Third Navigation Exercise – Low Level Navigation and Diversions.

Well, my luck has continued with unbelievably clear calm weather – always a welcome circumstance when I have a lesson planned, doubly so when I am learning new concepts.   This weekend, I finished up the remaining items in the Cross Country endorsement syllabus – Low Level Navigation and Diversions.

I arrived on Sunday at 11:00 for a 12:00 flight to get the weather and finish my flight plan and chart preparation.  Brett arrived around 12:00 with the previous student, but since I am the last student of the day there was no particular hurry.  He called for fuel and nuked his lunch while I worked out all of my headings, ground speeds, time and fuel calculations and generally got myself organised.

I performed the usual preflight inspection, my ritual of calm where I start getting in the zone.  I did note that it is close to due for its 100-hourly inspection, but we should be OK for that.  Overall the little J160 is about the same as last time I flew it, but I will be glad when the J170 is back online.  Although covers and plugs are in place, 24-7047 lives outside and it shows.  It just looks and feels tired to me.  I don’t blame it.

In addition to covering new material for the syllabus, I had another new procedure to learn, as we were departing to the north to Cessnock;  the Lane of Entry is a track into and out of Bankstown for VFR aircraft to follow.  On the map it looks like a line of purple dots, and it helps maintain an orderly flow of traffic as well as separation from commercial and IFR flights (i.e., the Big Boys).

So in a way, it was easier since the lines and headings and landmarks are already on the map, but it is a higher mental workload at first as you do need to stick to it strictly.  So, a whole new set of thoughts to process in addition to the usual.

It was a sunny, gorgeous, almost windless day – and Brett warned that the scenery could be a distraction; its tempting to just sit back and enjoy the sights!  But  no… we were here to work, and work we did…

After the preflight and getting taxi clearance, and completing the run-up checks, we lined up on runway 29R and departed to the west.  At 500′, I turn right to the north and before long I have my first waypoint, Parramatta, in sight.

Suddenly the EFI (electronic flight instruments) panel starts flashing a red alert – High Voltage alert!  This is similar to the alternator warning on your car and means that it is providing a constant charge, implying too much load on the system.  Brett had me circle back to Prospect Reservoir as it looked like we may need to turn back.

But he had me fly the plane while he looked through the manual to do some troubleshooting.  He turned off some unnecessary lights and equipment and the voltage went back into the normal range.   We decide to resume, but this will definitely have to be looked at at the next maintenance (and certainly before I fly it again!).

Overhead Parramatta, I changed heading slightly towards Hornsby and was overhead in just a few minutes.  Basically following the Westfield shopping centres!  After Hornsby the urban sprawl diminished and I set my heading to Patonga and from there turned North to Warnervale.  It was at this point I could see what Brett was saying about the scenery – we flew alongside Ettalong, Brisbane Water, Tuggerah Lake near Wyong before reaching overhead Warnervale right on schedule.

As we passed Warnervale and set a heading towards Cessnock, Brett informs me there is a lowering cloud mass ahead and we’ll need to fly under it!  Could have fooled me, as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but I go with it.

A quick review of the Visual Flight Rules (VFR) minimum separation was in order:  If you are below 3000′, you must stay clear of clouds and within sight of land or water.  Otherwise, maintain 1000′ above or 500′ below and 1 km horizontal distance from any clouds.  The minimum heights are 500′ above the ground – or 1000′ over built up areas or large gatherings.

Right.

So we did a quick scan ahead for landmarks and a look at the map shows there are some hills and towers up to around 700′.  So for safety, we fly at around 1200′ (500′ over the highest point) from Warnervale to Cessnock.  But first the plane needs to be set up and an alternate navigation method to the CLEAROFF work cycle checks I described in my last post.

The new mnemonic for low-level navigation is FREHA – Flaps and power for slow flight, Radio, Engine checks, Height, and Aimpoint.  So now instead of the usual cycle of Time > Map > Ground and CLEAROFF checks, this is more like driving a car – eyes outside of the cockpit most the time, only looking inside to verify constant speed and height.  It is actually a lot of fun though occasionally bumpy being lower to the ground.  That’s really it in a nutshell – basically fly around and steering from point to point visually.

Here is a photo Brett took as we were making our way through the valley between hills:

Treetop Flyer anyone?

We landed at Cessnock after joining the circuit for runway 35.   Parked and walked over to the Recreational Aviation club hangar to have a chat and a look around.  They have a couple of nice Tecnams I wouldn’t mind trying out some day and a very nice simulator set up.  I have been encouraging Brett to look into setting one up in the school; I think it would be a great addition and provide another avenue for practice on rainy days, something to do while waiting, or an inexpensive means to demonstrate a concept or provide remedial training without the wear and tear on the plane (or wallet).

