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...

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