Airline Interview

Before I get into this just a couple of notes: 1. I never gave a follow up post for my IRT.  Looking back now there isn’t much point – the description of the 170A pretty much covers it.  2. I didn’t write about MCC/JOC.  That’s because it was a really really busy couple of weeks.  Now, months later, I probably couldn’t write a great description.  I still have a video of one of my training sessions that I may chop up and put on here with a few words, I can guarantee you won’t want to watch the full two hours.

Right, the interview.  31st January was a beautiful day.  I was watching trees, fields and four legged beast fly past the train windows as I headed into Bradford with a friend.  Not long before we stopped in Shipley I received a call from someone at Oxford asking me about how things had been since I finished the course, including who I had applied for a job with.  After explaining what I had been up to I was informed of an interview opportunity with an airline.  They explained a couple of details and also mentioned that it was the following day, 1st February.  That was a real shocker!

Opportunities like this don’t come along every day.  Although nervous about the short notice, I accepted the invitation.  I got off the train at Bradford and went straight back home.  There was now a pile of paperwork and preparation to do in order to be ready for the interview.  The day ended with a journey to the airport where the interview was to take place and an overnight stay in a nearby hotel.

I slept quite well considering what I would be facing in the morning – I’d been hearing horror stories from interviews ever since starting ground school.  Once at the interview location, I became one of five to be interviewed throughout the day.  We were greeted by some of the airline staff and then given a presentation on how the day would run and also covered some frequently asked questions.  We were then paired up (kind of because of the odd number) with a simulator partner so we could discuss the departure and arrival procedures we would be using.

Hours passed and then I was finally called for interview.  I had spoken to both the interviewers throughout the day and was relieved to see now familiar faces.  We covered many topics during the interview.  Firstly we talked about the airline and then about my experience to date.  Part of my CV highlights my volunteer service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this was even covered during the interview.  We talked about what I did, how I interacted with people and how I dealt with the challenges that come along with such work.  For more information, see here.

The rest of the interview covered my training and also some technical questions relating to aircraft I had already flown and also a little about jet airliners.  These topics included electrical systems, engines, performance and instrumentation.  Overall it was a good experience.  The guys behind the desk were very friendly and made the interview seem more like a normal conversation rather than a grilling.  Once done with the interview, I felt like I could stomach some lunch and so off I went to eat and look over some things before going in the simulator later in the afternoon.

The simulator sessions were brilliant.  The simulators we used were very advanced and made for an enjoyable and challenging experience.  I flew first and flew a simple departure, did some manoeuvres and then on the way back to the airport dealt with an abnormal situation and then flew an ILS approach, had a go around and then a visual approach to land.  Unfortunately I have to say the ground hit us quite fast to make for a less than smooth landing!  I then switched seats with my simulator partner and acted as pilot monitoring for the duration of the flight which followed a similar profile to mine.

And that it, job done.  I made sure the last guy had a flying buddy and headed outside for some fresh air.  Thus commenced the almost three week wait to hear whether I would be offered the position.  I’m very pleased to say that I was offered the position.  Much more paperwork followed and much more hard work is ahead.  The transition to airline operations isn’t going to be easy but I’m looking forward to it after all – it’s what I’ve been aiming for.  For now, I will enjoy a trip to the States for my brother’s wedding and a nice read of the operations manual.

170A Skills Test

All the training I have received up until now has been geared towards preparing for the Instrument Rating Test (IRT).  After my final flight with my instructor I was placed on a waiting list for a test that is referred to as the 170A.  The 170A is a skills test that is carried out before one can be put forward for the IRT and verifies the applicants ability to pass the IRT.  When I was put on the list I was something like #7.  I was still #7 on Monday and Tuesday due to the high winds we were experiencing.  Enough people got done on Wednesday and Thursday for me to be scheduled to do the test on Friday.  I went into a minor panic mode, I originally thought I would have the weekend to prepare myself for the test but there it was, on the schedule, at 13:10z.  I dashed into school on Thursday afternoon to meet my examiner and ensure all the relevant paperwork was done.

