Last Saturday I passed the GFPT test, nearly one year after starting my flying training at the Redcliffe Aero Club. I won't talk about the test now, this deserves a full story or even two. What it means in practical terms though is that I can now take passengers with me on flights within the training area of the Redcliffe aerodrome.
The training area corresponds to the boundary of the so-called Danger Area D629, minus the part of area D629C north of Roy’s Orchards. Vertically, it extends from sea level to 3500ft AMSL or to the bottom of the overlying Class C airspace, whichever is lower. Put into the local context, this means Redcliffe, Deception Bay, Beachmere, Caboolture, Bribie Island and the Glass House Mountains National Park.
It may seem a odd or even a little perverse to put a training area in the middle of a danger area. That’s only until you realize that the training area is the very reason why the whole area is designated as dangerous.
In all fairness, there are other factors that make the area dangerous. The Glass House Mountains are one. These are a half-dozen volcanic peak towers in the middle of an otherwise flat area of forests and fields. With Mt Beerwah at 1824ft and three other peaks above 1000ft, you do not want to be flying VFR with a low cloud base in there.
The other danger factor are the three local non-towered aerodromes: Redcliffe and Caboolture, just 9 nautical miles apart, and Caloundra a few miles over the northern boundary of the training area. That’s a lot of light airplanes, charters, ultralights, gliders and helicopters flying around, especially on week-ends. All three aerodromes share the same VHF frequency, which makes a lot of sense from a safety point of view since one can form a picture of what's happening in the whole training area. On the other hand, the amount of flying activity can really clog the airwaves and make it difficult to place radio calls at times. It is for this reason that the Redclife Aero Club decided recently that the downwind call can be considered optional in such situations.
A long time ago I had promised my friend Xuan that he would be my first passenger whenever I would be allowed to take passengers. I mentioned the idea to him earlier in the week and he said yes without hesitation. Xuan picked me up at home this morning and we started the day with a delicious Chinese brunch at his place. I think I could have meat dumplings and green tea for breakfast everyday.
We drove to Redcliffe together with Xuan’s wife Rachel. Unfortunately I had booked a Cessna 152 so I could only take one passenger, and Rachel had to wait for us at the club for a little over one hour while we went flying. Before the flight I showed the airplane to them both, explained how the controls worked and what all the instruments and the pre-flight checks were about.
Then I gave Xuan the passenger brief, with special attention paid to the fastening of the safety harness, which is a bit awkward in IVW. This airplane is a 152 Aerobat model and is fitted with a proper aerobatics harness rather than the more common car-style safety belt. I made sure to mention to him that the rudder pedals were not foot rests and that if he saw another airplane nearby I expected him to let me know.
There was a strong, slightly gusty south-easterly crosswind, and a cloud base lower than forecasted. The visibility was very good though. We took off on 07, tracked for Beachmere, climbed to 2000 ft and followed the shoreline. As we were abeam the Bribie Island bridge I looked in the distance under our left wing and could see dark clouds and showers of rain over the Glass House Mountains, precisely where our plan said we would be in 15 minutes. I decided to continue anyway since we always had the option of turning back to Redcliffe.
As we were over the Woorim Golf Course at the southern end of Bribie Island we turned north and followed the beach, climbing to 3000ft. Talking to Cara back at the club later I realised I could have made this section of the flight a lot more interesting by flying over the beach at 500ft rather than staying up high. Something to keep in mind for next time.
Approaching the top end of Bribie Island we turned left and tracked west towards the Glass House Mountains township. At that point I could see low clouds and rain right ahead of us so I started a descent and levelled off at 2000ft as we crossed the Bruce Highway. We made a right turn over the township and tracked north, keeping the Steve Irwin Way on our right.
