Wednesday, 28 September 2011


A surreal weekend - one I'm going to find hard to describe; certainly the most difficult post to date and most likely the most difficult for some time...

Since the last update six more days have passed and I'm guessing it's getting a bit boring me repeating the usual "it's going so fast" comment but it really is! We finished ground school last Thursday and headed out for a meal on Thursday night to celebrate the birthdays of two on my course - benefit being two cakes!

I was in fact hoping to fly early on Friday morning but having checked the internal scheduling system on Thursday evening nothing was showing hence I stole a few extra winks the following morning. Waking around 9.30am I found a few messages both in my email inbox and on Facebook. Quickly reading through the information in front of me it was clear that all students at Pilot Training College (PTC) had been grounded by Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) Aviation until further notice. So whether I was to fly that morning or not - we shall never know!

With hundreds of students out here now not able to continue the training in the way that they would have liked to, the rumours in turn obviously began both on line and off. A statement was quickly issued to ourselves via PTC's internal portal and we were told it would be resolved as soon as possible. Come early evening another statement was made that we would indeed be able to return to the skies first thing on Sunday morning. I don't think it is my place or indeed necessary to go into the details that we have been told concerning the grounding other than that it was a disagreement between the two respective companies which was quickly resolved. I am aware that a joint press release will be issued by the companies in the coming hours - something I will hopefully be able to attach a link to.

Friday was therefore spent revising and trying to avoid the rumour mill as much as possible.

Saturday was again a day of revision interrupted by FIT's Aviation Day. I didn't in fact attend although arrived as the proceedings were coming to a close to conduct ground instruction with my flight instructor. Along with ATPLs and flying I'm still (slowly!) working towards the American FAA PPL which I'm hoping to attain in the coming weeks. This involves covering quite a bit of theory material with my instructor for the oral part of the check ride before the flight. A couple of hours later it was back home to the books.

The same evening over twenty new students arrived from both Kazakhstan and Europe to start their training here in Florida over the next ten to twelve months.

After an 'eventful' Friday and indeed Saturday; Sunday was certainly the worst day since we have been here in America.

The day again was full of revision (I hope you don't get bored of me saying this over the next four months as it continues!) and then I had a cross country flight planned in the evening. Come 3pm I set off for the Flightline. The weather wasn't looking promising and I was almost certain the flight would be cancelled. As expected, the weather was not playing the way it had been over the past couple of weeks and it was time for more ground school with my instructor.

With regards to what happened later that evening back at Southgate I do not want to go into any detail whatsoever yet as it would be very unfair of me to say anything. However what I will say; what did happen certainly puts life into perspective.

I would also like to point out, as stressed in the replies to emails I received, this blog is very much the experiences that I personally am experiencing during my training. I try not to make political points and focus mainly on what the course of instruction is like here at PTC Florida and in the future Ireland. What has happened over the past few days is for those who use forums to discuss, squabble and argue over. I want this to be a place for those wanting to know about what life is like for a 20-year-old training to be a pilot with PTC here in the US.

Yesterday class was cancelled this morning due to the previous evening and started promptly again at 1.15pm in the afternoon.

Today two of the final weekly tests were complete in AGK and Performance followed by the other two tomorrow. Today was also the last Performance lesson ever (I hope!)

Yesterday evening we received two emails detailing both the consolidation exam timetable and the real IAA exam timetable for three weeks time.

Soon they'll be here - just one more hurdle in each subject to reach them...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Apparently time flies when you're NOT having fun!

It's amazing how another week has already passed. It's 21.30pm as I sit here on a Tuesday evening. Two days down, two to go before the end of week number four.

The weeks are starting to become very repetitive. Get up, lectures, lunch, lectures, dinner, revise, go to bed. Get up, lectures, lunch, lectures, dinner, revise, go to bed and so on...That's not to say however that I'm not getting time in to do other things as well.

