Sunday April 11th 2004, N2805E, 1.4H

So here I am, private pilot ASEL, instrument rated and working towards my commercial ticket. My plans for this year include getting my CFI ticket. I guess, I’m about 6~8 weeks away from the commercial checkride but I need to get the written done and the 10 solo night landings all the other requirements are done. So, I’m thinking lets start looking at the CFI requirements. It turns out there aren’t any additional ones once you have the commercial ticket and instrument rating – except a spin endorsement. So I have to go get some spin training sometime between now and some distant date later this year when I do the CFI checkride. Well, if I’m going to go spin a plane, it might as well be a fun plane like a tail dragger. Then the idea really starts to bite, well if I’m going to spin a tail dragger I might as well learn how to fly one at the same time. And if I learn how to fly a tail dragger then my landings and coordination flying a normal plane will almost certainly improve (I might even land on the runway center line on a more consistent basis) . So if I’m going to learn to fly and land a tail dragger and that is going to make me a better stick & rudder pilot then why wait, why not do it before the commercial checkride and get the benefit for two checkrides! So that is why I’m mixing in a tail wheel checkout with my commercial training, (Oh yes, and the tax refund that will shortly arrive and pay for it). Lastly, I feel that I’m a much better pilot on the ground than in the air. Both checkrides I’ve done (private & instrument) went the same way, great oral test with only a passable flight. To some extent I hope that the focus on the real basic flying skills in a tail dragger will change this.

Now if you want to fly tail draggers in San Jose then the only place to go worth talking about is Amelia Reid Aviation in Reid Hillview Airport (Yes, its the same Reid – Amelia’s father founded the airport). This FBO is a whole different experience from Tradewinds or any of the other flight schools on the field. Their whole fleet are tail draggers – A Champ, a Talyorcraft and a bunch of Citabria’s. The atmosphere is busy and informal. The front office is usually crowded on weekends with pilots, students and CFI’s. The walls are covered with years worth of awards and memento’s, old pictures of planes and pilots. Their motto is “Real Pilots Fly Tail Draggers”, I’m not sure I totally agree, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think there was some truth to the statement.

I had called up on Friday and arranged a flight at 2pm today, Bob Goodwyn was the CFI that happened to answer the call – so first off I’ll fly with him. He told me to arrive early and I did. Bob is a tall blond guy who appears to drink coffee more or less on a continuous basis – his right hand seems to be permanently holding a cup. I thought I drank a lot of coffee – buy I now realize I am a mere bit player in the coffee drinking arena. We spent the first hour just going over the theory of what a plane’s rudder is for and why tail draggers are different. A lot of the stuff I have read about before and from an engineering perspective I understand why the center of gravity being behind the wheels makes the plane dynamically unstable on the ground . For non-engineers this means that taxiing a tail dragger is like pushing a supermarket trolley backwards (or driving a fork-lift which I have never done). Basically, the tail would much prefer to be in front rather than behind you – meaning that given a chance it will try to swing around in a bit of tail dragger revenge know as a ground loop. Apparently tail draggers were invented to punish pilots who think that they are done flying once the plane’s wheels are on the ground. Bob, explained a bunch of maneuvers we would practice – all basically to learn how to fly in a coordinated manner, then it was off to pre-flight the plane.

Today we would fly N2805E, the Aeronica Champ – a 1946, tandem two seat plane with a stunning 65HP engine. The student sits in front with the CFI in the back (opposite to the Piper Cub arrangement). The pre-flight is fairly basic – there is not much to check on the plane. Fuel (should be full – there is only 3-hours worth in the tank so the club doesn’t let you leave without a full tank). Oil – 3~4 quarts. Lift the engine cowl to check the oil and generally look at the rather small engine. Remove the cover and check the beautiful wooden prop – tail draggers don’t like brakes – they punish their over-enthusiastic use by nosing over and hitting the prop on the pavement – therefore make sure the previous pilot didn’t damage the prop. Check the controls – breaks (they are not very good) and rudder. Make sure the stick moves everything the way it should. There is no electrical system in the plane – except a radio which has its own battery – you need to do a radio check by calling Ground Control in case the battery is flat. Check the wheels and wings (looking for damage to the wing tips – resulting from a ground loop). Lastly check the tail. Be careful where you push and prod the plane – its made of fabric not metal! Now its time to start the engine. No electrical starter here – its a hand prop job. Its is a complete blast from the past, like being in an old movie. “Breaks”, “Throttle”, “Contact” and Bob swings the prop and the engine starts. Very cool, but I’m happy to be the one sitting in the plane while he does the dangerous bit out front. The cockpit is rather different from what I’m used to. No yoke, instead a real stick, fly with your right hand, left is used for the throttle. No mixture or prop control. No instruments except some engine gauges (oil pressure and temp), an altimeter, an airspeed indicator (rather strangely reading a little over 200 MPH as we sit on the ground) and a slip indicator (the “ball”). There is a compass over on the right which I doubt would be a whole lot of use for navigating anywhere. The radio is on the floor between the rudder peddles, its a bitch to reach down to change frequency. Instead of toe brakes, there are heel brakes, quite a bit harder to work in conjunction with the rudder. That’s it – no distractions in this cockpit.

Bob releases the tie-downs and chocks and climbs in the back – he takes care of the difficult right turn out of the tie-down spot. Then its my big moment – first time to actually drive a tail dragger on the ground. After everything I’ve heard I’m convinced that a second’s inattention will cause a ground loop – that I’m riding a completely wild animal ready to turn on me in a second. We start to taxi very very slowly – Bob gently reminds me that this taxi way is uphill – perhaps a little more power might get us to the runway before our two hours slot is over. So I cautiously increase the power – nothing bad happens. A little more power, almost up to normal taxi speed – nothing bad continues to happen. Hey! wait a minute! this isn’t bad. This plane is not trying to kill me (or merely badly damage my bank account). It goes in a straight line, it responds to gentle nudges of the rudder, It doesn’t feel in the least bit unstable. Is it all a lie? – a carefully organized conspiracy to make tail draggers appear more difficult than they really are ? Don’t they know I have a web site – that I’ll tell the world their dirty little secret – a tail dragger won’t actually kill you and spit out your head for the presumption of trying to taxi it in a straight line. Well, as you can see my confidence was increasing. Next comes the 90 degree turn onto taxiway Zulu. But wait! the plane happily makes the turn, the tail stays behind me like its supposed to. Confidence continues to increase – I do S-turns as we go down the taxiway just to show who’s boss. Its funny, but the last time I drove a plane down taxiway Zulu fish-tailing it like this was my second ever flying lesson and that was because I didn’t have clue how to work the peddles.

