Category Archives: RA-Aus

Flying training vs. GP training

At the beginning of 2012,  I was fortunate enough to commence community based general practice training in rural South Australia with Adelaide to Outback GP Training. But before heading out into ‘GP land’ for a year, I interviewed at two practices in the country. Subsequently, I had this conversation with the second practice and GP supervisor:

GP supervisor on ground and air

GP supervisor on ground and air

Supervisor: “Just drive to Port Pirie and I’ll pick you up from there”

Gerry: “But I could just drive the whole way”

S: “No, no. I’ll fly there and pick you up”

G: “Oh, do you have a plane?”

S: “I’ve got two”

G: “Wow, flying is something I’ve always thought about doing sometime”

S: “Well we need to talk…”

And so I started my first GP placement and my flying training after generous encouragement from Dr. Scott. Following this first year of starting both country GP and flying training, I started to notice some similarities between the two. But GP training is not the first within the medical field to be compared to the aviation industry.

Biggles ready for takeoff (or cuddles)

Biggles ready for takeoff (or cuddles)

Anaesthetics has famously been linked to aviation in the past. And it’s not limited to both sharing the first letter of the alphabet. The obvious comparison involves the separate components of a typical flight and anaesthesia. Take off or induction, cruise on autopilot or maintenance and finally landing, or recovery. The other obversed similarity is that both professions can operate on the basis of 99% boredom, 1% sheer terror (or as one doctor so eloquently put, that moment of “S**T S**T S**T!“). The concept of anaesthetics learning from aviation was first described to me by a consultant as a 4th year student at Flinders Medical Centre. He discussed the case of Elaine Bromiley, who tragically died after unfortunately falling into the can’t intubate/can’t ventilate scenario. Her husband, an airline pilot, questioned the lack of standard operating procedures and checklists that were commonplace in his field. Dr. Leeuwenburg in KI commented in late 2011 on this association and brought to my attention an amazing analogy involving the dashing British flying ace Biggles found here (well worth a read).

But having completed some time in both GP and aviation fields recently, I would argue that general practice training has some similarities to flying training…

Ground/book theory:

In flying training, there is a substantial amount of theory that needs to be learnt prior to gaining a recreational or private pilot licence. These are often in the form of books and sometimes a discussion with the flight instructor. Many medical courses require a few years of theory and required knowledge before being ‘let loose’ on the patient population. In the past it boiled down to knowing the nuts and bolts of the field in question before taking to the air or wards. Nowadays the curriculum for both flying and medical training integrates both practical and theory from the outset.

Easier to read than Harrisons any day...

Easier to read than Harrisons any day…

Simulator training:

As a young lad I was a sucker for Microsoft Flight Simulator and took great (nerdy) joy in pretending to fly planes around the world. From top airline pilots to those learning to fly small aircraft, simulator training remains an inexpensive and safe way to practice emergencies. The same is true in general practice using mannikins, standardised patients and Observed Simulated Clinical Examinations (OSCE). These enable practice, honing of skills and assessment of doctors in a way that is safer for real patients.

I don't feel well doctor

I don’t feel well doctor

Difficult techniques:

In flying, it is important to practice difficult landings regularly. These can involve crosswind technique which need complex control inputs that allow the plane to land safely. Importantly, different crosswind conditions are tackled as no two landings or winds are the same. This is similar to GP where each patient is an individual, each one requiring different techniques. Especially ‘cross patients’.

Logbooks:

Pilots are very familiar with maintaining a proper logbook and it’s something that I started last year when I took to the skies. Logbooks are a great way to demonstrate your experience in a clear and consistent format. I have also found it good to look back and relive the journey, much as this blog has helped. We are also required to keep a procedure log for the different skills that we might be exposed to and learn during our GP training. This is an online platform and has been beneficial (and will continue to be good) in highlighting any deficiencies that need to be addressed.

Written and practical exams:

Flight computer and heart listening thingo

Flight computer and heart listening thingo

It goes without saying that both aviation and medicine require thorough assessment of candidates who are entering a high stress workplace that has very little margin for error. Therefore both fields undergo a number of both practical and written exams to ensure that these fledgeling pilots/clinicians are of a reasonable standard. Fortunately, aviation exams are infinitely more fun, but on windy days can be just as nausea provoking as medical exams.

First solo/consultation:

Then the time comes after hours of learning theory and practicing procedures, landings, consultations, takeoffs, examinations and stalling (applicable to both fields!) for the pupil to go it alone. [Side track: Go It Alone being a fantastic track by Beck with a guest bass guitar by Mr Jack White]. It’s time for the first solo flight or consultation! Both will always be memorable, a mixture of sheer terror and adventure. However in both areas, the supervisor or flight instructor is only a room or radio call away respectively. Fortunately in GP if things are going pear shaped, your supervisor can come in person to help. In the air, you’re on your own and may end up literally pear shaped.

