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To most people a cloudy night would make no odds, but for trainee pilots' it's a certainly a sight to behold and is confirmation of the weather to come. With overcast cloud at 5,000ft, Friday night acted as the metaphorical saucepan lid on Hamilton and with warmth from the daytime sun unable to escape to higher levels of the atmosphere it went a long towards curbing the formation of fog in the region. However, where there's no fog there's often frost - at least in New Zealand - and morning temperatures were also fresh but I didn't mind as it's nothing a bit of de-icer and a coat can't fix.
I am so pleased to be able to say I completed a couple of flights today. Here's the of stats:
- 2 Navigation Flights
- 2 Aircraft
- 5 Hours
- 752 Nautical Miles
- 151 Litres of Fuel
On finding out the total distance I was curious to see just how far that'd get you in Britain to only go and discover that 752 Nautical Miles is thereabouts equivalent to the length of the Lands End to John O' Groats by road. That's mental when you think about it! It's certainly safe to say I was quite tired having woken up at 5.30am and not returned back to Clearways until around that time in the afternoon. I'm pleased to have them out the way though.
The first flight saw me walk out to the aircraft around 7.30 and after de-ice and run-ups I ended up departing from Hamilton at around 8am. Two and a half hours in length this flight saw me head directly South eventually tracking along the coast before making a touch-and-go in New Plymouth. On leaving New Plymouth I head eastward toward the small town of Taumarunui before then heading North back to Hamilton. I thoroughly enjoyed this flight as once over all of the rather samey looking forest you come across a peaceful coastal road accompanied by large white cliffs reminding me somewhat of those in Dorset and Dover. On the way back to Hamilton the winds were directly on my tail which went a long way towards pushing me home and with plenty of time to go I simply reduced the power output of the engine and admired the view. With the visibility so great you could see the peaks of snowy mountains to the South East and the glowing ocean to the West. Beautiful, truly beautiful. I'll certainly miss flying around this country when I'm home!
The second flight of the day didn't really have as much structure to it and you can probably tell that by looking at the route above. The aim with this flight was to to get out into the local training area and practice diversion after diversion after diversion. I obviously had some idea of where I wanted to go so it wasn't as if I'd head out on a whim, but the act of diverting somewhere is crucial for a pilot flying visually and in reality could well happen for any reason. Thus, the only part of this flight i'd actually planned was the first leg from Hamilton to a town called Huntley with the remainder conducted in the air using the maps/charts, my trusty Sharpie, the forecasted winds and some mental math. Just like the flight before it, this was also two and a half hours. It was certainly interesting to try and fill it entirely with diversion legs but I managed it! The whole purpose of this flight was to gain confidence in the techniques such to appreciate just how much time you actually have to plan. It's certainly helped to calm the nerves and prevent rushing - which is a trait of mine I'm determined to curb throughout the rest of this course! All in all the flight went well, but the turbulent airflow flung the plane around a bit both vertically and laterally making it that little bit harder to plan diversions, what with some of your capacity allocated to remaining straight and level. Fingers crossed this goes along way to helping me pass the up and coming progress test.
So, today was the day... my mock progress test. This was conducted with my primary instructor and provided me with the final opportunity to be shown techniques again if need be. With the profile flight incorporating the majority of taught maneuvers, it was also a chance for me to renew my essential exercises such that I could then complete the final two solos later in the week.
In simulating test conditions I didn't receive the route until an hour before departure and worked to ensure I had everything ready for our brief 20 minutes prior to off blocks. The briefing was fairly ordinary although my planning was checked with a fine toothcomb for any errors. Thankfully there were none. My instructor then asked me a fair few questions on New Zealand Air Law and the Cessna itself to ensure I'd done some studying before then grabbing our things and heading out to the aircraft. With it being one of my expiring essential exercises my pre-flight walkaround was watched rather closely. The downside to this was it gave my instructor even more of a chance to ask me questions and I have to say some of them caught me out somewhat although she did later admit they were more type rating questions and that she was trying to catch me out. Thankfully not all of those will feature in the real deal although I did learn a couple of things about the "Shed with wings".
