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* SkyVector.com depiction of my route from Heathrow to Birmingham with a divert to East Midlands *
I have to say that I was initially feeling rather frustrated about having to turn up for this lesson as the booking wasn't confirmed and was instead down as 'instructor standby'. I only say this as it meant me getting up at 5.15am to be in for a briefing at 6am and on top of that I was third in line for the same instructor as him had two VFR flights first of all, but standby behind them was an IFR twinstar flight and I was standby behind that. Regardless, I cracked on with the planning on the off chance my booking was to go ahead and made my way to the airport for 6am. After sitting around for an hour or so I was surprised to find that due to the winds at altitude all three of the instructors other bookings were cancelled and my sim was to go ahead.
LOFT Sim Three takes us from London Heathrow to Birmingham but indicates that an en-route diversion may be required due to weather or a simple but developing malfunction. Of course the goalposts for this are very much at the discretion of the instructor and if you get things wrong they love nothing more than to test you and push you further to your limit. Determined to do well I brought the teachings from the first two LOFT sims with me such to not make the same mistakes twice. I did go on to make new mistakes but you wouldn't be learning if you didn't so I'm pleased to have made them now in the sim as opposed to later on in the the real aircraft.
* The NOTAM highlighting the unserviceable VOR/DME beacon at Honiley *
For the hour before the sim I sat down with my instructor and briefed the weather, departure and expected NavAid configuration in addition to NOTAMs, Mass & Balance and Performance. He praised me for taking the time to actually look through all the real world NOTAMs but then said I'd shot myself in the foot as he'd now replicate NavAid unserviceability in the sim just to make things that much more interesting. Great, i thought.
To mix things up a bit my instructor gave me an operator callsign "BOTLEYAIR 15A" which was to be used with communication with ATC and parked me on a stand at Heathrow. The scenario for this LOFT sim was taking a business passenger on a private charter up to Birmingham for a business meeting. To simulate real-world operations I had to follow all the procedures for Heathrow accordingly by radioing "Heathrow Delivery" for my IFR Clearance, "Heathrow Ground" for taxi clearances and finally "Heathrow Tower" for the final take off clearance. Given I was parked in the centre of the airport somewhere I also had to consult the ground taxi plates to figure out my way around the airfield to the specified holding point.
From this point the take off and general departure went without a hitch. Shortly before level off my instructor failed the primary engine control unit in the left engine. My instructor failed this to see if I would focus my attention on the warning instead of levelling off, but to his surprise, I levelled off first and then dealt with it. As engine control units are responsible for the management of engine parameters (oil, fuel injection, etc) this could well be seen as a serious problem but fortunately the Twinstar has a backup on each engine so it was a case of just clearing the warning for the time being. Having passed this initial hiccup with no issues and with the plane still able to operate with no issues we continued the flight.
Twenty or so miles later my instructor failed the engine - or so I thought - and as the handling of such an event is a procedure we're all too familiar with I brought the aircraft back under control, put out the expected Pan Pan call to the air traffic controllers and indicated to them I could still continue as normal. I continued to then briefed my passenger whom, acted by my instructor, was freaking out a little by this point having just witnessed a stopped propeller. Little did I realise though, until practically on top of Birmingham, that the reason for the engine failure was in fact a fuel shortage and not a problem with the engine itself. The left fuel tank was entirely empty and it took me that long to notice I was almost eating into my final reserves. It's amazing how quickly you can develop habits so LOFT is brilliant for teaching you to break them and the debrief really hammered home the importance of checking EVERY fuel read out and not just consumption. I was told that if iI had noticed it early enough that I could have extended the life of the engine by cross-feeding it fuel from the non-leaking tank. Ah well, I know that for next time. Lesson learnt.
The fun wasn't over though as not only was I about to eat into fuel reserves but the weather at Birmingham resulted in an approach ban being in force. I decided to divert to East Midlands as in an ideal world, despite its very existence for this purpose, I really didn't want to chew into reserve fuel by attempting a marginal approach into Birmingham. As fuel was now the primary concern it was a debrief point that I should have upgraded my Pan Pan call to a Mayday as it was a far more serious threat to life than a single engine failure. On arrival at East Midlands I was given an ILS approach which later resulted in a Go-Around due to the preceding landing aircraft having "conveniently" broken the transmitter taxiing from the runway. This resulted in me asking for vectors for an NDB/DME approach although, having thought it through since the wind would have allowed me to land on the reciprocal end of the runway with a functioning ILS transmitter should I have wished. However, regardless of that option I managed to land safely with all of 7 US Gallons remaining in the tanks. In the real world I would legally have to land with 6 US Gallons in the DA42 so it was a certainly one, although in an emergency situation I suppose eating into it wouldn't be such a concern.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed the third LOFT sim and my instructor had lots of praise in addition to the constructive criticism mentioned above. He said that my hands on flying is pretty good, my capacity wasn't ever pushed to the limit despite his efforts and that he noticed a marked improvement since my sim with him earlier in the IR syllabus. Result!
* SkyVector.com depiction of my route on the UK Low Level Airway Chart *
It only seems like yesterday that I started in Bournemouth but here I am completing the fourth and final LOFT sim. The progression through the Instrument Rating phase of the course has certainly been fast paced and while I can almost guarantee it to slow come the flying stage where weather and serviceability come into play, I've certainly enjoyed it to date. This final LOFT event sees us depart on a commercial flight from Oxford to Liverpool an just like sim three the instructor plays the part of a passenger to whom we're expected to manage the expectations of. Credit where it's due to my instructor on this sim as he played a tough and irritable passenger which perhaps comes from his own first hand experiences flying the line for Thomas Cook. Having a passenger get frustrated certainly made this sim all the more interesting.
