Saturday, 2 January 2016

Growing Pains

 Time to move on to the twin engine Piper Seminole stage of my flying!! Things I'm afraid of:
  1. Forgetting to put my landing gear down. 

Aside from the second engine, there are quite a lot of new things for us to get used to; the cockpit layout is different, there are 2 of every switch and they seem to be randomly all over the cockpit as opposed to all being overhead in the Archer. There’s also an autopilot (sadly we rarely get to use it as you're supposed to fly manually in the CPL) and a variable-pitch propeller to get used to.

I'm partnered with Josh again as we’re the first through to this phase and we have an introductory sim with our new instructor. The check-list manual is twice the size of the Archer and our instructor is very adamant about us learning them as quickly as possible. I was worried about forgetting my landing gear but there are multiple check-lists and an audible warning to ensure this doesn't happen. What is difficult are the power settings; every change in power requires movement on both the throttle lever and propeller levers and there are quite a few standard settings to learn. I found this quite tricky and involved quite a bit of chair flying in our home time, with our cockpit photo, to try and get used to these and the check-lists.

For the first real flight the plane felt so huge and unfamiliar, even taxiing seemed like a challenge initially due to the wider wingspan and more sensitive rudder. The rotate speed is 10 knots faster than the Archer and cruise speed was now 140! There was quite a bit more pre-flight checking and planning to be done but in the air, getting around the all-to-familiar practice area felt like a breeze. I accidently called myself an Archer quite a few times over the radio and my landings were atrocious, I felt like the rudder was way more difficult to judge and the aircraft did not require such a forceful flare. There’s also the obscured view of the runway in the circuits due to the proximity of the engines on the wings, instead of on the nose.

The other thing to contend with is engine failure, which we experienced on our 3rd flight. When an engine is cut the aircraft immediately yaws and then rolls towards the dead engine. Our job is to catch it with the rudder to maintain directional control (no easy task as you are forcing your leg against the power of the live engine, I was shaking and dripping with sweat by the time I was given the engine back) and then identify the dead engine and perform feathering drills. We actually shut down and feathered the engine in flight which looks so strange seeing one stationary propeller on the wing! We then re-started the engine in flight as unless in the event of a real emergency, we never land on just one engine.

Due to my difficulties with landing the aircraft my instructor decided to take me an airfield which would immediately fix my centreline control; if you didn't land on centreline then you didn't land on the incredibly narrow runway at Ak Chin. I was so grateful for this airport, as after a lesson of touch-and-goes and circuits here I was landing like a pro. We also practiced asymmetric circuits which meant securing the engine, maintaining rudder and doing all the normal checks before landing, all in the span of one circuit. It made me wonder what I was doing initially in the Archer when I found normal circuits really fast and hard to keep up with the plane. I suppose that’s just a sign of how far I've come during my time out here. 

It was really exciting to be flying a new aircraft and to be flying as fast but I found it a lot to get used to, there was a lot of new material to learn, the cockpit to get used to and physically it seemed to take more strength to fly (not a quality I possess). The Seminole felt really challenging to me and with only 8 flights before the big skills test; I missed the familiarity and my competence on the Archer.

…Be careful what you wish for...

It turned out that a few of us were a bit short on Archer hours which needed to be made up before taking the CPL skills test. It was decided I’d have a familiarisation flight with my instructor before another solo pottering around the practice area; it actually wasn't too bad as I really enjoyed them, just was a bit worried about becoming unfamiliar with all the Seminole practices I’d spent so long learning so close to my test. I had more hours on the Archer than my Seminole instructor so he informed me it would be a chilled out kind of flight, Chandler departure, a few manoeuvres and then circuits back at Falcon. The start-up and taxing check-lists felt very quick and blissfully easy and I was in my element back in the little Archer cockpit. On the runway, I threw the throttle forward for take-off and “Oh wow” came out of my mouth, followed by a sarcastic “yup” From Casey. We started rolling forward at a snail’s pace, the acceleration felt incredibly slow thanks to my twin engine flights, I had more admiration for the Seminole after that.

That lesson and my solo flights were pretty easy and enjoyable and again that feeling of nostalgia kicked in about how much I loved the feeling of confidence and the freedom of flying around Arizona, of all places, by myself. After that interlude of a few days of Archer flying it was back to the Seminole, to say I didn't feel confident for the test would be an understatement. Our last lesson was supposed to be a sort of mock CPL where we’d complete the test profile and hopefully your instructor did not have to intervene. Mine did and comments throughout the flight did not put my mind at ease, however in the de-brief he said any points he’d made were only finicky, tidy-up points to make us better than test standard and he assured me that he thought I was more than capable. I did feel slightly more ready…