Sunday, August 31, 2008

The tiger, the chicken and the Russian lady

I try to always have my camera with me when I come near an airport. Good blogging material may pop out of nowhere and be gone in an instant. A few weeks ago I was at Redcliffe aerodrome for my Nav7 briefing and my photographic obsession was rewarded with a visiting Yak-18T VH-KGU parked right in front of the Redcliffe Aero Club clubhouse.

No-one could be seen near or inside the aircraft, except for the guard tiger crouched over the right-hand seat. I walked around, took pictures and wondered at many of the peculiar features of this airplane.

The Yak-18 is a full-aerobatic trainer designed right after WWII ended. Remarkably, it is still in production today, although the later models are quite different from the earlier ones. The distinctive shape of the canopy of earlier two-seat tandem models make them easily distinguishable from the later Yak-18T and its four seats in a side-by-side arrangement. This model was designed as a trainer for Aeroflot pilots and production began in 1972.

It is painted in the so-called Yellow 44 Lilya Litvak livery, after the Yak-1B airplane flown by Russian WWII hero Lilya Litvak, one of the first female fighter pilots. The legend (or, perhaps more accurately, Soviet propaganda) has it that she had painted a white lilly on the fuselage of her airplane, which earned her the nickname "The White Rose of Stalingrad", probably from male fighter pilots who couldn't tell the difference between a rose and a lilly. According to IMDB, there's a movie currently in production about Lilya Litvak's life, to be released in 2010.

On the left wing is a half-meter long heated pitot tube, with an unusual pitot tube cover in the shape of a happy-looking rubber chicken.

The engine is the M-14P, a very reliable 9-cylinder radial engine that delivers 360 HP. It uses 45 litres of fuel an hour for a cruise speed of about 130 knots and a maximum take-off weight of 1503 kg. This is quite remarkable when compared to a more modern GA aircraft from the other side of the now defunct iron curtain, such as the Cessna 172SP. The cruise speed and fuel consumption are comparable, but the Yak-18T can carry nearly 350 kg more, is fully aerobatic, and costs a lot less to buy! Granted, the Yak-18T goes through half a litre of oil an hour, but that's part of the charm of radial engines.

And just like with most radial engines, the cylinder that ends up head-down after the engine is stopped has a tendency to leak oil. Which I think is the reason for the plastic Coke bottle at the end of the pipe. I'm not quite sure the Soviet Union officials would have approved of the use of such a blatant symbol of American Imperialism on one of their iconic flying machines though.

Looking up information on, I came across this page with a lot of practical information about the M-14P, including a discussion of the hydraulic lock problem, i.e. what happens when you start a radial engine that has one cylinder with its combustion chamber full of oil. Hint: oil is not compressible, and Fred Abramson in the article above describes what happens as "very dramatic, with the airplane practically jumping off the ground". Not good.

The propeller is variable pitch. VH-KGU seems to have the original 2-blade propeller. Modifications are possible to fit a three-blade propeller for increased performance.

VH-KGU also appears near the top of this Web page, both in its current condition but also as how it once was in the Soviet Union before making its way to Australia.

On the leading edge of the left wing, not too far from the chicken-guarded pitot tube, is a stall warning vane. When the angle of attack increases above a certain value, the vane is pushed upwards and triggers an audible warning in the cockpit.

There's an air intake right under the engine cowling and another one near the root of the right wing. Note that the size of the doors only covers the landing gear leg. As a consequence, the wheels are still visible when retracted.

The air intake on the right wing provides cooling for the oil radiator situated inside the intake. The white lilly can be seen on the door, as well as the name of Lylia V Litvak in Cyrillic characters.

Last curiosity: a pin located on the upper side of each wing right above the landing gear acts as a visual indicator that the landing gear is down and locked. It took me a while to find this one out until I saw it mentioned in a flight-test article on the Yak-18T written by Peter March in the December 2001 issue of the UK Pilot magazine.

So that's all I had to say about the Yak-18T. Great plane to walk around, great plane to blog about. A lot of what I know now about the Yak-18T I wouldn't have bothered looking up if it wasn't for writing this blog entry, so once again blogging is really a two-way street.

