Having had a blip in my PT1 flight yesterday I had to have a meeting with the the training co-ordinator to discuss what went wrong. The meeting was rather relaxed and not too dissimilar to those I had with him during my earlier struggle with landings a few months back. I was presented with a write up of my performance from the instructor I flew with yesterday and asked to have a read through. If I'm honest I'd agree with the majority of what she said as I had forgotten to complete a couple of actions in respect of the assessed navigation leg and associated diversion. The rest of the meeting ended up being a recap of techniques as well as covering some fresh ideas/approaches to them. It was explained that as I'd only fallen short on one component of the PT1 test I would only have to refly that component in order to then pass overall. This flight was booked in for the afternoon.
After our chat I was asked to plan - on the ground - various diversions between airfields using the in-air techniques before then checking my logic using the pre-flight planning techniques to see just how far off I was. This was quite beneficial in truth as it made me realise I often misjudged the gaps between angles on the chart hence the errors i'd been making. I'll most likely practice this every so often between now and my CPL to ensure I'm more accurate.
For the re-fly I was asked to plan to to a beach on the Coromandel Peninsula. Taking on board what my instructor yesterday had said, I was sure to plan a dashed line contingency departure such that if, for whatever reason, the tower refused a direct Northerly departure I would know exactly at what point to turn etc. in order to not bust airspace. As it happened the active runway at the time of take off was 36 and thus 360° on your compass (or thereabouts) resulting in us not needing to use that contingency afterall. It still helped to have it there though as briefing it prior to departure helps you to cement the up and coming actions in your mind. I was sure to verbalise pretty much everything throughout the first leg including that we were still flying heading, still on time, clear of the Hamilton airspace etc etc and this helped the instructor know exactly what I was doing.
As the mountain ranges were covered in cloud - and we knew that they would be prior to departure - I was asked to divert to a town called Huntly. I was much happier with the diversion planning but with more of a direct head wind today and the fact we were flying over a swamp, the aircraft was gaining/losing altitude at its' own accord which made it much more interesting. Sadly, the eventual heading I'd come up with was 10° too far to the left and being disappointed somewhat verbally beat myself up over it. Thankfully, the instructor reassured me it's not fail worthy so long as you can adjust for it using a "gross error check". In completing one we noticed we were tracking towards the wrong side of a mountain a few miles ahead of us and adjusted our tracking accordingly. Apart from that the ETA, Ground Speed etc was all okay and we arrived on time.
Once at Huntley I was asked to plan a second diversion towards an airfield and town called Te Kowhai. This one was a little bit easier as the line drawn on the chart was straight North to South but I still spent the time to check it. I ended up orbiting around the outskirts of Huntley a little bit before later turning out onto my desired heading. This was confirmed as being okay by the instructor prior to the flight which was reassuring. You're permitted a 'minimum' of 5 minutes to complete the diversion planning, so it's not something time critical so long as all of the track, heading, altitude and timings etc are fairly accurate on setting off.
At Te Kowhai the instructor told me I'd not done anything to be deemed a fail at PT1 and that he was happy to pass me. *Phew*, I thought. Thank goodness that was over. In reflection, parts of my flying compared with the day prior were quite poor. I wasn't as on the ball with maintaining the altitude and on the first diversion I'd completely forgotten to complete a fuel log. The instructor did admit that I need to work on ensuring I've everything completed before setting out by reaffirming the fact I could have circled the first diversion point a bit longer to provide me some more time. I'm relieved to be able to continue, but I certainly need to put some work in if I stand a chance of getting a tick in that 'diversion' box on the CPL test.
Following my PT1 re-fly I brought up the topic of my outstanding cross-country qualifier given I had to come back early last time due to cloud. I mentioned how I needed to complete it prior to my essential exercises expiring at the end of August. The training co-ordinator went off to have a chat to the scheduling / operations team who quickly found that one of the fleet was sat doing nothing for the whole of Sunday and as such they booked it out in my name. In not expecting a booking at such short notice I returned to Clearways to spend the majority of the afternoon planning the next days' route. At the recommendation of instructors I planned for a route which is least likely to be affected by mother nature and is favourite among trainees for both its' views and the fact it takes you somewhere new. That route would be Hamilton -> Dargaville -> KeriKeri -> Hamilton with both of those new airfields located North of Auckland on the Northland Peninsula.
