What A Big Day Looks Like

Just thought I’d put in some numbers to boil down the last few articles into an easy-to-consume summary.

Approximately 1000 km flown, or about 540 nautical miles, or 621 miles.

8.1 hours of flying time, 3 being solo.

Average speed about 123 km/h, or 67 knots, or 77 mph.

121 litres of AVGAS, or about 32 US Gallons

Max altitude:  7500 ft

Min altitude: 500 ft

And a quick sketch of the route:

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My Big Day – Cross Country Pre-test, Solo, and Flight Test – 3/3

This is the final installment of my long-overdue update on the Cross Country endorsement.  After what turned out to be a 3 hour solo flight due to stronger than forecast winds, I returned to Young with another small personal triumph under my belt.

Which was nice, because the last Triumph I had, I had to sell to pay my mortgage after a layoff.

Anyway, just like on a motorcycle, after (now) 6 hours in the saddle, I had a serious case of Monkey-butt and was in no hurry to get started right away.  It was the middle of the afternoon so I only needed to make sure we left in plenty of time to get back to Bankstown well before the end of daylight.

So I walked around to stretch my legs, drank plenty of water, and settled in for the final stage of planning for the return trip.  While I was doing that, Brett topped up the fuel in the Jabiru just to make sure.

Plan was (nominally) just to go back the way I’d come – via Goulburn to Moss Vale then up to Camden and over to Bankstown.  I say nominally, because this was the Test and anything could happen and it certainly did.

As this was the test, I made extra sure to leave no stone unturned when it came to planning.  I have to demonstrate to Brett I’ve done all the flight planning including wind speed and direction, heading, ground speed, and estimated times.  I had to show proper fuel planning, weight and balance calculations, as well as my planned route.

Once he was satisfied, we strapped ourselves in an taxied once again to runway 19 and made a standard takeoff and a crosswind departure to the East for Goulburn.

But before we even got to the chosen height of 7500 feet, Brett goes into Role Playing mode and says he’d like to check out his property near Crookwell.  So… a diversion for the first Task.

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No problem.  So I keep trimmed for straight and level flight and draw a new line on my chart and quickly estimated that it was about X degrees off my original heading.  So I changed to that heading and kept it straight while I worked out an estimate for the effects of the forecast winds so I could refine the heading and ground speed and calculate my estimated times from that.  As luck would have it, once I was on the new heading I could see a huge windfarm dead ahead which seemed to correspond to what I expected to see on the map – so all I had to do was keep focused and maintain that heading.

Once overhead the windfarms, I couldn’t see Crookwell so I needed to use dead reckoning to look for some other features and see if I could refine my position.  As it turned out, the wind farm I saw was a bit to the South of the ones that I thought they were – so I had myself temporarily convinced I was headed in the right direction.

But dead reckoning is like that, and given it was an unplanned diversion, it still got me in the right area – Crookwell was just a couple of miles to the North – so a quick left turn and I was overhead in a few minutes and had my positive fix.

That was rather easy, so this time Brett decided to turn up the heat a little – he now wanted to fly over the Wombeyan Caves.  This is a popular tourist attraction but if there is anything caves are reliably known for, its not being visible from the air.  So while I did get us in the area, Brett had to point them out to me.  It wasn’t exactly like Disney World, but at least we got there and he’s happy with my ability to divert and get un-lost.

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The biggest lesson I am still learning is having proper expectations of what I’ll see.  For example, just because the chart shows a river, it might be a dried-up little track in the dirt.  What looks like a township on the chart might be a few houses and a silo.  And so on…  So its about not waiting to see what you think you’ll see, but flying accurately and having a good idea of the range of what is possible.  That will just be a matter of experience, I’m afraid.

So at this point, Brett just said “take us home”.  I could see the massive gorge that parallels the dividing range between us and Sydney, and was able to spot enough features to know exactly where I was.

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I just cruised it on in toward Camden, but had the same issue coming back as we did leaving, a cloud layer between me and where I needed to be.  So I did a spiral descent in a clear area to get down to 2500 feet or so and continued on to Bankstown where I managed exactly the sort of landing you’d expect after a full day of flying – no points for style.

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The debrief was short and sweet, just a few minor corrections and observations but overall he was happy with everything and I am happy to say has signed off on my Cross Country endorsement!  This removes the 25 mile radius limitation from my departure airport, and opens up the entire country to me!

