Wednesday, 28 July 2010

CPL training, part 1

Having completed the necessary ground exams years ago for the issue of my IR, I did the extra few that are required for a Commercial Pilot's License.  These exams expire after 3 years and that time is coming next spring.  In case I ever want to use it, I might as well get myself a CPL so with the arrangement made, today was the day for the first lesson.  As an IR holder, I must complete 15 hours of instruction before I am able to take the flight test.  I also need to get a class 1 medical.

On arrival at the airport, I sat down with my instructor for a lengthy pre-flight briefing about what we were going to be doing.  As this would be the first of the general handling session, it was all relatively straightforward stuff with the main focus on stalling and flying circuits.  Some people are very apprehensive about stalling but there's no need to be so.  Provided you know what's going on, there's nothing to be afraid of, and recovery from a stall is a simple affair.  No matter what the configuration of the aeroplane on entering the stall (gear up or down, flaps deployed or retracted) a forward motion on the controls and application of more power will always see you come out of the stall.

Since qualifying and during my PPL training, I have not kept count of the number of circuits I've flown but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was more than 1,000.  I would hope that anyone undertaking a CPL course is capable of flying a circuit to a reasonable standard!  The whiteboard session was to ensure I had been doing things right and making the correct radio calls, etc.  I had been, and I'm sure my instructor would have pulled me up on this during my IR training or type conversionif there had been any issues!

With the briefing complete we conducted a normal VFR Chester departure from Liverpool's airspace.  Flying circuits at a big place like Liverpool can be a waste for a couple of reasons.  The runway is very long, making the circuits take longer, and you can easily be interrupted by IFR traffic (Easyjets and Ryanairs) causing you plenty of delays.  With that knowledge, we chose somewhere else to fly to.  Manchester Woodford was the original choice, but they are currently reinstalling or repairing their runway lighting so unusable from our perspective.  The next choice was Tatenhill (EGBM) , not too far away, very friendly and conveniently my instructor wanted to have a word with their engineer about another aircraft!

On the way, we were going to do some stalling exercises.  For this, we needed some height, above the level of the cloudbase.  There were plenty of gaps in the clouds around so we climbed up into them to take advantage, completing fully developed clean stalls and incipient stalls in the approach and landing configurations.  All things I'd done before and no problems encountered at all.  Next, further en route to Tatenhill, we took on some steep turns.  60 degrees angle of bank, one to the right then one to the left, remembering to increase power slightly as the angle steepens.  Again, nothing much to report and that item ticked off the list.

After making a standard overhead join it was time to complete a few circuits.  There's a small noise abatement kink that cuts the corner of the turn from base to final, and a ruling to go outside a garden centre that's in the perfect place to turn from downwind onto base.  The first landing was a normal approach, flaps at appropriate places, engine power available to be used etc.  Following a touch and go, the second was the same again only with a better landing.  The third circuit was completed without the use of flaps, so we maintained 95kts all the way down final approach.  Another touch and go and the fourth circuit would be a glide approach to land.  I was asked to say when I thought we would make the runway without engine power and said so a short way into a tight base leg.  The throttle was pulled back and that was it, no more power to help!  I had perhaps chosen to begin the glide a little early and for a while it didn't look like we would make the runway, but leaving the flaps and gear until fairly late had us landing easily onto the runway and a very smooth landing prompted my instructor to call me a show off.  I'll take that compliment!

After a quick visit to the engineer's offices and to pay the landing fee, we set off back to Liverpool.   No right turn out on commercial operations with a left hand circuit, even if I wouldn't have done that anyway!  We simply flew out of the 2 mile ATZ in a straight line before making the right hand turn towards Liverpool.

The fun on this leg began with varying the speed we were flying at.  First up we would fly slower than the normal cruise of 140kts. Initially this was 100kts, then back to 80kts, then trying for 70 but the stall warner was blaring somewhere between 70 and 75.  After pootling along a lot slower than the Commander is designed for and keeping everything in balance we moved on to flying at high speed.  After climbing suitably, we entered a steepish descent with cruise power still applied.  The idea was to increase the airspeed to Vne (never exceed velocity) which in this case is 187kts.  It took quite a steep dive to get there but we did, and with the controls feeling rather heavy we recovered to a climb, allowed the speed to bleed off and moved on.  Apparently some people never even fly in the yellow arc, let alone getting anywhere near Vne!

Continuing our progress towards Liverpool,we practised some forced landings (PFLs).  This was a good opportunity to try out the constant aspect approach rather than the high key/low key that I was originally taught.  In this, you aim to keep the landing point in your chosen field in the same position in the window, effectively pointing at it with the wing.  It's meant to be easier to judge than the high key/low key method and in my limited it doesn't seem difficult!  We'll do plenty more during the course, but there's not much to it really!