But wait... what happened? Yep, you guessed it... the weather turned all sorry. Looking at the above radar imagery you can see a huge band of weather moving toward the West coastline of the North Island and with my route essentially tracking up the majority of said coast I'd have most likely ended up stranded at Dargaville unable to see far enough to fly back home. The sign out instructor and I decided to err on the side of caution and cancelled the flight just in case. With this now being my second attempt at completing my cross-country flight it's a little frustrating purely due to the amount of effort you put into the planning before hand.
With the vast majority of the course having a day off today those of us not currently skiing or loving life over in Sydney decided to grab a bite to eat followed by a typical Punnet coffee. It killed a few hours and certainly took away the boredom of sitting around doing nothing all day. On our return to Clearways the Monday schedule was released and it appeared as though the powers that be felt I may have a better chance of completing this flight tomorrow. Thankfully they kept me on the same aircraft which means the calculations for weight & balance plus performance shouldn't change all that much. I returned to my room to plan a backup route just in case as the South looked quite nice today despite there also reservations about me being able to fly back again should I have encountered the incoming weather on my way home.
Fingers crossed for a better day. *Sunshine, Sunshine, Sunshine*
On waking to my alarm at 05:50 this morning I was quick to grab my phone and check the national weather forecast. So bleak was the outlook that I set another alarm and enjoyed my nice and warm bed for an hour more. I wasn't going to be going anywhere today and with a sign out of 07:45 there wasn't really much point in planning out headings, performance etc for a flight that was so certain to not happen. The reason for dismissing the typical planning expectations was down to the fact a rather large front was lingering North over Dargaville & KeriKeri resulting in near non existent visibility and strong winds had formed a rather low band of cloud up and over the mountain ranges near Napier and Gisborne. In addition, forecast cloud bases along both routes were 2000ft at best and with terrain clearance of 4500ft along the latter i'd rather not go smashing into terrain! I checked webcams and forecasts again about 30 minutes before my signout time but with not much of a change I got into my uniform and drove to the training centre. I must have been there for the grand total of 10 minutes and simply walked up to the duty instructor explained my reasonings for wanting to cancel to which he agreed and that was that, cancelled.
While that's another cancellation to the ever growing number, if you're going to complete a cross-country flight of 300 miles or more around this picturesque nation then you're going to want to at least see some of it and not spend all your time dodging clouds! I'll try again another day.. most likely next weekend now as we start with Twinstar stuff this week - exciting.
Today saw the return of the classroom as my coursemates and I began getting to grips with the fundamentals of multi-engine flight. Thanks to the completion of our ATPL Theory, namely Principles of Flight and Aircraft General Knowledge, most of this acted as a refresher and simply brushed away the cobwebs. In addition to receiving a lever-arch file containing everything multi-engine, we were given a series of presentations about our new toy, the Diamond DA42 Twinstar. The topics of discussion included, to name a few:
In learning all of this one thing becomes inherently clear, the complexity. Compared with the "fridge-with-wings" Cessna, as my previous instructor put it, the Twinstar is far more a sophisticated an aircraft and with that comes the added requirement for competence. If we're to do well going forward then there's a fair amount we need to grasp and such is the nature of an integrated course, we need to do that quite quickly. Just when looking at the aircraft's QRH (Quick Reference Handbook) the number of additional checklists makes this all the more evident. Additionally, the presence of an extra engine means we can carry out more realistic engine failure drills with our ability to respond in line with procedures watched more closely. Looks like there's a fun few weeks of learning to do, eh! Even with this added challenge, I can't wait.
After a few hours of presentations we popped outside and took a walk around one of the aircraft. Two Twinstar instructors walked us through the pre-flight check and highlighted the important things to look for as well as the location of fuel drains, anti-ice fluid and oil dipsticks. With the aircraft composite in makeup the airframe certainly looks tidier compared to the Cessna and its multiple sheets of riveted metal. The major differences, besides the obvious extra engine, is the low-wing and T-tail (the elevator sits atop of the tail). It also uses a joystick-like control column as opposed to a yoke so that'll take a little getting used to. Where fuel is concerned it burns Jet-A1, the same as airliners, and the associated smell brings back plenty of memories from my time as a dispatcher. Once the walk around was complete we were shown how to cover the aircraft up for the night before returning inside to learn how to complete the aircrafts associated mass, balance and performance graphs using dummy figures.