Our first leg was 20 minutes in duration and took us North of Hamilton to a town called Port Waikato. Having read the progress test assessment guide I knew to expect a dummy scenario on this leg to examine my diversion skills and understanding of procedures. Bang on cue my instructor told me the alternator had "failed" to which I subsequently took the decision to divert. I had two airfields available to me but chose the one we'd most likely reach with sufficient power remaining for a landing with flaps. To my relief it seemed as though my flight consisting of nothing but diversions paid off because I was able to get everything planned correctly and felt a lot more relaxed in the process.
On arrival at Mercer, the chosen airfield, we joined overhead but my eventual approach to land was so terrible I had to initiate an go around. I would have completed a full circuit and tried again but my instructor told me to continue climbing and head back towards Hamilton. I thought i'd failed that bit of the test but was later told that while the approach was pretty poor, that's somewhat expected of someones' first time at a new airfield and the fact I initiated a go around demonstrated strong airmanship. "Phew", i thought.
During our travels to Hamilton we conducted practice forced landings, turns, clean stalls, approach stalls and base to final stalls and these all went very well. The remainder of the flight from that point onwards was conducted under the hood with me having to follow given turn, climb and descent instructions. My instructor later covered the Garmin displays requiring me to do more of the same although only this time making use of the standby instruments. Once 10 miles or so from Hamilton I was asked to remove the hood, pinpoint our location using the charts and then fly us back into Hamilton for a couple of circuits. To stop me making a cheeky glance at where we were on the GPS it had been zoomed out to the point you could barely see New Zealand let alone the local area. I'll admit, I was slightly disorientated at first as I'd never approached Hamilton from the North before due to the preferred East or West arrival procedures but eventually found our location.
Once in the circuit I completed a flapless landing and glide approach before coming in for a full stop. Phew, it was done. In review, the profile was more enjoyable than I thought it would be and I put this down to the fact my diversion went well. All that now stands between me and the advanced phase is one navigation flight, one general handling flight and my cross country qualifier, although I've been told this can be completed during advanced if need be. I'm quite looking forward to learning something new now so the start of the advanced phase will certainly be welcome.
With the entirety of the North island sat directly beneath an incredibly large centre of High Pressure, we should consider ourselves lucky to have not had fog these past two days. Sadly, the same could not be said for today and we even had a visit from good ol' Jack Frost too! You'll most likely deduce from the above photo that temperatures were sub-zero which made for a pretty chilly walk around. Despite being -2°C, at least I got a good view for the first two Air New Zealand departures. Will I fly the ATR one day? - Who knows.
Booked for both post-profile pre-PT1 flights today and with the weather forecast as good as the past two days, I planned the Auckland loop route. According to coursemates whom have flown it you get some jaw dropping views of both the skyline and coasts as you hop from island to island and hug the coastline on your travels. Arriving at the training centre for 6am with an off blocks by 7.30am the fog somewhat ruined plans. Rather unusually, there was plenty of movement in the schedule so I pushed the flight back until 9.30am. I had a chat with my signout instructor, discussed the route and took note of things to be cautious of. We then signed all the necessary paperwork pending satisfactory weather conditions. I sat and watched as the fog cleared slightly and returned over and over but with a light wind it wasn't going to go anywhere. Sadly, I had no choice but to cancel and return to Clearways. Oh well. At least I had a General Handling flight in the afternoon.
It may have taken roughly eight hours for the fog to clear but the afternoon thankfully brought the weather we'd come to expect from the previous two days. This flight was two hours in length and included a 30 minute circuit slot at the end. Setting out on time I aimed to complete one of each stall, as well as a few circuits at MataMata airfield - a grass airfield L3 cadets were previously restricted from visiting when solo. The difficulty with MataMata as opposed to other uncontrolled aerodromes is the presence of both heavy gliding operations and a high density of L3 aircraft operating in the area. On approaching the field you have to be extra vigilant when figuring out the circuit direction - due to overhead joins being discouraged - before then slotting yourself into the circuit for the active runway. At the same time you've also got to spot the darn place as grass runways certainly blend in with the surrounds. Thankfully there were 4 other aircraft operating there today which made it easier. I completed two circuits - one with flap and one without - before conducting stalls and steep turns further to the South.
For the final half an hour I remained within the Hamilton circuit fine tuning my overall approach technique. Due to amount of traffic within the circuit, the arriving and departing Air New Zealand flights, inbound air ambulances and a 'pan-pan-pan' call being made I ended up remaining in the circuit for almost 30 minutes longer than I should have. I didn't mind this too much though as I got to watch the sunset behind the mountain ranges with the runway illuminating as I came in for my final full stop landing.
