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….

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image

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

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

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

Somewhere between Oberon and Teralga:

Image

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

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

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

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

1. Aviate

2. Navigate

3. Communicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Navigation Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, It’s Official…

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

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

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

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

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

Now THAT might take more than 6 to 8 weeks.

The Day Is Mine!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rust Never Sleeps

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

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

4th time was not a charm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Whales and Windmills

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

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

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

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

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

….. it starts raining.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice Flight Test

I wanted to report on my most recent aeronautical activity, the Practice Flight Test.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have completed the syllabus and all required hours for both solo and dual flying.  The next thing to get done was a Practice session where we could go through all of the elements of the test without the pressure.  Because each lesson as you go though builds on the previous, you don’t realise just how much information has been stored away – and now you have to recall, demonstrate, and explain ALL OF IT.

So it is nice that there is a practice run – would have been nice when I was learning to drive if there had been a trial run with the examiner before the Real Thing.

It is not a huge exaggeration to say I have thought of almost nothing else for the last few weeks other than preparation for this.  I have gone over old lessons, watched as many videos as I can, brushed up on all the rules and regulations and radio calls.  I have pored over maps and charts, I have made laminated checklists.  I have talked to other people, studied the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for the plane, and made every quiet moment an opportunity to mentally walk through everything from the preflight inspection to the circuit work and training area exercises.  I bought a nifty pilot’s watch.

So you would think that this should just be a nice breezy run-through, maybe a chance to solidify and streamline my processes.

So I got up on Sunday after a nice sleep in, made sure I had a good lunch, spent a little more time going over things and left A WHOLE HOUR EARLY.  So naturally, when I turn onto Church Street in Parramatta I find that the police have barricaded it off and all traffic is detoured onto a side street.

Of course from where I am to where I am going, everything more or less funnels though there and no matter which side road I took or which labyrinthine path I tried to snake my way around on, I found that it eventually led back to the same path.

Nigel, our beloved but dysfunctional GPS unit, was of no help as he just wanted to take u-turns every 5 seconds in a desperate attempt to get me exactly where I didn’t want to go.

So I flew out of Parramatta and hit the highway up to Silverwater then back across, putting me 30 minutes and several km’s out of my way.

I was so frustrated and flustered when I got there, I was beginning to have doubts I should even go through with it.

But what a calming ritual is the Preflight Inspection   Something about methodically just going through a checklist that starts to pull the mind right back into the headspace it needs to be in.

The taxi and runup checks went very well, and before long I was ready to line up.  Brett asked for a Short Field takeoff, which means that I need to taxi as far to the very beginning of the runway as possible (even though this looks ridiculous at Bankstown’s 1km+ sealed runways).  Ding number 1, I felt a little rushed due to a plane behind me at the holding point, so didn’t inch right up to the edge up the asphalt.

The plan was to head straight into the training area straight off of runway 29R.  Crossing the railroad tracks to the west and climbing to 2500′ (straight into the sun) the most immense, other-worldly smoke cloud hovered over the entire area we were aiming for.  It must have stretched from Camden to Richmond!

No worries, we just diverted to the south part of the training area… but scratch about 90% of my mental walk-throughs, now I was literally doing all this for the first time!

As we settled into our altitude of 3500′, I felt the calm returning to me and though I had already a few things rattling my cage, I was able to pull off all the climbing, straight and level, descending, turns, high-speed, low-speed, radio work, checklists, stalls, wing drops, and steep turns he asked for.  In fact, my highlight of the day is Brett saying my steep turns were some of the best he’d ever seen!

So here is where things started to sag… right about the parts I thought surely I would ace – Practice Forced Landings and Circuits.

Now… if you have been paying attention, or know me at all, you will know that I have been doing circuits for what I feel is a disproportionately long time.  Such is the price of training in spare time and being subject to things like weather and budget…. you have to spend a bit of time each lesson getting back to where you left last time.

I thought I was past that since I have been making such great progress, finished up my solo time, and prepared so well.

Though I *knew* what to do, and had all my checklists handy, I found myself crowding the circuit, coming in too high, too fast, sloppy with my procedures – in short, I was fried.

But I think this is what happens when you get flustered – all available mental capacity is used up trying to concentrate on the things that are more difficult, and the things you had hoped would be second nature/muscle memory just… aren’t.

I have a theory on this – an epiphany perhaps?  So let’s say there were what – 4 or 5 things that flustered, rattled, or frustrated me from beginning to end?  OK so for argument’s sake let’s say that now I have used up 20% of my mental capacity just dealing with that – that leaves me 80% to work with.

Now in the process, I mentioned things that I found calming, and I think I have always assumed that if you calm yourself down in this way, it gives you back that 20% – I mean, I’m not still thinking about it am I?

