18 December 2012

Flying the Twin

I gained my SEIR back in June and was planning on converting it to a MEIR as soon as a twin engined aircraft and instructor were made available to me. There was a waiting list for this, since the flying school administration had decided it was best for students to gain an initial IF rating on one of the four glass cockpit C172R's, then sit around for a while until a slot opened up on one of the two Beechcraft 76 Duchess' that AFS own, and then finish the conversion.

There was an obvious bottleneck problem here, and I know of fellow AFS students who'd waited up to 11 months between completing their CPL and finishing their MEIR. I'd heard a lot of complaining about this issue, with other less crowded flying schools in the country consistently providing the same qualification in approximately 6 weeks. Thankfully, the administration revealed that a 3rd twin engine trainer, another BE76 was to be added to the schools fleet to ease this congestion.

VH-MLM  arrived on the Ardmore apron mid July, and I was looking forward to being one of the first students to fly it, although it wasn't until late September before it had been re-registered ZK-WLS (The CFI's initials) and appeared out the front of our school again.

By this time, I'd taken a hiatus from my training for a parachute drop flying job in New Plymouth so never got to see WLS fly. Just a few days after it had been made available to students, structural damage was detected and it has been away for maintenance whilst the insurance company searched for someone to blame for it's unairworthy state ever since.

© Ardmore Flying School
However, I'd been lucky, and at the end of July, had began my type rating training in one of the two original Duchess', ZK-JED. I'd already sat a two day ground course for the aircraft earlier in the year, so after a few briefings outlining the main differences between this machine and the C172 I was used to, I finally began logging some hours in the Multi Dual column of my logbook.

These mentioned main differences were the CSU governed variable pitch propellers, retractable undercarriage, autopilot systems, engine arrangement and wing position. The two 0-360's give the Duccy much greater performance to the ole C172 that I'd gotten so used to, with everything happening much quicker in the sky. Just for comparison, Va (manoeuvring speed) for the BE76 is 132 knots, Vno (cruise speed) is 154 knots, and Vne (never exceed speed) is 194 knots. Throughout all my AFS training, I don't think I ever went much faster than 120 knots in our Cessnas!

The type rating included turns and stalls, which were easily understandable. Without an engine mounted directly in front of the cockpit, forward viability is great out the front of the Duchess which helped. The rest of the training focused on asymmetric flight (not symmetrical), or in laymen's terms- flying with only one engine working.

Snapped on takeoff by Colin Hunter
The majority of this was done in the circuit, with my instructor simulating failure of either the left or right mixture, and me attempting to keep the 4000lb airplane straight, then banging through the following checks: Mixtures UP, Pitches UP, Throttles UP, Flap Up, Gear Up, Identify dead leg (Left/Right), Verify throttle (Left/Right), Close throttle (Left/Right), If critical- Feather prop (Left/Right)...

This was harder than it sounds. A wind milling propeller creates a lot of drag, and I'll admit I was sweating many times trying to push all my body weight onto the rudder pedal to stop the aircraft from yawing towards it. Especially on the hotter days when it was in the high twenties outside, and the low wing design didn't provide any shelter from the sun through all the perspex around the cockpit!

I had to be competent with flying an engine circuit on a failed engine (it was be closed on climbout) as well as an engine failure on base, and one below Decision Altitude (300ft AGL at Ardmore), which really was a challenge when combined with a busy uncontrolled circuit the constant stream of configuration checks required when flying the Duchess. Cowl flaps, manifold pressure/RPM, flap and undercarriage all needed to be manipulated whilst dealing with the simulated engine out- the highest intensity of multi tasking I'd ever had to do.

Out over the Firth of Thames, I also learnt how to deal with an engine fire, manual landing gear extension and retraction, emergency descents and low flying. Fortunately, having autopilot to hold the aircraft level whilst I consulted the QRH (Quick Reference Handbook) helped shed the work load during these exercises.

Something I wish that I'd photographed, but was way too preoccupied at the time do have done, was the day we ran through an engine failure drill and instead of just simulating a feathered prop, went all the way down with the lever and stopped the blade from rotating. Looking out the window in flight at a motionless and silent engine is something I never want to see again!

Compared with some other student's first multi engined aircraft type rating, I've been told that this was quite an extensive amount of flying to be done just to get my logbook sticker signed off, however, I'm grateful for each of the lessons I'd had. It was reassuring to hear my instructor say that he could tell I respected the aircraft and he wouldn't have let me fly it by myself if he didn't think I couldn't safely handle an emergency.

It was also satisfying to finally feel comfortable in 'the big plane' that I'd wanted to fly ever since joining AFS. I remember being envious of the more senior students as they taxied the Duchess out whilst I was preflighting the Cessnas during my PPL and CPL days. Sitting up higher, having my hands on a throttle 'stack', and the faster airspeeds all made my time in the twin so far quite enjoyable. Thankfully, the flight time was recorded with an air switch, meaning I could take as long as I needed to on the ground to run through my pre takeoff drills and prepare my mindset without worrying about my dollars burning up!

The Duchess panel
Anyhow, I recently returned to Auckland from flying drop planes in the Naki, hoping to chip away some more instrument flying needed to be done in the twin before I could convert my SEIR, only to discover the AFS administration had made some funding changes.

