PPL – Done and Dusted!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Controlled Airspace Endorsement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is where it got very interesting indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo 20-07-2014 3 46 49 pm

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

Photo 20-07-2014 8 06 13 pm

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

Watch this space, its about to get busy!

Quick Update and Catching Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More soon….

Piper At The Gates of Dawn

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

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

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

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

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

The venerable Piper Warrior II

The venerable Piper Warrior II

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

Instrument panel

Instrument panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

landing at last light, photo by Chris Koort

landing at last light, photo by Chris Koort

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

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

Stay tuned – things are happening!

Box Ticking and Paper Shuffling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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!