Catching Up. And, What’s Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beautiful Sea Cliff Bridge:

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

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

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

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

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

So what else??

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

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

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

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

Precautionary Search and Landing (PSL) Practice

So, say you’re flying along enjoying the scenery when you notice that its a little later than you thought and you are not sure you can make it home before dark.  Or the headwinds are stronger than forecast and you’re concerned about fuel.  Perhaps some weather moved in and stands between you and your destination.  Maybe your passenger is spewing from her mouth and nose and you’re quickly running out of sick bags.

All good reasons to immediately consider a Precautionary Search and Landing.  This is a standard practice wherein a pilot decides for whatever reason that it would be safest to be on the ground at a particular moment.  Good airmanship dictates that you recognise a deteriorating situation and take decisive steps to neutralise it BEFORE it becomes an emergency.  Almost always, such a situation is best thought out on the ground, without the stress of flying.

So for my first “post-graduate” lesson, I went with Brett to brush up on this technique.  We flew out to The Oaks airstrip, SW of Camden NSW for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, The Oaks is a fairly short grass strip which somewhat resembles a field or paddock.  Secondly, if we were to just practice over a real field or paddock, we could not descend below 500 feet above the ground.  Since The Oaks is an airfield, I can descend as low as I need, which would help in building the proper mental picture as well as the skills needed to fly very low and slow.

Why is this important?  Well, without writing out the full PSL syllabus here, essentially what you are doing is identifying a potential landing spot, then doing a couple/few circuits at low speed and varying heights to assess whether you will be able to land safely (and be able to take off again).

We reached The Oaks in about 20 minutes and flew overhead at about 1500 feet above ground level to get an idea of the wind direction, then descended to circuit height of 1000 feet for the first pass.  We’ve set up in slow-flight configuration – about 2600 RPM with flaps extended for about 70 knots airspeed.

If you are considering landing in a field, you need these flyovers to help determine the wind strength/direction, presence of obstacles, slope, surface conditions, overshoots/undershoots, adequate length, and ideally somewhere close to civilisation – even a farmhouse.

So far so good on our first pass.  Having decided its worth a second look, we then repeat the process at 500 feet above the ground then go back up to circuit height.  For the third run, we descend to about 50 feet off the deck and slightly to the right of the strip (field).  This is so I can have a very close look at the ground to make sure the surface isn’t full of potholes or large rocks or tree stumps.  We’re off to the right because I sit on the left side.  The aircraft is trimmed perfectly for this speed and attitude and I am maintaining a constant cycle of scanning my heading, height, and the field.

At the end of the field,  I give it full power to get back up to circuit height.  Normally here you’d just do a normal circuit and land.  We didn’t actually land, so as to avoid a landing charge 🙂

We headed straight back to Bankstown, and I am very pleased with the way it went, and feeling more confident with yet another tool in my box.

Here is a GPS track of the day’s work:

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I basically followed some landmarks and a river to get out there, then when done made a straight line back to Bankstown.

Here is a link to the video, which is on the school’s Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10153638031060394&set=vb.177259915393&type=2&theater

As the old saying goes, sometimes it is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground.  Stay safe everyone!

Passenger Endorsement Done

It has been a busy couple of months, but I am happy to say I have finished what I set out to do.  A couple of weekends ago, I went down to see Bruce down at Fly Illawara at the Wollongong aerodrome (YWOL) to finish up the last little bit towards my Passenger endorsement on my Pilot certificate.  

After the Cross Country solo, I only needed 2 more hours to fulfill the requirement, and what better way to do it than to rock up and hire a plane for a couple of hours and buzz up and down the coastline between Wollongong and Kiama, NSW!!

There isn’t really alot to report, not the most exciting flying I’ve experienced (but let’s face it – its all exciting… you’re sitting IN A CHAIR IN THE SKY!!!); but I flew off the 2 hours I needed, snapped a few pictures, then went up with Bruce for a quick check ride.

We talked on the ground for a while as well, covering the ins and outs of flying with a passenger, and the extra care that is required.  At the end of it all, he signed my logbook and sent in the paperwork, and now it’s official!

