Monday, 30 January 2012


Flying. It's been a while since I've used that word on a regular basis but recently it has featured more and more in my vocabulary. 

Let me talk you through what stage I am at the moment and what I need to be at in now only a few weeks time.

When I left here for Christmas I had a remainder of nineteen flights to complete for roughly the middle of March. This included one mock check ride, two real check rides, eight dual flights and a significant number of solos. Since returning from the festive break I've reduced this to only thirteen flights with 11.3 total hours accumulated in the 25 days I have been back here in the United States.

With my FAA PPL check ride now on the horizon having completed the mock yesterday I'm looking forward to knocking down the final days of my single engine flying one by one. 

Since completing the hypoxia training I managed to get a flight last Sunday with my instructor. We went out into the local area to complete a number of the maneuvers that would be coming up over the coming weeks in the check rides. These included both JAA and FAA stalls, steep turns, navigational procedures, ground referencing (making turns around a point) and landings. The idea was to again become comfortable with the material and it's practice for the weeks ahead.

All went well and back on the ground we debriefed what took place in the air. Happy enough, I departed after quite an eventful weekend!

Come the following day I was again back in the air but this time on the back seat observing. It's now getting to the stage where every minute is a big help in the air whether it be at the controls or sat just behind. 

It was an almost repeat from my lesson the previous day but not being focused on actually flying the aeroplane I was able to take in some of the other work that we need to do while in the air such as navigating and most importantly monitoring our systems.

For all those that read this blog and are currently out here training or are planning to come out here or any other FTO and train in this profession I would highly recommend, neigh, insist that you get as many back seats as you possibly can. It doesn't cost you a penny and observing while not having to concentrate on the basic factors of flying helps you develop everything else that goes into operating a flying machine.

We headed out towards the practice area and completed a number of maneuvers, again, similar to the previous afternoon. 

As we were heading south a decision was made to head off to Vero Beach, an airport pretty close but not often visited. It's a towered airport south of Melbourne that, going by the look of the ramp, caters for a significant number of business traffic. 

A few touch and go's in the pattern and we departed north. Engine failure. Well not really, simulated

With a simulated engine failure the idea is to go through the procedure by touching and talking as to what you would do with the 'dead power plant' as the engine sits at idle. The initial plan is to pitch the nose attitude to reach the perfect gliding speed which for the Piper Warrior is 73 knots (84mph) and secondly pick a spot to make an emergency landing. This could be a field, a lake, a road or if you're lucky an airport! 

Having got yourself into the optimum configuration and you're planning for arrival to your fixed point, it's time to see if we can find out what caused the 'engine failure.' Switching fuel tanks, checking the temperature gauges, mixture, magnetos etc. If nothing is resuscitating the engine then it's time to let ATC know. 

Squawking 7700 on the aircraft transponder will set off all the bells and whistles in the relevant control tower/centre pin pointing the location of the aircraft and with more modern transponders the altitude and speed of the airship in question. Tuning 121.500 (the international emergency radio frequency) and saying the following: "MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY." Following this with the aircraft description, the predicament that the aeroplane is in and the number of soles on board. While in touch with ATC the aircraft must be prepared to the landing.

"Fuel selector: off; ignition switch: off; alternator switch: off; standby alternator switch: off; electric fuel pump: off; mixture: idle/cut-off; seat belt and harnesses: tight; cabin door: open. As you bring the aircraft down towards the chosen area the radio master switch should be switched off as late as possible to allow the communications equipment to continue track the plane to the very last moment possible.

When simulating such an event the protocol is to end the procedure at 500ft and climb back to a reasonable altitude with full engine throttle.

Following the simulated engine failure we returned to Melbourne.

Tuesday to Friday was back in the classroom which including a significant number of hours spent going through the material for the coming exams at the end of February. There were also another four weekly tests which went pretty well.

The Saturday just passed was the day of my mock check ride for the FAA PPL with one of the senior flight instructors out here in Florida. 

The same protocol was followed as would be while during the real test which includes an oral examination covering everything from airspace to aircraft systems and much more. This is followed by the flight test which involves pretty much everything I have explained above.

The flight went really well - it was great to go up with such an experienced pilot who was able to pass on a lot of advice. Thankfully he passed me and as I write I now have my FAA PPL check ride due this coming Saturday.

Yesterday I again went flying, this time on a solo cross country flight to a small airfield near West Palm Beach on the Atlantic coast. As you can see from the photo above it wasn't the most picturesque mornings we have experienced here in the US and the winds were extremely strong. Although quite challenging it was great to get up and continue to fill in the log book with more and more hours of flying time. 

It was early morning number six yesterday so this morning was reserved for a lie in. Now it's time to return to the books for another four tests this week and even more hours of classroom work.

