Catching Up. And, What’s Next?

“Are You Still Listening?” – Stephen Stills, 1968

Wow – it has been a long time since I have updated here.  This is partly due to the fact that I finished up what I had set out to do with the Recreational Pilot Certificate so I didn’t really have any lessons to talk about.  Part of it has been the limbo I’ve been in while trying to get started on my next set of goals.  And largely due to laziness.

So – catching up.. .when last I posted, I had received my Cross Country and Passenger endorsements, and had taken a few “post-graduate” lessons just to stay current and cement it all together.  Although I haven’t had much to post, I haven’t been idle…

As far as flying goes, I have been exercising both my passenger and cross-country endorsements as regularly as possible.  I have to say that so far flying with a passenger has been the most-rewarding part of aviation – sharing the sensations and joy of a scenic tour up and down the coast from above.  The first brave soul to put their life into my hands, back in January, was none other than my wife, Rebecca.  I am pretty sure that I was more nervous than she was – for the first time, “Pilot In Command” really meant something!  There were implications and responsibilities outside my personal safety or ticking a box for a certification.  It really does hit in a profound way in that moment that everything that happens between startup and shutdown is dependent upon me to recall my training, make critical decisions, and know what to do (and act) in case of anything going wrong.  And equally, of course I wanted her to have a good time and experience some of the enjoyment that I do every time I take to the wing.

I thought it went very well, outward signs of nervousness notwithstanding – it was a beautiful, calm day at good old Wollongong airport and we spent an hour or so going up and down the coast from the lighthouse at Kiama to the Sea Cliff Bridge to the north.  A P&O cruise ship was docked just off the coast at Kiama so we circled overhead to have a look and get a picture.  It was pretty smooth overall and she got some great pictures with her Nikon D90.  Things got a little bit bumpy as the morning heated up, so we turned around and headed back to the field.  Along the way we saw an aerobatic plane in the distance going through its gyrations.  Looked like someone was having fun!

I let it down to 1000′ feet over Lake Illawarra and joined the downwind leg for runway 34.  On short final, I said something like “I guess we’ll see if the lessons were worth the money…”, which I think got a laugh, I don’t remember.  But wind was low and concentration was high and I managed the smoothest landing ever – just a nice rolling transition from air to ground with no bumps or bouncing.  Taxied back and logged my first PAX flight in the logbook!

The beautiful Sea Cliff Bridge:

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On another memorable occasion, I had the privilege of taking up my friend and co-worker, Salim with much the same result, though not as nervous anymore of course.  He also took some great pictures which I hope to see some day.  We had a nice lunch afterwards – not sure if this counts as a $100 burger since it was after the flight at the same aerodrome… Pilots:  what do you think??

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I’ve confirmed a couple of things for myself since I’ve been taking passengers:

  1. Things go very smoothly if you explain everything.  No matter how basic or even irrelevant something is, it may be the first time a non-pilot passenger has encountered it.  They need to know it is normal.  That includes explaining what is about to happen – no one likes surprises.
  2. Keep focused on making it a “joy” flight, not a “thrill” flight.  Again remember that for many, just being suspended in a chair in the sky is a thrill – no need to add sensory overload and possible panic to the equation – they can book an aerobatic experience for that!

So over time, I have come up with a personal checklist, on top of the requirements, for how to conduct a passenger flight.  Pilots (or passengers) – please fee free to comment if you know of anything I can add that helps make it a good experience!

  • offer to involve in preflight inspection
  • clean all windows!
  • demonstrate how to enter, exit, operate doors
  • demonstrate seatbelts
  • demonstrate sick bag
  • brief on emergency procedure.  Reassure very unlikely, and in any case airplane glides very well.
  • briefly explain flight controls, explain they must not touch
  • give a job:  sighting other aircraft, looking for landmarks, etc.
  • explain headsets, talking vs. transmitting
  • turn on GPS logging, so they can see their trip afterwards
  • explain events as they occur, what to expect:
  • o   taxiing
  • o   takeoff/climbing
  • o   turning
  • o   other aircraft, radio broadcasts
  • o   what the instruments mean
  • o   leveling off, power changes
  • o   leaving or entering circuit
  • o   power adjustments on base (engine lower, flaps or other noises)
  • o   final/landing
  • Offer to take a picture

So what else??

Well, let’s see… I have decided that I am going to pursue my PPL, which is the next logical step.  This will remove many of the restrictions I currently have as a recreational pilot, and open up pathways for future options including the ability to fly larger, faster, more sophisticated aeroplanes, entry through controlled airspace (so I can fly solo from Bankstown instead of driving to Wollongong) or even pursue my CPL.  Plus of course the Angel Flights.

As you can imagine, the process of tangling with the bureaucracy and tail chasing that goes with trying to satisfy the often mysterious and esoteric requirements of CASA has been fraught with peril and frustrations bordering on the ridiculous.  When I started writing this today, I really only meant for it to be a quick catchup – but geez I can crap on when it comes to aviation!  So all that will have to wait for the next installation.

For now, I’ll sign off and start thinking about how to articulate just what the process has been like in trying to parley my recreational certification into a PPL – of course in the hopes that others can benefit from the traps I have run into along the way.

Now that we are caught up, the blog officially resumes, now existing to chronicle this part of the journey.  Hoping for smooth skies, but seatbelt fastened all the same….