Friday February 26th, 11am, VH-TUR, 1.6H

Tai waiting for take-off
The line

Today I flew the same route as Tuesday, but I brought my partner Tai along. Because of the problems with the tach in TUR Chieftain told me I had to take one of the CFI’s along as a safety pilot – not a problem and nice insurance to have the local knowledge. Jamie flew with us (the CFI from the first day), a real nice guy and a pleasure to fly with. Not to bore you with all the details again, we took-off on 11C, exited on left downwind and then flew north along the Bankstown lane of entry to Patonga, then out to Barrenjoey Head.

At this point I called up Sydney Radar on the area frequency and requested clearance into controlled airspace. The call went something like this, “Sydney Radar, Skyhawk TUR, at Barrenjoey Head, 1,500’, request clearance Long Reef, Manley, Harbor Bridge”. They asked us if we had filed a flight plan, which we had not, so they told us to standby and that there may be a delay entering the harbor. Finally, they came back with a squawk code. We flew on down the coast to Long Reef about which time we were told to contact Sydney Departures. Here we had to ask for the clearance again. The clearance when it came was a bit confusing, “Skyhawk TUR, cleared Manley, ….bridge, orbit …..bridge”, the “…..bridge” was some local landmark not marked in the chart and I never caught the name. I looked at Jamie and said “You answer the call”. He really hadn’t expected the second landmark either so he kind of struggled to reply, but did a good job. Finally he realized where they were talking about and he pointed it out to me (just a small bridge) as we flew over Manley. We had to orbit here waiting to get clearance into the Harbor. After one turn, we received “cleared to harbor bridge, remain north of north shore and east of harbor bridge, report orbits complete”. This was a little disappointing, normally I understand that you are asked to “remain north of south shore”, which allows you to actually fly along side the bridge and the opera house. Still, we made two orbits at 1,500’ in the area we were given and the view was pretty spectacular. The next call went something like “TUR, orbits complete, request South Head, Victor One”. South Head is the south entrance to the harbor and the start of the Victor One route down along the coast. Once over the head we were told to squawk VFR. There was a helicopter at 1000’ over the North Head flying south. So rather than just turn south and descend to 500’ I flew across the helicopters path (500’ higher than him) and made a descending left turn to drop down to 500’ and came in behind and below him. This was a nice maneuver and I wish I’d thought of it, but it was Jamie’s idea.

Sydney Harbour
Bondi Beach
Warwick Fark (Top left)

We followed the same route back to Bankstown as we did on Tuesday, Victor One south to Jibbon Point and on to Stanwell Park. Then a turn inland flying west until you cross the freeway. Then turn right and follow it north to the Bankstown approach point at Two RN. After the standard call in and we were told to make straight in for runway 11C. This time nobody got in my way on the turn to final. Other than being a bit high over Warick Farm (and so needing a rather steep descent with full flaps) the landing was good. Luckily Jamie opened his window as were taxied back because Tai lost his breakfast out the window, he was fine the whole way, but I think the steep descent at the end just pushed him over the edge. Still, he didn’t seem too concerned and felt better once he was out of the plane back at Chieftain. Today’s flight was great! what a sensation to visit a beautiful place like Sydney and then to fly around it in your own little plane.

Wednesday February 26th, 11am, VH-TUR, 1.1H

Back again today to East Hills station. It has been raining and there is a fine wind blowing. I called Chieftain from the station and this time another CFI called Peter came to pick me up. On the drive to the airport we went over yesterday’s flight in particular the landing and my experience in the USA. He assured me he “knew what I was doing wrong” and would help me fix it. I know I’m still a low time pilot, but with more than 200 landings some of which were actually good enough to earn a PPL, I was a bit taken aback being talked to like a pre-solo student. Still, he is the teacher, so I might as well let him teach and see what happens. We drove straight over to the CASA office to pick up my CoV, as predicted it required a flight review from an Australian CFI to be valid. Peter told me he could do the review. We would do pattern work and depending on that would decide if any other airwork was needed.

Back at Chieftain I did the preflight on VH-TUR, the lone Cessna 172. On the outside it looked great, new paint and pretty clean. It had the big oversize tires you see on planes that spend a lot of time on soft runways. The inside was pretty nice too, except for the instrument panel which was a mess (cosmetically) all the required switches and dials worked, well almost all, the primer was INOP and the Tach was fine as long as you only wanted to know your RPM +/- 200 (it bounced all over the place). The avionics was old, an ADF and a single NAVCOM radio. The flaps are operated with a toggle switch, up for flaps up, center to stop and down for flaps down. So for 10 degrees of flaps you flip the switch down and count for 3 seconds then flip it back to center (and repeat for each additional 10 degrees you want). There was a little dial that indicates the current angle of the flaps.

A cold start without a primer by pumping the throttle three times, I not quite sure what this does, but the engine started right up. Then another taxi across the grass and over to the 11C/11R run-up area. No problems with the run-up and other than the tach the plane was running fine. We called up the tower at the hold-short line for 11R, “Bankstown Tower, Cessna Tango Uniform Romeo holding short 11R, ready for takeoff, closed circuit training, information Tango”. Then a normal takeoff and into the right traffic pattern at Bankstown.

Well its been a while since I did any pattern work and that coupled with a crosswind from the left of about 8~10 knots made for some interesting landings. Actually none of them were terrible, but I never really felt that I got the side slip stable on final and there was more sideways movement on touch down than I’d like. The radio work is a little different, you report to the tower on downwind, “Cessna Tango Uniform Romeo, downwind for touch & go”. They just reply “Tango Uniform Romeo, Roger”. Then when you are on final you get your clearance to land, sometimes this doesn’t come until short final and it was a real distraction at that point. I much prefer teh way the US controllers work, get your clearance on or before downwind, then you don’t need to talk to them again until your down. On the second time around Peter says, “Let me show you an Aussie landing”. So I gave him the controls to see what he would do different. I’ll try and be charitable, maybe it was a while since he flew the Skyhawk, but the landing and go around he performed were crap. I really think he was trying to show off by doing everything at the same time. He waited until starting to turn base before dropping any flaps, then did it as we were making the turn. He never flew the base leg, just a big 180 turn dropping in the 30 degrees of flaps on the way. We were low on long final and he had to compensate for that. Just before the flare he initiated a go-around, but took the flaps out too quickly so we bobbed along in and out of ground effect before finally starting to climb. I seriously doubt that is the way Australians land planes and I decided I’d just stick with the way I’d been taught in California. We did six loops around the pattern and the last couple of landings were really quite passable considering the crosswind. I not sure Peter was a whole lot of help, but he did catch me pushing the throttle in a bit fast on takeoff (instead of a nice steady 3 seconds) and he did suggest putting in the rudder control first when getting into the side slip which helped. After we got back to the club house he subjected me to about 30 minutes of really patronizing “training” on the most basic elements of landing as he went through the checklist for the flight review. I listened politely but I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know and after his performance in the air I really didn’t trust his advice. He final shut up and wrote the flight review endorsement in my log book – so now I’m legal to fly PIC in Australia, but not with this guy again!

