Thursday, March 16, 2006

Solo Cross Country - Thursday 16 March 2006 11am

The day looked as good as the previous three days. Got up, went to the local stationary store and picked up some clearfile sheets and a plastic cover for my plates. Got out to the Aero Club at around 9.45am. Got the weather forecast, sky clear, wind at 5000 was variable at 5 knots. Tough trying to plan your legs ETA's when you don't know what direction the 5 knots are coming from.

Instructor Paul gave me some good pointers in how to file a VFR flightplan over the internet, which I did after checking the fuel tanks and realising I didn't have enough. Deciding that I really didn't want to worry about fuel as I'd have enough things to think about I topped them up. The 172R even with my bulk crammed inside has enough spare weight allowance for full tanks which gives over 4 hours endurance. Since my flight was planned to be 1.5 hours I had plenty left in case things didn't go to plan.

The first leg was a trip southeast to Tokoroa (a reverse of yesterdays flight), followed by a landing at Taupo and then west to Taumuranui before the return north to Hamilton. I had planned to fly the first two legs at 3500, the third at 4500 and the return at 5500.

I think this flight I have been the most prepared I have ever been. I had multiple pencils, the E6B in the cockpit with me instead of in my flightbag, a life jacket (the trip west from Taupo is a 15 minute climbout over the lake), all the approach plates I would need, my VFG for the ones I didn't need but may require in case of an emergency, a photocopy of the FISCOM map for the North Island (I was so glad I had it in easy reach because I ended up referring to it often), some bottled water and a cushion because I like to sit fairly upright in the seat and the seats reclining angle doesn't adjust and that really killed my back during yesterdays flight.

The best laid plans often go to waste they say, and I'll admit that I didn't get things my own way. After start up I requested a Swamp Sector departure and was instructed to take a Scott Sector departure instead. This would put me a little off track but I had predicted this and planned to reintercept track at Arapuni Dam where I would have to swap charts anyway so it wasn't that much of a problem.

I eventually got to 3500 feet and contacted Christchurch Information and amended my ETA and SARTIME and got to work looking for Tokoroa airstrip which is next to the town. No one was home when I arrived so I did a standard join. I made a mess of the approach so I decided to overshoot and continue onto Taupo. The strip is pretty much that, a strip. Quite narrow which gave me a bit of an optical illusion, or thats what I consoled myself with on the climbout.

I must have had a bit of a tailwind because I had reached Tokoroa 1 min early. I calculated a 16 minute EET to Taupo and updated Christchurch Information with the details. I want at this point to tip my hat to the tireless controllers who sit there and are so cheerful and patient with us student pilots who fluff radio calls and can't perform simple math when it comes to calculating new SARTIMEs.

I was maybe slightly apprehensive going into Taupo solo but I had made a few plans in advance and they paid off in my opinion. In hindsight they are simple common sense but they made my flight in and out almost trivial in comparison with yesterday. I had marked on my chart a position well outside the MBZ to get the AWIB info and another position that would be easy to find to announce my arrival into the zone. It was a good thing I did because shortly afterwards I saw a plane heading towards me about 300 feet above me so I eased WAM downwards and passed below him without too much fuss. My other plan to fly with all my lights (except landing and taxi lights) on was another piece of mind thing that meant I was about as easy to see as I could be. I made two more radio calls and planned to come out over the lake and join right base for runway 17 after I had confirmed that 17 was in use. There was a lot of traffic inside the MBZ, mostly tourist operators taking people on scenics and skydiving flights but I threaded my way around and over them and followed my intentions as I had broadcast, coming in right base and touching down 4 minutes earlier than planned. Hmmm.

Taxied clear of the active, found a spot near the other GA planes to park and shut down. Rung up Christchurch Information and amended my SARTIME and then dipped the tanks to see what my real fuel consumption was. Not too bad, approximately 35 litres. Then it was time for a stretch, some water and food (nothing like the awesome airport cafe's I read about on US student blogs, just a ham sandwich for me), before a quick stroll over to the passenger terminal to check the commercial arrivals (good, nothing for a couple of hours).

On the walk back I stopped to chat to a local student (flying people are so nice, must be a universal trait) and we discussed the fair weather cumulus building out west that I was about to fly towards. I started WAM up, taxied out and lined up, and broadcast on Unicom that I was going to depart on the right hand upwind leg. I had opened the throttle when I saw that there was skydivers overhead the runway, and I did something without thinking, I raised the flaps. WAM accelerated to 55 knots before I got her off the ground and by that time the skydivers were well past me. I still don't know why I did that, maybe it was a flash of inspiration but I'll just attribute it to my fantastic instructors filling my head full of useful bits of information.

