31 January 2011

PPL X Countries - Part 2

Now onto the Northern Cross Countries- Twas the same deal as before, a dual flight the first day, followed by a solo flight the next day. My southern flights were at the end of 2009, and after a bit of a Christmas holiday, my northern set followed in early 2010.

The route this time was Ardmore NZAR -> Kaipara Flats NZKP -> Dargaville NZDA-> Kerikeri NZKK -> Whangarei NZWR -> Ardmore NZAR, as can be seen on the google map here. All uncontrolled airspace and aerodromes, although KK and WR both service domestic Air NZ link flights.

We just flew overhead Kaipara Flats to save time, but full stopped at Dargaville and Kerikeri, with a touch and go landing at Whangarai. I was blessed with perfect weather again, light and variable winds aloft and a little cloud cover. The runways at KK and WR and long and wide for the twin engined passenger services, although the strip at DA was a whole different story!

12 meters wide, and 922 meters of crushed limestone to land along in a paddock next to a river! This photo was actually taken on short finals on the runway 22 end whilst I was passenger on another students flight during CPL cross country training a few months later.

No oil pressure gauge dramas this time, I think I had to go around once at KK on my solo day to give way to a local parachute dropping aircraft, but apart from that, I logged a decent 6.4 hours over the two days.

Check out the slideshow of photo highlights from the four flights below:

Once the x-countries were over, I headed back to the training area again to perfect the previously blogged about maneuvers, and then sat my PPL flight test. 

Since I've already talked about all this, my next posts will focus on the CPL syllabus. Not as much writing this time as there are only a few new maneuvers to add to the PPL lot. However, there are tons more CPL cross countries and even a flying trip to the South Island mountains, so expect a heap of photos!

Also, a big thanks to everyone who's been following my blog so far. It's only been up for seven days but has already received over 600 hits. Any feedback is much appreciated :) 

29 January 2011

PPL X Countries - Part 1

Alright, so I've written all about the theory and training area flying side of the PPL- now comes the really fun stuff, cross country flights!

There are a total of four cross countries AFS require their students to fly in order to achieve the nationwide requirement of 5 hours dual cross country navigation and 5 hours solo cross country navigation for PPL.

An introduction to controlled airspace is done first, flying down to Hamilton International for some circuits. This was a real wake up call for me, having never flown in CTR before, getting used to the fast paced radio requests, readbacks and responses to the air traffic controller in the tower- I would have been a real mess without my instructor next to me to help me out!

The Southern loop, also known as "the milk run" is done first, NZAR Ardmore -> NZHN Hamilton -> NZRO Rotorua -> NZTG Tauranga -> NZAR Ardmore. Each one of these is a controlled aerodrome, with HN and RO both serving international flights, and TG being a busy domestic hub.

The idea is to fly this route first time dual, with an instructor next to you explaining what to do and what not to do, and then the following day, you do it solo. This was a HUGE deal for me, having only flown by myself in the training area, being given permission to take a expensive piece of machinery on a 200 mile long flight, making a full stop at each aerodrome along the way to dip the fuel tanks and check the oil.

The flight plan
Before I left the ground, I had to fill out a flight plan for the assigned route. This was something I'd practiced heaps during theory class and involved drawing the flight path on a big 1:250,000 scale map of the North Island, measuring distances and compass bearings, and filling them out onto a sheet I'd take with me aircraft. I also had to calculate the effect of wind direction and velocity on track and groundspeed, and use those figures to find out my heading, time for each leg, and fuel burn off with my trusty Pooley CRP 1 navigation computer.

The flight itself was fairly simple, tracking in straight lines at around 3000 feet. I'd written down my radio calls on a scruffy piece of refill paper which I had on my lap along with my map and flightplan- but still managed to bungle most of them. All the runways were long and wide though and I made it back in once piece, logging 2.7 dual hours.

Approaching Lake Rotorua
The next day I did it solo, everything went fine- same runways and approaches in use from the day before, light winds, great visibility. I could easily see Mount Ruapehu out my right hand window en-route between HN and RO, a good 100 miles to the south.

