PPL – Done and Dusted!

I really have been horrible about updating this… but I promise I have not been idle!  Last Monday, 1st of September 2104 to be exact, I finally took and passed my flight test for my Private Pilot’s Licence!  More on this in a little bit.

Since my last update, after earning my Controlled Airspace Endorsement, I did what is called a Pre-licence Flight Test.  This was a long cross-country trip where I had to go through all of the paces from startup to shutdown and everything in between.  It was much like the test I did for the Recreational certificate, and much like that one, I found that at close to 3 hours of flying my brain was fried and I had trouble with some of the basic things.

In a nutshell, we went north via the Lane of Entry to Parramatta > Patonga > Warnervale and Cessnock where we did some touch and goes and engine failures.  I got a little discombobulated on the circuits and it took me awhile to get into the groove of it.. I also am finding that after a leg of straight and level, my brain takes some waking up to get back into the procedures of circuits.  So that was one area that needed improvements.

We departed Cessnock and on the way to the defunct Aero Pelican strip (YPEC) on the outskirts of Lake Macquarie we did our steep turns, stalls, incipient spins.  I found YPEC with no problems, and of course Chris pulled an engine failure on me right there…  no problem, from 3500 feet I had all day to get to the strip.  We just did a go-around and I began the trip back via Warnervale.

Before I could get back up to height, Chris threw in a line of hypothetical angry low clouds between us and I had to get down to 1500′ and get us to Mangrove Creek reservoir.  Luckily, I could see Warnervale from where I was, so I estimated my position, drew a line to the new waypoint, eyeballed the degrees for the track, subtracted 12 degrees for magnetic variation, a bit more for the crosswind, and determined a new heading.  Once I got us pointed in that direction, I worked out ground speed and an estimate for time.  Now it was just a matter of waiting the time, and looking for clues along the way.  I ended up very close, within a mile or less, and within a minute or 2 of my estimate.  Not bad for low level and being unfamiliar with the landmark.

We pointed back south so I could look for the Brooklyn Bridge and hop on the Southbound Lane of Entry back to Bankstown.  On the way we did another .2 hours of instruments – turns, descents, climbs, standard stuff.  We made it back to Bankstown and this is where I mentioned earlier the circuits started to really fall apart.  I did them OK I guess, nothing to write home about for sure, but neither Chris nor I were happy with them, especially knowing that I have done much better in the past.  

We then spent a few hours going over all of the knowledge items I should brush up on for the oral test before the flight test – Chris is a real trooper, they do not pay him near enough I am sure!

So I made a booking to do more circuits and a bit more practice in the training area, just to make sure I had stalls and steep turns down.  That was a very busy weekday, and workload was even higher – even had a runway direction change in the middle of joining on the arrival procedure – I had read about that but never had to do it!  Talk about pressure!   But, I just did what the tower told me and was now doing circuits on runway 11L instead of 29R.  After a couple of those, the tower moved me over to runway 11R (having me cross all the way over on a long crosswind leg).  For the final landing, I did request 11L so I’d be closer to the taxiway back to Schofield’s.  That was done as a short field landing, and we came to a stop before the first taxiway intersection.

We were much happier with the procedures and I had been working on the knowledge items, so we were happy to start thinking about booking me with a Testing Officer to do my official flight test!!

Of course, it immediately started raining for the next several weeks which is never helpful when you want to strike while the iron is hot.  After a couple of weeks, Bill rang me and scheduled Monday the 1st of September at 9 am as it looked like it was going to be the only decent day for weeks on either side (which more or less turned out to be the case).

This actually gave me quite a bit of time to study all of the items I missed on my PPL written exam, which would need to be discussed during the oral exam, as well as all of the other items of general aviation knowledge I needed to brush up on.  He wanted me to plan 3 different scenarios, and depending on the weather we would pick the best one on the day.  I even bought new charts so I wouldn’t risk adding confusion with my already well-loved charts.  I always donate my old charts to the flying school, they are good for new students who will need to learn how to read them but won’t need to buy them for awhile yet.  Pay it forward…

When the day arrived, of course I was out there bright and early (before they opened of course) and got myself settled with some coffee and looked over all of the area forecasts.  I decided I would have the best chance by choosing option 3, which was up to Cessnock again then to Singleton, Denman, then Mount McQuoid, Calga, and back.  Winds and cloud cover was very light in this direction, and I had recently done most of it during my pre-test, so it should be familiar enough.  Why make it hard on myself, right?

