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* Taking a photo during the cruise at 5,000ft *
Jack and I were hoping to backseat one another again today but for whatever reason this didn't workout on the schedule. Despite that though I still took the opportunity to backseat his flight as it sure beats sitting in my bedroom all day and even when you're not the one flying you can still learn things based on the input from the instructor. People normally develop minor habits so backseating often allows you to see these and work to remove from your own flying. Jack's flight took us to Rotorua and Tauranga. He practiced a couple of approaches as permissible within the time allocated to his lesson and then head back to Hamilton. It was a fairly standard IFR routes flight if i'm honest it's just a pity we couldn't go further afield like we last time.
As Jack's flight today put him one ahead of me, it'll be my time to fly tomorrow and we'll then be back at the same point again.
* Looking down at Rotorua airfield from within the VOR Hold *
As mentioned in the Saturday section above, today was my turn to fly. I ended up flying the same route Jack had. It gets dubbed as the triangle of death among many at the school due to the fact it's a route you fly so often you end up getting incredibly fed up of seeing the same airfields and following the exact same procedures over and over. I mean, I've only been to Rotorua and Tauranga a handful of times but I already get bored so I'd hate to think what it's like for the instructors. Nevertheless, having two controlled airfields in such close proximity affords us good practice so I guess that's why we do it.
This route is essentially broken down into three legs. The first being from Hamilton to Rotorua, the second from Rotorua to Tauranga and the third and final from Tauranga to Hamilton. Submitting three separate flight plans to Airways, New Zealand's Air Traffic Control service, and booking training slots lets both airspace and airport controllers know of our intentions. It also helps them manage the traffic within their remit.
I was incredibly happy with the first leg of the flight. The departure was flown without any issues, I maintained a strong scan of the instruments and prioritised tasks well. The VOR holds at Rotorua went without a hitch and I accounted for wind well too but sadly it was the final descent which threw me. I put the gear down far too early. The resulting drag saw my speed wash off significantly to the point my instructor passed a comment. I corrected for this but my entire second leg was then a bit of a disaster as I still felt flustered by my silly mistake.
* Gloomy skies, dense cloud and a very grey looking lake *
The distance of the second leg was only 26 miles and at a cruise speed of 140 knots (161 mph) in the Twinstar you're going to get there pretty darn quickly! It took about 15 minutes in fact. Now to some of you that may seem like plenty of time, but now factor in being asked to turn to various headings and climb / descend to various altitudes in order that you remain clear of faster traffic all while remaining straight and level in turbulent cloud and that's it, time's up. You're overhead your next destination. It was a bit of a disaster really and I was so grateful to have an extra set of hands on board in the form of my instructor. He noticed I'd reached my capacity at this point and took over the radios, configuring of the Garmin and other activities and simply let me fly the plane. Today was yet another demonstration as to why two men crew are a thing in the fast paced world of commercial flight. Looking back at that now it certainly had the potential to become a "Swiss-Cheese" moment. The fact I'd not had the opportunity to brief what I was doing meant I was doing it on the fly. We were also in cloud for the vast majority of the descent but thankfully weren't surrounded by too much terrain! It's certainly scary when you stop and think about what went wrong. If one thing's for sure it's that it reminds you how important it is to stay on the ball as while it's not such a major issue in the training environment, there's simply no excuse for it when you've 180 paying customers down the back. One vital lesson was learnt today, slow the aircraft down to slow cruise and inform ATC of such in your flight plan when you've only got a short distance between two significant points. In hindsight doing this would've given me a few more minutes to collect myself from my mishap on the approach into Rotorua, fly the requested headings and altitudes and then brief. It's mental how much difference a couple of minutes makes in such a fast-paced role.
The final leg back to Hamilton allowed me the chance to breathe and collect my thoughts. Given it was programmed as a GPS route and not something I was to fly manually by reference to a VOR or NDB navigation aid I could call upon the autopilot to take the reigns for a little while. My instructor and I were then able to chat through what went wrong, how to avoid it again and things to look out for next time. Even typing this now gives me a mini sort of flashback to how quick everything actually happened!
As if that all that had happened wasn't enough we then hit some rather rough turbulence crossing the ranges towards Hamilton. At one point lost almost 500 feet in a downdraught the feeling of which I can only describe as that of driving your car over a humpback bridge in the rural countryside! Thankfully our controller friends at Airways were able to re-route us away of the bad weather and permitted an early descent. Home was now in sight but it certainly wasn't the end of the road as my instructor - having felt I'd had enough time to reflect - pulled the power from one of my engines and say "Oh no.. engine failure". The rest of the flight was flown asymmetric.
Overall this flight provided a huge learning experience but you won't find me saying it was my favourite.
* Climbing above the clouds having departed Hamilton *
Feeling rather tired on Thursday evening I said to myself "wouldn't it be great to be plan in advance, get to bed early and reward myself with a lie-in? and so, I did just that. Roll on the morning then and oh how typical it is of the aviation industry that you receive a last minute NOTAM (Notice-To-AirMen) from the air traffic control services. Great... *rolls eyes* radar surveillance services have been taken offline for maintenance. Fantastic, I thought. I tell you what, one thing you learn very quickly is just how much this flying malarky loves to keep you on your toes! This outage meant we I couldn't complete IFR training at the most-frequented Rotorua or Tauranga - Darn!