The great thing about this course structure is that in line with studying we are also expected to continue flying. Last Friday I managed to get into the air to do a bit of time building with my instructor. Having been focusing on the run up to the FAA PPL recently it was quite refreshing to be able to relax a little bit and I found I actually learnt more in the more mellow environment than I normally would!

Saturday was spent revising and then Sunday I was able to get into the air once again. This time however was a bit of a different story compared to the flight two days previous.

As the week before, the Sunday afternoon is something I am still becoming accustomed to and it wasn't helped when I found out, with a big smile on his face, that my old instructor would be joining us for the flight. Being someone who doesn't shy away from a sarcastic comment or two and someone who gets on well with my current instructor I knew if nothing else this flight would certainly be interesting.

Aircraft ready for departure we headed to the active runway. Five minutes later we were leaving Melbourne airspace and heading into the practice area. A few manoeuvres under the hood and visually it was time to be diverted.

"First find out where we are, then I want you to take me to River Ranch (an airfield next to a small town in the middle of nowhere)."

Location found, route calculated and we were off. En route a bit of light hearted (at least I hope!) banter broke out between instructors before we entered the pattern at River Ranch.

Trees on three sides of the airport

The airport is quite peculiar in that it is surrounded on three sides by trees. On previous occasions this had been great as it would cut out all wind components close to touchdown aiding nice smooth landings. However these were no very calm days and although Sunday was not exactly windy there was a significant amount of mechanical turbulence, something I hadn't experienced before, which made landing much more difficult.

Two landings and then we headed back into the practice area for a couple more manoeuvres. Having completed the 'S-turns' it was time to try turns around a point.

Turns around a point involves pretty much what it says. The idea is to remain at one thousand feet, manoeuvre speed (approx. 90 knots) and the same distance from a point on the ground. This sounds pretty easy but taking into account the winds it can become quite difficult, especially when the two instructors decided they should make it a little more 'challenging.'

Usually we use static structures such as buildings or barns but no - I was to do turns around a cow. Cow found, I began the procedure. I thought I completed it within standards but both were unsure as to which cow in the field of hundreds I had chosen so we agreed to disagree and as the sun started to disappear over the horizon we headed back to Melbourne.

Having both instructors was at first the sign of a nightmare but in fact I thoroughly enjoyed the flight and great to get feedback from both.

Monday morning came as a bit of a shock as the alarm went off at 6.30am. Up I got and again headed into ground school for one full day (until 5.45pm) before again heading to the Flightline for another flight.

Since starting flying here in Melbourne all I have wanted to do is night flying. There is just something that attracts me to it. Maybe it's the tranquillity, the sense of knowing where you are but not being able to see it...or maybe it's just all the fancy coloured lights everywhere...

Whatever it is I arrived nice and early for my flight to get a bit of extra revision in. It was also great to bump into my old instructor who was happy to help me with a few questions!

We finally got airborne at 8pm and headed once again, yet only briefly into the practice area to complete two unusual attitudes and one steep turn before entering the pattern here in Melbourne. What I found most surprising was how much easier it was to land the plane. There are apparently a number of different reasons for this that I'm not 100% hooked up on yet but for one thing I'm sure I want to get back up into the night sky at some point in the near future!

As well as flying I've also been able to get in a couple of sports games including watching the Ireland v Australia game at 4am on Friday morning with a number of over excited Irishmen. The real business however happened on Sunday as the Theatre of Dreams, Mecca, the home of the Premier League saw another world class team shot down by a lethal Manchester United side.

My post title says 'not having fun' and as I've typed I've started to think less and less of that. It has actually been an enjoyable week, a week of learning lots of new things, watching some fantastic sport and getting into the air more than I was expecting. Please don't get me wrong, the course is going great. The ATPLs are not as challenging (yet) as I had fully intended them to be however when I sit here in my room with the weather outside being thirty degrees minimum, an airport down the road with aircraft there I could take to the very corners of Florida and beyond; sitting here with books, questions and a cup of tea is not exactly what I'd call fun.

