I've split this weeks post up into smaller chunks. Click on a heading to expand it.
01/07/2017 - 02/07/2017
When looking at this posts' main photo you can conclude it's not overly safe for flying without reference to instruments and with that in mind, most of my courses' weekend flights were a no go. It's worth saying here - in response to a couple of your emails - that New Zealand is not necessarily a terrible place for flight training. I mean... sure, it gets a considerable amount of poor visibility during Winter in the vicinity of Hamilton but that's just geography. The lack of any jetstream interference causes any weather to linger for longer which is as much a blessing on great days as it is a curse on those not so. It's also worth bearing in mind that whilst we're waiting for improved visibility, our peers in Arizona await cooler temperatures where figures as high as 50° can exceed aircraft limitations. In fact, I can't think of many locations in the globe that aren't affected by a bit of weather here and there and even flight schools in Eastern Europe typically halt flights during their harsh winters. Thus, if you're afforded the opportunity to elect New Zealand as a training location I'd highly recommend it as it's beautiful in every sense of the word. If you couple that with just how quiet its' airspace is then you're certainly on to a winner... it just requires patience. On most days the only aircraft you hear on the radios are fellow L3/CTC aircraft and the odd Air New Zealand flight unless you head up to Auckland where you'll hear the odd Emirates callsign.
In being cancelled a couple of us head off to find something to do and ended up at the Punnet Café. This was somewhere we'd seen signposted off the main highway for some time but always chosen to ignore. I always found it a little odd that an independent café would be sign posted in that way because why does one café deserve more publicity than the next, but on arriving it was quite clear to see why. The Punnet Café is based on a community/family fruit farm with all produce grown locally, perhaps with the exception of the tea / coffee beans, but nevertheless they had baked some delicious looking cakes etc. Adjoined was a small farm-house / garden centre style shop selling all sorts of stuff from the fruit all way down to candles etc. The whole place was quite a nice find and the owners had clearly put effort into it with some pretty cool architecture / building interiors going on. It was a little on the pricey side with a bowl of chips costing about £5 - albeit large - but you've got to treat yourself every now and then, eh! The remaining highlights of the weekend include walking around the lake, watching films and catching up on a few episodes of House of Cards.
Perhaps a little off-topic but following on from those chips, having had an awful June as far as eating goes a few coursemates and I are trying to have a good July. Therefore you an imagine the temptation when some of the group pulled us into a local pizzeria when in town! I sat as far from the counter as possible to avoid buying anything! New Zealand shocked me when it comes to being healthy because it's very much like America with an obvious gradient between grocery and fast food pricing. It's alarmingly cheaper and simpler to eat the latter so you've got to be pretty conscious of that unless you want to be rolling onto the plane home!
Monday brought further cancellations but this time it was due to cloud rather than fog. The latter had lifted to become low level cloud thereby obscuring the surrounding ranges and given my route took me over the top of these it wouldn't have been sensible to go. As the weather was in for the rest of the day I planned a different route for the afternoon but that too was cancelled thanks to embedded weather to the south. Frustratingly we plan and replan to avoid the weather yet it always seems to plays its ace and knock you back to square one. In some ways I'm looking forward to the advanced phase where navigational aids make cloud less of a problem. One of the flights today was supposed to be dual but it was switched to a solo due to instructor illness.
The above photo was taken at 5.50am on a very foggy Tuesday morning and while appearing out of focus the photo actually shows the footpath lighting breaking the fog ahead of me. The forecasters had predicted this would lift by 7am but as 7am approached that was amended to say 9am. With a flight booked for 8am and with no movement in today's schedule I returned to Clearways. The problem we have right now is there is such little wind that the fog simply sits there minding its own business which is far from ideal. This is also where New Zealand varies from the U.K. in that back home our lovely winds would have shifted it quite some time ago.
As the day progressed the cloud did eventually lift permitting the departure of dual flights to the training area. Annoyingly the higher cloud failed to provide enough clearance for solo flights to traverse the surrounding terrain and it even left two signout instructors umming and ahhing especially as weather reports from instructors in the air suggested it'd be a clear route. In the end my instructor and I broke it all down:
- It's clear at this given moment but what about when I get there?
- The rain/weather radar shows incoming cloud. Will I get back safely?
- The wind at one aerodrome is above my limit. I'd have to skip the landing.
- I was yet to pre-flight the aircraft. Could I get that done, taxi, and be airborne in the next 20 minutes?
- Would I be back in time for dark? - If I let dead on time then yes..
I have to say I was close to wanting to give it a shot but on taking a step back would it have realistically been worth it? I would have completed a significant chunk to then only turn back due to poor visibility and weather. In the end I decided against going. A few of us are already behind schedule so why rush to catch up when only 20 minutes prior nobody was being signed out at all. The very fact we were debating it in the first place proved it would've been slightly careless and I'll look to complete the route on a more suitable day. I'd certainly feel more comfortable that way!
On leaving the training centre I noticed the United States flag up on the pole in place of the British flag (as pictured above). At first we thought it was the end of the British flag for good given the former CTC Aviation is now American owned but then it clicked... 4th of July! Happy 4th July to all of my American friends be you at L3/CTC/Aerosim, Camp Modin, Camp America, Microsoft or otherwise.
