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February 07, 2009

April–June 2008 – about time to catch up!

I’m starting to write this entry on the way home from France, on a quick trip home for four days off before I actually start flying again. It’s just under two weeks since I moved over to live on the French/Swiss/German border and to be honest I’m ready for a few days break. [Edit – it’s now over a week later and I’m only just finishing it…!]

It’s been a busy 24 hours, because as I start to write this (29 January), this time yesterday I was in the FSC Flight Simulator Centre in Amsterdam, undergoing by 6-monthly recurrent check which all airline transport pilots have to do. To the vast majority of pilots it’s a non-event, it’s just something you have to do every six months and you just get on with it. Without getting too technical, it’s basically to check that if anything goes wrong during flight we know what to do, in the safe confines of the simulator! It’s actually good fun because you get to practice things and come across new scenarios that you shouldn’t – and virtually never – come across in the aircraft, and there are numerous aspects that the trainers have to check us on; for example, do we understand the aircraft’s systems correctly? The A320 is a pretty complex piece of machinery, and it takes masses of experience to know every little detail in intricate detail. Also, are our CRM (crew resource management) skills up to scratch – i.e. can we work together well as a crew? Do we share the workload properly? And, in the unlikely (but possible) event of something like an engine exploding on takeoff, are our manual handling skills up to scratch? Then there are specific scenarios we have to train for; for example, flying into specific airports that are known to be complicated and require specific training – Mykonos and Ajaccio, in this case – and do we know exactly what to do if our Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) starts shouting at us and we have to perform an evasive manouever? It’s not something you can really practice for in the aircraft, for obvious reasons, so we need to know what to do, instantly, from memory.

I was a little apprehensive beforehand because I’ve never done simulator training with an experienced captain before, only trainees of similar experience to me, so I was expecting the CRM aspect to be a little different. The captain doing his check with me was one of the most experienced in the company and an examiner himself, so it was pretty much the other end of the scale to what I’m used to, but the whole point of the training we undergo is so that we can work well as a crew whatever the experience levels, and it does work. I’m pretty glad that I’ve got 6 months to wait until my next one, but overall it was good fun and a good learning experience. From here, I start flying again on Monday (a nice short Basel-Amsterdam and return) and then have to go to Geneva for a few days of line training flights before being released to the line again!

Anyway, as it’s been so long since I wrote anything proper on here, there is a big gap which needs filling for much of what I’ve written above to make sense. After I finished the AQC course which I wrote about some time early last year – the part of my training programme which taught us the basics of moving up to a passenger jet from a light aircraft, before moving on to the aircraft-specific type rating – I then had about 7 weeks off before actually starting on the type rating course. For this, after going to the company induction day at Luton, it meant another trip down to Southampton for another few weeks at CTC, where the course would be conducted. Familiar territory! (Apart from the accommodation, which, due to the company’s normal residence being full, meant being put up in a posh country hotel for a few days.)

Those of us on the type rating course (10 or 12 in total, I can’t quite remember) had received the welcome pack in the post a few weeks earlier and I’d been completely unable to fathom what on earth it was on about. A full-motion flight simulator session on day 2? Before we’d even learned anything about the aircraft?! And two more on consecutive days afterwards?! Surely not! But it turned out a few of us had been assigned to a new-style type rating course the CAA were trialling, the so-called FORCE (Flight Operations Research Centre of Excellence, or something) course. Rather than take the traditional approach of two weeks’ classroom study of the aircraft followed by 12 or so simulator sessions, the new approach was to throw us into the simulator on day 1 and then do the ground school half way through the course. The intention, I believe, was to introduce the automation in a different way to normal. The Airbus is a very clever aeroplane and the automatics can do all sorts of wonderful things to make your life easier that older aircraft can’t do, but if you don’t understand them then you’ll find yourself digging yourself very quickly into a big hole. So the idea I believe was to build us up gradually from fully manual operation (including manual thrust, which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t use in an entire six months on the line in summer) towards an intermediate level of automation to build up our understanding before finally letting us get the aircraft to look after certain things itself. It was hard work and those of us who’d done the AQC course on the A320 a couple of months earlier definitely felt like we had a bit of a head start over those (including some reasonably experienced guys) who’d never set foot in an Airbus before. It’s not really up to me to say whether I thought it was the right way to go about it, but suffice to say that the company only ran a few courses that way before dropping it a few months later and reverting to the traditional type!

The course I did consisted of six 4-hour flight simulator sessions, followed by 2 weeks’ ground school, followed a further six 4-hour sim sessions – these at Burgess Hill, just north of Brighton – of which two were devoted to the LST – Licence Skills Test, the bit you have to pass to have the A320 qualification printed in your licence. It’s pretty intense to get everything you have to do actually done in the time you have available; the course requires an intense amount of study to ensure that where there is a procedure for something, you have to know it off by heart and then be able to do it more or less first time in the simulator, before moving straight on to something else. There is a form about 4 pages long with all the different scenarios and exercises that must be covered before being put forward for the test and each one has to be signed off by an instructor to say it’s been covered. In the test itself, the examiner then has some specific things which must be tested and has a plethora of options to choose at random to throw at us. At this stage of the course you don’t want to have to be repeating stuff – it’s not like the early stages of basic training where if you messed up a few circuits you could just get back in a Cessna the next day and go and do them again; at this stage, you really need to be able to do everything first time (with training and guidance, obviously, otherwise there would be no point in actually training!) Fortunately I did pass everything first time, despite messing up quite a bit in the final session before the test and a few “errrrrrr…” moments during the test itself, but by the end of it I was pretty shattered! It was about six weeks long in total and I finished the test on 2nd May 2008. Despite finishing the test session at around midnight and not getting to bed until gone 1:30am, we’d been told to go back in the next morning (a Saturday) for another unrelated training session. By the time I got back from Burgess Hill on Saturday evening I was absolutely shattered, and just to temper the feeling of euphoria at passing a difficult test on something I first set out to do 18 months earlier, City went and lost 8-1 at Middlesbrough…!

It wasn’t over, however, because to actually fully qualify, six take-offs and landings are required in the real thing, so a day is spent on what’s called base training – where the airline will take an aircraft out of service and fly it round and round an airport all day training us newbies and check we know how to land properly; and before that, we had to spend two days back at Luton doing the airline’s safety and security courses. This is basically a much shortened, abridged version of the full cabin crew course which teaches us just what we as pilots need to know. One of the first things we did was the ‘wet drills’ where we learn how to use the lifejackets. Naturally, as this involves getting in a swimming pool with lots of lovely young trainee cabin crew, it’s a part that many of us looked forward to quite a lot! We also had got to practice jumping down the emergency slides (in a nice, calm, slow, health-and-safety conscious manner which doesn’t really reflect what having to use them for real would be like), put out fires using BCF extinguishers (well, replica ones containing water at the behest of the health and safety people), find people in a smoke-filled cabin, learn to operate the aircraft doors – all sorts of stuff really. Unfortunately the attempts of Skeelsy and myself to get chatting to some of the aforementioned cabin crew in the hotel bar were scuppered slightly by the fact they all had exams coming up, but it wasn’t for want of trying!

After that course I then had a week or so off before base training day. The day itself, when it arrived, involved a lot of travelling around as the departure point was Stansted. Annoyingly, at the time I was still officially based at Stansted so despite me not actually having started with the company, I wasn’t put up in a hotel so had to make do with a cheap-and-cheerful Travelodge type place while my colleagues were all enjoying the delights of the rather more flash Radisson SAS at Stansted. Anyway, I arrived late the evening before, having been stuck stationary on the M11 for an hour and a half and eventually resorting to putting my seat back and playing Champ Manager, while waiting for the remnants of someone’s crashed caravan (absolutely hate the damn things) to be removed from the road. I didn’t sleep too well but made it into the airport nice and early the next morning. As a new first officer, base training is the first time you get to wear your uniform and you do feel quite a sense of pride in doing so in public! After I’d met the other boys fresh from their posh Radisson full English breakfast with smoked salmon – a little more substantial than my apple and a cup of tea – we headed to the Stansted crew room and met the training captain running the day. We would be doing the circuits at East Midlands and I was to go in the second session, once we’d picked up a second training captain at East Midlands. There were six of us and we each had to do six take-offs and landings, so we were in for a long old day and were pleased to see the caterers had loaded us up with plenty of food! Most importantly we were shown how to work the brew-maker, probably the most used piece of equipment on the aeroplane all day.

