All in-flight photographs - where not stock photography - were taken in accordance with the L3-CTS Operations Manual. Consent to publish them was sought from L3 Airline Academy's communications team. All flights were dual, I was not the pilot flying at the time and the instructor gave his/her permission.
If ground school taught me anything it was that practice makes perfect and with that in mind I remained determined to improve. However, failing once again meant I needed to follow the official training review procedure and attend a further meeting. Fairly similar to the last, if not identical, I was praised for the improvement in my overall circuit flying but given some more pointers on improving my landings. It was agreed that there wasn't really much I could do to improve at home as landing is very much a motor-skill.
With my meeting at 3pm on a Saturday and with scheduling unable to book additional training without it being completed, I missed the opportunity to grab an aircraft for the next days flying. With many of my peers now so busy they crave the time off, I'm still the opposite and wish I could get up and keep trying. Nevertheless, I did discover a great Netflix series or two and stuck my teeth in for most of Sunday.
Lesson Eleven (Refly #3) - 08/05/2017 - CANCELLED
Sigh - Another flight cancelled. Instructor sickness this time. This lowered my spirits as I was so keen to leap over the darn hurdle. Even so, there's wasn't a great deal I could do for sickness except keep everything crossed she'd feel better by tomorrow.
Lesson Eleven (Refly #3) - 06/05/2017 - FAILED (WITH EVEN MORE IMPROVEMENT)
With my instructor feeling better and with the weather remaining fairly calm I took the skies to keep chipping away at this massive hurdle in front of me. As you'd expect of a very busy training environment, and no longer new to me, the circuit was full of aircraft. What's more, CTC/L3-CTS had so many things going on today that they even made use of air traffic control slots typically reserved for the neighbouring Waikato Aviation aeroclub. Manic. With the skies so busy, it remained imperative that aircraft were kept well separated from each other and thankfully, unlike a typical aeroclub environment, Hamilton airport is overseen by its' own controllers. Whilst the packed airspace meant I needed to fly a few orbits (360º circles in the sky) or extend the downwind leg to avoid turbulence caused by inbound passengers flights, everything ran smoothly. However, when you move away from the bigger picture and zoom back in on little ol' George Botley you could perhaps see how this was a bit of a nuisance. At this point all I wanted to get out of the lesson was landing after landing after landing but sadly every spacing instruction ate into my time in the air. I only got 6/7 landings in when my instructor was hoping to achieve closer to 10/11. Despite all of this though my technique was improving and whilst still far from being safe enough to go it alone I could see it heading in the right direction.
Without being big headed about it, my first landing was perfect - at least compared to those in prior lessons. The circuit and approach was the best bit of flying I'd done to date. The aircraft was holding the right speed, was in trim and was a joy to fly. I even performed a half-decent touchdown. Sadly, it was all peaks and troughs from that point onwards. I found that if I made a mistake I often way over-corrected for it on my next try thus causing another issue. I.e. hard-landing / balloon / hard-landing / balloon and so on. With this being the case I again failed. My instructor wrote:
You did make good progress on your landings today, but practice is still needed to reach solo standard. The overall trend is you try to land by flaring too high too soon, or not flaring enough. I think this stems from having difficulty judging your height above the runway. You are so focused on looking at the end of the runway, you don't notice the aircrafts height in your peripheral vision. Don't be afraid of the ground on final. You also appear to be putting a lot of pressure on yourself and I feel that removing this will help you relax!
Any guesses what came next? Yep... another meeting. :-(
Having failed a number of times now - even with additional training - it's only right that the school began to question my ability. In moving further into the Performance Protection process, I had to attend a meeting with the Head of Training (HoT). I was rather nervous and thought this was the end of the road. Thankfully, that was not the outcome. The meeting allowed the HoT the opportunity to identify where things are going wrong and assess my determination for the end-goal. Whilst it was of a more serious nature compared to the meetings before, it did help to remove the pressure I was putting myself under. I was told to relax a little bit and remember that both parties are here for the same reason - making me an airline pilot. The meeting concluded with an allowance for an additional 1.5 hour lesson on circuits to nail the techniques, followed by a refly of circuits three and the solo check with the aim of sending me solo by the end of the weekend - weather permitting of course.
Following my meeting with the HoT, the next few days of aircraft allocations were discussed with scheduling and I was able to secure an aircraft for the following day. Unfortunately it wasn't possible to keep the same instructor due to annual leave bookings so I was booked with the coordinator of EASA training. In a way I was pleased with this allocation as he had been the individual I'd met with each time prior to the HoT review and thus had a solid understanding of my weaker points. With a slot of 09.30am I turned up to the airport at 7am for my pre-flight planning and walkaround yet the weather was far from pleasant. With very low cloud and rain it wasn't looking likely I'd go, but the instructor and I took our chances and it turned into quite an enjoyable flight.