Despite the next syllabus flight being solo I wasn't able to go on Wednesday as some of my essential exercises had expired. These are either procedural theory or in-air exercises and include; among others:
- Engine failure on the ground
- Engine failure after takeoff
- Flap failure
- Go Arounds
- Radio failure
- Electrical failure
- Glide approach
As my flap failure, go around and engine failure after takeoff exercises had expired I was booked in to complete these as part of a dual flight and due to my primary instructor's sinuses being blocked I was assigned an instructor I'd yet to fly with. This was great as it's always good to get a fresh perspective on my flying. As the cloud was quite low we set out to the east before then continuing the rest of the flight by the way of diversions around cloud affording me plenty of opportunity to sink my teeth into the method. With this flight being considered instrument time the majority of it was conducted under the hood and with the exception of the odd blip, to which I hold my hands up to, I felt the flight went well.
However, once on the ground the instructor had a fair amount of criticism which was a tiny bit deflating. It was very useful to hear though as my primary instructor seldom goes into as much detail. His main point was that I need to slow down a bit and appreciate just how much time I actually have to do things. Breaking tasks up into more manageable chunks would aid this, he said. If i'm honest the rushing comment frustrated me a little and not simply for the fact he said it, but more because it's not something I intentionally do and i'm going to have to make a real conscious effort to prevent it as it's sadly enough to go and fail flight tests. Despite the productive debrief he later said his own weak point is being far too critical of others and as such praised my knowledge of theory and methodology in that he never once felt I didn't know how to do something. With the constant "oh yea, one other thing you did..." comments throughout I felt like i'd be leaving the briefing feeling very low but we closed off the meeting with him saying so long as I work on the rushing and one or two other points he can't see my having any issues with the internal progress test in a couple of weeks time. I really liked having a different instructor and feel the school should consider doing it more often although I can totally appreciate the logistical nightmare that creates.
Feast your eyes on that weather radar footage and you'll be able to see why the majority of flights were grounded today. With my first route planned to fly southwards from Hamilton to Taupo, North to Rotorua and then Westwards back to Hamilton you can see i'd be right in the thick of it. The other option I had was to fly North to Thames, further North to Great Barrier Island (top right of the graphic) and then back to Hamilton down the East coast via Tauranga. In both cases the large weather system not only caused significant rain but also reduced visibility substantially with cloud bases no higher than 2000ft. Just an all round hideous day! As I write this I can still hear raindrops bouncing from the Clearways roof and it's the most rain we've had in sometime. It even treated us - if you can call it that - to a bit of thunder and lightning!
With my first flight being cancelled due to weather and the second as a result of the engineering/maintenance team jumping at the chance to get work done in the poor weather, I was booked to complete a night flight mass brief instead so at least I got something productive done I guess! I'm quite excited about the night flights although they're rather ad hoc and based entirely on the availability of rated instructors so it could happen anytime between now and my CPL really.
During the evening a few of our group took part in CTC's organised entertainment and this week it was a light-hearted game of bingo with prizes up for grabs. In past weeks there has been film nights, pub quizzes and competitive table tennis / FIFA Football tournaments. The Clearways team have recently networked the common rooms together with a view to doing a wider gaming tournament which would be interesting. While all of these may seem like silly activities they certainly help to raise spirits when the weathers pretty poor!
Well, it's here folks: The Midway Point. At the time of publishing this post we're now 50% through the CPs allocated time in New Zealand. It's crazy how fast that's gone and it's frustrating in equal measure given many are behind schedule thanks to the weather. We've still a little breathing room there though as the official timeline for moving onto the advanced phase of flight training (instrument flight) is the start of August. I'd like to hope it'd be possible to catch up by then but that remains to be seen.
Looking back at the last 16 weeks it's impressive just how far my coursemates and I have come. For the vast majority of us New Zealand marked the first time we'd actually fly an aircraft. When you look at each of us now though we're allowed to take an aircraft solo for between 1 and 3 hours at a time as we chase the end goal that is that Commercial Pilots Licence. In my case I now have a grand total of 59 hours and 48 minutes logged in the Cessna 172. That's just mad. That's over a third of the way to the legally required minimum in order to achieve the required licences for airline flight. Here's to future hour building. In the grand scheme of things it's not too long before I swap out one engine for two and move on to the Diamond DA42 Twinstar. Let's just take one day at a time for now though, eh!
Going back to the topic of delays, it hasn't been solely our course affected and as some have more firm timelines than ours, i.e. MPL courses due home months before us, it would appear that today's schedule favoured dual flights and solo bookings for those individuals and thus many of our group had the day off. If i'm honest it was quite nice as after a few early starts and cancellations I enjoyed a little bit of a lie-in even if just for that extra hour. What's more, visibility remained well below the legal solo miniums anyway so I'd have only been cancelled if I had gone in and it saved us the fuel from several trips!
With one of our coursemates needing to travel to Auckland for her medical we decided to tag along and explore the city some more. It was fairly packed given we're in the midst of the Lions rugby tour and most bars / restaurants were full. Despite that it was great to see the flags of the home nations flying on various buildings / landmarks. We ended up walking around various side streets and enjoyed some Japanese grub for lunch before heading home and avoiding the rain.