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!


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 🙂

Progress Has Been Made

Well…. I was really hoping to be able to report this weekend that I had finally accomplished my First Solo as well as my first Cross Country Navigation exercise.

The plan was for a pretty full-on weekend – Saturday, we were to drive to Illawarra Regional Airport (YWOL) in Wollongong, and my flight instructor would meet me down there, having flown down with another student.  The hope was I would do some familiarisation circuits and *possibly* go solo.  Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, so that didn’t happen.

The plan for Sunday was to do the Navigation flight from Bankstown (YSBK) to Wollongong and back.  This is where the fun really begins, as I get to put into practice all I have learned about the principles of navigation, flight planning, weather… and just getting to go somewhere in a plane!  This should be about 45 minutes down, a bit of time doing circuits down there, then 45 minutes back – most at about 4,500 feet AMSL (Above Mean Sea Level).

So I got up early Sunday morning, spread out my maps and charts and ERSA and other associated paraphernalia, and most importantly brewed a nice strong cuppa (long black, no sugar) and looked up the Area 21 weather briefing.  This is an overall forecast and report of a pretty wide area that includes all the bits we’d be flying though and over, including forecasted (and reported) wind direction and speed, atmospheric pressure (QNH) in hectopascals, cloud coverage, temperature, and any possible weather to be aware of.  It also lists NOTAMs, which is “Notices to Airmen” – operational hazards or other concerns in areas or specific locations that occur more recently or sporadically so as not to be in the printed information.  For example, intense parachuting activity, a light out on a tower, unserviceable runways, etc.

After digesting all of this info I came to the conclusion that there was a potential for the weather to be a bit messy, and Erring On The Side Of Caution, we decided that the Nav exercise was a no-go.

However, given all the time it has taken me to get anywhere with all this, I am very keen to keep the ball moving down the field so as not to lose momentum.  Since the local weather at Bankstown looked OK, we picked another topic off the syllabus and did the lesson on Short Takeoffs and Landings (STOL).

This is where you learn to takeoff and land in a condition where a runway may be shorter than the one you are accustomed to, or even if you have to land in a paddock with very little room to spare.

For takeoffs, it is mostly a matter of getting right back as far to the beginning of the strip as possible, and with the brakes on, rev up and let go once the engine is at max RPM.  This helps you shoot off like line like a rocket and you just get your nose up as quick as possible and adopt the Best Angle of Climb (Vx) until you are at a safe height and can go back to Best Rate (Vy).

Had a funny moment to start with – we lined the little Jabiru up rather than turning onto the runway, we circled around to get right back at the very end.  The runway at Bankstown (11R) is quite long – several times longer than what the J170 needs.  So adding another hundred metres or so must have looked funny – the Tower piped up “um, 7925 i think you have enough runway, mate…”.  And so we did, I think we were almost airborne by the time we reached the part where we normally start rolling!  We did seem to climb a bit faster than normal, but I put that down to the fact that we had only 1/2 the fuel on board than we normally do.

Landing is a different beast altogether, much slower and more positive – remember you are trying to get that sucker on the ground ASAP because you won’t have much runway to float over.  The technique here is to do the final at 55 knots (instead of 70) and stay on the back of the drag curve so that you are using power to make adjustments – just “drive it in” for lack of a better term.

I am happy to say that this really felt very natural to me, and I think increased my landing precision and confidence DRAMATICALLY.  In fact, on the last go round, Brett didn’t say a word and just let me do it all.  The first circuit, I think we touched down about 3 metres from the intended point, and after that they were right on the dot.  Very happy with that.

After this lesson, Brett had me call for fuel and supervise the refueling operation (flashbacks to my days in the USAF) while he got some stuff done in the office.  Since we had originally blocked me out for a few hours, and I only used up 1, I asked if I could go ahead and take a whack at the Navigation/Meteorology written exam – the last one in the syllabus.

This was a very challenging test, and I did have to use memory and common sense on some of it just to get through.  My E6B (circular slide rule flight computer) got a thorough workout, and I took every bit of the full hour, but I passed!

So, another 1.1 in the logbook, another item knocked out from the syllabus, a new level of confidence and precision, and NO MORE TESTS!  The next navigation flight (and possible solo) is scheduled for next Saturday the 16th.  Weather looks dodgy for now, but as we all know that can change in an instant.

Progress Was Made…

Noticed Something Today…

For today’s lesson, we concentrated solely on Engine Failure After Take-off (EFATO) and circuit emergencies today. Something happened which really gave me a boost and encouraged me – while I had my hands full remembering the checks and various things to do during the emergency, it suddenly dawned on me that I was actually landing with out any concerted mental effort – in other words, it is finally starting to become part of my muscle memory!

