2020 has not been a great year for my personal flying. My company was – and still is – affected by the global travel restrictions of the Corona pandemic and I have been a bit reluctant to go out and fly. As a result I am very rusty. On paper (my last log entry is 10 months old) and also in my head.
Private pilots have do do a check ride with an instructor every other year. Usually that is a pretty relaxed affair. An hour or so to make sure that the pilot has not developed too many bad habits. My Biannual check ride is due and for the first time, I did not fly the required number of hours in the 12 months prior to the check ride. That means that the check becomes a bit more formal and a bit more intense. It is now more about making sure that I have not forgotten too much.
I arrive at the flight school looking forward to flying as well as the obligatory coffee & gossip. I will be flying with an instructor I have not met before. We go through the preparations and he asks many questions to assess what I still remember and what I might have forgotten. I instantly like his quiet, methodical style.
Our chariot of fire today is “Foxtrot Mike”. A Cessna 152 from the 1970s. We both go way back. My first ever international trip was on “Fox Mike” as a navigator, before I even had my license. Later I did my night rating on her and the first trip with my wife to the coast was on “Fox Mike” as well.
We are getting her ready and talk about every step on the way. When we finally take to the skies, three three hours of intense flying begin. Navigation training, touch-and-goes, air work, emergency drills. The instructor lets me sweat like I have not sweated in an airplane in a long time. The training is hard work for me and much appreciated. When we are finally back at the home base, I am exhausted.
I am current again and I spent a great day in the air. But more flying on a regular basis still beats the crash course!
Visibility: More than 10 miles Temperature: 20°C Wind: 260°, 4 kts QNH: 1019hPa Location: EDAV Equipment: Piper 28 (D-EITI)
Summer has finally arrived. The sky is blue, the temperatures are high and the days are long. We are approaching mid summer, the longest day.
By definition that also means the shortest night. Not the most obvious of times for night flying and yet we are on the way to the airport while others are thinking about one more for the road.
My flying friend is working on his night VFR rating as a prerequisite for IFR training. I am more than glad to share the cost and get some additional dual time at night. I have gained my night rating a while back but have not practiced since then. And night flying requires even more practice than flying during the day.
The sun is already low when we arrive at the airport. We pre-flight „Tango India“ in the dusk of the warm day. Then we go over the flight plan once more. Our route today will take us right over the Big City that never quite sleeps. Then on to the old mining town of Eisenhüttenstadt for some pattern work before we eventually turn back home.
Night flying always requires a flight plan as well as radio contact to a radar controller. They don’t want you to get lost at night.
I am flying as a passenger in the back on the first part of the trip. The ride over the city is amazing. The air is glassy smooth the visibility is unlimited and the lights below look like from out of this world. When we cross over Tegel airport, the controller is friendly and talkative, but he will not let us make a low pass.
In Eisenhüttenstadt we are one of two planes making use of the night time operation. After a quick coffee break and a nice chat, we are trading places. It is my turn to guide the Piper through the night.
I am on guard, but I also enjoy the special atmosphere of flying under the stars. The relaxing cruise part of the trip is short and before long it is time to begin our decent into Finow.
We do pattern work in the familiar traffic circuit of our home airport and yet, nothing seems familiar about the impenetrable sea of dark below us. The distance to the impossibly small string of pearls that comprises the landing lights is hard to judge.
After we have put the Piper to bed, we are making our way back to the Big City in flight level 0. We are all exhausted but also full of adrenalin and excitement from the great night.
When I arrive back home, the sun is confident about her impending victory over the dark of night already. I have a cold beer on the balcony before I go to bed for a short nap.
Private pilots have to take check rides with a flight instructor every other year. This is to make sure that they do not take on funny habits – or that they stick to the ones their instructors taught them.
The day at the office is light, the weather is good and so I decide to fly a Cessna instead of my desk today.
When I leaf through my logbook, I realize that it has been over a year since I last flew „Kilo Sierra“. I read up on the most important check lists and speeds. I also familiarize myself with the cockpit again. I have made it a habit to take pictures of the instrument panels of all the aircraft that I fly. Studying the photos helps me to remember the differences between the planes.
Flying with a passenger
When I arrive at the flight school, a new student is finishing a theory lesson. The flight instructor asks me if he can come with us. Of course he can!
I remember how much I appreciated being a passenger on numerous occasions during my own training. It is motivating and great fun. The experienced instructor knows this.
Our trip today will be a triangle. EDAY-EDAV-EDON and back to EDAY. We will do touch-and-go’s in EDAV, air work on the way to EDON and navigation training on the way back. EDON will be a waypoint for is today, not a stop.
