Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year

I know it’s been a little while since my last update and I am truly sorry about that. I will make it one of my main New Year's resolutions to update this a lot more frequently.

Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope you all had as lovely a Christmas as I did here at home with my family. Looking back it does always make me chuckle just how many Christmas’s I have missed in the past because I’ve been sailing or just abroad in another country.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get into the air since I did my first solo. The lesson that I had booked just a few days after that solo lesson turned out interesting… I dutifully turned up and within half an hour of arriving, there was a complete white out snow storm! As you can imagine, that airtime was swiftly canned until the snow cleared.

Didn’t the snow stay around though! For those of you who are reading this from abroad, we’ve had dumping after dumping of the white stuff, eventually leading up to a white Christmas which was very pretty. The runway was of course shut and so hence I haven’t flown since. I am hoping to get up in the air pretty soon after the New Year though.

Yesterday evening I saw a brilliantly performed 'Sleeping Beauty' pantomime at our local theatre with all my family (aunts, uncles, cousins etc) and it was lovely to be able to catch up with them all. I can’t remember the last time I went to a panto and with so many laughs in the script, I really did have a great time.

Wishing everyone a very happy New Year,


Monday, 13 December 2010

Flying solo - whoooope!

Today was probably one of the most important and memorable days in my attempt to become the youngest person to fly around the world and the first person to both sail and fly around the world. I flew my first Solo!

When I woke up this morning all raring to go, I opened my blinds, looked out the window and groaned in disappointment at the extremely low cloud base making look rather foggy. I could barely see even 100m down my road. I promptly phoned up Cabair (which has got to be the best flying school ever!), spoke to Liam and he certainly agreed that it wasn’t looking great for my lesson today. We agreed that I’d ring up again in a couple of hours to see if the situation had changed at all since then.

At 12.30 I phoned up, and once again the news wasn’t great. Heathrow airport, which is pretty darn close to Elstree aerodrome, was reporting a cloud base of only 500ft. Still not good enough for us, as the circuit height around Elstree is at 1000ft.

Whilst having lunch I was chatting to my mum and at around half one she suggested I ring Cabair once more on the off chance that there was a cancellation for Liam’s afternoon lesson with another student.

Incredibly, I think my mum has begun to mind read, as when I phoned up, Liam said that just minutes ago his student has cancelled his afternoon slot and so he was free to fly. I once again asked about the cloud base and Liam reported that it had improved sufficiently and was certainly flyable.

I immediately wolfed down the rest of my lunch, jumped in the car with my gear and headed over to Elstree full of anticipation and excitement.

When I arrived, Liam and I sat down for a short briefing on the weather conditions and we also did a quick recap of all the emergency procedures should I encounter any problems during my first solo flight. I was happy with everything, as was Liam and so I headed out to the aircraft to do a full A check of the plane. An A check is a complete check of the aircraft from top to bottom looking at everything from seeing that the flaps are in order to the right level of oil being in the engine. I was happy with everything, Liam did his own quick little check to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything, and with him being satisfied and in the co-pilot's seat, I started the plane up and we went through more checks and tests.

I radioed ahead for airfield information and taxi clearance. This was granted and once I had jotted down the relevant information, adjusted what I needed too, such as the altimeters pressure, I taxied out of Cabair and headed over to the runway. On the way there, we stopped, did our engine tests to check that it was in perfect order and then headed over to the holding line just before the runway. I radioed, saying that I was ready for departure. We were given the clearance and so we headed out to the threshold before stopping, holding the plane on the brakes, applying full power to achieve the best rate of acceleration and then as I released the braked we headed down the runway gaining airspeed until I reached 65knots at which point I lifted the aircraft off the ground and into the sky.

The circuit was a left hand one off runway 26 and so I proceeded to take us around the circuit smoothly at 1000ft before lining up for final at 600ft. At this point I had already completed all the pre-landing checks, I had two stages of flaps down. As we approached the runway even closer, I brought in another stage of flap, we passed over the school, which lies just before the aerodrome, and after I flew just over the threshold, I touched us down with a little bump. This was a go-around and so I didn’t apply any brakes this time. Instead, I dropped one stage of flap, increased the power back up to 100% and took off again. I repeated this circuit twice more before Liam and I agreed that the time had come for my first solo!