My next step is my Passenger endorsement – I only lack 2 solo hours and a quick checkride.  Actually, at the time of this writing, that’s been done as well – stay tuned!

My Big Day – Cross Country Pre-test, Solo, and Flight Test – 2/3

Hello everyone – I realise it has been over a month since attaining my Cross Country endorsement, and almost as long since my last post – its been a busy month, and unfortunately I’d been suffering from a bit of CBA Syndrome (couldn’t be arsed).

But its been on my to-do list for so long, that in fact it has migrated over several of them, as other things get ticked off and I realise its time for a new list… the blog always seems to be the “carry over”.  So I am hoping to rectify that so I can get on to more recent news and announcements.

When Last We Met, I was taxiing by myself for Runway 19 at Young aerodrome.  In many ways this trip was to be the culmination of everything I have learned as a pilot.  Every single lesson would be called upon – from takeoff and landing, straight & level, and turns as well as the more advanced subject of navigation, including planning, arrival and departure procedures, situational awareness, and communication – and possibly low-level or lost and diversion procedures!

But to keep it simple, it still boils down to the three main priorities – Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

The plan was to leave Young and fly over West Wyalong and land at Forbes for a break before continuing up to Parkes then back via Cowra.  All up, a little over 200 nautical miles which would take about 2.5 hours at the current wind speeds and planned cruise speed of 90 knots.

Now, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t both giddy with anticipation and shitting down both legs in terror that I was finally about to undertake this flight that was over 2 years in the making.  Despite the common public perception of pilots, I’m no dare-devil, fearless, swashbuckling aviator who laughs in the face of danger.  In fact I am pretty much a coward.  But what I am good at is assessing and managing risk in real-time and I have faith that I have been trained well enough to call upon that training should crisis assert the need.

So having left Brett standing there, and having taxied and lined up on 19, and before I had any time to think about it, I gave it full throttle and tracked the centreline until I was airborne.  This was my first solo flight since earlier this year and I’d almost forgotten how much quicker everything happens without the extra weight of the instructor.  And with the engine just out of maintenance, it climbed like the proverbial homesick angel!

Another nice thing about solo flight, besides the relative silence, is there is an extra seat for all the stuff – I no longer have to balance it all on my lap.  Seems a bit easier to gather the thoughts when I’m not also maintaining a parallel track of thought dedicated to vocalising everything I am doing for the benefit of the instructor.

So up and up I went – 300 feet, flaps up.  1000 feet, turn to the West and set first heading for West Wyalong.  I had planned originally a cruising altitude of 4500 feet to avoid having to consider the VFR hemispherical cruising altitude rules, which state if you are above 5000 feet and traveling in a direction between 0 and 179 degrees magnetic, then your altitude must be an odd number of 1000s + 500 (5500, 7500, 9500, etc) and from 180 to 359 degrees, it must be even 1000s + 500 (6500, 8500, etc).  Just one less thing to think about.

However it was rather bumpy at this level and if I wanted to get above it, I would have to get to 6500 feet in keeping with my westerly heading.

Unfortunately there was a pretty thick cloud base at about 5000 feet so I could not penetrate the layer (legally) and was destined to just tumble along at 4,500 below the clouds (observing separation minima) – shaking and rolling with every updraft until finally the clouds thinned out and I spotted an opening!

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Steering around to get myself between clouds and maintaining VMC separation, I found a nice wide open area and got myself up to 6500 feet in 4-5 minutes or so.  Ahhhh much nicer, and of course I could see much farther as well.

Before long I was overhead West Wylong and making my right turn to Forbes where I planned to stop and stretch my legs and take it all in.  To the left is a wonderful visual landmark – Lake Cowal – which is big enough to see from West Wyalong and track along side almost until I could see Forbes.

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As the wind was more or less westerly (though quite gusty) I joined left downwind for runway 27 at Forbes and did a functional but probably less-than-graceful flapless approach and landing, and taxied to park close to the aero club.

I knew Forbes was a rural strip, but I had no idea that it was going to be utterly deserted – that was a strange experience, never having been the only one at an aerodrome.  Not even anyone in the club house, nearby hangars – no one.  There were tumbleweeds blowing around as if to underscore the situation.  The club house was locked.  The men’s toilet had even managed to become some vortex of tumbleweed congregation.  I guess the overwhelming feeling was “its all on you now”.

