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Friday, 25 March 2016

Exam Preparation

In preparation for my practical exam, it was needed to plan some cross-country flights. "The real deal", including Nav plan, course-time keeping, fuel calculations, that sort of thing. Even calculating with True Air Speed (TAS), if that only makes a difference of one knot at 1500 ft under near-ISA (International Standard Atmosphere) conditions (you do the math ;) )

So said, so done. Planned some flights to Dinslaken (Germany), Maastricht-Aachen (Beek), Rotterdam, Münster/Osnabrück (Germany again). Below is a report on what came true of that...

On a beautiful 11th of October, we took the flight to Dinslaken / Schwarze Heide. With half-way, of course, some emergency landings in the low-flying area between Deventer and Zutphen.

I was rather surpised that I cold not easily spot Dinslaken. I knew it would be east of the highway near Raststätte Hünxe (a big "resting place" - parking with restaurant, toilets, benches - well known by all Dutchies that ever drove into Germany via Arnhem). But I still had trouble locating it, even though it is a clear strip of tarmac in a clearing in the woods... But I just kept looking too far away, for some reason. Strange how one can miss the obvious right in front of their noses... Lesson learned: if you don't locate your target, just keep scanning - also in places you are "sure it cannot be".
Once found, it was an easy approach. Pass the airfield to come in from the south, and make a standard 1000ft Right Hand circuit for runway 08. Now, I am used to 700 ft circuits, as they almost all are in the Netherlands. So I came out a bit high - or far, it's just how you want to interpret it. Nothing scary or dangerous, just not as neat as possible, that's all. It's difficult to loose ànd speed, ànd altitude in an airplane that glides so well, so you have to choose one of them. If you bleed off speed, you'll end up with a higher descend angle at the same descend rate, so that's usually the way to go, then. Another lesson learned: I could do with some more practice on 1000 ft circuits.
Dinslaken has a good and cosy restaurant. The whole village comes there for lunch, it seems. And drinks. And cards ... :)
After a good "Schnitzel", we went back to Lelystad. Rather "uneventful", this time, because the whole enroute thing, and the approach to Lelystad is quite well known to me, by now.

The next flight was planned to go to Maastricht. I had made a plan to follow the East border, through the Niederrhein CTR, to the Bravo Arrival for Beek. The departure, I had planned via the Uniform departure to the east, then North passed the Geilenkirchen CTR, and in between the Niederrhein and Düsseldorf CTRs towards Arnhem again. From there, via Teuge back to Lelystad.
But the weather was not very co-operative. I had to cancel the next two bookings. And when it finally was flyable n Lelystad, the Southern part of the country was still engulfed in fog. So we decided to go North, and practice 1000 ft circuits at Texel. The weather at Texel still was not beautiful, but above minimums, at least. And it had already been a month since I last flew, so it was about time to get in the air again!

After a "grey" crossing of the Waddenzee (grey sea below, grey sky above, grey misty stuff covering the horizon), I spotted the field very quickly. Ed and Mike (Mr. Texel, and Son) had just put up two blinking LED lights at the threshold of the runway in use, that morning! Especially on a hazy day a welcome clue as to which green field is actually the runway :)
After some 4 or so touch-and-goes, we quickly added some fuel, paid the bill, and flew back again. Because the days are shortening very fast this last semester.

Later that month, 28 November to be precise, it was again not good enough weather to go to Maastricht. We did a local flight, only I do not have a GPS trace, nor photos, nor a nav log, nor a recollection of what exactly we did that day. We did not go to Maastricht, that's for sure ;)

Another two weeks later, December 12th, was my next flight. Again, not to Maastricht, because of weather, but a local flight. A front was approaching from the West, and would arrive at Lelystad by three in the afternoon. In, and behind that front would be unfavourable conditions to fly in, so the risk of not getting back from Maastricht was too high to take that one on. I still had a solo navigation flight on my list, so that's what it would be. I drew up my nav plan, made sure to incorporate the low flying area near Deventer / Zutphen, and got on my way. In the air, I started to make calculations on when I would have to leave the low-flying area in order to be back at three again, and stuck to that. Worked like a charm! Exactly at 15:02 I landed with the weather front less than ten miles away, first drops of rain on the canopy already. It had not been dangerous weather yet, and in retrospect the weather front did not cause much havoc. But better safe then sorry. And always nice to see that a planning can convert to actuality :)

