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* Stunning skies on the way back from Exeter *
Having found out I was flying on Monday I set about planning for Oxford on the Sunday evening only to then discover on the Monday morning that Oxford had issued a NOTAM stipulating reduced capacity in the tower for external training flights. That was that, no Oxford today. The backup plan was Cardiff but they too had restrictions on flights due to maintenance on navigation aids from Monday AM til airport closure on Tuesday evening. Great, I thought. I was getting quite frustrated at this point as, surprisingly, all the aircraft were serviceable and even the weather was perfect for flying but in this case external factors were getting in the way of my progress. I was encouraged to return to Exeter to make it two flights as pilot flying to both Alderney and Exeter with the promise of exposing me to as many different approaches as possible. So that's what we did. I replanned for Exeter in somewhat record time and off we went. All I could do was simply hope that Oxford would then accept me on the final lesson we get here.
If I was to write a general summary of this flight I would have say that I improved significantly in my weaker areas but only to the detriment of those I had already nailed. The departure was relatively straight forward with improvements across the board however I fell into the trap of completing secondary tasks close to quite major flight events such as a level off. The result... level busts. The tolerance for the IR test is ±100ft from your nominated altitude/flight level but in this case I was like +200ft. I made quick action to correct it but that said it's still inexcusable really. Any higher than the 200ft and i'm sure air traffic control would certainly have had something to say about it. My capacity for things is gradually increasing over time but it's just finding the right moment in flight to slot tasks in which won't then overload you. That said, my instructor commented he'd soon rather a trainee have strained capacity increase overtime than have such surplus supply that you're then far too relaxed. I would say the former would be more of an issue in the fast paced IR environment, but it would appear not so which is certainly promising.
The en-route phase went well and I was ahead of the aircraft the entire way which really paid off for the descent and approach. The only comment here really was to reduce time spent on the radio by combining separate requests into one. I also neglected to verbalise with the instructor whether an approach ban was in force having received the weather from Exeter.
* Flying under the hood to Exeter *
Sadly the approach into both Exeter and Bournemouth let me down a bit having been slightly high all the way down on the former and not maintaining a constant wind adjusted descent rate on the second. Wind awareness appears a common trend in my lesson feedback so I've certainly got to take note of it some more in future flights. After the approach at Exeter we conducted a couple of holds before heading back to Bournemouth. The usual Engine Failure drill, stalling, compass turns etc were completed with no major issues too. The mistakes I'd made on this flight caused frustration at myself despite all of the improvements in other areas. On landing I felt a bit deflated and disappointed given how close the real test is getting and the debrief was actually to a similar tone too. Here's hoping I can now bring all of the individual components together to improve enough in my final routes lesson to be put forward for testing.
My instructor's feedback summary for this flight was:
George, an improved cruise phase where you had applied the lessons learned from the previous flight and endeavoured to be further ahead of the aircraft well done. Your scan rate was slow today and your altitude keeping suffered, increasing your workload, take the time to trim the aircraft accurately and when levelling off avoid completing other tasks that can be addressed later. With approaches have in mind a required ROD before commencing the approach and always work to be on the wind side of the final approach track. You're working hard, keep it up and apply the lessons learned from this flight to subsequent flights.
* Yours truly on the takeoff roll from Bournemouth *
Having tried to secure an air traffic control training slot at Oxford Airport on each of the three preceding routes flights to no avail, it is safe to say that I was over the moon when they eventually agreed to accept me in time for my fifth and final training flight. On the face of it the Oxford route looks rather straight forward compared to the rest - especially when you consider there's no point-to-point navigation involved. However, if there's one thing most of us learn throughout our lives it's that you should never judge a book by it's cover and as such what appears rather simple seldom ends up being. It is this high chance of variation that made me so keen to complete this route in the first place and I'm so pleased to finally tick it off.
What makes it so variable you ask? Well, the answer to that's quite simple really. One word:- London. Travelling North to Oxford from Bournemouth takes our tiny little puddle-jumping DA42 very close to the London TMA which stands for Terminal Manoeuvring Area. In simple terms the TMA happens to be a large span of airspace over London where all easyJet's, Ryanair's, BA's etc route before then splitting off towards their respective London airfields. When you consider the forward speed of the Twinstar is significantly less than your average jet the controllers will frequently make modifications to flight clearances in order to keep us well clear and, of course, today was no exception.
