Monday, April 28, 2008

How we escaped an in-flight engine failure by just two weeks

OK, what happened may not be as dramatic as the title of this post would like you to believe. I'll let you be the judge of that. Hey, after all, that's what comments are for :-) The story is as follows.

My better half and myself finally made it to Keswick Island during the Easter week-end. This was a follow-up holiday from last year's Christmas holidays which had been cut short due to exceptionally bad weather.

We flew up to Mackay in a Qantas Dash-8, then flew over to Keswick Island in a single-engine Piper Cherokee 6 chartered through Australasian Jet. This is a short 15-minute flight, with beautiful views of the Mackay coast and nearby islands. The approach to the landing strip is rather interesting, right in-between Keswick and St Bees Island.

We spent three beautiful days at the Keswick Island Guest House thanks to the excellent hospitaly, genuine friendliness, cooking and singing skills of our hosts Bryan and Lynn. In the course of that long week-end we got to meet each and every one of the nine inhabitants of the island. We even appeared on the Keswick Island Kapers blog edited by Eva. You will have to search the page for my first name to find us.

On the way back we took another Cherokee to Mackay, then a JetStar A320 back to Brisbane.

A couple of weeks later I picked up the Courier Mail (Brisbane's main newspaper) in the office and found an article titled Female pilot, 21, in 'textbook ditching' which started with

A 21-year-old female pilot on her first day on the job has performed a "textbook ditching" to save the lives of her four passengers in the sea off Mackay. All five on board survived when the Cherokee Piper 6 crashed into the sea 200m off Squeaky Beach on Carlisle Island just after 2pm today.

Mackay? Cherokee? This sounded familiar. How many Cherokees doing charter flights can there be in Mackay? We had flown on two of them, VH-ZMP and VH-VSN . I looked up the ATSB database, and there it was:

AO-2008-22: Piper Aircraft Corp PA-32-300, VH-ZMP, Brampton Island Qld. It was reported that the aircraft ditched after takeoff from Brampton Island aerodrome. The investigation is continuing.

Oops... that was the Cherokee we flew in two weeks before on our way to Keswick Island... The pilot seems to have done an awesome job ditching the plane safely and getting the passengers out without anyone getting seriously injured or worse. She can even be seen sporting a smile in a picture taken in the rescue helicopter, despite the multiple bruises on her face. That's picture 9 in this gallery.

To the best of my knowledge, that's the closest I've come so far to an in-flight engine failure in a single-engine aircraft. Two weeks between our flight and the final flight of VH-ZMP may sound like a big enough time interval. But if you think about it in terms of engine time, it's probably only a dozen hours we're talking about. A bit too close for comfort.

Which brings up the eternal question, what would I have done in the same situation? I can't honestly answer, but one's thing for sure: it's all about training and keeping a cool head. I should take a 172 out to Bribie Island one of those days to practice forced landings. It's been a while since I last did that, and I clearly remember that my last forced landing drills left a lot to be desired. Going through the checks, briefing passengers and making the mayday call was all OK, it's picking a field and planning a glide approach to it that could do with more practice. Of course, this is precisely the part of the forced landing you do not want to screw up. Training, training, training. Vingt fois sur le m├ętier remettez votre ouvrage.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Nav5: seven controller, a few street lamps and a diversion

The first leg of Nav5 took us from Redcliffe to Gold Coast through the Brisbane Class C airspace. I think I talked to more controllers in the first 30 minutes of this flight that in all my flying training to this day.

Redcliffe being a non-towered aerodrome, my only contacts with controllers so far were during navs to Archerfield, Maroochydore and Oakey. On a couple of occasions I also contacted Brisbane Radar to request a radio check early in the morning when no one was answering on the local CTAF frequency.

We requested a code and clearance from Brisbane Radar, who immediately handed us over to Brisbane Approach. We got cleared for the Hornibrook Viaduct, Brisbane Control Tower and Manly boat harbour at 1500ft.

As we approached the tower, the controller gave us a landing clearance for runway 14. Hmmm... that was very nice of him, but we never intended to land at YBBN, and never asked for a clearance... Before I could think of what to say he came back and corrected his mistake. A minute later we overflew the threshold of runway 01 and I could see three Qantas airliners queuing up at the holding point right under us.