Did the weight and balance and performance charts, finished out my flight plan, submitted my notification, called for full fuel then grabbed my wad of papers and went in to get Bill.  Without going on too much about it, I feel like I did very well on the oral exam portion, definitely felt well-prepared (thanks, Chris!).  

I went out and did a preflight-inspection on trusty old INH and before long, I was starting up the engine with Bill in the right seat with his testing officer hat (and glare) on, and the dreaded Clipboard.  Now Bill has been doing this for longer than I have been alive, and he just oozes authority.  Think back to when you were 17 and taking your driving test – and now imagine your grandpa (who is also the sheriff and a former race car driver) is the one giving the test, and I think you’ll get the idea.

Anyway, the flight itself was much like the pre-licence flight so no need to bore with those details.   Mistakes were certainly made, and nerves were at an all time high.  But in the end, it appears that they are mostly interested in whether you recognise and correct your mistakes, and whether you are safe.  I am not sure I would have passed myself, but I must have done OK because he passed me!

We did a very long debrief session afterwards where we went over everything I did wrong, what I did right, what I could have done differently.  He had me listen to some recordings and checked my comprehension so that he could tick the box for “speaks English” (whatever…).  Then he extended his hand and said “Congratulations”.

So now I am just waiting for the paperwork, reflecting back on a long and circuitous path to this point, pondering what is next, and scheming my first trip!  I now have almost 85 hours in the logbook, and it took only about 16 hours in the Piper with the Recreational Certificate behind me – I would suggest however one’s mileage would vary widely – some might do it quicker, and some might take significantly longer.  In the end, I feel like I had a very solid grounding in piloting and navigation, thanks to Brett over at Sydney Jabiru, and that my skills were sharpened and my confidence increased thanks to Chris at Schofields.  I have been very lucky to have been put with some very bright and talented instructors, and only hope I can emulate their examples.  

I am just beginning to be broadly aware that I don’t even know what I don’t know, and will be learning aviation for the rest of my life!  For now, I just plan to enjoy the privileges and sharpen my skills through experience.  Who knows where this will take me – the sky is the limit; and it turns out the sky is a very big place!

Controlled Airspace Endorsement!

Knocked out another goal on the way to my PPL yesterday – the Controlled Airspace Endorsement.  This is one of the things that separates the PPL from the recreational certificate, the ability to request entry through various kinds of controlled airspace.

For yesterday’s flight, we treated it the same as the other lessons – I plan out a short cross country trip, do my weight and balance and performance charts, get the weather and winds so I can calculate my heading and ground speed and times.  Then at various points on the trip we practice other things such as stalls, steep turns, forced landings, diversions, instruments, etc.

For this particular one, we added in a couple of new elements – Low-Level Navigation (which I’d done in Recreational) and Controlled Airspace.

First off, we planned a trip through the northbound lane of entry in Richmond military airspace, then over to Warnervale for a touch and go, then down to do the “Harbour Scenic”, which is a procedure for requesting entry into the airspace around the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge to do a couple of orbits for the beautiful photo ops.

Weather was not great, but it was serviceable for the trip.  Most of the cloud was well above my planned height of 1,500′.  More on this later.

So before the flight Chris briefed me on the procedures which mostly involve radio calls for requesting entry then complying with whatever the controller tells you.  The key he says is in preparing early and sounding professional – if you sound like you don’t know what you are doing or are unprepared, they may just tell you “clearance unavailable”.

Anyway, we decided to add a short field takeoff to the mix so I requested a 15 second delay to line up, brakes on, 2 stages of flap and full throttle, then let off the brakes and leaped off the ground at best angle of climb until Chris was satisfied we cleared any “obstacles”.  Lowered the nose to best rate of climb and departed the area towards Tadpole Lake and Warragamba dam as normal.  It was quite windy so got a little off track, but corrrected early and made those waypoints within a minute or 2.

