Hour 20: Preparing for solo
Will I fly solo today? Three conditions must be true for this to happen: First, I have to perform well on the morning flight. While perfection is not the goal at this point, safety and consistency are. Second, the weather for the second (possibly solo) flight has to be good enough. And third, a qualified instructor, perhaps Victor or Davide, will have to clear me for solo.
First, I'm ready to bring my "A" game to the morning flight.
Today is potentially the day I go on my first solo flight. For this to happen, my hour 20 flight has to be good. So good, in fact, that Greg would be relaxing in the left seat, not doing anything other than looking out the window, feeling safe that my decisions are good and my handling of the plane competent enough.
While Greg is not yet qualified to endorse me for the solo (he will have this qualification very soon), he is the one to refer me to one of the other school instructors who can endorse me.
Before I write about hour 20, let me explain what the first solo flight is all about.
First solo flight
The first solo flight marks a significant student pilot training milestone. This is the first time the student flies an aircraft without an instructor on board. The process involves a combination of ground training, flight training, and regulatory requirements.
In Australia, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) oversees the process of a student pilot's first solo flight. This milestone involves strict adherence to CASA regulations and standards.
Under CASA's guidelines, the first solo flight in Australia is a structured and regulated process, emphasizing safety, compliance, and the foundational skills necessary for continued pilot training. It is a critical step towards obtaining a pilot license in Australia.
Pre-Solo Training Requirements
These are the requirements for a student to be approved for his or her first solo flight:
- Ground Instruction: Includes learning about Australian aviation law, aircraft systems, basic meteorology, and flight principles relevant to the aircraft used.
- Flight Training: Focus on practical skills for flying, including handling the aircraft, navigation, and understanding of the local flying environment.
- Medical Certificate: A Class 2 Medical Certificate from a Designated Aviation Medical Examiner is essential.
- Aviation Reference Number (ARN): Students must obtain an ARN from CASA, serving as a unique identifier.
- Aviation English Language Proficiency (ELP): This test assesses the student's verbal proficiency in English and aviation terminology.
I had completed all of the above but still needed the endorsement of a qualified flight instructor.
Prior to the solo flight, the instructor must be confident in the student's ability to fly safely alone. This includes:
- Skills Assessment: Checking the student’s competence in aircraft operation, emergency procedures, and decision-making.
- Knowledge Test: A test covering local flying conditions and relevant CASA regulations. I had completed this test after my hour 9 lesson.
- Instructor’s Endorsement: The instructor endorses the student's logbook, officially permitting them to fly solo.
What happens in the first solo?
Victor, one of the full-time instructors at Altocap who would endorse me for the solo flight, explained the process. We would start the flight like any other lesson. Check the aircraft on the ground, taxi, complete all checklists, communicate with ATC (with the difference that we'd let them know that this flight was "special"), and take off.
I would demonstrate my skills in normal, flapless, and glide approaches in the first few circuits. If all had gone well, I would do a landing, drop Victor off at the runup bay in Taxiway Delta, and then I would taxi back to the runup bay of taxi way Charlie. There, I would go through the normal runup checklist, line up at holding point Alpha and radio Tower to let them know I was ready for a single circuit.
The tower would clear me for take-off and keep other planes out of my way!
I would take off, complete the circuit, and land. Then, I'd pick up Victor from the runup bay and taxi back to the hangar.
Mission accomplished; that would be my first solo.
Of course, things can go sideways, and you never really know what to expect. Victor would explain what to do in cases such as radio failure.
But I'm getting ahead of my self. I'm not doing a solo yet. I have to complete hour 20 first!
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At the beginning of the startup checklist is the passenger briefing. I have drafted mine based on what Greg told me about it and on pieces I have collated from books and online resources.
Here's my draft; remember: this is a work in progress.
Dear passengers, welcome on board Tech Explorations flight 101. Please ensure that your seat belt is fastened at all times. To fasten your seat belt, insert the metal end into the buckle and pull the belt to ensure that it is secure. There are two doors on this aircraft, at the left and right side of the cabin (pointing to the doors). To open the doors, pull up this handle. Through your headset you will be able to listen to the ATC radio communications. When you speak into the microphone the other passengers and myself will be able to hear you. Please do not speak when I am communicating with the ATC or other aircraft. If you feel uncomfortable at any time during this flight, please let me know and I will try my best to assist you. Finally, smoking is prohibited on this flight. Thank you for choosing Tech Explorations airlines and I hope you will enjoy your flight with us today!
