Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Passenger number two

Last Sunday I took my friend Marc for a flight around the training area. We followed a similar flight plan as for my first passenger Xuan a week before. Which makes Marc my second passenger.

Unfortunately I had booked BUQ, a two-seater Cessna 152, so I could only take one passenger with me and Marc’s two young boys had to stay behind. They came to the aerodrome nevertheless and I gave them a tour of the plane. If you can call that a tour given the amount of space inside a 152. The highlight of the day was definitely an aerobatics demonstration given by Bob Taits in the afternoon to celebrate the opening of his new facilities at Redcliffe Aerodrome.

The picture above captures pretty well the moment Christian discovered the existence of the wing strut on the 152 the hard way, while Jonathan is all smiles with his head above the wing and in the clouds. Looking inside the plane was a lot of fun too since one can explain and demonstrate the effects of controls by simply turning and pushing the yoke and looking at the control surfaces move though the window.

The weather that day was very ordinary: low dark clouds with a base between 2000 and 3000ft and a strong south-easterly wind. I left with Marc and we taxied for runway 07 and waited for MSJ, the antiquated C172N from the Redcliffe Aero Club, to finish their pre take-off checks before moving to the holding point.

We maintained 1000ft all the way to Bribie Island, crossed the island at its southern end and made a left-hand turn to the North near Bald Point.

Once we were tracking parallel to the beach, we descended to 500ft. I can't remember seeing anyone in the water on that day, but there sure were quite a few 4WD on the beach. You can tell it's low tide when the beach is wide enough for one car to overtake the other.

A few minutes later we realised that a solid wall of rain had formed right ahead of us and was moving towards us, perpendicular to our proposed route. We made a turn to the west earlier than planned to avoid the rain and remain within VMC.

Soon after the sun returned and Marc took a beautiful picture of Pumicestone Channel. In the foreground is Roys Orchards, the northernmost limit of the training area in area D629C.

We then crossed the Bruce Highway, overflew Glass House Mountains township and turned North in order to check out Australia Zoo:

Then we headed to the Glass House Mountains: Mount Coochin in the foregound, then Mt Beerwah on the right and Mt Coonowrin on the left.

Time for the obligatory souvenir picture before heading back to Redcliffe...

...where we joined crosswind for 07...

... and landed with a crosswind. Actually, if you look at the yellow windsock on the left before the runway threshold you can see that, when the picture was taken, i.e. just after turning final, the wind was blowing straight down the runway. Just one minute later, it was definitely at an angle!

The landing was not too bad, at least the nose was aligned with the runway centerline and the wings were banked into the wind.

In summary, good flying, good company, two young persons introduced to aviation, great aerobatics display by Bob Taits and 1.2 hour of command time for the logbook.

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.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

First Passenger and Steamed Dumplings

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.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Lenticular cloud over Obergurgl

About a year ago we spent one week on the ski slopes of the tiny Austrian village of Obergurgl. Perfect weather all week long, great food, great company and great skiing despite bad ski shoes. But that's a different story.

One day at lunchtime, as we were washing down sausages and fries with Almdudler, I noticed a lenticular cloud across the valley. This very special type of cloud is formed when the wind blows perpendicular to a mountain range and creates a system of standing waves.

There’s a lot more pictures of lenticular clouds over at the Cloud Appreciation Society, exactly 282 of them. This other Web site has some absolutely stunning pictures of lenticular clouds. It's just freakish how some of them just look like flying saucers.

Speaking of weird clouds, the most recent issue of Australian Flying discusses the Morning Glory weather phenomenon, and how riding this very special cloud is the Holy Grail of Australian gliders. Makes me want to learn gliding actually. The one and only time I flew in a glider was with a friend of my father when I was 15. That was an amazing experience. Hmmm, here's an idea for when the PPL is over....