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!

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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:

Harbour Scenic 1 Photo 20-07-2014 3 42 49 pm

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

Photo 20-07-2014 3 46 49 pm

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:

Photo 20-07-2014 8 06 13 pm

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!

Quick Update and Catching Up

I have been a very busy flier these last few weeks – haven’t even had time to really update here since my first lesson in the Piper Warrior en route to my PPL Licence!

I am going to try to be concise here and sum up the last couple of lessons, as things are moving quite quickly now.

Following the long lesson in the training area and circuits, I have done 2 short cross-country trips to make sure that my navigation procedures are sound, and also to brush up on everything else in preparation for the licence test.

The first trip was from Bankstown to Cessnock via the VFR Lane of Entry to the north. The plan was to fly via Parramatta, Hornsby, and Patonga to Warnervale then on to Maitland and Cessnock before returning via the southbound VFR Lane of Entry.

I think following the success of the last lesson, I was actually a little bit nervous this time – you always feel that maybe last time was a fluke or too good to be true. Inspection, taxi, and departure were great however on leaving the area I had some trouble identifying Parramatta and went towards Chatswood to the east until I got my bearings. I forgot to change to the Sydney radio frequency and change my transponder from 3000 to 1200. All stuff I know and do all the time, but just forgot due to nerves. No biggie, all worked out and corrected. Made great time to Patonga and headed up to Warnervale and learned a new trick.

My planned heading and speed were so accurate, that at the expected time I did not see Warnervale though I thought I should have.  Chris showed me a good trick – do an orbit!  That seems like a no-brainer in hindsight, but it was just the right thing to do.  I did a left hand orbit and soon realised that I was smack on top of Warnervale within less than a minute of my planned arrival – just hadn’t seen it over the nose or under the low-wing of the Piper.  Anyway, finished out the orbit and made my way to Maitland where we did a touch-and-go with about 17 knots direct crosswind.

That was a slightly tough landing, and on take off my seat scooted back a bit and I asked Chris to take the controls.  This is a dangerous situation, and I made sure that it got reported after the flight (and the plane was indeed put into maintenance after).

Another thing I’ve had to get used to is relying on the directional gyro for heading.  The Jabiru didn’t have one so I got used to using the compass or the heading indicator on the glass panel. So I had to get my head around that.

On this trip also I seemed to be letting my control over altitude get sloppy – must work on that!

After flying overhead Cessnock, I turned back around and headed back to Warnervale.  Of course it wouldn’t be that simple – Chris wanted me to divert to Norah Head on the coast near Lake Tuggerah.  My diversion techniques still seem to be sound, and got us there within 2 minutes of my estimate.  Over the lake we did some more steep turns and stalls, and he introduced me to the topic of recovering from incipient spins.

Those are a great deal of fun and not as daunting as it may seem – just ailerons neutral and power to idle, full opposite rudder (really put the boot in!) and then level out and add power when recovered.  These aircraft are not designed to spin, nor would it ever happen in normal flight, but it gives an idea of how to recover if it happens – for example on a too-tight turn onto final.

So the return was pretty normal and other than really keeping my altitude accurate, I felt it was successful – more so than I’d have expected given only my second time in the Piper.  It really is a lovely intuitive aircraft to fly!

A week later, i booked my second cross-country tip – this time to the south, and we were going to add a few new tools to my toolbox.

The plan was to go west to Warragamba Dam then south to Goulburn, then on to Crookwell, Bindook and back again via the dam.  This went very smoothly and happy to say that I was on top of my transponder and frequency changes – but I’ve done this trip more often ;-).

I hit local landmark Tadpole Lake and Warragamba Dam each within a minute or two of my plan, then on the long 40 minute stretch to Goulburn, Chris instructed me on how to use the navigational aide called the Non Directional Beacon, or NDB.  This really feels like cheating to me, but adds another layer of accuracy to navigation.  In a nutshell, an aerodrome will have a beacon that transmits on a particular frequency.  You tune to this frequency, listen to the morse-code identifier, and test the system – then you have another dial to look at called the Automatic Direction Finder, or ADF.  The needle simply points in the direction of the beacon – simple as that!

I am also pleased to say I held my altitude and heading extremely accurately on this trip, so I guess I got that bit worked out of my system!

Anyway, did a touch and go at Goulburn then headed towards Crookwell.  There we did a simulated engine failure and worked on precautionary search and landings – PSLs.  Over all not bad, just have to remember to make my PAN-PAN call and a few other small things.

