Tag Archives: progress

Getting better at landings: Some reflections

Lately – specifically, in the last 2 weeks and covering my last 3 or so flights – I’ve been feeling happier again with my landings. Just thought I’d take a few moments to reflect and try to figure out what I’m doing better.

Back just after I’d done my first solo, I’d done 11 or so hours in the circuit and my landings were getting fairly polished (for a beginner). I specifically recall that during the hour of circuits I did during my fourth solo, I did probably 4 out of 6 landings that I was really happy with.

Then I moved onto the other stuff that preceded the GFPT – forced landings, emergency procedures, crosswind landings etc. And while some landings were good and some not so good, I felt that the standard of my landings during that post-solo period slid back somewhat. There were certainly 3 or 4 shockers, including one during my GFPT! (Fortunately the CFI saw fit to let than one past, evidently my other landings during the test were at least of “acceptable” grade.)

But in the last couple of weeks, coinciding with the start of my cross-country navigation flights, I’ve felt happier with the landings than for several weeks. I feel as though I’m really starting to sort them out. The acid test (at least the first of many) was the other day when I took my son up for the first time. He wasn’t feeling too hot halfway through the 30-minute flight, so I hightailed it back for home and landed in a 10-knot crosswind under a bit of pressure, wanting to get him back on the ground and hoping I did so before he became physically sick. (Thankfully this didn’t eventuate). I was keeping half an eye on him at all times but also of course focused first and foremost on getting home and down safely.

It was just a sweet, lovely landing. Clearly comfortable for my son – just after we touched down he asked me what the “chirp” sound of the tires was, so he was not at all stressed out by the landing and apparently had found it comfortable. I felt very good about that.

I’m not naive enough to believe that my landings are now smoking good, that I’ve got it all sorted and that I’m never going to do another poor one! Far from it, I’m fairly sure. But I do feel as though a small corner has been turned.

What things am I doing, better, consciously or unconsciously?

  1. Not crowding myself in the circuit. One of my worst flying habits is not leaving myself enough room on the downwind leg. Rule of thumb in a Warrior is to fly downwind with the runway about one-third in under your wing. Any more under the wing and you’re too close – any less and you’re too far away. For some reason I instinctively seem to want to fly too close to the runway. Now I’m attaining enough situational awareness to catch myself, if too close, early on downwind and flying a bit further away from the runway to give myself room.
  2. Controlling my airspeed on base and early final. In a standard landing you want to put out 2 stages of flap and get down to about 70 KIAS on late downwind, maintain 70 KIAS on base and on final over the airport fence, then down to 65 or or 60 by the time you’re over the runway threshold. On the base leg, part of the technique and art of maintaining correct airspeed is to monitor your height and figure out the right combination of attitude (nose up or nose down) and throttle (more power or less). I found this incredibly difficult particularly in my early lessons in the circuit. I now find it a reasonably smooth, nearly unconscious and mostly smooth process.
  3. Making good use of my rudder pedals on final approach to set up and maintain runway alignment early. This is especially useful, of course, when approaching in a crosswind. My rudder inputs are firm, positive and early. Result: less, and less drastic, corrective action needed on late final.
  4. Not flaring too early for the landing. I realise now that one of my poor habits has been to flare for landing immediately I’m over the runway threshold, out of an apparently unconscious anxiety to get down early. Inevitably this practice has led to my bleeding off airspeed when I’m still well upwards of 20 or 30 feet above the runway, result: thumping down every time! I’m now quite intentionally and consciously holding off on the flare until 15 or 20 feet above ground, with my eyes on the far end of the runway so that I’ve got a much better appreciation of the right time to start the flare. Result: smooth easy landing, and at its best, the stall warning horn sounding just second or so before touchdown.
All of the above will be bleedingly obvious to anyone with experience in the air! But it can only be taught up to a point, after which it can only be learned through experience. I definitely feel that in the last couple of weeks my landing experience has consolidated. It’s probably been helped by the enjoyment I’ve found in the cross-country flights and the added confidence that this has brought – especially when out by myself. It’s a great feeling to really believe that you’ve got the makings of a decent pilot.

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.

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

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

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

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

GFPT (General Flying Proficiency Test) passed!

