Cover Photo: Alex Sharples
With my instructor having four days of leave I was given the whole weekend off. Just as well really as the weather was far from ideal for IFR, especially considering I was to fly away from the Hamilton area and over mountainous terrain synonymous with convective cloud. I wasn't alone though and the majority of the flying program was either pushed back or cancelled over the weekend. The odd solo circuit flight went ahead but other than that; not much else. Whilst I've mentioned it before, September truly has wreaked havoc on the flying operation here. Thankfully it's not taken its' toll on IFR so much as there's only a couple of us in advanced phase right now, but all of the Integrated / MPL courses out here still within the foundation phase are all over the place! You've got trainees in later CPs catching up and overtaking CPs ahead of them simply as it comes down to chance with the weather. It could be perfect at 7am, but terrible by lunchtime; or awful all morning and amazing all afternoon. Recently though it's been pretty poor throughout the day. A couple of instructors- and recently the national Meteorology service- have said it's been the worst September in a long time. In fact, at the midpoint of the month New Zealand's North Island had already received more than its historical monthly average of rain and it's set to continue too! Mental. It comes down to the fact we've had a very warm winter/spring which causes significant cloud formation which just so happens to unleash on the Waikato region - right where we operate. It's a pity as you can see the joy in people's faces turn to pure frustration, both cadets and instructors alike, but particularly the former arriving from Ground School to then be cancelled for two weeks on end in some cases. "There's only so many times you can read the paper", one instructor said to us. Hey ho, all part of the fun I guess! *sarcasm*
To kill time over the weekend we paid a visit to the passenger terminal as we'd heard rumours it had quite a nice coffee shop overlooking the apron area (as per photo above). Given the only airline to operate out of Hamilton is Air New Zealand through its two subsidiaries Mount Cook and Air Nelson it was quite quiet. Both of the ATR aircraft on the apron had control locks and prop guards/locks in place which goes to show how quiet operations can be here. Back in the UK you'd seldom see a carriers' aircraft sat on the ground if they could help it so it was quite odd. With it being a Sunday though I think there were only 6 departures spaced throughout the day so that may explain it. Either way; with a Latte in hand and a view over the airfield we sat and watched as CTC cadets completed touch-and-goes in their circuits lessons. In typical September fashion, the crosswind soon picked up and it wasn't long before they landed for good. After a coffee we returned to Clearways and went for a walk around the neighbouring land. The site Clearways is built on belongs to a family at the very end of a long private road. One of the group reckoned his house is the one pictured above which is very nice indeed. Either way, it certainly makes a change to get out in the outdoors. Despite the rain, it killed boredom for an hour or so and with nothing around for a few miles it reminded me of the fields of Somerset to a degree. Not long until I'm back in the heart of the West Country again! Crazy.
Those frequent readers among you may remember that way back towards the start of the VFR Navigation phase I kept getting cancelled due to clouds over the Eastern ranges toward Rotorua and Tauranga. Well, todays' flight suffered the same fate as despite being IFR there were reports from airline pilots in the area that the clouds were giving out some nasty up/downdraughts which are all well and good in a larger aircraft, to a certain extent, but not the best in a little Cessna. With this in mind we took the decision to call it a day and instead spent the time going through the enroute charts, as pictured. The various markings each provide information pilots should take note of. In the rather hilly New Zealand perhaps the most important is the 'Minimum Safe Altitude'! In truth most of this stuff was covered in the ground school topic of Flight Planning as well as in later mass briefs on IFR flight, but it was still good to actually relate it to the New Zealand environment.
Lines on these charts are called 'Airways' and are each given a unique identifier. At several points along each airway you'll find waypoints / intersections at which aircraft can join another airway or continue navigation to their destination. I suppose you could compare an airway to a motorway for your car whereby I might join the M4 at Bristol via junction 19 before exiting at junction 11 for Reading. Regardless, the very existence of Airways increases capacity for traffic, ensures airlines / pilots all sing from the same hymn sheet and makes the job of air traffic controllers that much easier.
