Archive for the ‘Misc Training’ Category

Variable Pitch Prop and Retractable Gear Sign Off

September 19, 2011

Had already had one attempt to complete the Arrow signoff cancelled due to poor weather at Kemble, so was hoping that leaving early from work this time would do the trick. Although the TAFs weren’t particularly promising (Brize showing BKN18 with tempo BKN12) in reality we only needed to do a bit of General Handling work, followed by a couple of circuits to prove I could land the Arrow and continue the good work from the first flight.

On the drive home I saw another light aircraft operating near Membury, and was optimistic as a result of this. However I arrived at Kemble in the midst of a particularly miserable shower of drizzle, with poor visibility and low cloud over the airfield. Roger arrived soon after me and seemed resigned to us having to give it a miss today.

However he announced he was happy to wait if I was so we headed out to the aircraft tosee what the weather looked like. As we got there Dave arrived back in G-ELUE so I headed over for a chat. He said that conditions actually weren’t as bad as they appeared from the ground, with generally a 1800 foot cloudbase and lots of clear areas, despite the odd shower. This coupled with a visibly clearer sky out to the West gave us a bit of hope so we decided to hang around and give it a go.

As the skies began to clear we uncovered the aircraft and I carried out the A check. Had a bit of a struggle checking the oil, the previous pilot having overtightened the dipstick such that I couldn’t even open it. With a bit of experienced jiggling from Roger he managed to get it open, and everything looked set to go. We had to dip the tanks to double check, but with about 25 gallons we easily had a good 2 hours or so, and weren’t expecting to need anywhere near this.

The Tower had closed by this time, so I made Traffic calls as we started up and taxyed out, following another Archer. Power checks were all completed normally on the D Site Apron and we headed out to the runway. Full power showed good RPM and the governor operating correctly, so I continued the takeoff run, rotating at 85 mph and getting airborne.

Made a slight boob by failing to correctly dab the brakes when raising the gear (in order to reduce the gyroscopic effects of the rotating wheels adding extra loads to the undercarriage as it raises) and Roger picked up on this quickly. Climbed away at 100 mph and headed to the North for clearer skies. Initially skirted through some low cloud (Roger explaining how to keep low enough to be able to see the horizon, which should prevent clipping the lower edges of the clouds) before being able to climb up to 3000 feet in clear blue sky. At this point Roger took control so that I could reach into the back for my sunglasses!

Once established in cruise configuration, Roger had me reconfigure for best endurance, which basically reduces the speed down to just above the stall speed in order to achieve the longest possible time in the air should this ever become necessary on a real flight. Once he was happy I recovered back to normal cruise, and Roger pointed out the traffic queuing on the A417 heading North up to the roundabout near Birdlip. Roger then had me descend to below the cloudbase, before heading back to the airfield.

I made a point once we were level again to check the indicated airspeed in cruise configuration. For some reason in my first flight I’d convinced myself that the aircraft was only cruising at around 120 MPH, when the book suggested more like 150 MPH was more likely. My double checking on this flight showed the book to be correct and my memory to be at fault, with us achieving somewhere around 145 MPH with the MAP and RPM set slightly below ‘optimum’ cruise settings.

Roger suggested I use the NDB on the field to do this, then quickly spotted a problem with my ADF tracking technique. I turned until the needle pointed to the nose of the aircraft, which caused me to overshoot somewhat as the needle continued to turn once I’d recovered to straight flight. Roger explained I should note the difference between the ADF heading and the aircraft’s actual heading, then make an appropriate correction before allowing the needle to settle.

We were arriving at Kemble from the North, making a Right Base join for 26 the preferred option. Announced this to Kemble Traffic, then set about slowing us down to circuit speed. Allowed the aircraft to descend a little while doing this, but soon got back up to more normal circuit height. Completed the pre-landing checks as we approached the base leg, correctly lowering the undercarriage and setting the prop to full fine and the mixture to full rich.

The join and descent went relatively well, but the flare and roundout produced one of my (recently fairly normal) rather hard landings. Roger again identified the problem in my technique: I was reducing power to idle as we crossed the threshold, then rounding out which caused the aircraft to run out of energy and meet the ground with a bit of a bump. Roger explained it was better to round out and fly level with power still applied, then remove the power to allow the aircraft to settle on the runway.

