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!

Piper At The Gates of Dawn

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

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

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

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

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

The venerable Piper Warrior II

The venerable Piper Warrior II

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

Instrument panel

Instrument panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

landing at last light, photo by Chris Koort

landing at last light, photo by Chris Koort

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

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

Stay tuned – things are happening!

Box Ticking and Paper Shuffling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catching Up. And, What’s Next?

“Are You Still Listening?” – Stephen Stills, 1968

Wow – it has been a long time since I have updated here.  This is partly due to the fact that I finished up what I had set out to do with the Recreational Pilot Certificate so I didn’t really have any lessons to talk about.  Part of it has been the limbo I’ve been in while trying to get started on my next set of goals.  And largely due to laziness.

So – catching up.. .when last I posted, I had received my Cross Country and Passenger endorsements, and had taken a few “post-graduate” lessons just to stay current and cement it all together.  Although I haven’t had much to post, I haven’t been idle…

As far as flying goes, I have been exercising both my passenger and cross-country endorsements as regularly as possible.  I have to say that so far flying with a passenger has been the most-rewarding part of aviation – sharing the sensations and joy of a scenic tour up and down the coast from above.  The first brave soul to put their life into my hands, back in January, was none other than my wife, Rebecca.  I am pretty sure that I was more nervous than she was – for the first time, “Pilot In Command” really meant something!  There were implications and responsibilities outside my personal safety or ticking a box for a certification.  It really does hit in a profound way in that moment that everything that happens between startup and shutdown is dependent upon me to recall my training, make critical decisions, and know what to do (and act) in case of anything going wrong.  And equally, of course I wanted her to have a good time and experience some of the enjoyment that I do every time I take to the wing.

I thought it went very well, outward signs of nervousness notwithstanding – it was a beautiful, calm day at good old Wollongong airport and we spent an hour or so going up and down the coast from the lighthouse at Kiama to the Sea Cliff Bridge to the north.  A P&O cruise ship was docked just off the coast at Kiama so we circled overhead to have a look and get a picture.  It was pretty smooth overall and she got some great pictures with her Nikon D90.  Things got a little bit bumpy as the morning heated up, so we turned around and headed back to the field.  Along the way we saw an aerobatic plane in the distance going through its gyrations.  Looked like someone was having fun!

I let it down to 1000′ feet over Lake Illawarra and joined the downwind leg for runway 34.  On short final, I said something like “I guess we’ll see if the lessons were worth the money…”, which I think got a laugh, I don’t remember.  But wind was low and concentration was high and I managed the smoothest landing ever – just a nice rolling transition from air to ground with no bumps or bouncing.  Taxied back and logged my first PAX flight in the logbook!

The beautiful Sea Cliff Bridge:

Image

On another memorable occasion, I had the privilege of taking up my friend and co-worker, Salim with much the same result, though not as nervous anymore of course.  He also took some great pictures which I hope to see some day.  We had a nice lunch afterwards – not sure if this counts as a $100 burger since it was after the flight at the same aerodrome… Pilots:  what do you think??

Image

I’ve confirmed a couple of things for myself since I’ve been taking passengers:

  1. Things go very smoothly if you explain everything.  No matter how basic or even irrelevant something is, it may be the first time a non-pilot passenger has encountered it.  They need to know it is normal.  That includes explaining what is about to happen – no one likes surprises.
  2. Keep focused on making it a “joy” flight, not a “thrill” flight.  Again remember that for many, just being suspended in a chair in the sky is a thrill – no need to add sensory overload and possible panic to the equation – they can book an aerobatic experience for that!

So over time, I have come up with a personal checklist, on top of the requirements, for how to conduct a passenger flight.  Pilots (or passengers) – please fee free to comment if you know of anything I can add that helps make it a good experience!

  • offer to involve in preflight inspection
  • clean all windows!
  • demonstrate how to enter, exit, operate doors
  • demonstrate seatbelts
  • demonstrate sick bag
  • brief on emergency procedure.  Reassure very unlikely, and in any case airplane glides very well.
  • briefly explain flight controls, explain they must not touch
  • give a job:  sighting other aircraft, looking for landmarks, etc.
  • explain headsets, talking vs. transmitting
  • turn on GPS logging, so they can see their trip afterwards
  • explain events as they occur, what to expect:
  • o   taxiing
  • o   takeoff/climbing
  • o   turning
  • o   other aircraft, radio broadcasts
  • o   what the instruments mean
  • o   leveling off, power changes
  • o   leaving or entering circuit
  • o   power adjustments on base (engine lower, flaps or other noises)
  • o   final/landing
  • Offer to take a picture

So what else??

Well, let’s see… I have decided that I am going to pursue my PPL, which is the next logical step.  This will remove many of the restrictions I currently have as a recreational pilot, and open up pathways for future options including the ability to fly larger, faster, more sophisticated aeroplanes, entry through controlled airspace (so I can fly solo from Bankstown instead of driving to Wollongong) or even pursue my CPL.  Plus of course the Angel Flights.