That was it for today. It was a lot of new information, much of it brought back to the fore of my mind from the months of ground school study, but interesting nonetheless. It's much of the same tomorrow with some more classroom presentations and, with any luck, we'll be scheduled to fly in them from Thursday. Good times!!
Given that none of our course were scheduled to fly today, it was nice to be awoken by the pitter-pattering of heavy rain and not immediately associate it with the word 'cancelled'. Today kicked off with a few of us popping into the training centre at 10am in order to meet with foundation training coordinator. He required us reconcile all the hours in our logbooks as well as complete a few bits of paperwork to finalise our handover to the advanced phase of training. In case of the former it's a real pain if you've made mistake early on because some figures are of cumulative nature. You can probably imagine that a fair share of tipex was used among us this morning! Thankfully the school issues us with practice logbooks and you can certainly see why! On the plus side, at least it means my eventual logbook will be neat.
Talking of logbooks, a few L3 Airline Academy alumni have since gone on to form a venture called Aileron. They make some pretty cool logbooks with top-quality leather and even embroider your name. *Hint, hint to my friends and family if you're reading* But yea, if you're in the market for a logbook or just want to see what they've come up with.. go and check them out! Also, before somebody asks, this shout out was not in anyway sponsored/paid for and is a genuine referral. Here's to hoping they make some other products one day.. *flight bags please... cough cough*
After returning to Clearways for lunch we were soon back at the training centre for some further teachings on the Twinstar. Unlike yesterday, which was mostly systems etc, today focussed more on the normal and abnormal procedures for flying it. By the end of my time at L3 Airline Academy I aim to have a commercial pilot's licence complete with a multi-engine class rating among other ratings and as a result the aforementioned abnormal procedures focussed in on the complexities such aircraft bring. Unlike your single engine aircraft where an engine failure turns you into a glider, the chances of dual engine aircraft losing both engines is very slim. That's not to say it can't happen and we train for such an eventuality too, but our time in the Twinstar will also focus on teaching us how to fly 'asymmetrically' with the loss of one engine only. I can already get the feeling from the presentations that safe asymmetric flight will require you to be on the ball, permanently. It certainly seems as though it's going to require some rather active pedal movements!
Beyond the standard engine restart / shutdown / fire drills which need to be learnt, a big takeaway from today is that there seems to be a lot more emphasis on callouts within the advanced phase. No longer is it a case of flying the plane and that's it... it would appear as though we're now expected to verbalise a lot of our checks such to keep our instructors more in the loop. This represents more of what you'd find in the airline cockpit so it'll good to start doing that - despite it being more to memorise.
I was allocated a new primary instructor earlier this week and have since been booked in to complete my first flight with him tomorrow. I'm highly doubtful it'll go ahead considering it's forecast there will be thunderstorms, heavy rain and low cloud for the most part. Nevertheless, it'll be a chance to talk through Twinstar procedures with the instructor whilst we've got time I suppose.
Waking to the sight of heavy convective activity in the skies of Hamilton I wasn't too hopeful I'd fly today. However, on my arrival at the training centre I soon found out that the instructor was keen to go and felt we'd be able to complete the lesson at a higher altitude, within controlled airspace and above the cloud if need be.
As the Twinstar is not solely a new aircraft but one from a new manufacturer there are various different ways of doing things compared with that i'm used to. I suppose you could say it's a bit like moving from a Nissan to a BMW where the indicator stalk is on the other side of the wheel, although a bit more complicated of course! The first of these differences would be paperwork. The Cessna makes use of tabular data for calculating takeoff and landing performance whereas the Twinstar employs fancy graphs akin to those from the ATPL Performance ground school topic back in Southampton. This is something the Katana pilots among the CP would already be used to considering Diamond aims for commonality across aircraft but it took me a little while to dust away the cobwebs.
