Thursday, June 29, 2006

More on the skills test

In brief.

Met the examiner John Petersen at 13:30 on 27th June. Had initial briefing session. Got keys for G-BNRK and went and checked the aircraft over. Taxied to the fuel pump and had tanks filled to 80% full. John met me at the fuel pumps. Taxied away from pumps after allowing fuel to settle and draining some off for checks, completed checklists and took of on runway 07 at 14:52.
Visual navigation to Devizes (with dogleg around glider airfield) and arrived overhead Devizes at estimated time of 15:21, turned onto heading of 055 for Grove. After 8 nm on correct route when overhead Avebury, John asked me to divert to Kingsclere. Got correct heading and after 24 nm was overhead Kingsclere. Handling and manoeuvres went pretty well. Getting tired now. Flew to Blackbushe but almost started heading on to Farnborough. Joined overhead at Blackbushe for a few different types of landing. They weren’t my best. Taxi back after glide approach and landing at 16:52. Once parked at 16:58 I answered some technical questions re the C152. I knew the answers.
Then back to the airschool offices for a de-brief. I completed the weight and balance + take-off and landing calculations. Then the nervously awaited verdict. Yippeee ! I had passed. We spent 45 minutes going through a detailed debrief of the whole flight. At about 18:15 I called my wife and then drove home in a very happy frame of mind and rather mentally exhausted. Will soon be a PPL(A) pilot but still have oral RT test to do in a few weeks time.

In detail.

Prior to the test

I had been waiting to carry out a mock skills test and because of poor weather and then when the weather suddenly improved a long waiting list for a slot, I did not fly for 5 weeks. Then on Monday 19th June I did a mock test with another Blackbushe instructor called Nakul. He was very pleasant and helpful. I had planned a route from Blackbushe to Devizes and then to Grove. My route to Devizes had three legs to avoid danger areas and the gliding site as I was flying at low level (2000 ft) due to cloud. Nakul said it would have been better to have planned a direct route with a couple of doglegs around obstacles, however we used my plotted route. I flew in a new member of the Blackbushe fleet. G-CDTX had recently been collected from Germany.
Here she is :-

As Devizes was a long way we diverted early and I had to get to a junction on the M4 a few miles north of Newbury. This went well. Then it was the test of handling and lastly back to Blackbushe for some landings in quite a blustery crosswind. At the debrief Nakul went through everything in a lot of detail and I wrote down 26 items that needed improvement. Nakul gave me a very helpful diagram showing the typical thinking and actions during the navigation section. I was a bit down as I still needed to improve. I booked a lesson for circuits and another mock skills test.

On Friday 23rd I spent an hour in the circuit with Andy in G-BZEA. I had not flown with Andy before and it turns out that he too had spent some time at Naples in Florida. For the first time in my UK flying there was no wind at all and now instead of flaring too early, I was flaring a bit late and making a few firm landings. Not a great way of boosting my confidence or the instructors.

On Sunday 25th (the day of the England v Ecuador match) I did another mock skills test with my original instructor Christian. I had plotted a route to Grove and then to Devizes. The cloud was lowish and the visibility poor but I decided to go. We were back in G-CDTX (the C152 that Christian had ferried back from Germany) and I flew to Grove at 2800 ft. The list of items I had made with Nakul were all going without a hitch on this trip. Over Grove and shortly after heading for Devizes, Christian asked me to divert to Popham. Again this went well despite lowering cloud and flying through showers. When Popham was just a few miles ahead we stopped the nav part of the exercise as we did not want to get into the Popham gliding area. The manoeuvres went pretty well. Back at Blackbushe we did just a couple of circuits and then landed as England were approaching half time in their match. Christian said that I was now able to take the real skills test. I booked a solo circuits session (my first solo session in the UK) for 10:30 on 27th with the actual skills test at 13:30 on the same day. I was feeling much happier with my flying skills now and felt that an hour of solo circuits should also help. I had previously been getting concerned at my rather slow progress. Christian said that I had been doing well and explained that for those of double (or more) the age of the younger student pilots, you tend to need double the dual instruction hours.

