Controlled Airspace

Karlovy Vary is a very beautiful place. Lakes and buildings look fantastic from the altitude.

Today I flew to the CTR (control zone). I did not expect that the workload would be so high: the flight itself is almost the same except that I have clearances instead of advisories, but I felt somewhat uncomfortable. OK, possibly it is just an unfamiliar environment…

The controllers speak English much better than our tower. Actually our tower is not so bad compared to some airfields in the vicinity: sometimes they only speak Czech. I remember that I am in Czechia, and I try to do my best, but I wish to see some more operators speaking the international aviation language (which is English), at least at a basic level.

Additionally we made some landings on the way there, it is a good practice for me. I am becoming more confident, and I make better and better landings even on sloped runways.

They Are So Different…

I enjoy exploring new aerodromes. They appear very similar, but they are not. Of course I say that only with my level of experience, but I think that it’s true for many pilots.

Today we flew circuits in an aerodrome with a grass runway. The runway itself is rather uneven and rough: firstly, it has a slope, and there are small bumps and hollows. Secondly, the grass is very uneven, and does not cover the entire runway. Actually there is no significant difference, but I still like concrete runways much more.

Here is the picture about how approach to a grass runway looks like:

Approach. Land. Go. Repeat.

I had a lot of landings on the grass. In fact, I had REALLY a lot of landings on the grass. Today I fly patterns on the aerodrome with a grass strip.

Today I made many landings. The main outcome is that finally I mainly fly the airplane than it flies me. I see where it is going to land, and at least I have proper feedback from the flight controls. At least the approach becomes stabilized. Previously it was more like “trying to aim to some point by any means, using all available flight controls”. Now I have to be more precise: the strip is shorter. I was pretty good in theory, but for the some reason it did not help a lot. Possibly the reason is that I mainly concentrated on an instantaneous correction without building a ‘big picture’.

Today I have a level-up: now I analyze my track during the approach and try to keep the straight paths really straight, and curved paths as smooth as possible. I use trim even in turbulent weather. I mainly set the flaps to the desired position for landing earlier instead of correcting a glide path by using flaps.

I am making progress. I perform slower than I wanted to, but I am moving on.

Navigation

Once again, I have a new instructor. I hope that this time he will stay with me until a checkride, because it’s fun to fly with different people, but there is a significant overlap between exercises. As a result I fly more hours. Of course, it is an experience, and those hours are credited to my total time, but I want to move faster.

We are finishing navigation flights and continuing practicing landings and stabilized approaches. The weather is great now.

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 🙂

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.

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Keep going, keep working 🙂