Finally EASA NVFR!

For being able to obtain the EASA Instrument Rating an applicant have to meet some criteria. The full list can be found in Part-FCL 610. Summary is the following:

  • hold at least a PPL;
  • have 50 XC hours as a PIC (and for EASA cross-country time is not required to be more than 50 miles from the point of origin);
  • pass written exams at least for the Instrument Rating level; usually it’s better to pass all ATPL subjects – they are good for both instrument and commercial, and they are not that harder to study.

Night rating is technically not required if Instrument privileges will not be used at night, but my school policy includes it as a prerequisite. I completed my CB-IR curriculum more than a month ago, but I already mentioned that it is not so easy to get night rating in summer or early autumn.

Due to weather we started from a cross country flight, and today I completed the circuits part.

Today the weather was nice at the airport. Slight crosswind and rather calm air allowed to concentrate on proper flaring and basic orientation at night.

It is not so easy to find a grass runway at night. The lights are unidirectional: they are very well visible from the approach, but not from other directions. I remembered my first confusion some years ago when I struggled to find grass runways during the daytime: without experience it’s harder than one can think πŸ™‚

I felt pretty confident, my flying was predictable, and I was very comfortable with our diesel Cessna 172, so I soloed after about 1h flying with the instructor.

Even in the US we flew under supervision of a safety pilot. So today was my first night solo! And I got my EASA night rating. One more achievement πŸ™‚ Now ready for the Instrument checkride!

EASA Night Rating (NVFR): Navigation/Cross-Country Flight

Night rating in essential for having the Instrument Rating checkride according to my school curriculum. Usually students just obtain it in spring or autumn (because of early sunset) after their PPL, but I came for the EASA Competency-Based IR after getting a FAA CPL, and somehow started my instrument training before getting a night rating.

EASA night rating requires 5 hours of training at night without any checkride from the authorities. Single-Engine night flying is more dangerous and require better skills, so there are not so many instructors willing to do that. Additionally, in summer there are a lot of students, and instructors are flying all day, so they are tired to fly at night. Moreover, the sunset is very late, and the weather is not so perfect for night VFR – we have at most 2 flyable nights in a week.

As a result, the queue of students waiting for their Night VFR accumulated pretty quickly, and I’ve been waiting for my night training more than a month. And without NVFR rating I was not able to schedule an instrument checkride and start commercial training. Literally, I’ve spent more than a month for fly less than 5 hours!

I really started to consider going to Ostrava for some days to get it with another flight school (it’s about 400 km driving one-way and about 1.5x more expensive than in my school), but finally just a day before I supposed to go I got a call that my training can be done tonight.

Our Cessna at the ramp

The weather was great: clear sky, steady wind, almost no turbulence. It as a little cold though. The forecast for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow was not so good: light rain and clouds. We decided that today is better to fly cross-country, since we can’t tell when it would be possible again.

Usually our school students fly night cross-countries to Brno: the airport is controlled, there is always somewhere on the tower, the approach is rather simple, and the airport is certified for night flights. It is not so far as Ostrava, and far enough to meet the night cross country requirements.

It is essential in Czech Republic to file a flight plan for night VFR. And, of course, it’s necessary to have the convenient relevant VFR maps. In other words, it’s time to activate ForeFlight Europe subscription. Finally we have a good popular EFB (Electronic Flight Bag)for flying in Europe. We did have a SkyDemon before, it is good enough and it is a de-facto standard EFB for VFR flights in Czech Republic, but ForeFlight is still way better. I am happy that they finally added Europe.

Night flying is simply beautiful. It’s amazing! The air is calm, the traffic is rare, and the scenery is astonishing.

It’s safer to fly higher at night since the altitude buys some time in case of something unpredictable. We’ve chosen FL070 to fly there and FL080 on the way back. It’s about 2 km above the ground.

Brno tower – sorry for the photo quality

The Brno airport looked pretty much like Gainesville (rather small regional airport in Florida). It is one of the largest and busiest in Czech Republic though. The ATC was nervous somehow, and asked to fly below the TMA (Terminal Control Area – class D controlled airspace) even though there were no other traffic. I made some photos of smartwings’ boeing after landing πŸ™‚

Jet airplanes in Brno

On the way back we asked to overfly Prague, and got a clearance. It’s marvelous to fly over a big city in a small plane!

