Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc
So I had my recreational aviation certificate in hand. Where to now? Firstly, the RA-Aus certificate only permits you to fly yourself 25 nautical miles from your origin airfield. This also means no landing. It’s obvious that this is kind of limiting. But not to worry, there were two endorsements I had to gain that could extend my flying. First up was the cross-country (XC) endorsement that allows you to fly anywhere in Class G airspace. Class G airspace is anywhere outside of controlled airspace (typically around capital city airports and general aviation ones such as Parafield in SA. The second endorsement was for passenger carriage that then lets you take a single passenger skyward….and back again. To gain the latter, a total of 10 hours solo flying was needed. But to start, it was time to get stuck into navigation exercises and finish the XC endorsement to be able to fly somewhere other than Wirrabara, Port Germein and Gladstone.
The first part of navigation to get my head around was flight planning. This was a multi-step process that involved:
- Drawing the track from origin to destination on a map
- Working out the compass bearing and track distance
- Finding out the weather on the day (including the wind direction and speed)
- Correcting the bearings and winds to magnetic
- Working out the heading (taking into account the wind)
- Finding out what your speed will be and therefore,
- How long each leg will take and the total fuel used
Having always enjoyed geography and orienteering, the map plotting came easily to me. Prior to starting out for real, Dr. Scott gave me a few practice tracks to plot out at lunchtime in the clinic. Most of the brainwork was aided by using the oddly named ‘flight computer.’ In essence this was a circular slide rule on one side and wind correction calculator on the other. It lets you work out the effect of wind on your ground speed and heading, much like water current can push a boat off course. An additional consideration is the correction from true north to magnetic north. Across the world, there are different magnetic variations from true north to magnetic. To fly accurately, a pilot must convert measured track and wind directions from true to magnetic. The current.
The flight plan from Pirie today would take us from Port Pirie to Crystal Brook to Jamestown to Orroroo to Belton to Quorn and back to Pirie. After plotting the tracks and distances, the heading and actual groundspeed was calculated using the flight computer. To do this, the weather area forecast (ARFOR) was decoded and assessed. Along with an overview of any rain, clouds, temperature and barometric pressure, the ARFOR provides wind at different levels. The hardest part of this task was to interpret the information. The system dates back to faxed reports and are condensed to save characters. In RA-Aus circles, there have been moves to update the weather reports to plain text to better help decoding. For example, here is a short excerpt:
Taking off from Port Pirie, we pointed the Jabiru towards Crystal Brook. Even at circuit height, we could see the silos that denoted our first checkpoint. Unfortunately as we passed over the Brook, the cloud base looked to be getting lower eastwards. To around 3000 feet. It meant that the leg toward Jamestown would be flown at non-standard altitude. Usually when flying, any tracks east, between 0 and 179 degrees, would be flown at an odd thousand plus 500 feet (1500, 3500, 5500 and so on). Tracks west therefore made at even plus 500 (2500, 4500, 6500 etc) in order to maintain separation with other aircraft. Given that our cloud base was below the prescribed cruising altitude we would have to duck below to keep visual reference to the ground. Essential for any visual flight rules (VFR) pilot.
In 12 minutes we arrived over Jamestown and circled the airfield to check the windsock. It was blowing across the only runway. I have heard a few people say “there is always a crosswind at Jamestown” and this day was no exception. It was reminiscent flying the circuit over a town that I’d spent considerable time as a student and junior doctor. Our turn onto final took us over the hospital that I remember one of the oldies saying was “up the hill from the cemetery.” Ah mild dementia. So where were we again, I’ve forgotten…ah yes, after the turn onto final approach, the last stage of flap was extended and carburettor heat pushed off. The strong, gusty left to right crosswind meant that we were crabbing sideways down to the threshold. As we got closer and closer, the gusts were whipping up at the Jabiru and pushing us all over the place. It became harder to wrestle the plane back onto course. Earl made the executive decision at 150 feet to go around. Power full on and away we went, no cow on the runway this time…
The next destination was Orroroo, a small town on the drive from Jamestown to Wilmington (the long way). This would take us over a local attraction called Magnetic Hill. Hopefully this would not interfere with our compass!! As we progressed northwest, the sun started to peak through the clouds that were lifting. This meant that the Jabiru could sit cruising at the correct altitude, much more comforting. However, when the estimated time of arrival ticked over, I still hadn’t seen the airport. Either the headwind was a lot stronger than planned or I had passed the strip. Looking across a few nautical miles to the east I saw it snuggled up against the road from Jamestown. In fact the wind from the west was less than anticipated and our heading had taken us further west than the airfield. There was enough time to descend for a quick circuit pattern and full stop. Luckily the wind gusts had died down we took the time to empty bladders and poke around an old school classroom being used as a terminal building.
