Sunday, 1 May 2016

Instrument Rating - Passed!

The day is here, I'm the first of Alan’s students to be taking the test so I feel like a bit of a guinea pig, I'm also the first flight of the day so although that means I have an early start and need to A check the plane, there’s not too much time for the nerves to settle in. I also wanted to get there super early to make sure I did all the planning perfectly.
  •        Weather checked (METARS and TAFS)
  •          NOTAMS
  •          AIPS
  •          Flight Plan filed
  •          Nav log and route map done
  •          Mass and Balance done
  •          Aircraft checked out (Full A check)
  •          Documents signed

I have a briefing with the examiner at 0800 and he goes through the profile of the flight. He seems really friendly which puts me at ease straight away. The weather isn't looking too great; the cloud is low, though still above minimums and the wind is strong (though not as strong as on my PT and it’s straight down the approach as opposed to across it). I decide to go and get it over with, my route is down to Bournemouth, which I've only been to at night time but I'm so glad, as it’s the longest route there’s plenty of time to get set up during the cruise.

I'm allocated the call sign ‘Exam18’, I need to remember this as it’s different than my usual ‘Oxford 54’ though I am told that ATC are a lot more helpful when they hear the word exam. The examiner gives me 10 minutes to get in the plane, and do the before start checks. All that’s going through my head is “this is it”. Once we start taxiing and I give my first "Exam18" call to tower I feel much better, I'm doing the same thing I've done pretty much every day over the past 6 months. The departure out from Oxford goes smoothly and ATC are helpful; I get my clearance into the A airway early so that’s one less thing to worry about…then my airspeed and manifold pressure start to drop.

Having simulated icing in the simulator many times I acknowledged it early and did the de-icing checks. As I'm wearing the hood I cannot look myself at the wings or stabilator so have to ask the examiner to check for icing, usually this is done every 10 minutes during the cruise when in IMC and low temperatures. However, the problem doesn't feel sorted so I ask him more and more frequently, eventually he just tells me to check myself as the icing is building up pretty fast, we were in moderate icing. Thankfully, I keep on top of it and the cloud clears as we approach Southampton. The examiner tells me not to do any more icing checks and I'm relieved. Bournemouth ATC is also really helpful and starts radar vectoring me early so I start thinking about the ILS. In my head, I'm thinking if I can do a good ILS then I’ll pass, I'm a lot happier with the NDB approach back at Oxford.

(Thank you Lucas for the flight radar trace of my exam! Although it says East Midlands, it's definitely Bournemouth) 

It’s windy around Bournemouth but feels mostly headwind and this drags out the ILS to the low minimum altitude. I aced it, the localiser and glideslope deviation bars barely moved and I was so proud of myself, the go-around and engine failure drill felt like second nature. The examiner took control as he needed to find a break in the clouds for general handling. Luckily we found one and managed a few manoeuvres before diverting home to Oxford. I got the hold entry I was expecting and was cleared to proceed outbound “whenever I was ready”. 

The asymmetric procedural NDB was fine, conscious of remaining within the 5 degree margin before descending as my PT6 had taught me. However, the cloud base was rapidly dropping and about a mile before minimums I had to request a low altitude circuit of 800 feet (super low compared to the usual 1500 feet). However, being an exam I was granted it and finally got around to land. I was absolutely exhausted at this point and just wanted to get on the ground, hence my landing wasn't my best or smoothest.

Once parked back on the apron the examiner turned to me and said “Your landing was a bit rough” Oh no. “Yes, I'm so sorry….”
“Do you promise never to do that again?”
“Of course, sir!”
“Good, then you've passed!”

He was toying with me and started laughing. I was so relieved. The whole thing had gone so well, I did get some pointers in the debrief and he could tell I’d never experienced icing before but said I handled it pretty well. He also said he was impressed with how I handled the strong winds at Bournemouth (again, thank you PT6 for teaching me how to deal with the wind!). Feeling triumphant I stayed around the school being congratulated, I even got a hug off Alan, and waiting for the other guy to come in who’d just done his IR as well. He had to finish his early due to the low cloud base preventing him from doing the asymmetric circuit, I landed just in time. This also means my instrument flying phase is over and I get a nice break over the Christmas period before starting the MCC in the New Year. I went home that evening and surprised my parents as I was done ahead of schedule and so ecstatic that I'd passed it! 