If an airline / pilot wishes to submit a flight plan between two airports then they can elect to use any airway they wish - within its' restrictions - but for frequently travelled routes "Standard Clearances" exist which allocate designators to a combination of airways / waypoints. Here's a list of some of the commonly flown training routes from Hamilton. You'll notice using a designator is significantly shorter than saying each airway / waypoint individually.
|NP (New Plymouth)||HNNP2||H479|
|RO (Rotorua)||HNRO2||MIKER H328 RO|
|TG (Tauranga)||HNTG1||OLDON H105 TG|
So, if I wish to fly IFR today from Hamilton to Rotorua I would elect to follow the HNRO2 route. I would by flying along airway H328 by joining at MIKER before later leaving the airway at Rotorua itself. Interesting stuff - or at least it is to me as it's a part of flying I'd not really appreciated prior to this training course. In case you're interested, a call to the controller responsible for clearance may look like this:
Charlie Tango Romeo
Hamilton Tower, Good Morning, Charlie-Tango-Romeo at CTC Base request clearance to Rotorua, Juliet, 1006, P.O.B. 2.
Charlie-Tango-Romeo, cleared to Rotorua via Hamilton-Rotorua-Two, BUDEN2 departure, Squawk 5650.
Charlie Tango Romeo
Cleared to Rotorua via Hamilton-Rotorua-Two, BUDEN2 departure, Squawk 5650.
Charlie-Tango-Romeo, read-back correct. Cleared for start-up, time now two-five. Contact me again when ready for taxi instructions.
Charlie Tango Romeo
Cleared for start-up, Charlie-Tango-Romeo.
The squawk code here is entered into the aircraft's transponder which is then picked up by ATC radar and displayed on controller screens. From this they can easily identify which route i'm following, which heading i'm flying etc etc. A final tidbit for this day's entry is the start time. Irrespective of the location of flight, the world of aviation runs on what's called 'Zulu' time. Zulu time is essentially Greenwich Meantime (GMT+0) all year round. Zulu time does not account for daylight savings etc and a flight taking off at 21:00 Zulu would be taking off at 09:00am New Zealand Standard Time. Standardising times in this manner goes a long way to removing the human factor and any associated errors which may occur by flying across borders. But.. back to my point; the tower confirming the time allows us as pilots to ensure that the aircraft clock and our own watches all match the same datum.
That's all I got up to today really. Nothing else exciting. Hopefully I'll get to fly tomorrow!!
The weather looked much better today and I could even see the blue sky we've been so deprived of. Despite that, the pessimist in me and forecasters alike seemed to believe the large convective activity would result in storms / TCUs / CB clouds throughout the afternoon. Nevertheless, in typical L3/CTC style us trainees head in to plan anyway but before doing so made a pit stop to the neighbouring Waikato Aeroclub. Compared to the other aero clubs I've visited during my time here, the Waikato has a lovely coffee shop and outdoor decking area which overlooking the two runways.
While I enjoyed my coffee and a couple others in the group indulged in fancy looking breakfasts, it suddenly clicked: Harry was to complete his first solo. We scrambled to find someone in the aeroclub who would be so kind as to lend us a hand held radio for a short while and quickly tuned into the tower frequency to listen out for him. Shortly after grabbing it we noticed a Katana taxiing over towards the control tower. This means one thing at CTC, your instructor is releasing you for your first solo and is hopping out to watch your attempt from the tower. We were cheering him on from the sidelines - despite the fact he'd never hear us - and watched as he went on to complete his first solo lap of the circuit. He sounded so happy after receiving his well done from by the air traffic controller and what a great start to the day! I remember my first solo as if it was yesterday and always will do. That elation. The buzz. The associated smile. The freedom. Nothing comes close. It gets you all fired up with happy emotions just thinking back to it. Fast-forwarding and I've now 125 hours and rapidly approach the CPL... eek! Either way, huge congrats to Harry and all those in his CP who went solo; you've had a lot of bad weather in your way and I think i'd have gone mad by now. It gets better from here though and if one thing's for sure I certainly miss the solo flying now that everything's dual again. :-(
On arriving at the training centre I met my instructor for the day and as my primary instructor was on leave I got the opportunity to fly with a different guy. He'd asked me to turn up an hour earlier so we could go through all of the planning and I'm so thankful for his help. We went through everything bit by bit and he explained exactly why we do what we do which provided additional insight into IFR flight. From the weather minima, to the route and even filing the flight plan I feel I've now a solid understanding for planning future IFR flights on my own. After submitting the flight plans etc the instructor explained the work to be done enroute. He then said he would fly the first leg in entirety to demonstrate everything before getting me to take over for the approach and flight back. As this flight was carried out quite late in the afternoon the leg back from Rotorua was during the sunset. Unfortunately I didn't get to stare at the view as I was under the training hood but later had the opportunity to conduct an approach and landing at night so that's another 0.3 night hours to log. I enjoyed this flight and am really looking forward to the next one. Annoyingly I realised that my hold technique is still letting me down so I'll be going home to scrub up on the entry techniques with the hope my next flight improves.
