Friday, January 2, 2009

PPL Test Part 1: from Redcliffe to Maroochydore

So the big day of the final PPL test finally came to pass, 582 days after my first flying lesson. And it was a... success! I’m happy to report that I am now the proud holder of an Australian Private Pilot Licence for fixed-wing aeroplanes.

Sorry by the way for the delay in posting the news. I passed the test more than two months ago but have since been very busy with starting a new job and moving to a new city, which left no time for blogging, let alone flying.

A few days before the test, Rob, the CASA Testing Officer who would be conducting both the ground and air-based parts of the test, called to give me the itinerary I would fly on the day. It all sounded reasonably straightforward with three legs: from Redcliffe to Maroochydore, then to Gayndah and finally back to Redcliffe via the Maleny VOR navaid. The only bit of controlled airspace was around Maroochydore airport. Of course there would be diversions, lost procedures, simulated engine failure and system failures thrown in.

As usual, everything that could be planned beforehand was planned beforehand. Twice this time. I even spent a fair amount of time reading the WAC and VTC charts and making mental notes of ground features that I could use to get un-lost when Rob would get me lost. I double-checked all the figures, prepared the flight notification form and annotated my WAC chart with frequencies and half-way points. I read about the three topics on which I gave wrong answers on the theory test: hypoxia, effect of power on stall speed and oil system. And I showed up on time at 8AM.

I got the weather forecast and all the relevant NOTAMs. Nothing too flash. Acceptable in the morning, then getting increasingly worse in the afternoon with a TEMPO for thunderstorms at Brisbane airport, just around the time when we would be coming back to Redcliffe. I computed headings and fuel plan. Because of the probability of thunderstoms at Redcliffe on the way back I had to plan extra fuel for 60 minutes holding , which brought within a few litres of the legal limit, but on the right side of it.

I discussed the plan with Rob and he proposed to swap the in-flight and ground-based parts of the test so that we would do the flying first thing while the weather was still OK, then come back and go through the oral examination. I was happy with that, the last thing I wanted was to postpone the test, knowing it would probably mean a delay of a couple of months at least.

I pre-flighted and refuelled VH-SPP, a Cessna 172SP, then came back into the clubhouse for a pre-flight briefing. Rob explained what would happen on the flight. I would not use the Maroochydore VOR out of Maroochydore because that leg was about testing my dead reckoning navigation skills. At Gaydah I would do a short-field full-stop landing. After take-off there I’ll have a simulated engine failure. On the way to Maleny I will have to do a bit of instrument flying, then perform a diversion and a simulated forced landing. On the way back to Redcliffe there’ll be some low-level flying following the roads, and the landing at Redcliffe will be a flapless. I was surprised by how detailed the briefing was. I didn’t expect him to tell me when and where things would happen. It came as a bonus in a way.

We took off on 07 and tracked to Bribie Island via Beachmere in order to remain within gliding distance of the land. I re-captured my track at Godwin Beach and turned onto a direct heading to Moffat Head, the VFR reporting point for Maroochydore. I was nearly finished with the turn when I realised this was not going to work.

There was a forest fire on Bribie Island right where I wanted to go. The wind coming from the East was blowing the smoke plume to the west, so I dog-legged my way to the east of the fire. Rob sounded pleased with my decision. With the smoke now behind me, I didn’t bother trying to re-capture my track and tracked direct for Moffat Head, which was clearly visible from where I was.

I gave a call to the Caloundra CTAF, took down the ATIS for Maroochydore and made my inbound call to Maroochy Tower. I got cleared direct Maroochydore via Point Cartwright at 1000ft. Tower asked if I wouldn’t prefer runway 12 instead of 18 because of the smaller crosswind component. I decided for runway 18 because I felt quite confident in my ability to demonstrate a good crosswind landing, and I had landed on 18 twice in the last months, while my last time landing on 12 was more than six months ago, and not very good by any standards.

