30 August 2011

Instructor's Rating Exam 1 of 2

About 2 days after I passed my CPL Flight Test, I realised how bored I was; there was nothing for me to study. For the last 8 months or so, I've done some form of studying almost every day. And now, nothing...

So while completing the somewhat tedious task of preparing a CV and contacting various charter companies in Botswana, I also started studying for my Instructor's Rating.

There are 5 subjects, and two exams. Principles of Flight, Law, Flight training, and Applied Navigation & Meteorology.

Not knowing what to expect, I spoke to some Instructor's and they said that the exams are easier than the PPL exams. Well ladies and gents, they're about the same as the PPL exams.

Do yourself a favour and go to the CAA website and download the list that says what you must study for each subject. Just be warned, they don't mention anything about Flight Planning, but I was asked two questions on it (had to use loading graphs).

I wrote the exam at Heli, and I upon walking into the office I was met with friendly, professional people (and the smell of filter coffee, yum). While filling in the paperwork, I realised I had forgotten my pencil case at home... No pencil, no eraser, no calculator.

So I panicked a little bit, but I decided that I wouldn't need that stuff. That is, until I sat down and they presented me with the Flight Planning graph book. Oops. Luckily I got hold of a calculator.

All-in-all, it went alright. Law and PoF aren't my strong subjects. But then again, neither are Nav and Met. Oh well, I'll worry about those next week!

13 August 2011

Com + IF Flight Test 'Tips'

I thought I’d try giving some helpful information regarding the Com and IF Flight Tests, having just completed them and all that. I’m by no means an expert, but perhaps sharing my experience will help those of you that are nervous or unsure about the test.

First things first, go to the CAA website and download the testing forms, as well as the Recommended Ground Evaluation for the Instrument Flight Test. While you’re at it, download the form for the Application of a Rating or License. I’d do all of this at least 5 days before you test.

There isn’t a recommended ground evaluation form for the Com test, but it’s quite similar to the PPL ground evaluation, so if you’re really worried, just download the PPL one and go through that (CATs, CARs, AIPs, AICs, NOTAMS, TAFs, METARS, etc).

The testing forms outline all the exercises you are expected to do, so go through them and check to see if you’re unfamiliar with any of them. If you are, now’s your chance to ask your instructor for some help.

Phone/meet with the Examiner several days before the date of your test and discuss what you will be expected to do so that you can fully prepare (ie you need to do a nav). Get all the planning done a couple of days before you test (nav logs, weight and balance, make sure you have the correct testing forms, etc)

On the day of your test you want to look neat and professional. So dress smartly. And have all your notes and papers neatly in a flip file or something. If you don’t have access to the Aerad or Jeppesen Plates, go to the CAA website and print the plates you’ll need. And don’t assume that you will only need one plate; print the whole lot for wherever you’re flying in case there’s a runway change, or a facility goes offline and you suddenly have to use the NDB instead of the VOR.

Arrive early. Pre-flight and make sure the aircraft is clean. Phone ATC and make sure they have your flight plan. Ask for a Squawk code and the runway in use, and also make sure that they will be able to accommodate you. Don’t rush anything; it’s your day.

Every Examiner is different; some are very strict and uptight, others a bit more ‘laid back’. Some might want to do the ground evaluation before the flight, others might do it the other way around. Just remember to breath and stay calm!

I did the ground evaluation first, and I let the nerves get to me, so I made stupid mistakes. The main focus was on AWOPs, and here are some of the questions I was asked:
-Definition of a CAT I approach
-Difference between MDA and DA
-What is an Approach Ban?
-When do you need destination alternates?
-Comms failures when you are no longer following a SID/STAR. When are you allowed to begin the descent for your destination?
-LVP's; low visibilty procedures, when do they come into play, and what do they mean?
-Read a TAF
-Converting RVR to Vis; where do you find the conversion? When may you use the conversion?

Chances are the examiner will flick through a book (most likely the Handbook for Commercial and Airline Pilots) and ask you random questions regarding the information in there. So study that book! And if you aren’t sure about something, you’ll probably be allowed to look it up, but; make sure you know where to look for it.

Ground evaluation done, now for the fun part!
Talk. Tell the Examiner what you’re thinking, what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Ask if they want to be treated as a “standard” passenger, ie someone that doesn’t fly often. Chances are the Examiner will be tired of hearing all the safety stuff, but they might just decide to throw a curveball. So have a quick “Don’t touch this, this or that, don’t open the window in flight, don’t open the door and slam it against the strut, etc” briefing ready. Just in case.

