* Waihi Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island *
In having the day off a group of us decided to take an outing to the east coast and paid a visit to the beautiful Waihi Beach. Having been through this neck of the woods before on our trips to both Karangahake Gorge and Hot Water Beach it was great to sit back and enjoy the views as we drove through winding mountainous terrain beside a snaking river. Just when you think you've seen it all, you turn a corner and see yet more beauty. This country continues to impress - and that's just the North Island. I'm actually gutted I haven't had the opportunity to visit the South Island yet as I hear it's even prettier down there. I'm not sure I will get the chance to either with the busy flying schedule and tight timeline between finishing and flying home.
My Auntie once told me - having visited New Zealand many years ago - that this'll be a place I leave part of my heart in. Having been here for going on seven months now I can't say I disagree. If one thing is certain I'll miss hopping in the car, driving for mile upon mile and seeing zero evidence of civilisation. I think that arriving home will come as a bit of shock as I'm reminded of just how packed in good ol' Blighty is. All being well it's now just 28 days to go until I can board the first of two Emirates' flights home. Exciting!
* Catching the sun's first rays on our sunrise departure from Hamilton - Photo: Jack Hayward *
Following day after day of being in the simulator it was finally time to return to the aircraft. Wahoo!! It's seemed like weeks since we'd flown the Twinstar and in fact, it had been! Five to be exact. It's such a great plane to fly and it's safe to say that my coursemate/backseat buddy Jack and I were very excited to be back at the controls. The first Twinstar flight of the syllabus was supposed to be a night flight but with our instructor working earlies it wasn't operationally possible so we flew the following lesson instead. The nature of this lesson was to practice flying the DME Arcs in the real aircraft. With our instructor a stickler for timing Jack and I were planned and sat in the aircraft ready to go bang on the commencement of sunrise, otherwise referred to as MCT (Morning Civil Twilight).
I was up first so prepped the Garmin, completed the various clearance calls and taxied to holding point Bravo One in preparation for departure. With there being some lingering low cloud and high speed winds this morning we were the first and pretty much only aircraft to go flying that side of midday. It was eerily quiet out and our very early wakeup was rewarded with perhaps one of the most stunning sunrises I've ever come to witness. I'm sure I'll see many more in my career but being up at 7,000ft gave us the chance to see the suns rays bend around terrain, reflect from the sea over near Raglan and illuminate the sky from dark as dark can be to a nice and cozy orange glow. It was simply breathtaking. Not even Jack's photo above does it justice! If only then, the word 'cozy' could be used to describe the environment inside the cabin of the DA42!! If any of you have ever flown one you'll know exactly what I mean, the Cabin Heat is practically non-existent. For the first hour of flight my instructor and I were sat in a short sleeve shirts having put our jumpers and coats in the back. What a mistake that was. Eventually the suns beams came to the rescue but yea, note to self.. flying the twinstar during MCT/ECT or night time then wear a coat. If that's one thing the Cessna is good at, it's cabin heating!
The structure of the lesson saw me take off via the standard instrument departure, or SID for short, before then turning left to fly on the 090° Radial (East from the airport and VOR) for a distance of 14 miles before turning around to join the DME Arc from the outside. I flew around the Arc and then came in for an approach. The second time around I flew out on the 270° Radial out to the east to 12 miles and joined the Arc from the inside. On this approach we held for practice before completing the missed approach. To finish up we switched to the loathed NDB navigational aid and flew another Arc to introduce ourselves to the presence of dip in the real aircraft.
That was that. Three approaches using the Arc filled the lesson time quite nicely and it was time to land, have a quick toilet break and switch over for Jack's turn. His lesson was identical to mine although this time I kept my coat on. You can't win though can you as on this particular flight it wasn't long before the sun made me want to take it off! It likes to play games this thing we call weather doesn't it! While Jack was focussing on the lesson up front I was soaking up the views above Hamilton. Until now we'd not really flown this high above the city / airport and the aircraft in the circuit beneath us looked like pinheads.
Our next lesson is a routes flight meaning we get to take a Twin somewhere such as Rotorua / Tauranga and practice some approaches there. Our instructor is as bored of those airports as both of us are though as you fly to them so many times during both Foundation and Cessna IFR flights. To spice things up a bit we're going to try and see if we can get an aircraft for the whole day tomorrow and it's quite likely it'll happen at this point as most of our CP are still finishing up with the simulator flights. Fingers crossed.
