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...


  1. It's very nice to read about how life goes at the pilot training college! The addition of pictures is giving a great idea of how flying will be

    I got through the Skill and Aptitude test last week with a good score, and I'm looking forward to going to Florida next year!

  2. I found your blog thanks to Aviatrix. Interesting reading. We have some things in common - I too am British, although I've lived for the past 30 years in the US, mostly where I am now (Texas). My blog, mostly about flying, can be found here:

    I am a commercial pilot (although not working as one), and CFI with Instruments, so feel free to ask any questions, and I will do my best to help out a fellow Brit dealing with the FAA.

  3. Hi there,

    Found your blog via Aviatrix who gives you a nice intro. Good to see you too have discovered Captain Dave's FL390 - I don't think there is a better blog out there so be warned, he has set the bar high! I live quite close to Southampton Airport (EGHI) and watch the flybe planes going over relatively low.

    Have really enjoyed your posts so far and appreciate that they may slide some during the heavier parts of your learning but please don't give up on them you definitely have long term potential.

    You need to give us a name to address you by - such as Trainee Fred or something!

    I have a question, how long have you wanted to be in aviation, did you spend hours as a youngster on flight sim and do you now? And yes, technically that is 3 questions!

    Anyhow, keep up the hard work and the blogging.

    Kind regards

    Dave from the UK

  4. Hi Kip336, glad to hear you passed the assessment - hopefully you'll be able to trace my footsteps in the not too distant future!

    Hi D.B, nice to hear of a fellow Brit out here for so long! Hope to hear your constructive comments in the future! :-)

    Hi Dave W, thanks for commenting. I am a big fan of his blog. I hope to keep up the frequency of posts as much as possible. I'll have to think of a name! I've pretty much wanted to be in aviation since I was a small child. Not much on the sims and no, not now. :-)

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Keep them coming.