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Continuing from last week my sore throat and congested sinuses remained throughout the weekend but this wasn't stopping my progression with thanks to the weekend being my instructors natural days off. With that in mind I took the time to recover a little bit and bought myself some decongestant which cost me £16!! - Daylight Robbery or what!?!!? Pharmaceuticals are far from the commodity I'm used to back home. Similarly, a packet of 39p Paracetamol / Ibuprofen will set you back a around three quid here. It's the small things that make you realise that home isn't all that bad. Still a little while to go until I'm back there though. Thankfully I wasn't feeling sorry for myself the entire weekend and ventured out for a couple of drinks with some of the guys living in town which was a welcome break.
Monday.. again and it was back to the grind to complete that final CPL profile. Or so I thought. It turns out that scheduling had booked me onto an aircraft still in maintenance in the hope it'd be available in time for my flight. Sadly the guys in the hangar needed longer than planned and as such I was moved to another aircraft in the hope I'd still get the flight completed. The only downside to this was having a mere 45 minutes to complete all of the planning etc, but with the weather next to perfect I somewhat went into overdrive to pre-flight the aircraft and complete the planning. It wasn't until I got to the plane, took its' covers off, checked the avionics etc and started to top-up the oil that I stopped and had a thought to myself: Why am I rushing? What's the point? This is my final attempt at proving I'm CPL worthy. What am I doing? I should be calm, collected and give myself plenty of time and it's therefore stupid to be rushing to get into the air. I'll end up missing something from my planning and then the whole flight will just be one failure after the next. I returned inside and cancelled my flight. With any luck I'll be booked on a serviceable plane from the get go tomorrow!
Returning back to Clearways it wasn't long after getting changed into plain clothes and having lunch that our course got the call back into the training centre. One of the examiners wanted a chat with us and wished to repeat the CPL mass brief we'd had a week or so earlier. Of the tests the examiners had completed most recently they'd noticed a trend developing in the actions of each candidate and wished to highlight them to us as part of an informal chat. At the end of the day every party in this process wants a pass at the CPL. That includes the cadet, the school and of course the examiners too. I can't think of anything worse than being an examiner having to deliver bad news to a candidate and as such hugely appreciated them doing this! I took away quite a few pointers from this and will certainly incorporate them into my final profile and eventual CPL booking; whenever that may be.
I was rebooked in for my final profile on a serviceable aircraft this time - hoorah - and got to work planning everything. Just per the format of the last two flights I was to complete a navigation leg followed by various upper airwork items including stalls, engine shutdowns and inadvertent entry into cloud. Some circuits would also be thrown in the mix with some asymmetric flight too. My first nav leg went rather well and the departure from Hamilton was strong. I was fairly accurate with my track, heading and timing calculations for my diversion this time which made me happier too although I did forget to select ECF points which made it difficult to gauge if I truly was on track or on time. I'll have to make sure I do those next time.
As is often the case during the real CPL, my diversion took me through controlled airspace thus requiring I obtain clearance to fly through it. I'm pleased to say I found my diversion destination bang on time. We then completed some unusual attitudes, inadvertent entry.. all the usual stuff before then plotting my location on chart from a navigation aid. Stupidly I ended up taking 20° from the instrument reading to account for chart variation when I should have added it and my plotting was out by quite a margin as a result. My instructor allowed me another shot but I'm not sure I'd be so lucky during the CPL test.
The circuits at Tauranga were awful. My speeds were unstable and I often configured in the wrong place. The stalls were much better and earlier mistakes had certainly made sure I'd improved in this area. Sadly my steep turns left room for improvement. Coming back into Hamilton it took me a while to refresh myself on the procedure for entering the controlled airspace when the Northerly runway was in use but I got there eventually. The approach was good, compared with those in Tauranga, but the landing let me down.
In the debrief it was identified I'd have failed my CPL on my circuits / approaches / landing and my steep turns and that I might have just about got away with weaknesses in other areas. I've got some work to do it seems and my instructor suggested some remedial flights under performance protection before putting me up for the real deal. He'd much rather I work to improve in the weaker spots than go and get a fail in the test and therefore significantly hinder any chance of employment down the road. I must admit this is a bit gutting but i'd sooner have this time now to improve the likelihood of a first-time pass than need it to improve post-test.
Turning up to the training centre nice and early my instructor and I got to work briefing what we'd cover in the remedial lesson. It was to be an hour and a half in duration with us refreshing the circuit operation before heading out to the training area to recap steep turns. Taking off on time we flew around a few times in the circuit and I was making improvement with each time although it became clear I'd forgotten some of the basics like speeds at each point of the circuit but they did eventually come back to me. The issue is you spend so much time away from VFR operations during the IFR phase that small items just escape your head. I was feeling more and more positive with each lap and it helped to have my instructor there to provide those pointers on improving too. The main weak areas towards the end of the lesson was the power management in those last few moments of the approach and the roundout (flare). It doesn't help that runway 36 has a little bit of a drop / valley just prior to the threshold as you need to be quite responsive with the power levers. It's not often 36 is in use here really, and you have to ensure speed doesn't wash off too much, but I also improved this gradually. My ability to remain on the approach profile improved also.
