Oxford to Birmingham

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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.

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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.

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.

Effects of Controls & Straight and Level

Me with the wee Warrior.

Me with the wee Warrior.

My next two lessons (AP2&AP3) covered effects of controls and straight and level as the title of this post suggests.  I was a little nervous about the second flight because of the nausea thing but it wasn’t an issue.  Both lessons were very smooth because they were the first of the day.  A favourite part of both of these lessons was taking off.  Even though the wee warrior doesn’t have the same acceleration as a passenger jet it is still really satisfying to push the throttle forwards and accelerate towards rotation speed (the speed where you lift the nose off the ground) which is 65kts in the Warrior.

B-E-A-utiful view! Kind of looks like Sim City from up here.

B-E-A-utiful view! Kind of looks like Sim City from up here.

My lessons are usually back to back with my two flying buddies so our instructor will do one flight after the other.  If the first two pilots go together on the first flight, we can land away at another airport, switch, and have the second pilot fly back to Goodyear and then the third pilot gets his flight.  I hope you followed that!  On AP3, we landed at Mobile which is about 20nm south/south-east of Goodyear.  It is insanely quiet out there, the airport is un-manned and the only other thing nearby is a landfill and I couldn’t even hear that.  I haven’t landed yet but I look forward to it.  It looks like quite the challenge!  Taking off isn’t terribly difficult, keep the nose on the centre line with the rudder (requires right rudder due to various forces acting on the plane) and rotate at 65kts.  Hold a slight nose up attitude to climb away but not too steeply.  Keep your hand on the throttle until 1000ft above the ground – that isn’t strictly essential in a single engine aeroplane, it’s more preparation for flying a twin.  If you have an engine failure on takeoff in a twin, you want to throttle back the live engine straight away.  You can’t do that unless your hand is on the throttle.  It’s fun and I’m looking forward to the challenge of landing.  Unfortunately it isn’t as simple as taking off – but then it wouldn’t be a challenge.  AP4 will be tomorrow morning – climb, descend and medium turns.

Straight and level was a good lesson for getting to know the area better.  There’s not much else you can do going straight and level for over an hour!  We did turn, just not very often.  The aim of the lesson was to be able to hold altitudes (using trim) and hold headings using references on the ground.

Who said there was a 'right' way up anyway?

Who said there was a ‘right’ way up anyway?

I was out at an RC flying club this morning – my first time ever to such a place.  It was a lot of fun too even though I didn’t get to fly.  If I was even allowed to fly the pictured aircraft above I would have said no right away.  The risk of messing up is way too high!  The pilot of the blue plane has been flying RC aircraft for about thirteen years and that is clearly visible when watching him do that flying thing.  He had it upside down, spinning, looping, ‘hovering’ and flying sideways.  The performance was a complete show stealer, everyone stopped to watch and for good reason too, it was very impressive!  He was just as good with RC helicopters too, I had no idea they were so maneuverable – or strong enough to withstand such insane flying.

Helicopter or lawn mower? Both!

Helicopter or lawn mower? Both!

Right, that’s it.  I’ll let you know how tomorrow goes.

School Finals

Well that’s it.  Ground school is done.  No more classroom hours to go.  We had our last exam debriefs today and now we’re back on study leave to prepare for the final set of Joint Aviation Regulation exams.  I’d like to say some more about ground school but I’m not going to spend time on it now.  Maybe I will when it’s all over and then I can look back on it from a different point of view.

Too much ground school is bad for anyone, this is the kind of stuff that begins to happen:

Bromochlorodifluoromethane

You’re either wondering what that is, how to pronounce it or both.  It’s easier if you break it down into smaller chunks: bromo-chloro-difluoro-methane.  Easy as pie.  It’s a type of fire extinguisher that is especially good for use on aircraft because it can be used on most types of fire that could occur – including electrical fires where water would only cause you more problems.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated.  There isn’t too much that changes about ground school – we’re studying the same subjects with the same instructors.  Something that has changed since the last update is our classroom.  Wow.  I was sceptical of the change when it was first spoken of but as soon as I saw the new room I realised it was a really good one.  It’s clean, it’s tidy, roomy and you can learn stuff in there.  What more could you want?  Plus the air conditioner is powerful enough to freeze anything you want.

