Monday, 27 December 2010

Paris by night - King Air 90

Merry Christmas everyone!

The King Air 90 was standing proudly on the empty airpron tonight. The captain and I preflighted her in the cold winter wind while discussing the weather in Paris. The last few days have been quite snowy with icing conditions and they had to close a lot of major airports in Western Europe. Tonight however was forecast to be clear and cold but snow patches remained on some taxiways and on the runways' edges.

The two PT6 turbines came to life in the silent evening.
I took the controls shortly after take-off until we established in cruise.
We left Carcassonne (South of France) following the SID (Standard Instrument Departure) GAI2W, initially towards Charlie Sierra, the airfield beacon, then turning Northbound heading to the GAI VOR after 14 nm. Further on the way, the control cleared us direct TUDRA.
Although the past few days have been really snowy, today was superbly clear and smooth all around and the visibility was surely above 100 miles.
Toulouse, birthplace of Airbus and ATR, passed under our left wing.
The altitude warning broke the calm atmosphere of the night as we passed 21,000ft, alerting us we had 1000 more feet to go to the selected altitude.
Doing 265 kts TAS (True Airspeed), almost 50 kts of head wind at this level, we entered central France. Darkness suddenly became quite apparent.

At 22,000ft, the ride was glassy smooth.
In the middle of the night, talking helps us to stay awake. The captain, a former long haul airline pilot, has a lot to share. For me, as a young and unexperienced pilot, this is like a dream.
I have ambitions for my carrier, but nothing is easy in the Aviation World. Also, things usually don't go as planned, and this can actually happen to be a good thing sometimes.
You often wonder how you ended up here? What path and decisions did you take to make things like they are? I certainly wouldn't have believe a few months ago I'd be flying a King Air today...

As we approached Paris, shining reflections from the city lights started to appear on the flight deck, and the view outside became simply mesmerizing.
We loaded the approach for the ILS runway 07 via BALOD.
I gazed amazed at the beautiful city, the Eiffel Tower and the skyscrapers forming the business district of La Defense. Departing the group of buildings is one of the main and most famous streets in Paris, the Avenue Charles de Gaulle, leading to the Arc de Triumphe and coming out the other side as Les Champs Elysees. If you have a close look at the pictures below, you should be able to spot all the famous landmarks.

The ATC cleared us for the approach and I got back on the controls, capturing the Localizer above 10,000ft and the Glide Path at 9000 ft.
Still doing just under 200 kts IAS and established on final runway 07 at Le Bourget (Paris executive airport), we passed abeam Les Champs Elysees. I rushed to grab my camera and get a few shots.
I got the runway in sight ahead of us. The captain selected the decision Altitude on the radalt and took care of the thrust and props levers for me.
Altitude came down and the radalt computer announced out loud "500", and seconds later "minimums" as we reached DA (Decision Altitude).
The threshold passed beneath us and the Captain slowly retarded the throttles as I flared the King Air. The tires touched down gently. No need to apply the reverses as the runway wasn't completely clear of snow and we were asked to vacate at the far end, 3000m (10,000ft) further down the long strip of concrete. We crossed runway 09 to slip into the main ‘avenue’ of FBOs and aircraft operators at Le Bourget. Parked between a Learjet and another Kingair, we shut down the two engines, bringing us back to the silent evening, but even colder this time. This is Paris...

Airborne life continues…

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Airbus A320 and King Air

The morning's ride out to the airport felt long and boring for once. I had just got back from England the previous evening with no time to unpack my stuff, and here I was already gone, in a train to Toulouse.
What made it feeling long was the excitement from the fact I was going to fly a King Air for the very first time today.

Two hours later, I was strapped on the jumpseat of an Airbus A320 on my way to Paris, where the King Air and its pilot were waiting for me.
My day was off to a very good start. As always, the view from the Airbus' flight deck was fantastic. I chatted with the Captain and realised he was registered at a flying club just next to where I used to live. Funny how Aviation is a small World...