Tuesday February 25th, 11am, VH-SWU, 1.7H

So here I am on vacation in Sydney Australia for two weeks. I’m here with my partner and two friends for Mardi Grais and the usual tourist stuff your’re expected to do in Sydney. However, with my freshly minted US PPL I’m intending to get some flying done down-under.

I spent some time online before leaving to find out what was available. Bankstown Airport is the main General Aviation hub in Sydney, it is only 11nm from my downtown hotel (according to my GPS) and is about a thirty minute train ride. I found an FBO online called Basair, which had a whole section of its website devoted to forign pilots flying in Australia. In order to fly in Australia (as PIC) you need a Certificate of Validation from CASA (Australia’s equvalent of the FAA). Sometimes, this will be granted without any requirements for a flight review, but more often than not one is required. The flight review is the same as a US BFR, its given by a CFI and you can’t fail as such, though the FBO might refuse to rent you a plane if you scare the instructor sufficiently. If you’re just going to fly in the Sydney area (i.e. no marthon cross-countries into the great outback) then you only need to get familiar with Bankstown and the “local” procedures in and around Sydney.

on the basis that the best kept web site probably equates to a well run company I gave Basair a call shortly after arriving in Sydney. To my great disappointment, they had very limited availability on Cessna 172’s and even less availability on instructors. There appeared to be no way to get the training flights they required along with the flight review done in the two weeks I’m going to be here. In the end I booked two flights on 2/28 and 3/7. Not really happy with Basair and after some more online time at my hotel I found another FBO at Bankstown called Chieftain Flying School that claimed to have some Skyhawks on the line. I called and spoke to the owner, John Lion. Chieftain was a different experience altogether. They couldn’t have been more helpful. They had a 172M and instructors available and I could come by anytime. They would help me get the CoV from CASA. John even organized to have me picked up from the nearest train station and driven over to the Airport. I scheduled a flight for 11am the next day. This would be an intro to the Bankstown/Sydney airspace and get the paperwork kicked off with CASA for the CoV. It was a pleasure to call Basair and cancel the two flight I had booked with them.

My hotel is right next to Central Station in downtown Sydney, as the name suggests this is the main train station for Sydney and it was a short 30min (AU$4.50) ride on the Airport Line to the East Hills station where I called Chieftain. A guy called Jamie answered the phone and told me he’d be over to pick me up in 10 minutes. Jamie turned out to be the CFI I’d fly with today. Chieftain’s office is located at the very southern edge of the field. It has a pretty nice lounge and briefing area opening out onto a grass area filled with mostly Piper aircraft and just three Cessna’s (a 152, a 172 & a 210). We decided to get the paperwork for the CoVout of the way first so Jamie drove me over to the other side of the field to the CASA office.

Bankstown is a big airport, three parallel runways running 11-29 and one runway running 18-36 at the east end of the field. What impressed me more was the huge number of FBO’s of all descriptions spread around the field. There was a whole fleet of DC3’s in various conditions (from flight worthy to wingless hulks) spread over one section of the field. This is a busy place and much bigger than most of the class D airports I’ve flown into in California. However, from an air-traffic point of view it didn’t appear much busier than RHV on a weekend day.

The CASA paperwork was just two fairly simple forms than can be filled out in 10 minutes. You also need your PPL (my temperory license was fine), current medical, log book and two types of photo ID (a passport and CA driver license work fine). They copied all the documents and returned them, asked for AU$55 and told me to drop back tomorrow to pick up my Certificate of Validation. It was as easy as that.

Back at Chieftain Jamie told me we would be flying a Piper Warrior rather than the Skyhawk. Apparently though nobody actually said anything I got the impression that none of the CFI’s really like the Skyhawk very much (which may be why its available whenever I want it). I flew a Warrior in Ireland last December, so I figured this would be another opportunity to learn a little more about the plane. In any case, I was more interested in learning the local procedures around Bankstown than in what particular plane I’d fly. Jamie told me he had already done the external pre-flight checks, so I satisfied myself with just checking the oil and fuel, kicking the tires and doing a quick walk around. The interior was much as I remember and the startup checks went fine. The ATIS was confusing the first time I heard it, they start with the runway information, 11C was inactive for some reason, 11L was for arrivals and departures and 11R was being used for pattern work (or circuit training as they say here), then it gave the wind, ceiling and temperature. Today there was a crosswind and broken cloud at 2,500′. Even though there is a Ground Control frequency you don’t need to get a taxi clearance, just start her up and go. First up was the fun of taxiing on grass, and maneuvering around the Seneca parked very close next door. As usual, with a strange field its really easy to get lost on the ground, Jamie kept me going in the right direction as we taxied over to the North side of the field. Without Ground Control you find yourself having to pull off the taxi way onto the grass to let planes pass going in the other direction. We did this to let a Skyhawk pass us on the way to the run-up area. It took a real burst of power to get out of the muck again and we left a pair of lovely deep tire tracks in grass. The run-up area has a great addition of painted position markers that indicate exactly where you should put the plane. This makes it really clear how many aircraft can be in the area and where they should point. This i! ! s a real improvement over trying to squeeze into a space between a gaggle of haphazardly placed aircraft doing runups at Reid Hillview. We had some problems with one of the magnetos and it took quite a long time runing at 2000RPM with a lean mixture to clear the plugs, but it eventually worked. You call the tower at the runway hold short line, as you haven’t talked to anyone yet you have to tell them your departure request. We were making a downwind departure.

