My First Night Flight In The Left Seat

It has been a little over a week since my first night flight in the left seat. Looking back at my calendar for confirmation, it was the evening of Saturday, October, the 26th. It was a calm night with light and variable winds that consisted of a beautiful sunset filled with orange; the mountains in the background were radiating an orange and yellow-ish glow making for a spectacular evening twilight. Just have a look for yourself.

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I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my first night flight. At my school, student generally book at least two hour time slots which allows for approximately 1 hour of flying and 1 hour of preparation, ground briefing, delays, etc… In my case, my booking was from 18:00 – 20:00. I arrived at around 17:20 as I typically like to arrive early because it gives me extra time to do things properly as opposed to rushing through all the things I need to do prior to taking flight. There’s quite a lot that needs to be done prior to getting into the aircraft and so here’s brief insight into what I do prior to accelerating down the runway and taking off.

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The following things might not happen in order every single time I go flying, but I try to follow this order as much as possible. On my way to the school, I use my phone to call and listen to the most current ATIS at my local airport. ATIS, for anybody that isn’t aware, stands for Automatic Terminal Information Service, which is a continuous broadcast of recorded aeronautical information in busier terminal areas. This provides me with high-level information such as the current winds, current runway in use, altimeter setting, cloud ceiling, among other things. It’s an excellent way for me to mentally prepare myself for the actual flight (i.e. knowing which runway is active, wind direction/strength, and figuring out if the clouds may prevent me from doing certain exercises during my flight). Once I arrive at my school, I check to see whether my aircraft is available on the apron, and if it is, I make my way over to do a pre-flight walk-around. This pre-fight walk-around consists of a methodical walk around the aircraft making sure that everything is in order and nothing is out of place, missing, or broken. To simplify things, I check to see that everything is working the way it’s supposed to, that nothing is leaking fluids, and that the oil level is where it should be. In aviation, it’s all about mitigating risks and this is exactly why we do this before every single flight. I’d rather find something wrong with the aircraft on the ground while up in the air. Lastly, I will also check to see how much fuel is in the aircraft and whether or not there’s any water or particles in the fuel (i.e. this is checked by draining the fuel tank; because water is more dense than the fuel, it’ll sink to the very bottom of the tank making it easy to drain and spot). With this information, I head back to the school and begin my weight and balance calculation. I won’t go in to too much detail here, as I’ve already covered weight & balance in this blog post; however, I’m essentially making sure that the weight of the airplane including fuel, pilot & passenger, and baggage is within limits as well as that the center of gravity is within limits as well. Also, I check to make sure that all of the certificates (i.e. Certificate of Airworthiness, Certificate of Registration, Insurance, etc…) are legal and up to date while also ensuring that I familiarize myself with the aircraft’s recent history/flights by looking at its logbook. Any maintenance issues/repairs will have been recorded in the logbook which is something every student pilot should familiarize themselves with, especially if you’re not the only person flying a particular plane. After filling out the weight & balance, my instructor reviews it and signs off on it. Depending on the type of flight, we may do a quick ground briefing, but ultimately it’s off to the apron and into the aircraft at this point.

On this day, the plan was for us to take off from Pitt Meadows (CYPK), fly a left-hand downwind departure towards the east, navigate to Mission bridge, turn around, navigate back to Pitt Meadows and do several night circuits before requesting a full-stop and landing back at Pitt Meadows.

