Sunday 31 May 2009

qualifying cross country

Friday 29th May 2009, I flew my Qualifying Cross Country – from Halton (EGWN) firstly to a controlled airfield, Gloucestershire (EGBJ), then on to Leicester (EGBG).

So here are a couple of pictures I took on the day – first, my C152 parked at Gloucestershire (picture taken from the beer garden of the bar):

DSC00146 me

Second, parked on the apron at Leicester:

DSC00148 me

It was a fantastic if extremely tiring day. All told I was flying, on my own, for 3 hours. Now, that may not sound like much, but when you consider the workload involved believe me it is exhausting…

Flying the aeroplane (i.e. just keeping it airborne) isn’t in itself a particularly taxing activity, but flying on a constant calculated heading (whereby you are constantly having to readjust the Direction/Heading Indicator (DI) to read accurately according to the magnetic compass – literally checking and readjusting every couple of minutes), at a constant height (or altitude, depending on the Altimeter setting, which has to be adjusted periodically too), maintaining a constant ground track (which you have pre-calculated to allow for the wind, but which is never exactly accurate) by visually verifying your position and calculating out any adjustments needed to get back onto track, or simply to maintain it (bearing in mind these calculations are all mental and having to be done fairly continuously, whilst you’re doing everything else), and where, incidentally, sometimes it really isn’t that easy to identify specific points on the chart – from above villages all look pretty identical, and roads are really quite numerous, is an entirely different ball game.

Let’s not forget the time management (stopwatch) between each visual waypoint – hitting each one within a few seconds of the calculated leg time is a very important part of the navigation procedure: it is one key aspect of identifying the correct waypoints, as well as providing you with accurate updated ETA’s (either at the next waypoint, but more importantly at the destination airfield), all of which need to be noted down and calculated out at each waypoint, usually after making a turn to a new heading, these ETA’s and leg timings also allow you to make checks on fuel consumption and endurance (although I didn’t do any of these checks en route – I did those on the ground at each field).

Now imagine what it’s like when you’re off track and not completely sure where you are – trying to work out what all those villages are, where those lakes are marked on the chart, or if they are marked at all, all whilst maintaining your heading and height (oh, and your airspeed)…lovely stuff.

You also have to TALK to people, using the correct radio parlance, and listening to them well enough to gain the information you need and also let them know where you are, when you’re going to be somewhere else, how high you are on which pressure setting, and which radio service you actually want – aviation has a very specific radio language system in which you have to pass two exams in order to gain a license to even be allowed to talk to people, so talking on the radio is in itself quite a complex and daunting task - bearing in mind there are a number of ‘absolute no no phrases and wordings’ (go and read about the Tenerife disaster to gain an insight into the importance of accurate radio work). Oh, and it’s not just people at your start and end points you talk to – it is advisable to maintain some kind of contact with someone most of the time, whether it be a Radar service somewhere (like Brize Norton), or an airfield information service (I spoke to people at Oxford, Wellesbourne and Sywell amongst others because I was flying pretty close to them, so by talking to them they, and other aircraft on frequency, knew I was flying in the area and could keep a good lookout), or even the national flight information service (who were incredibly busy when I wanted to chat to them). These en route conversations also provide you with updated altimeter pressure settings – which are vital to maintaining correct terrain separation…

Then, there’s also the process of avoiding other aeroplanes, which, believe it or not, actually gets quite ‘interesting’ when you’re flying over major visual waypoints (everyone uses them!) or flying near/over airfields – at several points I heard myself uttering things like “hmm he’s close”, or “don’t climb, don’t climb, for god’s sake don’t climb – I’m above and behind you on a diverging heading and there’s no way you can see me” (imagine that all in one breath with the increasing panicky tempo that entails), or simply “oh crap, oh crap, oh crap…”.

All pretty mentally exhausting stuff, the level of which ramps up innumerably when you come to try to land at your destination (although at this point you obviously know where you are and as such can leave the navigational stuff alone). Controlled airfields like Gloucestershire have very strict procedures for entering their airspace and joining the circuit – you have to be in constant contact with the controllers and do exactly what they tell you (and this often involves having to re-orientate yourself with regards to the runways and other waypoints). You also must not forget which direction the circuit is running in – you must not turn to the left when the circuit is flying right hand, and you likewise absolutely must not turn right when the circuit is left hand (this is true of all airfields, not just controlled ones), so sometimes the joining procedure may involve some odd spiralling (at very specific procedural heights) to get down to the joining height. Then comes the circuit and actually landing the thing…

Taxiing can be fun if the airfield is complex (“where the hell is taxiway C3?”). And we all know that women can’t reverse park cars, so why would I be any different pushing back a Cessna?

Anyway, it was a fantastic day and an amazing experience, and one that I will remember for a very long time to come. Just the Skills Test to go now!

Wednesday 27 May 2009

dun du duh done!

Flight Performance and Planning – 100% correct! Woo.

