Tuesday, 28 June 2011

First solo nears

Since the completion of the FAA written exam last Tuesday (this past week has gone so fast!) it's been a bit of a whirl wind to be honest. Lack of ground school, a humongous increase in free time and the bumper hours of flying has meant this past week has gone so quickly it really is hard to believe that this is our sixth week here already.

Over the next few days the Flybe Liaison Officer for this flight school will be heading out to see us. This will be the first time I have got to speak to him since the interview back in March. As this is the first meeting of it's kind for myself I'm unsure what to expect. It will hopefully be a great way for him to find out how I'm getting on and for me to find out more about the airline.

The 'Pattern': A standard path for all coordinated flights within an airspace.

The flights have been coming thick and fast and I'd like to think that my knowledge and piloting skills have also matched the requirements and standards set. The initial stage of flight training is designed so that you are able to fly a plane within the 'pattern' around the home airport or airfield, in this case Melbourne. The idea is that you are able, on your own, to complete all checks, taxi to the runway, take-off, join the 'pattern' and then land on the ATC directed runway and returning the the ramp. This should be completed three times to constitute the first solo flight. This usually comes after approximately 12 hours of flight (as long as all lessons up to that point have been passed).

The final three lessons leading up to this mainly cover everything within the pattern. This should cover the likes of normal and crosswind landings, simulated engine failures on runway and just after take-off, take-off and landing procedures and much, much more. Having now completed two of the three 'touch-and-go' lessons it becomes very clear very quickly the workload put onto a pilot during the time within an airspace either approaching or departing the airport. The stress levels also reach great heights on occasions, much to the amusement of my instructor.

So, final touch-and-go lesson tomorrow and then as I look at the pre-planned flights for the rest of the week, Thursday could be the big day...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Exams complete - for now...

Yesterday brought the end to the written examinations, in fact, any ground school for around 2 months. Tuesday morning, around about 7am I took the exam for the FAA PPL. It basically consisted of going into a small room with table, chair and computer to complete the task. The room is also monitored via camera.

The actual exam consisted of 60, three answer multiple choice questions which would be answered on the computer. Imagine the UK driving license exam - something along those lines. The time given for the paper is 3 hours however I wasn't planning to be in there, as wouldn't most, for more than 30 minutes to an hour. The pass rate on the exam is 70% (42 correct answers). 

In preparation for the exam we are given what is called the 'Gleim book' which consists of every possible question that could come up on the test - word for word. Now whether ethical or not it is very evident that the aim of the game is to remember as many questions, and more importantly answers, as is feasibly possible. Although this was the case a significant number were answerable by knowledge we had learnt from the far more in depth JAA material.

So, exam finished and passed by 7.30am (85%) it was time to head back home. That was it. No more serious study for nearly two months. Flying and resting is now the aim of the game. Although having said that this week I have and will continue to get up between 5am and 5.30am every day which isn't the greatest although around take off point at 7.15am I fully appreciate the early morning rise from slumber.

Following the exam it was time to celebrate and after a small unsuccessful bike ride to the Irish bar in down town Melbourne we headed for breakfast on campus. The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the pool and a quick visit to the gym.

In the air the flying is going well. I've now got 5.3 hours in my log book and already booked in twice for tomorrow and another trip the following day which is fantastic. 

Melbourne airport consists of two parallel runways plus one crossing runway. In total there is 27L/9R (longest runway), 27R/9L (2nd longest) and runway 23/5 (obviously the shortest). The runways are named by their magnetic heading to the nearest 10 degrees. So basically if a runway had a magnetic heading of 312 degrees the runway 'name' would be Runway 31. If two runways run parallel to each other as is the case here in Melbourne and at many airports across the world (in the UK we have Heathrow and Manchester as the predominant airports with such a set up) then they will be suffixed with left (L), centre (C) or right (R) as required. The main runways that we use as our particular flying school are 27L/9R and 23/5. The other is mainly used for circuits. Scheduled airlines such as Delta and US Airways use the main runway 27L/9R for obvious reasons.

Below is a bit of an indication as to how the airport is set out both as a map and picture.

After completing my flight early Monday morning a colleague was due to fly a cross country solo to Fort Lauderdale further down the Florida coast. He asked if I would like to tag along - the answer obviously being yes!

The flight was to consist of after departure following a direct route down to Fort Lauderdale International airport to complete a touch and go and then to return to Melbourne followed by a serious of touch and go's. The flight time in each direction would be little over an hour with a cruising altitude between 2,500ft and 5,500ft. During this flight I would simply be observing everything and taking no part in the operation of the flight.