Takeoff was fine, a turn to left crosswind at 500′,and then a turn onto downwind and climb to 1500′. This is the assigned departure altitude. Bankstown sits in what is called GAAP airspace (I think it means General Aviation Aircraft Procedures), it is roughly equivalent to class D in the USA. Its controlled with a tower, no approach or departure controllers, may or may not have radar capability. Separation services are not provided for VFR aircraft so its really just landing and takeoff sequencing services. You don’t need an explicit clearance to enter, but you do need to be talking with the tower. It sits right under Sydney Controlled airspace whose floor is 1500′ above the field. The Sydney Airport airspace is ridiculously complicated. It extends out for 70nm and has really low floors over the entire Sydney area. On the equivalent of the TAC it looks like a huge class B airport though its traffic volume is more like a busy Class C in the USA (like San Jose). The ceiling goes all the way up to the flight levels so a GA aircraft have no option but to fly very low underneath or get a clearance to enter. They don’t appear to make a distinction on the type of controlled airspace (like A,B,C,D or E), its just all “controlled”. I’m told than there are different classes of airspace within this area, but they are not indicated on the charts. You need an explicit clearance to enter and this can take a while if you haven’t filed a flight plan. Jamie laughed when I asked if you could request VFR flight following. It seems that the Australians are quite envious of ATC in the USA. In general it appears that the US controllers have a reputation for being very helpful and friendly to GA when compared to their Australian counterparts. In fact there is a big effort going on over here to reform Australian airspace and ATC to match the US system – so in a couple of years time it will be a very familiar experience for US pilots flying here (I believe Bankstown will become a class D and Sydney will become class C).

You need to maintain 1500′ until you depart the GAAP airspace around Bankstown (I guess you could climb into controlled airspace if you got a clearance). We turned northwards once we were a couple of miles downwind of the airport and flew towards Paramatta. There is a fairly obivious pipeline that marks the boundary of Bankstown’s airspace. Once you cross it, you are into class G airspace with the floor of controlled airspace at 2500′, so you can at least climb a little. There is a VFR corridor that you can follow northwards that allows you to clear the Sydney area (and another Military controlled area called Richmond to the West) while remaining in uncontrolled airspace (there is a parallel track about 5nm West for planes flying southbound into Bankstown). Once you get established on the airway you make a radio call on the “area frequency”. This is an ATC frequency (like Serria Approach for example), however its also used for GA planes in the area to call out their positions and intentions – so it works a little like a CTAF except for a large area rather than just an airport. The call is something like “All stations, Piper SWU, 3 miles south of Parramatta, 2,500′ northbound on Bankstown lane of entry”. You would also use the area frequency to call “Sydney Radar” to go about getting a clearance into controlled airspace. While on the airway you monitor the frequency for other planes that may be flying nearby. The chart gives the various headings to fly along the airway, but there are a sequence of fairly obvious landmarks that you can follow instead. The first is Parramatta, a cluster of tall buildings, next is Pennant Hills where there is a single tall building with a flashing white beacon on top, then onto Hornsby which is a little harder to pick out, its just a small built up area surrounded by other small built up areas. After Hornsby you are out over Gum Tree forest heading for the ocean. The last landmark on the airway is Patonga which is impossible to miss because its on a peninsula in Broken Bay. We turned east and flew over Barrenjoey Head which is the last bit of land before the Pacific Ocean, then turned southwards to fly along the coast back towards Sydney. Again, there is a sequence of landmarks along the coast that help you determine your position relative to the controlled airspace above you. At Barrenjoey head we were still at 2500′, by the next landmark down the coast called Long Reef (a little headland that juts out with lot of surf breaking in front of it), you need to be at or below 1000′. The next landmark is called Manly and its just before the mouth to Sydney Harbor. By this time you have a great view over the whole harbor in as far at the downtown skyline, the Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge. At the south side of the harbor entrance you need to drop down to 500′ to stay under the controlled airspace. Frankly, I not that fond of flying half a mile offshore, at basically the same height as the cliffs dropping into the ocean – I don’t care to imagine where I’d put the plane down if the engine failed. South Head is also the start of a VFR airway called “Victor 1”. This airway is at 500′ with planes flying both north & south. It has its own assigned CTAF frequency and you make a call to announce your position and intentions as soon as you get on it and then keep listening carefully for any other traffic. Victor 1 tracks the coast down past Botany Bay where you get a pretty good view into Sydney Airport with Jets passing about 1000′ above you on their final approach. In general you are not able to “contour fly” the coast (i.e. fly into all the little bays and inlets along the way). There is controlled airspace down to the surface running along the coast, but it doesn’t exactly follow the coastline and you have to stay outside it. The only exception to this rule is Port Hacking, which is a huge semi-circular bay where the controlled airspace to the surface follows the beach (so you can too). The south end of Port Hacking is called Jibbon Point and it marks the southern end ! of Victor 1, it is also when you can finally climb back to 1000′ above the water. From Jibbon Point we flew down past Wattamolla which is a little village that helpfully marks where the floor of controlled airspace goes up to 2500′ and you can too (finally a comfortable distance above the water!)


