Saturday, 30 July 2011

First Cross Country Solo

Sunrise during the pre-flight before departure from Melbourne

Tuesday came and saw me take to the sky for the first time in nearly a week with my new instructor. Having a weekend away in Orlando had taken my mind off of the flying and it wasn't until I actually got into the plane I realised it had almost been a week!

It was great to once again get into the air and continue the training. The first thing I noticed about the new instructor was his different style of teaching. It is almost impossible for me to describe. I can't quite put my finger on it but I certainly think a change is always good and I look forward to seeing what different techniques and advice he has to offer me over the coming months.

Our first flight together was a cross-country flight to Okeechobee. It was very much focused on him being able to get a feel as to where I am in the training and how we can move forward. It was also great just to have a chat and to get to know him a little better also.

Landing in Okeechobee - not my best landing but one I would class as safe and acceptable.

The flight went well down to Okeechobee and on the return I was diverted by my instructor to Vero Beach, an airport about 15-20 miles off course. This involves planning the route from the point of diversion to the arrival airport listing en route the magnetic heading, distance, fuel burn over that distance, expected time of arrival and the minimum safe altitude (MSA) over that distance all while still flying the plane to that diversion airport. My understanding is that to pass the check ride you must fall within 2 miles and/or 2 minutes of your calculations (I maybe wrong on that and someone can correct me!)

After the Vero Beach diversion we headed back to Melbourne to complete a few touch and go's in the pattern. As we approached Melbourne I contacted Tower of our intentions and to receive instruction for entry into the airspace and relevant pattern.

"Melbourne Tower, FIT 42 is currently over Radiation (a VFR reporting point - basically what I assume to be a power station on the ground) requesting to enter the pattern with information wiskey (current weather information)"

The controllers reply was...

"FIT 42, head towards the causeway (another VFR reporting point), expect Runway 27R, report over the causeway."

So off we set to enter the pattern.

"FIT 42, continue north-east over the causeway to avoid traffic landing 27L, you'll be cleared for base after the inbound aircraft has cleared your path. Report traffic in sight."

My instructors initial reaction was to ask the controller the type of aircraft we were looking out for until we saw right in front of us and no more than a few miles away a Delta MD88 pass right in front on finals for the parallel runway. Seeing them on the ground is impressive but air to air has to be the best viewpoint ever. It was a moment where you had to admire then quickly remember you're flying an aeroplane. However, it was nothing on what was about to follow...

In Melbourne for a number of days a US Air Force C-17 had been sat on the ramp and rumour was that the aircraft had gone tech. Before departure to Okeechobee we saw landing a C-130 and a fellow C-17 and assumed both were there to help said stranded aircraft. Anyway, as we were in the pattern and on finals for Runway 27R tower contacted us.

"FIT 42, cleared to land Runway 27R, caution wake turbulence from aircraft departing 27L."

A quick look out to our 10 o'clock saw the rescuing C-17 entering the runway and begin it's immediate take-off roll. Although the following video doesn't provide the best view point due to the bumpiness of the approach (I blame the weather!) it was without doubt the coolest thing I have seen since my arrival here in the USA.

The aircraft performs a short-field take-off, flies level for the remainder of the 10,000ft+ runway (the nearest thing we are going to see to a tower flyby in Melbourne!) and then heads almost vertically into the sky. I have been told this is a military type of take-off that often takes place in war-zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan where ground-to-air missiles are frequent (anyone wish to clarify?) but whatever it was it was bloody impressive. A great end to a very good flight.

So after a couple of hours of flying we landed, returned to the ramp and did our debrief. As I'd hoped he was able to offer me some advice different from that I would have likely have gotten from my old instructor about things to think about old and new. It was also pleasing that he was happy with my flight and I would be ready for my first solo cross country. I must say, I'm very pleased with my new instructor.

Thursday. First cross country solo. I was to repeat my trip to Okeechobee. I arrived early at the Flightline for my instructor to have a look over my flight plan and complete all the relevant paperwork (yes there is more) for me to be able to fly legally before he departed on another lesson with a fellow student.