My Dutch course mates had already finished theirs and do the MCC in Holland which is a shame, saying bye to them was sad and AP365 now only had 3 members left.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

IFR routes, sims and Progress test 6!

I had a flight in the pouring rain and it felt wrong! Although we’re always under the most extreme IFR conditions in the sim, flying into it in real life takes guts. The rain was obscuring the runway centreline and getting stuck behind the square of anti-icing the windscreen has. After take-off we broke into the cloud, it was solid white all around, just like in the sim. At this point I was laughing from pure excitement, it was so different than any flying I’d done before. Really exciting though and you get an amazing view at the top when you break into the clear skies above. Who needs to see the ground anyway?

After what felt like 100 sims learning how to do ILS and NDBs, recapping holds which are a bit more complicated than those we did in America and getting familiar with check-lists and cockpit set ups we were ready to start practising full routes. The first route I did in the sim was to Coventry; notorious for being the shortest route and having a tricky missed approach, if you can handle Coventry you can handle any of the routes (I mean just look at their missed approach!)

I ended up messing up in the sim and turning the wrong way in the missed approach, “busting” Birmingham’s airspace and hoping I don’t do something like that in a real flight.
The basic profile was the same every flight, you’d flight to a different airfield; the closest being Coventry and the furthest being Bournemouth. You’d do a precision or a non-precision approach, then have an “engine failure” and have to divert, sometimes returning to Oxford, sometimes another airfield first to do a procedural approach. The way we did the flights built up these aspects really well and we weren’t doing the full profiles until the last couple of lessons before the test. There’s a lot more planning involved and I always backseated Josh so we often had nearly full days at the airport. My sim trace picture shows an ILS, all within limits the glideslope's good but I was oscillating on the localiser, you need only tiny rudder corrections to keep yourself central. 

The flights could be scheduled for any time of day, meaning I was lucky enough to get a full night flight in as my take off time was about 17:30. This was in the week leading up to bonfire night and was a route down to Bournemouth to do an ILS before returning to Oxford. My instructor let me do the flight without the instrument hood and the view of flying through London’s airspace whilst fireworks were going off was absolutely incredible. I think of the entire course that was my favourite flight, although being in darkness does make reading the charts and approach briefing a little trickier but just having a hand-held torch to use.

We had a break in our training, the UK was being hit by multiple low pressure systems, so it was a pain going in and being told that you weren’t flying because storm Barney or Desmond (their names are cute) means the winds are out of limits. I had about 3 weeks of cancelled flights before finally being scheduled for PT6, the last internal flight test and a practice IR profile. I was so determined to get to fly that although the winds at holding altitude were pretty strong and the crosswind was on the limit, I still decided to go. What’s more, I had my favourite (not) route; Coventry. This one is tricky because it’s so short giving little time to set up and do the required checks in the cruise, you start getting the ATIS and giving a plate brief in the climb out of Oxford. I was expecting radar vectors to the ILS but once I started speaking to Coventry Approach I was told it would be procedural and to take up the hold. This I was not expecting and needed time to think about setting up the hold on my PFD and thinking through the procedure, the examiner told me I was over the beacon now so I ended up with a very messy hold entry and rushed procedure. 

Battling the winds on the ILS was tough; it was so bumpy from the winds that I had to fight the plane to keep it within half-scale. I almost exceeded my altitude on the missed approach and we decided to do the engine failure drill after I was established on the missed approach, rather than on the initial go-around which is where we’d normally do it. It felt like such a stressful ILS and I didn't have much hope that I’d passed at this point. We continued the flight, engine failure drill and general handling were fine despite the high winds and diverted back to Oxford. Again, I had to enter the hold and do a procedure, my correction for the outbound of the hold was nearly 90 degrees to compensate and my track in the procedure was all over the place, meaning I couldn't begin descending until I was established within 5 degrees, this was really tough and I did start descending then went around into a low level circuit due to the decreasing cloud base (all of this was asymmetric). I went around on my first attempt to land as I was having difficulties with the crosswind; the examiner said he’d give me one more go before taking control. Luckily I landed the second attempt but it was tough.

