Sunday, 28 August 2011

Progress Test

This week I took my JAA PPL progress test.

The actual flight is treated very much like the name suggests - a test; although when returning to the ground it is run through very much like a normal lesson would be with pointers, tips and suggestions to help the student improve his/her piloting skills.

Wednesday morning, 9am and down at the Flightline. Checking the weather there seemed to be low lying cloud approaching from the south but otherwise the weather was looking good. After a quick chat with the instructor who would be taking me for the test we proceeded out to the plane.

The flight consists of the student planning a cross country flight to a particular destination. The instructor/examiner will sit there and say very little. The flight continues in the cruise until there is a point whereby he/she will divert the student to another airfield or airport. The student then has to navigate to said destination while calculating the time en route, fuel burn and ETA. The likelihood is then that the instructor will ask for a couple of touch and go's with different landing types and then back up to a safe manoeuvring altitude to complete stalls, steep turns and emergency procedures. After this, as long as everyone is happy it's back to Melbourne for the de-brief and then the yes or no answer.

On my flight I had planned to head to Okeechobee. We got airborne and headed for my first way point. Time noted. Fuel noted. Stopwatch started. The cloud had started to approach as promised so I had to make a quick change to my cruising altitude which would affect my figures en route.

Half way through and the instructor simulated an alternator failure. The alternator in an aircraft provides electrical power just as it would in a car. It powers the radios, aircraft lights, screens in the aircraft and all other electrical systems. The battery in the piper, which is good on it's own for only around 30 minutes, dependent on the use of electrics in the aircraft at that time. Therefore having gone through the check list we diverted to Sebastian, an un-towered airport south of Melbourne and Valkaria. [Note the altenator was only switched off for a few seconds!]

A couple of touch and go's in the Sebastian pattern and then we departed to the north west to complete some stalls and then an emergency procedure which I think could not have gone any better. The emergency was an engine failure at 3,500ft. At the time we were lying over deserted streets which like in many parts of Florida should be surrounded by big holiday homes but the problems in 2008 have left large areas of street patterns with nothing but grass for company. Going through the procedure I was able to line up with the main road running through which is in fact almost as wide (and certainly longer!) than Runways 5/23 here in Melbourne!

Emergency procedure complete. Back to Melbourne. A decent landing on Runway 27L and we were back on the ramp and inside for the de-brief.

It was great to get feedback from another instructor who was able to offer different advise that those I currently train with which means over the coming weeks I'll be able to try these out and see what I find comfortable and most effective. 

De-brief complete and he informed me that I had indeed passed.

Yesterday I was able to take a flight with a fellow student who is currently taking his CPL multi-engined course, something I hope to be doing around March time next year after the ATPL exams. This involves flying the above Piper Seminole aircraft.

The aircraft is similar to that of the warrior although there are some obvious difference, not least the addition of one more engine and retractable landing gear. These aren't the only differences and having back seated yesterday it was very clear to see the amount of work involved in flying such an aeroplane.

The check list in the Seminole is almost as long as the bible, or so it feels. The number of checks and procedures needed to be done before evening leaving the ramp was a real eye-opener. Finally, we were airborne.

I found the difference in speed (although actually quite large) was almost unnoticeable in the aircraft. The most positive difference I found was the noise and vibrations. The engines are affixed to the wings of the airplane as opposed to being positioned at the front of the plane as the single engine in the Warrior is. I found this to reduce the noise level in the cabin but more noticeably the vibration level was far lower which created a far smoother ride.

The flight was progressing fine until the weather started to deteriorate over Melbourne. The instructor (my previous who moved to solely Seminole flying) took control and said we would be immediately returning to the airport.

The radios were tuned and the ATIS noted. Winds - 27 knots (31mph) gusting to 34 knots (39mph). This would be interesting. Luckily the winds were favourable to the largest runway at KMLB - Runway 27L.

"FIT 82, cleared to land Runway 27L." {A sense of "good luck" in the controller's voice}

The video above is of said landing.

The flight was not only great to just sit and watch but I learnt a lot about more advanced navigation and the course is now something I am very much looking forward to!

Today is our final day of freedom for six months. The ATPL ground school and exams have now fallen upon us and tomorrow morning at 8am we start our very first day of study. The past three months have flown by ( pun intended...) and it's amazing how it's possible to go from my first flight to where I am now in such a short space of time.