Bob takes care of the turn into the run-up area and we do our engine checks. There is not much to check other than carb heat and mags. Then the turn-out to the runway threshold. Bob, talked quite a bit in the pre-flight briefing about how tail draggers like to weather vane – so they don’t like turning their tail into the wind (which is exactly what you are trying to do after a run-up facing into the wind turning to face downwind to get to the runway). A little quick work on the breaks and rudder and Bob makes the turn look easy. We are cleared for take-off on 31L and Bob tells me he will work all the controls except the rudder peddles – that’s my job. The take-off is a quick swerve one way, stamp on the rudder and swerve the other way – then we’re up. Bob comments that its not that bad for a beginner – we stayed on the runway, if not on the center line. Bob, gives me all of the controls as we climb out – the turbulence is really bad the plane is yawing from side to side, the wings rolling one way then the other like a drunken seagull. As we climb on the downwind I ask Bob if it is really this bouncy or is it just me. He sardonically answers, “It’s mostly you”. By 3000’ the “turbulence” is finally easing, I have discovered that leaving the controls alone is a good way to get the plane to behave. You need only a very light touch – its not a Skylane. I start to notice the view, wow! I’m surrounded by windows the visibility is fantastic. This is nothing like anything I’ve ever flown before. The seat is high up, its easy to see over the nose, there is no instrument panel in the way. I’m surrounded by sky and it is way cool. This feels like really flying.

We level off about 3,500’ and over Lake Anderson start our maneuvers. First off – feet off the rudders and bank the plane one way then the other. Now, in a Skylane or a Skyhawk as long as you make some attempt at pushing a rudder when you turn the plane pretty much does what its supposed to (that is turn). Even, feet off, you don’t notice much adverse yaw. No so in the Champ! right bank – boom, the nose yaws 30 degrees to the left and she really doesn’t want to start turning. This is an eye opener, I’ve read about adverse yaw, its in the books, but this is the first time I’ve really see it. Then its Dutch rolls – this is a bit like trying to pat your head with one hand and rub your belly with the other at the same time. The idea is to bank one way then the other all the while keeping the nose fixed on some point on the horizon with the rudder. Basically, you work the rudder and aileron in sync but a little out of phase with each other. After five or six rolls you get out of sync and it all goes to hell (the nose starts to swing left and right). I actually do a pretty good job of this for a first timer. Bob tells me that we will pretty much be doing Dutch rolls whenever were aren’t doing anything else. Then we do some steep turns left and right, first at 45 degrees then at 60. This is not too bad – and boy you really feel the 2G’s in the 60 degree turn. We try some forward slips left and right, again not too bad, but the nose really wants to pitch up when you get into the slip. Then a maneuver called fish-tailing, basically yaw the plane left and right with the rudder, but keep the wings level with the ailerons. Another exercise that teaches coordination between rudder and aileron that is kind of the inverse of the Dutch rolls. Then its slipping and skidding turns. This is cool. Again, I’ve read about “flying by the seat of your pants”, the ability to actually feels the sideways force in a slipping or skidding turn (like the force you feel going around a corner in a car). But, I’ve never really noticed it in a plane – until now. First start a turn and leave keep the rudder pressure in – basically use the rudder to force the nose of the plane inside the turn – this is a skid. You really feel the push towards the inside of the turn. Then ease off the pressure on the inside rudder and apply a little outside rudder (not too much or she stops turning) you need a little extra inside aileron to keep turning. Now you feel the slip pushing you sideways to the outside of the turn. Very cool finally I start to understand how to feel the slip or skid with the “seat of my pants”. Lastly we finish off with some stalls, power-off straight ahead and turning. There is no stall horn and the stall break is a little more inclined to have a wing drop compared to the Cessna’s I’ve flown. But stay on the rudder and the recovery is pretty easy, though I probably let the nose drop too far on the recovery (but that is fun too).

We headed back to Reid Hillview, cleared to land on 31L. Bob had me pull the power all the way back and glide in at 60 MPH. I consistently over estimated how far I could glide. In my Skylane, if I’m above glide slope (two white lights on the VASI) within 3 miles of the threshold, then I’ll have to work fairly aggressively to get down and slow up to land. Get far above the glide slope and it ensure a less than pretty landing. All my practice (especially for the instrument and commercial) has been to get on glide slope and ride it all the way down to the surface. I generally keep power until over the threshold, the Skylane will drop its nose and sink like a stone if you pull all the power off, this can make slowing your vertical descent rate over the numbers somewhat interesting. The Champ drops pretty steeply without power as well, so I finally find the point where she will glide to the numbers. I flare a little high and balloon up, Bob adds a burst of power and we settle onto the runway with the stick all the way back landing on three wheels. I feel Bob hit the rudder a couple of times keeping us straight and slowing us up. It was my first “assisted” trail dragger landing. Again, we stayed on the runway, walked away from the plane and get to use it another day. Not too bad. The taxi back to Amelia Reid is a non-event.

So my first tail dragger experience is done. It was a blast, so much fun its hard to believe its legal. I totally, without any reservation urge you to go fly a tail dragger. Even that single lesson has taught me a whole lot about how planes really fly. Concepts like adverse yaw, slips and skids that I had learned but never really understood in real terms were made real today. The Champ seems to amplify the effects (or more likely they have been designed out of more modern training aircraft). I can’t wait to try out some the maneuvers I’ve learnt today in my own plane – I wish I been shown them as part of my Private Pilot training. I know the effects won’t be as pronounced, but now that I know what to look for I’m sure I’ll see them. This tail dragger endorsement is going to be a lot of fun.