Being over an hour before departure I dared to look at the TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast) which would give me a text brief of the weather expected over the coming few hours. It didn't look good: VCTS - which quite painfully translates as thunderstorms in the vicinity. It was quite odd actually as I look outside and saw clear blue sky with quite high winds at 11 knots but saw no sign of these thunderstorms that were due locally within the following hour or so. With the weather as it is here in Melbourne it's almost never readable. To add confusion to the decision of whether to go or not go, the radar was showing little cloud, little turbulent air and pretty calm conditions up to my highest cruising altitude of 5,500ft.

I was lost. 30-odd hours into my training and I couldn't make up my mind. To many of you pilots reading that would automatically be a 'no-go' scenario. Play it safe and I was 99% sure of doing the same, as much as it pained me. However, as the new METAR (weather information) and updated TAF came out and the TS had disappeared from the screen it looked more promising. I had a chat with my old instructor who was hanging about between his flights and he agreed it was perfectly fine to go. Having spoken to the weather-briefer on the phone before hand (quite an odd, inefficient system whereby you are able to ring up someone and file a flight plan and gain all the possible information you would/could possibly want to know about your route of flight and areas around it - a twentieth century system that has avoided the chop in an industry obsessed with cost cutting) they said there shouldn't be anything to worry about weather-wise en route.

So paper work completed, aircraft prepared and off I went! After departure from Runway 5 I headed South West to my starting point along my route. Time and fuel logged, route to the next check-point, look outside for traffic, aircraft checks, look outside for traffic, radio changes/checks, look outside for traffic, heading, altitude, speed, look outside for traffic, time and fuel logged, route to the next check-point...That is pretty much the recurring theme along the flight route until approaching the destination airport where further planning comes into play including getting the weather information for arrival and then the current runway in use. At un-towered airports it is the responsibility of the pilots flying within the pattern and on the ground as well as those around the field to make sure they abide by those rules and regulations set. It is often that you are able to determine the current runway some distance away simply by the wind heading however as soon as I'm onto the relevant frequency for the airport it's possible to confirm your arrival route to enter the pattern.

The flight en route was bumpy and I wasn't able to get to my desired cruising altitude of 4,500ft due to the cloud above meaning I had no other choice but to cruise at 2,500ft. Visibility was good, the aircraft was performing well so I had nothing really to complain about and other than the clouds being lower that expected everything else was better than I had hoped for.

Luckily Runway 14 was in operation at this time therefore I was able to head south before making a right turn to enter the left downwind for the runway. Checks complete, aircraft configured for landing. A good landing (If I should say so myself!) and then a taxi back to the runway for departure back to Melbourne. Times and figures noted, radio calls made, aircraft configured for take-off and I was back into the air within minutes heading back north to base.

A complete opposite flight was completed with no problems on the return leg although thankfully the clouds had lifted slightly so I could cruise at 3,500ft as opposed to 1,500ft (although my desired 5,500ft cruise was never going to happen!) Approaching Melbourne I was looking at around 25 minutes of flight time to spare. My instant thought was to practice some crosswind landings in the patter until I got the ATIS.

"Winds 110 at 12 knots."

A bit of a gulping noise preceded my call to tower for entry for a definite full stop landing and taxi back to the ramp.

"FIT 37, make a left 360 and then fly straight in for runway 5, expect late landing clearance."

Runway 5?! A quick calculation meant I would be landing into a crosswind of almost 10 knots on what can only be described as a glamorous taxiway! No thanks!

"Melbourne Tower, FIT 37, can I request runway 9R please?"

"FIT 37 no problem, fly north west, expect 9R."

A sense of relief came over me. 10,000ft of asphalt with hundreds of feet either side of the centreline to play with not to mention an almost direct headwind for landing. I headed north west.

"FIT 37, cleared to land Runway 9R, you're number one."

Lining up with the runway was a bit tricky and involved a considerably amount of rudder work but finally she was in line, two red two white on the PAPI landing lights (a guidance system to help landing aircraft which I will describe in further detail in a future post) and after a bit of a bumpy approach another good landing (they always happen when no-one is there to see them!) followed by a long taxi back to the ramp.