Friday 07:00 and the alarm rings.  Naturally, the first thing I thought of was the upcoming 170A.  I slept surprisingly well, I think that’s mostly due to how tired I was when I went to sleep.  I heard my next door neighbour leave for a simulator session somewhere about 05:00 but I quickly went back to sleep.  I got up with plenty of time to get ready for the day, I don’t mind rushing some things, a flying exam is not one of them.  I managed to eat some breakfast, that’s a good sign!  For some of my flying tests in the states I was way too nervous to eat beforehand but today I felt fine.  Yeah, a little nervous twinge here and there but mostly fine.

It got to the airport at about 09:00 and checked the schedule to make sure I was still there.  I was – and I took a look at the arrival/departure slots board which showed I was due at Bristol for 14:00z and that the slot had been approved.  I then went into the crew room to take a look at what the weather was doing.  I was then greeted by the following:

The zone B1 was supposed to be in the shown position at around 12:00z, only a couple of hours before I wanted to be in Bristol.  Looking at the descriptions on the right, the general visibility, weather and cloud for the B zone looked all right but with the additions of B1, they looked rather unfriendly.  +RA/+TSRA and ISOL EMBD CB 015 / XXX.  Heavy rain and thunderstorms accompanied by heavy rain with isolated embedded cumulonimbus clouds.  At the bottom of the chart, TS implies hail, severe icing and severe turbulence.  The Seneca isn’t certified to fly into severe icing conditions.  From that summary it looked as if it wasn’t possible to go.  I looked at the TAF (Terminal Area Forecast) for Bristol and it gave no mention of thunderstorms.  The only thing of concern was winds forecast to be gusting to 25kts but even then they were only 20 degrees off the runway heading.

I decided to crack on with the planning and I’d take another look at the weather later.  I knew the aircraft I was to be flying had inoperative propeller de-icing equipment and so I spoke to ops who put me on another aircraft.  The route was to depart to the north-west to a way-point known as MORTN.  There I was to turn south-west towards BADIM, and intersection on the L9 airway.  Upon reaching BADIM I was to turn towards ALVIN and once there, turn southbound towards the BRI (NDB at Bristol).  This is what the route looked like on my map:

The diversion back to Oxford was planned to take pretty much the same route, leaving tracking away from Bristol 035 degrees.  All the route information on the map is entered into a navigation log which is the route represented in numbers.  This shows the leg (from/to), altitude, MSA (minimum safe altitude), wind velocity and direction, magnetic track, calculated magnetic heading, calculated ground speed, distance, time, ETA, ATA and fuel.  Numbers all over the place.  Having all this info on the PLOG enables you to anticipate the use of navigation aids and when to tune them into the radios.

After submitting my flight plan and getting all the other paperwork necessary (NOTAMS, mass and balance, performance (take-off and landing distances) done, I had a briefing with my examiner.  We went over the route and he asked me various questions about the map, airspace and air traffic procedures.  Nothing too complex fortunately!  We then arranged to meet up again once the aircraft was back so I could inform him whether we were going or not and if we were, go through the aircraft documents.  The aircraft arrived back at about 12:40z and I was supposed to have my engines started at 12:55z.  Not ideal.  I couldn’t get fuel right away and so I went inside for the documents briefing.

That was nice and straightforward.  I just went through the various documents, pointing out how I knew they were valid and applicable to this aircraft.  I then went back outside to get fuel.  All fuelled up and checks done (thanks to my flying buddy) I got in, sat down and there remained for the next two and a half hours.  I didn’t really have time to be nervous, I just got on with what I knew I had to do.  After carrying out all my before take-off checks I received my departure clearance: Brize Radar clears Oxford — standard BADIM departure, hold MORTN, climb 2,500ft, QNH 1009 squawk 5440 and next frequency Brize on 124.275.  I read the back to the tower controller and then she proceeded to give me my airways clearance information.  I was told I was cleared by London instead of Bristol and thought, wait a minute, where am I going?  The controller then corrected the clearance as being issued by Bristol.  Panic over.

