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.


  1. Congratulations on passing the progress exam!! It sounds like those ride-along experiences teach you as much as do your own lessons; I hop that you get lots of them.
    I certainly understand the instructor's choice t o terminate and return in the face of bad weather, but I hope that YOU were still doing the flying. Did you? If not, why not? With the instructor on board for any serious problems, having the student do the flying seems like an ideal learning experience. Please explain when (if) you have the time. I enjoy following your progress and I wish you the best.

  2. Congrats and well done,

    The nearest personal experience I can relate to exams/checkrides is when I passed my advanced driving test some years ago, you know you are good enough but you still feel on edge and nothing beats that feeling when they say you have passed!

    Love the glass cockpit in the video, the flight school clearly don't skimp on equipment!

    Great to see you progressing so well and loving the blog!

    By the way, did you see the story about idiots shining lasers at a Flybe plane in Southampton? Link below if you haven't:

    Keep up the hard work (and blog if possible!)

    All the best

    Dave from the UK

  3. Hi Craig,

    Thanks for the comment. Just to point out it wasn't my lesson and I wasn't flying. There are limits in which a student is allowed to fly in. Obviously in situations like this with an instructor on board there is always the chance that the instructor will in deed let the student land, in fact it has happened on a number of occasions with myself (including the instructor in the video above!) but there are limits to this and the weather that day was certainly for the more senior pilot.

    Hi Dave,

    The glass cockpits are great - I much prefer them to the 'GPS Warriors' as we call them although the latter seem to perform better in manoeuvres, climbs etc. due to their lower weight.

    Hadn't heard about the lasers but it has been increasingly happening over a period of time and can be extremely dangerous to the pilots and therefore all those in the aircraft and on the ground!