The taxiing and take-off were quite different from what I had been used to in the past; after all, I hadn’t really flown/taxied in the dark before. A big realization for me, and one that I had previously read about, was to make sure you really keep your feet on the breaks during your pre take-off run-up so that you don’t end up creeping forwards. It’s very difficult to tell if you’re slowly creeping forwards in the dark as compared to daylight. The take-off was relatively smooth. It’s essentially the same as during the day; however, your visibility is greatly diminished and I also placed a lot more emphasis on my instruments (i.e. attitude indicator, airspeed indicator, altimeter) than I would do during the day. During the climb on our crosswind leg, my instructor pointed out a number of easily identifiable landmarks such as highways and major roads that were all relatively easy to spot as they were very well lit. On our way towards Mission bridge, I was surprised by the calmness of the air and shocked by the realization that mountains, lakes, fields were all pitch black now. It was a bit un-nerving at first, but I’m sure that I’ll become more confident with every flight, especially if I continue my studying of navigation and the local area through my VTA. If I remember correctly, we were at around 3,000′ when my instructor asked me to name a few cities in and around our vicinity. It’s easy to spot a town/city, but harder to correctly identify it at first unless you’re very familiar with the area. My eyes were constantly going from my VTA to ground and back to the VTA. I realize that, at the end of the day, this was essentially a familiarization flight for nights; my ability to point out cities and towns wasn’t 100% (i.e. how could I expect it to be? I hadn’t done a night flight like this before), but I knew that it would improve with every flight.

Back at Pitt Meadows doing circuits in the dark, I was improving my approach and landing with every circuit. It’s definitely quite different landing an airplane at night compared with during the day. There exist several illusions that every pilot should be aware of. Primarily, the Black Hole Effect, which is something called the featureless terrain illusion, fools pilots into thinking they are higher than they actually are, causing them to fly dangerously low approaches. This, if not accounted for, can end very badly, as you might imagine. To be completely honest, after that lesson I felt like some of those approaches and landings had been some of my best to date, which is crazy to think about. Having said that, I did try out a new approach (pun intended :)) to my landings where, based on the advice given to me by some mentors, I pretended that I was flying a Triple 7. Believe it or not, this actually allowed me to perfect my approaches by better managing my airspeed and attitude adjustments. Typically, if your approaches are stable, your landings will be good as well and vice-versa, if your approaches are unstable, this will be reflected in your landings. One thing I noted as well, is the fact that you don’t get to see the runway in front of your until the very last moment when your landing light illuminates it for you. This means that you’ve got to pay even more attention to possible animals (i.e. coyotes, deer, etc…) on the runway because you won’t see them until the last second.

All in all, I was very pleased with the way that flight went and even more so with my landings. I can’t wait to try the same thing in daylight to see if I’m able to further perfect my landings. It really does make a difference! The next things on my journey to a night rating are as follows:

  1. Dual flight from Pitt Meadows (CYPK) to Abbotsford International Airport (CYXX)
  2. Solo circuits at Pitt Meadows (CYPK) during night
  3. Dual flight from Pitt Meadows to Victoria International Airport (CYYJ)
  4. Solo flight from Pitt Meadows to Victoria International Airport (CYYJ)

We’ve been having extraordinary weather this last week and a bit and so I had three flight planned for this weekend; however, due to some unfortunate circumstance completely outside of my control, all three flights had to be cancelled. Here is the reason why one of the flights had to be cancelled. A non-functioning position light on the right wing:

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This is frustrating to say the least as it seems like a set-back and delay to my goal; however, I’m trying to keep my head up and roll with the punches so to speak. I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude and always see a silver lining in these sorts of situations. In this case, my silver lining is more time to study and write blog posts! 🙂 I’m sure that some years from now, I’ll be looking back at this weekend thinking that delay or no delay, it really didn’t make much of a difference in the big scheme of things. Have you experience frustrating set-backs yourself, and how do you handle them? I’d love to hear in the comments!

