Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc
Looking back through some of the previous posts, I realised how often an early start is mentioned. Well it had to be this time! I jumped in the car to leave Wudinna at 5am to make the 300km trip to Port Pirie. The conditions were well and truly IFR on the way through Kimba and I even resorted to switching off the high beams as they just lit up the fog more. On the way over, I made a quick stop in at Whyalla to catch up with a client for an insurance medical. He mentioned that he had suffered a large burn to his leg on a motorbike a few years ago. The resultant wound was very impressive and I asked how the flight with the RFDS was. The client said that when the GP in town had seen it, they’d just prescribed some cream. Apparently it was reassuring that the burn was white and wasn’t painful. Thankfully the practice nurse recognised the full thickness burn and organised a road transfer to the burns unit at the RAH. Sigh.
It was then time to drive around the top of the Spencer Gulf and have a spot of brekky at the golden arches. Unfortunately the weather was looking slightly dicey on the 100km stretch between the two “Ports.” There was driving rain and low level cloud that ominously obscured the adjacent southern Flinders ranges. The flying gods (or Flying Spaghetti Monster even) must have been looking out for me hough, because the weather continued to clear as the odometer clicked towards Pirie.
By 10am, I had reached my destination and pulled my car next to the hut with no sign of the Jabiru. About 30 mins later I had my answer. Earl had been up and about with a local lad who had just had his trial introductory flight (TIF). From the time newbie got out of the plane until he drove away, there was an ear-to-ear grin plastered on his face. I remember my face hurting after the first day of flying too, must have had the same problem. Seeing someone at the very start of the process also made me reflect on how far I had come. Even though it was only 12 or so hours over 6 days, it felt like ages. In fact, it had been a good month since I had been over to Port Pirie for this flying training caper. And it may have been longer. On the 1st of May a few texts had come through asking if I was ok. Evidently a light plane had crash-landed at Port Pirie Airport that day and was on the Adelaide news. So I quickly texted Earl to see if Jabba was still OK (oh and if he was OK too!). He replied to say that it had been one of the light planes that had been hangared in Pirie before being sold. The plane was a Pulsar that I had looked at with a bunch of other flyers a few weeks prior to the incident. I remember one of the guys looking at it and remarking that they’d have to pay him a lot of money to hop in. The engine was very hastily attached and the whole thing just looked shonky. So it was the Pulsars first flight (after having crashed on the previous flight) when the engine decided to cut out over the airport. One of the local ambos and aviators, Col, actually had the video of it taking off before the final ‘touchdown.’ All you could hear over the video was the owner of one of the Jabiru 230’s off to the side going “s**t, oh geez, s**t” as the plane porpoised up and down after takeoff. The whole event scored Earl and the guys a spot in an article in the local rag (Port Pirie Recorder, below) explaining how safe flying really is. It proved to be a good into for the next few days of practicing for such occurrences!
Happy that Jabba was still flying safely, we both jumped into it and conducted a few circuits. The idea was for Earl to double check I hadn’t forgotten anything drastic in the past month before consolidating my solo training. After 25 mins of some fine-tuning (remembering to pull on carby heat prior to turning base), it was time to go solo again. This time it was for a good 1.8 hours, with a break of course. Most of the circuits were routine by now, but the biggest improvement and refinement came in the final stages of landing. I had up until this point been a bit cagey about handling the controls especially just before touch down. With the repeated practices came more confidence and this in turn led to more positive, direct movements of the controls. I was happy to flick the joystick around or kick the rudder pedals with gusto. This meant that the landings became more consistent. Which was good news for my nerves.
