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!

1 comment:

  1. Hello again,
    By the time you real this, your FIRST cross country solo flight will be history. We both (and your instructor as well) know that it will go well and that you will perform just fine! Congratulations!!
    I just watched the short video clip of your 'Okie' landing. That, good sir, is NOT a bad landing. Not even maybe. You may have made better ones, but there is nothing wrong with the landing in the video!
    Keek up the great progress and please keep your fans current with your progress - as you have time. I enjoy reading your blog. -Craig (I'll get the sign-in stuff adjusted in time. The user should read Cedarglen.)