Aircraft shut down, closed and tied up, paperwork complete and back to home base for a rest.

Since Thursday I've been packing for our move tomorrow from our temporary accommodation to the permanent apartments the other side of the campus. Having had a little nosey around this evening while dropping off some of my stuff it was nice to see we'll be living somewhere better than where we are currently.

So, tomorrow we move and Monday is my next flight! Roll on the new week!

Monday, 25 July 2011

How this flying stuff works

Having found out that my instructor would be changing on Thursday it was the following day I would find out who would be continuing my training for the foreseeable future. I was pleased to see that it was in fact the instructor I would have chosen had I had the choice. Having back-seated on a couple of his flights I like his teaching style and look forward to working with him.

Late last week saw six of us on the May 2011 course take a break and head up to Orlando for the weekend. One of those on the course has parents who own a property in the area and therefore on Friday evening we set off north. Having hired two cars we eventually managed to stop off for something to eat. Lake Okeechobee, one of the largest lakes in Florida, has a high concentration of catfish and said restaurant specialised in such delicacies as catfish and alligator. Now I am one for trying different foods but unfortunately these two do not fall into that category and I stayed with the tried and tested cow meat.

Saturday morning was spent by the villa's pool and just enjoying being away from what we know here in Melbourne. In the afternoon we ventured to Florida Mall, quite well known for it's size. Having never been before I was quite surprised and disappointed at how small it was compared to the reviews. It is what I would class as a large shopping centre in the UK, something along the lines of The Trafford Centre, Manchester. Shopping done, stomachs full we headed back to the house.

Today was spent mainly by the pool and heading back to Melbourne. Although it wasn't the most eventful weekend I've experienced, it was just great to get away from here for a few days.

Also, a special thanks to those parents who did let us stay at their villa this weekend. I know that from time to time you read this - it was very much appreciated! :-)

Anyway, having gone through my weekend I thought it about time I explain how the whole process of flying here in Melbourne works. I've covered things such as the how the basic airport pattern works and what I do in the air but not much about what goes on on the ground before and after the flight.

When working with an instructor the idea is as you would expect any lesson plan. Discuss the lesson learnings before, practice during and evaluate when back on the ground. I'm going to base this on a non-navigational flight. I will discuss navigation flight planning at a later date.

Upon arriving as the Flightline I check in for our flight with one of the dispatchers. It is usually at this point we are told our aircraft for the day and I can from then start planning for the flight.

Initially I need to get hold of the aircraft's weight and balance figures. Adding in the weight of both my instructor and myself as well as any other baggage plus fuel. A Piper Warrior will carry up to 50 gallons of fuel, 25 gallons in each tank. 48 of these are usable, the other 2 not for different reasons. The flight school here fill up the tanks before every flight therefore one can always assume to be carrying 48 gallons on the weight and balance sheet.

Once the weights are inserted the aircraft's centre of gravity (CG) can be calculated. There is an envelope of limits in which the CG must fall for the aircraft to be airworthy. Should the CG be too far forward the aircraft will become too nose heavy and pitching the nose will be a struggle. If the CG is too far back (aft) then the pitch will be far greater and more forward pressure on the yoke would be needed.

The basic idea of calculating the weight and balances is so that when the aircraft is airborne it is able to be operate within it's safe operating limits. Following this I will get the METAR information (weather) for the local area at the current time and in the coming few hours. This will allow me to calculate the aircraft's performance levels in the current conditions such as take-off distances and speed rates.

Once these have been done and filed with dispatch I am then able to get hold of the aircraft binder. This gives me the information regarding engine figures and maintenance records over a certain period of time. It also contains the key for the airplane.

At this point I am then able to go and be dispatched by PTC's arm. They provide me with all the lesson plans as well as a black can containing all sorts of legal documentation I hopefully will never have to call upon. With all flight school and PTC information checked and cross checked I can then approach my instructor who will run through with me the plans and goals for the lesson ahead.

This usually involves a short brief on the different things we will be doing and any questions/schooling that can be done on the ground to save time in the air.

