Wednesday, March 19, 2008

GFPT Pre-Test

My blogging got a bit out of synch recently: the order of the posts no longer reflects the progression of my training. My last story was about my first flight with a passenger, which shows to those familiar with the Australian PPL Syllabus that I have passed the General Flying Progress Test (GFPT). However, I have not yet posted anything about the test itself. And there’s a lot to say, so let’s start with the pre-test.

I do not have any photos from the pre-test day, so I’ll illustrate this post with photos of Super Decathlon aircrafts I took at Redcliffe last week-end.

The GFPT is about demonstrating that one can fly an airplane safely. The holder of the GFPT has the right to take passengers but is restricted to flights within the local training area, and must take off and land at the base aerodrome. The GFPT does not cover cross-country navigation, which is the object of the Private Pilot Licence (PPL). For most student pilots, the GFPT is not an end in itself, but rather a milestone on the way to the PPL.

The GFPT test comes in two parts. There’s a pre-test day with an instructor, and the real test conducted by a CASA Testing Officer, which in the case of the Redcliffe Aero Club is Rob Beaumont, our CFI. Incidentally, there’s something I noticed recently reading bloggers from the US: on the other side of the Pacific the acronym CFI refers to a Certificated Flight Instructor, while in Australia it is a Chief Flying Instructor, i.e. the person instructors in a flying school report to. Quite an important distinction for anyone with a flying training career.

In order to make sure student pilots do not show up with gapping holes in their theoretical knowledge, the club asks students to prepare written answers to a list of about forty questions that will be reviewed on the day of the pre-test. This is in addition to having already passed the radio test, the pre-solo test, the pre-area solo test and the so-called Basic Aeronautical Knowledge test. If you don't like tests, stay away from aviation!

It took me ten pages in small font to answer the questionnaire properly. The questions cover regulations, aircraft systems, aerodynamics, aircraft performance, weight and balance calculations, emergency procedures and human performance. Preparing answers is not hard, it just takes a lot of time: a couple of evenings at home, plus an hour at the club since some of the questions require looking up information in the aircraft’s Flight Manual, of which I do not have a copy at home.

The instructor for the pre-test was Mal, and he was happy with my answers. He only picked on a few, very relevant, points. Then Mal briefed me on what was going to happen in the test and we went out in VH-BUQ. At Beachmere we started climbing to 3000ft to do stalls and steep turns. It was a day with broken low clouds, and all throughout this section of the flight we had to find a gap in the clouds and follow it in order to keep the ground in sight. The steep turns were just fine, it’s with stalls that I had problems.

Stalls with power off in the clean configuration were just fine. My problem was with countering the wing drop with rudder and not ailerons in the approach configuration. Approach configuration means some power and flaps down, as if we were coming in to land. Even if I knew I had to keep the ailerons neutral, I would always turn the yoke at some point during the stall recovery. This is ineffective at best, and dangerous at worst since it increases the angle of attack on the downgoing wing, thereby worsening the stall.

It goes something like this: left wing goes down, Julien turns the yoke to the right (bad!), left aileron goes down, angle of incidence of left wing near aileron increases, angle of attack for left wing is increased, left wing ends up stalled even further. The reverse happens for the right wing: the upgoing aileron reduces the angle of attack and helps move away from the stalling angle of attack.

We therefore end up with a situation where one wing remains stalled while the other wing may come unstalled. Nice recipe for a spin! We practiced this a few times and I eventually got it right, but I still have to think very hard "ailerons neutral, ailerons neutral" when demonstrating stalls. I wonder whether it will ever become natural. Maybe if I take an aerobatics course. Or maybe this is a clear indication I should stay away from any aerobatics :-)

We also practiced unusual attitude recovery. I would close my eyes and Mal would place the airplane in an unusual attitude, i.e. significantly nose up or down and banked. I then open my eyes, find the windscreen either full of sky or full of ground, and restore straight and level flight without letting the speed decay below the stalling speed or increase into the yellow arc.

After that I spent about 20 minutes under the hood for some instrument flying, then I took the hood off for a forced landing without power. This was not the best ever but we both agreed we would have made the field.

We headed back to Redcliffe for some more work in the circuit. Normal circuit, flapless landing, glide approach, precautionary search followed by a short field landing. All done with a strong crosswind. In total we flew for 1.8 hour. The unusual length of the session and the variety of exercises really got me exhausted.

Mal said that my flying was good given the difficult meteorological conditions, and that Rob would probably not take me out in similar conditions for the actual test anyway. What happened two weeks later proved him wrong. But that's a story for another day.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. I'm not far from doing my GFPT and it's good to know what I'm in for. It does actually sound exhausting and sounds like you didn't have the best weather for it!!

Julien said...

Thanks for the comment! It is indeed exhausting, but also very rewarding. Best of luck for the test!

Naeem Siddiqui said...

Hi im also about to do my gfpt flight test.
Im thinking of doing the ppl exam right after gfpt test so I don't have to do too much more study.
What do you think ?


Julien said...

Hi Naeem. The problem I see with your plan is that a lot of the PPL theory only starts to make sense when you experience it in flight, especially navigation, meteorology, airspace, radio, etc. Taking the PPL test too early makes it a lot harder because the textbook knowledge is not grounded in personal experience. The other reason to take your PPL test later is that you really want to get a high score on the PPL test, otherwise the examiner on the day of the PPL test will grill you on every question you got wrong in the PPL exam. So all in all I would recommend you take your PPL test near the end of the PPL phase of flight training.