Tuesday December 16th 2003, N182AK, 1.5H IFR Checkride

I took my IFR Checkride with a DE based in Mather Field (KMHR) in Sacramento. The following is the “debrief” I fed back to my CFII after it was all over. I was my CFII’s second student to take the checkride so I’d got a description ahead of time from the first student on what to expect.

No problems on the flight up, had a great tailwind and made 150 knots ground speed. Visibility was 10sm. I got lazy, and approach was busy so I didn’t bother with asking for vectors for the ILS into MHR. When I called the tower, I was given right traffic for Rwy-22 and told to report abeam the tower, then given a clearance to land on 22L. Tragen is very easy to find – get off on taxiway D, then left on A and you can’t miss it. I parked in the wrong place – hint park beside the Cessna 150 not the Falcon Jet – the line guy moved my plane over with the other spam cans while I was doing the oral.

The DE was waiting for me outside, when I got there. We went into a little conference room in the very plush Tragen FBO. He started with the paper work, checked the forms and my PPL and Medical. Never looked at my Aircraft Logs or Log Book. Same reason he gave before, “You’re PIC so its not my problem if the aircraft is not airworthy”. Paid $300, he said that the price is going up in January to $325 (decided after a meeting of the local DE’s recently), still cheaper that the $350 I paid for my Private checkride.

Here is a list of the questions I can remember from the oral and the answers he accepted.

  • What is the static port for ? ..provides static air pressure to the VSI, Altimeter & ASI
  • How does the VSI work? …Calibrated leak (I explained what that was and how it worked).
  • What instruments are vacuum driven ? …AI, DG
  • Is it allowable to have all the gyro instruments driven off the same source ? …I said I had never read the FAR that said that, but that I thought it would be a good idea to NOT run them all off the same source. He said the FAR is in the part dealing with maintenance (part 23 ?).
  • What VOR checks are required? …Every 30 days
  • List all the ways you can check them …VOT+/-4, Designated point+/-4, In the Air center of an airway over a landmark +/-6 & dual check – no more than 4.
  • Then I got the VOT question – when you measure an error during a VOT check then should you apply the error to normal navigation? …No, the system is setup to work with the allowable errors.
  • What are the requirements for filing an alternate? …1,2,3 rule
  • What about if the alternate has no approaches? …VFR from MEA down
  • The airport has no forecast weather, how do you know what its going to be? …Area Fcst, nearby airports, other weather reports (internet), call someone on the field.
  • Then the Joe Lineman question? If you called an FBO at a destination to check the weather and somebody told you it was CAVU could you use that as a valid weather report ? what about if he said it was overcast at 1,500” ? …Yes, I’d accept Joe Lineman’s assessment that it was CAVU, but not his weather report of 015OVC RVR1000.
  • He drew a hold over a VOR on a piece of paper and then asked about the various entries – What entry from here ? for a parallel, teardrop and direct. He greatly favors the teardrop entry (So I treated him to two of them on the practical).
  • How would you know you were abeam the holding fix to start the outbound timing? …My first answer was I could setup the second VOR on a radial 90 degrees from the inbound radial (he said yes, but not the best way). Then I said, time from wings level which he didn’t like and we proceeded to analyze how a 40 knot tail or head wind would completely screw that method up. Finally, I said that the ambiguity flag should flip as you pass the point directly abeam the VOR – this was the answer he was looking for.
    Are the various holding entries regulatory? …No
  • What is regulatory about holds? …I said reporting entering the hold and staying inside the protected area. I said there were speed limits depending on altitude, but I couldn’t remember them and would have to look them up.
    How long are the hold legs? …1 minute
  • What about if you are at 14,000′? …I said I didn’t know. Right answer is 1.5minutes.
  • Was my aircraft certified for know icing? …No, I’m not that rich.
  • What was known icing? …An actual pilot report of ice.
  • Could you fly if the freezing level was 3,500′, the cloud base 4,000′ with tops at 6,000′ and an MEA in the clouds? … Legally yes, but not very smart.
  • Could you climb up through the clouds to VFR On Top in the same case? …Legally yes, but again not smart (and I added that ice could prevent you from ever climbing out).
  • What if there were reports of “Light Rime Ice” on the route? …Legally No – now it is known icing.
  • He spent some time trying to but the fear of god into me about flying anywhere near ice and telling me about an encounter he had in a Barron. One hint – if the prop is iced up – cycle it quickly to break it free.
  • Pulled out the Low Enroute chart asked to explain the following: MEA, MOCA, DME distances as shown on the chart.
  • Are VOR radials True or Magnetic? …Magnetic.
  • What is the COP on a airway? …Halfway point
  • What is it on an airway with a marked COP? …The mark
  • What is the COP on V23 between RBL and SAC? …Its GRIDD because the airway changes direction at that point (we were there on the IFR XC).
  • Is the VOR COP regulatory? …I said I had never read the regulation that said it was, but that I thought it was good idea. The right answer was simply Yes (where is this written down?).
  • You are on V199 from RBL to ENI, in solid IMC. Your clearance limit is ENI VOR which for the sake of the question can be assumed to be an IAF for some approach into Ukiah Airport, your destination. You were cleared to climb & maintain 3,000′ and expect 9,000′ in 10 minutes. You realize that you have lost coms after takeoff. What do you do? …You are assigned a route so you fly it. You maintain 3,000′ then start a climb to get over HENLE at or above 5,000 (its MCA). Climb to 9,000′. At ENI you start the descent & approach based on your ETA.
  • What about if you are at 3,000′ just before HENLE when you realize you have lost comms? …Hold at HENLE, standard turns on inbound course while climbing to the MCA.
  • What about if you arrive at ENI 10 minutes before your ETA? …Hold at ENI until your ETA.
  • Must you fly the ILS approach into Ukiah? …No, fly whichever approach you want.

Then it was onto the flight. We didn’t file IFR – he said to pretend that he wasn’t in the plane, he would be playing ATC and would be unavailable to help with anything other than holding something like a map. He gave me my clearance while still in the conf room and told me to plan out the flight. It was” Cleared to SCK, SAC, V585, ECA direct, M045, xpond 1200″. There is a published hold on this route at WAGER intersection which I guessed correctly would be where he would ask me to hold. We took off on 22R straight out, I managed to get SAC identified on the climb out before I put the hood on. Then “ATC” informed me that they had lost radar and to report reaching 4,500′ and the SAC VOR. I made the reports, hit the VOR dead on, got established outbound on V585 without any problems. Then I was told to “climb and maintain 5,500′”.

