Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Emerald Isle - week 1

Having arrived home last week and enjoyed a few days in the UK it was time to head out for the next stage of the training - the Instrument Rating.

The Instrument Rating (IR) is designed to train pilots how to fly solely by the use of instruments they have in front of them using navigational aids along their route of flight. As we in the north west of Europe are so lucky to live in such a climate where clouds are predicted almost daily it was only right that the training would be conducted in this region.

Waterford, Ireland. A small city on the south east coast and the home of The Pilot Training College. I headed out on a flight from Birmingham on Sunday afternoon. It was great to see and experience the aircraft I'll hopefully be flying in only a few months. It was the first time I have been on the plane and it looked like a fun piece of kit!

The journey over was short and I was soon in windy Waterford. The housing here is far better than we experienced in the US and the PTC facilities this week have been fantastic.

The week began on Monday with an induction day. We were shown the building, the simulator we would be working in over the coming weeks, what is expected of us and we finished the day with a one hundred question hand written paper.

It certainly opened my eyes as to the level of knowledge expected and I must say scraping the back of the mind for a few of the topics that I hadn't seen in months was a bit of a challenge! The idea of this is for PTC to see at what standard of knowledge the students coming over from Florida currently retain and for we as students to understand where our knowledge level should be at. A very useful exercise and I would advise anyone coming over from the US in the near future to do a bit of study before arriving!

Tuesday through Friday we revisited a number of subjects studied during our ATPLs and developed further on flying 'under the hood' as it is known. 

This was mainly focused on starting to read and understand 'plates.' A plate is in simple terms a detailed diagram listing everything you could possibly need to know about flying a certain departure or approach into an airport. Everything from the route to the highest obstacle will be within an A5 sized document. These are extremely useful (and pretty much a necessity!) to pilots when conducting their flights.

This weekend will involve quite a bit of study in coming to terms and revising previously understood material as well as a lot of new concepts.

Thoroughly looking forward to getting in to the simulator later this coming week and I'll be sure to keep you updated as to how it goes!


Saturday, 21 April 2012

United States - Complete

JAA Ground School                                         -     Complete
FAA Ground School                                         -     Complete
FAA PPL written exam                                    -     Complete
JAA PPL internal check ride                           -     Complete
FAA PPL check ride                                        -     Complete
14 JAA ATPL examinations                            -     Complete
JAA CPL qualifier internal check ride            -     Complete
JAA MEP/CPL check ride                               -     Complete

As trainee pilots we all learn the task of reading from checklists very early on in our training. They're our best friend. They detail everything we should be doing to make sure that the systems there to operate a safe flight are configured correctly at each respective stage of flight.

Over the past eleven months or so we have been working through that checklist of requirements we need outlined by both the training college and the national authorities. As you can see from above there have been quite a few and as I sit here, 35,000ft above the Atlantic ocean I'm ecstatic to say the final hurdle on the American adventure has been completed.

It's been about ten days since I've updated this page and this has solely been due to the amount of flying and ground study I have had to do to get out of Melbourne in time for the start of the next part of training on Monday morning.

I completed the flying programme on Monday evening and on Tuesday lunchtime I took to the air with the Chief Flight Instructor for my mock check ride. The flight went really well and he was happy to put me forward for the IAA exam the following day.

Preparing for the final flight in US airspace as well as preparing for a much larger flight later that evening if everything went to plan was extremely time consuming! The time passed over to 2am before my head hit the pillow. I was getting up on two hours and forty-five minutes later for the biggest test of the training so far.

4:45am. The alarm sounds. The last time my head would touch a pillow for over thirty six hours. Flight bag ready, the journey to the Flightline was as it ever was at this time in the morning. Very quiet and solemn. The fifteen minutes passed pretty quickly as I went through the emergency procedures which should be learnt to memory one last time.

Arriving early enough to complete the paperwork before the flight 7:30am soon came around and it was time to meet up with the examiner for a pre-flight briefing. He ran through everything very quickly and summarized the briefing we had had a couple of days earlier. Both happy we headed out to the plane.

The flight consists of around 2.5 hours in the air covering everything from a navigation route, flying solely on the instruments, dealing with unusual attitudes, system failures, emergency situations (engine fire, engine failures) and work in the pattern. 

It all went swimmingly (apart from a scary moment where I thought I'd lost me my during the navigation diversion!) and on parking at the ramp I was congratulated by the examiner on passing the flight. 

Over the moon I headed back into the Flightline to immediately book my flight back to the UK. With all the excitement the serious lack of sleep and thumping fatigue seemed to sit at the back of my mind bothering much less than it had at sunrise.

I now had a deadline where the car would be picking me up to take me one last time to Orlando International airport. Work to be done. Checking out of the United States was easier than expected. As with everything there is a serious amount of paperwork, most of it pompous and unnecessary but no less it was all complete, signed and delivered to the relevant persons.

Now was the hardest part. Saying goodbye to everyone. 

