Scotland is a great place to fly, if you’re into that kind of thing.
So this has been empty for a while, promise I’ve not been lazy.
I’ve done a little flying (not as PIC) and ALOT of studying.
After 8 months I’ve finished all 14 ATPL (A) ground exams, first time passes with a solid mid ninety average. Not that I did this alone, I’ve an incredible and supportive partner. Also into the mix were two outstanding and experienced instructors that took me through 14 subjects at every point relating it to experiences they’d had, one 40 years flying everything in the RAF and other a glider fanatic, who flew for the Antarctic survey for 3 years (amazing) and subsequently had a full career at a flag carrier. So with all that behind me, I cant take full credit for the results.
I did manage to get flying in January, a mate on the course has a share in an LAA Eurostar fantastic handling aircraft, we shot off for a days flying at £30 wet, actually. We headed over to Oban before venturing out to a remote island, Coll, on the west of Scotland. Such a remote location, water crossings were long… no immersion suits and no life jackets, January. Yes, it was silly. Quite exciting also however.
A further development is that I, erm, well I sort of actually bought a plane. Its a Jabiru SP470 Group A, LAA and running an engine that sips 12L an hour. This gives performance of 100knots cruise and over 1000fpm climb with two inside. Impressive short field performance also. Cracking little plane, just need a type conversion which I hope to complete very soon, then get out there and explore Scotland + the rest of the UK.
Preparation for todays flight was quite thorough, today was to be the first flight as PIC with passengers who don’t know how to fly. That’s quite a responsibility, I knew it would feel that way but was surprised at how much more work I felt was necessary before the flight to make sure I’d properly addressed everything: I’d bought a new chart a few day earlier, this was folded with sharp, military precision (on the kitchen floor); I’d been monitoring the weather from several days in advance; I’d been checking the NOTAMs in advance; I’d been planning my route and possible diversions and had made a note of many radio frequencies I might need. That’s not an exhaustive list of the prep and maybe I wasn’t exhaustive enough, but it certainly felt exhaustive!
After a delay to the planned flight time due to a healthy cross wind and following a discussion with the chief flight instructor my passengers and I headed out to the aircraft. Once the aircraft was checked and everyone was seated and briefed, we set off for my first passenger carrying flight.
Trundling down the runway and at lift off the aircraft felt every bit as heavy as the weight and balance would suggest, 3up and full fuel was right at the edge of the envelope. As we pondered skyward the turbulence at low level really shock us about. Climbing out over the colleges is what the passengers were interested in, so I’d filed a right turn out with ATC so that they could get the best views possible.
The destination was Silverstone race circuit, somewhere I’ve been lucky enough to spent a lot of time these past 2 years and it’s always great to see it from the air. The journey there was pleasantly uneventful. There was significant haze which obscured the horizon completely, making trimming out for level flight difficult, I spent most the leg chasing straight and level. Later I thought this might be because with such a heavy aircraft requiring a higher nose attitude, something I wasn’t used to, the perspective looked different to usual.
Arriving at Silverstone we found that there was a few events on, there was a motorbike trackday and then there was also some F3 cars buzzing about the inner Stowe circuit too. We did a couple of laps of the circuit before departing overhead en route back home. At this point the in-flight refreshment service started and I was treated to pre pealed banana!
The return leg was as quiet as the outbound, a few aircraft were spotted on approach to various airfields, and a glider being towed was also seen. Returning to the airfield we overflew the city to see the colleges again before joining downwind to land. There was a brisk crosswind, just in club limits, when on approach, the landing went well, wasn’t the smoothest but the passengers were happy none the less.
It was a great flight and was great to take people up who appreciated the experience. Next time out I’ll have to do a land away for the opportunity of being bought a hot chocolate as remuneration.
Back in an aircraft again. This time for a check ride with an instructor… because the plan tomorrow is to take my first passengers!
Weather was beautiful, a very clear day with brilliant early evening sunshine. As an aside, the new instructor had had a long day, having already been awake 12hrs when we clambered aboard. An unremarkable single circuit and landing later and the formality is complete.
So its a lunchtime at work but instead of eating as cheaply as possible, I’m off to go flying!
Club rules state that a pilot is current for 22 days after which they must show an instructor that they are proficient on one take off and landing before solo hire can re commence. Seems like a sensible policy and may even be insurance driven.
So with that explained, I popped over the aeroclub and huredly did the paper work for my first ever solo as a qualified PPL pilot!
Lovely day with a mild crosswind, chief instructor signs me out. Plane hadn’t flown today so a full check was required, this all takes time but I was determined not to rush.
I clambered in and did preflight checks, taxied out and completed an unremarkable circuit, landing on the grass as the airport moved 2x Hercules down the main runway!
Landing was smooth, kicking straight for crosswind, all very pleasant, as if I’d had no time out the left seat at all.
Next time out I may have had my paper license back and might be able to take a passenger =)
I arrive at the club just after 8am for a scheduled test at 10am. I need to plan the nav, wind correct the route and estimate timings. The weather is ok, clouds at about 3500ft all round the route and medium winds.
There is plenty to check before any flight: what is the state of the aircraft, fuel, maintenance, weather, NOTAMs and royal flights. I settle down to use my Jeppesen flight computer but am interrupted, the aircraft needs moving to be fuelled. This isn’t a problem but it does leave me less time to prepare before 10am. When I get in the examiner soon shows up, so I make a quick call to check if the MATZ around an RAF base is active or not – and we head for a briefing.