School finals are just around the corner.  In two weeks they will be over and we will be on study leave to prepare for the Joint Aviation Authority exams.  I’ll admit to being rather nervous, there is still a lot to do between now and then.  The volume of information is immense.  It seems strange to be wrapping up these subjects already.  In some ways it’s seemed a long time but in others, no time at all.

I’ll update again if I find some interesting news or another crazy word but for now, I must study some more.  Take it easy.

Sunset at Eynsham Hall

Sunset at Eynsham Hall

The Inertial Discumbobulator Has Failed to Reciprocate

As previously stated, our instrument teacher is a comedy genius and just might be one of the best teachers I have ever encountered.  He is extremely knowledgeable on his subject (as you would expect) but also on the English language.  He explains things in a terrific manner and often with much humour.  Today we were discussing the inertial navigation system and how it warns of errors and then the procedure for identifying them and correcting them.  The error he came up with was that the ‘inertial discumbobulator has failed to reciprocate’ which makes absolutely no sense but the way in which he said it just cracked me up.

What else is going on since T1’s?  We’ve finally finished propellers and made our way on to gas turbines, we’ve covered way too much AC Electric theory and nightmarish amounts of stability and control in Principles of Flight.  Other subjects such as Human Performance and Airframes & Systems are seeming to flow along nicely (or so it seems!).  Meteorology you ask?

Sunset at Eynsham Hall

Sunset at Eynsham Hall

There were some recent JAR examinations (the big ones, the real thing) recently which means some more people have left Eynsham Hall to go on to bigger and better things like Arizona and aircraft.  As far as I’m aware, there are only three of us left here now.  We’re extremely lucky, the surroundings are wonderful and the facilities are great.  The sunset picture was taken just last night and it was taken by my phone so it’s not the best.  I don’t take much time to get my ‘proper’ camera out at the moment.

All in all, things are going well here in North Leigh.  I wouldn’t have said the same thing yesterday, it was a tough one and I let it get on top of me.  Today has been far more positive and far more productive as a result.  To enable tomorrow to be as positive as possible I’m going to go and get a decent sleep.  Bye for now.

Post Exam Debrief – or Relief?

My three-day weekend.

Last weekend was the run up to the first school tests, aptly named Test 1’s.  As previously mentioned (I think), these tests are to see how we’re doing and how well we’re receiving the ‘stuff’ being taught.  The three-day weekend was a life saver, I don’t know how I would have covered all that I wanted to without it.  Notice how there isn’t a book in sight in the picture?  No comment.

Runway parallel with the coast, crosswind due to sea breeze.

Super cool diagram.

Above is one of my super cool diagrams.  Probably one of the best I have ever done.  The thing is, they don’t really need to be so detailed.  I was trying to visualise which way the crosswind would be coming from when approaching in a particular direction.  Notice how I put the wrong approach on first!  Like I say, they don’t need to be so detailed, I was just looking for a way out of answering more questions.

Drawings help you out in a number of subjects – instruments, meteorology, and some systems stuff too.  I used drawings in many of my recent tests, I’m certain they earned me a good few marks.  I’m not quite ready to publish my results to the entire world, it is sufficient to say that I did well enough to not have to see the chief ground instructor or be thrown off the course.  I’m relieved, I worked really hard over the last six weeks.  I was worried that I wouldn’t get the grade I expected because I wasn’t sure what I would do differently to improve.  So, relief all round.  I’m going to have to keep up that pace to maintain (and hopefully improve) my score throughout the next six weeks.

Sunday Lunch

Here’s one I made earlier.

It’s important to eat well when you’re working really hard, hopefully that is common knowledge.  I don’t make a Sunday lunch everyday, but it does make a nice treat on a Sunday afternoon when there’s a bit more time to make one.  I’m a cheat, I think everything on the plate was frozen an hour before the photo was taken.  Everything except the gravy that is, that was still powder.

My family were down for the weekend, that was most enjoyable.  Had they been down the previous weekend I would hardly have seen them.  There was much good food to be had over the weekend too.  The weather was amazing and I had no studying to do.  All this combined made for a wonderful weekend.  Now…back to work!