Got the weather info for Richmond over Warragamba and made my first call a few miles from Nepean Bridge – “Richmond tower, Piper India November Hotel, 2 persons on board, one thousand five hundred feet approaching Nepean Bridge with information ‘Golf’, request northbound lane of entry”

The tower immediately responded with my clearance and a “squawk” code to put on my transponder – so they can identify me on radar.

After this it is just a matter of following the published procedure for entry, reporting where required, and reading back any instructions.  Once I was out of the area, the tower lets me know they are terminating service and I confirm I am out of the area and I can go back to VFR code 1200.

So that went reasonably well, though I did get myself a bit lost trying to find Wiseman’s Ferry – one of the hard parts of low-level navigation is its a bit harder to see things from down low, and so easy to convince yourself you’ve seen something you are looking for.  Anyway, Chris gave me some more pointers there, and we were close enough to get there and set a new heading for Warnervale.

Here is where it got very interesting indeed.

I had wanted to cruise at 4,500 to Warnervale, but the cloud base was reported to be more like 3000, so that was out.  To make it worse, it looked like in the areas of rising terrain, it was getting lower than expected!  So visibility was crap and getting worse, and the doors were shutting behind me.

To be clear, on a day like this, I would not have chosen to fly – my personal minimums are way higher than that.  But Chris, being an IFR instructor, and a pragmatist, wanted to use this as an opportunity to put me in a real-world situation.

I could see the coastline, so I knew if I continued east I would at least be able to fix my position over the coast where it looked a bit clearer.  As we got closer, I found Warnervale which was good.  I made some mistakes in identifying the right runway to use – they have 02 and 20 – and I got them backwards in my adrenaline-addled rush to be clear of the weather.

Finally got myself sorted and did a touch and go at Warnervale and it was time to set my heading for the next waypoint – Long Reef for entry to the Harbour Scenic!

I was still a bit addled at this point, so we headed over Tuggerah Lake and did a bit of airwork with the hood on to get some more instrument time in and get me back into my comfort zone – if doing climbs, descents and turns with a hood on in the rain could be called comfort 🙂

So he was happy with that but we still had the weather to contend with – my proposed track looked pretty grey.  So as an initial plan, I thought, well let’s just go down low and follow the coast until I can pick up my original track.  Plan B was to head back to Warnervale and wait it out, since we knew we were good there.

Plan A worked fine, and just a few minutes directly south at low level, we found that the weather cleared nicely and I was able to identify Lion Island and get back on my original track.  A few miles from Long Reef, I made my next call to Sydney Terminal who then passed me on to Sydney Departures for clearance to Harbour Scenic One!  This is another case where if you do not sound like you are prepared, they will not let you through.  But we made it, and did 2 (well ok 3) glorious orbits around Sydney Harbour, to the east of the bridge.  I concentrated on flying at my assigned altitude of 1,500′ and gave Chris my phone to take some pics:

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After that, back up to Manly then cut over to Brooklyn Bridge to hop on the Bankstown southbound Lane of Entry.

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We did a few circuits to cap things off, of course my brain was fried and I could have done better, but they were safe enough and I achieved the objective for that flight:

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So that is it – the entire country unlocked!  All I have left is the pre-licence flight wherein I hope to brush up on those things that caught me off guard but that I know i can do, and hopefully be scheduled very shortly for my test!

Watch this space, its about to get busy!

My Big Day – Cross Country Pre-test, Solo, and Flight Test – 3/3

This is the final installment of my long-overdue update on the Cross Country endorsement.  After what turned out to be a 3 hour solo flight due to stronger than forecast winds, I returned to Young with another small personal triumph under my belt.

Which was nice, because the last Triumph I had, I had to sell to pay my mortgage after a layoff.

Anyway, just like on a motorcycle, after (now) 6 hours in the saddle, I had a serious case of Monkey-butt and was in no hurry to get started right away.  It was the middle of the afternoon so I only needed to make sure we left in plenty of time to get back to Bankstown well before the end of daylight.

