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* Incredible views out over the East coast during our arrival into Rotorua *
Today marked the day of my roommate Will and I's final IFR Routes flights prior to our IFR Progress Test, known internally as PT2. Will happened to be booked in with my instructor today and he offered me the chance to backseat on the proviso I took some lovely footage on his GoPro. I said yes, of course!
His flight took us from Hamilton to Rotorua - that most frequented place - to carry out a series of holds and approaches before returning to Hamilton. It was pretty much just your standard routes flight so there's not much else I can say about the nitty gritty that I've not mentioned in prior blogs to be honest. What I can say, however, is the views were truly breathtaking. The weathers' been quite dreary recently so it was great to see mile after mile across a cloudless sky once again. On one side of the aircraft we had the coastline and on the other the once snowy mountains I had the pleasure of flying around in the height of winter. With Ski season now well and truly over the only snow remaining was that at the peaks. Now, I know i've moaned loads about the weather here but in the grand scheme of things on days like this, or on days you get the opportunity to fly ahead the ski resorts... what could be better?
Having landed back at Hamilton we had a short break to re-fuel the plane, pop to toilet and submit the next flight plans before it was then my turn to fly. As my instructor had already flown to Rotorua / Tauranga twice today I was asked to plan a route to New Plymouth, a coastal town/city to the south of Hamilton. Like all Twinstar flights I had to manage an engine failure after takeoff drill today and I was much happier with how that went. While it was on the slower side compared to previous flights, I handled the aircraft to prevent significant height loss and maintained the aircrafts trajectory over the ground in accordance with the departure procedure.
Just like Will's flight before mine the views continued to amaze and thanks to a rather long and straight leg to New Plymouth the autopilot provided me the opportunity to look out the window every so often. Sadly, in the few hours since Will took off the winds had picked up somewhat and cloud had formed over the hills blocking my gaze towards the various lakes or forests along their path. Nevertheless, cloud surfing was just as fun and I could see the peaks of mountains breaking through the clouds in the distance too. It's variety of landscape in New Zealand I'll miss the most when flying back home.
Generally speaking my instructor was happy with how I handled everything today. My radio calls and position reports were made as and when they should be given New Plymouth's lack of radar. I handled the asymmetric approach back into Hamilton fairly well and I'm pleased that I'm finally starting to get the hang of bringing this machine into land!! It turns out those rudder pedals have a heck of a lot more give in them than first seems but I still find it odd by design how it's so easy to apply the brakes when you actually want the rudder so in that sense I think I prefer the way the Cessna did things.
With Will and I having completed our final routes flights our next bookings will be our IFR progress test where we'll be assessed for the competence required to continue training in Bournemouth. We'll be required to fly using various navigation aids and conduct a combination of approaches. Fingers crossed those go well. As most of our instructors / examiners are off this weekend, these will likely happen early in the week.
* A great day out with a great bunch of people - Photo: Zak Wheatley *
Knowing in advance that most of us had the Sunday off we took a trip to Waihi Beach. I visited here not too long ago and even made a vlog about it, although this time we visited a different section of the coast and the weather was far more beach worthy. Given this weekend would be the last for one of the group, a couple of us were nursing sore heads having had a few farewell drinks the night before, but what a better way to cure them than the refreshing sea breeze!
* The view from Flat White Café, Waihi Beach - Photo: Flat White Café *
When it came to grabbing a bite to eat one of the group suggested a nice little coffee shop / restaurant going by the rather apt name of Flat White. As an eatery offset from the beach, Flat White had a lovely decking / garden area overlooking the sea. The main restaurant also had large sliding glass doors offering the same view. It was quite a relaxing environment and the prices weren't too bad either so if you ever happen to find yourself out this way then certainly pay them a visit!
* The Whakatane coastline was a place I'd yet to visit. Just beautiful. *
On receiving Monday's schedule I had another day off so took another backseat trip with Will for his IFR Progress Test (PT2). Given Will was being assessed on his flying here he was rather kind to allow me the chance to backseat in the first place. I'm not sure how I would've felt having somebody in the back, especially when they're a coursemate and have knowledge of the flying you're about to do! It'd be far too distracting. So, having double checked he was fine with it I made sure to keep quiet so that he could concentrate.
His route took him from Hamilton to a town/city on the coast called Whakatane. Neither Will or I had ever been here before so it was nice to go somewhere new. With that said though, Whakatane is outside of the remit of air traffic controllers and as such that added some new complexities. Will was now responsible for his own separation from other traffic, remaining clear of terrain and making radio calls to other aircraft in the area to report his intentions. On descending to Whakatane Will conducted a GPS approach for runway 27 before going "missed" and then returning to Hamilton via GPS. His final approach into Hamilton made use of the VOR.
