It would appear my instructor was correct in that September brings New Zealand's worst weather and as such this weekend, inclusive of Monday, has been a total write off. I think that out of the fleet only a couple of aircraft graced the sky and even then instructors said it perhaps wasn't the best conditions to go up in. aFor the past few days we've had rather strong westerly winds across the island which, as you can see from the rain radar graphic above, causes the development of pretty to look at albeit evil marshmallow-esque clouds of doom. With this in mind we've had all kinds of weather inclusive of rain, HEAVY rain, hail, thunder & lightening, some more rain and very strong winds - for the limitations of our aircraft at least. If it wasn't the above conditions then it was down to the freezing level for putting the nail in the coffin and if you're unsure of what the freezing level is, then it's the altitude in the atmosphere whereby the temperature is at +2°C or lower to which ice would form if flying in cloud. This figure varies daily dependent on the overall humidity and conditions but one thing that remains constant is the fact the good ol' Cessna C172 ceases to have anti-ice equipment installed. Thus, if we can avoid ice prior to flight we'd do so - hence cancellations. The vast majority of the resultant time off from cancellations and my day off were spent watching films, drinking coffee and eating out for lunch. The weather is showing some promise for Tuesday though with the return of Southwesterly winds and with that in mind I have my fingers crossed.
Whilst the weather wasn't quite as good as forecast, it looked much better compared with days prior and the cover photo of this blog post is a depiction of the outside conditions. It was cold, wet and rather windy given a crosswind straight across the runway of 20 knots. Nevertheless the days forecast was free of all mention of cumulonimbus clouds and the freezing level was up at 4-5,000ft as opposed to 3,000ft seen on Sunday. So, after booking a slot, filing a flight plan, pre-flighting the aircraft and touching base with my instructor, we set off for lesson "WM009 - GPS Holds & Approaches".
Lasting nearly two hours I felt like hitting my head against a wall after this flight out of pure frustration. My performance was just terrible. My instrument scan broke down very early on, I wasn't keeping up the pace of IFR and more often than not fell behind the aircraft and in IFR this is the LAST thing you want to do. With altitude deviation tolerances very small and traffic separated by as little as 1000ft vertically I had constant reminders to watch my altitude. What's more, I was often overcompensating for drift. I'll hold my hands up here and admit I was sloppy. It's always disappointing when you can hear the frustration in your instructors voice and I KNOW i can do better. Thankfully I've another shot in the next GPS lesson to improve things. With so much going on the core techniques just fly out the window. For example, when the tower says "Turn left heading 250" I'd fixate on immediately doing as I was told without even looking to see that I'd gained 200ft prior to even commencing the turn. Shoddy.. It really was. Another little thing is the use of the radio. I say this as radio calls in the Cessna IFR lessons can be quite long which makes remembering what they've said in order to read it back somewhat difficult all while trying to maintain straight and level flight in choppy air. Hey ho! Got to learn from it and move on. Next time will be better - I hope!
On a more positive note, flying above the clouds today was awesome! In previous flights we'd simply flown within the cloud but at one point today we were asked to climb up to 6,000ft to get out of the way of arriving traffic. Popping out the top of the cloud revealed a beautiful orange sky and for the first time I guess you could say I was "cloud surfing". It was at this point my instructor asked me to look at the wing strut out of the window. Ice had started to form on the leading edges thanks to our climb through cloud at/above the freezing level. My instructor commented by saying this wasn't so much a biggy but we'd need to keep an eye on it through any further moisture to ensure we don't run the risk of stalling. Eventually we requested a warmer level from air traffic control and descending out of harms way to which the ice then promptly melted.
I believe I've another lesson tomorrow but sadly the weather is yet again looking terrible. I'll hold out hope for conditions like this morning as I feel the best way to improve is to practice and large breaks in flying aren't always helpful in this regard; not that weather is L3's fault of course.
*Graced with blue skies as the day progressed*
After yesterday's disaster of a lesson I'm pleased to say that this morning's lesson brought a significant improvement in my technique. As my primary instructor needed to renew his instrument ratings - required in order to instruct - I was booked with a different instructor for this lesson. So I could bring him up to speed on my weaker areas I spent a bit of time chatting prior to our departure and I'm pleased that on completion of the lesson he had very little to say in the way of criticism. He was happy that my instrument scan was well developed, my radio calls were made when expected and that I remained alert at all phases of the arrival and approach. Phew, what a relief. Focusing on nailing the instrument scan today made me feel much more relaxed subsequently leading to fewer mistakes and a greater capacity to think ahead of the aircraft. What's more, with the conditions a little calmer than the day before we were thrown around a lot less too, which certainly helped.
