Cover Photo: George Webbon
Part One - Final Cessna Flight
* ~1000ft above Hamilton on the TAYLA2 departure (Photo: George Webbon) *
Today marked my final single-engine flight with L3 Airline Academy and like the previous flight, it was also SPIC in nature. Having freedom to plan routes I prepared the paperwork the night before inclusive of a contingency route just in case of poor weather. The first route would be a round trip from Hamilton to New Plymouth and the second a route from Hamilton to Rotorua and Tauranga before finally back returning. I had also accounted for making approaches at each airfield so if the latter route was to be the preferred then it'd certainly make for a busy time in the air given the close proximity of Rotorua and Tauranga.
* Clearways Accommodation from above on our departure from runway 36R. (Photo: George Webbon) *
On the day of the flight there were several meteorological warnings, known as SIGMETs (Significant Meteorological Information), issued for the vast majority of the South Island and each of these had a trend northwards. The SIGMETs themselves referenced icing and moderate to severe turbulence below 6,000ft which is right where I needed to be. Despite being several miles away up in the North Island, it doesn't take much to put 2 and 2 together and realise flying southwards towards a band of weather moving northwards wasn't the best of ideas. When you consider New Plymouth was forecasting the poor conditions reach them at my expected time of arrival there, option two was the better choice of routes.
* Breaking through clouds to avoid the turbulence below (Photo: George Webbon) *
With it being quite windy today and solo circuits being cancelled as a result, I invited a member of another CP along to backseat. It wasn't the best of views for him given we were in cloud for the vast majority of the flight, but he still enjoyed himself nonetheless. Despite the cloud he still managed to take a couple of nice photos. Our route took us eastward with the wind having the same idea and as such we ended up getting to Rotorua quite quickly. The pace of the enroute portion of the flight (the section from the top of climb to the top of descent) made checks interesting to say the least. I managed the workload well though, which I was happy with.
Unfortunately, this flight wasn't without a hitch and having just entered the hold overhead Rotorua, my instructor noticed an odd electrical read out on the Garmin display. Consulting the QRH (Quick-Reference-Handbook) we came to conclusion the alternator wasn't working properly. Just in case you're not sure what this is, the alternator is responsible for converting the kinetic energy from the propeller shaft into the electricity required to power and charge onboard services. Thankfully the QRH informed us the read out was within limits to continue our flight but despite this we didn't fancy going further afield for it to then fail totally - given we needed the Garmin to navigate IFR. We therefore turned back.
* Looking back at runways 18L/36R and 18R/36L shortly after departure. (Photo: George Webbon) *
On the plus side, I'm now 1 1/2 hours short on SPIC time which our training coordinator has said can be made up on the Twinstar. This is great news as it means there's now the possibility of flying further afield. As my instructor has been allocated another trainee who just so happens to be one of my coursemates, we'll likely be able to back-to-back our SPIC lessons and have it such that I fly the first leg, he do the second and I do the third. In the past cadets on a couple of courses ahead of me had tried to make it to the South Island in this manner but weren't able to due to weather / the fact they'd run out of time. Will that be possible for us? - I guess we'll see when we get to it. How cool would that be though getting to take Twinstar down to the South for a bit.
Part Two - NDB Orientation Sim
Today's sim focussed on orientation and tracking when using a navigation aid called an NDB which stands for "Non-Directional Beacon". Unlike a VOR, which I wrote a post on about five weeks ago (where has that time gone!!?!?!) NDBs aren't able to provide you with your exact position in relation to them for a given track - hence the name. Instead the aircraft equipment can calculate your rough bearing to it and simply provide an arrow (known as a bearing pointer) to the direction of the signal. NDBs are somewhat useless on their own unless they're used with distance equipment too, which at Hamilton they are.
NDBs bring with them a few complications. For example, the beam from an NDB suffers from refraction over a coastline which means you'll fly over the coast and all of a sudden realise you're no longer tracking to the beacon but were instead x amount of degrees off. You therefore need to correct for that. Mountainous terrain can cause the beam to bend / reflect and if your aircraft is made of metal as opposed to composite then it'll also read slightly off for that too. Further, if you ever find yourself near a thunderstorm then you may as well discount an NDB altogether as it simply points at the direction of the storm itself. Oh the joys of antiquated tech!! Still... given the United Kingdom and other EASA states still make use of NDBs, it's a requirement we learn about them.