After a quick pit stop to use the facilities and refilling my water bottle, I taxied back to runway 35 for a downwind departure to the south for the return to Bankstown.

My original (nominal) plan was to go back to Warnervale then follow the Lane of Entry to Bankstown via Brooklyn Bridge to Prospect Reservoir – but of course that would have been way too easy – especially since I can see the Sydney skyline from there!  But this leg of the flight was for the purpose of learning how to divert – for example to another aerodrome in case of fuel or weather problems, or to get around an obstacle such as clouds or smoke.  In fact, I had a preview of this last time when I had to divert around the smoke over the Blue Mountains, so I was mentally prepared for it.

Brett picked a random landmark on the map – Mangrove Creek Reservoir to the west, and had me work out how to get there from Warnervale.  In flight, you don’t have the luxury of time to measure everything out perfectly, and he has taught me several techniques to use mental maths to determine heading, ground speed, and times.

So while still enroute to Warnervale, I drew a line on the chart from Warnervale to the reservoir, estimated that the angle looked “about 30 degrees” from the direction from which I just travelled, then made some adjustments for magnetic variation and wind to determine what should be my new heading, ground speed, and estimated time.  Once overhead Warnervale, I turned to that heading, noted the time, then flew in that direction for about as long as I estimated.

This was a little difficult as I was having problems spotting reliable landmarks to verify my position, but Brett helped me there and advised me just to maintain my speed and heading unless I had a good reason to change it.

Sure enough, it looked like the speed and time estimates were almost perfect, and the heading estimate was off by a few degrees, as I arrived only 2 miles south of the reservoir right at the time I expected.  This is pretty good for just eyeballing the heading on the chart – if I’d used the protractor and E6B, I have no doubt I’d have arrived overhead, but at height 2 miles is just fine as I now had a positive fix.

The track from there to Brooklyn Bridge (to pick back up on my original plan) was easy to estimate, as I noticed that the line was parallel to my original track from Cessnock to Warnervale – in which case heading and ground speed would be the same; so that saved me a bit of time in calculations.

I arrived over Brooklyn Bridge and now had to learn a new procedure:  I had to call Sydney Radar to let them know I was 2300′ over Brooklyn Bridge, southbound.  This is to let them know that I am joining the inbound VFR lane of entry.  The acknowledged me and actually I was a little far left so they did ask if I could move to the right a bit more.  That is one of the requirements for using the lane of entry, stay to the right.  For future reference, if I make sure I keep the Sydney-Newcastle Freeway to my left, I should be OK.

Before too long, I could see Prospect Reservoir, so I started a nice cruisy descent to 1500′, got the Bankstown terminal info, and made my call over Prospect inbound to Bankstown.  I was told to use runway 11L – so in my absence, the wind had changed enough that they changed runways – and to report again at 3 miles out.  It just so happens that the railroad tracks are 3 miles out, so I made my call over the tracks and was cleared to land on 11L – a nice straight-in approach.

Taxied over to parking, put the covers on, and headed back into the hangar for the debrief. Got some great feedback, and a few minor comments including some advice on how to fold the map better, and we had a chat about some new procedures – for example, in the case of a real diversion, I would also need to make a radio call to amend my flight plan.  Also, we talked a bit about what to do if the charging problem had gone the other way – low voltage instead of high.  In this case, the alternator would not be supplying a charge and the battery would eventually die – leaving me without lights, radio, avionics, electric fuel pump, or flaps!  Again:  Aviate – Navigate – Communicate comes into play and first priority is just keep flying.  Loss of battery will not stop the engine, so the plane can still be flown.  in the ERSA, the procedures are spelled out for how to approach and land if communications are out.  I could even call the tower on my mobile and talk to them that way (though with Vodafone service, I’d pretty much have to be perched on the cellular antenna to be sure I’d have signal…)!  But the main thing is, as always – fly the plane.

If you’ve made it this far, I’ll relate a couple of interesting sights along the way.  On the way south from Cessnock we saw a 747 overhead, roughly perpendicular to my path, though several thousand feet higher.  There was plenty of separation, but I could see it was blue – Thai Airways I think.

A little bit closer and of more immediate concern, I spotted a large bird of prey hovering just above my path, just soaring along the thermals, and I passed right under him.  Judging by his size and shape, I think it might have been a wedge-tail eagle, but I can’t be sure since I didn’t get a good look at the tail (I just wanted to make sure not to get any closer).  It was quite the majestic sight, and I wondered what he thought about this big ungainly creature streaking along beneath him.

