Club Checkout

As it had been some time since my last flight, Freedom’s 43 day currency rules required that I needed to be checked out by an Instructor before I could hire an aircraft from them. I arranged an early flight with Glen in order to get signed off and enable me to hire aircraft again. This was likely to be a slightly strange experience, as I had flown with Glen a number of times before, initially from Lyneham with me as the ‘experienced’ pilot, and him as a relatively newly qualified PPL. Since then, Glen has expanded his experience significantly, most recently gaining his Instructor rating and becoming one of Freedom’s team of Instructors.

I arrived just moments before Glen, and we chatted for a while before heading over to Freedom’s hangar to prepare for the flight. I took the cover off the aircraft and carried out the ‘A’ check, while Glen hung the cover so as to drain the moisture from it. It was a cold start to the day, and I made a mental note to dig out my gloves in readiness for the colder weather that was likely to arrive!

Once the ‘A’ check was complete, we got into the aircraft, and I began to familiarise myself with the cockpit layout. I had not flown this particular aircraft before, and its slightly different cockpit layout meant that I wanted to take care to get a feel for where everything was on the ground, rather than struggle to find things once we were in the air. I was particularly concerned with the location of the alternator switch, as the majority of the aircraft I’ve flown since gaining my PPL have had a combined master and alternator switch. This aircraft however had a separate one, and failing to turn this on correctly could lead to an electrical failure in flight, as happened to another pilot leading to him having to land back at Kemble without a working radio.

Also, this aircraft was fitted with a Garmin 650 GPS system, similar in operation to the Garmin 430 in the Arrow, but with the crucial difference that the majority of the user’s input was made via a touch screen. I’d used Garmin’s excellent introductory videos and PC based simulator in the days leading up to the flight to ensure I could operate the basic functions (tuning the radios for example), and my first attempts with it in the aircraft proper backed up the research of the previous week.

The engine started easily (the aircraft’s electric primer a novel difference to other Warriors) and we initially had problems contacting the FISOs in the Tower at Kemble. We couldn’t see any movement in the Tower, so initially made calls to ‘Kemble Traffic’ and began taxying down the grass taxyway towards the threshold of runway 26. As we passed the Tower we saw movement, and made further attempts to contact them. It seemed to take a number of attempts to gain full contact with them for some reason, but by the time we reached the end of the grass taxyway we were confident that we had two working radios.

The power checks were carried out without any drama, and I took to the runway for my first takeoff in a Warrior since my first flight of this year, back in January. The wind was pretty much straight down the runway, making for a fairly straightforward takeoff. We headed South towards RAF Lyneham, before beginning the  manoeuvres required to demonstrate that I could still remember how to fly an aircraft.

We started with a 45 degree banked turn to the right through 360 degrees. This isn’t something you would do during normal flight, but is generally used as an emergency evasive manoeuvre should it be required. Despite not practicing this for some time, it went relatively well, and we repositioned ourselves to the North of Lyneham for the remainder of the flight due to the better weather conditions in that direction.

After a HASELL check we then moved on to stalls, initially ‘clean’ and then simulating the turn from Base to Final with 2 stages of flap. Both of these went well, and we again repositioned ourselves for what would hopefully be the final check, the ‘dreaded’ Practice Forced Landing or PFL.

This manoeuvre is one that no pilot ever wants to have to use for real. The idea is to be able to bring the aircraft to a safe landing should the engine fail during flight. The first priority is to stabilise the aircaft at the correct airspeed for ‘best glide’, giving you the maximum possible time in the air in order to possibly troubleshoot the issue. Once the aircraft is correctly trimmed for this speed, the next priority is to locate a suitable landing area within range of the aircraft. Ideally you want a field oriented roughly into wind, with sufficient length to bring the aircraft to a safe stop without colliding with anything on the ground. The surface is also important (you’d choose smooth grass over a ploughed field) and also the field should be clear of obstructions that might become a factor once landed. Finally, if the field has other candidates for landing close by, then this is also a good choice should the approach be misjudged and it not be possible to make the chosen field.