All in all his flight went smoothly but given the fact uncontrolled IFR was new at this point his instructor stepped in to offering a lending hand on the radios while Will navigated the unfamiliar procedures both in and out of the airspace around Whakatane. Having climbed back into controlled airspace at around 8,000 feet a variety of manoeuvres, such as stalls and unusual attitude recoveries were carried out just to refamiliarize Will with them prior to our CPL profiles (mock CPLs) and they weren't assessed as a result. Just like all flights before it, Will also had to handle an engine failure after takeoff.
I'm pleased to report he passed the progress test. Backseating provided a great insight into PT2 and made me hope for as nice a route because using the GPS is a dream! I guess we'll find out in time shan't we!
* Bringing Charlie-Tango-Juliet into land - Photo: Tommy Fernández *
So today was the day, my go at PT2. A fair few of my course had their progress tests today and to make things all the more interesting there was a rather last minute outage of radar services in what we call the "Bay Sector". As the Bay Sector covers the airfields of Hamilton, Rotorua and Tauranga there were considerably less slots available for flights into and out of these airfields and as such we had to come up with alternate routes. I was given Hamilton to Whakatane via standard routes. I was also to track to Whakatane using the VOR and NDB as opposed to the GPS which meant there was a tad bit more for me to think about than simply following the GPS instructions. Standard Routes simply means I was unable to fly in one straight line between the two locations and had to instead fly the published air traffic routes between the two locations. My outbound leg therefore took us from Hamilton overhead Rotorua before making our turn towards Whakatane to ensure the flight duration was that in the syllabus.
On departure from Hamilton I handled my engine failure drill very well and I'd go as far as to say it was the best I'd completed one to date so I got off to a good start in that respect. The leg from Hamilton to Rotorua went without a hitch with all radio calls and checks being completed as required. It was the leg between Rotorua and Whakatane where things got interesting. Like Will, this was my first experience of uncontrolled IFR. Unlike Will however, I didn't have the GPS at my disposal and as such had to calculate my top of descent point to ensure arrival at the correct altitude prior to holding overhead Whakatane airfield. I'm not going to lie to you here, my brain went blank. Looking at it retrospectively, the calculation for top-of-descent is a relatively straightforward one but for whatever reason I sat there feeling incredibly stupid. Air traffic control eventually asked us where this point was and my instructor had to step in to tell them.
* Cloud Surfing Panorama - Photo: Tommy Fernández *
How could I not workout something so simple? - I thought to myself. In fact, I kept asking myself that question over and over even beyond the point of commencing descent. With everything going so well up until this point I was certainly a bit flustered. I've always been told by those close to me to put mistakes behind me and instead focus on the task at hand. Even instructors will tell you that, but what instructors will also make very clear is the fact you're flying a machine at 160 mph over the ground so there's no such thing as a "pause button". This little blip cost me awareness of the aircraft for a short time to the point I was now behind it. I also let things such as checklist discipline go out the window as I started to commence a descent without first checking the height of terrain below me. I'll admit I'd become so used to controllers using the term "Radar Terrain" - signifying they are the ones responsible for ensuring our safety over ground features - that I'd forgot uncontrolled airspace requires the pilot check the minimum altitude themselves. Arg, another mistake. I don't know what it was, but I kept making silly mistake after silly mistake. It took me a little bit of time to collect myself and get back in the game. Fortunately I had the hold at Whakatane which permit me to do this, but it wasn't a nice place to be in.
* Base leg for Whakatane Runway 27 (runway beneath the top right cloud) - Photo: Tommy Fernández *
After my touch and go at Whakatane we then climbed back into controlled airspace to return to Hamilton. During this leg, as per Will's flight, we conducted visual manoeuvres, such as unusual attitudes, stalling and then asymmetric. Due to the time I spent in the hold at Whakatane we weren't able to complete as much of these as the instructor would have liked; but thankfully they are not metrics for a pass or fail in PT2 and are merely there to prepare your mindset for the return to visual flight in your CPL profiles. My return to Hamilton was much better and required I joined the DME Arc to then hold before landing. Irritatingly, I hadn't taken into account the headwind at this point so turned out onto the arc at the usual point to then only find the wind had blown me further out. On rolling wings level we were then 13 miles away from Hamilton as opposed to 12 miles but thankfully this 1 mile difference is within the tolerances set by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority and thus not considered such an issue so long as I corrected for it.