* Yours truly on the RNAV (GPS) approach into Gisborne Airport (NZGS) *
When today's schedule was released Jack and I were ecstatic to have been put back-to-back to then later be told that had been changed due to last minute maintenance. Thankfully though the operations teams were able to work their magic once the schedule was under their remit and liaised with another instructor about switching our slots with his. Success. The back-to-back flight was back on. Time to get planning!
Jack and spent the majority of the afternoon or evening discussing where we wanted to go and came up with a variety of route ideas. It took us for ages to come up with one and as a result I hadn't actually completed my planning until quite late that evening. The route we had planned was as follows:
On the face of it it may seem as though Jack would've been flying more than I was, but the route between Palmerston North and Wellington isn't that long in terms of distance and the leg from Palmerston to Hamilton is pretty much a straight line. This worked out well given my shortfall of hours.
On the morning of the flight our instructor asked that off blocks as close to sunrise as possible and as such Jack and I made an effort to be in the training centre bang on the opening time of 6am. With sunrise commencing at 6.30am that didn't allow us much time to complete the various tasks needed but working as a duo we managed to get them done and took off shortly after 7am. Once again we were the first flight from the school up that morning following soon after an Air New Zealand flight.
* A very windswept Jack at Palmerston North (NZPM) hopping in the front for his turn *
My departure from Hamilton went well although once again my engine failure after takeoff drill let me down a bit. I need to really focus on the drill for this as it'll cause me trouble in testing environments if i'm not careful. At one point on the departure I also set the Baro reference wrong on the altimeter. This meant the instruments reported the aircraft was lower than it actually was. It'll certainly not be a mistake I'll make again! My approach into Gisborne was relatively uneventful as far as flying was concerned although if you took the view into account it was honestly stunning. Thankfully Jack captured this on my GoPro as when flying the aircraft you don't really get the chance to soak up your surroundings in their entirety. Gisborne's approach takes you out over the sea before asking you to turn in for a five mile final of which takes you over the top of harbour mouth and beach. It certainly gives you an insight into what airline pilots must think every time they bring their jets into land at the Greek Island of Skiathos. So picturesque.
* Holding above Hamilton at 7,000ft *
After re-programming the GPS we continued on our journey to Palmerston North. Gisborne gave us a visual departure which messed things up for me a little as I'd become so used to doing everything by reference to instruments it took me a little while to adjust to visual references once again. Additionally, traffic separation was now my responsibility. It's kind of a weird having all of that support from the guys behind radar screens to then having nothing. I'll certainly never take a controller for granted- they do a lot. Once at sufficient altitude to continue IFR we were handed over to the next controller and proceeded as per the flight plan. We had a whacking great headwind of about 50 knots (57 mph) from that point onwards so when you consider the engines were working hard enough to propel us at 140 knots (161 mph), that was all of a sudden dropped to a speed over the ground of 90 knots (103 mph). It doesn't take much to realise that with a quick speed distance time calculation we'd be much slower arriving at our destination. In some ways this once again went in my favour in relation to my shortfall of hours and on arriving at Palmerston North was therefore able to log a total of 3.4 hours.
* Final approach into Hamilton with Clearways Accommodation clearly visible *
At Palmerston North we were directed to taxi past the airport terminal and park up on a random stand. It was quite a surreal really. When looking in through the floor to ceiling glass windows I could see children with their faces pressed against the glass as if they were saying "Look Daddy, a plane!". That child would almost certainly have been me many years ago and while it may sound odd me saying it, it gave me the goosebumps; but in a nice way; as a reminder of how far I've actually come in the past few years.
Having parked up and called Air BP to ask for refuelling we entered the terminal for a drink, bite to eat and a toilet break. I felt pretty worn out by this point as there was a lot going on in that flight. The arrival and approach was manic with thanks to our proximity to Wellington and the amount of traffic in the area meaning our approach was non-standard. After a recharge of the batteries we returned to pre-flight the aircraft and it was at this point we realised we were low on oil. We'd brought some with us but one engine appeared to be burning more than usual and just to be safe our instructor decided we'd head straight back to Hamilton. Sadly neither the Airport, Air BP or the local aeroclub had suitable oil. The latter even flew Twinstars but being petrol variants don't stock the grade we required. This was a shame really as Jack was really looking forward to having the opportunity to fly the ILS approach into Wellington. It Jack and our instructor a while to replan the route back as all of the airways required climbs above 10,000ft. From our Human Performance and Limitations days back in ground school this would've meant we'd eventually struggle to breathe. Thankfully we found a suitable route and were on our way.