After tracking V585 for a while he told me that “continued radar problems would require us to hold, inform me when ready to copy hold instructions”. I think I was still getting level at 5,500 so I told him to standby, got the plane trimmed out and then got the hold instructions: “Hold SE of WAGER as published, maintain 5,500′ Pretend to have an EFC”. I almost screwed this hold up in two ways. First (and I’ve made this mistake before), I set 083 for the intersecting radial instead of 093. He said, “was I completely sure I had everything setup correctly”, I started checking everything I had done a second time and was just looking at the radial when he pointed out my error and admonished me greatly for the dumb mistake. Putting this behind me (not busted yet at least), I then proceeded to work out the heading for the teardrop entry. I managed to add 30 degrees to the heading (a right turn) instead of subtract it (a left turn). I caught this one myself before getting to the hold (at which he was greatly relieved, saying it would have been a bust to turn the wrong way). I remembered to report entering the hold and then really nailed the flying part – lovely intercept of the inbound course.

He then gave me an amended clearance, “Direct to LIN VOR, V113 ECA direct”. I got LIN tuned in and ID’d and was just getting turned towards it, when he asked what was I planning to do. I explained fly direct to LIN, then outbound on 192 radial to ECA. He said this was correct and gave me a vector of 240 to go and do some airwork. He told me to get the plane setup for steep turns – so I slowed and did my standard maneuvering checklist. Then one turn to the left and another to the right. Neither were great, but they were within limits (just). Then he had me slow down to 70 KIAS holding altitude and then accelerate back to cruise. Then descend 200′ at 80 KIAS.

Actual GPS track superimposed on SAC ILS Approach Chart

We then called up NORCAL and asked for vectors for the ILS Rwy2 approach into Sac Exec. The controller was real busy, we got the vectors, but he never gave us missed instructions or cleared us for the approach. The last thing he said was intercept the localizer before, he passed us off to the tower. I asked them for missed instructions and after the expected “didn’t you get them from approach”, tower gave them to us. As the glide slope came in I realized I wasn’t cleared for the approach (sound familiar) and said this – the DE said he was clearing me (ok, not a problem, start down the glideslope). I made a poor job of the ILS – my usual tendency to overcorrect. But I didn’t really miss anything critical and never got outside PTS once we were inside the FAF (I simply flirted with the limits). By the end I got to DA with the needles centered.

We went missed and then asked for pilot nav VOR Rwy2 approach which we were given. I made a pigs ear or trying to find the radial direct to SAC (there is really no time to get setup for this approach). I think the DE was getting a little impatient with me hunting for the radial, over correcting the heading and generally doing a poor job of flying direct to the VOR. I also managed to get NORCAL’s attention, he asked me twice was I really flying direct to the VOR and what was my heading. Yes, it was that bad. I finally staggered my way to the VOR and made a good attempt at the teardrop entry for the procedure turn. Nicely intercepted the inbound and actually made a pretty passable attempt at the approach. Needle stayed centered, didn’t bust MDA, got the timing correct. Just before the MAP, the DE called the tower and asked to depart VFR to MHR. That was it – kept the hood on until we got onto the right downwind for 22R. MHR Tower was asleep, I think I forgot to call them abeam the tower to wake them up so I had to verify I had a clearance to land when I was on short final. Breaking my tradition of making a dreadful landing with a new instructor in the place, I nicely greased the landing.

I got an earful on the taxi back about overcorrecting – “just hold the heading”. Then a short trip back the conference room to get the paperwork and my new Temporary Airman’s Certificate. He said, my oral was well above average – and we didn’t talk anymore about the flight (enough said already).

The flight back was a dream, bit of a head wind, only made 130 knots ground speed. Busy getting back into RHV (#4 to land). Made another nice landing, which will be my last for this year in N182AK.

Sooo. No partial panel, no unusual attitudes, only two approaches – feels like I got off easy. Don’t care, feels good to have the rating and it just gives me plenty of reasons to keep practicing & training this stuff.

Sunday March 16th, 2003, 12pm, N5766J, 1.6H

Today was an interesting flight. It was my first “$100 Hamburger” and it was a huge learning experience about judgment and decision making in real life. Yesterday’s weather was terrible, no question of even considering flying. However, today it was marginal and all the implications of “weather or not to go” came into play. The forecast for today was for showers in the morning as a front passed over the Bay Area. It was supposed to clear by mid-day with sun shine and scattered clouds following. I had organized with two friends to take them on their first plane trip with me to go for lunch in Marina Airport (OAR) near Monterey. So there is the first big “external factor” coming into play – I didn’t want to disappoint my friends and cancel the flight. Checking the radar on ADDS about 10am there was a distinct but narrow band of heavy rain baring down on San Jose.

The Satellite pictures showed the front clearly with only light and scattered cloud behind it. The TAF’s for San Jose & Monterey were both for clearing after midday with scattered clouds at 2500′. I decided that once the rain passed it looked like the forecast would be correct and the flying would be fine, possibly just having to navigate around “some” cloud at 2500′.

As I drove to the airport about 11am the rain was coming down hard and the ATIS at RHV was reporting visibility of less than one mile, mist & rain, the ceiling was well below 1000′. I spent the next hour at Tradewinds checking the weather radar and the METARs at WVI, MRY and SNS. As expected the rain stopped and the cloud started to break-up, when my friends finally showed up about 12:30pm the sun was shining and there was only some scattered cloud at about 3000′. I could see mostly blue skies to the west, but there was some cumulous over the hills. The ATIS/ASOS down south had started to clear, with both MRY and WVI reporting few at around 2000′. The visibility was fine under the cloud. So I decided that we were good to go, in hindsight I’m not sure I ever even considered not going – I was convinced that scattered cloud and sun shine would be fine.