Below is a video of some of the best moments over the past three months.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Progress Test preparation via Miami

Last week saw my instructor himself take a course to instruct flying the big brother of the Piper Warrior that I am flying at the moment. This meant, apart from one solo I would have a week off!

The following day from the last update, we again experienced some pretty extreme weather. This time the lightening struck twice within metres of the apartments. Not really something I want to experience again any time soon!

Since the weekend was free for all of those on our course it was decided we would head to Miami for a few days. Four of us set off on Friday evening.

Our wheels for the weekend

The journey takes you straight down the the I-95 interstate and takes around 3 hours non-stop. After a quick stop en route we passed Fort Lauderdale International Airport. It was around 9pm and the sun had long disappeared. The interstate runs right under the flight path for the main runway at the airport and as we passed we saw outside of our right window lights - and lots of them. The jet was at most 100ft above the road as it made it's final approach. The light was blinding. Whether a future pilot or not, it was a pretty cool sight!

We arrived late at night in the city and had to find a hotel (the trip was decided on a whim!) We tried numerous hotels and each of them were full. We finally reached one in down town Miami where we would stay the night. I'm not going to name the hotel chain but it wasn't a bad choice!

The following morning we checked out and headed for South Beach where the rich and famous play. It is very much in line with Puerto Banus with regards to the types of cars and yachts on display yet it has a character I find hard to put my finger on. We headed for something to eat at a little restaurant on the front before visiting the world famous beach. The beaches here in Melbourne seem to have stronger waves whereas those in Miami were much more calm; not that I touched the water seeing all the jellyfish there were.

After an eventful evening we headed back on the Sunday. I would have to say now that Miami is one of my all time favourite cities I have visited and I would recommend anyone going if they get the chance; and if they have been, they should most certainly go again! 

Monday. 3pm. Flightline. I look out of the window and see a parking lot (see I'm getting into this American thing pretty quickly!) of planes. Something I hadn't seen for a week. Paperwork completed I headed to the plane.

My instructor, as always, followed suit around five minutes later. Pre-flight complete, engine started and within only a few minutes we were holding short of the active runway here in Melbourne. Would I be rusty? Could I remember a soft field take-off - could I remember how to take off?!

"FIT 40, left turn on course approved, cleared for take-off runway 27L at Delta."

"Engine gauges are in the green, airspeed is alive...55 knots" 

We were airborne. Well after a week I hadn't managed to forget everything so I was relatively pleased as we headed south. A few manoeuvres, landings and navigational tracks and we were back on Floridian soil. 

Yesterday was my final flight before my progress test today. It again included the same as everything the day before and I landed feeling quite confident that it would go well the following day. 

Today I took my progress test - more on that later this week...

Monday, 15 August 2011

The weather

The weather here in Florida is extremely predicable during the summer. The weather is often cool(ish) in the morning and then dark, wet and extremely humid later in the day. Since our arrival we have experienced some of the bad weather but yesterday was probably the worst we have experienced so far.

I was 'reliably' informed yesterday morning that the weather would rapidly deteriorate in the afternoon and that we would be getting quite an extreme thunderstorm overhead. Right on queue it arrived around 2pm.

The thunder and lightning was persistent for some time and one strike momentarily cut the power to the entire building. The flooding water was also a threat as it got close to flooding into the apartments but luckily it subsided before reaching the doors.

Although compared to a hurricane it was very little it was still pretty exciting and quite sadistically I hope I can experience it again before leaving.

Believe it or not, an unedited still from a video clip...

With regards to flying over the past six days I've managed to get in a few hours but not as many as I would have hoped although early this morning I managed to get my final solo in before the progress test.

2.4 hour flight down to an un-towered airport called North Palm Beach County Airport (F45). The approach to the airfield can be quite tricky as to approach the airport you either have to go through airspace of a towered airport nearby or go around it. Luckily the route I planned meant I would miss the airspace by less than one nautical mile.

Anyway, a quick touch and go in F45 and then I headed back north to the old stomping ground of Valkaria just south of Melbourne to complete a few more touch and go's. The computers in the aircraft were telling me the winds were hitting directly against the nose when on final however as I got within one hundred feet of the ground it was clear that there was significant wind sheer which indeed caused a few sticky landings however all safe and then it was back to Melbourne.

