Approach into Funchal

A quick look at the approach into Funchal, using the Time Lapse function on the iPad. Thankfully it was a calm day. Anything above 10 knots of wind and nothing stays where you put it. 

This was from 10,000′ to the stand and lasts just a few seconds. 

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TransAtlantic

TransAtlantic

It can be a long lonely crossing when you are flying a non pressurised piston twin and don’t fancy sitting at higher altitudes with oxygen cannula tubes stuck up your nose for hours on end.

My work has introduced me to a new experience this past couple of weeks – oceanic crossings. That is where you fly a set track across the ground with a preset speed and altitude, due to lack of radar coverage over vast expanses of ocean. Normally one would also use HF radio frequencies instead of the more usual VHF ones, but it can be achieved without. For those interested in knowing more THIS will be of interest.

Crossing over 700NM of water can be a stressful affair. The carriage of a decent life raft, lifejackets and survival equipment is essential. The carriage of an Emergency Locator Transmitter is mandatory and usually there is one fitted to the aircraft, as well as at least one carried by a crew member. A point of no return is also calculated, in case of unforecast winds which mean that you would not make your destination, so turn back to your departure point.

At lower levels it is very difficult to be heard at times and on the second radio unit in the aircraft we always keep the international distress frequency of 121.500 tuned in case we need to make a MAYDAY call. This will get picked up (hopefully) by an overflying airliner and relayed to the nearest appropriate agency so that Search & Rescue action can be actioned as appropriate.

We crossed the Santa Maria Oceanic Area several times over the last fortnight and also entered the neighbouring Gander (American) Area. Much of this, due to the nature of our work, was done at low level, as low as 4500′, where the airliners sit at 35,000′ to 40,000′.

It can be pretty lonely sat down there. We saw just one vapour trail(as pictured above) in our entire time making these crossings. The game of I Spy gets a little predictable after a while and as we hand fly it can be difficult to keep the concentration at an optimal level, so conversation with fellow crew members helps pass the time of day; amazing what you talk about during a 4.5 hour water crossing!

The joy of a night flight

Airborne at just after 2am, the airframe dripping with dew, the screen clearing as we accelerate down the runway, tiny globules of water streaming up the perspex before taking flight towards the tailplane. Banking left, the city lights twinkle their cheery hello, the occasional set of vehicle headlights lighting up small strips of tarmac in front of them, traffic lights adding variety to the urban colours in the darkness.

Ahead of us to the east a large CB is lit up from inside like a Chinese lantern, the beauty belying the danger lurking within. The full moon adds an erie, almost spooky glow to the now rural landscape below, the recently harvested fields showing up as pale ghostly rectangles, the clouds lit gently by the moons soft light.

We turn north, London ahead, full of light, all shades of orange and yellow, red obstacle lights flashing like fairy lights on a winter fir, the Thames Estuary visible even from our position some 20 miles away, gleaming in the moonlight.

Turning west, wings levelling on our assigned track, we are startled by a sudden streak of bright white light, a shooting star guiding us on our way, swiftly pursued by several more, natures fireworks glorious in their midnight display.

Too soon it’s time to land, more delight from the array of runway lights beckoning us down, their colours and meaning well known, reassuring to the aviator descending back down to be ground bound once again.

Too easy to forget what delight can be had, from a brief foray into that world that only us pilots can access. Taxying in, green centreline followed, engines shut down, the silence returns; the beauty remains but nothing so grand as that view from on high.

Modular v Integrated Training for the airline world

The airlines don’t tend to want that (my) type of experience any more. That’s not sour grapes, it’s based on talking to those in my type of job with a lot of hours on MEP, who apply day in day out to the airlines, yet are regularly beaten to those positions by those coming out of integrated schemes set up to train pilots the way the airlines dictate. I know I’m not your typical wannabe, having gained 600 hours of fun filled flying before I decided to make the leap, I just think it is important that people know the world has changed. If I was starting from scratch now with my eyes on an airline position, albeit with the benefit of hindsight, I would go the integrated route.

I also appreciate that there are ways in for those with non jet experience, through FlyBe for example at the moment, but those places are limited. They are taking a lot of more experienced guys as they have their own MPL cadets going through the system. AIUI they need guys with a few hours to get over to the left hand seat a little quicker than a cadet. So no good for the likes of the OP with 250 hours.

From my personal perspective I’m not bothered any more. I’m on a reasonable salary, the flying is fun and all by hand rather than autopilot, which suits me. I’ll never command the salary of a captain at the likes of BA, Monarch or others and I shall probably have to rely on the state pension when I stop work. I’m still paying off money borrowed when I ran out of it towards he end of my training (though chicken feed to the amounts talked about here for integrated training) and have only in the last 6 months managed to buy a modest property. I may end up flying a biz jet, however I may well not.

