Italians in a Defender

I am going on with my hang-gliding path. Today I am flying a different hang-glider, also 21 sq meters, but more stiff sail. It is controlled much easier, but start is more difficult, and the flight is lower.

I made 24 exercises “takeoff-flight-landing” straight ahead, and 4 flights with a 45-degree turn. This hang-glider is heavier, and it is harder to bring it back to the starting point, but it is much more predictable. But in flight a feel that he is less laterally stable: once you turned, it keeps turning (unlike “target” hang-glider which I flew before in Russia). To stop turning you should apply a control force to turn in the opposite direction. Like for an airplane.

I also flew with my instructor in a tandem flight. Also 21-meter hang-glider. I feel that there are A LOT of thermal flows here. Almost everywhere. Of course I cannot find and use them so great as my instructor does. And he even does not use a vario!

They use Land Rover Defender to bring hang-gliders uphill. So strange feeling in that ride: a lot of Italians, they are constantly speaking (as usual, with expression!). I think that it was 3-4 parallel conversations. I don’t speak Italian now, so for me it is like a white noise, but the feeling is pretty funny ๐Ÿ™‚

They have a TINY landing spot here! Initially I did not even understand that that tiny glade is a landing spot! It is really a spot! The approach is almost as in an airplane, almost standard full-rectangle circuit, but the landing… In a hang-glider in any case you have only one attempt. And here it is especially important. I saw somebody landed uphill though, but it is a totally different skill and it should be practiced. At least to overcome psychological barrier: it is not easy to fly directly to the ground (more speed, steeper angle), and then abruptly stall the wing.

I remember Crimea and Klementieva mountain near Koktebel. There are kilometers-width landing area, and the landing approach is simply “making turns to decrease distance from hill, and trying not to hit any bush”. Here it is impossible, course precision should be near perfect. I was never trained to overfly a landmark previously, and here it is an essential skill: without that it is impossible to make a good approach. I can relatively well fly towards some external reference, but I am really bad on flying directly over a landmark. Previously I just had to stay in a dynamic flow with a minimum altitude loss in turns. And now I have to be really precise. It is a noticeable lack of experience.

But in overall my flights are more smooth, takeoffs and landings are better, and muscles are stronger ๐Ÿ™‚

Without an Engine

Temporarily I fly without engine. I came to Italian hang-gliding school.

I don’t have a license. I don’t know anything about terrain and aerology of that place. I do no fly regularly, and I did not fly almost a year. So, I am starting from a basic exercises.

The training approach is somewhat different here. Initially you run with a 21-square-meters hang-glider. The sail is very light, like the one used in paragliders. It’s very easy to take off, but relatively hard to control it: it flies by itself.

I start with a very low angle of attack. It means that I try to gain more speed, but I don’t lift off for a long time, which is bad. I simply don’t let it fly for a long time! I used to fly 16-meters hang-glider, which requires more speed on a take off. The flight itself is very unstable. But landings are pretty good. I spent a lot of time on them previously ๐Ÿ™‚

They don’t put the hands out of the downtubes if the landing seems to be on the wheels. Possibly that is because the landing spot is totally flat without any rocks, bushes and plowed furrows.

Also they don’t use radio for initial training. The instructor just stands near the landing spot and shows turn direction (if needed). And during the landing he is usually rather close, and can just speak loudly.

The training itself is possible during almost the whole day: the training hill is between mountains, and there are neither dangerous turbulence nor strong winds even in the afternoon. Ideal place to training. I remember my training in Crimea, where I had to wake up at 5 in the morning…

There are two trees near the landing spot, “to be more precise”. Once I flew directly to the tree, happily it was pretty far away. Don’t look at the obstacle, because if you do it, it becomes a reference point ๐Ÿ™‚

Totally I have some crazy number of 2-3-meters-height flights during the day, definitely more than 20. I used to practice it 5-7 times during my previous training… My take off is much better, my flight is much more stable ๐Ÿ™‚

Landings Again

Morning visibility was terrible. It was so awful that I almost lost any hope to fly today, but in the afternoon it improved, and the weather became flyable. Let’s go!

Today we are moving on. We fly circuits, but sometimes the instructor sets power to idle and says “emergency landing”. Usually he does that when I do not expect. Depends on altitude I should either turn around towards the runway and land downwind or find a suitable field and continue straight in. If I have enough altitude, the best option is turn and land upwind on the runway, but for that I have to be at least on a downwind leg.

