Flight log

Hour 29: My fourth circuits solo

Today is Wednesday, January 24, 2024. My last flight was more than three weeks ago, on January 3. During this time, I had multiple scheduled flights cancelled due to bad weather and the Scouts Flying Camp (January 8 to 12), to which I volunteered. So, today, I did a fourth solo that looks much like my third one. It consisted of a pre-solo check, followed by four solo circuits. I also took the pre-area solo written exam test.
However, what marked today, January 24, in my memory , was a tragic accident that took place in the afternoon.

My fourth solo. Four circuits with no instructor in the right seat!

Summary

After completing my third solo on January 3, the plan was that my fourth solo would be door-to-door. However, the big gap between that flight and today meant that I needed a check ride to access my current skill and address any regression.

In today's flight, Greg flew with me as CFI. Despite the big gap between flights, I felt good. I had done a lot of "imaginary flying" in the previous days, so I didn't have to dig deep into my memory to remember radio calls, checklist items, critical speeds, etc.
I had booked two flights, one at 8 am and another at noon, both on VH-AHH.

Remember the issue with the RPM gauge on AHH (see Hour 24 log)? Finally, the mechanics decided that the gauge was under-reading and would need replacement. They chose to do this work immediately, which meant that AHH would not be available for my bookings.

Greg got me on JBC for the 8 am flight but had to cancel the noon one.

After the morning flight, I also took the pre-area solo written exam.
Before I continue with my Hour 29 flight, I want to write about an accident on the same day, a few hours after my flight.

A tragic accident

I struggled with the choice of writing about this accident. When I am writing these lines, the accident is only three days old, and the feelings are very raw.

I decided to write a few thoughts because accidents like this, although rare, profoundly affect the aviation industry and the lives of many people.

A few hours after my flight back home, I received a text message from one of the Scouts Air Activities Center, a fellow student close to completing his RPL course. He used a single word, and I immediately feared something terrible had happened.

I checked our group app, and I learned that there was an accident, which included a fatality involving VH-CPQ. Information was scarce at the time. What we did know is that there was a crash in which a student pilot, just 16 years old, died when his plane, VH-CPQ, crashed in the downwind leg of his first solo flight.

The feeling is hard to describe. My brain was racing to find clues, to try and understand what had happened. At the same time, I could hardly imagine what the people close to the pilot and the accident must have been feeling.

The plane, CPQ, is operated by Altocap, my flying school. This plane was parked in the same hangar as the Scout planes. I have moved it around the parking area numerous times, and it was always there when I opened the hangar door in the morning, usually in the front spot.

While I don't have any specific details, I know that the student pilot was transisioning from an Recreational Aviation Australia license, with ~40 hours in his log, to VH-registered planes, and had been studying with Altocap for a couple of months. Aviation students in Australia often complete an RA course first and then continue with an RPL bridging course as an alternate pathway into the aviation industry.
If you want to know more about the difference between RA and VH planes in Australia, see the relevant segment below.

This young pilot's dream was to have an aviation career. His life ended in his first solo (considering I did mine not long ago, and the memory of that feeling is fresh). I am lost for words.

I think about the people this accident has touched—the pilot's parents, siblings, and grandparents.

I know his father was at the airport at the time of the accident.

Then, there is the flight school family, the instructors, the mechanics...

The ATC controller (the controller on duty at the time of the accident was the same person who assisted me on my first solo) and the other plane in the circuit located at the crash site...

The civilian from a property near the crash site that ran through the field and reached the pilot first, followed by the emergency services personnel...

ATSB is conducting the investigation.

Scouts have suspended all aircraft operations in response to this accident until further notice.

VH Registered Aircraft vs. RA Registered Aircraft in Australia

Without going into the details, I list some essential information about the differences and similarities between VH and RA-registered aircraft and licenses in Australia.

VH Registered Aircraft

  • VH registration indicates an aircraft is registered in the Australian Civil Aircraft Register.
  • Managed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
  • Adheres to national and international aviation regulations.
  • Includes a wide range of aircraft types, from commercial airliners to private planes.
  • Requires pilots to hold a CASA-issued pilot license.
  • Subject to rigorous maintenance and operational standards.
  • Operates under a comprehensive regulatory framework for safety.