The allure of the airline world will always attract copious numbers and money is a lot easier to find with the wealthier world we live in now.

What I don’t think is fair is selling the modular route as giving an equal chance. IMHO it doesn’t. Those starting out do need to be aware of the risks involved. I see too many (through my instructing and the applications we receive every day) who have been led to believe that gaining that licence will result in a job. Sadly for too many it does not, not even for those from integrated schools.

Some of those who do not gain immediate employment (within 6 months or so) will drift into instructing, some will simply give up. There as plenty of disillusioned instructors around hoping for their first break in the jet world. Disillusioned instructors are the last thing the industry wants. Thankfully there are plenty who are not so disillusioned.

Would I do it all again? To be sure I would!

I shall end on a smile. Yesterday I was flying a low level run at a very large international airport. As I pulled up abeam one of the holding points the airline pilot at the hold said “Gee that looks like fun, I’d love to do that!” My answer was simply “Well you can’t” 😋

Saying goodbye can be painful


Before starting my commercial instrument rating, I owned a third share in a Scottish Aviation Bulldog, an aeroplane I came to love from the bottom of my heart. I had instigated the purchase of this fine machine but lack of funds as my aspiration to fly commercially grew, meant it had to go. The account below is from the day I said goodbye to what will always be a favourite in my memory.

Camouflage paint doesn’t work when an aeroplane is silhouetted against a cornflower sky. It does however present an imposing image, especially when it is daubed onto an inverted Harvard whose cockpit is not all that far from one’s own.

As the Harvard peeled away back to chase the summer sun dropping into the western sky I returned my thoughts to the serene bimbling ones I had been enjoying before I had caught sight of the warbird a few minutes earlier as it had attached itself to my port wing.

A fitting good bye flight this. I had started by climbing through the puffy white cumulus clouds, flirting with them as I dipped my wings in and out of their edges, playfully kissing their soft underbellies, tickling their tops with my undercarriage, going in hard with a strafing attack, pulling up at the last moment before allowing my steed to drop down into its comforting embrace once again.

Cloud surfing complete, I had climbed into the smoother air above the cloudbase, gradually building up the pace from gentle wingovers into slow graceful rolls, watching the world rotate magically around that magnificent propeller, the very same propeller that had seen me through my last few hundred hours of fun filled frolics in the vast playground that is the sky. Using a railway line for reference I looped and rolled, relaxed but alert, always looking but with enough in reserve to savour the moment.
Floating over the top of a loop whilst watching the world all topsy turvy is simply magical; the ground filling the cockpit is reassuring rather than frightening as the g-force builds and level flight is once more attained.
But not for long, a gentle pull back on the stick allows us, just momentarily, to hang there, nose pointed to the heavens, the propeller refusing for just a short while to relinquish its grip on the air around it, before I kick the rudder and the nose transcribes an arc through the blue horizon and once again that tug on the harness as I hang there, nose pointed at the lush green fields below, picking out white balls of wool grazing on that greenness, those couple of seconds filling the senses with an appreciation of life, before pulling on the stick to bring the world back to the normal way up.

Eventually the aeros fix for the day was fulfilled and I headed east, throttled back, my mind full of fond memories, fun times, laughs, trials and tribulations all forgotten now. I had never thought it possible to fall in love with an aeroplane to this extent, but I had. We were often as one these days, each communicating with the other in our own special way. I valued the unrivalled view from that panoramic canopy, filling my eyes with special and unrivalled views on every trip we made. I loved the arc the propeller made, the way the handling was secure and predictable, the ability to cruise in comfort yet hurl each other around the skies too.

That is when the Harvard had appeared on my wingtip. It meant a lot, the pilot knew why I was up here and had taken the effort to seek me out, the effort that only a true friend will make for another. As he departed and left me to my thoughts a lump appeared in my throat and a couple of salty tears glistened as they rolled down my cheek highlighted by the sun shining from that beckoning sky.

I must have flown this way 500 times by now, but still love the scenery of the Downs as it unfolds beneath those red tipped wings. I doubt I shall ever tire of it, the lushness of the fields, punctuated by yellow swathes of corn, inky green hedges, picturesque villages. The waves, tips coruscating in the sunlight, full of all those mysterious blues, the cliffs white and standing proud, marinas full of boats, small decrepit motor boats alongside huge palatial extravagant yachts, their sails flapping like handkerchiefs on a washing line.

I dived for the ocean, flying along at cliff height, the one time it really does feel like you are moving quickly when flying, admiring the colours, the houses and the cars all looking like you could pick then up and rearrange their order. A windmill standing proud, people walking their dogs, kids on the beach enjoying the surf, an elderly couple walking hand in hand, enjoying their memories, fishermen casting their hopeful lines.
Time to climb a little, admire the architecture of the cityscape now passing by, the piers, the buildings, the layout of the streets, everything laid out like a moving map below me.

