I took the above photo shortly after first doors at the training centre. Cloudy eh! They're not just any cloud either, as behind the scenes there are many lingering cumulonimbus clouds spreading their evil far and wide. Similar weather has lingered for most of the week resulting in heavy rain, low visibility and incredibly fast winds from variable directions. At one point the weather even caused the airlines operating here to cancel a few flights. Now, if that's anything to go by then I don't know what is and thus I've had most of my flights cancelled this week. I'm not alone in this and most of the operation here has been halted as a result. We're here for a full eight months though, so our timeline certainly accommodates weather such as this. On the plus side the weather is looking up over the next few days so with any luck we'll be back in the skies before we know it. Those over in Arizona with their clear blue skies may well be flying more often than us, but I'd say the weather here reflects more of the United Kingdom than first thought which can certainly make for some quite fun conditions.
Despite the weather my instructor and I did decide to go flying on one of the days. The lesson was supposed to be my 1.2 hour solo preceded by a 20 minute instructor check to ensure I'm still to a safe standard. While the weather around the airport was pretty poor, it was perfectly safe within the immediate vicinity of the airport and therefore adequate for circuit flying. Climbing up to circuit height was pretty amazing as there were loads of low level clouds in the distance. Whilst I wasn't climbing through them and thus breaking out of the top of them, it sure felt like it and made for an awesome view of the mountain top with there being layers of fluffy candy floss like clouds beneath me.
I managed to get in about 3 circuits and my primary instructor said she was really impressed with my progress since last flying with her two weeks previous. We also practiced more engine failures to keep it fresh in my head. The temperature on the day was around 11°C with the dewpoint being about the same. For those who don't know what the dewpoint is, it's essentially the temperature at which a particle of air can no longer hold anymore water and becomes saturated typically forming cloud. With both figures matching it only made sense for cloud to be forming with short notice and on our fourth circuit an approach which had previously been clear as day was suddenly covered in these same fluffy clouds. Flying through them would have resulted in us breaking aviation law in New Zealand and thus my instructor flew above them before dropping full flap to create enough drag to help us descend quickly back on to the correct descent profile for the runway in use. Thankfully she pulled this off, but given how close the clouds were to the airport she wasn't happy to send me up solo and therefore 'Y-flighted' the lesson. This means it was cancelled for no fault of my own and would therefore need to be rebooked to complete again on another day.
The above photo was taken on Friday 19th May 2017 and to the untrained eye the conditions look perfect for flying. What the human eye can't see though is wind of which was blowing at 23 mph across the runway and reached up to 40 mph at 2000ft. While perfectly safe for the trained pilot flying a suitable aircraft, the same can't be said for a cadet pilot still in the early stages of training and thus we agreed to cancel. At the end of the day, it all comes down to safety and whilst I was keen to get up in the air, I certainly wouldn't have been comfortable handling crosswinds such as those. Frustratingly, the wind died down around 30 minutes later although I wouldn't have been ready in time for my air traffic control so there was no point going.
Being in the same boat as a couple of other people on my course we thought we'd make use of the time by paying the tower a visit. Having heard their voices on the radio numerous times it was nice to be able to meet a couple of them and have the opportunity to ask them various questions about the day-to-day operation at Hamilton. Spending half an hour or so in the tower we were there just in time to see the arrival of both Air New Zealand flights and watch the team in action. It was quite an interesting insight.
I've been booked to fly tomorrow but unfortunately the high winds look as though they're here to stay. Fingers crossed they're not that strong though so I can get in the air and tick off this next solo flight. I'll be back with another blog post some time next week.
All the best,