Then the instructor simulated partial panel. Now we have only altimeter, VSI and engine instruments. No airspeed indicator, no CDI, no attitude indicator. To be honest, after about third circuit you can understand that in basic VFR it is not a problem: a familiar aerodrome and a good visibility allows to fly visually. Exactly what my instructor wanted. But initially I was confused. And turn coordinator really helps.

My landings are much better, my altitude estimation is also improving. I still cannot use to descend with flaps 40: I still feel that we fall like a rock. I think that it is because we rarely use flaps 40 in a normal landing because of a long concrete runway. I definitely need more practice.

Instructors

Today I’d like to share my personal opinion about flight instructors. I came to the training base of my school when they did not have permanent staff, and I was flying with different instructors during my PPL.

At first I’d like to talk about some moments that I knew in theory, but did not always follow in practice. Especially considering the fact that I came from a zero level, and had to learn a lot.

The main point: be fully prepared before each flight. Videos, books, flight simulator – use as much as you can and as much as you have available time for. Mark blind spots and ask the instructor about them. But do not waste valuable flight time for that.

Know your syllabus in as much detail as possible. Know your weak points and problems. Ask about them if in doubt. Try to focus on weak points. Possibly it can be a bit easier to train with the only one instructor during the whole course, because he can track your progress, but remember: it is your license and your training. Nobody can track your progress better than you.

Some instructors make great briefings. Some do not. If the instructor does not formulate detailed flight exercises and goals, you must do it yourself before the flight. Do not introduce too many new factors (ideally no more than one new factor per flight). Syllabus helps in that very much. Again, know your syllabus.

Briefly ask about any flight control from the instructor’s side. Ask for details after landing. You should know the purpose of that and correct your wrong actions. Or at least understand what happens.

Action cam is desirable, because post-flight video analysis can help a lot: you can see a lot of problems which you did not see during a flight just because of a high workload.

It’s much better if the instructor is familiar with a training site: runway(s) characteristics, approaches, aerology, typical student problems in that place. I flew in non-mountainous terrain, and it is not so critical, but still important: instructors who know their home base very well are more effective.

So, instructors, according to my personal experience. They are great pilots: they all fly well. But that is not enough. A good instructor is not only a pilot, he is also a good teacher…

Instructor #1. I flew an introductory flight and some first exercises with him. Then some short cross-countries. He hardly speaks English and hardly speaks Russian (he is Czech). It matters. I need much more instruction, not just a flight time and gestures language. It is not the only problem though. He is very nervous. All controls are abrupt. Much more abrupt than necessary. Later I realized that I learned the same piloting manner: other instructors mentioned that, and I made my analysis (again, action cam helps a lot!). Anyway, be a little skeptical, your instructor is not perfect by all means. Of course I don’t say that you should correct him or try to argue, but you should ask if in doubt.

Actually he is a good pilot. But I don’t like him as an instructor. He prevents to make any mistakes even in a safe altitude. He correct everything in advance by himself. I would not like to train landings with him: I need my landings, hot his landings. As like all maneuvers (stalls, emergency landings etc.). Theory is good, but practice is necessary. I think that instructor should allow to do the maneuvers, and correct only if it is a safety problem.

And the worst thing that I cannot ask because of language barrier! I don’t speak Czech, he does not speak English. He can act as a safety pilot, but I am zero hour student, I need an instructor, not just a safety pilot!

With that instructor I had to correct everything fast and abruptly just because if I don’t do that he does that. From my opinion, too abruptly. I did not see other instructors acting like that.

Instructor #2. I flew some circuits and a couple of cross-countries. He speaks English, he almost does not touch the controls without necessity. He is mainly a helicopter pilot, and it seems that he builds his PIC hours. Even I can see that he needs much more experience as an instructor: he hardly remembers PPL syllabus and does not provide good briefings. He does not remember Vx, Vy, Va etc. for C150. He also highly focused on flight instruments instead of external references. He is a very good pilot, and his landings are also good. But he cannot explain what’s wrong with my flying, so, cannot properly explain what should I do to correct my problems. But he is highly motivated, and, again, he is a good pilot.

WIth him I made a habit to use checklists, pilotage and dead-reckoning. He is really good in it.

