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* A few fireworks for NYE in Bournemouth *
I know we all as human beings say this every single year, but jeez... where did that year go? I cannot believe we've seen yet another year in and to think that this time last year I was still slaving away over the final few topics of ATPL Ground School is mental. I didn't have a single flying hour to my name either and now i've attained a pass in my commercial pilots licence test and find myself four events into my Instrument Rating training. To date the years 2016 (university graduation) and 2017 (the CPL) have been pretty damn awesome and I'm very much looking forward to what 2018 will bring. It'll sure bring its own challenges, as as each year before it, but here's to hoping it also brings with it the metaphorical keys to a shiny jet. Or turboprop...as we can't go excluding those now, can we. Or any aircraft for that matter as I'll fly whatever someone is willing to pay me to fly. Here's to also hoping each of you, my readers, go on to have a great year too and thanks for sticking around. Your support honestly means the world to me so I raise my glass.
* The Cardiff to Bristol routing for this sim as depicted on SkyVector.com *
I mentioned this simulator a bit in my IR Week One post but due to a technical issue I wasn't able to complete it. Good ol' Christmas and New Year followed shortly after and as such we had to postpone the refly until today. As I mentioned in the past, this sim builds on the first two orientation flights but brings engine failures back into the mix. I've included a screenshot of the route flown from the very helpful tool SkyTest.com and while it's not 100% accurate, it gives you an idea.
This flight saw me depart from Cardiff and fly the departure procedure for runway 27 to the VOR beacon in Brecon Beacons. Quite apt that really, a Beacon in Brecon Beacons.. but I digress. Once the departure was complete I was to track directly over the Bristol Channel / River Severn towards Bristol, enter the NDB hold, complete an unsuccessful NDB approach due to the cloudbase, go-around, and finally land with thanks to the way more precise and much better suited ILS.
All in all my general handling was okay, but the holds and other minor procedural things were shot. It's absolutely crazy how quickly you can lose your knowledge, or 'currency' as we call it in aviation, when you're both a trainee and don't fly for an extended period of time. Having only completed two sims prior to Christmas and prior to those not flown in six or more weeks I was embarrassed, but let off a little. I still beat myself up a bit though.. I simply shouldn't be forgetting things so crucial. As an example, for the whole sim I completely forgot about wind and associated heading adjustments and therefore let mother nature shove me around. There were other things, but this really does highlight the very importance of planning an IFR flight in advance. Not that I hadn't, but I'd not been through enough in my "arm chair flying" to spot things like that.
Today was a very long day. My sim partner and I had been in the training centre since 7am and didn't get back til going on 3.30pm. When you add to this we'd been scheduled in for the final UK Orientation sim the following day, most of the evening was spent reading over the syllabus, familiarising myself with the procedures for the appropriate airport and planning everything accordingly. Safe to say I was shattered by the time my head hit the hay. Thankfully the schedulers had given us a PM start the next day meaning I could enjoy a bit of lie-in. We're not always so lucky though!
* The Bristol to Bristol IFR routing for this sim as depicted on SkyVector.com *
This simulator lesson marks the conclusion of the U.K. Orientation phase of the Instrument Rating and brings the components of the past three sims together into one. Like the previous sims this one is also roughly two hours in duration and aims to assess our ability in all phases of flight from what we call SUTTO (Start Up, Taxi, Takeoff) to shutdown at the other end and, of course, everything in between. By this point of the UK Orientation we're now expected to conduct a more thorough pre-flight setup of the NavAids, Garmin etc compared to back in New Zealand and for a two hour session at least 30 minutes of that is simply setting up the aircraft for the flight. It's actually pretty crazy how long it takes to get through everything and failure to properly think through the configuration you require could cause complications in-flight. With this in mind, what a better way to test our thought process than provide us a bit of a more complicated departure than we're used to.
This flight saw me depart IFR from Bristol, track north via the "BADIM1X" departure to then join an airway (essentially a motorway in the sky in non-pilot lingo) to track east. After 20 miles or so in the airway I then exit to return back to Bristol for an ILS approach. The complication here was a) the departure in itself as it made use of two navigation aids when to date i've only ever flown a departure using one; and b) the fact this was my first time actually joining an airway which is considered "Class A" in terms of airspace, to which is referenced by traditional NavAid's and not GPS, and requires frequent position updates with ATC. Taking both of these points into consideration it requires a bit of thought to actually figure out how on earth I was going to set up the aircraft to get into the airway in the first place and what I would do at each point in flight. I eventually came up with what I thought was the best approach but like most things I've learnt to to-date, there's always a better way to do things! My instructor walked us through his own approach to this in the debriefing which was helpful.
I've become quite used to curveballs in lessons now and this one was no different. On final approach the runway couldn't be seen which meant I initiated a go-around when the instructor then failed an engine. Having secured the engine, made a "Pan Pan" call to the tower and requested vectors for another ILS approach I was then told the ILS had all of a sudden become unserviceable. Oh Great.. how convenient. I then needed to complete the much-loved NDB approach instead *sarcasm*. NDB's are pure terrible and the only way I can describe them to you is like trying to walk North using a handheld compass although the needle continuously wanders. Yep.. that's the characteristic of an NDB for you. Grim.
Before even going into this sim I was incredibly keen to not make the same mistakes I'd made in the preceding lessons and so spent ages planning the night before. I'm happy to say it paid off with my instructor summarising in the post-lesson report:
A sound finish to the orientation phase George. Smooth flying, mostly well within IR limits. Both approaches flown to a sound standard.
That said, it wasn't all positive and some constructive feedback was given.. namely that my briefings need to be more succinct which means I'm now at the other end of the spectrum compared to where I used to be. A lot of flying is about finding that middle ground it seems. I've also been told to try and really familiarise myself with UK Radio Telephony calls as they will become more and more important as I approach the IR test and the exam for my UK radio telephony licence. Other points were just mirroring what's been said before in that i'm improving in them, but i'm not quite there. Practice makes perfect after all!
Having now completed the initial simulators which aim to introduce us to UK differences and also allow us to familiarise ourselves with the expected procedures in IFR flight, it was now time to learn a little bit more about the next step: LOFT. LOFT stands for Line-Oriented Flight Training and essentially aims to replicate, as close as possible, commercial single pilot operations. With this said though, nothing in a learning environment is ever as straightforward as hopping into a sim and going flying and instructors are to begin throwing curveballs our way. We'll experience engine failures, engine fires, alternator failures, engine coolant temperature issues, failed landing gear/flaps and any others that the sim so permits. Oh joy! How I look forward to that!
Of course, the purpose of doing this is to start encouraging each of us to make our own decisions in the air and in the brief today we were re-introduced to the framework L3 encourages we use to do this. It's call D.O.D.A.R. Each letter represents a step we should carry out in order to achieve a safe outcome. This framework is by no means exclusive to L3 and many airlines around the world employ it in their operations with those airlines that don't employ it having something very similar. Taking perhaps the most urgent of examples, an engine fire that could not be extinguished, I might use the framework like this:
Things certainly look like they're about to get that bit more challenging, but having spoken to peers ahead of me they all claim that while the LOFT sims certainly left them with sweaty palms they enjoyed them overall. "They make you feel a lot more like a real pilot" one of them said. With that in mind I'm certainly looking forward to getting started. It's likely my next sim will be next week now so i'll post another update next Friday should time permit.