One thing that still bothers me though is that from the figures I've come across a Yak-18T could be cheaper to own and operate than, say a Cessna 182, for a comparable cruise speed and better payload. Either there's something I'm missing or there is actually an attractive and exotic alternative to the ubiquitous Cessnas and Pipers.

Not that I am in a position to even think about owning a plane. But it's nice to know that good engineering withstands the test of time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nav6: Solo tick at last

Remember how a few things went well but how I also busted controlled airspace on Nav 6 last May? As a logical consequence, it was decided that I would do the controlled airspace part of this navigation exercise again.

I got around to doing this so-called supp nav (for supplementary navigation exercise) only in the first half of August. The three-month delay can be explained by a long overseas trip I took in June and later by a combination of sick instructors, bad weather, and a very busy booking sheet at the Redcliffe Aero Club.

Let me kill any sense of suspense right from the onset by saying that yes, I received a tick to move on to Nav7, which is a solo nav in controlled airspace. Congratulations to me then, even though the flight was far from perfect.

The plan was to go from Redcliffe to Gold Coast through the controlled airspace around Brisbane airport then to the GAAP airport of Archerfield via the Laravale VOR before heading to Toowoomba and eventually going back home.

The airplane VH-SPP and the instructor were booked for the afternoon only, so I had the whole morning to prepare for the flight. At 1PM Mal rocked up and I was ready to go, with maps drawn, flight planned, weather and NOTAM checked, airplane pre-flighted and refueled.

We took off on 25, climbed to 1500ft and requested our airways clearance through Class C airspace. The approach frequency was very busy with incoming jet traffic into Brisbane. While waiting I orbited overhead the aerodrome at 1500ft, which was not a very smart thing to do, as I realised later during the debrief.

I couldn't go higher since 1500ft is the lower limit of the overlying controlled airspace. But 1500ft also happens to be the altitude at which other airplanes inbound to Redcliffe from the north overfly the field on their way to the dead side before joining the circuit.

To make matters worse, I was listening to Brisbane Approach and not to the CTAF frequency since I was waiting for my clearance, and given the congestion on the frequency I didn't fancy having to ask the controller to say again. This means that I wouldn't even have known if there had been a flight inbound. Not good.

In hindsight, orbiting near Castlereagh Point at 1500ft would have been a lot better since my track wouldn't have infringed on the circuit. I'm sure this was covered at some point in a briefing in the past, but it somewhat managed to fall between the cracks. One more item on the list of things to do better next time.

We eventually got cleared for Hornibrook Viaduct, Brisbane Control Tower, Manly Boat Harbour and Jacobs Well VOR at 1500ft, with a clearance limit at the tower. This is the standard clearance for transiting this airspace and is actually published in the Flight Plan Requirements section of the ERSA.

Obviously, since this was a dual nav and I was being assessed, even I could realise that taking pictures in-flight, even for blogging purpose, was not a smart idea. So I didn't. I was lucky enough though to fly twice to Sydney on business the week after, which allowed me to take a few pictures to illustrate this post. On both flights the Qantas airliner flew via the Laravale VOR, which took me back to the same neck of the woods where this Nav took place.

I took the picture below from a Qantas Boeing 767 soon after take-off from Brisbane. You can see the control tower right under the wing of the aeroplane. Redcliffe is the peninsula right below the horizon and to the right. In-between Redcliffe and the airport is Bramble Bay. The Hornibrook Viaduct is on the far side of the bay, somewhat up from the Domestic Terminal.

Back to the nav in the Cessna 172. Approaching Brisbane control tower, the controller asked us to track for the threshold of runway 19 where two Virgin jets were waiting for take-off. We continued on to Manly Boat Harbor, after what we left controlled airspace and tracked to Gold Coast via the Jacobs Well VOR at 1500ft. Manly Boat Harbour is visible near the center of the picture below. The winglet belongs to a Qantas Boeing 737-800.

This time I made sure that I Tuned-Identified-Tested all the navaids, which was an issue the last time when I confused the Gold Coast VOR with the Jacobs Well VOR. Speaking of Jacobs Well, I was at the West End Market recently when the name Jacobs Well jumped up at me from the label of an egg box.

