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...


  1. I'm looking to start training at FIT but they don't offer training in an Extra. I saw their Citabria and it wasn't too nice nor was the course offered like what you've described. How'd you get this training? Would you recommend the course and instructors?
    Thanks, DM

  2. Hey,

    My training was not conducted through FIT as such. I am training with a European company called Pilot Training College who use FIT for their flying programme in the States.

    The upset recovery training was something that PTC and our airline organised seperately from FIT.

    To train with PTC to achieve a European JAA ATPL license you would need to have the right to live and work in the EU.

    The course is good, very well thought out. I have only ever come into contact with PTC instructors in the US but I was reliably informed that the instruction from FIT's side was very good.

    Their facilities are second to none.