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I’m very keen to start taking passengers for joy rides or sight seeing.   Right now I am limited to the CTAF aerodromes, but I should be able to convert to a PPL fairly painlessly, which will allow larger and faster aircraft, higher altitudes, and controlled airspace.  But for now I am content with the single engine 2 seater and the country airstrips.

Here’s a bit of scenery:

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Now – who’s first???

What A Big Day Looks Like

Just thought I’d put in some numbers to boil down the last few articles into an easy-to-consume summary.

Approximately 1000 km flown, or about 540 nautical miles, or 621 miles.

8.1 hours of flying time, 3 being solo.

Average speed about 123 km/h, or 67 knots, or 77 mph.

121 litres of AVGAS, or about 32 US Gallons

Max altitude:  7500 ft

Min altitude: 500 ft

And a quick sketch of the route:

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Second Navigation Exercise (Lost! What’s Your Plan??)

… But I’m near the end and I just ain’t got the time
And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home….‘ – Blind Faith, 1969

Its been over a month since my last lesson, but thankfully the weather was perfect – yet another in a long string of sunny, cloudless, mild days as we wrap up winter here in Sydney.  A bit surprising, given my usual luck is to have it rain precisely on the day of my lesson after any number of perfect days.

Originally the plan was to fly over Katoomba over Bathurst and Orange to Mudgee where we’d stop and plan our way back.  However, the school was down an aircraft with the J170 being in for maintenance so Brett asked me if we could have a later start and cut the lesson shorter by only going to Bathurst.  That worked out for me, as we would be able to cover the same things without having to go so far anyway.

As is my wont, I rocked up about an hour early to get the weather report and finish up my flight plan.  Weather was good, but winds were reported as “variable”, which makes it a little harder to accurately plan a heading and ground speed.  To be conservative, I just kept the headings the same as track, and allowed for half of the wind to be headwind – we could figure it out once we were up there in it.

So I filed a plan with Air Services Australia to go from Bankstown to Prospect Reservoir, Katoomba, Oberon, Bathurst and return via Bathurst to Oberon to Camden to Bankstown.  In moments, Air Services called up and requested a change – Prospect is a busy inbound reporting point, so would be better off not using that as a departure waypoint if I could help it.  Fine, so I revised the plan to go via Warragamba Dam out to the West, then up to Katoomba from there.

To add another new experience, the school recently acquired another Jabiru plane – this time a J160 model.  The main difference is it has a somewhat shorter wingspan, so I could expect a slightly lower glide ratio and less tendency to float.  Performance and handling I was told should be roughly the same as the J170 I am used to.  Some of the instruments and equipment are in different locations or in some cases are different brands, so I had to factor in a quick learning curve.  Didn’t present too much of a problem once I figured out a few new buttons and knobs to do the familiar tasks.

Preflight inspection, taxi and takeoff were all pretty much normal.

As is usual here at this time of year, there are many control burns going on – this is where the Rural Fire Service deliberately burns back strategic areas of bush so as to reduce the possibility of wide-spread bushfires.  On a warm and windless day like today, this means there was an area of dense smoke covering most of the Blue Mountains – visibility was practically zero in that area, and in fact it was a bit hazy everywhere.

The air vents in the J160 seem to be aimed a bit differently because my papers and charts were blowing around, which was a bit distracting as well.  I don’t know how the guys in the open cockpits do it!

So with that, it looks like I was off track to my first waypoint, a local small pond called “Tadpole” because it is shaped like one.  With Brett’s help, we sighted it and I changed our heading to fly over it, then adopted a heading to the next point which was Warragamba dam.

I had not actually used Warragamba before, so I wasn’t too familiar with the view from above.  By the time we spotted it, I was actually about 3 miles South of it.   So now I am starting to get a picture of what the winds are doing, but from 4,500′ looking Northwest, I could see that the whole area around Katoomba was completely obscured, so there was no point in even attempting to resume my plan to go there.

