How so much can be lost in a month! It was now four weeks to the day after my first navigation solo flight. There had been a lot going on and but the main culprit had been the shite weather. We’d have nice big storms on the weekends, and then the weekdays would be fine. The weather just has no consideration for those of us who have to work office hours and only had weekends off (apologies to those who work weekends too). Then to top it off the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was scheduled and the only decent weekend was gone. As a result Victa Mike Hotel had been sitting on the central apron at Jandakot longing my touch.
The morning came and the navigation flight I’d been waiting for had finally come. The weather gods decided that Victa Mike Hotel and I could be re-united at long last. The lines I’d drawn on my maps weeks before we still there waiting too. This time I could adourn them with wind compensating tracks, 10 minute markers and a bunch of scribbles that give me inflight clues. The reason I was so excited about this flight was that it involved two highlights. Firstly, we would be doing a “Victa 65” (ok, that is code for doing orbits around the Perth CBD in controlled airspace) and second, if Perth Air Traffic Control (ATC) was willing, we would perform a missed approach into Perth International Airport.
The pre-flight planning was fun. Our planned track today was to depart via Fremantle, up the coast to Cottesloe, commence Victa 65 in towards the city, perform a few orbits of the CBD, then out to Herdsman Lake, City Beach, back down to South Beach (PowerHouse), overfly Jandakot for Armadale, track to Quairading and land, then Cunderdin, Northam, Perth Airport for a missed approach, Scarborough Beach, back down the coast and into Jandakot. The flight plan spanned 2 pages as I’d included the alternative route from Northam in-case we didn’t get our missed approach into Perth.
“Perth Clearance Cessna 172 Victa Mike Hotel on the ground at Jandakot, request squawk code and frequency”
“Victa Mike Hotel Perth Clearance squawk 0433 contact Perth Centre on 135.25 for clearance”
“Jandakot Ground Cessna 172 Victa Mike Hotel Central Apron for a Fremantle Departure Information Bravo Request Taxi”
“Victa Mike Hotel Jandakot Ground taxi holding point delta hold short runway 24 right time 34”
“Taxi holding point delta runway 24 right”
With the formalities out of the way, we did our run-ups and reported ready at runway 24 right. Despite Jandakot being the busiest airport in the country, based on the number of aircraft movements, we never seem to have to wait more than one preceding aircraft. Today was no exception, a Royal Flying Doctor PC-12 lined up at Charlie blasted past and climbed out to the west. We were given immediate clearance and got ourselves airborne. This was only my second flight at the controls departing Jandakot via Fremantle. The last time had been when Adam and I had gone to Rottnest in India Golf X-Ray for Cross Wind circuits. Admittedly I’d been a passenger on a few previous occasions when out formatting with the JATA mob.
As we climbed out over Murdoch Uni and approach our waypoint at Fremantle Golf course, I requested clearance for our city orbit. “Perth Centre Cessna 172 Victa Mike Hotel approaching Fremantle Golf Course one thousand five hundred feet, request traffic and clearance”
“Victa Mike Hotel Perth Centre identified there is traffic at 500 feet northbound over Cottesloe contact Perth Approach on one two three decimal six for clearance”
“Contact Perth Approach for Clearnance Victa Mike Hotel”
Without boring with lots more radio calls, we requested clearance from Perth Approach but were told to standby. The problem with that doing this for the first time is that you are at Cottesloe in less than 3 minutes and then your left to either track north up the coast, or perform an orbit out over Cottesloe and be in the vicinity of other traffic. Luckily today we’d just crossed Pepermint Grover when our clearance for Victa 65 arrived. Woo too!
I handed Wilson my camera before we took off so I could get a few nice photos of the city and the waterways leading up to her. It was rather enjoyable and our cleared level was 1500 feet. The view was fantastic and knew that this route would be a must do when taking passengers for joy rides. On the ground at Burswood, a chopper was given clearance to take off for city orbits as well. Seconds after his clearance, we were requested to climb to 2000 feet so we could maintain separation.
Approaching the Narrows, I requested 2 anti-clockwise orbits so we could enjoy the views while here. We got the ok and thoroughly enjoyed the view. The city looks great from up here, but when your overhead the east or west ends that you realise how small Perth really is. After the second orbit we tracked out to the coast over City Beach. Having being a passenger flying down the coast a few times, I knew what to expect, but there seemed to be something that little more special when your doing it yourself.
Once we got to Powerhouse, we called to Jandakot tower and requested transit to Armadale. What this means is if your cleared, you fly overhead Jandakot and track to Armadale. If you don’t get it, you do a right turn and track outside of Jandakot airspace to Armadale. Today the cards were falling our way and the tower gave us clearance. Soon enough we’d passed Jandakot and reached Armadale. Here we climbed to 3500 feet and got the traffic report. All clear. It was pretty much at this point it all went south!
The leg from Armadale to Beverly seems to be my Achilles heal, every time I fly it I seem to struggle to find Beverly. Today was no exception. In the end I had only tracked about 5 miles south when it came into view. By this stage I’d missed my 10 mile inbound call to let them know I’d be tracking overhead (or thereabouts). Looking ahead I spotted 2 gliders flying some sort of formation directly towards us. We held our level and they passed one above and one below at less than about 100 metres to our left. It was a bit of a wake up and my enjoyment of the flight took a steep dive. From Beverley I changed my track towards Corrigin.