My instructor had asked me to text him at each airport I stopped at and let him know how I was going, but I'd run out of cellphone credit that day and had to ring the schools 0800 number- but still, everything was going fine. Fine untill the very last leg between TG and AR..

Tropical Cyclone Wilma

Before I continue reminiscing back from my PPL flight training days, I'll take a break with this shorter update to talk about the storm that hit Auckland last night, Tropical Cyclone Wilma.

I'm a real weather nerd, so wild and windy TC's really interest me. It's all my AFS Meteorology lecturer's fault- he was a really enthusiastic teacher who made students give presentations to the rest of the class on certain sub topics, a ton of  homework assignments, and generally embarrassed us in a light heated way if we answered his spot quiz questions incorrectly. Ironically, even though it was the subject I was most passionate about, it was the only theory exam that I didn't manage to pass first time!

Anyway, Tropical Cyclones were a big portion of the CPL (Commercial Pilots License) theory study. Usually they live around the 5° / 15° latitudes to the north and south of the equator, and as they move south towards NZ's subtropical waters, their intensity fades out. This was the case with Ex-Tropical Cyclones Zelia and Vania earlier in the month, although combined with a King Tide, they still caused some decent flooding in the Auckland area.

Tropical Cyclone Wilma is different, much bigger in size and still classified as a category 2- meaning wind speeds of up to 177km/h and 1.8m to 2.4m swells. As it hit Northland last night, it still had a very low pressure of 950hPa at the center of the storm. (The Zelia/Vania low was only 986hPa). Considering the international standard sea level pressure is 1013hPa- this is a pretty significant drop, resulting in the extremely high winds. 

This SIGMET issued yesterday lunchtime shows cumulonimbus clouds topping at an incredible 45,000 feet about 700km north of NZ, right in the flight path of airline traffic to the New Caledonia and Fiji!

The synoptic weather chart below, from 7am this morning, clearly shows the shape of the cyclone just to the east of Auckland along with its low pressure of 978hPa, moving south west towards Gisborne at 40 knots.

Another 7am rainfall chart from the MetVUW website is full of pretty colours, the bright red indicating 20mm plus per six hours. Forecasts were from 25mm to 40mm per hour, with reports from Northland of 176mm rainfall between 8pm yesterday and 9am today. Intense!

I ended up getting completed soaked whilst out and about in central Auckland around midnight, with the heavy rain not letting up till the morning. Lots of flooding was reported and a house on Waiheke Island got destroyed by a land slip (full story and pictures here).

It's still fairly windy now, with the current NZAA TAF showing the surface wind 23020G30KT (230°true, 20 knots, gusting 30 knots) and broken cloud at 2500 feet- this doesn't bother me though, I get the weekends off :)

However, this obviously meant no flying for me yesterday, with lots of low cloud and intermittent rain arriving well ahead of the low pressure system. A regular occurrence in Auckland at this time of year, with all the warm tropical maritime air masses arriving in from the Pacific, stabilising over the cooler nearby sea and forming muggy conditions and low level status cloud due to the considerable amount of moisture contained within the air.

Flooding on the Waikato River, remnants of the last tropical cyclone
A general check for me to see whether it's worth driving down to Ardmore for a flight booking when the cloud is low is to look out the window at Rangitoto Island. If I can't see the summit of the volcano that's 853 feet AMSL, it's definitely not worth it!

28 January 2011

PPL Flying Lessons

So now I'll actually talk about the flying side of my Private Pilots License course- sorry, another boring title for now.

I'm not going to go into fine detail on every single PPL maneuver listed in the previous post, as I'd be here for hours writing it up. A few of the lessons are self explanatory: Effects of Control, seeing how the ailerons roll the aircraft, the elevator manipulates pitch, and the rudder makes the plane yaw. A good fun introduction. Straight and Level/Climbing and Descending are exactly what the name says it is, although there was still a quick briefing before every new lesson, eg. to get us used to the associated best rate of climb for the C172, 79 knots and typical descent of 500 feet per minute.