The second change is inside the cockpit itself. The biggest difference for me is Diamond's internal design-language. Everything is placed in a specific place and many of those items again tend to share their location with the Katana. For the most part that's different to the Cessna. For example, the Twinstars uses airliner-esque power levers between the two pilots compared to the Cessna's plunger-type control. It also uses a single joystick-like control column as opposed to a Yoke. If we were to flip these differences on their heads though, moving from the Cessna means I have a comfortable understanding of Garmin G1000 whereas the Katana folk have only ever flown with steam gauges and, therefore, I guess you could say we've all got a slight learning curve in that sense. Irrespective of how small the differences are though, each of them can soon add up and cause a bit of confusion. This was demonstrated during my first attempt at start-up as I simply had zero idea where things were and having only completing ground school the day before I'd therefore had very little time to the familiarise myself. Thankfully the instructor chipped in and I eventually cracked it but I'll certainly be practicing in front of Twinstar cockpit poster tonight, that's for sure!
When it comes to handling, the first major differences is inertia. Previously in our Cessna and Katanas you'd request some power and get it instantly. You're not so lucky in this thing. Just setting off from stationary required a large increase in power before then returning the levers to idle. Interestingly it would then happily continue to taxi until another force, i.e. the brakes, prevented it. The same observation was true during landing and it's here where its' the most dangerous. As pilots we can't afford to be 'low and slow' on our final approach. The power increase required to recover is significant and takes a few moments to take hold and when you're only a few hundred feet off the ground time almost certainly won't be on your side. Again, I learnt this the hard way too and my first landing was far from smooth.
All in all my first Twinstar flight was very non-eventful. We took off, left the Hamilton area and were surrounded by clouds. We climbed higher, and higher, and even requested entry into controlled airspace. Once granted we entered the approved block of altitude but still couldn't make out the horizon and as such turned back. My instructor took the transit time back as an opportunity to teach an emergency descent, so, down the gear went, back to idle the power levers came, and forward went the nose to between 15-20° nose down pitch. This descent was the steepest I'd ever been in and was also incredibly fast. I can certainly see why airline passengers would see their lives flash before them if a crew were to conduct one!! More so considering the mantra 'Aviate-Navigate-Communicate' puts communication with passengers as one of the last things on their checklist. It was good to learn this and no doubt i'll cover it again in the future.
Tomorrow brings much of the same weather so if one things' for sure it's that I'll be spending my downtime learning speeds and procedures. With everything happening so much faster in the Twinstar you need to be ahead of the game. What's more, my instructor has made it clear how he's looking for CPL standard in everything I do so that certainly puts the pressure on!
Following yesterdays' flight I spent most of the afternoon revising the Twinstars' key speeds, power settings, attitudes and procedures in advance of the rebooking this morning. By the end of afternoon I felt somewhat confident I'd cemented most of them in my noggin' and thankfully today's' flight proved that. I was therefore able to focus my attention on learning the new handling characteristics of multi-engine aircraft.
Booked in for 10.00 I arrived around 07.30 and cracked on with the usual pre-flight calculations and what not. Having barely sat down, my instructor came to say he was picking up an earlier Twinstar flight to cover a colleague who had sprained his ankle. While he didn't expect this to delay my own booking he did say he felt it'd benefit me to back seat given it was the exact same lesson I'd have later on. Taking him up on the offer I completed my own planning, checked the trainee was happy for me to backseat (just in case) and then grabbed my things. By coincidence both flights happened to be booked on the same aircraft which certainly made things easier in terms of my later pre-flight.
Based on the photos you'll no doubt come to conclusion the weather wasn't exactly perfect. Our initial intentions were to head out over the Western coast but the remains of frontal weather put a stop to those plans. Not wanting to call it a day our instructor decided it best we change our intentions to head North. We remained below the cloud until a gap opened up large enough for further climb. It's certainly not often you fly around at 600ft above the ground but in this case it was the only option. With the temperature and dewpoint being the same you could see the starts of cloud formation too. Once in a clear part of air we climbed to 4,500 ft where the trainee I was backseating conducted some general handling exercises. He flew the plane very well despite the constant turns to avoid cloud. After 90 minutes we returned to Hamilton for a couple of circuits before it was time to land, pre-flight, have a quick toilet break and head out for my turn.
