Wednesday, January 04, 2017

New Year, New Name

Firstly Happy New Year to all my lurkers who read this blog.  This year should see some interesting posts, but I'll keep the content secret until it's ready.  OK, so the 2016 summary.

  1. A flight in a taildragger
  2. Aerobatic flight
  3. Fly somewhere I have never been
  4. Pass my class II medical
  5. A ride in something cool

  1. No - I found out I can fit into a SuperCub but I cannot operate the heel brakes because I'm too tall.
  2. No - still waiting but at least I now have a rating in an aerobatic aircraft!
  3. Yes - Hawera.
  4. Yes - yay!!
  5. No - I could say my friends 2016 VW Golf R but that doesn't count.

I finished the year with a tick over 260 hours.  Now looking forward to 2017:

  1. A flight in a taildragger
  2. Aerobatic flight
  3. Pass my BFR
  4. Fly somewhere I have never been
  5. A ride in something cool
And in other news, the Aero Club has been transformed into Waikato Aviation after a review by a marketing company.  The new name encompasses the three core aspects of the "Club" (we're still an incorporated society, the trading name has just changed):  a full time flight academy, a recreational pilots club (for people like me), and the Part 135 chartering business.  I think 2017 might be a quite exciting year.

Best wishes to all.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

So much fun

I'm still trying to look at that new thing to do to expand my horizons and to keep myself on that learning curve.  This time it's a type rating in the Alpha R2160.  While I have flown them previously in forced landing competitions, it wasn't really a type rating sort of flight.  Most of the important stuff was done by the instructor and all I had to do was fly the plane.  This time I wanted to learn the aircrafts systems and actually be able to take one out myself.

First up the preflight.  The good news of only having a single fuel drain was quickly nullified of the sheer number of blanks you have to remove before flight.  There are a lot of bird sized holes in the aircraft where birds love to nest, so they must be covered (and a thorough inspection done).  It was interesting to note that the Alpha has its stall warning on the right wing (all of the other aircraft I'm rated in have it located on the left).  The 160hp Lycoming O-320 was familiar to me so nothing new there.

On the inside the two person cabin is both spacious and tight.  Spacious in that it feels like you are sitting on the plane rather than inside it.  The visibility is second to none.  Tight in that the seat and 5 point harness makes you feel like you are trussed up like a roast chicken.  Useful for Aerobatics I guess.

Engine start sequence was pretty straight forward, as was taxiing around the airfield (nosewheel steering!).  It has a stick rather than a yoke but it's funny how you transition between them seamlessly.  It never felt awkward or un-intuitive, you put pressure on the stick and the aircraft responds.  In one respect I felt made things easier but I'll talk about that later.

Take off was unremarkable, we had some fairly strong wind to contend with but the Alpha's wing cut through a lot of the bumps.  Once we got some altitude it smoothed out and we headed east to start our upper air work.

I demonstrated to instructor Bailey a couple of turns.  The aircraft is so responsive in all 3 axis it just invites you to throw it around.  Medium turns were a walk in the park.  With the steep turns I had to restrain myself from adding more bank and going to the max rate, not that Bailey would have mind.

We did the 3 stalls, clean, power and flap and wing drop stall.  The clean stall was interesting because you begin to see how slippery the Alpha is.  Even with 10 degrees of flap and power on it was reluctant to sink, I was easily able to maintain my height.  With full flap it was like applying a hand brake in a car.  I distinctly remember leaning forward against my shoulder harness as the airspeed dropped away.  The wing drop was tame compared with a 172.  The uncommanded roll and yaw was moderate and easily corrected with that huge rudder.

We then did a forced landing.  What was fun was that it was something I have done before so I did a pretty decent job.  Bailey kept asking me if we would make the field.  I knew we were high but I had not added flap yet so once I did down we came.  I would have made my landing spot with no drama whatsoever.  I was pleased with that one.

