Thursday, 23 April 2015

Flying lessons at Falcon Fields :)

There’s a mission objective for each lesson and here are the missions so far:
  • SIM1: For practising the start-up checklist
  • AP1: Familiarisation
  • AP2: Effects of controls
  • AP3: Straight and level
  • AP4: Straight and level 2
  • AP5: Climbing and descending and medium turns
  • AP6: Climbing and descending 2 and steep turns
  • AP7: Slow flight & stalling
  • AP8: Stalling 2 (I LOVE stalls and the HASELL check list!)
  • AP9: Ground referenced manoeuvres (basically performing S bends over and road and circling a tree at low altitudes)
  • AP10: In flight emergency drills and emergency descents

Up next week are circuits!

I forgot to say before but I bought a Jeppesen flight bag so I didn’t have to bring the leather ground school case with me (also everything’s cheaper in dollars so why not?). This is a bit of necessity when moving out here but everything else like our headsets, log books and maps was provided by CAE J

The PA28s that we fly are fully glass cockpit and equipped with a traffic alerting system which is exciting as although we studied them in Instruments I’d never seen one of them in action. As Falcon Fields has two parallel runways this brings your approaches surprisingly close to the aircraft/helicopter for the other runway when you’re coming into land and it’s normally accompanied by a “traffic, traffic”, which I think is pretty cool (as I'm frantically trying to spot the closing traffic). I've never flown from parallel runways before but I guess it makes circuits more interesting as you’re never quite sure which runway you’ll get placed on and it is practice landing on a shorter or longer runway with VASISs or PAPIs* to guide you in.

One thing our instructor has tried to do is to get us used to the local area and flying by landmarks we can see. This has involved learning the various mountains around Phoenix (excellent landmarks as the visibility is always phenomenal). We normally flew for an hour, stopped off at a local airfield for coffee and breakfast then switched over with my flight partner, taking it in turns to fly each leg. I really liked getting a feel for landing at different airports and it was great practice using the radio.

Radio is definitely not my strong point, I feel really nervous every time before I have to speak and although my instructor normally tells me what to say it doesn’t stop my ‘telephone nerves’.  It especially doesn’t help that on my second lesson ATC at Gateway wouldn’t give me a taxi clearance as they said I was passing my message in the wrong order, whereas most airports around us know that we’re student pilots and are slightly more lenient towards us. At Gateway I was getting confused with the message, as the ATIS** information was Kilo and I was to hold at point Kilo on the taxiway. I really couldn’t wrap my head around the message and still find they speak really fast over the radio. I’m not in too much hurry to go and visit Gateway again because of this but they are a busy airport normally dealing with larger jets and not archer students so it’s understandable. One day I’m going to conquer this airport and ace the radio.

This week I squawked my first plane! We had an issue in the starting of a plane in that the starter motor was just turning the propeller but it was refusing to start. We would have been stuck at Chandler had my instructor not tried to start it for about 15 minutes; eventually he succeeded but I don’t think I would have been able to do it by myself. When we got back to base, we ‘squawked’ this in the book, I then took it over to maintenance to explain the problem and that’s how things get resolved over here.

For those interested:

*VASISs consist of two lights whereas PAPIs have four; they help you stabilise your approach and tell you if you’re too high or low to land on the blocks if you maintain your current attitude. If there are two whites and two reds then you’re right on the targets (one of each for VASISs), more white’s means too high and more reds means too low. Look out for them, a lot of airports have them to guide you to the blocks, I’d just never really used them before.

**ATIS stands for automatic terminal information service and is a frequency you should tune into in flight to obtain the current weather/runway conditions for that airfield before making your initial call to the tower. It’s really useful for knowing which runway is active and what the current winds are like, you can find this frequency on your aeronautical chart next to the airport you want to visit, although not all of them have an ATIS.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Our first week of flight training and first road trip!

Everyone has a flight partner from their class and I'm lucky enough to be with one of my house mates, though it’s a little intimidating as he’s already got a PPL and I'm an absolute beginner on the PA28, nether-the-less I was excited as I went in for lesson 1 on Tuesday 31st March. We got to meet our instructor and completely lucked out; he’s an ex-military fast jet pilot with so much flying experience on all kinds of aircraft. And he’s absolutely hilarious; I definitely won’t be bored being in the cockpit with him!

