With some poor weather forming over the sea to the North West, todays weather was hit and miss. The northerly winds gradually blew the weather system southwards knocking out one or two possible route options resulting in me opting for the Napier to Gisborne route I'd attempted not a week or so earlier. My off blocks time was 10.00am so I got to the centre early to have everything planned and the aircraft pre-flighted with ample time prior to my sign out. There were mixed opinions among instructors as to whether I should go or not as various reports from instructors in the air went against the weather forecast. Yet, after some discussion between two senior instructors I was cleared to go.
During my sign out I was advised to not extend my travel around clouds to the point the flight is no longer "commercially expeditious". If at any point I thought to myself "Well this flight isn't as straightforward as it should be" then I was to turn back. The instructors would have much rather that than I having to stay the night in a motel 150 odd miles away. Off the back of that, I ended up cutting todays' flight short and turned back after 30 minutes. It was very hazy out there and the clouds were much lower, much more frequent and also way more dense than actually forecast.
On the plus side at least I've another hour in my log book!
After tieing the plane down and checking in from the flight I popped by scheduling to try and arrange this flight for Tuesday when the weathers' looking better. Fingers crossed!
With Hamilton's circuit slots booked up for solo students and/or dual foundation lessons, the original plan was that my instructor and I would take the Twin south to an airfield at Tokoroa. The scheduled lessons were "Dual Engine Circuits" and "Asymmetric Operations" and are designed to introduce us to a multi-engine circuit as well as the effects on flight should we lose an engine, but, if you take a look at the above photo it won't take you long to see the conditions were far from perfect. The visibility was so poor we were unable to see the mountain ranges and it would have been silly to go. We cancelled the back-to-back lessons and I was asked to wait at the centre for a bit just in case an alternative cropped up.
Over the course of the next 30 minutes the reported winds picked up significantly resulting in many solo circuit flights being cancelled by their respective sign out instructors. While disappointing for those affected in that they couldn't fly, their unused slots were then free for us Twin pilots to use. Following a quick chat with operations two coursemates and I went on to secure slots and complete our flights at Hamilton instead. With only one hour available we couldn't complete the Asymmetric part but at least we could still get the circuits out of the way. I had my coursemate John in the back who come along for the view. He also acted as the perfect amount of ballast as this particular aircrafts' centre of gravity is unusually far forward compared with the rest of the fleet.
As is typical of mother nature, the very moment you step out the door it starts to rain and as such we made a mad dash to the plane, opened the canopy and promptly closed it again to avoid soaking everything inside. After the usual start up checks etc we taxied and took off into the standard circuit pattern. Given a higher cruising speed it was crazy just how much faster things happened. You barely have time to climb, get the gear up, and turn onto downwind before it's time to radio the tower, configure for landing, start your descent and touchdown again. The fact you fly much faster means the circuit no longer represents a rectangle with one of the longest sides being the runway but more of a semi-circle. You're almost always in the turn. The landing is also much flatter compared with your Cessna/Katana and it certainly seems unnatural to fly straight at the ground!
Today's flight was also the first time that i've flown in anything resembling significant winds. Whilst they were by no means perpendicular to the runway they were still worthy of being called crosswinds and increased in strength throughout the lesson. They were strong enough that my instructor had to take control at one point in order to prevent a 25 knot gust from blowing us off the runway just seconds after touchdown. I'm getting used to the crosswind technique now i've had a chance to practice it and it's not all that different you just need to be very proactive with your use of rudder and aileron.
On the subject of my instructor, he's certainly got a different style to that I became used to during foundation. I feel as though foundation is a lot more "hand holdy" and is like "don't worry if you don't quite grasp this yet etc., it'll come with time" whereas in advanced the expectations sky rocket. My instructor certainly isn't afraid to be stern with me at my failings when in the air. If you don't do something it's like "Come on man, watch your altitude. Nose down, Nose down." If you don't do it quick enough he'll do it for you and expect you to do it better next time. I've no doubt this varies from instructor to instructor but a couple of my peers have also agreed with my comment. The gradient is very different and somewhat forces me to want to do well. He's not shy to tell me when an action would cause a failure in my CPL and uses the CPL standard as his standard. I'm sure this will pay off in the long run though, or at least I hope so!