I continued out on centreline to 500 feet AGL and then turned right continued to climb out west. With all that water underneath me I kept a close eye on the gauges and leaned out the mixture to the optimum I had been shown. Despite that I kept eyeing up the lifejacket I had stowed in the passenger pocket where I could easily reach it. I levelled off at 3500, and tried to get Christchurch Information on the Taupo frequency... nothing... so I changed to the western frequency... nothing... hmm... The good news was that I still had plenty of time before my SARTIME was reached so I decided to climb 500 feet and try again. Ahhh much better. That slight period of consternation had let my attention wander and I realised I didn't know exactly where I was on the map. I had heard from fellow club students that Taumaranui is quite difficult to find from the east because its obscured by the hills of the valley it is located in. I remembered a comment about how to read map contours from my geography class in high school and worked out based on what I could see out front my rough location. Then I saw the township of Taumaranui and I realised I was on track and in fact ahead of where I thought I was. I was down to 3500 to get under the cumulus and then I saw the airfield below me, and 4 minutes ahead of EET. Uh oh. Here I am at 3500 and I need to get down to circuit height at 1700. I had been monitoring the frequency and no one seemed to be operating so I set up a spiraling descending turn to 2200 and then joined the circuit. I have never been to Taumaranui airfield and I must say, its a really nice country strip. A touch and go and then a downwind departure northwards to Hamilton and home.

This was the longest leg and my initial lack of altitude and the hilly terrain meant I wasn't able to contact Christchurch control until I had gotten to 3500 feet and being roughly 500 feet under the cloud cover it was quite bumpy. I amended my SARTIME (after several attempts) and set about intercepting my track. At this point haze was reducing visibility to about 30km. I could just make out Mt Kakepuku in the distance so I pointed the nose slightly right of it and started reading from map to ground to try and get a fix. Eventually 3 things happened at once. Te Kuiti township turned up at 10 o'clock where it should have been, I found I was slightly left of track, and I realised I had better start a descent to get in under the class D airspace starting at 2500. Fortunately I had about 12 miles to run before I hit the airspace boundary so I set a gradual descent and picked my spot on my track that I wanted to be at 2500 by and made certain that I was going to be at that point at or below 2500 feet. Then all too soon it was time to grab the ATIS and request clearance into the control zone to land. I made a Swamp Sector arrival as instructed and was cleared right base number 2 for grass 36. I made a sweet landing and then taxied clear. I requested my VFR flightplan be terminated and ATS obliged me so I wouldn't have to do it over the internet with I got back to the Clubrooms. I taxied back to Waikato Aero Club and parked WAM on her tie down spot.

In total 2.0 hours solo cross country time in the logbook and a great experience to tell you all about.

Cross Country Dual - Wednesday 15 March 2006 1pm

The best day yet this week dawned for my first cross country flight. I planned from Hamilton, to Taumaranui, to Taupo for a landing, then onto to Tokoroa and back to Hamilton. It was great to hear the forecast speak of sky clear conditions and 70km visibility (no thats actual, we do get great visibility in NZ). I had learnt my lessons of the map reading and double checked my calculations and made sure that I had everything in order on the ground (including 2 pencils!!) before we took off. Instructor Dave asked me where my VFG was? In my bag, doh, stop the plane and get it out of the cargo hatch. Did I have my nav calculator? That was in my bag too. Oh well, we were airborne by then and crawling through the plane for someone my size would have been an exercise indeed.

Called up Christchurch Information, gave them our position and ETA for next waypoint (Taumaranui) and got to work sorting out the plane. WAM at full rich runs quite rich indeed and Dave commented that the 35 litres per hour we plan for is fairly conservative but if we did not lean the engine out WAM can drink 40 litres an hour. Thats definitely something to keep in mind when you are on a long trip. I leaned the mix back till the exhaust gas temperature gauge read somewhere in the middle and continued to keep an eye on it.

By this time we were cruising at 2500 feet and I was navigating using easily identifiable features like roads, bridges and railway tracks. Dave then asked for a climb to 4500 feet and when we got there I learnt another lesson about VFR navigation from altitude, its a lot harder to pick out even things like major power lines and roads. The country we were flying over is some of the more rugged in the North Island and for the most part is fairly devoid of significant features other than the odd town so I ended up navigating by selecting mountains on the map and marrying that to what was outside. We actually were bang on track (Dave complimented me on my navigation on the first two legs) and after reaching the halfway point recalculated our ETA and updated Christchurch Information with a new SARTIME (Search And Rescue TIME). We arrived pretty much spot on our ETA and I made the turn towards Taupo and recalculated our new ETA and SARTIME and Dave got me to do the radio call, which I did OK, except the reception at that location was fairly poor so we climbed another 500 feet and it was much better.

