Saturday, June 2, 2012

Controlled Airspace Avoidance Nav (Practice Flight Test)

Well, I've had this one booked for three weeks in a row.  For the past two Saturdays we've been foiled by the weather.  On the first weekend, there was a possibility of going so I went to the airport, completed my flight plan and fuelled up the aircraft.   The cloud height was good, but scattered showers that became more widespread put paid to that day.  The next weekend I didn't even bother rocking up to the hangar.  A thick overcast hanging at about 800 feet AGL prevented any VFR aviation that day.  It's been very frustrating, however Manny said that I got more points that first weekend for pulling the pin, rather than blasting off and having to limp back to base dodging ever increasing rain cells.  So I think that's a good thing.

This morning when I woke up, I was very happy to look out the window and see clear skies with very light winds.  I printed out the weather forecasts and headed over to the hangar without delay.  When I got there, the sun was out but the air temperature felt like 5 degrees!  I put on an extra layer to protect me while I completed the aircraft daily inspection.  I'd completed my flight plan, and Manny looked it over while I was fuelling the aircraft up.

Today's session was all about controlled airspace avoidance.  As a recreational pilot, we don't posess the qualification to enter a control zone, so we have to fly around or below the steps. That sounds restrictive, but the truth is that much of Australia is class G - which is an uncontrolled airspace.  From RAAus Fly Safe tutorials (  "The total volume of Class G airspace included between the average land mass elevation of 1100 feet and 10 000 feet is some 20 million cubic kilometres".  There are also around 2000 aerodromes and airstrips (and that's not including private strips!), so unless one wants to land in the middle of large cities, it's not too restrictive at all!

The plan was simply fly to Melton airfield (not even land there!) and then fly home.  Simple huh?  Well, being a practice test, I was sure that Manny had a few things in store for me.  I was right.

We got in the aircraft, fired it up and warmed the engine.  Manny gave me the option of how I'd like to depart the circuit - straight out and then turn to intercept track then adjust or to perform an overhead departure.  I opted for the latter for simplicity and predictability.  After allowing sufficient time to warm the engine fully, we took off on runway 18 - and it wasn't long before Manny started throwing some curve balls.  As we were on climb mid-upwind, Manny asked me to look at something - and then promptly pulled the throttle for a simulated engine failure.  Right over the swamp South of the airfield!  I lowered the nose to maintain 70 knots and then assessed my options.  Only swamp filled the view in front. We were turning.  Houses to the right, paddocks to the left.  Left it is! As I started to swing the aircraft's nose towards open ground, Manny informed me that I magically had the engine power back.  *phew!*

I continued the climb as normal, turned crosswind then downwind.  Then climbing above the circuit, setting course for YMEL. I didn't want to climb too high because we were heading towards descending control steps, so I opted for 3000 feet initially.  For once, my calculations were correct - so we reached Ballan exactly as my planned timings showed.  So far so good!

Next step was to begin a slow descent and change the radio to Melbourne Centre.  As I just finished the radio, I looked up to see the Police AirWing helicopter cruising on a reciprocal heading, just off my 11 o'clock.  Plenty of separation, but a good reminder to look out!  Melton is under the 2500 foot step, so our planned height was to be 2300 feet.  It wasn't long before we were in Melbourne Radar's radio area, so I switched over to that.

"When you identify Melton aerodrome, we'll turn and head back." said Manny.

I pointed to the grass and sand strips of Melton, just North of the actual city.  He nodded, gave me the thumbs up and gave the thumb over the shoulder gesture meaning "Ok, get us home."  This was my first flight into the "Melbourne Basin", and I didn't want to waste it so I asked Manny to take over for two seconds while I took a couple of quick snaps.

The "Melbourne Basin", looking South-East.  Melton in the foreground.  Melbourne city and Port Phillip Bay can be seen in the distant haze.

In the process of turning back home.  Hopetoun Park can be seen just above the nose.  The new Anthony's Cutting Bypass bridge can be seen slightly below and to the left.  The You Yangs and hints of Avalon Airport can be seen in the distance.
I headed back to the lake we passed over on the previous leg, so as to be sure I was on track for this one.  As we moved further and further away from the steps, I continued to climb slowly.  Until this point, Manny had kept fairly quiet apart from general chit-chat.  Then he started pointing out features around us.

"What town would that be?" said Manny, pointing with his pen over the dashboard.


"And this feature?"

"Mount Blackwood."

"And that lake?"

"Bostok Reservoir."


All of these questions made me sure something was about to be thrown my way.

I was right.

Manny picked up his map and showed it to me.  There was a heavy line drawn North/South from Buninyong up towards Creswick and beyond.  It had smaller lines coming off at 45 degrees.  It looked ominous to say the least.

"This is an imaginary band of bad weather that has moved in while we were in Melton.  It is rainy and overcast down to the surface.  What are you going to do?"  Manny looked at me while my brain worked.  Over the engine noise I'm sure he could hear the cogs turning inside my head.

"We'll divert from Ballan to the South of Buninyong, and then head back to Ballarat from there."

"Good show.  Let's go."

I pulled out my map and quickly drew a freehand line from Ballan to Buninyong.  As I could already see it clearly enough to identify it, I pointed the nose just to the left of it and figured that I'd work out the rest as we went.  A few moments later (and after I'd accidentally dropped my pencil a couple of times! Grrr), I had a rough heading and a rough time for the distance to go.  I also made sure I had changed back to Melbourne Centre radio.

We flew fairly uneventfully from Buninyong back to Ballarat.  Manny quizzed me on options if Ballarat was found to be in bad weather.  I listed off Lethbridge, Bacchus Marsh and Ararat as possible diversion options.  He also included Colac, but seemed happy with my answer.

I manoeuvred the aircraft to join downwind for 18.  I unintentionally flew a fairly tight circuit - however, lucky I did because as we were abeam the threshold for 18, he pulls the throttle once again.

"Ballarat Traffic, Jabiru 4781. Glide approach, runway one eight.  Full stop.  Ballarat"

Here we go. I  lowered the nose to maintain 70 knots and turned towards the runway.  I thought I was a little too close, so I momentarily turned away.  Then, once I turned final and was happy that we'd make it in, I added flap and touched down as normal.

It was a great fun flight with lots of stuff to make me think and work hard.  Manny said that I coped well with them and was generally impressed with my cockpit management.  Oh yeah, and I didn't bust controlled airspace!  I filled in my logbook and booked in the next flight.  This is the big one - the navigation flight test!

Can't wait!!!!  Let's hope that the Aviation Gods are happier this time, and I don't have to postpone it two times like this one!