Inbound for Melbourne I thought I had quite a bit of time before the aircraft was due back on stand so I thought I would enter the pattern for a couple of touch and go's before a full stop to return home.

After making contact with the tower it was clear he was pretty busy at this time of day (09.40am local) and so after a number of approach patterns and a runway change I wasn't going to have much time to get the plane back!

A quick word with ATC and I was put on short final for Runway 27L. Down, off and back on the ramp for 09.55am local. Paperwork complete, aircraft secure and a brisk walk back to the terminal and I was inside just in time. Getting quite good at this time thing now!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Back seating

Saturday morning, 5.15am. Alarm goes off. Weary eyed I rise out of bed and get ready for my 8am solo flight.

I arrive at the Flightline around 6.15am and finish my flight planning. After checking the weather on the computers it looks like it's going to be a very good morning. The round robin flight would involve heading from Melbourne down to Stuart on the Atlantic coast before heading inland to Okeechobee and then back north to base.


The flight block time is scheduled as two hours and handy enough the actual flight should take a similar time including start up, taxi and shut down.

Paperwork complete, aircraft prepared I headed out to the run up area and completed the next couple of sections on my check list.

"Melbourne Tower; FIT 40 is holding short of Runway 23 at Echo, ready for departure."

"FIT 40 cleared for take-off Runway 23 at Echo."

Transponder set to ALT, flaps set, landing light on, mixture fully rich, throttle advance, temperatures and pressures in the green, airspeed is alive.

Into the morning sun the warrior climbs (at quite an impressive rate) as I direct her to the first way point en route to the first stop of the morning - Stuart.

I had yet to visit Stuart, a similar yet smaller airport to Melbourne but still controlled. There were no clouds at this time in the morning so the climb to 5,500 feet was smooth, uneventful and rather rapid. I was rather impressed with this particular airframe!

I've explained before the number of checks en route we are to conduct and this flight was not much different. I pride myself in trying to stay ahead of the aircraft and ten nautical miles north of Stuart I was ready to make my approach.

"Stuart Tower, good morning; 640FT is five miles north of the airfield, requesting touch and go and departure to the west with Bravo."

"640FT good morning; enter midfield for the left downwind for Runway 7. Report downwind."

Easy enough. Airport diagram out and time to plan the route towards the reporting point.

"Stuart Tower, 640FT is on left downwind for runway 7."

"640FT, cleared to land runway 7, fly runway heading after departure."

I've said this before and I'll say this again - landings always seem to come off better on solos! I'd like to think I'm quite critical of myself but I was extremely proud of my landing in Stuart and the one to follow in Okeechobee.

After touchdown, flaps were retracted and full power applied until the Piper Warrior was back where she had spent the last thirty five minutes.

"640FT, make left traffic runway 7, depart on course, free to change frequency above 2,500ft, good day."

The third and final airport of the day, Okeechobee is fast becoming an old favourite...well old at least. The airport is not towered meaning traffic has to be conducted by oneself and those flying and taxiing around the airfield.

A quick check of the weather and traffic frequency and I established Runway 5 was open. To enter the pattern it would involved overflying the airfield at 1,500 feet and then making a right tear drop approach to enter the left downwind for Runway 5 (see below).

A quick touch and go (again impressing myself!) and then back up to Melbourne.

By this time the clouds had started to move in and form. My planned altitude of 5,500 feet was scuppered the further I got towards Melbourne. 3,500 feet; 3,000 feet; 2,500 feet; 2,000 feet; 1,500 feet. Luckily by this time I was approaching the reporting point for Melbourne and I was able to descend to 1,000 feet and ask for a full stop landing.

"Melbourne Tower, FIT 40 is over Abandoned, 1,000 feet. Request full stop with Victor."

"FIT 40, fly straight in Runway 5. Cleared to land Runway 5."

A bit of a crosswind caught me out on final but other than that a safe landing and then taxi back to the ramp to park up. Overall a very enjoyable flight!

The progress test ride is fast approaching (hopefully early next week) and therefore I'm starting to get as much back seating in as possible. After the night flight last week (which I must admit was much more for enjoyment and inquisitiveness) I've not had much time in the back of the plane until today.