Technology:

Throughout training in both fields there is a massive base of shared knowledge available. Increasingly, many of these resources are online and even use novel platforms like smart phones and tablets. YouTube videos can also explain difficult concepts ranging from crosswind technique to vertical mattress suturing. The advent of free open access information has started to take off in emergency and critical care medicine and I wonder if something similar might begin in flight training.

Worried when your taller than the plane...

Worried when you’re taller than the plane…

Ongoing review:

In private aviation, there is a requirement for a biennial flight review (BFR). This involves a check flight with an instructor to make sure that no bad habits have formed. Similarly, all GP registrars (trainees) within most training providers, a medical educator visit (MEV) takes place. This is an opportunity twice a semester for another doctor to sit in on consultations to see how the registrar is progressing and if there are any problem behaviours developing or major gaps in knowledge.

Acronyms:

CHF, CHT, PPL, PVD, RA-Aus, RSI, EFIS, ETT, GPS, GPRA, APO, APU…enough said. Both fields are often afflicted with what I like to call acronym overload or AO for short.

So as you can see, there are plenty of similarities. This probably highlights the fact that both fields need to produce highly trained practitioners that often work in stressful environments. Their assessments need to involved observed work so that their performance can be best judged. In many ways medicine has learn a lot from the aviation field. But I have certainly applied much of my medical knowledge or communication skills to aviation. Happy to hear your thoughts!

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Flying training: Day 11

Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc

Day 11

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.

Just wait til they start building planes….

Negative ghost rider

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…..

Just keep glidin’, just keep glidin’

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.

Gerry and Jabba, good teamwork

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!

Airborne surveillance for Pringles AG

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.

Lots of grain storage in Gladstone

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Flying training: Day 10

Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc

Day 10

VH-RSB. Where for art thou Romeo?

Had it already been 10 days of flying training? Over the space of 3 months, well yes it had. Of course there was some flying study and flying practise with my GP supervisor Scott in between. This particular week, my instructor Earl was on the way down from up north in the Gawler Ranges doing a few flights with a guy who owned a Piper Cub. Unfortunately there had been a problem with his carburettor that meant the instructing had to be put on hold. So it was that Earl arrived in Wudinna on a Wednesday instead of Friday. After getting the morning excisions done at the hospital, the afternoon was clear for another day of training myself. Before heading up in the Jabiru, I had the opportunity of heading up with a local farmer to have a quick flight to look around his property east of the town on the way to Kimba. He had been planning to build an airstrip and wanted some tips on location. Earl was also his instructor on his quest towards PPL. So we all loaded into his Cessna 172N and roared into the Eyre air (ha!). After an hour of looking at potential landing strip sites away from trees and power lines near his farm sheds, we made a beeline back to YWUD. The landing was very smooth with the Cessna’s huge barn door flaps (left of picture, above) giving a great view over the nose on final approach.

Final approach, Runway 14

This local farmer, despite not flying much day to day, had kept his Cessna in good condition. The same couldn’t be said for some of the other light planes in the hangar. I remember back to Scott early in my GP training saying that planes are built to fly and the best way to keep them in good condition is to get them into the air regularly. Speaking of planes looking trashed, Scott had put the Piper Aztec/truck in for refurbishment at Parafield Airport. Dropping in one day, he found it in a sad state and posted quite a miserable photo of the plane on Facebook. I guess that’s what you get for parking a plane near Salisbury (pretty much the Frankston/Campbelltown/Palmerston/Rockingham/Redcliffe version of Adelaide). At the time of writing, it will only be another few weeks until the new panel and rebuilt engines are installed. It will certainly look and fly like a different aircraft with a full glass cockpit and more powerful engines. In fact we only realized recently that the Aztecs registration was VH-JSB and the aforementioned Cessna’s rego VH-RSB. Romeo and Juliet in the phonetic alphabet. Love was certainly in the air. (what did I say about Dad jokes, no apologies!)

“YO DAWG, WE PUT A PLANE IN YO PLANE, SO YOU CAN BE FLY WHILE YOU FLY” – Xzibit, Pimp My Ride

As the afternoon sun started to make its way across the sky, Earl and I fired up Jabba and rolled onto runway 32 to begin some more training. Today would be a refresh of some of the techniques learnt in the last few sessions. Forced landings, precautionary search and landings, steep turns, flapless landings and stalls. Although it was stuff I had done before, it was exciting because I knew that the final flying exam would be soon! As mentioned previously, I was lucky enough to do some flying with Scott in his RV-6A, especially cutting laps in the circuit. This meant that I was familiar with the airfield and some of the landmarks to guide me. Unfortunately it didn’t help with my force of habit in declaring “Traffic Port Pirie” over the radio on a few occasions. Luckily there was no other traffic to be confused by my misleading position calls, and I was only 300 kms west of Pirie, not too bad.