So that’s it.  I’ve completed all of the requirements of the syllabus for my Cross Country endorsement.  What remains is to do a solo navigation and pass a flight test!  The solo exercise he has planned for me looks like a tour of country NSW:  Starting in Young and navigating to Cootamundra, Temore, Wyalong, Forbes (where I’ll land and stretch my legs) and then back via Parkes and Cowra.  I hope there are some good visual references out there – the map looks pretty sparse!

Between now and then, I’ll be studying and looking for ways to streamline reference materials for in-flight use.  Any of you out there going through this or have done it, I’d love to hear your experiences as well!  If I have any interesting facts or anecdotes to share that are aviation-related, I’ll be sure and update!

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Well, It’s Official…

Just an update to say that I have received my Pilot’s Certificate in the mail!  It took less than a week, which was surprising to say the least.  I was beginning to feel like a kid again; you remember when you ordered something from the catalogue and then took up a position in the house where you could observe the postman-shaped airmass in front of the box in case you missed him after the first 30 or 40 times you checked?  And things always took “6 to 8 weeks”…

So yeah, its official, I can go rent a plane now!  Though of course it’d need to be of the same type and characteristics of the ones I’ve trained in.  And if I go somewhere unfamiliar, there’d be some logbook scrutiny and a checkride involved.  But cool, hey!

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The type “A” means a 3 axis, single engine plane with ailerons, rudder and elevator for control (as opposed to a zeppelin or hot-air balloon or hang-glider).  HF means I have passed a course on the all-important Human Factors (basically keeping the Pilot from being the Problem…), HP means High Performance – cruise speeds over 80 kts, not high-performance as in a Lear Jet or anything…  NW means Nose Wheel (as opposed to the more traditional style with the steerable wheel in the back) and R means Radio, so I can hear and be heard.

Before long I will be starting my Navigation training (which will give me an X on the card and allow me to go cross-country).  I’ll also be working on gaining the extra hours (5) and concepts required to take a passenger (PAX on the card…).

THAT’S when it will start to really get cool, when I can take people up for scenic rides to take pictures, or simply absorb the experience of sitting in a chair in the sky.  Can’t wait!

Now THAT might take more than 6 to 8 weeks.

The Day Is Mine!!

You’ll notice on my Milestones and Progress page that a new item has been added.  You might even have noticed on the About page, another item has been ticked off the ol’ Aviation Bucket List.

Yep, that’s right… on Sunday July 14, 2013 I finally passed my Pilot Certificate Test!

It would be difficult for me to overstate how happy I am to finally achieve this goal, which for some time oscillated between ridiculous and unobtainable.  Anyone who knows me would probably disagree and say I have overstated it plenty.

Two years ago, after I had first started my current position, I took a couple hours day trip with a coworker and friend, Alex, in his flying club’s Cessna 172.  This was the first time I had ever been up in a light single-engine plane, but I was hooked on the feeling of freedom and precision.  The pictures I took were breathtaking and to top it all off, Alex wasn’t some fancy airline captain or military fighter jock… just a normal bloke like me.

So this seed was planted and continued to germinate in my brain.  I found myself staring out the window at the blue skies and paying unnatural attention to the weather.  I started looking up ultralights and other aviation-related videos on YouTube, and did a bit of research.  For the type of flying I wanted to do at the time, it seemed that the Recreational track was the way to go – this was relatively inexpensive and supposedly quicker to achieve, and if I decided I really liked it and wanted to pursue it, I could always parley that experience into a Private Pilot’s Licence which allows larger, heavier, faster aeroplanes with more options – more seats, more engines, night flying…

At any rate, that was almost 2 years ago and 37.1 flying hours ago, most of which has been chronicled right here…

Over the last few entries I have talked about what is involved leading up to and taking the Flight Certificate Test.  In a small way the frustrations associated with the test pretty accurately mirrored the pitfalls and frustrations involved over the whole cycle of syllabus – weather delays, instructor conflicts, my own rustiness and confidence issues – all played out over a compressed cycle.  But all that said, I had passed the portion of the test which takes place in the local training area, and Brett was nice enough not to make me have to go through that again – time is money, and also wear and tear on the aeroplane, so that needs to be minimised where possible.

I got up on Sunday morning, 6:30am for an 8:30 start.  I didn’t want to make any noise, so I didn’t run the coffee maker or bother with breakfast; instead I just stopped and got an Egg McMuffin and a coffee on the way to Bankstown.  I arrived a few minutes early and Brett was still debriefing his previous student, so I took my time and got my things in order, and went and did a nice leisurely Preflight Inspection on the Jabiru.  I’ve mentioned before, but I really find this ritual soothing and it helps me get my thoughts focused.