I honestly never thought it would happen, but it finally *clicked* today – my instructor even asked me “what changed” and I don’t really know what to say other than it just was there. No more than I really thought about parking my car – it just happened.

Not to say they were perfect, but I am getting to a spot where I can now devote some mental energy into the finer points and other tasks rather than being 100% consumed with the mechanics of the landing.

It is a good day – I am drinking the last of my home brew lager and reflecting on the journey.

Good Start To the New Year!

I have a lot of ideas buzzing around my head for new material to post, and I am trying to pace myself so there isn’t so much material for you to get through between events of Actual Significance.  However, I did have a lesson tonight, another great after-work evening lesson with no one else around but me, fairly calm winds, and a nice freshly-washed plane!

Since its been a month since my last lesson, we did a couple of normal circuits then worked more on the Emergency Circuits, where we simulate an engine failure.  Plenty of work to be done there, but I do want to report that Brett said he feels like I should be ready to go SOLO soon.  In fact, next lesson we will probably tighten up the emergency landings just a bit, then going forward we will start working on some lessons in Navigation – this is where you learn how to actually go somewhere!

One reason for this, is that Bankstown is a tower-controlled aerodrome, and the certificate I am going for does not allow me to fly solo from those.  SO we need to go to a non-towered aerodrome, most likely Wollongong (YWOL).  Once there, I guess we do more circuits so I can get used to the area, then at some point he will cut me loose.

I also want to report that I have crossed off the first of my long list of goals (see About page).  I have officially logged over 20 hours!  This number is somewhat significant, since it is the minimum number of hours you need (with 5 solo) to achieve the certificate.  It is where I could be if I had not been so often derailed, and able to get consistent regular practice.   But, onward and upwards as they say – its not a race.  But it is nice to see that I did finally get to 20 hours, even if its not meaningful in any other sense.

MUCH more to come!

Night Moves

… a little too tall, coulda used a few pounds… tight pants, points, hardly renowned… (Bob Seger, Night Moves, 1976)

No, not THAT kind… THIS kind:


Yesterday was my first weekday (after-work) lesson, and the above picture was taken on the last circuit just as the sun was going down.  The picture doesn’t do justice to the sheer serenity of the feeling when the sun is on its way down, and the air is getting cooler and just becomes a sheet of calm.

If not for the feeling of being as busy as a 3-legged dog trying to bury a turd on a frozen pond, dare I say it would be relaxing and meditative.

I got a lot of great feedback and food for thought based on my last post, and I think I finally got a handle on the “confidence” piece, or at least I am getting there.  There’s a lot to be said for anticipating rather than reacting!

We did more crosswind circuits, and it now looks like things are tightened up sufficiently that the main thing to work on is judgement of aim point, and speed and height in the flare, and settling it down rather than flopping it onto the deck like a fighter jet.  A lot more practice is required here, especially with the crosswinds.

In that vein, when Brett asked if I wanted to work in some circuit emergencies (not a problem with the squiggly bit between the two ends of a battery, but simulated engine failures), I was enthusiastic to move on to something new.  I reasoned that while the landings certainly need work, I need to land regardless of what else I am working on, so they are only going to get better over time anyway.

I still remembered most of the Forced Landings lesson, so when he cut out the engine and had me point back to the field, I instinctively went right to my best glide speed – 65 kts, maybe a touch faster into the wind – used appropriate amount of flaps, and actually made it back to the runway on 3 out of 4 attempts.  Although I remembered the initial checks and mayday calls, I did forget the landing checklist where you are supposed to shut off the fuel, master switch, etc…  will have to look it up again! We did go over it on the Forced Landings lesson, but I had completely forgotten!  But, for a first go, I think I’m pretty happy, and Brett marked it down as solo standard. Even on the 1 out of 4 that I didn’t make it to the strip, I think I probably still would have made it to the grass.

In all, I think we went around 7 or so times, and when the sun got a little lower than the picture above, we had to bring it in.  Made one last downwind call for a full stop and requested the North runway, to cut down on taxi time.  This time I promised Brett a perfect landing, just to wrap it up for the year.

Sadly, this wasn’t the case… as usual, great down to about 2 metres then misjudged the flare.  I did squeeze in some power at the last to try not to make it too hard, but it was still not a proud moment.  Ahhh well, 2013 is another year!

Workin’ and practicin’ Night Moves….

Crosswinds and Crossroads

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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