I so wanted to do a good job of using the navaids that I spent an awful lot of time with my head in the cockpit. Not good. I should of course have spent more time looking outside the window and use my planned heading and time intervals at the primary navigation aid, and only use the navaids as a secondary navigation aid. Especially on that day, the visibility was excellent, which made dead reckoning a piece of cake, especially when you're aiming for Q1, the world's tallest residential tower.

I made a call when 10 nautical miles to the north of Southport aerodrome to let everyone in the area know that I would be tracking nearly overhead the aerodrome at 1500ft then I switched back to the area frequency. In hindsight, I should have treated the Southport CTAF with a lot more caution, remaining on the frequency and making more calls while there was a risk that I would interfere with traffic coming in or out of Southport, or even doing circuits there. One more item for the do-better-next-time list.

Approaching Q1 at 1500ft I requested a clearance from Gold Coast tower. A controller came back saying I was actually talking to Gold Coast Ground, not Gold Coast Tower, and would I please remain outside of Class C airspace while requesting my clearance on the right frequency this time. Oops...

What happened was that I had read (what I thought was) the tower frequency as 121.8 in the TAC chart for Brisbane, while the correct frequency was 118.7. To be honest, I find the line in the box that reads "TWR 121.8/118.7" very misleading. Of course, I wouldn't have had this problem if I had read it out of the ERSA or even from the VTC chart. Or if I had listened to the frequency long enough to hear the callsign of the ATS unit. I guess one lives to learn...

Once on the right frequency we received a clearance for making a visual approach to Runway 32 with a right base turn. My base leg was a bit too close to the runway and when I turned final the preceding aircraft was just touching down. It was a small Cessna so no problem with wake turbulence, but for a moment I thought I would have to go around. I was actually cleared to land and did an acceptable landing, much better than the time when I just fell onto the runway at the same airport.

We taxied to the GA parking, taxied back to the holding point for Runway 32 soon after and took off. Our airways clearance was to track for the Laravale VOR at 4500ft. We had originally asked for 6500ft, but I guess they wanted to get us out of their airspace as quickly as possible.

A couple of minutes after take-off the tower controller for Gold Coast asked us to turn our transponder on. The first thought that crossed my mind was that for some reason the transponder had failed. Blaming instruments is so much easier. Then I looked at the mode switch and realised it was still on "SBY" and not on "ALT". Oops. I should have turned it on before calling ready at the holding point, which I didn't do obviously. Instrument OK, pilot defective.

I couldn't pick up the Laravale VOR because of the mountain range between us and the station. And I forgot that I could use the corresponding outbound radial of the Gold Coast VOR. So I flew the heading and once over the ranges I picked up the Laravale VOR and I wasn't too much off track. Approaching the station Mal put me under the hood for a dozen minutes after which I had to perform a lost procedure, i.e. finding where I was.

This went fine, and after that Mal asked me to go to the township of Beaudesert by flying low level and following the road. This was as simple as following the highway, being mindful of not overflying house at less than 1000ft. Soon after Beaudesert we saw the Park Ridge water tower. Mal asked me to request a clearance to overfly Archerfield on our way back to Redcliffe.

On the picture below, taken from the same 767 mentioned earlier, this would mean flying from left to right. Archerfield aerodrome is near the center of the picture, with runway 28R/10L clearly visible as a dark strip oriented top left/bottom right. To the back is the Brisbane river. To the left is the Centenary Bridge, a reporting point when coming in from the north. Near the right side of the picture is the Indooroopilly Bridge, a tracking point when flying out of Archerfield to the north.

So we tracked for overhead the runway at 1500ft. A Metroliner was taking off on runway 28R as we overflew the runway at 1500ft. It was also tracking north, but at 1000ft and was much much faster than us.

A few minutes later we landed on 25 at Redcliffe, taxied back to the hangar and I cleaned up the airplane and canceled SARTIME. We had a half-hour debrief during which Mal greatly enriched my list of things to do better in the future. The objective of this nav were met though, so Mal gave me the tick to move on to Nav7. I'm really looking forward to it. This will be my second solo nav, and given how much of a blast the first one was, I can hardly wait to take the airplane somewhere else than Redcliffe all on my own.

And I have a little handy GPS tracking device that will add a new dimension to such blog posts in the future. More on that next time.