Medium and Steep Turns are trickier than they sound. Flying VFR is all about positioning the horizon on a magical 1/3 of the way up the windscreen and by keeping it there, the aircraft stays level. As you turn left and right, the picture out windscreen changes, so you need to balance the turn with your feet on the rudder pedals, pull on some back pressure to make up for the extra lift required to keep you level, and pass through 360° at either 30° or 45° angle of bank from the horizon whilst maintaining a look out. 

The trick is to keep your head level with the panel in front of you and keep your eyes outside, although its very easy to keep flicking your eyes inside to confirm your progress with the instruments- this is a bad habit I've picked up from playing flight simulator, and I remember the CFI saying to me once, "If I could have it my way, we wouldn't take on anyone who's ever played flight simulator before", due to the fact that even though it tries to simulate realism environmentally, the actual flying is completely different from the game.

A (very) steep turn as seen from the passengers side of a 172
Stalling practice is for the sake of emergency recovery, basically checking centrally forward with the control column, and applying full power. Good fun to practice initially but the novelty soon wears off! Three different stalls are taught for PPL: basic (throttle closed, maintain height/direction), advanced (throttle 1500rpm, 20° flap below 85knots, maintain height/direction), and wing drop (throttle 1500rpm, 30° flap below 85 knots, release rudder at second tone of stall warning to allow drop to the side). The aim of the game is to achieve recovery to straight and level with the most minimum height loss. Again, harder than it sounds.

'Circuits' is the name given for the pattern of aerodrome traffic, easier explained through a diagram than words.

Ardmore is one of New Zealands busiest aerodromes, but doesn't have a control tower, only a UNICOM advisory service. Abiding to a standard circuit pattern helps to maintain separation from other traffic and keep a balanced flow between inboard and outbound aircraft, 1000 feet above ground level.

You need a few lessons practice doing these before you can go solo, learning how to deal with drift on windy days, glide approach and flapless landings, (in case of a flap motor failure- different speeds and attitudes are needed for the different overall wing shape) how to attempt to restart the aircraft, or shut it down and land in a paddock in event of an engine failure after takeoff (EFATO)- you never actually put your wheels down in the grass, but instructors routinely close the mixture or throttle about at 700 feet-ish on climb out and allow the student to run through a pre learned checklist before giving the 'go around' command at 300 feet-ish.

I have to say that flying solo for the first time was a very cool experience indeed, one that I'd been anticipating greatly for a week or so prior, and when the day came to go up with a B Cat. instructor for circuits, and hear him say "make this one a full stop" only half way through the lesson- I knew exactly what was going to happen next.

It was a runway 21 day at Ardmore, so I taxied off the active at taxiway alpha and pulled the aircraft to a stop. The instructor causally asked me if I was ok to go do a circuit by myself, which of course I was very excited about. He told me the radio frequency of the school 'base' if I had any problems, then hopped out and walked away. As I lined up and took off, the first difference was how amazingly light the aircraft was with just one person on board, getting airborne much quicker than usual.

27 January 2011

The PPL Syllabus

Anyhow, once all the theory was out the way, my classroom changed from a simple room with four rows of desks to a four seater Cessna 172 cabin, with the view out the window becoming significantly more interesting!

AFS operate a fleet of 10 analogue C172 R's (-LAT -OAT -TAJ -TAN -TAQ -TAS -TAT -TAU -TAV -UAT -ZAT), four glass cockpit C172 R's (-TAX -TAD -TAG -XAT), one C172 N specifically for cross countries (-EOX), as well as two Beechcraft BE76 Duchess for Multi Engined Instrument training after the CPL course. There are about 30 or so instructors, split into small groups that are assigned to an individual aircraft.