So I walked around to stretch my legs, drank plenty of water, and settled in for the final stage of planning for the return trip.  While I was doing that, Brett topped up the fuel in the Jabiru just to make sure.

Plan was (nominally) just to go back the way I’d come – via Goulburn to Moss Vale then up to Camden and over to Bankstown.  I say nominally, because this was the Test and anything could happen and it certainly did.

As this was the test, I made extra sure to leave no stone unturned when it came to planning.  I have to demonstrate to Brett I’ve done all the flight planning including wind speed and direction, heading, ground speed, and estimated times.  I had to show proper fuel planning, weight and balance calculations, as well as my planned route.

Once he was satisfied, we strapped ourselves in an taxied once again to runway 19 and made a standard takeoff and a crosswind departure to the East for Goulburn.

But before we even got to the chosen height of 7500 feet, Brett goes into Role Playing mode and says he’d like to check out his property near Crookwell.  So… a diversion for the first Task.

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No problem.  So I keep trimmed for straight and level flight and draw a new line on my chart and quickly estimated that it was about X degrees off my original heading.  So I changed to that heading and kept it straight while I worked out an estimate for the effects of the forecast winds so I could refine the heading and ground speed and calculate my estimated times from that.  As luck would have it, once I was on the new heading I could see a huge windfarm dead ahead which seemed to correspond to what I expected to see on the map – so all I had to do was keep focused and maintain that heading.

Once overhead the windfarms, I couldn’t see Crookwell so I needed to use dead reckoning to look for some other features and see if I could refine my position.  As it turned out, the wind farm I saw was a bit to the South of the ones that I thought they were – so I had myself temporarily convinced I was headed in the right direction.

But dead reckoning is like that, and given it was an unplanned diversion, it still got me in the right area – Crookwell was just a couple of miles to the North – so a quick left turn and I was overhead in a few minutes and had my positive fix.

That was rather easy, so this time Brett decided to turn up the heat a little – he now wanted to fly over the Wombeyan Caves.  This is a popular tourist attraction but if there is anything caves are reliably known for, its not being visible from the air.  So while I did get us in the area, Brett had to point them out to me.  It wasn’t exactly like Disney World, but at least we got there and he’s happy with my ability to divert and get un-lost.

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The biggest lesson I am still learning is having proper expectations of what I’ll see.  For example, just because the chart shows a river, it might be a dried-up little track in the dirt.  What looks like a township on the chart might be a few houses and a silo.  And so on…  So its about not waiting to see what you think you’ll see, but flying accurately and having a good idea of the range of what is possible.  That will just be a matter of experience, I’m afraid.

So at this point, Brett just said “take us home”.  I could see the massive gorge that parallels the dividing range between us and Sydney, and was able to spot enough features to know exactly where I was.

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I just cruised it on in toward Camden, but had the same issue coming back as we did leaving, a cloud layer between me and where I needed to be.  So I did a spiral descent in a clear area to get down to 2500 feet or so and continued on to Bankstown where I managed exactly the sort of landing you’d expect after a full day of flying – no points for style.

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The debrief was short and sweet, just a few minor corrections and observations but overall he was happy with everything and I am happy to say has signed off on my Cross Country endorsement!  This removes the 25 mile radius limitation from my departure airport, and opens up the entire country to me!

My next step is my Passenger endorsement – I only lack 2 solo hours and a quick checkride.  Actually, at the time of this writing, that’s been done as well – stay tuned!

My Big Day – Cross Country Pre-test, Solo, and Flight Test – 2/3

Hello everyone – I realise it has been over a month since attaining my Cross Country endorsement, and almost as long since my last post – its been a busy month, and unfortunately I’d been suffering from a bit of CBA Syndrome (couldn’t be arsed).

But its been on my to-do list for so long, that in fact it has migrated over several of them, as other things get ticked off and I realise its time for a new list… the blog always seems to be the “carry over”.  So I am hoping to rectify that so I can get on to more recent news and announcements.

When Last We Met, I was taxiing by myself for Runway 19 at Young aerodrome.  In many ways this trip was to be the culmination of everything I have learned as a pilot.  Every single lesson would be called upon – from takeoff and landing, straight & level, and turns as well as the more advanced subject of navigation, including planning, arrival and departure procedures, situational awareness, and communication – and possibly low-level or lost and diversion procedures!