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

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

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

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

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

Preceding lessons

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

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

Today – Start of Cross-Country Navigation component

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

Tomorrow (weather permitting) – first Cross-Country flight

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

Day 22 – Lessons 31 and 32 – Precautionary Search and Landing / 2nd Training Area Solo

Date: 04/04/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.90 0.90 0.00
Total to date 28.54 3.20 1.20

NFR was back online today after replacement of brake lining on right wheel. Conditions this morning looked a tad windy – ATIS forecast a maximum crosswind of 15 knots and John said he would not send me solo in conditions like this. And he was also reluctant to do our other outstanding lesson – short field takeoffs and landings – in a strong crosswind. So he elected to do our other outstanding lesson, Precautionary Search & Landing.

Precautionary Search & Landing

Unlike forced landings, a precautionary search and landing is usually done under power – that is, you have full or partial power. So in essence and theory, you’re able to do a bit more of a methodical, thorough search for an appropriate landing site than under engine failure conditions.

When would you do a precautionary search and landing? Various situations, including:

  • Running out of fuel and can’t make destination
  • Weather closing in eg. unavoidable storms and/or lowering cloud
  • Ground rising with low cloud
  • Close proximity to last light and you won’t make your destination

Etcetera.

John was at pains to point out that all of the above factors are well within your control and with normal planning and airmanship you should never find yourself in any of these situations. However, situations can develop and obviously you want to know how to land if you absolutely need to.

The other situation in which a precautionary search and landing is typically done – and this is a relatively common situation in Australia, I would think – is when you’re landing on an unregistered/unrated airstrip, such as a bush strip on private property. In these situations, you will definitely want to make a close inspection of the landing strip/surface, slope, obstacles, wind, appropriate circuit pattern, approach path, climb-out path, hazards such as livestock etc.

So. Taking off from 11 left and making a 180-degree turn climbing to 1500 feet, we tracked out past Prospect Reservoir and, maintaining 1500, tracked towards a field that John likes to use for this lesson. Our simulated conditions were: fly no higher than 1200 feet (eg if cloud bottoms were at 1200), and no lower than 700 feet (ie no lower than 500 feet AGL, and spot height is about 200 feet out in that part of the Bankstown training area).

Approaching the field – which is just south of Tadpole Lake, a key landmark delineating the start of the training area – a column of smoke conveniently told me which way the wind was blowing (from my left, or roughly 170 degrees magnetic). Taking into account a large brickworks or dump immediately west of the field – which I decided I’d rather avoid so far as circuits were concerned – I decided on an upwind landing in about the 150 degrees magnetic direction, with a left hand circuit.

Dropping down to 1200 feet, I slowed the aircraft down and put out one stage of flap to slow to about 80 knots. Flying base, I looked down to make as good an initial inspection of the field as I could. Turning downwind, I noted a dam at the far left end of the field – to be avoided obviously – and a plantation of trees and shrubs marking the upwind end of the strip. Turning crosswind – still at 1200 feet – I made a closer inspection of the end of the strip and also noted trees on either side of the strip to be avoided.

Turning downwind – all the while doing as close to 80 knots as possible – I started counting seconds as I passed the end of the strip. “One potato, two potato, three potato …” etc. The rough rule of thumb, when flying at 80 KIAS, is that one second equals about 40 metres in runway length. Reaching the threshold of the strip at 22 seconds, I estimated the length of the strip at 880 metres.

Continuing downwind, I noted power lines on my right to be avoided, and on my left, a river or creek short of the landing area which would need to be avoided on approach or in the event of landing short of the landing strip. Then on turning base again, I lowered the nose and let down to 700 feet AGL. Turning upwind but staying to the right of the landing strip, I was able to look out my window and get a closer and better look at the landing surface.

I got a better look at the landing surface – looked relatively level from 500 feet AGL, but hard to be sure, and I thought I saw patches of what looked like concrete – could there have been a factory or some other building on this strip in the past? Hard to say. I also noticed – this time around – a few cattle grazing below, which in a real situation would have needed to be frightened away from the landing area by doing a lower altitude pass at (say) 50 feet AGL. However, we were unable to descend that low in this exercise.

While doing this, I also estimated the length of the runway again, and this time made it 20 seconds estimating 800 metres in length. Averaging my two estimates, I made it about 840 metres in length, give or take.

Crosswind turn gave me a closer look at the end of the runway, as did downwind and base. For final, we stayed at 700 feet AGL overflying the landing area, then did a go-around and climbed away. John declared himself satisfied that I’d flown the precautionary search and landing OK.