Easy does it
We are in a weather inversion. The visibility is not great but gets much better above about 2.200 feet. „Kilo Sierra“ and I are still friends. On final approach into EDAV, I’m a bit too fast for the instructors taste. Other than that we are both happy.
The sun is shining. By the time we start making our way over to EDON, it is pretty much in our face. Combined with the climbing inversion, this makes for very limited visibility forward.
The flight instructor is keeping the eyes outside, I’m concentrating on the navigation and using the occasion to practice some instrument skills. An unexpected extra on this trip.
When we are done, I have a little more than one hour for my log book. I am familiar with „Kilo Sierra“ again and I think my passenger had a good time, too. That’s a successful day!
I am back at the office building in the woods behind the airport. Easily one of the more odd location my flying has taken me to.
I have been here before. The last time I was excited and lost. This time I know what to expect. Like in the air, preparation is everything.
The local branch of the federal agency for telecommunication is holding the tests for the radio licenses. I was here a while ago to get „BZF“, the radio license required for private pilots. Recently I took a training class for the professional radio license. It’s a requirement for instrument flying. The „Allgemeines Sprechfunkzeugnis für den Flugfunkdienst“ is shortened to „AZF“. I know for a fact that their tests are better than their abilities to do acronyms.
The test begins with a written part. 40 multiple choice questions in 30 minutes. I have 37 correct answers, the worst result of the four pilots taking the test. Jan Brill once wrote in an article about this kind of test that every correct answer more than the minimum was a waste of time.
After the first part, our group has time to prepare for the practical test. We each get a „trip kit“ with departure and arrival charts as well as enroute maps and weather information. We fill in our flight plan forms and use the rest of the time to get familiar with the charts.
Delta Kilo Sierra enter holding
Time to „fly“. We each get to choose our call signs and aircraft type. In the preparation course it was recommended to us to take a call sign that we know, so that we would recognize it without thinking.
The first prospect starts his initial exchange with the controller. He gets his start-up clearance, then it’s the next pilots turn.
The examiner is an experienced air traffic controller. He is calm and collected, demanding but fair. Each of us has some little specialty in the clearance. Mine is „patches of ice“ on the taxi way.
During my enroute part, I arrive at my navigation point without further clearance. I don’t really know what to do so I announce entering the standard holding. In the de-briefing the controller asks me about this. He claims to have given me the clearance. But I don’t have it on my sheet and I’ll be damned if he did.
The last task of the day is the missed approach. My runway is blocked and I have to go around. There is a change of course given in the missed approach procedure and I almost did not catch that when the controller asks me for altitude and heading.
I don’t actually get to land. My „flight“ ends with the missed approach and the controller is happy with the group. We all passed and are ready for new adventures!
„Tell us a bit about yourself. Why are you here? How did you start flying?“
I am at the corporate headquarters of Air Berlin this morning. I have waited for my appointment on a couche in an extended hallway. My water came in an airline plastic cup on a napkin. Nice touch.
The actual test is in a large office with a meeting room table. One examiner is guiding me in, the second one is already waiting. There is a second candidate in the room with us as well. He is more nervous than me. After all I am here just for fun. When the test starts, however, I feel a tingle of pleasant excitement in my stomach.
I am taking a language test in English today. If I pass, it will be the last one that I have to take for flying. The International Civil Aviation Organization has defined six levels of language proficiency for aviators.
Level 4 or more is needed to take part in in radio communication. And the proficiency has to be re-certifyed every four years. This is what I have now and what most pilots with an international radio license have.
Level 6 is valid for life. A re-certification is not necessary. Of course this is a good reason to do the test. But honestly, I was just tickled by the challenge and wanted to see if I could do it.
The definition for level 6 includes „able to speak at length with effortless flow“. They must be thinking of me!
The fist part of the test is listening comprehension. We are listening to 15 recordigs and mark the true statement from three options for each text. The examples are mainly news reports and business articles. I wouldn’t say easy, but doable for sure. The catch is that we can only make one mistake.
After the listening comprehension, there is a short break. The other candidate is a 737 driver for Air Berlin. We exchange a few plesantries before I am called in for the second round.
Since I have nothing to loose, I am exceptionally relaxed. My conversation partners realize that and after a few moments, the conversation drifts in the direction of hangar talk.
My first task is to give an improvised presentation on the topic of aviation and the environment. I talk for a bit and answer a few questions. The focus is the use of language, not primarily the content of what I say. So I improvise and try to make it sound nice.
For the second part I hear three statements and am asked to agee or disagree with each of them and say why. I have to turn my chair as this exercise is supposed to happen without eye contact.