About 1pm we took off straight out on runway 13L. This in itself was interesting, I had more weight in the plane that ever before (just 37lbs under MTOW). The climb out over Eastridge Mall was ponderously slow and we took a long time to get up to 3000′. Once I got to 3000′ it was clear I needed to keep going up, there was a layer of scattered stratus over Morgan Hill and Gilroy and the easiest was around it was over the top, I leveled off at 4500′. As I passed South County (Q99) I could see what appeared to be a solid wall of cumulus sitting over Highway 101 just where it turns west to head into the Monterey Bay area. It was going much higher than I wanted to fly, but I could see clear air underneath it through a hole in the cloud. So while my friends happily snapped pictures of the beautiful clouds around and below us I decided to take a closer look and see if I could drop down through the hole and fly underneath it. I checked the ASOS at WVI and they were reporting scattered at 1200′ so I thought that once I got under the wall the ceiling would probably be higher. Well first of all, dropping down through a cloud hole is not as easy as people make out – my friends seemed to actually enjoy the steep turn to the right I had to make to avoid flying into a cloud on the way down. I was just lucky that that was the only maneuver I needed to make, there just happened to be clear air to my right. If there hadn’t been, I would have been in cloud trying to execute a standard rate turn on instruments to get myself out again. You think, duh! how could someone fly into a cloud, well guess what, if you start doing dumb shit stuff like I had just done, then it’s really easy. I had managed to put myself into the situation where I was reacting to circumstances in real time, with no idea if each action was increasing my options or decreasing them. In fact, in situations like this options are almost always decreasing – less altitude, less clearance to the clouds, less fuel, more stress. The shit just piles up until you can’t keep up and something bad happens. It is no fun, when you start to realize you are about 3 steps down a chain of actions that you’ve read in an NTSB report about some poor sod who flew VFR into IMC and hit a mountain. I was lucky, once I got down to about 1000′ I could see clear to the sea, I knew that worst case I could head to the coast and then follow it south to MRY without danger of hitting anything sticking up from the ground. The highway follows a valley between fairly low hills (you can see this pretty easily on the GPS map). I had to drop a little lower flying towards Moss Landing, but as I neared the coast the cloud base lifted a few hundred feet and I was comfortable at 1000’. Along the way one of my friends asked me to cut across the hills on my left to fly over a friends house, I at least had the sense to say no, that I didn’t want to cut my ground clearance anymore than it was already. Just after I turned south to head towards Marina, my friend realized that the house he wanted to see was actually just east of my flight path – so I did a nice lazy circle over it so he could take pictures. A few minutes later I found the Marina pattern empty, did a standard 45 entry to right traffic for 29 and made a feather light landing to my great relief.

My friend Kelly and I at OAR
Heading north to Santa Crux
Santa Crux

Our rather late lunch was at the Marina Airport Restaurant. It was almost empty when we arrived. The food was fine and there was plenty of it. Definitely a nice spot for my first $100 hamburger (or in my case a $100 tuna sandwich), just fly down when the weather is nicer.

The weather looked a lot better after lunch. The sky over Marina was almost clear of clouds and I could see all the way up the coast to the mountains north of Santa Cruz. A call on my cell phone to the ASOS as WVI reported “few at 1900’”.However, there was still a mass of clouds over the tops of the mountains northeast of Marina, just where I wanted to fly home. I decided to takeoff, I could always return to Marina, MRY or WVI if I got into problems. I was going to fly up the coast to Moss Landing and then see if I could cut across the mountains following 101 back to San Jose. My friend also wanted to do another circle around that house again, now that he had called its occupants so they could come out and wave. So I took off from 29 and made a right crosswind departure staying at 1000’ (to remain well under the shelf of MRY’s class C). I did another circle around the house. The route back the way I had come looked terrible from 1000’ and there was no way I was going to tread my way back up that valley flying into raising terrain with no clear idea if there was space to get over the hills. So I decided to climb above the scattered cloud base that was at about 2000’ and see what it looked like from above. This involved a big S-shaped climbing turn as I avoided some scattered clouds on the way up. The picture looked no better from 3000’ so I continued on up the coast towards Santa Crux. By this time I was staring to wonder how I was going to get back to San Jose. Stupidly I was thinking I wanted to avoid the hassle of talking to ATC involved in crossing San Jose class C. I think I was worried that on every other occasion crossing San Jose I was directed to over fly the field. However from this direction there was no simple way to do that. Instead I would have to fly directly across the approach path to runway 30 in SJC or be vectored around the place by ATC which would be a new and novel experience for me. As all this was going through my head I had turned east over Santa Crux and started towards the mountains more or less following Highway 17. I was thinking that I might see somewhere to cross that was still far enough south of San Jose to avoid their airspace. Now I have never actually flown in this area before, so as I let the terrain and clouds more or less direct my path I started to get concerned as to exactly where I was in relation to the mountain peaks higher than me (anything above 3500’) and the boundary of SJC class C. By this time I was actually close to Lexington Reservoir (I know now, I didn’t at the time). There was a big assed mountain right in front of me. Beautiful clear sky on my left with a view towards San Jose (and its airspace). I actually turned right away from the nice blue sky. After about 15 seconds of staring at a mountain top embedded in cloud I realized what a dumb idea it was to fly into that, just because I didn’t want to talk to ATC. I turned the plane around, got a fix on the San Jose VOR, got a distance to it from the DME, found the right frequency for Sierra Approach on the chart and got on the radio to ask for flight following to RHV. It was easy and the relief of hearing the controller read back my call sign knowing I could now happily enter SJC class C was worth it. As soon as I got clear of the mountain, I turned right directly towards RHV and flew past downtown San Jose (much to my passengers enjoyment) at 3500’ without even getting a traffic alert from ATC. About 3 miles west of RHV I was told to descend at my discretion and given a frequency change to contact RHV tower. They gave me an entry on left downwind for 31L or a base entry, again my choice. In the end I came in on a 45 degree entry that was very high, turned downwind which I extended a bit to lose altitude and then made a nice uneventful landing. So today I learned a lot about making decisions, good and bad. I learned a lot about how external factors and wishful thinking can conspire with marginal weather reports to get you into a bad situation quickly. In hindsight, the air mass behind the front must have been warn and unstable. As soon as it hit the mountains it bubbled up into cumulus clouds. The nice satellite picture of clear sky over the ocean behind the front was totally misleading, that treacherous air was just clouds waiting to happen as soon as they met a friendly mountain. In fact there were some pretty heavy thunder storms over the North Bay in the afternoon that I heard about as I drove home. I should have realized this when I saw the cumulus forming over the mountains when I took off and certainly when I found them blocking my path on the way to Marina. Next time, I’ll try to be a lot more tuned into what the weather is actually doing, rather than what the current METAR’s claim is happening. Next time I remember that “few at 1900’” can be like flying under what feels like a solid ceiling. Next time I won’t invite passengers if the forecast is marginal, its too much of a temptation to cut corners, and it really should be the reverse – more care and attention to conditions when you’ve got passengers. At best they can be a distraction if things go bad and the added responsibility just increases the stress level. Next time, I resolve not to dive through holes in the cloud hoping to find a welcome on the other side. Always have an exit plan, I didn’t when I dove into that hole, if the base had been just a couple of hundred feet lower I would have been in the soup, close to the ground with raising terrain to my left and right. This time I was lucky, its a lesson well learned. Next time I will fly in circles until I have a plan rather than just let the plane take me somewhere. I ended up almost making a really stupid decision over Lexington because I left the plane take me there not really sure of where I was going to go. I could have got on the radio to ATC over Santa Crux and saved myself a lot of heartache instead of waiting until I had few other options left.

