Saturday, February 28, 2009

New job, new house, new flying club

Near the end of last year we moved to Sydney, about 1000km down the Pacific Highway from Brisbane. New place, new job, and very little time to think about flying. I didn’t even use the flight simulator on the home computer a single time in the last three months. The fact that our new house is only fifteen minutes walk to the beach and that this is summer didn’t help either.

With the new year though the flying bug came back biting. It was time to find a new club to hire aircraft from, and hopefully also get a bit more flying training under my belt. A retractable undercarriage endorsement and a Night VFR rating are definitely on my list for 2009. We'll see how it all works out. The new job thankfully comes with a lot less overseas trips than the old one, so I won't spent a quarter of the year either away or jetlagged at home.

For someone who lives in the inner suburbs of Sydney, there’s unfortunately only one option: Bankstown airport. Sydney’s main airport is, well, the busiest in the country by far so you can forget about flying training or GA flying there. Camden sounds great but is too far for me and Hoxton Park just shut down. Which leaves us with Bankstown, about 45 minutes drive from where I live, and 35 minutes from work. Not too bad considering it used to take me about an hour to get to Redcliffe from my house in Brisbane.

Before leaving Brisbane I asked around for recommendations. Two instructors at my former aero club pointed me to the Schofields Flying Club. I also performed an exhaustive search of all the flying training organisations in Bankstown and came to the same conclusion: Schofields was the one for me.

It is the only organisation I found that seems to be a genuine flying club, as opposed to being a flying school with some social activities thrown in from time to time. I heard that Camden as a much better atmosphere than Bankstown, but it's just too far for me to drop in and have a chat or meet up with people, so that social aspect would be lost on me anyway.

So I went to Schofields on a Saturday afternoon, looked around the brand new clubhouse, sat inside a couple of their aircrafts, talked to a few people, and before I knew it I had applied for membership and booked a date with an instructor called Olivia for the next week-end for the obligatory club checkride. I chose a Piper Archer III, VH-SFR. I sat in the aircraft for a while to become familiar with where everything was and how everything looked and felt. I think I'm going to like it.

Schofields is mostly a Piper joint. Seven Warrior, four Archer, two Arrow and two Seminole. They also have a Duchess, a couple of Cessna 152 and even a 150 VH-JGJ, but that's about it for the non-Piper side of the world. I think I will miss flying the 172SP, but I'm also very much looking forward to learning to fly new types of airplanes, and forming my own opinion in the age-old debate of low wings vs high wings.

I think I'll need to hire VH-JGJ, the Cessna 150, and go for a local flight one day, just for fun. In the words of a former instructor of mine, going back to a 152 after flying larger airplanes "feels like driving a go-kart". At the other end of the range is this beautiful Piper Seminole below. It's pretty much a twin-engined version of the Piper Arrow. The club has both an Arrow III and Arrow IV. The Arrow IV, just like the Seminole, features a T-Tail. The T-tail does not require a separate endorsement, it just comes with the checkride for the type of aircraft.

I left the club and drove into Bankstown airport proper to have a look around. I noticed the Concept Aviation shop and walked in just to have a look. I bought the VTC chart for the Sydney area and a belated Christmas present to myself in the form of an Icon IC-R5 multi-band radio receiver. More on that later once I've finished exploring all the features.

In conclusion, my head is back in the clouds and for the foreseeable future my feet will be resting on rudder pedals very similar to the ones above.

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!