Thursday, 22 March 2012

Knocking down the hours while the results arrive...Part I

Since the last update there have been developments both in the air and on the ground.

Firstly, and most importantly, the final ATPL results arrived last week and I'm happy to say all have been satisfactorily complete with the needed percentage gained. 

The exams have been a long, drawn out process and something I feel quite proud to have complete. They're not for the faint hearted and although I feel they hold an undeserved prestige of being difficult I do believe that they are the result of someone's extreme hard work and dedication.

I remember travelling to the Annex on our first day of ATPLs and a now friend said, as he was to begin his final module, that the six months following would be the quickest we would ever experience - I cannot emphasis how true those words were. 

They're the largest and most feared part of the training - something I am glad to never have to see again!

Having said goodbye to the family last week we were half way through out CPL ground school training. This course is designed as both a refresher and an introduction into flying a twin-engined aircraft under the JAA system.

During the five days of ground school we covered everything from engine failure on take-off to the phraseology that should be used in Europe (and supposedly across the world!) on the radios.

It was great to finally start to get to terms with a type of aircraft (twin) that I hope to be flying on a much greater scale in the near future. 

The ground course was completed with an exam on Monday morning which I am happy to say everyone comfortably passed.

More importantly over the past week or so I've managed to complete a serious number of flights. The only remaining flight I now have is an internal check ride with one of the senior flight instructors at the weekend before beginning in the Seminole.

Over the past week or so I have been extremely lucky in terms of weather and aircraft availability. A lot of friends and colleagues here have been turned away time and time again due to a large number of aircraft being broken and the weather not being as they had hoped.

I however have managed to log eight flights, exactly twenty hours of flight time with twenty seven takeoff/landings. This excludes the time flying with the family and the majority of this was fitted around the ground school.

It has been extremely tiring and frustrating but I have had a fantastic time with it all the same and managed to visit some fantastic places as I'll now explain below.

After completing a couple of duals on Thursday and Friday last week early morning, I had two four hour cross country flights to complete at the weekend with each lasting over 300NM with one leg being at least 150NM in length.

On Saturday I was planning to head from Melbourne to Titusville (just north of here) and then down to Naples on the west coast. This would allow me to cover the 150NM required on the day's routes. From Naples I was going to head down to Tamiami, an airport near the world famous Miami where I would refuel before heading back up the coast past the city as the sun fell. That was the plan anyway.

Due to the aircraft arriving back late it cut down the amount of time I would have to complete the route. Therefore I made a quick modification. I changed my final stop from Tamiami to West Palm International. Although the route would be shorter it would still be in excess of 150NM.

After heading up to Titusville I headed towards Okeechobee, the old stomping ground. This would be the point I would pass over en route to Naples. Having made contact with Miami Approach I was soon passed over to Fort Myers Approach who gave me vectors towards Naples. The weather wasn't the best. It was getting quite turbulent and the clouds started to move in, although they did remain quite sparse throughout the trip. A touch and go in Naples followed by a departure to the East back to the Atlantic coast line.

The flight across the state to West Palm was quite interesting as I was only covering the ground at around 85kts (98mph) compared to the outbound leg of 136kts (157mph). This made the leg in to almost an hour sector. 

Finally I arrived on the approach in to the airport.

"N369FT expect runway 10R, advise when you have Lima."

The approach plan was complete and the airport was in sight. 

"West Palm Approach, N639FT has the airport in sight."

"N639FT, West Palm Approach, contact Tower on 119.100"

The weather had really cleared as the sun started to set in my six o'clock. I was very much looking forward to the flight back up the coast to Melbourne.

"N639FT contact departure, have a good day."

The journey back along the coast was fantastic. I managed to climb to 8,500ft as the sun began to set over the sunshine state. I was able to get some fantastic photos.

It was soon time to start the descent in to Melbourne after a fantastic day out flying. The sun was soon over the horizon and darkness fell.

"FIT 39, cleared to land Runway 5." Home.

More to follow this weekend including another four hour solo, a trip to the largest airport in the state and overflying the NASA airport at 100ft.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Upset Recovery Training

Wow! What an eventful past week or so! From losing 4,000ft in a couple of minutes to taking some of the family into the air for the first time it's been a period I'll most likely never forget!

Since the last update where I had been frustrated with weather conditions it was confirmed under the agreement with our sponsor airline that we would take part in the Upset Recovery Training outlined by a company called The Airplane Company based in Sanford, Florida.