Tower handed us over to approach on the other side of Brisbane airport. We overflew the Jacobs Well VOR, jotted down the ATIS for Gold Coast then switched frequencies again a few more times through approach, tower and ground for Gold Coast. In total, I talked to seven different controllers. My radio calls were good, thanks to careful preparation and quite a bit of rehearsal at home beforehand.

We landed at Gold Coast on runway 32, taxied to the GA parking and started up again soon after for Cherrabah. Gold Coast was very busy that morning, we had to wait for a little while at the holding point. Finally the controller gave us an immediate departure and we took off just as a Virgin Blue 737 was coming in to land. As we departed I glanced back at the runway to realise that, instead of the normal Virgin Blue red livery, this aircraft was entirely painted in blue. Sean explained that this was Virgin Blue’s 50th Boeing 737, and that the names of all employees, including his from a past non-flying job with the airline, were printed on the overhead lockers.

According to Wikipedia, Virgin Blue’s name if a play on the predominantly red livery and the Australian slang tradition of calling a red-headed male 'Blue' or 'Bluey'. So I guess this solves the mistery of why Virgin Blue planes are usually painted red.

We climbed to 6500ft to clear the ranges of the Gold Coast hinterland and tracked for Cherrabah. That was quite a long leg, with spectacular views of the mountains. We identified Palen Creek Prison Farm. Sean tried to convince me to stop doing 'track crawling', i.e. spending my time with my nose in the map in order to always know where I was. Our ground speed was higher than planned, so we entered the open country near Killarney earlier than expected. This threw me off for a moment, then we kept flying the heading and, sure enough, we found Cherrabah a few minutes later.

In the morning when I had called the Cherrabah Homestead to request permission to land, the person on the phone had requested that we overfly the runway once before landing “to scare the roos”. We did one 100ft overfly but couldn’t see any kangaroos. Sean talked me through the approach and landing. Quite a challenging approach actually, with hills on all slides and a sloppy runway.

The airfield is one of those places you have to see to believe. Too bad Shane didn’t get to see it on his Nav5 and got diverted to Warwick and its swarms of flies instead! The runway itself is actually quite nice, it was upgraded from a grass strip to a sealed runway a while ago. Cherrabah is not a licensed aerodrome, so I guess they do not have to comply with too many regulations about runway lighting, and obviously they let their creativity go wild with these beautiful solar-powered replicas of classical street lamps in the Australian bush. The terminal building, although empty, is well worth the picture too.

We took off on 28 and did some low-level flying following a road and a river, pretending the cloud ceiling was so low we were following natural features on our way to Warwick. This is what some people call IFR Flying: I Follow the Road. We then tracked north to Toowoomba, and as we were near Allora we diverted direct back to Redcliffe. I requested and obtained a clearance for crossing Amberley airspace and amended our flight plan.

We flew a few miles south of Lake Wivenhoe, crossed the ranges, kept our eyes out for airplanes tracking south for the "TV Towers" entry lane to Archerfield, found Petrie, the nearby paper mill, then approached Redcliffe from the dead side and landed on 07. We had a thorough debrief during which Sean said that the two things I really had to work on were holding an accurate altitude and heading, so I'll have to make this a priority for the next navs. And avoiding track crawling.

Nav5 was my last time flying at the front of the aircraft for a little while. After that I had two weeks of business travel, half a week of jetlag, some busy days catching up on work, and almost a week of vacations. There was a lot of flying of course, but unfortunately only of the kind that involves sitting at the back of an airliner for more than ten hours in an economy seat that makes the cockpit of a 152 feel like luxury.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Spot the airfield: Stuttgart

Sitting at the back of an airliner can be a rather frustrating experience for a budding pilot: no dials or gauges to look at, no radio to talk into and, to top it all, one can’t even look in the direction of travel. I’m usually a big fan of the aisle seat (can get up anytime I want for bio breaks), but on occasion I like to take a window seat, mostly on short daytime flights.