That would become my last flight of 2015. Only on January 9th, 2016 could I fly again, after even having been to the field in vain one day. That day, the weather was supposed to get better during the day, but it did so only at the end of UDP (Universal Daylight Period), so there was no flying then. The weather on the 9th, again, was not good enough to fly to Maastricht, but we still had a few topics open on the "basic IFR" list, so that's what w e did then.
Uiteindelijk zou dat mijn laatste vlucht van 2015 blijken te zijn. Pas op 9 januari mocht en kon ik weer, na eerder een keer voor niets naar het veld gekomen te zijn (het weer zou toen opknappen, maar dat deed het niet op tijd. De 9e was het ook niet goed genoeg om naar Maasticht te vliegen, maar we hadden nog een paar items uit het hoofdstuk "basic IFR" open staan, dus dat hebben we toen gedaan.

Next to theory, and the practical exam, I also need a Radio Telephony (RT) practical exam (already got that), and a so-called LPE. Language Proficiency Endorsement. That's an endorsement on my license that says I am proficient in the English language. The fact that I translate my blog to English does not count ;) I need an official assessment for that.
I had made an appointment on the 10th (the day after that basic IFR flight) for the LPE assessment with CAVOK at Lelystad Airport. They were a recommendation by our CFI (Chief Flight Instructor), and rightfully so, I might add.
There are three possible outcomes: LPE-4, LPE-5, or LPE-6. Or actually there is also the outcome "failed", if none of the other three apply... LPE-4 means proficiency is at minimum working level required for aviation, and the assessment has to be repeated after two years. LPE-5 signifies enhanced competency, requiring re-assessment only after 4 years, and LPE-6 means "expert", and no re-assessment is ever necessary anymore.
After a listening test - multiple-choice questions on a scenario that you could play a maximum of three times through an MP3 player - a bit of small talk about what you do for a living, and how come you got interested in aviation. 20 minutes later, and €144,= poorer, I walked out with an LPE-6 in my pocket :D

The week after, I had booked on the 16th, but the weather was so bad, that it would not be a flying day. Luckily, the 17th would be better weather, and both my instructor and airplane were still available. So after a short coordination with my instructor, we moved the lesson back one day.
Maastricht was still pretty much fogged in, so we picked a solo to Rotterdam as flight of the day.
I had planned the outbound leg via PAM (Pampus VOR) to Gouda, and then to Rotterdam via the Mike arrival. The return leg would then go via the Hotel departure, North along the coast, and though the Schiphol CTR back to Lelystad, if I would get the permission to do that. If not, then I would follow the coast further, until just south of Alkmaar, then via Enkhuizen back to Lelystad (always have a backup for if you do not get the permission.
In order to fly to Rotterdam, you have to arrange handling by the Rotterdam Flying Club (VCR), otherwise you'd have to park on the main platform, and pay the main handling fees. Handling by VCR must be approved 24 hours in advance. I had arranged thing for the Saturday (the 16th), but that was quickly moved to Sunday. All set, ready for departure!
It turned out to be quite a bit of workload to get to Rotterdam. I had never been there, never seen the Visual Reporting Points from above, did not know the area very well in general. Then, when I contacted Rotterdam Tower, I got all the usual RT, but also a warning for traffic, circling near reporting point Mike. If you don't expect that, it turns out to be difficult to hear at first. You go "did I hear that correctly?", then, "Oh, now I have to look out for traffic in the air, for Mike on the ground, and my altimeter inside". And all that at the same time. That caused me to miss Mike, so I took a peek at my iPad to check if I didn't already pass Mike. And when I found out I had just missed it, I announced on the radio that I had just passed Mike, with no traffic in sight. The traffic that had been circling near Mike reported overhead Papa, but I only know that now, because I listened to the ATC recordings afterwards. As it turns out, the circling traffic requested that circling just before I switched to Rotterdam Tower. So I did not hear her earlier, otherwise I would have recognised her voice (not too many female voices on ATC frequencies). Anyway, I continued to look out for traffic, and followed the train tracks towards the airport. Meanwhile, other traffic was also approaching from Romeo, so a sharp lookout was called for anyway. Scanning for traffic, the landscape, chart, altimeter, and so on, I finally got overhead the field. I could not descend very early (or better: did not want to), because of low flying traffic next to the runway (banner tower picking up a banner; don't want to get in his way). So my first attempt at landing was too high, and ended in a go-around. Second one was a perfect touch down, a little bit long, so I could quickly exit via V4.