The flight training group operate a number of different type of aircraft but the one that we would be most interested in (and be spending five hours in!) was the Extra 300 as mentioned in the previous post.

The course was to be conducted over three days consisting of three hours of ground school on Wednesday last week followed by a flight in the afternoon. The following two days consisted of two flights each.

I wouldn't like to comment on the performance of the Extra as we weren't briefed with such numbers nor do I have time to trawl the internet to find such figures! However, I will say this; it was far more powerful than what we have been used to!

The ability for the aircraft to get airbourne within only a few hundred feet was quite impressive as we rocketed up to 1,000ft before the end of the runway.

During the ground school introduction it was made clear that the main purpose of the whole three days was not to familiarise ourselves with the everyday flying of the aircraft but to understand more the principles of how certain situations in the air occur and how we deal with them.

"So wait a minute; we're going to be allowed to go up in these planes and you'll take care of everything? We just get to play with the yoke and throttle of a quarter of a million dollar piece of kit?"

"Pretty much."

"Well that suits me perfectly!"

The ground school consisted of briefings of each of our flights followed by case studies of situations where the actions taken by the pilots (based on poor knowledge and/or understanding of the basic principles of how an aircraft remains controllable) ended in significant fatalities.

In the afternoon the four of us headed to the airport to take part in our first lesson. This was mainly an introductory lesson where we got a feel of the aircraft, did some steep turns followed by a couple of barrel roles and one loop for good measure. Pulling significantly higher G's than normal (I reached over the three days +5.8 and -1 while a colleague nearly reached 7) made for a rather uncomfortable hour or so after landing. I'm not one for travel sickness but this was something else.

The next day we again headed to the airport for two more lessons. These started to look more at recovering from situations which could be experienced in commercial aircraft (as opposed to those built specifically for this type of operation). This was mainly focused around stalls and effective ways of recovering from them using the control surfaces we have available to us as pilots. In this case, the majority of authority is placed on the rudder, a control surface on the tail plane of the aircraft.

This led to two types of spins. Those where the nose was pointing down and those where the aircraft was completely flat on it's stomach heading towards the ground at an alarming rate.

Both were fantastic to do and again made for an uncomfortable hour on the ground post flight - not as bad as day one though!

On the third and final day we brought together everything we had gone through. Unusual attitudes, steep turns and stalls - all those scenarios that could be found in a commercial operation, although unlikely, could still be found. We also managed to fit in a few corkscrews and loops for good measure - it would be rude not to!

The experience was amazing. Being able to take the controls of such a fantastic piece of engineering was awe-inspiring at some points such as being half way through a loop approaching zero speed staring overhead directly towards the ground. Fantastic.

The highlight for me was definitely the following.

On Thursday afternoon we started our taxi to the active runway here in Melbourne. We were given 9L which is adjacent to 9R, the longest runway here in KMLB. As we taxied towards the threshold similarly the Delta Airlines 757 heading to Atlanta completed it's own taxi to the threshold of the runway, in it's case 9R.

"Delta 2213, cleared for take-off 9R."

"Extra, cleared for take-off 9L." This was a race...

The flight instructor opened the throttles on the Extra and as predicted we hurtled down the runway lifting the wheels off of the ground within seconds. This was ours. The plane was kept in ground effect (a few metres above the runway) for some time until the 757 began it's rotation. The instructor then conducted what he called a 'rocket departure' soaring into the air at a ridiculous speed. The Boeing had nothing on us. Or so we thought! As we left 800ft behind us the jet, now well into it's departure hurtled past us towards the heavens only a hundreds of metres away.

We certainly had the edge during the early stages but when that plane got warmed it we had nothing to come back with. Truly brilliant two minutes of fun!

At the same time as flying these flights over the three days we also got to see something that doesn't offer make an appearance in sunny Melbourne too often. A Russian cargo aircraft arrived to pick up two helicopters to take to Nevada for logging. Amazing machine to see and left quite a bit of smog over it's departure path as it left the runway!

On the day of commencing the Upset Recovery Training family members from the UK had arrived for a week. The weather had been unfortunately bad (to go flying) for the majority of their trip but finally, the day they were to depart back to Europe we got up in the air for just under an hour. Great weather made the flight very enjoyable!