This is because I enjoy playing “spot the airfield”.

“Spot the airfield” is a game anyone with one functional eye and a boarding pass can play. The idea is to spot as many airfields as possible in the course of an airline flight. With the help of a digital camera, airfields can be later identified using charts and the ERSA, or even Google Earth. Identifying the airfield on the spot gives you extra points of course. Using the moving map on the in-flight entertainment system is considered cheating.

I took the picture below onboard a Lufthansa BAe146 on a flight from Marseille, France to Frankfurt, Germany. That's the only airfield I spotted on that flight, since we spent most of our time in clouds.

I had a suspicion this airport was Stuttgart, both because I knew our flightpath would take us near it, and the time remaining to Frankfurt (about 30 minutes) matched. A minute later I could see the nearby town.

I later confirmed using Google Earth that this was indeed Stuttgart, home of the German automotive industry. The brightly lit patch is actually the Mercedes factory, while the stadium above and to the right of it is the Gottlieb Daimler Stadion. According to Wikipedia, the two video walls of the stadium are the largest in Europe.

And you know what the good thing about flying Lufthansa is? Real good Warsteiner beer in glass bottles.

Plenty of airline flights planned for the next few months, plenty of opportunities to play "spot the airfield". Hope I get decent enough pictures to post them here. I used tips from the Plastic Pilot (here and here) to clean up the pictures in this post, I think I still have a lot of room for improvement. My camera is always bad in low lighting anyway, maybe time for an upgrade...

Monday, April 21, 2008

First solo nav: I love it when a plan comes together

Nav4 was my first solo nav. It was very enjoyable, very rewarding and, of course, amazingly quiet in the cockpit.

I showed up at the club bright and early and got started on the flight planning tasks that can only be done on the day. I downloaded the weather and NOTAMs, computed headings, ground speeds, time intervals, fuel consumption and endurance, and finally filled in the flight notification form.

Mal was about to sign me out when I mentioned that this was my first time flying VH-MSJ. This airplane is a Cessna 172N, while the other three 172s at the club are the much more recent 172SP model. The 172N model came out in 1977 and VH-MSJ was first registered in Australia in 1979, which makes it about 30 years old.

Even if it is the same type, there are sufficient differences between the two models to make an instructor uncomfortable at the thought of sending a student solo in a model he has never flown before. The model N has a 160 HP carbureted engine, while the SP has a 180 HP fuel-injected engine, which resulted in a significant increase in cruise speed, from 105kt up to 115kt. In addition, the flaps on the N model can be extended down to 40 degrees, which was later brought back to 30.

In addition to differences with the type, there’s a few idiosyncrasies with MSJ itself. As they say in the Qantas safety briefing, subtly, every aeroplane is different. You bet they are. MSJ has only one radio, which is situated on the right-hand side of the panel, making it awkward to dial frequencies. All navaids are unserviceable, even though the second ADF is not tagged as such. This is fine of course since Nav4 is pure dead reckoning in class G airspace. And although the rudder trim is forever set fully to the right, a very healthy amount of right rudder sill needs to be applied at all stages of the flight, even in cruise.

Mal suggested we go together for a few circuits so that I could familiarize myself with the airplane. So off we went. My first impression was that MSJ behaves a lot more like a 152 than the 172SP. The biggest difference is when extending the last stage of flaps on final. Mal was right, it really feels like pulling the handbrake.

We did a normal circuit, a go-around and a full-stop landing. I really had to push hard on the yoke when applying full power with 40 degrees of flaps on the go-around. This may be why Cessna limited flap extension to 30 degrees in later models; there may have were just too many accidents caused by stalls on a go-around, with the airplane pitching up violently too close to the ground for any form of stall recovery to be carried out.

We came back, Mal jumped out, I refueled, parked and took some time to set up everything nicely in the cockpit before starting again. I took-off on 07, left the circuit on downwind and maintained 1000ft as VH-TRE, one of the two C182 of the club, was inbound at 1500ft just above me. I carefully climbed under the CTA steps, identified the Woodford prison, then stopped climbing because a line of CUs had formed over the top of the ranges. After Kilcoy I resumed climbing, eventually reaching 6500ft and started to relax a little.

