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* Graphical representation of the KAP140 Autopilot employed in the DA42 TDI. *
The aim of this lesson was rather simple:- teach the various modes of the BendixKing® KAP 140 autopilot unit which looks like the graphic above. By this point in my training I had become all too familiar with the KAP 140 installed on the TDI variant of the DA42, whereas my Arizonan peers were all afforded the elegance of Garmin's integrated autopilot on their fancy NG variants. Regardless of training location though each of us has already had to demonstrate the basic functionality of autopilot for our CPL flight tests so the purpose of this simulator lesson was to introduce us to the modes we'd yet to use. If you were to ask me though this lesson ultimately served to teach Arizonan cadets about the older system for they now needed to move their focus away from the PFD and onto the KAP 140 where all annunciators were now located. I have to say it was nice to have a sim which didn't drain all of your mental capacity and as such the environment was much more relaxed and refreshing.
Unlike autopilot technology installed within the sophisticated airliners I one day hope to fly, the KAP 140 will only operate in two axis. In non-tech lingo this essentially means it can control the roll and also pitch of the aircraft but rudder input for yaw and power input for speed remain the responsibility of the pilot-in-command. Thus, whilst the autopilot employed in the Twinstar is great for increasing pilot capacity by offloading basic input commands, it's in no way sophisticated enough to permit the pilot to get out his copy of the days paper or enjoy a coffee. In actual fact, simple two-axis autopilots have actually been part of the Swiss cheese model when it comes to autopilot related accidents of years gone past. Pilot error is equally at fault as failure to monitor aircraft speed in climb / descend manoeuvres could then very easily lead the autopilot into a stall. It's very eyeopening when you see such a scenario in play as the onset of the stall is incredibly slow. I mean... VERY slow. It took a minute or two for the aircraft to pitch up enough for speed to wane to the point of wing drop.
The additional modes used in this lesson verses those used previously were Nav with reference to VORs instead of GPS (as used in NZ) and the Approach / Glideslope functions. The latter was the first time we'd actually use autopilot to bring the aircraft to within 200ft of the ground. All up this lesson was quite relaxed and a welcome break from madness.
* SkyVector.com's VFR chart representation of the Birmingham to Manchester IFR route via the Trent VOR. *
With the UK Orientation sims out of the way it's time to crack on with the LOFT sims which stands for Line Oriented Flight Training. In essence these simulators are just what they say on the tin and are oriented towards commercial single pilot operations from airport A to airport B by instrument flight rules. Mind you, having said that the instructors and syllabus love to play games with us trainees and nothing is ever as straight forward as it's made out to be. A fair number of peers ahead of me said the LOFT sims were damn tough, required lots of prior planning and pushed your capacity to the max. Even before starting my IR in Bournemouth I'd heard that the learning curve was steep and my response to that is i'd agree to a certain extent. I wouldn't so much say the learning curve is enormous as the vast majority of stuff we're doing in flight we've done already to this point and as such it's just refining technique. What I will say though is the curve very much steepens when it comes to the expectation of cadets. So to speak in metaphorical terms it's very much like being given the components of an IKEA wardrobe without the instructions. Whether it finding the approved route, calculating alternative aerodromes and/or filing the correct mock flight plans a question to an instructor is likely to be met with a blank facial expression and the words "You tell me" leading us to go hunting for the answer. In some ways I suppose you'll never forget it once you find it yourself. Pros and Cons of course.
* A confusing looking spreadsheet at first, this document outlines the preferred routes between UK airports *
This brings me on to the first LOFT sim:- A commercial flight operated from Birmingham to Manchester airport. Now in reality it would be very unlikely an airline ever fly this route and if they did then there's a high chance it'd simply be positioning an aircraft to operate from Manchester, but, we're not in an airliner at this point - we're in the much smaller and slower DA42. I literally spent hours prior to the first LOFT event scratching my head and thinking where I'd even begin in planning this, but thankfully we had been given a mass brief with tips for doing such so I did refer back to the powerpoint a few times. Familiarising myself with the procedures at both Bournemouth and Manchester I set out to find a route between the two as unfortunately you can't fly as the crow does when in instrument flight. You quickly learn on returning to Britain just how complicated everything is in the European aviation world compared to that given to us in New Zealand and having trawled around the website of the UK's air traffic control authority, NATS, I eventually found what I was looking for: a rather lengthy spreadsheet. Thankfully Excel allows you to filter the columns so I could rather quickly eliminate results which didn't originate at Birmingham and terminate at Manchester and I was quite pleased to discover that only one route was returned. It didn't require an airway either which makes things a little simpler.
