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...


  1. Unless you were over a deserted area, that "at or below 500 ft" request asked you to bust the FARS. Remember the one about being 500ft or more from any building, person, vehicle or other structure?

    Have fun with the Extra 300, I got some Citabria aerobatic time a few years ago which is implanted strongly in memory, possibly due to how sick I felt afterwards :(

  2. Hey D.B.

    Yes it would! Fortunately I was over the ocean at 500ft so it was JUST legal!

    The Extra is fantastic - but I agree, the queasiness is the major downside!