I was number 4 out of the 6 to go, so the first in the ‘afternoon’ session. Sitting in the right hand seat of the real thing for the first time was a little bit daunting but the training captains were great – they took a lot of the pressure off. Once we’d started up and called for clearance we headed out for runway 09, and the first thing I noticed was that taxiing the aeroplane is a bit easier than doing it in the simulator! The sim is too responsive and sensitive to ground movements, and in trying to replicate cornering/braking forces and bumps can sometimes end up making you feel a bit sick if you have too long a taxi. The real thing is much smoother as long as you’re gentle with the nosewheel tiller! Anyway once we’d completed the before take-off procedures and checks, we were told to line up and cleared for take-off.

The circuits themselves passed fairly quickly, which was a shame as it was great fun! As it’s probably the only time in a pilot’s career that they get to do touch-and-goes in a jet aircraft, it’s really something you have to savour. It’s a little difficult to describe it fully without going into lots of technical detail but the A319 is a joy to fly and in the end, with a helpful and experienced instructor, it didn’t feel particularly difficult! Of course now, 9 months later on, any take-off feels just like any other really, but those first few were quite special – getting to fly a passenger jet, hands on, is what the entire course which I started 21 months earlier was training us for, so actually getting to do it for the first time really gets the adrenaline going. Likewise, any landing now is totally routine, but on that first day, as a newly-qualified novice, it was a good feeling getting off the aircraft later on, looking back up at the Airbus and thinking “wow, I just landed that!”

The next day we had to make our way back to Burgess Hill again, not for a simulator session this time but for a couple of days’ Line Training Ground School, i.e. classroom sessions on flying the aircraft ‘on the line’, in normal passenger service rather than in the set scenarios we’d become accustomed to in the simulator. During this time we were also supposed to get the Airbus rating added to our licences by the CAA but due to a series of admin balls-ups it wasn’t possible to do it that day, which meant spending an extra night down south and heading to the CAA building first thing the next morning. Fortunately my good friends living in Finsbury Park were more than accommodating but it still took about 2 hours to there from Gatwick (and an hour and half the following morning) and the drive across London, just like every time I visit, merely reinforced my opinion about how much I can’t stand the place and how I’m infinitely glad I’ve made my way into a career which doesn’t involve having to live there to go to work. By this point I’d already had confirmation that my transfer to East Midlands would be going ahead before I started my line training programme, so fortunately I could go back up north!

That’s probably quite enough for one entry, because it’s going to take forever to finish. I know all this probably doesn’t quite explain how I’ve ended up living in France and working abroad; that’ll come in a separate entry which I’ll start writing soon! There’s a lot to catch up on yet with all the flying I did out of East Midlands between June and November so what’s above is only really half of the story, but at least it’s a start having not written anything for so long.

January 25, 2009

It's been a long time…

For anybody who still checks this blog occasionally, which I suspect might be a grand total of 0 these days; as promised, it will reappear over the next few weeks, and I’ll try to update anybody interested on what I’ve been up to over the last year since I qualified. There’s quite a lot to tell.

My career took an unexpected turn in December and has taken me to Switzerland. It can get pretty quiet out here at times in the little French village where I live, therefore I forsee lots of blogging time.

I’m currently studying for my 6-monthly LPC/OPC (basically a 6-monthly check we have to pass to be allowed to keep flying). Once I’ve got that out of the way and I’ve briefly popped back to England next week, I’ll get on with it.

January 20, 2008

Finally – officially a Commercial Pilot!

As I’ve got a few hours free, here’s the next update of how things are going, which I promised in my previous entry. When I started this I was on the train on the way down to Southampton to start the intermediate phase of training, so I had a couple of hours to collect my thoughts and think back to November to remember what I was doing! As ever when I write entries of this length, 2 hours wasn’t enough so it’s now six days later and I’m sat finishing it off in my hotel room having finished the first week of the Airline Qualification Course (AQC).

Unfortunately (for me anyway) in the last couple of weeks of November, the south of England had a very large high pressure weather system over it which just wouldn’t go away. This meant about three weeks of very nice weather. For me, having passed my 170A assessment before the Instrument Rating Test (IRT), this wasn’t good news because it meant the guys waiting for their CPL tests got priority with the exam booking slots. Ironically, having only just finished the course in time for AQC after being delayed by bad weather, it was good weather that put me about two weeks behind in November! Eventually, after a frustrating wait, I did take the IRT on November 21st. I can remember being pretty nervous about it beforehand – the IRT is apparently known to be one of the hardest flight tests to do. Once I was round at the exam centre and getting on with the planning, however, the nerves started to wane a bit. There was one slight moment of panic when I realised I’d forgotten to take my CRP-5 planning computer round to the exam centre with me and therefore would have no way of planning an accurate heading compensating for wind, so thanks are due to Shane for nipping it round to me within about 5 minutes of my frantic phone call to base. My route was a fairly simple one – northwest out of Bournemouth, along a radial from the Southampton VOR to the reporting point EXMOR, south along the N866 airway towards Exeter, radar-vectored ILS approach to Exeter and then back to Bournemouth for the NDB hold and approach. As I was climbing out of Bournemouth and tracking the NDB out to intercept the SAM radial, things started to look like they were going a bit wrong – the Bournemouth NDB was giving a completely useless reading, constantly swinging through about 30 degrees and going nowhere near the actual bearing I was flying on. This threw me a little bit, and it took a bit of dead-reckoning, a few glances at the GPS track read-out (which the examiner said I could use) and a lot of luck to end up right over where I was meant to be. The examiner had quite rightly disabled the moving map display on the instrument panel so I didn’t have the GPS map display to help me out.

Anyway I ended up in the right place at the right time, and in the end the leg along the SAM radial was quite relaxing – use of the autopilot was allowed and I had over 35 miles to go before joining the airway at EXMOR. Of course there was a fair bit to do in the meantime but it did put me in a relaxed frame of mind. ATC predictably left it right until the last minute to issue my clearance into their controlled airspace but in the end there were no problems. Everything after that went OK, my ILS approach wasn’t the best in the world but it was within limits so still passable and all the general handling went pretty well. It was as I was attempting to get my clearance back into Bournemouth for the hold and approach that things started going a bit pear-shaped – the ADF, which had worked fine when tracking the Exeter NDB, was still playing up when tuned into Bournemouth. After watching it for about five minutes, the examiner decided that it was nowhere near good enough to use for a hold and approach so, frustratingly, he terminated the test at that point and it was left incomplete. We instead got another radar-vectored ILS to land and this time, not being on test, I was able to relax a bit more and also fly it with the screens down. This is something I personally feel should be allowed a bit more during training (if the weather is bad.) Obviously if the conditions are fine then the screens are necessary for training on the ILS, but it is possible to go all the way through an instrument rating course flying every single ILS approach behind white screens and only being given any visual references just before decision altitude – the first “real world” ILS could be when you’re flying an airliner. Of course most of my attention was still on the instrument panel but I was quite surprised at how it looked from in the clouds, it felt very different to suddenly having the screens yanked down 200ft above the runway.

