Flight training

When VFR is not VFR

Yesterday was supposed to be a fly day. My flight school (Cirrus Training at Lanseria) books 2h slots for an hour lesson and 2h slot for an hour briefing (for those lessons that need a briefing) before.  We were scheduled to do the “straight and level” briefing and then fly the exercise.

A briefing is essentially a one-on-one tutorial covering an aspect of flight which then followed by a flying lesson where the concepts are solidified and demonstrated. I had 9h00 to 13h00 carved out for this. I really look forward to the lessons – so from Thursday I was keeping an eye on the meteosat images (for approaching fronts) and from Friday, watching the METAR and TAF for Lanseria (FALA). For those not in the know – the METAR is a coded report on the current weather and the TAF is essentially a long term (16-24h) outlook on the weather to come.

So keeping an eye on both gives you an idea about the conditions at the airfield. IF they are created at the airfield. (Which I suspect they may not be….) Driving in on Saturday morning the ground frequency reports were indicating ground fog and haze with a visibility of 5000m – with the airfield operating in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) – despite a METAR which suggested CAVOK (Ceiling and Visual OK). Interestingly weather at home was severe clear but at FALA not so much. I suspect it has a lot to do with the informal settlements in the area – when it’s cold there is a lot of heating by burning wood etc and because the field lies in a bit of a valley the pollution gets trapped under the inversion layer.

No problem I think… give it an hour or so and it’ll burn off / blow away. So we start our brief. The brief is, in a word, hectic. I’m not sure how people without some physics in their education manage. Also, I was very much under the impression that I understood lift and drag. Apparently I didn’t. But thanks to some very intense (my instructor takes the briefings seriously and explains things well – lots of colors(!)) lectures I can now expound on induced and profile drag, Centre of Gravity:centre of pressure couples and my personal fave… Power Required Curves.

Straight and level briefing done, we stick our heads out onto the apron and… get blown back into the office. Yes, it’s clearing. BUT now there is 25kts blowing across the runway. Demonstrated cross wind landing limit in the Cirrus SR20 is 26kts. ( Instructor’s comment was that this should not be regarded as something achievable but was demonstrated by test pilots) Guess we aren’t going flying. We decided to knock out some more briefings – this will decrease the amount of time I’ll need to carve out for future lessons. We did Climbing. Then Descending. Then Turns. FOUR hours of briefing.

Induced Drag

I’d consider the morning adequately seized. Could we have flown? Maybe. Would it have been safe? No. The ONE thing I am absolutely determined to do is to train safe, and then fly safe. I really like the school’s approach to safety. My instructor and I see eye-to-eye on safety. The aircraft has great safety features. Is General Aviation dangerous? Maybe. But when I read the accident reports, it’s usually quite easy to see what went wrong. And a lot of the time it’s flying in marginal weather. So we reschedule the flying. I can fly any day. But only if I’ve made good decisions on marginal days….. Blue skies….

Flight training

First (Official) Lesson

Date:- 24/6/2017

Aircraft:- ZS-BOR (SR20) – Avidyne Avionics

Route:- FALA – Magaliesberg GFA – FALA


First official lesson – briefing required. Had an hour long briefing on the effects of aircraft controls – a great revision for me (I thought I knew most of this stuff already being aviation mad all my life) but there were a number of finer points that it was good to get a hold of. There is a lot of physics. Yes. Physics.

Fortunately in the dark recesses of my mind lies rattling an old physics file from when I started anaesthesia training – physics is quite NB for anaesthetists. We reacquainted ourselves with Bernoulli and Newton, drew aeroplanes on the whiteboard (which may or may not have borne a striking resemblance to dolphins..) #insidejoke

Time for paperwork – NOTAMs to read, Weather to check, aircraft folio to check etc.

Then off to preflight. I was quite concerned earlier in the day that the weather would not be good enough to fly – it was cold and cloudy and Lanseria was reporting IFR only with the field in mist. Fortunately as it warmed up the clouds cleared and the weather just got better and better.

The Cirrus is a great aircraft to pre-flight – there is a nice flow to the process moving carefully round the plane from the left door towards the tail, round the tail, round the right wing, to the engine and prop and then round the left wing back to the door – I find that keeping a hand on the plane at all times makes it easier to not forget something.

There are a few funny things – the stall warning horn needs to be checked prior to the walk round – it is done with the BAT1 and BAT2 switches and the avionics on (which is part of the pre-preflight but needs the right hand door open which is a bit fiddly) And you need to kiss the wing (or apply negative pressure to the stall sensor – we can’t think of any other non anorak way to do it other than sucking on the port). Then you have to get back into the plane, extend full flaps,  kill the battery and avionics switches and then start the walk around. I’ll do a more detailed post on the walk around at some point in the future.

Winds from the East meant a runway 07 takeoff, which means I had a LONG time to get used to taxiing the aircraft. Which is still for me the hardest part. The nose wheel castors, and you’re not supposed to ride the brakes or use differential braking as the primary guidance tool. So you have to increase the power and let the prop wash turn the aircraft with the rudder. Which is fine when you’re going slowly/uphill. Not so cool when on the downhills.. We spent 8minutes doing the run up checks. Hopefully that will get quicker – no need for shortcuts but I need to memorise those flows…

Takeoff was better (RIGHT Rudder! RIGHT Rudder, MORE right rudder – I now know WHY you need right rudder btw) and off to the GFA we go…

Major goals for this lesson were to get a feel for the primary and secondary effects of the controls. Which was as simple as it seems – but for me the major challenge remains keeping my head out of the cockpit. I think I’m born to be an instrument pilot. Too many years of flightsim and too much gazing at screens is an issue. Those lovely 10″ Avidyne displays seem to lock my gaze like the sirens of mythology.

Interestingly my instructor says she can tell without looking when I’m heads down in the displays – apparently there is a slight lag between reality and what is presented on the artificial horizon/HSI and this delay means that I’m continually behind the aeroplane. This leads to oscillations. I’m told these are uncomfortable. I think this means I’m not supposed to be doing that….

Manoeuvres done:-

  • Banking
  • Climbing
  • Descending
  • Effect of Rudder
  • Pitch and Power with flaps in and extended
  • “Virtual go-arounds” (more of these to come I’d guess)
  • Spiral Dives


Spiral Dives

I was warned about these in the briefing. Apparently some people find them “unpleasant”. Not me. These are fun.  Straight and level flight. Add aggressive rudder and hold. Secondary effect of the rudder is to cause rotation or banking in direction of application. As you bank, the nose slips down and there you have it – a fairly aggressive dive.

Recovery is simple and in this order – Neutralize offending control input. Roll out of bank and simultaneously reduce to idle power. Apply back pressure on stick and as nose comes up add throttle while avoiding ballooning (very easy – not).

Why are these spiral dives so important? Because these are what kill pilots in IMC (apart from CFIT of course). Then they are called graveyard spirals. I recorded the flight on my GoPro – the dives don’t look as spectacular as they felt, but, looking at the horizon – on one of the aileron induced spirals we had a bank angle of around 70degrees…


Back next week with some more….