Had I been solo, I would probably have just turned around and gone back, but Brett was with me to show me what to do and add some more tools to my collection.

We weren’t planning to cover diversions today, but we had no choice in this case so it was a good unplanned practical lesson.  From our position South of Warragamba Dam, we picked a prominent spot nearby – Trial Hill about 5 miles SW of Warragamba, and used that as a new waypoint.  When we reached it, we did a nice spiral climb to about 6,500′ so that we could see over all the smoke, then changed to a heading which worked out to be almost parallel to our original planned track.  This worked out well as it took us almost straight to Oberon, thus bypassing Katoomba altogether.  That was a shame, because I was really hoping to be able to take some nice pictures of the area.

So at this point in the exercise I have developed a very strong impression at how mind-bogglingly easy it is to be utterly convinced of where you think you are located and where you think you are heading!

So now with composure regained and new headings, we arrived overhead Oberon and ultimately Bathurst only 5 minutes later than our original plan.  The key to this is being vigilant with the cockpit work cycle – known as CLEAROFF’s – a methodical cycle of things to check:  Compass, Log, Engine, Altitude, Radio, Orientation, Fuel, Forced landing – part of this is noting each positive fix on the chart and a time.

If you’re vigilant with this, then navigating is very simply a matter of Time > Map > Ground.  That is, you can look at the time and know where you should be based on heading and speed, look at the map to see what you should be seeing, then look at the ground to confirm.

On arrival to Bathurst, we flew overhead at 1,500’ and determined that the wind was actually favouring the dirt cross-strip, so we joined the circuit for runway 26 and I was able to perform my first landing on a dirt strip!  It was very smooth and I had no issues, though i could probably have been a little closer to centre…

Backtracked on 35 to parking and spent some time in the Bathurst Aero club,  where a nice gentleman allowed us to use the facilities and use the space to have a stretch and talk about the plan back. This time, the plan was to forget the plan as we were going to get lost!

By then the wind had changed direction so we backtracked and used 17 for a South departure.  Since we were heading East, I climbed to 5500’…. then Brett took away my maps and covered all of my instruments with Post-it notes:

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He had me change to a random heading of 150 degrees and we just flew for 10-15 minutes.

After that time, he gave me back my maps and instruments and said “OK get us unlost”. So knowing where my last positive fix was, and my heading, as well as a quick calculation of ground speed I was able to find a probable area which I circled on the map – then things started popping into view – powerlines here, a river there, and before long a postive fix over Teralga.

Finding the probable position based on knowing the position of your last positive fix, direction, speed, and time is called “Dead Reckoning”.  When you have logically determined a rough area based on where you “should be” based on the above, the cycle temporarily changes to Time > Ground > Map…. look for features in the area of probability, then try to correlate to the map.   When you think you have a fix on the features, start looking for other features to support it – rivers, roads, power lines, lakes… anything.  With 3 supporting features,  you can call it a positive fix!

Somewhere between Oberon and Teralga:

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I found that power lines work really well, so I saw a prominent set and paralleled them until it started crossing rivers and roads and other features I could match up to the map.  Before long a substation came into view!

I marked that as a possible fix on the map.  Thinking I had it, I turned east to follow the power lines coming from the substation.  I started spotting towns, but their position showed me that I was wrong about the substation – at least it wasn’t the one I thought it was, but it did get me in the right area.  Dead Reckoning is not meant to be 100% accurate, and really I could have been anywhere.  But it was close enough, and in a few minutes I spotted a couple of towns along with 2 distinctly-shaped reservoir and a major junction of railroad tracks.  I was passing between Moss Vale and Bowral!

Now I had a positive fix, and we were un-lost.  I followed the railroad tracks to Picton then Camden where I was able to resume my original plan which was to have been Bathurst to Oberon to Camden to Bankstown.

Brett always asks “what is your plan?” to get me to think about my options.  The point is to be flexible and not get overwhelmed in trying to make the flight fit the plan.  If conditions change, always remember the order of priorities:

1. Aviate

2. Navigate

3. Communicate

Basically, above all – fly the plane!  its not going to drop out of the sky if you forget to make a radio call or temporarily lose track of position.   If you always keep this in mind, you won’t get overwhelmed trying to think of a million things you need to do or say if flying becomes a handful.

