All entries for May 2007
May 25, 2007
I’m now just over half-way through the VFR stages of the multi-engine stage of the course, which basically involves learning how to fly the aircraft in readiness for moving on to the IFR flying. Happily, it’s all going really well so far. I think by the end of the single-engine phases, you’re ready for something a bit different and I know I certainly was.
I don’t think I could ever say I got bored of it – that would be the wrong word because I never get bored of flying (well, apart from as a passenger on 14 hour sectors from Manchester to Singapore, for example) but there’s only so many VFR navigation and CPL profile flights you can do before it starts to get repetitive. Towards the end, when you’re supposed to be feeling at your peak and ready to show an examiner what you can do, it’s probably not a good thing that you feel like you’re going through the motions but it does feel like that sometimes, particularly when you turn up and the Hamilton Airport fog magnet has been left switched on again. There’s only so many times you can fill in yet ANOTHER weight and balance sheet that was practically identical to your last one and go through the same drill on every flight before you want to move on. Don’t get me wrong, there are things I already miss about those flights – I don’t have any more solos in New Zealand, for example, which means I won’t get the chance to plan routes where I can get in a bit of sightseeing (I never did make it round Auckland city, though!) The next time I’ll be pilot-in-command will be ages away when I’m back in Bournemouth. But generally, I found my motivation starting to slip away slightly towards the end of the single-engine flying because it was so repetitive and silly mistakes started to creep in towards the end. When I passed the test it felt like a massive hurdle had been finally crossed and, now I’m on the Twin Star, the motivation and desire has jumped right back up again. When I come back from a flight in it, I just want to go straight back out on the next one, which is exactly how it should be.
So, the flights so far… well, I’ve done three flights and three simulator flights, plus one introductory session on the Part Task Trainer (PTT) which is basically a replica instrument panel without any external visual references like in a “real” sim. I’ve covered most normal and abnormal operating procedures in the simulator and then practised them for real on the first two flights, and today I had a flight doing circuits at Hamilton, where I learned to land it properly. A lot of it so far is just, as I mentioned, learning how to fly the aircraft in readiness for the IFR stuff and a lot of it is just old techniques being revisted and adapted to flying them in a bigger, heavier aircraft with more engines. There are three things here which are worth a mention here.
First – only a small one really, but we’re now officially allowed to use the autopilot. I tried it at the end of my second flight and it’s really useful, it helps you manage the workload a lot better, particularly when returning to the airport and you’ve got other things to do besides fly the aircraft such as getting weather information, talking to the tower and looking out for other traffic. The auto-pilot in the DA-42 isn’t an all-singing, all-dancing job like in an Airbus – it’ll do the basic stuff but we still have to operate the rudder, power levers (not throttles any more – always power levers!) and of course keep a good lookout. Some of the Cessnas we had on lease had autopilot fitted but I was never tempted to try it! So this was my first experience of it and I think I’ll be using it a fair bit more!
Second – the simulator. It’s a pretty awesome training tool, and it’s something that’s quite new to me. The cockpit is an exact replica of the real DA-42 (complete with raising and lowering canopy) without the anti-ice controls or seat belts, and it also has a “pause” button, which is very helpful for in-flight discussions about stuff with your instructor. The handling doesn’t feel too far away from the real thing – there are some differences, particularly noticeable when practising stalling and also the way it handles on the ground but, as far as I can see so far, it really prepares you well for getting in the aircraft and doing it for real. For anybody reading this and thinking the external views we see are photo-realistic replicating the outside world, forget it! Think back to something like Flight Sim 4 (before the Windows 95 version with the 737 came out) and you’ve pretty much got it. The “big” features of the landscape are all there – rivers, prominent mountains, etc, so you know you’re flying around the Hamilton area – but for those people who are expecting it to be a working version of Flight Simulator X but with a full cockpit and panoramic screen, forget it! (Although it does have a 180 degree panoramic screen which is great.)