After landing on the third circuit I exited the runway and radioed ahead for a change of Captain. That was a good feeling! We taxied over to the same point that we did the engine testing before. Liam jumped out, wished me luck and I was on my own. What a cool feeling that was! I proceeded to do some more tests and checks then once again taxied down to the holding line, before requesting clearance for take off. This was immediately granted and with a little bit of nerves I taxied the plane out onto the runway and up to the threshold. I once again held the plane on the brakes, took a deep breath of air, increased the power to 100% and let the brakes go. I was soon gaining speed and it didn’t take long to achieve 65knots at which point I lifted the nose up into the air and the plane left the ground. After I reached around 300ft I proceeded to quickly do some more checks and as I could see we were nicely gaining height and our airspeed was fine, one by one I let off both stages of flaps.

At this point I was still gaining height and I couldn’t help but shout out loud ‘YES I’M SOLO!! WOOOOPEE!’ I certainly had a massive grin on my face right then. In fact, that grin never left my face for the whole flight.. Come to think of it, I believe I’m still wearing it now as I write this just a couple of hours after my flight.

I banked left onto the first short bit of the circuit after the climb and headed over to an area of fields keeping the houses on my left. The circuits are designed and laid out not just for the ease of the pilot but also to reduce noise for the houses below. At this point I was heading out in the direction of Wembley stadium which is one of the landmarks I use to remember the circuit and as I passed a couple of tall aerials on my left I once again banked over to my left. I was now on the downwind leg and so I radioed ahead letting the aerodrome know my position. Now that I was on the downwind leg I went ahead and did all my landing checks such as making sure that the brakes were ok and making sure that the landing light was on etc.

I turned on to base and started my decent down to 600ft for the final turning point. I introduced two stages of flaps on and slowed the aircraft down to fly at a perfect 70knots. I made my last turn onto final and I again radioed ahead letting them know that I was on final and that I intended to land. I introduced one more stage of flap whilst keeping the airspeed at 70knots, adjusted the engine power as necessary to keep our decent nice and level and as I flew just above the threshold I flared the aircraft and let her glide down the last few feet to the runway herself.

I gently slowed the plane down to a stop and was instructed over the radio to turn back around and exit the runway at the Alpha point once again. I did this, stopped after the Alpha point, did my after landing checks and then after requesting taxi back to Cabair I headed back over to them and parked the plane up. I really was dead chuffed.

I’ve got to say a huge thank you to the guys at Cabair flight school for making this happen as if it wasn’t for you guys I wouldn’t be where I am today. A special thanks must also go out to Liam my instructor for being the most helpful, patient and fun instructor any student pilot could wish for.


One very happy Mikeeee

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Short take offs and landings

Hi all

Today was one of those days where everything just seems to go right. I woke up bright and early to the sound of my phone going off. In that half asleep trance I grabbed it and just missed it typically. I saw that it was Cabair flight school and so I promptly phoned them back. They had bad news. Liam had phoned in ill and so he wasn’t going to be able to take my lesson, however another instructor Alfonso was available and so I jumped at the opportunity to fly with him.

I drove over to Elstree aerodrome and after meeting up with Alfonso we had a little briefing on what we were to be covering today and we then pretty promptly headed out to the aircraft, proceeded to do the pre-flight checks, jumped in, started her up, radioed ahead for information and taxi clearance, got it and then taxied over to the runway to to do our final pre flight and engine tests.

Today I was learning about performance take offs and short landings. These are effectively take offs in the shortest distance with the best rate of climb and landings in the shortest distance.

Alfonso gave me a demonstration of both of these and then it was my turn. In a performance take off, you have to apply full power before releasing the brakes as then the plane has the best rate of acceleration. Two stages of flaps are down and so rotation speed is at only 55knots. Not very fast at all! Once the plane is in the air the airspeed will begin to increase and so after the plane is climbing nicely and the airspeed has increased up to around 70kts, I’ll ease off the flaps one by one gradually.

We were on a different circuit to the one that I’m used too and so Alfonso pointed out the landmarks that we use for the circuit as turning points. As I was on base leg I started to set up for finals by descending to 600ft, slowing down and bringing in two stages of flaps. Usually I would approach the runway on finals at 70kts but now I was to do it at 65kts and so the plane loses some of the control you have when you are flying a little faster. As I approached even closer I would aim the plane just before the runway threshold and I would level off earlier than usual with the aim to touch down actually on the threshold.

Once the plane was on the ground I’d apply the brakes fairly aggressively on and off like a manual abs system so that they wouldn’t lock up on me. The challenge was for me to land and stop before the alpha exit on the runway which really isn’t that far along and I’m very pleased to say that I managed that 3 out of 4 times.

Also, during this lesson Alfonso demonstrated to me a bad weather circuit which was interesting to see. Unfortunately we were only allowed to do one per session but it was still great to learn about something totally new.

I’m now at home for Christmas as my university has broken up and I’m very happy about the next three weeks at home with lots more flying!