After taking off we headed towards an old town called Belton. Along the way I practiced matching up what I saw outside with the map on my lap. Trying to figure out which wiggly creek was the nice blue line on my chart was difficult but rewarding when other features lined up. After passing over the Belton ‘metropolis’ it was time to find Quorn airfield. Again as we neared the destination, I had trouble finding the airport. It seemed that the strip was a lot further away from the town than it appeared on the map. Unfortunately with the recent rain and being a dirt strip, we have to pass on landing there. So we turned back to Pirie and got some good experience in dodging small rain showers and finding a safe clearing to cross back over the southern Flinders Ranges. The landing was uneventful as I had plenty of time to practice approaches during the navigation exercise. Next would be to sit and pass the navigation and build up solo hours to tick off the passenger endorsement.
At the beginning of 2012, I was fortunate enough to commence community based general practice training in rural South Australia with Adelaide to Outback GP Training. But before heading out into ‘GP land’ for a year, I interviewed at two practices in the country. Subsequently, I had this conversation with the second practice and GP supervisor:
Supervisor: “Just drive to Port Pirie and I’ll pick you up from there”
Gerry: “But I could just drive the whole way”
S: “No, no. I’ll fly there and pick you up”
G: “Oh, do you have a plane?”
S: “I’ve got two”
G: “Wow, flying is something I’ve always thought about doing sometime”
S: “Well we need to talk…”
And so I started my first GP placement and my flying training after generous encouragement from Dr. Scott. Following this first year of starting both country GP and flying training, I started to notice some similarities between the two. But GP training is not the first within the medical field to be compared to the aviation industry.Read More»
Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc
It was a very long drive from Wudinna to Pirie on the day that was slated for the dreaded certificate flying exam. Of course it took the same amount of time as the other times I’d made the trip, but it just felt like ages. Driving through Kimba, Iron Knob and Port Augusta, I tried to remember all the little things from the past few months. Radio calls, carby heat, look under the nose every 500ft when climbing, what to do in an engine failure. It was great having this down time unlike the last afternoon of flying in Wudinna when I had felt unprepared. Pulling into the familiar parking spot at the Pirie airfield, I saw that there was some coffee ready. Fantastic, I would need all the help I could get! I greeted Earl and we sat down to plan out the day. First up, a daily inspection on Jabba to check the engine, walk around and fuel drain. Looking up towards to fuelling station, I saw the flag blowing gently from the south. I’m not sure what the previous flag had been, but it was currently advertising a major luxury South Korean car manufacturer. After satisfying myself that the Jab was in better nick than a Elantra to take off, I taxied around to the apron to find out what the next step of the day was.
Earl explained that there would be time for some circuits to get the feel of flying again. It was nice to go over the things that I had practiced in the car on the drive over. Unfortunately there was no cruise control in the Jabiru and it was much more affected by the wind. Luckily there was very little wind blowing off the Spencer Gulf today. After I was pretty confident that I had remembered the necessary bits it was time to head back to the ground and get ready for the real test. On the ground I was told that a group of RAAF cadets were coming up from Goolwa to have a day of flying in their motorised gliders. Great, nice big slow gliders to provide some traffic. At least most of the flying exam would take place away from the airstrip. In fact, while Earl and I planned the day, some of the cadets were walking around outside. Some had army fatigues on, but one hotshot was striding around in a full flight suit complete with aviator sunglasses. Needless to say he looked as douchy as the guy in this costume picture (right). Ah well, I guess everyone needs to start somewhere and he may well be the future of our fighter squadrons. I just hope he doesn’t get Goose killed. The gliders themselves were pretty neat. One was much older and the other was a new Diamond. They looked like a light plane with much bigger wings. Basically they could take off and cruise under their own power, but then switch the engine off and glide much further than a regular plane. Unfortunately one of their radios wasn’t working very well so all that was transmitted was a bunch of static. That made it quite difficult to work out where they were and what they were intending to do. At least the big wings were easy to spot! The newer plane’s radio was working well but no so much the guy working it. At one point he called that he was on final approach to runway 37. Apparently his compass had an extra few degrees on it. Kind of like a platform 9 ¾ of the muggle aviation world. Soon it came my turn to get up into the air and fortunately the wind remained little more than a Hufflepuff…..
Earl jumped into the right hand seat and we taxied for the training area off runway 35 (not 37!). So far, so good. But there would be plenty more to come. Suffice to say that 1.1 hours of flying around without much feedback was terrifying. Every switch, movement of the stick or turn of the head was either right or wrong. But I couldn’t ask if it was! Luckily there was no need for Earl to grab the stick or to tersely remind me of something important. We conducted some steep turns in which I managed to stay within 100 ft of altitude with the balance ball centred. There was a practice engine failure which also was successful, as much as an engine failure CAN be successful. Which reminds me, I had come across a YouTube video of a guy in the UK who had a camera on when his engine did fail.
