Once again I apologise for my lack of posting, so much has happened in the past 2 months but as always I've written notes and am more than happy to answer questions about my experiences!
After PT3, I was assigned a new flying instructor. I was a little disappointed as I got on with Lee so well and it’s always a little intimidating flying with someone new. My new instructor, Brian, turned out to be just as fun and banterous (is that a word?) as Lee so I instantly felt at ease and we got on just fine. Though he did say my approaches to land were more like a space shuttle’s than an Archer! I always prefer to be a bit high with the impression that I can always get it down, it just needed to be a little smoother and a little more stable. My course nickname (call sign because we’re nerds) is now NASA as a result J
This phase was concerned more with procedure flying such as holding patterns and simulated IMC (under-the-hood) flights so it was a little more complicated and we had a few more sims and longer briefings to learn all the theory that didn’t really sink in when studying it during ground school. Actually getting to fly the holds really made me understand them much more than I ever did when studying Air Law. We had quite a few dual flights where there wasn't so much new content to learn, it was more hour building. I had one that was 5 hours long in the cockpit with Brian, you end up feeling tired and so hot the sweat is dripping off you by the time you land. No wonder this place is a desert... We did something called the 'Valley Rally' where we went the scenic route North of Falcon, which is more mountainous terrain so students are not allowed to go here solo. The Valley Rally basically consisted of any airfield we came across, we'd descend, join the circuit, do a touch and go and carry on our merry way. It was great for me to practice my landings and also see some new airfields I hadn't been to before.
You also have a lot of hours to complete in the form of cross-country solos, the actual navigation isn't a problem any more as you get to know the area really well and pre-flight planning gets really quick and easy (and repetitive). As the weather is getting so hot here, ideal take-off time is about 5:30am which means a really early morning considering you need to check in with dispatch at least an hour before. After completing PT3 you’re also allowed to fly and land at other airports on your cross-country solos.
The first stopover was going to Ryan, which is down South and near Tucson. I had my doubts about going and landing somewhere other than Falcon and was worried about the radio, traffic, taxiing the wrong way, refuelling the plane wrong and generally mucking something up. It’s very comfortable landing at Falcon, but another controlled airport? Scary.
As it turns out I don’t think I had anything to worry about, there’s an ADF at Ryan, which is very reassuring for navigation purposes. ATC were really friendly and helpful, ground offered me taxiing directions. We have a company credit card for refuelling the planes, the difficult part was parking it. I had to stop in front of the pump, then get the tow bar out and drag the plane forward into the correct position to avoid hitting a pole. Possible, but no easy task in the Arizona sun and I'm not the strongest of people; parking at Falcon someone will normally come over and help me out. I had about half an hour in Ryan to chill, feeling really proud of myself and I got to go in the ‘pilot’s lounge’ and spoke to a lovely couple who’d flown down from Michigan (I've been there!!). It was an awkward moment when I had tried to go to the toilet and saw the door was coded, I needed to go and check my flight log as I’d already forgotten the CTAF which I’d just used.
Taxiing back and taking off again were fine, ATC are very helpful if told you’re a student solo. On the way back I had both Lee and Brian over the radio telling me to be careful and not get lost. They were joking but I really love the friendly atmosphere here and how supportive all of the instructors are.
My second land-away was to fly to Goodyear; this is the airport which Oxford used to be based at out in Arizona, it also has a small air plane graveyard going on along the edge of the incredibly long runway. I felt much more confident this time although the weather was a little dubious on the day, the cloud was pretty low. My MFD also decided it needed an update and was purple instead of green and didn't show traffic any more. I decided to keep going as I had the traffic on an inset on the PFD and listened to the practice frequency carefully. As I was entering Rainbow Valley, just beyond the Maricopa Mountains, I couldn't see ahead of me through the cloud. Definitely unsafe so I turned around and was going to divert back to Falcon. Upon nearing the town of Maricopa, I could see around the cloud and to the North of the valley, so changed my mind and decided I would go to Goodyear; it took me a little longer to get there because of the diversion so I called Dispatch and asked for an extended due-back time. You get a free sandwich and drink at Goodyear for refuelling and the guy behind the desk even recognised me from the Lee Owens movie. I was chuffed.
On the ground at Goodyear, the MFD updated itself and functioned perfectly for the rest of the flight.
On the way back, the weather still wasn't amazing, I entered some rain which doesn't affect the flying at all, I then could see heavy rain and just sheets of cloud ahead of me right through my flight path. Another diversion, it’s a good job I'm familiar with the area and the frequencies, we just have to remain in VFR at all times, so I asked an instructor over the frequency if the arrival into Falcon was clear. It was and I got back okay, it felt like a really long day though and it turns out I was the only solo out there in that weather. I feel like a real pilot doing the land-aways.