The big day - July 9 2006

Well July 7 was a no go due to poor weather throughout NZ. Low cloud, rain and high winds buffeted the entire country. I was contacted by Instructor Greg to say that they were going to look at Sunday and could I make that day. Well, whats another two days after the past few weeks of disappointment.

I dutifully made it out to the Aero Club more or less on time and checked the 8am weather. It didn't look so great, low cloud and high winds were forecast for the middle North Island which meant VFR flight to New Plymouth didn't look possible until later in the day. I was then told that Instructor Greg was going to fly us (myself and two other students Jonathan and Simon) down under IFR in ZK-FWS, one of our IFR equipped Piper Cherokee Archers. Well, who needs to worry about the weather when we'd be above most of it.

We took off at 9am and penetrated the cloud shortly afterwards as we left via the published IFR departure procedure and intercepted the VOR radial to take us direct to New Plymouth. I felt exactly the same as I did on my first ever flight in a light plane. Greg was speaking another language to the radar controller and twiddled knobs and buttons in seemingly pointless fashion but somehow all those dials seemed to agree that we were heading in the right direction. I did manage to get my head around the DME (distance measuring equipment). You set it to a specific radio frequency for a given IFR equipped airport and it will tell you either how far FROM the field you are or alternatively, how far TO the airfield you are flying towards you have to go. It also measures groundspeed fairly well and gives you an ETA as well. We were flying with a steady headwind so our groundspeed was rather low which meant a rather lengthy trip down. I then got to learn about the imaginary upside down weddingcake that controlled airspace around airports would look like if you could see it. We were cleared for a gradual descent through the layers till we made a visual approach and landed at New Plymouth at around 10.30am.

We taxied clear of the runway and found an empty spot in the parking area to stop. We all piled out and realised that none of us knew where to find the New Plymouth Aero Club (our destination) so we had to wait for Greg (the last one out) to lead us there.

Now I had visions of the Examiner being a tyrannical perfectionist, but you wouldn't meet a more unassuming guy as Wayne. He greeted us and after settling us into the short written test (we had to do a weight and balance as well as calculate the landing and take off distances for a fictitious flight scenario Wayne had written up on the board) he said he'd take one of us up before lunch. Since the 172 I needed was booked it came down to a choice between Jonathan and Simon. They flipped for it (I was quite bemused by this), and Jonathan won. He selected Simon to go first so off they went. I on the other hand, had a multitude of paperwork to wade through. There is the CAA license application form, the knowledge deficiency reports, the copy of my flight medical, the flight manual of the C172R I was to fly (which just happened to have completely different V speeds from WAM and JGP) I had to digest before lunch and then my flight directly afterwards.

I was invited to preflight November Papa Juliet (try saying that aloud 3 times) and I was told of this particular aircrafts... idiosyncracies. Nothing major but just enough to keep me guessing. I had to refuel the aircraft because there was not enough fuel in it for my flight. In fact, I wondered after dipping the tanks during my preflight if there would be enough in the tanks to taxi around the to gas pumps!

I had done a weight and balance check and it was possible in addition to Wayne and myself sitting in the front seat to completely fill the tanks and still come in comfortably under maximum all up weight, so I did just that (also to increase our Va to its maximum figure).

So after 2 years plus a month and a bit I took off on my first flight as PIC with a passenger, albeit an examiner.

We were to operate northeast of the airfield near a place called Motunui. I was instructed to not exceed 1600 feet until we had established ourselves within the Motunui sector and then I was cleared to 3500. I made sure I stayed under the airspace limit and we eventually climbed to 3000 feet. After a couple of passable steep turns I made a complete mess of my first compass turn but nailed the second one well enough to get a response out of Wayne. Then we turned back towards the airfield and did the three stalls (basic, power and flap and wingdrop) then suddenly my engine developed a problem all on its own and I had to find somewhere to land. After doing most of my FLWOPs from 2500 I found I had gaps in the middle where all I could do was pause and fly the plane. I was a touch higher than I had planned on final because I was trying to account for sink which didn't come as much as I had expected with 15 knot winds on the ground but after lowering full flap we would have made it easy. Wayne made me go around and suddenly my engine died again (engine failure after takeoff) so I had to find a spot to land. my first paddock was too far away so I went to plan B and Wayne seemed to think I had it under control well enough to make me climb out to 700 feet and we did low level flight. I did a turn around a line feature (which I think went well) and a steep turn at low altitude (which didn't scare me as much as it had previously - maybe having a 180hp engine gave me the confidence I needed?). Then he had me return to the airfield where I had to conduct an overhead join (which I can do in my sleep but I hate right hand joins). He asked for a precision approach which I did (although I forgot to deploy full flap) and asked for a full stop followed by a max performance take off. Having never done this before I quickly did some mental math and knew we'd get airborne well before the marker boards at the far end of the runway. Then Wayne asked for a normal circuit followed by an aborted takeoff (something which the other two guys didn't do). I think I did well enough there so he asked me to taxi back.

I was just vacating the active runway when a thought popped into my head saying, "the test is not over, he is still examining you so do it right". I then remembered to come to a stop and do my after landing checks, taxi with ailerons in the correct position for the wind, and keep my taxi speed down to a brisk walk. When I put us onto the tie down spot and shut down NPJ's engine that Wayne turned and said, "that was good," and shook my hand.

I thought that I would go into party mode but the voice in my head (which I now believe to be the combined wisdom of all the instructors I have ever flown with) told me to set the park brake, put the control lock in, and record the flight information for the bill.

I went into the debrief with a small degree of intrepidation, but Wayne seemed generally happy with my performance, although a couple of small things he emphasised was my rudder inputs during steep turns, and my tendency to not raise the nose high enough after a go around or stall recovery. I told him it was a habit I had gotten into after raising the nose too high once and nearly stalling the aircraft during my training. He seemed to accept this but I noted his concern and will give it some more thought.

Jonathan did indeed go last and then it was almost 5.30pm and time for Greg to fly us home IFR style.

The flight home was very quick with a 25 knot tailwind but no one said much. I took the time to reflect on my flight test and my training up to that point. I've always had a goal in my flying and as of right now I really don't. I guess something will come along to fire my imagination but for now, I want to share my PPL with my family and friends.

Thanks for reading my blog, I'll continue to update it with my flying adventures and hopefully some more pictures.

Euan Kilgour PPL (A)


Oshawapilot said…
Congrats, Euan! Sounds like your flight test was about as much of an adventure as mine was.

Do post about your first passenger...that was another highlight for me.
Aaron Martin said…
Congrats! For me it didnt sink home that I'd passed until I got to do a x-country with passengers, I remember arriving at our destination and realising that I FLEW THERE!

And I know what you mean about suddenly not having a flying goal. Mine became a. land at as many airports as possible (18 so far) and b. type ratings (4 so far)
Euan Kilgour said…
Mark: Thanks! Yes I will post for sure. My first 'real' passenger will of course be Susan who helped support me through the rough times and helped me pay for this expensive habit. A question, did your flight test seem to go a lot faster than to you than it actually did? Mine was 1.0 on the Hobbs but it felt like 15 minutes.

Aaron: Thanks! Having 85 odd hours means I already have a fairly extensive list of airfields I have landed on (from last count I think its 11). But that sounds like a noble goal. Susan surprised me with saying I can get a type rating in the Archers, which I might start very soon.
Chris Nielsen said…
Well done mate! Now you have a PPL is when you start learning :-)
Euan Kilgour said…
Chris: Cheers! When are you going to get your medical so we can go copiloting off somewhere?
Chris Nielsen said…
When am I getting a medical? I won't get paid by my new job for a month so be shortly after that