There was also a precautionary search and landing where I had forgotten to climb back up to 500 ft before cutting the next few laps. Followed by some general flying around the area and the regular radio calls involved when approaching the airfield. The one coming in from my exam sounded like:
“Traffic Port Pirie, Jabiru 7265 is currently one zero miles to the southwest. Inbound at 2,500 estimate circuit time four two. Port Pirie”
It worked out that the motorised gliders were having a break by the time that we joined the circuit and landed. It was an average landing, but all three wheels were safely back on the ground. I taxied Jabba back over to the apron and fitted him into a spot amongst the ungainly gliders. As soon as I turned off the avionics and switched the engine off, Earl stuck out a hand and said congrats. Passed! What a feeling! 11 days and 25 hours of flying to get to this point. The reason that felt like it had gone quickly was because it had. It felt like yesterday that I was on a plane back from Canberra in late March to have my first lesson. But I had learnt so much and started to feel confident in moving the plane around the sky. Jumping out of the Jab, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. There was time for a quick photo next to my trusty friend before heading inside with the master instructor to debrief.
I was told that it was a solid effort with one or two things to improve on. One was certainly the prec/search and landing described earlier. Another was to watch the airspeed and not let it get too low when turning to come in for a forced landing. Spinning into the ground isn’t a good look. We filled in the log book and paperwork to be sent off for my certificate and I had a celebratory soft drink. The ankle juice would have to come later as I had planned to go for a solo flight around the local area after lunch. Having the certificate done and dusted meant that I could fly within a 25 nautical mile radius from Port Pirie without landing. There was also a limit on not carrying passengers. To lift these restrictions meant passing passenger carrying and cross-country endorsements. Pax carrying involved getting up to 10 hours of solo flying with a quick check flight. Cross country endorsement consisting of a written navigation/meteorology (nav/met) exam, 2-3 navigation exercises (Navexs) with one solo. Damn, passed the certificate stage and already there would be more tests!
After a quick spot of Subway from the correct store this time, I grabbed the keys and walked out to Jabba. Even though I had flown solo for 6 hours, this time it felt different. Now I could get out there and fly anywhere (ahem, within the 25 nm) but it still felt very liberating. The first thought was, where should I fly too? Given that I driven the Port Pirie – Jamestown Rd many times, I thought it would be nice to see it from the air. So I took off and turned for the southeast towards some silos that looked like Crystal Brook. Following the train line to the east brought me to Gladstone. It was great seeing the jail and old train line from 1000 feet up. Everything looked very peaceful, even though I knew people would be looking back up hoping that annoying little plane would bugger off! After a good hour or so, which would contribute to the pax carrying endorsement, I made beeline for Pirie. On the way there was a fair bit of turbulence from the wind hitting the southern Flinders ranges and angling up. Once over them, things smoothed out and the lead smelter chimney became a useful landmark to aim at. Safely back on the ground, I updated my logbook and had a few red cans. Again, it would be another 2 weeks before flying again and starting the navex’s. But there was a nice feeling of achievement to last me until then, which was only strengthened when getting back to Wudinna. As I opened the front door at Dr. Scott’s house, I was greeted by his 4-year-old son (a self proclaimed co-pilot himself) who welcomed me with “HELLO PILOT!” A great way to finish a long day and a blur of training days that led to it. Thanks to everyone who has followed the flying training part of my blog and especially those for the support and encouragement. Biggest thanks to Earl for putting up with my flying training and Scott for being the push in the back that I needed to start the journey. Stay tuned for the navigation training and beyond.
Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc
Had it already been 10 days of flying training? Over the space of 3 months, well yes it had. Of course there was some flying study and flying practise with my GP supervisor Scott in between. This particular week, my instructor Earl was on the way down from up north in the Gawler Ranges doing a few flights with a guy who owned a Piper Cub. Unfortunately there had been a problem with his carburettor that meant the instructing had to be put on hold. So it was that Earl arrived in Wudinna on a Wednesday instead of Friday. After getting the morning excisions done at the hospital, the afternoon was clear for another day of training myself. Before heading up in the Jabiru, I had the opportunity of heading up with a local farmer to have a quick flight to look around his property east of the town on the way to Kimba. He had been planning to build an airstrip and wanted some tips on location. Earl was also his instructor on his quest towards PPL. So we all loaded into his Cessna 172N and roared into the Eyre air (ha!). After an hour of looking at potential landing strip sites away from trees and power lines near his farm sheds, we made a beeline back to YWUD. The landing was very smooth with the Cessna’s huge barn door flaps (left of picture, above) giving a great view over the nose on final approach.