A crystal clear nighttime sky led to fog this morning akin to that back in Winter. Unlike the height of Winter though the wind was blowing fast enough to lift it and with an off blocks time of 10.15 there was plenty of time for it to clear prior to our departure. Cracking on with planning the route, briefing myself on the approaches and carrying out a pre-flight it was looking likely we'd be going. Imagine my surprise then to find my instructor coming over to cancel due fog and visibility. Being puzzled I questioned this decision to which he claimed the flight was booked on his roster to leave at 09.30 and given the weather outside it'd be unlikely we'd be legal to go. Stopping for a moment and trying to think whether i'd gone mad and misread my own schedule, I checked my emails. "Schedule Change" was the subject line I saw. Brilliant! Scheduling had pulled my flight forward for some random reason and hadn't thought to find me given I'd already checked in for it. Even if they had there'd have been next to no chance of me completing my planning on time. This was frustrating to say the least and what made this worse was that by 10.15 all of the fog had dissipated and all legal weather minimums could have been met too. Grrr. What waste of a flying day. Thankfully the trip to the training centre wasn't totally pointless as half of my group were about to start mass briefs on the next few navigation aids we're to fly with so I went in and sat in on those to tick it off the list.
There isn't too much I can say about today really. The weather wasn't good enough for VFR flight let alone IFR thanks to strong westerly winds bringing over a large amount of convective cloud. With a low cloudbase, low visibility, and thunderstorms with rain forecast we'd have been a bit silly to go flying. Back to Clearways I went to sit indoors avoiding the rain. Fun!
With a flight booked for late morning it was a nice surprise to be woken up by the general temperature in my bedroom well before my alarm had the chance to scream at me. This could have meant one thing and one thing only: the sun had come out to play. Hoorah for both those in advanced phase and also to those with nothing but cancellation after cancellation in foundation whom may finally get the chance to fly after days of poor weather! With barely any flights going ahead in September I couldn't recall the last time i'd seen the training centre as busy as it was today. In fact, barely any aircraft were sat on the ground either apart from those in maintenance getting the L3 rebrand treatment.
With the vast majority of my flight planning completed for the day prior the only thing to do was submit a new flight plan, take into account the new winds, check the NOTAMs and complete a pre-flight of the aircraft. With the weather causing a bit of a backlog in flights it was inevitable that some people would either be standby or not booked at all and as such I offered the backseat of my Cessna to one of the cadets in a CP a few behind me. The offer was snapped up.
* A snap of yours truly exiting the VOR Hold for an approach at Rotorua (Photo: Harry Newell) *
Today's flight was SPIC in nature which stands for "Student Pilot In Command". On a typical dual lesson / flight we're usually considered the trainee and as such log all of our hours as "Dual". However, in the instance of SPIC and as per the EASA training syllabus these flights are akin to solo in that we log the hours as solo single engine, or pilot in command multi-engine time. With this flight being IFR and in not possessing a valid instrument rating myself, my instructor and/or the school essentially countersigns to say that the lesson was conducted under supervision of a qualified commercial pilot with both instrument and flight instructor ratings. So, what did this actually mean for me? Well, everything.. literally everything to do with the flight was my choice. From the big to the small. I chose the route, planned for it, booked the slots with air traffic control, checked the weather along the route, ensured all the fuel etc was correct considering we had someone backseating etc. SPIC flights have time allocated for the trainee to brief their instructor on the contents of the flight too just so they're in the loop with everything. This isn't to say if you forget something in the air the instructor can't prompt you, but these flights are designed to have us acting in a "Pilot In Command" capacity in an instrument flight rules environment. It can give you quite a buzz when everything's done correctly.