There was hardly a cloud in the sky, it was brisk but not cold, and the windsock was pointing to the ground like there was a brick in it.  Could not have been any calmer.

Brett and I chatted a bit about what happened on the last attempt and what I thought might have been the cause and what could I do to improve. I said that fundamentally I let the aeroplane get ahead of me.  This is what happens when you fail to anticipate the sequence of events and end up reacting to them rather than being in control of them.  You end up being too close, too high, too fast and generally imprecise.  What I could do to improve was to not get so inside my head with checklists and everything going on that I forget the basics – use reference points, fly the airplane, use trim to reduce the workload so I can concentrate on anticipating the finer points.

With that discussion and a plan of action, we taxied out to runway 29L, facing to the West, to do a quick brushup lesson on advanced circuits.  Using the feedback from last lesson, as well as 2 weeks of practicing on the flight sim and writing in my notebook, I made sure to anticipate any tendency to drift close to the parallel runway.  Flaps up at 300′ and gentle turn at 500′ onto the crosswind leg.  Here is where we discovered the first of my weaknesses – I didn’t have a good ground reference for this turn.  Most of my circuits have always been in a different direction (11R) so left hand circuits were still tenuous for me.  But we got that sorted.  Fuel pump and light switches off at 750′ just in time to level off at 1000′ and discover the next point for improvement – I had been turning more or less after reaching 1000′ – somehow it always seemed to work out OK before but in this case I was turning too close to the runway.  So with the proper spacing sorted out, Brett again demonstrated a proper Short-Field landing.

On the second go-round, I did everything pretty well, but another item showed up turning on base – I have a tendency to leave too much power on.  This has the affect of making the base leg too fast and descent rate too low resulting in being way too high on final.  If you are too high on final it is difficult to keep it slow and shallow enough to land at the very beginning of the runway – which you definitely want to do if it were really a short airstrip!

We did this a few more times and really got it down nicely.  We then did a glide approach, where he cuts the engine to idle in the circuit and I have to properly glide it back to the runway.

Since the test has to be a separate flight, we landed and taxied back to the school for a toilet break, a cuppa and a quick debrief.  Overall he was happy with the circuit work so we just went over a few more scenario questions to test my understanding of things (as opposed to my ability to memorise them).  He seemed happy with that, so back out we went.

One of the things I always try to do is maintain the highest possible professional standard while on the ground, as I believe this is an accurate predictor of how I’ll fly.  Brett is a stickler for high standards, and trains his students to the standards required for Private Pilots rather than Recreational.  Not that the recreational standards are slack by any means, but he does believe (and I agree) that good habits start early in training.

So this means taxiing right on the yellow line, observing all markings and signs and watching for other traffic, and considering the wind direction.  It means keeping radio communications crisp and precise.  It means a thorough runup check and preflight briefing.

Again we lined up, and this time I have to say I was utterly and completely “in the zone” like almost never before.  That little brushup session was just what I needed to boost my confidence and brush away any cobwebs or rust.  We did one short field landing which I planted right on the spot. We did two emergency glide approaches.  On the first one, he cut the engine just abeam of the threshold on the downwind side.  Training kicked in like so many times before – set the best glide attitude, restart checks, mayday call (simulated) then glided it in and planted it right where I wanted it with room to take off again.  The second time he threw me for a bit of a curve and cut the engine closer to mid-downwind.  But again here is where staying ahead of the aeroplane pays off… just let the training kick in and methodically work through the task at hand.  He was very impressed that even with that added difficulty I still planted it exactly on the aimpoint on the runway.

I knew that was the last item we needed to test, but as I touched down he said “go around”. I gave it full throttle, got us airborne, and he said “you passed – this is a victory lap, land however you like!”   I was so elated, that it almost – not quite – felt like my first solo.  Here at long last I had achieved something that at times seemed insurmountable, and even at best seemed like it was actively resisting me.  I played it safe and did another short field landing, not wanting to add any opportunity to screw up.

So there it is – done and dusted, as far as I know the first in my family to earn a pilot certificate!  There is always much more to know and learn, and other phases to conquer, but for now I am happy to bask in this.  I started out wanting to learn to fly, but I learned so much more.  I learned about aerodynamic principles, human factors, radio, aircraft systems, navigation and meteorology.  I learned how to conquer fear and hesitation.