I think this test was my worst flight to date; I didn't enjoy it at all and felt like I was battling the plane rather than controlling it. I partialled, surprisingly on the NDB and not the ILS which I felt didn't go so well. I learnt a lot from this experience, mostly about my own wind limits and to not be too eager to fly if conditions are marginal. I got some great feedback though in the debrief and knew exactly what I needed to do for my re-test, which would just be a departure and NDB at Oxford, about 20 minutes of flight time. I still felt awful, it really knocks your confidence to have a poor flight, especially this close to my real exam. My flight partner and house mate were both really positive though and talked things over with me, that helped and I love how everyone here understands and knows what you’re going through.

The re-test was absolutely fine, I absolutely nailed the NDB and the ILS is the part I'm worried about in the actual IR test.

Before the IR you also need to complete a VFR radio test (haven’t flown VFR in a while…) and do a partial panel/unusual attitude recovery sim. I passed both with flying colours and had one flight left with my instructor before my IR. We decided to just practice an NDB and an ILS here at Oxford as I was fine with the navigation, radio and entering controlled airspace parts of the route. Most people fail on account of the ILS which takes a lot of concentration and becomes more and more sensitive the closer you are to the ground, so I was determined to show Alan I could do this. This also ended up being a night flight but I really enjoy those and as a last flying lesson it went really well...We touched down after the final approach which was asymmetric and as we were on the landing roll my ‘live’ engine cut out, thankfully we were already on the ground! That was fun to experience and Alan said I took it “like a man”. I just glanced over and was like “Oh, the right engine’s failed”. We taxied off the runway on one engine and then got it towed over to maintenance. With the mission objectives all complete, Alan informed Ops that I was ready for my IR.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

IR phase at Oxford Airport

(I need to finish this blog for my own personal closure; I've even finished the course now and I'm sorry it’s so far in between updates, guess that just shows how busy this course has been!)

Shout out to the new ground school class who asked to meet me on their first day, you guys made my day :D

We had a week of FOF again when we came back covering similar topics as before and had a few Bucks assignments to prepare. One was an accident report and presentation which actually felt a bit more applied and relevant than essay writing and the accident we covered was just unbelievable. (Watch below and you’ll see what I'm talking about!). I did this with Josh and Oskar who although I wasn't living with any more I still enjoy working with them and I think we nailed this presentation.

I enjoyed being back in Oxford, I stayed in the same house as I did before Phoenix and one of my house mates was the same as before so it felt really familiar and I didn't have to worry about sorting out accommodation again. We also had our wings ceremony (down to a class size of 6 now!) and gained two gold bars instead of our one silver, distinguished from the ground school kids and feeling very important, we were ready to start the dreaded IR phase.

Things I'm afraid of:

  • Everything! Everyone told me this phase would be the hardest flying test you ever do and there’s so much pressure for a first time pass, I was nervous before I even started flying.

There’s also all the differences between American and English operations, the map is different, radio is different, airspaces, planning and the fact that we’re now going to be flying IFR only not VFR. I had help with the planning side from people in the courses ahead of me though so that was great J I always feel good passing my knowledge down and it’s nice to know other people will take care of you as well.

The IR phase is mostly sim time, I think there’s about 30 sims and 12 flying lessons which really doesn't feel like that much time in which to learn everything. We have a new plane to learn how to fly, it’s a Piper Seneca V (PA34) and they’re brand new to Oxford and fitted with the G1000 as before, this time with 3 screens instead of 2 (there's just 2 PFDs). It’s bigger than the Seminole, with 6 seats inside though it still only has 2 engines. I'm still partnered with Josh and we met our instructor for the first sim which was an introduction to IFR procedures and also cockpit familiarisation. 

