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Friday, 20 February 2015

Kickoff 2015

Finally! I got to fly my first flight in 2015. Visibility threatened to be the big spoiler again, this day (February 16th) ...
But the afternoon forecast was better, so we (my instructor and me) decided to head for the airport, and decide then and there what we were going to do that day.

When we arrived at the field, it already looked better than the webcam picture suggests. But there was a whole lot of moisture and dirt in the air, and a strong inversion layer to keep that all pinned low near the ground. So it promised to be better, higher up. The risk, however, was that as it cools down by the end of the afternoon, all that moisture in the air starts to condensate again, creating mist. So we decided a cross country flight would be too risky (of not being able to return home). We were going to stay near the home base, and do a naviagtion excersise. Last time I sat in the airplane, I already programmed a flightplan in to the nav computer, so we would go do that again, with a local route, connecting some nearby IFR waypoints. After following the route, we would see if visibility allowed for some touch-and-goes.
I ended up flying this pattern:
The whole pre-flight check, startup procedure, radio call, taxi, I've got that all down already. Now, we added punching in a nav plan, but that's peanuts too with the GTN650/G500. No hurries, no worries. It takes time for the engine to warm up anyway, so no time was lost there.
Take-off was already a little while ago, so that took a little "getting a feel back" for the amount of rudder needed to remain centered. But no real problems or so, there! :) After a right turn, the first waypoint was ARTIP. That's the (in)famous waypoint where the "Big Boys" are stacked in a holding pattern when there is too much inbound traffic for chiphol. Not today, however, so I only saw one "Big Boy", passing by high overhead.
Visibility up 'til then was about 3 km, and that is not much! It is legal to fly in class G airspace, below 3000ft, with the ground in sight and clear of cloud. But that does not make it comfortable! It is somethin like driving your car in a very, very large parking lot (no road) in misty contditions, knowing that there are others out there doing the same, and all of you are driving 60 MPH... You get very tired of staring into that thick grey soup.
Fortunately, after ARTIP we can climb until we are above the inversion, and that's a whole new, different world. Crystal clear skies, no bump in them whatsoever. Below you, there is this greyish white layer of muck, through which you can clearly see the ground, looking straight down, butnot looking any significant bit further forward.
"Follow the magenta line" sounds easy enough, but there's quite some work involved, actually. Especially when your instructor tries to distract you at those critical decision moments ;)
But in this weather it is a valuable tool to get you where you want to go, along the route you planned, despite the lack of visual references on the ground (there is no "point afar" to be aiming at).
Piet also demonstrated the descend planning tool, built into the GTN650. A nifty little calculator that not only tells you when to start descending at what rate, abut can also be used to monitor if you are still on your planned descend path. Of course, you can calculate in-bteween altitudes by heart, but that takes effort and capacity, that can better be put to use scanning for other traffic as you are approaching your destination airfield, descending back into the grey soup.
So you always have something to do, besides enjoying the view, when you're flying. Especially if you plan short legs like I did in this example. Because then you'll be adjusting your heading every 10 minutes.

Another new experience for me is landing agains a low sun, in these hazy conditions. The sun had done her best, so much of the fog had disappeared already by then, but still it was difficult to see the runway from base. Remarkable how little such a slab of asphalt does not stand out between all the grass. Only water is very well descernible. Once on final, it was more or less OK again; asphalt shines more than grass :) The difficult bit was to decide when to start the turn to final.
I ende up making 10 landings. Three were flapless. I am going to need some more practice to really nail this, because it all was not very precise or reproducable. Partly due to me not flying for two months already, partly because those 6 to 8 knots wind were also practically the crosswind component too. Nevertheless: practise, practise, practise!

I do not have any film footage, only audio :( The pictures hre were all taken by my instructor, Piet. Thank you for that, Piet!
We did agree to do this flight again (so I get another shot at filming it...), but then solo, as a preparation for my first solo cross country flight. It is getting more and more real! :)

(Photographs: Piet de Hondt)
KML of the flight:

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