I flew the first circuit with the instructor taking over the landing and asking me to follow through with the controls. I was then given back control on the runway for the takeoff, flew the circuit again and this time had the instructor follow me through on landing. The first attempt was rather firm but out of nowhere I suddenly grasped the entire concept of landings. I'd watched so many Youtube videos on landings and had spoken with a couple of pilots that perhaps it finally made sense. I simply flew the plane towards the aiming point until the runway started to look flat as opposed to distant and commenced the flare. Each time we went around I improved some more until the instructor no longer needed to prompt me. His style of instruction also helped as he sat there - at my request - and allowed me to make some mistakes for myself. Instead of saying 'pull back, pull back' he let me balloon so I could learn exactly what caused it and how I could avoid it next time. This helped me greatly. To make this lesson even more fun I had a passing front of weather overhead which made for gusting winds. I can certainly see why Boeing / Yoke pilots enjoy fighting the wind on approach!
Lesson Eleven (Refly #4) - 12/05/2017 - CANCELLED (WEATHER)
It's been raining quite heavily here right from touchdown yesterday right until this evening. In addition to this was a strong gusting wind and as such it was decided that we'd cancel the flight. My instructor said he didn't want anything to hinder my chances of performing to the best of my ability. We did have a discussion about the weather as it was clearing up, but whilst calmer on the ground, the winds at altitude would have made my life harder.
Lesson Eleven (Refly #4) - 13/05/2017
What an incredible day weather wise, I couldn't have asked for better! Don't let looks deceive you though as whilst clear blue skies prevailed it was far from the warm mornings I'd become accustomed to with the temperature sitting at a toasty 4°C. It's the first time since my arrival here that i've needed to wear both my jumper and coat reminding me of the weather back home. Despite this, it was still a sunglasses kind of day.
Turning up to the training centre at 8am, completing the mass and balance & performance calculations plus the walkaround I was raring to go and with such clear skies and 40km visibility the views were truly stunning. In flight my instructor recapped the procedures for engine failure after takeoff and glide approaches to ensure they were still fresh in my mind before allowing me to perfect those final few seconds of landing. Being the weekend the circuit was considerably quieter which resulted in a greater number of approaches and landings. At one point my instructor said:
Have you noticed something? -- Finally grasping landing has helped you to relax and in relaxing your flying is much smoother. This means everything else is slotting nicely into place and your overall approach and landings are stable and most importantly, safe. Keep it up. Let's see if we can get a few more of those!
This made me smile as it helped me appreciate just how much I had improved over the past couple of flights. Continuing in the circuit I made two more approaches and landings before my instructor said he'd take over the radio for the next bit. On the downwind leg he said to the tower:
Charlie-Tango-Quebec downwind 18, request 18 left full stop, flight incomplete student to go first-solo.
I can still see the grin on my face at this point as if I was to have been looking in the mirror. The realisation that I'd finally met the solo standard had sunk in and a HUGE weight was lifted from my shoulders. Taking over shortly after landing my instructor taxied the aircraft to a point he could safely hop out. After a final safety brief he said good luck and told me that he'd be listening out on the handheld radio. I was buzzing.
Full of goosebumps/adrenaline I restarted the aircraft and made my way to the runway holding point. The first solo flight consisted of one take-off, one loop around the circuit and one full stop landing before then taxiing back to the apron at CTC/L3-CTS. Being 80kg lighter the performance of the aircraft was certainly different and it climbed to circuit altitude like a rocket! With barely any traffic in the airspace the circuit was only nine minutes in duration, but it's safe to say that the grin I mentioned earlier stuck with me throughout and on landing the air traffic controller said:
Charlie-Tango-Quebec, vacate at echo cross 18 right, taxi CTC. Congratulations buddy!
I replied with the most excited thank you possible before then making my way back to CTC as I had done in lessons previous. Stopping at the parking area my instructor opened the door extended a handshake and congratulated me once more. It had all gone so well... that was, until I decided to climb out of the aircraft! Somehow, without realising, I'd managed to wrap my foot around my headset cable and flew out of the plane whacking my knee on the strut. Ouch.. that'll bruise! It certainly provided a bit of laughter to my instructor and the trainee on the aircraft next to mine.
So there we have it. It may have taken me a few hours longer but at least I'm now back on track and can begin to play catch up with the rest of the syllabus. With that in mind, I imagine i'm going to be quite busy over the coming week as scheduling try and bring me back in line with my peers. I hope you enjoyed this blog post as much as I did writing it and I'd like to take this opportunity to extend a huge thanks to those individuals taking the time to offer their support during my setback - including those back in Southampton.
I'll be back in a week or so after some more flying.
All the best and thanks for following my journey,