Take-off safety briefing
Another item in the run-up checklist is the take-off safety briefing. In general aviation, the take-off safety briefing is designed to prepare the pilot and passengers for the critical phase of taking off. It addresses potential emergencies and outlines the procedures to be followed to ensure safety.
This briefing is crucial for ensuring that everyone on board is aware of their roles, the procedures to follow in emergencies, and how to use the aircraft's safety features, thereby enhancing overall safety during the take-off phase of flight.
The key elements of the take-off safety briefing are:
- Aircraft Specifics: Briefing on the specific type and model of the aircraft, highlighting any unique characteristics relevant to take-off.
- Roles and Responsibilities: Clarifying the roles of the pilot and passengers during take-off. Instructing passengers on staying quiet and alert.
- Emergency Procedures:
- Engine Failure on Takeoff: Procedure to follow if the engine fails before achieving lift-off speed (V1), which typically involves aborting the takeoff.
- Engine Failure After Lift-Off: Instructions on how the pilot will handle an engine failure immediately after takeoff, including potential return to the airport or emergency landing procedures.
- Emergency Equipment: Location and usage of emergency equipment like fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and life vests (if applicable).
- Communication in Emergencies: Emphasizing the importance of clear communication, and instructing passengers on when and how to communicate during an emergency.
- Evacuation Procedures:
- Immediate Evacuation: Steps to quickly leave the aircraft in case of an on-ground emergency.
- Post-Emergency Landing: Procedures for evacuation after an emergency landing, including how to open exits and when to exit the aircraft.
- Safety Features of the Aircraft: Location of safety features such as seat belts, emergency exits, and oxygen masks (if equipped).
- Environmental and Weather Considerations: Briefing on current weather conditions and how they might affect the take-off and initial climb.
- Runway and Traffic Information: Information about the runway in use, any known traffic issues, and other relevant airport-specific details.
- Crew Coordination: If there is more than one crew member, outlining how tasks are divided during the take-off phase.
Here is my briefing (which is much shorter than what the list above may suggest):
If there is a reason for rejecting the take-oﬀ being:
• 2250 static rpm not attained
• Spiked oil temperature/pressure or any other gauges in red
• Airspeed not alive
• Failure to achieve rotate speed by 50% of the runway
• Abnormal sounds/bangs or door coming open
I will reject the take oﬀ and stop on the runway then exit via the next available
If the engine fails on the runway I will close the throtle, apply full and even braking, and slow the aircraft. IF POSSIBLE, I will exit the runway. If the engine fails after takeoﬀ with runway remaining, I will close the throtle, lower the nose and re-land the aircraft on the remaining runway whilst maintaining airspeed. If the engine fails after takeoff without runway remaining, I will lower the nose and select a landing site no more than 30° either side of the nose and maintain glide speed. I WILL NOT attempt to turn back unless above 1000’ which will be 1300 here at Camden or established on the downwind leg.
The safety briefing is followed by the departure briefing. The departure briefing in general aviation is a comprehensive review conducted by the pilot before initiating the take-off. This briefing encompasses flight plan specifics, airport details, expected weather conditions, and potential emergency scenarios during the departure phase.
Here are some of the components that make up a departurte briefing:
Flight Plan Review:
- Route: Clarification of the planned route, including any waypoints, altitudes, and no-fly zones.
- Expected Time Enroute (ETE): Estimated time to reach the destination or next waypoint.
- Local Weather: Weather at the departure airport, focusing on visibility, wind, and any adverse conditions.
- Enroute Weather: Anticipated weather conditions along the flight path.
Airport and Runway Information:
- Active Runway: Identification of the runway in use and its length and orientation.
- Taxi Routes: Preferred taxiways and routes to the active runway.
- Airport Hotspots: Areas of the airport with complex or unusual ground movement procedures.