The second circuit and landing were better, I remembered to dab the brakes as we took off, and the landing was ¬†smoother but still a little firm, with the nose wheel lowering with more of a bump than I’d like. We were now flying circuits at around 800 feet as the cloud started to lower again.

On the third circuit Roger had me carry out a flapless approach, which went well and culminated in a low level Go Around. For the fourth circuit, Roger suggested I try a grass landing. Again the circuit went well, and I was nicely set up for the approach to the grass runway before Roger decided I should again Go Around at low level due to birds on the runway. He had my fly along the runway at 100 feet or so in order to try to clear them.

We now carried out a low level ‘bad weather’ circuit, staying close in to the airfield and remaining at about 500 feet AGL. There were still a few birds on the grass as we approached, but this time we completed the landing, ending the sortie with a nice smooth touchdown followed by a gently lowering of the nosewheel. Almost perfect!

I carried out the after landing checks (spotting a slight oversight – throttle friction isn’t removed until the close down checklist) while Roger taxyed us back to parking. There was a slight ‘whoops’ moment for him as we slowed to enter our parking space, when Roger forgot that there were no toe brakes on his side! As a result we overshot our space by a foot or so, meaning we had to get some exercise when putting the aircraft to bed to push it back slightly so that it was in the correct space for the tie downs.

Roger and I chatted as we covered the aircraft and we then headed back to his car for him to update my log book, adding the sign off required for Variable Pitch Prop and Retractable Gear. I was now cleared for solo hire in the Arrow!

Just before leaving we were going over some of the events of the flight, and Roger asked how many grass landings I had. While I can’t remember exactly, it can’t me much more than 5 or 6, so Roger suggested that perhaps a session of circuits on Kemble’s grass runway might be a good idea to get me more used to ‘strip’ landings. I also told Roger of my desire to do some landings from the right seat, in case I’m ever flying with somebody else and they might need any assistance with landing in (perhaps) a tricky crosswind or the like.

This was a pretty enjoyable flight. It was the first time in a while I’d ‘used’ my IMC rating to fly above the clouds (possibly the most normal use of the rating) and it was good to see that sometimes conditions that appear very difficult on the ground can actually be a little misleading. While I doubt I’ll be launching off into the murk with abandon as a result, I might be more inclined to at least take off ‘for a look’ in future.

Hopefully my first Solo flight in the Arrow will come this weekend!

Total flight time today: 0:50
Total flight time to date: 165:55

Arrow Checkout Part 1

September 10, 2011

I’d been trying for some time to get a checkout in the Club’s new Arrow. With its retractable gear and variable pitch prop, it required ‘differences’ training and a log-book signoff before I can fly it. There is only really one Club Instructor handling conversions on to it, and synchronising our schedules, aircraft availability (the day before my first attempt at flying it, the gear failed to fully lock down when the Instructor was flying a test flight) and weather proved to be particularly difficult! I finally managed to line up all the dots and get a flight in her today.

The weather in the morning was far from ideal, but the forecast showed that the low cloud and drizzle should clear. The only issue was a forecast for relatively high winds, so we arranged to meet at Kemble and see how things looked.

I’d had a full brief on the changes on one of my earlier aborted attempts to fly, so had a quick ‘refresher’ with Roger along with a brief on what we would need to cover on the conversion flights. The hope was that we could cover it all in a couple of flights and get my signed off to fly the aircraft ‘solo’ after that.

Once in the aircraft, there was some initial fumbling over an unfamiliar checklist (not least the start procedure which calls for mixture at idle when cranking the engine, before advancing to full rich when it fires). Roger had warned me that the rudders were a little stiff on the ground, so I left the taxy checks until we reached the ‘D Site’ apron where power checks are carried out (the taxyway between Alpha 2 and Alpha 1 was closed again – although the FISO didn’t seem to realise this!).

While doing all this, the reason for my carrying out the power checks in the wrong place on the last flight became clear. I’d left the Golf taxyway to the left of where I should have, so when I turned right it meant I was indeed blocking the ‘correct’ exit from the taxyway.