Unlike LOFT sims before it, this event sees us depart Oxford into uncontrolled airspace requiring a few additional radio calls to be made in order to request entry into controlled airspace en route. In reality, however, our submitted flight plan would render these calls unnecessary but it's helpful that we're exposed to such calls ahead of us flying in such airspace later on in the course and/or our careers.
The basic skeleton overview of this flight saw us depart from runway 19 at Oxford, climb to 1000 feet and make a turn North West to track directly, at my request, to the GPS waypoint IXURA. From IXURA we tracked East towards the Daventry VOR located near the town of the same name before heading North, North-West via low-level airways towards Trent. From Trent we'd follow the published arrival via Wallasey. You can see the route itself on the SkyVector.com image above. The more I fly IFR routes the greater an understanding I'm getting of the perhaps more busy areas of the UK's airspace. It would appear that several routes in and out English airports require transit via Daventry and Trent so I can imagine air traffic controllers in these areas are certainly kept busy so i'd certainly rather them than me!!
However, with this being a LOFT event do you think I made it to Liverpool?.. If you answered No you'd be correct. I must have made it half way to Trent before some sort of malfunction developed. Cruising along happily between two layers of cloud watching virtual snow flakes fall onto the windscreen I soon had an aural alarm and "R FUEL TEMP" read on the primary flight display annunciator. My immediate reaction was "Oh crap!" but then thought back to the teaching of Captain Moody from British Airway's volcanic cloud B747 incident. "Sit on your hands for a bit and think". With autopilot already on by this point I made sure to check all readings on the displays before the reaching for the QRH. The QRH read to the effect of "Reduce engine power, increase airspeed, check temperature". The first of these was fine, albeit inducing asymmetric flight and requiring the disconnection of the autopilot, but the second couldn't be achieved without descent. I asked ATC for an expeditious descent by 2,000ft from what we call flight level 80 (8,000ft) to flight level 60 (6,000ft). With this approved I lowered the nose and descended rather quickly to increase speed. Thankfully the fuel temperature reading out tapered off allowing me to continue to flight. I decided to keep the aircraft asymmetric for a bit but my instructor eventually piped up to say there's no issues in bringing the right engine back to full power so long as I monitor the fuel temperature for the rest of the flight.
Now settled and having briefed the passenger I reenabled the autopilot. Minutes later the trim wheel started moving out of expected limits causing the nose to drop from the held altitude. We're taught about this failure a fair bit during our time in New Zealand. "Trim Runaway" i thought. I grabbed the control column, pressed the red disconnect button and re-trimmed the aircraft manually. To prevent further failure I pulled the circuit breaker. "Hmm..." I thought. "What else could I be thrown today?". I continued the flight by this point under "Pan" conditions with ATC in case anything else was to develop.
Lo-and-behold, the fuel temperature once again spiked this time leading to a right engine fire. I carried out the standard drill, shut off all the cabin heating and defrost to prevent smoke being drawn in (if it were real life) and upgraded my call to a Mayday. The fire itself could be extinguished with further descent and I made the decision to divert to East Midlands. At this point came a debrief point in that I made that call without first getting the weather which just goes to show the "Sit on your hands for a bit and think" statement does actually work. My instructor stressed really taking time - within reason - to think about all options available to me. This is something I really need to keep in the fore of mind from now on. As it happened he provided me weather as the air traffic controller anyway but they may not have done in real life. I went on to complete a safe landing at East Midlands -- by now an airport I'm quite familiar with given most sims end up taking us there - and shut down the aircraft.
All in all this was an enjoyable flight and one in which had very few debrief points beyond the fact I need to be even more vigilant of aircraft performance under asymmetric conditions in that my altitude and speed often wandered close to the boundaries of acceptable Instrument Rating Test limits. In review the LOFT sims have been quite enjoyable really and as my instructor today put it: "A small and more tame insight into the life of airline pilots in their six-monthly sim checks". Sounds like they get pushed to the max in those and I'm sure that's something I'll be doing before long (with any luck).
To conclude the sim phase in Bournemouth we now move onto 4 Instrument Rating routes flights. These, I suppose, are a little bit like the dummy driving test routes you go on with your instructor prior to your driving test. They give us an insight into what's required of us in the real Instrument Rating test and teach us of the complexities each route brings before we then go and fly them in the real DA42. Safe to say I'm buzzing about getting back up in the air having not flown since mid-November.
After two nice and relaxing days off I returned to the training centre today for a couple of mass briefings on the next stage of the Instrument Rating: Routes. In these briefs we covered in detail the expectations of the Instrument Rating test in addition to the routes we could well end up flying. Typically the CAA approved routes could see candidates fly to one of the following destinations on the test:
We talked about the common items that catch cadets out during these routes as well as things to consider during the planning stages too. We'll be flying to some of these destinations during the up and coming four simulator lessons and the subsequent six aircraft flights so I'm hoping this will be enough to familiarise myself. Time will tell. It's highly likely I'll have this weekend off and it might well be the last one I do have given aircraft flights tend to be all times of the week not just Monday to Friday, but we'll see.
Until next week,