So that’s all of the ground exams over and done with:

  • Aviation Law and Operational Procedures
  • Human Performance and Limitations
  • Radio Telephony (theory)
  • Radio Telephony (practical)
  • Aircraft (General) and Principals of Flight
  • Meteorology
  • Flight Performance and Planning

Things left to do:

  • Dual flight to Leicester
  • Qualifying Cross Country flight (Halton, Gloucestershire, Leicester)
  • More solo hours: minimum requirement is 10 hrs solo, 5 of which need to be navigational hours. I currently have 0.7 hrs solo nav and 1.6 hrs in circuit: so I need 7.7hrs total, 4.3 of which must be navigational as a minimum (bearing in mind the QXC will be approx 3hrs solo nav itself)
  • More instrument flying time: minimum requirement is 2hrs, I have 0.2hrs at present so another 1.8hrs are required
  • More PFLs (practiced forced landings) and EFATOs (engine failure after take off), plus maybe some more basic stalling practice
  • Do an ‘exam profile’ flight (basically a mock Skills Test), including all the ground and passenger briefings etc.
  • Read up on EVERYTHING
  • GFT!!! (general flight test)

Speaking to my instructor today, we are hoping to do the dual to Leicester tomorrow afternoon, should the weather be playing fair, and then I may well be able to do my QXC on Friday!

If I don’t get it done on Friday then I will do a solo flight to either Gloucestershire or Leicester on its own and hopefully get the QXC done on Tuesday. Should I get the thing done, there is a possibility that I may be able to do the GFT/skills test next Friday! She seems to think I’m ready…scary stuff…

Tuesday 26 May 2009

weekend of welsh wimpiness


This weekend just gone had originally been intended to be a weekend of intense cragging – get a good number of quality routes done in the Pass. Didn’t quite work out that way…

Saturday: decision made to head to Gogarth to do A Dream of White Horses, a route that I’m absolutely desperate to climb because of it’s supposed awesomeness. So – what happened? I bottled it. For some reason (and I’m not going to even try to justify this) I just couldn’t commit – I could not get myself to abseil in to the start. So we headed back to the Pass where things didn’t exactly improve…

The Direct Route, Dinas Mot. Yet another super classic. No head issues with this one, or at least not until it started raining and turned the route into a frictionless slime-fest…THANK YOU PATRICK for leading that horrible slimy crack to the ab point!

Sunday: gorgeous sunny weather. Bank holiday weekend. Llanberis pass. No parking. Drive to Tremadog.

So Sunday was actually a rather nice day – we did One Step in the Clouds (see picture), a lovely VS I’ve been wanting to do for a while, then stopped for a drink and some cake in the sun, then decided to have a crack at Scratch Arete…The first pitch I led and found quite terrifying (note to self – get out climbing more!!!), and unfortunately, Patrick decided to back off the crux second pitch – a real shame but we will be back!

As a positive ending to the day (because Patrick was just kicking himself and seemed rather down about Scratch Arete), I drove us back to Bus Stop Quarry – a seriously easy access Slate venue in Llanberis, where I made him lead Equinox – a cracking VS that I did a while back. He seemed pleased at the end of it :-)

Thursday 21 May 2009

flying good, ankle bad bad very very bad

Flying update: the weather has been kind the last couple of days (at long last) and yesterday I managed 3 flights, 2 of which were solo circuit sessions – so my solo hours were finally enough for Bron to let me do a solo navigational exercise. Today I also flew…

Today, we flew a mini nav-ex together and then I was allowed to repeat it on my own, that is, SOLO. Yes, finally I did my first solo nav-ex: a short local flight straight into a THUNDERSTORM. Needless to say I nearly cacked myself when I realised what I was heading for, pulled it together and promptly turned round, recalculated my route back, set the Navigational radio to the local VOR for a bit of moral support (VOR radio nav is wonderful – like a get out of jail free card – just follow the needle!) and headed back.

My landings are now officially great, as is my circuit standard and my general aircraft handling – that was today’s THIRD FLIGHT – general handling, stalling, practice forced landings after engine failure and an assortment of ‘unusual attitude’ recoveries – an hour of flying that is hilarious fun but vital to repeat periodically so that you know you are safe if something happens.

Notes to self:

  • Revise procedures for PFLs, EFATOs and general MAYDAYs
  • Revise general handling stuff, including the basic stalling conditions you need to demonstrate on the Skills Test
  • Do some more glide approach landings
  • Do some more flapless landings
  • Do the Flight Planning EXAM
  • Be positive.

Hopefully tomorrow morning the weather will be good enough for a land away at Gloucestershire, or maybe Leicester (either is good – my QXC is a flight between home and these two). After which I will be embarking on the long drive over to Llanberis for a weekend’s climbing!

Hmm, climbing. Hmm, the Alps. Fitness training isn’t always good for you – my foot/ankle is still really bad after my long run last week. I really don’t know what I’ve done but walking hurts. Looks like we may have to pick crags/routes with minimal walk-ins this weekend – not great for the whole Alpine Fitness Training plan. Arse.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

flying: progress update

Still haven’t flown. Bummer. British weather really takes the p*ss sometimes. Anyway, today it’s finally looking like I may get out so fingers crossed.