So did I do anything right. Well, I didn’t panic and I got my plane and passengers back safely and actually none the wiser to how marginal the whole flight had been (unless they read this web page). I didn’t press my luck, once I saw a safe path to the coast I took it and didn’t deviate into a more dangerous situation (like flying over 400’ hills at 800’ feet with who knows what sticking up into the air). I quickly realized my mistake over Lexington and did the right things to get home. I will probably look back at this flight after many hundreds of hours flying an wonder what all the fuss was about. Probably pilots that live and fly in places with much worse climates than San Jose will read this and wonder what I’m complaining about. Still experience is earned the hard way, I don’t have much in the bank yet – but my 1.6 hours flying today was a pretty big deposit to get started on.

Sunday March 9th, 2003, 8:30am, N5766J, 2.0H

I just got back from Australia yesterday and I thought I would be way too jet lagged to do any flying this weekend. But the weather was just beautiful, crystal clear, blue, cloudless skies. So I made a last minute decision to go early in the morning when I was still awake. I only had the plane until 11am so I couldn’t go too far and I wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t been to before. Half Moon Bay was the perfect destination.

I love the Bay Area, at this time of year when the hills are green the sky is blue and everything just sparkles it has to be one of the most beautiful places to fly. It is such a special privilege to be take a plane on a day like today and just fly. 5766J is the Buick of the Tradewinds fleet. It is a 1980 Skyhawk and is the plane I flew for my first solo. It somehow feels roomier inside with bigger more comfortable seats but it is slow and ponderous in the air. It is the perfect plane for a lazy morning pleasure flight.

I took off downwind from 31R and headed for South County, that is the easy waypoint to keep you away from San Jose class C. I turned west and headed for the ocean, then followed the coastline north, passing over Santa Crux and on up the coast to Half Moon Bay. This is just a spectacular trip that words can’t convey, you’ve just got to go see it for yourself.

Half Moon Bay Airport has a single runway 12-30. You can’t miss it, just north of the town and harbor. It is right traffic for 30 and left for 12, so you are always on the landward side of the runway. As I descended there was just a couple of aircraft flying south along the coast calling on the CTAF, they weren’t landing, just passing through. Some helpful soul responded to my request for a traffic advisory and told me that 30 was active with an 8 knot wind straight down the runway. I made a pretty good landing into a fairly stiff wind. The runway is in fair condition and its big (5000 x 150), apparently it was built for the military back in WWII as a coastal defense station. When you exit the runway turn right, towards the Bay. There is transient parking right down at the end which is apparently just a short walk to some fine restaurants. I unfortunately didn’t know this at the time and happily taxied all the way to the other end of the airport where there is absolutely nothing of interest to any body. I had pulled over and shut down the plan to have a smoke when a nice gentleman in a fire truck drove over to me to find out if I needed assistance, seeing as I had parked in place that suggested my plane was about to explode. I explained I had simply got lost on that last 3000’ of my journey from RHV and asked him where I should have gone. He told me, thus avoiding the embarrassment of this happening again with passengers whose confidence in my navigation abilities might be shaken by the experience.

Having taken the long way around on my way here I didn’t have any time to hang around and sightsee. So it was back into the air, and a downwind departure. I climbed up to 3000’ and got a baring and distance from the Woodside VOR and then called Sierra Approach and requested flight following back to Ried Hillview. I was really rusty on my radio work (I forgot to give my altitude a couple of times among other mistakes), but I guess it was a slow Sunday morning and ATC didn’t give me a hard time. The hand held GPS gave the heading back to RHV so as soon a got talking to Approach I turned for home. As expected I got passed off to San Jose Tower who told me to over-fly mid-field at or above 2000’. Things got a little interesting once I got passed SJC. There was a plane leaving RHV on IFR, so instead of handing me off to RHV tower as soon as I got over SJC (the usual procedure), I got vectored eastwards and was told to expect to approach RHV from the north. I finally got the hand-off just as I exited class C, about 3nm north of RHV. A quick call to RHV tower and I was given a downwind entry to 31R for an uneventful landing. This was my first time in class C since way back in my training (I think my stage II checkride when I flew to MRY) and it was definitely my first time solo in class C (which I didn’t even realize at the time). All in all a great flight!

Sunday February 9th 2003, 3pm, N4754D, 0.8H

I just got back from a business trip to the Philippines yesterday. I didn’t plan to fly this weekend because I thought I’d be jet lagged. However, when I woke finally at 1pm on Sunday afternoon the weather was just perfect and I felt pretty rested. I just had to get up in the air. It was one of those days with absolutely clear blue sky, calm wind and unlimited visibility, I think there’re called severe clear. The long range forecast is predicting a return to winter weather starting mid-week and it might stay that way for the rest of the month. So I decided that if I was finally going to take my first passenger flying it had to be today. My first passenger is my partner Tai, he hasn’t exactly been nagging me to take him flying. In fact I know he is a little scared of the whole idea, so I want to break him in slowly, a short flight with perfect weather to hopefully get him hooked. He already likes the “idea” of 2.5 hours to LA, or 3.5 hrs to Las Vegas, but I‘m still not sure whether he will like the actual experience. As luck would have it, 4754D was available at 3pm so I booked it, called Tai and told him I’d pick him up on the way to the airport (I didn’t give him much choice in the matter). I bet many Pilots have the same thoughts. After months of work and thousands of dollars I hope my (up to now) supportive significant other actually likes flying enough to come with me more than once.