In a case where I am over unfamiliar rugged terrain, I would have plenty of options – including simply flying East until I see the ocean, then working it out from proximity to Sydney skyline.  Or I could call ATC for help.

Anyway, it was a normal leg from Camden to Bankstown, don’t really even need a map for that anymore.

This was a great lesson and an excellent confidence builder.  Brett was pleased with my ability to get us un-lost.  There will be plenty more opportunities to get lost and found, but it was a good feeling knowing I was able to do it!

So, I am about halfway to having my Cross Country endorsement – next lesson will cover diversions in depth and low-level navigation (500′).  For this lesson I am thinking a trip to Cessnock.  After that, I only need the 2 hours of solo navigation and the test – Brett says we will probably fly out to Young and go through all the paces on the way out – then solo from Young to maybe Cootamundra, Temora, Wyalong, Cowra and perhaps Parkes and back.  Then for the test – “get us back to Bankstown!”.

I am pleased this phase is going so much quicker… once my navs and passenger endorsements are finished, more possibilities open up, including conversion to PPL and maybe even CPL down the track.  Or at the very least start ticking some of my goals off the list.  Stay tuned!

First Navigation Exercise

This weekend, I took my first navigation lesson.  I had actually taken the 4 hours of briefings back in January in anticipation that I’d be doing those at the time.  The plan was to do those flights and work the required solo time into them so that I could end up with my Cross Country and Passenger endorsements at the same time as achieving the certificate.  But after about 4 rained out attempts, I switched gears and went somewhere else to do my solos (thanks Bruce!) and recently wrapped up my certificate (thanks Brett!).

Now that the weather is starting to get good, it was high time to put all that knowledge into practical use.  Up to this point, flying has been all about doing laps around the aerodrome, or practicing maneuvers in the nearby training area.  So now, I am learning and practicing what it takes to get from one aerodrome to another using only a map, watch and compass.  Sure, GPS is available and can be used as a secondary source of information, but it is so important to know how to navigate by reference to the map and ground features – what happens if the battery dies or the GPS satellites go out??

The first exercise was to get from Bankstown to Wollongong and back.  This first exercise is to put into practice the concepts learned in the breifing.

I would estimate 90% of this is in preparation.  Well before the flight, you need to ensure a current copy of all necessary charts.  Plot a course from point A to point B – but this won’t necessarily be in a straight line!  You have to make sure you are clear of controlled airspace or restricted areas as well as making sure you select an altitude that will be well clear of any obstacles or terrain, but that is not too high for the airspace you are in (as depicted on the chart).  For this exercise, we chose to fly at 4,500 ft.

Continuing the preparation, you have to measure the direction of each track in degrees as well as the distance for each segment.  You pick a speed for the aeroplane to fly, we selected 90 knots.

Now True North (as depicted on the chart) is different from Magnetic North (as read by the compass).  There is a variation that is different depending on where in the world you are – its -11 degrees for me here. so without getting into too much technical detail, all directions in the plan have to be converted to degrees magnetic so you can read directly from the compass in the aeroplane without having to think about it.

On the day, you get a weather report – not just any weather report, but the one for your specific area as provided by http://www.airservicesaustralia.com.  This gives aviation-specific weather reporting and forecasts for the area and aerodromes, as well as any important items to be aware of – Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS).  These are important – for example, one NOTAM stated that the automated weather service for Wollongong was not available. So knowing this, I can plan not to try to get it over the radio but instead plan to fly over the airfield at 1500′ to determine the wind direction.