Within a few minutes, Wilson made his usual, “I’m not sure where your going, but it isn’t Corrigin”. I’d come to dislike this statement as it regularly threw me from my plan. I could see the salt lakes off to my right and a few features to my left, but I didn’t really think I was that far off. The same statement happened a few more times on subsequent flights and now I’m not entirely convinced he was right.
Today however I kept my track, the salt lakes and the NDB at Cunderdin gave me a cross section in which to roughly determine where my destination would be. At my next 10 minute marker I was able to make out the runway, it was about 15 degrees to the left of my current track. Turning towards Corrigin Wilson asked me to make a straight in approach. This is where I really got thrown. I tracked straight at the runway over the township, leaving my decent till I felt I was on profile. The big screw up was that I had my runway number wrong and subsequently would have had any traffic thinking I was coming in from the other direction. Secondly the approach was fast and felt wrong. If I’d had my complete wits about me, I’d have realised that I had a tail wind and the approach I was making was going to be downwind landing.
It was only on late finals that I realised we were downwind and that I’d screwed the runway number. Wilson wanted me to continue the approach and do a touch and go regardless. We did it and climbed back up to circuit height. This was the second time I’d tried a downwind touch and go. It isn’t really a fun thing, your ground speed is quick and climb rate after touching down is very slow. After turning downwind for the runway, I crossed mid-field cross wind and joined downwind for the other runway. How nice is it to be on approach correctly and with the right runway. For this reason alone, I don’t like straight in approaches when you can’t ascertain the wind in advance of your arrival, I’m a lot happier arriving overhead.
We finished the approach and completed a normal touch and go. On downwind, Wilson gave me my next challenge. Ok, I want you to divert low level to Clackline, and by the way, your ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) is broken. Also, as your ADF isn’t working, I want you to find the NDB towers at Clackline. If I wasn’t already thrown enough today, this was the icing on the cake. I started by attempting to draw a track free hand to Clackline on the map. With that we got an approximation of the direction. After calculating the minimum altitude, I began tracking approximately towards Clackline. My departure call to Corrigin and the subsequent diversion call to Melbourne Centre were somewhat shite!
The positive thing about this track is that the huge hill next to York stands out for miles. It gives you a long distance reference point. From it I approximated a reference point half way to Northam, which would put us on track for Clackline. Northam soon enough came into view and the roads between York and Northam provided a positive fix. Wilson kept up the distractions and doubt of my track. When I was sure and he knew it, he pulled the throttle and gave me a PFL. Finding a farmhouse and nice big paddock, we flew down nice and close before going around. That had me off track, so it was back to finding another fix. Luckily Great Eastern Highway and an intersection came into view, so that gave the fix I needed. As luck would have it, those two towers of the Clackline NDB appeared right on our nose, sweet!
Wilson focused on my crappy radio calls at this point and told me to track for the Perth missed approach. Despite nailing Clackline, I was still pretty thrown after my rather stressful previous few legs. I radioed to Perth Centre to request clearance for Perth approach. Totally expecting the response of it not being available, I was re-issued my earlier squawk code and give my track. I was ready to argue the point if they’d not given it, despite that not being good form. I keep hearing stories of student pilots not being given the opportunity by ATC to fly into Perth. Us pesky VFR pilots are second citizens when it comes to class C airspace.
So the lovely Irish accent of the lady on Perth Approach vectored us in for runway 21. We were given a slightly wider track to allow a Boeing 737-800 to land on runway 24 ahead of us. Slowly I got over the stresses and started to enjoy the Perth approach. We watch the 737 come in and land and continued our approach. We were told not to descent below 500 feet and that we should make a right turn before crossing the runway threshold. Our departure waypoint was given as Observation City. The approach was fun. We had the VOR / ILS tuned in so we could track our descent and make sure we were bang on. The PAPI lights alongside the runway also confirmed our approach profile.
Soon enough, we turned right and tracked towards Observation City. I was rather excited, as it was another opportunity to enjoy the sites as we passed the city and flew down the coast. I was thinking that there were no more tricky navigation legs left and I was home and hosed. Well Wilson had other ideas. He took control and asked me to put on the visor, apparently the only thing I would be seeing for the rest of the flight were the instruments.
The rest of the flight involved starting at the Attitude indicator and the surrounding instruments. It was all good, practice with instrument flight is a worth it. Wilson kept me under the hood till we were pretty much at Adventure World tracking into Jandakot. From there, the hood was off and we joined for a long awaited landing on runway 24 right.
It was a huge relief to be on the ground and out of the plane. After a good 3.6 hours in the air and a fair bit of pressure, my head was hurting. It was a bit of a realisation of how much work I needed to do to get on top of the navigation, emergency procedures and radio calls. After my head had cleared though, I remembered the fun bits. The city orbits and Perth approach. At this point I also convinced myself to try and string the next set of flights closer together so to perfect the navigation techniques and get straight into the flight test.
Good in principle, but not so in practice as time would tell. A few curve balls, including the PPL theory exam would soon disrupt that…