With the weather being far from ideal for solos a number of foundation phase trainees were either cancelled or sat twiddling their thumbs around the planning desk. That's a feeling of frustration I know all too well and having burnt enough fuel in our earlier flight - thus not being as heavy and able to take a second passenger - a trainee in another CP came along for the ride. If i'm entirely honest I'm surprised that even our flights went ahead given the clouds, but then you realise you're now flying with instrument rated instructors which makes clouds not so much of an issue.
Talking of said instrument rating it wasn't long before we put it to use. We knew from checking the weather radar that the Hamilton weather was being formed by rising and saturating airflow near the Western ranges. The coastal side, however, was near enough clear barring the odd cloud. Now... here came the problem: crossing those ranges when they're covered in the stuff. Flying lower was a problem as we'd hit terrain. Flying above was a problem as they extended quite high. We also couldn't fly through them... at least by visual flight rules and as such my instructor sought clearance by instruments to climb into and transit controlled airspace under instrument flight rules. The permission was thankfully granted, the Garmin was setup and we flew through the cloud and out to the somewhat blue skies of Raglan Harbour.
Once over the sea we conducted several turns, steep turns and stalling exercises as a recap to that taught in during the foundation phase. The major difference here is the fact you're now in a new aircraft that handles differently and requires tonnes more rudder by comparison. I'm not going to lie this flight left me feeling pretty deflated. I just found myself constantly fixed on the instruments playing a game of chase. That's not VFR flying, that's also not the way we've been taught. I was trying to keep the nose and tail in balance with rudder using the balance ball during most of the stalling manoeuvres instead of outside references which often sent the wings in various directions. Once i'd highlighted my technique to the instructor he soon realised where I was going wrong and things began to improve from there. The act of going to full power during the stalls caused a blip at one point too. You need to ensure you go advance to full power on both engines at the exact same time to provide a balanced recovery. The addition of a retractable landing gear added a new step to the stall procedures which I eventually grasped but equally, i still felt I could do better. There's nothing more infuriating than knowing you can do it but simply not performing. I suppose my feelings were made a little worse by the fact my peer flew pretty damn well in the AM but I can't compare myself to him.
During the debrief I commented on my flying to which my instructor said something along the lines of:
If you were flying terribly I'd have certainly told you! It's a familiarisation flight for a reason. It's a more powerful machine with more to think about so while you needed more pointing here and there compared with the chap this morning, you weren't terrible. We'll sort your rudder work out in subsequent flights - especially in asymmetric circuits! Just make sure you go away and read up on those stall procedures and break each step down when doing them. These planes are built for stability, so forcing them to stall certainly won't kill you and, as long as you recover the aircraft in sufficient and sensible amount of height then CPL examiners will be happy. When it comes to your turns, just imagine a big old pencil coming from the nose of the Twinstar and make it draw a perfect line on the horizon as you turn. Keep your eyes outside, not inside and that'll fix it almost straight away - as demonstrated today.
I'm my own worst critic so that made me feel slightly better. What's so annoying about it is the act of turning, stalling etc are all basic foundation phase techniques and even more annoyingly I did perfectly well on those in my PT1! All of sudden you give yourself more horsepower and it falls to pieces. It's something I'll need to keep working on, unfortunately we don't get many Twinstar flights to do that.
11th August 2017 - First day of Groundschool
16th February 2017 - Completion of Groundschool
17th June 2017 - Three months into New Zealand
I felt like this bit deserved its' own section as we've now been at the former CTC Aviation, now L3 Airline Academy, an entire year! Prior to starting Groundschool I'd now long graduated university, not long left my role at the airport (miss that job) and not long heard from BBVA that they'd support my funding. One year ago today all twenty of us attended our First Flight Day in Southampton, received our epaulettes, uniform and housing information before enjoying our last weekend free of study.
If you fast forward a year I don't think any of us could have expected the shear stress groundschool brought. Further, now we're 2/3 through our time in New Zealand we have around 1000 hours between us and have just moved onto the Twinstar. That's mental when think about it. If you then fast forward another a year i'd like to think each of us will be working on the line, or soon to start a type-rating with one of Europe's major airlines. That's quite an exciting thought.
So, George, Chris, Euan, Jack, John, Fabian, Will R., Kamyl, Matt, Tom, Ian and Will E...
Happy Flight Training Anniversary!
Couldn't have asked for a nicer bunch of people to share this journey with. Here's to the next 12 months.