Brief done and documents signed we head out to the aircraft to pre-flight. The process up to this point can take up to 30-40 minutes. Under FAA regulations, wearing high visibility jackets is not must however as we're training under JAA we must, by law, be correctly attired which includes such safety features.

Each instructor has different ways of working with the student to pre-flight the aeroplane. It is always the case that the student will fully inspect the aircraft before the flight which includes checking the cockpit, lights, moving parts, wheels, fuel and much more. This takes place before every flight from the small Piper Warrior all the way up to and including the heavy commercial jets. The instructors often then confirm the relevant checks have been done and the next part of the paperwork is checked, completed and signed off. Now for the flying!

After landing and taxiing in to the ramp more paperwork is checked and completed including the aircraft's figures which basically calculate the time in which the engines were running and therefore how long the flight was to the nearest tenth of an hour (6 minutes). After re-securing the aircraft we close the flight by visiting the flight school dispatch and then PTC.

Following this my instructor and I will then run through the lesson, discussing positives and what needs to be worked on and anything in between. Any questions or problems I may have had can then be discussed and clarified before closing the lesson with PTC. This can end up with a pass of the exercise or a failure (the dreaded red paper!) In a future post I'll run through the lesson plans including how they are assessed.

Lesson done and then back onto the bus back to get showered and changed.

That is a very basic insight into how the before and after flying works on an exercise flight. I didn't want to go into great detail regarding the paperwork as the majority of it, in fact all of it, is boring and monotonous and although is something I am going to have to become accustomed to for the rest of my life, it's not something I like to talk about all too often. I'm sure over time I'll be publishing more posts describing this in much more detail as the workload in flight increases and inevitably a linear pattern occurs on the ground.

This week I hope to get up in the air on Tuesday with my new instructor for the first time. With it being almost a week since I was last up I'm rather looking forward to not only getting back into the plane but also with a new teacher who will hopefully be not only able to offer me advice moving forward but maybe a different perspective on practices I'm already getting accustomed to.

I think I'm getting used to how this flying stuff works...

Finally, something that may not have appeared around the world in the news but here in Florida a small aircraft crash took place yesterday involving three people. The plane was based here in Melbourne but crashed nine miles from Valkaria, an un-manned airfield mentioned in earlier posts only a few miles south of here.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Taking advantage of the time we have

Over a week has passed and another week closer to those looming six months of studying. I keep mentioning on here, far too often in fact, that the time is passing us by so quickly but it is so very true. Over eight weeks down here in Florida, approximately thirty two more to go.

With regards to my own personal flying over the past week it has been very much focused on what is known as 'flying under the hood.' This basically constitutes flying with no outside visibility to the student pilot. There are a couple of devices that can be used to do this. Firstly are the 'foggles' which we were issued with during our induction week. These are basically glasses as you would expect a lab worker to wear however the majority of the plastic lenses are covered in a foggy material similar to that of some bathroom windows. The other option is what I would call half a dog collar. It's basically exactly that with an elastic strap around one end which goes around the head and the dog collar covers the view north of level sight. I prefer the latter which is more effective in blocking any outside view and therefore helps combat the temptation of 'cheating.'

The idea of these lessons is to teach us how to fly the aircraft solely on the instruments we have in front of us. Fortunately we have been able to use the glass cockpit aircraft which not only make it easier for working with navigational aids but give that little sense of the future in the airline industry with regards to the tools we will be using. Obviously the depth the systems go into is no where near as hi tech as those in the jets you and I fly as passengers everyday but they're the nearest thing to it - for now anyway!

By using the instruments we are able to learn how to fly and navigate heights, speeds, rates, distances, locations and much more, often multiples at a time. It was quite challenging and very tiring but extremely enjoyable. I've probably enjoyed the past few hours more so than any other stage of my training so far. Having a great instructor also helps.

Anyway, so having completed 10 hours or so in the past week it was great to have a weekend off and it's been quite eventful I must say! On Saturday I again back seated a flight (or four!)