There is a big section of restricted military airspace south of Sydney. To avoid it you have to keep flying south along the coast until you get to Stanwell Park. This is a small town that’s easily recognized by a cluster of radio masts on the top of a hill. Once past Stanwell Park you turn back inland once again over dense forests. There is a large lake called Cataract Reservoir that has a road running parallel on its north side. Staying between the lake and the road keeps you out of any trouble with the restricted airspace to your north and with airspace around a couple of small uncontrolled fields (Wedderburn to the north and Wilton to the West). Flying generally northwest you quickly cross a major highway, this is you turning point back to Bankstown. Turning right you follow the highway keeping to the western side to stay away from the restricted area. You next landmark is the call in point for the southern approach to Bankstown, so at point we descended to 1500′ and got the ATIS. The call in point is called “Two RN”, its a huge radio mast that almost impossible to pick out the first couple of times you go looking for it, with a lot of help from Jamie I finally found it. The call into Bankstown is pretty standard, “Bankstown Tower, Piper SWU, at 2RN, 1,500′, inbound to land with Romeo”. We were told, “Make straight in for runway 11, report Warwick Farm”. At this point you need to get down to 1000′ fairly quickly, this is the approach altitude for Bankstown. Warwick Farm is a race track and its pretty easy to pick out. Once you report at Warwick Farm the tower gives you an assigned runway, for example “SWU number two after the Cessna for runway 11 center”. It you are over Warwick Farm having come from Two RN, then you are at about a 45 degree angle between base and final for runway 11. You are also at 1000′ and less than 2nm from the threshold. With three parallel runways its critical not to overshoot or undershoot the turn to final (there was a mid-air collision a couple of years ago that killed a ! family of four in just this way). So its a fairly hairy approach the first time you do it – take a lot of care to look for traffic coming straight in for the parallel runway or turning base to final of either side of you. With Murphy’s Law in full force, there was a Cessna overshooting his turn to final on 11L that got awfully close to me as I made my turn to 11C. Again you need to get down fairly fast, so I had fun getting in the 30 degrees of flaps (manually on the Piper). We got a clearance to land on final at about 300′. The glide down went fairly well but there was a strong crosswind from the left. It all went terribly wrong in the flare. The plane ballooned up badly, Jamie called for full power (I thought to go around), but he then proceeded to land the plane. It wasn’t pretty, I think the crosswind, the unfamiliar low wing plane and the unfamiliar airport all contributed to the poor landing, still we got down in one piece thanks to Jamie. He let me taxi back to Chieftain as we both made excuses for the landing.

So my first flight in Australia, 1.7hours logged as dual. The area is beautiful. The air was a bit bumpy and I’m not fond of spending so long so close to the ground. I didn’t get a lot of spare time to look at the scenery, but I’m going to repeat the flight with my partner once I get the CoV. Jamie was a fine instructor to fly with, he did a lot of the radio work and was invaluable identifying the various landmarks for me. I booked another flight for tomorrow, this time in the Cessna Skyhawk. I going to do pattern work to practice some crosswind landings (you don’t get much chance in RHV) and anything else required for the CoV.

Friday January 31st 2003, 2pm, N4754D, 1.5H – PPL Checkride

So the big day has arrived once again and finally the weather is good enough to fly. I got to Tradewinds about 11:30am, got the DUAT weather briefing and spent about an hour completing the flight plan to Paso Robles. The weather was forecast clear all the way down the coast with visibilities greater than 6 miles and just broken clouds at between 12,000’ & 20,000’. There was a SIGMET for turbulence south of Salinas and a PIREP over Salinas stating no turbulence found. The only excitement was taking care of my solo endorsement. I realized during the week that the 90 days had expired at the start of January. I emailed Grainne during the week to ask her could she be at Tradewinds to sign another one or set up another CFI to do it. I wasn’t too worried because I figured she would be there anyway. About 1:30pm I called her and found out that she hadn’t checked her email and wasn‘t due into Tradewinds until about 4pm. Luckily, Yoed showed up shortly afterwards and gave me the endorsement, I’ve flown with him several times, and flew with him just two weeks ago, so he was happy to sign me off.

Mike Shiflett, the Designated Examiner turned up a little late about 2:20pm and we got straight down to checking the maintenance logs for 4754D. We had already established that I knew where to find everything when I completed the oral last December so he just checked it himself. Then Mike checked my solo endorsement, thankfully that was now in order. Mike briefed me on what we would do, first the three possible outcomes, pass, fail or discontinue. He said that we would try and get the landings done in the pattern at RHV traffic permitting. Then depart on the cross-country, once he’d established I could fly a heading and was going in the right direction, he’d give me a diversion. On the way we would do the air work, steep turns, slow flight and stalls. Then go enter a pattern somewhere and complete any of the landings we hadn’t got done at RHV and finally do some hood work on the way back including two unusual attitude recoveries. Then he sent me out to pre-flight and told me he’d meet me in the plane in 15 minutes.

The pre-flight was fine. Mike turned up and we ran through the inside checklist. He’d already told me to skip the briefing, but I pointed out when I would have given it anyway. My troubles began with the taxi instructions from ground control. Ground gave me some kind of a preamble which I didn’t catch. He appeared to say “…. after Dakota…taxi via Zulu to 31R”, I thought he was referring to a plane already on Zulu and telling me to wait for it before taxing. I confirmed this back and everything seemed ok. I pulled out checked my brakes, asked Mike to check his and turned onto Zulu. Just as I was turning Mike called Ground Control and said “Was that that for us?”, there was a reply which I didn’t quite catch and Mike told me to turn onto Echo and taxi via Yankee to 31R. So I did, but I really wasn’t sure what I had missed in the whole exchange. Had I totally misheard the Ground Control instructions? what had just happened? I decided to put it out of my mind and not explore the whole thing with Mike as we taxied down Yankee. The run up was fine and Mike told me to make a short field takeoff. This went fine, though the speed control transitioning from Vx to Vy was a little sloppy. I turned crosswind then downwind in right traffic. Mike told me to make a soft field landing. I ran through the pre-landing checklist, got my clearance to land, turned base then final and made a fairly good soft field landing. We did a touch and go with Mike taking care of the flaps. Second time around Mike called the Tower and told them we would do short approach just after I got my clearance to land. He’d told me he would do this for the emergency landing, so I took my hand of the throttle and let him pull it back to idle. I established best glide, told him I wasn’t going to perform any cockpit checks, instead I was just going to “fly the plane”, however, I said I’d secure the engine (fuel off, mixture at cutoff and magnetos off) in case of a mishap on landing. I didn’t put any flaps in, and we were high coming over Eastridge Mall. He commented on this and I told him my aiming point was taxiway Bravo about one third of the way along the runway. Our glide-slope for this point was reasonable and I‘d have made it without problems. Over the numbers he told me to go around, which went well. Back on downwind again he told me to make a short field landing between the VASI lights. I turned onto base too soon and pretty much realized my mistake right away. Turning to final it was clear there was no chance of making the touch down point so I called the Tower and said I was going around. There was another plane rolling on 31R so the tower told me to fly left of the runway. As we climbed up my airspeed was high and I got a little pre-occupied with this. I forgot to take out the last 10 degrees of flaps which Mike reminded me of as we got to about 900’. I got back to pattern altitude and this time the short field landing went ok, but I had to add quite a burst of power to just make my touch down inside the first VASI light, not the best short field I ever done. Mike told me to exit at taxiway Charlie, I did, turned onto Yankee, stopped and did the after landing checklist. Then I was about to start taxing down to 31R again when Mike said “Are you going to taxi without a clearance”. I said no, and called the Tower to ask for clearance to taxi to 31R. It took three attempts to get the Tower to reply, finally they did and got somewhat tongue-tied explaining that they couldn’t see us on Yankee with the rows of parked planes in the background. On the way down Yankee I requested a downwind departure and the Tower asked me if left downwind was ok, which it was. Mike asked for a soft-field takeoff. So I put in 10 degrees of flaps and did the usual soft-field taxing with the nose high not using any brakes to turn. We were cleared to cross 31R and takeoff on 31L. The actual takeoff was poor, I’m not sure I really got into ground effect well and we wandered a bit on the runway. On the climb up I realized I’d forgotten the pre-takeoff checklist and so I quickly put on my landing light and transponder. I also hadn’t actually written down the takeoff time, though I’d noted it in my head and I wrote it down when we got onto the downwind leg. This was also when I realized that I hadn’t brought a watch with me and that the clock in the plane was firstly showing Zulu time and even so was totally wrong.

