Sunday, 14 February 2016

SEP and bye bye Arizona

You have the option to do a SEP (single engine piston) test whilst out in America (for an additional cost) I want to keep flying when I'm back in England so decided it would be a good idea, it’s in the Archer’s and practice area which we’re very familiar with and I think it works out cheaper than in the UK.

The actual test was pretty easy in comparison to everything else we’d been through, only lasting about an hour; there was an AJ departure, touch and goes at Coolidge and a simulated engine failure and forced landing. I went with another guy who was taking the same test and we switched over at Coolidge so I didn't even need to do the arrival back at Falcon. It was a really nice finish to the course and my time flying in Arizona and meant I got to fly the Archer and appreciate the scenery one last time (not much time for this on the CPL test!)

I spent the rest of the day at school running around with my logbook and signature list trying to get everything signed off. Since I’d also finished about a month early I decided to change the dates of my return flights so I could get myself home a little early. I gave myself a week to get everything sorted, do my SEP and squeeze in a trip to Vegas once Oskar had passed his CPL as I was the first in the class to take it (Josh was a massive spoilsport and left the next day after his test).
I didn't know what to expect with Las Vegas, everyone said you needed to see it but it was nothing special. I thought it was amazing! There’s no place like it and the buildings were fantastic! We stayed in the Tropicana hotel, in separate rooms overlooking the airport and tried to visit as many of the themed casinos as possible. My favourites were Paris and New York (cue Dodgeball quote about riding the roller-coaster!) We were both also over 21 so wanted to enjoy ourselves ;)

We had to clear out the apartment, this was a massive task and took the best part of a day and I'm really going to miss the place, we had a nice send off in the form of one last visit to Dos Gringos and were finally ready to come home for a couple of weeks off before beginning the IR phase back in Oxford. Oskar changed his flights to the same as mine so at least I wasn't lonely on the plane back :) Bye bye Phoenix!

CPL tests!!!

After my little intermission of a few Archer flights, I was back on track and had one more lesson with Casey to get back into ‘Seminole mode’. We went to my favourite airport; Ak Chin to yet again practice circuits and engine failures which were getting to be second nature by now (despite my initial problems with the weight of the aircraft and how much force had to be applied to the rudder to stop the yaw). I also found if I trimmed backwards on final the flaring part of landing was much easier and my landings much softer. I tried a short-performance landing back at Falcon, and Casey said he’d not done one so well, or come off the runway so short, in a Seminole before!

 Lee also saw my landing from the ground and said I’d nailed it so I felt slightly more confident going in for the CPL (It’s still a scary thought!)

The actual CPL test is in 3 parts:
  • A written test – This was multiple choice and was mostly Seminole specific performance questions with a bit of theory from Met and PoF, and we were even allowed the POH with us so it wasn't too difficult

  • A Limited Panel sim assessment – Using the bit of instrument flying we’d done so far we had to recover from situations without external reference (IMC conditions) and with only the standby attitude indicator, turn coordinator, altimeter, airspeed indicator and compass. We had to perform timed or compass turns to establish headings and then did some upset recovery (using a POWER, ROLL, PUSH, STABILISE technique). Again, the assessment wasn’t too difficult

  • The Skills test – The most challenging by far, especially due to the limited hours you get on the Seminole. After getting in ridiculously early in the morning, planning, pre-flighting and having a quick hug from Brian, I was ready to go for my briefing. The examiner was lovely and made me feel as much at ease as possible as he explained the profile of the flight and asked if I had any questions. The weather was looking pretty good for my flight, CAVOK, with the usual turbulence and winds coming in later during the flight. The test consists of a nav, a diversion, an emergency, and manoeuvres, 2 types of landing at another airfield and finally getting back to do an assymetric landing at Falcon. It took 2 ½ hours in total which is tiring in itself, without the intense Arizona heat and ever turbulent air.

My Navigation exercise was a simple Chandler departure to a small town called Chichu, I’d never been there before but I know the whole practice area pretty well and in the glorious visibility it wasn't too hard to find.  Initially, I’d briefed how I wanted to avoid the Stanfield VOR area as there are lots of students practicing holds and approaches around there but Tom said he would take the radio as he knew how to talk to those people, which he achieved by putting on his best hic-American accent and asking for levels across the VOR. He’s also from Yorkshire! It was pretty funny.

My diversion was to GM airfield, somewhere I had been to many a time before!

My emergency was….wait for it….an engine failure! Of the people who've failed or partialled* I heard it was mostly from this section. You have to correctly diagnose and shut down the engine from memory. I asked “is there a fire?” The examiner said yes so I commenced the fire drill and really shut the engine down and commenced an emergency decent. Eventually he said “oh the fire’s out, restart the engine”.

My manoeuvres were all three of the stalls; the recover was fairly similar to the Archer apart from powering out as opposed to shoving the nose down so I wasn't too worried about these. I started turning, in landing configuration, for the base-turn stall and we just flew round in circles, the power settings were correct but the plane just didn't want to stall. With me anxiously waiting for the stall warner, Tom was laughing and practically idled the power to help me out, which wasn't standard but it worked. I then had to do steep turns which have a bank angle of 45 degrees, I like them, I like feeling a bit of G though it does take quite a lot of back-pressure to stop the nose from dropping. My speed also crept up a bit so I was really sweating. There’s just so much extra stress in exams. He then said “That’ll do, continue to Goodyear” Goodyear? Yes! An airfield I'm familiar and happy with.

We did our circuits at Goodyear, all with two engines; I think the controllers were extra friendly because they knew I was on a test. This included the normal and then flapless landings before departing for Falcon Field. We were running short on time (it really does fly in a test!) so followed a narrow corridor of uncontrolled airspace between Sky Harbour and the mountain, just under a shelf of Class B airspace. The low altitude meant the heat was really uncomfortable, for us both, and this wasn't helped by the fact my engine was taken away again so I could prepare for the assymetric landing back home. Thankfully it was one of my better landings and during the taxi back I ran over every tiny mistake I’d made in my head hoping I’d done alright.

Tom helped me push back the plane (phew, I definitely can’t push a Seminole by myself!) and left me to tie down before joining him for the de-brief. Ops came out in a golf cart to give me a ride back and Lee said he’d seen my last landing and knew I’d passed. I did!!! 

The de-brief was short, followed by a handshake and paperwork I needed to get signed off, I’d just completed the basic flying stage in Arizona and was ecstatic that it had all gone okay. Staff and students alike were congratulating me all day and once again I'm struck by how friendly everyone here is. Now I just had a tonne of signatures to collect before being signed off before returning home.

*If you only fail one section on a skills test you get a partial and can retake just that section, giving you a first time, second series pass (kind of takes a bit of pressure off)