The vast majority of errors mentioned above can rectified in one way or another and as such the only one we really focus on in the lessons is an error i've not mentioned: dip. As NDB read outs are calculated entirely through the use of onboard antennae, the very act of turning will result in a reading a number of degrees off in the direction of said turn. For example, turning left would see the needle in a Twinstar point 15° off to the left. So, if I'm at a heading of 300° and turn left it'll spin around to 285° before then turn turning with your aircraft as normal. Therefore, to turn out onto a heading of 270° I would need to start rolling my wings level at 255° to account for the fact the reading is 15° out. Once you've the hang of this I'd say NDBs are fairly straightforward.
Next up is the ILS which is short for Instrument Landing System and to practice this I was asked to plan a flight from Hamilton to Auckland.
Unlike previous aids, an ILS is unable to provide enroute guidance and is instead technology focussed purely on the landing. By providing precise guidance in both the lateral and vertical planes, an ILS is certainly something which commercial pilots must not be shy to. In fact, it's installed at most major airports around the world and is far from being new technology what with the first airline operation landing with an ILS in the 60s. How exactly do they work I hear you ask? Well, I won't bore you with all of the complexities as ultimately it can be explained rather simply. Take a look at the graphic below...
You'll notice two drawings with the top being the lateral sense referred to as the "Localizer" (centreline tracking) and the bottom the vertical sense referred to as the "Glideslope" (descent profile tracking). From both of these you'll see two different coloured segments and a dashed line straight down the centre. The coloured segments represent the beams broadcast out to aircraft to which it can then detect how much of each segment it is receiving and thereby deduce if you are left/right of centreline or high/low on the descent profile. Once an aircraft systems knows this it can output what we call "command instruments" onto your display, as below...
On the top right you'll notice a glideslope indication with a green diamond centralised. This means the pilot is flying the aircraft to the required glideslope and holding the correct pitch attitude, speed and rate of descent and will fly the aircraft perfectly down the approach. Towards the bottom of the graphic you'll notice the Horizontal Situational Indicator (or compass rose in non pilot speak) with a green arrow head which points to the runway. Beneath the little plane icon is a smaller green bar which is split from the top and bottom end of the arrow which in itself will move left and right with deviations from the centreline. Should the glideslope diamond move upwards it means the pilot must raise the nose attitude to decrease the descent or he will end up too low. If the localiser bar moves left, the pilot must bank left to regain centreline. The opposite sense are also true.
Seems straight forward enough, huh! - Well, you'd think that but it's all about how quickly you centralise each of these command instruments and how well you maintain them as there are certain tolerances which must be met all the way down the approach. If you go outside of these then you're considered unstable and must initiate a "missed approach" which will seem like a normal go-around to passengers down the back. The closer to the airfield you get the more sensitive the readouts too and you can easily make too large a correction if you're not careful. Despite this, it's hugely rewarding when you can get the ILS approach right and come out bang on top of the runway. Safe to say my first wasn't the greatest but I did improve in the second.
ILS systems and crew who fly them are certified to certain standards. The major difference with each standard is the decision height and minimum visibility outside the windows. For example, as a trainee pilots we pretty much fly a category 1, the most limiting. At Auckland this means we can fly down the ILS to a decision height of roughly 230 ft whereby we must then be able to see roughly 550 metres of runway ahead of us or fly the missed approach. These categories gradually decrease in legal minimums and permit greater descent by instruments with the highest category being Category 3. In said category the runway visibility can be as little as 46 metres with a decision height of only 50 ft above the ground. Of course, higher categories of ILS require incredibly accurate technology both on the ground and in the aircraft and as a pilot both you and the airline you work for must be certified to fly them.
With the accuracies afforded by Category 3 ILS coupled with other equipment and systems in the aircraft, it then becomes possible to program an autopilot to fly this type of approach automatically. Known as Autoland, your autopilot would establish itself on the ILS, descend via the glideslope, automatically initiate a flare, bring the nose down onto the runway, activate the ground spoilers to kill lift, engage brakes and finally disconnect to hand back control to the pilots. It wouldn't be possible to operate commercial flights to the volume we do today without such technology and, if anything, a computer can do this with much more precision than any human - especially in dense fog. As you'd imagine though, Autoland requires a crazy amount of redundancies in case anything were to go wrong and can always be overridden by a pilot at anytime.
