Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New airplane, new airport

One week after joining I was back at the Schofields Flying Club clubhouse for a dual flight with the objective of familiarising myself with both the Piper Archer III and Bankstown airport.

Prior to the lesson I had read the ERSA section about Bankstown, spent some time with the Visual Pilot Guide for the Sydney Basin and read through a POH for the Archer III that I found somewhere on the Web.

According to Airservices Australia, Bankstown was the busiest airport in Australia for 2008. With 362,206 movements, it is just ahead of Jandakot near Perth and Moorabbin near Melbourne. A movement is either a take-off or landing, i.e. one circuit counts as two movements. The tower being open from 7AM till 10PM, that's more than one movement per minute on average using three parallel 11/29 runways. Typically, the south runway (11R/29L) is used for circuits, the north runway (11L/29R) for arrivals and departures, and the center runway for arrivals and departures of larger aircraft since, with 1416 meters, it is the longest one of the three.

Olivia my instructor was there and we had a quick chat about my flying experience and what I was here for. I filled in the usual paperwork and headed to the airplane. She joined me soon after and we pre-flighted the airplane together since this was my first time doing the walk around a Piper.

Coming from Cessnas, a few things were unusual for me. Having to crawl under the wing to check flap and aileron hinges was one. The combined pitot tube with both a static and dynamic pressure ports was another one. The stall warning indicator is an electrically-activated vane rather than a suction-activated whistle. The control surface for pitch is an all-moving tailplane rather than an elevator on a fixed horizontal tail. All the rest is pretty much the same really. Not having to climb on top of the wing to check fuel is definitely a plus. Contrary to other aircraft of the Piper Cherokee family, the engine cowling on the Archer III cannot be opened to look inside.

Inside, I struggled a bit to understand how the parking brake worked but got the hang of it eventually. I went through the checklist and started the engine. One cool feature of the Archer III, compared to earlier versions, is the row of overhead switches for anything engine-related and lights. It's a bit gimmicky, but it gives the cockpit a bit of an airliner feel. I guess that's what the marketing people at Piper were going for, forcing the electrical engineers to re-route a bunch of cables from the front panel to the roof.

I wrote down the ATIS and started taxiing, with the airport diagram on my lap. Bankstown being very busy, radio calls are limited to the strict minimum. We don't even check in with the grounds controller before taxiing as was the rule at Archerfield. We taxied to the run-up bay for 11L, went through the pre take-off checks, called ready at the holding point for a downwind departure and were cleared for a rolling take-off with a request from the tower to "expedite take-off". Which we did. Full throttle, check RPM, check engine needles in the green, check airspeed alive and maintain the nose wheel on the centerline.

The Archer accelerates really well thanks to the 180 HP engine. I takes quite a bit of back pressure to rotate though. I had the trim on neutral, next time I'll try to have it a little bit down to see if it helps. I kept climbing throughout a left turn onto downwind then headed left of Prospect Reservoir, staying clear of inbound traffic. We headed west for the training area and I climbed to 3500ft under the CTA steps for Sydney airport. Olivia pointed at features on the ground that match the boundaries of section of airspace. When tracking north-west the second set of railway tracks we cross means we're out of the control zone. Further out the tadpole-shaped pond with a little island in the middle means we're within the training area and beyond the 2500ft step.

The training area doesn't have a radio frequency as in Redcliffe, and the practice is to not request traffic from Radar as is the rule at Archerfield, so it's entirely see and avoid.

I ran the HASELL checklist then we did stalls, in the clean and landing configuration. Nothing too spectacular here. The nose does not drop much, which makes it even difficult to realise the stall happened. There's no wing drop on stall, even with full flaps down. Olivia commented that I should push the nose down a lot more to un-stall the wings. Speaking of flaps, they are actuated using a Johnson bar on the floor, which looks very similar to the parking brake handle on cars. The trim wheel and trim indicator are right below the flap handle on the photo.

Between each series of stalls we did a clearing turn. Which proved very necessary, since on each turn I ended up spotting other aircrafts in the area. Keep your eyes out. The Archer turns so much more nicely than a Cessna, and the view is a lot nicer since the inside wing is not obstructing it as is the case with high-wing aircraft.

Then Olivia asked for a forced landing. I pulled the power back and went through the usual drill. Capture and trim for best glide speed. Carby heat on, mixture full rich, fuel pump on and change tanks. Pick a field. Plan the approach. There was a field to the north, right in-between a timbered area and a lake. I made a large turn to lose altitude, sideslipped a bit and turned onto final. Of course I was too high, so I extended full flaps. I didn't forget my passenger brief but I did forget the FMOST restart checklist. I guess that's better than forgetting to fly the airplane, so I got away with it. Olivia asked me to describe exactly which field I was aiming for. She confirmed she thought we would make it, and we went around and back to Bankstown via Prospect Reservoir.

I took the ATIS and called inbound at Prospect with a request for three circuits on arrival. The controller asked me to report three mile final. We aimed for the racetrack and reported three mile final crossing the rail tracks. Our request for circuits was unfortunately denied and we were cleared to land on 11L. The landing was great by my standards. Because of the low wings the ground effect is much more pronounced in the Archer than on the 172, and we floated for what seems like a very very long time. The stall horn went off for a couple of seconds before we touched down.

I exited the runway and before Olivia could stop me I made a call "Sierra Foxtrot Romeo clear runway 11L" which the tower acknowledged, with a hint of surprise in their voice. Olivia explained we do not need to do that here since the tower can see we've vacated the runway, and that would unnecessarily clutter the frequency. We taxied back to the club, I shut down and tied the aircraft down. Olivia said I flew very well and that I would need one more lesson for circuits. I booked a lesson for the next week-end.

Hopefully the weather will hold and I'll end up the day with a new stamp in my logbook that welcomes me to the Piper, and Bankstown, families.

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