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...