I remember that I did not see any significant difference between day and night landings in the US: with good landing lights and wide concrete/asphalt runway it looked very similar. And now I finally understood what’s the problem. The difference becomes obvious on a grass runway with not-so-powerful landing lights. Even for a concrete runway you clearly see the advantage of LED πŸ™‚

Grass runway landing at night initially looks like a “black hole landing” – like seaplane landing on a glassy water, when you cannot perceive height very well. Actually it is not so bad, and after 2-3 landings with an instructor you can do it rather well, but initially the difference with a day landing is huge.

Night flying is rather close to instrument flying. You cannot always see the horizon, you cannot always see the obstacles, and you must trust your instruments. I believe it can be very challenging after day VFR only, but after some instrument experience it is not so surprising. It is not actually my first night flight too – I had some training in the US for my commercial license.

Finally, my night cross country is done. I still need some circuits time, but the most weather-critical part is done. And night flying is really beautiful.

EASA Instrument Rating: Level Up!

So, the blog is alive, and I still keep going.

Any professional pilot path starts from the PPL (Private Pilot License). After that you’re good to go by visual cues all by yourself. In Europe only day flights are legal (night rating should be obtained to fly at night), in the US you’re allowed to fly at night as well. The course is usually from 40 to 60 hours with a theoretical and flight tests at the end.

Then in the EASA world you need a night rating. It’s 5 flight hours, and it does not require any formal exam apart from a green light from the flight instructor. With this rating it’s possible to fly at night.

The next step is usually the Instrument Rating (IR). Typically it is the most expensive part of the training. I already possess the FAA IR, and now I am ready to add the EASA IR to my EASA license.

Normally the EASA IR program includes at least 45 dual flight hours, and requires 50 cross-country hours as a prerequisite.

Foreign IR holders (including FAA IR) can go through the competency-based IR program. Formally it is at least 40 instrument hours, including 10 hours in the EASA-approved flight school, at least 25 total dual instrument received time, and up to 30 PIC IR hours.

The ambiguous point is how the national CAA interprets dual flight instruction (whether FAA instruction counts or not). And the key difference is that dual received time cannot be considered as EASA PIC time (FAA allow to log PIC time in some cases).

In my case I need 10 hours in the EASA flight school since I already have the rest including passed ATPL theory. But it’s really hard to find a school which is interested in doing CB-IR: usually it’s much easier for them (and more profitable) to sign you up for a complete instrument course.

I found the school in Czech Republic (it’s Aviaticky Klub).

So I am flying again, again in a Cessna 172, again by instruments. Now it’s a diesel version. In Czech it is not required to use a view-limiting device, so I can also look outside. The adventure is starting!

Free Flight

The blog is still alive, as like the idea πŸ™‚

Last week I traveled to Prague. It was not related to my aviation progress, but I did not want to miss the opportunity to fly while being in Europe, so I tried to find an airplane. Unfortunately I had a very tight schedule, and it did not happen.

I had a day in Warsaw though, thus I signed up for ATPL theory course there. It is a distant learning with just 2 weeks on site. I signed the papers, and now I am waiting for the Polish CAA approval.

At the aerodrome I realized that I still have some time, and there are some planes available πŸ™‚ I tried to hire a plane, but did not succeed. Neither Ventum Air nor Salt Aviation could help me with that. When I had almost lost my hope I spotted a small building with the label “Runway Pilot School”. I entered there and asked for a plane, and voila! They provided both an airplane and a safety pilot in some minutes!

I got a nice Cessna 172, but it was a fuel injection modification with 180hp engine. It has fuel pumps, and does not have carb heater. It climbs faster than I used to in C172, and it flies nicely πŸ™‚

One more flight hour, and my first flight in Poland!

Commercial Pilot

Today was The Day I was waiting for so long: I passed my commercial checkride. Now I have a FAA Commercial Pilot license ASEL (Airplane Single Engine Land).