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So I walked around some more (and of course called my Mum to let her know I was down safe).  There was a cool crop duster plane that I had a look at.  But time was getting on and I still had to get back to Young so I could start planning for the flight back to Bankstown, and the wind was really picking up and turning into a bit of a crosswind.

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I taxied and backtracked 27, managed a nice crosswind takeoff, and departed the crosswind leg for Parkes to the North.  I had hoped I’d be able to see the famous radio telescope but apparently its quite a bit further out of town and there just wasn’t time.

Since my direction changed to northeast, I settled at 5500 feet though it was still bumpy.  The sky was nice and clear and the land marks I’d highlighted on the map were easy enough to follow until I was overhead Parkes.  I am not sure, but I think when I made my overhead radio call, I may have said “Forbes traffic…” rather than Parkes… it was a big day and I am still surprised I held it together as well as I did.

So I made a conscious effort to relax a bit and breathe deeply to make sure the stress of constant focus wasn’t going to cause any real lapses of attention.

After that it was pretty much a matter of following roads and a river to Cowra then a final right turn back to Young.  Before long, I was on descent from 5000 feet and lined up for a straight-in approach.

Young being the Cherry Capital of NSW, I knew Brett would be waiting there with a fresh locally baked cherry pie for me and several kilos of cherries for his mates back in Sydney.  More importantly, I knew he’d be Watching – so naturally I stuffed up the first approach and did a go-around so I could set up for a better landing.

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I got it down and taxied back to the “terminal” for another break to rest and prepare for the next and final stage – the Cross Country Flight test!

… To Be Continued…

My Big Day – Cross Country Pre-test, Solo, and Flight Test – 1/3

Well as the title says, I had a Very Big Day on Saturday 9 November.  After a few postponements due to weather and bushfires, the day finally arrived for me to do my pre-test, solo navigation, and navigation test for my Cross Country endorsement for my Pilot Certificate.  So big a day, in fact, that I have decided to split the report into 3 separate entries.  Today’s entry will cover the pre-test, which was an assessment flight to Young, NSW wherein anything that needed to be brushed up on or revised could be noted and worked on.

It has been 10 days since all this and only now am I able to fully process everything, hence the delay.  There’s no delicate way to put it – I was absolutely buggered!

I arrived at 0630 with coffee in hand to start gathering my wind and weather reports and forecasts and calculating my headings, speeds and times for my flight plan.  It was a little cloudy, and there was the possibility of isolated showers in the Sydney area, but otherwise things looked fine.  Since it was going to be a long day with multiple legs to the journey, I only worked up the calculations for the first leg out – the rest I would plan to do later while resting between flights, as the wind speeds and directions could no doubt change drastically over that time and render my calculations useless.

In retrospect, I am glad there were a few weeks of delay.  The J170 had still been in for its 1,000 hourly maintenance, meaning I’d have had to use the older J160.  I am sure that would have been fine as well, but I’ve been with the J170 for so long that I just felt more confident with it.  Also, it did give me more opportunities to practice flying the route at home on Flight Sim X, which really helped in terms of reinforcing the fluidity in the cockpit workflow.

So I did the preflight as normal, the fuel was full already so no need to call for the fuel truck.  This is the earliest I have had to start before, and it turned out to be a comical moment because the Bankstown controllers and ground ops guys were chatting on the radio about their weekends and such.  Once I could get a word in, I made my taxi and departure requests and we were off!

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So the plan for the day was to fly to Young which I would do via Camden to the West, then South to Moss Vale, West to Goulburn and onward to Young.  That is the preassessment as well as just knocking off the rust after a 2 month break.  Then at Young, I’d prepare a solo flight plan which would see me over the bustling metropolises of West Wyalong, Forbes, Parkes, Cowra then back to Young (with a stop over in Forbes to rest in between).  Upon my presumed successful return, I’d then prepare the flight plan and maps for the trip back to Bankstown – the Cross Country test!

So we got rolling and in the air around 0730 to nice calm winds and made my first waypoint within one minute of my estimate.  This is the little pond/reservoir we call “tadpole” because of its shape (and because no one wants to say they are flying to “sperm-lake”).

Gentle turn to the South for Camden making the appropriate radio calls and maintaining the CLEAROFF work cycle.  After passing Camden on my way to Moss Vale, I found myself  a couple miles off course – looks like the winds were stronger than I had accounted for, and had a bigger effect over the longer leg than it did on the short leg to Camden.  So I was able to use the 1-in-60 technique to get back on course toward Moss Vale and just before the right turn to Goulburn it became apparent that the thickening cloud base was going to settle at my chosen altitude of 4500 feet!  This became a practical and very real application of many principles of flying, first and foremost maintaining visibility with respect to the Visual Flight Rules – and this time, it was not hypothetical and I did not have the luxury of time for a lengthy thought process or discussion over it.