I started our descent into Taupo, got the weather information and runway in use off the AWIB and made our first call since Taupo has a MBZ (Mandatory Broadcast Zone - you have to make regular radio calls on their frequency). Parachuting was in progress and we were advised not to join overhead so I chose to make a wide right base for runway 17. The day was so clear we could see the individual parachutes opening above us as we descended. I made a fairly steep approach and we landed. I got out and at Dave's request dipped the tanks and calculated our actual fuel burn, which was approximately 30 litres an hour. Not bad and really gives you an idea about how economical planes can be when properly trimmed and set up. I wandered over the terminal and got some water from the vending machine. We had a quick debrief and set about leaving for home. We lined up and was about to go when we saw more parachutists descending. Dave said to take off and extend out the centreline which we did, then he decided we would make a non standard lefthand circuit and leave on the downwind leg. I continued to climb out and we saw a couple of aircraft pass below us.

Dave said that the trip back was to be my responsibility and thats where I started to get a little snowed under. I forgot to call a position check and had to be reminded. I didn't lean out the mixture. I did however, note the time we were on the downwind leg so I could more accurately calculate our ETA to Tokoroa. By the time I had gotten everything organised I knew we were quite some distance off track so I looked for features, got a fix and started to intercept track. Dave said nothing so I guessed I was doing fine. We got to Tokoroa and I made the turn towards Hamilton. Then we couldn't reach Christchurch Information to update our flightplan despite changing frequencies. Fortunately we were approaching Hamilton airspace well within our SARTIME so we decided not to bother and would request termination of the flight plan when we touched down.

The last mistake I made was daring to relax once we reached the Hamilton Control Zone. Now, just because you have spent the better part of your flight experience inside that airspace its a dangerous attitude to have. Dave stated in no uncertain terms that most accidents occur when a pilot takes that attitude. Point taken and noted for future reference. I made a fairly average landing and we taxied back and tied down. Poor Dave had to jump into another plane and go up with another student - ahh the life of the young C Category Instructor.

He did mention before he left that he believes I can do the solo cross country reverse trip, but I just need to tidy up a few things and prep slightly better but they are all learnable skills that require practice and repetition.

I will make the big flight in a few hours from posting this blog. I'll let you know things went when I get back.

Blue skies and fair winds all!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Map Reading Solo - Tuesday March 14 2006 1pm

Today was just like yesterday, totally gorgeous. I had gone over my miscalculations last night and they weren't mistakes. I couldn't quite work out where I had gone wrong. What was funny was that I used a different ruler to measure the legs than the one I used yesterday and by some magic the journey was suddenly 4 nautical miles shorter than the day before! I dutifully worked out the wind drift, and groundspeed for each leg and came up with an estimated elapsed time for each leg.

What got me concerned was that the wind direction forecast by the metservice web site was different to the one quoted by ATIS by a factor of about 30 degrees. Well, at the very least I had a map with a line on it to follow so follow it I did. Well, mostly that is.

I preflighted and noted with some small part of thankfulness that WAM had 140 useable litres of fuel onboard, which gave us 4 hours endurance. Plenty for a 1 hour flight. I started up, noted the time (1:15pm local) and got taxi clearance. During the runups the left mag was a little rough, so I did what I had been shown to do, which is lean the mixture out a bit till the engine clears and it did. After a cautious recheck of both magnetos I did the pre-takeoff checks and announced ready to depart. I was nicely slotted into a gap before some light commercial traffic and off I went.

I pulled pilots perrogative and detoured slightly to overfly Susans work building which was pretty much enroute to the first waypoint at Taupiri anways so no real harm. I was cleared overhead Hamilton at 1200 feet but shortly after overflying Susans building I was recleared to 2500 feet so I started to climb. Whats good about doing PPL flight navigation is that you are not required to calculate ETA's based on climbouts so generally its accepted that you will be slightly late to your first leg if your navigation calculations are correct. Well mine mustn't have been because I was 1 minute early. Hmmm...

Started on the next leg which seemed a bit wrong somehow, so I checked the line on the map I was supposed to be following and found it did not correspond to the heading I had worked out. Oh well, out with the plan and follow the map. I arrived at the next waypoint, Ngatea, 2 minutes late. I attribute this to the wind changes and my slight off track heading.

