Friday, March 13, 2009

Piper Archer III Checkride

Second lesson in the Piper Archer III. Circuits on the menu today. When I say menu I should say wish list, because circuits at Bankstown are more of a privilege than a due as I learned near the end of the previous flight. As for any airport, there is an upper limit on the number of aircraft that can fit in the circuit for obvious reasons of separation between aircraft. In addition, Bankstown is currently suffering from a shortage of Air Traffic Controllers, which forced the tower manager to limit circuits during certain hours. Of course local flying training organisations are less than pleased but don't have any other choice than grin and bear it.

I pre-flighted the airplane, on my own this time. My instructor Olivia arrived with two brightly colored cushions, one for her back and the second one perpendicular to the first one. I started up, taxied for the run-up bay of 11R, which means a very very long taxi all the way around the airport, performed my pre-take-off checks and called ready at the holding point. The tower cleared us for circuits with an expedited take-off, and I left the transponder on standby since we'd stay in the circuit.

We did a number of circuits, about 6 or 7 in total. Two flapless. One go-around. One engine failure after take-off. Olivia pointed at a number of local landmarks I can use for different legs of the circuit. Point the nose at the big green building on downwind. Turn base before the racecourse. Watch out for those tall trees on final. There were only two other airplanes in the circuit, which was good.

This was actually my first time doing circuits at a controlled aerodrome, since all my training took place in a CTAF at Redcliffe. I had been in the circuit at Archerfield a few times, but only with the purpose of landing there. Nothing too weird about it though. We call downwind on downwind, and get cleared touch-and-go usually on final. Maintaining sufficient separation with the aircraft in front is not only the right thing to do for safety, it is also the smart thing to do if you don't want to be told to go around on short final because the aircraft in front is still on the runway.

The downwind BUMFHH checklist works for the Piper the same way it works for the Cessna, except for the (F)uel item. On the Cessna, because fuel is fed to the engine by gravity, (F) consists only in checking that the fuel selector is on Both. In the Archer, this also means turning the electric fuel pump and landing lights on. The fuel pump is turned off with the after-take-off checklist passing 400ft. Carby heat is a small lever on the right-hand side of the throttle quadrant, turned on before descending on late downwind and off on short final to prepare for a potential go-around. The throttle quadrant unfortunately blocks the view, so I had to lean over to the right to double-check if off was up or down.

Where I learned to fly, we didn't turn the landing lights on and off with each touch-and-go. I think the reason it's done this way at Bankstown is to make our airplane easily visible to the controller in the tower. It's not a Cessna vs Piper thing. In a CTAF such as Redcliffe, there's no controller, and landing lights would not help other aircrafts see us better, that's the role of the rotating beacon, nav lights and strobes. Or maybe I was taught this way to avoid having to change expensive lightbulbs.

As can be seen on the picture above, the mag switches are guarded with a metal bar so that one cannot turn the magnetos off while trying to turn landing lights off. Of course the switch being turned off should always be positively identified, but this is an extra layer of safety.

Speaking about fuel earlier, safety is also built into the fuel selector: it can be simply rotated from one tank to the other, but rotating it all the way to "off" required depressing a little button on the selector.

All my landings were good, but all floated way too much. I need to take a few knots off my short final speed in the future. The ground effect provides long floats, but also makes most landings nice and soft, with ample time for the stall horn to go off.

On our last circuit Olivia asked for a full-stop on 11L to shorten taxi back to the clubhouse, which was denied. We landed on 11R, vacated the runway and waited for clearance to cross 11C and 11L. At Bankstown you do not ask for clearance to cross runways, you just wait for it in order to limit congestion on the frequency.

As we taxi back Olivia asks if I think I'm ready to go solo in that airplane. I say yes. She says she thinks so too. We park on the grass in front of the clubhouse and shut down. I meet Olivia inside a few minutes later and she stamps and signs my logbook with the mention "competent to fly solo by day in PA-28B". Awesome.

Looking at the stamp again later, I realise Olivia's ARN number is greater than mine, which means she started learning to fly after me. I started flying training two years ago, almost to the day, and after two years have a PPL and a CSU endorsement. In less time, Olivia progressed from zero to Grade 2 instructor. Not bad. I wonder how far I would have got without a full-time job. Probably not very far since I would have run out of money fairly soon!

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