First Few Days

I can’t believe how fast the past few days have gone by.  Two weeks ago I was in Gunlock, Utah; one week ago I was in Paris, France; and this week I’m in Oxford, England.  On Thursday I arrived here at Eynsham Hall, a fantastic place out by North Leigh – about six miles from the airport.  There is another guy here on my course and a good bunch from other courses both pre- and post-Goodyear (foundation flight training phase).

Friday was a nice easy day, we had a couple of presentations and then came the hardest part of the day – getting our uniforms and making sure they fit.  Everything went according to plan except my jacket.  I ordered the medium and it was a bit too medium so I swapped it for a large.  It’s a smart uniform, I think most uniforms are supposed to be smart!  I’ve since ironed all the shirts and don’t want to do that again any time soon.  After lunch we had an induction at the gym and then we were free to go.  Oh yeah, we also got our flight cases.  They contain all sorts of stuff that we don’t need until the flying stage like the fuel tester and high-vis jacket.  The also contain stuff that we will need during ground school – calculator, some kind of navigation computer (like a super cool slide rule) and some other basic instruments.

That’s not exactly where I’m staying, that’s the main building.
I’m in one of the outer buildings, Eynsham Court, which is still
excellent.

Monday was another steady day.  We had another couple of presentations, they went over in greater detail the contents of the course so we could get an idea of the schedule and what was expected of us exam-wise.  Another job for the day was collecting the fourteen ground school books (picture coming soon).  I’m sure you can imagine what fourteen books look like anyway.  Ground school started too, the instructors were kind enough to give us a gentle intro.  For our first lesson on piston engines we spent the first ten minutes in the classroom and then went out to one of the hangars for a look at some of the aircraft in maintenance.

P1070793Trainee pilot?  I don’t feel like a pilot yet.  I’m sure
as ground school progresses and I learn some things
that pilots need to know – things will change.

We had a full day of ground school today.  We had two lessons on piston engines, two on human performance, one on DC electrics and one on flight instruments.  I have used piston engines for years without fully appreciating the amount of work that has gone into them.  I am amazed to see how many things had to be taken into consideration.  I’d love to go onto detail but there just isn’t time.  It’s well worth looking up.  I was similarly amazed in the flight instrumentation lesson when we were learning about considerations required to be taken into account when designing a temperature gauge.

I wonder how long it took them to design and refine this.  It is designed so it can take an accurate reading in almost any situation – it has anti-icing, it removes moisture from the air and can take an accurate reading using a method I’m not sure how to describe in a few words on a blog.  It suffices to say that I’m amazed.  Along with the engine and the temperature sensor, I was amazed when we looked at the human circulatory system in the human performance lesson.  The detail of the system and all the various situations it can compensate for leave no doubt in my mind that it had an incredible Designer.

The Volcanic Ash Saga

sa·ga

saga pronunciation (sä’gə)
n.

    1. A prose narrative usually written in Iceland between 1120 and 1400, dealing with the families that first settled Iceland and their descendants, with the histories of the kings of Norway, and with the myths and legends of early Germanic gods and heroes.
    2. A modern prose narrative that resembles a saga.
  1. A long detailed report: recounted the saga of their family problems.

I really could write a long detailed report about the delays caused by the volcanic ash cloud but I will spare you the pain.  I’m sure you’ve heard plenty already from the countless news reports.  We (the rest of my family and I) arrived at the check-in desk in SLC to be told that our connecting flight and the one after it had been cancelled.  We didn’t think too much of it, there are all sorts of things that can cancel a flight: aircraft problems, crew scheduling or bad weather.  We were told we could sort things out when we got to Paris so we boarded the flight non the wiser.

The flight was long, but not quite as long as on the way.  It was supposed to be nine hours and when nine hours had passed the pilot made an announcement: “For those of you who have been monitoring our progress, you will know that we should have landed by now according to our original ETA”.  He then told us that we were re-routed mid-flight because of a volcanic ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland.  Instead of flying Canada-Greenland-Iceland we went a lot further south and came in over the English Channel (do the french call it the French channel?).  This added a little over an hour to the flight.  We then landed in Paris to find total chaos.

There were people everywhere – it’s not unusual to find a lot of people in an airport but they were all over the place, hundreds of them.  Safe to say, more than normal.  We went to the luggage carousel where the airline said our luggage would be.  We waited, and waited, and waited some more.  It turns out that the airline sent us to the carousel where our luggage would be had our luggage been checked all the way through to Manchester.  In SLC they said they couldn’t check it all the way because of the cancellation.  We went to the carousel where all the luggage went for those not connecting in Paris aka final destination.  We saw the lovely sign: ‘Delivery Completed’ but that was all.  Just a shiny carousel with a severe lack of luggage.