I did the normal climb checklist, did some shallow turns to check for traffic and pitched for 80 KIAS to get a little better visibility over the nose. Then I started playing with the heading indicator, I was flying towards South County, but the heading didn’t seem to match my calculated heading which would send me in the wrong direction into SJC class C airspace. Mike asked me what my first checkpoint was, so I told him top of climb at 5500’ about 4 miles before South County. He told me to level off at 3500’ head for Lake Anderson, then to do a diversion to Watsonville. This actually gave me some time to work on the charts before I got to the Lake, for once my altitude was bang on 3500’ and staying put. However, I managed to completely waste this time, by measuring a heading from Lake Coyote. I realized my mistake as soon as I turned onto the heading. So I started a wide easy circle over Anderson trying to work out the correct heading. Now its hard enough to struggle with charts and plotter flying straight and level, its even harder to do it flying a circle. In addition the lake falls right on a fold in the chart so you need to have it unfolded and there just didn’t seem to be any convenient lines of latitude or longitude to use to measure the heading. It seemed to take forever to make the measurement. When I finally turned onto the heading I made the mistake of not checking I was clear before I turned. I could see Mike somewhat energetically looking out the window to check for traffic. He didn’t comment so I didn’t either.

I passed to the north of South County and Mike told me to setup for steep turns. I did a couple of clearing turns, slowed to 95 KIAS and ran through my maneuvering checklist. Then did a turn to the left. It was terrible, I lost 300’ of altitude and way over-banked the plane. Mike claimed I reached 70 degrees of bank, I didn’t believe this but I wasn’t going to argue with him. I then did a turn to the right which was a little better, but still lost about 100’. He told me to do another to the left and this one was almost as bad as the first. I just couldn’t seem to understand what I was doing wrong, as I was coming round in the turn I could see my altitude start to drop, I added some more back pressure and tried to keep the bank angle at 45 degrees, but I still felt the G increasing and lost even more altitude. Mike asked me how I’d been taught to do steep turns, I said with reference to the horizon. He told me I was spending too much time looking at the instruments and not looking outside. He said show me two more turns to standard and I could just feel the test slipping away from me. So I did another turn to the left, same problem and I thought well that has blown it. Then he asked did I want to see how a steep turn was done, so I said yes. He then performed a turn left and right that were flawless. With that he took out some Postit Notes and covered all the instruments and told me to try it once more without the instruments. So I glued my eyes on the horizon and tried one last time. I think the turns were a little better, but as the altimeter was covered I couldn’t see if I made the standard or not. Mike told me make a couple more clearing turns which got us flying back towards South County. So as he hadn’t ended the test there and then, I figured he’d finally given me the benefit of the doubt. It bugs me, but I’ve flown perfect steeps turns so many times, and the first time it really matters I screw them up so badly. I know, that as I increased the back pressure that the bank angle would steepen, but I tried to account for that keeping the plane at 45 degrees to the horizon.

Mike told me to setup for slow flight, full flaps at 50 KIAS. This went well, I got slowed down without losing any altitude. Then he had me make a couple of turns to headings left and right. I was somewhat rattled by the steep turns and my rudder coordination just went to hell. I was using aileron to compensate for the left turning tendency and I overshoot the heading on the left turn by quite a bit. Still, the speed and altitude control was reasonable. Then he told me to do a power-off stall, I asked if I should do it from the current configuration and he said just pull the power to idle and do the stall and recover to Vy. I did, and remembered to call the buffet and stall break (the stall horn was already blowing), the recovery was just fine. I guess because the power-off stall went so well he didn’t ask me to do a power-on stall (whatever the reason I was happy).

Then he told me to head for South County and enter the pattern. This went pretty well. Nobody answered when I asked for a traffic advisory. So I over flew the field at about 2500’. I saw one plane on the downwind leg for 32 and announced I was going to enter on the right 45 for 32. The pattern entry was great, right at 1300’ (correct altitude) on the 45 and turned to downwind. There was a reasonable wind blowing so I had to crab a little on base. There was just a minor crosswind so I did just a very gentle side slip on final, keeping lined up with the runway. The normal landing was fine, the only thing I forgot was to add in the crosswind correction as we did the rollout. We did a touch and go and then departed back towards UTC (the usual call in point for RHV coming from the south).

