Progress Has Been Made

Well…. I was really hoping to be able to report this weekend that I had finally accomplished my First Solo as well as my first Cross Country Navigation exercise.

The plan was for a pretty full-on weekend – Saturday, we were to drive to Illawarra Regional Airport (YWOL) in Wollongong, and my flight instructor would meet me down there, having flown down with another student.  The hope was I would do some familiarisation circuits and *possibly* go solo.  Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, so that didn’t happen.

The plan for Sunday was to do the Navigation flight from Bankstown (YSBK) to Wollongong and back.  This is where the fun really begins, as I get to put into practice all I have learned about the principles of navigation, flight planning, weather… and just getting to go somewhere in a plane!  This should be about 45 minutes down, a bit of time doing circuits down there, then 45 minutes back – most at about 4,500 feet AMSL (Above Mean Sea Level).

So I got up early Sunday morning, spread out my maps and charts and ERSA and other associated paraphernalia, and most importantly brewed a nice strong cuppa (long black, no sugar) and looked up the Area 21 weather briefing.  This is an overall forecast and report of a pretty wide area that includes all the bits we’d be flying though and over, including forecasted (and reported) wind direction and speed, atmospheric pressure (QNH) in hectopascals, cloud coverage, temperature, and any possible weather to be aware of.  It also lists NOTAMs, which is “Notices to Airmen” – operational hazards or other concerns in areas or specific locations that occur more recently or sporadically so as not to be in the printed information.  For example, intense parachuting activity, a light out on a tower, unserviceable runways, etc.

After digesting all of this info I came to the conclusion that there was a potential for the weather to be a bit messy, and Erring On The Side Of Caution, we decided that the Nav exercise was a no-go.

However, given all the time it has taken me to get anywhere with all this, I am very keen to keep the ball moving down the field so as not to lose momentum.  Since the local weather at Bankstown looked OK, we picked another topic off the syllabus and did the lesson on Short Takeoffs and Landings (STOL).

This is where you learn to takeoff and land in a condition where a runway may be shorter than the one you are accustomed to, or even if you have to land in a paddock with very little room to spare.

For takeoffs, it is mostly a matter of getting right back as far to the beginning of the strip as possible, and with the brakes on, rev up and let go once the engine is at max RPM.  This helps you shoot off like line like a rocket and you just get your nose up as quick as possible and adopt the Best Angle of Climb (Vx) until you are at a safe height and can go back to Best Rate (Vy).

Had a funny moment to start with – we lined the little Jabiru up rather than turning onto the runway, we circled around to get right back at the very end.  The runway at Bankstown (11R) is quite long – several times longer than what the J170 needs.  So adding another hundred metres or so must have looked funny – the Tower piped up “um, 7925 i think you have enough runway, mate…”.  And so we did, I think we were almost airborne by the time we reached the part where we normally start rolling!  We did seem to climb a bit faster than normal, but I put that down to the fact that we had only 1/2 the fuel on board than we normally do.

Landing is a different beast altogether, much slower and more positive – remember you are trying to get that sucker on the ground ASAP because you won’t have much runway to float over.  The technique here is to do the final at 55 knots (instead of 70) and stay on the back of the drag curve so that you are using power to make adjustments – just “drive it in” for lack of a better term.

I am happy to say that this really felt very natural to me, and I think increased my landing precision and confidence DRAMATICALLY.  In fact, on the last go round, Brett didn’t say a word and just let me do it all.  The first circuit, I think we touched down about 3 metres from the intended point, and after that they were right on the dot.  Very happy with that.

After this lesson, Brett had me call for fuel and supervise the refueling operation (flashbacks to my days in the USAF) while he got some stuff done in the office.  Since we had originally blocked me out for a few hours, and I only used up 1, I asked if I could go ahead and take a whack at the Navigation/Meteorology written exam – the last one in the syllabus.

This was a very challenging test, and I did have to use memory and common sense on some of it just to get through.  My E6B (circular slide rule flight computer) got a thorough workout, and I took every bit of the full hour, but I passed!

So, another 1.1 in the logbook, another item knocked out from the syllabus, a new level of confidence and precision, and NO MORE TESTS!  The next navigation flight (and possible solo) is scheduled for next Saturday the 16th.  Weather looks dodgy for now, but as we all know that can change in an instant.

Progress Was Made…