Part 3 - My First Experience With Aircraft Instruments

Part 3 - My First Experience With Aircraft Instruments

This continues on from Part 2

Engine management became a breeze with EGT (Exhaust Gas Temperature) information for each cylinder being graphically displayed so that the pilot can use the automated “lean assist” system to lean back the mixture more accurately. Rate of fuel consumption, fuel remaining and time to fuel starvation all help the pilot manage the aircraft more wisely. The RPM, Oil Temp and Oil pressure gauges are clearly displayed as is the electrical positive/negative charge information. This last one is especially important in an electrically powered glass cockpit!

The flight instrumentation is what’s really great. RPM, VSI, DG, AH and Altimeter are all summarised on one clear screen directly in front of the pilot. The turn and balance took a little more getting used to as I endeavoured to keep the two small triangles matched up in turns (I personally like the simplicity of the ball bearing in a trough slide). What I really enjoyed was the autopilot and the ease in which it is integrated into the main flight display for setting the altitude, VSI and heading bugs. It’s an absolute breeze to link either of the Garmin 430s into the autopilot for directional control.

I ended up flying the Archer from Moorabbin to the Gold Coast and back and loved every minute of it. What I enjoyed the most was that it removed a lot of the pilot workload so that I could concentrate on other things such as enjoying the trip. Trust me when I say that as soon as you start up and the screens come to life you will still get the appropriate mouth-gaping response from your passengers.

Despite all of the technology and the incredible ease of using the glass I still find myself staring at the analogue ASI and Altimeter on the left hand as soon as I enter the circuit. There is just something about those older instruments that seem to engender a sense of confidence and familiarity that is missing from my experiences to date in a pure glass cockpit.

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Part 2 - My First Experience With Aircraft Instruments

Part 2 - My First Experience With Aircraft Instruments

This continues on from Part 1

Levelling off at 2500 feet was a little bit of a challenge as the concept of a VSI was thrown in for good measure. “What the heck is a VSI?” I politely asked. You’re always polite to the instructor when you realise that the only way that you’ll survive your first flight is by their good graces. “The VSI is the Vertical Speed Indicator and when you are level it should read zero.” was the patient reply.

I imagine that we’ve all done it. Chasing the VSI is almost like a game the first time you fly. I sometimes wonder whether instructors have a perverse sense of humour watching a rookie chase the VSI up and down for a while prior to telling them about holding attitudes etc.

Next came the DG. I jumped in quickly when I heard yet another acronym and was quickly told that the DG is the Directional Gyro or in other words, “where you are going”. I’m glad that I wasn’t told at this stage about caging, aligning the DG with the magnetic compass etc.

So by this time, I’ve forgotten about the ASI and concentrated on the DG, VSI and Altimeter and it wasn’t long before all of them got out of kilter and the instructor gently set the controls right again. Flying lopsided isn’t a really pleasant experience so the Artificial Horizon (AH) and Turn and Balance were brought into play and I felt my brain expand in another order of magnitude. I momentarily thought about the level of expansion will be in direct proportion to the headache later that night.

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Part 1 - My First Experience With Aircraft Instruments

Part 1 - My First Experience With Aircraft Instruments

Discussing avionics with pilots is like talking about which religion they belong to. There are a number of camps that most pilots fall into starting with “glass versus analogue” and finishing with one brand versus another. When I reflect upon my recent aviation journey I find that there is a lot more to the selection of avionics than first meets the eye.

Flying for me started with movies like “The Battle of Britain” where Spitfires soared across the sky chasing down German bombers at the height of the Blitz. What really entranced me about the movie were the shots from the cockpit where the instruments were clearly in view. For example, a spinning altimeter told the pilot that it was a time for a quick exit.

In the 80’s I graduated from the Battle of Britain to the infamous Tom Cruise classic “Top Gun”. I was once again thrust into the exciting world of aviation while watching Viper and Maverick battle it out for supremacy. Goose’s exit courtesy of a flat spin and avionics going crazy was a particular highlight.

So what do these two movies have in common? Dials, lots of dials. There’s nothing quite like seeing the face of a passenger climbing aboard as they survey the mass of dials, buttons, levers and knobs before them.

Let’s face it if you ever want impress a friend, family member or dare I say member of the opposite sex do your pre-flight briefing like this. “No drinking, touching controls etc”, followed by, “and yes I actually know what all of these instruments do.” I can bet that you’ll get a nervous laugh followed by comment that can be summarised as, “I’m glad that you do!”

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A Flight Stopped By Weather

A Flight Stopped By Weather

For the last few weeks I’ve had the frustration of being involuntarily grounded by both the weather and work. When it’s a great day to fly the in-tray is stuffed full and when I finally manage to clear that out lo and behold the weather has cascading thumping thunderstorms and buckets or rain. The last of which is not a good combination for a VFR pilot trying to get his hours up in an Arrow.