On a more positive note, although I’m a touch behind schedule on the exam front, yesterday I passed Meteorology. Thank. God. For. That. Even though I was given the ‘evil paper’ that had a selection of questions not even mentioned in any of the books or CD-ROMS, thankfully I got enough of the other questions right to pass it. Yay.

So now, I only have one paper left – Flight Planning. I will be setting to with the studying ASAP and hopefully sit that one next week (yeah I know, a week later than I originally hoped, but honestly, it doesn’t matter as long as I get the thing done now!

Sunday 17 May 2009

exams, pain and injurial frustration

Ok this is going to be one of those horribly self-indulgent posts that no-one really enjoys reading, but sometimes just need to be written.

Last week I passed my Navigation exam with no real problems (YES!!!). Unfortunately that is about the only positive thing I have to write about.

I haven’t flown in what feels like an age – the weather has been conspiring against me, if it’s not too windy, the cloud is too low or the visibility is too poor, or there are thunderstorms on the way. Superb. Just as I really need to be packing in the hours, getting my QXC done and moving onto thinking seriously about the Skills Test, all I’ve managed to do is sit in the ops room and stare out of the window, or to liven things up, stand out on the apron and curse the sky. Great.

I’m trying to make the most of these periods of inactivity flying-wise though – now I’ve done the Nav exam I still have two more exams to do – Flight Planning and the dreaded Meteorology.

The plan to get the Met exam done this week has however failed, even though I’ve had oodles of time on my hands – I just hate this subject so much. It doesn’t stay in my head! Although today I’m managing to get some quality study done, for reasons I will elaborate on in a second…

So, what else is crap at the moment? Injuries, that’s what.

On Thursday, because the cloud was too low to fly solo, I decided to go for a proper long distance run (partly inspired by a shockingly poor display of fitness during a crag walk in up in the Lakes on Sunday). I got back after having run over 9 miles in an hour and a half feeling pretty pleased with myself. Ok so I ached and had some major blisters on my feet but I felt generally pretty good…

Unfortunately in the days after this first foray into distance running, my right ankle has decided that it’s actually rather badly damaged. I have no clue what I’ve done or how I did it – I can only assume this agony is a result of the run, and possibly a bouldering session on Friday evening, not that I can remember straining it or doing anything untoward at all…

My guess is that it’s a sprain – there’s a little swelling and its agony to walk on, but it doesn’t hurt to prod it or twist it or anything else. Most odd. Actually, as the days move on and the pain seems to get worse I’m becoming a little concerned that simply taking Ibuprofen and strapping it up may not be enough…hmm.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Tuesday 5 May 2009

flying: progress update

Right, I think it's about time I updated the blog with something vaguely flying related as it's been a while now.
Anyway, the progress report:

  • I passed my RT paper AND the practical exam (so basically my Radio License is finished, yay!). The exam was a nerve-wracking hour and a half after which I felt decidedly drained I can tell you...and hour and a half of talking where your every word is being scrutinised...shudder...
  • I have so far passed 4 of the 7 theory exams I need to get done: Air Law, Radio Telephony, Human Performance and Limitations, and the Aeroplane: Technical and Principles of Flight.

Things to do:

  • Exams: I still need to do 3: Navigation, Meteorology and Flight Planning and Performance.
  • Flying: I have still only done an hour of solo flight and have yet to do a solo nav-ex (this is mainly because work over the past few months basically meant I got no time to go flying, let alone keep any kind of continuity). Since leaving my job I have started to really focus on the flying, partly because my aim now is to get my license before we move at the end of May (I know, I know, this is not alot of time). It's not super-super critical because I can always stop over at mum's for a couple of weeks if need be, but for the moment I am trying to get a quality session in every weekday (except Mondays).
  • My landings still need work, although the last time I flew we went over to Peterborough Conington (which according to my instructor has a terrible runway) for only my third ever land-away and my second ever landing on a tarmac runway. I am pleased to say that it went fantastically and even I was pleased with my circuit, approach and landing. I’m feeling much, much, much happier about it all now.
  • I need to get my Qualifying Cross Country done.
  • Hours: I need to have flown a minimum of 45 hours (currently at 31 or 32), 10 of which need to have been solo (and 5 of these need to have been navigational hours – I only have 1 hour of solo time so far and that is just in the circuit). I also need to have done 2 hours of instrument flying (I’ve done 20mins).

So all in all it’s not going too badly. This week I am hoping to do my first solo nav and my first solo land away (and in the back of my mind I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to do my Qualifying Cross Country next week if the weather plays ball).

I also have an exam plan by the end of which everything will hopefully be coming together:

  1. Navigation – this week 04/05/09 – 10/05/09
  2. Meteorology – next week 11/05/09 – 17/05/09
  3. Flight Planning – the week after next 18/05/09 – 24/05/09

Fingers crossed for GOOD WEATHER!!!