Landed in Paris, short ride to an airfield nearby and that's where I met the beautiful and shiny King Air 90. Slight disappointment though, while I left Toulouse under a scattered sky in some decent temperature, it was -7°C in Paris with some very cold wind from the far North ... bringing in snow and frost all over.
Not surprised when we saw all that snow and ice on the Kingair's wings. Twenty freezing minutes of de-icing (by scratching pieces of paperboard along the trailing-edge) would have been enough.
As I walked in, I got a quick glimpse at the cabin, revealing two seats on the rear side of the cabin, one in front of the entrance door, and four well-sized seats facing each other just behind the flight deck. I found my way to the front end of the cabin, sat on the right hand seat and started looking at all the needles, switches, circuit breakers and levers around me... There's a lot more than on a Duchess, but clearly Beechcraft tried to keep the same philosophy on the cockpit layout of their aircraft.

Right and left engines started, breaks released and the tires were gently sliding onto the taxiway. With an ANR (Active Noise Reduction) headset on, the sudden hush brought a nice and quiet atmosphere as soon as we turned it on. It's a must-have luxurious device on those planes. It still couldn't completely muffle the roar as full take-off thrust was applied. The take-off in itself was a great moment, especially since this King Air has been fitted with more powerful engines and new four-blade props. Gear coming up, speed increasing to roughly 150 kts IAS, and off we went, following the SID (Standard Instrument Departure) back to the South of France. Cleared to FL210 (21,000ft), altitude armed and autopilot on alt/nav mode. Unfortunately, or lucky-me should I say, the autopilot started overcorrecting the off-track deviations, so we decided to disengage it and I manually flew the plane all the way until touchdown. 1:30 hours at 260 kts TAS enjoying a superb view.

Blue sky overhead and intensely bright, almost alone in the immensity of the sky, it was one of those moments ...
I'd love to show some pictures of the landscapes but clouds have interfered.

The Control vectored us to the ILS 28 at Carcassonne for a MVL (Manoeuvre a Vue Libre, literally Free Visual Manoeuvre or Circle-to-Land in English) on the opposite runway.
Centered on the runway localizer and glideslope beams, we came down at 140 kts until we broke through clouds around 1600ft. Off by 30° to the left, downwind, and early base as we wanted to avoid overflying the beautiful strengthened city. The flaps and gear came down for me, and I soothingly flew it down towards the runway threshold.
I taxied to our parking spot, not far behind a brand new Boeing 737-800, and I must say, I wouldn't mind flying one of those someday.

Airborne life continues...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Instrument Rated

7:00am, gorgeous blue sky outside, not even a single cloud up there.
Today is no different from any other training day, other than the fact that an Examiner will be seating next to me on a tough flight for over 2 hours.

Despite the superb weather, the forecast is far from great. Snow expected from 3:00pm onwards, foggy conditions later in the afternoon, I could have hoped better for a test.
We brief the flight, the examiner tells me he'd like to go to Exeter for an Rnav approach on either runway (notherly wind, runway 08/26).
As I brought along all the performance calculations, filled-in mass & balance sheets, he has a quick look on that before we walk to the aircraft while he asks me some general IR-related questions.
Start-up clearance copied, minutes later we're holding short of runway 26 for a north-westerly departure on track to MULIT, our entry in the Airway. It turns out we're number 6 for take-off, and there are at least 4 or 5 planes either in the approach or on the procedure to land.
After more than 20 minutes wait, we're finally cleared for take-off whilst the sky is slowly turning to dark grey as the bad weather comes in. Not looking too good, our plane is not de-iced equipped, the freezing level is ... below the ground level, so basically if we get any ice in flight we're gonna have to land asap and abort the test.

Line-up checks done, 2000rpm on brakes, released, full power and the two Lycoming engines come to life. Soon the back pressure is clearly pushing us a bit deeper in the seats, rotation speed is reached very quickly, pitch up 8°, positive rate of climb, gear up. After take-off checklist, and here I am flying away on an assigned heading to intercept a VOR Radial leading to the Airway.
I was planning to backtrack the NDB to a point 35nm from SAM VOR on the 275° Radial, but ATC wants me to stay on heading until I reached the oubtound track from SAM.