For our first day we performed the start-up check-lists in the simulator which was a bit of fun without being in anyone’s way on the ramp as we were pretty slow at doing them at first, as with anything this will come with practice. After doing the check-list 3 times each, Lee (our instructor) let us take the simulator off and have a little ‘fly’ around with it. Those things are pretty difficult to land and pretty easy to taxi off the side of the runway. Bodes well for my first flight the day after….

This is our daily schedule before a flight:
  • Check in
  • RMS form for the individual aircraft. This just shows when maintenance or oil changes etc. will be due. We have to print it off and check it’s all up to date.
  • FRAT form – This is a checklist of safety factors that may need to be regulated for us as student pilots like wind conditions or not carrying enough water with you.
  • Pull the weather; METARs and TAFs just like we learnt how to read in ground school Met J or listen to the Falcon Field ATIS but this is only active after 6am (Yes, sometimes we are in earlier than that).
  • Mass & Balance (again, ground school skills, our instructors would be so proud!) this also has the performance graphs in to calculate take-off and landing distances needed. This will be especially important during the summer as the heat will increase all the distances. 
  • Pre-flight the air-plane and do the walk-around to check it’s airworthy and has enough fuel for the flight. We have a check-list for this one but it’s been pretty easy to learn by heart.
  • We present the paperwork to the instructor to sign it all off and have a quick briefing about what we’ll be doing that day.
  • Report to Dispatch to hand in the paperwork and collect the book, this is to record the Hobbs and Tach time for our flight and has the keys, squawk sheets (this is how you report a problem you've found with the plane) and a credit card for fuelling at other airports.

We’re going to fly five days a week with two days off at the moment though this could easily change when we need to fit in more solos and check-rides. It’s been pretty tiring even for the first week as it’s a very fast-paced environment to be learning in and just getting used to the aircraft as well as the check-lists is mentally tiring.

As we had two days off for the weekend (well, our weekend is Sunday and Monday) my house mates and I decided we should go for our first road trip. Number one item on the agenda is the Grand Canyon, something I've always wanted to see. It was incredible and definitely didn't disappoint. We stopped at a small aircraft museum on the way back before stopping at some cheap, the movie Psycho springs to mind, motel in Flagstaff for the night. After living in Gilbert, it was surprisingly cold in Flagstaff due to it’s elevation and we had to rush to Wal-Mart in the evening to buy a hoodie! I'm not sure how much use I’ll get out of it but I really needed it! One the way back we took the scenic route through the mountains and forests instead of just staying on the free-way, I'm really surprised about how green it actually is here, amongst all the sand and cacti of course.  We ended up stopping and going for a walk in gorgeous Sedona, I was almost more impressed with the views than I was at the Grand Canyon, probably because I didn't know what to expect. It was gorgeous; I’d definitely recommend it and am very up for suggestions on placed to go next time J 

Just a short one for the first two weeks in Arizona!

Only a short one as not much happened in the briefings week apart from, well the briefings, exploring, sleeping (jet lag!) and chilling by the pool. It definitely still feels like a holiday and it’s such a great feeling after all the ground school.  

We had the weekend off to relax, explore our apartment complex (mainly lounge by the pool and soak up the rays) and recover from jet-lag. Then we were in school on Monday for…more ground school?? I know we need to learn this stuff and know all the safety operations and regulations but it is tortuous sitting inside when we know it’s 90 degrees outside and after 6 months of lessons we just want to fly! There’s a minibus that picks us up right outside our apartment complex and it’s about a 20 minute drive to the school at Falcon Field airport.

We have two weeks of briefings in school, always followed by coming home and going to the pool of course, with trips to Wal-Mart, five guys and going to get our FAA class 3 medicals and student pilot certificates.

The class 3 medical was so much easier than the class 1, we just went in had an eyesight test, urine test and blood pressure check and a general chat with the AME. Who was very informative about my skin and how I'm going to burn in the summer months, it is something you have to be really careful about here. All of us passed the medicals! 