This local farmer, despite not flying much day to day, had kept his Cessna in good condition. The same couldn’t be said for some of the other light planes in the hangar. I remember back to Scott early in my GP training saying that planes are built to fly and the best way to keep them in good condition is to get them into the air regularly. Speaking of planes looking trashed, Scott had put the Piper Aztec/truck in for refurbishment at Parafield Airport. Dropping in one day, he found it in a sad state and posted quite a miserable photo of the plane on Facebook. I guess that’s what you get for parking a plane near Salisbury (pretty much the Frankston/Campbelltown/Palmerston/Rockingham/Redcliffe version of Adelaide). At the time of writing, it will only be another few weeks until the new panel and rebuilt engines are installed. It will certainly look and fly like a different aircraft with a full glass cockpit and more powerful engines. In fact we only realized recently that the Aztecs registration was VH-JSB and the aforementioned Cessna’s rego VH-RSB. Romeo and Juliet in the phonetic alphabet. Love was certainly in the air. (what did I say about Dad jokes, no apologies!)
As the afternoon sun started to make its way across the sky, Earl and I fired up Jabba and rolled onto runway 32 to begin some more training. Today would be a refresh of some of the techniques learnt in the last few sessions. Forced landings, precautionary search and landings, steep turns, flapless landings and stalls. Although it was stuff I had done before, it was exciting because I knew that the final flying exam would be soon! As mentioned previously, I was lucky enough to do some flying with Scott in his RV-6A, especially cutting laps in the circuit. This meant that I was familiar with the airfield and some of the landmarks to guide me. Unfortunately it didn’t help with my force of habit in declaring “Traffic Port Pirie” over the radio on a few occasions. Luckily there was no other traffic to be confused by my misleading position calls, and I was only 300 kms west of Pirie, not too bad.
A few simple refreshing circuits got me used to flying the Jabiru once again. But it was after two or three of these that I started to get very sore shoulders and back. The night before had been a very intense gym and oval session at footy training. For the past 4 months I had been playing footy for the Wudinna United Magpies who play in the Mid West SA Country Footy League. Even in the B’s (called ‘bees’ by a certain Canadian doctor) the skill level wasn’t too bad and the Maggies reserves had actually won the GF in 2011. Somehow I managed to get into the best for my first game in Poochera. I think as much as an encouragement award let alone any actual football prowess/vague talent. Training attendance and even games on Saturday had been hit and miss as I had been on call for the hospital at times. The benefit being on call for home games usually meant some interesting injuries coming through ED. So far there has been metacarpal fractures (from smothering a kick, not punching), lip laceration (from punching) and A/C joint subluxation. That’s not including my own PIPJ dislocation at footy, but more on that in a later blog. Some of the flying took us over the town of Wudinna and I was able to find my house and the beautifully kempt footy oval.
Despite the moderate myalgia and severe whinging on my part, the training refresh went OK. As far as steep turns went, I struggled to hold Jabba in a 45 degree bank. Not only must you ‘twist the ailerons’ for this but also pull back on the stick to keep the nose from dropping. The short aerodynamic explanation of this is that as the wing is banked, the plane loses some vertical component of lift and the nose drops requiring more back pressure on the control stick (happy for Scott or any medical students to correct </injoke>). I guess it was my frustration with some of this that also meant that during prec/search/landing practice, I forgot one or two pre-landing checks. Engine failures were pretty good, but again I was a little bit rusty on the radio calls and passenger briefing. The other reason that I was a little less prepared was perhaps that I hadn’t had a 2-3 hour drive prior to flying. Driving to Pirie meant having time to practice radio calls and thinking about the different procedures beforehand. It seemed going straight from lesion cut-outs at Wudinna Hospital to flying wasn’t conducive for effective learning. At least I was able to land on both the gravel and tarmac strips without much hassle.
(Note the stroboscopic effect of the propellor causing horizontal lines when facing into the sun, i.e. freaking out the camera!)
The only thing to get used to in Wudinna was the fact that the aerodrome was already 300 ft above sea level. This meant a circuit height of 1300 ft and re-thinking about the altitudes on base and final approach legs. I had been spoilt that Pirie was at sea level. Again having flown with Scott in the same circuit meant this change in altitude wasn’t completely new. However, it was nice doing them in the Jabiru rather than his RV-6A. The main reason being a snail-like 12-minute time to complete the circuit compared with the hasty 3-4 minutes in the RV!! By the time we had covered everything I needed to go over before going for the certificate exam it was late afternoon. Time to pick up some stuff from the medical clinic; head home and then re-convene at the hotel for a few beers and a pub meal. Over a few ankle juices, Earl worded me up that the next time I was in Pirie would be the big day. Stay tuned…….dun dun dun!
Is it bad that I have been published in an aviation magazine before a medical journal of note? Hah! Who cares?! I have loved reading Sport Pilot since getting my student licence, so it was an amazing surprise/honour to write a regular column. Click on the picture below to have a quick read, but if you are interested in flying at all…get out and buy it! $7.70, bargain.