I'm passed onto Bournemouth Approach and further away onto Yeovilton Radar while reaching FL65 as a cruise level. That's a short flight and there's not much time for rest. Quick check to the wings (the examiner is actually doing the look-out as I'm blind behind the screens (to simulate IMC, while we're actually IMC anyway)), no ice, up to now everything seems good. I listen and write down the ATIS, weather at Exeter is still manageable, and I brief the arrival to both the examiner and myself. ATC is busy and I'm issued with a late airway clearance by a Cardiff controler who I'm having troubles to understand due to some strong accent. We're in the airway at FL70 for 4 minutes only, as the Rnav approach commences there. The procedure is loaded and activated in the GPS (which now commands the HSI), and as the Exeter controler clears me for the approach, I turn towards Letsi to then fly towards the Initial Approach Fix. We've got to come down from FL70 to 2800ft altitude in just a couple of miles, I choose not to pop the gear down (which is an excellent airbrake) as the speed is under control. Pre-landing checks, final course selected on the HSI, GPS cross-checked with conventional navaids, and descent can finally start as I reach the Final Approach Fix. One stage of flaps, gear down, props full fine pitch, check 3 greens and throttles back to 14" manifold pressure (3.5° glide slope). Every mile on the descent, I compare my altitude against the published altitudes on the approach plate. Next frequency is set up in the Comm 1 box ready for use, the missed-approach procedure is briefed, I can now focus entirely on the final approach. I level off roughly 30ft above MDA (minimum decision altitude) until the missed-approach point.

Go around initiated, I raise the gear and the flaps, power back to 25"/2500rpm, announce "Exam 09, going around" and at this right time the examiner simulates an engine failure by pulling all the way back one of the engines levers ... Massive yaw soon under control, I'm chasing Vy speed (best climb rate, 85kts), and feather the "dead" engine (touch drills only). I give a quick update to the control, turn onto my go/around heading of 180°, and complete the emergency drill, before getting back on to the navigation.

Climbing back to FL50, here comes the general handling part of the test. For that purpose, we have to cut off the heater while doing the manoeuvers, and we'll find out later it won't start up until we actually land back in Bournemouth. I'm asked to demonstrate two stalls (one in the approach configuration, the other one in landing configuration), there's no stall alarm as the device is probably glued in position with some strong ice so I have to hold it until the onset of the stall, i.e. the buffet feeling in the control column. I then have my primary flight instrument and my two primary navigation instruments taken away (hidden actually) and I now have to turn onto given headings by using time and Rate 1 turns, and recover from unsual attitudes (the examiner takes the control and puts the plane in some deeply nose down/up attitudes just before he hands me back the controls).

The remaining 45 minutes flying in some very cold air with no working heater are not great fun.
I'm still very grateful the examiner was ok completing the rest of the flight given the circumstances.
Other than the extreme cold in the cabin, the hold and ILS procedure (on one engine) are pretty much eventless as the wind drops a lot in the evening. Still not done though, one single engine go around to do a circle-to-land before finally hearing the very pleasing "Congratulation Captain, that's a pass" as we land back on the concrete in Bournemouth.

Unfortunately, I haven't had the time to update my blog as much as I wanted and I have to skip a few very intesting flights, including my 170A pre-test to Guernsey. I put a couple of pictures taken from there below.

That's the end of a 50h course, and the biginning of an exciting adventure as I put my hands on a Kingair for the very first time today.

Airborne life continues...

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The IR Journey

The usual IR course day is composed of one flight and one backseat, with all the planning that comes along.
Unfortunately this week has been pretty busy at PAT and despite the great efforts to fit me in, I didn't get to fly a lot.
We visited three new airports (Exeter, Bristol International and Alderney), which are all exam routes.

A typical test profile starts off with a 45 minute planning (that's the time allowed to fill in the logsheet, the mass & balance and take-off/landing performances calculations, the flight plan, and a quick study of the route and the approaches procedures).
If some of this is not pre-filled in advance, it is close to impossible to do everything properly in less than an hour.

To make things a bit more interesting, we don't fly the inbound leg as a straight line towards the destination. Instead, we usually depart backtracking a beacon (BIA NDB at Bournemouth), to intercept a radial from another beacon (usually SAM VOR), leading to a waypoint (THRED, MULIT, EXMOR, ...) and/or an airway (N864 between Exeter and Cardiff, Q41 between Southampton and the Channel Islands towards ORTAC), before joining the arrival at destination.