We left Melbourne International at 7am to head down again to Fort Lauderdale and this time we were successful in making a touch and go at the airport. Fort Lauderdale is quite a large airport handling multiple daily scheduled flights across the country and on certain days transatlantic flights so this was my first time of entering airspace such as this. Being a passenger it was great to see what I'll be doing most likely this coming week as I begin my navigation cross country flights.

After departure from Fort Lauderdale we headed in land to cross Florida to Naples on the Caribbean coast.

The state of Florida is not the smallest in the USA but when flying directly over the top of it it can be covered quite quickly, even at low speeds around 100mph. Less than an hour later we made a full stop landing in Naples and headed to the Fixed Base Operator (FBO) to take advantage of their facilities.

Having filled up with fuel we departed Naples and headed north to Tampa. Tampa international is one of the larger airports in Florida taking in hundreds of scheduled movements and thousands of passengers every day. When flying a cross country flight it is always an advantage to take 'Flight Following.' This is pretty much as read. When operating a VFR flight it is not always a necessity to contact Air Traffic Control (ATC). However, by being tracked by ATC at all times it makes the pilot's job that little bit easier. It allows he/she to be directed by the controller on the ground which takes away quite a lot of the navigation and helps the pilot concentrate on flying the aircraft.

In busy airspace such as Miami and Orlando this can be quite stressful however listening to your call sign, directions, vectors, weather advisories etc. Having listened to such frequencies for a few hours now I can start to appreciate how hard it can be however I must always remember that upon returning home I'll be hoping to fly in UK airspace which is without doubt one of the busiest on the planet! 

Anyway, with Flight Following giving us our altitudes and headings we could being our approach into Tampa. The airport has three runways, two parallel and one running perpendicular through one of the parallels. It was clear very early on that the two major runways were being used for incoming and outgoing commercial jets and the latter for smaller aircraft needing access to certain FBO's. 

On approach we were sent pretty much directly over down town Tampa. Following a left turn onto final we made a full stop landing in Tampa International Airport for lunch.

Final approach into Tampa

Tampa International Airport

After landing we taxied to the Signature FBO (one of the largest ground service companies in the US) who quickly parked us up, sorted out of fuel order and presented us with a free complimentary car for our stay.

One of the perks of flying around the US is the free car hire often available. We then headed over the road to the International Mall for some lunch at The Cheesecake Factory. Definitely recommended!

After lunch we returned to the airport, got our flight information and weather, sorted fuel payment and headed to the plane for the cross state flight back to Melbourne.

The flight back to Melbourne was fantastic in terms of ease. We departed on the opposite runway to our arrival and the runway heading pointed us almost directly towards our final destination. Cross the state there are a number of areas to avoid as either private or commercial airline pilots. The two we encountered en route were the military practice areas and the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) over Disney World. However due to our course we were able to stay directly on course and avoid said areas quite comfortably.

As we approached Melbourne we got the Airport Terminal Information (ATIS) for the airport. This tells us the main components of the local weather around the field, the runway information and any other notices that should be known to pilots operating within the area. Luckily for us the winds were favourably meaning we were able to land on the runway we were directly lined up with for over 100 miles. 

With a Delta jet ten miles ahead touching down well before ourselves it left the runway completely clear. Auto-pilot was used until on final and after a very good landing by the Pilot in Command (PIC) we were given taxi instructions onto ramp. The final flight of the day complete and a great way to finish. Although I wasn't piloting the aircraft it was fantastic experience for me to get over five hours flight time of just observing what I will be doing over the coming months.

Having had a great day on Saturday, Sunday was just as good. The time we have available at the moment means we have a lot of free time. We are in one of the most beautiful areas of the United States and we are definitely trying to take advantage of this. Sunday morning, nice and early at 8am we left the dorms and headed towards the docks. The morning would be spent on two speed boats wizzing around the river that runs between two land masses. With water skis, donuts and refreshments packed we headed out.

The morning was spent relaxing, exploring and just generally enjoying ourselves. It was great to get out onto the water and have a bit of fun with the boats. 

For anyone coming to Florida I would definitely recommend hiring a car and getting out of the usual tourist traps of Orlando and head for the coasts. Melbourne, although not the best tourist resort, there are still some fantastic things to do - this certainly being one of them and for a fraction of the price you would expect to pay back in Europe.