The earlier navigation flight was re-booked for tomorrow so fingers crossed the weather is good enough.
Not much to say about today really because that lovely high pressure which brought light winds and sunny skies had been pushed aside by a fat band of low pressure and its' associated cumulus weather. The front was forecast to pass directly overhead at the time of my flight booking and as a result I cancelled the flight. It wasn't just foundation trainees affected today and the vast majority of advanced trainees were also grounded thanks to forecasters predicting what we call 'embedded towering cumulus clouds'.
To kill time a few of us went out for brunch before later venturing into Hamilton for couple games of blowing. I admit, I'm still as terrible as ever but they do say its' the taking part that counts eh! Tomorrow is my Rostered Day Off so I won't get the chance to fly but the weather is looking bleak anyway so at least it'll save me a trip into the training centre. It appears as though the vast majority of the CP have the day off tomorrow too so we may end up road tripping somewhere as it's been quite some time since we've all been off at the same time. Now just comes the part where we all decide where to go... we're an indecisive bunch at times :-)
With it being my day off today meaning I'd not pilot anything myself, a fellow trainee, Sam, invited me along for his first flight on the beastly Twinstar. I'd have been silly to refuse such an opportunity and what made it better is I simply turned up 20 minutes before departure, hopped in and went. There was none of this mass and balance, flight planning and pre-flighting business. Coh, I tell you what.. it's certainly effortless being a passenger, eh!
Having completed the foundation phase a few weeks previous, Sam then completed a number of Instrument flights in the Cessna before then moving to the Twinstar. The first few flights are to familiarise yourself with the differences in both single and multi-engine aircraft and are conducted VFR meaning it's back to looking out the window and away from those shiny Garmin displays. After showing me to my seat and giving me a passenger brief, Sam hopped in and got to work on starting her up. There's a few more steps involved compared to the Cessna i'm used to but the roar of those mighty engines firing up is just great!
Once started, we taxied to runway 36 and being Sam's first flight his instructor demonstrated a takeoff. Beyond the obvious additional engine, the Twinstar also boasts retractable landing gear which is an additional consideration in all aspects of flight and as such we were shown when to retract it and the impact it has on aircraft performance etc. Once at circuit height Sam took over for the remainder of the flight. This flight was pretty much just General Handling in a dual capacity. Sam completed the maneuvers we've all become quite accustomed to: stalls, turns, steep turns etc. although was walked through things to watch out for given the Twin's handling characteristics. Sam was very quick to point out the amount of extra rudder input required but thankfully this force can be trimmed out in the Twinstar taking some stress away from your feet. This later led to his instructor saying "You wait until asymmetric flight... you'll be hobbling back to the training centre afterwards".
Having completed most of the handling exercises Sam asked to be shown asymmetry on our way back to Hamilton and with not one instructor at CTC able turn down the opportunity to get hands on with the planes themselves she happily agreed. For those unaware, asymmetric flight is the loss of one engine and to simulate this the instructor pulled the right engine's power to idle leaving the left one at full power. The effect was immediately obvious and with there now being a loss of lift on the right side the plane rapidly entered a spiral descent to towards the failed engine. It shocked me how quickly this took hold to be honest and shows just how on the ball you have to be in order to recover it. The instructor did this promptly by applying "tonnes of rudder" and regained lost speed by pushing the functioning one a little harder. This was good fun to see and thankfully we have a lesson or two dedicated to purely asymmetric flight given it's something we'll be tested on in our commercial pilots licence flight tests.
All in all this was a great flight to sit in on. I look forward to flying this aircraft myself and with a change of programming for our CP this may well be happening sooner than we thought. I took a number of videos during this flight I've compiled them into a vlog post for you to enjoy. Why not go give it a watch!
**Above photo taken during one of my earlier navigation flights in a dual capacity**
If I had completed my cross-country qualifier last week then this flight would have marked my last solo on the Cessna fleet. Thankfully I've still got that flight to look forward to and it'll likely be booked for this weekend, but nevertheless today's flight was still great all the same. It was somewhat gutting that I couldn't complete the Auckland route due to cloud but following several cancellations I was keener than ever to get this flight ticked off. Having completed over a dozen navigation flights to date my instructor allowed me the freedom to plan this one in its' entirety and in not wanting any weather to get in my way I planned a flight South to New Plymouth via Taupo before then returning to Hamilton. These were all locations I'd been to before so knew the procedures applicable to my route but with winds at altitude pretty much full on headwinds for both of the longest legs it wasn't possible to fly it all within the 2 1/2 hours available. This wasn't an issue in the slightest as I could simply skip the landings out and cut the corners off the route by diverting on more direct paths between turning points. The final planned time was 2 hours leaving room for a bit of general handling followed by re-joining for an approach to land at Hamilton.
