Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc
The next day, Earl had us out bright and early at 7:30am as usual. The aim was to try to get some good flying in before the winds really picked up. Even though I was only 5 mins late, Earl had got the plane out of the hangar with the engine checked. This needed to be done every morning prior to the first flight and would involve checking the cylinders, looking for any wet spots of oil, the oil level itself and cabling and hoses for wear. Given that this was all set, I did my walk around and got to taxi Jabba over to near the hut by myself. It was even a strange feeling checking the outside of the plane solo. It had become a ritual, and much like an physical examination in medicine, there was a set order so as not to overlook something. “Oh, so I should feel everyone’s pulse??” Thankfully patients don’t present with ‘REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT’ tags hanging out of every orifice, well at least most don’t. Earl jumped in and we got the engine started. It was the usual game, taxi out to the gravel strip and line up in the middle. Similarly to the day before, Earl said that he wanted to just sit in the co-pilot seat and not have to interfere at all. It would be like flying with a deaf and dumb passenger, or your garden variety Port Adelaide supporter. *ducks head as West End cans fly my way*
After a couple of circuits, Earl asked me to bring the plane to a full stop on the next landing. I turned the plane around ready to taxi back to the parking bay when I heard an exciting and dreaded question “How do you feel about going up yourself?” I had to think for a bit and eventually my response was “yep, if you think I’m ready…” Earl said that I had been doing all of it myself for the last few lessons and that things were looking stable. If he was confident in my ability, I was. So he got me to taxi back up to the end of the runway and pulled out his handheld transceiver which I hadn’t seen him bring! We went over a few quick points: if you don’t like the final approach = go around, any other problems just call over the radio…or keep flying! Haha, great. So with 10.8 hours in my logbook, my instructor hopped out of the plane while it was on a runway. I waited til Earl had made it over to the side of the runway and managed a feeble little half wave/salute. Not much of a Top Gun moment, perhaps needed some “Highway to the Danger Zone” blasting. As I pushed on the power it was strange not having someone sitting next to me. A few nerves crept up as the plane sped up down the gravel. Then pure exhiliration as I lifted Jabba’s nose at 55 kts and climbed up and away. Then it hit me. Crap! I have to land this thing all by myself now. Of course I had been doing that the last few hours and lessons, but Earl had been sitting right there. 500 ft below with a small radio in his hand to talk me through it, or to help me plan a will. To elaborate any further and to wax lyrical about the circuit would be misleading as in fact the time flew past (unintentional pun). Before I knew it, the plane was lined up on final approach and I could just make out Earls figure standing just to the left side of the runway near where I should touch down. Slowly but surely the ground got bigger and bigger and it seemed I was on a good glideslope to land. The throttle was closed at windsock height and it took forever and a day for the plane to settle and decide to land. A small bounce on one wheel before the lift washed away and Jabba was firmly back on terra firma, emphasis on terror. Phew, all done. I returned to Earl who smiled and gave a big handshake. “A little bumpy” I offered, but he said it looked good from outside. All a matter of perspective I guess. The reluctance of the plane landing he said was the fact I was used to 90kg of human sitting in the right hand seat. I would have to remember to pull the power off a touch earlier in the future. So my first solo effort consisted of one whole circuit before heading in for a morning tea break. One of the local fliers had kindly driven in his speedy Nissan Z to the supermarket and bought some jam donuts and caramel slice. Earl explained that your first solo is usually quite costly as you have to buy the bar and shout everyone drinks. Lucky it was still mid morning and we would have more flying to do, so no beers this time. Eight hours from bottle to throttle of course. With the alcoholic option off, I settled for an appropriately named soft drink…..
After the break, our plan was to pop out before the wind got too strong for a few dual circuits before Earl would jump out and I would go again. Prior to getting back up there, I decided to go an empty the bladder post sugary-carbonated-beverage. The toilets were located in a little lounge/museum that had a bunch of photos from World War 2 when the strip was a bombing and gunnery school (BAGS) for the RAAF. In a very poor move by the Port Pirie Museum group, this is picture closest to the toilet door, right. Hmmm, didn’t exactly inspire confidence when about to embark on my second lot of solo flying. Bladder empty. Check. Plane powered up and ready to head on to the runway. Double check. However as we did our pre-takeoff checklist (TMPFISCH) at the holding point, three aircraft called almost simultaneously that they were inbound for Port Pirie. There was an Evektor SportStar from the previously mentioned Natfly, a UniSA Cessna 172RG and a Robinson R44 chopper needing some fuel on the way to Ceduna. Earl and I decided that we would cut a few more laps with all of the traffic so that I could get used to making the right radio calls and looking out for the planes in the circuit pattern. So after a call from the SportStar, I would scan around the sky where he should have been and would say “got him” to let Earl know that I had made visual contact. Sometimes Earl wasn’t able to see them so I’d say, “10 o’clock high” and felt as though I should have turned in to face the bandit and open fire in true Biggles style. Unfortunately Jabiru 160-Ds aren’t fitted with Browning machine guns, something that would certainly have to change if (ok, ok, when!) I buy a plane of my own. “The traffic pattern is full? Well we’ll just have to see about that!” Dukadukkadukkadukkadukkadukka, a poor attempt at machine gun onomatopoeia. I have since mentioned to Scott that following the addition of a camera bracket, the next move must surely involve some of his rifles mounted to the wings of the RV-6A (artist impression below, note: AK-47s used in place of high powered rifle).
As was usual practice for Port Pirie, the regular 3-4pm sou-westerly blew up and started making life difficult on landing. Earl demonstrated a few flapless approaches, which involved a lot more speed at a very shallow angle. But the wind got stronger and bumpier so we decided to call it a day. He said it would have been good to consolidate some of the solo practice with a bunch more circuits, but the weather wouldn’t have helped my confidence. Fair enough too, I was kind of hoping that anyway! So my total solo hours amounted to 0.2, that’s right…..12 minutes. Lots of consolidation to go, stay tuned and thanks for reading.