We were the only aircraft on the frequency, which probably explains why we got cleared to land as soon as I joined downwind. I turned base a bit too early, which got me high and fast for the turn to final since the easterly wind really shortened the base leg. I pulled power off, lowered full flaps and performed a decent landing despite a long float. A powered approach and less flaps would have been better though.

Once on the ground Rob asked if I would be OK with departing straight away or if I wanted a break. Clearly he wanted to get back as soon as possible to beat the bad weather. I thought about it for a half-second and opted for a five-minute break on the ground. I wanted the time to prepare for the next leg, re-fold my maps, have a quick bite at a cereal bar and something to drink. No-one can fail you for taking a break. But flying a leg with underoptimal cockpit organisation and low blood sugar level can lead to mistakes that you can be failed on.

So we re-started, taxied back to the holding point of runway 18, did the run-ups, and I called ready requesting an intersection departure. We got cleared to land with a right-hand turn and a climb to 2500ft. I made my departure report and reported again leaving controlled airspace. “Frequency change approved” came back and I switched to a listening watch on the center frequency for the long leg to Gayndah.


finny said...

Congrats on the PPL! I passed my test 3 days before christmas. Good present haha

PlasticPilot said...

Congratulations Julien... for this wonderful post, and Happy New Year 2009.

I see that Oz examiners are quite like the Swiss ones. I also got my route two days before, and was told that one of the legs was "all mine" and the other one was for all the manoeuvers and emergencies. I think that this helps the examinee to relax a bit and to fly better.

I'm sure you're having fun with your new privileges and wait for the second part of your report

Marek said...

Once again congratulations Julien! And all the best in 2009!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Julien!
I'm looking forward to the rest of the story.

Now that you've moved cities for your job, do you intend to continue on to CPL?

Julien said...

@Anonymous: I could continue on to CPL in Sydney but I'm having second thoughts about it to be honest.

I would love to get to CPL level, but doing a CPL is competing for time and money with other aviation-related goals. CPL means 50 hours of training at least in a complex aircraft. I could use those 50 hours just to fly around Australia with family and friend, discover new places, have fun and build up experience. And maybe come back to CPL later. It's not like I want to get a job flying anytime soon, my new non-flying job keeps me busy and challenged enough for the time being :-)

I will do a post soon about aviation-related goals for 2009. I definitely want to get a retractable undercarriage endorsement and hopefully a Night VFR rating. And fly to one airshow. And keep blogging of course.

P. said...

Hi Julien!

I was surfing on the internet, and stumbled upon your blog. Somehow, I finally found out that you were the guy who left a comment on my blog (Plume-aux-Plumes, by the way, the new one is there: ) a few years ago, when I was still working in Australia, explaining, your were training in Redcliffe for your PPL. I'm glad to see that you've succeeded. Congratulations!

For my part, after a few months in Australia, and a few others in the US, I finally came back in France, where I've passed the ENAC's acceptance tests, and am now studying on the ATPL, waiting for flying jets!

Don't forget to add tailwheel endorsment to your aviation-related goals for 2009...

Congratulations, once again... Keep up the good work, the best is yet to come!


Julien said...

Hi P.!

What a surprise! Thanks for the comment and the new address for your blog. Now I can catch up on what you've been up to. Quite a big leap forward from flying Cessnas around Melbourne's complex airspace, isn't it?

Congratulations on getting into ENAC and best of luck with your training! Your recent gliding experience may become a plus point as an ATPL holder now after yesterday's ditching of the US Airways A320 in the Hudson...

I'm living in Sydney now and haven't resumed flying because of the new job, the new house, etc... Hopefully it will happen sometime next month. Tailwheel endorsement would be awesome... definitely something you need to practice for real and not in a simulator.

Let me know if you happen to come back to Australia, which may happen soon if you start flying the big jets. Speaking of that, I read yesterday that Air Austral, a small French airline based in La Reunion island will buy two A380s and fly them between New Caledonia, Australia, La Réunion and France. Sounds like a decent route for a professional pilot, what do you think?