The platform at VCR was very slippery, because the shaded areas were still frozen over. I almost fell twice... But I made it to the club's cafe, for some coffee and a chat with a couple of pilots that just got back from a fly-in at Teuge.
Then I quickly paid the fees, and got on my way again. On to the coast!

In the end, it happened to be not too busy at Schiphol - I have heard more traffic on the frequency at other times. Plus, the runway usage  (36L for departures, 06 for arrivals) was ideal for a Zandvoort-to-Victor CTR crossing. The RT was exactly as I expected. Then, it all sounds nicely professional, increasing your chances of approval for the crossing ;) So I got the clearance to cross from Zandvoort, via overhead, to Victor, with those points, plus Hoofddorp as mandatory reporting points. Quite the adventure, to overfly the nation's biggest airport during training. Solo, even!

The next flight was on February the 5th. Again, the weather was only marginal, so not OK for an extensive cross country flight (to, say, Maastricht...). That day started with an engine that would be shaky around 1100 rpm. Low stationary, and cruise or full power OK, but that rpm range was out of balance. We decided to let it be, and see what it would do during the run-up test. It just might clear with sustained additional power. There were no anomalies during run-up so we decided to start out with some circuits, and meanwhile monitor the temperatures and pressures. Once in the air, the cilinder head temperature gouge would not indicate anything, then a "normal" value, then nothing again. Two potential failures is enough to turn back, so after only one circuit (6 minutes flying time) we were back at the club again. Piet called the maintenance firm, and they suggested we would run the carburetors empty (close the fuel valve with the engine running, when it starts to sputter, open the valve again) to see if that would clear any possible contamination of carburetor needles. It did! And for the loose contact of the cilinder head temperature gauge, the mechanic could tell where to look for it. That spot could be reached from the oil inspection hatch, and fumbling about restored the contact, so both issues were solved.
Then there was still the issue of marginal weather, so we decided to stay close to the airport, and "just do some airwork" - steep turns, slow flight - followed by some circuits in various configurations. Oh, and a bit of low-level navigation at 500 ft AGL (Above Ground Level), because that gives a totally different outlook on the surrounding terrain. Makes navigating visually that much harder, and you have to rely more on your ability to maintain a heading on instruments.

The remainder of he month of February, the weather remained bad. Definitely not appropriate for an extended cross-country (to Maastricht...). Take February 20th, for example. I had booked in the afternoon, because Piet had to work during the morning. In the morning, the ceiling was at 1200 ft, with 6 km visibility, which is only enough for some local circuit work. With rain, those values would drop to 800 ft and 3.5 km, respectively. Not quite what you'd want. Especially not when the rain coverage looks something like this