Annoyingly, I had to wait another six days before I could go up and do the re-test but fortunately managed to get the Saturday off to go home for my birthday and go and watch the City v Reading match. Celebrating Stephen Ireland’s injury-time winning goal then turning round to find myself being photographed at close range by a Thai photographer was a bit weird considering the action was on the pitch, but winning 2-1 courtesy of a brilliant goal with the last kick of the game is always welcome. I went back down to Bournemouth on the Sunday afternoon, a journey which didn’t go smoothly thanks to some idiot activating the emergency alarm on the train to St Pancras, making me miss my connection at Waterloo and then having to deal with an extremely arsey South West Trains customer “service” staff member when trying to get my ticket changed. It took me about 7 hours in the end. The following Tuesday – the 27th – I went back to the exam centre with the aircraft to complete the IRT (incidentally, the aircraft had flown over the weekend and experienced no problems whatsoever with the ADF.) The NDB hold didn’t go particularly smoothly but it was within limits, and the approach was OK until right at the last second. Once again, the screens came down right at the last second but this time a big bank of cloud had settled right over the threshold for runway 26, a few hundred feet below minimum for the NDB approach. That meant we couldn’t land so still the test carried on! After the asymmetric go-around the examiner, needing to see only an asymmetric landing now, took control and got us an ILS approach instead, giving me back control at about 300ft when we finally did break cloud. Finally we got on the ground and the feeling of relief when he told me he was happy with it and I’d passed was immense.

Of course, from being ahead to going two weeks behind, there was no rest the next day – it was straight into the CPL phase and flying visually for the first time since the last time I flew the 172 in NZ last May. Going back to flying VFR and having to get back to grips with visual navigation, after spending the last six months focussed on the Twin Star’s big screens, felt a bit weird at first. It took me a while to get fully comfortable with the navigation side because a couple of flights had to be cut short due to bad weather, but generally it didn’t go too badly. Time pressures meant our course became a priority on the schedule, and it makes a marked difference being able to fly for 4 or 5 days on the trot. It does get tiring when the standards demanded are so high that every flight feels like a mini-test, but it’s well worth it for the improvements it makes to your confidence. The CPL flying generally went well; of course there were certain issues that cropped up as there always are, but the navigation element, in my opinion, is much easier in the UK than in NZ. There are some more complicated aspects, such as the much more complex airspace layouts and boundaries and the fact that the south of England is some of the busiest airspace in the world, but the task was made a whole lot easier by one thing. In New Zealand, when your instructor points to a place labelled on a map and says “take me there”, the place in question which looks like a small village on the chart invariably turns out to be a couple of sheds and a barn hidden in the middle of a bunch of trees and hills which, even if you fly right over it, can be very hard to see. In the UK, the VFR maps are far better and when you’re told to fly to a point, that point is far easier to spot and positively identify. That, of course, frees up your capacity to do other things. Unfortunately, I got to my F170A flight a couple of weeks before Christmas and was confronted, as we all were, by two weeks of low cloud and shocking visibility. One of the most frustrating things was taking the decision on one day to cancel a flight because of low cloud, both forecast and actually over the airfield at the time; half an hour later, after the aircraft had already gone on an IR training flight with a different cadet, the sky was absolutely clear. To make matters worse I caught that horrible cold bug that was going round before Christmas and ended up spending a few days feeling horrible and sorry for myself. Aside from the fact it’s difficult to concentrate and fly properly when you’re not well, it’s not clever to go flying in a confined space like the DA-42 and pass on your germs to an instructor especially just before Christmas, so after cancelling the flight about 5 days on the trot – three for weather, two for illness – I was told I wouldn’t get it in before Christmas and would have to wait. This was annoying, because I was relying on having a couple of weeks break after Christmas before the AQC started on January 14th.

So, after trekking all the way back down to Bournemouth and enjoying a very fun New Year’s Eve party in Ferndown, I got back to flying on 2nd January and promptly made a complete hash of the 170A. Fortunately, because of the lack of currency and because I had to come back early due to not feeling too well, I was given another crack at it the next day and the navigation was absolutely spot on apart from some dodgy altitude keeping. Once again, however, poor weather was hampering attempts to get people pushed through the tests and, having originally hoped I’d get mine done on 4th January, I eventually got a slot on Wednesday 9th. Someone up there somewhere was being very kind to me because having had even more crap weather for nearly a whole solid week, Wednesday was suddenly beautiful, with great visibility and hardly any cloud. I was given a nice route for my navigation by the examiner – directly up to Sedgemoor Services on the M5 just south of Bristol. During the flight I was given a diversion from overhead Glastonbury over to a little place called Bampton in Devon, a route which was massively assisted by flying right between the unmissable and relatively massive (from the air) towns of Bridgwater and Taunton. It really couldn’t have gone better and that set me up for a reasonably good flight from then on. As it happened, the navigation ended up being the best element, the circuits were pretty good and the general handling wasn’t a problem as it hadn’t been all the way through the course. After landing, unlike on the IR the examiner didn’t tell me whether I’d passed or not until we were back in the briefing room, leading me to presume I’d failed on something until he actually said “that was a pass”. As it happened, I had passed but still received a slight bollocking for being a bit slow in reacting to various emergencies and not showing enough urgency to get back in to Bournemouth despite having had a simulated engine fire and shutdown. Still, a pass is a pass and I’d finally completed basic training.

Unfortunately, due to a slight cock-up in NZ I was still short of 1.1hrs pilot-in-command time for the issue of my licence so I had to go round to a local flying club on the airfield and go up to do just over an hour in an old Robin 200. Again it felt quite strange going back to single-engine flying on what we DA-42 pilots like to refer to as “steam driven” instruments but actually it was great just going up and being able to enjoy flying without the pressure being on. I eventually got the flight done when we got a break in the weather on Friday (which had gone bad again on Thursday morning) and, being the first solo flight I’d done since mid-May, it was great fun. The Robin, despite its age, was actually quite nice to fly; there were things to think about like mixture leaning, carburettor heat and a wandering direction indicator, things which are all taken care of for you when you’re flying the Twin Star, but overall it handled really nicely and was much easier to land properly than the Robin aircraft in NZ due to the lack of a massive strake under the rear of the fuselage. Eventually I got finished with all the paperwork about 6pm, by which time I was earlier hoping I’d have been home, and set off back up north.

Two days later and I was on the way back to the south coast for the AQC, the intermediate stage of training which has to be passed before going on to the airline. At the moment, things are looking good. The first week has been all classroom based. Despite being a multi-crew co-operation course designed to teach us how to work in a multi-pilot environment rather than a type-rating course as such, the second week is still carried out in a jet simulator – the Airbus A320 in our case – so we spent the first two days learning about the technical and operational aspects of the A320 we’d need to be able to fly it properly. For the purposes of the course it’s a generic jet, but of course it’s so complex that you need to be able to operate it properly to succeed in it.

On Monday and Tuesday evenings, after we’d finished the ground school at about 4pm, we did go in to the A320 simulator to familiarise ourselves with it. It was a great feeling, stepping into it and sitting down at the controls – the sheer size of it compared to something like the Twin Star, and the size and relative complexity of the panel, really makes you feel like you’re taking another massive step forwards towards where you want to be. Getting in it for the first time is a real morale-booster. On the Tuesday we all had a quick go at flying it, just a couple of turns with and without the Flight Director indicators, to get a feel for how it handles before we go into the first 4-hour session on Monday. I obviously wasn’t able to get a true feel for it in five minutes but even so, the sheer amount that it can do is amazing. Even the average Joe Bloggs might know the A320 series is fly-by-wire and that it has six big screens instead of the older style array of instruments, but when you actually study what it can do and what’s available to you it makes you realise just how great it is. I’ll be able to say more about it when I’ve had a week of sim sessions next weekend, but I’m really looking forward to getting to grips with it.

Speaking of the Airbus, I got a bit of good news through this week. I don’t want to make a big thing of it at the moment because things can and do change, particularly dates, but I have now finally got a provisional date for starting type rating on the A319 (a slightly shorter version of the A320, for those who aren’t familiar) with a well-known, predominantly orange airline that flies a lot of them. I’ve got to pass the assessments on the AQC first, obviously, but assuming it all goes fine then it’s onwards and upwards! Also, I’m now in possession of my CPL/IR – I was quite surprised at the CAA managing to have it back to me 4 days after posting off the application, but manage they did and the coveted little blue book is sat right beside me on the desk here! So, there we go – I’ll try and get another entry in next week once I’ve had some time in the simulator, and if not then in two weeks when I’ve finished here and gone home. I’ve got some good photos to put up both here and on Facebook as well, but I’m struggling to get them off my phone. Annoyingly, I left my USB cable at home, I can’t get Kev’s USB Bluetooth adaptor to work, and I did try transferring stuff via the infra-red port but gave up on that pretty quickly after discovering it’d be faster to walk the 500 mile round trip home and get the USB cable than wait for the infra-red transfer. So they’ll probably be up in a couple of weeks.

