Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc
It was a very long drive from Wudinna to Pirie on the day that was slated for the dreaded certificate flying exam. Of course it took the same amount of time as the other times I’d made the trip, but it just felt like ages. Driving through Kimba, Iron Knob and Port Augusta, I tried to remember all the little things from the past few months. Radio calls, carby heat, look under the nose every 500ft when climbing, what to do in an engine failure. It was great having this down time unlike the last afternoon of flying in Wudinna when I had felt unprepared. Pulling into the familiar parking spot at the Pirie airfield, I saw that there was some coffee ready. Fantastic, I would need all the help I could get! I greeted Earl and we sat down to plan out the day. First up, a daily inspection on Jabba to check the engine, walk around and fuel drain. Looking up towards to fuelling station, I saw the flag blowing gently from the south. I’m not sure what the previous flag had been, but it was currently advertising a major luxury South Korean car manufacturer. After satisfying myself that the Jab was in better nick than a Elantra to take off, I taxied around to the apron to find out what the next step of the day was.
Earl explained that there would be time for some circuits to get the feel of flying again. It was nice to go over the things that I had practiced in the car on the drive over. Unfortunately there was no cruise control in the Jabiru and it was much more affected by the wind. Luckily there was very little wind blowing off the Spencer Gulf today. After I was pretty confident that I had remembered the necessary bits it was time to head back to the ground and get ready for the real test. On the ground I was told that a group of RAAF cadets were coming up from Goolwa to have a day of flying in their motorised gliders. Great, nice big slow gliders to provide some traffic. At least most of the flying exam would take place away from the airstrip. In fact, while Earl and I planned the day, some of the cadets were walking around outside. Some had army fatigues on, but one hotshot was striding around in a full flight suit complete with aviator sunglasses. Needless to say he looked as douchy as the guy in this costume picture (right). Ah well, I guess everyone needs to start somewhere and he may well be the future of our fighter squadrons. I just hope he doesn’t get Goose killed. The gliders themselves were pretty neat. One was much older and the other was a new Diamond. They looked like a light plane with much bigger wings. Basically they could take off and cruise under their own power, but then switch the engine off and glide much further than a regular plane. Unfortunately one of their radios wasn’t working very well so all that was transmitted was a bunch of static. That made it quite difficult to work out where they were and what they were intending to do. At least the big wings were easy to spot! The newer plane’s radio was working well but no so much the guy working it. At one point he called that he was on final approach to runway 37. Apparently his compass had an extra few degrees on it. Kind of like a platform 9 ¾ of the muggle aviation world. Soon it came my turn to get up into the air and fortunately the wind remained little more than a Hufflepuff…..
Earl jumped into the right hand seat and we taxied for the training area off runway 35 (not 37!). So far, so good. But there would be plenty more to come. Suffice to say that 1.1 hours of flying around without much feedback was terrifying. Every switch, movement of the stick or turn of the head was either right or wrong. But I couldn’t ask if it was! Luckily there was no need for Earl to grab the stick or to tersely remind me of something important. We conducted some steep turns in which I managed to stay within 100 ft of altitude with the balance ball centred. There was a practice engine failure which also was successful, as much as an engine failure CAN be successful. Which reminds me, I had come across a YouTube video of a guy in the UK who had a camera on when his engine did fail.
There was also a precautionary search and landing where I had forgotten to climb back up to 500 ft before cutting the next few laps. Followed by some general flying around the area and the regular radio calls involved when approaching the airfield. The one coming in from my exam sounded like:
“Traffic Port Pirie, Jabiru 7265 is currently one zero miles to the southwest. Inbound at 2,500 estimate circuit time four two. Port Pirie”
It worked out that the motorised gliders were having a break by the time that we joined the circuit and landed. It was an average landing, but all three wheels were safely back on the ground. I taxied Jabba back over to the apron and fitted him into a spot amongst the ungainly gliders. As soon as I turned off the avionics and switched the engine off, Earl stuck out a hand and said congrats. Passed! What a feeling! 11 days and 25 hours of flying to get to this point. The reason that felt like it had gone quickly was because it had. It felt like yesterday that I was on a plane back from Canberra in late March to have my first lesson. But I had learnt so much and started to feel confident in moving the plane around the sky. Jumping out of the Jab, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. There was time for a quick photo next to my trusty friend before heading inside with the master instructor to debrief.
I was told that it was a solid effort with one or two things to improve on. One was certainly the prec/search and landing described earlier. Another was to watch the airspeed and not let it get too low when turning to come in for a forced landing. Spinning into the ground isn’t a good look. We filled in the log book and paperwork to be sent off for my certificate and I had a celebratory soft drink. The ankle juice would have to come later as I had planned to go for a solo flight around the local area after lunch. Having the certificate done and dusted meant that I could fly within a 25 nautical mile radius from Port Pirie without landing. There was also a limit on not carrying passengers. To lift these restrictions meant passing passenger carrying and cross-country endorsements. Pax carrying involved getting up to 10 hours of solo flying with a quick check flight. Cross country endorsement consisting of a written navigation/meteorology (nav/met) exam, 2-3 navigation exercises (Navexs) with one solo. Damn, passed the certificate stage and already there would be more tests!
After a quick spot of Subway from the correct store this time, I grabbed the keys and walked out to Jabba. Even though I had flown solo for 6 hours, this time it felt different. Now I could get out there and fly anywhere (ahem, within the 25 nm) but it still felt very liberating. The first thought was, where should I fly too? Given that I driven the Port Pirie – Jamestown Rd many times, I thought it would be nice to see it from the air. So I took off and turned for the southeast towards some silos that looked like Crystal Brook. Following the train line to the east brought me to Gladstone. It was great seeing the jail and old train line from 1000 feet up. Everything looked very peaceful, even though I knew people would be looking back up hoping that annoying little plane would bugger off! After a good hour or so, which would contribute to the pax carrying endorsement, I made beeline for Pirie. On the way there was a fair bit of turbulence from the wind hitting the southern Flinders ranges and angling up. Once over them, things smoothed out and the lead smelter chimney became a useful landmark to aim at. Safely back on the ground, I updated my logbook and had a few red cans. Again, it would be another 2 weeks before flying again and starting the navex’s. But there was a nice feeling of achievement to last me until then, which was only strengthened when getting back to Wudinna. As I opened the front door at Dr. Scott’s house, I was greeted by his 4-year-old son (a self proclaimed co-pilot himself) who welcomed me with “HELLO PILOT!” A great way to finish a long day and a blur of training days that led to it. Thanks to everyone who has followed the flying training part of my blog and especially those for the support and encouragement. Biggest thanks to Earl for putting up with my flying training and Scott for being the push in the back that I needed to start the journey. Stay tuned for the navigation training and beyond.