From my opinion, we made too much circuits. It is my fault too: I had to land earlier for discussion, not practice the same mistake. But it’s really hard to understand that you repeat the same mistake. Possibly for instructor too, I don’t know.

Instructor #3. We flew circuits, stalls, landings and cross-countries. Great English. He did not touch controls a lot. He is an airline pilot. At least I have briefings! Actually not so man words about that instructor: we made just a couple of flights, mainly cross-countries, he is good. I am good in cross-countries too. I am not so good in landings.

Instructor #4. The most experienced, he sees the problems and knows how to solve them. He knows and tells exact action sequences, flies real VFR (I think he can perfectly fly without instruments at all), he tells some hints. As I know, he has a lot of aerobatic hours. He feels the airplane. Unfortunately he is not a PPL instructor, he is a chief pilot.

Instructor #5. Very experienced, but not very motivated. For example, we flew about 15 circuits. Debriefing, and “you do it in a wrong way”. So why 15, why not 3? You definitely have enough experience to understand it after 3-4 circuits! You know your right way? Land, explain, fly again! What for we flew so much “in a wrong way”?

Instructor #6. He has a lot of glider hours. So, his piloting manner is a bit biased: at any moment he is always looking for a suitable field in case of engine failure, and approach is usually steeper that I used to (what if we lose the engine on the approach?). But by all other means he is good. He is a real instructor, he knows how to explain, and he possibly enjoys that. He allows me to correct the problems, or, if I do nothing (or I do not see the problem), he can point on that without touching the controls. It really helps.

Instructor #7. He has about 5000 flight hours. He is very experienced, and he is very calm. He knows how to explain, he knows what to do. I fly commercial program with him, so it is not about touching the controls. But I like to feel that he knows what to do even if something goes wrong. At the same time he is OK with flying in IMC, flying in B airspace and flying to different (possibly challenging) airports.

Possibly I will increase my list ๐Ÿ™‚

Morning Weather

How I used to fly short cross-countries? Take off, climb through rollercoaster bumpiness, turn to the desired course, straight and level, adjust trim and RPM. Then suddenly see +5 on the VSI, correct, trim. Then -5 on the VSI. Adjust, straight and level again, then suddenly left wing goes up. Quickly wings level, trim. And near the forest behind again +5. During those flights I really did not totally understand what is the purpose of trim in C150. And the flight control is not the only task: I have to follow a chart, apply a wind correction and notice time. Spring in Europe can be challenging for a student pilot.

Today everything is totally different. Thermal activity is weak, and at least I can fly straight and level without applying flight controls all the time. An airplane can actually fly very stable without any pilot action. Relax. I even have plenty of time for observing pretty castles below: there are plenty of them in Czech. Early morning is a perfect time for training.

Gloomy Weather

Today the weather is gloomy with wet, cold and misty precipitation. Yesterday it even snowed! There are heavy gray clouds. Everything is so dark and dull.

But there is an advantage though: absolutely no wind. Ceiling is higher than pattern altitude, and it is the perfect weather for practice landings! At least I feel a proper height for flare. The plane is not ballooning. The landings are smooth!

Possibly there is one more factor: recently I watched tons of movies about landing techniques. And I feel much more self confident and less nervous. I apply controls more smoothly. I even have time to communicate now.  I suppose that those calm winds and stable air helps very much.

I will not fly in the next 3 days as the airplane is unavailable. At this stage I’ll try to remember those feelings as  my skills are starting to develop and I have to practice as frequently as possible.

EASA PPL Written Exam

Today I took a written test. Actually there were multiple tests, because the whole exam contains 9 subjects. I remember my student years, when I used to not sleep at night before exam, and tried to fulfill all possible blind spots in my knowledge.

Generally speaking, I am a passionate leaner, if the subject is interesting for me. That’s why I don’t suffer from the theoretical part of my education. Possibly only Air Law bothers me a little bit: I don’t understand why I should remember a year of Rome convention on something like that. But to be honest, most of information is relevant and important.

Every time I am very nervous before an exam. I can do nothing with that. This time it was the same: I entered the room, got the question list. Initially checked every question multiple times. And, as usual, after some minutes my brain starts working on the subject itself: I am pretty well prepared, and I should just carefully read the question and select the best answer.

At about 6th subject I felt like that: “ONE MORE? Oh, I supposed that it was the last one!”

