Mock Skills Test (and a good job too!)

As there’s a chance I will be having a go at the skills test this weekend, I wanted to try to do a ‘mock’ skills test with Indi beforehand. So, we met at Oxford, and I planned a route as I would on the skills test. Indi went over the pre-flight briefing, and gave me some hints on what the examiner would be expecting from me on the day of the test.

I had already done the A check, and as we went out to the aircraft I did another ‘transit’ check. Then we fired the aircraft up, and Indi gave me a quick run down on the essential features of the Garmin GPS in Echo Alpha.

From there, things started to go downhill! As we moved off the grass, I checked the brakes as normal. However, I hadn’t checked behind me. Mistake number 1 (I’m not gonna keep counting the mistakes, as there are too many to write about!). During the taxi checks, Indi was talking me through the full details of what I should be saying as I do them, and as I was a little distracted by this it caused me to nearly run off the taxiway!

Power checks went Ok at the hold, and we called ready for departure. Made a good crosswind take off on 01 (wind was something like 040 at 15-20 kts) and climbed up to the altitude of 2200 feet for the first leg. Or at least, that’s what I’d said I was going to do, what I actually did was climb straight up to 2500 feet. That would pretty much guarantee me an instant fail if I did it on the test for real. My height keeping was very poor on the remainder of the flight too.

Also, my lookout in the climb was poor, I need to remember to weave the nose or fly level every 500 feet or so. I think the reason I haven’t been doing this is that at Brize we tend to ‘step climb’ anyway, turning at 500 feet, levelling off at 1000 feet until Burford, and then climbing from Burford to the first leg altitude. I need to remember to lookout more on the initial climb out, either by weaving or dropping the nose every so often.

Set course for Banbury, a short ‘dog leg’ I’d added as the direct route to Conington blasted straight through a danger area and the parachuting drop zone at Hinton in the Hedges. Banbury appeared bang on schedule, and this was where things started to go downhill.

The weather forecast for the day was almost perfect, CAVOK with the odd bit of cloud with a base of 6000 feet. However, Indi pointed out a large bank of low cloud rolling in from the North Sea (this was obviously a hint that I completely missed at the time). However, I ploughed on regardless, when I should have realised that this cloud would affect us at some point on our route.

We had been talking to Brize Radar, and now switched to Coventry Approach (who corrected me, telling me they were Coventry Radar, oops) and they asked me to report at Daventry. For some reason I took this too literally, and decided we needed to change our route to go over the Daventry VOR (I should have just replied ‘Negative, routing direct Northampton). So, I dialled in the VOR and set an appropriate radial and started to try to track it. Indi again interjected, and said I should just centre the needle and follow whatever radial we were on to the VOR.

At this point the cloud was getting lower, and I had to descend to stay below it. I ended up at 1900 feet, and Indi queried the MSA for our route (1700 feet). We crossed the VOR, reported it to Coventry and informed them we were routing to Northampton. I set an appropriate radial and followed it out to Northampton. At this point we switched frequencies to Northampton Sywell, only to be informed by another pilot on frequency that they were closed. Again, something I should have checked before setting off, and factored into my planning.

Overhead Northampton, I finally decided that we weren’t going to be able to continue due to the cloud, and said we’d have to abort this leg and turn around. Indi said something to the effect of ‘about time, but now you’ve got me so close to that cloud you might as well go into it’. So, we continued into the cloud, and Indi had to prompt me to turn on the pitot heat, and apply regular carb heat. I also should have switched back to Coventry for a Radar Information Service, as flying through cloud with no radar cover isn’t a particularly good idea.

I handled the portion of flight in the cloud quite well, but as we turned 180 degrees to get out of it, Indi’s point became clear. Because we’d barely entered the cloud, turning 180 degrees should have got us out of it pretty quickly. However, as the cloud was actually moving in the same direction as we were now flying to try to get out, it took us a lot longer to become completely clear of the cloud. Another lesson learned, I should have made the decision to abort much earlier.

Indi decided to head back towards Brize and carry out the General Handling section of the test (‘You’ve failed the Nav, we might as well see if we can get you a pass on something’). As we got North of Brize, the cloud mostly cleared, and we had good conditions for the manoeuvres we were about to carry out.

The first thing Indi did was pull the throttle, announcing ‘Simulated Engine Failure’. I trimmed for 65 knots, and looked around for a suitable field. We were at about 3000 feet by this point, so I had plenty of time to look for something suitable. I then turned onto a base heading, which put us into sun (another thing Indi said wasn’t a particularly good idea).

Then carried out the touch drills to see if I could restart the failed engine (Indi said these were done well) and made the simulated Mayday call. At this point I should have carried out a passenger brief, but it completely slipped my mind. Must remember this. Also, descending towards the field I was so focussed on keeping the field in site, that I didn’t spot a cloud that we descended straight through, again, not a good idea.