My filed route with the air traffic control service was:
Bournemouth -> Southampton VOR -> Q41 Airway Northbound -> Norry -> Oxford
The real routing saw me depart Bournemouth and immediately be given a series of headings to fly. Looking at the screenshot of FlightRadar24.com below you can see that by doing this the controllers essentially cut the corner at Southampton and avoided any traffic in the general vicinity. Once beyond Southampton they requested I route direct to a VOR at Compton which is 3nm away from the original waypoint of Norry whereby Oxford then took the reigns and cleared us direct to their overhead. Compared with the Exeter and Alderney routes where once in the cruise the world is your oyster, with this Oxford trip you're really kept on your toes. You have to manage all of the en-route work all while remaining aware that London Control could send you off either or which way at so much as a moments notice and expect immediate action to such effect.
* The Route to Oxford as recorded by FlightRadar24.com *
On arriving at Oxford I entered their hold, which by this point is now fairly standard procedure, before then heading out on the approach for runway 10. This is where we find the next noticeable difference compared to the other routes we fly here as the approach is offset by almost 90°. Oxford's aerodrome is in close proximity to Brize Norton's military airspace to the South and only commercial flights may penetrate it for an arrival at Oxford. As my flight is a training flight we are forbidden from doing such and must therefore fly an approach that takes us out to the West and then loops us back around Eastwards towards the airfield. The issue here is we're then flying in a direction of 098° whereas the runway is 010° and must therefore complete a low circling approach to a touch-and-go / low-approach and go-around before then exiting towards Bournemouth via the general circuit pattern. It'd been a while since I'd conducted a circling approach - way back during PT2 in New Zealand to be precise - so it was certainly good to get the practice in. On the climb out from Oxford we completed the usual Engine Failure After Takeoff Drills which went well.
The route back South was relatively uneventful bar an interesting moment where an air traffic controller informed us of an aircraft travelling from right to left, same altitude and climbing. Being in cloud we had no idea where this aircraft was but thankfully on further questioning air traffic control told us we were clear of the traffic and that it had passed behind us 100ft above. It's at times like that you're sure thankful for ground radar and traffic equipment onboard your aircraft.
Once in the vicinity of Bournemouth we conducted some more general handling exercises which included the approach configuration stall, final approach stall, compass turns, limited panel work and unusual attitude recoveries. With those out of the way we then requested a vectored NDB approach. When it comes to flying an ILS approach with air traffic control vectors it's relatively straight forward as you simply capture the glide path and follow it down with your instruments. However, a vectored NDB approach requires a little more thought and, with various instructions being passed to us for traffic spacing today it sure is easy to lose your situational awareness. Everything was going so well up until that final moment when I had forgotten we still had 500 feet to lose on top of the minimum height for the approach and would therefore need to configure and descend a little earlier than what was written in front of me. I ended up playing catch up during the descent resulting in an unstable final approach. We ended up going around anyway as part of the lesson objectives to complete a low-level circuit but this still annoyed me based on everything up until that point being much better than lessons before it. The low level circuit was completed asymmetric and we then came into land with no further issues.
All up a great flight today. I didn't feel as personally beaten up by my performance as I had the flight before it and walked away from the aircraft with a smile on my face. My instructors de-brief had a similar tune and he was very impressed in many areas also agreeing it was a significant improvement. He still had his constructive remarks though, as expected, and hopefully I can iron those out before the next flight. Based on that final flights performance and his awareness of my progress from the two preceding flights he has put me forward for my 170. The 170 is the internal academy mock completed prior to the actual CAA Instrument Rating test. Given I've got some leave from training booked it's now likely i'll complete this 170 next Wednesday with the real test between then and the end of that weekend. Eeek... where have these 9 weeks gone?!! If all goes well with that IR test I'll then be able to send off my licence papers and officially call myself a commercial pilot. Exciting, Terrifying and a whole host of other emotions all at once.
My instructors feedback summary for this flight was:
George, a good route profile before 170A well done, you have made good progress in your management of the cruise phase in this and the previous lesson, you were nicely ahead of the aircraft, the approach set up was completed in good time and your flight management updates were very good. Your scan was good, the accuracy of your altitude and speed keeping has improved on the previous flight, you had the aircraft properly trimmed. Ensure that you complete actions, a level off has priority over another or the next task, ensure that you reset the power for the current phase of flight. With a vectored approach you must have the set up completed in good time, you need the capacity to maintain situational awareness and manage the approach differences, your vectored altitude is higher than shown on the approach plate, therefore your configuration point is further out.