Once you've passed the theory, students are told to ask their favorite instructors, who we'd met during the lectures over the last few months if they had room for any more students. My first choice was my Nav. lecturer, and fortunately I was able to start flying straight away in Oscar Alpha Tango. The syllabus of lessons goes as follows:
  • Effects of Controls
  • Straight and Level
  • Climbing and Descending
  • Medium Turns
  • Steep Turns
  • Basic Stalls
  • Advanced Stalls
  • Circuits
  • Circuits with Engine Failure After Take Off (EFATO)
  • Short Field Landings and Take Offs (STOL)
  • Glide Approaches, Flapless Landings, Crosswind Circuits (if weather permits)
  • First Solo (one circuit)
  • More dual circuits and 3 hours solo circuit time
  • Training area familiarization with Overhead Rejoin
  • Forced Landings Without Power (FLWOP)
  • Wingdrop Stalls
  • Low flying
  • Slow flying
  • Practicing of all of the above after first solo until a Category B instructor deems you proficient enough to fly solo in the training area
  • Solo flights practicing above maneuvers, for a minimum of 15 hours
  • Simulated instrument only 'under the hood' flying, for a minimum of 5 hours
  • Introduction to controlled airspace (Ardmore - Hamilton for circuits)
  • Dual cross country, Ardmore - Hamilton - Rotorua - Tauranga - Ardmore
  • Solo cross country, Ardmore - Hamilton - Rotorua - Tauranga - Ardmore
  • Dual cross country, Ardmore - Dargaville - Kerikeri - Whangarai - Ardmore
  • Solo cross country, Ardmore - Dargaville - Kerikeri - Whangarai - Ardmore
  • More revision of EFATO/turning/stalling/FLWOP/low/slow/approaches both dual and solo until your instructor deems you ready to sit your flight test
  • B Category instructor flight check
  • PPL Flight Test with the Cheif Flying Instructor
Executing a standard Overhead Rejoin for runway 21
    This covers all the 'flight time' minimum requirements for the NZ Private Pilots License:
    • 50 hours total flight time
    • 15 hours dual flight instruction
    • 15 hours solo flight time              
    • 5 hours instrument time
    • 5 hours dual cross country navigation
    • 5 hours solo cross country navigation
    Other requirements include: Being 17 years of age (or 16 to be able to fly solo), hold a Class 2 medical certificate (done before the course starts at your local doctors), have passed all the theory subjects mentioned in the AFS beginnings post.

    If you're lucky, your instructor will book you one flight per week day to work through the above requirements, however, when I began my training, it was mid winter and bad weather canceled play a lot of the time. Some weeks I would manage to fly five times, the next week either just once or not at all- it was very frustrating, particularly coming up to important flights, such as my first solo, and final test. The aircraft are also sent to maintenance after every 100 hours engine running time that they accumulate, so you have an unexpected day off every now and then. However, I was in the same boat as all my other classmates, so didn't feel as though I was missing out comparatively. 

    26 January 2011

    AFS Beginnings

    As a student starting at AFS, you don't get to fly straight away you naturally would expect.

    First of all, there is a 2 week full time Private Pilot theory course, 9 - 5pm lectures on Human Factors, Meteorology, Air Law, Aircraft Tech, Navigation and FRTO (Flight Radio Telephone Operator Rating). This is followed by a day of exams, one for each subject, conducted by Aviation Services Limited, of which you need to pass each with 70% or higher mark. The questions are all multi-choice answers, although the deliberately worded similarly.

    Following this is 10 weeks of Commercial Pilot theory full time lectures, the first few weeks are from 8am - 6pm, covering Human Factors, Meteorology, Law, Principles of Flight, Aircraft Tech, and Navigation, with each subject being much more in depth than PPL. For example, the flight planning from Nav. went from simple point A to B line drawing to calculating time/fuel/distance in climb, enroute cruise to top of descent, and the descent to aerodrome B, then climb, cruise and descent to aerodrome C, and PoF introduced us to constant speed units for variable pitch props and forces and vectors involved with asymmetric flight!