RA Registered Aircraft

  • RA registration is for aircraft under the Recreational Aviation Australia (RAAus) category.
  • Managed by Recreational Aviation Australia.
  • Primarily includes lighter, simpler aircraft used for recreational purposes.
  • More relaxed maintenance and operational requirements compared to VH.
  • Pilots typically hold a Recreational Pilot Certificate, which is different from a CASA pilot license.
  • Generally, RA registered aircraft are not used for commercial operations.
  • Operates under a different, often less stringent, set of rules tailored for recreational flying.

Key differences

  • Regulatory Body: VH under CASA, RA under RAAus.
  • Aircraft Types: VH includes a broader range, RA mostly light and recreational.
  • Pilot Licensing: Different licensing requirements by CASA and RAAus.
  • Maintenance Standards: VH has stricter standards compared to RA.
  • Operational Scope: VH for a wide range of purposes, RA mainly for recreation.
  • Regulatory Framework: VH adheres to national/international standards, RA has specific rules for recreational aviation.

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Weather

Here's what BOM shows for the weather of Wednesday, January 25, 2024:

Select Dynamic field

The weather for Hour 29 was perfect.

For the Hour 29 flight, ATIS reported this:

Information Alpha: Runway 06, Wind variable 3 kt, CAVOK, QNH 1013, 20°C.

During the solo flight, ATC advised of information Bravo, with wind variable 5 kts.

Fourth circuits solo summary

The fourth circuits solo is very similar to the three, except that the student completes four circuits, including three touch-and-goes and one full-stop landing.

My fourth solo was supposed to be door-to-door, meaning I would complete the entire flight without the instructor being in the cockpit.

However, due to bad weather and unavailable aircraft due to the Scouts' flight camp, I have been unable to fly in the last three weeks.

So today, I needed to do a circuits solo check with Greg before being allowed to fly solo. And given that we can't fit a solo check and an entire hour-long solo in one hour, today's fourth solo is a slightly longer version of my third solo from January 3.

My fourth solo: always learning

As I mentioned, my fourth solo was like the third one, just a little longer: four circuits instead of three.

I got to the hangar before Greg and set up the cameras. Greg did the pre-flight inspection, and then we moved the planes out.

I did the pre-engine start checklist, got permission for startup and taxi from the ATC, and we were on our way for the first part of the flight, the pre-solo check.

I now have a new checklist item: "A-Game ON". Just a little reminder that I should be ahead of the plane and fully engaged from the ground.

Take-off was good. In the first right turn to crosswind, Greg suggested I use more right rudder to better coordinate the turn. Aside from that, my flying was good, and tolerances for altitude and speeds were acceptable.

I did one normal, one flapless, and one glide (simulated engine failure) approach followed by a full stop, three circuits in total. This gave me more time for the solo circuits, for a total of four.

Greg received permission from Tower to stop at the runup bay across holding point Delta, where he gave me my solo instructions: "Four normal circuits, followed by a full stop, and then taxi to the bowser to refuel."

He got off the plane, and I taxied straight to Holding Point Alpha. I radioed "Ready for Solo Circuits" and was cleared to take-off.

I entered "circuits mode", and followed the script to the letter. I remember specifically in Circuit #2 that I reached circuit altitude at the start of the crosswind leg (instead of the end) because the plane was lighter (no instructor in the right seat) and I was airborned much sooner compared to a take-off from stationary.

Also, have a look at the FlightRadar24 track. Notice that in the last two circuits, my downwind legs overlapped almost perfectly! I was very surprise and content with my self when I saw this. I am striving to fly perfect rectangular and consistent circuits, and in this case, for the first time, at least one side of the rectangle was near perfect.

The landings were also decent. A little hard, but controlled and safe.

Steady progress and improvement is what this is all about.

After landing, I taxied to the bowser, where Greg met me.