With my prior-planning as good as having been thrown out of a window by this point, it was time to grab a coffee and head back to the drawing board for some last minute planning. It was a little rushed given my aircraft off blocks time was as little as an hour later and it felt like clutching at straws to find suitable routes unaffected by radar outages. Furthermore, given I'd not flown for the majority of the week there was no way I was now being cancelled for something outside of my control!
Like previous flights I was back-to-back with my coursemate Jack so we looked for airfields which would permit us to land and switch over halfway through. We found one but further digging made it look questionable. If it happened to be complexity alone we were concerned with then this could have been rectified rather easily with prior study of approach plates. However, the switch over point of choice was surrounded by high-terrain, had no air traffic control and was new to both of us plus our instructor. To top if all off, the NDB required for our approaches there was also out of service! A lot of flying comes down to threat management and on this occasion the holes of the swiss-cheese certainly had the potential to line-up. Therefore, with none of us fancying the risk we canned the idea.
* Turning to intercept the ILS Localiser for our descent into RNZAF Whenuapai *
After some further deliberation we came to the conclusion that there were no suitable routes permitting a quick switchover of pilot within the range of our individual 2 hour lessons. Thus, we both planned the same flight and flew it one after the other. The route today took us from Hamilton along the airways towards Auckland before heading back again. Given the incredibly dense operation at Auckland International we would understandably be refused entry there so we called ahead and requested permission from the Royal New Zealand Air Force's Whenuapai base on the Northern edge of the city instead. The one positive to flying here is it's one of only a few airfields in New Zealand to make use of the ILS (Instrument Landing System) I mentioned a few blogs posts back. It was good to be able to see what these are like in the real aircraft and I've no doubt I'll end up flying them considerably more in the Bournemouth stage of training and if not then, then I certainly will within my career.
* Cloud surfing *
A significant amount of todays' flight was spent in the cruise with a pilot's trusty best friend, the autopilot, doing a large chunk of the work. Of course pilot conducted cruise checks were still carried out at frequent intervals as per typical airline procedures, but for the most part we could simply sit and admire the view and boy, what a sight too. When we left Hamilton it might well have been a comfortable 16°C but it was far from smile inducing thanks to the vast overcast skies and a chilling wind. At 7,000ft it was a different story and a very peaceful one at that. I feel that both the above photo and the first photo of this Friday's entry show this really well. There's simply no nicer a feeling than ascending out of cloud to then be greeted by bright blue skies. Add to this the fact the Twinstar canopy acts as a fishbowl and it felt a heck of a lot warmer inside the aircraft than the reported 4°C outside air temperature. At certain points of the trip we had thick fluffy cloud layers beneath us and more of the same a thousand or so feet above us - a cloud sandwich if you like. Looking out over such a huge expanse of white makes you forget there's potentially thousands of people down on the ground working their nine to fives. I recall us even discussing how comfortable the clouds looked as if you could throw yourself on them and sleep for hours before then coming to the sudden realisation that they are, indeed, water vapour.
In total Jack and I spent about three and a bit hours above the clouds today. Flying in and out of Auckland's airspace was certainly different to the normal Rotorua / Tauranga route so in some ways the last minute change today was worthwhile. Adding a bit more excitement to a trainee pilots' day were a couple of A320's / B737's and Dash 8's zooming out and above cloud layers ahead as they departed Auckland. We felt like a mere dot to them by comparison. In fact, I'd be surprised if passengers aboard either would have been able to spot us! Jack in the back was able to find out where they were headed based on FlightRadar24 data and it was at this point that we learnt our little ol' Twinstar was showing up as we'd submitted IFR flight plans. I've used that website many times in the past, especially in my job at the airport, so it was kind of cool to know that an aircraft I was flying was showing up for all to see.
* Descending over Auckland on the ILS into RNZAF Whenuapai. Skyline obscured by rain showers. *
To conclude the days flying Jack brought us back to reality by descending us through the clouds into a now incredibly dreary Hamilton. It's crazy when you think about it that whilst you're up there at altitude buzzing around, the clouds beneath you are carrying weather from one part of the country to the other. The temperature on the ground had dropped quite a bit compared to when we left and it was now raining overhead the city. I can only describe how this feels as identical to the feeling you experience descending through the clouds back over rainy old Britain having just spent the week abroad in the sun. You know... that "Ergh, great. Back to this!" feeling. Fortunately for us though we weren't dressed like holidaymakers so didn't have to feel that horrid chill on stepping out of the aircraft.
All in all I was very pleased with my flight today. My instructor praised the way I handled the administrative side of the flight in respect of checklists at critical points in flight as well as radio calls into and out of all controlled airspace and aerodromes. My engine failure after takeoff drill left a bit to be desired and I'd say the same about my landing if I'm honest. Thankfully I'm booked in for my final IFR routes flight tomorrow and I've already planned to go and complete a few circuits at Rotorua to work on the latter. My second progress test is now only one flight away and my Emirates trip home only a few more after that! Isn't it odd how you only begin to feel homesick when home is so insight?!
Until next time,