Once there, we either do a procedural approach or a radar vectored (by ATC) approach. A procedural approach is drawn on an "approach plate" and is allocated to one particular type of approach. And there is actually plenty to choose from. They can be "precision approaches" : ILS/DME or ILS only (using Markers), or "non-precision approaches": Loc/DME, VOR/DME, VOR timed, NDB/DME, NDB timed, Rnav (GPS), etc ...
The VOR and NDB approaches usually imply a final track offset to the runway axis, we come down to an angle with the runway, and once we become visual we make a small adjustment in turn before landing. (cf picture below)

Before commencing the approach, we usually go into the "hold", a pattern aiming at delaying the landing time. Not that we need to delay the arrival every time we fly, but as this is one of the not-so-easy parts of the flight, we get to fly at least one hold every flight. The tricky bit being to achieve the inbound track by the beacon, after a correction for the wind in the outbound leg. It probably doesn't speak to anyone who hasn't seen one.

I got the chance to do some rather fast descent to save some time (and money) in a more commercial way. Hence some indicated airspeed of 170 kts, and .. we had up to 220 kts ground speed at some point.
We then fly the approach in itself, and when coming down to DA (decision altitude) or MDA (minimum descent altitude), usually somewhere between 200ft and 400ft above the ground, we abort the approach and go around as if we didn't become visual at that point (which, in reality, would trigger a go around as well). That's where we get a simulated engine failure (the instructor pulls randomly one engine back to idle during the climb out).

After dealing with the engine failure and upon completion of the emergency drills, we then have to follow the "missed approach instructions", which we would have requested before commencing the approach. Heading back home (i.e. Bournemouth airport), we either get radar vectored (if we flew a procedural approach at destination) or fly the procedure if we were radar vectored at destination. Particularity here, the whole approach is now flown on one engine.

If we flew a precision approach (i.e. an ILS) at destination, we fly a non-precision approach back in Bournemouth (usually an NDB approach) or the other way around. The "screens" are kept until DA/MDA, point at which the instructor removes them while we continue the approach a bit further, before going around again, on one engine this time. Continuing visually (VMC), we fly a "circle to land" below a simulated (or real ...) cloud base of 700~800ft, still on one engine.

Other than for that last circuit, the whole flight is flown on instruments (IMC), and unless the weather is absolutely awful, the outside view is hidden by "screens" at all times.
However, the view from the back seat is usually very enjoyable, made up from orange sunrays in the early mornings or late afternoons, exiting clouds surfing, or even exotic landscapes...

Airbone life continues...

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Flights to Cardiff and Bristol Filton

Bournemouth - Bristol Filton - Bournemouth - Cardiff - Bournemouth, that was the plan for the day.
I flew the first two sectors, and Steve was doing the last two.
First IFR nav ever, that was quite a moment.
Flight plan filled, aircraft preflighted, there we were, walking on the airpron to board our plane with a strange feeling, that feeling you get when you prepare yourself for something new and you don't really know what to expect.
A moment later, cleared for take-off, I applied full power and soon the tires were sliding onto the runway at 75 kts indicated airspeed, our VR.
Positive rate of climb, gear up, 100kt, props back to 2500rpm / 25" manifold pressure, after take-off checklist.
On the climb-out, we picked up a bit of ice but as we punched through the cloud layer, the sunshine got rid of it without any trouble. Blue sky up there, as usual.
Flying roughly 150 kts true airspeed at Flight Level 80, we got handed-over to Yeovilton Radar, Cardiff Radar, Bristol Radar and finally Filton Approach.

I joined for a hold above the airfield followed by a procedure NDB (Locator) on runway 27. Despite it being my very first approach away from Bournemouth, it oddly went fairly well. As I was going around at my MDA (Minimum Decision Altitude, NDB approach), I got a glimpse of the now-stored Concorde, parked just South of the runway.
Incredible piece of engineering it was. Oh well. I had better going back to my flight because a moment later my instructor was throwing an engine failure at me. That's where it suddenly got very busy, Filton Tower asked me to contact the Approach and assigned me a southerly heading, while I was dealing with the simulated engine failure and doing all the drills.
A few minutes later, the City of Bristol was flowing under our left wing, I could get a clear view of the University of Bristol's Memorial Tower, where I studied Aerospace Engineering. Brought back some good memories.

The cruise flight back to Bournemouth was pretty much eventless, and the radar vectored ILS that followed was definitely a lot easier than the previous ones we made with a 40 kts wind.
Back on mother Earth, quick swap of the crew , and we were soon back in the air at sunset, to Cardiff this time. Most of the flight shared the same route, flying into the N864 Airway northbound and leaving at EXMOR, a waypoint a dozen miles South of Cardiff, for a runway 12 ILS approach.
The Welsh capital suddenly emerged as we were descending towards Cardiff International in the cold night. Some shiny orangish reflections got the windshield all illuminated. It does feel quite intense in those moments.
We came back in some smooth evening air to Bournemouth to complete the flight with a procedure NDB followed by a circle to land (visual circuit with a simulated cloud ceiling of 800ft).