Mike had me put on the hood as we climbed. He asked for a constant speed climb at 80 KIAS, with a couple of turns to headings on the way up then to level off at 3000’. No problems with any of this. Then he took the plane and put it into some unusual attitudes. The first was a dive to the right, I was a little slow to get the power off, but I remembered to do that, level the wings before pulling the nose out of the dive. The second was an almost stall, pitched up to the right. I got in full power and then back to straight and level. Again no problems. He told me to take off the hood and he took control of the plane while I got the ATIS for RHV. The haze was really bad over UTC (about 9 miles out) I couldn’t even see Lake Cunningham (which is a big lake right next to the airport). Mike told me to make a normal landing at RHV. I called the Tower and was given straight in to 31L, report 3 miles. So I started my descent, got through the checklists. The Tower warned me of some traffic on the way in, but it was another of those complicated calls where I wasn’t quite sure where to look for the traffic. I called back saying I was looking, there was a plane at about my 2 O’clock position, so I called the Tower and asked them to confirm that was the traffic, they said it was. Just as I was about to report in, I got my landing clearance. Here was another of those “well I was told to report at 3 miles, but I already have a clearance so do I really need to?”. Normally I’d say no the whole point of reporting in is to get the clearance, but with Mike in the plane and after the issue with the taxi clearance on Yankee I thought I’d explain why I wasn’t going to report the 3 mile point. The actual landing was just fine and there were no surprises on the taxi back to park the plane.

Mike told me to get the plane secured and that he’d meet me back in the briefing room. As I got out of the plane Grainne was just pulling out in another plane with one of her other students. I gave her a thumbs-up coupled with a shrug. I figured that as Mike had let me fly the plane back to RHV and hadn’t stopped the checkride that I must have passed, but he hadn’t said anything getting out of the plane. I felt that my flying had been so marginal that I wasn’t really sure I’d passed. Back in the briefing room I had a long discussion (one sided Mike did all the talking). He told me that I was banking too much in the pattern (I‘ve heard that before). That I turned the radio down too far on takeoff, so that I might not have been able to hear the Tower over the engine. That I forgot the crosswind correction in South County (i.e. keep flying the plane every second, don’t stop just because the wheels are on the ground). We had a long chat about radio procedures and how, while you might assume something in RHV because that is the way its always done here, it was an exception to the rules and that assumption would get you into real trouble at other airports. Finally, he handed me my Temporary Airman Certificate and asked for my log book in which he logged the 1.5 hours PIC. I had passed!

I can’t really say the checkride was a positive experience. It was really stressful. I felt I flew badly, made some dumb mistakes and in general came away feeling like I’d only just made it by the skin of my teeth. I am a bit pissed at myself because I know I can fly far better than I demonstrated today that has definitely taken away some of the elation I expected to feel on passing the test. Still, the PPL is just the starting point. This checkride is just the first of many. I had already resolved to stay training until I climb out of the first 250 hours danger mark. So I’ll take a little rest do some flying for fun and then its time to start on the IFR rating.

Saturday January 25th 2003, 3:30pm, N4754D, 1.3H

So its been a week since my last flight. I was given another reschedule date of Friday January 31st for my checkride. However, I was supposed to be away on business that week so I moved it to the next available date on February 10th. Then, my trip got pushed out a week, so yesterday I left an apologetic message with the Examiner asking for the January 31st date again. He called this morning and confirmed next Friday was fine. I hadn’t planned to fly this weekend (at least not as a pilot, I was supposed to on a plane to the Philippines). But with the checkride in six days I want one last practice, as luck would have it Grainne was scheduled with two other students today and had another open slot at 3:30pm.

So (hopefully) my last flight before checkride. I wanted to practice some landings and ground reference. So we headed off to the south. The visibility was terrible, I was feeling rushed having setup this flight at the last minute and then having to drive like the devil to get here on time. I climbed up to 4000’ and the haze just seemed to get worse as I went up. Even though I’ve flown over this area many times, for the first time I felt confused as to where I was. The restricted ground visibility, the low sun in the west (it was about 4pm by this time) just made everything look strange. There was a freeway right below me, but it didn’t seem to match any freeway I knew and was in the “wrong” place to be highway 101. It was really quite disconcerting. So instead of leveling off at 4000’ and neatly setting the plane up for cruise I got distracted trying to figure out where I was. Grainne brought me back to my senses by gently reminding me not to red-line the engine. I had let the plane get into a dive on full power, the tach was over 2600 RPM (redline is 2700), the airspeed was north of 120 KIAS in the yellow arc and we were back at 3500’. All this because I was distracted by the view outside. Pretty f**king stupid for someone supposed to be ready for his checkride. I leveled off at 3500’ and continued on passed South County to get to the nice open fields around Frazier Lake. We did a nice leisurely descent down to 1000’ and went looking for the wind. As is typical down here there was a wind blowing down runway 32 at South County but it appeared to be blowing in exactly the opposite direction just 5 miles further south. So I found a tree, made a 180 turn to enter downwind losing 200’ in the process which I had to gain back as I started circling my chosen tree. By about half way round I had the altitude and airspeed under control again and we made two circuits that were reasonable. Actually, they feel pretty good when you fly them, its only looking at the GPS ground track later that you realize the imperfections – thankfully there is no instant GPS replay on the checkride!

Then it was off to South County to practice some landings again. We did four landings, two short, one without flaps and one soft. We were doing touch and goes. When I do T&G’s with Grainne she takes care of the flaps and confirms they are up, I not allowed to do T&Gs solo so there’s no risk I’ll mess up on my own (like forgetting the flaps and trying to takeoff). So as we land Grainne says do a soft field takeoff. About halfway down the runway I figure out that the main wheels are still on the ground because I don’t have the recommended 10 degrees of flaps to get up into ground effect. Grainne put them all the way up. The Cessna 172 will eventually climb into ground effect without flaps, but your airspeed will be almost up to normal rotation speed anyway by this point. So I lowered the nose, got 55 KIAS and took off normally. All the landings were fair, none were great.

We had a nice uneventful trip back to RHV, the visibility had cleared up a bit, we could just make out the VASI in RHV 6 miles out in the haze. I’d been given a straight in approach to 31L and Grainne asked for a short-field landing “on the numbers”. This landing was simply picture perfect, I swooped in with full flaps, did one of those flares that feels like a bird landing (just one long continuous pull on the yoke, no round-out or float). I planted the wheels right on the middle of the numbers and it only took light breaking to get off on taxiway bravo (the very first exit after the threshold). A great high note to end my last flight before checkride.

Monday January 20th, 2pm

I was supposed to be flying my checkride today. It was really foggy when I got to Tradewinds at 11:30am, but the TAF’s for SJC were forecasting it burning off by 1pm. It never happened, the Pilot Examiner called me about 1:30pm and called off the flight. He’s going to call me back later with another date. I headed home really disappointed. Guess what, the fog finally cleared about 3pm, damm I should have told him to give it another hour and then see if we could fly.