Once the landing area has been chosen, the aircraft is manoeuvred to provide a suitable approach, and only then is time spent in attempting to restart the failed engine. In the practice environment this is done through a series of ‘touch’ drills, checking fuel (changing tanks if appropriate), mags (checking if switching to a single mag enables the engine to start), turning on the fuel pump, exercising the mixture, throttle and carb heat controls, and also trying the engine’s starter to see if it can be restarted.

If time permits, a ‘Mayday’ call is then made (obviously when training this is done without actually transmitting anything!), and focus then returns to the approach to the landing area.

The majority of this practice went well, but I misjudged the approach into the field meaning I was going to land short. This was contrary to the majority of my previous PFL experiences where I typically ended up high into the field. Also, as we got closer it became clear that the field also had pylons and wires running through it.

We climbed away, and positioned ourselves in a different area to avoid annoying those on the ground. We carried out another PFL, and this one went much better, meaning I would almost certainly have been in a position to make a safe landing into my chosen field.

Glen announced he was happy, and that just left us with one remaining item to tick off, actually getting the plane back onto the ground safely! We headed back to Kemble, and I carried out a standard Overhead Join into the circuit for runway 26. The first circuit went well, and I brought us in for a nice landing as I would on any other flight. We climbed away and continued around for another circuit, this time to practice landing the aircraft without deploying the flaps, simulating a flap failure.

In this configuration, the aircraft’s approach will be much flatter, so typically the Downwind leg is extended to give further room to descend. At Kemble, the noise abatement procedures require a relatively short ‘Final’ leg due to the position of Kemble village, and I asked Glen whether it was Ok to overfly the village. He suggested extending Downwind as we normally would, but still ‘cut the corner’ to avoid flying directly over the village.

I had to make a positive decision not to deploy the flaps (the last time I was asked to perform a flapless approach I just automatically deployed the flaps when making the turn onto Base leg!) and we made our approach to the runway. Again, the landing was relatively smooth, and there was a slight comedy moment as I reached for the flap lever to raise the flaps before taking to the air again, obviously to find that they were still retracted!

The final circuit was to be the ultimate test of the PFL procedure we had carried out previously, this time actually bringing the aircraft down to the runway without touching the throttle after reducing it to idle. This was perhaps the portion of the flight I had been most concerned about, but I did my best to being the aircraft down on an appropriate profile, initially aiming about a third of the way down the runway, before using the flaps to bring the aiming point closer to the threshold as it became clear that we would be able to successfully make the runway.

After reducing the power to idle at the end of the Downwind leg, I did my best to judge the appropriate point to turn towards the airfield in order to be able to make the runway without using any engine power. At first I thought I was going to be a little high (as usual!) but once I began to deploy the flaps in stages the aircraft’s descent profile proved to be almost perfect. The area of turbulence on Short Final into runway 26 caused a slight loss of airspeed which I had to react to correct, and this led to a slightly firmer landing that I would have liked, but still perfectly acceptable given the ‘unusual’ approach.

As we taxyed back I outlined my plans for the next flight to Glen, discussing with him whether I would need to refuel the aircraft before the 3 hours of flying I had planned. We had started with full tanks, which typically gives about 5 hours of flying time. We had used around an hour, leaving plenty of fuel for the planned trip with a good reserve should this be necessary. Glen parked us up in front of Freedom’s hangar as I spotted David chatting to Sarah waiting for us to return.

All that remained was to complete the paperwork, before we were ready to begin preparations for the next flight.

In general I was pleased with how this flight had gone. It had been nearly two months since I had flown at all, and several months since I had flown a PA28 (my last flight had been in the Arrow on the 1st June), so I felt I had performed pretty well given the long gap between flights. With the exception of the first failed attempt at a PFL, Glen said I had flown well, which is always nice to hear! While I’d rather not have to carry out currency checks, sometimes other factors mean that I’m not unable to fly as often as I would like. It’s always nice to be told that you flying is still up to scratch however!

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Total flight time today: 1:00
Total flight time to date: 251:35

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