For the pre-flight, it apparently looks good if you use a checklist. I don’t normally use a physical checklist, so it was a bit weird for me. But all I need was use my mental checklist, and then CHECK that I had done everything using the piece of paper strapped to my leg.

The checklist should only be used while on the ground. If you need the thing in order to remember your after-take-off checks then you might have a bit of a problem.

Remember to take your time and try to relax. No one has failed a flight test because they paid too much attention to detail.

The flight is no different to any other flight. The rules and safety standards stay the same. Just remember that when the Examiner says “Fly heading 070 and maintain 3500” it doesn’t mean ‘fly heading 072 and maintain 3460ft’. If you start drifting/climbing/descending correct for it immediately. Heck, every time I started drifting or climbing or descending I would say so out loud.

When it comes to the instrument flying, just remember to keep the instrument scan going. Always ask “All clear?” or “Clear left/right/above/below” when you turn onto a new heading or are told to climb/descend. The chances of the Examiner making you turn into a mountain are slim, but you confirming that it’s safe to turn shows good airmanship.

Another important thing; do NOT bust the minima’s on the plates! Rather level off a little bit higher (no more than 50ft) than descend below the MDA/DA. For the holds and instrument approaches, I was taught two things in order to remember when to do what.

The first is when you are about 10nm from the facility: FAT-PC
F – FREDAS checks
A – Altitude (above MSA? Correct altitude for the hold/procedure turn?)
T – Tune, Identify, Test (check the com and nav frequencies. Test the VOR and ADF)
P – Plate Briefing (double check the altitude and frequencies, determine what entry you will be doing)
C – Clearance (Are you cleared for the hold? Approach?)

Then, once overhead the facility for the hold/procedure turn approach/etc:
Turn – comply with the entry/procedure turn/etc
Time – if you need to time a leg
Twist – the VOR and DI
Talk – tell ATC that you’re overhead the beacon

When flying the approach don’t forget the callouts (1000ft to DA, 500ft to DA, 100ft to DA) and the spot height checks.

Talk. Talk. Talk. I say again, TALK!
Think out loud. Do your checks out loud. Voice your concerns out loud. Make sure that the Examiner knows that you are constantly evaluating the situation and that you have a plan. If you are unsure about something; ASK! If you get too overwhelmed and find yourself trying to fly a plate and talk to ATC and adjust instruments and settings, then tell the Examiner, say “I’m sorry, could you please do the radio work for a minute while I sort myself out.” Because if you don’t, you’ll just continue to be overwhelmed and will most likely completely mess up.

Remember those things and you should be fine. 

As for the upper air work, it’s just like the PPL, except some of it will be done ‘under the hood’ and you might be given more limited panel scenarios. Keep the ball in the middle. Make sure all control and power/pitch/mixture adjustments are done smoothly. If you aren’t happy with the way you did a particular manoeuvre, ask if you can do it again.

If you complete a manoeuvre and the Examiner asks why you did it a certain way, say that was how you were taught and ask about other ways of doing it. If you ever make a mistake, admit it. You might just get some helpful advice on how not to make that mistake again.

When the nerves come along and you start wondering if you’re ready, remember that your instructor won’t let you test if he/she doesn’t think you’ll pass. If you start getting worked up while flying, take a couple of deep breaths, and when all else fails, just remember to fly the plane!

Good luck!

12 August 2011

From Cubby to Cutlass to Commercial Pilot

27 August 2009, I successfully completed my first ever solo.
24 December 2009, I passed my Private Pilot’s License flight test.
End of 2010, I completed Matric.
3 May 2011, I passed my Night Rating test.
10 August 2011, I passed my Commercial Pilot’s License and Instrument Rating flight tests.

When I was busy with my PPL, I considered giving up a number of times. But I pressed on, and now, less than two years since my first solo, I’ve earned the right to call myself a Commercial Pilot. While I had done all my training at Stellenbosch Flying Club, I found myself making my way to Mossel Bay to finish up my training (another 10hrs of instrument flying) and test.

Wednesday, 3 August, Day 1:

Stellenbosch to Mossel Bay.

The last time I did this flight, I arrived after one fuel stop at Riversdale, and over 4 hours in that cramped, uncomfortable cockpit. However, the weather was kind to me this time, and I had a 20kt tailwind for most of the trip.