All in all, despite the little blips here and there, this was a great day out. It was tiring but thoroughly enjoyable. Our instructor is going to try and secure another back-to-back booking for us on the weekend so Jack may get the opportunity to fly to Wellington yet after all. I've a couple of days off now but next up will be the Twinstar night flight. Exciting stuff!
* Friday's dusky sky during my night flight - Photo: Jack Hayward *
After a couple of days off doing nothing other than sleeping, drinking coffee or studying, I was booked in for a back-to-back night flight with my coursemate Jack. Our instructor had told us that he'd booked some overtime to help push us through the system and get our night flights out of the way - which was nice of him. Jack and I therefore head to the training centre for 6pm.
By law flights aren't considered "night" unless they are carried out between the hours of ECT and MCT where the sun is seen as being less than 6° above the horizon. But, by having longer days now and with ECT not until 19.55, the three of us would have been flying flying until midnight! Thankfully, it was discovered I didn't need as many night hours as Jack given I'd already logged some during another flight therefore meaning we could actually depart prior to ECT, complete both flights and be home at a more sane time.
* Yours truly climbing through cloud during dusk - Photo: Jack Hayward *
The aim and very existence of the Twinstar night flight within the syllabus is to show us just how poor the NDB navigational aid is during the dark. Due to something called "Night Effect", whereby atmospheric changes impact the accuracy of NDBs, the very act of tracking them using your instruments becomes a game of cat and mouse. In flying first I took the controls to fly the aircraft into the night. Heading up through clouds we were met by the jaw dropping dusky sky (as per photo at top of today's entry). Given it was still daytime-ish, the NDB was behaving itself initially before then deciding to wander. By the time it was Jack's turn to fly the NDB was having him fly down the final approach anywhere between 5° - 15° from the runway centreline. Of course, he couldn't see this until he was allowed to look up, but it did look strange from the backseat. I suppose this explains why the minimum descent altitude - the point a pilot must NOT descent below without the runway in sight - is generally higher on NDB approaches to account for these inherent errors. Regardless, he still brought us in for a great landing.
* Jack on final approach for Runway 18 left *
The further into night we flew the nicer it became. It was eerily quiet in fact and the wind died down until it was practically non-existent. When we set off at 19.15 there were plenty other trainees buzzing around in the circuit but as ECT approached these guys gradually landed one by one. Beyond ECT the only remaining flights included our aircraft, another of our coursemates, Fabian, who was completing the same lesson 1000 ft beneath us, arriving / departing Air New Zealand flights and the odd IndiGo cadet completing their night solos. By the time Jack hopped in Hamilton Tower had gone off watch meaning the airspace around the airport reverted to uncontrolled procedures. This meant that aircraft were to liaise between themselves about sequencing for landing and their intentions in the airspace. This also meant that IFR aircraft were now responsible for their own separation from other aircraft. Further, given we didn't finish our lessons until after 11pm even the controllers in Christchurch who control the IFR airspace above Hamilton went off watch! Our instructor said that that was the first time in his career at L3 where there was no controlled airspace active. If that wasn't an indication of how late it actually was then I don't know what was. Jack completed another missed approach, followed by a VOR/DME to ensure terrain clearance thanks to increased accuracy, before then coming in for landing just after 11pm.
* Final approach into Hamilton ft. illuminated winglet of the new livery and city lights *
During this lesson our instructor decided to keep us on our toes and threw in a engine failure after take off drills as well as engine failures on final approach. I'm pleased to say I handled them so much better this time. It felt really odd to do, but I slowed every thing down excessively. I felt like a sloth, but it's what he was looking for. I went over the drills the day before to help with this but also spoke to another coursemate who described his approach to it. He said to go *Action* - Pause 2 secs to check aircraft is flying level at 5° nose up - *Action* - Pause 2 secs to check aircraft is still flying level, still at 5° nose up and on track, *Action*, etc etc. That helped a lot. Where the failure on final was concerned I could only use one engine for the entirety of the approach and as such a significant amount of rudder was required to counteract any power changes. Equally, we naturally crabbed in for a landing where reducing power required rudder in the opposite sense to prevent excessive yaw and loss of control. I'm getting there with these procedures now and it'll be good to keep practicing them. I've since realised I'm not alone in engine failure actions though as even Jack was told to slow it down a little today which is reassuring and shows we're all human.
There you have it, week 29 - done. Three to to go. I'm really looking forward to going home now as while I love New Zealand, it'll be good to get home and see family, friends, the dogs and to just relax for a while before cracking on with the next phase in Bournemouth.