Thursday, April 16, 2009

First competition, third place!

Two weeks ago I took part in my first flying competition ever. I didn't really know what to expect and to my great surprise I came out third. Out of seven.

Now, before you start thinking my flying skills reached Red Bull Air Race level overnight, you need to know this was a competition in name only, and is really primarily a nice social event organised by the club. But still, ending up third place left a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

The idea was for each competitor to fly two circuits: a normal circuit with a simulated engine failure and the subsequent glide approach, and a blind circuit with the whole instrument panel covered. There was an instructor in the right seat to give marks according to what was happening in the cockpit, and a judge near the runway threshold to assess the quality of the landings.

The tower wanted us to be finished with the competition by 8:30AM, so this was a very early Sunday morning start, even with daylight saving time now off for the next six months. So we're back to UTC+10, just like in Queensland. We had two Warriors doing circuits for the competition, white HQR and orange BVM below.

After an uneventful short-field take-off I started recording in my mind the airplane attitude and the picture through the window. I thought this would surely come in handy in the blind circuit, and it did.

Craig called for engine out on very late downwind and I made a glide approach, cutting the base to final corner a bit. As usual with this kind of exercise I ended up too high on final, and even with full flaps I had to coerce the airplane into landing in the box that gave me maximum points for landing precision.

This was not a very good landing, and the points that I earned on precision I lost in style. In hindsight, I should have pushed the nose down on final in order to increase airspeed beyond best glide speed, which would have dissipated more energy. Will do better next time.

Touch and go and as we pass 400 feet Craig covers all instruments. I couldn't even see the position of the throttle lever. As you can see on the photo above, taken when contestant Kevin was getting ready, a heavy binder and a regular teacloth are all that's needed to simulate a complete failure of all instruments.

The blind circuit was a lot of fun and a real confidence-builder. Climb at full throttle was easy, with the top of the dashboard just a notch over the horizon for best climb speed. I knew when to turn crosswind and downwind by reference to the ground, assuming the wind was the same as for the previous circuit.

Mid-downwind Craig lifted the teacloth to look at the altimeter and annouced I was too high. I descended a little and was close enough to 1000ft for getting full marks on this one. I made the base turn approaching the railway tracks, lowered flaps and adjusted the throttle for obtaining approximately 500 ft when turning final over the racetrack at Deverall Park. Craig later said I was 600ft when turning final. The approach was faster than planned, partly because I wanted to make sure we wouldn't come too close to stall speed. We floated quite a lot, eventually touched down and taxied back to the clubhouse.

A cooked barbecue breakfast was waiting for us. I couldn't stay around for long because I had enrolled in a full-day GPS theory course on the same day. Half an hour later I briefly left the classroom to hear the tallied results of the competition. I was very happy to arrive third, and walked back into the classroom with a certificate in hand.

The blind circuit in particular was a great experience, and I wish I had been exposed to it in my PPL curriculum. It's fantastic for building confidence, should I ever loose the ASI or the altimeter in the circuit. I wasn't spooked at all. One gets a feel for the right airspeed through the controls and for the right altitude by looking out through the window. Highly recommended, but make sure there's an instructor in the right seat!