The Seneca is brilliant! Where everything in the cockpit seemed to be in the wrong place in the Seminole, it’s all back in Archer configuration for the Seneca! I really enjoyed it from day one, I'm still not great at landing the sim though :/

We started off fast having 3 sims a day between the pair of us (if you weren't flying you were monitoring in the right hand seat, you did learn a lot from just watching and listening), this went on for about 2 weeks before we had to ask our instructor to slow down, which helped. We were also eager to try our hand in the actual plane as opposed to the sim.

The first 2 flights in the Seneca were general handling and to get used to the departure procedures at Oxford. I'm always struck with the sense of not believing that they’re giving me control of an aircraft that I've never flown before. Strangely I only get this feeling during the taxi and after I've done it once I feel much happier with the plane. Parking is better here, you drive it into the space for tie-down as opposed to getting out and pushing it back into place. Phew, I won’t get too muscular on this course.
The first flight was incredible, seeing greenery on the ground, having a lot of traffic to contend with and seeing clouds! We picked a pretty good day to go flying but we never had to deal with clouds in Phoenix. I loved this aircraft.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

SEP and bye bye Arizona

You have the option to do a SEP (single engine piston) test whilst out in America (for an additional cost) I want to keep flying when I'm back in England so decided it would be a good idea, it’s in the Archer’s and practice area which we’re very familiar with and I think it works out cheaper than in the UK.

The actual test was pretty easy in comparison to everything else we’d been through, only lasting about an hour; there was an AJ departure, touch and goes at Coolidge and a simulated engine failure and forced landing. I went with another guy who was taking the same test and we switched over at Coolidge so I didn't even need to do the arrival back at Falcon. It was a really nice finish to the course and my time flying in Arizona and meant I got to fly the Archer and appreciate the scenery one last time (not much time for this on the CPL test!)

I spent the rest of the day at school running around with my logbook and signature list trying to get everything signed off. Since I’d also finished about a month early I decided to change the dates of my return flights so I could get myself home a little early. I gave myself a week to get everything sorted, do my SEP and squeeze in a trip to Vegas once Oskar had passed his CPL as I was the first in the class to take it (Josh was a massive spoilsport and left the next day after his test).
I didn't know what to expect with Las Vegas, everyone said you needed to see it but it was nothing special. I thought it was amazing! There’s no place like it and the buildings were fantastic! We stayed in the Tropicana hotel, in separate rooms overlooking the airport and tried to visit as many of the themed casinos as possible. My favourites were Paris and New York (cue Dodgeball quote about riding the roller-coaster!) We were both also over 21 so wanted to enjoy ourselves ;)

We had to clear out the apartment, this was a massive task and took the best part of a day and I'm really going to miss the place, we had a nice send off in the form of one last visit to Dos Gringos and were finally ready to come home for a couple of weeks off before beginning the IR phase back in Oxford. Oskar changed his flights to the same as mine so at least I wasn't lonely on the plane back :) Bye bye Phoenix!

CPL tests!!!

After my little intermission of a few Archer flights, I was back on track and had one more lesson with Casey to get back into ‘Seminole mode’. We went to my favourite airport; Ak Chin to yet again practice circuits and engine failures which were getting to be second nature by now (despite my initial problems with the weight of the aircraft and how much force had to be applied to the rudder to stop the yaw). I also found if I trimmed backwards on final the flaring part of landing was much easier and my landings much softer. I tried a short-performance landing back at Falcon, and Casey said he’d not done one so well, or come off the runway so short, in a Seminole before!

 Lee also saw my landing from the ground and said I’d nailed it so I felt slightly more confident going in for the CPL (It’s still a scary thought!)

