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...

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