Well, I know I said I’d hopefully write another entry last week, but I never got round to it (again!) I know the blog has been a bit neglected lately, but since I’ve now arrived at my penultimate week in New Zealand and with two flights (and no more sims, I had the last one yesterday) to go before my flight as a passenger back to Manchester, I thought I’d better write about all that’s been happening over the past couple of months.
The main thing, obviously, is that early in June I finally finished with my VFR flying in NZ and moved on to the world of IFR (Instrument Flight Rules.) This is the type of flying I’ll be doing in whichever airline I end up with and, although obviously the physical handling and flying of the aircraft is the same, the procedures we follow are different. As the name suggests, for people that aren’t familiar, the major difference is that where as in VFR flight your primary reference is what you can see outside; in IFR you are flying according to what’s happening on your instrument panel, even if you can see outside. This of course means that the vast majority of IFR flight is under the guidance of Air Traffic Control – no more wandering about looking for ridiculous little “villages” (i.e. a barn) in uncontrolled airspace, in IFR you can’t rely on seeing outside (you might be able to, of course, but you have to assume you won’t be able to) and you navigate using radio aids and operate in controlled airspace. For most of the IFR training we assume we’re in IMC (instrument meteorological conditions, i.e. when you can’t see outside) and we trainees operate with screens up in front of us so we can’t see through the windscreen. It would take too long, and be deathly boring for most people, if I started to try and explain all the difference procedures we do, and it isn’t the place of this blog to do that – if you really want to know, Google is your friend! To cut a long story short, the IFR training I’ve done here consists of:
*Tracking – basically, how to know where you are and where you’re going using your instruments;
*Holds – how to fly a hold using a radio beacon (VOR or NDB);
*Approaches – non-precision (VOR and NDB) and precision (ILS) approaches
*Airways – how to transition from an instrument departure to an en-route cruise to an arrival, landing or missed approach and re-entry into the hold.
There’s other little bits and bobs, like variations on certain approaches, but that covers most of it. Once we’ve learned to do all that and passed a progress check, we then re-visit asymmetric flight and learn how to cope with an engine failure and other emergencies in IMC. This is the stage I was up to yesterday; I had my final sim, where I had a fair few emergencies (engine fire on departure, major instrument failures, pressure instrument failure, etc) thrown at me. Today’s flight was a flight up to Whenuapai (see below) following the end-of-phase check profile.
When starting out on IFR we have 6 lessons in simulators first, using both the proper ‘FNPT II’ DA-42 simulator and also the ‘Part Task Trainer’ (PTT), which is a basic representation of the DA-42 instrument panel (with the Garmin 1000 equipment), a control column, rudder pedals and power levers and a real-world navigation database like in the proper simulator so we can actually fly it – obviously there’s no ‘windscreen’. I’ll try and get a photo of it sometime this week so it’s more obvious what I’m talking about! Anyway, in these lessons I learned how to do basic tracking of VOR and NDB radio aids and how to compensate for wind blowing me off track; also, how to do instrument “point to point” navigation, for example flying from a point a given distance and direction from a radio beacon to another point a different distance and direction from the same beacon. After that, I learned how to do holds, which is when you have to circle a radio beacon or fix (the actual shape you fly is known as a ‘racetrack pattern’) and then we went up in the aircraft and practised them for real over the Hamilton VOR and NDB aids.
I should say at this point how grateful I am to be learning all this in the Twin Star rather than something more traditional like the Seminole or Duchess. The IFR stage, when the workload is quite high, makes you much more appreciative of how much the aircraft does for you – for example, only having one power lever for each engine (no separate propeller RPM lever, it’s all controlled by the FADEC system), having the direction indicator stay aligned automatically instead of keep having to synchronise it with the compass, and of course everything that the wonderful G1000 system does. Being able to display all the navigation aids on the Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI) rather than having separate instruments for the Course Direction Indicator (CDI) and Radio Magnetic Indicators (RMI – yes, flying is a world of acronyms and ‘initialisms’!) makes NDB tracking in particular much easier than it would be if they were displayed separately. The instrument scan, i.e. the pattern in which the pilot scans across the various instruments to make sure the aircraft is doing exactly what he/she wants it to do, is made so much easier by having everything on one big screen rather than having to go to different instruments.