The checkride in the US has two parts: the oral and written one. During the oral part the examiner asks about airspaces, airplane systems, weather and other parts of the commercial pilot course. Apart from that, the student should make a weather briefing, prepare a flight plan, compute mass and balance, takeoff and landing distances, fuel, wind corrections – in other words, make a complete flight planning. It’s OK to look into FAR or POH (but better to know which part). It’s better to remember critical parts (for example, airplane speeds or most common regulations). My oral took about 1.5 hours, and as I know it’s not so long. Everything was professional and thorough.

The practical part starts from flying according to the flight plan. In my case the oil temperature started to rise during our climb, and almost reached the red zone. I pointed that out to the examiner and said that I want to go back, and she agreed. To save some time, she asked to make a power-off approach and landing (simulated engine failure). We had enough altitude and distance to make it to the runway, so I prepared the airplane for a normal landing. We have a long runway and a very light wind, so the runway was the best option even with a tailwind. I made it almost at the numbers.

After taxiing to the ramp we found one more airplane. It was booked but the instructor who booked it was late, so we were able to use it for the checkride. It was a pure luck, I suppose πŸ™‚

We flew to the East. Did I already tell about the weather in Florida? Of course some towering clouds already started to form. I decided to adjust the course to the South to avoid the dangerous cloud. The examiner asked whether I know about the other airport nearby. I knew about it, pointed the direction and said the approximate time to reach that airport.

The next part was the maneuvers. Commercial pilot should demonstrate the ability to fly steep turns, chandelles, lazy eights, steep spirals, eights on pylons and some different types of landings: normal landing, short field, soft field, power-off 180. All the maneuvers should be performed according to the commercial standards.

It’s critical to use checklists, constantly look for other traffic, demonstrate the appropriate qualification and knowledge during the maneuvers, and scan the instruments. And, of course, fly withing the margins for the altitude and speed. The only recipe to do it properly is to practise more and feel the airplane.

The landings were not perfect ‘minimum sink touchdowns’, but good enough and withing the selected touchdown zone. The most challenging part could be a short field landing at the numbers since that airport has some trees not so far from the runway, but it’s allowed to select the touchdown point not at the threshold for training or examination purposes. Of course, that should be done way in advance, not just before/after touchdown.

We had landed, and after some paperwork I got a temporary commercial license. Now I am officially a commercial pilot!

IFR Gainesville

I failed to fly IFR with the school’s black N4642J due to oil temperature problem, but the weather was still OK to fly, and one more airplane became available. At 2:30 pm it was still possible to fly to Gainesville and back. The weather forecast was FM1900Z VCTS ΠΈ BKN40CB, which means that there would be some thunderstorm activity, but not necessarily. Usually thunderstorms sit at the same places day-to-day at approximately the same time. Moreover, it is very easy to see them from the very long distance.

The radar showed a very good picture too, so I decided to fly to Gainesville. I filed and IFR plan, again, just to practice these skills. The weather conditions were visual.

I saw some distant thunderstorms on the way to Gainesville, and even a small cell on my course, so I requested a deviation due to weather. After avoiding this cell I got a direct route to the airport, and landed on a longer runway.

I decided to depart immediately since thunderstorm clouds were far from the airport at that moment, but that could quickly change. I requested and got my clearance, took off and flew back to the Crystal River. At 3000 feet I had some cumulus clouds above, but after about 20 miles from Gainesville the sky became clear. I was happy that I had decided to fly today πŸ™‚

Florida Summertime

The summer in Florida is much worse than the winter. It is generally correct that it’s possible to fly all year long, but in winter we have almost all day, and in summer we can have only about 2-3 hours or nothing at all.

I used to thunderstorms after about 2-3pm almost every day: they are predictable, and they are visible from a long distance. I used to the fact that heavy rain right now does not mean that in about an hour the weather will become flyable again. Flight planning in summer can be very interesting.

Today it was extremely hot. The only available airplane for today was N4642J, the one painted in black. I decided to fly IFR, just for practice: the weather is good.

Preflight and runup checks were OK. In a climb I contacted ATC and activated my flight plan. At about 4000 feet oil temperature raised almost to the red zone. I cancelled my flight plan, reduced power for better cooling and turned back. Just in case I was checking fields nearby, but in case of engine failure I had about 8 minutes, which was enough to fly to a home base from my altitude.