The afternoon was spent resting and recuperating plus I also had my first flight plan to prepare for the following day. Yesterday was my first cross country flight, well all 51 miles of it. Having completed two hours of ground school my instructor and I headed for a popular un-towered airport of Okeechobee to the south west of Melbourne. It was great to finally put into practice what we have learnt and manipulate it into something resembling what our job in the long term will involve. Altitudes, headings, speeds, RPMs, fuel flows, weather and radio frequencies all had to be calculated, recorded and prepared before departure. 

The flight went really well and having returned to Melbourne we debriefed on any problems and questions that needed answering - luckily there weren't many!

Today's flight was a complete mix of everything we've done over the past week or so with a new element of diverting while en route. I filed a flight plan the same as yesterday but during the flight my instructor said we were diverting to another airport. While still flying the plane the idea is then to quickly yet accurately plan your route to that new airfield including heading, distance, time en route, estimated time of arrival and fuel used during that time. Although it is a hell of a lot to do at once I did find it quite manageable as we had discussed it in great detail yesterday therefore I was aware of what needed doing and when. Following this we revisited the 'under the hood' work before a simulated engine failure followed by pattern work in Valkaria, a small non-towered airfield south of Melbourne.

Again the flight went really well with only minor topics to cover in terms of development. However some bad news did come today in that I'll be reassigned a new instructor within the next few days. The reason for this is that my current instructor is being taken to concentrate more on the latter stages of the training here in Florida. Having started flying only a few weeks ago the amount I have learnt has been mainly down to him. His teaching style is very suited to me and and I'm quite disappointed to be losing him. Hopefully when I get to the Commerical Pilot License (CPL) stage of my training early next year I'll get him back!

So at the moment I sit in a bit of an odd place not knowing when I'm next flying and who it will be with! Take advantage of the time you have...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Time flies

Saturday was seven weeks since we arrived here in Melbourne. It's amazing how quickly it's gone - quite scary too! It's equally amazing how much flight time and experience I'm getting in such a short space of time.

Friday was also a time for us to admire and witness a piece of history as the last NASA shuttle took to space. More on that later on.

Since Tuesday I've been up in the air for a further 3.9 hours of which 2.6 was solo. This included going up into the pattern at Melbourne and also an area solo over the practice areas south of the city.

The latter involves flying into what are known as the 'practice areas' around Melbourne. There is:

  • H (Hotel) East
  • H (Hotel)West
  • I (India) North
  • I (India) South
  • B (Bravo) 
These cover areas around the airport and in those airspaces we're able to practice our manoeuvres, ground referencing and much more. 

Firstly I completed an hour with my instructor on Friday basically covering what we had already done over the past few weeks. It is what I would class as an 'eventful flight.' The main reason being was the weather conditions we faced. The winds were strong - very strong. We initially got the information as 15 knots (17mph) gusting to 25 knots (29mph). When you consider this as a crosswind and the aircraft has a take-off speed of around 55 knots (63mph) it is quite a deciding factor. Anyway, the take-off went well but getting into the practice areas 'Hotel East' and 'Hotel West' I found the conditions very challenging. During the flight my instructor was able to complete what is known as a 'slow dirty flight' whereby you fly the plane at the slowest possible speed with full flaps but avoid stalling the airplane. What he was able to do was calculate the wind speed and heading and almost make the plane stop in mid-air. A fantastic experience - he was just showing off... 

Anyway, after what I would class as my most challenging flight so far we began our approach back into Melbourne. Everything was going fine until we got the ATIS (Automated Terminal Information Service - a facility at most major and minor airports detailing the weather and any other relevant information for that airport) which was a bit worrying. I was actually half expecting my instructor to take over the approach and landing due to the conditions but I personally feel he enjoys seeing me sweat and was quite happy to sit back and watch.

During the final approach it was time to put into practice the crosswind landing theory I have been taught over the past few weeks. Although it wasn't the best landing you'll ever see I was quite happy that it was safe and successful. On what was a horrible flight it was most certainly the most beneficial since arriving here in the USA.