Thirdly – landing. This is probably the part of flying the DA-42 that feels so much different than the Cessna. Obviously, it’s a bigger and heavier aircraft and the approach speeds are higher so everything feels like it’s happening that much faster, particularly on short finals and crossing the threshold of the runway. The actual technique for touching down is what feels most different though. In the Cessna, you’d have to pull the power to idle about 50ft above the threshold and hold the nose attitude until starting the flare to get the airspeed down and stop you floating along the runway for miles. In the DA-42, with landing gear down and full flap the amount of drag is much larger and the nose attitude on short finals is MUCH lower than in the Cessna. It took some getting used to because it felt like we were diving at the runway but after a few attempts you realise that actually, you’re not really descending any faster. You just have to keep flying it down to keep the airspeed up and flare slightly later than in the Cessna. You also don’t bring the power levers back until you’ve gone over the threshold and you’re about to touch down – again, do it where you would have done in the Cessna and you’ll probably smack it down pretty hard and have some explaining to do to the maintenance guys afterwards!
This evening I had my first lesson on asymmetric flight in the simulator (i.e. learning how to deal with one of the two engines failing.) It’s a very, very important part of learning to fly a multi-engine aircraft. If you have an engine failure on a single-engine aircraft, you’re going to have to stick it down in a field but at least you know it’s going to glide in a straight line without too much effort. On a multi, it’s very different – if an engine fails, you’ve still got the other one so you’ll still have some degree of performance and (barring a disaster) you’ll be able to make it to an airfield and land safely but if you don’t know how to control it, you’re stuffed. Because of the asymmetric lift, drag and thrust created by one engine being dead, if you sit and do nothing about it you’ll end up in a spiral dive (as I was shown in the sim.) Learning how to control it, therefore, and all the procedures associated with continuing to fly safely is absolutely vital, and this is what I’ll be doing over the next few flights. Overall, tonight’s sim was pretty good; a lot of it was just getting used to the asymmetric handling and getting to grips with all the checks, but I’ve been reliably informed that the next one is going to be pretty hard work.
To finish with, here’s a picture courtesy of Shaun – it’s me taxiing out off the apron for my circuits lesson today, in ZK-CTN. (This one, despite being such a new aircraft, has a very annoying habit of pulling to the left during taxiing and left me with a pretty sore right leg by the time I got to the run up bay from trying to keep it straight. If Shaun had taken this picture about 3 seconds earlier, he’d have caught me embarrassingly off the yellow line on the taxiway!)
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May 18, 2007
I’m writing this on a Friday afternoon of relaxation and generally doing not very much at all; the last week or so has, for some reason, felt like one of the most stressful weeks I can remember for a long time. I don’t know anyone who enjoys flight tests and I certainly don’t, but after 32 flights of building up my hours, practising various navigation techniques and becoming more confident in my handling of the aircraft, I finally reached the end of the single-engine phase of the course. I hadn’t felt too worried about it up until about the night before, and then when the schedule appeared and I had my slot down for the next day (this was last Friday) the nerves suddenly started to flare up big style.
Why, I don’t really know – this particular test wasn’t for an official rating or licence issue, it’s an internal company assessment and therefore although it’s a test, it’s not a full-blown “exam” as such. It didn’t get off to a great start last Friday when we went. The weather closed in pretty quickly and we were only airborne about half an hour before we had to come back. That was not good, considering that I’d spent ages psyching myself up and trying to prepare well for it. So I spent the afternoon being annoyed by the crap weather then had another go at it the next day when it was slightly better. To cut a long and boring story short, I failed. A lot of the flight was OK, but there were certain bits that weren’t and they were apparently pretty crucial – handling of the controls not smooth enough, not enough use of rudder during stall recovery, forgetting to look out before going into a glide – things like that. I confess to feeling a little hard done by, but then who am I to talk? I’m not an instructor with hundreds of hours of experience, so it was probably perfectly justified. I also don’t deny being bitterly disappointed, being the first person to fail that particular test for months. But, as people kept saying to me, what’s important is how you take the feedback on board and improve on it and come back better next time.