Reaching the river that would lead us back, I turned inland, making every moment last as long as possible, no cameras, just memories, the type that nobody can take away, that will stay with me forever and always bring a smile to my face and a skip to my heartbeat.

Fate was kind to me and my steed , touching down smoothly as the grass came up to meet us and then it was over, our time as soul mates over, an era complete but with no regrets harboured. Time moves on, priorities have to change, but love for that aeroplane will stay with me always.

Bimbling

I work long and bloody hard so feel no guilt at being sat in what is regarded as a privileged seat. I just hope I never lose that wow factor in a job that took me so many years to attain. I hear too many moans and whinges from others sat in everything from light twins to airliners and often wonder why they bothered in the first place. It’s a special world I inhabit and though may be ‘lucky’ (through hard work & sacrifice & grim determination), it pains me when I see and hear so many clearly unhappy in their work.

I have been so immersed in work this year that I’ve had little time to satisfy my yearning for a simple bimble in a light aircraft. Neither have I managed to find the time to attend ‘fly-ins’, those events where you rock up in your aeroplane, chat about aviation, drinking coffee and indulging in a slice of airfield cafe cake (of which there are some awesomely tasty ones) and then bimble off back home, taking in the views and deviating from your chosen track to have a look at something of interest from the air.

I have access to a pretty little 1944 vintage Cub and to date have managed a whole forty minutes or so with it this year, reminding myself how to land it. When I read on one of the aviation forums (www.forums.flyer.co.uk) that there was a fly-in being organised at Compton Abbas, a beautiful grass airfield on top of the rolling Downs near Shaftesbury, I was determined I was going to make it.

The idea was to take along a student, to give them an idea of the type of flying they could expect to do after passing their skill test and gaining their private pilot licence. To give them an insight into what lay in wait for them and inspire them onwards and upwards.

Sadly the Cub decided to develop a misfire the previous week, so not wanting to let the student who had been allocated to me down, I decided to hire the Super Decathlon that I do some instructing on when not wrapped up in my day job.

My student turned out to be a 3000 hour plus ex Army helicopter pilot, who was working towards his fixed wing licence, rather than a totally green novice, but I’d like to think he gained something from the trip and was certainly keen to meet some fellow flyers.

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We stopped at a small farm strip en route to meet up with a pal of mine. He has a beautiful yellow Cub, the colour favoured by many, which was waiting on the ground for us and made spotting the farm strip rather easier than it could have been. We were at low level and dodging some almighty big showers, but the yellow Cub beckoned us and I was happy with my landing on what was a beautifully smooth though short grass strip. Especially considering the calm wind conditions.

A fiver in the landing fee box and a briefing with the other pilot and we were soon airborne again for the short hop to Compton. The Cub went first and with the excess power available to me I slotted in quickly on his left hand side. Always a great opportunity for a bit of photography.
An enormous black cumulus shedding copious quantities of rain was approaching the overhead at our destination and I was glad to be down before the aeroplane received a free wash.

Shaking the rain soaked grass from our footwear we enjoyed a couple of hours chin wagging with fellow aviators and their guest studes before setting off home. Even throttled back I was getting a most respectable 139 knots groundspeed with the tailwind that had picked up over the lunchtime period, so we were back at base before we knew it, dodging some very hefty showers on the return leg.

The last fly-in I attended was a trip to Italy in the early summer of 2012 so I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed these days out.

Must do more!

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Loss of Power

Aeroplane engines are generally reliable beasts.

Bear with me on the basic physics at play before the story starts.

Piston engines twins are split into two types, those with ancient thirsty old engines made by the likes of Lycoming & Continental, then those more modern ones which run on diesel and made by manufacturers such as Thierlert. There are of course exceptions like the fine Tecnam twin with its Rotax engines, but they are currently just finding their way into the training fleet in the UK and don’t have the payload of the bigger twins.

The bigger heavier piston twins are almost entirely made up of those fitted with the avgas loving, low revving units as found in the Chieftain I fly at work. Large capacity solid blocks that last and last, as long as they are not maltreated.

Pilots are trained to deal with engine failures almost from the very start of their training. Initially on single engined types where the only option is to adopt a gentle glide towards the earth and pick a suitable field to land in; carried out correctly this gives a very good chance of survival should the worst happen.

When pilots move onto twin engined aeroplanes they are taught what to do when one engine fails. Should both fail at the same time, adopt that technique learned for single engined aeroplanes but expect to arrive faster and sooner!

