Thursday, 11 June 2015

Day and Night mode switched to Night!

One of the highlights of the course so far: night flying! You only get 4 lessons of these, so tempting as it is to just sit back and look at the pretty lights, you’re actually supposed to learn something.  

  • The first night dual we went to Chandler and managed to get in about 14 touch and goes. The air is so calm at night (without the thermals from the heat of the day), it felt like I was flying the simulator! The plane stayed where I’d put it, it was also very quiet at Chandler with little other traffic, meaning I got priority clearance and the longest runway. The ATC controller also demonstrated the light display to me on a final. The main difference at night is the perception of where the runway actually is, giving you the illusion of distance (and heavy landings) but I didn't think mine were too bad. Lee also demonstrated what would happen if the instruments didn't work by dimming the avionics and panel lighting. It was really cool.

  • The second dual was a cross-country, which is just surreal. I did the normal departure I was used to and had to rely on the VOR to know when I’d got to my turning points as I really couldn't see anything that wasn't lit on the ground. Did you know you can turn on runway lights from the ground? Airports which have lighting but are uncontrolled at night (so lights are off) can state pilot operated lighting meaning you can turn them on by dialling up the radio frequency and pressing the PTT (push-to-talk) button multiple times. This was great, we did this to a few airports in the area and did a touch and go at Coolidge. As with any nav, I was then given a diversion to try and find somewhere off the route, I wasn't so good at this, not that it was any different than during the day but it felt like there was certainly more to concentrate on at night. Nevertheless, it was amazing to see how everything looked in the dark and I snuck in a few back-seats with my house mate so I would have more than 2 lessons in the practice.

Sadly, we’re still not allowed to take cockpit photos; I really wish I could because the view was absolutely incredible. But here’s a picture I took from the ramp of the taxi and runway lights:

SOLO NIGHTS! You get two night solos, both of which are just in the pattern at Falcon practising landings, this was a little scary initially but my departure time was at twilight so I could pick out my ground reference points for turning and then know where they were for the time it was fully dark. It’s easier than it sounds, everything with lights looked so bright and there was a nice cross road on final just in line with the runway. I was the only person in the pattern so the ATC was extra nice and I got about 7 full stop and taxi backs in (no touch and goes due to noise abatement). I also got to hear the tower closing at 9pm which was strange.

The second night solo went as well as the first, though I did get asked to extend my downwind (eek, mountains!) so used the terrain mode on my MFD for the first time; this gives colour indications for the proximity of the terrain, red means less than 100ft away, thankfully tower asked me to perform a 360 so I wouldn't be getting to close to the superstitions.  I felt night flying was a huge achievement, like I could handle that plane in any conditions. It’s also something I’d like to show my dad, everything just looks so different at night.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Solo cross-country navigations

Time for my first solo cross-country; unfortunately I had to cancel my first one. Everyone has their own wind limits, mine was 7 knots crosswind and 12 knots total so you cannot be signed off for a solo if the wind is reported above this. I rescheduled and was a little apprehensive about going; staying in the pattern at Falcon is one thing solo but doing a navigation route is a completely different one, it also gets really turbulent in the afternoons here so I definitely wanted to go in the morning.

The navigation part was easy enough, the problem I had was the cloud! I had to cut my route a bit short as it was coming lower and lower and I was getting rained on, this is no problem to the plane but reduces visibility. I ended up descending to about 3000 feet because of the cloud base which in mountainous terrain isn’t ideal and I was questioning whether I’d be able to make it back to Falcon or would have to divert to Chandler (my favourite).  However, I felt a huge sense of achievement as I landed and felt more like a real pilot being able to go places by myself (it was a two hour mission after all).

To get signed off for a cross-country solo is a little different, there’s much more prep work to be done before the flight and then you present your work to a duty instructor (not your own) to authorise the flight.

  1. (At home) Draw the route on the map and fill in distances, true track headings and VOR radials for the points on the route.
  2. Check in with Operations
  3. Get the weather and work out winds aloft and calculate headings on nav log to compensate for drift then apply the deviation from the map to get magnetic headings which is what I’d set my heading bug to for the route legs. I work out my drift and ground speeds using the compass face of my CRP-5 (thank you gen nav in ground school!) to give me ETAs for each turning point.
  4. Mass & balance sheet
  5. Pre-flight plane
  6. Get fuel – Solo students must take off with full tanks (48USG)
  7. File a VFR flight plan – This is a CAE policy for students going solo and is something I’d never done before. The plan needs to be filed on the ground and then opened in the air by contacting Prescott radio, you have to close it within 30 minutes of your ETA otherwise they’ll be calling dispatch or sending search and rescue to find you! So far, I’ve not forgotten to close one but I know a few students have.
  8. Make copies of everything and take to the duty instructor – explain your route and give a weather briefing to show you’re ready for the flight. 
During the flight I keep a track of my ETAs, revising any times as necessary and write down any observations such as what the winds are doing and which tank I'm on. Here's an example nav log post-flight. 