Then it was back for some circuits.  Crosswind circuits.  I've watched plenty of aircraft land in crosswinds as part of my alter ego as chief ground judge, so I knew that the Alpha is really stable in crosswinds.  I was not disappointed.  We had enough crosswind so you had to be careful but I managed 3 decent enough landings before we called it a day.  Bailey noted I am flaring a little too much (my Cessna background showing) but my landings were safe for the conditions which were not quite up to my personal limits but getting there.

I need to do some circuit emergencies then a written test before I'll get signed off.  This is one aircraft I think I will be flying a lot more.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The Central Area Rally

It's a fancy name for the regional flying competition, this year held in Hawera.  I was asked to be Chief Ground Judge so I tagged along with the rest of the Waikato Aero Club competitors.  Competitor Evan and I flew down in JGP.  I was PIC for this leg, we'd planned to fly direct to Hawera from Hamilton but the Taranaki weather had other ideas.  We diverted to the coast and descended to get under some pretty hefty clouds, the visibility dropped but we were still well above the legal minimums.  By the time we were approaching the New Plymouth control zone we were at 900 feet but the visibility had stabilized at around 3-4nm and we'd regained some altitude.  The cloud base was about 1500 feet and we cruised through New Plymouth airspace at 1200 tracking along the coast as the Stratford gap, the fastest route to Hawera, was well and truly closed.
After a flight of 1.6hours and some doubts as to whether or not we'd make it past New Plymouth we arrived overhead Hawera and joined for runway 32.

Competition day saw clearer skies but fairly strong winds, gusting up to 22 knots.  I had doubts about whether the competitors would be able to do well, but for the most part they proved me wrong, and it was a closely fought battle for most of the morning landing competitions.  The afternoon saw a switch to the bombing and liferaft dropping.  The target area was a field in an adjacent paddock where the actual target was obscured by hay bails.  That was something new,  I was glad I wasn't competing.  The pilots must have found it difficult too because most were fairly wide of the target.

After a day getting sun and wind burned, it was good to relax at the prize giving and congratulate the club members who had placed in their respective competitions.  The Aero Club got a reasonable haul too, with 3 firsts, a number of seconds and a third.

The trip back on Sunday morning saw the wind almost 180 degrees from what it was on the Friday but no less strong, although there were showers the cloudbase was much higher than on Friday, allowing us to shoot the Stratford Gap.  On our descent into New Plymouth to refuel we saw 147 knots ground speed on the GPS.  We had considered stopping into former weather man Jim Hickey's cafe to get a coffee but the favourable weather conditions meant we had to cut our stay short.  Evan flew us home and it was great to have such an experienced pilot and all round nice guy to share the flight with.

I really enjoyed that adventure.  I've never been to Hawera before (either in the air or on the ground) and the trip through up a couple of curve balls which we dealt with safely and without drama (but with much hard thinking and planning beforehand).

Here's our track for both legs of the trip:

I want to close with a note about our trusty mount ZK-JGP.  She is almost out of hours and requires a substantial investment in order to remain airworthy.  The powers that be have some decisions to make that could potentially see her mothballed.  Whatever her fate, at least she is going out a winner as she carried Evan and his dispatcher Jess to their victory in the Liferaft Drop competition.  I may never fly JGP again and I feel sad about that.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

2016 Aero Club Competition

They came and went, we were blessed with two glorious days of flying.  I competed in the Forced Landings and Liferaft Drop, where my dispatcher Andrew and I were defending our title.  The twist this time was that Andrew now has his PPL so for the first time ever I got to dispatch rather than fly.  Since we had been such a strong team I felt it was only fitting that I repay Andrew for his sterling service over the years.

Fast forward to the awards, I did not even place in the Forced Landings, going around because you get too low does that.  But Andrew and I came first and second in the Liferaft Drop.  We won the event with me flying and Andrew claimed second place on his first ever attempt which was a pretty good effort.