I then had a bit of an enforced break from that for the rest of the week to sweat over the next attempt; I had to wait a couple of days for the meeting you have when you balls up a flight, then I had two days of ground school for flying the multi-engine aircraft. (Being only one flight away, it made sense to go to it than wait until finishing and then waiting another 2 weeks doing nothing before the next lot were ready for the ground course.) It was great because it really felt like we were getting somewhere – multis after months and months of flying the singles! I’ve been so anxious to get on to this part of the course because I’m roughly 5 weeks behind at the moment and this part of the course is quite time critical, we have to finish before returning to the UK for Bristol part 2 because we don’t come back here again after that. So on that basis, it was great to be in the classroom and feel like I was making progress towards that. Having said that, knowing that unlike some of my classmates I had another test still to come on the C172, I couldn’t relax and enjoy it 100%; it was rather like the proverbial dangling of the carrot.
Thursday then came and I was scheduled for my re-test. It was meant to be at 10am but the weather was again pretty bad, with a cold front passing through the area so we managed to re-schedule for 1pm when hopefully it would be a bit clearer. It was, but there was still turbulence forecast right along the route I’d been given. We still went and I somehow passed but I’m still struggling to believe it. In my opinion, the flight was far worse than the first one. Towards the end of the first navigation leg my composure deserted me completely and I missed seeing the turning point (despite finding out later on that I’d been pretty much directly overhead it) and, despite trying to apply the correct techniques I’d been taught, had no idea where I was at one point. I did manage to find myself again and was given a diversion, which then proceeded to be the most messy diversion I’ve ever done. Despite me getting flustered and feeling overloaded when I shouldn’t really have been, I still managed to fly reasonably on track, my techniques more or less worked and I arrived at Matamata airfield exactly when I said I was going to. Although it had worked, I was just so annoyed that it was nowhere near as good as it could have been. The rest of it wasn’t too bad, but there was a bit near the end where I was meant to intercept and track a VOR radial and it took ages to intercept because the compass and DI weren’t aligned and because I was feeling knackered I didn’t pick it up. There was just time for a bit of final embarrassment entering the Hamilton circuit; I thought I’d heard the ATIS saying the crosswind on runway 18 was gusting to 20 knots, which is outside the Cessna’s max demonstrated crosswind limit so I requested runway 25 instead. It turned out it wasn’t because loads of people were using 18 at the time and my instructor immediately jumped in and told the tower to disregard my call and 18 would be fine. Felt like a bit of an idiot at that point.
After another slightly iffy crosswind landing and shutting down at the fuel pumps, I didn’t move for a minute or so, I just stared out of the window unable to believe that I’d gone and failed it again; after how erratic I thought my navigation had been, there was no way I was going to pass. I sent a few depressed texts to Naomi, feeling any remaining confidence in my flying draining away. I’d already felt short of confidence before this one because the more I thought about the previous one, the more I thought it hadn’t really gone that badly and after 5 days of not flying and also not sleeping too well the night before I was sure I wasn’t going to improve on my previous performance. I was probably stressing about it way too much considering a bit of extra remedial training would have been the absolute worst outcome, but honestly I don’t think I’ve felt that nervous since just before my Phase 4 before I was accepted on to the course. So when I was told that I was being allowed to proceed on to the multis but there was a lot of hard work ahead, I was just more relieved and grateful than anything else. I should have felt happy, but I didn’t really. Just relieved. I wasn’t happy with how I’d flown and I wasn’t happy that I’d just about passed. This was the end of the phase, and I wanted to pass well, to show what I could do.
Still, as I said, that’s it for the Cessna. It’s goodbye to the 172, which overall has been great to fly and a trusty workhorse. It has its detractors and I admit the Robin is pretty nice and handles like a dream, but for cross-country navigation and general comfort I know which one I’d rather take. And it’s hello to this:
(If you’re reading this note as imported into Facebook, you won’t be able to see the picture; click on the link at the top to see the original version in Warwick Blogs.)
For those of you reading who aren’t cadets and/or haven’t come across this aircraft before, this is the Diamond DA-42 “Twin Star”, which we do all our twin-engine training on between now and finishing the CPL and IR. The one shown here is ZK-CTO, one of eight we have here in Hamilton, and this one was delivered to our training centre new only last month and is the one I have my first flight in tomorrow! It’s diesel-powered (runs on Jet-A1 but has two 1.7 litre turbo-diesel engines) which means it’s very efficient and, although not about to win any beauty awards (particularly with those ridiculous winglets) it has plenty of electronic gadgetry to help us out; for example, where as in a conventional twin piston you’d have separate levers for the throttles and propellers, the Twin Star has one single power lever for each engine and the propeller pitch is controlled automatically. The best bit, however, is the instrument panel which is dominated by the fantastic Garmin 1000 “glass cockpit”.