With the weather report, you also get information regarding cloud cover, atmospheric pressure (QNH), turbulence in the area, and winds at various heights.  This is important, because in the flight plan you need to account for the wind direction and strength.  You may need to fly to a point East, but if the wind is blowing strongly from the North, then your heading will actually be somewhat into the wind to compensate for this.  Where the aeroplane is pointing and where it is going are often two different things.  Similarly, the amount of ground you cover in a given time might not be the same as the speed you think you are going. I might be indicating 90 knots of airspeed, but if I am heading into a 10 knot headwind, then my track over the ground is actually 80 knots.  That is important because speed and distance are used to calculate time.

Time is calculated for each segment of the trip.  This is important because you are following a track on your map and you need to have an idea of what landmarks you will expect to see at a given time.  For example, if I’ve calculated it should take me 15 minutes to reach Camden, I should also be able, at 5 minutes, to start seeing landmarks that are roughly a 3rd of the way there.

It’s all very complex (to me at least) so I won’t go on about it.  Here is a snapshot of some of the tools used:

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Sunday morning was perfect, so I got to the school about an hour early, spread out my gear, got the weather report and finished filling in my flight plan.  The flight plan is the result of all the planning – it is like an itinerary, and tells you exactly which direction to travel, for how long, at what speed, and when to turn.  Sticking to the plan is fairly straight forward – occasionally note the time, figure out where on the map you should be (based on the plan), then look at the ground to verify or adjust.  If you are off or a little fast or slow, you can make a correction to the estimate as the winds are seldom exactly as stated in the report. Brett did ask me when I got the winds, and I said “pretty much right after lunch”.  Not sure if he got it or not.

The plan took us to a point (small lake) 11 miles to the West of Bankstown at 2,500 ft. After that, a turn to the South for Camden and a climb to 4,500 feet.  Any time we approach an aerodrome or airfield, I’d make a radio call just to let them know I am in the area – common courtesy.  Overhead Camden, I turned to the South East to fly over Wedderburn before finally turning more or less South towards Wollongong. since the NOTAM advised that the automated weather service was out, I descended to 1,500 feet and flew overhead to have a look at the windsock before letting down to 1,000 ft to join the circuit for runway 34.  We did two circuits and an overhead departure back the way we came.

I was pleased that my planning was pretty solid because we made it overhead Wollongong within 1 minute of my plan.  On the way back, I think the winds died down a bit so as a consequence I managed a much faster groundspeed than planned for and reached Bankstown about 5 minutes early.  In subsequent lessons, I’ll learn how to refine that ‘on the fly’ so to speak, but I was pretty happy with this first one.

Upcoming lessons will cover diversions (in case the destination can’t be reached due to weather, low fuel, zombie attack), lost procedures, and low-level navigation.  After all that time running uphill to get my certificate, it is amazing to think that I am just a few more lessons away from being able to go cross country!  I am hoping to have that and the passenger endorsement wrapped up by the end of the year, but for now I have a little over a month to absorb what I learned on this trip – what worked out, what didn’t, and what adjustments I need to make.

Next time I will be sure to take some great pics!

White Whales and Windmills

I admit it:  I am a sucker for a Quest.  Something about seeing a seemingly impossible goal coalesce into reality from the vapours of hard work and determination and plain stubbornness.

I have recently finished reading the great Moby Dick.  I am currently reading Don Quixote.  I read The Lord of the Rings every year whether I need to or not.  So its not surprising this is the filter I see the world through sometimes.

Speaking of uphill battles and hard to reach goals, I recently attempted to take my Flight Test for my Pilot’s Certificate, the training chronicles of which have been painstakingly gathered and summarised in this very Blog.

I can not catch a break… Taking no chances, I got there an hour early, and even went to the aviation supply shop to replace all my expired maps and charts just to get my head in the game. I then went out and did a very thorough Preflight Inspection and Brett jumped in to officially start me off.  I performed damn-near perfect radio calls and taxi procedures, a text-book short field takeoff – and……..

….. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE VERY FIRST CIRCUIT….

….. it starts raining.

So Brett hops on the radio and contacts the tower requesting a full-stop.  The tower operator asks us to confirm that “ops are normal”.  Brett replies that they are, but we need to come in early due to the rain and the fact that the propeller is wooden.

