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!


  1. Thanks! Great post of the week's training. The solo trip to Stuart etc., sounds like a lot of fun. Keep us posted... -Craig

  2. You are most welcome, GS. Your frequency is monitored... I sure hope that you are keeping a (Safe) digital copy of your entire blog. Thirty years from now, you and others will find it excellent reading. Study hard and fly with caution. Until your earlier post, I did not know that 'backseating' was an option. Heck yes! It is one more way to validate that intense learning. Go for it as often as you can. As always, thanks for your posts and please keep us current. The hit counter suggests that your readership is growing, quickly. -Craig