But before I go, below is a video of what now is only weeks away - upgrading to the Piper Seminole.

We've been here in Florida now for over eight months and with only a couple to go out here, time is starting to tick slowly towards Ireland. It's amazing how fast this time has gone and I'm sure once these exams are complete and we return to the air full time it will only speed up.

But before then, there is plenty to be getting on with...

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Hypoxia: Part II

A busy few days! Since Friday I have managed to get up flying twice, once in the front and once in the back but before any of that, we got to complete the Hypoxia training here in Melbourne, Florida. 

I'll talk about the Hypoxia training in this post and make another update about the two flights later in the week.

Getting up at 8am on Saturday wasn't the easiest after four long days in class but come 8.45am we arrived at the training facility on the other side of the city. The building is set in what I would class as very 'Floridian' backgrounds with palm trees and bright white surroundings. 

There was an area for us to sit while we waited and whilst we watched our colleagues in the chamber. As you'll see later on, there are a number of cameras fitted within and around the capsule to monitor and observe operation.

Mission control consists of a lot of Star Trek style controls with relevant cameras to monitor the process. Here is where all the changes within the chamber are conducted.

The chamber itself is filled with facing seats each with their own headset and oxygen supply. For the four of us, we would go in two sets of two. Set up inside were two laptop computers accompanied with control and throttle.

The facility was designed and is run by Dr Paul W. Buza D.O. F.A.C.N. who is a world renowned researcher in his field. He has worked for many years with pilots to help understand the causes, symptoms, repercussions and over problems associated with hypoxia. He conducted the four 'flights.'

After the capsule has been sealed with two students along with a controller the pressure is reduced to that one would experience at 5,000ft. The initial feeling is a popping sensation in the ears - similar to what you would experience in any commercial flight. After all, the altitude within the cabin will rise during flight to a maximum of 8,000ft.

Having reached 5,000ft we then 'descended' back to mean sea level (MSL) pressure. This was to allow us to adapt to the changing pressure and to equalising.

The latops and accessories we were issued with each had Microsoft Flight Simulator installed and we were each set up at 15,000ft over the Rockie mountains. As we started to climb we activated the simulation and were each asked to fly particular headings and altitudes and to report frequently our speeds.

We continued to climb. Passing through 20,000ft I was certainly starting to feel that something wasn't right. My arms were starting to become quite lethargic; my chest and face quite flushed and the heart rate was increasing quite alarmingly for a seated state.

We continued to climb up to almost 23,000ft. At this point two of our dear colleagues thought it would be a good idea to fire a couple of simple questions our way from outside of the tank. Although we both answered the questions correctly, the time and effort it took was again quite startling.

We soon described our symptoms to Dr Buza and donned the oxygen masks. The change of mind state was almost instant. Two, three breathes and my senses had fully returned to their natural state. I quickly realised I was 1,000ft above my instructed altitude - something I was completely unaware of only second earlier.

When both of us were on oxygen we started the descent to 10,000ft where we could then remove the face masks.

Back to MSL we exited the chamber and sat down for a debriefing with the doctor. He went through each of our symptoms and further emphesised how important it is for each and everyone of us to be aware of these and how they could one day be very very useful.

It was a fantastic, no amazing, experience which I am sure non of us will forget about throughout our careers. We are very lucky to have such a fantastic facility and professional sat on our doorstep here in eastern Florida. For all those out here or planning to come out in the future - it is a must for any professional pilot.

As I said above, I'll update on the flights from the weekend and this week's ATPL classes later in the week. Got to get to the books!

Friday, 20 January 2012


Today's airliners and the equipment that they use boast some of the most advanced technology governments will allow civilians to use. Trained engineers on the ground in Derby (UK) can check second by second changes in the state of any Rolls Royce engine in the world, flight operations in Chicago can keep track of any United Airlines flight to the watt of electricity - planes can even land themselves nowadays! It's amazing how far we have come in commercial aviation over the past few years but there is still one factor that needs much more work - the human factor.

We're currently studying about the human body and it's reactions to working within a commercial, pressurized aircraft. I'm not wanting to scare anyone reading this blog but when I say that a rapid decompression in the aircraft at cruising altitude can lead to unconsciousness within eight seconds it becomes very apparent that it's a subject that needs covering! A lack of oxygen within the air causes a symptom called 'hypoxia.' This lack of oxygen into the bloodstream can cause a sense of euphoria, lack of awareness as well as many other symptoms with all having the same conclusion - unconsciousness.

Currently in place in nearly all cockpits are far more advanced oxygen systems than you see fall from the bins above the passengers in the rear of the aircraft. Quick donning masks which can be securely fixed to each flight crew member's face within five seconds sit within arms reach of every pilot sat in their seat. As soon as the mask is affixed it supplies 100% oxygen to both members for a minimum of 2 hours. Trust me, by that time the plane is going to be on the ground! As the aircraft makes it's emergency decent passengers will regain consciousness by 10,000ft. It is a subject that must obviously be covered as it is a worst case scenario event.