Chopper Read closes in on Stevey J

A few simple refreshing circuits got me used to flying the Jabiru once again. But it was after two or three of these that I started to get very sore shoulders and back. The night before had been a very intense gym and oval session at footy training. For the past 4 months I had been playing footy for the Wudinna United Magpies who play in the Mid West SA Country Footy League. Even in the B’s (called ‘bees’ by a certain Canadian doctor) the skill level wasn’t too bad and the Maggies reserves had actually won the GF in 2011. Somehow I managed to get into the best for my first game in Poochera. I think as much as an encouragement award let alone any actual football prowess/vague talent. Training attendance and even games on Saturday had been hit and miss as I had been on call for the hospital at times. The benefit being on call for home games usually meant some interesting injuries coming through ED. So far there has been metacarpal fractures (from smothering a kick, not punching), lip laceration (from punching) and A/C joint subluxation. That’s not including my own PIPJ dislocation at footy, but more on that in a later blog. Some of the flying took us over the town of Wudinna and I was able to find my house and the beautifully kempt footy oval.

Ahh all the lovely colours, oh…..wait

Despite the moderate myalgia and severe whinging on my part, the training refresh went OK. As far as steep turns went, I struggled to hold Jabba in a 45 degree bank. Not only must you ‘twist the ailerons’ for this but also pull back on the stick to keep the nose from dropping. The short aerodynamic explanation of this is that as the wing is banked, the plane loses some vertical component of lift and the nose drops requiring more back pressure on the control stick (happy for Scott or any medical students to correct </injoke>). I guess it was my frustration with some of this that also meant that during prec/search/landing practice, I forgot one or two pre-landing checks. Engine failures were pretty good, but again I was a little bit rusty on the radio calls and passenger briefing. The other reason that I was a little less prepared was perhaps that I hadn’t had a 2-3 hour drive prior to flying. Driving to Pirie meant having time to practice radio calls and thinking about the different procedures beforehand. It seemed going straight from lesion cut-outs at Wudinna Hospital to flying wasn’t conducive for effective learning. At least I was able to land on both the gravel and tarmac strips without much hassle.

(Note the stroboscopic effect of the propellor causing horizontal lines when facing into the sun, i.e. freaking out the camera!)

The only thing to get used to in Wudinna was the fact that the aerodrome was already 300 ft above sea level. This meant a circuit height of 1300 ft and re-thinking about the altitudes on base and final approach legs. I had been spoilt that Pirie was at sea level. Again having flown with Scott in the same circuit meant this change in altitude wasn’t completely new. However, it was nice doing them in the Jabiru rather than his RV-6A. The main reason being a snail-like 12-minute time to complete the circuit compared with the hasty 3-4 minutes in the RV!! By the time we had covered everything I needed to go over before going for the certificate exam it was late afternoon. Time to pick up some stuff from the medical clinic; head home and then re-convene at the hotel for a few beers and a pub meal. Over a few ankle juices, Earl worded me up that the next time I was in Pirie would be the big day. Stay tuned…….dun dun dun!

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Published!

Is it bad that I have been published in an aviation magazine before a medical journal of note? Hah! Who cares?! I have loved reading Sport Pilot since getting my student licence, so it was an amazing surprise/honour to write a regular column. Click on the picture below to have a quick read, but if you are interested in flying at all…get out and buy it! $7.70, bargain.

No caption required, oh…..wait….

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Flying training: Day 8

Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc

Day 7

DANGER WILL ROBINSON, DANGER!!!

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).

All aboard the Donor-cycle

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%.

Also serve as ballast in the Jabiru

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.

Everyone is soft when scraped off the bitumen

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.

Preferably strapped to their chairs

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Flying training: Day 7

Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc

Day 7

What frequency is the damn ILS for Kimba??

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.

Hai, Porto Pirie Aerodromu desu!!

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!

Earl and Jabba, far right

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.”

Might be more interesting in the F-15 depicted

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.

The end result of a well executed spiral dive

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….

“WOOOO!” – A typical woo bird

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.

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Flying training: Day 6

Towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate: @ruralflyingdoc

Day 6

The prop on the front goes round and round….

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*

So you slipped in the shower right?

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…..

Low on fizz so you can slam it down fast…..the drink that is

Hope the flying training has improved since ’43

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).

Too close for missiles, switching to guns

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.

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