We talk about how far I think low cost airlines will go and if I agree that being an airline pilot is a dream job. Then the two examiners have heard enough. Both congratulate me and I have passed – just like that.
The experience was pleasant and I am glad that all of the years of watching Matlock without subtitles have finally paid off!
The weekend promises to have some of the last hot days of the summer. My flying friend and I are taking his Piper for a spin. EDAH is the destination for the day.
The sky is blue and so is the forecast. So we are a bit surprised to see a dark storm frot looming to the west when we come closer to the coast. Loks like we found the only patch of bad weather in a 500 mile radius.
An unmotivated rain shower makes for a nice atmosphere under the sun shades on the terrace of the airport restaurant.
When we are ready to leave, the weather radar shows a thin but long storm front almost completely stretching along our way home. So we decide to fly west at first and turn south as soon as we are behind the front. „Tango India“ is equipped with a storm scope. An antenna that can detect electro magnetic pulses (EMPs), their direction and intensity. These pulses are caused by lightning, so the system can put lighting strikes in the area on a map.
This is the first time that either one of us is flying close enough to a storm cell to see the system in action. We navigate along the back side of the storm and the storm scope is lighting up. After the initial excitement of seeing the new gadget in action, we start referencing the information on the screen with what we see outside. What a great learning experience.
When we get close to the Big City, the last bit of weather is still between us and our destination. So we divert to EDBF for a cup of coffee. The sun is shining but the runway is still wet. We are told that the storm here was short but strong.
Back at EDAV later that evening we move the other airplanes out of the hangar to clear the path for „Tango India“. Her spot is in the very back. This morning, when we had to move the same planes in order to get her out, we discussed for a moment if we should just leave them outside for the day. I’m very glad we spent the couple of extra minutes to put them back into the shelter.
Visibility: about more than 10 miles, low hanging clouds
Wind: 260°, 4kts
Equipment: Cessna 152 (D-EMFM)
The weather has been variable all day. The sun has been busy chasing clouds away and whenever she was not looking, they threw a few rain showers into the mix. I have been eying them nervously. Rain tonight would be bad.
I arrive at the airport in the dusk. “Kilo Sierra” is being loaded on the apron as I walk by. “Fox Mike” is sitting next to her, waiting for me. I’m flying with Klaus this evening. I have not seen him since my light sports training and having him on my right seat is a pleasant surprise.
From the fall to the spring, the airport offers extended night operation hours once a month. I have started to train for the night VFR endorsement well over a year ago. Then I missed a season for my baby break and this winter has been grey and cloudy. Not great for night flying either. Today is the last chance of this season.
Fox Mike“ is a tiny Cessna 152 with minimal equipment. I like her and night VFR is legal with her, but she is pretty much as simple as it gets. The instrument panel is iluminated by a small red light mounted on the ceiling above my head. The radio is very basic and the single VOR receiver makes for very limited cross referencing capabilities. Quite a difference to the high tech ship “Alpha Hotel” that I have been flying recently. But that is all part of the training.
The plan for tonight is to pick-up where I have left off a year and a half ago. We go north to the Friedland VOR, then back to Finow for a bit of pattern work before we return home. I enjoy flying at night. The air is calm and the lights are magic.
Klaus has a hand held GPS in his lap. He is double checking my navigation and tells me stories to every single light on the ground. I have a feeling he does not really need the GPS. He has been flying in the area for a while.
The trip is pleasantly uneventful. On the way back we run into isolated rain showers. Since we did not see the clouds at night, we have to fly a pretty abrupt evasive maneuver. After all we don’t want to fly into the clouds. Almost immediately the controller comes on the radio to check on us. Nice to know we are being watched over.
We are almost abeam the airport before we spot the runway in Finow. I adjust speed and altitude on the down wind leg. When I turn final, I am still a bit high. For experienced pilots it is very hard to judge the height above the ground corectly at night. For this junior aviator it is almost impossible.
The runway has lights on the right and on the left. Some more lights at the end and a pretty big aray of lights at the threshold. For the approach we have a set of four lights to the left of the runway. This line forms the “Precision Approach Path Ilumination” (PAPI) – always helpful and crucial at night.
The papi lamps change their colour depending on the viewing angle. On my first approach I come in too high. All four lights are white. As I am adjusting my glide path, the right light becomes red, shortly after that the second light from the right also looks red too me. “Two red, two white – you’re alright”, I’m right on the glide path. Holding this rate of descent will take me to the runway.
At the end of the night I have enough hours for the rating. And I get why being current at night flying matters. Looking forward to the next trip after dusk already!
