Two years to the day - BFR passed

Well it was almost two years to the hour that I undertook my PPL flight test, I took off out of Hamilton airport with head instructor Roger next to me to see if I could still remember everything I had done 24 months earlier.

I had pre flighted WAM (hooray for a decent flap selector rather than the hit and miss toggle of the 172M) remembering to check all 13 fuel drains (did I remember where they all were?) and topping off the oil because it looked a bit low. We had 98 litres useable, which my rough mental calculation would give us around 2 hours and 45 minutes at the nominal burn of 35 litres per hour.

We requested and received clearance for a swamp departure. Hamilton is a pretty busy place these days, and with all the poor weather our grass runways have been closed while the ground regenerates (in golf its called GUR, ground under repair).

I taxied over to the runup area and after a quick reminder about airmanship from Roger I found a spot suitable to both of us and commenced the runup procedure. The right mag was a little rough but within limits, and I almost forgot to check the alternator but remembered in time. Went through the pre take off checks OK and gave my pre take off briefing. Then we waited at the hold point, because there were 4 other planes all waiting their turn to depart. We were two up in a 180hp 172 with 2 and a bit hours gas, so getting off the runway would not be a problem so we called in to say we would accept an intersection departure (almost 800m of tarmc runway in front). So the Robin in front took off and I lined us up, did the pre take off checks, finally got clearance to depart and away we went.

Roger asked for a south east heading but I went more south than east and we didn't establish ourselves in the "swamp" sector (the south east one!) for some time. I then failed to report clear in a manner that Roger liked but it was a minor thing and he corrected me.

We climbed up and did some medium and steep turns, followed by some compass turns (which I nailed!!) and finally onto the stalls....

Roger asked me to identify a basic stall and recover. Its so clear to me what he wanted now that I am on the ground but at 2500 feet with a handful of plane it took a while to click inside my thick skull. In a semi bewildered state I performed a basic stall complete with the nose breaking and recovered, and Roger said I had done what he wanted to see, he just wasn't allowed to tell me. He then asked for a power and flap stall with recovery at the onset, which I did ok except I didn't raise the nose high enough and we wallowed a bit before the nose went over. I also wasn't entirely wings level so we had a touch of wing drop as well. And then (drum roll) we came to the wing drop stall. Now I realised all too late that the last wing drop stall in a 172 I had performed was about a week after my PPL flight test when I did my maximum all up weight check. I knew the theory behind it, but knowing what to do is one thing and doing it is another. Again I failed to raise the nose high enough and we wallowed and again I was not ailerons level when the nose went over and the nose pitched and yawed as it should and I made a bit of a hash of it. The subsequent one was better but I failed to apply full power on the recovery, another no no. Roger then demonstrated a stall in a turn and got me to do one. That was a lot of fun, and I can see the practical instances where things could cause me to stall in a turn. I made a mental note at that point to book an instructor and go up and explore more of this sort of thing.

The forced landing went well up to the point that I realised that I had not set myself up the right way around and ended up landing downwind. Roger said that he thought we were at worst doing a crosswind landing and wanted me to see if I could make the field anyway. We ended up floating a good 600m past the paddock I had chosen. Where I would have landed was far from ideal, but it was good enough according to Roger. When he asked me where I thought I went wrong, I replied that I was way too high turning final and I hadn't fixed the problem early enough. He said that was an accurate assessment.

We then flew on to an unpublished airstrip on the southern edge of the Hamilton control zone. Roger said it was to both check out my circuit flying and to give me some experience in strip flying, which up until that point I had exactly zero hours experience.

This strip is in a farmers field, and apart from being in a shallow gully it has hills and trees on both approaches. The wind coming up from the south meant we were going to land up hill, as the strip has a fairly pronounced slope. I thought my first approach was pretty good, but the landing itself left a great deal to be desired. I flared late and we made one of those "arrivals" where the plane just plonks itself onto the runway, the bounce was kind of high, and I couldn't think why I had done it until I realised the sight picture was totally different and I was attempting to flare too high because of the upslope.