* Clouds along our route from Tauranga to Rotorua (Photo: Harry Newell) *
My elected route would take us from Hamilton to Rotorua, via Tauranga. Due to the lack of a VOR at Tauranga the first leg of the flight would be flown using the GPS before then tracking to Rotorua on its VOR. Overhead the VOR we'd then enter the hold for two laps, brief the approach, carry out said approach and go 'missed' to simulate not being visual with the runway. From this point we'd track towards Hamilton via GPS. as if we'd elected it as our alternate, before carrying out a GPS arrival and subsequent GPS approach. All of this was to be completed inside a two hour booking. It ended up being 2.1 hours in the end as we had to dodge a bit of weather.
There were only a couple of negative points about this flight really. The first was the fact it took me so long to configure the Garmin for the GPS segments as despite it's ingenuity, it's certainly clunky at times. This will come with practice though. The second point would be my discipline with altitude as on a couple of occasions I almost broke the buffer on our assigned altitude by focussing on doing another action instead of aviating first and foremost. It's easy to read this and criticise me as a pilot, but learning to handle an aircraft and do other things at the same time can be a pain sometimes. With it being quite bumpy towards Tauranga it was to my relief my instructor said "Use the autopilot if you want to reduce your workload". I didn't need to be told twice and I can certainly see why airliners have them. They're a lifesaver and despite criticism of automation they can certainly fly an aircraft straight and level for prolonged periods way better than any human ever could. So... while the aircraft was busy with the repetitive task of holding altitude and the preset GPS route, I was busy fetching the ATIS for the airfield, making the next air traffic control calls and thinking about the type of hold entry that would be needing in Rotorua. It's not until you're in the IFR phase that you start to appreciate why your Boeing and Airbus require two-man crews. Splitting workloads wouldn't go amiss sometimes.
This flight was certainly the best IFR one I'd completed to date and my instructor later went on to say that given the route I'd chosen is an actual route used in the IFR progress tests, he'd seen nothing today that would be cause for a fail. That certainly made me feel more confident in my ability. You get out what you put in though so there's still a bit of self-study to do if I'm to keep on top of new navaids I'll be learning in the coming weeks. Today's landing was perfect too, which ended the lesson nicely.
* Stunning sunset over the Raglan shore *
* Yummy - toasted marshmallows. (Photo: George Webbon) *
* CP mix and match: CP149G, CP152, CP153, CP155, CP157 & CP158E (Photo: Will Robson) *
I hadn't long got back from the training centre before I was invited along for an evening at Raglan beach to watch the sunset, light a fire and enjoy toasted marshmallows. You'd think though wouldn't you, given we're to enter jobs that require prior preparation and forward thinking, that someone would brought matches / firelighters / something flammable with them. But nope, not us! That crucial component of a fire - the fuel - was missing. Two of the group came to the rescue though and head off to find a local store making it back just in time to watch the orange glow of Raglan's setting sun. It was a great end to a lovely day! It's not until you start to get to know people from other CPs that you realise you've not long left until you go home. The trainees from 152 onwards will be in New Zealand for Christmas and I've no doubt that'll feel odd for them as they enjoy a BBQ on the beach. I'll certainly have to Facetime them or something given I leave in a little over five weeks.
That's it for this week. A few cancellations here and there, but two really enjoyable flights all the same. I've got the weekend off now so the earliest I'll fly will be Monday and if that goes ahead it'll mark my final Cessna flight at L3 Airline Academy. They may be "sheds with wings" but would I have wanted to complete my single engine training in another aircraft? No, i don't think I would have. It'll soon be time to head back into the simulators to learn about other navigational aids, namely NDBs and ILS as well as DME arc approaches. Thinking further ahead than that i'll be jumping back into the Twinstar to commence the IFR multi-engine phase. It might sound like there's still a lot to be done but in reality it's a little under 15 lessons until I sit the big CPL flight test. I can't describe how scared that makes me.
Until next time,