At 15:00z we were cleared to take-off, only 35 minutes late!  Fortunately ATC didn’t seem bothered by it.  The tracking towards MORTN went great and before long I was heading south-west towards BADIM.  At the beginning of the leg there was quite a bit of turbulence but that settled down before too long and I was able to keep the aircraft within the altitude holding limit of +/- 100ft.  The radar controller gave me an odd radio call when I was approaching the airway that contained my routing but I never heard him state that I was cleared to enter controlled airspace and so not wanting to bust straight into it I called him up and asked whether I was cleared to enter.  He stated that I was.  Panic over.

I joined the airway, and then left a few minutes later and then headed south towards Bristol, tuning the radios and getting ready for the approach.  Shortly thereafter I began getting radar vectors and descents as the approach controller guided me towards runway 27.

Please note: plate use with permission; neither the CAA or NATS accept any liability or responsibility for the content of the information; plate is for information purposes only and not intended for operational use.

Drawn very roughly on the chart are the radar vectors that were given to me.  I was approaching on a heading of 170 degrees and then was turned onto a heading of 130, then 180 for the base leg and then an intercept heading for the ILS.  The approach was then in my hands as I guided the aircraft towards the runway closely monitoring the HSI, speed, altimeter and my distance from the runway.  The approach was deliciously smooth, those gusts that were forecast were nowhere to be seen.  There was a bit of a crosswind and some correction was required to maintain the centreline but nothing extreme.

I got down to minima, screen still there (still in cloud!) and so initiated a go-around.  Bristol had instructed me to turn right onto 360 degrees and to climb to 3000ft.  While I was climbing out my examiner gave me a simulated engine failure and I carried out the engine failure drills:

With that dealt with I continued the climb and started my diversion back to Oxford.  Before long we did the general handling section where I was to handle the aircraft with several of the instruments failed (covered up!).  I was without my attitude indicator, HSI and RMI so I had to rely on the standby compass for heading information and the turn coordinator to know if I was turning or wings level.  During that time I was required to hold heading/altitude, climb, descend and change to new headings.  After that I did some unusual attitude recoveries (where the aircraft is put in a steep turn climbing/descending and I have to recover back to straight and level).  Once done with that we did some stalls and then once I was orientated with where we were, took us back to Oxford.

Back at Oxford I carried out the NDB 19 procedure (with a simulated failed engine), flew down to minima, saw the runway and continued the approach until ACA (asymmetric committal altitude) at and then carried a go-around on one engine, flew a circuit and then landed on runway 19.  I’ll describe the 19 procedure some other time, this post is already hideously long.

It was so good to be back on the ground.  They were probably the most intense two and a half hours of my life.  Watching everything so closely, talking on the radio and handling the aircraft for during that time while being examined was rather demanding.  My examiner taxied back while I carried out the after landing checks.  After engine shut down he jumped out and went inside while I tied the aircraft down and gathered various items together.  I was hoping he would tell me the result of the exam before he left but he didn’t.  He left me hanging which made me ever so nervous!

Back inside I put the aircraft documents away and then went to meet my examiner for a debrief.  We went over the answers to a couple of questions he had asked me earlier and then he said ‘in order to carry out the debrief appropriately I’ll tell you the result and we’ll go from there.  I have given you a pass.’  My goodness, the relief was immense.  Indescribable actually!  We went over some points that I can improve on for the IRT and then went our separate ways.  Win!

I hope this has given some insight into what trainee pilots have to go through in order to gain an Instrument Rating.  It’s probably way too detailed, sorry about that.  If you’ve stuck with it, you’ve passed – a test of patience.