Generally I got a very unexpected result: I failed the subjects I was the most confident in before the exam. Of course, during the exam after getting the question lists I approximately understood that I am in danger with those subjects, and possibly I have to retake.

I failed Navigation, Aircraft General Knowledge and Principles of Flight. About Navigation – everything is OK with charts and computations, but compass turning and acceleration errors, magnetic north drift, AIP GEN 1-2-1… Uhh. About Aircraft General Knowledge and Principles of Flight – I just have to study some more, it is not so simple as it seemed to me.

I have to tell some words about question banks. I used to read the books, but I also use question banks to estimate my level. For PPL I used ppltutor.com (heh, now they provide only FAA version, but in 2017 they gave EASA) and pplcruiser.co.uk. None of them is a good idea for Czech. Later I also found aeroweb.cz, and it is great. The only problem is that it is in Czech, and google translate works (or worked in 2017?) terribly with that language. Anyway, oxford books works in any case.

I am not very disappointed. Of course I am not happy, but not a big deal. The main point is that I passed Air Law: I have to do it before the first solo. I am still not ready to fly solo according to my instructors, but it is always good to finish at least the paperwork. The next exam is in one month, so I have plenty of time to prepare just 3 subjects. Especially because now I better understand my weak points.

Navigation Flight

The first navigation flight with a full stop in a different aerodrome. The complete planning: map route, NOTAMs, weather, fuel and time estimation.

The interesting thing is the definition of cross-country time. For example, FAA strictly states that cross-country flight should be more than 50 nm from the departure point, but not the EASA. Moreover, there is no even a column in my logbook for logging cross-country time. EASA simply requires using flight preparation and navigation procedures, i. e. technically even 5 nm between adjacent aerodromes qualifies, if you prepare for that and use navigation procedures. If we strictly follow the definition, it can be even the same aerodrome! It seems that I will have some troubles computing my totals in future. Just to be totally safe, I am going to follow FAA rules for my commercial time, but now I am just following the syllabus and EASA regulations (I am in Europe now, am not I?). So, navigation.

It is relatively easy to follow the map in Czech Republic: a lot of roads, villages, towns, rivers and lakes (ponds?). For me rivers are the most straightforward, but I am trying to use pilotage (i. e. spotting enroute landmarks) as much as I can.

We flew to Roudnice (LKRO). Much easier to land there: no trees on final, so, less turbulence. But the runway is a little upslope, and I have to keep the nose higher. Somewhat unaccustomed.

We found precipitation on our leg, and had to divert for some miles. I am glad that I did not have any difficulties to find where I am after that.

I failed to properly estimate my time: my computations showed about 10% faster route than the real one.

es

Keep going, keep working ๐Ÿ™‚

Emergency Landings

The weather is still not very calm, but not very turbulent. Therefore, we are working on emergency landings today.

It is a very strange feeling when the airplane suddenly turns into a glider. I don’t have strong skills for suitable field parameters estimation yet: height, size, distance. In theory everything is straightforward, but in practice I feel that I am falling like a stone, and all the fields are tiny.

I remember my skating training, when I was trying to make a 180 turn via jumping. Actually it is easy, but I had to overcome a psychological barrier. Now it is similar: I can just overcome a stress and start acting rationally. I think I also have to practice descend with flaps 30 and 40, when a sinkrate is relatively high, just to get used to the feeling.

I am not sure that it is possible to become fully confident with all that stuff in published hour minimums for a private pilot (a sight from the future: later I can only confirm that). But I don’t want to stop on a private license. And I want to fly after getting a license, not just put it on a shelf. I want to move on.

Landings

Today I was flying with another instructor. He told me a very simple and obvious thing, which I could not realize myself: during the landing I should look not only straight ahead, but also slightly to the left. On the early stages it helps to better estimate height above the ground. Hmm. It really helps to flare better!

Today I practice landings. Take-off, circuit, final, landing.

Today I also made my first navigation flight. Nothing special, but all towns and villages are somewhat similar from the air, and it can be difficult to understand which one I am overflying now. The best clue is usually a road (especially highway) or a river. Finally I am starting to quickly find and identify my home airport from more than 5 miles. I totally understand that it is really hard to NOT spot a 2 km length concrete runway, but that’s how it works when you start from zero level. In my first flights I experienced some troubles with finding even that huge runway ๐Ÿ™‚