 

 

Start of Night Rating + Official CPL Student

It has been several weeks since my last blog post and a lot has happened since then. In fact, I passed my school’s competency check for the DA-20 two days ago which essentially means that I can now rent the DA-20 again and go fly solo to build time. This competency check is required as my school has structured rules in place that dictate how much you have to fly in a period of time to stay “current”. In my case, I hadn’t flown or rented an aircraft at my school in over a year, so this was something I needed to do as soon as possible. Additionally, I’ve officially enrolled as a CPL student at my school which means that any hours I accumulate going forward will count towards my 200 hour CPL requirement. This is important as I wouldn’t want to build hours that I couldn’t attribute towards my CPL. Lastly, I’m currently working on my night rating, which will allow me to fly during night time, and have logged nearly two hours in the simulator at my school. Tonight is the night where I hopefully (weather dependent) get to fly at night in the real aircraft for the first time and I can’t wait! I’m really looking forward to experiencing my first ever night flight with an instructor; through studying the theoretical concepts and talking to other students who have conducted night flights, I can’t wait to experience the smooth flying conditions associated with night time flying. The goal is to finish my night rating by the end of December or early January; however, this is all entirely dependent on external co-operation of things such as weather, aircraft maintenance, and instructor availability. The only thing I can control is my positive attitude towards the matter. After all, it’s not all about reaching the destination – it’s the journey that counts too.

I’ll provide an update on how my first night flight went tomorrow.

I did it! Private Pilot in Canada

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I did it! I became a private pilot in Canada. It’s been a while since I’ve last posted on this blog – it’s tough to be consistent with so many things taking priority in life. However, it is my intention to update you on where I’ve been and what I’ve done since starting my pilot training as well as to continue regularly updating this blog as I continue my night rating into the last quarter of 2019.

I started my flight training in August 2017 following my graduating university and attained my private pilot license in August 2018, so in total it took me about a year excluding a couple of months over the winter as the weather was too bad to fly. In hindsight, I had a lot of highs and lows throughout my PPL training, but nothing I didn’t overcome. I specifically remember when I was introduced to the landing exercise for the first time; I couldn’t not make the aircraft bounce and it was the most frustrating thing ever. When I wasn’t bouncing up and down, I was floating down the runway. Needless to say, it was very frustrating and I recall reaching out to a few pilot friends on Instagram asking how they had dealt with landing for the first time ever back in their day. Turned out that it was quite normal – what a shocker! Furthermore, I discovered that spins were not as frightening as people had made them out to be; in fact, I remember my instructor, at the time, having showed me two or three spins and I requested that we do a couple more until I felt like my stomach couldn’t handle any more :).  Additionally, I also discovered my love for forward slipping the aircraft. This comes in handy especially while on approach and too high. It’s a great way of losing altitude quickly without increasing the airspeed. I figure this skill was subconsciously passed on to me through my instructors own love for forward slipping; she used to love performing that manoeuvre.

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After, I think, around 20 hours in my logbook, I flew my first solo! It was incredible and a moment I will never forget as long as I live. It was a beautiful fall day and I was lucky enough to have my girlfriend, at the time, film and take pictures for me. I distinctly remember thinking how fast my solo circuit was flying by (pun intended ;)). But also how amazing of a feeling this was, flying this 1,500 lb aircraft all by myself. Anyways, the whole circuit must have taken me about 6 minutes and I was down on the ground before I knew it. I taxied back to the apron, shut down the engine, exited the aircraft, took a few pictures, and then got soaked with a bucket of water by Matthew the dispatcher, who’s also a friend of mine.

After my first solo, my training became a whole lot of solo practice combined with dual practice, meaning that on some days I would now be able to fly myself to the nearest practice area and practice certain exercises. This part of my training took me into November; however, at the end of November, I was forced to stop flying because the weather was getting worse and worse. Unfortunately, I didn’t continue flying again until March/April of 2018 due to weather issues but also financial issues. Additionally, I had started a new full-time job in November 2017 which meant that I was pre-occupied for 40 hours from Monday to Friday. Luckily, my parents wanted to see me finish what I started and offered me an advance, which allowed me to continue my training in early 2019. It was difficult to manage a full-time job, while studying, continuing to fly, and prepping for my PPL exam and check flight. I was extremely busy between March and August and basically had time for nothing else, but in the end it was so incredibly worth it because I received an incredible mark on my PPL written exam and passed my check ride with my examiner. I can’t state enough how stressed I was in the last couple of months leading up to all my exams. The written was one thing, but the check flight was a whole different beast to tackle. For the written exam, I studied a ton using a popular resource called pilottraining.ca (anyone who’s used the same will probably remember good ol’ Aaron the instructor at PilotTraining.ca). Just to give you an insight into my studies, I completed 100% of the chapters and quizzes on pilottraining.ca. I would also recommend taking advantage of the final exam samples they have; if I remember correctly, I wrote at least three of their samples. In addition, I also had a few other resources (mostly books) from which I studied.