Instrument Landing System

Last Friday (9th) I had my last lesson in the Seneca.  I flew to Birmingham for a radar vectored ILS approach.  Thanks to my failure of keeping this blog up to date, I haven’t described what an ILS is.  As a simple and brief introduction, here is a paragraph from Wikipedia:

An instrument landing system (ILS) is a ground-based instrument approach system that provides precision guidance to an aircraft approaching and landing on a runway, using a combination of radio signals and, in many cases, high-intensity lighting arrays to enable a safe landing during instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), such as low ceilings or reduced visibility due to fog, rain, or blowing snow. For further reading click here.

The information provided by this system is presented to the pilot on an instrument called a HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator).

Above is a typical HSI.  Very similar to the one we have in the Seneca.  When the ILS is tuned in on Navigation Radio 1 (NAV 1) and the aircraft is within range, the yellow indicators will show where you are in relation to the centreline of the runway and the correct descent path.  When setting up for the approach you put the course select pointer on the runway heading.  Both the course deviation bar and the dual glide-slope pointers are ‘fly to’ indications meaning that if the glide-slope pointers are above the middle point, then you need to decrease your descent rate until they are back in the middle.  Don’t climb on an ILS, it would just make it rather more difficult!  Similarly, if they were below the middle point, you would need to increase your rate of descent to get back on to the correct approach profile.

If the course deviation bar is to the left, it means that you are to the right of the runway centreline and that you need to fly left to correct it.  As you get closer and closer to the runway, these indications get ever more sensitive.  Throughout the approach we are to maintain the localiser (centreline) and the glide-slope to within half scale deflection.  Going outside these limits would result in a fail for the precision approach section.  On the CDI, half scale deflection is 2.5 dots left/right and on the glide-slope indicators half scale deflection is the next marker above/below.

There are two ways of doing such an approach.  One way is procedural and the other is radar vectored.  Most of the time we can get a radar vectored ILS which means the approach controller directs you on to the runway centreline using radar vectors.  Radar vectors are heading instructions given to the pilot by the approach/radar controller.  The final heading they give you is usually a 30 degree intercept to the localiser.  It is then the pilots responsibility to intercept and maintain the localiser and glide-slope.

The approach is flown with reference to an approach plate.  Please note: plate use with permission; neither the CAA or NATS accept any liability or responsibility for the content of the information; plate is for information purposes only and not intended for operational use.

The plate above details all the information to carry out either a procedural or a radar vectored ILS approach into Birmingham using runway 33.  As stated earlier, when being radar vectored, the controller will direct you towards the inbound track of 328 degrees.  The pilot then follows the recommended profile glide-path which is detailed on the plate just below the area diagram.  DME I-BM is your DME distance from Birmingham and below that are the recommended altitudes for the relevant distances.  Checking these as you go down the approach verifies that you are on the correct glide-path and that your altimeters are set correctly.

When carrying out a procedural approach you would navigate to the BHX (an NDB on Birmingham’s airfield) when cleared to do so and then hold over that beacon until cleared for the approach.  The hold is shown on the chart as right hand and with an outbound track of 328 degrees and an inbound track of 148 degrees.  When cleared for the approach, category A aircraft (the Seneca is category A) fly outbound from the BHX on a track of 160 degrees to D7 (7 miles DME) and then turn back inbound to intercept the ILS.  This way the pilot it entirely responsible for positioning for and intercepting the ILS.  Being radar vectored is much more convenient!

During lessons this approach is flown with the screens covering the windows so we cannot use any outside references.  We use plates that are provided by another company and different minima are specified.  The approach is essentially the same.  The plate is used states that I can descend to 530ft (DA – Decision Altitude) on the approach which would put me at 204ft above the runway surface.  Oxford Operating Procedures state that 20ft must be added to ILS minima to compensate for errors that could be shown by the instruments with the aircraft in it’s landing configuration making the DA 550ft for Birmingham.  At decision altitude there are two options, land or go around.  Land if you’re visual with the runway, go around if you’re not.  We always leave the screens up to simulate still being in cloud at this point and so our ILS approaches always result in a go around.  There are go around instructions on the plate which are followed unless otherwise directed by ATC.