Skills test day

The weather did not look good. Low cloud, poor visibility but a forecast improvement for the afternoon.
I set off from home at 10:00 in my thirteen year old Porsche 911 determined to make the most of the day. I soon came to traffic jam on the link road to the M3 because they were cutting the grass verges. Despite this I still arrived at Blackbushe at the appointed hour of 10:30. Almost straight away I was off to check over G-BMTB having got sanction from Steve to fly solo. The radio aids are a bit tatty in this aircraft and there is no transducer but I guess this does not matter for circuits. I took off at 11:00 and spent almost an hour doing normal, short field, soft field and flapless landings. There was no wind at all and my landings were all very good, in fact the best they have been in the UK although there was no-one else in the aircraft to witness it. However it was doing my confidence a power of good. I ended the session with a glide approach which was also just as I would have wished.
Back at the school offices I was asked if I still wanted to take the test because the hoped for weather improvement was not happening. I logged onto the met. office website and checked everything out. It was no worse than my recent mock test conditions and so decided to proceed.
I managed to slowly eat an egg and bacon baguette and consume a mug of tea while revising my plog to fly at 3000 ft instead of my original 4000. I had to factor in a dogleg around the Rivar gliding site. I was to be flying in G-BNRK but right now that was already in the air with another instructor and student. A last chance to look through lists of technical details on the C152 and then the appointed time arrived. John Peterson (my examiner) put me at my ease during the briefing session where he went through all the aspects of the skills test. He wanted to know if I had any questions and also advised me to try not to worry if I knew I had made a mistake during the test. He said it is hard to ignore the mistake but worrying about it can cause other mistakes to take place. G-BNRK had just arrived back and I asked about fuel and was told it was half full. John and I checked over the tech log and then I went out to the aircraft and got it prepared to taxi round for fuel. This gave me the chance to check the radio aids and set up com and nav frequencies I would be needing. I started the engine and when at the refuelling pump asked for it not to be completely filled as I did not want a problem with the weight and balance chart. I checked the amounts in the tanks and was happy. John came over to the aircraft and we talked about the planned flight whilst we waited for the fuel to settle. A while later I drained fuel from the three drain points and all was OK. I started up the engine and we moved a short way from the pumps so that I could complete the checks and get taxi clearance. Again there was little wind today and runway 07 was in use as the windsock indicated a slight easterly wind. I was looking forward to flying over Devizes as I did live there for about three years and my first daughter was born there. It was circa 30 years ago then !!! I have been back once on a motorbike but had never seen the market town in the rolling Wiltshire hills from the air. I knew I would identify the town easily, especially with the ‘White Horse’ on the nearby hillside.
After the power checks we took off at 14:52. When turning onto downwind to get on to my planned 275 heading, Blackbushe Information were already giving me un-prompted permission to change frequency to Farnborough Radar. I was only at 900 ft and had planned to do this once at cruise altitude of 3000 ft. I made the early call and got the Flight Information Service. I flew over and clear of the restricted area at Aldermaston and was able to see the radio mast at Kingsclere and the disused runway at Greenham Common. I picked up the service station on the A road to Newbury. When overhead I set the watch running to accurately find the point at which I should start the dogleg around the gliding site. When the watch said 3 mins we were overhead the wood that had the expected shape for me to make my turn onto 330 for 1.5 minutes. During this time I was asked to change to Boscombe Radar which I did. I had only just completed the dogleg and was nearly overhead Pewsey when they asked me to change frequency to Lyneham. The cockpit workload was getting high and having got the radio sorted out I found that I was off my heading for Devizes. I made a correction and could soon see it ahead. A short while later I was actually admiring my previous home town from 2800 ft (I had to descend as the cloud was lower than forecast, it was also overcast and not scattered as forecast). My ETA was spot on. We could see the White Horse to the north of the town and I turned onto a 055 heading for Grove. A little while later I was flying alongside the main road out of Devizes and I knew that the first sign of civilisation that you come across is the town of Avebury. I was asked to change frequency to Brize Norton Radar and completed this. John said that he was surprised at how much I was getting handed over on the radio. I was struggling somewhat with keeping up with it and if I recall John assisted with required frequencies on one occasion. I identified Avebury and as John was happy that I was on the correct route for Grove, he asked me to divert to Kingsclere and give an ETA. A freehand line gave me a heading and measuring with the top of my thumb gave me a distance and thus an ETA both of which I declared. Soon after turning I double checked the heading with a protractor and altered the heading slightly. Yet again, after a short while I was asked to squawk 7000 and continue on route. This time I called Farnborough Radar knowing that this should be the last handover, apart from approach to rejoin at Blackbushe. This leg went well and I identified suitable landmarks along the way. I did slightly alter my ETA (wrongly) and arrived overhead the village of Kingsclere. We then did the handling tests and these went well but I specifically remember two things. One is that the spiral dive that I had to recover from was the deepest yet, and the G experienced as I recovered from it was more than ever before. I could almost feel my field of vision closing in. Secondly we did a precautionary landing (practise) and it was such a long time since I had done this in Florida that I could not quite remember that you were supposed to apply flap and slow down. After completing all the other things such as rate one turn, stalls, steep turns, PFL, engine failure on take off, slow flight, etc it was time to head back to Blackbushe. John helped me identify where we were and it was a question of flying east. John helped me set the frequency for the Blackbushe NDB. Farnborough Radar were very busy but I just managed to get a call in requesting a frequency change to Blackbushe. This accomplished I flew the heading given by the NDB. I was getting tired and paying too much attention to the instrument needle and almost overflew Blackbushe as I was heading for Farnborough. I really was annoyed with myself about this but tried to heed the advice about putting the error to one side and concentrating on the job. I’m not sure it worked as my landings were nothing like as good as those made in the morning. There were quite a few aircraft movement and others in the circuit adding pressure to achieving a flapless landing and lastly a glide approach. In fact I had to apply a bit of power as I would not have made the runway. I was cross with myself again over this. We touched down at 16:52 after exactly two hours in the air. Having got parked and completed all the shutdown procedures, John asked me a number of technical questions. I answered them all correctly (I am an engineer by profession). John left me to tidy up the aircraft and we would meet again in a briefing room. He asked me to complete a weight and balance chart. I did this together with the takeoff and landing distance calculations. The verdict was that I had passed !!!!!!!
I felt happy and relieved having done well on most of the test but knowing that a couple of things were not as I would have hoped. We went through a comprehensive de-brief on every aspect of the flight. Completed the paperwork and covered questions arriving out of the test.
I was pretty tired mentally so I hope I have accurately reported on the events of that busy afternoon.
I said my thanks to John and soon was being congratulated by the Blackbushe Aviation staff that were around. It was a good feeling.
Having left home at 10:00, I arrived back after a tiring but successful day at 18:45. A good meal and a bottle of wine left me in a suitably mellow mood to reflect upon an excellent day.