Aircraft Performance and Limitations:
- Takeoff Performance Data: Calculation of take-off distances, considering aircraft weight, runway length, elevation, and environmental factors.
- Climb Performance: Expected climb rate and any limitations due to weight or weather.
- Engine Failure on Takeoff: Procedures for an engine failure before and after reaching the decision speed (V1).
- Abort Plan: Criteria and procedures for aborting the takeoff.
- Immediate Actions: Checklists or actions to be taken immediately post-takeoff in case of emergency.
ATC Communications and Clearances:
- Departure Clearance: Review of the clearance received from Air Traffic Control, including any departure procedures or constraints.
- Frequency Changes: Planned communication frequencies during the climb-out phase.
Crew Coordination and Roles:
- Pilot Flying (PF) and Pilot Not Flying (PNF): Clear delineation of responsibilities between crew members, if applicable.
Navigation and Avionics Settings:
- Instrument Settings: Confirmation of altimeter settings, navigation aids, and flight director settings.
- Autopilot Use: Plan for the use of autopilot, if available.
And here is my, much more brief, departure briefing:
We will be departing on runway 06, and conduct left hand circuits. The circuit altitude is 1,300 feet. Rotation airspeed speed is 60 knots. The runway is dry today. There are two aircraft already in the Circuit we must ensure we maintain anactive look out. Glider operations are also in place, so I will ensure that we don't enroach to the right of runway 06. Wind is variable at 3 kt. Crosswind is reported nil at the moment but this might change after 10am.
Here's a deciphered version of the report. I have also converted times to local time in Sydney (UTC + 11):
Forecast Period: 18:00 UTC on the 14th to 12:00 UTC on the 15th. In local Sydney time, this is 05:00 on the 15th to 23:00 on the 15th.
Initial Conditions (from 18:00 UTC on the 14th to 23:00 UTC on the 14th): Variable winds at 3 knots, visibility of 10 km or more, and broken clouds at 1,500 feet. In local Sydney time, this is from 05:00 to 10:00 on the 15th.
From 23:00 UTC on the 14th (10:00 on the 15th local time): Variable winds at 3 knots, visibility of 10 km or more, and broken clouds at 2,500 feet.
From 03:00 UTC on the 15th (14:00 on the 15th local time): Winds from the southeast at 10 knots, visibility of 10 km or more, and broken clouds at 2,500 feet.
Temporary Conditions (from 18:00 to 22:00 UTC on the 14th): Visibility of 10 km or more and broken clouds at 1,000 feet. In local Sydney time, this is from 05:00 to 09:00 on the 15th.
Temperature and Pressure Forecast:
- At 17:00 UTC: Temperature 17°C, Pressure 1012 hPa.
- At 19:00 UTC: Temperature 19°C, Pressure 1012 hPa.
- At 25:00 UTC: Temperature 25°C, Pressure 1012 hPa (note: 25:00 UTC is not a valid time).
- At 26:00 UTC: Temperature 26°C, Pressure 1009 hPa (note: 26:00 UTC is not a valid time).
The provided temperatures and times seem to contain errors, as the times 25:00 UTC and 26:00 UTC are not valid. The temperatures for these times might be for different times of the day, but this can't be confirmed without correct timing information.
The METAR report for Camden (YSCN) as of 18:00 UTC on the 14th indicates:
- Automatic weather observation.
- Wind from 120 degrees at 3 knots.
- Visibility of 10 km or more.
- Overcast clouds at 2,600 feet.
- Temperature 18°C, dew point 16°C.
- Atmospheric pressure 1011 hPa.
- No recent rainfall recorded, with 0.2 mm of rain accumulated.
Here's what BOM shows for the day:
For the 9am flight, ATIS reported information Alpha:
Winds variable 3 kts, 22°C, QNH 1023, visibility greater than 10 Km, broken clouds at 2500 ft.
But while I was going through the runup checks, we received information Bravo with slightly different weather conditions:
Winds variable 5 kts, 22°C, QNH 1022, visibility greater than 10 Km, broken clouds at 2500 ft.
In today's flight I was going to demonstrate to Greg that I am capable and safe in controlling the aircraft in the circuit. Greg would only prompt me on the type of approach I would perform (i.e. normal, flawless and glide).