* Blocking out the view with the hood & screen typical of IFR training - Photo: Tommy Fernández *
The strongest point of this flight were my landings really, I was much happier with them. On parking up and tieing the plane down I couldn't help but feel I'd failed that flight. I was adamant my performance was terrible. It was certainly a stressful experience! Having taken time to grab a drink and relax a bit it was time for a debrief. My instructor/examiner asked me to review my own performance first before providing comment and simply said "Well George.. What Happened?". He then rather sternly continued saying that while my flying skills are not lacking and my instrumental flying was to the standard of PT2, it appears to be the non-technical stuff that had let me down on this specific flight. He went on to say if I want to achieve my instrument rating on return to the UK then I've got some work cut out for me.
* Looking out towards the East during my approach into Hamilton - Photo: Tommy Fernández *
That didn't fill me with a huge deal of confidence initially, but he spent time with me going over the weak points he'd noted from the flight. There weren't as many as I'd initially thought in my head if I'm honest. He said that the top of descent thing was a problem and that my lack of checklist discipline another, but other areas I felt I'd been poor weren't even mentioned. We went on to discuss how in instrument flying pretty much everything can be planned and white boarded before you even takeoff. This was an interesting point really as I hadn't considered doing that before. For example, for the top of descent calculation I knew the distance of that leg and the speed I'd be flying and as such could've worked out the point I'd commence a descent prior to even leaving Hamilton. Small things such as this, he said, will go leaps and bounds to improving my instrument flying.
Phew, I'm somewhat relieved to have passed even if it did feel like it was by the skin of my teeth and it's now time to focus my attention on returning to visual flight ahead of my Commercial Pilots Licence Skills Test. If the weather stays as it has been then it's likely my coursemates and I will be taking this test at some point next week.
It's been a while since we've had a mass brief but today's was perhaps one of the most important we'll have in the entirety of our flight training, the pre-CPL brief. Planned to be to be 2 to 3 hours in duration this brief was led by a UK CAA / EASA approved flight examiner of whom could well assess a few of our flight tests. The mass brief was structured to take us through exactly what is expected of your typical CPL flight test right from your pre-flight planning all the way through to your in-flight exercises. We were provided clarity on the criteria for a first-time pass, partial-pass and/or fail and what must be attained to achieve the former. Looking around the room you could see it suddenly dawn on people that the CPL skills test, something we've each been working towards over the past seven months, is now a very real thing. It's quite nerve wracking to think we'll be sitting it at some point next week although thankfully we get the opportunity to fly three mock events first!
Once we'd covered the contents of the exam we then had a session recapping VFR navigation techniques. This was very helpful when you consider that navigation forms a significant portion of the flight test. Things are getting very real now, but i'm equally looking forward to getting it out of the way. The U.K. is calling...
I was supposed to have my first profile today but that later got switched to a standby booking as the instructor I had been assigned was double booked this afternoon. To make sure I was ready for the day after I was given the initial route we'd fly as it'd be likely we'll be off blocks quite early tomorrow. If I'm honest I'm slightly relieved this was cancelled as it provides me the opportunity to sit and read over procedures for certain parts of VFR flying to refresh myself. On the downside, the weather was perfect today and there were literally zero clouds in the sky. Here's hoping tomorrow is as nice.
Well.. well.. well, if there was ever going to be a flight that acts as a kick up the proverbial then this was it! I continued to make silly mistakes today and they're infuriating too as it's as if they're muscle memory and just naturally happen. For example on a typical approach one would deploy the flaps, however, an engine out scenario dictates you delay this until the last possible moment such to not hinder your ability to go around should you have to. Good ol' Botley though decided to put them out regardless! At times I knew I'd made a mistake the moment I made it and said "ARHHH" out loud.
Hey ho, mistakes such as this are the primary reason we carry out three mock CPL flights. They help to identify where each candidate would be likely to fail and if today were the real deal I'd have failed in a fair few places. Fortunately then I've still two profiles to go and I'm determined to not make these mistakes again. The most annoying mistake of all though is my altitude maintenance. It's a skill that just seems to have gone walkies so if anyone happens to find it laying around I'd appreciate it back!! I need to really focus on setting the attitude of the aircraft visually and trimming out the control forces required to stay level before carrying out other tasks. "Aviate" is the first and most important focus of flight well before the Navigate and the Communicate parts. The navigation leg today is a prime example. I was so busy with my head down trying to work out an ETA etc that my instructor had to point out an aircraft at our 2 o'clock, low, spraying crops. A lack of spatial awareness such as this is just not acceptable and I need to work harder!!
Due to my instructors days off I've fortunately got the whole weekend to get my head in the books and read up on my weak areas. Here's hoping my second profile, likely to be booked on Monday / Tuesday, will be much better. It's likely my real CPL flight will be in the latter of next week so i've got my work cut out before then.
For those interested the typical CPL flight includes the following assessed tasks, but not necessarily in this order:
Until next time,