While sitting at F055 provided a great view of the green fields, dotted with yellow patches, the flight was rather boring and uneventful. Arriving at Mossel Bay was much more exciting.

The main (tar) runway is 09/27. The wind was north easterly, so on final approach, I found myself looking out the left hand side window, instead of the front; I was heading 300 in order to remain on the approach for runway 27. The uneven runway caught me, and I ended up flaring far too high. But I planted her firmly on the ground and I didn’t break anything.

Another 2.4hrs of x-country time in the bag : )

Cutlass re-familiarisation.

After extracting all my bags from the Cubby, she was tucked in for the next few days, and the Cutlass was pulled out. It was over 25degrees and I was dressed for 15degree weather, so it wasn’t long before I was melting. After a quick reminder on the differences between a regular 172 and the 172RG, it was time to kick the tyres and light the fires.

First things first, take-off in simulated hot and high conditions. I wasn’t allowed to use more than 22inches of manifold pressure (normal is 25-27inches). The ground roll was probably close to double the normal distance (+-320m), and after many hops we finally got airborne, and after keeping the nose very low in order for the speed to come up, I felt safe enough to commence a very gradual climb. I don’t want to experience that again.

Once airborne and in the cruise, I was reminded of just how heavy the controls are, and my turns were less than satisfactory. Today’s flight was simply basic upper air work so that I could get the feel of the Cutlass. But we also did some 60deg angle of bank turns, something I’ve never done before (I think I did something similar in an RV8, but that’s aerobatic and vastly different).

After that it was time for a simulated forced landing and some circuits. I had to be talked through most of the procedures, and I was still nervous about doing something wrong. But I was semi-relaxed.

After we shut down I realised how incredibly tired I was; it felt like I’d flown a long aerobatic sortie.
Then it was time to pack up, have something to eat, write a technical exam on the Cutlass, and then study the manual some more and go over Instrument procedures.

Thursday, 4 August, Day 2:

Time for another sortie in the Cutlass. This time precautionary landings, one in some random field (we didn’t actually land, of course), the other at a grass strip with one heck of a slope. Landing there was fun. Taking off was even more fun; the ground quite literally falls away.

On the way back I was given a simulated (up) elevator failure. This meant I had to make use of power and trim in order to climb. I think I did well until we were on final approach; the key is to give it a lot of nose up trim so that you need to use quite a bit of pushing force on the yoke to point the nose down/level. I didn’t trim it enough, and I had to use elevator in the flare at the last minute. But had that been a real failure, I think I could’ve landed without too much of a crunch.

After that it was back to Mossel Bay town where I was staying for a bit of a rest.

That afternoon I went on another sortie, this time with a GrII Instructor (I’d been flying with a GrIII so far), to finish up the conversion. The before-start checklist took several minutes longer than usual as we went over every little thing, and I learnt some new things (like actually seeing what happens when you select the alternative static source).

After that it was all the usual stuff, and I found myself remembering little things like opening and closing the cowl flaps. I was also more confident when it came to adjusting the pitch and mixture (both are extremely sensitive).

We headed to the GFA and did some incipient spins. I’ve done spins twice; once in a 152 many years ago, and once in an RV8. So it’s safe to say that it was new and unfamiliar to me. I then went ‘under the hood’ (Foggles), and did some stalls. Followed by more incipient spins. And then the entry into a spiral dive. The dive was scary to say the least; you’re sucked into the seat, you can hear the wind rushing outside, and the engine almost screaming. It’s disorientating and it took longer than I wanted before I managed to recover.

Then it was time for some mild stuff; Rate 1 turns. I managed to confuse myself and I said it takes 1 minute to turn 360 degrees. I was thinking of holding patterns; you do Rate 1 turns, but you reverse direction (180 degrees). Once I got my mind sorted out we did a couple of those, and then routed back to Mossel Bay by intercepting a radial from GRV (the VOR at George).

We were joining overhead when I was given a simulated engine fire. For once I managed to sort of think of things logically and in a timely fashion, but that wasn’t good enough, and I asked to be talked through the procedures. Which are actually very simple; get rid of the source of fuel, and LAND!