In the past eleven months I have had the great honour of meeting some of the most interesting, some of the kindest and most certainly some of the most talented people I could possibly wish to come into contact with. From school leavers and university graduates to those who have worked in the depths of central London. From professional sportsmen to photographers. Whatever the career path was, it was quite clear to see that everyone out in Florida is there to achieve that one goal and dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot. 

I do wish everyone still out in the US the greatest of success in the future and hopefully I'll see a number of them either in Ireland next month or in the air during the future!

With the goodbyes dealt with both in person and via email I was quickly descending on Orlando International airport. 

With the amount of luggage I was taking home I was pretty embarrassed when I saw the weight of the luggage as it was totaled up by the Virgin check-in staff. The kind lady smiled at me, gave me my extra legroom ticket and said "enjoy your flight." I can get used to these extra perks!

Through security and duty free and it was time to wait for the flight home. It was the first time since I had passed the flight test taken earlier in the day I realised what was going on around me. The rush of preparing for home blurred everything else and it hit me. 

"I'm a multi-engine commercial pilot." 

Looking out at the Boeing 747 affectionately named "Pretty Woman" by the airline that was due to carry me seven hours to the east very shortly; the perfect setting. 

The time I have spent in America will forever be remembered.

Seeing the sun rise over the Atlantic ocean from 8,000ft for the first time; visiting Miami and it's world famous beach; flying in to some of the US's biggest airports in one of the smallest planes on the market; being part of a world leading programme on hypoxia training and undertaking upset recovery training are just some of the highlights of an amazing eleven months.

So...what now? Well having been at home for a couple of days and catching up with some friends and family I'm back at the airport again tomorrow to catch a short flight over the Irish sea to Waterford. The Instrument Rating (IR) course begins on Monday morning and will take around six to eight weeks to complete.

It's time to continue packing for the next stage of training, maybe a few less pairs of shorts this time...

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Twin flying

The past week has been pretty intense. Coming to terms with a new aircraft in such a short space of time is quite challenging.

Since the last update I now sit with seven flights remaining, five with my instructor, one mock check ride and then the real thing, hopefully next week at some point.

The thirteen flights in which we take to the air in the Seminole are designed as followed.

The first four are called MEP flights including an internal check ride on the fourth. The 'MEP' stands for Multi-Engine Pilot rating. It mainly consists of flying the aeroplane and understanding how it works. What to do when an engine fails, what to do with an engine fire, flying with only one engine (asymmetric) and coming to terms with a different type of power-plant (not to mention there being two of them!)

It has been a steep learning curve and I hope I'm more settled in the aircraft moving forward over the remainder of the course. My instructor is the Chief Pilot here at the flight school and he is notorious for expecting extremely high standards from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave the Flightline and I think this will certainly put myself and his other students in good stead not only for the check ride but for future flying.

The second stage of the training in which I am currently completing is advancing on that already set in stone in the single engine aircraft - the Piper Warrior. The Commercial Pilot's License (CPL) will allow the holder to fly for reward which is certainly something we shall need when sat in the right hand seat of a large passenger aircraft when we're expecting a pay cheque at the end of the month!

This involves a lot of 'under the hood' instrument work and planning navigation's to grass strips quite literally in the middle of nowhere. I've completed one of each and although there is an increase in workload it is easy to appreciate the similarity between both aircraft. Hopefully I'll be able to build on the feedback from my instructor over the coming days.

So...with less than two weeks until I'm due to report in Waterford for the beginning of the next stage of training there is so much to do I wouldn't know where to start.

Although Melbourne, Florida doesn't have the excitement of Miami South Beach or the thrills of Orlando's theme parks; spending ten months in one place does bring it's affections (however small they may be) and in compliance with Newton's third law grievances which will most certainly not be missed! 

The state of Florida, as I've said in previous posts, is the world leader, without a shadow of a doubt, of the best pilot training facilities (both man made and natural) there is on offer not only in the United States but across the world. Global gateways accepting small aircraft travelling at barely half the speed of those around them being an everyday occurance for those talented enough to be sat two hundred feet in the air overlooking the fields from the control towers. Their common courtesy and professionalism knowing no bounds.

Closer to base at the Florida Institute of Technology where one of the busiest and most well run flight schools is operated. It is something that we in the UK especially can only dream of. The money invested and the options available to anyone who wants to learn to fly are truly world class.

I don't want to get too sentimental just yet as there is a lot of work to be done before I can turn my back on this small city on the eastern coast of the sunshine state.

Seven more flights, packing, checking out of the university and then preparing for the next stage of training lie ahead over the coming ten days or so.

There will be time to reminisce over the past ten and a half months during the journey home. And with what I have planned ahead before the end of the year there will be little time to continue living in the past when those wheels touch down on UK soil.

With my journey in the aviation world moving fast so too are those of my two previous instructors, both who are currently enjoying great success in their new jobs. I hope both continue to prosper and I thoroughly look forward to seeing where they end up in a few years time!

Exciting times lay ahead both with PTC and my future employer.However, the sun still has to set over the horizon in Melbourne first...

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Knocking down the hours...Part II

Firstly, sorry for the long time between updates - I've been extremely busy this past week or so!

