Thank You For Flying Air Mellow

Yesterday I was able to put another core aviation goal behind me – I finally got to take my sister up for her first flight in a light plane! She’s always been a bit more reserved when it comes to risk-taking, so this was a huge step for her. I am lucky I was able to get her to agree to go up with me…

Last year we gave her a Red Balloon gift card, that’s the outfit that you can buy all kinds of adventure experiences through – she could have gone hang gliding, or hot air ballooning, or a day at the track in a V8… or even a spa day or that kinda thing… so I was really impressed when she rang up the folks in Camden and booked a joy flight in their Chipmunk warbird. She had a great time, but the aerobatics was all a bit much for her and she ended up sick and a little terrified of the whole thing. So I had my work cut out for me.

Anyway, I pulled a fast one and for her birthday this year I promised her an hour scenic flight with me as PIC. How could she refuse?? I just had to make sure I picked the right day and that I was extra on top of things, because I knew there’d probably only be this one chance to get it right and make it good for her.

We scheduled it for the Saturday the 7th, and after a week of really crappy wet weather, imagine my joy when I woke up at 545 am and the weather was just gorgeous and looked like it was going to be great all day! She came by and we drove down to YWOL, with the traditional greasy Macca’s stop on the way to get my blood sugar appropriately satisfied.

Anyway, flying-wise it was pretty much the same as every other trip up and down the coast near YWOL – for me – but it is always special to me to experience it for the first time through someone else’s eyes. Takeoff was perfect, tiny bit¬†lumpy as we came up to the level of the escarpments, but I warned her about that, and all the turns were nice and slow and gentle, a little bit bumpy here n there, but over all very nice and just couldn’t have asked for a better, more picturesque day. I was told by a mate in the marine rescue that the whales are out in force now, but we didn’t see any.

She did a good job with her task as “flight photographer” and “plane spotter” – kept her busy and engaged. She spotted the Stearman before I did even! ūüôā

Landing was nice and smooth though a bit off centreline. Taxied back to parking, and by this time she is just so full of joy and pride, and I think she felt like she conquered her fears. She said now she will not hesitate to go back up, and her cage is “unrattled” haha. Another item off my bucket list!!

Coupla piccies of the day…

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windy day…

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cruisin…

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even the industrial filth has a certain beauty from the air…

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 Рit 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:

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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??

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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 Рno 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) Рplease 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 Рbut 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….

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???

Another Milestone!

Yesterday was another gorgeous day with not a cloud in the sky and minimal winds – great day to drive down to Wollongong and get some more solo flying in!

As of last trip, my total solo hours were 2.7. ¬†The rules state that you must have a dual session with an instructor after each 3 consecutive hours. ¬†2.7 is close enough, so the first thing was to hop in for a couple of circuits with Bruce. ¬†This is a good thing, as you can tend to forget things if you haven’t flown for a couple of weeks. ¬†I think it also helps build your confidence back up before you take to the skies alone again.

So, we did 2 circuits, one just normal and the last one Bruce simulated an engine failure right after take-off.  Since there was plenty of runway remaining, the drill is just to pop the nose down to the glide attitude and land the plane on what is left of the runway, then vacate and taxi back to start over.  Once that was done and he was satisfied, I went back up.

I needed about 2.3 hours to get to the required 5, but this is alot to do in one go. So I broke it up into chunks Рabout 3/4 of an hour just doing circuits, trying to nail the landings and other elements of a good circuit.  Once I see brain fade coming in, I land and come in for a break.

After a half hour or so, I had rested and processed sufficiently and decided to go back up and hit the gorgeous training area.  This is the coastal stretch between Port Kembla and Kiama, and is a visual overload for anyone who loves the ocean and coastal scenery in general.

From my last experience, I knew that I needed to really concentrate on just keeping it Straight and Level (lesson one haha) and more practice on my left turns. ¬†Since I knew going in that these needed work, I was able to anticipate issues before they occurred, and kept myself at 2500 feet (ok +/- a little bit if I decided to just sight-see for a minute). ¬†But – buzzing up and down 20 or so miles of even the most beautiful rugged coastline can get a bit monotonous after awhile and again I decided to pull it in before I started just tuning it out – I am not doing this just to “tick boxes” and go through the motions… I have my day job for that hahah ūüėČ

In fact, one of the driving reasons for heading back to the field was that I was getting very low on fuel. ¬†Although I practice engine failures whenever possible, and I am always thinking “where can I land if it goes pear-shaped?” I don’t want to experience a real one – especially if its preventable!

So, brought her down, rested and drank some more water, fueled up and headed back out. ¬†At this time I only needed another .3 hours and, time being money, decided to just do a few circuits to knock it out – besides, the brain was really overloaded this time so best to stick with the familiar…

And that’s it for this weekend, another milestone complete – 5 hours as Pilot In Command towards my Certificate. ¬†This week I’ll contact Brett and we’ll go over What’s Next – in preparation for (hopefully) my Flight Test!

Plenty to go after this (arguably a lifetime) but feeling pretty good about my progress. ¬†There is a real chance I might have my certificate with passenger and cross country ratings by the end of the year! ¬†After that, I will want to parley this into a PPL rating to increase my options of what I can fly and where, but for now this feels an awful lot like “Living The Dream”

First Area Solo!