I also won the award for Best Club Spirit, which I was stoked to get.  Afterwards I looked at the names engraved on the cup and there are a lot of people there whom I greatly respect, and it was an honour to join their esteemed company.

In a couple of weeks I am off to the Regional Competitions in Hawera to act as Chief Ground Judge, a place I have never flown to, so I am looking forward to that.  This means I won't be able to compete in the Liferaft Drop, but I don't mind.  Andrew might go that one step further than I haven't been able to crack.  Good luck to him.

Monday, October 10, 2016

I tried to think of every airfield where I have landed (i.e. I have performed a landing myself, not necessarily as PIC) and the list is longer than I expected:

NAME    ICAO (NZ prefix assumed unless otherwise stated)
Ardmore    AR
Great Barrier    GB
Hamilton    HN
Matamata    MA
Moorabin    YMMB (yes the one in Australia)
New Plymouth    NP
North Shore    NE
Pauanui    UN
Raglan    RA
Rotorua    RO
Taumaranui    TM
Taupo    AP
Tauranga    TG
Te Kowhai    TE
Te Kuiti    TT
Thames    TH
Tokoroa    TO
Waiheke    KE
Whakatane    WK
Whenuapai    WP
Whitianga    WT

Plus two non certificated strip's I've flown into with an experienced instructor - strip flying is as much art as science.  Give it a go only if you can find a suitable instructor, that is very important.

There are two other airports I have flown from where I was in control for most of the flight but did not do the landing:

Hastings NZHS
Wanaka NZWF

It was an interesting exercise to do, and jogged a lot of memories loose.  I hope to be extending that list real soon!

Monday, July 11, 2016

So you want to learn to fly?

Wow! 10 years since I passed my PPL checkride.  Instead of looking back at the last decade of flying, I thought I would use my wisdom (yeah right) to dispel a few myths about making that fateful first decision.

Frequently asked questions.

1)  Can I learn to fly?

Most people are capable of learning to fly to a safe PPL standard.  It is a matter of dedication and whether or not you can pass the medical requirements, fit and proper person test, and written exams.  The exams are no harder than a year 10 (10th Grade or 4th Form) test, and there are usually classes and/or online resources available to self study.  If you suffer from a condition that prevents you from driving a car, you probably cannot fly either.  When I say dedication, I mean it.  It is a never ending process as even thousand plus hour pilots will tell you they are still learning as they go.  There are a very small percentage of people to which flying comes naturally and  I am not one of them.  What this means is, it won't come to you over night, you need to practice it to get to the point where it comes naturally to you.  How long this takes depends as much on you as it does on the quality of your instructor.  What I will say is at the end of it all, not only will you have learned to fly but you'll have learned a lot about yourself on the way as well.

2)  Am I too old/young to learn?

There are no minimum or maximum age requirement to begin learning to fly.  You must be able to physically reach the controls and see over the instrument panel, but that is about it.  There are some limits placed on other aspects, namely in NZ you must be 16 or older to fly solo, 17 or older to hold a PPL and 18 or older to hold a CPL.  I know one young fella who had won several national flying competition titles by the time he went solo at age 16, and I know of an 80 year old gent who fulfilled a life long desire to learn to fly after his family finally convinced him he could do it.

3)  Is it safe?

Taken in a literal sense, nothing is truly safe.  In a more reader friendly way, think of it like this:  Flying and flying training is made as safe as it can be and safety is an ongoing development that Flight Schools and Govt regulators take very seriously.  The long answer is while there is always serious risk in flying, steps are always taken to actively mitigate any inherent risk involved.  It's often said that its more dangerous driving out to the airport than actually flying the plane.  To compare the statistics, in March 2015 a family of four tragically lost their lives in a light plane crash.  Since then, no one has died flying light fixed wing airplanes.  From March 2015 up to today 248 people have died in automobile related accidents on NZ roads.  When you consider that in NZ pilots fly light aircraft for around 50,000 hours a year, there's a lot of fatality free flying going on!