I've been booked in for the Asymmetric lesson tomorrow so hopefully the weather holds up to allow us to get out of the circuit. It doesn't seem like I'm getting my cross country done tomorrow after all, despite requesting it, but that may be down to the weather forecast to be honest. We've also been booked in for another evening of mass briefs with the topic this time focussing on Instrument flight. It's crazy how fast this syllabus is progressing to be honest although I'm not sure the flying will for that much longer what with September being dubbed Hamilton's worst month for weather. Although, thankfully we've a lot of simulator flights coming up which will help us avoid weather cancellations.
Today was certainly a looooonnng day having rocked up to the training centre at 08.30 and then not leaving until 21.45! Booked in for a flight in the late morning followed by an entire afternoon of classroom presentations, it's safe to say my brain is fried right about now. It's currently 11.30pm and I'm writing this part while everything's still fresh in my mind before getting some well needed rest.
As the past couple of entries to this week's blog have already shown, the weather's been a bit pants! Today was certainly no exception and with rather fast westerly winds Hamilton airport was battered by rain and then greeted by clear blue skies on a never ending cycle as the day progressed. As was the case yesterday, the vast majority of flights were cancelled with the exception being my CP going up in Twinstars. Despite marginal conditions it's certainly nice to finally be making progress!
As the first of about three lessons, today's aimed to teach me how to manage asymmetric flight. In other words, how to fly with the loss of an engine. Losing engine power from one side results in the aircraft starting to twist around on it's vertical axis, otherwise referred to as Yaw. Using the left engine as the failed one in this example, if it's left to develop then the associated loss of lift on that wing will cause it to drop. This happens naturally, is very much the secondary effect of Yaw and both conditions together eventually see the nose drop beneath the horizon. If it's allowed to develop further still, then the aircraft would enter a spiralling dive towards to the ground. Although engine failures tend to come out of the blue, i'm fairly certain that neither the fare paying passengers, cabin crew or the airline themselves would take too kindly to the pilots allowing these natural effects to take hold and as such it's imperative we learn to recover from such an eventuality.
Weather wise it wasn't looking likely we'd go and my instructor periodically asked "What do you reckon?" as he begins encouraging me to make more and more of the yay/nay decisions myself. In this case he was still the pilot in command so it was more of a discussion but it sure is preparing me for those critical decisions come CPL time - especially as misjudging the weather can result in a fail. My coursemate Tom was also debating whether he should go so in the end it turned into a game of if you go I'll go between our instructors. Fortunately, my instructor had the aircraft the whole day and we pushed back an hour to allow the menacing cumulonimbus to pass overhead. Once clear of Hamilton my instructor and I went West and Tom and his went East. The weather wasn't ideal but was perfectly safe and we were both able to complete our flights. You do have to remind myself sometimes that the weather back in Europe is often far from perfect and in some parts way more convective than New Zealand, so I guess it's beneficial to fly in conditions more true to reality as airliners sure do love the occasional cloud dodging exercise.
Once over Raglan my instructor demonstrated the above symptoms and how to recover from them. During the exercise I was surprised at just how much rudder was needed to prevent the aircrafts natural desire to Yaw. At one point I had stacks of pressure applied causing my leg to shake. My instructor joked and suggested I complete a leg day or two at the gym but thankfully the Twinstars' rudder trim means you can alter the rudders 'neutral' point to that you're currently holding and therefore take away some of the force required. The remainder of the recovery was fairly standard and just required I roll the wings level and prevent us from losing altitude. A few memory items were involved in terms of identifying the failure etc before we then restored power to the idling engine. We conducted numerous variations to the asymmetric exercise, including loss of engines in turns and loss of engines with different power settings and/or speeds. All in all though the procedure remained the same. Rudder to prevent Yaw, Aileron to roll wings level, Elevator to prevent height loss. At one point we even shut one of the engines down to demonstrate the lack of performance and also to see what exactly a feathered prop does to it.
After the lesson the remainder of the day was spent in the classroom as part of our induction into IFR. The content covered was a refresher of various topics taught in ground school, namely: Flight Planning and Radio Navigation. We learnt about the practical use behind VOR/DMEs, Approach/Departure design, Holding patterns, circling approaches and more. Up until to this point most of the syllabus has focussed on teaching us to fly everything in reference to outside references but later this month and well into September that will change as we transition to flying on instruments. We'll eventually be tested on this type of flying on our return to Bournemouth as part our Instrument Ratings but the foundations are laid out here away from hectic airline traffic. IFR seems like it's going to be interesting and as with everything i've done to date, a steep learning curve. With that said though, it's something new and I can't wait to get stuck in.