The actual CPL test is in 3 parts:
  • A written test – This was multiple choice and was mostly Seminole specific performance questions with a bit of theory from Met and PoF, and we were even allowed the POH with us so it wasn't too difficult

  • A Limited Panel sim assessment – Using the bit of instrument flying we’d done so far we had to recover from situations without external reference (IMC conditions) and with only the standby attitude indicator, turn coordinator, altimeter, airspeed indicator and compass. We had to perform timed or compass turns to establish headings and then did some upset recovery (using a POWER, ROLL, PUSH, STABILISE technique). Again, the assessment wasn’t too difficult

  • The Skills test – The most challenging by far, especially due to the limited hours you get on the Seminole. After getting in ridiculously early in the morning, planning, pre-flighting and having a quick hug from Brian, I was ready to go for my briefing. The examiner was lovely and made me feel as much at ease as possible as he explained the profile of the flight and asked if I had any questions. The weather was looking pretty good for my flight, CAVOK, with the usual turbulence and winds coming in later during the flight. The test consists of a nav, a diversion, an emergency, and manoeuvres, 2 types of landing at another airfield and finally getting back to do an assymetric landing at Falcon. It took 2 ½ hours in total which is tiring in itself, without the intense Arizona heat and ever turbulent air.

My Navigation exercise was a simple Chandler departure to a small town called Chichu, I’d never been there before but I know the whole practice area pretty well and in the glorious visibility it wasn't too hard to find.  Initially, I’d briefed how I wanted to avoid the Stanfield VOR area as there are lots of students practicing holds and approaches around there but Tom said he would take the radio as he knew how to talk to those people, which he achieved by putting on his best hic-American accent and asking for levels across the VOR. He’s also from Yorkshire! It was pretty funny.

My diversion was to GM airfield, somewhere I had been to many a time before!

My emergency was….wait for it….an engine failure! Of the people who've failed or partialled* I heard it was mostly from this section. You have to correctly diagnose and shut down the engine from memory. I asked “is there a fire?” The examiner said yes so I commenced the fire drill and really shut the engine down and commenced an emergency decent. Eventually he said “oh the fire’s out, restart the engine”.

My manoeuvres were all three of the stalls; the recover was fairly similar to the Archer apart from powering out as opposed to shoving the nose down so I wasn't too worried about these. I started turning, in landing configuration, for the base-turn stall and we just flew round in circles, the power settings were correct but the plane just didn't want to stall. With me anxiously waiting for the stall warner, Tom was laughing and practically idled the power to help me out, which wasn't standard but it worked. I then had to do steep turns which have a bank angle of 45 degrees, I like them, I like feeling a bit of G though it does take quite a lot of back-pressure to stop the nose from dropping. My speed also crept up a bit so I was really sweating. There’s just so much extra stress in exams. He then said “That’ll do, continue to Goodyear” Goodyear? Yes! An airfield I'm familiar and happy with.

We did our circuits at Goodyear, all with two engines; I think the controllers were extra friendly because they knew I was on a test. This included the normal and then flapless landings before departing for Falcon Field. We were running short on time (it really does fly in a test!) so followed a narrow corridor of uncontrolled airspace between Sky Harbour and the mountain, just under a shelf of Class B airspace. The low altitude meant the heat was really uncomfortable, for us both, and this wasn't helped by the fact my engine was taken away again so I could prepare for the assymetric landing back home. Thankfully it was one of my better landings and during the taxi back I ran over every tiny mistake I’d made in my head hoping I’d done alright.

Tom helped me push back the plane (phew, I definitely can’t push a Seminole by myself!) and left me to tie down before joining him for the de-brief. Ops came out in a golf cart to give me a ride back and Lee said he’d seen my last landing and knew I’d passed. I did!!! 

The de-brief was short, followed by a handshake and paperwork I needed to get signed off, I’d just completed the basic flying stage in Arizona and was ecstatic that it had all gone okay. Staff and students alike were congratulating me all day and once again I'm struck by how friendly everyone here is. Now I just had a tonne of signatures to collect before being signed off before returning home.

*If you only fail one section on a skills test you get a partial and can retake just that section, giving you a first time, second series pass (kind of takes a bit of pressure off)

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Growing Pains

 Time to move on to the twin engine Piper Seminole stage of my flying!! Things I'm afraid of:
  1. Forgetting to put my landing gear down. 

Aside from the second engine, there are quite a lot of new things for us to get used to; the cockpit layout is different, there are 2 of every switch and they seem to be randomly all over the cockpit as opposed to all being overhead in the Archer. There’s also an autopilot (sadly we rarely get to use it as you're supposed to fly manually in the CPL) and a variable-pitch propeller to get used to.