If you didn't already know about ILS and how pilots can land in such low visibility then hopefully you've learnt something new! Here's a video from Youtube which demonstrates just how little you can see and just how impressive Autoland is. Man made technology is just incredible and it's exciting I'll one day be at the controls.
P.S. In case you're wondering, the use of the word "Retard" in this video stems from the verb of the same name. i.e. "To reduce / To put out" and reminds pilots to reduce thrust to IDLE and thus disconnect the autothrottle from controlling engine thrust.
Having already covered the foundation of asymmetric flight during the Twinstar class rating about six weeks ago, it was now time to take a look at asymmetric flight when in instrument meteorological conditions. In other words, handling the loss of an engine in cloud during your initial ascent , with no sight of the ground and no awareness of nearby terrain. This is a particularly dangerous situation at airfields which require steep climb gradients in order to remain clear of obstacles as, dependent on the outside conditions on the day, the loss of an engine may well eliminate any chance of meeting said clearance.
The beauty of engine failures in a Twinstar simulator versus the real deal however, is that you actually get to carry out the actions in the checklist (as above) in their entirety. A hiccup in the sim won't cost you your life therefore allowing us trainees to learn from our mistakes. A true takeaway from today's lesson was that I realised just how much time you actually have to carry out this checklist of "memory items" before it negatively impacts the aircraft. Despite the severity of the situation, there's no need to panic and subsequently rush.
The structure of this lesson was rather simple. Take off, experience an engine failure at 500ft, be walked through the pace at which you can safely carry out the checklist, secure the aircraft and then repeat it over and over again on infinitum until the lesson was over. My instructor would fail the engine at different points of the departure to keep me on my toes too. At some points it would fail during my initial mock-call to controllers catching me off guard. For the penultimate failure I was asked to actually track back to the VOR and commence an approach for landing to get used to the power settings required when flying on only one engine. To finish things off my engine failed prior to even entering cloud and as such I had to treat it as though it was a failure in visual meteorological conditions, flying with the use of outside references. Transitioning from IFR back to VFR - and in a simulator I might add - felt a bit odd. Even more so in a fixed-base simulator where the display was moving yet you were not. I made a silly mistake by focussing too much on the outside than on the speed of the aircraft and as such allowed it to go below the minimum control speed. The result - an unrecoverable crash. Lesson learnt there! My instructor had me try that one again and I went on to make a safe circuit to land.
All round it was a good sim session. Only two more to go until it's back in the real machine for the home stretch to our IFR progress tests, PT2.
* Looking back at Hamilton Airport, turning away from the Instrument Departure *
My simulator session today is to cover what's called a DME Arc. Imagine whacking a pole in to the middle of a field, attaching a bit of string to said pole, walking out to 12 metres and then around in a half-circle. That is, by definition, an arc. DME Arc's are no different to this really except they're virtually drawn out in the sky through reference to a VOR or NDB for directional aid and a DME for distance. For example, at Hamilton the VOR/DME Arc for Runway 18 is established 12 miles, or 12 DME, from the Hamilton VOR to the South of the field. So.. how do we use these? Well; we track around them as part of our approach. Up until now we've simply flown directly overhead the VOR, tracked beyond it to 9 miles, or 7 in the case of the chart graphic below, before then turning back into towards the Runway - known as a reversal procedure. By comparison, the DME Arc style approach is often much quicker to fly as you can join it 12 miles away, fly around the Arc for a bit and turn straight in for the final approach. Makes much more sense when you think about it. See below.
As you can see, the Arc is clearly visible on the plate. If we were to fly from the bottom of the plate towards Hamilton, you could see it would make much more sense to fly around that Arc and then in for an approach than fly all the way overhead the airfield, fly beyond the airfield for 7 miles and then fly back again. Arcs not only saves time, they saves fuel and can make spacing out aircraft much easier for air traffic controllers. With my simulator not booked until well into the afternoon, I took my coursemate Ian up on his offer to backseat his DME Arc lesson in the actual aircraft. It was very helpful to get an insight into how to fly the Arc prior to my sim. Not only that, it was great to be back in the Twinstar and enjoy the view without faffing with procedures up the front.