Most of all I am eager to keep progressing through my list!  I’ll update when I get my card in the mail.  Meanwhile, here’s a picture Brett took to mark the occasion – he wanted me to do the ‘jump in the air’ thing like the old Toyota ads, but dignity and restraint prevailed 🙂

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Rust Never Sleeps

I really thought I had it in the bag. Since my Practice Test almost 2 months ago, I have had 3 attempts at the real thing. One booking was cancelled due to maintentance, another was rained out (see previous post) and the next one was an exact repeat – rained out on the first circuit! So although I haven’t done much flying since the practice test, I have gotten a fair bit of practice in mentally preparing for and beginning a test. Which is something.

I prepared relentlessly, once again reviewing videos and reading material. I came up with some inventive ways to drill myself on procedures to try and effectively burn them into my memory. Using my old savior Flight Sim X, I went through the entire test sequence from takeoff out to the training area and back for circuits, performing all actions on the test. I kept it as realistic as possible, using my checklists, making the radio calls at the appropriate time, and even actually going through the motions of reaching for the knobs or switches. So I felt very confident and well-prepared.

4th time was not a charm.

Oh, the day started out really well. Had a great breakfast and coffee, practiced a little more on the flight sim, got on the most comfortable clothes I own and headed out to Bankstown. I left plenty early, to avoid the debacle that occurred on my practice test where the traffic was snarled and I was late and got flustered. I even made mock radio calls under my breath while driving.

We did the preflight inspection and all the taxi and runup stuff, all very much by the book and professional. However when I got to the holding point before entering the runway, I misheard an instruction and Brett pointed it out and that just put me right back inside my head… suddenly, everything I knew how to do and had done a zillion times was like trying to make a sentence out of alphabet soup.

Plan was to do the circuit portion of the test first so we did that – first a Short Field takeoff and landing which was not bad on the takeoff portion, on the landing I floated almost the entire length of the runway – so much for “Short Field”… so i just added power and did a go-around. The next one was not any better, and I could tell Brett knew I was flustered, so this time we did a simulated engine failure and glide approach. I did all of the checklist items correctly, but again was just too high and close and was not able to get it down.

We both knew at that point whichever demon it is that chooses to visit when I am taking a test was present and accounted for, so switching gears we called for a departure to the training area to go over the rest of the test.

On the way out West departing from Bankstown, a few small things were forgotten but overall I started to get my groove back and before long we were at 3500′ and going through the slow flight, steep turns, stalls, and forced landings. Admittedly it took me a few tries to get the forced landings down, mostly as a result of forgetting just how long and far these things will glide! The little Jabiru just wants to fly, and I think nothing short of anti-aircraft artillery will bring it down before it wants to!

Arrival procedures were good, as I descended to 1500′ over Prospect Reservoir and called the tower to let them know I was inbound. When I got closer and entered the downwind leg of the circuit, I let them know I was there and they cleared me for visual approach. Of course, since I wasn’t burning up my last remaining neurons overthinking the circuit procedures (though I was in one), it went just fine and I managed a reasonably fine, by-the-numbers landing.

So there it is, I have a partial pass on the flight test and don’t have to perform the training area stuff again. We’ll have time to brush up and practice those when I start Navigation lessons, but he is happy with the standard.

Circuits are the highest workload portion of flying, as you more or less have to consolidate everything you know about flying into a 6 minute lap around the aerodrome. Add to that the pressure of the examination and the accumulated rust from not having done them for awhile, and it is not surprising that I sought refuge inside my head and my constrant stream of thought and analysis; consequently things got away from me a little bit and things that are normally routine became surprisingly slippery.

Imagine a routine drive to the grocery store and back. Then imagine it with a driving instructor and a clipboard, and you’ll get the idea… surprising how you forget things when you are trying to think of them.

So, I am that much closer. All I have to do is demonstrate a few more circuits. To that end, we’ll go up on Sunday for some “remedial training” and once I get rid of whatever is tripping me up, I’ll do them for real and glide back down to earth once more.. a Pilot.

Practice Flight Test

I wanted to report on my most recent aeronautical activity, the Practice Flight Test.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have completed the syllabus and all required hours for both solo and dual flying.  The next thing to get done was a Practice session where we could go through all of the elements of the test without the pressure.  Because each lesson as you go though builds on the previous, you don’t realise just how much information has been stored away – and now you have to recall, demonstrate, and explain ALL OF IT.

So it is nice that there is a practice run – would have been nice when I was learning to drive if there had been a trial run with the examiner before the Real Thing.