As the day came to a close the majority of my coursemates and I head to one of the common rooms to watch the first episode of ITV's "easyJet: Inside the Cockpit". I've always been a fan of aviation related programs stemming right back to "Airline" in the late '90s. In fact i'd go so far as saying programs such as these contributed to my lifelong dream. Anyway, back to the point... this program. easyJet: Inside the Cockpit focussed on the training of easyJet's future pilots to which a significant proportion have historically come from this very school, L3 Airline Academy. Seeing pilots fly the Airbus A320 whom I'd not that long ago chat with over coffee was certainly motivating, especially when you consider I could be in their shoes in a little over a year - he hopes! I honestly can't wait for that day myself. I also can't wait for the day I can fly my family around too. If you're yet to watch the program it's probably available on most catch up services or the ITV website.
Right, time for bed. I've been booked in for another flight tomorrow as well as the second half of these mass briefs but thankfully I'm not in until lunchtime so can treat myself to a bit of a lie in. Wahoo.
Another day, another flight and this time we took the techniques learnt yesterday and applied them to an incredibly dangerous situation: the engine failure after take off. Aircraft design regulations require manufacturers ensure their aircraft attain specified levels of performance, however, this is only assured in a given configuration. With that in mind it's vital that pilots understand how to restore the balance or, as has happened several times throughout history, control will be lost leading to a catastrophic accident.
Given the workload for handling engine failures you'd be considered mental if you went ahead and shut one of your perfectly normal engines down, especially at such a low altitude. So we instead pull the power on one of the engines to idle to provide an almost identical reaction. The exercises began in the standard take off configuration and were carried out between 3,000 - 4,000 ft. This provided enough of a buffer for safe recovery. We won't actually practice this in the circuit environment until the next lesson so the additional height also provides the chance to get used to things. The recovery prompts a specific set of checks and actions be completed but thanks to such a hectic week I hadn't been able to commit them all to memory yet. My instructor understood this so showed them to me and i'm pleased to say I gradually got a hold of them as the lesson progressed.
I was so much happier with this flight compared to the last which I attribute to my familiarity with the aircraft. The more I fly the Twinstar the more it becomes 'muscle memory'. By that I mean you simply just do something without even needing to think about it whereas before all of the extra power was slightly overwhelming and would see little mistakes crop up here and there. In being more relaxed at the controls I feel I'm better able to learn the contents of the lesson.
My flight today was booked over the top of the IFR mass briefs meaning I half expecting to walk into the classroom and miss a significant chunk of content. To my surprise though, the rest of the course were kind enough to wait for 2 hours meaning I and one other didn't miss a thing. Tonight's briefs followed on from yesterday and we began looking at the actual implementation of departures (SIDs), arrivals (STARs) and approaches and how we actually fly them. I'd be lying if any of it made sense initially but our instructor went on to reassure us that it will be something that clicks once you fly one for real. As the level of precision required from instrument operations is high compared to visual flight, we're taught a significant chunk of the syllabus in the simulators first where making mistakes can't kill you. We'll then go out and consolidate everything during real operations in the Cessnas and Twinstars. Bring it on.
Tomorrow is my day off and I can't wait to rest and consolidate all of the information i've learnt over the past week. I certainly need to review the IFR procedures as sadly the late afternoon presentations saw some of the content go straight in one ear and out the other. My next lesson is my final visual flight in the Twinstar before all of simulator flights start. It's a shame really as I was just getting the hang of it but that's just the nature of the low hour integrated course. I'll get to fly it again in the not too distant future, but when that day comes I know i'm then rapidly approaching my CPL test... but let's not think about that just yet!!
This day off couldn't have come soon enough as there's been a lot to take in over the past few days and my brain certainly needed the rest! After a little bit of a lie-in it wasn't long before I had my head in the IFR training manual in order to plug few gaps in my knowledge as well as go over the teachings of the past two days of mass briefs. Doing this was quite helpful as it explained things in a different way, but it wasn't long before boredom ensued. Thankfully, my roommate and his girlfriend invited me along for their afternoon trip to Wairere falls which gave me the opportunity to get out of Clearways for a few hours.
Wairere falls from the viewing point (45 minutes into the trail)
View from the top of the falls overlooking the eastern training area.
A bit of fun reenacting the ever-famous titanic scene at the top of the falls.