Once all checks were complete and we lined up, I held the aircraft on the brakes as I applied full power do demonstrate the RPM governor working correctly. However, the aircraft was raring to go, and began to creep forwards, so Roger told me to just let the brakes off, and we accelerated down the runway. Was careful to remember that the ASI reads in MPH in this aircraft (as opposed to knots as I’m used to) and rotated at around 85 MPH. The crosswind was obvious as we began to climb, requiring a significant crab angle to maintain the runway centreline.

Once airborne and with no usable runway ahead I dabbed the toe brakes before raising the gear. It is soon obvious that the gear mechanism is working correctly, as you can feel the nose wheel retraction through the pedals. Once at a safe height, the RPM was brought back to 2600, and the mixture set to get a fuel flow indication of 13 PSI.

We headed out to the West from Kemble, switching to Bristol once we were clear. There was some fluffing of the initial call to Bristol, as the Controller surprised me a little. Usually, after a ‘Bristol Radar, G-AZWS request Basic Service’ initial call, the response would be ‘Pass your message’. However, on this occasion the Controller replied ‘Basic Service you have, pass your message’. I then passed all my details again, before (un-necessarily) again asking for a Basic Service.

We carried out some basic handling once the aircraft was configured for cruise (level off, allow it to accelerate up to about 120 MPH, reduce power to 24″ MAP, RPM to 2400, set mixture to get maximum exhaust gas temperature) followed by some climbing and descending. When climbing, the first thing to do is increase mixture, set 2600 RPM and then apply power to climb. The reverse is true when levelling off or descending – reduce power, set 2400 RPM then lean for the correct mixture.

We carried out some stall drills, with gear both retracted and extended. The only real thing to remember when recovering is to ensure that all three levers are pushed fully forward (assuming the stall occurred in a cruise configuration with mixture and RPM both pulled back). The stalls were relatively docile (it’s still a PA-28 after all) and the recovery wasn’t really an issue.

After this, we carried out some simulated circuits. Initially starting at 5500 feet, carry out downwind checks (including slowing, lowering the gear, setting RPM) then descend on ‘base’ and final. As we approached 4500 feet Roger called for a ‘Go Around’ which involved basically pushing all three levers forward, establishing the aircraft in the climb before raising the gear and finally the flaps.

I’d obviously been expecting a simulated gear failure at some point in the flight, but Roger fooled me slightly by pulling the Circuit Breaker for the gear pump during the circuit, meaning that it didn’t retract correctly on the Go Around. I failed to notice this, and once we were correctly climbing he asked me to level off and then ‘check you gear indication again’. All three greens were still lit, and this is a clear indication of me seeing what I expected to see, rather than seeing the actual indication on the gear lights.

Roger asked me what I’d do should this ever happen (the gear fail to retract on takeoff). I decided initially that I’d probably attempt to land immediately, but Roger said that if recycling the gear got it to retract correctly he’d probably continue. The aircraft could easily be flown with the gear down with probably a decrease in speed and an increase in fuel consumption, so if this occurred when away from base it would still give the option of returning to base in this condition.

We then demonstrated the difference in glide performance with the prop in full fine and full coarse pitch. I’d incorrectly assumed that we’d get better glide performance with the pitch in its full fine setting, but this was a useful demonstration that in actual fact pulling it back to full coarse will give a slightly better glide performance.

The last thing to do was to go through the ‘Emergency’ section of the checklist should the gear fail to extend. Roger has gone through a number of iterations of the checklist since his initial flight, and this section is now very comprehensive. The first thing to be aware of (as in all aircraft emergencies) is to make maintaining control of the aircraft the first priority. If the gear fails on the downwind leg, first of all get out of the circuit and get some height, even considering engaging the autopilot to remove some of the workload.

Once the aircraft is in a ‘safe’ configuration, working through the checklist is a relatively simple matter. The aircraft has an ’emergency’ gear extension mechanism that basically releases hydraulic pressure in the system, allowing the gear to drop under gravity and lock. Should the fail to lock then yawing the aircraft using the rudder (should the mains not lock) or pitching the aircraft up and down (for the nose gear) should cause everything to lock down.

If an indication problem is suspected, then a flyby of the tower (possibly parallel and then head on) should be considered to allow them to inspect the gear to see if it fails to lock down. Additionally, the indicator bulbs can be swapped to see if a single bulb has failed. Finally, if the panel lights are on, the brightness of the gear indicators is significantly reduced (something we demonstrated on the ground) and that’s always worth checking!

