue my trend of wrapping up recent flights in a single, catch-up blog.

Focus of this entry is nav flights 3 and 4. Both flights were very similar in terms of flight plan, tracks and locations. Nav 3 was special in being a checkride with Ashley (the Grade 1 instructor who reviewed me prior to my first solo and first area solo flights), and Nav 4 in being my first solo cross-country flight! Nav 3 took place on Tuesday (19/04/11) and Nav 4 on the next day (Wed 20/04/11).

Nav 3 – Bankstown – Goulburn – Bankstown (or was it?)

After my 2 apparently successful initial nav flights (see entries for Cessnock and Cowra/Orange flights), John evidently felt that it was time to send me up again with Ashley to see if I was ready for my first cross-country solo. So this flight was planned as a foray out over the ranges via Warragamba and Bindook down to Goulburn and return to Bankstown. The wrinkle in all of this is that Ashley was required to give me a diversion to another waypoint or destination en route, but he wasn’t allowed to tell me where in advance. So I didn’t know if we’d make Goulburn and then divert elsewhere on return, or whether I’d even make Goulburn.

The flight was in FTU, an aircraft I’d flown in only a couple of times, very early on in my initial flight training. Turned out it didn’t even have a working ADF (Automated Direction Finder), meaning I couldn’t make use of the NDB (Non Directional Beacon) navigation aides en route and had to rely solely on dead reckoning. It wasn’t bad practice actually.

The flight very nearly didn’t take place. FTU had apparently experienced severe spark plug fouling earlier in the day, and the same problem occurred when I was doing my run-up checks. (Very low RPM’s and rough idling when I checked my right magneto during run-ups). So we had to taxy over to the other side of Bankstown Airport to Schofields’s maintenance provider to see if we could fix the problem. A new spark plug on the lower left hand side of the engine and we were on our way, aided by the tower’s permission for us to take of (unusually) on 29 Centre to avoid me having to taxy all the way back to the opposite side of the airport again.

I have to say that FTU handled quite strangely on both takeoffs I made in her that day. During climb-out, normally I have to roll the trim wheel back a few turns to trim the nose upwards to maintain best-rate-of-climb speed of about 75-79 KIAS. But in FTU I seemed to have to roll the trim wheel forwards – quite disconcerting at first. Made me wonder if the neutral position on the trim wheel in FTU is correctly marked. It certainly felt on climb-out as thought I had to force the nose down, rather than the usual situation of needing to pull back on the control column to bring the nose up. Weird. But anyway …

Out over Warragamba Dam at 4,000 feet and then turned left towards Bindook, a major NDB/VOR (Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Radar) installation located south-west of Warragamba in the Great Dividing Range. Notwithstanding my lack of a working ADF, my track to Bindook was almost spot-on and Ashley pointed it out to me as we approached it – a cleared area amidst wooded hills.

Over Bindook, Ashley sprung the diversion on me. Could I please divert to Wollongong (YWOL), sorry we won’t be going to Goulburn today.

Dragging out my map, protractor and navigation ruler, I worked out a new track to YWOL fairly easily, along with an estimated time of arrival, and turned left to find Wollongong. Much to my pleasure, about 15 minutes later we dropped over the escarpment around Wollongong to find Albion Park Airport directly in front of us! Doing an orbit to drop down from 5,500 feet to circuit height of about 1,000 feet, we joined mid-crosswind for Wollongong’s 16 runway and made a pretty decent landing. Given the option, I elected to stop at YWOL for 15 minutes (as opposed to doing a touch-and-go landing) as I was getting a bit sore and wanted to stretch my legs.

As it happened, Ash both lives in the YWOL area and did his flying training there, so he knows the airport intimately. We taxyed over to park outside the HARS (Historical Aircraft Restoration Society) hangar, grabbed a bottle of water and had a quick peek into the HARS maintenance hangar. All manner of wonders lay within, which I’ll describe later in this blog.

Our break over, we started up and headed off again, making a downwind departure from runway 16 and climbing quickly to 3,500 feet (to clear the escarpment around YWOL) and heading more or less due north for Appin and Menangle Park. Once at Menangle Park (which is also an inbound reporting point for Camden Aerodrome), we map-crawled the rest of the way home to 2RN and Bankstown, remaining just to the left of the Hume Highway to avoid infringing upon Camden Aerodrome controlled airspace to our left and on the Holsworthy Army Barracks and military zone to our right. Joining crosswind for runway 29R at Bankstown, I made a really damn good landing and we were home. Ashley declared himself more than satisfied and that I was good to go solo the following day, weather permitting.