In the end, it took until February 28th (again, almost a month later) before I got to fly again. But: this was the day! We were going to Maastricht! The last Dutch field I can normally land on. Schiphol would be "possible", but due to landing fees, I will postpone that one until I have to divert due to flying past UDP. All the other fields are either Military fields you don't get to land unless you are a member of the local flying club, or closed, or MLA/Glider only.
This would be my final exam preparation flight with Piet, so I dusted off my navplan, added wind and temperature related calculations, and off we went! From Harderwijk to NYKER (indeed, an IFR waypoint near Nijkerk), where the exam prep kicked in already: (simulated) engine failure! Try to restart, pick a field, fly a glide-in circuit while reporting your situation on the radio... All went well, so with three minutes delay, I picked up my route from NYKER. Next came the question "If you would want to divert to Hilversum now, what would be your heading?". I had put a dot on the protractor for the current wind, so after a little fiddling with the chart, I got my answer. A wrong answer, after checking with the G500, caused by too much clutter on my map due to all those routes I plotted on it already. Re-did the estimation and got it spot-on. Ah well, in March the 2016 charts will be published, so I'll just leave it like this for a bit. I have a "virgin" one for my exam, if that will be in March already.
After a bit of flying, the same question: diverting to Mönchengladbach, this time. Only, this one came moments before I would contact Beek Approach for a clearance to enter the Beek TMA1 (climbing to 1800 ft for the Bravo Arrival. It was considered a good call to respond "not now, I'm busy" ;)
The Bravo Arrival was a piece of cake, actually. As long as you stay between the Maas river, and the Julianakanaal, you'll be OK. I got clearance for "direct left base 03", which makes at least the RT easier than the "overhead join right downwind 03" option. The up-slope of runway 03 was more than I envisioned, and together with the larger width, the "picture" was absolutely, completely different than anything I was used to. So-asked, I made it a long field landing (landing at, in this case, about 2/3 of the runway length). That makes a huge difference in taxiing on a 3km long runway...

It was very quiet at the platform. One bizz jet, and yours truly. That was all. So also the crew lounge was very quiet. That sounds like a luxury, but drinking mediocre coffee from a machine, together with two Albanian pilots that qualify for LPE-4 at most, in a room with no view at the apron is far from that what I had expected to find here. Meanwhile, I hear some noises in the hallway. It is the lady of the handling agency, opening their counter. So I could now pay my €20,03 landing and handling fee (which is quite OK, compared to the €53,= I paid at Rotterdam).
So back via Germany. The lady of the handling company had stepped out to get herself a cup of coffee too (in another building; thay must have good coffee somewhere else ;) ), which meant we could not get out on the apron for a while. But with some 10 minutes delay, we got out there, and departed as planned. Uniform departure is quite easy too: climb out until sufficiently high, then turn right, and follow the high tension lines towards the highway, then follow the highway. As soon as you come to a built up area, you are at Uniform.
After saying goodbye to Beek Tower, on to Langen Information. Far better service than Dutch Mil! These people do not mind at all to talk to G.A. aircraft. :)
By the time we started approaching the Dutch skies again, we noticed that the fuel gauges were pointing further south than comfortable. Let's keep a sharp eye on that, and make a quick Fuelstop at Teuge, if necessary. We would rather not, because that would be cutting it close with end of UDP, but if necessary, just do it. In the end, while almost overhead Teuge, we decided it would be OK to continue on to Lelystad. It went all OK, but the remaining quantity of fuel would have made a diversion back to Teuge rather critical.
Most important lesson of the day: do not plan so critically, fuel wise. If it does look like it is going to become critical, plan the fuelstop already. Just to be prepared. You can always decide not to make that fuelstop, that's an easier decision than the other way around.

Only one week later, March 5th, I got to strike the last item off the curriculum: a solo flight with "excersises as deemed necessary or useful by the instructor". So just a rather relaxed solo flight, repeating the basics. Piet did not have a list of exercises I needed to do, just go out and have some fun :)
I planned a route over the houses of an aunt of mine (Laren), and my brother (Hilversum), followed by some airwork over the Veluwe area (wooded, meadows, not much built-up areas).

Laren van boven het centrum naar het oosten
This was all quite relaxed and OK. After turning a few circles over those houses,, and then on to the Veluwe. Once out from under the Schiphol TMA1, the Class A airspace above me is 6500ft and higher (instead of 100 ft), so that gives some more opportunity to do some of those exercises that require some altitude, like stalls. I also practiced an emergency and an precautionary landing, and then it was already time to return for a couple of touch-and-goes. All in all, an hour flies by pretty quick!

Now, all that remains is a pre-exam flight with our CFI, Erwin. If he signs off on it, I will be allowed to apply for my practical exam...

Below, links to the usual KML files:

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