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Well this is a month for firsts, doesn’t seem long ago I posted about my first solo and on Saturday April 13, I did my first Area Solo! First did an hour of circuits just to warm up since it had been a couple weeks, then after a break, I finally cut the cord and called a crosswind departure into the training area for another glorious hour of toodling around between Kembla and Kiama (from Wollongong).

Bruce mentioned before I went up after the break that the air was nice and smooth at around 3000 feet, so I headed there.  I think it changed a little during that time and was actually a bit choppy, so I found a nice little pocket around 2750 feet and just tried to keep it steady.

Here are some pictures, I snapped a few quick ones with my phone since it was nice and smooth for the most part:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/k0adhlct4wiqvxp/qw_XokeSgk#/

A couple of things I noticed after all this time in the circuits, it is bloody hard to hold straight and level for a long time!! In the circuit, I guess you only have to hold it for 2-3 minutes, but boy can it wander when you are just buzzing around!

Also – after 1.5 years of mostly right-hand circuits, my left turns need some work! Skid ball was all the way to the right, I guess I was carrying too much tension when giving it left rudder into the turn since I hadn’t had to think about those for over a year!

Anyway, a good solid morning of challenging myself and lots to think about between now and next weekend! Only a couple hours left solo for the required 5, exciting stuff! In fact will have to do a dual first come to think of it…

How was everyone else’s day??

First Solo!!!

“Remember, thou art mortal… Remember, thou art mortal…”

It is said that the Generals and Consuls of Rome, having returned from battle victorious, in their Triumphal Procession through the city, would actually have someone employed to whisper this phrase over and over in their ears. ¬†One can only imagine how overwhelming to the senses such an event would have been, essentially focused on one individual and his accomplishments. ¬†A prudent reminder that regardless of how invincible one might feel, you’re only ever a stab in the dark away from disaster. ¬†I believe the Emperors after Gaius Julius Caesar largely abandoned this practice…

Before I continue with a metaphor that probably won’t withstand a lot of scrutiny, let me just say that on 9:30am on Saturday, March 30th, I probably could have used someone like that. ¬†This was the day, after many months of anticipation and occasional setback, that I first Took To The Wing by myself – my First Solo Flight!

The previous few attempts over the past month or so were hampered by weather, and my almost diabolical ability to arrive for my lesson at the exact moment the winds/turbulence/thermals would reach a point beyond what would be prudent for a First Solo flight.  No sense freaking me out worse than necessary!

So this time, in conjunction with the 4-day Easter weekend and a much-needed getaway with Rebecca, I rocked up at 8am for the first flight of the day. ¬†This turned out to be just the ticket, and after doing the daily inspection and preflight, Bruce and I went up for a few circuits around just to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything important.

(As a side note – my CFI Brett put me in touch with Bruce down at Fly Illawara at Wollongong Regional Airport so that I could go down there and try to rack up some solo hours without the extra time/expense of a Navs lesson from Bankstown)

3 quick circuits and nothing major bent and we called a Full Stop. ¬†Bruce said “I’m outta here” and I dropped him off on the taxiway before taxiing back to enter runway 34 and make personal history.

Right away, something unrehearsed happened, as there was a huge ambulance helicopter sitting at the junction of several taxiways, and right in my path. ¬† He didn’t look like going anywhere, so I just made a wide berth and got around him and continued on across runway 26/08.

Like the long walk out the lobby after a job interview, I slowly trundled my way to the threshold of 34, made my radio call, and acted as Pilot In Command for the first time.

Equal parts exhilarating and terrifying, and accompanied by my non-stop critical inner dialogue, this was certainly every bit as adrenaline-pumping as I had imagined it might be.  Even now as I type this, much of it is a blur.

I’ll try not to crap on too much, so that non-aviation interested readers won’t tune out (any more than normal) but the most noticeable thing was the aircraft performance was transformed! ¬†I had a reasonably light load of fuel and with the instructor gone, this thing just shot out of the blocks like a Stripe-Assed Ape! ¬†I am pretty sure I was close to 1000′ before I reached the end of the runway!

Anyway, I just did circuits, which are an established traffic pattern around the airport, so nothing really new or exciting there.  But with the enhanced performance everything happened much quicker.  I think that my training in Bankstown put me in good stead for some of the busier parts of the workload such as the radio calls etc.  The final approach slope was a bit higher and steeper as well, and the float down the runway longer until I worked out how to account for the lighter weight there as well.

So I did this for a little over 3/4 hour until I got to the point where I recognised the brain fade kicking in and went ahead and called for a full stop so I could come back down to earth and let this sink in for awhile. ¬†Bruce was nice enough to welcome me back to terra firma with a radio call congratulating me on my first solo ūüôā

I would also like to add my thanks here to Bruce Robbins at Fly Illawara, for working with me essentially as an unknown temporary “transfer” from another school, and spending the time necessary to make sure I was at the standard and got me familiar with the Wollongong airport. ¬†I won’t post his number or info here, but please send me a note if you would like to contact Bruce.

So there you have it, .8 hours in the logbook as Pilot in Command, 4.2 to go as a minimum for my certificate, and an experience I can never repeat – First Solo!

Astute readers will note that I played it safe and avoided the Ides of March ūüėČ