Friday, 1 July 2011

A ray of sunshine between the clouds

The weather over the past couple of days has been nothing short of terrible. Being in the Sunshine State we are susceptible to some of the world's worst thunderstorm weather throughout the summer and autumn periods.

The weather here in Florida has seemed to follow a regular pattern since our arrival. Very clear and cool (well, below 25 degrees) in the early morning and throughout the day the weather gets more unstable and naturally the air much more humid. Therefore it's quite obvious that flying in the morning is not only better but at the moment it's almost a certainty that post 3pm you'll be sat on the ground with no chance of getting into the aircraft.

A classic afternoon in summer Florida

To keep things simple there are two types of flying. Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).

VFR is what I am currently learning to fly. It is very much focusing on navigating outside of the aircraft. By that I mean focusing on reference points. Buildings, lakes, land masses etc. These can all be used to plan flights and therefore used as navigational aides. It's quite obvious that to fly a VFR flight you need to have reasonable visibility both on the ground and in the air. There are specific distances between the aircraft and relevant points that constitute whether the conditions are VFR or IFR.

Clearly not VFR conditions

IFR is what you will experience when flying commercially. Whenever you're off on holiday or a business trip on airlines such as easyJet, BA and Ryanair you're flight crew will be operating the flight under IFR conditions. Although we don't cover this subject specifically until later in the course the basic idea is that the pilots fly the aircraft based solely on the instruments within the aircraft and under air traffic control supervision. In modern jets it's almost standard for the aeroplane to be able to take off into a cloud and see nothing until touching down at the destination airport due to the advanced technology on board. Therefore a flight can operate under IFR conditions in far worse weather.

As I said, I'm currently working under VFR rules therefore I need acceptable weather to fly. The minimums for an inexperienced/student pilot would be 5 nautical miles visibility and scattered/broken cloud at 1000 feet. My instructor is very keen on early morning flying and I must say it is paying off! I've been able to get in many hours where as others have been less fortunate due to weather cancellations.

I have been able to get in enough hours to today take my first solo flight and therefore earn my first bars on my epaulettes. I am under the impression that the European (JAA) and American (FAA) first solo flights follow a similar procedure.

Firstly it involves two hours of ground school conducted by the flight instructor. This includes a twenty question multiple choice paper followed by any problems that need to be covered by the student either from the test or anything else. Following this it's time to get into the plane and get into the air. Firstly 30 minutes is spent with the instructor who will have one final look at the pattern work by the student (as discussed in the previous post). Then, if he/she is suitably happy it's time to drop him/her off at the end of the active runway and prepare for what most consider to be the most important flight in any aviators career - their first solo.

Mine today consisted of three take-offs and landings. Believe it or not I was not as nervous as I thought I would be; mainly due to the fact that I'd done it for over three hours over the previous three days and felt comfortable. Albeit it this time it would be without that safety buffer of a fully qualified and experienced flight instructor in the right seat. The biggest surprise was the performance of the aircraft due to it being lighter. The benefit of this was the increase in engine to weight performance but the drawback was that during landing the winds were more effective on the lighter aeroplane.

All three landings went very well with minor hick-ups and I can now look forward to my second solo which will hopefully be tomorrow afternoon - weather permitting!

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