Flying Lesson # 35 – 1st Navigation Flight

February 16, 2014

I really didn’t know what was in store for me today. I knew I was flying to Maryborough and Robert did a great job of prepping me, though I still didn’t know exactly what to expect. We’d be flying out of the training area and at an altitude that I’d never experienced in anything other than as a passenger in a commercial airliner.

It’s Sunday morning, I’m still frantically trying to finish drawing the control areas on my World Aeronautical Chart and get together my flight plan for today. Without experiencing a navigational flight, it’s hard to know exactly what is required. I based my flight plan just on what Robert went through with me and what I learnt in the textbooks. Again, not knowing what would be required, I just threw everything into my flight bag, just in case – ERSA, AIP, kneeboard, headset, checklist, GoPro, maps, rulers, pencil case etc. I had it all. My flight bag was bursting at the seams. In hindsight, I probably only needed about half of what I took, but at least I was prepared in that respect.

On arrival at Gil Layt’s Flying School, Robert was ready and raring to go. We had a quick brief and headed out to the plane. Today we were flying VH-HWC, which is a loaner plane while VH-TKJ is refurbished. I performed all of the normal checks and jumped aboard with Robert soon following.

So many new and exciting things happened today that it is all a bit of a whirlwind. It started with the radio call to ATC; “departure north”. That’s new! The response was to hold on Bravo for runway 04. Jeebus! This is getting scary. At this point I realised what was happening. We were going to depart Archerfield and just keep going. Clearly, I knew this all along, but it took the ATC call for it to actually sink in. All of the training I had done in the circuit and training area was now just to get me safely out of Archerfield. I actually have to fly somewhere. My throat dried up and my hands became clammy as I waited at the holding point for permission to take off. I’d never used the grass strips before. I’m used to a nice big chunk of tarmac. Clear to take off 04R. Alright, here we go. Full throttle pushed and we start our way down the bumpy dirt track that is the grass/dirt runway of 04R.

Once airborne, everything was normal for a moment. With a turn off upwind, we headed towards the TV towers and away from Archerfield. I’d never been this way before! As we climbed, we edged closer and closer to Mount Coot-tha. The option is there to fly over/through the towers, though Robert prefers to scoot around the mountain. Probably a good idea, as knowing me, I’d probably clip a wing on the way through. As we passed alongside Mount Coot-tha, we got a spectacular view of the city to the right. We continued around the mountain and then tracked toward Dayboro. For this first leg, Robert did all of the navigating while I flew. He told me what I should be looking for and what I should be doing to handle all of the cockpit tasks without overloading or getting too stressed out. I was amazed how much was involved. I know one day it will be second nature, though for now it’s all a little overwhelming.

After passing over Dayboro, we headed for Maryborough. We soon realised that my preflight planning wasn’t completely accurate. I had made a bit of a blunder which put Robert’s lesson on the back foot a little. Though it was good to see how Robert corrected for the error in the cockpit, I think what scares me the most is that I’ve been used to just navigating by looking out the window and aiming for certain landmarks, but now I have to try and stay on an imaginary line drawn on a map sitting on my lap. It’s the eyes down part that I find most difficult. I’m not too worried as I know it will come with experience, though for now it is a little stressful.

As we stayed within eye shot of the coast line, we motored along at around 105 knots on our way to Maryborough. It was a clear, hot day and while you could see for a million miles, the skies were not playing nice. I’m glad no one was in the back seat because there probably would have been vomit everywhere. The turbulent air was less than ideal and made for a very bumpy trip. With continual heating and cooling of the air, we experienced many updrafts and downdrafts which made it quite difficult to hold a steady altitude. I had to work fairly hard to keep the airplane on track and in balance.

Once Robert corrected my miscalculations on the flight plan, I was amazed how well everything went to plan. When the plan would say you’ll be at this location at this time, we generally were, and if we weren’t then something was a rye and we’d recalculate and adjust the plan accordingly.

Maryborough came into view a few minutes earlier than expected, though again, letting the science prove itself, we held off on the descent until the time indicated. Sticking to a descent rate of 500 feet per minute, low and behold, we arrived at the correct height when just above the aerodrome. I made the appropriate CTAF radio calls and started my circuit to land. The main difference with the calls was that instead of speaking to a tower, we were speaking to anyone that might be flying in the area or on approach to land, etc. Maryborough was a little bit of a ghost town as we were on final for landing. Not another aircraft could be seen or heard which was quite amazing considering the size and quality of the runway. A beautiful strip of tarmac, not being used and in the middle of nowhere. Apparently before Hervey Bay stole its thunder, Maryborough was quite the hub with regular passenger flights operated by Qantas Link. On landing, remnants of this could still be seen with D8 100/200 (Dash 8) parking lines drawn at the apron. We pulled up at the apron for a breather and to stretch our legs.

It was hot and windy at Maryborough. We took up shelter under the wing for a few minutes before jumping aboard and heading back out to the runway. The wind was intense, but luckily the majority was pointing straight down the runway. The headwind made for a helicopter style take-off before heading downwind and back on track toward Dayboro.

After we were settled on our outbound track, Robert handed me the flight plan and map to allow me to try and navigate home. The rough conditions made it difficult to maintain track, though with regular location and time checks, I don’t think I did a terrible job. Robert still helped out a fair bit, though I feel I was able to get a good feel for what is required. The trip home seemed a lot quicker and before I knew it, we were tracking over Dayboro and pointing the nose toward Archerfield.

Inbound to Archerfield, we flew over and reported our position abeam the TV towers and then again at the Centenary bridge. We used the 04 runway again for landing, then taxied back to the apron, parked and called it a day.

My first navigation done. Wow! What an experience. Walking back to the flying school, I was completely spent and my brain totally melted, though it was worth every moment. The flying time was 3 hours in total, a nice little edition to my logbook and a nice deduction from my back balance.

Next week we are flying to Kingaroy via Chincilla. It should be a nice long flight. Now that I know what to expect and what is required, I’m going to make sure I’m a lot more prepared and that my calculations are spot on.

Until next time…

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