Oxford to Birmingham

Image

Yesterday afternoon I flew from Oxford to Birmingham – and back again – as a passenger.  It’s always useful to sit in on others lessons to learn from their strengths/weaknesses and to also listen to the air traffic control.  There is a lot more  talk about in instrument flight and it’s taking some getting used to so I’ll take all the radio chatter I can get.  Another advantage of being a passenger on a training flight is that you can see!  England looks magnificent from the air, something that you miss when you’re the pilot because you’re behind the screens.

The prop looks pretty crazy on this picture of the left hand engine!

Birmingham director had us fly a 360 which took us over Coventry airport. A Swissair 146 landed before us and a Ryanair 737 afterwards.

No, nope. No-one has messed up my front lawn.

space

OX-BOTLY-WCO-OX

The route I flew on Microsoft Flight Simulator in preparation for the real flight.

Yes I know I still need to write more about the flying I did in the States.  I can’t express well enough in written words how much I enjoyed the flying out there.  It was an incredible experience, even if there were many early mornings involved.  They were offset by the numerous breakfasts/lunches we had at the various airports we stopped at.  Instead of waiting to finish writing about flying in the States before writing about the flying in Oxford, I’ll just get on with it because if I don’t, it may never happen.

The majority of the flying in Goodyear was with reference to what you could see outside and a map.  It was a fun way to navigate: that mountain is there, that lake is just there and this road is just to my right, I’ll go this way.  In the built up areas of AZ this was an excellent way to navigate.  It was very easy to pick out the various town and other features to know where you were and which way you were going.  However, it became a little more tricky if all you had was a bumpy desert floor.  One small hill looked like another just west of it.  Which was the right one?  When flying at 30,000 feet or in cloud, the ground is either too far away to use for navigation references or you can’t see it.  That’s where radio navigation comes in.

Despite popular belief, it is sometimes possible to see the ground from the air in England (or to see the sky if you're looking up from the ground!). Since this is the case, it is necessary to use screens to ensure the trainee pilot cannot see out and so must fly with reference to their instruments.

Having an instrument rating qualifies you to navigate from one location to another with reference to instruments that receive signals from radio beacons.  In AZ, to know where I was going I had to be able to see the ground.  Now, with the help of these radio beacons I can takeoff from Oxford and navigate to another airport without seeing the ground again until I’m almost at the destination airport.  I haven’t done that just yet, but I will do.  Instead, I’ve just done routes around the Oxford area without going to other airports.

The route in the image at the top of this page started at EGTK, Kidlington airport.  I took off from Runway 19 and climbed ahead until about 1nm out.  I then turned right to heading 330 so I would head away from the NDB OX which is located to the right of Runway 19.  When about two miles from the beacon (measured using DME) I turned right again and headed straight to the beacon.  Once overhead, I intercepted a 161° course outbound towards a waypoint called BOTLY.  Waypoints can be anywhere and defined by a bearing and distance from one or more radio beacons.  BOTLY by definition is located at D43 (43nm as measured by DME) on the 161° radial from HON (Honiley) which is a VOR.  As you can see, I went into a holding* pattern once arriving at BOTLY.  This was a nice easy direct entry into the hold since I was arriving on the inbound leg.

