Sunday, December 7, 2008

Night Rating Continued.

Few days following my amazing late season glider flight, Mother Nature took pity, scheduling gods smiled at me and I finally got to fly a Cessna again. At night. After a six months break. It was, to sum it up in one word “interesting”.

In preparation for the flight, I read the POH (pilot operating handbook), reviewed the speeds I was supposed to know by memory and emergency procedures. I then spent some time reading the takeoff, circuit and landing sequences that I wrote down long time ago when I was still learning. From past experiences, I knew that going through the circuit sequence while sitting in the armchair improved my actual “in plane” performance materially, so I do this routine every time I am learning something new. Or remembering something I have not done in a while.

Still, no amount of preparation or armchair flying can compensate for a six-month break, and I expected to be rusty. The length of my absence was further highlighted when my new instructor asked if I had current charts. I was pretty sure mine were not current, but the fact that I was 3 editions behind was a bit of a shock. In fairness, it’s been a long time since I flew cross country as ever since I started flying Citabria, all my flight were local. Luckily, the pilot shop was still opened, so I quickly fixed that issue by acquiring current charts and a CFS, both of which would be required for my night cross country.

I then got the keys to the plane and went out into the elements. I took my time doing the walk-around and pre-flight and then got to my seat and went over every instrument to memorize the location so that I would not be searching for them when I need them. By that time, my instructor climbed in and we were ready to go.

Once I’ve completed the run up and got my ATIS information, I tuned up to the Ground frequency and was surprised to hear how busy it was at that time. It appeared that the Seneca students were doing a training night and there were more planes doing circuits than I have ever seen. Finally there was a break in the rapid-fire clearances and I managed to squeeze in and get our ground clearance. We taxied to the Runway threshold and tuned in to the Tower frequency which was equally busy. Looking at the traffic around us and hearing approaching traffic, it seemed to me that there was a good chance for us to be able to take off and as soon as I reported being at the threshold, we were cleared to line up and almost immediately to take off. Take off was uneventful and soon were we climbing away.

I struggled a bit with the sight picture to get me the 78 knots that I wanted and very rough air did not help. It was a bit frustrating but at the same time, I was pleasantly surprised that I had not forgotten any of the radio work. One advantage of training in the controlled environment from the start – radio work becomes one of the primary skills.

As we turned towards the north and were cleared on route, away from crazy busy circuit, out came the hood and I was on instruments. I was a bit concerned about the bumpiness while on instruments but the GFA indicated that turbulence would stop at 3,000 ft, so as soon as we were clear from Pearson Airport’s inverted wedding cake control zone, we climbed to 3,000 and into the smooth air.

I flew under the hood for a while, doing mostly OK on keeping the wings level and speed and altitude unchanged. We then tried some timed turns which I managed to do fine. Since we still needed to use some time (I was short 0.9 hrs of my instruments requirements), on came the VOR instruments and soon we were navigating towards and away from Simcoe VOR. With the added VOR workload, I dropped a wing a few times, but picked it up before it turned into anything serious. Eventually, we reached the required time and could get rid of the hood and fly us back to the airport with the renewed resolution that I would not want to be in the weather that could turn into Instrument Metrological Conditions under any circumstances.

The winds afloat were fierce and our ground speed was very slow. Which suited me just fine as I was once again looking fully lit downtown Toronto and enjoying every moment of it.

As I tuned into the Tower frequency, I discovered that it got even busier. I inserted my call sign in the small pause and got my clearance into the zone and reporting point. Concentrating on finding the reporting point and then the airport, I did not count the number of the planes on the frequency, but my instructor later said it was 7!

We were coming from the North and landing on Rwy 21, so I expected the right base clearance and got exactly that, in second position behind traffic on left base. I still was not seeing the Rwy, but I saw the traffic and followed his path in the air and finally saw the Rwy lights. I was on a right glide path and speed, but flared too high and too much and landing was ugly. My instructor then suggested that we’d call it a night as trying to do full stop circuits with 6 other airplanes would have been counterproductive and a waste of money. I agreed and we taxied back.

So, at this time, I have all requirements for night rating except x-country. But, because we did not do circuits, I am still non-current. Hopefully, it’ll all come together when the stars align again and the x-country does happen…

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