Ok, so from time to time there are a few things I procrastinate with. But I’m only going to go into one such procrastination, finishing my Private Pilots License.
In Febuary 2012 I was ready for my final flight test to get my PPL. Theory tests, flight training and pre-license tests were all done. However with the stars not being aligned, I never did the final flight test. With 3 weeks off work and nothing planned except relaxing and playing with the kids, I’m getting my shit together, slowly.
Over the last year since then, I’ve kept current with about 12 hours of solo time in the training area, mainly taking friends for rides and doing occasional circuits. So just before Christmas, I did a Navigation refresher flight. Its purpose was to do a “gap” analysis of my flying in relation to testing standards. Surprisingly, the navigation flying went spot on. My instructor threw in 2 diversions to try and stump the luck we’d had so far. Even those went well.
Back on the ground at Jandakot, we got into the theory. This is where we hit the problems. The “gap” was quite wide, with a good bit of rust thrown in. So, the next few weeks were spent refreshing. It included the PPL training book, the flight school training book, the VFR Day Guide from CASA and also the numerous hand-outs I was given. Taking the time to refresh my knowledge on these was a super valuable exercise. In fact there were a bunch of new things I picked up on the way.
So, last week, I booked in and did my pre-license ground test and navigation flight. The ground components went a lot better, still a few areas that needed to be polished up, but the instructor reckoned I’d pass. The flight planning seemed to go ok too, just took me a lot longer than I remember. Then there was the flight…
The Area forecast said the cloud was low, the wind was strong, terminal forecasts said the ground level wind was variable and strong. All in all, crappo conditions. The route was Jandakot, Armadale, Narrogin, Beverley, Clackline, Victor 66 and back to Jandakot. Pretty simple with exception to the Armadale to Narrogin leg due to it being a long leg and nothing super simple to help. I had a few tricks up my sleeve, such as radials from the Pingelly NDB marked out and the frequency of a local radio station to put into the NDB. My planned altitude was 5500 feet, to give good navigation perspective.
That is when it all didn’t want to go my way. See, we took off from Jandakot, climbed to Armadale, no traffic (of course, the weather was shit, nobody else in their right mind would be up) and I started to turn to my heading. Hmmm I don’t recall Narrogin being 281 degrees from Armadale. That would put us out near Rotto. So it appears a mistake on my flight plan put me under further undue pressure from the get-go. The track was right, just the heading was wrong. So a quick approximation on a heading from the track would at least get me going in the right direction form which I could do a 1 in 60 once I got a fix.
The next problem was the clouds. By the time we approached 2500 feet, it was evident that I wasn’t getting any higher. That meant, we’d be skimming along clear of the clouds with a very limited perspective to navigate. From here, all the “mountains” marked on the maps look roughly the same. So it was a few cross roads, a powerline and the rocky outcrops that helped here. My instructor wasn’t really helping, he kept asking, are you sure you are on the right track. Shouldn’t there be a road and and powerline intersection somwhere here then? It turned out that he was reading the map wrong, phew…
As we tracked, I tuned in Pingelly NDB and did a few approximations on the radial of where I was. We seemed roughly on track, maybe slightly to the left. At my second 10 minute marker I managed to pick the Michibin Hill tower and Wandering, putting us almost exactly on track. Thank, well, you know what. However my joy was short lived. With the positive fix I was given a diversion, this time to Pingelly. However my “NDB” magically stopped working, “Your NDB is no longer working”. So rather than approximate with an immediate turn, I decided to circle the tower briefly in order to give myself some time to plan the diversion. This paid off, I got an accurate track, heading time, distance and flew it pretty accurately. From Pingelly it was stright up Great Southern Highway to Beverley, that is of course until the engine failed.
Instructors have a habit of pulling the throttle on you and making you do practice forced landings. My plane turned out to be quite unreliable, it had two engine failures in cruise and one taking off from Beverley a little later. Thankfully the restart procedure worked at the magic 500 foot above ground level and we were away again 🙂
Tracking to Beverley, the sky cleared a little, giving us the opportunity to climb to 4500 feet. With this opportunity, the instructor decided we’d do steep turns, stalls, descending steep turns and a few others. This was fun, but left me feeling a little air sick. With the head down time doing the diversions, the frickin bumpy conditions, I was feeling a little worse for ware and looked forward tracking on. I could see Beverley and tracked straight to the airfield.
Not surprisingly we had the field to ourselves. Overflying, the wind was showing 100% crosswind with a full wind sock. There was some movement, which indicated we were best for runway 16. We descended and joined the circuit. It wasn’t pleasant even at 100 feet. Turning final, we had a 40 degree pitch towards the wind, it was howling. Getting lower and over the threshold one could only describe it as, crap! It was gusty, the wind was rolling over the trees and I had full left rudder trying to get straight.
Touchdown was brief as a gust of wind lifted us up again. We did resettle, but in the gap between the trees where the old runway cuts through, we copped the full tilt of the wind, a big sideways movement on the runway. By this stage, I’d pulled the flaps in, had the windward wing pinned to the ground and was powering back up to rotate speed. Lifting off, we cleared the trees and our little 172 struggled back into the air. It was at this point that that pesky engine decided to “fail” again, yep the instructor pulled the power to simulate an upwind failure…
The next circuit I was asked to come in flapless. I knew this would be challenging in these conditions, more so when on final I noticed the windsock showing we had some downwind. It wasn’t good, in these conditions we floated and by the time I got to about 40% down the runway, I decided to go around. My instructor was well relieved with this decision too. He’d seen enough and the clouds were really coming in, well metaphorically speaking.
At 500 feet, I was handed the instrument simulation visor and told to put it on. Great, instrument flying time, right when I was ready to burry my head into a sick bag. My instructor was extremely sympathetic too, he handed me a sick bag and gave me my instructions. We tracked out of Beverley on a series of courses, altitude changes and lots of turns. He eventually took the controls and informed me to bury my head while he put the plane into some unusual attitudes. First was a climbing stall, the second a 140 knot spiral dive. Joy, my stomach was not exactly feeling happy with this situation. A few more directions under the hood, then I was finally given a reprieve.
From here it was super simple, Clackline NBD, then Victor 66 through Perth controlled airspace. The only thing that was going to make it hard, the weather. The weather from the coast was closing in. Perth Radar advised we’d be lucky for 3000 feet through Victor 66. We were lucky, we were just clear of the clouds and finally made our descent into Six South.
Tracking into Jandakot my instructor took a few pics. These give some perspective of the cloud and visibility, crappola! It was also very turbulent, making the comfort factors somewhat less than fun. The reality of the situation was though, We had about 3 miles left to run and I was getting excited to getting on the ground. There was nobody else in front of us, so we came in and had a great landing. Was a good way to cap off the flight 🙂
After we were packed away, my instructor gave me the news. “Congrats mate, I’ll let the CFI know you are ready for your test”. With that, my smile set in, my test was going to happen, it was time!