Climbing back to 1500 feet, John sprung an engine failure on me – which this time (unlike my Steep Turns lesson) I’d been anticipating! Raising the nose, I converted airspeed to height and quickly ran through my CMF routine – carby heat on, mixture full rich, fuel pump on, switch fuel tanks – to simulate immediate responses to an engine failure. I picked a field just ahead and to my right, and planned a downwind, base and final leg as I was not working with much height up my sleeve. During this I slowed a bit much – to about 60 KIAS – and the stall warning horn sounded, but I lowered my nose immediately to build up airspeed.

I was then about to simulate my squawk of 7700 on my transponder and my Mayday call, but John declared himself satisfied with my immediate responses and a good choice of landing site. So we climbed away without further ado. It was a good exercise in a situation in which I may not have had time to do anything other than immediate checks and plan and execute an approach. I had little time for my Mayday call and precious little still for the prescribed CFMOST checks. Priority number 1 is Aviate and get yourself down safely, even if you can’t make all your calls or do all your checks.

Tracking back via 2RN, I neglected to lean the mixture (which apparently our CFI likes us to do when inbound) and also to flick on my landing light. I really need to make sure I do these things during my GFPT test with Bill Cooper next week!

Approach and landing were good enough, no comment from John, so I’m assuming the landing was acceptable.

Second Area Solo

Once back at the clubhouse, John said that if conditions remained as they were, he’d be OK to send me for my 2nd solo. Basically I had to hang around for half an hour and hope that this was the case. So John went out in NFR with another student, and I grabbed a bite to eat and kept an eye on the weather.

The ATIS was India and suggested wind from 180 degrees at 10 knots with a crosswind maximum of 10. Back down, John said the conditions were quite OK and the crosswind not as bad as suggested by the ATIS, so he cleared me to go. I didn’t need prompting! So once signed out by John, I grabbed the flight bag and went out to pre-flight NFR.

Fuel was up to tabs on both tanks, so no fuelling was needed, and the aircraft was good to go. So I started up and headed out, taking off again from 11 left and doing the 180 degree turn climbing to 1500 feet to track south of Prospect.

Things were much bumpier than this morning! I stayed at 1500 feet and returned to the field we used this morning for our Precautionary Search & Landing lesson, and did another Precautionary Search & Landing exercise myself. It was a bit more challenging as the wind from the south was stronger and gustier, and I had to use a bit more throttle control to maintain 80 knots on the 1200 foot and 700 foot inspection circuits. Additionally, the wind blew me in towards the runway on crosswind and away from the runway on base. But I managed OK and felt pretty satisfied with the exercise.

After overflying the landing site, I climbed out to 3000 feet and further into the training area, trying to find some calmer air but it remained quite gusty and bumpy for the entire flight. Trying to stay out for 1.1 hours (as opposed to the 0.9 I managed in my first area solo), I did several slow turns out round Bringelly and Warragamba, and after I judged I’d been out long enough, started to lose height in stages so that I could arrive over Prospect Reservoir at 1500 feet. (Unfortunately, I managed to be out for only 0.9 hours again – bugger – so my next solo, hopefully tomorrow, I’ll have to make damn sure I’m out for at least 1.2 hours so as to get my minimum 3 hours of area solo time. The southerly blew me in towards Prospect way quicker than I’d anticipated, even after my noodling around out in the training area!)

I did everything as required when inbound, other than neglecting to lean the mixture on the way in, so I’ve got to make sure I do this tomorrow to be ready to do it for the CFI.

I had to point the nose a good 10 degrees to the right of Prospect just to track over it, which indicated the significant southerly blowing, and in fact the ATIS had changed to information Juliet with a crosswind of 12 knots. After my inbound call I tracked to Warwick Farm while descending to 1000 feet and was really bounced around by the headwind I was facing into.

Turning final for 11 left over the railway tracks and making my 3-mile call, I throttled back to 2000 RPM and put out 2 stages of flaps and commenced my approach. I realised shortly after that in the sort of wind I was in I probably should have used a maximum of 1 stage of flaps, or done a flapless landing, but the approach was OK and I was able to maintain airspeed with relatively minimal throttle inputs. But I was sharpened (I hope) to the need to make appropriate flaps decisions for landing based on conditions, and in similar in future I will do flapless landings or use a maximum of 1 stage of flaps.