I'm partnered with Josh again as we’re the first through to this phase and we have an introductory sim with our new instructor. The check-list manual is twice the size of the Archer and our instructor is very adamant about us learning them as quickly as possible. I was worried about forgetting my landing gear but there are multiple check-lists and an audible warning to ensure this doesn't happen. What is difficult are the power settings; every change in power requires movement on both the throttle lever and propeller levers and there are quite a few standard settings to learn. I found this quite tricky and involved quite a bit of chair flying in our home time, with our cockpit photo, to try and get used to these and the check-lists.

For the first real flight the plane felt so huge and unfamiliar, even taxiing seemed like a challenge initially due to the wider wingspan and more sensitive rudder. The rotate speed is 10 knots faster than the Archer and cruise speed was now 140! There was quite a bit more pre-flight checking and planning to be done but in the air, getting around the all-to-familiar practice area felt like a breeze. I accidently called myself an Archer quite a few times over the radio and my landings were atrocious, I felt like the rudder was way more difficult to judge and the aircraft did not require such a forceful flare. There’s also the obscured view of the runway in the circuits due to the proximity of the engines on the wings, instead of on the nose.

The other thing to contend with is engine failure, which we experienced on our 3rd flight. When an engine is cut the aircraft immediately yaws and then rolls towards the dead engine. Our job is to catch it with the rudder to maintain directional control (no easy task as you are forcing your leg against the power of the live engine, I was shaking and dripping with sweat by the time I was given the engine back) and then identify the dead engine and perform feathering drills. We actually shut down and feathered the engine in flight which looks so strange seeing one stationary propeller on the wing! We then re-started the engine in flight as unless in the event of a real emergency, we never land on just one engine.

Due to my difficulties with landing the aircraft my instructor decided to take me an airfield which would immediately fix my centreline control; if you didn't land on centreline then you didn't land on the incredibly narrow runway at Ak Chin. I was so grateful for this airport, as after a lesson of touch-and-goes and circuits here I was landing like a pro. We also practiced asymmetric circuits which meant securing the engine, maintaining rudder and doing all the normal checks before landing, all in the span of one circuit. It made me wonder what I was doing initially in the Archer when I found normal circuits really fast and hard to keep up with the plane. I suppose that’s just a sign of how far I've come during my time out here. 

It was really exciting to be flying a new aircraft and to be flying as fast but I found it a lot to get used to, there was a lot of new material to learn, the cockpit to get used to and physically it seemed to take more strength to fly (not a quality I possess). The Seminole felt really challenging to me and with only 8 flights before the big skills test; I missed the familiarity and my competence on the Archer.

…Be careful what you wish for...

It turned out that a few of us were a bit short on Archer hours which needed to be made up before taking the CPL skills test. It was decided I’d have a familiarisation flight with my instructor before another solo pottering around the practice area; it actually wasn't too bad as I really enjoyed them, just was a bit worried about becoming unfamiliar with all the Seminole practices I’d spent so long learning so close to my test. I had more hours on the Archer than my Seminole instructor so he informed me it would be a chilled out kind of flight, Chandler departure, a few manoeuvres and then circuits back at Falcon. The start-up and taxing check-lists felt very quick and blissfully easy and I was in my element back in the little Archer cockpit. On the runway, I threw the throttle forward for take-off and “Oh wow” came out of my mouth, followed by a sarcastic “yup” From Casey. We started rolling forward at a snail’s pace, the acceleration felt incredibly slow thanks to my twin engine flights, I had more admiration for the Seminole after that.

That lesson and my solo flights were pretty easy and enjoyable and again that feeling of nostalgia kicked in about how much I loved the feeling of confidence and the freedom of flying around Arizona, of all places, by myself. After that interlude of a few days of Archer flying it was back to the Seminole, to say I didn't feel confident for the test would be an understatement. Our last lesson was supposed to be a sort of mock CPL where we’d complete the test profile and hopefully your instructor did not have to intervene. Mine did and comments throughout the flight did not put my mind at ease, however in the de-brief he said any points he’d made were only finicky, tidy-up points to make us better than test standard and he assured me that he thought I was more than capable. I did feel slightly more ready…

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

APS Upset Recovery training! Cue Extra 300!