After a spot of lunch, it was time to tackle glide approaches. Basically, landing the plane without thrust or engine, usually if the engine quit. For the first part, we would simulate this above the airfield, lucky spot for it to happen right?! It meant climbing to 2500’ above the runway and cutting the power right back. The first step was to pitch the aircraft down to attain the best gliding speed, which in our case was 65 kts. Then going through a quick checklist that would hopefully diagnose and cure the problem in the case of a real engine failure. Fuel on, quantity sufficient, fuel pump on; mixture/choke full, oil pressure/temp in green, magneto switches and lastly pump the throttle (FMOST). Failing this, there would have to be a mayday call. However if you had a passenger on board, Earl taught me to conduct the briefing first before freaking them out when calling for help on the radio! This meant explaining the situation and that I was well practiced at this event, asking them to complete a few jobs, what to do when we landed and above all not to panic when I make the distress call. Earl seemed impressed at how I managed to run through this task easily. For me, it felt a lot like explaining a medical procedure to someone (e.g. removing a skin lesion) “Now Mr Jones, today we are going to remove this wart from your head. No need to worry as I’ve done this plenty of times. There’ll be a sharp sting with the local anaesthetic to start but you won’t feel anything in that area after. Just make sure you keep still and let me know if anything is bothering you.” Well that wasn’t what I practiced in the plane, but you get the idea! The mayday call was pretty fun too, I just had to make sure the push-to-talk (PTT) button was not actually pressed when practicing the calls. You could imagine the hullaballoo caused by a fake distress call. For those interested, the mayday call sounded something like this:
“Mayday, mayday, mayday. Jabiru 7265, 7265, 7265. Currently over the field at Port Pirie descending through 2000 feet. Jabiru 160-D, engine failure. Conducting glide approach to runway one seven. 2 POB, will call when on ground.”
POB stood for persons on board. So once the routine tasks surrounding the engine failure were taken care of, it was time to land the sucker. Earl demonstrated that the aim was to get to the ‘low key point’ which was 1500’ up and abeam the runway being aimed for. For the life of me couldn’t help but think of Loki Johnk at this stage (those that used to drive up to Baxter Detention Centre in first year med will remember!). Then once turning onto final approach and absolutely sure that you could make it, some flaps could come down. Earl explained some nifty little tricks at this point in case the approach was still too high. These were sideslipping and s-turns. Sideslipping is fa technique that enables the plane to rapidly lose height while pointing in the same direction. You effect this by kicking the rudder pedals one way, while ‘twisting’ (thanks Curtis) the ailerons the other way, called crossing the controls. The Gimli glider, an Air Canada 767 that ran out of fuel in 1983 and made a forced landing on an old air force base, famously used this technique. An explanation of the landing event is below. The reason for fuel starvation was that the Canadian ground crew had forgotten to convert from pounds into kilos. Oh those crazy Canuks eh?! Sideslipping in Jabba proved very fun and I’m sure something to practice more in the future. S-turns were slightly simpler and involved making sweeping turns from side to side thereby losing more height for the distance travelled directly towards the runway. The space shuttle used these manoeuvres when attempting to reduce speed after entering the earth’s atmosphere.
In the afternoon, it was time to do some medium level turns. Up until now, I had only been turning at 15 on climb and 30 in the circuit. Being able to reef the plane over to 45 deg and watch the ground spiral around the low wing was fantastic. Entering these turns also meant careful use of the rudder in the same direction of the turn and a substantial amount of back pressure on the stick to hold the nose up. It took a few to get these feeling comfortable. Earl then showed why it was important for the back pressure to stay on as he flicked Jabba into a few early spiral dives. These happen when the nose drops in a tight turn. They are characterised by a very low nose attitude and increasing speed. If left unchecked, the speed could increase to a point that the airframe wasn’t built for and well, you know. The way to recover was to reduce power immediately, bring the wings level and gradually pull out of the dive. Of course the better way to recover from a spiral dive was not to get into one in the first place! Careful judgement of the horizon when turning could certainly achieve that. Safely back on level ground, it was time to call it a day after one or two ‘ankle juices’ as Earl calls them. Something to do with peripheral oedema I guess….
Sitting listening to the local “woo” birds, I discovered that my homework was to read up on glide approaches, the checklist associated with them and general aviation theory. Tomorrow would be the Basic Aeronautical Knowledge (BAK) exam. Before that I was lucky enough to catch up with a mate from college, watch some netball and listen to an acoustic cover band at the Portside Hotel. Some late night theory reading was the last effort for Friday before another two days of flying and exams.