4)  It's really expensive isn't it?

Yes it is.  But so is that house, car or 4kHD TV you want to buy.  My point is, if you really want to do this, a way will exist where you can afford to save up for it.  It might not be particularly pleasant and there may be some hard choices involved, but see my point about dedication.  It might surprise you how little it may cost compared with other pursuits (try costing up mountain biking, skiing or scuba diving as a comparison).  My PPL cost me NZ$14,000 over two years of training which took me just over 3 years to save up, and I spend approximately NZ$3500 a year (~NZ$375 per month) keeping current, competing and going on the odd joyride.

5)  Do I have to go on and become a commercial pilot once I get my PPL?

Strangely enough, a lot of non pilots ask me this question when they find out I fly recreationally.  They automatically assume that I am going to quit my job and change careers.  The answer is no you don't.  I've been flying privately for ten years and I have no plans to go any further down that path.  Besides, there are many other paths your flying can take even in the private pilots world, blogging being one of them. :-)

6) I'm a girl.  Can I fly?

You sure can, this is the 21st century!  Having said that, women have been flying for almost as long as men have and their history of flying makes for a fascinating read if you are interested.  There is nothing stopping you getting out there and having a go, it all starts with you.  I followed one aviatrix through her training from first flight to checkride.  She went through a lot of personal challenges on her journey, but she made it and passed her PPL flight test with flying colors (pun intended).  Go and read her blog.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Spicing things up a bit

So the club held a competition for practice forced landings.  I've won the club event a couple of times, so I thought I would make things interesting.  So, almost 9 years after the club acquired its Robin 2160 (aka Alpha A-160), I glided one back to landing.

Now, those of you who are pilots will know that PFLs are a pretty busy time in the cockpit, with a few drills to run through while you fly the plane to your chosen landing spot.  Try doing it in a plane you've only sat in once and are not familiar with.

My first impression of the Robin is that despite it only being a two seater it has more than enough room to cram fit my frame into reasonably comfortably. The seat cushions can be removed as they are cleverly velcroed in which gives you more room. 

We got airborne and climbed to our target altitude of 2500 where we would commence the PFL.  Despite it being fairly warm and quite humid, WJH was indicating over 1000fpm (and I am told it is the worst performer of the 3) as we climbed out of the circuit.

I was quietly told (thanks Peter!) to use 80knots for the glide speed so when the throttle was pulled I went to set a nose attitude for 80 knots and realized I had no idea what it was.  My instructor/judge told me that the one I guestimated was actually pretty much bang on, and the airspeed did indeed settle to show 80 knots.  The Robin 2160 has short stubby wings which makes it great for aerobatics, but the flipside is, it glides like a fridge.  I had selected my 1500 area and 1000 foot point, but as the altimeter was unwinding like a fan, I chose to fly directly to my 1000 foot point.  A good number of the drills went out the window because I was trying to glide a plane I had 0 hours in and although I was prepared mentally for it, actually doing it was something else entirely. 

I got one concession from the judge who said we were too close in (actually he pushed the stick to the right and made us bank away).  I lowered all the flaps on base but didn't get my airspeed right, we came in quite fast.  I knew previously that you don't need to flare a Robin like you do with a Cessna so when I rounded out I held WJH in what I thought was the straight and level attitude.  The answer was I only needed an extra couple of degrees nose up and we touched down neatly on the mains.

Instructor/judge Seb said I did quite well for my first ever attempt at a PFL in a Robin.  It was far from textbook but I made the field and we landed without too much drama.  The other competitors watching from the clubhouse said I looked quite good, if a little fast.

Seb must have taken pity on me because I managed to come first equal.

Would I get rated in the Robin?  I am not sure.  If I was going to pursue an Aerobatic rating, then yes absolutely.  But I'm still trying to get that aerobatic flight done.  We shall see...