Anyway, after that, over the next ten flights (or ‘events’ as we call them now, as time spent in the simulator isn’t technically flying in the true physical sense of the word!) I learned how to fly the various types of approaches – VOR, NDB (the flight for which I annoyingly stuffed up and had to do again) and ILS. For the ILS approaches we fly over to an RNZAF base, Whenuapai (just north of Auckland), or if it’s outside of their operating hours, Auckland International itself. On my first flight up to Whenuapai I didn’t see it because I had screens up in front of the windscreen as I usually do now, but Mr. Power (who was enjoying a back-seat ride at the time) assured me we had both a fantastic view of Auckland city and also a cracking view of a Thai A340-600 that flew right over the top of us on approach into Auckland. The conditions during the flight were pretty bumpy but generally it wasn’t bad and the ILS approach into Whenuapai went pretty well. The next event after that was the IFR techniques progress check, which tested everything I’d learned so far. I was a bit nervous about that because it was the first ‘test’ I’d done since making a royal hash of the end of single-engine phase check, but it actually went very well – probably the best ‘flight’ (it was a sim) I’ve done on the multi-engine course!
So after that it was back into the sim to re-visit engine failures and asymmetric flight, only this time with them happening in IMC. We worked on it in there and then went up and did a few asymmetric NDB approaches and they all went pretty well; since then, we’ve done a couple of events on DME arcs (something which apparently isn’t in widespread use, but involves tracking around an imaginary circular arc a given distance from a radio beacon) and did the sim I mentioned earlier where I have a few emergencies thrown at me. When the attitude reference and pressure systems fail as they did for me, you’re left with virtually nothing useful on the Primary Flight Display so you have to fly on the standby instruments, which took me a minute or so to get used to. I also had no navigation aids (and wasn’t allowed to use the GPS!). One thing I’m finding a little bit difficult at the moment is compass turns in the Twin Star; I never had much of a problem with them in the 172, but in the Twin Star the magnetic compass isn’t great and it’s taking me a bit of getting used to. I tried practising them in the PTT today after the flight but the computer-generated magnetic compass on there is even worse, so I think I’ll be working on them a bit more in tomorrow’s flight!
Tomorrow is my last flight before my end-of-NZ-phases test, and I’m doing the flight at night. I sat in the back of Shaun’s flight the other night when he did the same one, and it was brilliant – I might not ever get to see a night ILS approach into Auckland International ever again and it was pretty amazing! Unfortunately the pictures didn’t come out too well because I wasn’t able to use the flash. There’s just something, however, about flying up there in the dark and through the clouds and rain that makes you feel that much closer to airline flying – it feels like ‘proper’ stuff! Shaun said it was pretty hard work doing the flying but from where I was sat it was very enjoyable! I’m guessing the roles are going to be reversed tomorrow night when he sits in the back of my flight – I’m sure it’ll be enjoyable, but not for the same reasons (I won’t get much opportunity to admire New Zealand from 7000ft at night, because I won’t be allowed to look outside very much!) I’ll also take this opportunity to extend congratulations to Shaun, who passed his test today and has finished the NZ course.
I’m a bit hesitant to say anything more about expected finishing date because after my failing of the single engine phase test I don’t want to put a massive jinx on my test this time round! Suffice to say, hopefully I’ll be doing it on Friday and then will be able to relax over the weekend – we’ll just see how it goes over the next couple of days and take it from there. I’m sure I’ll be writing something on here about it one way or the other – let’s just hope it’s goes a bit better than last time!