Now it got fun!  On the way back, it was time to start my introduction to instruments!  We got up to 7500 feet and headed right into some clouds (Chris is an IFR instructor, so its cool).  He explained how the attitude indicator is the primary thing I should look at, and to keep the dot in the centre and wings level at all times.  Then of course, I can move the dot up or down and turn as necessary, but to maintain focus on that.  Other instruments can then be used to verify my speed, rate of climb/descent, etc.

I was absolutely gobsmacked at how easy it was to be utterly convinced you are in one position only to find out you are really in another.  What I “felt like” was a gentle climb into the clouds, turned out to be a nose-down descent which I saw once the cloud cleared!  You have to learn to not trust your senses AT ALL.  The eye just picks out the nearest straight line and says “ok that’s the horizon” and your brain just works everything around that.  You could actually be flying completely inverted and as long as you got there gradually, you might not even know!

So that was sobering, but exhilarating all the same.  We did this for about half an hour, mostly with a hood on so I could not see outside.  I think that was plenty for the first time, but can’t wait to do it again.  Of course NEVER on my own!!

I used the ADF to reach Bindook, then instead of continuing to Warragamba, Chris threw a diversion in – let’s go to The Oaks airfield….   Ok fine I say and draw my line on the map, adopt the new heading, then start making adjustments for wind.  I have a little trick for the Oaks – if you can see Camden, the runway is pretty well aligned with the Oaks.  So I just flew on my new heading, found Camden and followed the runway more to the West then got over The Oaks within 2 minutes of my revised ETA 🙂

After this it was just a matter of going back to Prospect Reservoir and then Bankstown.  I did forget to set my transponder back to 3000 on entering the Bankstown control zone.  I need a way to remind myself…. after a 3.1 hour trip, my brain is just fried!

So we had a good briefing, got a nice list of things I did right and things I need to work on, and am now busy preparing for my next flight – for my Controlled Airspace Endorsement!  I got some great constructive feedback and he said he thinks probably I might have even passed had that been the real test!  Wow… I wouldn’t have thought so, but he knows best!  We’ll see – the pre-test flight is next weekend 🙂

More soon….

Piper At The Gates of Dawn

When I one day look back and put together my list of best experiences in aviation, last weekend will certainly get a mention.  Finally, after all of the box-ticking, paper-shuffling, fees and forms, tests and weather delays, I started my flight training in the aeroplane that will take me from my Recreational Pilot’s Certificate to my fully internationally-recognised Private Pilot’s Licence:  The venerable Piper PA28-161 Warrior II.

Without regurgitating a bunch of information you could google if you are really interested, the Warrior II is a low-wing, single engine 4-seater.  It has a 160 hp, 4-cylinder Lycoming engine and all of the instruments you could imagine (analogue, of course – I insisted).  Much larger and more powerful than the little Jabiru I am used to, but functionally the same.

I got up early in the morning, much too wound up to sleep much past 6:00 or so.  Made some coffee and checked the weather.  The forecast was still good, although it was cloudy outside and had rained.  Hadn’t been expecting that.   Generally puttered around, drank more coffee, and made a nice omelette for breakfast and got myself ready to go at a leisurely pace.  I know from experience that if I run late or get in a rush, I get flustered and do not get the best out of my lessons.  So after the time-honoured Ritual of the 3 S’s, I drove out to Bankstown to Schofield Flying Club to get started on my other favourite ritual, the preflight inspection.

My instructor was running a little bit behind, so I found myself talking to an elderly lady who was there to cheer on her husband who was taking a joy flight given to him for his birthday.  She had a lot of questions, and I did my best to answer everything and make her feel at ease.  She may have thought I was an instructor.

Finally, Chris arrives and I sign out the aeroplane and its bag of gear (paperwork, keys, fuel drain, dipstick).  I catch a ride with the fuel truck guy and we chat as he fills up the tanks to 70 litres each.  Chris walks out after a few minutes and observes as I go through the pre-flight inspection.  I try to be very thorough, vocalising all of my thoughts as I go through the steps – mainly for his benefit so that he knows I have had the thoughts.  Everything seems to be in order, seems as though I have remembered everything he showed me last week when we did the walk around but didn’t get to fly due to weather.

The venerable Piper Warrior II

The venerable Piper Warrior II

With the preflight inspection done, we then started on the startup checklists.  Very similar to the Jabiru, though a few more items to consider.  Main thing is to check each item methodically and understand what you are checking, don’t just go through the motions.

Instrument panel

Instrument panel

It is upon taxiing that I notice the first big difference – with twice the power, it does not need any coaxing at all to start rolling!  Very responsive in that respect.  Also the brakes have quite a bit of authority, quite unlike the Jabiru.  Another change is that it has the differential braking system – each pedal controls that wheel separately.  I thought that would take some time to get used to, since the Jabiru just had the handbrake, but it actually is pretty intuitive.  And, with each wheel having its own separate brake, the plane can make incredibly tight turns – just apply the brake for the right wheel and it will spin in place to the right… very handy, but otherwise it is the same and steers with the nosewheel using the rudder pedals just as the Jab does.