„Kennedy Tower, Delta Echo Kilo Kilo Sierra, good morning. Established on the I-L-S runway two-two right“
Did I cross the atlantic ocean in my old training ship „Kilo Sierra“ in order to do an instrument approach in to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York city? I may wish – but no.
I’m sitting at a desk at a flight school in Kyritz training for my next radio license. So far I have the regular radio license for private pilots. The next step will be the so called „AZF“ – a pre requisite for commercial pilots and for the instrument rating.
The instrument rating is something that has been tickling me for a long time. The radio license gives me a pretty good glimpse into the theory of instrument procedures and navigation. And who knows…
„Delta Kilo Sierra, you are number 2 behind a heavy Boeing 747, caution wake turbulence, cleared to land runway two-two right“
The Cessna 172 is the Chevy of the skies. Affordable, reliable, easy to service and ist does not turn heads. In fact, I used to think they are a bit ugly. But beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and I have changed my mind when I learned to fly the 172. I have actually grown very fond of her sturdy reliability and easy handling.
Today I am flying the future of the 172. „Alpha Hotel“ has a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit as well as a diesel engine.
The G1000 avionics suit is the gold standard of glass cockpits in general aviation. The system typically is configured with a „Primary Flight Display“ (PFD) and a „Multi Function Display“ (MFD) – both large flat panel displays which dominate the cockpit.
The PFD is a large attitude indicator (artificial horizon). Some versions even come with a computer generated image of the terrain – very valuable in low visibility. Course, altitude and airspeed are displayed on a layer over the horizon. The information is easily accessible and comprehendible.
The MFD can be used to show engine information and is used as a giant navigation display.
The difference between traditional instrumentation and a „glass cockpit“ is enhanced situational awareness (no chance to miss that big horizon) as well as system integration. All relevant information is in one spot.
The piston engines of small aircraft are very reliable and light but also very old fashioned. Because of the very small numbers, technical development is slow and because of the emphasis on reliability, the adaptation of new and unproved technology is slow.
The power plant working in „Alpha Hotel“ is a major innovation. An electronically controlled diesel engine by the Thielert company. It has 135 horse powers and and adjustable pitch propeller. It runs smooth and quiet and it has great fuel economy. On top of that, the Thielert diesel engine burns jet fuel – Jet-A happens to be very close to diesel fuel. And Jet-A is much more common and way cheaper than Avgas.
Easier makes it harder
A standart 172 has two leavers in the throttle quadrant – power and mixture. The Thielert engine has two redundant electronic control units (ECU) to manage the engine. So I only have one leaver for power. Everything else is adjusted automatically. What has been standard in cars for 30 years has finally arrived in general aviation!
The adjustable pitch propeller is also controlled automatically. The blades of the propeller are pitched according speed. This further improves fuel economy and speed.
After a very thorough briefing and explanation of the systems, we take-off. The majority of my flying as private pilot has happened on Cessnas. So I am a bit surprised when I have considerable troubles with the approach.
I am used to aircraft with fixed pitch propellers. On a stabilized approach, very little manipulation of the power is needed. Once the desired sink rate is established, the speed is mainly controlled with the pitch.
On short final with slow RPMs, the propeller of „Alpha Hotel“ pitches high in order to be effective for a possible go-arround. At the same time, this setting increases the resistance of the propeller in the air stream. It acts like a big air break on my nose, bleeding down the air speed fast!
I push the nose down and the instructor tells me to also increase the RPMs. The landing is pretty lousy. On the next couple of approaches I am more careful with the combination of pitch and power but I don’t ever feel fully in control of the situation.
We debrief the flight over a cup of coffee. I am a bit down about how many problems I had with an aircraft I thought I was comfortable with. A humbling experience.
We make a new appointment and this time I am more prepared for what to expect. I concentrate on the power/pitch settings on final approach. After an hour of pattern work I am still not happy with my landings but they are at least more or less under control. I’m keen on getting better with „Alpha Hotel“ and book her for a solo trip the same week. I do patterns for a while with okay landings but not much improvement.
Then I climb to 2.000 feet and turn north. I will take an advanced radio class at a flight school in Kyritz (EDBK) next week. Today I plan to fly there to pick-up the books. The flight is about 30 minutes. Enough time to start playing with the auto pilot and to dig deeper into the powerful G1000 suite. It will take a long time before I can make full use of it. But the basic functions are so intuitive that it is a joy to use the panel.
The approach into Kyritz is a bit hectic. There is a lot of traffic and I am number 2 behind an aircraft that simulates an engine failure. The runway is much smaller than the one in Schönhagen and I am a bit tense. And then it happens – a greaser of a landing, right on the numbers, perfect speed and so smooth that it makes this pilot smile. Looks like „Alpha Hotel“ and I will be friends after all.