Airborne life continues...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Be76 Cloud Surfing IFR

Sim check done and dusted, we're finally back in the plane for the last 20 hours of training.
The first few flights are familiarisation with the IFR procedures, holds, vectored ILS, general handling, stalls under IMC (Instruments Conditions), some more partial panel (flying instruments with no Artificial Horizon, no HSI and no RMI), etc ...
Then come the navigations, and finally the test profiles.

I took a few pictures while backseating Steve's flight and made a short video for your enjoyment.

Airbone life continues...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Instrument Rating, 4 weeks locked in a sim

The IR (Instrument Rating) is probably the most important course towards the airline flying. This is where we're taught all the procedures flown on instruments (and not visually unlike the CPL), flying in all kinds of awful weather.
My flightmate and I started the course the day following my CPL Skill Test. Not much of a break indeed.
We jumped straight onto the FNPT1 simulator (Procedures Trainer) for the first 10h of the course.
The course in itself is designed to teach someone who's never done any Instruments Flying before, from the very biginning. However, as part of the CPL course we did 10 hours instruments, so some of the basis was already acquired. We skipped that and started off with some general NDB/VOR tracking and procedure turns (cf flight sheet below), and the 2nd flight was about holds and ILS Approaches.
Within 10 hours, we managed to cover Bournemouth 26 and 08 hold procedures, ILS and NDB Approaches, Bristol Lulsgate, Bristol Filton, Exeter (both runways, NDB/DME, NDB timed (NDB out) and ILS procedures) and an IFR route (Bournemouth -> Alderney).
It all went really fast, and our very experienced flight instructor (ex airline pilot and crew selection examiner) knows exactly how to increase the level on each flight so that we never get any relaxing time in any part of the flight. We were soon thrown at all kinds of systems failures, emergencies, flight plan amendements, etc ...

Then came the much nicer FNPT2 simulator, still a procedure trainer but type specific this time, looking a bit more alike the Beechcraft 76 Duchess with a decent visual.
That part of the course lasts 20 hours and ends with a sim check which we'll take on monday next week. We basically simulated the flights we'll do on the real aeroplane, from start-up to finish. We mostly used it to get to understand how to fly procedures, how to use the equipement, the ATC, get in the habit of decision making, reading plates, etc ... In that regard, it is really good at teaching us procedure related stuff. But to be honest the flying in itself is not that realistic. It's not a motion sim, the flight enveloppe differs quite a bit from the real aircraft, so do attitudes and power settings, engine failures are pretty unrealistic, but the aim is simply to teach students the drills and the procedures before they move onto the plane where the workload will get much higher.
We did some more procedures, navigations, airway joins, DME arcs, etc ...
PAT (Professional Air Training) is currently the only school in the UK to teach Rnav (GNSS) approaches and we tried that at Exeter.
After 20~25 hours, there's not much more to learn from such a simulator if you're confident with what you've done so far, there's no point really in doing the same procedures all over again and learning them by heart. Most students actually struggle through this part of the IR since everything is new, but to be honest both Steve and I were well ahead of the game, we really enjoyed it and kept up with the tough level our instructor was looking for. He basically took us a step beyond that of the CAA, altitude holding went from the IR minima of +/- 100ft to his minima of +/- 20ft ... Most navaid trackings were down to the degree and decision making became soon entirely ours.

The joy that results from doing a good flight, trying to stay ahead of the plane most of the time, and breaking through clouds at minima to land in some deep fog on a runway far from home, is just incredible. Most people won't get it, but when aviation has been your thing since you were in nappies, reaching that point (quite quickly frankly) is basically achieving a dream.
Having completed the course within 25hr instead of the standard 30, we had a chance to do some LOFT (Line Oriented Flight Training), AP coupled approaches, SIDs (Standard Instrument Departure) and STARs (Standard Terminal Arrival Route).

IR flights chronicles due to start next week, with hopefully some nice pictures and videos from up there.

Airbone life continues...

Some of the pictures include the visit of an ex PAT student pilot who's now flying the Citation Mustang, and a backseat on Sarah's flight to Cardiff.