That’s when it really hit me, the pure pleasure of being on my own in the aircraft on my way to somewhere else than the home base. I was flying an antiquated 172 with a groundspeed of 95kt because of a headwind, but I couldn’t have been happier. You know a good flying moment when you can’t stop smiling to yourself in the cockpit.

As part of my CLEAROFF checks I kept looking for suitable areas for forced landings under me. There weren’t many in this very timbered area. I found some comfort in the idea that, at 6500ft, it would take me about 10 minutes to glide down to ground level in the even of an engine failure, which hopefully should be enough time to find a suitable landing site and conduct an approach.

Speaking of engine failure, I scared myself a little while leaning the mixture. On the 172SP, I am used to leaning the mixture using either the EGT or the fuel flow indicator. On MSJ, the only way to go is by the ear. It all worked as expected, except that the engine started running rough as I was leaning the mixture and really sounded like what I had imagined an engine quitting would sound like. It only lasted a fraction of a second but that was enough to send a chill down my spine. I gave the mixture two full turns and everything was back to normal on the rich side of peak.

The visibility was so good I could see Tarong power station far under the left wing. On my right was lake Barambah, and ahead of me I could see rooves glistening in the mid-day Queensland sun. According to my map I should have been over the tip of the lake, which meant I was off course by a few miles. Remembering the lesson I learned on Nav3, I decided to keep flying the current heading. Three towns appeared ahead of me, which matched the map and meant Wondai was the one on the left.

I found the airstrip and positively confirmed it was Wondai thanks to the big white letters that conveniently spell WONDAI near the windsock. I joined crosswind for runway 18. Somewhere in the base turn I lost track of where the runway was. My excuse is that Wondai is a grass strip in the middle of an area of similar color tones. I found myself on base and way too high. I turned final, extended full flaps and still couldn’t go down fast enough. With 1400m, the runway would have been long enough to accommodate a landing with a touchdown point somewhere mid-strip, but that would have been a display of rather poor airmanship, so I decided to go around. Good thing we practiced go-arounds with full flaps earlier in the day…

The second attempt at landing was the good one, I touched down OK, taxied down the grass runway and turned left onto the sealed apron. I parked MSJ right in front of the local terminal building and next to a King Air 200. I dipped the tanks and found 150l, exactly what I had planned to find. I love it when a plan comes together.

I had lunch and chatted with the pilot of the King Air, who was kind enough to let me use his mobile phone on Telstra to call the club and let them know everything was fine. Damn Vodaphone and their ridiculous coverage of rural areas. I guess you get what you pay for.

I started again and took off on runway 36 since there was virtually no wind at the time, which saved me and the airplane having to backtrack all the way back up the runway. I extended the downwind branch to establish myself on track for Kumbia. I had the Gordonbrook reservoir on my right, gave a call to the Kingaroy CTAF and enjoyed the scenery. There were lots of patches ahead of me which could have been Kumbia. I kept flying my heading and Kumbia appeared right under my nose, right when I expected it. Dead reckoning is such an absolute joy when it works perfectly well…

I made a turn to the east and passed abeam the Tarong power station on track to Kilcoy at 5500ft. I was about 10 miles west of Kilcoy and ready to switch to the CTAF frequency to make an overfly call when I heard the controller on the center frequency give traffic advisory to an IFR flight. I mentioned some “unknown VFR traffic 10nm west of kilcoy 5500ft”. I though, Hey! That’s me they’re talking about on the radio! I’m famous! I got on to the controller and told her I was MSJ and tracking to Kilcoy maintaining 5500ft.

She asked me to squawk ident. I looked at the transponder to find the “ident” button. Apart from the rotating knob there was only one button on the panel of the transponder, but I couldn’t read the label on it. It HAD to be the ident button. I pressed on it and the voice of the controller came back saying I was identified. She then asked me to report sighting IFR traffic at 6000ft in my 10 o’clock. I turned my head to the left and there it was, right under my left wing and in the opposite direction. I reported traffic sighted and clear of traffic.