Soon we were abeam Beerwah and had the Conondale Range to our left. We managed to find Australia Zoo, did a half-orbit around it and headed for Mt Beerwah. Finding Australia Zoo was actually very easy thanks to the adjacent parking lot and the U-shaped Crocoseum stadium. Unfortunately Xuan had left his digital camera at home and all the pictures for this post were taken with his camera phone. But I suspect Xuan did that on purpose in order to get another flying opportunity in the near future :-)
We flew in-between Mt Beerwah and Mt Coonowrin then made a large right-hand turn around Mt Beerwah. This was all the more impressive since we were flying at 2000ft around a 1824ft peak. We encountered a few turbulences in the lee of the peak. Knowing we had a south-easterly wind I could have anticipated that and flown higher or further away but I didn’t. No big drama, but one more item on the list of things to improve.
We crossed the National Park in the direction of The Twins, did a right-hand orbit there and looked down at the surrounding pineapple fields. Completing the orbit put us on the way back home. I made a call to the Caboolture CTAF to let everyone know we were over Beerburrum tracking south-east to Donnybrook at 2500ft. At Donnybrook we turned south towards Beachmere and descended to 1500ft. I pointed the Hazelton airstrip and the satellite dishes to Xuan then made our inbound call for Redcliffe. Only two aircrafts were in the circuit: YYM, a Robinson R22 helicopter based at Redcliffe, and BUQ, the other Cessna 152 from the club.
As we overflew the field the windsock was still pointing at 07 with a strong crosswind from the right. Below me I could see the meat-bombing Chieftain at the holding point. We descended over the dead side and joined the circuit crosswind. Before turning base I extended 10 degrees of flaps and slowed the aircraft down to 70 knots, about 10 knots slower than I would usually do. I did that because turning base with such a crosswind means turning into a headwind, which automatically increases the airspeed, and could take us outside of the white arc.
We encountered a few bumps and strong windshear at about 200ft on final and I had to add a lot of power to keep the airspeed at about 65 knots. As we passed the threshold I removed the crab and lowered the right wing. The angle of bank I set was probably too much because we started drifting to the right. A bit less aileron, a bit more rudder to keep straight and we made a decent touch-down on the right-hand side of the centerline, right wheel first, then left wheel, and nose wheel soon after.
We parked right in front of the clubhouse. As I was dipping the tanks I realised I had less that 50 liters left should have stopped at the fuel bowser on the way back. I was about to start again to go refuel when I noticed the Chieftain just pulling in at the bowser. No refuelling this time, the next person flying IVW will have to do it. Here goes one aviation Karma point.
I went back inside, paid 1.0 hour for the flight (private hire of club aircraft is on tacho at RAC, i.e. it does not include taxi time) and added 1.1 hour of Pilot-In-Command time to my logbook (counted on VDO, i.e. from start to shutdown of the engine). Good deal, I feel like I got 0.1 hour for free!
We left the club and stopped in Redcliffe on the way back to Brisbane and had a stroll on the beach. The wind was a lot stronger there than at the aerodrome. A few parachute jumpers landed on the beach in front of us. They had most likely jumped out of the Chieftain we saw earlier.
A coffee later we headed back to Brisbane under the guidance of George W. Bush’s voice coming out of Xuan’s GPS. We had a hard time choosing between him, the Queen of England and Kim Cattrall. We hanged out at Xuan’s place for a while and then had a beautiful homemade Chinese dinner with a number of different dishes from different parts of China. I only wish all future passengers would feed me in a similar way.
All in all I am quite happy with my first passenger-carrying experience. I was a bit nervous about it in the days before since it was Xuan's first flight in a light aircraft and also because of the forecasted crosswind. Even if it was only a local flight, I had drawn the proposed itinerary properly on the map, and even rehearsed the whole thing once flying a C172SP in the flight simulator on the PC at home.
I really enjoyed the experience and I can't wait to take passengers again. In that respect flying is like holidaying: it's a lot more fun visiting new places with other people rather than on your own. I booked a C152 again for next week-end, but the weather forescast says showers and clouds. Let's see how it all works out and who may be sitting in the right seat and subsequently feeding me next week-end.