Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc
A lovely Mid North morning greeted me as I walked out of one of the John Pirie Motor Inn suites to my car. With little cloud cover, it had been an absolutely freezing night. So much so that some of the dew had frozen across my windscreen. But this wasn’t the only issue with the ol’ Subaru Outback. As I turned the ignition, the warning lights flashed on and disappeared one by one. All but three! A quick trip to the glovebox produced the car manual. Perhaps the second time that I had consulted this reference, the first being when I couldn’t find the windscreen spray button (the same person learning to fly a plane, scary I know). It turned out that the warning lights were indicating issues with the exhaust system, traction control and cruise functions. The first two depicted by rather cryptic pictures, the latter represented by a helpful big green ‘CRUISE.’ No guessing there. Being at least 300 km from the closest Subaru dealer I decided to drive to the airport and worry about it later. Hopefully Jabba wouldn’t have such warning light issues. I met Earl outside the hangar and told him about my car trouble as we checked over the little Jabiru. He explained that such warning lights were easily fixed. You need to find and remove the little light responsible. But what about when the engine starts coughing and spluttering halfway between Iron Knob and Kimba? (i.e. middle of nowhere). That was also simply solved he reckoned: just turn up the radio louder (the same person teaching me to fly, scary I know).
When we brought Jabba around to park on the apron next to the flying school ‘hut,’ I realised that it would not just be me doing practice circuits. The tarmac next to the airport also doubled on Saturdays as a motorbike training centre. The Rider Safe program aims to teach basic skills to novice bike riders, or as I have heard them called ‘temporary Australians.’ It was quite entertaining watching the newbies taking off too quickly or standing on the front bakes. Conversely, I’m sure they’d have a good chuckle and some of the bounces or float landings that I’d been guilty of. Before getting back out to such flying capers it was unfortunately time for another exam. This was the Basic Aeronautical Knowledge exam. It contained lovely questions like what distance from clouds do need to stay, which side should you overtake on, what (apart from time for the gym) does the barbell sign on an airfield mean? Again I demonstrated my flair for remembering aviation laws and not medical topics by getting 96%.
As a prize for my good work, I was able to jump in the plane and practice some glide approaches by myself. Even though I had only been shown these yesterday, Earl had got me to read over the theory in the flight training manual overnight. Now this was real flying! Not just pedestrian circuits around and around. Doing glide approaches meant climbing straight out and turning in a lazy circuit back above the field to pull the throttle right off. From there on you had to judge the glide and land without the benefit of adding or reducing power. It brought a real sense of flying the plane properly and I suspect that being in proper gliders gives you the same feeling. After an hour of this no-power joy it was time to return gently to solid ground and have some lunch. Subway seemed like a good idea, so I tried the trick of calling ahead and pick up. This time, unlike Day 3, I made sure that the right restaurant had been called. Once lunch was all squared away, Earl gave me a briefing for the afternoon flying session. I was going to head out solo to the west and practice some forced landings onto the salt lakes. He also said to throw in some medium level turns for good measure. For a third time, I had the greatest feeling of freedom taking off and flying off to the west of the airport. Even though I was limited to the training area which covered a good few nautical miles, there was a huge sense of independence. Again it was analogous to getting your drivers licence and heading out wherever you wanted. Then comes the point where you paint a big stripe on it and chuck a subwoofer with down lights in the back, or maybe that’s still just for cars pulling ‘Chap laps’ (the Melbourne version of chucking a ‘Mainey’). Soon enough it was time to pop Jabba back in the hangar and put away a few more ankle juices.
Thankfully I drove off just before the mining charter plane touched down and rush hour from the airport was on. One black Commodore still managed to catch up doing 140 km/h and overtaking me on double lines in an 80 zone. The number plate said it all. I was lucky to catch up with some great friends at Sporty’s Tavern for a counter meal and laugh at the locals. Unfortunately the change from dinner didn’t return any dividends on the pokies, but at least the kids where well behaved. We finished off the night with a coffee at Portside Tavern with a very different (and smaller) crowd from the night before. Being a country town, I even spotted the young fella who had gone for his first flight the day before with a face still like the Cheshire Cat. Another few hours of studying was crammed in, as the last three ground exams would be upon me in the morning.