I also had to knuckle down and do my first Buck’s university assignment. I wasn't in any hurry to start as it’s very easy to get stuck into a routine of going to school and chilling with our classmates by the pool afterwards. We also got an Xbox and TV for the apartment which is definitely going to be detrimental to our studying….

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

FSF Week and I've arrived in America!!

After all the excitement of receiving EASA results, we still had another week of lessons in school before we could jet off. This is Flight Safety Fundamentals and in it we go through some basic procedures of flight, rules and accommodation information for Phoenix and teamwork exercises (these were easy as we’re such a small course and are all pretty close now).

We were also introduced to the Buck’s University degree that we are doing, it’s a BSc in Airline Transport Management and we had some lectures on the topics and were set our first few assignments to keep us busy in Arizona. While I’m not a fan of doing more studying, the subject is relevant to the airline industry and it can never hurt to do more research, I’m seeing potential topics to talk about during the interview.

This week was pretty chilled out though compared to normal ground school, it was a bit of fun and we were pretty excited as we received our information packs, plane tickets and headphones to take out to America with us.

Bring on the next stage of the adventure (after a week at home to catch up with family and friends and recuperate our energy)!

The day finally arrived on Friday 20th March, I got up early to get the train to London, the tube to Heathrow, meet up with my classmates, check in to find we weren’t sitting together (this was rectified as we got to the gate and asked to switch seats). We were flying BA on a 747 for a 10 hour flight to Phoenix, I couldn’t sleep a wink and we ended up talking most of the flight. We were lucky enough to be invited into the cockpit after landing and had a brief talk with the crew. After a 25 hour day (it took ages to get through customs) we were greeted by a driver who’d come to pick us up and taking us to the apartment complex where we’d be staying. We were in Serena Shores and requested a 3 people apartment to allow for the odd number on our course. Our other flatmate was due to arrive a few days later so we had time to get the place ready for him.

Home sweet home for the next 6 months, we have a huge living room, two bathrooms (mine is an en-suite!), a balcony and it even has walk-in wardrobe!

EASA week!

On the Monday of our study leave week we had to trek down to the American Embassy in London to get our new M1 VISAs for America. We decided a taxi would be cheaper for 6 of us and we had to be there at 7am! The actual interview was easy enough but it takes a long time to get through security and then wait for an appointment time. We all got through and got the train home as we needed ti study and couldn’t afford to have a day of fun in London (that will come in the IR phase after America I imagine!)

Sadly, after school finals, one of the EPST members on our course was told he couldn’t continue with us after re-sit results and had to return to Holland to discuss his training. I’m really going to miss him as he was my flight planning partner in class and we are all pretty close being such a small course. We’re down to 7 now!

On Tuesday, I had my Mass and Balance re-sit. I felt fairly confident with this one, I’m not even sure how I failed the School Final as I’d had no problems with any of the lessons and consider it one of the easier phase 2 modules….The re-sit went well and I passed with no problems which meant I had the rest of my study leave to smash Av exam and hope to pull up the marks for the rest of my subjects. I decided to go back to Sheffield to get some peace and quiet and really get on with studying.

  • Monday – Mass & Balance morning. Flight Planning – Afternoon
  • Tuesday – Performance morning. Ops – Afternoon
  • Wednesday – Air Law morning. Gen Nav. – Afternoon
  • Thursday – Radio Nav. Celebrating in afternoon as this was the last one!

We had a busy week. The actual exams were not as hard as the School Finals, thank goodness, though I couldn’t say for sure how any of them went. I was worried about Air Law and Ops in that the figures we learn for one are different than for the other so I was always worried about mixing those up. My performance exam I felt went horrifically and I’m not sure if I’d gotten the answer I was supposed to with the graph questions. Then you’ve got Gen Nav and Flight Planning which are 2 hours long and so, so tedious, though I didn’t find the questions particularly difficult. I was an idiot though and forgot my Jeppesen route manual before the Flight Planning exam, which is the one subject you really need it for! Luckily a friend in 366 was able to run me home to pick it up in the hour I had between the morning and afternoon session. On the plus side I felt pretty confident with Mass and Balance this time J

I passed every exam!! My average for ground school is 87% and I’m going to Pheonix!  I’m so relieved that part is over and we can actually get to flying!!!!