Having had a good time with the upset training it was back into the classroom on Monday morning to begin the CPL ground school. 

The Commercial Pilot's Course (CPL) is the next license we will be completing and to keep things simple it will be done in the twin-engined Piper Seminole. This is a similar aircraft to those that we have been flying now with a couple of major difference, the most obvious being lack of engine in front of the cabin and the addition of two on the wings! I'll be sure to explain more about the aircraft in the coming couple of weeks.

This course is designed to last around a month and will see the conclusion of our training here in the United States. 

The plan at the moment is to return to Europe at the beginning of April after completing around twenty five hours in the plane.

First however, I have another seven flights to complete in the single-engine Warrior. Having flown this morning and two nights ago to West Palm international I am slowly working through. Hopefully they'll all be done within a weeks time!

Had a great week and hopefully those coming will be as enjoyable. The end of our training in Melbourne is finally coming in to view...

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Wind, wind and more wind...

Since the end of ATPLs it's all been about flying as much as possible. Flying is the sole restriction now (well...apart from an internal CPL test at the end of next week) between me and a twin-engined Piper Seminole.

My new instructor was quite pro-active and scheduled me for four solos over four days - fantastic! I had the opportunity to knock thirteen hours of flying within such a short space of time!

Eagerly checking the weather on Friday afternoon my heart sank. The weather on Saturday morning was to be fantastic. A cold from was passing from the north on Friday evening bringing with it some spectacularly high pressure the following morning. This is great for flying. Clear skies and cool temperatures are a pilots dream; what isn't is the winds that are almost always associated with it.

Winds gusting into the mid-twenty knots meant I wouldn't be getting back into the air as soon as I'd planned.

Sunday morning, god must have taken a rest and blessed us all with calm, cool conditions. Got to love that guy! 

Flight planning complete, it was time to head off to Fort Lauderdale! The flight was due to run just under three hours with strong northerly winds creating a fast outbound flight and a long, slow in bound journey. The plan was to enter the pattern in Melbourne on the return flight to finish off the journey.

I departed Melbourne and began the flight south. Melbourne international and the area around 20 miles south of the city comes under the ATC jurisdiction of Orlando Approach. For convenience it always seems easier to continue VFR squawking 1200 until reaching Sebastian, an un-towered airport on the boarder of Orlando/Miami Approach. 

"Miami Approach, N642FT with VFR request."

"N642FT, negative. Airspace too busy due to IFR traffic."

Just my luck. It was either continue the flight without flight following or head somewhere else, preferably north. It was at that point a cunning plan that'd I'd previously seen used entered my head. I turned around and pointed the nose in my original departure airport. Just outside of Melbourne's airspace I again made a 180 degree turn back to the south.

"Orlando Approach, N642FT with VFR request."

"N642FT go-ahead."

Result! This allowed me to register my flight following giving me ATC to Fort Lauderdale. Soon afterwards, as I again approached Sebastian airport I was passed over to Miami Approach.

"Miami Approach, N642FT with you."

"N642FT roger."

Having got one over on ATC I continued my journey passing Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Stuart. In land I could see a large fire taking place on the ground causing quite a few problems for a number of aircraft on the same frequency who were suffering from reduced visibility caused by the smoke.

With a bit of a tail wind causing a ground speed of 125kts (144mph) West Palm Beach (a large city north of Fort Lauderdale) came into sight.

The very nice lady on West Palm Approach frequency asked me which runway I would prefer - 9L or 9R. Considering where the port is placed and my route after leaving the runway in Fort Lauderdale I opted for 9R which would allow me a low pass over the shoreline. Little did I know - this wouldn't just be a short trip at such a low altitude!

"2FT, descend and maintain 2,500ft. On approach you will head directly over the field to enter the right downwind for 9R. Maintain 2,500 until turning downwind."

What I was hoping for! Directly passing over the airport before turning to make an approach on to the requested runway - this was turning out to be a good day!

"2FT, cleared for touch and go. After departure, head east until the shoreline. Upon reaching the shoreline head north at or below 500ft."

500ft?! This was going to be fantastic!

While turning final I was asked the following by ATC. "2FT, out of your left side, confirm sight of traffic. Type Jetblue Airbus A320 on short final runway 9L."

I looked to my left and in what looked like an arms length a European manufactured commercial airliner was partnering me on to solid ground. A mesmeric sight.

