Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc
Once again the sun clambered its way up and over the southern Flinders Ranges and the day had come for my last three ground exams. I checked out of the John Pirie Motor Inn thinking that they had possibly chosen the wrong form of transport for their sign (right). Perhaps a fully sick VN Commodore (WARNING: link contains strong language and bogan activity) would be more appropriate for this town. In fact the boat was the ‘John Pirie,’ which was the first vessel to navigate the creek running next to the town, now full of lead. But history aside, it was time to head to the airport. But first a quick detour to the local golden arches. I picked up a trio of coffees and hash browns for Earl, myself and Col. It seemed a little hypocritical negotiating the drive-thru at McDonalds after re-learning about the causes of heart disease as part of the Human Performance Factors (HPF) exam. The study material for this particular exam comprised a 132-page booklet that was more complicated than Boron’s Medical Physiology. Amongst the heavily worded text were some gem phrases (italics, bolding and brackets are all directly copied from the book):
- “Heart disease can lead to loss of licence (or worse!)”
- “Pregnant women (pilots) should check with their doctor when to cease flying”
- “Gastro-intestinal problems are the most common cause of total pilot incapacitation”
- “Fatty and other gas forming foods (e.g., cabbage, ‘baked beans’) should be avoided when flying as they can cause indigestion”
I reckon gas-forming foods should be avoided in ANY small enclosed space shared with other people, as they can produce total incapacitating flatulence. In all seriousness though, there might well be scope for this part of the RA-Aus ground based theory to be updated or at least re-written in a simpler style. When time permits, I’m hoping to email the authors and see if they’d like a quick edit, so watch this space. Overly complex medical questions aside, I passed the Radio, Air Legislation and HPF exams. Again this was better than most of my medical exams at 100%, 82% and 92% respectively. While doing these MCQ’s in the office, Earl had left his VHF handheld radio on. I was nice to hear the radio calls from the first student of the day flying around the circuit.
Just as I’d finished the HPF exam though, there was a different callsign on the radio. “Foxtrot Victor Echo, a PC-12” (VH-FVE) was inbound. Another RFDS plane. As Jabba was downwind on runway 17, the big turboprob ducked in for a short final approach for runway 26. Being out at Wudinna, there’d been plenty of opportunity to meet some of the RFDS pilots and nurses as we flew out sick patients. It was always nice to head out and say g’day. But when the door opened up two red jumpsuited figures popped out. It was a MedStar retrieval. But the SAAS ambulance or taxi hadn’t showed up to take them to the hospital yet! So I introduced myself and offered them a lift in my station wagon if their ride didn’t rock up in the next few minutes. Turns out that’s what happened and all of the medical supplies were bundled into the back of the Subaru Outback on the 10-minute trip to Port Pirie Hospital. They told me that the patient was a teenager who had been having convulsions and deranged LFTs, possibly post exam stress like me. By the time I got back Earl had finished with the next student and was getting through that mornings Sudoku. He was so confident, he was using a pen…no turning back there.
Then it was my turn for some more emergency procedure training. Day 7 was the first taste of immediate forced landing practice in the event of engine failure. Today we would cover what to do if the engine was running rough, the weather closed in or someone on the plane became acutely ill (i.e. total incapacitation due to baked bean gas for example). That is, making a precautionary search and landing. Being able to chose and inspect an unprepared field before landing on it. After choosing the field and going through landing checks, an urgency call was made (similar to the distress call, but instead of mayday it’s: Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan). ‘Panne’ is the French word for a mechanical failure or breakdown of any kind, fortunately it’s not derived from the Italian language:
“Bread-bread, bread-bread, bread-bread. Jabiru 7265 is suffering acute carbohydrate overload….”