It is not a huge exaggeration to say I have thought of almost nothing else for the last few weeks other than preparation for this.  I have gone over old lessons, watched as many videos as I can, brushed up on all the rules and regulations and radio calls.  I have pored over maps and charts, I have made laminated checklists.  I have talked to other people, studied the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for the plane, and made every quiet moment an opportunity to mentally walk through everything from the preflight inspection to the circuit work and training area exercises.  I bought a nifty pilot’s watch.

So you would think that this should just be a nice breezy run-through, maybe a chance to solidify and streamline my processes.

So I got up on Sunday after a nice sleep in, made sure I had a good lunch, spent a little more time going over things and left A WHOLE HOUR EARLY.  So naturally, when I turn onto Church Street in Parramatta I find that the police have barricaded it off and all traffic is detoured onto a side street.

Of course from where I am to where I am going, everything more or less funnels though there and no matter which side road I took or which labyrinthine path I tried to snake my way around on, I found that it eventually led back to the same path.

Nigel, our beloved but dysfunctional GPS unit, was of no help as he just wanted to take u-turns every 5 seconds in a desperate attempt to get me exactly where I didn’t want to go.

So I flew out of Parramatta and hit the highway up to Silverwater then back across, putting me 30 minutes and several km’s out of my way.

I was so frustrated and flustered when I got there, I was beginning to have doubts I should even go through with it.

But what a calming ritual is the Preflight Inspection   Something about methodically just going through a checklist that starts to pull the mind right back into the headspace it needs to be in.

The taxi and runup checks went very well, and before long I was ready to line up.  Brett asked for a Short Field takeoff, which means that I need to taxi as far to the very beginning of the runway as possible (even though this looks ridiculous at Bankstown’s 1km+ sealed runways).  Ding number 1, I felt a little rushed due to a plane behind me at the holding point, so didn’t inch right up to the edge up the asphalt.

The plan was to head straight into the training area straight off of runway 29R.  Crossing the railroad tracks to the west and climbing to 2500′ (straight into the sun) the most immense, other-worldly smoke cloud hovered over the entire area we were aiming for.  It must have stretched from Camden to Richmond!

No worries, we just diverted to the south part of the training area… but scratch about 90% of my mental walk-throughs, now I was literally doing all this for the first time!

As we settled into our altitude of 3500′, I felt the calm returning to me and though I had already a few things rattling my cage, I was able to pull off all the climbing, straight and level, descending, turns, high-speed, low-speed, radio work, checklists, stalls, wing drops, and steep turns he asked for.  In fact, my highlight of the day is Brett saying my steep turns were some of the best he’d ever seen!

So here is where things started to sag… right about the parts I thought surely I would ace – Practice Forced Landings and Circuits.

Now… if you have been paying attention, or know me at all, you will know that I have been doing circuits for what I feel is a disproportionately long time.  Such is the price of training in spare time and being subject to things like weather and budget…. you have to spend a bit of time each lesson getting back to where you left last time.

I thought I was past that since I have been making such great progress, finished up my solo time, and prepared so well.

Though I *knew* what to do, and had all my checklists handy, I found myself crowding the circuit, coming in too high, too fast, sloppy with my procedures – in short, I was fried.

But I think this is what happens when you get flustered – all available mental capacity is used up trying to concentrate on the things that are more difficult, and the things you had hoped would be second nature/muscle memory just… aren’t.

I have a theory on this – an epiphany perhaps?  So let’s say there were what – 4 or 5 things that flustered, rattled, or frustrated me from beginning to end?  OK so for argument’s sake let’s say that now I have used up 20% of my mental capacity just dealing with that – that leaves me 80% to work with.

Now in the process, I mentioned things that I found calming, and I think I have always assumed that if you calm yourself down in this way, it gives you back that 20% – I mean, I’m not still thinking about it am I?

So here is my theory, and I’ll need to keep it in mind for the future – I don’t think that the calming moments actually gave me back the 20%… I think it just gets filtered out as background noise and resets the level – so now 20 is the new 0… but guess what, I still have only 80% to work with…

So to make a long story short, Brett has marked me as “competent” to attempt the test on all of the stuff I stressed over – stalls, steep turns, training area stuff and has sentenced me to “remedial” work on the things I thought I knew like the back of my hand.  My actual test is scheduled for Saturday June 1st, and more than likely we will spend the first part of it doing circuits until he is comfortable that I am competent before hopefully getting stuck into it.

I hope that I have been able to analyse accurately how this happened to me – I know what I missed, but the important thing is “why” since I shouldn’t have – this will be key in preventing it from happening again.

Fingers crossed the next post will contain some good news!