After holding at BOTLY I departed to the north-east towards the Westcott NDB (WCO).  Here I went into the holding pattern again (left hand) this time using the ‘offset’ entry seeing as this time I wasn’t arriving on the inbound course of the hold.  Once done at WCO I headed back west to the OX to practice the NDB 100 procedure.  This is an arrival procedure used for locating the airport in low visibility conditions.  Some procedures will line you up with a runway and others will just locate the airport for you and then it’s your job to get to the active runway.  I’ll leave this here for now, I’ll be amazed if you stuck with me this far!  I flew this for real on Monday evening and it was a great experience.  I had forgotten how different flying was to using a simulator!  Simulators are great for practicing the procedures but they just don’t simulate the workload too well.  In the air you have constant radio chatter in your ear and an aircraft that just will not pause in mid air no matter how much you would like it to!

*Holds/holding patterns are used when you need to remain in the same place.  Since you can’t stop most aircraft once in the air, a holding pattern can be used to keep you in a safe place while you wait to receive clearance into an airport, diagnose a fault or setup for an approach.

What is going on!?

Despite what this blog indicates – the fact that I went solo and was never heard of again – things are going really well.  I became very busy after going solo because when I wasn’t flying with my instructor I could fly solo.  I did a number of solo navigation flights, each of which were a very enjoyable experience.  I’m trying to think of the best way to talk about them – I’m so behind.  I’ll see if I can post about a couple of them in the near future.

Eventually I finished on the Piper Warrior and moved on to the Seneca – two engines are better than one – apart from when one fails but that’s still possible to live with.  The Seneca was an incredibly fun aircraft to fly, even though it was more work.  I did all the Seneca flying in less than two weeks and then passed my CPL skills test two weeks ago today.  It was a challenging flight, there was so much to do and so much to remember but it was an overall success.  I’m glad to have it done!  I’ll be back in Oxford on 31st May where I’ll do a week of foundation degree stuff and then I’ll be back to the flying.  I’ll try and update a little more often but I expect things to be pretty busy back in Oxford too.

First Solo Flight

05:45 – My superphone starts emitting a strumming sound – the same strumming sound that wakes me up every time I set an alarm.  As I look at the superphone, the brightness of the screen makes me want to close my eyes and slip back into a slumber.  Somehow I forced myself out of bed, grabbed a towel and headed down the corridor to the showers.

06:30 – I make it to the briefing room to meet with my instructor and flying buddies to get all the paperwork up to date.  Logbooks needed signing, endorsements and medicals/student pilot certificates along with some company paperwork too.  We had originally planned one hour for all this but instead it took two.

08:00 – This was the original takeoff time for my pre-solo flight.  The paperwork was still under way at this point so I headed down to the plane to do the pre flight checks.  It’s always a good idea to check if you have fuel first so you can let someone know that you need it and get it pretty quick.  If you wait until the end of your checks and then discover you don’t have any fuel, you end up using more time.  I peeped into the tanks and there was way less than I needed.  I waved over to the fuel trucks but no-one saw me.  I felt pretty strange just waving over there and not being seen so I carried on with my checks.  Checks complete minus fuel and still no instructor, I decide to walk over to the fuelers and ask for some of that fuel stuff.  In no time at all, I’m fueled up and ready to go.  Simple.

My instructor arrives from the briefing and we jump in the wee Warrior and away we go.  There was a light wind and the sky was the most overcast I’ve seen since leaving England.  These conditions made it so smooth up there, it was amazing.  You’re usually having to fight with updraughts and downdraughts created by the usually hot surfaces but the clouds blocked the sun which stopped them warming up.  There was the ever so slight crosswind to contend with on landing but nothing strong enough to create a problem.  It made it a challenge enough to learn from it but it wasn’t so strong that I couldn’t go solo.