But to keep it simple, it still boils down to the three main priorities – Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

The plan was to leave Young and fly over West Wyalong and land at Forbes for a break before continuing up to Parkes then back via Cowra.  All up, a little over 200 nautical miles which would take about 2.5 hours at the current wind speeds and planned cruise speed of 90 knots.

Now, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t both giddy with anticipation and shitting down both legs in terror that I was finally about to undertake this flight that was over 2 years in the making.  Despite the common public perception of pilots, I’m no dare-devil, fearless, swashbuckling aviator who laughs in the face of danger.  In fact I am pretty much a coward.  But what I am good at is assessing and managing risk in real-time and I have faith that I have been trained well enough to call upon that training should crisis assert the need.

So having left Brett standing there, and having taxied and lined up on 19, and before I had any time to think about it, I gave it full throttle and tracked the centreline until I was airborne.  This was my first solo flight since earlier this year and I’d almost forgotten how much quicker everything happens without the extra weight of the instructor.  And with the engine just out of maintenance, it climbed like the proverbial homesick angel!

Another nice thing about solo flight, besides the relative silence, is there is an extra seat for all the stuff – I no longer have to balance it all on my lap.  Seems a bit easier to gather the thoughts when I’m not also maintaining a parallel track of thought dedicated to vocalising everything I am doing for the benefit of the instructor.

So up and up I went – 300 feet, flaps up.  1000 feet, turn to the West and set first heading for West Wyalong.  I had planned originally a cruising altitude of 4500 feet to avoid having to consider the VFR hemispherical cruising altitude rules, which state if you are above 5000 feet and traveling in a direction between 0 and 179 degrees magnetic, then your altitude must be an odd number of 1000s + 500 (5500, 7500, 9500, etc) and from 180 to 359 degrees, it must be even 1000s + 500 (6500, 8500, etc).  Just one less thing to think about.

However it was rather bumpy at this level and if I wanted to get above it, I would have to get to 6500 feet in keeping with my westerly heading.

Unfortunately there was a pretty thick cloud base at about 5000 feet so I could not penetrate the layer (legally) and was destined to just tumble along at 4,500 below the clouds (observing separation minima) – shaking and rolling with every updraft until finally the clouds thinned out and I spotted an opening!

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Steering around to get myself between clouds and maintaining VMC separation, I found a nice wide open area and got myself up to 6500 feet in 4-5 minutes or so.  Ahhhh much nicer, and of course I could see much farther as well.

Before long I was overhead West Wylong and making my right turn to Forbes where I planned to stop and stretch my legs and take it all in.  To the left is a wonderful visual landmark – Lake Cowal – which is big enough to see from West Wyalong and track along side almost until I could see Forbes.

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As the wind was more or less westerly (though quite gusty) I joined left downwind for runway 27 at Forbes and did a functional but probably less-than-graceful flapless approach and landing, and taxied to park close to the aero club.

I knew Forbes was a rural strip, but I had no idea that it was going to be utterly deserted – that was a strange experience, never having been the only one at an aerodrome.  Not even anyone in the club house, nearby hangars – no one.  There were tumbleweeds blowing around as if to underscore the situation.  The club house was locked.  The men’s toilet had even managed to become some vortex of tumbleweed congregation.  I guess the overwhelming feeling was “its all on you now”.

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So I walked around some more (and of course called my Mum to let her know I was down safe).  There was a cool crop duster plane that I had a look at.  But time was getting on and I still had to get back to Young so I could start planning for the flight back to Bankstown, and the wind was really picking up and turning into a bit of a crosswind.

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I taxied and backtracked 27, managed a nice crosswind takeoff, and departed the crosswind leg for Parkes to the North.  I had hoped I’d be able to see the famous radio telescope but apparently its quite a bit further out of town and there just wasn’t time.

Since my direction changed to northeast, I settled at 5500 feet though it was still bumpy.  The sky was nice and clear and the land marks I’d highlighted on the map were easy enough to follow until I was overhead Parkes.  I am not sure, but I think when I made my overhead radio call, I may have said “Forbes traffic…” rather than Parkes… it was a big day and I am still surprised I held it together as well as I did.