So my first experience of a totally virgin passenger, never been inside a plane without at least two jet engines and 100 seats. On the way out to the plane Tai decided that wearing a headset looked cool and as there was a helicopter practicing nearby it was noisy. So he followed me around, watching me do the pre-flight wearing a headset. I made him take it of once we got inside the plane so I could do my first real passenger briefing, how the seat belts work, not to touch anything, how to get out. For the first time the briefing actually mattered.

We did a downwind departure and climbed up to 5500’. I wanted to get high enough to get the view all the way from Monterey Bay to the Sierra Nevada. On the way up I asked what he thought so far and he said “a little scared looking down”. By the time we leveled off over Anderson Reservoir I was getting “its so beautiful”. I made a big lazy turn left and took us past the Lick Observatory on the top of Mount Hamilton then over Calaveras Reservoir. We started a descent over Sunol and I made a slow left turn to bring us abeam Mission Peak. As I called into RHV Tower we passed over my house. I entered right traffic for 31R and made a picture perfect landing (thank god).

So is he hooked? Not yet, but at least the ice is broken and it wasn’t too bad. He’ll come flying again and we’ll go somewhere useful.

Saturday January 17th, 2003, 8:30am, RP-C1680, 1.9H

Since starting my flight training I have made it a point to try and fly in as many different countries as possible. So far, I’ve flown in my home town in Ireland three times, in Australia last February and I just got to fly in the Philippines in January this year.

I make trips every six months to my company’s manufacturing plant which is south of Manila. This time I spent some time online and found an FBO called Omni Aviation located in the former Clark Air Force Base. I contacted them in early December by email and got a pretty fast response from a guy called “Capt. Lasmarias”. Yes, they had planes to rent, a 172F (1968) and a 172XP for $120 & $126 per hour wet. After I got back to the USA after my Christmas holiday in Ireland I confirmed the dates and made a hard booking for the 172F (the 172XP was grounded for some reason). Capt. Lasmarias emailed me pretty good driving directions and contact numbers so it really was a no hassle process.

I was staying in a pretty nice hotel in Makati City – this is the fancy high-rise part of Manila where they have us rich westerners stay (a five star hotel for $60 per night). It is generally a pain to stay there for anything but the shortest trips as it is a two hour drive to work through traffic that makes the San Francisco Bay Area look like a cake walk, but the company provides a car and a driver because they know I’d kill myself trying to drive on my own in Manila. I organized for my driver to take me up to Clark AFB on Saturday morning, he decided that we needed to start out at 5:30am to make it there for 9am. In the event we arrived outside the base at 7:30am and spent half and hour drinking coffee at a filling station since Omni doesn‘t open until 8am.

Finding Omni on the base was no problem and I was just taking a walk around the flight line when Capt. Lasmarias turned up and introduced himself, his first name is Aljess. He turned out to be a 27 y.o. CFI who is also the general manager of the FBO. His dad is a pilot with Philippines Airlines and he mentioned that there are 15 pilots in his family. He has about 500 hrs and is working his way towards an airline job as well. He flew as co-pilot with me, took care of the radio work, took the controls so I could take pictures and generally kept up a constant commentary on what we were flying over, its history and flying in general. In short he was a nice guy to fly with and he really added to the enjoyment of the flight.

Omni Aviation FBO
Omni Flight Line with Mt Pinatubo in the background
Aljess Lasmarias and RP-C1680

We did a quick briefing in the FBO. The rules, regulations and airspace in the Philippines seem to be basically the same as the USA. We discussed our route and made plans to land at Corregidor the largest island in Manila Bay, we reviewed the equivalent of the AF/D (hand written notes in a well worn notebook belonging to Aljess). Corregidor had a gravel strip with an asphalt touch down zone, is about 2000’ long and sits on top of a narrow ridge at one end of the island. There is no weather reporting, instead you check the ATIS for Manila International which sits at the far side of the bay. The rule is you don’t land at Corregidor if the ATIS is reporting over 10 knots of wind. Aljess filed a flight plan by fax (required for every flight in the Philippines) and then told me that the plane had a problem with its starter motor so we would have to take a mechanic and a spare battery along in case we couldn’t get the plane started again after landing in Corregidor, I agreed as long as the mechanic was a small guy, as Aljess and myself are each about 200 lbs and this is only a 172 that is also carrying full fuel!. The mechanic turned out to be about 110 lbs, even so I think we were pretty close to max gross weight at takeoff.

The plane RP-C1680, turned out to be a spotless 172 with almost new paint and interior. There was not a speck of dirt inside or out. This should not be surprising, when I walked around the flight line earlier there were 4 ground staff on their hands and knees cleaning and fueling her (I guess ground staff are not that expensive here). I did my usual pre-flight and everything looked good on the outside. The instrument panel looked a little tired and there was only one radio. Aljess took care of actually starting her, as promised the starter motor was on its last legs, it barely turned the engine over (Aljess assured me that they were only waiting for the replacement part to fix it). After two or three attempts the engine finally started and sounded just fine (and I decided quietly to myself that we wouldn’t be landing on Corregidor even with a mechanic and a spare battery onboard).

Aljess took care of getting a taxi clearance and I got to practice my soft field taxi technique. There are no taxi ways as such, just flattened bits of grass. While Clark has two huge runways (it was an Air Force Base after all), Omni actually has their own runway that is separate from the main runway complex. Its about 2800’ of asphalt but the takeoff point is actually on the grass about 500’ short of the numbers. This makes for an interesting transition, full soft field technique until you hit the asphalt going around 40 KIAS then transition to a normal takeoff to lift off about halfway down the runway. With all the weight onboard our climb rate was pretty anemic (or maybe I’m just spoiled after so long flying the Skylane, I’ve forgotten the good old days flying Skyhawks!). Clark AFB is in class C airspace, but there is hardly any traffic. Aljess tells me it gets busy at night with FedEx jets. The radio work seemed pretty simple, basically stay on the tower frequency for traffic advisories (there wasn’t any).