After departure we immediately headed southbound directly towards our destination. The aircraft, the same type as the airplane I am currently training in, does climb quite well and will do so most effectively with an airspeed of 79 knots (approximately 91mph). The cruise speed very much varies due to winds etc. but can be expected anywhere between 100-120 knots (115-138mph) for an average journey. We reached our cruising altitude in little time and the pilot in command (PIC) set about completing the relevant checks and procedures to maintain a safe and law abiding flight. 

Being able to take advantage of just sitting and observing was fantastic. I was able to ask questions when needed and gained massive experience for future training. The most interesting and beneficial area of the whole trip was being able to listen to the interactions between ATC and aircraft. Currently I'm starting to use the communication tools more and more and this was great for both current and future reference.

As we approached the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale airspace it became apparent that the weather was advancing much more rapidly than anticipated therefore the PIC made the call to cancel the current flight plan and immediately return to base where the weather would be much more favourable. Again, more experience on how to judge the meteorological conditions from someone who has much more experience than myself in flying an aeroplane. 

On route back to Melbourne we approached Palm Bay, another busy scheduled airport about half way between both departure and arrival fields. It is served by a significant number of the larger american airlines therefore activity in and out of the airport is fast and heavy. Due to our course heading directly over the main arrival routing into Palm Bay we were instructed by ATC to head directly over the field to avoid any other traffic. Below are a couple of pictures over Palm Bay International airport.

Unfortunately as we were heading straight across I was unable to get any good views of the actual airport and therefore pictures were kept to a minimum.

Following this the PIC decided to continue to follow the new path back north and what a great decision that turned out to be. Following the coast line not only brought some amazing views but the weather was far superior to that further inland which made of a very smooth and comfortable ride home.

As you can see the views made up for any lack of in flight entertainment. As mentioned, the air was smooth for the cruise and we soon approached Melbourne. Decent and approach were dealt with quickly and efficiently and it was now time for the PIC to complete a number of 'touch and go's'. 

'Touch and Go's' are basically landings and instead of then stopping the aircraft, while still rolling down the runway, is configured to take-off conditions before returning back into the sky. The aircraft will then climb as it would on any other take-off before continuing on the circuit to complete another run. The PIC completed five of these before returning to the airport ramp. Below is a video of the final landing on runway 5.

All in all a fantastic experience which I hope to replicate many times over the coming months. It really does drive home how lucky I am to be here and the adventure that is still only just starting.

Now for two months of flying and R+R...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Taking flight

This week started with the final of the JAA (European) internal flight exams. Last weekend was mainly spent revising with a little bit of downtime. Following the test on Monday we then started our week long FAA (US) ground school which is running all this week during the evening culminating in the FAA written exam (external) on Monday or Tuesday.

The FAA written exam is completed on computer. They are sixty randomly generated questions from a bank of 800. They are all multiple choice questions with three possible answers. It covers pretty much every subject we have studied over the past three weeks.

The evening lessons have been great in freeing the day up however this week we have also started the practical part of our course. I had my first flight on Tuesday.

The below picture is an example of the aircraft I will be learning to fly in until early next year before starting twin engined flights. The Piper Warrior is a single engined aircraft capable of flying for around four hours carrying up to four people including crew. It's usual cruising speed is around 100kts (115mph). At this flying school there are a mixture of GPS and glass cockpits. GPS cockpits are very much the old style systems with analogue dials and controls. Glass cockpits are similar to what you'd see today on the modern commercial airliners. They're basically a number of glass screens displaying all the relevant information a pilot could possibly need. The handy addition with the glass cockpit is the auto pilot which I have heard can become very handy during approaches into larger airports.

The actual flight lesson consisted of my instructor and I running through preflight paperwork and procedures followed by a pre-flight inspection which involves checking various parts, areas and surfaces around the aircraft to make sure they're in full working order. After this we were then able to get into the air and go through a number of basic manoeuvres such as banking, pitching and yawing. As we're now in the hurricane season, the weather over here runs like clockwork. The worst of the weather is always expected in the afternoon. As we took off around lunchtime we started to experience some of the bad weather approaching. It made it impossible to establish a horizon to work with and the winds started to pick up quite considerably. After completing this we then returned to Melbourne International Airport for a debrief and finish off the paperwork. Although the flight was only just over an hour it provided a fantastic insight into how it is going to work over the next nine months or so. What surprised me most was the amount of paperwork involved for such a small flight. It mainly consists of hold the relevant documents during flight as well as load and weight balances before departure. Also, the temperatures it can get to inside such a small cockpit are extreme. Being dressed in a full uniform doesn't help either. Although once airborne the heat did start to subside. All in all a fantastic experience which I again hoped to do yesterday but due to visibility we were unable to go up.

As well as the lessons there is also something called 'backseating' which is pretty much as it sounds. I am able to jump in the back seat of another student's lesson which would allow me to focus on learning procedures and technicalities without having to worry about actually flying the aircraft. I was due to 'backseat' this morning but due again to visibility and also this time winds it wasn't possible.