So here is my theory, and I’ll need to keep it in mind for the future – I don’t think that the calming moments actually gave me back the 20%… I think it just gets filtered out as background noise and resets the level – so now 20 is the new 0… but guess what, I still have only 80% to work with…

So to make a long story short, Brett has marked me as “competent” to attempt the test on all of the stuff I stressed over – stalls, steep turns, training area stuff and has sentenced me to “remedial” work on the things I thought I knew like the back of my hand.  My actual test is scheduled for Saturday June 1st, and more than likely we will spend the first part of it doing circuits until he is comfortable that I am competent before hopefully getting stuck into it.

I hope that I have been able to analyse accurately how this happened to me – I know what I missed, but the important thing is “why” since I shouldn’t have – this will be key in preventing it from happening again.

Fingers crossed the next post will contain some good news!

Great lesson – stalls and practice forced landings!

October 27, 2012 (still catching up on previous stuff)

Well seems like things are finally starting to line up a bit. My instructor has finally started to get a handle on my training records and progress, so I can start to see a pattern in where I have been and where I am heading. My previous instructor wasn’t much for writing things down, and always seemed to be in a hurry.

But, onward and upward, as they say…

I got the first 2 hour slot for the day, and it was a beautiful morning, maybe 15 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, very little wind. Preflighted the little Jabiru, got my ATIS and went through all the calls and checks a little quicker than normal – I think I am starting to get the hang of all this! Just like driving, there is not only the mechanical act of manipulating the vehicle through the desired path, but also the 1,000,001 other little things that compete for your attention – and it is this more than the mechanics of it which take so much time to absorb. If all i had to do was sit in the sky and steer, it would be easy! But no, there are heights, speeds, and angles to be maintained, a wealth of information coming from the instruments and radio to be considered, my own thoughts to be filtered through, the instructor’s voice…. so on and so on…

Anyway, it was just too nice a day to be stuck in circuits, and there is so much more of the syllabus to get through, we decided we would go out and do engine failure/forced landings and stalls. Finally, stalls! I have been trying to get the stalls lesson in for probably 6 months, and its been one comedy-of-errors after another.

So out we went, up to 4500′ once we were out of the CTL area. First, my instructor demonstrated: HASELL checks, power off, raiiiiiiiise the nose, controls get sloppy, speed goes wayyyy down, and – wait for it – we’re in the stall. Then the recovery – lower the nose, build up speed and level off. Lost a few hundred feet. Second time around, he repeated, but this time with a full power recovery. Same basic thing, but this time I don’t think we lost more than 50 feet. Next up, my turn and it really went off without a hitch. Completely anti-climactic and a non-issue, considering the buildup over the last 6 months anticipating…

After this, and probably due to the steep bank angles, the right fuel tank showed empty – I am guessing gravity moved it over to the other one. Although we still had plenty of fuel for the task, we took the opportunity to add a practical element to the lesson and diverted to Camden for fuel.

There I got to taxi to the bowser and swipe the card and fill’er up. Another Mystery Unveiled.

After a quick turnaround, back to the training area and a quick en route recap of the Engine Failure/Forced Landing briefing. Then, as with the stalls, first a demonstration followed by My Turn.

Here are my observations on this – I was quite astonished that even with the engine at idle, there is no sudden feeling of “dropping out of the sky”, and no panic-inducing sensation to prevent me from remembering my first action, which is set it at 70kts for glide. Once I got in the rhythm of putting the nose where I needed it to maintain 70, I was able to do my initial checks (CFM) and look around the area and see the patch of land he wanted me to shoot for, glide to it, do my restart checks, etc. We went through this about 3 or 4 times, and each time I would have made the field had it been a real event.

Where I had trouble, however, was remembering the passenger briefing and mayday calls. Given time i was able to recall them, but in the heat of the moment, my brain was simply too full, and those were the things that had to give. No worries though, Aviate, Navigate, Communicate – 2 outta 3 ain’t bad 🙂 I am pretty sure with practice I will get the bulk of it down in muscle memory and have capacity in reserve for the finer points.

All up, did 2.1 hours and I have almost 15 out of the required 20. Since I have not yet soloed, there is no way that I will get it done in the 20, but that is just a minimum and it isn’t a race. If I had time and money to just knock it all out in a month, perhaps I could have. But this way, I have had experience training during all 4 seasons and various temperatures and wind conditions.

As a nice bonus, my instructor told me that this was the best flying I have ever done. I had to confess that I thought this might be due to spending a few hours on Microsoft Flight Sim X!  He laughed and said that he also uses that for practice.

Next up, engine failure in the circuit and after takeoff!