Then it was a swing south for the longest leg to Piarere. This went very well, I managed to keep pretty much on track except for the last part of the leg where I had trouble spotting some landmarks I had pinpointed to look for. Something Greg said yesterday popped into my head and I used what he coined the "outside in" approach. Basically you pick a larger landmark (like a hill, lake or town) and get a rough idea where you are. Then you figure out on the map where another large landmark should be and look for it. If its there you then start looking for less easily recognisable landmarks (like the small country hall I was looking for) until you work out where you need to be. Funnily enough I was almost ontop of the Piarere Hall before I saw it. Hmm 4 minutes late. Oh well. Then a swing west and head back towards Hamilton.

I was overhead the Karapiro dam when I got the ATIS and called up Hamilton Tower. I had been monitoring the Hamilton frequency the whole flight and I knew the circuit would be busy so I called up early. Never the less I had to orbit overhead Cambridge while I waited for clearance into Hamilton airspace. So much for getting back on time. Eventually I was cleared for a south arrival and then was cleared to land off a right base. I got down as fast as I dared and made a decent landing, the best in a while which I was most pleased of.

I taxied back to the Aero Club and after shutting down the engine I went to finish up the flight log and realised I had dropped my pencil. Another important lesson there. Carry more than one pencil!!

My flight was the only one scheduled so I wound myself down by tying down WAM and putting its cover on. A good flight and one I learnt lots from. More importantly 1.1 hours solo cross country time in the logbook towards the 5 hours solo I require.

Tomorrow is a big day indeed. My first real cross country flight, and I get to fly with the head instructor Roger (haven't done that for some time). I hope I can dazzle him with my awesome flying ability so I can regale you with my tale tomorrow. :)

Will post then. Take care all you lurkers!!

PS. Cross country flying is fun, but its one million percent better when you have someone to share the experience with.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Map Reading Dual - Monday 13 March 2006 1pm

A gorgeous day dawned on Hamilton and the start of my time off work I had taken to get the cross country flying requirements out of the way. I thought it was a good omen because the decent weather is expected to continue for the better part of this week so at least I will be well advanced along getting the required hours so I can start getting ready for the PPL checkride.

I was to fly from Hamilton airport to Piarere (a small town due east of Lake Karapiro) then up to Ngatea then across to Taupiri (18 nautical miles north-northwest of Hamilton airport) then back to Hamilton.

Fortunately I was not going to be alone, instructor Greg came along for the ride. I did the basic flight plan although we were not going to file it, it was just part of the exercise. I calculated that the flight would be 52 minutes in duration with 102 nautical miles covered over the 4 legs. My trusty steed ZK-WAM only had 85 useable litres of fuel in the tanks which gave us a touch more than 2 hours endurance at nominal fuel burn.

I preflighted, got the engine going and received new taxi instructions on a new frequency to a new holding area for a new runway. And I thought it was the same old Hamilton airport I know and love! Eventually after a short delay due to traffic we got airborne. I put WAM into a climb, looked for the heading I had bugged and away we went.

Well, trying to fly a plane can be a fairly concentration intensive task, but when you have a clipboard sitting in your lap with a map and flight log attached to it just piles on the workload. It is at this moment where I realised the vital importance of planning and keeping ahead of things. First mental note of the day, always refold the map to suit your track. You don't want to be up there alone doing the mix of origami and panic that I was doing to organise my paperwork. Second mental note, read from the map to the ground. Greg said people will easily get lost doing it the other way around is because you convince yourself that the thing you see on the ground corresponds to the squiggle on your map when that is not always the case. Third mental note, always look for at least two features to look for, but the more the better to triangulate your current position. The earlier you pick up you are off track the easier it is to correct. Fourth mental note, time is an incredibly accurate tool in assisting navigation. I miscalcuated my ETA overhead Piarere by 2 minutes, but I got the leg to Ngatea (the longest leg I might add) bang on the ETA once I had adjusted my paperwork. If you make a visual fix on a point enroute you can use the elapsed time to determine what you should be seeing outside based on your position on the map.

The leg to Taupiri went a little astray because I had made a mistake somewhere in my calculations in the flight plan and the actual route differed greatly to the magnetic headings I had worked out. It was on the last two legs that I came to realise just how important map reading skills are because I could discard what I had calculated and map read my way to the next waypoint with very good accuracy (I was one minute late).

Apart from a slight mistake on my part (not keeping my altitude right during the return through the control zone - very very naughty of me and I will not allow that to happen again) we made it back to the airport and I did a passable landing after carrying too much airspeed across the threshold and floating down the runway. Another flight over and 1.2 hours dual in the logbook under cross-country time.

I hope tomorrow dawns as nice as today because I have to do the same flight again in reverse with no Greg to help me out. He said not to worry too much about the errors in my navigation math because my map reading ability is the point of this exercise and I demonstrated a fairly well developed ability to read maps. I will of course go over what I did and find out where I went wrong.

Will post again tomorrow after my first solo cross country flight.