January 13, 2008

Still here

I know a few people have asked me what’s happened to the blog of late… no, it hasn’t died a death and I am still here. The houses provided for us in Bournemouth generally don’t have internet access and that, coupled with the stress of flight tests, has meant blogging has had to take a back seat for a while. I am happy to report, however, that I passed the IR on November 27th and the CPL last week and have finished flying the Twin Star. Later today I’ll be heading back down to the south coast for the next stage, three weeks of multi-crew training and jet handling skills in the A320 simulator. I’ve been assured by the course ahead that it’s really interesting and good fun. The hotel down there does have net access so I’ll endeavour to get a proper entry about the Bournemouth phase of training sorted out soon.

PS. I just noticed this is my first entry of 2008 – a belated happy new year to everyone!

PPS. I’ve just noticed it’s also my 300th blog post. A milestone I would have passed ages ago if I’d had more regular internet access…!

November 20, 2007


I’m still here, honestly. Entries are a bit few and far between at the moment because I was going to wait until after my Instrument Rating Test (IRT) before writing another one; unfortunately it’s being dragged out and further out. I was ready to take it just over a week ago but got delayed because the course ahead needed to get their CPL flights and exams done while the weather was good, as they needed to be out of their houses to allow the next lot to move in. Unfortunately that’s meant sitting around doing nothing very much for a week. Then the IRT was scheduled for today, and of course we have the worst weather we’ve seen for months. Unfortunately we’re not allowed to fly the Twin Star when thunderstorm activity is forecast, so today’s test was reluctantly cancelled. Hopefully it’ll be tomorrow but the weather is still looking pretty bad – a big trough of bad weather is going to be sat off the south coast, so I don’t know whether I’ll be going yet. It’s just getting so frustrating, having it dragged out for so long.

October 02, 2007

Exams and Bournemouth

Yes I know it’s been a while… a combination of factors (tons of exam revision, spending time with Naomi and not having internet at my house in Bournemouth being the main ones) have resulted in a lack of blogging activity over the past month and a bit, but I’ve managed to get on for a short while so here’s an update about how things are going at the moment. It appears that the last time I wrote anything, disregarding my quick rant about hippies camping out at Heathrow, was just before I left New Zealand! Doesn’t time fly… hopefully people haven’t got bored and are still checking this blog in the vague hope that an update might one day appear!

I managed to get out of New Zealand two days early, or 12 days late depending on which way you look at things. Being 12 days past my original departure date meant I was home just a day too late to make it to London for Naomi’s birthday trip to see The Lion King, which was extremely annoying. Still, stepping on the 747 in Auckland was a moment to savour as I had expected it to be – by the time I left I couldn’t wait to get out of NZ and back to family and friends. Not that NZ isn’t a beautiful country, but the best part of a year out there is enough for me, particularly in Hamilton (which, I’ve discovered, doesn’t even appear on a load of tourist maps, it’s simply missed out. Draw your own conclusions.) The flight to Singapore passed pretty quickly as for once I wasn’t sitting next to someone fat, old and annoying (and I don’t mean that in a fattist way, I just think that people who have an arse the size of two seats should be made to buy two seats) but instead I got put next to a nice girl who was also flying to Manchester. Chatting to her and getting a bit of banter going made the 9 and a half hours to Singapore go much quicker than previously. At Singapore I met up with Shaun, who’d been to see relatives in Brisbane and happened to be connecting on to the same flight as me to Manchester.

I managed to see a fair bit of Naomi over the next few weeks, which was really nice – she came up to mine for a week and we had some nice days out at Lyme Park (apparently famous because of a bloke called Mr Darcy in some trashy period drama novel by Jane somebody) and York. The following two weeks were spent down in Bristol for the exam revision course, with Bristol Ground School being their usual excellent selves in getting us ready for the dreaded ATPLs round 2, then I had a couple of weeks off in which to cram the question bank. At the time I thought they all went OK apart from Principles of Flight, which I felt like I’d struggled a bit with – disappointing really as I’d spent the longest revising that out of any of the subjects we were doing. Still, it went reasonably quickly and then I had one week left in which to enjoy dossing about before moving to Bournemouth for the last stage of basic training.

So far I’m at the beginning of the third week here. After the induction and a few briefs, we have 11 or 12 simulator flights before going back into the aircraft. The two biggest changes for me are in RT (radio telephony) and the airspace. Things are done a little bit differently in NZ – most of it is the same or similar, but there are lots of subtle differences that must be learned, and we also each need to have a separate radio licence over here for which I have an exam sometime towards the end of this month. Not only are a few of the radio calls different, but the airspace over here is so much more crowded – and there is a lot more of it. A VFR map of New Zealand looks like a blank piece of paper when you compare it to one of the UK. This and the increased volume of traffic means that the radio gets very busy – we’ve been warned that it’s possible to fly for miles trying to get a call in on the radio and being totally unable to get a word in edgeways, so that’ll be something a bit new. The busiest I’ve had to cope with is a couple of trips up to Ardmore in NZ where the circuit is always pretty busy, but that was only locally to the airfield – in the UK, it’s busy everywhere.

I’ve done 7 sim flights so far and they’re not going too badly. It took me a few flights to get back into it again, having all that time off and taking your mind off things to give 100% attention to exams doesn’t half make you feel rusty when you come back again. I was really ready for a weekend after the second and third ones and, to put it in diplomatic terms, the somewhat stern debriefs (OK, bollockings) that came with them but since then the rest of them have been alright, I’ve been reasonably happy. I won’t bore anyone with the minute details of what actually is going on, but suffice to say at the moment we’re practising instrument flying from A to B with increasing amounts of rubbish weather and malfunctions thrown in. After that, we’ll basically be practising for the widely-feared Instrument Rating test, flying IRT profiles until we’re 100% ready to take the test.

Oh, I also found out the other week that I passed all my ATPL exams – managed to pull my average up to just below 92%. Principles of Flight was my lowest score (80%) as expected, but I always said I’d be happy with all first time passes and a 90%+ average. I’m just very glad that I don’t have to go back to Gatwick to do any again.

August 06, 2007

I would just love…

...to find out where the ringleaders of Plane Stupid or some of these other hygienically-challenged climate loonies are based, hire a Cessna (or even better, something loud like an old WW2 warbird) and go practising PFLs into their back garden all day.

I hope the injunction that’s served up on the hippy brigade stops them getting too near any bits of Heathrow where they can disrupt the airport or the people using it too much. I’ve no objection to people protesting peacefully and non-disruptively; if all they want to do is pitch a few tents, wave a couple of banners and generally create a scene for everyone else to ignore (and hopefully get drowned out by the incessant taking off and landing of aircraft) then that’s their problem. If, however, they try to do what they did at East Midlands, i.e. break on to the airfield and hold a protest in the middle of a taxiway, there’s nothing I’d love more than to taxi an Airbus or Boeing out, point the engine exhausts at them, go to full power and blow them, their tents, their scruffy dogs and their supply of lentils and vegetables into the middle of Wales. How satisfying would that be…

July 21, 2007


Just a short entry, but a happy one to say that yesterday I passed my end-of-New Zealand-phases flight test and am coming home next week! The flight itself went really well, it’s the first time I’ve come back from a flight test feeling really good about it. There were one or two little points which could be improved upon, but generally I was really happy – it was pretty relaxed and everything went really smoothly. If there was one thing I could be a little bit annoyed about it was making too big heading corrections on the final stages of the NDB approach right at the end of the flight, but I was told the flight overall was really nice and I was obviously feeling really relaxed and enjoying IFR – which I am!

So that’s it, no more flying in NZ for me – from here it’s onwards to Bristol for 2 weeks of hardcore studying (again), a week of exams further down the line and then after that it’s on to finishing the course and getting the CPL/IR at Bournemouth.

