Thursday, 16 September 2010

Pilots are lucky people

I read this post over on the Flyer forums from one of our more literarily gifted forumites, AfricanEagle.  It captures the dream of flight that all pilots feel and I thought it worth sharing.  All the more impressive given that English is not Ricardo's native tongue.

Pilots are lucky people. We are lucky because we are born with a little whisper inside us that most people aren't endowed with. And sooner or later, or as a child looking up at that long white line across the sky, or when the urgencies of life has been taken care of and the first grey hairs start to appear, this little whisper becomes a breeze, and then a gust of wind and we take to the skies. Each in his own time, each in his own way, we all urge to be free to roam the cloud laced heavens. Some of us are content to leave the smell of fresh cut grass for a brief flight over the countryside, vintage cloth covered wings shining like metal from the last rays of a dying sun; others seek the flow of rising air to sustain their long and silent wings, following the roll of hills. For many happiness is skimming a sea of white fluff in a tin bubble while going from A to B, while a few find deep contentment in aerial ballet, the sky the stage for perfect figures painted by double wings and powerful engines. For others again satisfaction is keeping those little white needles perfectly crossed, the knowledge of being a professional among professionals. But in all of us there is that little whisper, that makes us special and makes us want to share the same blue sky.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

CPL training, part 5

Lesson 5 took the same format as lessons 2 and 3.  I was given a navigation leg to complete on the way out of Liverpool, today from Oulton Park as runway 09 was in use to the microlight strip at Pound Green, west of Kidderminster.  As usual when heading south from Liverpool, this entailed transiting the Shawbury AIAA and MATZ.  Heading south from Oulton I changed over to talk to them and request a basic service.  With nothing but a few showers around in the practically unlimited visibility, navigation proved very easy, with all the features marked on the map visible well before we were upon them.

One of the showers happened to be directly in front of us, but it wasn't heavy so I just continued on my planned track and went straight through it.  We were VMC all the time and this was nothing new to me, having flown in the UK's climate for the past 6-7 years.  Discussing the flight afterwards, my instructor said it was interesting that I had flown straight through the shower, as many of his other less experienced students would have diverted around it, treating a bit of rain as something to be avoided.  If the shower had been a lot heavier I would have agreed, but this was nothing substantial and following the planned route is easier and more efficient than making diversions on the fly!

It was possible to identify Pound Green itself several miles before we reached it, surrounded on three sides as it is by a wood, with a railway line and river running just past it.  Satisfied with the navigation, I was again given a diversion, today to Long Marston microlight strip, south of Stratford-upon-Avon.  Time noted, as ever I guessed at a new heading and turned onto it.  As usual, in the subsequent more detailed measurement this proved to be pretty accurate and I continued on my way.  Following the track and features on the ground, I found that we were south of our intended track so made a correction to the left.  I'd underestimated the correction required, and as we approached Long Marston I was still south of track, to my shame now rather too close to Bidford gliding site.  I should have spotted this earlier on and made more of a correction.

Having an idea where we'd be going for a debriefing drink, I'd already tuned in Wellesbourne Mountford's frequency, eliciting a chuckle from my instructor as tacit confirmation that we would be heading there.  Indeed, with Long Marston located I was told to join and land.  Another light shower as we landed on Wellesbourne's tarmac runway 18 had someone else holding away from the field.  What's wrong with these people?!

It was my turn to pay for the drinks and slice of cake and we sat discussing such things as people diverting around showers and my performance on the flight there for 30 minutes or so.

On the return flight we tracked slowly north to the west of Birmingham's controlled airspace and did lots of PFLs.  I have a tendency to choose a field rather too close to the aircraft resulting in a somewhat steeper descent than is truly required.  We used this flight to try and get out of this habit.  In the end we found that the glide performance I was judging matters by was that with the undercarriage extended, and on making an approach with the wheels out the profile was much better.  This isn't a method I'll be adopting, as in an unprepared field it is often better to arrive with the undercarriage up than risk the wheels digging into soft ground.  We followed this with a couple of much better planned approaches.  I'm sure we'll do some more next time out to make sure this knowledge has sunk in.

Rejoining the zone at Chester, I was told to make a glide approach to runway 27.  In this, the normal path is flown, maintaining 1,000' until I think we would make the nominated point on the runway with the engine set to idle power.  At approximately Chester, well before we began the approach, I had cheekily nominated the centre of the touchdown zone markings, some 250m along the runway, as the point I would be landing.  On cutting the power before turning final, my instructor didn't seem convinced that we'd make it, and indeed further down the approach, neither was I.  However, with the late extending of flaps and extension of gear, we touched down at exactly the point I nominated.  Not one to easily offer compliments, I did manage to get my instructor to admit that the approach had been perfectly planned and even to write it on the student record of the flight!

The course is nearing completion and the plan for the remaining sessions is to conduct a couple of mock tests before taking the real thing sometime in early October, weather and other uncontrollables permitting.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

CPL training, part 4

Lesson 4 was yet more navigation.  My regular instructor was away on one of his other flying gigs - taking a Citation to Malta for the week.  Nice work if you can get it!  As a result I was to fly with one of the school's other instructors, Mark.

The format was much the same as previous navigation exercises, with me planning a route from Chester to a site chosen by Mark.  Today, this was to be Otherton microlight strip, south of Stafford and adjacent to the M6.  With the winds forecast to be a gentle 5 knots from an easterly direction, the navigation as set to be fairly simple.

The weather proved as benign as had been forecast, with clear skies, gentle winds and no turbulence.  We headed straight for Otherton and had it appear on the nose, exactly when expected.  Very helpful of them to paint the numbers and other runway markings on the ground so that there was no chance of me misidentifying it!  Otherton located, I was given the diversion, to Chatsworth House.  The trick I was taught at the start of the navigation section of the course worked yet again and my initial guess at a heading was spot on.  A quick measurement, a small correction for the light wind and we chatted our way along the route to the impressive stately home.  It too turned up exactly when expected.

I was given another diversion to a small marked village to the west of Leek.  Subsequent investigation has shown that this is Rudyard, though at the time I didn't know that and it didn't matter.  With a small kink in the route to avoid a possibly active danger area, we again arrived at Rudyard exactly as intended.  I didn't know about the danger area as when we set out I didn't know we'd be coming this way, and as it was so easy to go around I didn't feel a call to Manchester Approach was required.  We retained their 7366 listening squawk while near to their zone so that should they need to contact us, they would know we were on frequency and listening out.

With Rudyard located, we returned to Liverpool, joining the zone at Chester and making an uneventful approach and landing.  Mark seemed pretty pleased with my performance and on an easy day like today I'd have been rather annoyed with myself if anything had gone wrong with the navigation!

Sadly, and for the first time since I bought it about a year ago, I left my GPS bug (an iGotu GT-120) at home next to the computer and not in my flight bag.  As a result I don't get to include the track for today's flight in Google Earth on my home computer.