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...