* One of many weather briefings produced by the UK Met Office available for pilots *
In having the route I now knew I had to fly North towards the Trent VOR and then head North West all the way to Manchester. This helped me narrow down the departure and arrival procedures in use but not having the weather put a stop to planning as I had no idea which runway would be in use for the departure. That's another caveat to LOFT as whilst we're in the simulator we input the real world weather to make it all the more realistic so I needed to wait until the morning. Thankfully the eventual weather couldn't have been nicer leaving me with quite calm conditions which went a long way to reducing mental capacity. What made things even better was the wind favoured runway 33 and as such the easier of the three departure procedures could be flown - RESULT! - always nice when things go in your favour.
Or do they?...
Unfortunately those were indeed famous last words as my instructor threw a standby airspeed indicator failure at me on departure. Our standard procedure is to confirm that both of these are working properly on the takeoff roll.. they weren't, but I decided to continue the takeoff anyway. In my mind I was like... "Oh, it's a sim i'm sure it'll come alive again in a minute". God knows why I thought that though and to amplify it my instructor failed a few other instruments after rotation to finally make me act. I got a Pan Pan call out and liaised with ATC (played by my instructor) to return to the airfield. With cloud at 700ft this was a very very low and arguably dangerous manoeuvre which, if I'd have actually acted on the airspeed issue on the runway and stopped the departure wouldn't have needed to happen in the first place. It was certainly a debrief point after the lesson and I'll no longer have the "it's a sim" mindset going forward.
* The "I've got an early morning simulator" face. *
The remainder of the flight up until the entry to the hold at Manchester made up the vast majority of positive feedback. My instructor said my capacity wasn't once pushed, my liaison with air traffic control was correct where required, the use of autopilot in the cruise to offload workload was good and I remained ahead of the aircraft at all times. Prior to entering Manchester airports airspace there's an opportunity for air traffic to make you hold to which I was asked to enter. It's good practice after-all and the entry and general flight around it was also to standard which is good to hear. Sadly it went a bit pear-shaped from then. From this hold I was cleared to take up another hold overhead Manchester airfield and that's where it went all so wrong. The entry was just terrible. I certainly laughed at myself when my instructor said "If i was a real air traffic controller at this point George I'd have all my work mates around my monitors laughing at what you're doing. What've you done wrong?". We paused the sim and talked it through. It turned out i'd flown over the beacon for 15 seconds before turning when instead I should have turned first and then waited for 15 seconds. That goes to show you just how easily you can mess something so simple up by having two procedural items in the wrong order. To make it worse I'd just studied the hold entries on the weekend so it looks like some more work is required there eh!
After the mess that was the Manchester hold I was cleared for a ILS approach which I flew fairly well although my instructor said I needed to focus on "super-gluing" my attitude on the Garmin display to ensure a smooth 3° descent as I was above / below the glide path at certain points. On reaching the runway a go-around instruction was issued as the runway wasn't clear and you can probably guess what happened next. Yep. Engine failure on take-off. From this point I controlled the aircraft, called yet another Pan Pan call and requested vectors from the controller for another shot at the ILS. This time around I landed it fine with no issues.
Overall the first LOFT flight was tough, but enjoyable. Being sat in the sim for over 2 hours without any lunch gave me a quite the headache to finish off the day but thankfully I soon found out I had the following day off. You certainly can't complain at days off in this early sim stage as it makes it easier to manage the prep work.
* Planning Manchester to East Midlands the night before *
Having had a days break, it was time to crack on with the second LOFT event this time flying from Manchester to East Midlands. Once again you might think "that's not a very long flight" but then we've just no idea what our instructors have in store for us. In starting planning the night before I quickly realised why this route had been chosen as it brings a number complexities and/or situations we'd yet to face in our limited instrument flying. In a way I would suspect that both the school and our instructors are specifically on the lookout for our attention to detail here and whether we'd pick up on these signs or not.
