Despite my weekend schedule containing both a night time circuits solo and my CPL cross-country qualifier, I'm sad to say that neither of them were completed. With another student requiring dual time more than I was the night flight was reallocated and as for the cross-country... well, I only managed a grand total of 40 minutes before turning back due to cloud cover. My coursemate whom flew the same route I'd planned to left 15 minutes earlier than me - as I needed to fill up my plane - and luckily managed to squeeze through a gap in the clouds. He went on to complete the rest of the flight without a hitch but did say it was more a game of 'cloud dodging' than 'admiring the view'. Ah well, I was umming and ahhing about continuing but felt it would have been stupid to lose sight of the ground when so close to Hamilton. I guess i'll have to try it another day!
When i'm not flying now I tend to either be updating this blog, in the gym (but no way near as often as I should), watching films or visiting coffee shops and it's the latter two that have taken up the majority of the past two days. We took a trip to a quaint garden centre café before returning to Clearways to watch Finding Dory, Bridesmaids and some other film I can't remember the name of. What a fun life we lead, eh! What I wouldn't give for a bit of sunshine on down days where the entire group could go and visit the beaches or something!!
Sunday also brought the departure of a good friend to many of us, Ant, whom has recently passed his CPL skills test. If you're reading this mate best of luck to you in both your Instrument Rating and beyond. You'll no doubt be close to line flying by the time we finish so if we don't see you before then we'll no doubt see you at graduation. Hopefully the jetlag wasn't too painful from your trip home!
Apologies for the quality of the above photo as it was taken just as the windscreen wiper passed my phone but what it helps to demonstrate is the mist this morning. Taken at around 6.50am on the road out of Clearways I had hoped the mist would clear making way for a nice morning but sadly, low cloud prevailed. Even with winter temperatures of around 10°C, New Zealand's air is significantly more humid than at home and as such you'll often find the dewpoint and temperatures are identical a large percentage of the time. As the morning went on the cloud had cleared enough for circuits but neither I nor the sign out duty instructor fancied sending out a solo navigation flight even if I was to only operate within the training area honing my diversion technique. The result.. a cancelled flight and me sat in my room at 11.06am typing this bit of the blog out before grabbing some lunch.
When Tuesday's schedule was released late Monday afternoon I was happy to have been booked in for a night flight for two reasons. The first was simply for the fact that they're great fun, however, we all know there's nothing greater than one's bed and for that reason I was also looking forward to catching up on sleep given the past few days of early starts. Despite my desire for the latter, I naturally woke at the still early time of 8am - albeit later compared with 5am.
Given night flights require almost perfect weather just in case we need to divert to Auckland I had my eye on the sky like a hawk. It wasn't looking great though and as the day progressed the majority of my coursemates were cancelled owing to the lovely towering clouds in the surrounding area. What's more, my arch nemesis fog decided to show it's face on the forecast with meteorologists expecting it to form between 7pm and 10pm. "Great!" i thought, right at the time I was expected to go flying. Nevertheless, I held out hope. On arriving at the airport a different instructor to whom i'd originally been booked with approached to ask if I fancied going up a bit earlier. It appeared as though operations were as keen as we were to avoid further cancellations and thus switched us all around a bit to accommodate. Accepting the offer I completed my performance calculations, pre-flighted the aircraft and set off 45 minutes ahead of the original schedule.
The second night flight you have on the Whitetail syllabus is two hours in duration consisting of a one hour check flight with an instructor followed by one hour of solo. With the differences from night flight one in mind, this lesson acts as an opportunity for us to practice circuits at night. Everything seems to happen at a much faster pace at night and I think that's predominantly down to the fact you combine both visual and instrument flight. For example, the moment you lose the runway lights in your peripheral vision you must switch to instruments before later returning to visual references on the level off etc. Equally, with significantly reduced visibility owing to lack of ground features you must also maintain visual with the airfield to ensure appropriate spacing. You may be thinking "Well how can you possibly lose sight of a lit up runway..?". Well, you'd be surprised. Especially as Hamilton Airport is far from the concrete jungle that is Heathrow.
I have to say, this flight was very turbulent! In fact, it's probably been the strongest turbulence I've felt in my time flying here and it owes itself to what's called an inversion. By night - especially with clear skies - the wind on the surface compared with that a few hundred feet higher is significantly different. In the case of this evening the ground winds were blowing straight across the runway (from the west) at 5 knots whereas those at 600ft were blowing from the south ranging from 16 - 22 knots. As I climbed the aircraft transitioned to the faster airmass and with it being a full on headwind the associated increased airspeed and subsequent increase in lift saw us gain 100ft almost instantly. The turbulence felt like someone pushing us rapidly upwards. Thankfully it was short lived, although once again felt on the approach - albeit in reverse - so was something to be mindful of in those final moments in the air. If that's what a small inversion feels like, I'd hate to feel the turbulence caused by a fully-developed storm!
All in all I managed about five circuits dual before completing five more during the hour I had solo. With it being night time you'd expect it to be quieter up there but it was quite the opposite. Outages of air traffic control equipment at both Rotorua and Tauranga meant most of the instrument lessons were being conducted at Hamilton instead - the poor air traffic controller could barely catch his breath. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the night flights to date as they certainly keep you on your toes and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to complete a few more during the advanced phase.