A quick touch and go in a windy Fort Lauderdale and I was airborne within a very short period of time. It was very odd leveling out at 500ft . Our standard procedure is to climb on runway heading to at least 700ft before making a turn.

Cruising over the shoreline at 500ft I made a turn towards home. The coast would take me directly back to the home city here in the US. I asked on a number of occasions to be cleared back to a reasonable cruising altitude but was refused every time; I wasn't complaining too much - the views were fantastic!

Finally, having passed below the airspace surround West Palm Beach their approach allowed me to climb up to a respectable 4,500 feet for the journey back to Melbourne.

It was a pleasant flight back. The winds were as predicted and it took some time for the international airport to come in to sight.

Due to the ATC dodging earlier in the morning I had used up the allocated time I was allowing for a few landings and also owing to a well overdue bathroom break I proceeded back to the ramp.

The winds had considerably increased since the departure three hours earlier so it made for a challenging yet satisfying approach.

Three wheels on the ground I taxied back to base and shut down the engine. Arguably my favourite flight yet.

Today was the same story as that of Friday. The winds were predictable last night and having exceeded 30kts today it was a certainty that another enjoyable afternoon in the air wasn't going to happen.

Tomorrow is the start of three days I have been looking forward to for months. We're finally going to be taking our upset recovery training.

This involves a ground school covering the subjects we will be learning about over the coming three days followed by five hours in the Extra 300 (those famously used in the Red Bull air races.

This course is designed pretty much as described. To train pilots on how to recover from flight situations which can be extremely dangerous to both the aircraft, those on board and people on the ground. There have been a number of incidences where an aeroplane has got itself into a situation whereby the pilot's are not trained to deal with. I am of the understanding that a number of the maneuvers that we will be covering are also not taught in the simulator training during the type rating stage of training.

I'm also hoping we can do a couple of loops too!

Tomorrow also is the day that some of the family is coming out to visit. Arguably not the best time (although since last summer there hasn't really been any good time!) to come out but I'll hopefully get to see them as much as possible.

With the weather causing problems and a list of flights I need to get through it looks like the next five or six weeks will be extremely busy and there will simply be no time for rest.

Pretty similar to the past six months really...

Saturday, 3 March 2012

ATPLs - that's a wrap

  • 182 days
  • 480 hours ground school
  • 232 hours official self study
  • Hundreds of hours of non-official self study
  • 54 weekly tests
  • 14 Consolidation exams
  • 14 IAA exams
Done. Around mid day on Wednesday I walked out of the Hilton conference room for the fourteenth and final time.

The five exams over the three days were tough going. This module involved a lot more work in terms of hours than the previous two and I think we all started to notice that come Wednesday.

As the week before, we completed the same timetable however this time it was conducted by three invigilators who had traveled over from Ireland.

I think all five exams went OK. I most certainly found them more difficult than the two previous modules however I hope there is no cause for alarm.

When we first arrived here in Florida one of the first things we were told about the six months of ATPL subjects was how difficult, how time consuming and how exhausting they really were. I am being extremely honest when I don't agree 100% in what others have said.

One thing I have certainly learnt since being out here is how much time and effort you put in is very clearly seen in the final results. Sure, luck has it's way of helping people along or pulling them under when on other occasions it could have been avoided however if you're prepared to work hard, be motivated and devote a little bit extra of your time to a task then it can be extremely rewarding. 

I won't these past six months have been the most difficult I've had in my lifetime but they'll always be remembered as a challenge that on occasions really got one up on me and on others were, dare I say it, actually quite enjoyable!

Over the past week my instructor left to return to his previous job due to positive changes in his personal life - something I wish him all the best for! 

Getting myself back in to the air is now something I'll need to be thoroughly committed to over the new week or so. I have ten remaining flights to complete as soon as possible with around twenty five total hours. In addition to this we have recently heard we will be completing 5 hours of upset recovery training which should take place from Wednesday. This is likely to take up a significant amount of time so really pushing to get the remainder done around this will be ever more challenging.

So, a large part of the course is now complete. I have the Commercial Pilot's License (CPL) ground school which starts a week on Monday to look forward to. Following this we'll move to Ireland to undertake arguably the most important part of the course - the Instrument Rating (IR); something I am very much looking forward to doing and then finally the Multi Crew Course (MCC) around June time.

Things are moving fast - let's hope I can keep up!