What next – well I have got some things planned already but I will post these another day. A trip to Switzerland is on the cards.

By for now

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Skills Test passed

Hi All

Having had yet more poor weather and delays hindering progress and causing a 5 week period of no flying, today I did my skills test. The weather was not ideal with cloud at 2800 to 3000 ft but at least no rain.
Anyway I passed and am currently weary, happy and have just enjoyed half a bottle of a special red wine.
I will post the detail of the test (not the wine)for those that wish to know it within a couple of days.

Peewit (private pilot designate)
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006


I have no problems flying in passenger aircraft and also feel very comfortable in small private aircraft. Yet, when it comes to going up a ladder, I find it really difficult to feel safe. The higher I go, the more my body tenses up and an un-rational fear sets in. This fear is starting to cost me money. I need a sealed double glazing unit replacing. I got a quote of 100 pounds to supply and fit a replacement. The cost of the sealed unit itself was £23.50 so I ordered one and today I thought I would remove the beading on the wooden frame holding the blown unit. When I go up a ladder I seem to become very susceptible to the slightest noise.
Why is that when I am up a ladder the following things happen :-

Some workmen at a neighbour’s house drop a toolbox with a loud crash, shortly followed by my dog barking.
The local council decide today is the day they will send a noisy street sweeper down our road.
Today seems to be the day that jet fighters decide to carry out some low level practice for that forthcoming air display.
My wife starts to play her favourite “Mrs Jones” track very loudly.
Wasps and flying insects seem to find me suddenly attractive.
Even though it is a hot day and I have my head back looking straight up at the thing I cannot quite reach, that my nose starts to run.
The army decide to run a Chinook low and slow right over my house.
Etc, etc.

The result is that I am getting the replacement unit fitted by others and just paying for the privilege.

Unfortunately that is not the end of the story as the paintwork on the window frames is in need of some patching up and no doubt after the new window is fitted, the frame will need new paint. I am sure that right now the local police helicopter has picked Bisley for some practice with its infra red cameras.

Oh by the way, I have another date for my mock skills test (the last one was cancelled through bad weather). This time when I came to book because the weather was good and I needed a double slot there was a two week wait and this ends next Monday afternoon.


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