On Thursday night we did the night flight up to Auckland. I’ve uploaded some pictures to Facebook but for readers who don’t have access to them, here’s a few of my favourite ones. Photo and video credits to Shaun who came along in the back seat.

Night take-off at Hamilton
You can’t see a great deal on this video because it’s dark, but the view of the runway mid-way through is pretty cool, as is the view of the airport terminal down to the right hand side once airborne.

Night landing at Hamilton
Turning on to final approach for runway 36. We’d just done an NDB approach down to MDA and then circled left. Having not flown at night for ages I misjudged how high we were above the runway, flared too high and dumped the aircraft down a bit hard but it wasn’t too bad.

Me about to get in CTL for the flight

Ice lights – these are fitted to the outboard sides of the engine cowlings and shine on the wings so we can check for ice at night.

Turning – under radar vectors for the ILS 05R approach at Auckland. The back-to-front cap has a flap on the front that folds down and stops me seeing outside, thus simulating IMC. The screen up in front of my face serves the same purpose.

Auckland International at night

Arriving back – my favourite picture, I love the light on this one. Taxiing back on to stand after refuelling.

July 18, 2007

Nearly there!

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!

July 07, 2007

Lack of updates

Sorry for the lack of bloggage recently, I know it’s been a long time. It’s been pretty busy of late, I’ve been getting 5 flights a week and there’s plenty to do associated with them all. The IFR flying so far has been really enjoyable, though – a big entry will be on the way about all that soon (hopefully tomorrow.)

Meanwhile, here’s a couple of videos of me in the Twin Star – the first one taking off, and the second doing a touch-and-go (in a bit of a crosswind.). Video credits to Craig, who was back-seating at the time.

Take off:


June 01, 2007

I am jealous

Writing about web page http://whitfriday.brassbands.saddleworth.org/intro.html

It’s Whit Friday, and therefore I should be having a cracking day out (traditionally one of the best of the entire year) with the band, marching and playing round the villages of Saddleworth having cracked open the first beers before midday. Most of my good friends at university are doing this right now; unfortunately I’m on the other side of the world in NZ.

Roll on next year!

May 25, 2007

Moving forward

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!)
This won’t be viewable if you’re reading this in Facebook

Me in DA-42

May 18, 2007

Goodbye, single–engine flying – onwards and upwards

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.)

DA-42 2

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

May update

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.

April 17, 2007

Welcome to Knox Street

So I’ve been back in New Zealand for about 5 days now, and the most significant news is that CP40 aren’t back in Clearways. Unfortunately, for some reason, the number of cadets here exceeds the number of rooms available and as things stand “there’s no room at the inn”, as it were. Not only that, but our backup accommodation Peachgrove is full as well, apparently of CP48 newbies (are we up to CP48 already?! Bloody hell) so CP40 are now residing in Knox Street in the centre of Hamilton – apparently a former army barracks used to be here but now it’s all relatively nice studio accommodation. It has its pros and cons when compared to Clearways but generally it’s pretty nice and we’re happy with it.

The cons first. Obviously it’s not brand new like Clearways was when I moved into there the first time, we’ve only just got the internet sorted and the wireless signal is a bit weak for some of the guys, we’re quite far from the airport compared to Clearways, we don’t have much of a lounge and, worst of all, the room between Craig and me is occupied by a very strange Kiwi girl. When I say strange, I mean in a bad way – last night I was woken up at 3:30am by her having a row with someone on the phone. Like Clearways, the walls in this place appear to have been fabricated from a few sheets of paper stuck together, and the inordinate use of four letter-words beginning with F and C were clearly audible. Not only that, but she has a tendency to walk round the place with headphones on singing (badly) at the top of her voice, and quite often that happens at inappropriate times of the day as well. It’s pretty bad, and not what you want when you’ve got a flight the next day and you need a good night’s sleep. I think a set of ear-plugs may be required if it carries on, and we’ll certainly be visiting the accommodation office. I can handle living next door to someone who’s a sandwich short of a picnic / gherkin short of a Big Mac / etc – after all, I lived next door to Hegarty for 7 months in Clearways (only joking, Heg!) – but getting woken up in the middle of the night by a constant stream of effing and blinding isn’t on.

On the plus side, of course, the proximity to the centre of Hamilton is quite a novelty compared to the rather isolated Clearways. Knox Street is within 2 minutes staggering er, walking distance from The Bank, our ‘regular’ here. It’s nice to have a change of scenery; Clearways, although it’s nice and has good communal areas, sometimes feels like merely an extension of the training centre. Being in Knox Street at least lets you feel like you’ve gone home for the day once you’ve finished working. Being close to supermarkets and shops also means it’s not a half-hour round trip every time you fancy a pizza or need a bit of shopping, and I’m hoping it cuts down on fuel bills because, although we’re further away, there’s actually less running about between accommodation and training centre. When you consider that both our cars are Toyota Platzes – for which fuel consumption can be considered in gallons per mile rather than miles per gallon – this is a definitely a good thing. We have carpet here too, which is far nicer than the laminate flooring we had in Clearways. So all in all, it’s not bad; when you compare it to the dreaded Dey Street, where we lived for the first 3 weeks out here last August, it’s far better.

Flying-wise, all of our long-course chaps are back in the air again now; the short-course guys are just waiting for enough instructors to be available to get them going on the Twin Star, which shouldn’t be too long. I’d have been looking forward to coming back a lot more if I’d been starting on the Twin Star now and not still finishing on the Cessna, but it’s not too much bother as long as the weather stays reasonable and we can get finished quickly.

Quite looking forward to tomorrow; Shaun and I are off to Ardmore to pick up JSP which has been up there for maintenance. Hope the weather is good enough – the forecast is a bit crappy.

April 12, 2007

Suggestion for the airlines

I’m sitting in the free internet area of the excellent Singapore Changi airport waiting for my connecting flight to Auckland at the moment. The flight from Manchester wasn’t too bad – long, of course, but on time and fairly smooth and comfortable. Singapore Airlines were absolutely excellent once again.

When I say comfortable, I mean that for cattle class, the legroom isn’t bad, the seats aren’t too narrow and I didn’t get off in any kind of pain from having my knees wedged against the back of a seat that reclines ridiculously far. What WASN’T comfortable, however, was the noise level eminating from the seats behind me. And this is where my suggestion to the airlines comes in.

When you’re sat at the gate waiting to board, you quite often hear a call announcing “would all passengers with small children please come forward for boarding first.” This is just daft, particularly when you consider that the people who pile on with their brattish kids (and there were a few today – it wasn’t like the Saga Holiday OAP flight I came back on a few weeks ago) are dotted about all over the cabin so when the attendants then try to board everyone else by seat row number, those with kids are still fannying about blocking the aisles up. We all know how restless little kids get – so when boarding them for a 13 hour flight, why do them first? Surely making them sit in their seats first and then waiting for 250 other people to pile on is going to make them restless. It’d be far better to let them run off their excess energy in the terminal and make them get on last. It’d also make the boarding process more efficient because everyone else wouldn’t have to stand about waiting to get past in the aisles while mummy and daddy empty what looks like a Mary Poppins bag full of toys on to their kid’s seat.

Even more to the point, however – WHY are they dotted about all over the cabin? All that means is that the entire place has to suffer from whinging and crying and screaming kids all night, rather than just one unfortunate part of the plane. Surely it’d be much better if the check-in people allocated all groups travelling with kids under 5 years old seats together right at the back. Then they can board first (if the airline so insists) and not get in anyone’s way, and also those of us sat at the front of economy class don’t have blood-curdling shrieks rattling our eardrums just when we’re drifting off to sleep. Nor will they be kicking our chairs or jumping up and down or generally doing everything you don’t want little kids doing on a long-haul journey.

Of course, it’s not really the kids’ fault. I always blame the parents. I would never have been allowed to scream and wail and run up and down aircraft aisles and generally disturb other people when I was 4 or 5 years old because my mum and dad were sensible enough not to let me do it. I could throttle those parents who think it’s acceptable for their little darlings to treat the aisles like a creche.

