Sunday, January 22, 2006

Happy 2006 to all you lurkers

Well this is not the first flight I have taken this year, as I did some circuits a couple of weeks ago but they were rather uninteresting so I didn't bother writing them up. This flight on the other hand was much more interesting. As you all know by now I won the right to represent the central north island at the National Flying Competition, well the big day is just around the corner so one of my fellow competitors at Waikato Aero Club organised a trip out to Whitianga for all us who have not flown there before to learn the "lay of the land".

Today was a beautiful day for flying, with winds variable at 3 knots, and scattered cloud at 3800. ZK-WAM was going to take me, Instructor Paul, Wendy (the organiser) and Malcolm (congratulations on getting your PPL Malcolm) over. Wendy who was coming out to sit in the back while Malcolm flew his circuits was "chosen" to fly us over which meant I got to sit in the back of WAM (a first for me). I must say, its not particularly comfortable for us over 6 foot folk because the slightest bump would bang your head against the ceiling. The drive from Hamilton to Whitianga takes approximately 2 and a half hours, but the flight there, according to the GPS, was only going to take 27 minutes.

We used the seal runway 36 and took off with 170 litres of fuel onboard (just under 5 hours total endurance). I noted how sluggish WAM was in acceleration and in climb performance with 4 onboard. Wendy set a nose attitude for Vy (best rate of climb) and we climbed to 3500 (somewhere in there Paul had contacted Christchurch Information and received clearance into controlled airspace) and we set off on a northerly heading. In New Zealand the magnetic north variation is approximately 20 degrees east of true north, so the heading we took for the flight to Whitianga was 355 degrees magnetic. Most local Hamiltonians would point completely the wrong way if you asked them to point to Whitianga. I must admit it even fooled me as well until I saw Whitianga in the distance. I sat in the back on the trip over and watch Malcolm play around with his GPS equipped PDA (I gotta get me one of those). They make navigation so easy I can see how pilots become totally reliant on GPS to navigate. Alls well until the batteries run flat then they are in big trouble. I also took a few snaps with my digital camera.

In almost no time we were overhead the Kaimais at 3500 feet and despite a few bumps it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. I can appreciate it can get an awful lot worse though, which is testament to how nice a day it was. There is a large amount of land development happening at Whitianga at present with new holiday houses complete with water access going up all over the inland harbour. This made finding the airstrip childs play, although having driven past it on a couple of occasions I knew to find the main road in and follow it along past the golf course. Wendy completed a textbook overhead join (which I followed with interest as thats what I would be doing in the not too distant future) and we landed. As we were on the downwind leg on the airfield I saw parked a PBY Catalina, a few other Cessnas and one of my dream aircraft, a Seawind 3000.

We landed and got out to stretch and I grabbed some snaps of the Seawind and went to the bathroom while Malcolm and the others jumped back into WAM and went up for some circuits. When I came back I snapped some more photos of Malcolms landings and after about 4 touch and goes they landed again and it was my turn. I did a preflight while those who had to use the facilities did so and we jumped in and took off. I noted the difference having a slightly lighter aircraft with a better weight balance (I must weigh nearly 3 times what Wendy does) did on the controls after we took off. The runway in use at Whitianga has a right hand circuit so we did a right hand turn across wind and once we climbed above circuit height climbed away to the south. Once we were 5 nautical miles away I turned her around and we did a standard overhead join. I must say its been a while since I had an overhead join but I remembered all the checks and the only thing I needed a bit of a reminder was that as soon as you ascertain the circuit direction all turns MUST be made in that direction. I thought the best part of my join was the non traffic side descent (which Paul said a lot of students tend to rush). I got a touch low on the downwind but I remedied it and we made quite a good landing.

Now I admit that I am extremely guilty of being a little bit heavy handed with the aircraft's controls sometimes. On this occasion I pushed the throttle open a little too fast and I snapped the flap lever up - these got me a stern reminder from Paul which I have filed away for future reference. They won't get me marked down come competition time but they are not good for the aircraft (sorry WAM - I'll be nicer to you in the future I promise). We climbed out and set course 175 degrees magnetic for Hamilton. Once we were above 2000 feet and well established in the climb Paul demonstrated to me how the onboard GPS in WAM works (hooray!). I won't bore you with all the technical speak but its great to first when you make sure you are on track (after telling the GPS where you want to go) to set the autopilot and it will maintain roll and yaw until you reach your target altitude when you hit another switch and it takes over and flies you home. After that happened I had the camera out again and started snapping more pictures.

We had one interesting moment on the way home as I heard the engine noise increase dramatically. A quick scan outside said we were nose down but a scan of the instruments said we were gaining height. I looked at the rpm gauge and the engine was revving above redline so I closed the throttle back to cruise power and things started to settle. Paul leaned forward, glanced upward and said "oh thats what it was". I looked as well and we were travelling under a small cumulonimbus cloud which had started to form (as a side note New Zealand is not big enough to form the massive giants you see in the large continents). Now I had read during my Meteorology class about how they form a vortex that sucks up objects just below them (like airplanes, gliders, balloons and even parachutists) but it is something else again to experience it. Again, today wasn't such a bad day and the effect wasn't frightening to any onboard.

Sitting up front this time I got to hear Paul call Christchurch Information and gain clearance to enter controlled airspace. We then had a discussion on how to plan a descent profile. In this case we were exactly 17.95 nautical miles north of Hamilton at 3500 feet and wanted to plan a descent of 500 feet per minute. At our current ground speed 117 knots we would cover approximately 2 nautical miles a minute. Hamilton's circuit height is 1200 feet so we had exactly 2300 feet to descend. Rounding that down to 2000we had to plan for an 8 minute descent as that would lose us the height and cover the distance remaining to Hamilton. Paul wanted me to work out when we should start the descent. We actually started our descent with 10 nautical miles to run instead of 8 or 9 miles as I worked out in my head to make sure we would reach circuit height in time and down we came. We joined lefthand down wind for Grass 36 and I performed a fairly decent landing. Then it was back to the club and the bar for a cold Sprite for me (and beer for the others). All in all 1.0 in my logbook that although it can't count as cross country time is at the very least experience. A fantastic day.