We recovered the luggage from a nearby office and then spent the next six hours getting a hotel since we’d established that we certainly weren’t getting out of Paris the same day.  In fact, the next three nights were spent in three different hotels with the one at Disney Land being the best by far.  When we got out of the third hotel we went back to the airport with things still in a mess.  We were told by the airline we were flying with that we were now on our own even though we had a re-scheduled flight for Thursday.

I kind of understand why they had to, you can’t pull money out of nowhere.  Realising that we would spend a fortune on food and hotels until Thursday we thought it would be better spent in getting home.  We made our own arrangements and made it home long before Thursday.  I spent 42 minutes (£4.20) on the phone to ‘the airline’ to get the unused tickets refunded.  All is well and a story had been made to tell for years to come.

Across the Atlantic – Part 2

So, the flight.  It was huge!  Totalling eleven hours it was the longest flight I’ve ever been on.  Like I said in my previous post it would have been great to have had breakfast in Paris but time wouldn’t allow so we had to wait until lunch was served on the flight.  I have to say, the food was excellent, the best I’ve ever had in-flight (no it wasn’t my first in-flight meal).

IMG_0184

The meal was most welcome.  I’m not sure what the green stuff was but it was tasty and the piece of chicken was top notch.  I was also surprised to see that the butter was from Ireland.  Once I had demolished the meal and had my tray taken I started a letter to a good friend – another first; I’ve never written a letter while in flight before.  It was so good at passing the time, I usually think for ages about what I want to say.  The in-flight movies sounded so lame that I didn’t attempt to watch a single one.  I spent the rest of the flight bouncing between trying to sleep, listening to music and reading.  I find it almost impossible to sleep on a plane.  Maybe that’s a good thing bearing in mind that I’ll be in the front seat in the not too distant future.

P1070569

It was a relatively smooth flight, only a few patches of turbulence.  The weather wasn’t amazing, we were above cloud for the majority of the flight.  When you could see though, the scenery was brilliant.  Snow-capped mountains and sweeping glaciers could be seen for miles.  It looked fantastic from our nice warm viewpoint in the sky.  I wasn’t in a hurry to get down there.

The decent and approach into SLC seemed to take forever – mainly because we couldn’t see anything.  We were only about 1000 feet above the ground before we could see it – how do I know that you ask?  I’m either just really good at estimating altitude or I spoke to the pilots afterwards.  You’re right, I spoke to the pilots.  Being unable to visit the flight deck during the flight I stopped by on my way off the plane.  The pilots were very friendly and I was grateful they gave me a bit of their time.  They must have been pretty tired by this point.  While I was in the flight deck the ground power hookup fell out and all sorts of stuff started clicking.  A ground engineer came up to look at a few things and all was well because the APU was still running.  I made a quick exit after that, even though they said I was fine to take a look I could tell they wanted to finish work and get home – good on them.

Across the Atlantic – Part 1

I recently crossed the Atlantic to head over to Utah to catch up with some friends and attend a church conference before I crack on with flight school.  It has been three years since I was last over and it could be a lot longer before I’m back – saying that though, if I can pop up sometime during foundation flight training while I’m in Arizona that would be a real treat.

We took a route most of us had never done before – Manchester-Paris-Salt Lake City.  My sister had done it before and the rest of us were none the wiser.  The mammoth journey started not long after I woke up at 02:30, only two hours after I went to sleep.  It reminds me of the time I went to Ireland a few hours after a Muse concert.  The drive to Manchester was fine, nothing to report there.  We checked in at about 4:45.  After spending probably thirty minutes in the line we got to the desk and were told that we had to use the electronic check-in at the back of the line.  Fortunately they said we could skip back down the line to the desk.  I would have been ever so slightly irritated had it been otherwise.

The electronic check-in machine didn’t work because we were connecting in Paris to the USA so back to the desk we went.  All sorted.  Time was short, we went straight through security, walked to the gate, sat there for ten minutes and then boarded.  The flight to Paris was fine, very quick with not much to look at.  The fun started when we arrived in Paris.  We had a couple of hours before boarding our next flight and so were looking forward to a bit of breakfast.  Thanks to the French security we had to pass through we had to say goodbye to breakfast.  They were so slow it was untrue.  No-one was in a hurry.  There were as many people going through as there were in Manchester only much much slower.  I wonder how many people the caused to miss flights.  And how many breakfasts they caused to be skipped.

A few hours into the Atlantic crossing lunch was served.