On coming up to the 1 hour point my instructor decided there was no point leaving the circuit to conduct the steep turns as he felt I'd benefit from a few more laps around the circuit. He was very happy with my progress and said it just needs some final fine tuning and as such we came into land and he went away to request some additional circuits time the following day. I was a little bit frustrated I didn't get everything by the end of that allocated circuits session and this frustration mostly boils down to the fact I fear my training record looks bad due to an increased number of "X-Hours". An X-Hour is a sum of extra time above the standard course footprint and most of this total has come from that time I couldn't land the Cessna during my first few weeks here. Perhaps I shouldn't be concerned about that... but all you have on your mind - and you can't help this - is what way the airlines will see it. Will they throw me from the pile as I didn't get it first time? Or will they see it as a strength to have taken time to really grasp a concept? Only they hold the answer so who knows, but on an integrated course like this you can't help but wonder. I know I'm not the only one who thinks in that manor and while it's not a healthy mindset to have at times it's a massive investment I've made and I just want to get things right. I'm sure I will... in fact, I know I will, even if it has taken a little while longer. That end goal is always there floating in your head though like the devil on your shoulder at times.
In the most recent VFR flights I'd conducted I'd noticed common trends, such as issues with altitude maintenance etc cropping up. Who knows why as it was never a major problem during the IFR Routes flights I'd had earlier on in the syllabus. It may not sound that tricky to an outsider but the transition between two types of flight is an odd one. Being the determined person I am I took myself back to the days of foundation and re-read over all of the powerpoints and lesson plans for those first few lessons. Effects of Controls, Straight & Level, Climbing & Descending etc. The building blocks of flight. I wanted to refresh myself on the taught principles that cement in your mind in the way clutch control does in driving. Although in my case I'd started to forget the basics and was determined to top-up that knowledge tank. It wasn't long before phrases like "Attitude, Lookout, Attitude, Performance" and "Select, Hold, Trim" workflows slowly started coming back to me. "Ah..." I thought. "That's how we did it". I was going to consciously think about them again during my next remedial flight to see if this helped things.
Today's flight would be a repeat of the last and I set out certain to crack the circuits malarky. I took a different approach today and asked my instructor to demonstrate an approach. That way I was able to sit back and watch as opposed to my mind racing and thinking of ten million different things such as Is it clear?, Is my speed set correctly?, Is my attitude set for that speed?, Is the plane even trimmed?, Have I clearance to turn base?, Where's that aircraft gone I can't see it? etc, etc. Being an observer and removing the aforementioned draining thought processes allowed me to take mental note of what to do and when without having to do them. It went a long way to re-building the foundations and the subsequent circuits - to which I had control - were so so much better.
Unlike the day prior we progressed beyond the normal circuit with full flap configuration to a flapless setup. I felt much more comfortable with the aircraft today. It's crazy how being away from an assessed environment and back in the learning environment brings out the learning mindset and helps you to reset your stress levels. In truth I feel these remedial lessons are exactly what I needed. The reading I did on Straight & Level etc all helped here too as I found the Twinstar was much more stable in the air and I was able to trim it successfully. It would quite happily fly along at the current power setting at 1,200 feet and maintain it without any need for input from me. That in itself put a smile on my face. Progress. At last.
Good old human nature kept coming back to haunt me though with each loop of the circuit. I kept rounding out far too high as if I subconsciously thought I was going to hit the deck and die. This obviously wouldn't happen but I'm unable describe the process of hurtling towards the floor and then landing... It's an odd one. Apparently it affects so so many trainees so I'm glad i'm not alone. The issue with rounding out (flaring) too early is the aircraft loses all natural energy and thus practically stalls into the floor resulting in hard landings. Now in commercial aviation a hard landing, or positive landing as it is known, can be seen as a safe landing as you've got the aircraft down on the ground using as little a runway as possible. Safe.. so long as the correct technique is used and in my case I still had a bit of height to lose before the gear even took the forces. Probably 30ft or so i'd say. I got progressively better at this as the lesson went on though, I just have to consciously think "Don't flare yet, Don't flare yet, Keep going" and only pull back at the last possible moment. The Twinstar landing is soooo flat and the flare is practically non-existent which is why it really does feel as though you're flying right at the floor.