Well, This is Cool…

Now that I have worked my way through the syllabus, racked up enough dual and solo hours, the next step is to take a practice Flight Test.  In fact, CFI Brett emailed me last night to see if I wanted to schedule the flight for 1500 on the 19th of May, so not this Sunday but next.

Whoa.

Or course I said, “hell yeah!” so now I will need to really study up on all the finer points.  I feel pretty comfortable with flying so that is one worry out of the way.  Main points to focus on are:

  • Departure to the training area
  • Steep turns
  • Stalls
  • Practice Forced Landings
  • Arrival from the training area
  • Flapless circuit
  • Normal circuit
  • Go around
  • Glide circuit
  • Short Field Takeoff and Land (STOL) circuit

…and of course, the million-and-one details that comprise each.

However, as it turns out, it is well-within the rules to have any reference materials I need with me so you can bet I will be putting together a handy reference sheet for all of the little reminders I might need (laminated of course)… nothing too detailed, but perhaps some of the acronyms, radio call reminders, transponder codes, etc…  As well as a chart of the area so I don’t get lost on the way back, which could be embarrassing…

Presuming I do well on that, then the next flight could very well be my Certificate flight test!

It.  Better.  Not.  Rain.

Another Milestone!

Yesterday was another gorgeous day with not a cloud in the sky and minimal winds – great day to drive down to Wollongong and get some more solo flying in!

As of last trip, my total solo hours were 2.7.  The rules state that you must have a dual session with an instructor after each 3 consecutive hours.  2.7 is close enough, so the first thing was to hop in for a couple of circuits with Bruce.  This is a good thing, as you can tend to forget things if you haven’t flown for a couple of weeks.  I think it also helps build your confidence back up before you take to the skies alone again.

So, we did 2 circuits, one just normal and the last one Bruce simulated an engine failure right after take-off.  Since there was plenty of runway remaining, the drill is just to pop the nose down to the glide attitude and land the plane on what is left of the runway, then vacate and taxi back to start over.  Once that was done and he was satisfied, I went back up.

I needed about 2.3 hours to get to the required 5, but this is alot to do in one go. So I broke it up into chunks – about 3/4 of an hour just doing circuits, trying to nail the landings and other elements of a good circuit.  Once I see brain fade coming in, I land and come in for a break.

After a half hour or so, I had rested and processed sufficiently and decided to go back up and hit the gorgeous training area.  This is the coastal stretch between Port Kembla and Kiama, and is a visual overload for anyone who loves the ocean and coastal scenery in general.

From my last experience, I knew that I needed to really concentrate on just keeping it Straight and Level (lesson one haha) and more practice on my left turns.  Since I knew going in that these needed work, I was able to anticipate issues before they occurred, and kept myself at 2500 feet (ok +/- a little bit if I decided to just sight-see for a minute).  But – buzzing up and down 20 or so miles of even the most beautiful rugged coastline can get a bit monotonous after awhile and again I decided to pull it in before I started just tuning it out – I am not doing this just to “tick boxes” and go through the motions… I have my day job for that hahah 😉

In fact, one of the driving reasons for heading back to the field was that I was getting very low on fuel.  Although I practice engine failures whenever possible, and I am always thinking “where can I land if it goes pear-shaped?” I don’t want to experience a real one – especially if its preventable!

So, brought her down, rested and drank some more water, fueled up and headed back out.  At this time I only needed another .3 hours and, time being money, decided to just do a few circuits to knock it out – besides, the brain was really overloaded this time so best to stick with the familiar…

And that’s it for this weekend, another milestone complete – 5 hours as Pilot In Command towards my Certificate.  This week I’ll contact Brett and we’ll go over What’s Next – in preparation for (hopefully) my Flight Test!

Plenty to go after this (arguably a lifetime) but feeling pretty good about my progress.  There is a real chance I might have my certificate with passenger and cross country ratings by the end of the year!  After that, I will want to parley this into a PPL rating to increase my options of what I can fly and where, but for now this feels an awful lot like “Living The Dream”

First Area Solo!

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Well this is a month for firsts, doesn’t seem long ago I posted about my first solo and on Saturday April 13, I did my first Area Solo! First did an hour of circuits just to warm up since it had been a couple weeks, then after a break, I finally cut the cord and called a crosswind departure into the training area for another glorious hour of toodling around between Kembla and Kiama (from Wollongong).

Bruce mentioned before I went up after the break that the air was nice and smooth at around 3000 feet, so I headed there.  I think it changed a little during that time and was actually a bit choppy, so I found a nice little pocket around 2750 feet and just tried to keep it steady.

