Sunday, February 8, 2009

PPL Test Part 3: from Gayndah back to Redcliffe

This is the third and final post on my PPL checkride last November, previous posts can be found here and here. Promised, I will go back soon to posting photos.

Short field take-off at Gayndah, and soon after the examiner pulls the throttle back to idle for a simulated EFATO (Engine Failure After Take-Off). It is generally considered poor practice to shut the engine down for simulating an engine failure, so running on idle is the next best thing. According to someone who has been through a real EFATO, there is a lot more drag from the windmilling propeller, less responsive controls and strong pilot denial when it's for real.

You have to love aviation for always coming up with five-letter acronyms. EFATO is just like a FLWOP (Forced Landing WithOut Power), the difference being you have a lot less time to react due to the proximity of the ground and the lower airspeed on climbout than in cruise. As an added bonus, if you stress the middle syllable, EFATO almost sounds like an insult in Italian.

The procedure drilled into me throughout the whole PPL training comes out easily: carby heat on, mixture full rich, fuel on (except there's no carby heat on a fuel-injected engine), trim for best glide speed, select a field within 30 degrees ahead of us and glide in that direction. I point to the examiner the paddock where I would go, he's happy with the choice and thinks we would make it. He asks for a go around. Full throttle, right rudder and away we climb.

In the corner of my eye I can see the Big Orange. Believe it or not, there are actually four Big Oranges in Australia, all in different states. The one in Gayndah houses the tourist information office. Not to be confused with the Big Pineapple, which features on the Brisbane VTC chart just west of Maroochydore airport. If you haven't been to Australia you can't understand the thing with Big Things. So far I've been to the Big Banana, Big Lobster and the Big Rocking Horse. Hopefully one day I'll visit Tamworth and finally pay homage to The Big Golden Guitar.

From Gayndah I establish myself on track for the Maleny VOR and turn the nose a couple of degrees right of our south-easterly track in order to offset the southerly wind. The examiner announces that upon reaching a certain point on the track, I will have to perform a diversion. That point is when we cross the Widebay Highway, 45 nautical miles from Gayndah, which gives me some time to get prepared. And the diversion will be to Kilcoy, 50 nautical miles after the diversion. The examiner is kind enough to turn the autopilot on for me while I struggle with re-folding the map and measuring distances and headings with my protactor and ruler.

I make a call to Center to tell them that at 46 nautical miles on the 307 radial of the Maleny VOR I will divert to Kilcoy. The controller pulls out my flight plan and seems confused as to whether I'm on the leg from Maroochydore to Gayndah or Gayndah back to Redcliffe. We clear the confusion and our flight plan is confirmed as amended. A few minutes later I turn onto the new heading. Now comes the time for instrument flying,

The examiner has me put on the hood and I start about 20 minutes of instrument flying, maintaining an altitude and a heading. I know the heading is wrong, since the moment when one puts the hood on is usually when the examiner takes advantage of the temporary blindness of the person in the left seat to mess with the directional gyro and get them lost. Fair enough. I fly whatever heading I have to fly and when told come out from under the hood. The idea now is to find out where I am.

I proceed methodically. Write down the time. Slow the airplane down to 80 knots, lower a stage of flaps, choose an anchor point and orbit around it. Given the time spent under the hood and how much the DG was off the magnetic compass, I draw a circle around where I should, in all likelihood, be. To the West I can see a lake with a dam and I am very relieved to find a lake with a dam inside the circle on the map. That's Borumba Reservoir. The rest matches, i.e. roads and nearby town, so I declare us unlost and the examiner is happy.

We track south to Kilcoy where I expect another engine failure, this time in cruise. I get it after we clear the ranges coming from the north, and luckily enough I am within gliding range of the Kilcoy grass runway. I plan an approach in such a way as to fly two legs of the circuit, taking into account the strong westerly wind. Yes, the wind has changed direction, a sure sign we should hurry up back home. I am lined up on final with the grass strip, and the examiner agrees I would make it.

Around we go for a bit of low-level following the D'Aguilar Highway in the direction of the coast. What follows is a standard approach to Recliffe, staying under the CTA steps. Radio call to Caboolture then landing at Redcliffe. Still high and fast, damn, third time in one day... I taxi back, park the aircraft between the hangars. The examiner goes back in and I clean up the aircraft. So far so good. I feel very very tired, this was a 3.8 hour flight, i.e. 3 hours and 48 minutes. I call CENSAR and cancel my SARTIME.

We managed to beat the weather and perform all the planned test flight. But the oral theoretical exam is till waiting. I take a little break and join the examiner in a briefing room. He looks at the Knowledge Deficiency Report from the theoretical exam and asks me questions about hypoxia, stall speed and the oil system as I expected. No problem here. He makes me double-check in the CAO that the maximum altitude for flights without supplemental oxygen is 10,000ft. Then he asks me a trick question about minimum runway width at unlicensed aerodromes. It takes me a while to find the right answer but I make it. He smiles, tell me I passed and shakes my hand. There's quite a bit of paperwork left, but that's of course quite a pleasure.

I would love to say that I was overjoyed at getting the PPL, but that would be a lie. What I felt instead was immense relief, and also a sense of emptiness. Something was clearly over. I had been waiting for that moment for the last 18 months, and the journey had been just as nice as the destination. Now, what next?

I understood for the first time why some people quit flying after obtaining their PPL. Going from zero to being able to fly an airplane safely to any destination with passengers is a big personal achievement in itself. My theory is that many people think they learn flying because they enjoy flying in itself, while in fact what attracts them is eventually knowing that they are capable of flying an aircraft, which is an entirely different thing.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. And it is truly a massive personal achievement, no doubt. The closest thing I could compare it to is getting a PhD. You work hard on doing research for years, you get results, publications, write up a dissertation, the big day comes, and you finally get the degree. Only to realise this was only the first step in a lifelong pursuit of knowledge. Or the lifelong pursuit of tenure and research grants, but that's a different topic. Some people keep on doing research, others are just happy to have done it, get a regular, better paying job and maybe add "Dr" in front of their name on their credit card.

So that concludes the PPL chapter of this blog. Learning to fly was a very big part of my life for 18 months but not all my life. In the meantime I also managed to propose to the woman of my dreams, get married, obtain Permanent Residency in Australia, change jobs and change town. It's been a busy but very fulfilling time.

Thanks for reading that far. More adventures to come in the next months with learning to fly Pipers in Sydney, getting a retractable endorsement and possibly a night rating next Winter. And hopefully there'll be plenty of trips to remote landing strips or fly-ins to report on. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

Chad said...

Wow, that sounds like an instense flight test! Here in Canada the we only have about a half hour worth of oral testing, and then the flying portion is around an hour and a half.