It is a year since I passed my initial flight test for my PPL. According to South African air law, after one year, you need to revalidate your PPL (and thereafter every two years). This is done via a ground briefing/exam and a flight test.
In the year since I got my PPL I have flown about 70 hours, 11 of that as dual instruction for my night rating and 5 odd hours in the sim. The rest, apart from a few jaunts in the SR20 with family, has been in my Sling 4 ZU-IBM. There have been a lot of local flights – practicing stuff, keeping current and proficient, and the odd long trip – most memorable being the flight to Cape Town and back in November last year, with a few family day trips thrown in here and there.
It is with a heavy heart that I write this. I need to change the subtext of my blog from “An Anaesthetist’s journey to PPL” to “An Anaesthetist WITH a PPL!”. Yes. That is correct – I passed my PPL checkride on Tuesday! I am now legal to fly all and sundry and to “exercise the privileges of a Private Pilot License holder!
It has been quite a journey. There were times when it was hard – not physically hard, but hard in the way where you think that you’ll never get it right. I sailed through my solo Nav exercises – so well in fact that I forgot to blog them. I told myself that all I had to do was an hour or two of PPL test prep with my instructor and Bob’s your Uncle, I’m on my way.
This was not to be the case. Apparently you lose skills if you don’t practice them. Really? Who knew? My circuits, oh good grief, they were shocking. My steep turns? Horrendous. Stalls, marginal. I couldn’t believe how poorly I was flying. 2 sessions, then a third and still not up to my instructor’s (or my) standards. And then, suddenly… it all came right. I clicked. I flew hundreds of steep turns in X-plane. I flew many in the real thing and I now know where the horizon should be and how much it can move before I need to pull back.
So I was sent off with the CFI for a mock PPL flight test – which went surprisingly well. Then one more solo flight to iron out any rough spots – and to finish the required 15hours of solo flight for the PPL – and then it was time for the PPL test itself.
Date of Flight
12 June 2018
FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FALI (Lichtenburg) - FAZR(Zeerust) - FALA
In SA, the PPL test requires a ground evaluation – which is essentially an open book discussion with the examiner on the AIPs, ENRs and the relevant regulaitons and standards. Mainly, it is about flying and a very long navigation exercise. I was told to plan Lanseria to Lichtenburg to Zeerust and then back to Lanseria via the UTRUK intersection.
This is a long nav. Without any messing about it is 244nm. Which at 130kts GGS is a long flight. The day dawned clear and crisp which was fantastic, except this was NOT the case at Lanseria. Lanseria lies in a gentle valley, which is blanketed on many winter mornings by a significant inversion layer. This would not be a major issue were it not for the informal settlements in the area which predominantly burn wood and coal for heating which makes a lovely smog which can take hours to clear. Scheduled launch time was 09h30 – at which stage the airfield was still declared IMC with visibilty of 4000m in haze. So we waited and waited.
I was starting to give up hope with the examiner having to be somewhere else soon – until someone suggested we ask for Special VFR. Special VFR allows one to leave a controlled airfield in IMC conditions to accomplish a cross-country flight. So this we did, and wouldn’t you know it, as we were taxiing down to the runup bay ATC comes on and says, “by the way, we’ve just become VMC”. Hoo-bloody-ray.
The flight itself was…. actually really fun. I hadn;t met my examiner previosuly but what a great guy he was – similar age to me and we had a ball. Chatted all the way, flew lots on the autopilot and he appreciated the snacks. Top tip – bring snacks on your PPL checkride. We were supposed to do one touch and go at Lichtenburg (FALI). So we do the unmanned join overhead but there are kids playing soccer on the runway. We descend on the dead side, join the circuit tight and fly a reasonably long final with all the lights on. And they didn’t move. Not even one damn was given by these kids. So as we get to the roundout, the examiner says “full throttle but DO NOT CLIMB” and we zoom over them at 10m and 120kts. Which was suposed to scare them off but they start taking videos on their cellphones. Now I’ve heard of buzzing a runway to scare game off, but kids? Not so much. We decided not to land there and carried on to Zeerust
Zeerust was to be the site of the circuit work. As we arrived, I was asked to do a precautionary landing – no problem. The runway there is wide, long and unsullied by children (only cowpats). Nioce precautionary, then a flapless and finally a glide from downwind which was harder than it needed to be because I was configured for downwind – Cirrus standard landing training calls for 100kts, 50% flap on downwind. I pull the power, we adopt a glide profile not unlike that of a microwave oven. The examiner says… “you ARE allowed to pull the flaps up you know”. AHAA! flaps up and suddenly we’re gliding like a streamlined microwave – bam – just made it on.
Then back to Lanseria via the training area for some (i thought) steep turns – it was only one. I lost 25feet. That is all – my best ever. 2 stalls later and he takes the airplane and asks me to reach back to fetch his pen. As I do so it feels weird – I turn back and he’s put us into a spiral dive. “Recover!” he says – and it comes to me – level wings, idle throttle and PUUUULLL back – within limits. “Take us home”, says he and back we go.