Which I did. I carried out all the checks, despite the fact that I was on final with the gear and flaps still up. The nice thing about the Cutlass is that you can throw those out even if you’re travelling at 130kts (or 110kts for the first notch of flaps). We landed and I thought that was it, but no, it’s a touch-and-go. We were probably ¾ of the way down the runway by the time we took power. Another thing that isn’t pleasant.

After that, a short-field landing, which was alright, I just flared too high, and then failed to keep the nose up.

Things are done a bit differently here; it’s more relaxed, and there aren’t noise abatement procedures, so if you want to do minimum-radius turns while on downwind, you can. And that’s exactly what we did. Basically, you use them to reverse direction in confined spaces, and what you do is; apply a lot of power (full power), enter a 60 degree angle of bank turn, and pull back hard on the yoke so that you don’t lose any height.

I’m happy that I felt more confident and at ease with the plane, but I know I could’ve done better.

Now, time to worry about the Com and IF tests...

Friday, 5 August, Day 3:

The cold front has arrived. When I woke up and heard the rain and wind, I rolled over and went back to sleep. I think I managed to haul myself out of bed around 10am. I definitely wouldn’t get to fly for a couple of hours, but there was the possibility that it would clear up in the afternoon.

So I started studying. George airspace, frequencies, the exercises I’d need to do in the test, going over air law (turns out I didn’t go over it enough). By the afternoon the rain had stopped and the cloud appeared to be lifting. Just as I was getting ready to head to the airfield the rain started once again.

Back to the books...

Saturday, 6 August, Day 4:

I managed to get out of bed before 0730, amazing! The sun was shining, the air was crisp and clear, and the plan was to fly to Riversdale for breakfast. A couple of planes flew to Mossel Bay, and we left together from there. We were two Cubby’s, three Piper Colt’s, a Piper Cruiser, a Pietenpol, and a Kit Fox. It was awesome!

The air was smooth and cold, so the Cubby performed very well. At one stage I was almost surrounded by Piper’s; one on either side and one behind me. Radio chatter was frequent and light-hearted, and I realised once again how different flying here seems to be (while everything is done safely and properly, it feels like there aren’t any rules or limits).

Once on the ground at Riversdale, it was a short (less than 5minute) walk to the restaurant where we enjoyed a traditional breakfast and the usual banter between pilots. I think we overwhelmed the staff :P Fed and watered, it was time to go back to Mossel Bay for an afternoon sortie in the Cutlass.

I flew with a different instructor, and I realised that while stressed, I had managed to relax a little bit. We routed to Oudtshoorn where we did a “Breakcloud” procedure, something I’ve never done before. We landed and admired the view; the top half of the mountains were white with snow, and the bottom brown. Unfortunately I didn’t take a camera with.

After a stretch of the legs and a quick briefing, it was off to George to try an ILS or two. I feel I did okay, but there is plenty of room for improvement! The Cutlass cockpit layout is slightly different to the 172 I’ve been flying; there’s no heading bug on the DI, and a GPS needs to be used to record distance (it isn’t equipped with DME).

All that means is a bit more work and stretching around the cockpit. During one of the ILS’s I extended the gear and the green light that indicates that the gear is down and locked failed to illuminate. After recycling the gear, it still wouldn’t light up. We suspected that we were going a bit too fast so the nose wheel didn’t lock.

In the 30 seconds it took for us to sort out the problem, I managed to drift about 10degrees off course, and climb. It doesn’t take long for things to go wrong. After that it was back to Mossel Bay, which was rather uneventful.

With 3 days left to sort out my flying, I was feeling quite nervous. I had the gist of things, but that just isn’t enough...

Sunday, 7 August, Day 5:

If I’m honest, I can’t actually remember what I did. I didn’t fly though. Hmmm... I think that was when I got hold of the recommended Ground Evaluation for the Instrument Rating. Scary stuff!

Monday, 8 August, Day 6:

Another beautiful day, and another flight in the Cutlass. We didn’t have a transponder so we couldn’t go to George and practice ILS’s, which meant another trip to Oudtshoorn to practice the Breakcloud. My instructor was still helping me set everything up, but I flew the plate well.

The owner of the Cutlass arrived with a transponder soon after we got back, so he went for a quick test flight. Success!

That afternoon the other instructor and I flew and we went over all the basic general stuff once again. I also did a simulated IMC departure which involved me trying my best to maintain the runway heading using the DI (Direction Indicator), and him telling me when to use some rudder. It was quite the experience!