Following the distress call and choosing your field, a quick mnemonic was used to help assess the suitability of your landing area and direction. WOSSSSS:
- Wind (try land into wind)
- Obstacles (trees, powerlines, livestock)
- Size and shape of field
- Surface and slope
- ‘Shoots’ (undershoots and overshoots, ie space before and after the landing)
- Sun (position relative to final approach planned)
- Si(c)ivilisation (proximity for assistance after landing)
It was nice to know that there is a good way to remember such an important checklist, but also that it wasn’t just the medical field that shoehorns in a word without the right letter at the end of mnemonic phrases. The six F’s of a distended abdomen anyone? Fat, Faeces, Flatus, Foetus, Fluid, F%#$-off tumour. Similar to glide approaches, the flying involved with precautionary search and landing was enormously satisfying. The idea was to fly a couple of 500 foot circuits (they are usually at 1000 feet) and to inspect a field (for me, between Port Broughton and Pirie) at lower and lower altitudes. First pass was conducted at 500 ft, then 200 and finally 50 ft. It was great zooming down that low and turning to line up with a field that you’d chosen much higher. When it came time to practice the landing, Earl would let me get ever so close to the paddock before saying “go around.” Straight away it was full throttle on and a quick climb away from the hard, scary ground. There were times when I thought he might have actually let me land!! When we arrived back over the airport, I went and filled up the fuel tanks at the bowser. Earl gave me the swipe card to use and after Jabba was topped up I popped the card in my pocket and brought him back to the main apron.
Before the day’s flying was over, we had time to practise a few crosswind landings now that a nice breeze had blown up. The idea was to point the plane into the wind on final approach and ‘crab’ down to landing. This meant flying a bit sideways, which was fun. What wasn’t fun was then straightening the plane up and stopping it from drifting across the runway. For this, lots of rudder and aileron input was needed. The rudder used to straighten up and wing held down into the side of wind. I found it pretty difficult transitioning to the straight flying while at the same time holding the plane off and letting it land. It was kind of like patting your head, rubbing your tummy and filling out Sudoku with your foot. Mixed in with this was making the radio calls around the circuit, which was at 500 ft! It made for a very busy cockpit and my radio calls were a lot quicker as a result:
After the crosswind troubles, we called it a day and went back to the office to go over the movements of the plane at the transition point using a model (above). A few days later waiting for a plane at Port Lincoln, I found a very old and hokey, but informative video explaining crosswind landing techniques (below). It seems that most of my learning and thinking about these sort of skills happen after I have been flying, so that next time is all about consolidation and putting it into practice.
Then came the long drive back to Wudinna. On the way, the Outback needed some petrol at Port Augusta and I thought that I would fill the stomach as well. To ease the gastronomic complaints, Shell had a Chiko offer too good to refuse. However, when I pulled out my EFTPOS card to pay, I noticed an extra card in my pocket. Of course I had forgotten to give back the Port Pirie fuel card from earlier in the day. I called Earl straight away and offered to drive the 2 hour round trip to drop it off. But he said to check it in the mail and that they could do without it for the next few days. Perhaps they could siphon some gas from the other planes in the hangar?! When I got back to Wudinna, I told Scott what had happened. With his newly renewed night VFR rating and a beautiful clear night, what else were we going to do? Post it back? Pish posh. So the next evening after a day of consulting, we jumped in the RV-6A and shot across to Port Pirie on an inky black night. Highlights along the way included lighting up Kimbas pilot activated lighting (PAL), flares being set off in the Cultana Army training area and me asking what would happen with an engine failure in the dark over scrubby terrain. The answer was similar to Earl’s theory for car warning lights. “When you are coming close to touchdown, turn the landing lights on. If you don’t like what you see….turn them back off.” Earl met us at Pirie (although he wanted to say “welcome to Portland” to confuse us) and stole the card back after we fuelled up using it. The cost would be added to my next lesson, which was fine by me given the great experience. Flying at night was very peaceful, simply watching the GPS count down the nautical miles back to Wudinna (where my next day of training was going to be while Earl was across for some other students).