The landing was OK. I think it was probably the strongest crosswind I’ve yet landed in, and when I was finally down I had landed pointing slightly right of the runway centre line, but it wasn’t a bad situation and I was able to roll out and stay aligned with the runway pretty easily.

Five minutes and I was back at the flight line, parking and shutting down NFR and breathing the sigh that always comes after my solos and I’ve been working and concentrating hard! Definitely bumpier and more challenging conditions than for my first solo, but I managed well and got down safely, so again, a good confidence booster.

Tomorrow – hopefully – my third and last Area Solo. I’ll need to make it a long one, 1.2 hours plus. But if conditions are right, I’ll do some practise stalls, forced landings and steep turns, which should keep me busy and out there for enough time.

Day 21: Lessons 29 and 30 – Pre-Area Solo Checkride and First Area Solo

Date: 01/04/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.10 0.90 0.00
Total to date 27.64 2.30 1.20

An hour or so after my Incipient Spins and Steep Turns lesson, it was back into SFK with Ashley (the instructor who also authorised me for my First Solo) for a pre-Area Solo checkride. If this worked out and weather permitted, I hoped then to do my first Area Solo this afternoon.

Pre-Area Solo Checkride

We got out to the training area via downwind departure from 11L, climbed to 3200 feet and first thing Ashley wanted was for me to demonstrate some stalls. I started to set up for a stall without thinking – and failed to do my HASELL checks. Serious and failable mistake in an exam situation. I definitely learned from this!

Insight #28

HASELL checks are done for very good, real safety reasons. If an instructor asks you to demonstrate recovery from a stall, do the HASELL checks on your own initiative and don’t wait for the instructor to ask for them. If you fail to do the HASELL checks, you’ll probably fail your exam.

A couple of stalls done and recovered (one flapless, one with 2 stages of flap), Ashley then asked me to talk through my responses in the event of a forced landing. Satisfied with my response, he then asked me to simulate one and demonstrate how I would respond. At 3200 feet I closed the throttle, adopted best glide speed and went through my Forced Landings routine. After a downwind, base and final turn I got us down to 700 feet above ground level and well set up for a forced landing in a field. Satisfied that I would have landed, Ash then asked me to demonstrate some steep turns.

These were done well enough, Ash providing me with some valuable additional tips on picking my nose attitude relative to the horizon and watching it to make it easier to maintain height in the turn.

All done, Ash asked me to get us home. I headed initially for the reporting point at Prospect Reservoir, but after some prompting from Ash, I headed instead for the other reporting point, the 2RN radio tower. It’s a little harder to locate and see than Prospect, and I didn’t descend to the required report-in altitude of 1500 feet as quickly as I should have, but we got there. Reporting in from 2RN, we joined final for 11L by heading straight for Warwick Farm Racecourse, then we were down with a reasonable landing.

Ash was satisfied with the checkride and cleared me for my first Training Area Solo flight!

First Area Solo

I took a half-hour break, then refuelled SFK up to tabs on each tank, and headed out by myself. Very excited, probably feeling a bit more capable and competent than when I did my first solo circuit. The ATIS report had changed, but departure was still from 11L.

Run-up and pre-takeoff checks completed, I approached the Juliet 2 holding point and made my call. “Bankstown Tower, Warrior Sierra Foxtrot Kilo, ready for downwind departure on 11 left.” Receiving takeoff clearance immediately, I lined up and off we went.

Climbing on downwind at about 900 feet I had a call from tower concerning a helicopter doing a circuit on 11L and that I should look out for it. I couldn’t locate the helicopter and never did, but at least I was aware of the traffic and was keeping a steady lookout.

Levelling off at 1500 feet and heading for Prospect, I crossed the Liverpool-Fairfield railway tracks and climbed to 2000 feet. Bearing left and well clear of Prospect, once I passed the reservoir I changed transponder to 1200 and radio to monitor Sydney Radar on 124.55. Sighting Tadpole Lake ahead and 3 Lakes off to the left, once over the imaginary line joining these 2 landmarks, I then climbed to 2500 feet as I was now in the training area. I could have climbed higher – bottoms were at 3500 feet – but on advice from instructors I stayed low for this first solo.