Greg would mix these approaches and I would execute. Greg would otherwise be a passenger and only intervene if I was to do something stupid.
During this lesson I completed the three types of approaches as discussed in the briefing.
The last approach and landing was glide, simulating an engine failure. I did a couple of glide approaches and two flapless approaches. The rest were normal.
You can see the entire flight in the full length video (see above, and on YouTube). Use the chapters to navigate the video.
Overall, today's flight was my best ever. I don't mean it was flawless, but simply the best I had done. Unlike the usually bumpy ones, I had a couple of nice and smooth touch-downs. Control of altitude and airspeed was much better and much closer to the expected tolerances.
Hour 20 instructor review
Here is Greg's review:
Runway 06, variable 3 kts, vis >10km's, Cloud BKN 2,500, Temp 22, QNH 1013 Time of flight 0930 local Very good session with Peter covering Normal circuits, flapless and glide approach. Landing were excellent, especially holding the flare and waiting for the aircraft to land. A few minor points: 1) Anticipate the turn - Do not wait until you reach the turning point before clearing your turn. There is potential for you to pass your turning point and therefore not achieve correct spacing 2) Trim to maintain 1,300 ft on downwind - continual scanning required to maintain height on downwind. Check trim. I did see good examples today of you releasing the control yoke to confirm trim 3) Descent on Base - Ensure the aircraft commences a descending turn when turning base
Solo Go or No-Go?
Hour 20 was my best flight lesson ever. Greg's opinion was that I was ready for my first solo. He looked up for an available qualified instructor to check me and clear me in the mid-day flight that I had already booked. Victor was available, though I had to wait for around thirty minutes because he had another flight scheduled.
Greg began with the paperwork, which included questions such as "Have you had enough water in the last hour?", "Are you taking any medication or drugs?", "Are you feeling rested?" etc. The goal of those questions is, you guessed it, to ensure there is no obvious risk factor that would prevent me from having a safe first solo. There is a point system in place, and each of those questions is worth a few points. At the end of the interview, the instructor calculates the sum of those points and determines the risk factor.
There is a similar questionnaire that relates to the weather. Wind velocity, direction, rain, birds and other potential hazards are summed up, and again the score has to be below a certain number to allow the instructor to decide go or no go.
An issue that almost derailed this process was the English competency test that I had done the previous week with Steve. For Victor to allow me to do the solo, he would need to see this certificate. However, even though Steve did submit it to CASA right after my test, it had not yet appeared in my records. We spend several minutes trying to locate it, unsuccessfully. Luckily, Steve had emailed me a copy, and it was sufficient for Victor to see it and record it for the school's records.
With that done, Victor went on to do his next flight, and I decided to get a power nap. I spent a bit of time dozing, which was very refreshing. Because of the early start of the day, around midday (around now) I start to feel fatigued. A power nap for a few minutes works much better than coffee.
Fast forward about an hour, and Victor is back. We completed the paperwork and walked to VH-JBC. The plane had plenty of fuel after the morning flight, but we checked the fuel quantity anyway. Victor did the ground inspection while I setup the cameras.
And then it happened.
The first few tiny drops of rain and a sudden increase of wind were an ominous sign that a change of plan was about to happen.
Victor called Camden Ground on the radio to learn that 15 kt crosswind had been registered. BOM's radar showed a patch of sky with heavy clouds moving east. The edge of these clouds was passing above us, causing the high winds and bringing some rain.
The wind was above the crosswind limit for a solo flight, which is 8 kt.
However, the rain was also an issue because it made the runway slippery and affected the landing distance required.
So, after all the preparation, the paperwork, and the waiting, my first solo would not happen today. I didn't really feel any disappointment. By now, I am very used to weather being the boss of much of my activities when it comes to flying. Of course, for me, flying is for fun and enjoyment. I have very little tolerance for silly risks. So when something is not right, the flight will not happen.
We secured the plane and walked back to the office. I'm booked with Victor for next week's morning flight when conditions are almost always better.
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Shorter and narrated video for Hour 20 (Coming soon).
Flight path from Flightradar24 for Hour 20.
More from Peter's flight log