We actually used this to get the Low Level flying done, which we needed to do anyway, staying well below the cloud but sufficiently above the ground.  Per the Visual Flight Rules, if we are under 3000 feet, then we only need to remain clear of cloud and within sight of land or water features.  Above that, there are specific distances to remain both above or below a cloud, as well as horizontally.  It did make for a much bumpier ride, but we did get to the next waypoint, Goulburn, on time and Brett threw a diversion at me.  Instead of flying straight to Young, he wanted me to go North to Crookwell, then resume flight toward Young.

I quickly drew a new track on the map and eyeballed some headings, figuring i’d have time on the way to refine.  However, as soon as we turned North to the new heading, the cloud base appeared to be getting lower and lower.  Brett left the decision to me as to how or whether to proceed – as we had just passed Goulburn, I chose to turn back and wait it out there.  He seemed very pleased with this decision – I could have chosen to try to go over or under the clouds, or just back to Bankstown, but this was the safest option in my opinion.

I landed on the grass cross-strip favoured by the wind direction and taxied over to the hard surface near the sideways-blowing windsock.  We wandered over to the nearby flying school and had a cup of tea while we waited it out.  After an hour or so of watching the clouds and the windsock, the blue sky magically reappeared and before long we were back on our way.

In the interests of time, rather than continue the planned diversion to Crookwell, we decided to proceed straight for Young as Brett was fairly satisfied with my ability to plan a diversion and make decisions in the air.  I called Melbourne Centre on the radio (a first for me) and advised them of the change in the flight plan so they could update my notification details and set a new search and rescue time (SARTIME) for arrival into Young.  On the way, I measured the time it took me to cross a couple of landmarks and calculated a new ground speed.  The wind was really picking up, because by this time, I was only doing around 50 knots – slower than some of the cars beneath me on the Hume Highway!  Between Goulburn and Young you can follow the Hume Highway for a little while, then it bends away and there isn’t alot else to see.

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So of course it wasn’t long before I was a little bit “temporarily uncertain of position”.

Using dead reckoning, I could get  a rough idea of a probable area I should be in, based on heading and time since my last positive fix.  Then based on this probable area, I should be able to see features on the ground which I could then correlate back to the map.  So it turned out to be a good thing that I had done a ground speed check earlier; since I was going so much slower than the plan, I knew also that I would not be as far along on the map as I might otherwise have thought.  Just ahead I saw a peak that stood out as being the tallest feature and was able to relate it to my probable position on the map.  Once overhead, I resumed my track to Young.

Before long I spotted what was most likely Young.  Based on time-map-ground, it really couldn’t have been anything else – but I still had to find the aerodrome.  As I was tracking toward the town, I decided to maintain that and found the aerodrome by using the information on the ERSA page.  According to the diagram, the town is 3.1 miles at 145 degrees from the field – so all I had to do was take the reciprocal of that which would make the aerodrome 3.1 miles from the town at 325 degrees.

Within a minute or so, I spotted Young aerodrome and joined the downwind leg of the circuit for runway 19.  Other traffic also announced their intentions to do the same, but they were a ways off yet.  After landing, I backtracked and parked near the “terminal”, which is really just a little one-room shed with a table.

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Took a quick bio-break and walked around to stretch my legs, then got the wind and weather info and ate while working on my flight plan for the solo.  A chicken schnitzel sandwich from the day before sounded like a much better idea than it turned out to be – it was dry and horrible.

Brett is originally from Young, so his mum came out to visit.  She is a very nice lady, and obviously very proud of her son the pilot!  The other traffic we heard on the radio eventually landed and taxied over for a nature break as well.  They turned out to be a nice older couple who were up from Canberra in their Cirrus.  After a little small talk they were on their way and I was back preparing my plan and getting started on another preflight inspection.  I must have been pretty nervous, because while walking around I walked right into the still propellor blade which caught me right in the ribs and left a couple of nice bruises.  After assessing that the propellor and my ribs were OK, I finished up and shook Brett’s hand and taxied for runway 19 to resume my journey and my first ever solo cross country flight…

…To Be Continued…