I have 6 cross country solos to complete (as well as other duals) before my PT3 and the only place I’m endorsed to land is Falcon Field until after the next check ride.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Progress Test 2!

After three navigation flights going around the SE/SW practice area with an instructor is the next progress test. This came around so fast for me because of how often I’d been flying and I didn't feel that prepared for it, although I did feel less nervous than I was for PT1. I went in early on the day (4:30am start) and did the aural part of the test which just covered some features of the map, answering questions about air spaces and then gave a weather brief.

However, the weather on the day did not look good with KIWA (Mesa Gateway airport which is our local alternate airport) was reporting gusts of 25 knots and there was a NOTAM for CBs in the area; I decided it would be best to cancel my PT and schedule it for another day as you’re expected to perform as if it was still air. This was a ‘pilot’s decision’ as if I was solo I certainly wouldn't want to go out and all the instructors respect it if you don’t feel up to going. So although I was disappointed I think I made the right choice.

For my test I didn't need to do the questioning again and just got on with the flight after a normal weather brief. I had planned a navigation route to perform and you’re supposed to work out the ETAs to within two minutes of the actual time you get there; mine were pretty good and I didn’t have much difficulty locating the checkpoints (most of them I had already seen before). You’re then given a diversion en-route so have to alter your plan mid-flight whilst maintaining altitude and heading. For this you also need to work out a heading, VOR radial, speed, distance and ETA and then arrive at the actual place. I adjusted my heading a few times for this leg but found it close to my ETA so I was happy.

Back on the ground at Falcon I was told I’d passed and I was delighted; this now means I get an endorsement in my logbook which means I’m allowed to do solo Cross-countries!

I don’t have a picture for this post (and I hate too much reading and no pictures) so here, Mass and Balance sheets galore! 

Solo Circuits

After the first solo, you have a few consolidation lessons just flying solo patterns around Falcon Field. These were so helpful in building up my confidence with landing and using the radio; without having someone next to you who is also listening you really pay more attention to what’s being said by everyone else on the radio.

  • AP16 – First solo
  • AP17/21 – Solo circuits

My parents were visiting Arizona to come and see me and the school so came on a day when I'd be doing a solo in the afternoon. Normally visitors are not allowed on the ramp but as Lee agreed to escort them it was okay and although I couldn't take them for a ride I showed them the cockpit, switched on all the 'fancy' glass displays and they then get to see me do a circuit and a landing. It was slightly more pressure than a normal solo as I knew they were watching and my dad has a PPL so he'd know if I was doing well or not. It didn't help that I had trouble starting my engine, to the point that Lee was half way to my plane to help me out before the engine finally caught; I was relieved. That would have been so embarrassing for the first time my parents had seen me fly. My mum was really moved and cried apparently when she saw me taxiing; it was really emotional and I'm so happy I could make them proud as I definitely wouldn't be doing this without their support. Lee said I did a good job too! 

Having my parents in Phoenix for the week was lovely (although so tiring), I was flying everyday that week, some days having more than one flight and then would go and do something with my parents in the evening; it was so nice getting bought dinner and eating out all the time. We visiting the museum, Scottsdale, Phoenix botanical gardens (a lot of cacti) and Rawhide which is a themed cowboy town. It left me worn out and I didn't have much time for studying for the next PT rapidly approaching but it was nice to see them and get to show them around my school here in Arizona. 

  • AP22 - Instrument flying sim session. In this we learnt an exercise called ‘pattern B’ first performing it under VFR then IFR conditions in the simulator. It involves steep turns, climbs and descents and timed legs to hopefully make your flight path look as it was planned. I didn’t think mine came out too bad for my first time!

  • AP23/24 - Flights with an instructor using sole reference to the instruments. I learnt so much doing it this way and how the needles on the CDI actually respond as opposed to learning about them in ground school where it didn't really make much sense. This picture is an example of the VOR (green) and ADF (blue double arrow) CDI display as shown at the bottom of the PFD. These are the types of instruments we use and the radials we work off are normally given from the Stanfield VOR, though we can set it to any radio station within range; similar to how you tune up the radio only you need to 'ident' the beacon before use and try to match the morse code to that displayed on the map. 

You also have to wear a hood to stop you from looking outside which is a little scary at first but your instructor and backseater keep a look out for you. The MFD is also really great at showing terrain, traffic and air spaces so it isn't too difficult. It’s a good way to get used to instrument flying but is so tiring just focusing on the screen.