In the case of Manchester, it's obstacle clearance and noise abatement procedures require an incredibly steep climb gradient for the first couple of miles and also have a minimum speed constraint. The former of which pushes the DA42 to its limit and the latter of which it can't meet at all and therefore you have to plan around it with air traffic control. Likewise, further down route at East Midlands there are two NDBs depending on the runway in use which is unusual in itself but they both also happen to be offset by about 1 to 2 miles from the airfield creating different approach procedures to the norm we'd come to expect. These variants just go to prove the importance of in-flight briefs in a commercial environment as you can very easily lose spatial awareness if you're not careful.
* The standard route from Manchester to East Midlands. IFR routes are seldom as the crow flies. *
Of late I'd always been the first in my sim group to fly first so with this in mind I kindly asked if I could benefit from back seating this sim prior to my shot at it. This was very beneficial and it was good to be able to spot points at which I would've tripped myself up had I have been the one flying. As your mind isn't maxed with the flying itself, this is a great way to learn as it allows you to process the wider picture.
Two hours later and I was in the left hand seat ready for my go. I set the aircraft up correctly, briefed correctly, flew the departure correctly all as expected and to that point was rather happy with my progress. Then my instructor paused the sim...
George... your aircraft is lit up like a Christmas tree. What are you missing?
At the time I genuinely hadn't the foggiest of ideas what he was on about and even my course mate looked at me just as perplexed. It was true that the aircraft was performing sluggishly compared to what I'd expect but there were no visible or aural alerts on the Garmin to dictate anything of concern. Before long my instructor tutted and said..
Hmm.. look George, if you're flying slowly and need almost 100% power to maintain your nominated airspeed then there must be some sort of drag force acting on the aircraft, right?
At that point I considered my options. Icing? - No.. we're out of visible moisture and even then the temperature is above 3°C. Flaps? - No they're retracted. Gear? - The levers up. But Ah.. bingo, there's three greens. The gear had failed to retract. How could I not see that? I highlighted it to my instructor and he responded with something along the lines of...
The penny drops. That's a pretty serious thing to miss George don't you think? It's clear to me your after takeoff check was just an action you completed without checking if the lights went out. So, what are you going to do about it? You're now pretty far from Manchester and in an ideal world you'd have returned back ages ago.
I was fairly frustrated with myself but continued with the typical DODAR thought process to discover what options I had. The plane was flying okay and the circuit breaker for the hear hadn't tripped so I consulted the QRH. This said that landing gear locked down wasn't a concern and I should land at the nearest suitable airfield. I elected to continue to East Midlands. This whole time was I trying to think how an airline crew might and requested a low approach and overshoot from the tower to confirm if the gear was actually down or not.
* QRH page for manual extension of the landing gear *
In the spirit of LOFT sims though it wasn't long before another curveball arrived and as such the gear retracted itself indicative of some electrical fault. Trying to lower it again failed so this flight was now even more of a dangerous scenario. I consulted the QNH once more and was advised to pull the emergency gear handle to remove all hydraulic pressure from the system which was successful and the gear dropped under it's own weight. I elected to continue with my original plan.
The first approach flown was an ILS down to the runway where the tower confirmed all gear was indeed down so I went around for my approach for landing. Here came the next curveball: The ILS was all of a sudden unserviceable. I now needed to complete an NDB/DME approach to which, despite being priority to land my instructor put some light aircraft on the runway meaning I had to once again go around. My instructor then had more fun and failed the DME meaning all I could now go by was the NDB itself and a trusty stopwatch to measure distance. This sim eventually had me in sweats as what originally started as a quite safe situation to handle gradually developed into something requiring a lot more focus. The final point of concern was running low on anti-icing fluid while flying in cloud - oh the joys.
Despite all of the above and the fact I totally missed the gear issue in the first place, I managed a safe landing. The post-flight debrief was generally positive in nature. The instructor certainly gave me a verbal slap around the back of the head for how long it took me to notice the problem initially but went on to praise my response and subsequent actions. He had pointers as to how I could have made things even easier for myself, but was generally happy. What I failed to mention above was my requirement to hold and this ended up as another positive debrief point. My instructor said it was clear I'd read up and/or practiced hold entries in my own time. Who'd have thought good I'd end up reinstalling Microsoft Flight Simulator on my computer again, eh!
I've now got the weekend off before the third LOFT sim next week. I believe en-route diversions come into that one so it'll be interesting to see how that goes.
Until next week,