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...