We didn't do a touch and go, instead we came to a stop and Roger asked me to backtrack and perform a normal take off. It was interesting because you really have to concentrate on tracking straight on such a narrow runway as well as having eyes in double checking instruments. I got us airborne and we entered the circuit for a precision approach. Again, I thought that for the most part my precision approach was fine but again we bounced the landing, although this time I was more because I didn't flare enough and we three pointed it. Roger then introduced me to the "aviators ABS", where you pump the brake pedals to brake more efficiently. I thought it was a real hoot for some reason. Small things entertain small minds I guess.

We backtracked once more and Roger asked for a max performance takeoff. I went through the checks and away we went. I got the nosewheel up and when we lifted off Roger asked me to maintain 50 knots on the climb, and by the time we got past the far threshold we were at 150 feet AGL and climbing, with the first note of the stall warning reed buzzing away happily. Now I have never seen WAM perform like that, it was a real eye opener to see what a lightly loaded 180hp 172R is capable of. It certainly made an impression on me. JGP has performed like that in the past but I still have memories of flying WAM when she was only 160hp and I never would have believed it possible.

Roger then asked for a short approach which again, I thought I handled pretty well, and the landing this time was passable, but far from my best. Roger then asked me to perform a normal take off, but this time, we would simulate being heavy by not using full power. After backtracking and lining up, I stood on the brakes and dialed up 2000 rpm before releasing them and WAM shot off like a herd of turtles. Sluggish in the wet grass, the airspeed didn't come alive for quite some time, then when I lifted the nosewheel up at 40 knots it took even more runway up to unstick. We got off the ground and I set a 65 knot attitude as we struggled into the air. We hit a patch of sink and I instinctively lowered the nose, and Roger then asked to abort the exercise and I applied full power to climb out. On the way to the low flying area for the last part of the flight review he explained about how I tend to fly the dials too much and not the aircraft. He said that if you set a nose attitude the aircraft will fly at that attitude if the power setting is static. When I reacted to a slight down draft he said I had done which technically was the right thing to do, but the plane would still have flown at the attitude I had set if I had done nothing at all. His explanation was, if the pitot had swallowed a bug our ASI would have done something similar. Definite lesson learned there!

Low flying, well I love low flying, so much so that after a couple of maneuvers (including a precautionary landing) Roger was satisfied I knew what I was doing so I got down the ATIS (after a light hearted philosophical debate about whether we needed to or not) and got us cleared to rejoin the circuit at Hamilton. Roger's last request was for a flapless precision approach, which after the last hour and a bits practice on a grass airstrip was like childs play onto the long and wide Hamilton runway. After a pretty good approach I even saved my best landing for last, and we touched lightly down and rolled ahead to clear the runway at the designated exit.

Roger said I had performed well enough to pass, but his philosophy when it comes to BFRs is not only to test a pilots skill but place challenges in front of them which they have never faced. If I had to rate my performance overall, I'd give myself about a 7 out of 10. There is plenty to work on, but at least I now have 24 months to practice for the next one!


Rodney said…
ZK-JPY said…

sounds like you got put through the wringer...

I always get confused when they say things like 'recover at onset', and 'recover at the stall'... so I *always* ask for clarification ;)

I am hoping to stay current enough that a BFR becomes 'just another flight'.

Time (and cashflow) will tell I guess...

But congrats again!
Chris Nielsen said…
Yeah good one mate! I never got to do strip flying or any other cool shit like you did on your BFR. I'm insanely jealous :)
Euan Kilgour said…
Thanks guys, I'll let you all in on a little secret. I was initially after leaving the airfield mentally beating myself up over some of the parts of my BFR I was less than happy with. But the more I distill the experience of the entire flight in my mind, the happier I am because it meant that the clubs head instructor got to see the worst and best aspects of my flying during a time that it really counted.

Jarred: I hope the B Cat who takes your BFR is like Roger because learning something new during a BFR is a great way to really test your flying ability. After doing my first one a BFR will never be 'just another flight' to me, it will be a special lesson where I will be tested to my limits and shown just how much more is possible than what I limit myself to.

Chris: Well I didn't get the slipping lesson like you did, and Roger said I should tease you about the strip flying. ;-)