Back seating, as described before, is basically sitting in the back of the aircraft of another student's lesson. It takes away the stresses and distractions of A.N.C. - aviate, navigate and communicate and allows the back seater to concentrate on the areas he/she sees fit. This maybe listening to the radio calls, looking at how procedures are carried out or how manoeuvres are completed etc.

Today I was glad to get into the air for two back seat flights both covering similar lesson plans to mine over the next week or so. We're all pretty close to our progress check therefore getting in the back is as I said the other day, repetition. Seeing things happen more often certainly helps in cementing them in the brain and almost making them second nature. By being able to identify immediately the procedure and execution of any instruction is great and allows more time to be spent flying the aeroplane.

Anyway, up at 5.30am this morning and out of the door forty minutes later. Just after 7am we were airborne for the first fight of the day. I was due to fly again at 10am and then my own flight at 1pm.

As we move ever closer to the progress test we have been covering a lot of material that will have been forgotten since the start of the flying course. This includes everything from stalls to different types of landings.

Steep Turns

Steep turns are quite fun to do and are certainly key for any private pilot. Firstly the student pilot completed a thorough look out of the area for any traffic that may interrupt the manoeuvre. Once this is complete he enters a thirty degree bank to the left while maintaining his current altitude. Here (luckily for him this was the steep turn I recorded!) he executes this. Often an increase in power is needed to maintain the altitude.

His/her turn should continue for a full 360 degrees before arriving back at the original heading. Exactly the same is done to the right following this.

The idea of controlled steep turns is to allow the pilot to manoeuvre the aircraft more quickly and effectively and can be very good in sticky situations such as busy airspace.


The primary learning point of a JAA stall is not how to actually stall the aircraft but more so how to recover from it.

Here my colleague enters his lookout turn before leveling off and slowing down while still maintaining his altitude. To maintain the altitude he must increase his angle of attack. Upon reaching the critical angle of attack the aircraft will buffer and then fall into a stall. You'll hear the aircraft stall warning horn go off as he approaches such an angle. 

As the aircraft begins it's stall he must be able to recover by dropping the nose, adding full power and adding a touch of right rudder to compensate for the P-factor caused by the engine.

He must then return the aircraft to a controlled and steady climb the instructor tells him to do otherwise. 

After a few touch and goes in Valkaria and Melbourne we landed and returned to the ramp for the debrief and for to then get ready for my second back seat of the day.

10am came around and again we taxied to the run up area, checks complete and we departed to the practice area south of Melbourne. 

Along with those already covered above we also covered two other important components of any PPL holder or student pilot. Unusual attitudes and emergency landings.

Unusual Attitudes

Unusual attitude training is conducted at a safe altitude (above 3,000ft MSL) where the flight instructor will disorientate the student pilot (who has no visual reference) and then leave the aircraft in an unusual state. This is mostly in terms of the aircraft's pitch but also the roll (turn) of the aircraft.

The student pilot must return the aircraft to a straight and level flight.

Emergency Landing Procedures (in the pattern)

An emergency procedure landing at Valkaria airport in Florida. The instructor simulates an engine failure while the aircraft is on downwind to the intended runway. The student pilot must run through the procedure he has been trained to complete in order to land the plane safely. 

Note, the engine is set to idle and can be used to it's maximum capacity at any time should the situation arise that it be needed.

This basically involves initially correcting the speed for the optimum gliding speed which in the case of the warrior is 73 knots then checking anything that could have caused the engine to stop such as an empty fuel tank or trying ways to restart said engine. In the event of this failing it is time to prepare the aircraft for landing. This means securing the engine for touchdown and preparing to exit the aircraft at the soonest yet safest opportunity.

Engine out procedures are carried out at all different altitudes and terrain areas but today was focused on the engine failing while in the airport pattern. Further posts in the future will certainly include different engine failure scenarios. 

An almost identical flight complete and then to check the computers for the fore-coming weather over the following couple of hours. Not good reading. 'TSRA' - Thunderstorms with rain. Winds were over 20 knots and gusting into the 40s. I had seen the weather growing all morning and the radar confirmed my worst fears - the flight would be cancelled.