Saturday January 18th 2003, 2pm, N739YE, 1.6H

I was hoping to fly solo today to practice some landings, but the visibility never got above 5 miles. As often is the case Yoed was around so I asked him to come with me. I’d told him my checkride was on Monday so he decided to give me a pretty good workout to make sure I was ready. We did the usual downwind departure heading south. Up to 4200’ and into power-on turning stalls. These were reasonable, though I just don’t get why you slow to 55 KIAS (rotation speed), then apply power and start the turn. If this is supposed to simulate a departure stall then I would think you should be climbing at Vy and simulate the stall as if you were turning onto crosswind. Still everyone insists you do it the former way (including the PTS). We did a couple of these and then tried slow flight without flaps (a new twist) some turns and then a couple of power-off turning stalls. Then it was steep turns left and right, these were reasonable, and to standard, the last one was perfect.

We were about 4 miles north of Frazier Lake, flying south when Yoed cut the power. I made that same long ago rookie mistake of forgetting that South County was behind me, which Yoed pointed out. I had plenty of altitude and I decided to come in over final to runway 32 and circle down getting the cockpit checks and checklists out of the way as we descended. In hindsight I had enough altitude to make a more conventional entry on the 45 and that is what I should have done. After one circuit around final there was a Saratoga calling on downwind. I really needed to loose some more altitude but Yoed decided that I just needed to get down before the Saratoga can up behind up on final. So he had me drop in the full 40 degrees of flaps and dive for the ground at Vfe (85 KIAS). This is a fun attitude to be in this close to the ground! I got down over the numbers and rounded out, trying to bled off some speed. I was at about 70 KIAS and I believe I would have gotten down (though without much tarmac to spare) when Yoed called the go-around. All in all an exciting landing attempt.

We did four trips around the pattern practicing short & soft landings. The wind was actually blowing fairly hard to I finally got to practice the classic rectangular ground reference flying, needing a fairly significant crab angle on base and crosswind. None of the landings were too memorable.

Back to RHV, got the usual straight in approach to 31L. The tower was busier than I’ve ever seen it. I guess we had beautiful weather all week. However, this morning we all woke up to dense fog which really didn’t clear until 1pm. So the world and his wife were flying. I made a passable short field landing exiting at taxiway C (which was what Yoed had asked me to do) then we sat for almost 5 minutes waiting for a clearance to cross 31R, there was that much traffic on the runways. Not a bad flight today, no major mistakes though the emergency landing could have been less exciting.

Sunday January 12th 2003, 10am, N4754D, 1.1H

More practice to try and banish the cobwebs after Christmas. The wind was from the south today, so it was one of those rare occasions when you get to use runway 13 in RHV. The sky was blue with some clouds at about 3000’. Flying south, the winter green California landscape below us, over and around the white clouds with visibility clear across to the Sierra Nevada mountains was truly magical. I did some steep turns over Anderson Reservoir. These were ok, all more or less within PTS (Practical Test Standards). Then I had fun doing a long forward slip to get down to 1000’ for some ground reference turns around a point. Believe it or not this is only the second time I’ve ever practiced these, it was just as well as I had forgotten some of the basic stuff (like enter on downwind and always make the first turn to the left), while remembering the relatively complicated stuff like how much to bank the plane depending on wind direction. The GPS ground track looked reasonably like a circle, but truthfully there wasn’t a lot of wind.

We headed to Hollister to practice a few landings. There wasn’t anybody answering when I asked for a traffic advisory on the CTAF so I was just setting up to over fly the windsock when Grainne pulled the power. The wind was calm so I as I was already more or less on the left downwind for 31, that was where I decided to land. This time I made the runway with power and without problem. We did a touch and go and came back around in the pattern for soft field landing. Another touch and go and headed back to RHV under the hood. I’ve never really had any problem with hood work, but I wanted to get some practice in to make sure I wasn’t getting rusty. We did some turns and climbs with no problems.

I got the ATIS as usual and then called the tower. I was told to make right traffic for 13R and report at 2 miles. There was another plane to my right who called in just after us and he was given left traffic for 13L. There was also a great big cloud right in front of me that I had to fly around. With all these (real world) distractions I mixed up the left/right traffic instructions. So I happily flew around the cloud and started to get lined up on Lake Cunningham (which is fine if I was supposed to be entering left traffic for 13L!). About 4 miles out Grainne asked me where I thought I was going and I realized my mistake. I was just turning to get lined up on the other side of the airport when the tower asked me if I understood what right traffic was (smart ass), I lied and told him I did and was just getting lined up. About this time the tower started to get confused about who was who (probably because I wasn’t where he expected me to be). So I’m trying to get myself back where I’m supposed to be, the tower is asking folks to change transponder codes and Ident when Grainne decides its a good time to pull the power again. So the tower is asking both of us (me and the guy on left traffic) our positions, another plane is ahead of me on right base, I’m calling in the 2 mile mark and getting a clearance to land (for the wrong runway, the tower gets confused when the wind shifts as well, he quickly corrected). All this is going on, oh and by the way your engine just quit a minute ago hadn’t you better think about how to land this thing without it. By this time, I was abeam the near end of the runway already below pattern altitude. There was just no way I was going to make it all the way around without an engine. I guess in a real emergency I would have just made a quick 180, told everyone to get the hell out of the way and gotten lined up with most of 31L and gotten down. However, your not really allowed to do that at a busy class D airport just for practice. So the engine magically restarted and we made another somewhat messy crosswind landing on 13R. I’m not happy about the dumb mistake with the pattern entry instructions – just the kind of thing that would ruin your checkride day.