Wairere falls is the tallest waterfall in the North Island and it's practically on our doorstep. Well, I say that.. it's still around an hour drive away and then a further 90 minute ascent to the top but it's so worth it. There's just something so peaceful about running water that meant I could've stayed there for hours but with the sun already setting by this point we couldn't stay up there long. In hindsight we should have left for the falls much earlier because we lost all daylight roughly midway down the descent. Thank god for the torch function of our phones though as the terrain was rather wet in places and jagged/rocky in others. We were originally four in number but one of the group called it quits at the lower viewing point (top photo) and decided he'd rather meet us back at the car than climb the rest of the way. Despite claiming he could just see that view from a plane instead, he certainly missed out! I was able to take yet more GoPro footage so no doubt I'll put a Vlog together at some point. The daily workload here appears to be picking up so I can't make any promises as to when that'll be out just yet.
The hectic week continues tomorrow with two bookings on my schedule, the first of which an IFR simulator flight at 9am. I've also my final VFR flight in the Twinstar at 3.30pm so here's to hoping the weather plays ball for the latter.
One of two fixed base Twinstar simulators at L3 Airline Academy's Hamilton training centre
Any guesses on the weather this morning? **Drum roll please** Yep.. you guessed right, Fog. However, despite the gloomy sky my first lesson of the day was in the Twinstar simulator and it therefore went ahead unhindered. The simulator (as pictured) aims to replicate the real aircraft as best as possible and for the most part I'd say it does so very well. However, it does fall short in areas otherwise affected by the airflow which means the control inputs required are different to the in real thing. For example, in real life you need quite a bit of rudder to counteract the gyroscopic effect of the prop blades but in the simulator the slightest tap on the right pedal can result in too much of an input. In the grand scheme of things these gripes are rather small, but they're noticeable enough to make a difference to the flying experience.
The lesson itself was mostly revision of basic instrument flight and as such most of the flight was carried out in simulated cloud cover. In being configured in a 'cold state' the simulator required I run through the complete start up procedures before cracking on with the lesson. Having received the simulated weather information from my instructor I then took off into the low level cloud and conducted some basic handling exercises. In reflection I would say this lesson was much more suited to a Katana pilot who had only ever flown by steam gauges thanks to the differences in scanning techniques but, it was useful to recap nonetheless.
Something which caught me off guard during this lesson was the human bodies inherent weakness: motion sickness. Otherwise known as "the leans". This was caused by the simulator remaining still whilst the projected imagery moved in line with my control inputs. Thus with my eyes seeing one thing and my ears feeling another it certainly goes a long way to messing with your head. I got over it eventually but it sure was disorientating after an hour at the controls.
The second lesson of the day was originally scheduled for 3.30pm but it wasn't too long after my sim session that I was asked if I wouldn't mind completing it earlier than planned. It turned out the later booking was needed by a cadet on the priority list given his flight back to the UK was next week and he was yet to complete his CPL. In this sort of situation its' typical for those earlier in the syllabus to have their lesson cancelled but in not wanting to inconvenience me and in also wanting to have my multi-engine class rating flights completed prior to the weekend, my instructor secured both a slot and aircraft at the earlier time of 12.30pm.
Having already returned to Clearways by this point and with little over an hour to plan and complete the walk around I made quick time back to the training centre. I ensured we were within limits, had enough fuel and would achieve a safe climb gradient with current atmospheric conditions before then heading out to the plane. The latter is especially important given we'd essentially be cutting the power to one of them to almost zero and if we were unable to maintain a positive climb then we may as well have not completed the lesson.
Having completed all the checks and taxied out to the runway we completed a standard circuit to begin with before requesting permission from the tower to conduct asymmetric flight. If you're wondering why we ask for permission then it's entirely down to the fact there's several checks to complete prior to turning into the circuit after takeoff. If the tower are aware of our intentions then they are able to better space aircraft in the circuit environment and thus not hinder our flight. As part of this the majority of our flight was conducted in the non-standard right hand circuit with all other traffic on the other side of the airfield.
We completed about 6 or 7 circuits inside of the hour with all but one of those being on one engine. My instructor varied which engine I was given to help me understand the rudder / control differences at each stage of the circuit and if one thing's for certain it's that I had pretty tired legs by the end of the lesson - even with rudder trim!! All in all I was happy with how things went but I need to continue to work on memorising those checklists as your reaction flows so much better when you know them by heart.
Sadly that's all the flying I get on the Twinstar for now with the next couple of weeks making use of both the simulators and Cessnas in order to teach the instrument phase. I'll be returning to the Twinstar for those last few instrument flights at the end of the syllabus before then returning to visual flight in preparation for the CPL. I can't help but feel the next 9 and a bit weeks are going to zoom by as we get closer and closer to the all important commercial pilots licence skills test but hopefully, by the time it rears its head we'll all be feeling ready for it!!
Until next time,