(Photo linked from the Diamond Aircraft website, I’ll replace it with my own when I’ve taken one inside the aircraft.)
I had a lesson on how to use it today, and suffice to say I can’t wait to get my hands on it tomorrow! It’s a brilliant piece of kit, it does absolutely everything. I’ve got a simulator flight first thing in the morning, then the real thing later on so I’m really hoping the weather’s good. At this stage, while we’re learning how to fly the aircraft, the flying is still VFR; 5 or 6 flights’ time (plus a few more sims) the weather ceases to be as much of an issue because we’ll be flying IFR. I can’t wait to get on to that. Still, got to learn to fly the thing first and on that note, I’d better get on with revising the ground school notes!
May 07, 2007
This is the start of the fourth week back in New Zealand and I was hoping to report that I’d finished flying the Cessna by now and was starting the DA-42 ground course today. Not so, unfortunately. With three full weeks gone, I still have three flights to go – pre-test TPIC, one solo and then the actual test. (This assumes I don’t fail any of them – obviously if I do, there’ll be more.) While the flying that I have done has been quite fun, it’s utterly frustrating that even if I finish by the end of this week and start on the Twin Star stuff next week, I’ll be four weeks behind schedule. While this doesn’t sound like a massive problem (given that I got my PPL about 9 weeks late) it still only leaves 8 weeks before we’re due to go home and 10 weeks before the last date we can actually go home to make it back in time for Bristol part 2. I’m pretty desperate to make it home for Naomi’s 21st which is on July 23rd but for this to happen we’re going to have to accelerate pretty quickly through the multi-engine phases.
The biggest problem by far has been fog. Hamilton, lying in a big flat basin, is apparently well known for it. Too many days I’ve woken up at 6am for an early flight, looked out of the window and not even been able to see the car park about 30 feet away. Often, the airport has been even worse. Depending on how thick the layer of fog is, it sometimes doesn’t burn off until midday, which means pretty much half a day’s worth of flying is lost. It’s utterly frustrating and really quite demoralising. Although I’m now only three flights away from saying goodbye to the Cessna, the Twin Star doesn’t feel like it’s getting any closer and it’s very difficult to remain motivated or happy. A few days of not flying due to weather (and once, last week, on a beautiful day but with the aircraft refusing to start) leads to slipping into a “ground-happy” mindset where planning and doing a flight feels like a chore, going through the motions, rather than being something that gives you a buzz. Added to that is the fact that while we’re still labouring towards the end of single engine, we’re seeing CP39 galloping jubilantly to their going-home date in the middle of June with most of them expected to finish on time and in a way that makes it a bit harder for us. Not that we begrudge them of that, obviously!
And just to top off the misery, I abandoned a good (and sober) night out in Hamilton the other night in favour of driving up to Clearways to watch the City vs United game. I’d said beforehand that given the form of the two teams I’d have been happy with a defeat in single figures and my only wish was that it wasn’t going to be a cricket score in favour of the Salford Yankees, but I’d forgotten just how angry it makes me losing a derby game. Particularly when it’s from a penalty, and even more particularly when it’s Ronaldo who’s won and scored it. And us missing one – and therefore virtually handing them the title, at the same time as us gaining the record for the least home goals scored in a top-flight season EVER – was just the icing on the cake. I was half up for going back into town at 2am but thought better of it, mainly because I was too annoyed and wouldn’t have enjoyed it but also because it turned out most people had packed up about half past 1 and gone home. Still, it probably helped the wallet a bit, especially having played pub golf the weekend before. And speaking of that, HSBC very kindly refunded me nearly 200 quids’ worth of penalty charges this week which certainly eased a few financial worries.
I’ve been saying this all along but I just want to get finished now. I’m getting more nervous about my test the longer I wait for it and it’s driving me mad. I suppose once I eventually do start flying the twins then the light at the end of the tunnel that is boarding the flight back to Manchester in July might just start becoming visible but at the moment it feels a long, long way off.