We made a left crosswind departure which took us across the main runways and then flew a racetrack circuit on the Northwest side of the field to climb up to 5,500’ before turning West to head across the mountains. The weather was pretty clear with just some small cumulous over the mountains with tops at about 5,000’. We passed Mt. Pinatubo on our left then turned southwards to fly along its northwestern flanks. The devastation from the 1991 eruption is incredible. The whole area on this side of the mountain is covered in thick ask deposits. The surface has grown a thin layer of vegetation, but you can see many deep gorges cut into the ash by rivers flowing down from the mountain. There is nothing left down there except ash – it was once full of farms and villages. We made a couple of circuits and climbed to 6,500’ to get a better look inside the crater which is now home to a lake. Then headed southwest towards the coast and Subic Bay, descending to 3,500’ along the way. I had expected the air to be fairly bumpy over the mountains, but we were above the puffy clouds and it was really quite smooth (Aljess said it usually got bumpy after midday).

Mt Pinatubo Crater
Ash deposits with deep river cut gorges on northwestern side
A new lake that formed behind the ash deposits

We flew across the mouth of Subic Bay and got a great view of the old naval base and airport. Then down the coast to Manila Bay – you could see the coral reefs lining the coast, it was really very beautiful. Corregidor Island was home to a bunch of WW2 buildings and installations. We dropped down to 1000’ to see the buildings and checkout the runway (Manila ATIS was reporting calm winds). Taking one look at the runway convinced me that my no-go decision was a good one. So I told the guys that I was secure enough in my manhood not to feel the need to test it by making a landing here. Busy airspace with lots of ATC I can do, but not landing on a short gravel strip along a knife edge ridge on an island with no guarantee that the engine will restart if I turn it off!

Subic Bay
Final Approach Runway 20

After Corregidor we flew along the northwestern side of Manila Bay. Not much to see except an oil refinery and fish farms. Once you hit the north coast you just fly heading 030 until you hit the highway, turn left, call Clark Tower and then follow the highway until you see the church in the town of Angeles. That is starts you on a right base entry to runway 20. I made a pretty reasonable landing and got off at the usual taxi way (flattened bit of grass along side the runway).

Total time was 1.9hrs and cost US$259 (including various landing fees and other bits and pieces). The flight was excellent. I would happily recommend Omni Aviation and Aljess Lasmarias to any pilot wanting to get a taste of Philippines flying. The country is beautiful and there is hardly a better way to see it than from the left seat of a small plane. I’ll be back in July and I’m already making plans to fly again, maybe up to Baguio or down to Boracay this time…

Thursday March 6th, 11am, VH-TUR, 1.4H

My last flight in Australia. Peter picked us up from the train station, but thankfully was not the CFI I would fly with today. That turned out to be another guy whose name I’ve forgotten. When we got to Chieftain he was out with another student and we ended up hanging around for almost an hour for him to get back. It was almost 12pm by the time we got the plane started. Because of the heat here the afternoons are usually a bit windy and bumpy, not the best conditions for my passenger (Tai). Today I had planned a flight to the Blue Mountains which are just a little west of Sydney. They are not really mountains as such, just a plateau at an altitude of about 3,500’ cut up with lots a canyons. So no real mountain flying conditions to worry about, the only concern was a lack of any civilization along part of the route (just dense forest & lakes – so fingers crossed that the engine keeps going, otherwise its a water landing).

There was scattered cloud at about 3,000’ over the airport, but a weather briefing from the Australian equivalent of DUATS said that the ceilings were above 4,000’ over the mountains with no forecast of getting worse. I decided that I could always make an easy turn back if it looked like here wasn’t enough clearance between clouds and ground. We took off on 11C again and made a downwind departure and headed roughly northwest towards the mountains. The area were headed for is called Katoomba, it has its own airport and I was hoping to land there – however, John Lion (Chieftain’s owner) said no-way. Its an unlicensed airport, over here than that means it is a dirt strip of questionable quality. It is perched along the top of a ridge line and is subject to some vicious crosswinds. I didn’t need much persuading to change my mind. Katoomba is a small town that sits along a cliff overlooking a beautiful deep valley. There is a locally famous landmark called The Three Sisters which is a set of three pillars of rock extending out from the cliff edge (you will see lots of tourist brochures in Sydney hotels for day trips out here). Given that its one of the few natural wonders around here, I was expecting there to be some air traffic like helicopter tours or other GA planes, but apparently the sky here is usually empty.

Its only about 35nm as the Skyhawk flies from Bankstown to the Three Sisters so we were there pretty quickly. As forecast, the ceiling had lifted as we got over the higher ground so I was able to fly about 800 AGL over Katoomba. This was lower than I would have liked, because the deep canyons were causing some light turbulence which I knew would bother Tai. We did one orbit around the Three Sisters and then headed south flying along Lake Burragorang. The next landmark was a large quarry where I turned back towards Bankstown. We passed Camden Airport taking care to stay out of its GAAP airspace, then over Menangle Park which marked the turn north towards Two RN the reporting in point for Bankstown. The approach and landing went without incident, though you still need to make it steeper than I’d like. This time I wanted to get down to about 800’ over Warrick Farm, but my co-pilot insisted I needed to stay at 1000’, That may be the procedure, but getting down from 1000’ in less than 2nm is pretty steep in my book.

Over Lake Burrangorang
Katoomba & The Three Sisters

I really enjoyed the flight today unfortunately Tai did not. The bumps along the way scared him (even if he didn’t get airsick this time). I’m afraid I’ve put him off flying, hopefully not for good. We were planning a trip down to Palm Springs in April, now he is telling me he doesn’t want to go. This will really suck. All through my training I’ve looked forward to being able to just takeoff with Tai and fly to interesting places. Flying solo is fun, but sharing the sensation and freedom with your partner is so much better.

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.