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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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!