Nav 4 – Bankstown – Mittagong – Wollongong – Bankstown

Although I’d planned on heading solo to Cessnock for my first solo (having been there on my Nav 1 flight), John and Ashley were reluctant to send me there as they felt that I needed at least one more flight through the northbound and southbound lanes of entry before doing them solo. Ash wanted me to head to Goulburn as originally planned on the previous day. However, weather was getting in the way and as there were storms forecast (30% probability) around Goulburn, both I and Ash weren’t comfortable going there and Bathurst was not an alternative as the cloud base over the ranges was looking just too low.

So I proposed a brief first solo flight, literally Bankstown down to Wollongong and return. However, Ash felt that this was too short (you need a total of 5 solo cross-country flying hours as part of your pre-requisites for achieving the Private Pilot License), so I had to revise my flight plan to do as follows: depart Bankstown, head down the Hume Highway to Mittagong, continue to Marulan (distinguishable by a large cement factory and a couple of large truck stops), then head direct to Wollongong, land, then return home.

I fuelled up UFY (in which coincidentally I did my first circuit solo) and headed out. Taking off from 29R, I turned south-west for Menangle Park and, achieving Menangle, climbed to about 3,000 feet while tracking towards Appin. Over Appin I then turned south-west and more or less just tracked down the Hume Highway towards Mittagong, only getting up to 4,500 feet as clouds above were a bit dark and heavy.

I successfully located Mittagong Aerodrome then continued southwest for Marulan – though a bit carefully as the weather off in the distance looked dark and showery. I wasn’t sure weather I was going to make Marulan or turn around and head for home or the coast.

A good 10 minutes before I expected to reach Marulan, I spotted a large cement processing factory off to my left. Surely this couldn’t be Marulan already? I forgot to look for the truck stops that Ashley mentioned to confirm if I was there already. I was faced with a decision though. If this was Marulan, then now was the time to turn left and head for Wollongong. But if it wasn’t – how many prominent cement factories could there be within a 20 mile radius of the Marulan area? And did I really want to head closer to some dark looking weather, especially on my first cross-country solo?

Reasoning that if this wasn’t Marulan I still wasn’t very far away, and that regardless, my planned track to Wollongong would take me back to the coast within reasonable proximity to Wollongong regardless if I was actually at Marulan or still a bit to the north-east. So I turned for Wollongong and 15 minutes later dropped down over the coastal escarpment to find myself only slightly to the north of where I’d reached the coast yesterday, and still very close to Wollongong Airport.

Joining mid-crosswind for runway 16 (again), I was a bit startled when a Jabiru joined the circuit on the base leg and not too far in front of me. I’d made my appropriate radio calls on the Wollongong CTAF and hadn’t heard anything from the Jabiru so I was a bit narked when he made is joining-base call and appeared from my right, but of course I did the right thing and avoided him, extending my downwind leg to leave enough room for him to land and vacate the runway before it was my turn to land. I then made a good landing (my landings really are better again this week!) and taxyed to the same parking area as the day before, just next to the HARS museum hangar.

Parking UFY, I went for a stroll to stretch my legs and took a few quick phone snapshots outside the HARS hangar. Notably, HARS operates the only operational, flying Lockheed Constellation in the world! Known affectionately as “Connie“, this magnificent aircraft lives at Wollongong and, courtesy of my ASIC card entitling me to be airside at RPT airports, all I had to do was stroll over to the hangar door to gape in appreciation!

I also spied – briefly – a couple of DC3’s, a non-flying Lockheed P-2 Neptune, a de Havilland Drover and the shells of various other aircraft too numerous to mention. One of the first things I’ll do with my PPL will be to take a quick flight down to Wollongong to have a proper look at the HARS museum (I’ve driven past it often enough on the way to and from the South Coast). My quick Blackberry snapshots will have to suffice for now:

Connie, with DH Drover in front

Ex-RAAF DC3

Tourism done with, it was time to head home. I got back into UFY and retraced my steps from the day before, the only wrinkle being that I found myself at Menangle Park before I registered that I’d already flown over Appin! This and my earlier doubt about Marulan alerted me to the fact that a couple of my nav calculations (specifically my estimated time intervals between waypoints) may have been wrong, as I wasn’t in any significant headwind or tailwind.