Here are some pictures, I snapped a few quick ones with my phone since it was nice and smooth for the most part:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/k0adhlct4wiqvxp/qw_XokeSgk#/

A couple of things I noticed after all this time in the circuits, it is bloody hard to hold straight and level for a long time!! In the circuit, I guess you only have to hold it for 2-3 minutes, but boy can it wander when you are just buzzing around!

Also – after 1.5 years of mostly right-hand circuits, my left turns need some work! Skid ball was all the way to the right, I guess I was carrying too much tension when giving it left rudder into the turn since I hadn’t had to think about those for over a year!

Anyway, a good solid morning of challenging myself and lots to think about between now and next weekend! Only a couple hours left solo for the required 5, exciting stuff! In fact will have to do a dual first come to think of it…

How was everyone else’s day??

First Solo!!!

“Remember, thou art mortal… Remember, thou art mortal…”

It is said that the Generals and Consuls of Rome, having returned from battle victorious, in their Triumphal Procession through the city, would actually have someone employed to whisper this phrase over and over in their ears.  One can only imagine how overwhelming to the senses such an event would have been, essentially focused on one individual and his accomplishments.  A prudent reminder that regardless of how invincible one might feel, you’re only ever a stab in the dark away from disaster.  I believe the Emperors after Gaius Julius Caesar largely abandoned this practice…

Before I continue with a metaphor that probably won’t withstand a lot of scrutiny, let me just say that on 9:30am on Saturday, March 30th, I probably could have used someone like that.  This was the day, after many months of anticipation and occasional setback, that I first Took To The Wing by myself – my First Solo Flight!

The previous few attempts over the past month or so were hampered by weather, and my almost diabolical ability to arrive for my lesson at the exact moment the winds/turbulence/thermals would reach a point beyond what would be prudent for a First Solo flight.  No sense freaking me out worse than necessary!

So this time, in conjunction with the 4-day Easter weekend and a much-needed getaway with Rebecca, I rocked up at 8am for the first flight of the day.  This turned out to be just the ticket, and after doing the daily inspection and preflight, Bruce and I went up for a few circuits around just to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything important.

(As a side note – my CFI Brett put me in touch with Bruce down at Fly Illawara at Wollongong Regional Airport so that I could go down there and try to rack up some solo hours without the extra time/expense of a Navs lesson from Bankstown)

3 quick circuits and nothing major bent and we called a Full Stop.  Bruce said “I’m outta here” and I dropped him off on the taxiway before taxiing back to enter runway 34 and make personal history.

Right away, something unrehearsed happened, as there was a huge ambulance helicopter sitting at the junction of several taxiways, and right in my path.   He didn’t look like going anywhere, so I just made a wide berth and got around him and continued on across runway 26/08.

Like the long walk out the lobby after a job interview, I slowly trundled my way to the threshold of 34, made my radio call, and acted as Pilot In Command for the first time.

Equal parts exhilarating and terrifying, and accompanied by my non-stop critical inner dialogue, this was certainly every bit as adrenaline-pumping as I had imagined it might be.  Even now as I type this, much of it is a blur.

I’ll try not to crap on too much, so that non-aviation interested readers won’t tune out (any more than normal) but the most noticeable thing was the aircraft performance was transformed!  I had a reasonably light load of fuel and with the instructor gone, this thing just shot out of the blocks like a Stripe-Assed Ape!  I am pretty sure I was close to 1000′ before I reached the end of the runway!

Anyway, I just did circuits, which are an established traffic pattern around the airport, so nothing really new or exciting there.  But with the enhanced performance everything happened much quicker.  I think that my training in Bankstown put me in good stead for some of the busier parts of the workload such as the radio calls etc.  The final approach slope was a bit higher and steeper as well, and the float down the runway longer until I worked out how to account for the lighter weight there as well.

So I did this for a little over 3/4 hour until I got to the point where I recognised the brain fade kicking in and went ahead and called for a full stop so I could come back down to earth and let this sink in for awhile.  Bruce was nice enough to welcome me back to terra firma with a radio call congratulating me on my first solo 🙂

I would also like to add my thanks here to Bruce Robbins at Fly Illawara, for working with me essentially as an unknown temporary “transfer” from another school, and spending the time necessary to make sure I was at the standard and got me familiar with the Wollongong airport.  I won’t post his number or info here, but please send me a note if you would like to contact Bruce.

So there you have it, .8 hours in the logbook as Pilot in Command, 4.2 to go as a minimum for my certificate, and an experience I can never repeat – First Solo!

Astute readers will note that I played it safe and avoided the Ides of March 😉

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…