After Kilcoy I descended to 3500ft and cleared the ranges. The visibility was so good I could already see the Redcliffe peninsula. I gave the Caboolture CTAF a call then landed on 07 at Redcliffe.

As I was taxing back I heard a Cessna 172 coming from the south make a call for joining the circuit at Redcliffe on a “right base 07”. That’s funny because joining base is not allowed in non-controlled aerodromes, and there are no right-hand circuits for runway 07 at Redcliffe anyway.

All in all an extremely enjoyable day. Great flying, and dead reckoning navigation worked flawlessly. I've heard about people who always prefer to fly with a passenger, even if the passenger cannot act as a safety pilot. As far as I'm concerned, I can't wait to go on a solo nav again, it's such an awesome feeling.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Nav3, take 2

One week after Nav3 was cut short due to weather, I went with Lee in VH-SPQ to cover the remaining bits, i.e. lost procedures and class D airspace. The plan was to go to Gympie, get me lost somewhere on the way, get unlost, find Gympie, perform a full-stop landing at Maroochydore and get back to Redcliffe.

While going through the Maintenance Release during the pre-flight checks, I noticed that one of the two vacuum pumps was out, which was confirmed by the corresponding light on the annunciator panel during the pre-take off checks. The vacuum gauge was in the green though, indicating that the other vacuum pump was working properly. We would therefore be able to use the two instruments that depend on those engine-driven vacuum pumps, i.e. the artificial horizon (AH) or the directional gyro (DG). And in the unlikely event that the second vacuum pump failed, safety would not be adversely affected since we have back-up solutions for both the AH and the DG.

We do not actually require the AH for VFR flights since we are expected to infer the attitude of the plane from looking at the big natural horizon outside the cockpit rather than the small artificial one inside. My experience so far is that the AH comes in handy for maintaining a given angle of bank in climbing or descending turns, but that’s about it. Of course the AH is a critical piece of equipment for instrument flying or for flying in mountainous areas where no natural horizon is visible. I understand it’s also a welcome help on hazy days or when the sun glare prevents the pilot from clearly distinguishing where the earth meets the sky. But on that day, and for that flight, we could definitely have done without the AH.

Loosing the DG in flight would have been a lot more annoying than the AH, but again no reason to cut the exercise short. Provided it is kept aligned with the compass throughout the flight, the DG helps in maintaining a constant heading with a margin of about one or two degrees. Should the DG fail, we would have had to use the magnetic compass instead. This would be a lot more annoying for two reasons.

First, the compass is a small instrument that is awkward to read. The way to keep a heading with the compass is to turn the plane onto the heading using the compass, pick a feature far ahead of us, use that feature as a reference for flying the heading, and keep choosing new reference features as we move along. Second, the indication given by the compass is only reliable in straight, level and unaccelerated flight. This means no heading information is available during prolonged climbs, i.e. precisely when the nose of the plane covers whatever distant feature we may have decided to use. Flying with only the compass is not impossible of course, many planes do not have a DG at all, such as the Tiger Moth below. But you will also notice that the compass on the Tiger Moth is a lot bigger and probably easier to read than that found on modern light aircrafts.

We took off, left the circuit and tracked north-west to Gympie. Soon after leaving Redcliffe Lee put me under the hood for a while and got me lost somewhere in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Getting un-lost was relatively easy. I noted the time, slowed down the airplane and started to fly a racetrack pattern around a nearby township that I chose as my anchor point. Reading “ground to map”, I could see a lake a couple of miles to the east, with a dam at its northern end. This matched Lake Baroon on the map within the circle that contained my most likely position. The only problem was that the map didn’t show any township to the west of the lake. This was really puzzling. Everything else matched: the terrain, the road, the power lines, even a radio mast a bit further to the west. Lee hinted that maybe not all townships are on the map. It all suddenly made sense, I declared us un-lost and we were soon back on track.

We continued on the Gympie, I found the field quite easily and turned right towards the entry point for Maroochydore. I obtained a clearance from the tower who asked me to report sighting traffic going in the opposite direction below me. It took a little while but I eventually spotted the other plane, reported “traffic sighted” and soon after we were cleared for a visual approach to runway 12.