However it could be much worse...I could be an Arsenal fan.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A rather weird Sunday...

Week three of the first ATPL module began on Monday morning bright and early, as usual at 8am. Another class test (AGK) was quickly completed followed by one covering Instruments. The tests included mostly material from the previous week but also that from week one, helping to slowly build up the knowledge.

Today we completed the Principles of Flight test which, not knowing the score, I feel went quite well. In between these tests we have indeed been in the classroom for the entire two days covering new material.

This afternoon we reached the halfway point of the five weeks of ground school of the first module. In two and half weeks time we will have only four days to prepare for the Consolidation exams (mocks). Although only just over two weeks in it really has gone very quickly and the next fourteen weeks leading up the going home for Christmas I am sure will pass just as fast.

Sunday afternoon. Flightline, Melbourne International Airport, Florida.

I for one am neither a fan or regular of afternoon flying; being able to count the number of times I've been up in my little Warrior on one hand.

Sunday's general aviation flying in the mid-drift of Florida is quiet. It's a surreal feeling being one of only a small percentage of the students that regularly fly from KMLB actually in the Flightline. Adding to the fact it was indeed an afternoon and I truly felt outside of my comfort zone.

The weather was looking very good with a bit of precipitation further south of where we were heading. In fact the weather has been superb ever since Sunday.

After an extremely long taxi down to Runway 9R we departed to the south west into the practice area. It was the first time I'd flown in three weeks with the start of ground school and instructor availability both playing parts.

It was mainly a refresher flight to get back into the swing of flying the aircraft and fine tuning before the FAA PPL which I'll hopefully complete by the end of this month.

Two hours later we descended back into the Class D airspace and shortly after we were back in the Flightline.

The debrief complete swiftly, both my instructor and myself very happy and then onto the bus for the fifteen minute journey back to the apartments.

I was messing with my flight documents in my bag and as I finished I looked out of the left hand window just before we set off. The American flag I've seen almost everyday while I've been here has always flown high above the car park at FIT Aviation. Sunday it sat at half mast. It was at that point I realised I had indeed completely forgot about such an important day in America's and indeed the world's history.

I had just completed a full flight in US airspace without the first thought of what happened those ten years ago. Maybe that's the way it should be...

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Two down, twenty two to go...

Come Thursday evening we had fully completed our second week of ATPL ground school here in Melbourne. Twenty four hours of classroom based work over three days was finally finished.

Monday was Labor Day here in the US. It celebrates 'the economic and social contributions of workers' (thank you Wikipedia). It's exactly the same as a bank holiday in the UK. The only difference I noticed was that it gave me another days worth of revision before the four tests we completed this week.

This module we are covering four subjects and in each we must take a weekly test to make sure we are up to date with the constant flow of new information. To be allowed to sit the mock exam (consolidation) I must attain a weekly test average of 65% in that respective subject. The goal then is to get as high an average in the early weeks of the tests so as to avoid having the problem of adding extra pressure in the latter weeks.

So... Tuesday morning, 8am. First test of the week. Aircraft General Knowledge (AGK). The test consisted of twenty five multiple choice questions covering the subjects we had studied the previous week in class and privately over the weekend. The papers are quickly marked and returned: 96%.

The same afternoon we took the Instruments test which again was twenty five questions long and lasted for 30 minutes. Results came out again very quickly with a score of 92%. Although still way above the average I need I was a little frustrated at how I'd misread the two questions I'd got wrong.

Wednesday was Principles of Flight (PoF) and I'm pleased to say I got a score of 100%. Performance followed the next day with a result of 95%.

I'm currently finding the work very manageable. There is very little of grave difficulty however the sheer amount of information that needs to be taken in over such a short period of time is certainly the most challenging part of these six months. It's trying to find a balance in the evening of covering the days topics as well as revising the work done the week previously and then in future the week before that etc. however by becoming immersed in the subjects it does help considerably.

