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!

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!

Well, It’s Official…

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

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

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

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

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

Now THAT might take more than 6 to 8 weeks.

The Day Is Mine!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rust Never Sleeps

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

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

4th time was not a charm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…