As you can imagine, the process of tangling with the bureaucracy and tail chasing that goes with trying to satisfy the often mysterious and esoteric requirements of CASA has been fraught with peril and frustrations bordering on the ridiculous.  When I started writing this today, I really only meant for it to be a quick catchup – but geez I can crap on when it comes to aviation!  So all that will have to wait for the next installation.

For now, I’ll sign off and start thinking about how to articulate just what the process has been like in trying to parley my recreational certification into a PPL – of course in the hopes that others can benefit from the traps I have run into along the way.

Now that we are caught up, the blog officially resumes, now existing to chronicle this part of the journey.  Hoping for smooth skies, but seatbelt fastened all the same….

Precautionary Search and Landing (PSL) Practice

So, say you’re flying along enjoying the scenery when you notice that its a little later than you thought and you are not sure you can make it home before dark.  Or the headwinds are stronger than forecast and you’re concerned about fuel.  Perhaps some weather moved in and stands between you and your destination.  Maybe your passenger is spewing from her mouth and nose and you’re quickly running out of sick bags.

All good reasons to immediately consider a Precautionary Search and Landing.  This is a standard practice wherein a pilot decides for whatever reason that it would be safest to be on the ground at a particular moment.  Good airmanship dictates that you recognise a deteriorating situation and take decisive steps to neutralise it BEFORE it becomes an emergency.  Almost always, such a situation is best thought out on the ground, without the stress of flying.

So for my first “post-graduate” lesson, I went with Brett to brush up on this technique.  We flew out to The Oaks airstrip, SW of Camden NSW for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, The Oaks is a fairly short grass strip which somewhat resembles a field or paddock.  Secondly, if we were to just practice over a real field or paddock, we could not descend below 500 feet above the ground.  Since The Oaks is an airfield, I can descend as low as I need, which would help in building the proper mental picture as well as the skills needed to fly very low and slow.

Why is this important?  Well, without writing out the full PSL syllabus here, essentially what you are doing is identifying a potential landing spot, then doing a couple/few circuits at low speed and varying heights to assess whether you will be able to land safely (and be able to take off again).

We reached The Oaks in about 20 minutes and flew overhead at about 1500 feet above ground level to get an idea of the wind direction, then descended to circuit height of 1000 feet for the first pass.  We’ve set up in slow-flight configuration – about 2600 RPM with flaps extended for about 70 knots airspeed.

If you are considering landing in a field, you need these flyovers to help determine the wind strength/direction, presence of obstacles, slope, surface conditions, overshoots/undershoots, adequate length, and ideally somewhere close to civilisation – even a farmhouse.

So far so good on our first pass.  Having decided its worth a second look, we then repeat the process at 500 feet above the ground then go back up to circuit height.  For the third run, we descend to about 50 feet off the deck and slightly to the right of the strip (field).  This is so I can have a very close look at the ground to make sure the surface isn’t full of potholes or large rocks or tree stumps.  We’re off to the right because I sit on the left side.  The aircraft is trimmed perfectly for this speed and attitude and I am maintaining a constant cycle of scanning my heading, height, and the field.

At the end of the field,  I give it full power to get back up to circuit height.  Normally here you’d just do a normal circuit and land.  We didn’t actually land, so as to avoid a landing charge 🙂

We headed straight back to Bankstown, and I am very pleased with the way it went, and feeling more confident with yet another tool in my box.

Here is a GPS track of the day’s work:

Image

I basically followed some landmarks and a river to get out there, then when done made a straight line back to Bankstown.

Here is a link to the video, which is on the school’s Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10153638031060394&set=vb.177259915393&type=2&theater

As the old saying goes, sometimes it is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground.  Stay safe everyone!

Passenger Endorsement Done

It has been a busy couple of months, but I am happy to say I have finished what I set out to do.  A couple of weekends ago, I went down to see Bruce down at Fly Illawara at the Wollongong aerodrome (YWOL) to finish up the last little bit towards my Passenger endorsement on my Pilot certificate.  

After the Cross Country solo, I only needed 2 more hours to fulfill the requirement, and what better way to do it than to rock up and hire a plane for a couple of hours and buzz up and down the coastline between Wollongong and Kiama, NSW!!

There isn’t really alot to report, not the most exciting flying I’ve experienced (but let’s face it – its all exciting… you’re sitting IN A CHAIR IN THE SKY!!!); but I flew off the 2 hours I needed, snapped a few pictures, then went up with Bruce for a quick check ride.

We talked on the ground for a while as well, covering the ins and outs of flying with a passenger, and the extra care that is required.  At the end of it all, he signed my logbook and sent in the paperwork, and now it’s official!

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I’m very keen to start taking passengers for joy rides or sight seeing.   Right now I am limited to the CTAF aerodromes, but I should be able to convert to a PPL fairly painlessly, which will allow larger and faster aircraft, higher altitudes, and controlled airspace.  But for now I am content with the single engine 2 seater and the country airstrips.

Here’s a bit of scenery:

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Now – who’s first???

What A Big Day Looks Like

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

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

8.1 hours of flying time, 3 being solo.

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

121 litres of AVGAS, or about 32 US Gallons

Max altitude:  7500 ft

Min altitude: 500 ft

And a quick sketch of the route:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…