I made a very average landing, vacated the runway, switched to the ground frequency to realise it is actually the same controller as the tower frequency. We taxied to the GA parking, had a bite to eat and something to drink. Lots of helicopters and GA aircrafts around, in addition to jet traffic for Virgin Blue.

We started up again, obtained taxi and airways clearance direct to Redcliffe and taxied to holding point Juliet for runway 12. We taxied by the Maroochydore campus of the Singapore Flying College which trains pilots for Singapore Airlines using a range of GA aircrafts but also a Learjet 45.

Airborne, departure call, identifying Ring Tank then the boundary of the Class D controlled airspace for Maroochydore. We are already within 10 miles of Caloundra, so call to the CTAF and then back to Redcliffe where I made a decent landing this time.

We stopped at the Flinders Aviation workshop so that they could have a look at the vacuum pump and order a new one in. That's when I learnt that, even though they are called left and right pumps on the annunciator panel, they are actually more like top and bottom pumps in reality.

Taxi back to the club, then debrief. Lee said I was ready to go on to Nav4, my first solo nav. This is so cool. Really looking forward to that. Still have to work on maintaining altitude more precisely (read: within a hundred feet), especially in controlled airspace. And maintaining heading too. My departure call out of Maroochydore was sloppy, so I’ll have to improve that too.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Nav 3, Take 1

Nav3 is a navigation exercise where the student pilot needs to convince the instructor of his ability to navigate solo in non-controlled airspace. This is a requirement for moving on to Nav4 which, precisely, is a solo nav in non-controlled airspace. In our case, this means departing Redcliffe properly, finding our way around, not getting lost, getting un-lost after simulating getting lost and performing diversions. All that without busting controlled airspace.

It is on the first leg of the nav, from Redcliffe to Esk, that the student needs to get a tick in all the right boxes. The portion of the flight after that is a supervised navigation exercise through Class C airspace (Oakey), uncontrolled airspace (Gayndah) and finally Class D airspace (Maroochydore).

We departed the circuit on downwind and stayed at the circuit height of 1000ft until we crossed the Bruce Highway. Then we started to climb gradually so as to remain under the steps of the overlying Class C airspace.

I knew from studying the map prior to the flight that our track intersected the limit of the 2500ft CTA step over the top end of Lake Samsonvale. However, instead of overflying it as expected, I found the lake was a couple of miles to my left. We were only 10 miles from Redcliffe, so that was some very significant drift. I checked the alignment of compass and DJ, which was fine. My suspicion was a stronger than expected south-easterly wind. I was about to do a 1-in-60 to compute a new heading to Esk when Mal said not to bother at that stage and keep flying our current heading.

We climbed to 3500ft, cleared the D’Aguilar Ranges, changed area frequency and kept climbing to 4500ft. Ahead of us was Lake Wivenhoe. Next task was to find the township of Esk.

The lake didn’t look at all like what I was expecting to see given where I thought I was. What I could see was a river and not a lake, which meant I was a lot further north than I should be. I tried to match the shape of the river bends with the map. This didn’t work, so I tried something else. There was a fairly large mountain ahead of me, which I thought was Mount Brisbane. This would actually make sense since the drift that pushed me north of Lake Samsonvale a few minutes ago would have pushed me in a similar manner to the north of Lake Wivenhoe.

However, a few things didn’t add up. I couldn’t see the bridges at the foot of Mount Brisbane or the township next to the substation. And there was a township on the edge of the lake under my left wing that didn’t match anything on the map.

Then it dawned on me (with a subtle hint from Mal: “What have we been suffering from in Queensland these last four years?”) that it was the drought that was responsible for the shape of the lake not matching the map. There was no magical drift or 50-knot crosswind to blow me off track. It all suddenly made sense. I was actually on track, the township on the left was Bryden and the mountain ahead of me was Mount Esk. Yey! And of course this also explained not having overflown the northern tip of Lake Samsonvale earlier. Order was restored to the universe.