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My check flight was in late August 2018. I arrived to my school early but couldn’t shake the nerves. I wanted to give myself enough time to adequately prepare everything for the check flight including checking the weather, doing my aircraft walk-around, weight & balance, checking my calculations (T/O distance, landing distance, fuel calculations, etc…), going over my assigned flight plan one more time, and more. The check flight was split into two portions: the ground part and the flying part. You need to pass the ground portion in order to go flying. The ground exam was essentially just myself and my flight examiner in a room going over my assigned route and me answering his questions. In the end, I passed the ground portion with flying colours and we were onto the next phase just like that. I do remember it being strange having the examiner in the plane with me because until that point I had only ever flown with my instructor, so this was essentially like my first “passenger” that I was taking up. To be honest, the check flight was quite uneventful and simply a sequence of exercises that I was asked to perform. I did overshoot my short field landing attempt because I came in waaaaaay too high the first time. This was all my decision making and although this wasn’t ideal, I did get the sense that my examiner liked my prompt decision making and correction as he did compliment me on my overshoot. If the landing doesn’t feel right, go around and try again. Landings are optional. I flew another circuit and showed him the short field landing he was wanting to see and even managed to stop before the first taxiway, which was quite impressive for both of us haha. It was on that day that I passed my PPL flight exam and became Canada’s newest private pilot.

It’s been a while since August 2018 and now it’s time to continue with flying as I’ll be starting my night rating very soon. I’m hoping to have my night rating by the end of December or early January 2020, which will allow me to finally start logging night PIC time. I’m also very much so looking forward to touring downtown Vancouver at night – that’s something I’ve wanted to do but haven’t had the chance yet. I’m looking forward to writing more on this blog and keeping a journal of my progression in the aviation world. I hope to not only connect with as many other aviation lovers out there through this blog, but to also help other aspiring private pilots with my journey and stories.

Until next time – many happy landings! 😀

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Lesson 1: Weight and Balance

My first lesson, which was earlier this month, essentially consisted of my instructor and I just going through the Diamond DA20-C1 Weight and Balance calculations due to bad weather. Although I had looked forward to flying for the first time again after my FAM flight, we ended up being grounded in Pitt Meadows and used that time to discuss some very important information.weightandbalance

So this is what the Weight and Balance sheet looks like for the DA20 – C1 at my school. Although this task seems slightly daunting at first, it becomes easier the more you do it! We fill out this sheet because pilots are responsible for the safe loading of their airplane as well as to ensure that it isn’t overloaded. Since the airplane’s performance is influenced by its weight, overloading it will cause significant problems. Additionally, the distribution of weight is also very important since the position of the centre of gravity affects the stability of the airplane. For this reason, the pilot must ensure that, while loading the aircraft, the C.G. is in the permissible range while also making sure that it remains this way during the flight.

For the sake of this blog post, I won’t go into great detail on ARM’s and MOMENT’s, but you’re more than welcome to ask a question in the comments below. If you take a look at the uppermost table on the Weight and Balance sheet, you’ll see that there are three important values to keep in mind:

  1. Zero Fuel Weight
  2. Take Off Weight
  3. Landing Weight

Zero Fuel Weight is literally just the sum of the Empty Weight of the plane (this can be found in the Aircraft Weight and Balance Report and is particular to a specific airplane), the Pilot and Passenger, Baggage, and Baggage Compartment Extension. As you can see, we had values for every single category except for the Baggage Compartment Extension. So now we know that the Zero Fuel Weight is 1,545.16 lbs.