It gets worse, however. The bundle of joy sitting in the row behind me today must have been no more than 2 years old. I could tell that by the fact that its vocabulary was limited to “Waaaaaaah”. So it as rather a surprise when we pushed back from the gate and taxied over to 24L that the dad gave a running commentary – to the baby – on what was going on outside the window. Now I know I’ve been a bit of an aircraft anorak since an early age, but at 2 years old if my dad had pointed across at a big plane and said “Look, that big plane that says PIA on it, that’s a Boeing 777-200 the same as we’re on, except for that one’s the ER model” it wouldn’t really have made a lot of sense. Judging by the kid’s response – “waaaaaah” – it didn’t make much sense to it either. (Sorry for the repeated use of “it”, I have no idea of its gender and don’t really care.) Fascinated by aircraft as I’m sure the little darling will be one day, surely learning to walk and talk is more of a priority than learning all the different intricate designations of various passenger airliners.

An hour or so to go, then it’s time to settle down for another 10 hours next to two strangers. If those strangers happen to be carrying a 2 year old kid who keeps me awake all the way to Auckland, I think I’ll probably cry. Make them all sit together and leave the rest of us in peace.

April 03, 2007

Time off, Bristol and exam week

So I’m now into my 5th week of 5 and a half back on English soil before making the delightful 27 hour trip back to New Zealand. I don’t know where the time has gone exactly, it’s flown by far too quickly. I had a lovely week at home doing not very much at all; in fact the only productive thing I managed to do all week was get my Class 1 medical renewed. Apart from that I used the time to fiddle round with my now-working-again desktop computer (yes, it was the motherboard at fault despite Aria insisting it wasn’t – not buying from there again), drinking proper ale (not that piss-poor bland excuse for lager they brew in NZ) and watching proper television. You don’t realise how much you miss Sky until you’ve had nearly 7 months of Kiwi television.

Week 2 involved a trip down to University to see Naomi and it was a cracking week. It was pure chance that the Regional Brass Band contest fell on one of the weekends I was home and not working, so there was no way I was missing it! It felt a bit weird being sat up in the audience instead of playing but it was great to listen to the performance from the audience’s perspective instead of being sat in the middle of the band. Very good it was too; I know Simon didn’t think it was great but from where I was sat the band played far better than the two before it and, in my opinion, should have come higher than Matlock who came 2nd overall. I thought we were a bit unlucky but still, 5th out of 16 isn’t bad at all. The evening that followed, of course, just turned into beery carnage. I also have a vague recollection of being sat on a park bench with Jim on the way to the curry having a deep and meaningful conversation but neither of us can remember what it was about. The other notable event from that week was Score on Wednesday; being the last Score of term, the Union had got a live act on stage and guess who they were… The Vengaboys! Ok, so they didn’t actually do anything other than dance to their usual tracks and talk to the audience a bit, they didn’t even sing! But the audience loved it. Early in the week I also discovered that you can pick up a wireless signal in the Grad, which meant pretty much all of my exam revision took place in there. I should point out that there were some non-beer-related events over the course of the week; notably Naomi and I going to Leamington Bar & Grill for a very nice meal and going for some lovely walks round parts of campus we never knew were there! Walking round Lakeside, I discovered there’s something very amusing about watching ducks and geese fighting. I don’t know what they were fighting about but it was just funny.

Sadly I had to leave the following Saturday morning because my two weeks off were over and it was time to get ready for a two week intensive revision cramming session at Bristol Ground School (BGS). It was quite a trek down there (and even more so for dad, who had to drive all the way back again after). The accommodation I’d been allocated was fantastic, however – I’ve never stayed in a B&B quite like Churchill Court! The building itself is fantastic – absolutely massive, more like a country mansion than your average B&B like I stayed at down in Christchurch during the application process. And not only was the building lovely, but I really must give a special mention to John and Jan, our hosts for the two weeks, who were just fantastic. At most B&Bs you get your bed for the night, you get your breakfast and then you clear off for the day; not here. John and Jan could not have been more hospitable; constantly asking if there was anything we needed, getting in anything for breakfast we wanted, letting us use their kitchen in the evening whenever we wanted, basically treating it almost as a home than a B&B! It really did make our lives a lot easier. They had a grand piano in the hall as well; I didn’t play it because I didn’t really feel like I had the time to break off from revision, but there were a few occasions when Jamie and Beechy gave us a song during revision breaks.

BGS itself was pretty intense. You’re expected to have done all the necessary work before arriving there, of course, and be familiar with most of it so the idea is it’s mainly revision rather than teaching. The class we were in for the two weeks was pretty good; there were a couple of annoying people in there, including a Spanish helicopter pilot who kept saying “yes” all the time every time he agreed with something an instructor happened to be saying and, when occasionally translating for his mate sitting next to him, did so at a normal voice level rather than whispering (a concept I believe the Spanish generally have no idea anyway.) He wasn’t the only one, there were a couple of others. Fortunately, most of the class were alright and seeing as our lot made up nearly half of it anyway it wasn’t like we had to get stuck talking to them. We were all assigned seats which we had to keep for the two weeks. I was dreading being put next to someone arrogant who thought they knew it all about flying, but as luck would have it I was put next to a nice girl called Rebecca (hi if you’re reading this!) and we got on really well.

The one thing that you don’t really realise until you get to BGS is the sheer amount of work you get given. It’s colossal. There’s no way you can properly finish everything they give you to do unless you’re some sort of superhuman who can go without sleep. Depending on the subject you can probably get done about 2/3 – 3/4 of everything they give you every day, but the stuff that doesn’t get done just mounts up and up. I did get most of it done in the end but it left me shattered. It does work though; some subjects like Mass & Balance and Flight Planning I didn’t, and don’t, have a problem with and I did pretty well at them but with ones like Instruments and the utterly dreaded Meterology, I went in feeling like I knew nothing and now I feel more confident. The staff at BGS are excellent; Tom, the ex-Jaguar and Cathay Pacific captain who taught us Flight Planning was particularly good, but all of them really knew their stuff and more importantly knew how to teach it well. Most of them had a good sense of humour as well; a special mention must go to Baz (ex-RAF Victor and VC10 navigator) who taught us Navigation and Met. I’ve never met someone so in love with the CRP-5 computer and – to put it politely – he’s not about to win any awards for political correctness. But I came away from th ere knowing a hell of a lot more about Nav and Met than when I arrived, so it obviously all worked! It’s really, really hard work and it’s depressing when all you do every night for two weeks is come back at 5pm, bung in a microwave meal, chat on the net for a bit and then work solidly from 6 until midnight, but you just have to deal with it and get on with it.

Anyway, after 2 weeks of that I went home for the weekend to get a bit of laundry done and pick up the car. I’m now in Shuttleworth College, near Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, which is the CAA exam venue and we’ve got residence here for 4 nights while we do the exams. It’s a beautiful place outside and I’ll stick some pictures up when I have time. I’ll write another entry towards the end of the week on how the exams and stuff have gone and I’ll also attach some photos (I was going to do it tonight but this has taken longer than I thought and I’ve got an exam at 9am and really need to go to sleep!) So here’s hoping it goes well. Good luck to the guys on CP35 as well – nice seeing you today!

March 17, 2007

Silly money

I’ve just read something on BBC Sport which, for a couple of seconds, actually made me feel sick.

From this page:

“Cristiano Ronaldo is set to sign a five-year £28m contract and remain with Manchester United. (The Sun)

However, it is reported Real Madrid are ready to step in following the rejection of Ronaldo’s £140,000 a week wage demands at Old Trafford. (The Guardian)”

£140,000 per WEEK?!!

Will someone give the silly boy a smack in the face and wake him up to reality? It makes me so angry. Not only would a week’s salary at that level pay off all my (rather substantial) debt – not only my pilot training costs but my student loan and overdraft as well – and still leave me enough to buy a posh car in cash, put a deposit on a house and give me about 10 grand in spare change, but it’s the fact it’s that hateful, arrogant, cheating, whinging little arsehole who’s demanding it. Goodness knows for how many months or even years a week’s worth of that salary could keep an African village in food and clean water.