Tuesday, 9 August, Day 7:

Tomorrow is D-Day...
Another hour and a bit was spent doing basic manoeuvres. We didn’t go to George because there were no more slots available. Why they need slots for training flights is beyond me, but anyway.

After that flight I was 1.8hrs short. The minimum requirements for an Instrument Rating are 40hrs IF, of which 20hrs may be in an approved simulator. I was sitting at 19.7hrs sim, and 18.2 actual. And I was testing tomorrow. Yikes!

Wednesday, 10 August, Day 8:

The day dawned sunny and warm. I dressed in my smart black pants and white pilot’s shirt, and I made sure that I looked professional.
My pre-flight was slow and meticulous, and helped keep the nerves at bay. I washed the windows and made sure there wasn’t any oil on the cowling and struts.

Because I was still short on hours, I had one more training flight before my test. Here we went through steep turns, Rate 1 turns, climbing and descending turns. Everything was absolutely perfect.

When we landed the examiner was already there, and up until now my nerves had barely shown themselves. But then I started losing it. The thing I feared most was the ground evaluation, and it showed; my answers were less than satisfactory. I knew the work, but I rushed through things instead of just taking a deep breath and thinking about things.

But I once I climbed into the plane I forced myself to calm down, and I fell into the routine of the pre-start, start, and after-start procedures.

The weather was excellent, and after take-off we routed to Oudtshoorn. Once we crossed the mountains I donned the Foggles. This was the first time I did everything by myself, and I was pleased that I remembered everything. I flew the Cloudbreak well, and I didn’t bust any minimums (I often reacted too late when levelling off after a descent and would descend +-50ft lower than what is allowed).

Procedure done, we routed to Plett. By now I had really started getting to know the Cutlass; there was a lag when reducing the manifold pressure, so it has to be done carefully in order to prevent going from 27inches to 22 inches. Adjusting the pitch from climb (fine) to cruise (coarse) takes about one and a half turns, and the mixture about two and a half.

The controls no longer felt heavy, instead they were responsive; a gentle push or pull was all that was needed to make the plane do what you wanted.

We were running a bit behind, so the examiner gave me headings to steer to Knysna. Once there I contacted George for radar vectors for the ILS Rwy 11. Not only did I copy information down and read everything back correctly, but I did it without getting flustered.

The ILS itself went well, and I remembered to check the spot heights, as well as the callouts (1000ft to Decision, 500ft to Decision, 100ft to Decision). I did however lose the plot a bit at the end when I momentarily forgot to check the needles.

ILS done, it was to the GFA for the upper air work, which was dead simple. And then back to Mossel Bay for a precautionary landing, a short-field landing, a short-field take-off, and a flapless landing. The flapless landing was the best, and I touched down smoothly.

And that was it. Test done, just like that. My PPL test was more stressful than that!

Thursday, August 11, Day 9:

I’m a Commercial Pilot... and I’m going home. The Cubby was fuelled and packed, and the sky was relatively clear. I bade farewell to Mossel Bay, dodged some cloud near Riversdale, spotted a number of nice little dirt strips between Swellendam and Riviersonderend, spotted a very nice strip not far from Caledon, and encountered a 30kt headwind just before reaching Franschhoek Pass.

I had had a headwind all the way back, but it wasn’t too bad. At Theewaterskloof however, things go very interesting. As I approached the Franschhoek Pass at about 5500ft I encountered downdraughts that had me descending at 1000fpm, and nothing I did slowed that rate of descent. So I turned around and slowly started climbing. And climbing. And climbing. And then I turned back to the pass and continued climbing. And climbing. And climbing. At full power and a very high nose attitude, I was gaining 200fpm, and I had a groundspeed of 35kts.

When I finally got to the Pass I was glad I made the decision to climb as high as I did, because the downdraughts were rather persistent. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of turbulence on the other side of the pass, and I made my way to Helshoogte with a lovely 15kt tailwind. It was overcast almost everywhere, except Franschhoek and Stellenbosch (Thank you!)

I was back in familiar territory, the familiar circuit, the familiar feeling of gentle touching down on the down-sloping Rwy01. I was home.


I’ve had my ups and downs. There were days when I flew like a complete idiot, and days that went off without a hitch. Thank you to the Instructors of Stellenbosch Flying Club, and Springbok Aviation Academy. Thank you also to my friends and family.

Another test passed, another step forward. Now begins a new chapter; the hunt for work.