The views were truly stunning. The sun was quite low and reflecting off the sea and as such I took the opportunity to fly low along the Raglan coastline to soak in the surroundings. I've included a photo of the coast from a flight a few months back above. Furthermore, there's also something about the Cessna 172's wing and it's ability to reflect the light as a continuation of the sea which makes for some equally pleasant views. The completion of this flight means I've met all the prerequisites for my first progress test - eek! This has been booked in for tomorrow with a take-off time of 7.30am so it's off to bed for me as I'll be heading in to the training centre around 5.45am to ensure everything's planned in time for a prompt departure. With atmospheric pressure gradually increasing throughout the day and with a clear sky this evening I'm hoping Hamilton's beloved fog doesn't form and thus cause a cancellation.. so fingers crossed!!
After completing almost 90 hours of flying around the skies of New Zealand, it was finally the time for the school to put my new-learnt skills to the test. Progress Test One, or PT1 for short, is designed to be an integrated courses' equivalent to the private pilots licence skills test you'd take during your typical modular training program. Of course, we don't actually get a private pilots licence out of it but are simply permitted to continue to the next phase of training. My test and that of a coursemates were booked to be the first flights out that day and so we head into the training centre at the bright and early time of 5.45am.
Despite the clear nights sky and increasing pressure we escaped the fog, thankfully, but boy.. was it a fresh start! Arriving at L3 before the instructor I completed the mass and balance, performance and pre-flight which went a long way to freeing up time to plan the navigation route once she'd arrived. During the flight we tracked North to Thames followed by a diversion to Matamata for a flapless landing and general handling before travelling back to Hamilton under the hood. Once in Hamilton's airspace we completed a glide approach and engine failure after takeoff before coming in for a full stop.
I was happy with the majority of the flight with the exception of the diversion which once again caused me bother. The instructor agreed here and as a result was unable to pass the flight on that basis. In the debrief she said something along the lines of:
You maintained control of the aircraft well and on taking control at various points it was trimmed and in stable flight. Your landings were safe, both with flap and without. Your turns and stalls were also to the standard expected. During the navigation flight you made the necessary position reports and even requested the local pressure setting from the controllers but sadly had a blip with your diversion. Due to the fact you noticed your mistake, corrected for it and got us to the destination by the ETA I was certainly debating whether to pass the flight or not, but given the trend that most CPL fails are attributed to navigation I'm afraid I'm a bit of a stickler for it and therefore will have to partial it.
I can understand you will probably be unhappy with that outcome, but I'd much rather we work to fix this blip now than allow you to sail on through and it not be picked up on until your CPL profiles or worse, the actual CPL. Trust me, you'll be thankful later.
I'm not going to lie here, I was pretty upset at myself on receiving this news. It certainly wasn't rushing that attributed to the mistake today as if anything I was told I was too slow at one point. I've focussed so much on diversions yet they still cause grief. It also feels pretty frustrating to be the only individual in your CP to have partialed the test - to date - but then there's not much I can do about that, eh!
The debrief continued by talking over the diversions again in detail. It's always useful to get a fresh perspective on things so i'll certainly take her tips on board. We then discussed the next steps and as my overall flying was to the standard required it was felt no remedial flights would be required at this point. A partial pass means a trainee has met the standard on all but one component of a test and must therefore refly that sole component in order to pass the overall flight. This applies to the progress tests as much as it does the CPL and Instrument Rating tests.
I've been scheduled in to complete the navigation component tomorrow. It's been booked in with the foundation training co-ordinator who helped me with the final push over my earlier landing hurdle so I've no doubt we can both work to rectify this blip in the same manner. He's certainly the right man for his job title! I'm trying to remain positive about this.. I mean my flying was to standard, so at least the instructor wasn't concerned about her safety at any point and that's somewhat comforting in itself.
I'll no doubt post an update on my social media channels if all goes well.
Until next time,