Or perhaps, unfortunately, this is reality. Football is going down the drain at the moment. It’s not the game it used to be – there’s too much money being pumped into and thrown around by the top four clubs to the detriment of every other in the league. It’s about time people like Cristiano Ronaldo woke up to what the game actually means to the fans, the people who effectively pay his wages but will soon be priced out of the game. It’s unsurprising to see how attendances have generally dropped – football is too expensive and it’s contracts like this which cause it. I find it quite upsetting to see that players and agents feel they can happily demand this sort of money, it’s absolutely immoral. But what can ever be done about it?

March 12, 2007

March update

Right, it’s far too long since I last blogged. In fact I haven’t made a flying-related entry since first the React flight after I passed my PPL, so I’ve got a fair bit to waffle on about! Basically at the moment I’m back in England, having flown back on March 1st. I’m currently in the second of two weeks off; next weekend I’ll be heading down to spend two weeks of ATPL Theory revision/cramming at Bristol Ground School and after that – in the week before Easter – the first seven exams.

The flying has been quite hard work since passing the PPL; obviously, being quite far behind, there have been a lot to cram in to try to catch up. Technically I should have finished the single-engine flying by now and be ready to move on to the Twin Stars when I get back, but I’ve still got about 16 flight to go on the Cessna yet. It’s doable in about 3 weeks if the weather’s good, so I have definitely made up some time over the last month. One reason for the lack of blogging over the past month has been because it’s been so busy. Not only have I fortunately been scheduled loads of times anyway, but the planning side of it takes quite a while, not least because we’re often limited as to where we can go by the weather (cloud has been a major issue at times this summer). It can sometimes be tricky picking routes that don’t keep passing over the same places all the time! Also, you sometimes have to make late changes to what you’ve planned so I’ve spent a fair amount of time behind the planning desk of late. Some of the flights are quite draining; being given mid-air diversion after diversion by your instructor puts you under pressure and you have to learn to get through the process smoothly but quickly. I’m getting better at it but it’s hard work. It certainly teaches you to think more quickly.

There have been some nice days though and it’s been great being able to take passengers up now I’ve got my licence, particularly as I’ve always made sure they’ve brought a camera! For those people who haven’t got the benefit of Facebook access, here’s a few of the best pictures I’ve had taken in flight (mostly courtesy of Mr. Power and Mr. Lee):

Mt Manganui 1
Mt Manganui 2
Mt Manganui 3
Waikato river

(note the bouncy castle… this was just turning final for runway 18 on the Saturday afternoon we had the party at Clearways.) And a cheesy one to finish:
Me and C172


Here’s a meme that Naomi’s been nagging me to finish for ages! It’s taken way too long. I’m a busy man!

1. How old will you be in five years?
27 going on 28. Scary thought.

2. Who did you spend at least two hours with today?
Nobody as yet, but I’ll be spending about 10 hours with John, Hodge and Rich later on when we go out for a “couple of pints”.

3. How tall are you?

4. What do you look forward to most in the next six weeks?
Going down to uni for a week, seeing Naomi, going to the brass band area contest, having plenty of decent beer.

5. What’s the last movie you watched on DVD?
Well, I’m watching Tomorrow Never Dies on DVD at the moment while I’m pretending to do work.

6. Who was the last person you called?

7. Who was the last person to call you?

8. What was the last text message you received?
Jim trying to convince me to get a “symphonic hair cut” for the area contest. It’s not happening.

9. Who was the last person to leave you a voicemail?
My mum, trying to get through to me when I was at the baggage belt at Manchester Airport.

10. Would you rather call or text?
Either is good, although text gives you more chance to think what to say!

11. What were you doing at 12am last night?
Fiddling with my computers, nothing particularly exciting.

12. Are your parents married/separated/divorced.

13. When was the last time you saw your mum?
This morning when she stuck her head around the door before she went to work.

14. What colour are your eyes?


16. What are you wearing right now?
Jeans, jumper, t-shirt – the usual when you’re sitting round at home.

17. What is your favourite Christmas song?
Carol-wise, it would be O Holy Night – particularly the cheesy version I have on my computer. I like all the stuff you find on a typical double Christmas album though.

18. Where is your favourite place to be?
At home, in my own room. Or in the cabin of my Cessna 172 at 3000ft!

19. Where is your least favourite place to be?
Tricky one… anywhere dodgy and dark where I feel my personal safety is threatened. Also, I can’t stand Stansted Airport and unless the flight is really cheap I’ll go out of my way to avoid it.

20. Africa-New Zealand-Japan?
Well since I’ve just been in NZ for 7 months and I’m going back for another 3, I’d have to say one of the other two. Although I haven’t really seen much of NZ on the ground. Plenty of it from the air, but I haven’t had enough time to get out and explore the sights.

21. What do you think you’ll be in 10 years?
Hopefully a captain! But just being happy and settled with a family will do me.

22. Do you tan or Burn?
Burn, severely. I can not wear less than SPF 30, and when I go to very hot places like the Caribbean I have to take SPF 60. I’m that hopeless at tanning.

23. What did you fear was going to get you at night as a child?
I can’t really remember… I think I was most scared of people breaking in to the house and trying to get me!

24. What was the last thing that really made you laugh?
Hearing about a certain three unnamed people mooning at a certain restaurant in a certain town not far from University.

25. How many TVs do you have in your house?
Erm. 5 I think, although one is in the garage and not being used. We’ve got more computers than TVs though – 8 at the last count, plus enough parts lying round to build another complete one.

26. How big is your bed?
Just a bog standard single one – not really enough room for a double. Very comfy it is too! I love my own bed!

27. Do you have a laptop or desktop computer?
Both. Don’t know what I would have done without the laptop in NZ – in fact I would have had to buy one if I hadn’t got it for my birthday. Built the desktop one myself, only just got it working again after not working for a year – a combination of dodgy parts, people messing me about and being away for so long meant I never got round to fixing it. Turned out, as I suspected, I’d been sold a dodgy motherboard which Aria then told me they tested and found to be working fine. They’ve just lost a previously loyal customer. It’s all about Dabs and Ebuyer now.

28. What do you wear to bed?
T-shirt and boxers usually. I have woken up wearing the night before’s clothes a few times. Nothing imaginitive.

29. What colour are your sheets?
Dark blue.

30. How many pillows do you sleep with?

31. What is your favorite season?
Summer, because it’s best for flying!

32. What do you like about autumn?
Bonfire night

33. What do you like about winter?
Snow and Christmas. Thinking about being inside in front of a warm fire watching a classic Christmas film with the house all decorated.

34. What do you like about the summer?
Nice weather, long days, being able to go out late without a coat!


36. How many counties have you lived in?
Two – Greater Manchester and Derbyshire. That’s if Greater Manchester is classed as a county – I’m not sure it is. Otherwise the first one would probably be Lancashire.

37. What cities/towns have you lived in?
I’m not quite as well travelled as Naomi! Only three – Stalybridge, Middleton (between Rochdale and Manchester) and Chesterfield.

38. Do you prefer shoes, socks, or bare feet?
Socks inside the house, shoes outside. I hate walking round in bare feet personally. The Kiwis do it all the time, which I find very strange. It’s not uncommon to go shopping in town or something and see kids walking round with no shoes on. I don’t like shoes inside the house though – it wears the carpets out more quickly and makes them dirty.

39. Are you a social person?
Yes! I hate being stuck on my own, it’s boring. I like to have people around me. Sometimes it’s nice to have your own space; there are times when I’m just generally annoyed with people and I want some peace and quiet but most of the time I’m much happier when I’m with others!

40. What was the last thing you ate?
A “Fat Tony’s” pizza last night, which in my opinion wasn’t worth 8 quid.

Why are there so many questions missing?

42. What is your favourite ice cream?
Anything posh really. I’m not too fussy with ice cream as long as it’s not cheap and nasty.