The two big names in General Aviation are Cessna and Piper. I have been flying the Cessna 150 and 152 as well as the larger Cessna 172. They are not fast and not sleek but stable, roomy (by GA standards) and make great trainers.
Today I am getting to know the other side. My flight school manages a Piper Archer III and it is mine for the morning.
The PA-28 is a family of four seat, low wing airplanes. They have been in production since the early 1960s in many different variants. The Archer III model has a Lycoming O-360 engine with 180 horse powers, a fixed pitch prop and fixed landing gear.
„D-EZIP“ has a very flashy red and white paint scheme. She is newer than the Cessnas I have trained on and she has very few hours under her wings. So she looks and feels pretty new.
I have read the hand book. „India Papa“ is IFR certified. So her instrument panel is well equipped. She is a nice traveling machine or personal transporter with a few nice bells and whistles. But she is still a pretty straight forward airplane. Speeds and limitations are very comparable with the Cessna 172. Operating her under VFR is not all that complicated.
The PA-28 has a number of distinct differences to the Cessna 172. The airframe is a good bit smaller and the windows are not nearly as big. The low-wing Piper has only one door. So the pilot has to climb up onto the wing root, sit on the passenger seat and then scoot over.
Once in the seat, everything feels very solid and a bit more serious than in the Cessna. The Cockpit is very well organized, every gauge is easily visible and every knob is comfortable to reach. New to me is the overhead panel with the switches for magnetos, fuel pump, strobes, primer and starter. Solely the trim wheel is giving me problems. It is pretty far back between the seats and I actually have to look down and lift my right leg in order to see the trim indicator. That shall give me more problems later during the flight.
We go through the simple engine start procedure (carb heat cold, throttle position, magnetos, pump, mixture, start) and the 180 hp Lycoming starts right up. Taxiing „India Papa“ is easy enough but the front wheel is directly linked with the pedals. No hydraulic dampener – like in the Cessna – makes for a very direct transmission of forces back through the pedal.
We do the run-up checks and take off. We are not heavy and the Piper climbs as expected. The forces on the yoke are pretty strong and I try the electric trim with my thumb.
We go over to Neuhardenberg for touch-and-gos and on the way over we do the flying part of the familiarization. Steep turns, slow flight, flaps, stalls. All a bit unfamiliar but no real surprises. The low-wing configuration makes for less stable characteristics around the roll-axis. And the better aerodynamics and stronger engine makes for higher speeds.
On the first approach that gets me a bit. I am having difficulties bleeding off the access speed and I am fighting with the trim. At the end of the down wind leg, I set the first level of flaps. The nose comes up and before I manage to trim the correct attitude, we have climbed 100 feet. On final I set full flaps and trim again. I am too high and too fast and we float down the runway for a long time before rubber and tarmac finally make contact.
A touch-and-go is a fast procedure. Touch-down, retract flaps, carb heat off and throttle forward. Usually the airplane has not lost that much speed so you can rotate again just a moment later.
I keep an eye on the airspeed indicator and pull. But „India Papa“ does not want to break free. The speed increases and I pull further before I finally realize that I am still trimmed nose-down from the approach. My right hand feels for the trim wheel between the seats and after a few quick turns on the wheel, the control gets lighter and the little Piper flies.
Trim, trim, trim
The trim is a little extra tab on the trailing edge of the elevator. It is used to minimize the forces on the control yoke. The center of gravity of the aircraft varies with load and fuel. Without the trim, there would be a constant push or pull on the yoke, making it very difficult and tiresome to keep the airplane at the desired attitude. The forces on the yoke of the PA-28 are stronger than in the Cessna 172. More attention to the trim is needed.
On the Cessna I can change the attitude and trim as I go along. The trim wheel is below the throttle quadrant, easy to see and to reach.
„India Papa“ has a very comfortable electric trim on the yoke. But it is pretty slow, more for little corrections during cruise flight. With setting the flaps, a lot of trim is needed. The manual trim wheel for faster action is located between the front seats. But the bigger problem for the Piper newbie is the trim indicator which is also hidden between the seats. I will have to anticipate the trimming a bit more.
The next approach is a bit better already and from the third touch-and-go on, I have the amount of trim and the timing figured out.
After about an hour of this, we go back to Strausberg. The last landing of the day is actually pretty lousy. We have a cross wind and I am concentrated on keeping the aircraft on the center line. Managing energy does not work as well as I would like it to. So we are too fast on short final and are floating down the runway again.
With „India Papa“ and me it was not love at first flight. But the sleek beauty tickles me and time will tell if she is an acquired taste.