The following morning, bright and early at 6.30am I took to the sky to complete the same flight but on my own. I was extremely thankful that the weather was calm and clear with only a covering of cloud out at sea. Seeing the sun rise from over the Atlantic at 4000 feet is quite amazing I must say.

The best photo I could get of the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. 

The flight went very well and I was able to tidy up a few bits and pieces before returning to Melbourne. This was the first time that I had approached the airport, entered the pattern and landed with no one else in the cockpit. Although there is very little difference there is a small voice in the back of the head making sure I know that I am the only one there and there is no instructor to bail me out if I cock up at any point. The approach went fine (thanks to the repetitive nature of departing and approaching the same runways almost everyday). It was good to jump into the pattern with a couple of fellow students in the same class who were practising their pattern work. I jumped in, landed and got out of their way. Having completed almost fifty landings so far I must say that the landing on Runway 23 was by far my best yet. With no winds and great conditions I was able to execute what is apparently called a 'greaser' whereby you hear the screeching of the wheels almost kissing the runway. I just wish there was someone else there to see it! 

Yesterday I had a flight booked in for the late afternoon and into the early evening. The next ten hours or so will focus mainly around flying solely on the instruments in front of me as opposed to using outside aids such as the horizon. Unfortunately due to a mixture of the weather and my instructors legal flying hours we were unable to complete the flight therefore tomorrow will be the first. I'm actually very much looking forward to doing something that long term as a commercial airline pilot will become almost one hundred percent of my working day - looking at instruments to fly the aircraft.

Finally, on Friday I got to witness, although in not the best conditions, something I had been very excited about ever since finding out about the final NASA shuttle launch. 

The idea of witnessing a shuttle heading into space is quite amazing but to be able to see the final launch of one of man kind's greatest machines was indescribable. Unfortunately due to me having a flight shortly afterwards and the fact that the cloud base was extremely low I was only able to see the glowing embers from underneath the shuttle as it climbed at a ridiculous rate into the air. One of the main highlights not only of the past week but also this entire journey of becoming a pilot.

A friend took this photo on my camera - it was some distance away and the conditions weren't great.

This week I am hoping to get quite a few more hours under my belt and what is most scary is the arrival of the new class this coming Saturday. It's really hard to believe that we will not be the new kids on the block and even more unbelievable - we've been here nearly two months...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


Having completed my solo flight last week I was chomping at the bit to get back up into the air as soon as possible. Imagine the time when you passed your driving test and all you wanted to do was go driving.

Unfortunately due to the weather on Friday I was unable to get another lesson in before the weekend. As previously mentioned the weather over here can change extremely quickly and go to the very extremities.

I was also given the weekend off by my instructor. This led to a very lazy weekend. I was fortunate to catch a back seat flight on Saturday which was very beneficial but other than that the weekend was very much spent relaxing and recuperating from what has been, well I must say, not the hardest few of weeks of my life.

Yesterday was, as many will know, Independence Day here in the United States. It marks the country's birthday in which it broke from British rule all those years ago. The USA is very patriotic on all fronts, most notably the southern states such as the one I currently reside in. Melbourne marked the country's celebrations with fireworks and a parade to which we never went. Personally I was expecting more celebrations but no, it was quite a sombre day.

Although the country was technically 'on holiday' yesterday, at 8am I took to the air for the first time since Thursday and after ridding a tiny bit of rust we proceeded to practice what are known as Short Field and Soft Field landing and take-offs. Since I now have a basic understanding of how the aircraft works, manoeuvres and feels we are able to get more enjoyment as well as learning out of a lesson and the activity was certainly most enjoyable. It basically covers the practice of adapting different landing styles for different terrain and conditions, in these cases short runways and soft ground (grass etc.) 

Tomorrow I complete my second solo after a quick run out in to the pattern with my instructor. 

Finally, the NASA shuttle launch is due to take place on Friday lunchtime only a few miles from our base here in Melbourne. Hopefully we'll be able to get a great spot to see a piece of history.

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!