Fortunately the engine was still alive, and even the oil temperature started to drop. At about 5 miles to the airport I started to prepare for a normal landing with some altitude margin in case of engine failure.

The engine did not quit, I made a normal landing and taxied to the ramp. But I don’t think that it is a good idea to fly this airplane without further inspection, especially for a cross-country flights, so I left a red ticket for maintenance guys.

Palatka

Today I planned to use a small Cessna 150 for the trip, but it is still in maintenance: there were some problems with a compass and landing lights. I prefer to use this plane since it is much less expensive, but it is the only Cessna 150 in our school, so if I want to fly today, I should book a Cessna 172.

As I said, Cessna 172 is about 1.5x expensive, but it is an IFR-approved plane, so it makes sense to file an IFR flight plan!

I was going to fly to Palatka airport, 28J: that trip allows to fly before usual midday weather deterioration. I planned a VFR flight, so now I lost some time to prepare an IFR flight plan. Anyway I will fly in VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions), but I’d like to practice communications and log some IFR time (it is not FAA Instrument time, but for EASA it counts).

I was taking off from an uncontrolled airport, and I activated my flight plan in the air. The controller asked whether I’d like to fly VFR, but I was going to practice IFR, so I requested IFR and got the instructions to climb to 4000 feet and expect vectors.

At 4000 feet I was almost at the cloud base, where the air was a little bumpy. But nevermind, the clouds were cumulus and not dangerous, so it was just some practice of flying straight and level in bumpy conditions.

The landing was challenging with gusts up to 17 kts, so it was better to have some additional speed and power: the runway was very long, so the only problem was stability.

On the way back the clouds were dissipating, and the weather became less turbulent. My assigned altitude was 5000 feet, and that leg was smoother.

It was very nice to fly IFR, that practice is valuable.

Long Cross-Country

Every FAA CPL candidate should have at least one long cross-country flight with one 250+ nautical miles leg, as stated in 14 CFR Β§ 61.129.

Today I had this long cross-country flight: KCGC-KMTH-KIMM-KCGC, more than 6 flight hours with one refueling.

The first 30-40 miles the ceiling was at about 1500 feet, going higher upon moving further to the South. After about 70-80 miles a relatively wide clear area have been found for being able to climb to 5500. The air was very calm at this altitude, and the scenery was spectacular.

There were no clouds above KMTH at all. Some scary (but beautiful) cumulus clouds sat somewhere around Miami, but they were too far.

The wind was steady and weak, so the landing was easy.

On the way back the weather was nice and shiny, except for about 30 miles around our school airport: the ceiling was still relatively low.

Anyway, one more task is accomplished. This long cross-country is a bit challenging: the weather should be fine along the route for at least 6-7 hours, and you have to book the airplane in advance for the entire day. As a result, some students have to wait some weeks for their long cross-countries.

Night flight

During my previous visit here I completed almost all commercial requirements related to night hours except one 2-hour cross-country. I wanted to fly it, but some circumstances prevented that flight.

This time this flight seemed to happen. I checked the airplane in advance, ensured that we had full tanks and enough oil. Ensured that nobody would fly the airplane since that check.

The airplane just came from maintenance, and we were going to fly with my instructor.

So, here we go. We checked everything one more time, read necessary checklists. Everything was OK, and we started taxiing to the runway.

During the take-off roll the airspeed was raising, but suspiciously slow. It was more than 500 ft, but we still had 45. 45, 47… The runway is long, but still not endless, so it was better to abort the take-off. We safely stopped well before the runway threshold, but I think that the real speed was more than 70 when the decision was made.

Some system malfunction is not a pleasant case. To be honest, I was slightly scared.

We taxied back, but I still wanted to fly if possible: the weather was good, and it was not the only available airplane in the school. So we still could fly!

The flight was good. I thought that it’s hard to see clouds at night, but actually it is not, and we were able to keep us well below them.

We flew to KVNC, and requested flight following. For some reason the controller diverted us along the shoreline, around class B airspace.

Return flight was also around class B airspace, but on the East side. Firstly because of the weather avoidance, and secondly because it’s fun to fly a different route.

I like night flying πŸ™‚