So I made a conscious effort to relax a bit and breathe deeply to make sure the stress of constant focus wasn’t going to cause any real lapses of attention.

After that it was pretty much a matter of following roads and a river to Cowra then a final right turn back to Young.  Before long, I was on descent from 5000 feet and lined up for a straight-in approach.

Young being the Cherry Capital of NSW, I knew Brett would be waiting there with a fresh locally baked cherry pie for me and several kilos of cherries for his mates back in Sydney.  More importantly, I knew he’d be Watching – so naturally I stuffed up the first approach and did a go-around so I could set up for a better landing.

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I got it down and taxied back to the “terminal” for another break to rest and prepare for the next and final stage – the Cross Country Flight test!

… To Be Continued…

My Big Day – Cross Country Pre-test, Solo, and Flight Test – 1/3

Well as the title says, I had a Very Big Day on Saturday 9 November.  After a few postponements due to weather and bushfires, the day finally arrived for me to do my pre-test, solo navigation, and navigation test for my Cross Country endorsement for my Pilot Certificate.  So big a day, in fact, that I have decided to split the report into 3 separate entries.  Today’s entry will cover the pre-test, which was an assessment flight to Young, NSW wherein anything that needed to be brushed up on or revised could be noted and worked on.

It has been 10 days since all this and only now am I able to fully process everything, hence the delay.  There’s no delicate way to put it – I was absolutely buggered!

I arrived at 0630 with coffee in hand to start gathering my wind and weather reports and forecasts and calculating my headings, speeds and times for my flight plan.  It was a little cloudy, and there was the possibility of isolated showers in the Sydney area, but otherwise things looked fine.  Since it was going to be a long day with multiple legs to the journey, I only worked up the calculations for the first leg out – the rest I would plan to do later while resting between flights, as the wind speeds and directions could no doubt change drastically over that time and render my calculations useless.

In retrospect, I am glad there were a few weeks of delay.  The J170 had still been in for its 1,000 hourly maintenance, meaning I’d have had to use the older J160.  I am sure that would have been fine as well, but I’ve been with the J170 for so long that I just felt more confident with it.  Also, it did give me more opportunities to practice flying the route at home on Flight Sim X, which really helped in terms of reinforcing the fluidity in the cockpit workflow.

So I did the preflight as normal, the fuel was full already so no need to call for the fuel truck.  This is the earliest I have had to start before, and it turned out to be a comical moment because the Bankstown controllers and ground ops guys were chatting on the radio about their weekends and such.  Once I could get a word in, I made my taxi and departure requests and we were off!

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So the plan for the day was to fly to Young which I would do via Camden to the West, then South to Moss Vale, West to Goulburn and onward to Young.  That is the preassessment as well as just knocking off the rust after a 2 month break.  Then at Young, I’d prepare a solo flight plan which would see me over the bustling metropolises of West Wyalong, Forbes, Parkes, Cowra then back to Young (with a stop over in Forbes to rest in between).  Upon my presumed successful return, I’d then prepare the flight plan and maps for the trip back to Bankstown – the Cross Country test!

So we got rolling and in the air around 0730 to nice calm winds and made my first waypoint within one minute of my estimate.  This is the little pond/reservoir we call “tadpole” because of its shape (and because no one wants to say they are flying to “sperm-lake”).

Gentle turn to the South for Camden making the appropriate radio calls and maintaining the CLEAROFF work cycle.  After passing Camden on my way to Moss Vale, I found myself  a couple miles off course – looks like the winds were stronger than I had accounted for, and had a bigger effect over the longer leg than it did on the short leg to Camden.  So I was able to use the 1-in-60 technique to get back on course toward Moss Vale and just before the right turn to Goulburn it became apparent that the thickening cloud base was going to settle at my chosen altitude of 4500 feet!  This became a practical and very real application of many principles of flying, first and foremost maintaining visibility with respect to the Visual Flight Rules – and this time, it was not hypothetical and I did not have the luxury of time for a lengthy thought process or discussion over it.