I could further identify Esk because it was sitting to the south-west of Mount Esk in a dip between three hills. My last doubts were lifted when I saw the red rooves of the hospital in the south-west corner of the town, which matched exactly what I had seen in Google Earth at home a few days before when preparing for that nav.

Big sigh at that stage. The first leg of the nav was completed successfully, we found Esk and didn’t bust controlled airspace. I don’t think I came very far from failing though. All throughout this first leg I was verbalising out loud what was going through my head. Mal actually recommended to not make strong statements about where I thought I was, but rather start each sentence with “I think” which indicates to the instructor that you are still thinking and that there’s still a chance you may get it right in the end. It’s a bit like using legal language to prevent litigation.

After Esk we tracked to the south-west to find Perseverance Creek Dam, which is one of the VFR entry points for the Oakey RAAF base. When I had finished taking the ATIS, I noticed a lake ahead of us. No longer trusting the shape of lakes on the map, I was pretty sure this was Perseverance Creek Reservoir. I could even see the dam!

There was another lake, Cressbrook Reservoir, that we should have seen before this one, but this is a fairly mountainous country, with lakes tending to hide behind hills, so I was not overly concerned that I couldn’t see any other lake behind us. In addition, the map doesn’t show a dam for Cressbrook Reservoir, so this had to be the right one.

I was wrong on this one (again!), and Mal explained that I could have easily avoided that by using my watch for estimating where I should be now, rather then reading from ground to map (bad!). And looking at the VTC carefully, there is actually a dam for Cressbrook Reservoir, it is just very difficult to see because it is hidden under three thick coloured lines that represent the boundaries of class E and C airspaces and a danger area.

We obtained a clearance for Oakey, got handed over to approach and then tower. My radio calls went OK given that it was my first encounter with Class C airspace procedures. The preferred runway was 09, but we accepted runway 14 because it made the taxi to the civil terminal easier and provided us with an opportunity to practice crosswind landings.

The approach and touchdown went OK, even though my circuit was way too wide. On final I had the help of the PAPI lighting to stay on the glide slope. Very convenient. Compared to the 152, the heavier 172 is a lot more stable on final, which really helps. Soon after touchdown Mal had to jump on the yoke and turn the ailerons into the wind because I had forgotten about that last part of the crosswind landing procedure and the wind could have flipped the aircraft over… not good.

We parked at the civil terminal, had a peek inside the Museum of Australian Army Flying and took this picture of this Australian designed and built CAC Boomerang. It was donated to the museum by the widow of a former RAAF pilot who had flown the aircraft. Hopefully one day I’ll come back with enough time to visit the museum.

We departed Oakey for Kingaroy but didn’t quite make it to Kingaroy. The cloud base ahead of us was a lot lower and darker than forecasted, and it was obvious that heavy rain was falling on our expected track to Gayndah. Mal decided to not push forward and get back to Redcliffe instead. This gave me an opportunity to do a diversion. We turned east and passed abeam the Tarong Power Station.

We didn’t know if we would be able to cross the ranges, but we had a number of options. One option was to fly back via Kilcoy which would offer us lower ground. Or fly down the valley that leads to Watts Bridge and land there. And we still had the option of turning around and landing at Kingaroy.

We ended up going via Kilcoy, the clouds over the ranges giving us sufficient ground clearance. From there we followed the D’Aguilar Highway to Woodford, after which we descended to 1500ft and tracked direct to Redcliffe. We landed and debriefed. Mal asked me to concentrate on my readbacks the next time I fly in controlled airspace, and also make sure my maps are folded properly before the flight so that they can be neatly unfolded as the flight progresses. This is because at some point in the flight I had to take out the VTC for Oakey and the cabin was hardly wide enough for unfolding the map and folding it back properly. Which of course blocked the view and subsequently makes it very hard to "see", let alone "avoid".

Mal was very helpful in finding a spot in the busy booking sheet of the areo club for me to finish Nav3. He could make it fit in the day before my planned Nav4, which was great since it wouldn't mess up my training plans. The idea for the second half of Nav3 was to go to Gympie, then Maroochydore and back to Redcliffe. And after that, Nav4, first solo nav!