I'm next due up in the air tomorrow morning around 8am which will hopefully be a bit cooler and calmer. With flying now being a 24/7 operation I can also look forward to a 6am start on Sunday.

Roll on the weekend...

Friday, 10 June 2011

They arrive...

It's Thursday evening and another week is nearly complete. This week again has involved JAA (European) Ground School over four days, concluding tomorrow.  As mentioned before, the Ground School consists of a number of classroom lessons lead by Ground Instructors who run through everything that we could possibly need to know. This week we have covered Communication, Operational Procedures, Human Performance and Limitations, General Flying Safety and today/tomorrow we're studying the dreaded Air Law.

The week has actually gone by extremely quickly. On Monday we took our first of two JAA internal Ground School exams. The pass rate is set at 75% (also the pass rate for both the FAA PPL and ATPL exams - more later). The test consisted of fifty multiple choice questions covering everything we had learnt the previous week. What has been great is the atmosphere amongst the group and discussions were held quite regularly which significantly helped the learning process. I got a pass rate of 80%. To me the mark was not the important thing, it was now knowing how the questions are to be presented and how to actually answer them. After receiving my paper back it was obvious where I had not read some of the questions correctly and by just taking that little bit of extra time and thought the mark could have been much higher.

Tuesday through to tomorrow sees the final phase of our JAA Ground School culminating in the second test being taken at the same time on this coming Monday.

Having first arrived in America (a place I have once visited before but only when much younger), it was all very surreal and taking everything in all at once was impossible. It was simply about going with the flow. Now that I've been here almost three weeks (a friend of mine only emailed me yesterday to remind me of that fact!) my surroundings are starting to become more of a reality. I suppose Florida is not the worst place in the world to spend the last months of my teenage years. The facilities and activities that are available to us all are fantastic. There are sports facilities in abundance, a sandy beach only ten minutes down the road by taxi, dozens of places to eat and drink and temperatures surpassing the 30 degrees mark everyday. For example - who can say their revision breaks are taken in the pool?! However this afternoon brought a blow that really brings me back down to earth with a bang - the 'ATPLs.'

The 'ATPLs' or Air Transport Pilot License exams to be exact are considered to be the most challenging exams of any commercial aviators career. The 14 tests consist of a number of subjects going into extreme detail regarding the entire world that is the air transport industry. It can cover anything from the nuts and bolts in a pressure valve to the navigation of a commercial airliner. Over the past few weeks I've spoken to a significant number of students already here training who are at various stages along their respective courses. Every one that I have spoken to has said that they are "a pain in the arse." [the extremely clean version!]

Today we received all of our folders and relevant paperwork with regards to these exams which will take six months to complete, divided into three modules. As far as I am aware these will begin in August/September. Having had a short look through one of the sealed packs the work seems extremely detailed and time consuming. I must say these for me will certainly be the hardest part of the course. The pass rate for these is again, similar to the internal exams, 75%. However due to the Flybe scheme I currently fall under an average pass mark of 90% or above (over the 14 exams) is only acceptable. Added pressure for sure.

This weekend will again involve a lot of time in the books to again try to attain a pass mark in this coming internal exam. I'm sure there will also be time for the beach and a bit of downtime in there also...

Following successful completion of the JAA Ground School brings one week (or evenings) of FAA Ground School study. More on this next week.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

First week complete

Well; the first week of ground school has been and gone!

Ground school involves covering a number of basic subjects with regards to flying a plane and the procedures and effects involved with doing so. The initial aim is to gain what is called a Private Pilot's License. This will allow me to fly small aircraft (usually four seater aircraft) on my own.

The subjects we have covered this week include Principles of Flight (how an aircraft actually flies), Aircraft General Knowledge (minor details regarding aircraft structure and how the aircraft works), Meteorology (weather), Flight Performance and Planning and Navigation. Some have been interesting, others not so. Having a passion and general interest in the industry and profession certainly helps me get through the rougher subjects but all in all a very good start to the course. The actual content is not the most difficult or challenging really, it's just very much volume intensive and taking it all in at once can be quite hard, sometimes impossible.

The actual lessons take place in what is called the 'Annex' situated next to the airport perimeter. A number of classrooms and simulators make up the building. Lessons have been running anywhere between 8.30am and 9pm at night. This has resulted in a few early morning starts which have this weekend caught up with me. As I type I'm feeling quite tired and it's only 9pm!

Monday brings the first of two progress tests set by PTC. It will cover all the subjects studied this past week.

Outside of the classroom I've been taking advantage of the sports facilities on sight. The gym and basketball courts have both been great in getting downtime around the quite intense ground school. For $10 a month you can't beat it!