Well... today got off to a great start what with me sleeping through my alarm! Although, it's fair to say I impressed myself with just how quickly I could shower, get dressed and be out to the car. With the sky being blue above Clearways I was ready for finally completing my diversion navigation solo although the closer we got to the training centre the better we could appreciate the weather situation. It was certainly hazy and a massive towering cloud was sat out to the west. Determined to complete this flight I continued to plan anyway knowing my off blocks time wasn't for another two hours and that things may improve by then. An hour or so later my coursemate Matt returned to report the weather was far from pleasant. He had to head back early as the visibility made it difficult to see key features. That still didn't stop the determination though, "positive thoughts, positive thoughts" I kept saying to myself.
Once I'd finished my flight prep I popped to the ops. desk to grab the tech log for todays aircraft to discover it was currently in maintenance. This wasn't so much an issue as aircraft pop in and out of maintenance all the time and it was scheduled to be line ready prior to my flight. "No worries", I said "I'll pop back in a bit" and in not wanting to waste time I sat with the duty instructor to talk through my flight intentions. We discussed the route, weather etc as we normally would and it was at this point we discovered a slight issue. In the 20 or so minutes I'd been sat with him my flight had been switched to standby and another flight booked over the top. Puzzled I returned ops. to then learn that maintenance had requested the first flight be dual - which is standard procedure for certain repairs - and as such I wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon.
This was incredibly frustrating... like - very frustrating. I say this because i'm now so close to the end of the foundation phase of training I somewhat just want it done. The constant delays with weather etc begin to wear you down! I mean, I get it.. repairs happen and this is just the way of aviation but it's still really annoying to waste such nice weather. Sadly, despite the efforts of operations, scheduling and the foundation training co-ordinator there was simply no movement in the days schedule to book me elsewhere and what's more, with the winds picking up later in the afternoon my crosswind limit would have been exceeded anyway.
It wasn't all negative news today though as an easyJet MPL trainee Conor completed his first solo in CTA (as pictured) and Jack on my CP passed PT1. A huge congrats to both of you.
Thursday was my rostered day off this week and it brought some quite nice weather overhead Clearways which was refreshing. The same couldn't be said for the wider region though with one of my coursemates saying he practically hid in the corner of the training area dodging clouds as he conducted his general handling flight. In fact, apart from Twinstar flights, not many went ahead today. Two trainees whom share the same instructor and thus flew their lesson back to back were lucky enough to take a Twin as far as South Island (well, almost - due to cloud) and as that's not something to happens all that often and I was somewhat jealous of their little venture. As day turned to dusk the front moved over Clearways before emptying bucket loads of rain on top of us - hence the very gloomy sky! I pretty much spent most of my day off washing my uniform and refreshing myself on flight procedures.
My best pal, the fog, had returned to greet us on Friday morning and with an off blocks time of 7.20am and a report at 6.30am I may as well have stayed in bed. Forecasters predicted the fog would lift by 7am but it was still here an hour or so later it's a tricky thing to predict it seems. With the weather once again causing a slip in our progress a few of us were booked for two flights today with the aim of catching up to our timeline. With the afternoons' forecast looking up I remained fairly confident I'd fly too.
Keeping an eye on the weather over lunch I decided to re-plan my afternoon flight and pushed the diversion practice aside with the aim of actually getting a flight in. The new route would take me South to New Plymouth before heading back to Hamilton via a number of smaller airfields. The issue was New Plymouth had some rather gusty winds today but that didn't matter so much so long as I simply diverted to my next turning point or descended for a low approach and overshoot as opposed to a touchdown where any lack of power would increase the chance of being blown off the runway. On arriving at the training centre I found that two of my coursemates were also planning the same route so we'd almost be going in a mini-convoy - if you can call it that.
As flights from earlier in the day began to return there were mixed messages from instructors as to the conditions out there. Some said it was perfectly clear in parts and others said some rather dense cloud was approaching from the West - the very coast I was to fly down. So, in an bid to avoid it we were asked to alter our plans and fly clockwise around the route in the hope said weather would have passed by the time we got to its current location. Ian, the first of three of us went for his sign out to then only be told not a chance. It appeared as though New Zealand's rain radar was now showing some lovely cloud development down South and as rain reduces visibility from 10km to well below 2km and with the route seeing us pass some high terrain it was no longer deemed safe for visual flight. All three of us were therefore cancelled.
As it turns out it was probably a good call to cancel as even flights in the circuit began to return with winds making approaches that bit harder. My roommate - whom made it to New Plymouth earlier in the day and hit the winds etc on his way back - said his maps, pens, and phone went flying about in the cockpit with the turbulence and that it was probably the worst he'd flown in. Hopefully tomorrow will bring nicer weather!
Today marked the last day I could fly solo without having my essential exercises for flapless landings and one other re-validated. As per our operations manual I had a chat with our head of training to have that time period extended by a day and a result I now have both of today's flights rebooked for tomorrow. I've also been told I've got my PT1 profile flight on Sunday - eek!! - where the applicable essential exercises will be renewed.
If you're wondering why I said eek there, then that's because PT1 is the school's internal flight test which aims to confirm your flying is up to the standard expected of the advanced phase of training. A profile is essentially a mock of that test and is a trainees' last opportunity to receive constructive criticism / feedback on techniques from their instructor. The fact i've got that flight is quite a harrowing thought really. Don't get me wrong it's by no means as scary a thought as the commercial pilots licence test will be in a few months but at this very moment it's still quite unnerving. I've not been flying that long in the grand scheme of things and now i'm about to be tested on it. If it goes well it'll mean i've no dbout got my actual test in the early half of next week. Scary! - but fingers crossed!