Initially booked for two flights today, those being General Handling followed by a navigation flight, the former was cancelled within minutes of me arriving at the airport due to visibility. With the next flight booked in for a few hours time I took a trip back to Clearways, had some breakfast, took a quick nap and returned to the centre to finalise my planning. The photo above aims to capture a bit of that planning.
Despite knowing the weather was still awful and further deteriorating my instructor and I had a brief about and agreed that we'd take off, assess the weather and if not to a good enough jump forward a few lessons and complete Basic Instrument Flight lesson 4 instead. Due to the conditions, we did the latter.
Like most things in flying, each lesson is a building block and thus Basic Instrument flight 4 took the previous lesson to the next level. Returning under the hood and blocking out the horizon I was to fly and maintain the planned heading and altitude for the first leg of the navigation flight I would have otherwise flown. Initially wondering how on earth I'd know I was on track given the lack of any visual references, it soon became clear what the purpose of the lesson was.
Okay George, please divert us to [insert New Zealand place name I can't pronounce here]
...said my instructor. Great - i thought. So now I had to fly the plane, keep it straight and level, plan a diversion and then make alterations to fly the new route. Aviation certainly knows how to continuing testing your capacity but it's good practice all the same. I went into mini-stress mode trying to figure out all of these headings/tracks/speeds/times in my head and it was comforting to have the instructor there to help break it down into more manageable chunks. Once i'd worked it all out, I tried to confirm with my instrctutor that my calculations would get us there, to which she said...
Well, fly your planned diversion and we'll soon find out won't we.
Continuing under the hood I set the planned heading and altitude into the Garmin primary flight display, turned to fly them and sat hoping I'd be relatively close to the destination on arrival. Basic speed distance time calculations are compounded when you're mind is already at work focussing on trying to fly the aircraft, so I wasn't sure the estimated time of arrival was right either but thankfully we made it bang on time and only two miles to the right of the intended town. I could remove the hood feeling slightly relieved. In reflection I said to my instructor that diversions are certainly something I'll need to keep working on and given that, she threw another one into the mix. These instructors sure know how to keep you on your toes!
Diverting to an uncontrolled airfield (no air traffic control present) I was taught something called an overhead join. An overhead join is the process which provides ample opportunity for a pilot to assess the local operation at the airfield they wish to land at by simply orbiting over head. On approaching the airfield you're listening out on assigned frequency to ascertain the runway direction in use. In our case there were no reports so we orbited 500ft above the circuit height in order to spot the windsock and deduce the direction for ourselves. Who'd have thought an illuminated bright orange object that is a windsock would be so difficult to see from the sky! What made this harder was the fact the windsock was installed at the complete opposite end of the strip compared with the associated aerodrome plate. Having found it I was walked through the set procedure outlined in the above graphic. I carried out a touch-and-go at this aerodrome before proceeding back to Hamilton. It was interesting to land somewhere new, given all of the flaps up heights etc on the altimeter were different.
Nearing Hamilton's airspace my instructor asked me to put the hood back on and continued with a mock-procedural arrival. I was told during the brief prior to this flight that this lesson is designed to overwhelm you as an sneak peak to the advance phase of training and she wasn't wrong. Flying straight and level I was then given a series of timed instructions similar to those you may find on an instrument approach procedure. It was like this...
- At 30 seconds turn to heading 340°.
- At 45 seconds continue your turn and descend and maintain an altitude of 2400ft.
- At 60 seconds turn to heading 060°.
- At 2 minutes please enter a right hand descending turn to altitude 2000ft heading 130°.
It was remembering all of those instructions which made it the challenge. On removing the hood we were quite close to the airport so I can certainly see how flying a perfect approach in instrument flight could be quite rewarding if bang on!
Waking up today, I felt quite hopeful I'd be able to go flying. I say this because unlike the previous days there was next to no fog in the local area and as the day progressed barely any cloud. With it being my primary instructors' day off today I was booked with my secondary instructor. It must've been weeks since I'd last flown with him so I made sure to check, double check and triple check planning I'd completed the night before. Sadly, I must have tempted fate as the weather enroute was far from pretty. The intended navigation flight, for which this was around my 6th attempt at trying, head South East from Hamilton towards both Rotorua and Tauranga airports. The former of which is located inland although in close proximity to a large lake with the latter being on the coast itself. Unfortunately, both the weather forecasters and real-time weather webcams indicated a huge blanket of fog and low cloud in the Rotorua region leading to the flights eventual cancellation as there's no point going if you can't see the runway, eh!