The Take Off Weight is basically just the Zero Fuel Weight added to Fuel at Take Off, or the fuel on board at take off. In this case, fuel was nearly full at 120 lbs which gives us a Take Off Weight of 1,665.16 lbs.

The Landing Weight is essentially just the Take Off Weight minus the Fuel Required for your flight. In my case, we estimated that we would use approximately 5 Gallons of fuel for a one hour flight which is 30 lbs once converted. Thus, we ended up with a Landing Weight of 1,635.16 lbs.

Now that we’ve calculated all of these values, we have to also plot them on the Center of Gravity Moment Envelope for this particular aircraft. Keep in mind that we want all three of our values to fit inside the envelope; if even just one of our values lies outside of this envelope, we would need to make some changes to our weights before we go flying. To keep things simple, just know that if this was done right, the three dots should align in a straight, diagonal line (as seen on the Weight and Balance report). The first dot from the left represents the Zero Fuel Weight C.G., the second the Landing Weight C.G., and the third the Take Off Weight C.G. This graph illustrates how the Center of Gravity shifts while on your flight; if you take a second to think about this, it makes sense because as we’re flying, we’re also burning fuel which is directly related to the weight of the airplane. So you can clearly see that the more time we spend in the air, the more our C.G. shifts to the left within the envelope. As the Zero Fuel Weight C.G. is fairly close to the left edge of the envelope, we must keep in mind that the plane’s C.G. will have shifted dramatically from the moment we took off to the moment we’ll touch down (assuming that we’d be close to zero fuel on board as we land). Again, this is more of a concern for long cross country flights than it is for short one hour flights; however, it all comes down to the amount of fuel you’re carrying.

To sum it up, this is pretty much what I learned during that one hour of ground school because of bad Wx. I think it’s quite important to get a good grip on Weight and Balance reports as you’ll be doing one every single time prior to going flying. If you enjoyed the post, feel free to ‘Like’ and/or share! Thanks!

 

 

Starting My Flight Training

Hello, there! Thanks for stopping by and taking an interest in my aviation journey. I recently graduated from the University of Victoria with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, while having specialized in International Business. As soon as I finished the last ever class of my undergraduate degree, I hopped on a ferry back to Vancouver to start my flight training as soon as possible. Because at the time it was already the middle of August, I wanted to make sure that I’d have as much flying time as possible before Vancouver, rightfully so, reclaimed its infamous nickname of “Raincouver.” And so it all began…

 

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Getting ready to read the pre-departure checklist

The first flight of my PPL (Private Pilot License) was essentially just a familiarization flight, which I took with Amy who is now my instructor. We took off from CYPK (Pitt Meadows) Airport and departed westbound toward Vancouver. If I remember correctly, we didn’t really climb higher than 1,500 ft and so I was treated to an incredible view of downtown Vancouver as we circled it a few times. In fact, Amy even handed me the controls while we were circling over downtown Van which was super cool. I basically flew the last few circles around downtown before we headed back toward CYPK. As we were heading back – we must’ve been over Burnaby or somewhere nearby – Amy asked me to descend to 1,000 ft by pitching the nose down (duh!). Coincidentally, we were headed straight for the Port Mann Bridge and I have to admit that 1,000 ft AGL didn’t seem like that much separation, especially with the height of that bridge. Once we reached a thousand feet, she took over the controls and prepared for the approach into CYPK.

Although the flight wasn’t a long one, it allowed me to gain a feel for the controls (ie. rolls, pitch, attitude, etc..). Even though these are relatively simple maneuvers, they provided me with a very basic understanding of how to operate an aircraft. As soon as we landed C-GGUK, I was hooked and I couldn’t wait for my next lesson!