From taxi to runups to lining up, everything was pretty much the same as I have done a hundred times before – though it did seem to require less effort oddly enough – it almost drives like a car.  All the way, I am continuing to vocalise my thoughts and explaining what I am doing so that Chris will know that I know what to do.  This way he can concentrate on teaching me what I need to know without feeling he has to start from the beginning – it’ll save us both time, and save me money that way.

For this flight, we are going out to the training area to the west.  The first thing we need to do is get me familiar and comfortable with the new plane – where all of the buttons and gauges are, what engine speed settings to use, proper airspeeds for different manoeuvres, and just getting a feel for it.

So from the holding point, I made my first call to the tower from a VH-registered aircraft:  “Bankstown tower, Piper India November Hotel ready at holding point alpha-8, runway 29 right for upwind departure to the training area”.  And all this time, I was worried I was accidentally going to say “Jabiru”…

“India November Hotel, clear to takeoff” came the reply which I acknowledged then lined up and gave it full power.  The Piper surged forward with no hesitation and in very little time reached 60 knots and leapt off the ground like a homesick angel.  I did carry over the tendency from the Jabiru to start with back pressure at 40 knots which Chris said is unnecessary, so I’ll need to retrain myself out of that habit.  Because this plane is so much heavier, it feels considerably smoother and easier to keep straight without being blown all over the place.

I have to echo what others have said before me – after flying the Jabiru, it is almost easy!  It is so intuitive and the controls are heavy but responsive – a bit like driving a big car when you’re used to a go-kart.  And with 160 hp and 2 lightweight pilots, it really goes like the clappers!

In very little time at all, we’re in the training area at around 4,000 feet.  He has me do most of the basic handling procedures so I can get a feel for the proper attitudes and engine sounds etc.  Straight and level is about 4 fingers from the horizon for me (was 3 in the Jab).  Best rate of climb is 80 knots, which puts the tip of the engine cowl at the horizon.  And so on…

I do climbing turns, descending turns, steep turns.  We practiced stalls, and this is one area where I am going to need a ton of practice.  My tendency is to push the nose too far forward to exit the stall, but that results in losing too much height.  So that will need a bit more finesse.  Practiced a bit of slow flight as well.  It even rained part of the time, but that is no big deal in this plane.  By this time, we’re over an hour and need to get back for his next session.  That is fine with me, it will give me a chance to have some lunch and digest what I have learned.

I make the inbound call over Prospect reservoir and join downwind for 29R.  After being cleared for visual approach, I make my first landing in the Piper, and a nice smooth one it is!  I will definitely need to work on brushing up the circuit skills since none of my visual cues are the same as in the Jab.  Also the order of operations is  a little different – things like carby heat, flaps and power changes being done at slightly different times, so again just a matter of unlearning those habits so I can do them properly in the Piper (and hopefully remember them again next time I fly a Jabiru).

I parked the Piper and walked back to the clubhouse.  They had very helpfully brought in a whole roast chicken and some rolls and salad which made a very tasty lunch along with some cold water.  I spent the next couple of hours just mentally replaying everything.  Eventually, Chris returned and I went back out to do another preflight and we started it up once again.

He was happy with my handling skills and learning where everything is, but wanted to spend some time doing some circuits so I can build the skills needed by repetition.  It was getting pretty late in the day however, and it looked as if I might have scored the coveted Last Light circuits!

He demonstrated the first circuit and then let me take over from there.  The overall procedure is the same as any other – take off, turn at 500′, level off at 1000′ and turn back parallel to the runway, do pre-landing checks, turn and turn again to land.  There were a few minor differences which took me a few goes to get down – no flaps on takeoff to contend with for one thing, and slightly different speeds, RPMs, etc.  Minor stuff, and I think I had it pretty well in hand by about the 4th or 5th circuit.

As Chris is night-rated, he wasn’t too fussed that the sun had gone down and the runway lights were on – we still had just enough light left for a few more and there are few things as spectacular as a sunset from that particular vantage point.  And I felt very good in hindsight to think that having only flown together for one day so far, he trusted me enough to land a plane in the dark!   I will definitely never forget that experience and I’ll probably want to pursue a night rating eventually – just too cool!

landing at last light, photo by Chris Koort

landing at last light, photo by Chris Koort

We got back to the club and had our debrief.  At this time, 2.5 hours in, he feels that I am sufficiently familiar and comfortable with the Piper that we can go straight into the Navs next week!  We had figured on 3-4 hours for familiarisation, so I am ahead of the curve!  Obviously I’ll continue to get more comfortable with it as we go through the cross-country flights, and we can take time to work on things like stalls and generally fine-tuning everything as we go.