As you can see, the authorities in conjunction with aircraft manufacturers and airlines have come together to create a plan and procedure to deal with such an event. The technology is now in place and an understanding of the condition by experts but a clear lack of education for pilots within the profession.

On Saturday I'll enter a specially designed chamber with fellow students to simulate a reduction in pressure and therefore oxygen levels within the blood to help us experience and then learn about the early signs of oncoming hypoxia within a cabin. It's an invaluable experience I am thoroughly looking forward to and I'm hoping it will be the only time I experience such a thing! I'll hopefully have a video of the experience by the end of the weekend.

This week has gone well. Now we're into the second week the weekly tests have again reared their heads and all four I took went down very well - hopefully it will continue in the coming weeks!

Saturday morning I'll be taking the hypoxia training as mentioned above and on Sunday I'll hopefully be back into the air with my instructor continuing to knock off the hours before the end of the ATPL examinations on the very last day of February.

It's also good to hear some preliminary dates for the start of our other courses after the exams including the Commercial Pilot's License (CPL), Instrument Rating (IR) and Multi Crew Course (MCC) in both Florida and Ireland hopefully meaning the completion of the training here with PTC by the end of June this year.

Two more classes tomorrow - update at the weekend with the hypoxia training!

Below is a video from a flight a couple of weeks ago.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

They're back...

Yesterday was the start of the third and final module of our ATPL examinations. This module we will be studying the following.

This is quite self explanatory. We'll mainly cover the relevant topics within the subject relate to our future careers such as weather formations, altimetry and pressure systems.

Human Performance and Limitations
Again another subject where the name is quite evident. This will hopefully explain all the different bodily functions, their strengths and weaknesses and most importantly the effects of working in a pressurized cabin.

Air Law
These seem to be quite obvious don't they? Well this is also the case. We're now looking into the world of aviation law from how it came about, how we use it today and what powers we have as flight crew.

Ah, a subject that's not blatantly obvious. This covers subjects related to law as well as things like dangerous goods, emergency landings, fire and smoke, cabin decompression, oxygen systems, flight tracks and commercial flight procedures such as pre-planning, take-off/landing etc. It's quite an ambiguous subject which starts to bring in theory for what we will actually be doing in future years.

Mass and Balance
This is the smallest of the five subjects and basically gives us an insight into the detailed calculations involved with prepping a Boeing 737-400 aircraft (something similar to an intra-Europe/domestic US flight sized aircraft with up to 160 seats). We'll discuss and calculate factors such as passengers, cargo and fuel.

So this being the final module I hopefully have a lot to look forward to before leaving the US including exam completion, spin recovery training, hypoxia training and of course the CPL course.

I'll put another post up at the weekend going a bit more into detail of the different subjects and what my personal opinion on each is.

Back to the books!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Back in at the deep end

So I'm now back in Florida and it's been a tough couple of days with more to come!

I left a very windy Manchester on Thursday morning and made my way back across the Atlantic to Orlando and then on to Melbourne in the Sunshine state. Leaving Manchester was quite interesting. As many in north western Europe will know the winds have been extremely strong over the past week and come 10.30am on Thursday it was no different. The winds were so strong that as we boarded and waited to leave the gate the plane could be felt rocking in the airflow. Not only this, upon pushing back from the gate we had to wait for twenty minutes due to cargo containers sat by aircraft stands which had been carried by the weather and were now sat covering the main taxiways. The captain advised he would refrain from starting the taxi until all had been safely removed to save 'embarrassment' on behalf of the airline and airport in the case of one again been thrown into the air and in the worst case scenario striking the aircraft.

Anyway, we were soon airborne and after an extremely bumping departure we quickly got above the clouds and on our way to the US.

After landing in Orlando I joined the long and laborious immigration line which lived up to it's infamous name. Finally arriving at the desk I was asked kindly to follow the immigration official into a room for secondary checks. I wasn't thoroughly informed as to why this was the case at the time but soon enough my documents were returned and I was able to leave the arrivals facility and meet up with some of my fellow students before the journey back to Melbourne.

Shortly after arriving back and unpacking I was on to the computer to see if any flights had been scheduled by my instructor. True to his word the following morning I would be flying bright and early - at 7am. I'd been awake many hours and with the five hour time difference it added extra time on to an already long day. I had to get some shut eye.

Waking up the following morning bright and early (not long after 5am!) I headed to the Flightline. Since returning I was quickly informed that the weather was not what it had been when we left less than three weeks ago. It was apparently much cooler when the sun set and as was said I soon felt the chill (even after enduring the English winter for two weeks) of a cool Floridian January morning.