After a few days off recovering from PT4, a few of us went to Gateway Airport (uh oh, my favourite….) to complete the upset recovery module of the course. This was a part I was really excited about; I've always wanted to have a play with an Extra300! I felt pretty confident going into it having experienced aerobatics before with the cadets.

We completed the upset recovery training with an external company called APS and spent the first morning in ground school, mostly watching videos, studying a bit of PoF and learning about their ‘PUSH,ROLL, POWER, STABILISE’ technique for unusual attitude recovery. There were 6 of us in total on the course, two guys were from the American air force and were not with the academy, the rest were members of my course. The lessons were presented by a real life astronaut, which was so cool

In the afternoon we met with our instructors (they were all ex-military fast jet pilots who did this for fun!) and went for the first flight. It was amazing! Although we took off from Gateway, it felt very familiar flying around the same desert and same practice area that we've been used to this whole time. We just went a little bit (a lot) higher and had a bit more power than the Archer gave us. The cockpit was very simplistic in the front seat (the instructor is sat behind in tandem), I had only an artificial horizon indicator and an airspeed indicator, as well as a control stick, not yoke, and throttle. We couldn't take off or land (tail dragger and I'm not about to volunteer to take off and talk to Gateway tower....) but were given control after the instructor upset the aircraft and flew to and from the practice area to get a feel of it. 

During the first lesson I got to have a nice feel of the aircraft and do a few stall recoveries, the Extra stalls fantastically! You’ll go nose high, flying along fine and then all of a sudden it’ll flip a wing and you’ll be falling out of the sky with the ground above your head. It was so cool. The Push, roll, power technique is supposedly applicable to all aircraft and most unusual situations and it worked really well to solve the problem. The moment you gave it a little push on the control stick it relieves the angle of attack on the wings and breaks the stall. It was insane how well that worked; the only think that kept popping into my mind to compare it to was that scene in Avatar where Jake and his Banshee are falling, he tells it to “shut up and fly straight” and it rights itself straight away, know the one? Same deal with the Extra apparently, give it a tiny push and it’ll settle.

I've always prided myself on my iron stomach during flight and loved every second of the lesson, we did a fair few stalls in different situation; pulled some G’s and got some inversions in. Unfortunately not all members of the group faired so well and did have to reach for the sick bag during their flights.
At the end of the day we had to go home and complete an easy test (I think we all got 100%) on what we’d learnt that day, which completes the theoretical portion of the module, leaving just 2 flights left to complete.

Another early start brought us back to Gateway the next morning and it was straight into the air for our final two lessons. It was an amazing experience and I can see the practical use of upset training but mostly it felt like a reward of all our hard work so far and gave us a chance to play with an outstanding little aircraft. As my stomach had been fine the whole time, my instructor agreed to show me some proper aerobatics at the end of the final session.  I’d always wanted to try tumbling which I’d seen at air-shows before but he showed me a fair few and joked with the ground staff that he was going to try and make me ‘black out’. He did not succeed. We did +7G to -2.5G and I felt completely fine (And sort of proud that I did the most out of all the boys).

Mission objectives:
  • Stalling
  • Usual attitude recovery
  • Startle response – He asked me to update the QNH on my attitude indicator, as I reached forward he flipped the aircraft and let go, telling me to recover. The idea being that the recovery should be quick and become second nature as in real life you may not always get a warning e.g. wake turbulence.
  • Stuck Primary controls – This was really interesting. It was seeing how you could control the aircraft if one of the three primary controls (aileron, elevator, rudder) was jammed. We tried all three out and I found the hardest to work without was the rudder.

At the end of the sessions we were given a certificate for successful completion presented in a frame with a picture and poem, none other than Cpt. John Magee’s ‘Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds….’ My dad’s favourite poem! We also received a memory stick containing the go-pro footage of our entire flight's which is definitely for learning and refreshing purposes and not to be shared on Facebook to make friends jealous back home, ahem...

After that fun interlude, it’s now on to the Seminole and the home stretch of our time in Arizona!