It was pretty light, and we had been hoping it might pass by, but in the end its better to be on the ground wishing you were flying than to be flying and wishing you were on the ground.  Precious bl**dy wooden prop…

With my brain in “test mode” this was certainly unexpected, and I think i adjusted pretty well.  My cage was just a little bit rattled but I managed to mold myself to the circumstance and get down and dry.  I did get a partial pass on the ground handling, short field takeoff, and crosswind flapless landings, with the rest To Be Continued…

It stayed pretty light for a little while so I hung around just in case it miraculously cleared up.  Brett walked me over to another hangar and showed me in and around a nice twin-engine Beechcraft Duchess.  Now that thing looks like it goes like shit from a shovel!

Within half an hour, it was clear that it was not going to clear up.  I also had booked the following day, Sunday, which would have been my first Nav lesson (presuming I passed my test) so we just decided we would hope for better weather and do it then.  I am not too fussed about getting the Nav lessons done too quickly, I just want to get the certificate milestone (or is that millstone?) reached.

As it happens, it rained pretty much non-stop on Sunday as well – Brett sent me a message in the morning to let me know that all lessons were off for the day.  So I set about the business of enjoying the day with other plans, Rebecca and I joined up with my sister and her husband and my nephew to meet some new friends.

And you know that all eyes were on me when at about 2:00 the clouds cleared like the Red Sea for Moses and the sun poked its little head up over the balcony.  Honestly… I get that the universe does not want me to get this done without a fight, but does it have to taunt me with it??

Am I Ahab, forever hunting but never to dominate the White Whale?  Am I tilting at Windmills?

However, I think it will be a good thing, as I have a bit of a preview as to what the test is like (including the practice one a couple of weeks ago) so nerves should not be a factor when the stars and planets finally line up.  I am scheduled for Saturday the 15th at 1130.

Was hoping for this post to be The One where I get to report that the Ring has finally made it to Mt. Doom, but poor old Frodo has just a bit more to go…

Crosswinds and Crossroads

Had another action-packed lesson this weekend in the Jabiru J170 at Bankstown Airport, during what is statistically the highest-afternoon-winds month in the year:  (http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_066137.shtml)

As a follow-on to the last lesson, we were to work on final approach and landing, as Brett reckoned I had the other elements of the circuit down pretty well.  And, while I thought last session was windy – I hadn’t seen windy, yet!

It was a hot December day and ATIS report said winds at 080 degrees at 18 knots, max crosswind 12 knots.  To my memory, a 30 degree crosswind of 18 kts would give a crosswind component of 9 knots.  So either it was gusting, or the wind was changing direction occasionally.  OK, so a bit of a left crosswind (and a hell of a tail-wind – wheeeee!).  But then I realised that 14 knots is the maximum for this aircraft – 2 more and we’d have had to cancel…

*GULP*

However, for this to work, I have to be able to trust my CFI completely, so if he is comfortable then so am I.  The first indication that this will be one to remember was the sheer speed at which we taxied:  simply idling along, I had to ride the brakes at times just to keep it from getting away!  But, we got to the runup area, completed the checks, and sidled up to the holding point (Yankee at runway 11 Right, for the nerds…).

Takeoff was normal, I have even learned to keep centreline quite well by anticipating the weathercock into the wind and balancing with opposite rudder.  Although the crosswind leg of the circuit (right-hand this time) happened very quickly due to the tailwind, I was able for the most part to keep a good heading and attitude, and remembered the fuel pump and light switches most of the time <grin> .  I only turned off avionics once I think 😛  Good thing the master and magnetos are on the other side of the panel.  But I digress…

I definitely feel an improvement on the downwind leg, seems like the heading and spacing are coming pretty naturally, and the radio call is second nature.  Still can fluster up my pre-landing checks if I get distracted, but get there in the end.  Have to watch height – a few times, due to the thermals, I gained a couple hundred feet without realising it.

Base turn and leg are pretty solid now, with a good glide path, speed, and spacing.