Saturday January 11th 2003, 12pm, N4754D, 1.2H

Back in sunny San Jose again. My checkride is scheduled for January 20th so I’m just going to practice enough to stay as sharp as possible. Today I flew with Grainne again. Nothing too strenuous, down south along Anderson doing slow flight and some stalls. These actually went pretty well, I was expecting to be really rusty. Then a diversion to Watsonville to practice soft & short field landings. These went reasonably ok. The second time around the pattern Grainne pulled the power. I was already passed the numbers on downwind so I had 10 degrees of flaps in. There was another plane on final so I couldn’t really turn early onto base. I should have put up the flaps knowing that I was going to have to eke out every foot of altitude to make it to the runway. I didn’t and it was pretty apparent on final that we wouldn’t make the runway, so we went around. This is the first time I’ve missed an emergency landing in a while. We had a nice relaxing flight back to RHV other than Grainne covered all the Pitot Static instruments (Altimeter, Airspeed Indicator and Vertical Speed Indicator). For a change we actually had a crosswind of a few knots landing back at RHV. My landing wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a picture perfect crosswind landing either. I really would like to get more practice at these, but its just so damm rare to find them around here.

Thursday January 2nd 2003, 11:30am, EI-WRN, 0.9H

I’m back in Ireland for Christmas. My home town is called Tramore, on the southeast coast of Ireland in Co. Waterford. Its a beautiful area, the town sits on a hill overlooking a 3 mile long sandy beach in front of a wide bay. However, the weather sucks, it has pretty much been misty and wet since I arrived. I was hoping to fly sometime over the holiday at Waterford Aero Club which operates out of the regional airport just 5 miles away from my home. I had setup a flight for last Tuesday, but it was scrubbed due to weather. Today however it looks a little brighter (not much) but at least VFR. I called the club early this morning and got a slot booked for 11:30am flying in a Piper Warrior. I’m bringing one of my brothers with me as a passenger/photographer and partly as a Christmas present.

We arrived a little early and found the club building, it doesn’t look promising from the outside just an industrial hanger sitting off the side of the runway. However, when we get inside it has a nice club room upstairs with a wall of windows overlooking the airport, it almost looks like a bar, comfortable seats and tables along the window and a counter (very like a bar) along the other wall, but not a drop of alcohol in sight. Brian Brown, the clubs instructor who was flying with us, had me sign some paper work to get a 1-day membership for 5 euros (almost exactly US$5), he said this would cover us with the clubs insurance. Then just told me to go out and pre-flight the little Warrior we could see parked on the ramp outside.

The pre-flight was different, there was a folder with a checklist in the plane but it really wasn’t that helpful. Almost by definition a checklist in written in shorthand as a reminder to do things you already know so this strange checklist didn’t really tell me enough to be useful. I reverted to the basics, checking the fuel levels, finding and checking the fuel sumps and making sure all the control surfaces moved the way they are supposed to. The Warrior is a low wing plane so its a pain crawling around under the wind trying to find the fuel sumps and pitot tube. Brian turned up shortly afterwards and we all climbed through the one right side door. Brian ran through the cockpit controls, basically the same instruments as a Cessna, but manual flaps operated by a big handle on the floor (like a car’s handbrake). The avionics were older than anything I’ve seen in the Tradewinds planes. The throttle and mixture control are levers rather than the push/pull type with a little toggle switch for carb heat. We worked through the interior checklists together, much easier with somebody to tell me what each item was and got the engine fired up and I taxied out a little ways from the hanger.

Brian thankfully took care of the radio work, frankly the tower communications and procedures are completely different from what I’m used to in San Jose. I brought a handheld radio home with me (my Christmas present to myself) and I’d been listing into the tower communications for the last week and a half. Even though the airspace for 10nm around the airport is called class C it is nothing like class C in the USA. The tower actually doesn’t seem to “control” the airspace for VFR aircraft, though they do issue instructions to IFR flights. You don’t hear “cleared to land”, it was usually “land at your discretion”. Apparently the tower doesn’t have radar, so everybody in the whole area reports their position to the tower and a fairly regular basis. There is no ATIS or AWOS, instead the tower gives you the weather on request. All that, and typically Irish very informal and laid back. It was not uncommon to hear stuff like “Hey Mick, will you want fuel?” from the tower to an inbound commercial flight, I guess they know all the pilots by name. Lastly, don’t ever complain that the US National Airspace System is complicated. It is a model of logic and reason compared to the patchwork quilt of different airspace types, terminal areas and rules in Europe. I bought a book on UK aviation regulations when I got here to familiarize myself with the differences between Ireland and the USA, in the end I gave up trying to make sense of the European system.

Back to the plane, Brian filed a flight plan with the tower (no Flight Service Stations here). A flight plan is required for every flight, event local stuff like this. I taxied out to the run-up area and we went through a run-up procedure essentially identical to the Skyhawk. Then out to the runway, again no clearance needed to taxi onto the runway, really like an uncontrolled field. The takeoff was good, though the airspeed indicator reads in MPH rather than KIAS so all the speeds (like rotation and Vy) were bigger numbers than I was used to. We climbed out to the southeast and then turned right to head towards Tramore climbing up to 1,500’. If you’re not familiar with the local area then the route we flew won’t make much sense, but here it is anyway.

I flew out across the Backstrand, directly towards the Metalman and circled a couple of times around it. The weather was cloudy with a broken base at about 2000’. Still we could see well down the coast as far as Dungarvan and over to Hookhead to the east. There was a big rain shower coming in from the west so we flew across the mouth of the bay past Brownstown Head over Dunmore East. I made a left turn over Dunmore and headed up the River Suir passing Woodstown, Passage East and Cheekpoint and followed the river to Waterford City. Then we turned left again and flew over Waterford Industrial Estate and passed to the West of Tramore again out to the coast around Annstown. Turning left we followed the coast back around the Metalman once more basically towards Waterford which actually put us on the left downwind leg for the airport. There was a fairly strong west wind blowing about 40 degrees across the runway so Brian said he would give me a hand on the crosswind landing, me being a fair weather California flyer and all. In the event, I turned base and then final and pretty much got lined up with the runway with a mix of side slip and crab. Before I even realized it I was in the flare and made a great landing all things considered with no help from Brian.

So flying over the town where I grew up was a very cool thing. It was expensive compared to flying in San Jose, about $140 for the hour on the Hobbs meter including the instructor charge. Considering the cost of living (and salaries) are about half of that in the Bay Area it must be a big financial burden to learn from scratch. Brian said it takes about a year to accumulate enough hours for a private pilot license in Ireland, the required hours are similar to the USA but weather keeps you grounded a lot of the time. He learned to fly in Colorado. Its easy to see why so many foreign students come to the USA to learn.