The examiner is very calming and after a quick run through of everything he expects we head out to the aircraft just after I run him through the weather and ‘out brief’ sheet.
On reaching the aircraft I set about the checklist to inspect the aircraft but the fuel drain is missing! We search the plane all over but it has disappeared, the examiner wanders in to find one whilst I check the rest of the aircraft.
We jump in and I’d been studying the sequence in which I’d do things but with checklist in hand I miss the passenger brief before starting the engine. This isn’t an issue but let’s be honest, it costs me a lot less to brief the passengers and answer questions with the engine off! As it happens he assumed I could brief him well and we just cracked on. Back on plan, I remembered to ask him if he’d like to test his brakes after initially pulling away.
A C130 is running up in the engine bay as we arrive. I complete the check and take off brief and soon we’re hurtling down the runway, rotating at 55kts and climbing at 80kts. First leg is to just beyond Peterborough before a westerly heading to Rutland water where upon the examiner will ask me to divert. Passing off to approach frequency goes smoothly and soon we’re on route. Largely this is very uneventful. We head off with me taking time at the first waypoint and giving the examiner the heading, speed and altitude I’m going to maintain. The aircraft is trimmed but I do the usual of leaning on the control column when I’m doing other things. Occasionally we dip 200ft or so before I apply corrective action. It doesn’t appear unsafe to me but he did say before leaving that the error boundary was about 150ft either way =/
We sailed past Wyton and Connington before skirting Wittering. The nav went really well, passing checkpoints at the correct time, it felt good doing the FREDA checks out loud, for the examiners benefit. Radio work was good, moving to London information for a basic service after leaving Cambridge.
The diversion was also quite kind as it was to Sywell (somewhere I’d been the previous week by car to have a go in a 737 simulator!) and from Rutland water (large lake) there was another large lake at mid point! Then on to the large aerodrome at Sywell, not a small hamlet or grass strip!
Drawing the line on the chart, then running thru the checklist on my kneepad I’d written for this exact part, I calculated a heading of 192 after wind and magnetic correction. I gave ETAs which was made easier as I’d calculated the time for every 10mile distance and written it on my ruler, allowing a bit for wind, estimating the arrival time was made considerably easier! Sure enough, spotting Sywell from more than 10miles away wasn’t too difficult a task. I then contacted them to ask if the NOTAM’d flying display team were active currently, there weren’t, so we continued.
At this point the navigation parts of the test were over and it is then the examiners responsibility where we fly, but mine to fly and to avoid traffic. We intercepted and tracked a radial from a VOR, got a position fix and moved on to slow flight and stalls. Straight forward. Steep turns were next and my word were they scruffy, descended 100ft on left turn and over corrected and climbed on the right turn! Oh well, wasn’t a disaster but usually I’m so good at them!
Next up was a PFL, the one thing I’d been nervous about most, after mixed revision success. I bugged up the wind heading (I think he had chosen the wind to be behind us to make it easier) and the instructor pulled the power slowly and progressively to avoid any shock cooling in the engine. I needn’t have worried, I managed to pull off the best PFL I’ve ever done. 70 glide trimmed, field selected and track to it sorted, restart checks, mayday call, shutdown check. I even had time to brief the passenger! We approached and putting out 2 stages of flap and then full flaps we were perfect for the field landing. I was so relieved.
After that the engine failure after takeoff, on climb away, was easy. So we headed back to Cambridge to complete the circuit part of the test. We did an overhead join due to traffic and descended down to circuit height, correct altimeter setting (QFE) set, pre-landing check complete and did a standard approach (though I tried to make it more of a precision approach, landing just after the numbers). Second time round was for flapless and this too went really well with a kick of the rudder just before touchdown to counter the cross wind and straighten the aircraft up. Finally we did a glide approach, which I’d practiced just the last time I was in the air, I was confident it’d go well. It did. The aircraft came down perfectly about ¼ long the runway and I was able to break moderately and exit for the normal Charlie exit, to which my experienced (advancing years) examiner let off a ‘whoop’ in acknowledgement.
As we passed the taxi holding point and came to a rest on the taxiway the instructor turned to me and said “well, the paper work will be easy, you’ve passed!”
Cue big grin.
With the test booked, it’s time for a quick revision lesson to remain as current as possible. The lesson was about an hour and I requested we practice PFLs before returning to the circuit for a few landings. Initially the instructor treated it as a test but we soon forgot all about that as we started doing PFLs out over the farms. The initial PFL was a bit of a shambles. Choosing a field took longer than is ideal and the wind was fairly strong. Trying to anticipate its strength I turned base and final too early and ended up in a position where’ id totally overshoot. Additionally, the checks and procedures had been rushed thru, due to the delay in field selection. Hardly ideal revision =/
Attempt two is far better, early 70kt glide, field selected, route planned, procedures followed, field made. Much better!
We head into the circuit and practice a normal, precision and glide approach. They go well. The precision landing was ok, pulling it in on power and releasing power when wanting to touchdown. I left it about 20m too late but it was a good approach. In the high glide circuit I found myself in quite a wide circuit. Abeam the runway I pulled the power and the instructor voiced his concerns at making it back! Not to worry however, a more direct route in saw us too high if anything.
Good preparation for the skills test.
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