    I think it was after 2 more weeks that we sat our CPL Human Factors and Air Law ASL exams, out at a conference center in Papatoetoe, then continued on with slightly shorter lecture days, 9am - 5pm covering the rest of the remaining subjects for another 8 weeks.

    During this time I had zero social life, getting home after dark, revising and writing up my notes from the day, then having constant homework assignments on top of that. This worked well for me, with the lack of distractions outside the AFS routine allowing me to dedicate all my focus to the complex ground work. If I had joined the Aero Club for example, where they let you fly from the get-go, but then require the theory study to be conducted in your own time, I can imagine myself becoming easily distracted having been outside the schooling system for the year prior and letting my self discipline slip.

    On the final day of CPL ground course, AFS threw the class a BBQ where we all got to have a few beers with the instructors. The following week, the class went back to the aforementioned Papatoetoe conference center for the remaining exams. After some of the most stressful days and nights to date, we were given 4 days off before beginning the final three weeks of theory lectures, this time for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).

    Last day of theory class
    At the time I sat this class, the schools policy was that you needed to have passed all of your PPL and CPL exams before you could begin flying, so even though IFR would be important in the future for flying the twin engined aircraft the school had, it felt like the pressure was off. There were only 3 subjects for this part of the course, IFR Law, Navigation Aids and IFR Navigation. I remember the flight planning being horrendous, taking up to three hours to complete just one flight from beginning to end. 

    Mucking around on flight simulator in my teens had definitely helped with my understanding of this though, and I managed to pass all of my exams from the entire course, bar CPL Met. I resat and passed this two weeks later, just as computers were introduced in the examination centre which generated an instant percentage result on the screen. I had waited an antagonizing seven working days for the test results for each of my exams prior, which got delivered in the mail, and handed out during classtime.

    About 60% of my class of passed first time, and finally we were given our own David Clarke headsets, official Civil Aviation Authority logbooks and assigned to an instructor and aircraft. My first steed was ZK-OAT, Oscar Alpha Tango:

    25 January 2011

    Flights before joining AFS

    Before I can start blogging about my current stories from the sky, I better give an over view of how I got to where I am flying wise. I'll separate these flight summary's into several posts.

    I grew up running around my house in the south of England playing with toy aeroplanes, building cardboard gliders and being wowed at annual airshows by the latest and greatest military hardware as it was shown off to the public by the Royal Air Force. On my 12th birthday just before my family emmigrated down under, I was gifted an intro-flight at our local general aviation airfield, Shoreham (EGKA), as a present from my parents. The aircraft I first took hold of the yoke in was Cessna 152 G-BRNE and although it's a clique, I can still distinctly remember feeling an real exhilarating rush the moment we got airborne. The flight only lasted close to an hour, but it was from then on that I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my days.

    12 year old me and G-BRNE
    The next opportunity I was given to have a crack at the controls came in two years later in 2005, through a friend of my Dad who then owned and flew Piper PA-28 Arrow, ZK-EBE, on a scenic flight around Auckland city. This flight resurrected my passion for flying and initiated an interest in flight simulator- the cheaper alternative to real lessons. 

    14 year old me and EBE
    I spent all my free time on flightsim and ended up creating a community forum website for kiwi flight simulator gaming, NZFF.org. This grew into a popular hub for both 'virtual' and 'real world' pilots, and through this, I ended up meeting Andrew Hope, the pilot of Ardmore based ZK-CIT, an American Champion Citabria.

    In mid 2006, he generously took me up for an expenses paid joy flight, including a low flyby over Auckland International just above runway level, then out into the Hauraki Gulf for an exhilarating session of aerobatics. (See Video Gallery)

    With Andrew Hope and CIT
    "They say there are 6 degrees of separation throughout the world, but only 2 degrees of separation in New Zealand aviation."
    Through Andrew, I then met other Ardmore based pilots who shared his generosity and enthusiasm to inspire young 'wannabes' like myself, and in turn, I was fortunate enough to ride jumpseat in the NZ Warbirds DC-3, ZK-DAK, on a handling flight and enjoy an even more intense aerobatic flight in Pitts Special S2B, ZK-MAD (which sadly later fatally crashed in 2009). It was whilst hanging upside down, looking up at the ground through the canopy of the Pitts that I knew for certain that flying was for me.