And I then kind of just tooled around the training area for half an hour. I kept Prospect Reservoir within sight at all times, so I didn’t go as far as Warragamba Dam or anything like that – might do that next time. I just did a few long turns, being careful not to cross over the Warragamba-Prospect pipeline. I took a few happy snaps with my Blackberry just to commemorate the event (see below). Then once I had been out long enough, turned for Prospect and headed for home.

Descending to 1500 feet before I reached Prospect, I changed the transponder back to 3000, dialled up the tower on 132.8 and flicked on my landing light. “Bankstown Tower, Warrior Sierra Foxtrot Kilo, over Prospect one thousand five hundred, received information Juliet, inbound”. Receiving instructions to join final for 11 left, I turned right and headed for Warwick Farm Racecourse, descending to 1000 feet and completing my pre-landing BUMFISH checks. Lining up with 11 left, I turned and once over the railway tracks made my call, “Sierra Foxtrot Kilo, 3 miles”. Established on final, I received an early landing clearance and all that was left to do was to get down on the ground. With a bit of left crosswind, my landing wasn’t the best I’ve done, but I and SFK got down in one piece, then I was parking on the flight line and shutting down. 0.9 hours in command, and the first time I’d been let loose away from the airport by myself! I was well pleased. 2 more training area solos to follow early next week.

Photos

SFK, my ride for First Area Solo

View down to left outside my window (Bankstown Training Area)

Off and under my left wing

Cloud shadows off to the left

View over the nose, straight ahead

 

Day 21: Lesson 28 – Incipient Spins and Steep Turns

Date: 01/04/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.10 0.00 0.00
Total to date 26.54 1.40 1.20

Today was busy as hell. I had 3 flights, this one and two following which I’ll describe in my next post. With a total of 3.0 hours flying time today, I’m knackered. But enthused!

We’ve meant to get a lesson on Incipient Spins out of the way for a while, and we needed to get it done before I could do my first area solo. (When I did my Advanced Stalls lesson with Ashley, we covered a variety of stall situations but not recovering from incipient spins). Ditto for Steep Turns. So we covered these two elements in my first hour of training today.

After NFR and UFY both pulled up in maintenance, we managed to secure SFK for my flying today. Weather was cloudy but perfectly flyable, so we headed out into the training area (more good practise for me in departure and radio procedures, CTA steps and recognising training area landmarks) and got stuck into it.

Incipient Spins

Basically, an incipient spin is a condition that precedes a full spin. In most training aircraft it’s not a situation you want to get remotely near, but it can happen and you need to know how to recover from it. Most likely scenario is that you’ve got the aircraft into a stall (intentionally or unintentionally) and then a wing drops and stalls. You are then in a situation where the aircraft enters a spin in the direction of the stalled wing, and while your airspeed may be quite low (at least initially) your rate of descent increases rapidly and you lose height quickly.

Most training aircraft, including the Piper Warrior, are not actually able or rated to do spins – this is usually reserved for aerobatic aircraft – but you can practise recovery from the incipient spin. After reaching 3500 feet and doing our HASELL checks (more on this back in my initial Stalls lesson post), John stalled the aircraft and somehow got a wing to drop, and we were in an incipient spin.

This is not a fun manoeuvre. AT ALL. I swear the aircraft was banked at least 80 degrees if not 90, it certainly felt as though the dropped wing was pointing straight down at the ground. Do not try this at home.

Anyway, the critical aspect to recovering from this situation is to first level the wings, but as the dropped wing is stalled, you must not level the wings with ailerons as, with a wing already stalled, this can only make the situation worse. The correct response is to apply firm and full opposite rudder, which yaws the aircraft in the opposite direction but then as a secondary effect also induces the aircraft to roll in the direction of yaw, that is, opposite to the direction of the dropped wing. Once wings are level, feet off the pedals, raise the nose (not too rapidly) and once the nose is above the horizon, apply full power and climb away.

And it works. We did it 2 or 3 times with John in control and me following through on his movements, then he induced 2 incipient spins and had me recover from them by myself.

It was not fun. Interesting, yes. Challenging, yes. But not fun. My heart was thumping the entire time. But, I learned how to recover from an incipient spin and am now armed with the knowledge to get myself out of one should I ever f**k up enough to get into one.

Steep Turns

Incipient spins out of the way, we turned our attention to steep turns. Generally speaking, these are turns of more than 30 degrees angle of bank, and are usually used in emergency situations where you need to turn left or right in a hurry (eg in a traffic avoidance situation).