Should the worst come to the worst then a gear up landing should be attempted on a hard runway if possible, landing with flaps up in a level attitude. If possible, the engine should be stopped and secured on Final, and the prop motored to get it horizontal to reduce damage. Also, you could consider asking for a runway to be foamed should this be possible.

We recovered back to Kemble for a PFL. Roger had me do this using the ‘military’ method, positioning for ‘High Key’ (2500 feet over the landing area) and ‘Low Key’ (1500 feet in a position suitable to enable the remainder of the circuit to land). It had been a while since I’d done a PFL (Roger said it was obvious!) and I was also relatively unfamiliar with these terms, so Roger talked me through the procedure a bit more than perhaps he should have had to.

In general it all went well, but there was now a significant crosswind which I failed to correctly correct for. As a result I was blown through the centreline and (as ever!) ended up a little high. When we got down to a few hundred feet Roger called for a go around, and we set up for another circuit.

For some reason I flew this a lot closer in to the airfield than I normally would. This meant that again I was blown through the centreline as my downwind leg wasn’t far enough away from the runway to carry out a 180 degree turn with the wind blowing me towards the runway at 30 knots or so! Roger again had me Go Around, and we began to discuss the options should the crosswind prove too great for us to land at Kemble.

My first choice was Gloucester, as I know it has 3 runways so one was likely to be almost into wind. Roger suggested Colerne also, but we’d already ascertained that they weren’t flying today. Roger finally suggested Oaksey, whose main runway is 24 rather than 26 at Kemble. This change in direction would probably give us a small enough crosswind component to be able to land successfully.

In the end we decided that Roger would attempt a landing at Kemble (he’s probably done one or two more landings than I have!), and if he was unable to then we could divert elsewhere. I flew the majority of the circuit (this time allowing a lot more room on the downwind leg) and we also stayed a little high to try to avoid the worst of the turbulence over the threshold. On Final Roger took control and took us down to a decent landing despite the tricky conditions. I guess all that practice really does pay off!

Due to the increased crosswind we decided against any further flights today. We refuelled and covered the aircraft before heading back in for a debrief. Roger said he was generally happy with the way I’d managed all the systems, and thought that a single further flight with me doing things without him prompting should be enough to allow him to sign me off for solo flight in the aircraft. All we need to do now is line up all those dots again!

The Flight's Track

The Flight's Track

Vertical Profile

Vertical Profile

Total flight time today: 1:10
Total flight time to date: 165:05

Instrument Refresher (sort of!)

September 23, 2008

Had the afternoon off work today, so planned another flight with Reg as it seemed like a good idea! We had planned to go for another local bimble, heading out to the West to the Severn bridges, then North to Hereford and back via the ridge at Great Malvern. Sadly, the weather put paid to this, so we had to cancel the flight.

It seemed like the ideal opportunity to get some more IMC practice, so I gave Matt a call, and we arranged to meet at Lyneham later in the day. The plan was to head up into some cloud and just get a bit more experience of IMC conditions in case I ever meet them on my travels.

Typically, by the time we met at the Flying Club, there was barely a cloud in the sky! Matt had cancelled a Night flight with someone on the basis of the days earlier weather, so we were both a little disappointed at how the weather turned out!

Anyway, we decided to go for it anyway. The plan was for us to try to find some cloud to fly through, or failing that for me to fly with reference to the instruments in VMC, with Matt acting as Safety Pilot. Matt gave me a useful revision brief on Instrument Flight, including recovery from unusual attitudes while on instruments.

Lyneham were using runway 06 today, so this was also useful for me as I hadn’t yet used that runway. The taxy to the hold from the Flying Club is a fair old drag, crossing the entire airfield past the control tower. I think this is probably the longest time I’ve spent taxying in my (admittedly brief) flying career so far!

All checks at the hold were normal, and we were given our departure clearance, asking us to stay below 1500 feet until clear of the zone. The reason for this became clear as we rotated, with a Hercules returning into the visual circuit above us as we took off. We headed out to the North West, and still there wasn’t a cloud to be seen.

So, Matt had me drop my view to the instruments, and we revised the basic instrument flight that is covered as part of the PPL. I practiced some level rate 1 turns, as well as climbs and descents simulating climbing up out of cloud, or descending below it. Matt also used this time to demonstrate G-VICCs auto-pilot, which while relatively basic could come in useful on longer flights, or indeed if I ever did stray into cloud inadvertently.