I’d picked a field quite close to us, so ended up circling to lose height for the approach to it.  As we neared the field it looked like I would make it in, but the closer we got the more obvious it was that the choice I’d made wasn’t a great one. There were trees on the approach, and also rising ground on the overshoot. By this point I also realised I’d failed to lower any flap. I think I probably would have been able to make the field if I’d had to, but Indi told me to climb away, and we gave it another go.

This second one was much better, and I used some steep turns to lose height as we approached the second field. This time I remembered flap (but still forgot the passenger brief) and made a much better approach into a more appropriate field.

While climbing away, Indi pulled the power again, this time to simulate an engine failure after take off. For some reason, I’ve always found these a lot easier to do, probably because you have a lot less time to think about things, and all the actions are carried out quite instinctively. Indi announce she was happy with the field I’d chosen, and that my approach to it was good, so we climbed away again.

Next we moved on to stalls, starting with a full stall in the clean configuration with no power. This went well, so we moved on to stalling in the simulated base turn. For this one, the aircraft is configured as it it were on the base leg of an approach (two stages of flap, descending at 75 knots and turning 90 degrees). You then pretend that perhaps another aircraft has appeared on final, so you pull back hard on the yoke and stall. In the first recovery, I was applying correcting aileron long before the airspeed was back up to flying speed, which is a definite no-no. If I did this for real, there’s a good chance of dropping a wing and entering a spin.

So, we tried again, and this time I was much more conscious of having to use the rudder to keep the wing from dropping, and only using the ailerons once we were back up to flying speed. Also, I should make sure that carb heat is off before entering the stall, so as to be able to recover easier.

Finally we did stalling in the final approach configuration. Full flap, approach power and then pull back on the stick to stall. The aircraft proved very difficult to stall in this configuration, and Indi also said I was inducing an oscillation during the recovery. However, the next time we did one she had me hold the control column back rather than recovering, and the aircraft tended to nod its head rather than recovering cleanly.

The next thing we tried was some slow flight. Initially coming down to 60 knots in level flight with no flap, and gradually reducing the airspeed and adding flap until we had full flap and were down at about 50 knots. These exercises all went well, and Indi announce she was happy.

Finally we tried some steep turns. Initially I was a little poor at getting enough bank on, but Indi had me keep increasing the bank until I could get it up closer to 60 degrees (the skills test requires a minimum of 45 degrees). Towards the end I was doing these much better, so I hope I can repeat this on the actual test.

That concluded the general handling section, which Indi said I would have passed (assuming I can get the PFL and steep turns right!), so we headed back to Oxford for a couple of circuits. Indi showed me how to do a ‘direct to’ on the GPS, and I followed the line towards Oxford. Switched back to Oxford approach, and were cleared for a crosswind join for 01 right hand. As I joined crosswind, Indi said she probably would have asked for a direct downwind join for 01 left hand (as it was late now and there was nobody else in the circuit).

Our first approach was a standard touch and go, and I made a good crosswind landing. However, I made the mistake of adding power before retracting the flap, which tends to make the aircraft very ‘nervous’ as it accelerates and starts trying to fly.

Next we did a bad weather circuit, with a runway inspection. The idea behind this that you get really stuck with the weather (something I’m now quite good at!) and decide you’re just going to put down in a field. You make a low level, tight circuit, and then fly low over the proposed landing area to inspect it. You then return to your low level circuit, but next time land. To complicate things, Indi pulled the power as we turned from the downwind leg, so I made the rest of the approach (very steep and tight to avoid a noise sensitive area to the South). This culminated in a good landing, although I did tend to float a lot as I’d built up some airspeed trying to lose enough height.

We taxyed back to parking (Indi warning me that I was taxying way too fast!) and it took me two goes to park in the correct place on the grass.

We shut down and went in to debrief. I was feeling thoroughly dejected, as I couldn’t remember flying so badly, particularly on a Navigation flight. My height keeping was truly awful, and blundering straight in to cloud was a definitely mistake.

So, I have one more flight before the date of my proposed skills test. We’ll treat the Navigation portion of this as another simulated skills test, and have the option of trying some more PFLs and steep turns on the way back. I just hope this flight was just the result of some pre-test jitters, and that I manage to get myself together for the real thing!

Total flight time today: Dual 2:10 – Solo – 0:00
Take-offs: 2 – Landings: 2

Total flight time to date: Dual 42:55 – Solo 12:40
Take-offs to date: 114 – Landings to date: 109

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One Response to “Mock Skills Test (and a good job too!)”

  1. leiafee Says:

    I did things the other way round and made a dogs breakfast of the general handling when we were doing mock tests. I don’t think I did a single decent steep turn until the real test!

    I’m sure it’ll all be back up to sec next time.

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