After an hour or so with my instructor with some quite helpful ground school it was time to return home. Although I'd not managed to actually get up myself it was good to get into the back of a couple of similar flights which will hopefully put me in good stead for my next flight tomorrow lunchtime - if the weather isn't similar to today!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Our new home

Nearly another week has passed and some more flying has been done. Not only work in the air but work on the ground has also been taking place as I write this from my new accommodation.

Last weekend dozens of students made moves to new residences across campus. For a number of different reasons since our arrival we were put into 'halls' where we each had a large room and a share bathroom.

Said building while on approach into Melbourne International (KMLB)

Each floor was split into north and south with a communal area in the centre. On the 'north side' there originally six of us but with a couple of additions and one leaving we ended up as a seven. The remainder of the male contingent of the course were on the 'south side' while our female colleagues were in a different hall on campus.

Anyway, it was announced we would be moving to our permanent accommodation last weekend and from Friday to Sunday it was time to pack up, move and unpack. Where we are now is a great improvement on where we were for the simple fact that we are now able to cook for ourselves (the halls had no cooking facilities other than a microwave). 

Each apartment comes with a kitchen, living area, bathroom and two bedrooms (I sound like an estate agent [or realator as they call them over here...])

New room here in Melbourne

Where I am now staying is called 'Southgate Apartments' and is where I will stay for the remainder of my training here in Florida. It is just across the road from the main Florida Institute of Technology campus.

Southgate Apartments while on approach into Melbourne International (KMLB)

Flying wise this week I've been focusing on preparing for my JAA progress test  in the coming week or so. The check is conducted internally by a JAA qualified instructor. The progress test covers everything required by JAA from stalls and cross country flying to different types of landings. More on that in a future post.

With my instructor we have been covering pretty much everything I have been doing over the past two months in the sky. I have never really been one for repetition but with each manoeuvre comes a different procedure and by doing each frequently and consistently I find it very beneficial. I'm sure all have improved considerably over the past week. 

During the past week I've also started to look at the dreaded ATPL material. The worst four letters in any JAA student pilot's training. Just mention those four letters in that order to any JAA trainee and you'll see their eyes wince, their skin go pale and a shiver as if someone had just walked over their grave.

Every pilot's nightmare - 'the ATPLs'

Six months, fourteen exams, three modules. Almost everything that you would want (and even wouldn't want!) to know about everything with the word 'plane' in it or associated to it is covered. Our first day of ground school begins on the 29th August putting it little over three weeks away. However I'm sure this subject will be exhausted on here over the next six to seven months. 

Finally, yesterday evening I back seated a night flight in the pattern here in Melbourne with a fellow student. Since arriving here I've wanted to get up at night as see the lights of the airport and the surrounding area. It didn't disappoint. Having arrived at the Flightline it was great to see how quiet and deserted it was. There was literally our flight and that would be it. All paperwork complete we headed out to the plane.

Due to work on the ramp the aircraft aren't currently parked in their normal parking spaces therefore after ten minutes or so we did eventually find our plane. Pre-flight complete, instructor ready, student ready, we headed out to the run up area where we would test the engine at a high RPM rate.

As my fellow student was running through his checks he noticed that in fact the flight controls (the yoke that makes the plane turn about two of it's axes) were not "full, free and correct." They were actually quite stiff so we returned to the ramp for a quick look by maintenance. A bit of WD-40 and a cloth did the trick and in no time we were back where we left off.

Taxiing to the runway I was a bit taken aback by the difference of flying during the day. Obviously I expected the visuals to be different but the beauty of a lit up airfield was truly fantastic.

We departed on Runway 27L and entered the pattern on Runway 27R. The instructor was very keen to put his student through his paces by having him land in different configurations and landing types. 

Runways 5/23 and 9L/27R are much shorter than the main runway 9R/27L and only the latter has lights running down the centreline. It wasn't until the second to last landing (below) as we turned onto final and you could see the whole runway lit up like a Christmas tree that I realised how much I'm going to love night flying.

Landing at night on Runway 27L at KMLB

The best part of the evening by far was when the instructor, after take-off following the above video asked if she would be so kind to turn of the centreline lights for the final approach - much to the disapproval of the student! 

Tomorrow I hope to get in my second cross country solo done and then early next week get back into it with my instructor.