There are all sorts of aerodynamic and physical forces at play when a twin loses one engine. This can be googled and researched elsewhere, but basically the end effect is that the aeroplane will struggle to climb away from the ground effectively unless dealt with promptly and in the correct manner.
This can be even more difficult in hot weather as the air is less dense (thinner) meaning the engine develops less power. This affects both acceleration and rate of climb (vertical speed away from the ground). Lose one of the engines and that rate of climb will diminish still further! A pilots favourite weather for take off therefore is cold crisp air.

When operating from hot countries there is an allowance made for that heat by using longer runways. This gives a longer run along the ground to accelerate to the speed that will allow the aircraft to fly. Once airborne one expects the climb performance to be sluggish so it is a good idea not to climb directly towards rapidly rising ground!

Load the aircraft up to its MTOM (Maximum Take Off Mass) and logically one will deduce that the heavier it is the slower the acceleration and climb performance will be. Deduction correct. All this is calculated before the flight takes place to ensure that a take off can be made safely and also legally.

One last thing. A twin engine piston aircraft has two vital speeds. Minimum control speed, below which the pilot will be unable to maintain control of the aircraft, identified on the airspeed indicator as ‘red line’ ; and Vyse, the best rate of climb speed on one engine, also known as ‘blue line’ speed. This speed should be the one to aim for in the event of losing an engine on take off once airborne. Slower than this will result in loss of performance.

Before take off we carry out ‘power checks’ to ensure that, as far as we are able to, the engines will develop full power after we line up on the runway and advance the throttles to fully open.

And so I did. All indications normal, with the oil pressure a little lower than at home in the cooler climate of the UK , but acceptable.
Temperature had been given as 47C so a tad warm outside and like sitting in a baked bean tin inside the cockpit with the sun burning down.

“Clear take off runway 35, wind direction 010degrees, 7 knots”

I lined the nose of the aeroplane up on the centreline and stopped, applied toe brakes and then set power for take off, a jolly juggle of 6 levers. Releasing the brakes the aircraft started to lumber down the runway. Poor old girl was at MTOM today and I expected performance to be lethargic.

Right hand seat safety pilot calling the speeds, the transition from airspeed alive to 85 knots took a while. All indications around normal. I gently eased the control wheel back to coax her off the ground. Poor aircraft really doesn’t like these baking outside air temperatures. Eyes outside now, dabbing the brakes just before selecting gear up, maintaining the centreline, waiting for the call from the other seat telling me I had reached blue line speed…..yet I knew I hadn’t. The aeroplane was talking to me through the controls. Something wasn’t quite right.

Glancing inside, the airspeed still read about 90 knots, well shy of blue line speed. Look back out, back in again, eyes this time on the vital gauges displaying oil temps & pressures. Left hand was a little lower than usual. Look back out the window, remember above all else to fly the aeroplane.
I was holding a little more right rudder than I should be in order to track straight. How much of that 4000m runway do I have left? I must be no higher than 100′. Not enough to get it down safely without running off the end.

Glance inside. Bugger! Manifold pressure on left engine dropping, apply full power on both, correcting for the yaw as the right engine gave me far more power than the left. Glancing out to maintain situational awareness and back in to each instrument in turn. Oil pressure needle now pointing at the red. The red at the low end of the scale. Damn.

Right, fly the aeroplane. Still getting some power from the left hand engine. With a rate of climb just registering and a maximum of 100′ a minute I am not denying myself the little extra power that the left is giving me at the moment. Alternate air? Tried. Mixtures? Fiddled with. Fuel? On and not the problem, have the correct fuel pressure and flow, leave them on these tanks.

That ground is very close. The engineer in the back has noticed it’s rather lower than usual. I retract take off flap, trying to minimise every bit of drag on the airframe. Lowering the nose a little more to maintain airspeed has us in level flight. Retracting cowl flaps to remove the last bit of drag I finally reach the blue line speed. The aircraft gently rises upward giving me a couple of hundred feet a minute climb rate.

Working under commercial pressure as we do, my mind briefly flirts with the idea of giving the task a go. A stupid idea that is discarded immediately. Press-on-itis has killed too many pilots and crew.

In the training environment a practice engine failure always assumes catastrophic failure requiring shut down of the engine in question. In the real world one often has some power available and if that power is enough it would be daft to shut the engine down. I have about 55% available to me so I’m keeping it.

Radio call made to Tower informing them of our intentions to land back as soon as possible, I concentrate now on securing the cabin and ensuring the other three persons on board are aware of the situation and that they are in no danger. We shall not however be carrying out a missed approach, so I need to land from this approach. With 4 km of tarmac in front of me that shouldn’t be difficult.

As I write this the cause is as yet unknown despite many hours diagnosis on the apron. Sadly had to eventually leave the aeroplane on the apron and leave on an airliner, whilst a solution is found. Whatever that solution, it is bound to be time consuming and expensive in a country where bureaucracy is rife and the pace of anything is excruciatingly slow. There are better countries to have technical problems it has to be said.