We actually used this to get the Low Level flying done, which we needed to do anyway, staying well below the cloud but sufficiently above the ground.  Per the Visual Flight Rules, if we are under 3000 feet, then we only need to remain clear of cloud and within sight of land or water features.  Above that, there are specific distances to remain both above or below a cloud, as well as horizontally.  It did make for a much bumpier ride, but we did get to the next waypoint, Goulburn, on time and Brett threw a diversion at me.  Instead of flying straight to Young, he wanted me to go North to Crookwell, then resume flight toward Young.

I quickly drew a new track on the map and eyeballed some headings, figuring i’d have time on the way to refine.  However, as soon as we turned North to the new heading, the cloud base appeared to be getting lower and lower.  Brett left the decision to me as to how or whether to proceed – as we had just passed Goulburn, I chose to turn back and wait it out there.  He seemed very pleased with this decision – I could have chosen to try to go over or under the clouds, or just back to Bankstown, but this was the safest option in my opinion.

I landed on the grass cross-strip favoured by the wind direction and taxied over to the hard surface near the sideways-blowing windsock.  We wandered over to the nearby flying school and had a cup of tea while we waited it out.  After an hour or so of watching the clouds and the windsock, the blue sky magically reappeared and before long we were back on our way.

In the interests of time, rather than continue the planned diversion to Crookwell, we decided to proceed straight for Young as Brett was fairly satisfied with my ability to plan a diversion and make decisions in the air.  I called Melbourne Centre on the radio (a first for me) and advised them of the change in the flight plan so they could update my notification details and set a new search and rescue time (SARTIME) for arrival into Young.  On the way, I measured the time it took me to cross a couple of landmarks and calculated a new ground speed.  The wind was really picking up, because by this time, I was only doing around 50 knots – slower than some of the cars beneath me on the Hume Highway!  Between Goulburn and Young you can follow the Hume Highway for a little while, then it bends away and there isn’t alot else to see.

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So of course it wasn’t long before I was a little bit “temporarily uncertain of position”.

Using dead reckoning, I could get  a rough idea of a probable area I should be in, based on heading and time since my last positive fix.  Then based on this probable area, I should be able to see features on the ground which I could then correlate back to the map.  So it turned out to be a good thing that I had done a ground speed check earlier; since I was going so much slower than the plan, I knew also that I would not be as far along on the map as I might otherwise have thought.  Just ahead I saw a peak that stood out as being the tallest feature and was able to relate it to my probable position on the map.  Once overhead, I resumed my track to Young.

Before long I spotted what was most likely Young.  Based on time-map-ground, it really couldn’t have been anything else – but I still had to find the aerodrome.  As I was tracking toward the town, I decided to maintain that and found the aerodrome by using the information on the ERSA page.  According to the diagram, the town is 3.1 miles at 145 degrees from the field – so all I had to do was take the reciprocal of that which would make the aerodrome 3.1 miles from the town at 325 degrees.

Within a minute or so, I spotted Young aerodrome and joined the downwind leg of the circuit for runway 19.  Other traffic also announced their intentions to do the same, but they were a ways off yet.  After landing, I backtracked and parked near the “terminal”, which is really just a little one-room shed with a table.

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Took a quick bio-break and walked around to stretch my legs, then got the wind and weather info and ate while working on my flight plan for the solo.  A chicken schnitzel sandwich from the day before sounded like a much better idea than it turned out to be – it was dry and horrible.

Brett is originally from Young, so his mum came out to visit.  She is a very nice lady, and obviously very proud of her son the pilot!  The other traffic we heard on the radio eventually landed and taxied over for a nature break as well.  They turned out to be a nice older couple who were up from Canberra in their Cirrus.  After a little small talk they were on their way and I was back preparing my plan and getting started on another preflight inspection.  I must have been pretty nervous, because while walking around I walked right into the still propellor blade which caught me right in the ribs and left a couple of nice bruises.  After assessing that the propellor and my ribs were OK, I finished up and shook Brett’s hand and taxied for runway 19 to resume my journey and my first ever solo cross country flight…

…To Be Continued…

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!