The most stressful part? not cocking it up on the way in. I’ve heard of people being failed as they pull up to the ramp for some airmanship issue or other – fortunately, I was not that guy.
So that’s it. I am the holder of a shiny new PPL (OK, I will actually hold a shiny new PPL when the CAA issue it in 10working days time). I know adventure awaits. It’s going to be a blast.
Update: – I’m still in the circuit. I’m still not solo. I’m still ok with that.
I had a break from flying for 2 and a half weeks – mostly due to the combination of both my instructor and me being away (but not coinciding). So I was expecting a terrible flight on Friday. And…. I was wrong.
From the get go – I was comfortable, relaxed and the flying was, well… OK. Not stellar, but not terrible and very definitely safe and to standard. We did 9 circuits and 10 landings.
2 of those landings were 50% flap, 1 with flaps up and one was a simulated engine failure after rotation with adequate runway ahead (which bizarrely, was my best landing of the day). I joked that the instructor should just pull the power over the threshold on every landing and I’d be ok….
We did another EFATO with no runway and managed that OK apart from being distracted so much by the Fault check that I lost about 15kts (should be at 90kts for the SR20 best glide) – so less than ideal but still would have made the field I chose – had a hairy time on the go-around from the option because there was a helicopter that wasn’t supposed to be there – we got to wave at the farmer too….
I’m SLOWLY getting the three phases of the landing right – my approaches are still good – it feels natural to adjust power for rate and pitch for speed and for the most part I’m over the threshold at the height and airspeed I want to be at. Roundout is ok too and I’m able to fly along the runway in ground effect (and for the first time I actually could feel when entering ground effect).
The issue is still in the holding off phase – as power comes off I need to be pulling back gently and it still is a bit jerky – but it is definitely getting there. I need to concentrate on the end of the runway more on the roundout though – I tend to find myself peering over the nose – which isn’t conducive to good attitude flying.
In other news I picked up another exam this week – Principles of Flight. I took the books with on holiday and had every intention of cranking out both Principles and Met while away but only managed to finish Principles. Spent Monday through thursday doing past papers on the Principles and then rushed off on Thursday to do the exam. To be honest, the exam was a bit of a joke – I do them online in a monitored room – 25 multiple choice questions, 30min to complete.
It took me 3m15s. Why? Because they seem to ask the same questions over and over again. So all that is required is to carefully read the question to make sure you aren’t being tricked – and then to select the answer. Got 24/25 right. Apparently there are people who struggle to pass these exams. Go figure. Of course, pride comes before a fall etc so I’m still going to put max effort into the next one which I think will be the R/T theory because it’s similar to Air Law in many respects.
On Friday next week I have another dual check which means that I’m close to 20h (19 to be precise) – I’m hoping that goes well and I get signed off – so we should be solo by month end. Or whenever I’m ready. Whatever, I’m cool…..
(C-17 Globemaster from McGuire AFB – Apparently here supplying the embassy)
Bittersweet. This is how I’d describe my specially arranged Friday morning flying session. I’d specially organized this to get some flying in when (a) the wind isn’t howling across the runway as it is wont to do in Jhb in August and September and (b) it isn’t so hot..
But the best laid plans of mice and men…. it was a beautiful morning. Preflight was fun as the morning rush of BizJets, KingAirs, and the Scheduled 737s took to the air – always interesting to see how they differ in initial climb performance – the B200s and C90s not so stellar compared to the B350s, and the BizJets, well…. they all look pretty smart on climbout.
We started up ZS-JAB and let her warm up as we did the pre-run up checks and watched the stream of departing traffic. But when runup time came… There was an alarming decrease in revs and a very rough engine on the right magneto only, no drop on the left – uh oh, this plane had a dead magneto. Well, there was no way we were going flying in her this day. So we taxied back to the ramp dejectedly, and checked her into the Hangar. Where, of course, they couldn’t replicate the problem. Another student flew her an hour later – no problems whatsoever. So that was a bit weird. But I’m happy we stayed on the ground.
As someone pointed out to me – it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground…. And learning to deal with disappointment of cancelled flights is part of the game – good training for when I’m the one making the call on whether we go or don’t go…
This enforced grounding meant that I could exercise the privileges allowed me by my newly minted SPL(A) – writing exams…. due to all the delays in getting medical and SPL sorted out, I’ve been studying hard for Air Law which I need to have passed to go solo. I was booked to do the exam on Friday – so I set off to give it a crack. Which I did. and I passed – 97%! I cannot recommend the PPL mock exams from Swales highly enough – a lot of what I expected and had seen before came up – but even if it hadn’t I would have been ok – because I really put a LOT of effort into the Air Law studying. I know stuff that I will no doubt never use – but it ended up being a LOT more interesting than I thought.
All in all, a good week. Air Law done, SPL(A) obtained, no flying but hey, I can fly any time… Like tomorrow for instance….. (weather permitting)