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.


  1. You really should try catfish sometime - I don;t know why people find it intimidating. It's a tasty, flaky white fish, excellent either southern style (fried with bread crumbs) or cajun style (blackened). Alligator is an acquired taste, usually served battered and fried with something to give it a bit of heat. I usually pass.

    A comment on your CG discussion - it isn't that a rear CG results in needing larger pitch and more forward pressure. It's actually that the CG is to close to the center of pressure, and the horizontal tail generates less downforce to maintain level flight. As a result, the airplane is less stable (and less draggy), and harder to control. Excursions can happen in any direction, and control forces can be actually lighter, because the airplane will respond overly quickly to your inputs. Taken to an extreme, a rear CG condition can become uncontrollable, with the airplane pitching high one moment, then you over correct and pitch down too far. Modern fighter aircraft are deliberately unstable, and can't be flown by human reflexes unless assisted by a computer. My Bonanza has this problem if you load it too heavily in the back, I have to watch my loading carefully.

    A forward CG position has the opposite affect - the airplane becomes too stable. My Sundowner has this problem - full fuel and two adults in the front, and it can be out of limits. When that happens the CG is too far forward, and the tail is producing a lot of downforce (and drag) just to stay level. On landing, you can run out of elevator authority just when you want to keep the nose high, and you end up kangarooing down the runway until something gives.

  2. Hi D.B, thanks for a more in depth explanation - I found it really hard to explain!

  3. I'm confused about this bit:
    "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."

    It sounds to me like this means that there is 50 gallons of fuel on board, but only 48 of it can be used, so why isn't there 50 gallons of weight of the W&B sheet? Does the extra 2 gallons get accounted for elsewhere?

  4. Hi Louise,

    The 48 gallons is what is held in the tanks. The 2 gallons extra are what are assumed to be in the aircraft itself and are therefore accounted for in it's basic empty weight.

    Hope this helps :-)