But, WT*$@#&^ is up with my finals??  Back to that in a bit…

Last lesson, on an equally hot and thermally day (but not as windy), I made a rather steep turn low and slow onto finals.  I *think* that the wind gusted enough at that moment to put me almost sideways, and I just had this dreaded image in my head of a low speed stall and graveyard spiral into the ground from low-altitude.  It really did my head in.

So I seem to be really extra cautious about that particular descending turn (though I didn’t really used to be I don’t think) and it is causing me to turn way too shallow and early, consuming much of my time on finals just getting lined up, when I should just be settling into the glide to land.

Another thing that happened this time was at the end of the takeoff, before turning crosswind, a “really gnarly updraft” (Brett’s words) occurred at about 200 feet, which rolled me right over in the blink of an eye and again… that really Got My Attention.  I managed to right it, but it took several more circuits to get my legs back under me.

Brett explained that over areas where there are a lot of parked cars or tin warehouse roofs, there is going to be a great deal of heat generated – which rises up and causes that momentary weirdness.

So – one more data point:  anticipate these things so I won’t get caught off guard.  Next time I’ll know.

In all we probably did 7 or 8 circuits, and called a full stop for a break.  Plan was to pull into a runup area and rest for a bit, let the brain catch up, and go back out for a bit more.  BUT!  No sooner do I get it onto the taxiway and adjacent to the runup area, that we start lurching off the tarmac to the right.  Nothing either of us could do!  After stopping the engine and investigating, looks like we blew the nosewheel tyre.   Well, good thing we didn’t go up again then, as it could have happened on the next landing, and certainly have been much worse.

Some calls to operations and the ground crew picked us up, and its all been sorted, but that’s really a separate story.

Onward to Debrief, which is Our Little Chat after the lesson where we talk about what went right, what went wrong, focus areas, what’s next, etc.  Pretty much went as expected, need to get those turns onto final under control, watch my trim, work on landing technique, etc.

But the main takeaway was this – the main concern he has right now with sending me solo is basically that I still lack confidence.  That was quite a revelation, because I feel like I generally don’t lack confidence in most situations.  But you know what?  He is right!

This is it – the connective tissue that ties it all together!  Hell, I KNOW how to do this stuff!  I’ve passed the tests, I can take off, I can fly straight and level, turn, descend, (mostly) land, make the calls… Mechanically, I know how this thing ticks… but what ties all those things together?  The CONFIDENCE to go from one action to the next because you KNOW its what needs to be done, without questioning yourself.

I have always suffered from this critical internal chatter that is very good at presenting all the ways something can go wrong, but can’t seem to ever cut in mentally and just say “yes, but I know how to deal with those things”.  So I consume a LOT of brain cycles churning though that stuff that could be spent more productively.

Of course PRACTICE is the best way to just simply make it routine enough that you can shut the running critique off.  And I am getting there.  But even after 30+ years of riding motorcycles, it would still pop up from time and its enough to run you into a ditch just on sheer force of will.

So that’s where I am at… accumulating practice, but currently also researching ways to silence the inner critic, or at least answer it in a way it can be satisfied and fade away.  Email me with ideas!

And for the smart-asses – no, I am NOT “hearing voices”!  At least, that’s what they tell me…

Earth Angels!

Hey all,

We have thought a lot about trying to get involved in volunteering, as it is something we have gained immense joy from in the past.

After reading about the angelflight.org outfit in a recent magazine (Australian Flying, from memory) I decided to look into this worthy organisation. After reading the background information and stories on their website, we agreed this is something we want to be involved in.

Now, I don’t have my ticket just yet, but one way I could get involved and get my foot in the door so to speak is by volunteering as an “Earth Angel”… Simply put, the pilots volunteer their time and aeroplane (fees and fuel are reimbursed), but once the person gets to the airport, they still need volunteers to pick them up and take them to or from the hospital or whatever.

Anyway, I’m proud to say that we have decided to be involved in no matter how small a way, and I am sure that one day when I am fortunate enough to be able to fly (and have the requirements met), we will be able to give back by flying some missions to be a blessing to those in need.

Check it out on http://angelflight.org.au