All was not lost, however, as I returned to Clearways just in time to join my coursemates on a trip to Kerosene Creek near Rotorua. If I couldn't fly there, at least we could drive it instead and off to Rotorua we head. Kerosene Creek is a natural stream geothermally heated by volcanic activity beneath the earths surface which made for quite relaxing waters. I've made a vlog post about it. Why not go give it a watch if you're interested. One thing's for sure, I felt like I needed about a million showers afterwards as the sulphur certainly made my hair and skin smell like rotton egg - *blergh*
We took the morning today to simply chillout and watch a good old Disney film. The film of choice was Toy Story and it hasn't aged one bit. I love it as much now as I did as a child and it was a great escape from gloomy skies outside. In the afternoon I was booked in for a dual navigation flight five with a sprinkling of basic instrument navigation and head off to plan at the training centre. I wasn't expecting to go flying at all but some instructors provided some promising weather reports and we gave it a shot.
Weather wise it was WINDY!! My instructor was actually quite keen to get up and show me what a windy day will do to the aircraft and I was certainly focused on holding off the turbulence as we crossed the mountain ranges. Being a navigation flight I was supposed to be checking we were on track etc, but reverted to the adage Aviate-Navigate-Communicate until we were clear of the turbulent air. It was a little scary i'll have to admit and more so than a few weeks ago on my solo but.. if anything it demonstrates the stability of these aircraft and how they still fly despite being chucked around.
Once over the mountain range the cloud was a little lower but the air much calmer. This flight took me to two new controlled airports, each with their own rules and procedures and with that in mind I had to make sure I'd read up on them before hand and briefed myself on the active runways and associated arrival/departure prior to entering their airspace. What's more, controlled aerodromes usually have their many associated visual reporting points to aid inbound navigation, such as towns or hilltops and familiarising yourself with these isn't really something you can do until you've actually seen them from above - especially in a new part of the country. At one of the airports I was given the grass runway so it was good to get some more practice on that type of surface although it had a tarmac taxiway slap bang through the middle of it which was bizarre!
On our way back we had a bit of time remaining to go over stall procedures and practice forced landings. Given the wind was upwards of 30 mph in parts it was helpful to see how this made certain exercises a little shorter/longer in order to remain ahead of both the aircraft and weather. Despite the turbulence, which I'm getting used to, I really enjoy the flight.
Just take a look at that waterlogged volleyball court. That right there is a nights worth of rain. A whacking great weather system hung above us for most of the night and the remnants were still here come the morning leaving us constant showers in the area. I was scheduled to complete the solo flight of the previous lesson today but didn't even bother completing the full flight plan and instead briefed the sign out instructor on the weather conditions enroute. With to cloudbase being below the legal minimums for solo student flights, especially considering I needed to climb above a mountain range situated within such cloud, we cancelled the flight. I was then scheduled to attend the mass briefing for PT1, the internal progress test of the foundation stage of flying. PT1 exists to check students are at the required standard to progress to the next phase of training and whilst I don't feel at all ready for that yet, I've thankfully 15 or so flights to go providing time to get practice of the core techniques in. Certainly got a bit of work to go yet as I'd ideally not like to fail this test and I'd ideally like to continue into the advanced phase and crack on with instrument flight. One of my coursemates whom had luck with the weather has already completed this test but due to my earlier delays i'm around 3 weeks behind that.
Aviation Skills Partnership...
On creating the Pilot George blog my aim was to document the airline pilot training journey to both the aspiring pilot community and the wider public. At school I was never made aware of pathways into the commercial aviation sector and thus I've since curated content documenting loans and finance, insurance policies, selection and more all the way through to weekly updates about my training. I've been amazed at the reception from people of all ages, be they school leavers or otherwise and to date this website has been visited more than 140,000 times with visits from more than 140 countries.
I've loved speaking with the many people who reach out to me also wishing to pursue this dream and i'm very happy to say that on return to the UK I'll be working with Aviation Skills Partnership as an ambassador to promote this awesome industry. The fact is, there is a true lack of awareness to this industry within our nation's education system. Whether it be the career of pilots, cabin crew, aerospace engineers, ground crew, airline/airport operations or otherwise, it's not an industry that's widely discussed in our school/colleges and that's something Aviation Skills Partnership is working to achieve. Aviation Skills Partnership aim to share stories, raise awareness to the several career opportunities within aviation and inspire the younger generation of aviation professionals. I can't wait to get started with that!
Hopefully, some nicer weather and while the weekend isn't looking great it's nice to see that yellow sunshine appearing on the forecast again later into the week. With any luck I'll be able to smash out a couple of solo-navigation flights in the lush weather to bring me back in line with my peers. Here's hoping the fog doesn't return alongside that though! I must stress that I am really enjoying myself here and, whilst this blog only ever seems to mention cancellation after cancellation the weather will be part and parcel of our future careers. With that in my mind, I couldn't have thought of a better place to complete the training and take on its' associated challenges.
Until next week,