Matt had me close my eyes as he took control, and he manoeuvred the aircraft around while doing this, before putting it into an ‘unusual’ attitude before giving me back control. During his briefing Matt had told me that the first reference instrument should this ever happen should be the ASI. If airspeed is decreasing, apply full throttle. If it’s increasing, pull the throttle to idle. Once this is done, reference is transferred to the Artificial Horizon, to first roll wings level, and finally sort out the pitch to get the nose back on the horizon. Once this is all done, power is then adjusted to cruise once the airspeed reaches its normal range.

For the first one, Matt put me in to a banked climb, so I first had to apply full throttle, before rolling wings level and lowering the nose to the horizon. I was a little keen reducing throttle back to the cruise before the airspeed had built back up again, but otherwise it was a good recovery. The next one was a banked descent, verging on a spiral dive. Recovery for this was almost the exact opposite, bringing the throttle back to idle to prevent excessive speed, before again rolling wings level and gently raising the nose back to the horizon. Finally the throttle is advanced back towards cruise setting as the airspeed decays back to the normal range.

After all this was finished, we spotted a small cloud out to the North West, so we headed towards this and repeated the basic exercises while actually in cloud. It only took us perhaps 5 seconds or so to fly through the cloud we found, but even in that short time it’s surprising just how easy it is for the body’s normal ‘balance’ mechanisms to convince you that you’re not flying as the instruments tell you. Also there was noticeable turbulence within the clouds, which means it’s more work keeping the aircraft flying straight and level. We flew straight and level once, then practiced 180 degree turns to head back out of the cloud, before calling it a day and heading back towards Lyneham.

Matt contacted ATC and asked if we could carry out an SRA (Surveillance Radar Approach). This is one method of approaching an airfield when in instrument conditions, and involves a very high workload on behalf of the Controller. It was the first time I had used it, so it was a useful exercise in what to expect should I ever need one for real.

In an SRA, the Controller guides the aircraft onto the extended centre line by passing heading changes to the pilot. Additionally the Controller will indicate when the descent should start, and then regularly pass new target heights as the aircraft approaches the field. I carefully followed the Controller’s instructions, although at one point he asked me to “Come left 3 degrees to heading 067”. To Matt I then responded “You’ll be lucky!” receiving an amused chuckle in response. At one point I allowed my height to get slightly below the ‘target’ given by the Controller, but a slight levelling off for a few seconds soon brought this back in.

At 600 feet we simulated breaking through the cloud base, and I looked up to see the runway virtually dead ahead of us (slightly to the left but now easy to correct and get back on the centre line) and I made a slightly high approach. I could pretend this was deliberate so that we didn’t have to coast down the entire length of the runway at taxying speed, but I wouldn’t be being strictly truthful!

There was a slight crosswind from the left, and as we got down below 200 feet we were experiencing noticeable wind shear, causing me to have to make frequent corrections to remain on the centreline. Matt asked if I was happy with the crosswind, to which I responded ‘Yep’ and continued on down. As we approached the runway I gently kicked off the crab using right rudder, and lowered the left wing to maintain the runway centre line. Down this low the wind shear had all but gone, and I made one of my best crosswind landings ever, gently touching down with virtually no sideways movement and pretty close to the centre line! Why is it my landings with Instructors sitting beside me always seem so much better than when I’m trying to impress a non-flying passenger?

We left the runway at the 18 loop (after Matt pointed out which exit this was!) and I made my ‘runway vacated’ call as we left the runway. Matt picked me up on this, saying I shouldn’t really do this until we passed the hold. Fair point, I must try to remember this in future. We taxyed back to the Flying Club and closed down, before refuelling and putting the aircraft to bed.

Despite the British weather doing its level best to spoil all my plans for today, I’d still had an enjoyable flight despite this. It had been useful in revising instrument flight techniques, and the experience of the SRA was definitely of value.

To cap an end to a sometimes frustrating day, a nice Polish lorry driver did his level best to take the left hand side of my car off at a roundabout in Swindon too! Well, they do say that the most dangerous part of flying is the journey to and from the airfield. Now I believe them!

Total flight time today: 0:50
Total flight time to date: 77:45