The thing about a steep turn is that much of the lift generated by the wings is directed sideways in the direction of the turn, rather than upwards, so you need to maintain a great deal of back pressure on the control column to maintain height in the turn. Additionally, so much additional weight is placed on the wings that the stall speed increases significantly, and to compensate for that you need to use full power once you bank beyond 30 degrees.

So, basically, roll into the turn, when at 30 degrees angle of bank apply full throttle and maintain firm back pressure on the control column to maintain height. If you start gaining height, release a little back pressure. If you start losing height, lesson the angle of bank, apply enough back pressure to recover desired height, and then steepen the turn again. All the while, keep a steady watch on the horizon outside relative to the aircraft’s nose – if you pick the right attitude and hold it, constantly checking your aircraft’s attitude and performance and then looking back out at the horizon, it’s easier to maintain height in the turn than if you chase your instruments.

When you want to roll out of the turn, start to roll out about 10 degrees ahead of your intended heading, and throttle back to cruise power once you pass 30 degrees angle of bank to wings level.

One possible outcome of a steep turn “gone wrong” is that it develops into a spiral dive. These are also not good news. However, like an incipient spin, you can get out of them – the trick is knowing how.

Unlike an incipient spin, in the spiral dive the wings are not stalled. So, correct procedure is to close the throttle (that is, cut power), level the wings with the ailerons, then as with an incipient spin, pull the nose up (not too sharply) out of the dive and then once nose is above the horizon, apply full throttle and climb away.

On the way back, John did the instructor trick and pulled an engine failure simulation on me without warning. Like an idiot, I dithered for 30 seconds before responding and going through my forced landing procedures. We ended up doing it twice before heading back, but I lost my cool a bit both times. I learned two very important things for the exams and future lessons though.

Insight #26

If an instructor pulls an engine failure simulation on you, don’t f**k around asking him or her if this is a real simulation. Recognise it as an engine failure and deal with it as you were taught. Your success in your flying tests depends on it, as could your survival in a real engine failure situation.

And …

Insight #27

As part of your first response to the engine failure, put carby heat on, check fuel mixture is on full rich, check fuel pump is on, and change fuel tanks. You can do diagnostics and troubleshooting later (if time allows), these are the things you should do every time to see whether any of them restarts the engine.

A few left and right steep turns, then we were back to the aerodrome, reporting in at Prospect Reservoir and making a landing on 11L. Not my best landing – I flared too high – but competent enough, and we were back in once piece. A busy lesson completed.

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

Date: 31/03/2011

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

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

Basic Instrument Flying

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

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

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

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

Simulated Radio Failure

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

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

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

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

Pre-Area Solo Exam and next steps

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

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

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

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

Things are accelerating!

Day 19: Lessons 25/26– Forced Landings

Date: 30/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 2.00 0.00 0.00
Total to date 24.64 1.40 0.70

Today was the nicest flying weather in pretty much the nearly 5 weeks I’ve flown. (Discounting, of course, the storm that hit the Sydney area around 3pm this afternoon!)

The ride was NFR (November Foxtrot Romeo), probably the aircraft I’ve spent the most time in now. I was expecting to do steep turns today, but that’s slated for tomorrow. Today – for both lessons – we did (practise) forced landings.

From a theory point of view, there’s an established body of knowledge and procedure around engine failure/forced landing situations. Some of this focuses around establishing “high key” and “low key” decision points at 2500 feet and 1500 feet AGL (above ground level). However, as John pointed out, in real forced landing situations – especially in the heat and stress of the moment – you won’t necessarily know the height of the ground below you and be able to calibrate the high key and low key decision points very accurately. More practically, John recommended that in forced landing situations I choose, preferably, a suitable landing place either to the left or right of the aircraft, that lies visually “under” the wing. In other words, a spot on the ground that you can be sure you can glide to. Failing suitable landing spots to the left or right, try a landing site ahead of the aircraft, or in the last option, behind the aircraft.

So, in real (and simulated) engine failure/forced landing situations, it’s the usual mantra of Aviate-Navigate-Communicate.