I have already been working out the flight plan for the upcoming weekend, so am hoping for continued good weather.  Just to be sure, I’ve planned a route that will take me north to Cessnock and back, and another one to the south that will take me to Goulburn then Crookwell and back.  Depending on conditions on the day, we’ll go with the best one and shouldn’t have to cancel due to weather!  I really want to prepare myself so that the cross country flights go well and I can progress onto more things that I haven’t done such as the Controlled Airspace endorsement and getting ready for the flight test.

Stay tuned – things are happening!

Box Ticking and Paper Shuffling

As many of you might know, I’ve been in the midst of trying to get my Private Pilot’s Licence, after having gained my Recreational Pilot’s Certificate with passenger carrying and cross-country endorsements.

If the amount of bureaucratic paper-shuffling, box-ticking, fees and applications I’ve had to wade through were any indication, I’d feel like I were applying for a spot on the Space Shuttle.  Or running for public office.  They certainly want you to be very sure its what you want.

The Private Pilot’s Licence, or PPL, will remove the restrictions I have on my current cert – namely, only 1 passenger, in a 2-seat single-engine plane, weighing less than 600 kg, and in uncontrolled airspace.  Recreational still gives me 98% of the entire country.  The PPL will allow me pretty much any plane up to 5700 kg, and full access, more passengers, etc.  Plus the ability in the future to add multiple engines, night flying, or even instruments.  And from there, who knows, could even parley that into a Commercial Pilot’s Licence and get paid for it one day.  And, ironically, due to the controlled airspace restriction, I cannot even fly a recreational plane out of the aerodrome I trained at, Bankstown!!  This will take care of that and give me some real options.

So after I decided back in December this is what I wanted to do, I was put in touch with Sydney Flying Club (known historically as Schofield’s or Schoies) by Brett my CFI for my journey up to now.  I met their CFI, Bill, who looked over my logbook and had a chat with me and we discussed next steps.  He put me in touch with Chris, who would be my new flight instructor.

Chris gave me all the information I needed for the Piper PA28-161 Warrior II aircraft, and a short “test” to work on so that my record would show I was familiar with the systems and procedures.

However, step 1 was I needed to get (at least) a Class 2 Medical Certificate.  This meant going to a CASA-approved Doctor and having a small physical.  No problem, I thought.  Unfortunately, I did have to tick the box for “sleep apnea” which put me into a loop of more paperwork and tests.  Saw a sleep physician, scheduled a sleep study (several months later by now) and confirmed for CASA what I already knew, which was that my sleep apnea was controllable by CPAP.  Fine.  4 months later I finally get my certificate, but the turds dated it to January when I first put in the application, rather than April which is when i finally received it.  I have to renew it in a year, but hopefully I’m a little wiser to the process.

I wasn’t idle though, and in the meantime, I used the time to fly more cross country hours in the (cheaper) recreational plane, to satisfy the requirements for cross country solo flight.  I studied for and passed the dreaded PPL(A) CASA written examination.  I ran around to my other instructors to get them to certify that my logbook entries to date were “true and correct”.

I went back and sat with Chris, showed him my progress to date, and we lined out a plan of attack.  Of course he hasn’t flown with me, but at a minimum he seems to have a good idea of what it is going to take to get me where I need to be.  If I do well and don’t need much remedial work, it seems feasibly doable inside 10-15 hours, which is about what I thought.  A couple of flights to get used to the Piper, a few navs, couple hours of instrument work, controlled airspace endorsement, and a pre-test wrap-up flight.  Then of course The Test.

My first flight in the Piper was supposed to have been yesterday, however the weather was not great, quite turbulent and windy, and probably not the best experience to transition into a new aeroplane.  So I went in anyway just to see if things would settle out.  I ticked another box, namely the Flight Radio Operator’s Licence test – made a 90%.

Chris came back in and said, yeah, not looking good… but, he very helpfully spent a few hours with me going over the things I missed on the test, working through the test booklet for the plane (from way back in January) and even giving me some performance and weight and balance problems to work through.  I think that we are going to get along great.

So, we looked at the schedule for next week and got me on… now just have to hope the weather cooperates.  I hope to have a better update this time next week, but as CASA says, you’re not clear to fly until the weight of the paperwork equals the weight of the plane.  I think I’m getting close now 🙂

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…

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!

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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