Insight #33

Your flight plan is just that – a plan. Check and double-check it carefully so you can be confident in your tracks and calculations. But don’t expect everything to go to plan. Be prepared to deal with the unexpected, as and when situations arise. Think on your feet!

A final, again pretty good landing at Bankstown and I was home, well stoked I may say after a 2.0 hour flight being my first cross-country solo. I was very pleased with myself! The most enjoyable flight I’ve done so far.

Nav 2: Bankstown – Cowra – Orange – Bankstown

Date: 18/04/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 3.70 0.00 0.00
Total to date 38.14 4.60 2.00

Did a nearly 4-hour return flight in NFR today to Cowra, Orange and back. I won’t blog as extensively as I did for my first trip to Cessnock, but will try to debrief on notable features of the trip as I recall them.

Outbound – YSBK to YORG via YWCR

Took off at about 10.15am, interestingly fro Bankstown’s runway 29C (two nine centre). I don’t normally take off or land on this, but 29R was under maintenance so they had arrivals and departures on 29C. Longer runway than either of the other two.

Left turn over the railway tracks and we tracked direct to Warragamba Dam, climbing to 4300 feet. Over Warragamba we maintained heading of 259 degrees and, climbing to 6500 feet (few clouds around 4000) we tracked direct to YCWR (Cowra).

No question that the NDBs (Non Directional Beacons) help you stay oriented, but it’s good not to rely too much on them if they fail. I was trying to keep a good track via dead reckoning, and I applied a reasonably successful track correction at one point, but our club CFI likes pilots to use all nav aids available (safety I guess), so it’s kind of a double-think thing you have to develop.

Along the track we noted Blayney and Mt Canobolas to our right, and the Blayney Wind Farm and Mt Misery to our left. Closing on Cowra, we overflew to determine wind direction, then decided to do a touch-and-go landing and then track to YORG (Orange) where we were more confident of the fuel situation. Tracking to Orange we kept well clear of a designated danger area to our left, being an open cut gold mine, which (allegedly) presents danger to air traffic up to an altitude of 8500 feet.

Landing at Orange coming in from the west (on Orange’s notably up-sloping single strip runway), we backtracked and taxied to park next to the airport’s AVGAS bowser. I quickly learned that despite the profusion of fuel cards available to me from the club, none of them worked on the bowser and we had to arrange with a company based in the adjacent hangar to purchase fuel (for which the club reimburses me). Seems stupid to have supposedly 24/7 automated AVGAS bowsers at regional airports when they either don’t accept fuel cards or are apparently often out of service.

After refuelling the aircraft we had a quick lunch and then headed for home.

Inbound – YORG to YSBK via YBTH

Run-ups and pre-flight checks done, we did an “enter and roll” call prior to the runway then lined up and took off. Climbing to about 5000 feet we got a call on the Orange CTAF from a REX (Regional Express) flight who had landed while we were having lunch. He was preparing to take off and just wanted to ascertain our position, heading and intentions so that he didn’t come shooting up the back of us! Very nice of him, I thought.

Tracking over YBTH (Bathurst), my instructor John then told me to do an unscheduled diversion to Oberon. Grabbing my VNC (Visual Navigation Chart), I scrawled a track from Bathurst to Oberon, eyeballed the required estimated track change (059 degrees, from memory) and the estimated time to Oberon (12 minutes), then turned for Oberon rather curious as to how good my diversion track was. I also (for the first time) called Melbourne Central to advise an amendment to my flight plan.

Turned out it was on the money! Oberon appeared reassuringly, straight ahead, some 10 minutes later. Seat-of-the-pants dead reckoning navigation.

While en route for Oberon I dragged out my protractor and figured out a quick revised track from Oberon to Warragamba Dam, which was more or less dead on. Over the Great Dividing Range and down into the Sydney Basin, noting Katoomba off to my left, descending to 1500 feet by the 2RN radio tower inbound reporting point, then joining crosswind for runway 29R and a rather nice landing to finish the day.

The weather was beautiful and cruising at 7500 feet was as still and smooth as could be. Flying at its best. I have been a bit spoiled by conditions in my first 2 nav exercises and surely it can’t continue this well, but you take what you’re given and it made for a very enjoyable nav exercise today. My confidence benefited enormously.

Next

Off tomorrow on a return trip to Goulburn with Ashley, my instructor from my pre-solo and pre-area solo checkrides. If tomorrow goes well, I may well be off for my first cross-country solo on Wednesday – likely a return trip to Cessnock (from my Nav 1 exercise) or Goulburn again. Stay tuned.

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.