There are two sets of students at the school: those who receive funding from Studylink via the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology and those who receive it directly from Studylink. Because the government is cutting student loans for new pilots as of next year, all the NMIT funded students need to have their training entirely completed by April-June 2013 and will get priority bookings of both instructors and aircraft until that time.

Because I do not fall into this category, I've been told that it will be a struggle for me to get any bookings until then, so I'll have to wait until approximately mid next year before finishing my MEIR. Instead, I will be working full time parachute dropping over the summer, then I plan to crack into my ATPL papers when flying becomes less frequent with the skydivers. That's all for 2012, watch this space for 2013!

Articles This Month

The New Zealand Aviation News have published two articles of mine in their bumper December/January edition which is available now from magazine racks nationwide.

The first is a 'Diary of a Dropzone Pilot' on which I've ran through how I managed to obtain my first job in commercial aviation, how a typical flight to altitude is planned, and the differences between flying the jumpship in controlled and uncontrolled airspace. Find it on page 12 and tell me what you think!

The second article is a revised and expanded version of my iPad Aviation Apps blog post that I originally penned in June. The main differences being the addition of two new competing moving map apps to Air Nav Pro; SkyDemon by Divelements Limited and Runway HD by Airbox Aerospace Ltd. Have a read on pages 28 and 29.

Speaking of iPads, the NZ Aviation News can now conveniently be read on portable devices, or your PC with a digital subscription. Individual editions are a mere $3.50, or $33.50 for the year. You can grab the current Dec/Jan special here. Back issues from August 2012 are also available for just $2.50 each here.

12 December 2012

Pearl Harbor Open Day Photos

Every year, the NZ Warbirds Asssociation hold an open day on the second weekend of December to commemorate the WW2 attack on Pearl Harbour. I've attended a few of these before (photos deep in the back pages of this blog), but made a point of getting myself to this airshow in particular so that I could witness the KA114 De Havilland Mosquito fly for the first time.

I'd been away in New Plymouth working when ZK-MOS was unveiled to the public back in September, so it was a real treat for me to watch in awe as Keith Skilling made countless low passes over the crowd line. The twin V12 Merlin's at full tilt were just pure magic- I swear he was getting it down lower than 100ft AGL most times... Each time the roar from the engines would set off car alarms along Harvard Lane. The photos below don't even get close to doing it justice.

As always, there were three display slots featuring a variety of the resident warbirds. It also happened to be a stinking hot, almost cloudless day on the 9th, so it made photography tricky. In order, they are, P-51D Mustang (ZK-TAF), AT-6 Harvard (ZK-MJN), Extra 300 (ZK-XRA), Westpac Rescue BK117 (ZK-HLN), T-9 Spitfire (ZK-WDQ), Strikemaster 70 (ZK-STR) and a silhouetted formation shot featuring the Kittyhawk, 'Stang and Spit' chasing the Mosquito again.

And three yellow ones to finish, AT-6 Harvard (ZK-ENG) and two Corby CJ-1 Starlets with their regos clearly visible.
Snaps from the pros can be found over at Wings Over Cambridge, the NZ Warbirds facebook and NZFF.org.

06 December 2012

Ruawai, Take 2

The original three day Kauri Coast Skydive Carnival that I mentioned I was due to fly at had to be cut short due to heavy rain and a boggy runway the first time our company migrated over from Whangarei back in August.

I don't think I mentioned many details of the event on this blog, but the plan was to venture over to the west coast town of Dargaville to promote the extreme sport during one of our quieter off season weekends. 30 or so skydivers and staff from Skydive Ballistic Blondes, along with the company's C172 and C182 based ourselves at the 680m long grass surfaced airfield of Ruawai. We had a succesfull day of altitude tandem and hop n' pop sport jumping, followed by a display into Selywn Park on the Friday. Come Saturday morning, a large front was forecast to flush us out, so after dropping a single load each early in the morning, me and the other pilot hurried the planes back to the safety of the hanger at home at NZWR.

12,000ft over the Kaipara Heads
Anyhow, plenty of other local punters had signed themselves up for skydives and the company returned at the end of November to forfill the bookings, along with the two aircraft. The airstrip was in a much smoother and drier condition which was pleasant for all, and although there was a bit of an annoying crosswind blowing both days- we managed to fly all day long on both the Saturday and Sunday we were there without any hiccups!

Below is a quick video that features a few skydiver exits and one of my landings at NZRW alongside the row of tents we all camped in for our stay! Filmed of course from the venerable C172 jumpship.

Ruawai Weekend from ardmorepilot on Vimeo.

05 December 2012

Hobbit 777 up close

Air New Zealand has covered ZK-OKP, one of it's new 777-300ER long haulers, in 830 square metres of decal as a promotion for Sir Peter Jackson's latest kiwi blockbuster movie- 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'. 

It took six days to install the largest ever graphic to be applied to an aircraft, and will certainly be eye catching at all the international ports it calls into. Below are a few shots up close of the artwork, taken on the NZAA ramp before it departed south on a rare domestic flightplan, to make a low level flyover of the world premier of the movie in Wellington.