The first two landings went very well.  One was a little off the centreline and the other was a little flat but both perfectly safe with stable approaches.  While we were climbing out after the second landing, tower changed us from flying the left hand pattern to the right hand pattern.  This caught me by surprise a little but all was well.  A Cessna turned early and cut in front of us but was never a safety factor.  Our downwind leg was extended aswell and then tower called up and asked us to do a full stop landing and taxi back to the runway.  They do this when the traffic pattern gets really busy, it helps lower the work load.  Once we landed and were clear of the runway I was about to line up on the taxiway to head towards the end of the runway and my instructor said ‘Hold on a minute…’

I thought, ‘oh no!  What have I missed!?’ but I wasn’t missing anything.  It turns out that he was happy enough with the last three landings to let me go solo.  He gave me the option of either going back to the beginning of the runway and doing a couple more landings or going back to parking and having him jump out and me go solo.  I thought about it for a moment and agreed that the landings I’d done today were perfectly safe.  I decided I was as ready as I would be even if I did two more landings so off we went down the Alpha taxiway (after getting clearance of course!) back to parking.  My instructor gave me some final words and reminded me to say ‘student pilot first solo’ on my initial radio calls to ground and tower and then off he went.  For the first time ever I was sitting in a plane with the engine running by myself.

There I was, minutes away from something I’ve been waiting for for years.  Something I’ve been nervous about for a long time.  Among the excitement there was always a pang of nerves.  Taking an aircraft into the sky by yourself really is no small thing and I could never imagine doing it by myself.  I’d heard how a couple of people in the past (how far back I don’t know) were so afraid of going solo that they just couldn’t do it.  I thought ‘what if I’m on of those!?’  I snapped out of it though.  My instructor was past the tip of the wing and so I returned the engine to 1200rpm.  I was committed to going solo, no time for fear or worries.  I really wanted to enjoy this unique experience while still getting it right.

After making sure my radios were set correctly I released the parking brake and upped the throttle to start the taxi.  Once I got to the run up area I did my before takeoff checklist.  Next I called up ground and requested taxi to the active runway and was told to taxi via A1, A and hold short of A3.  Once I got to A3 I didn’t have long to wait before I was given clearance to continue along A down to A8.

09:40 – The radio in the control tower bursts into life as I hit my transmit button in my wee Warrior.  ‘Goodyear Tower, Warrior 833TB is holding short of runway three at Alpha 8, request closed traffic with a full stop landing.  Student pilot, initial solo.’  Tower gets back to me a moment later and instructs me to hold short of the runway.  You can listen to the rest of my comms with the tower below, be ready to laugh!  I still have some work to do on the radios!


Thanks to liveatc.net for the audio!

Once I’m cleared onto the runway I do my cleared onto the runway checks and await clearance to take off.  The tower has to wait until the plane that just landed in front of me is clear of the runway beyond the hold short line before he can give clearance.  Once I’m cleared to takeoff I push the throttle all the way forwards, apply some right rudder and watch the speed build to 65kts.  At 65kts I pull back ever so slightly and the plane jumps off the runway into the air.  It accelerates and climbs so much faster with only one person on board.  I get to the traffic pattern altitude in no time, almost before I get to the end of the runway.  I had to glance round the plane just to make sure I was the only one on board to make sure I was really solo!

The air was still glossy smooth making the flight very enjoyable.  On the downwind leg tower called me up to inform me which number I was in the traffic pattern.  I called him back and said ‘number three cleared to land’.  Oops!  I cleared myself to land!  You can’t do that – and tower confirmed that by reminding me that I wasn’t actually cleared to land.  Then I got all flustered on my next radio call and made some really nondescript noise instead of words but after that everything was just fine.  When I lined up for the approach I couldn’t believe that my first solo experience was almost over.  I know a circuit is short but it seemed like seconds.  The approach was stable and so I continued towards the runway.  The touchdown was excellent, I was more than happy with it.  Very comfortable.

All the way back to parking I had a huge grin on my face – despite attempting to clear myself to land.  I was almost in disbelief at what I had just done.  I am very much looking forward to going solo again.

There’s one more thing though…after solo there is something that every Oxford Aviation Academy student has to go through (and it’s not paperwork).  I don’t know how other flight schools do it…but this is what happens here:

Circuits – AP12 & 13

Staying in the pattern (flying circuits) is the best way to practice landings because you get a landing in every five minutes or so.  The video above shows one of those circuits.  It’s not me flying but it shows what I was doing moments earlier.