So the other day I checked both the weather and my desk and discovered that there was what looked like blue skies in both. Hooray! I planned on flying from Moorabbin to Tocumwal just over the Victorian border into NSW and grab a car to visit a business colleague in Cobram who was competing in a radio controlled model aircraft competition. Yes, it was tempting to consider buzzing the smaller model planes but I reconsidered that idea after imagining the impact a model aeroplane would have on the Arrow’s windshield at about 130 knots.

I started my planning the night before and decided on flying from Moorabbin via Sugarloaf reservoir, through the Kilmore Gap and almost a direct flight to Tocumwal. I’ve done this flight a few times before, the last one with my son Timothy when we headed north for gliding lessons so I was pretty comfortable with the flight plan.

Nevertheless, I’m pretty paranoid about flying safely and I still checked out all of my charts, changes in the ERSA and finally on Downwind.com.au to see if any helpful pilots had left any hints in the airport comments area. There’s nothing quite like actual pilots to keep you up-to-date with the state of an airfield.

One of the last things I like to do before a flight is to check the weather charts on the BOM and then look at the aviation weather on the morning of a flight. Other than a bit of wind everything was looking in the green but it always does look fine until it isn’t.

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The Magic Third Light!

The Magic Third Light!

The other day I was sitting at my desk working away and I couldn’t help but glance outside at an absolutely perfect clear blue sky. About every few minutes I could hear the buzz of a plane doing circuits out a Moorabbin and it drove me crazy just wanting to get up in the air!

At about 11am I looked across at Roselyn and said, “I’m done for the day, let’s go for a fly.” It didn’t take her long to agree to an orbit around Melbourne CBD followed by a flight around Port Phillip Bay.

I called up the aero club, booked HAB (an Arrow) in about one hours time while Roselyn called a friend up to ask if she would like to come with us. We all met at the club and after pre-flight checks climbed aboard and it wasn’t long before we were winging our way towards the CBD.

One of the reasons why I wanted to do an orbit around the CBD was that we would be entering controlled airspace. I actually love being in controlled airspace as I find that it’s like having someone really look after you the whole way. It’s also nice to get some regular practice in dealing with the air traffic controllers so you can continue to make their life easier on future navigations.

 

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Latrobe Valley and Wilson’s Prom

Latrobe Valley and Wilson’s Prom

It was a beautiful day and I’d booked a Piper Warrior (TAK) to take my wife and two girls down Latrobe Valley in Victoria to head south, fly around Wilson’s Promontory and then back up the coast to Moorabbin airport.

With four people in a Warrior my first challenge was getting an honest answer from each of the passengers about their weight. Being young, my girls were light enough that all four of us could go.....thank goodness as I didn’t want to choose who was going to be staying home!

We headed the five minutes down the road to Moorabbin Flying Services and while I checked out the plane I made sure that everyone visited the bathroom as it was going to be about a two and half hour flight.

Tango, Alpha, Kilo is a fantastic plane with a full glass cockpit. I found that the glass took a little while to get used to but once you did it’s really hard to go back to flying older planes. Also, being a newer aircraft the controls were really tight. I’d learnt how to fly on 30 year old planes where you could move the yoke around quite freely and still be flying straight. TAK was the reverse and it became an absolute pleasure the fly with just slight corrections with the tip of your fingers.

I couldn’t have wished for a better day. There wasn’t a breath of wind (to my passengers relief) and other than a few puffs of white cloud it was blue from horizon to horizon.

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Jump Starting A Plane

Jump Starting A Plane

A few days ago Roselyn and I decided to make a snap decision to fly from Moorabbin down to Phillip Island just south-east of Melbourne to visit some friends.  Since it was at the last minute the place I normally higher my aircraft from didn’t have any available so I ended up sourcing an old Piper Archer elsewhere.

We arrived to pick up the plane and found that the daily inspection hadn’t been signed off despite the plane being taken up earlier in the morning. After sorting this out I did my normal checks and discovered that one of the fuel tanks was almost bone dry while the other was half full. So much for fuel management by the previous pilot!

We had the plane refueled, drained the tanks and all was OK so in we jumped to head down to Phillip Island. Being an old plane I soon discovered that there were things in it that were, well, old! For example, other than turning the second radio off I couldn’t work out how to actually stop listening to it. This was highly annoying while listening to take-off clearances etc.

Since the plane was so old you could no longer read what half the switches were marked as and the controls felt incredibly loose compared to the 2003 models I was used to flying.  Not to mention the fact that our son Timothy jumped in the back and had his headphones ready to plug in only to discover there was nothing to plug into. Oh well, it was only a 30 minute flight.

After run-ups we followed another plane to the holding point and sat and sat and sat waiting for the pilot in front to do his read call. It got to the point where I was wondering if I should turn off my engine while I waited for him to get read! Finally he made his call was given take-off clearance and the tower asked me to immediately follow him (I think that they were a bit frustrated with the pilot’s delay as well).

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