One thing that I noticed when I reviewed the video, is that ATC instructed me to taxi to parking and monitor ground. By that, ATC meant I should switch my radio to the ground frequency. Although I did taxi to parking, I did not switch to the ground frequency. I also did not read back the entire instruction (I only acknowledge "taxi to parking"). 

Note to self: Do better listening of ATC instructions, do a full read-back, and act on instructions.

Pre-area solo exam

While working on my circuit solos, the next big item in the RPL syllabus is the area solo. This is a solo flight in which I fly the plane to the Camden training area, where I conduct a few basic maneuvers, including turns, descents and climbs. There are also navigation and radio (ATC) call components.

Before I can be cleared for a solo flight to the training area, I must pass the relevant written exam.

I passed a similar exam in Hour 13 ahead of my circuits solo.

The pre-area solo exam consists of 30 multiple-choice questions that I must answer in 60 minutes. To pass the exam, I have to score 70% or more.

I prepared for this exam by studying from the Basic Aeronautical Knowledge book, which includes a sample exam. I studied and repeated the sample test several times until I was consistently getting 100%.

So, after my fourth solo, I felt very confident when I walked into the exam room.

Greg gave me the test, the En Route Supplement Australia (ERSA) and AIP books, plus the VTC map for Sydney.

After a few seconds of looking at the exam, I had this sinking feeling that I wasn't ready for it. The first ten or so questions were about radio calls for departures and arrivals that I had never done or practised. They also required using the VTC chart, which I had only casually looked up to know. Many of the other questions were for mechanical issues that I (barely) remembered from my RPL test 10 months ago.

However, the second half of the test was similar to the one in the sample exam. I did those first and felt more confident.

I continued with the radio call questions. I dug deep into my memory (Greg made these calls at the start of my training to get us to the training area) and picked the more logical and reasonable answer.

I finished the exam with 5 minutes to spare, and my "gut" feeling was that, perhaps, I had passed. Greg was briefing another student, so I left the answer sheet on his desk.

The next day, Greg called me to let me know I had passed with an 80% score! That was much better than I expected. I don't know which questions I got wrong, but we will debrief at some point in the future to plug those knowledge gaps.

What's coming up next?

Given that the Scouts have grounded their planes while the CQP crash investigation is underway, I don't know when my next flight will be. I am confident it will not be in the next two weeks.

This means that my next flight will be similar to today's, i.e. a pre-solo check with Greg, and if I'm cleared for a solo, the session will continue with a few solo circuits. 

I will continue to work on the theory (radio, maps/navigation, aircraft-specific operations). I am also considering my RPL certification, which requires me to work on the knowledge deficiencies listed in my RPL exam. Most of them relate to meteorology, so I have bought the Aviation Theory Meteorology book to do some reading.

And, of course, I'll be working on Peter's Flight Log. I have a lot of summaries to record, edit, and publish.

I have a huge favor to ask.

I have created a new channel on YouTube for Peter's Flight Log (PFL) to host my flight videos and share them with anyone interested in General Aviation (GA).

If you are interested in GA, I would be grateful if you would visit the Peter's Flight Log YouTube channel and subscribe. This will help the channel grow and find other people to find it.

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Full video of Hour 29.

Review for Hour 29.

Flight path from Flightradar24 for Hour 29, my third solo!

Flight path from Flightradar24 for Hour 29, fourth pre-solo check.

Part of the Sydney VTC. I printed the map on A4 sheets, and stuck them together. I'll get a proper map eventually.

My first two flight in 2024 as Pilot in Command, logged.

Me, featuring my new t-shirt, next to JBC, outside the Scouts Hangar, after my fourth solo. Feeling pleased.

A view of VH-JBC, outside the hangar, under a some beautiful stratus clouds.

A close-up of VH-JBC.

A view of Camden airport, looking towards holding point Alpha. After weeks of clouds and rain, I couldn't get enough of this magnificent blue sky.

GB Aviation, where the Scouts planes are maintained. Just got a new sealed entryway (used to be grass).

More from Peter's flight log

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Hour 28: My third solo

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Hour 27: My second solo!
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