With 2 or 3 PFLs complete, we made our way back to Liverpool for an uneventful VFR rejoin at Oulton Park and followed a Ryanair 737 on finals (careful of wake turbulence!) down to the runway.

Sorry for the lack of pictures but this was a training flight rather than sightseeing and I was being worked pretty hard - all the above in just an hour and a half.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Flying a Cirrus SR20

Dave and I used to belong to the same group which operated a 1965 Cessna 172.  Dave holds a UK IMC rating and doesn't fly as much as he'd like to.  As a result, I've offered a few times to sit alongside and act as a confidence booster.  We've done this from Barton in a G1000 C172 but finally we'd found a date that worked for both of us and the aircraft was available, so we met up and went to Blackpool Airport to take one of Aircraft Grouping's Cirrus SR20s out for the day.

We fancied going somewhere reasonably far away and Dave wanted to practice his instrument approaches with a safety pilot on board.  With these criteria in mind, Plymouth was chosen as the destination for a late lunch, with a basically direct routing over Wales.  Conditions for the departure at Blackpool were definitely IMC, entering cloud in the climbout and staying in it until a bit further south around Southport.  To keep the stress levels high, there was something out of the ordinary with the radios and intercom - I could hear the radios fine but Dave could not, so I did that for a while.  Once we'd settled into the initial parts of the cruise a few minutes after takeoff and with a lull in the radio traffic as we changed over to Liverpool radar, I took the opportunity to twiddle some dials and try both headsets.  It turned out that the aircraft had been left with all the controls maxed out and this didn't do well with squelch and noise cancelling!  All sorted by being able to try both headsets and play with all the controls.

As we were now in the cruise, we handed over control to the S-Tec 55X autopilot, with input to it coming from the Avidyne Entegra PFD.  The system is quite intuitive - choose an target altitude, choose a vertical speed and the autopilot will maintain that vertical speed and intercept the chosen altitude.  En route flying is a breeze, as the autopilot will of course follow the course set into the GPS (2 x Garmin 430W) and displayed on the nice big MFD.  We took the cruise section of the flight to fiddle with the avionics, with me showing some useful features of the Garmins - we have one in our Commander - to Dave, who has little experience with them.

After talking to Exeter radar and being put onto the approach into Plymouth very high, Dave hand flew down the ILS for the practice.  Without having received vertical guidance, in anger I would not have made the approach but as we were in sunny VMC there was no real issue.  If it were for real, I would have descended in a more orderly manner and taken up the approach at a more realistic altitude rather than thousands of feet above it, requiring a rapid descent.

Final approach to Plymouth

Safely on the ground and with the Cirrus refuelled, we walked up to the tower to pay our fees and asked if there was a pub or similar nearby for food.  They told us the best idea may be to walk 10-15 mins down the road to The Jack Rabbit.  We did, and were quite happy with the tasty food provided.  It was just a quick bite, but hit the spot.

On the flight back, Cardiff radar informed us of a familiar sounding callsign off to our left and going slightly faster than us.  Sure enough, it was another one of Aircraft Grouping's SR20s returning to Blackpool from a weekend in Newquay who we had in sight quickly and were on frequency with for almost all of the trip.  We lost sight of them when the conditions became distinctly IMC south of Liverpool.  No problem, the aircraft was flying itself, the temperature was well above freezing, Dave has an IMC rating and I have an IR!  Liverpool were very helpful, allowing us to descend in an attempt to regain VMC, and allowing us to climb again once it became clear (at 1,400') that it was not going to happen.  Instead, we would now be IFR and IMC all the way back to Blackpool.

On the way home over sunny South Wales

Released by Liverpool and handed over to Blackpool, we received a deconfliction service as they vectored us onto the ILS for runway 28.  Dave asked if I would like to fly the ILS as I don't think he was completely comfortable doing so in real IMC conditions.  I jumped at the chance, and some way before we intercepted the ILS, I disengaged the autopilot and did the rest manually.  It wasn't the neatest ILS I've flown, but I think for a new aircraft (to me) and a new presentation of information (glass cockpit rather than analogue dials) it was fine; we didn't go out of limits at any point and as we came closer I was doing much better at keeping us on the localiser and glideslope.  We eventually broke out of the clouds at around 700', well above IR minima, but fairly close to the CAA's recommended IMC rated pilot minima.

I have landed a Cirrus once before (Cirrus UK's demonstrator, G-FIKI) and it proved easy enough, and exactly like any other forgiving tricycle light aircraft.  This time was no different.  Smoothly onto Blackpool's tarmac and with instructions received to taxi back to Flight Academy, our trip for lunch in the sun was complete.