43. What is your favourite dessert?
Anything chocolatey. My mum’s own chocolate cake is probably my all-time favourite. The chocolate brownie with ice cream I had yesterday at a restaurant in Kenilworth pushes it close though – that was delicious.


45. What kind of jam do you like on your Peanut Butter and Jam sandwich?
Peanut butter and jam? No thanks.

46. Do you like Chinese food?
Very much so. Mmmm… how much do I want a Wing Wah’s or Oriental Star now I’ve read that question…

47. Do you like coffee?
Yes, very much so. Black coffee with one sugar is the way to go.

48. How many glasses of water, a day, do you drink on average?
Not enough, I’m more likely to drink orange juice, Vimto or coke. Coke is bad, I’m sure they put something in it that makes you more thirsty for it. I can get through a 2 litre bottle in an hour and still feel thirsty. Very bad.

49. What do you drink in the morning?
Normally either orange juice or a cup of tea or coffee. Or sometimes, if I’m late and I can’t be bothered to dirty another glass and need to wash up, I’ll just stick my mouth under the tap and drink water! Haha.

I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that whoever wrote this thing can’t count.

51. Do you sleep on a certain side of the bed?
Any will do me. I go out like a light so I’m not really bothered which side of the bed I’m on. Just give me a pillow, duvet and nice mattress and I’ll be gone almost straight away.

52. Do you know how to play poker?
Yep, I’m not great at it but it’s good fun to play as long as it’s not a stupidly expensive buy in. With mates and a few beers it’s a good laugh.

53. Do you like to cuddle?
Yes! There’s nothing like the warm feeling you get from a good cuddle!

54. Have you ever been to Canada?
Yep, went after my GCSEs with my good friend Paul. We stayed with a good friend of his mum’s in St Catherines which is south of Toronto and just north of Niagra Falls. Brilliant holiday, that was – had a fantastic time.

55. Do you have an addictive personality?

56. Do you eat out or at home more often?
At home. I like home cooking. I can’t afford to eat out very often.

This is just silly now!

58. Do you know anyone with the same birthday as you?
Step forward Music Centre Administrator, Mr. Owen Lloyd!

59. Do you want kids?
One day, and preferably while I’m young. I want them before I’m 30. Not at the moment though – got ages to go yet!


61. Have you ever gotten stitches?
No, I’ve never cut myself seriously enough to need them.

62. Have you ever ridden in an ambulance?
Er, yes. First year of Uni, pub bowling. We won’t go into that story again – it’s been recounted endlessly now!

63. Do you prefer an ocean or a pool?
Pool really, but it’s mainly because I don’t like getting sand stuck all over my feet. I like to be able to get out of the pool, get back on my sunlounger and carry on reading without having sand all over my towel.

64. Do you prefer a window seat or an aisle seats?
On a bus, an aisle seat – I don’t like being crushed up to the window by a fat person, which is what normally happens. On a train, I like a window seat – I like to be able to see what’s going on outside. On a plane, I used to swear by having a window seat and was gutted when I didn’t get one. These days, however, in my days of jetting backwards and forwards to Auckland, I much prefer an aisle seat. I’m going to have a window seat up there as a career so I’m rather less bothered about seeing out of the side. On a long haul flight it’s much better having an aisle seat; I hate having to ask people to shift so I can go to the toilet, especially when there’s two randoms sat there.

65.Do you prefer manual or automatic?
Depends really. I think I prefer a manual, but it depends on the car and the gearbox. If I was driving something big and posh, like my uncle’s new Discovery, an automatic does go well with that. If it’s a piece of crap like the Toyota Platz we drive in NZ with an equally awful automatic gearbox which does whatever it feels like, then I prefer a manual.

66. What is your favorite thing to spend money on?
Food! And computers and gadgets. I like spoiling Naomi as well!

67. Do you wear any jewellry 24/7?
Nope, not me. Not really a jewellry type of person.

68. What is your favorite TV show?
Top Gear, without a doubt. Totally and utterly brilliant.

69. Can you roll your tongue?
Yep! I used to do it all the time when I was a baby, apparently.

70. Who is the funniest person you know?
Well, there’s a few people… at uni it has to be the Middleton/Wee-man pairing when they’re together. At CTC it would probably be Matt, who always makes me laugh.

71. Do you sleep with stuffed animals?
I have a few who sit on my bed who have always been there since the day I was born. Carebear and Pinky are my oldest two. There’s a few others that have appeared down the years, but not many.

72. What is the main ring tone on your phone?
Entrance of the Gladiators. I also switch to “You Are My Sunshine” and Lloyd Webber’s “Variations” occasionally.

73. Do you still have clothes from when you were little
Probably – my wardrobe and my bedroom are so ridiculously full of unnecessary old stuff that I just won’t ever chuck out that I’m sure there’s some stuff from when I was little in there.

74. What red object is closest to you right now?
The Valentines card I sent Naomi – I’m in her room and it’s on the shelf above me.

75. Do you turn off the water while you brush your teeth?
To avoid being abused by Naomi when she reads this, I’d better say yes.

76. Do you sleep with your cupboard/wardrobe doors open or closed?
I really don’t tend to notice but since I close them after getting what I need I think they’re probably closed.

77. Would you rather be attacked by a big bear or a swarm of bees?
I really don’t understand these stupid questions. Neither, obviously. I can’t give any other answer to that.

78. Do you like someone?
Yes, of course. My lovely girlfriend.

79. What do you dip a chicken nugget in?

80. Have you ever written a love letter?
If soppy messages in Valentines cards count, then yes.

81. Can you change the oil on a car?
Well I can’t change it as in drain the old stuff out, change the filter and replace the oil – that’s what mechanics are for. But I can top the oil up if necessary.

82. Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket?
No. I got a parking ticket once for a careless bit of parking in the middle of the countryside.

83. Have you ever run out of gas?
Yes, we were having a BBQ the other week and the gas ran out. Now if you meant have I ever run out of petrol, the answer is no.

84. What is your usual bedtime?
Between midnight and 1am. Earlier if I’ve got an early flight the next day.

85. What was the last book you read?
I really can’t remember. I’m reading Peter Kay’s book at the moment though.

86. Do you read the newspaper?
If there’s one lying around I’ll read it. I don’t buy them regularly.

87. Do you read any magazines?
Again, depends what’s lying around. I used to buy Airliner World fairly regularly before I started my flight training but I’ve had to cut down on unnecessary stuff recently because of money issues. I’ll always steal a copy of FHM, Zoo or Nuts off one of the other lads if they’ve got it.

89. Do you watch soap operas?
When I was still at home I watched Corrie, Eastenders and The Bill all the time.

90. Do you dance in the car?
I assume this is an American questionnaire then. Over here, we don’t all drive stupidly oversized SUVs and Hummers and stretch limos where you can stand up and have a disco in the back. You try dancing in a Ford Fiesta.

91. What radio station did you last listen to?
Radio 2, I think.

92. Who is in the picture frame closest to you?
One of Naomi, Lu, Kelly and Julia on Brasssoc tour in Newquay.

93. What was the last note you scribbled on a piece of paper?
No idea. I don’t remember these things. That’s the whole point of scribbling them down isn’t it?

94. What is your favorite candle scent?
Again I don’t know. I’m not a girl.

95. What is your favorite board game?
Hmmmmm… I’ll go with Trivial Pursuit I think.

96. What are your favorite pair of shoes?
I don’t have a favourite pair. Again, I’m not a girl. I have one pair of shoes and two pairs of trainers and I don’t have a favourite – they’re there to do a job!

97. Was your first kiss good or bad?
Ah, that takes me back… I seem to remember it being pretty good!

98. Who was your favorite teacher in high school?
Hahaha it’s got to be Mr “Moe” Wainwright. A-level Physics was just legendary. So much banter and dry sarcastic humour it’s hard to believe we got any work done. Some people actually didn’t do any work, ever.

99. What is the longest you have ever camped out in a tent?
A week with Brasssoc. And that’s long enough.

100. Who was the last person to give you butterflies?
Erm, me during my PPL flight test every time I thought “shit, I’ve failed now” when I did something wrong. I didn’t fail, fortunately.