  • Aviate – Convert airspeed into height until you reach optimum glide speed (around 75 KIAS in a Warrior). Reach and maintain optimum glide speed. Select your target landing area, taking (quickly) into account a range of factors including wind speed and direction, size of site, slope of site, surface of site, obstacles and obstructions etc. Plan your approach, including contingency plans (eg. what if I can’t make it? what if I come in too high? too low?) And, do a quick run-through of engine/fuel controls and system to see if the engine failure is fixable. (CMF – Carby heat on, Mixture full rich, Fuel pump on, switch fuel tanks).
  • Navigate – Execute your forced landing approach as described above.
  • Communicate – Squawk 7700 on your transponder, and make your Mayday call.

Then if time remains and circumstances permit, do a more comprehensive check of engine and fuel systems – CFMOST. Carby heat on. Fuel pump on. Mixture full rich, including cycling mixture control through full rich-lean range and back. Oil – how are my oil pressure and temperature? Magneto switches – try switching just to the left magneto, then to the right, to see if the engine can run on just the one. And Throttle – cycle through full open-closed range and back.

While this is all going on, of course, there may be passengers to take care of. Calm and reassure them (to the extent possible). Give them something to do – ask them to help by watching out for other air traffic. Instruct them to remove eyeglasses and pens/other objects from shirt pockets.

From a glide approach point of view, part of planning your forced landing (and changing your plans as circumstances dictate) is how you’re going to get there and get down. Do you have enough height for a full circuit? Can you perhaps do only a straight-in final approach, or can you do a base and perhaps even a downwind leg? Do you have enough height that you can even do an upwind leg as well? Do you have to extend your glide a bit to lose height before the landing? Or do you need to cut things short and head straight for your landing site? At all events, can you glide to about 1/3 down your intended landing site? (When, and only when, confident of this last point, is the point at which you can use flaps to slow yourself down).

In real situations, I think if you manage to do all of this, you’re doing well. Main priority, when all is said and done, is to get the aircraft down on the ground and walk away safely and without injury. If the aircraft is undamaged, that’s a bonus, but lives and personal safety are priority #1.

So, how did I do?

First, John demonstrated a forced landing approach to the little gravel strip out at St Mary’s. Easy as pie. Then back up to 3500 feet and it was my turn. I approached way too high and would have overshot the strip and not made it down. Next attempt from 2000 feet was better, I even pulled off a decent sideslip on my own (to lose height quickly) to get down and would have landed relatively safely.

Next attempt I selected a reasonable landing site but lost site of it and therefore had to select an alternative which was nowhere near as good. And in any case, I’d made a poor choice of site given options available – I went for a site on the right hand side of the aircraft, where obstacles and some hilly ground abounded. There was better, more clear and flatter ground off to my left.

Insight #25

Select your preferred forced landing site with care (within the constraints of circumstances and available time). A split-second decision like the one I made above (poorly) can mean the difference between a nearly “ideal” landing site and a much less ideal one.

My final practise forced landing was pretty reasonable. I changed my choice of site 3 times on the way down – once because my preferred landing site had a fence running lengthwise straight down it – but my final site was quite good and I would have got down OK. If anything it showed me that a decision you make at 3500 feet may have to change once you get lower and can see more features on the ground.

More Training Area experience

Apart from the focus on forced landings, I also got some much-needed training area experience, as I approach my Training Area solo. Stuff I’m now more solid on:

  • Departure procedures from Bankstown – maintain 1000 feet (or 1500 depending on takeoff direction) until over the railway tracks. Then up to (say) 2300 feet (no higher than 2500 feet as that is lower boundary of surrounding Class C airspace). Then up to (say) 4000 feet once over a line intersecting Tadpole Lake to the north and 3 Lakes to the south (again, no higher than 4500 feet due lower limits of Class C airspace).
  • Radio and transponder procedures. Once abeam of Prospect Reservoir, switch radio to 124.55 (Sydney Radar) and transponder to 1200.
  • Inbound approach procedures (reporting in at Prospect or 2RN, and joining traffic pattern for landing at Bankstown).

What’s next

So, tomorrow (as usual, weather permitting) we will do our lesson on Steep Turns, with a little Incipient Spins drill thrown in. And in the afternoon I’ll do my pre-Training Area Solo theory exam.

Friday I’ve got a checkride scheduled with Ashley (from my First Solo checkride) so he can verify I’m ready for my Training Area solo. Then, perhaps Monday (or Sunday, if I schedule it?) my Training Area Solo, which I’m really looking forward to. The aircraft all to myself, just me, away from the airport for the first time! Very much looking forward to this.