The difference between only three weeks ago and today with regards to how I fill my time has massively changed. Before the days could be (and were!) filled with flying, flight planning, spending time by the pool, shopping, eating etc. Now this has completely changed and the majority, nay in fact all of my time is spent either in a classroom or my bedroom studying for the exams. It has been a bit of a shock but as people keep saying - it's only for six months and the end product is well worth it!

Yesterday, having not been in an aircraft for some time I thought it be wise to get a back seat on a flight. It was really good to get back up again and just try to remember everything that had clearly disappeared in my mind. First flight since the progress test tomorrow afternoon as I slowly dodge the ATPLs in working my way to the FAA PPL.

In other news today is my birthday (which was spent partly revising I must add!) and tonight we're off out for a meal. I managed to get in the United game today which was fantastic only made sweeter by Liverpool falling to the hands of Stoke City. 

All in all; not a bad week...

Sunday, 4 September 2011

And so it begins...

Monday saw the start of the dreaded ATPL examination process.

Over the next eight (now seven) weeks we will take on four of the fourteen subjects under the JAA ATPL programme. The idea behind the high level of ground based theory is to reduce the amount of time needed in the air before being worthy of an airline transport license which we are all working towards. The two following modules each contain five subjects.

The four subjects I am studying in this first module are:

  • Principles of Flight (Principles)
  • Aircraft General Knowledge (AGK)
  • Instruments
  • Performance
The past week's ground school has run for four days with different timings from 8am in the morning until 5.30pm in the evening. The course is very intense and involves taking in a serious amount of information in such a short time frame. Leading up to the start of this part of the course we have been warned of it's sheer magnitude however so far so good. I find it all very interesting (well...maybe not so much principles...) and the work load so far seems manageable. However, I cannot stress enough the words "so far." Having had a little look ahead in the four subjects each seems to get more in depth about more complicated and complex mechanisms from graphs and calculations to electrics and gas turbine engines.

Each week we will have a progress test covering the previous week's work. Over the course of these five weeks we must each attain an average in the class tests of 65% to be put forward for what is known as 'consolidation.'

Consolidation is what would otherwise be called a mock test. However, although it's what you would expect of a mock exam it is often considered harder than that of the real IAA exams. To be able to sit the real exams each student must attain a mark of 80% or higher in consolidation which takes place in week six.

Consolidation complete and passed (hopefully!) there is then a week of self-study and then week eight is the four IAA examinations held here in Melbourne.

This week we have started to build the foundations in most of the subjects and the majority is going over what we learnt in JAA PPL ground school thirteen weeks ago (it certainly doesn't seem that long!). 

Principles mainly covered the different types of forces and pressures we are going to come across over the next seven weeks and indeed the rest of our careers. The main subject covered this last week was focusing on the lift and drag ratio of an aerofoil (wing).

In AGK we learnt the different structure types of aircraft along with landing gear, brakes and anti/de-icing components. I find this subject one of the most interesting as it covers what we in the future will actually be using, working with and manipulating as we sit at the very front of our aircraft.

Instruments is very similar to AGK however it goes into far greater detail with regards to instruments in the cockpit. This week was mainly focused on how parameter measurement equipment worked such as those devices used to determine height and speed.

Performance is pretty much as said. We have been learning about how the pilots (or nowadays the computers) work out the take-off distances taking into account all relevant variables from aircraft weight, runway distances, weather, winds, pressures etc. and started to look into the performance during an aircraft's climb.

Tomorrow is labour day here in the US so we luckily have an extra day of study before two tests on Tuesday and then one on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. 

During the next six month's of ground school and exams the flying takes more of a back seat. The plan is to complete one flight a week minimum during the ground school stage so that come the end of the exams in February next year I'll have completed the required number of hours before the next (CPL) stage of the training. 

In other news, today I just watched my first game/match (?) of hurling. I'm not going to go into any detail about it because I know very little about the sport - for more information Google is your friend. I must say I did enjoy it and will be watching it again in the near future!

Back to the 'real stuff' next weekend though as the Premier League campaign continues...