I know sit here writing having completed all of my single engine hours. Tuesday was the final day of making up time I was short.

Over the past week I have done so much with my flying it has been great and it is sad to see the end to the work horse that is the Piper Warrior. The thousands of miles I've taken inside the cockpit of the aircraft produced only down the road in Vero Beach have been busy, sometimes stressful, challenging and most importantly thoroughly enjoyable.

As much as instructors try to say that every one of them is the same it really isn't the case. They each have their own ways - some are good climbers, others very responsive on the controls. One thing I can say about each and every Warrior here at FIT is that they're maintained to a world class standard by a truly fantastic team of mechanics who quite literally work through the night to make sure as many aircraft are available as possible for students and rentals to use; even if that can sometimes drop below the number so dearly needed. I'm sure everyone would agree that they'd rather have wait for an airworthy aeroplane than take one there and then that is not.

My final few flights included a trip across to Tampa and then on down to West Palm International before returning home. This four hour flight completed the two that are included in the programme. It is great to get out of the local area and explore some of the major airports in Florida, especially in a state that is designed more so for general aviation than any other location on the planet.

In the US the air traffic control is much more well invested than what we will be used to in Europe (although when flying with airlines there is very little difference). However, for general aviation here in America we can really take advantage of the services on offer, the most frequently used and user friendly being flight following.

As VFR pilots we're supposed to be flying by reference to what we can see outside of the aircraft. This is all well and good but when entering or maneuvering around airspace that has jets moving at over 200kts at flight levels similar to those we operate it really is of benefit to use ATC.

The majority of the time is spent under our own navigation but with the assistance of the controllers can be vectored on altitudes, headings and traffic advisories. Working in much heavier airspace is a great benefit as it increases the workload and prepares us for what we face ahead in our careers.

Using flight following on these legs was fantastic. In fact all the controllers over here are very good at what they do and are also very used to students who may not have the skills and knowledge in place to react as those with increasing full log books would do. It is also to their credit the amount of patience they have in dealing with such people, effectively from all corners of the globe.

My final solo flight (well, in the progamme) was a two hour navigation flight. Since arriving here in Florida and began to fly I have always wanted to go into Orlando International (MCO). It's the gateway to the world famous theme parks and the majority of traffic heading to the northern parts of the state.

Handling over 35 million passengers per year it puts it just ahead of the likes of Gatwick (albeit it with three additional runways) and the second largest here in Florida after Miami. The flight went very well and with the help of Orlando Approach and the tower I was in and out of the airport within minutes before heading back to the practice area to prepare for the internal check ride known as 3.D.15 due a couple of days after.

During the run in to completing my hours I was extremely lucky with the weather and aircraft availability. There has recently been a shortage in the number of planes, mainly caused by an unexpected rise in aircraft having to enter the hanger for maintenance issues. Hopefully this will be sorted as soon as possible and the usual number of aircraft available will resume.

After completing another two duals with my instructor I was then ready to take the all important 3.D.15.

3.D.15 is an internal check ride and is designed to be the final single engine flight students take before moving on to the twin engine Seminole to complete the Multi-engine Commerical Pilot's License (MEP/CPL). The flight is conducted by either the Chief Flight Instructor or another senior pilot within the company. The idea is to complete a full review of everything that we have learnt in the Piper Warrior and moving forward if we are prepared to cope with the increased work load experienced in it's larger brother.

The flight went well and having discussed my hours with the CFI I was told that I needed to complete an one hour solo and just under one hour dual to meet the minimum required hours outlined under the JAA scheme we currently reside under.

I spent one hour in the pattern here on my own before in the afternoon taking to the air on my final single engine flight.

My instructor and I decided we would head up to NASA and complete the low approach now possible over the 15,000ft runway.

With 0.9 of an hour it was going to be tight but managable. We made the low approach only 100ft above the runway heading over it to the north. We then made a right teardrop and flew down the opposite end to the south.

I wasn't aware of the shear size of the facility. Not only is the runway ridiculously long but the launch pads that we could see in the distance really did show the scale of the operation that has and continues to go on here in Florida.

It was quite surreal seeing below us where history has been made on so many occasions - a truly memorable trip that I would recommend to anyone who is flying general aviation or flight training here in Florida.

So, with 3.D.15 complete, my single engine hours in the record books it was time to prepare for the Seminole. As I said at the start, I've had a great time learning how to fly in the Warrior. It's an aeroplane I would almost insist anyone with a pilots license get to at least take for one or two flights.

A true work horse.

The Piper Seminole. The big brother to the Warrior. Two engines each producing 180bhp accelerate the aircraft to it's rotation speed of 75kts (just over 80mph) within seconds.

The design of each engine is more complex than that of the Warrior and it's something that is particularly interesting to learn. So far I have had one lesson in the twin with more coming over the next five days.

With the intensity of the course (the plan is to be out of here in just over two weeks) it's definitely worth getting as many back seats as it is possible. Over the last few days I have managed to get in the back for two flights.

With such an increase in the amount of work within a reduced time period as the plane travels at higher speeds that we're used to it is a great surprise but a challenge I'm sure we'll all relish.