The aircraft was prepped and ready to go. Just one problem - mist. Unfortunately until the obscurity had burnt itself off it wasn't possible to get back into the air for the first time in 2012. To keep the plan alive I delayed the flight and went for breakfast at a local diner with three other students. Arriving back around 10am the weather had improved quite considerably and I was able to soon get back into the seat and head towards the runway.

The checklist had been thoroughly 'checked' and I sat there, waiting to make my first radio call of the new year. If I was to ask every student here the worst part of the flying (apart from the paperwork of course) the majority would most likely say it is making that initial radio call at the run up area. It's a very simple request to the controller and we have all done in many times yet it's one of those things that we all just have to sit there for all but a couple of seconds and just think - "what on earth do I have to say?!"

Luckily I got the first call under my belt correctly and it all flowed back. Within minutes I was pointing towards the sky and heading south. The air was still cool which helped the aeroplane climb much quicker than would normally be the case. Soon enough I was at my cruising altitude of 6,500ft. Aircraft configured, radio checks complete and check lists again re-checked I got to again appreciate some of the glorious views on offer here on the east coast of the United States. Only twenty four hours earlier I was being rocketed into the tropopause in a metal (well...composite...) tube containing some of Europe's latest technology while now I sat in an aircraft designed in the seventies (albeit kitted out with twenty first century navigation equipment) cruising at 117 knots (135mph) just a mile above the earth's surface. The difference being, this time I was in control.

Soon enough I was ready to begin the descent into Okeechobee, somewhere I had been many times before. With the terminal information gathered (the weather for the particular airfield and any other relevant information) I began the approach. One thing was for certain - it was going to be quite windy!

After a few landings (which went OK - safe but not what passengers would 'appreciate' had their been many in the back) I headed back to Melbourne, this time at a lower altitude of 3,500ft. This allowed me to experience a more detailed view of the landscape and get some great shots.

"FIT 37, cleared to land Runway 5."

So that was that - first flight of 2012 complete. Although it had been quite an effort to get myself organised and ready for the trip so quickly after returning to the US I was especially pleased to get it under my belt.

Again today I was scheduled for a 7am solo flight. As yesterday I arrived nice and early and again the weather told the same story - fog. Due to me also having a dual flight with my old instructor at 10.30am I unfortunately had to cancel the flight as I simply did not have the time to wait and fit the journey in before the following lesson.

I'm hoping to get my FAA PPL in as soon as possible and after cancelling the mock check ride before going home for Christmas this has now been reorganised for Monday. Before this I wanted to get a flight in with either my current or old instructor so that I was able to iron out any creases that had formed over the past few weeks on the ground while at home in Europe - and indeed there were a few!

Luckily I was able to get a flight with my old instructor who took me up for two hours and went through the majority of the procedures and manoeuvres that would be covered in the FAA check ride. It was great to get some feedback on areas I need to work on and hopefully there will be an improvement come the mock flight.

So, having gotten out of bed at not long after 5am for the past couple of days I was looking forward to taking the Sunday off to relax before the flight on Monday and the ATPL classes which start again on Tuesday but no, tomorrow morning by 6am at the very latest I'll be at the Flightline preparing another solo cross country flight. It's certainly not something that I am complaining about and I am extremely happy to be getting as many flights as possible under my belt as the CPL training lies only nine weeks away.

So, a busy few days and a few more to come - and that's before we start class again this week!

Next week I'll give more information on the final module including the subjects and the new changes with regards to the timetables.

Time for bed - another early start in the morning.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Returning back to Florida with exam results...

It's quite scary how quickly these two and a half weeks at home have gone. It's been a bit of a whirlwind with moving house, Christmas and New Year all coming at once. It's certainly been a time of over indulgence and I think it will be good to get back to some normality in the coming weeks.

I've pretty much spent the past week doing much very similar to the week before with a great night on New Year's eve. I also managed to get to a local football game yesterday and was good to get back into the old mould before leaving for Melbourne back in May 2011. Although the local weather is something I haven't enjoyed while being back home!

Today I finally got hold of my exam results for the ATPL exams taken before Christmas. I managed to achieve an average of 98% giving me an overall average of 95.4% with five exams remaining. I'm glad to have been able to increase my percentage going into the final module.

So, when I return later this week to Florida I'm hoping to get a few flights in before starting ground school again on Monday 9th. The structure in which we complete our schooling is due to change this time and I'll explain next week how so.

It has been absolutely fantastic coming back home and seeing family and friends and I'm now looking forward to getting back to the states, getting the final set of examinations complete and then onto flying full time once again. In three months time I should be back in Europe for the foreseeable future.

Next time I head east across the Atlantic I'll be back for good...