After a few more laps in the circuit we head out to the eastern training area to complete few steep turns. Continuing with the theme of the circuit I asked my instructor to demonstrate a turn in each direction. This helped me to see where the horizon must then visually intersect the dash / instruments. On each of my attempts I was then much better with the entry, turn, altitude maintenance and exit. Result. Progress. My instructor was much happier with how I'd got on and we head back towards Hamilton.
On flying back to Hamilton I asked to complete an asymmetric approach / circuit just so we'd covered off all of the bases you'd be tested on in the circuit environment. We joined Hamilton's circuit, completed a standard touch-and-go and then my instructor pulled power on one of the engines. My response to this was one of the best it had ever been. My instructor said "Good" with a very positive tone after I'd not only controlled it but done so in an expeditious manner. At 1200 feet we turned downwind, I'd simulated our engine failure pan-pan-pan call and we made an asymmetric circuit to land. Downwind was a little iffy as traffic was infront of me meaning I had to slow down without causing too much disruption to safe flight (altitude loss / further speed decay).
After landing I had a beaming smile on my face. I'd improved. I felt more comfortable with the aircraft and it seems as though it took those extra couple hours without significant pressure had really helped my case in that respect. The Twin is a delight to fly when you feel comfortable with it - something the timings of this integrated course don't necessarily allow. With my instructor seeing improvement to test standard he signed the "Ready for CPL" paperwork meaning my next event would be the big deal. The pressures on. Am I a pilot worthy of holding a commercial pilot licence? I guess we'll find out the answer to that in the coming days. Sadly, the sun looks to be hiding over the coming days meaning I'll now likely be delayed in that respect.
Late Thursday afternoon brought some further farewells as the first few of the group had all passed their CPLs and boarded the shuttle bus to the airport. These lucky few had managed to complete the syllabus bang on schedule and are returning home. Feelings of sadness and jealousy come to mind but i'll get there eventually. That leaves 6 of us to go although a few of those six have already completed their CPLs and simply need to have their final bits of admin signed off. Their flights will be in the next day or so i'm sure.
So today's the big day. The CPL. Booked in for an off-blocks time of 10am I got into the training centre around 7am, pre-flighted and made a start on the beginnings of the mass and balance paperwork and weather/NOTAM review to reduce my workload for when the examiner arrives. My examiner arrived into work shortly before 9am and gave me route. I was to fly North and then look to complete my circuits at Tauranga. I got to work planning this and was given 45 minutes to complete it. Bang on 45 minutes later the examiner popped his head into the planning room to ask me what my thoughts on the weather were. Given the synoptic chart above I was very weary of going. Visibility was only sitting at around 6km on the forecast and with 5km being the legal minimums all it would take is a slight reduction in flight for the legality of the operation to be questioned. Webcams at Tauranga were showing low cloud and the gliding club webcam near the ranges were showing blanket low cloud over there too. The route I'd been given was our best bet of completing the CPL test today but I still wasn't happy, given the high pressure was likely to subside and make way for RAIN RAIN RAIN. I took one last look out the windows, couldn't see the ranges in the distance and pulled the plug. I wasn't risking failing on a marginal day. The examiner then agreed and said "good" you went with my gut thought too.
I was giving myself a little pep talk building up to the examiners arrival to the training centre. I was keen to go. I wanted to get it out the way now. I felt ready.. kind of. But hey, why waste it on poor weather and go and fail for accidentally getting too close to cloud or terrain. There was no way I'd have been able to complete all parts of the exam today anyway.. especially the engine fire and shut down drills which require 3,000ft minimum. I'll now be rebooked for some other time in the week based on examiner availability. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
Given we'd cancelled the test and the examiner would only be sat around in the meantime we spent the two hours we'd otherwise have been flying going over theory related to performance, mass and balance, EU Law and other such areas. I have to say I learnt quite a bit in this as it recapped quite a lot of the EU specific laws we learnt about in Air Law / Operations and Performance way back during Ground School. You get somewhat used to flying around using NZ law during your time here that you have to wipe away the cobwebs and realise things are done slightly differently back home. We discussed the particulars of the route and he even gave his best tips on diversions and the route planning in general were very insightful. It's clear that they don't want to fail people. I was certainly thankful. I was told to go home and replan the same route such to propose it to the examiner I get next although such planning shouldn't preclude my "Commercial Pilot" mindset in dismissing the route for an alternate should the weather dictate an alternative that's more suited.
The remainder of my course bar one managed to complete their signout process this morning and secure themselves flights home this evening. CP149G's New Zealand presence is now well and truly down to two members. I'm looking forward to joining them all in the UK soon. If this weather improves, which is looking likely in the early part of next week, then both of us will be able to return home with no delays to our next phase of training. If that slides, it slides, but it'd be nice to continue as a cohort in Bournemouth on the 13th November. Fingers crossed. It's certainly strange walking past empty bedrooms once occupied by friends.
Until next time,