    Geoff Cooper and DAK
    Mike Slack and MAD
    In 2007, Andrew took me up for a few more flights in CIT, and began teaching me the basic theory towards my PPL, but being in my final year of high school at the same time, I was more focused on my NCEA exams and didn't continue it any further.

    I spent 2008 as a gap year away in Europe, but before I left, I went up for flights as a passenger with a friend from Airline Flying Club in a Piper PA-28 ZK-LMA, and another mate from Ardmore Flying School in C172 ZK-XAT. I enjoyed both flights thoroughly and was certain that upon return to New Zealand, I would join a full time training course to get myself my own pilots licence.

    I was unsure which establishment to commit to, and spent the end of the year researching which flight school provider would be right for me. Out of Massey University, Auckland Aero Club and Ardmore Flying School, I ended up choosing Ardmore Flying School, (which I'll refer to as AFS from now on) due to the following factors:

    1) Their PPL/CPL/MEIR course was funded by an interest free student loan compared to the aeroclub and other small training establishments that you need to pay per hour (0250 approx)- I couldn't afford this out of my own pocket.

    2) Even though other companies around NZ offered student loan funding (Massey Uni in Palmerston North, Bayflight in Tauranga etc), it meant I could still live at my parental home in Auckland where Ardmore airfield is just a 30 minute drive away.

    3) The CFI let me have a play on the school C172 Garmin 1000 simulator when I went in for a chat to him for info on the courses they offered. This was probably the deciding factor.

    I signed up for the February 2009 'Diploma in Aviation' intake and never looked back! 

    *There is plenty of biased debate about which flying establishment is the best in the country, with each having their own pro's and con's. Large schools such as AFS have been crudely nicknamed 'sausage factorys' due to the high turn over of new pilots that they churn out, however there are dozens of different factors which are continually changing that alter the opinion balance among individual NZ student pilots to consider. You can skip two years worth of me moaning about Ardmore, by jumping to my post here that I penned at the conclusion of my MEIR training the day I left the school.

    Welcome Aboard!

    After many years of skim reading various other personal blogs with varied interest, sometimes wondering why on earth people fill up websites with their whimsical anecdotes and own experiences seemingly only relevant to the author, I'm paradoxically jumping on the band wagon and starting up my very own web log.

    However I'll be trying not to travel down the clich├ęd road of the 'look what I did in between breakfast and lunchtime' style of writing- I'm dedicating this site purely to my aviation related activities, my story as I transition from student pilot into potential future employment as a commercial pilot... which I'm hoping will be both relevant and interesting to a few of the countless other up and comers around the country currently in the same position as me.

    Anyhow I'll quickly summarize my life up until now in this post, as a reference point for the rest of the blog: Born and raised in the UK, I moved with my family to NZ as a 13 year old. I've been interested in aviation from a young age, having developed a fascination with loud and fast winged objects whilst living nearby approach paths for several airports as a child.

    As a teen I attended many airshows, became a flight simulator fanatic, started the www.NZFF.org online forum, which quickly became popular and allowed me to meet various pilots at my local airfield, Ardmore, who in turn took me up flying in a variety of aircraft which got me truly hooked on the flying bug.

    A few years later after finishing high school, a gap year back in Europe, and with a hefty student loan, I am now a full time student at Ardmore Flying School, a qualified private pilot with nearly 200 hours under my belt, preparing for my Commercial Pilots License.

    In the following posts here I intend to write up a brief outline of my pilot training thus far, including some of my most memorable experiences, updates on my flying progress, and begin uploading a selection of the many aviation photos on my harddrive. I want to share with everyone what its really like to be a twenty something student pilot at Ardmore- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Watch this space!