Between Ian's bright and early flight and my late afternoon simulator I spent the time reading over some IFR legal documentation in preparation for PT2. Taking my laptop to the Aeroclub coffee shop, sitting and watching out at the various aircraft movements in the sunshine - yep, you read that right, SUNSHINE, made for a rather chilled afternoon of studying. I got roughly half way through the paperwork I was reading, but didn't feel trapped by my bedroom. It was nice to just ponder my thoughts and be away from the madness of a training environment for a few hours. It's times like that you somewhat miss the independence having your own car provides, as today was the first time in ages I'd had use of our car to myself without needing to race back for somebody else.
All in all my sim went well. Backseating definitely helped and my instructor only needed to clarify areas I was unsure of. A common trend is developing in IFR and that's that all of these charts, plates and procedures seem so very complicated until you learn to interpret them. After that, I suppose, they're not really that much different to anything else you've ever done. Only one more sim to go now and that's at the bright and early time of 6am!
I've had a few early starts this week and today was no exception as I was booked to start in the sim at the early time of 6am. The focus of the sim this morning was another enroute flight, similar to those conducted in the Cessna but with a particular focus on the differences between aircraft types. The major difference between the Cessna and Twinstar is it's cruising speed with the Twinstar a whole additional 35 knots (40 mph) faster. That means I'll travel 2.3 miles over the ground every minute as opposed to 1.75 miles. Just looking at those figures you can conclude that procedures inside the cockpit will occur much sooner and with smaller amounts of time between them.
The sim was two hours in length and I therefore planned to fly up to Auckland, fly the ILS approach to get some more practice in, conduct a touch-and-go and then head back to Hamilton for a GPS arrival and approach. Overall my instructor was happy that I managed the workload well; had "strong checklist discipline" and showed no signs of struggling despite the faster speed.
To make this flight a little bit more interesting the syllabus requests the instructors chuck in the odd engine / system failure to keep us on our toes and as such I had to handle an engine failure on takeoff and a later engine failure on final approach. For the first failure my instructor made it such that the aircraft could not maintain the required climb gradient. In spotting this I planned actions appropriate to the event. My instructor was happy I'd picked up on this and as such removed the failure on the engine and asked me to continue on as normal. In the case of the second failure my actions weren't quite as strong. I lost the engine below what we call 'Asymmetric Committal Altitude'. This is the point on an approach where should our gear and flaps be in the landing configuration and we experience an engine failure we continue to land regardless. I knew this; and made the decision to continue to land but my instructor threw me off by saying "Charlie-Tango-Hotel, Go-Around". I complied - stupidly - and was told I'd have gone and failed an instrument assessment if it were the real deal. It was this call from the tower that threw me as the aircraft was safely under control the whole time. I've since learnt that the response is "Unable" and you're to land and come to a stop irrespective of the intentions of air traffic control and/or the location of aircraft on the ground. It is much safer to do when you're so close to safety than attempt another loop and run the risk of losing control, not attaining climb performance or losing another engine. You live and learn though eh, and I'm glad I made this mistake in the sim and not in the up and coming IFR progress test / CPL.
Apart from that the sim was relatively uneventful. My interception of the ILS localizer could have been better, but I will hopefully get the chance to practice this in one of the upcoming Twinstar flights should Auckland tower be so kind to allow a piddly little Twinstar into its airspace in between larger jet operations. We're usually restricted to ILS approaches after 8pm for that specific reason!
Well; what a busy week! In total I've completed six training events to which I've omitted one due to it being practically identical to the first NDB sim. Thankfully it's the end of the week and I can't tell you how excited I am for a lie-in tomorrow! My instructor was trying to get us a Twinstar booking this evening but wasn't able to; although I'm glad we didn't go as I'd not have been fit for it mentally. There's certainly been lots to take in and process over the last five days and my head would have hurt no doubt! I'm back in the real deal next week and as my instructor has gained one of my coursemates as an additional trainee we can try and back to back our flights. This means we can both get a chance to observe and then fly each lesson which is good. I found out this week that observation of a lesson can help as much as flying it so that will contribute to my learning quite a bit.
Until next week,