 

The basic left-hand traffic pattern.

The basic left-hand traffic pattern.

The traffic pattern is pretty simple.  It can either be left-hand or right-hand.  Sometimes both circuits run at the same time depending on how ATC are running things.  A normal circuit only takes about five minutes so you can get plenty of landing practice in a single lesson.  The pattern here at Goodyear is flown at 2000 feet above mean sea level.  On the ground you are already 968 feet above mean sea level so the pattern is 1000 feet above ground level.  You fly the upwind to 500ft and then turn crosswind, still climbing.  Upon reaching 2000ft level off and if you haven’t already, turn for the downwind leg.  The downwind leg is flown about one mile away from the runway.

When the touchdown point on the runway is about 45 degrees behind your wing, that is a good time to turn onto your base leg.  When turning base reduce power and set flaps to 25 degrees to assist with altitude loss and slowing down.  Turn onto final and set flaps to 40 degrees – maintain 70kts until over the runway.  When over the runway, reduce power to idle as appropriate and raise the nose (flare) for touchdown.  As you probably heard on the radio there was a quick chirp from the stall warner just before touchdown.  That’s pretty much how you want it to be.  You don’t want to stall any higher than just above touch down!

This is the view of the runway on the base leg.

This is the view of the runway on the base leg.

Turning onto final.

Turning onto final.

If you look at the full size version of the ‘final’ picture (by clicking on it) you will see the PAPIs (Precision Approach Path Indicators) on the left hand side of the runway.  These help in setting up the correct descent rate when approaching the runway.  What you want to see is white on the outside and red on the inside.  That shows you’re on the correct glide path.  Two whites tell you that you’re too high and two reds tell you that you’re too low.

Climb, Descent and Medium Turns – With Radio Calls! (AP4)

My flight on Thursday was history in the making – it was the first time I was let loose on the radios to air traffic control.  It was a good flight and when my instructor said ‘right, time to go back’ I couldn’t believe it.  The lessons always go so quick.  We covered climbs, power-off descents and medium turns (up to 30 degrees of bank).  I was looking forward to having a go at landing but we were short of time and the sun was getting low in the sky – and directly lined up with the runway we would be approaching which would make it difficult for anyone to land, never mind a first timer!

I downloaded and  compiled my radio calls to the tower from liveatc.net so everyone can have a good laugh.  You can tell from the calls that I am an absolute beginner.  That’s okay though, the tower controllers were patient and helpful.  Have a listen!  One of my friends was on the tower frequency at the time and had a good laugh at my ‘arrival’ call.

Everything up to that point was okay, a little hesitation here and there but nothing too bad.  Listen out for Warrior 271SG, that’s me!  I’m pretty inconsistent with my call sign, I sometimes miss bits off or give more than the tower was looking for.  Once they have addressed me as Warrior 1SG I can use that but I forgot!  Once I have my hold short instructions from the tower you can hear Airship Snoopy Two call up.  I had to leave that in there because if I had to pick any voice for an airship pilot – that one would be it!

Straight after that you can hear me call up the tower to state my position and tell them I want to land.  It wasn’t really that quick, I just cut out the bits inbetween.  Instead of saying ‘…two miles south of the gap with information sierra inbound for full stop’ which means I want to land I said: ‘…two miles south of the gap fooooooooor…arrival?’  Ha!  It sounds as if I was asking the tower what I wanted.  After that things start getting a little busy so my instructor takes over.  There are two aircraft in front off us to land so we have to listen and look out for where they are.

My radio calls on friday were a lot better from what I could tell, I’ll post them when I get them put together.  I’ve just discovered a problem with my keyboard – sometimes it prints the letter I have pressed twice and sometimes not at all.  That needs fixing quick and I have no idea where to start.

Thanks to liveatc.net for the recording.