I'm looking forward to my next flight so I once again refine my techniques as it still shocks me just how quickly things happen during IFR flight! I've only one lesson left in the Hamilton area before we start flying IFR to different airfields and conducting arrivals and approaches there which will certainly add an additional level of complexity. It's safe to say the learning curve is certainly steepening now! My next lesson has been booked with an off blocks time of 06.50 tomorrow - ergh, that's early - but the weather isn't looking too nice so I'm not hopeful we'll have a high enough freezing level for GPS flight. Mother Nature can be known to surprise you in nice ways too, so we'll have to see. :-)
Despite chucking it down overnight it would appear as though the weather wanted to play ball this morning. It was far from VFR conditions but as far as IFR was concerned there were no cumulonimbus clouds and a very high freezing level. Perfect! - It was looking as though I'd be able to go flying again today. Sadly, on arriving at the training centre and meeting my instructor he certainly didn't look up for it. If there's one thing I've heard from a few pilots flying the line for airlines, it's that you will only ever fly with a cold ONCE. The reason, as I learnt during the Human Performance ATPL topic, is due to pressure differences between the outside air and your sinuses. If the latter is blocked then the pressure can't equalise leading to a fair bit of discomfort during flight. As my instructor sounded all head-coldly and with no other instructors on shift able to take me I was cancelled. It was a shame; but nothing could be done about it really. But you watch... the weather tomorrow will be terrible. That, or I'll have a day off as my instructor has 4 days annual leave booked and there'll not be any instructors available to cover. Hey ho; I suppose that's a true insight into the frustrations of trainee pilots at least.
* Love a bit of cloud surfing *
My negativity yesterday was uncalled for as the weather today turned out to be lovely. Well... at least as far as IFR flying was concerned. Substantial low-level cloud development formed by the lifting morning fog provided my instructor and I with the above view. I've always enjoyed cloud surfing as a passenger but doing it as a pilot is even better and there's just something about that 180° perspective that provides the opportunity to lap up some really breathtaking sights. We could see Raglan to the West and Rotorua to the East and even my instructor said it'd been a while since he'd seen blanket cloud like this.
Taking off at 07.20am we climbed up to 6,000ft, completed a GPS approach and two VOR/DME approaches inclusive of a few hold laps. I was happy with my performance again today as my instrument scan was well developed only lapsing in one specific portion of the flight. My primary instructor was much happier and didn't have much to say at all both during and after the flight. You can usually tell you're flying well when your entire lesson is filled with chat about the most random topics as your instructor doesn't need to worry about correcting your mistakes. All in all, IFR flight is much more enjoyable than VFR and very rewarding when done correctly.
* Gloomy skies *
Landing shortly after 9am I head back to Clearways for some breakfast before popping into town with a coursemate while he arranged a repair/replacement out for his iPad. Later returning to Clearways it wasn't long before someone suggested we got out for the afternoon and so we took the trip to Raglan on the West coast. I've flown here more times than I can count over the course of the past six months but the last time I travelled here at ground level was my first week in the country. It was nice to pop back and lap up the peaceful surroundings of the coastline. If there's one thing you learn it's your new found appreciation for navigation / awareness of surroundings. When buzzing around at 4,000ft you rarely notice the roads hidden among the trees but instead find key features along the route. It feels kind of odd to then see those features up close as you drive by them, but having fallen asleep for part of the journey you're able to pinpoint your whereabouts relatively quickly.
Looking at the above photo you can see all of those magical cumulonimbus and towering cumulus clouds I talk of so frequently developing over the water. It's the west coast of New Zealand's moisture, convection and terrain that causes us trainee pilots grief. I joked with an Instagram post about how Hamilton would feel its' wrath later that evening and I wasn't far wrong what with the clouds reaching Clearways not long after we'd arrived home. Further, with such a gloomy outlook the Met Service here reckons this weekend's practically a write off as far as flying goes. With my instructor having four days of annual leave booked it looks as though I'm not doing anything this weekend anyway so at least there's no need to go in early to then only be cancelled. My next lesson should be Wednesday unless another is booked in with me on Monday or Tuesday. I'm looking forward to conducting an IFR flight enroute now as we head to either Rotorua or Tauranga. I've only 3 flights left in the Cessna now full stop before it's back to the Twinstar for the remainder of my training at L3. A harrowing thought is that my CPL skills test is now circa. 15 lessons away... EEEEK!! It's becoming very real now. As is the thought of going home. I can't believe I've been in this country now for 26 weeks; crazy. Just six and a bit to go - weather dependent.
Until next time,