• Feature: Going Solo Part 4

    Feature - Going Solo Part 4

    By Chris Liddell

    Having completed my qualifying cross country flight, I am aware that I am heading towards the latter stages of the PPL course.

    I have always intended to enjoy the 'journey' of learning to fly, rather than be particularly anxious about gaining my licence. I have however reached the point where all the study and pressure to push towards testing, is making me look forward to the time when I can complete my training! My next immediate goal is to pass the practical test for my 'Flight Radiotelephony Operators Licence' I have already passed the written exam on radio work, but there is a practical test is in addition to this.

    This is perhaps not familiar to non UK readers, but is a stand alone licence authorising use of radio when in an aircraft. You can't legally use radio in the air without this, although student pilots are obviously exempt during their training. It's the third of January 2012, and I drive to Edinburgh on a day when lorries are being blown over by high winds, in order to do my test. Arriving at my examiner's house, I spend about an hour chatting to him about R/T procedures, and learn a lot in the process. He is a recently retired air traffic controller, and he briefs me about the test. It requires me to correctly make all the necessary radio calls and responses during a fictitious flight, routing through various types of airspace, including military zones, controlled airspace, and using different types of control services enroute. I also have to declare an emergency at a random point in the test in response to an alarm given, and also deal with other matters such as relaying messages, and changing destinations enroute.

    I use a headset, and push to talk button, and am physically separated from my examiner, who is in another room during the test. R/T work has been difficult for me during my flying lessons, and I have not been looking forward to the test, but as it happens, it all goes well, and I find that there are no problems. Radio work is so much easier when you are not having to navigate and fly the aircraft simultaneously! Giving me some pointers during my debrief, my examiner informs me that I have passed, and I go home, feeling happy that I have now completed all the 'non flying' requirements of the PPL course.

    First flight as PPL - returning from Perth
    First flight as PPL - returning from Perth

    I now get a glimpse of what it might be to have my licence, as I begin to build up my solo hours towards the 10 hours minimum that I must have completed before I can sit my flight test. I am given the freedom of planning various short routes around the local area, and flying them in order to log the required time. My main instructor has now left, going on to fly the King Air for the air ambulance service, so I now need to be signed off by other instructors to fly solo. It feels rather strange, and for the next five hours, I fly on my own. I come to the conclusion that flying should be something to be shared with others, and look forward to the time when I might be able to take friends and family aloft! Some of these solo flights are in less than ideal weather conditions, and I gain experience and confidence by completing these trips, including some practice in unplanned diversions!

    Completing my solo hours, I now get a new instructor to help me finish off the last parts of the course. He is a very experienced pilot, and I get on really well with him, finding him to be an excellent tutor. I now cover flight in simulated instrument conditions, which is fascinating, as well as a sobering demonstration of how lethal it can be for a non instrument rated pilot to enter cloud.

    After this, I am told to book a longer flying lesson in order to do a 'mock skills test'. Now it really hits home that I could be doing the test for real very soon, and I feel genuinely nervous about this flight. I arrive, and am given my route to plan.

    I do my weight and balance, take off and landing, and fuel burn performance calculations, then check the weather forecast, TAFs METARs and NOTAMs.

    Taking to the air, I go through the entire test requirements, and discover in the process my various weaknesses. Despite my anxiety, I very much enjoy the challenge of the flight, and it is a beautiful day to be flying. Giving me my debrief, my new instructor is honest about my performance, telling me that he thinks that I am ready for test, but suggesting one more revision lesson to revise my weaker areas.

    I book this lesson for the next week, and during it cover diversions, glide approaches, and practice forced landings. At the conclusion of this lesson I am told to go ahead and book my test, and find myself leaving the airport with a skills test booked four days later! It feels totally unreal, and I can't actually believe that the next time I fly, I will be doing my skills test - a scenario I have played through in my mind many times!

    I spend the next few days studying weather forecasts, and on the appointed day, I drive to the airport early. My test is booked for 2:30 pm, and I arrive by 10:30 am, to check out all the weather, NOTAMS, etc. I really am a bundle of nerves, and have no doubt that if I don't come up to the required standard that I will fail the test. I assess the weather very carefully, and it's a difficult decision to make, as it is one of those days where it could go either way...

    Bearing in mind that another candidate recently failed, due to a poor decision to proceed with a test when the weather was unsuitable, I decide to go for it. I phone my examiner, and am given the route to plan. There are two parts to the test - namely the navigation, and general handling sections. Although they can be conducted as two separate flights, most people do the whole test in the one event, which will involve a two hour flight, plus ground briefing, and oral questions. The navigation test always consists of flying from the departure airport, to point B, then on to Point C.

    1. timholt's Avatar
      timholt -
      great article...thoroughly enjoyed it...well written.....at one stage you had me worried you would not pass...you sure have to earn your PPL......I will stay a sim pilot...aint good enough for the real thing...Tom
    1. neddreenie's Avatar
      neddreenie -
      thanks for sharing..
    1. dragbike's Avatar
      dragbike -
      I learnt to fly in Flight Sim and had to unlearn some of it when I took my PPL course. FSX saved my life when I had a real engine failure with only 12 hours in my log book, doing solo circuit consolidation. I'd practiced enough forced landings in FSX to know what I COULDN'T get away with, and emerged unscathed after a forced landing in a bumpy field. I also practiced a lot of flight in IMC in FSX; the first part of my test was actually in IMC as the cloud closed in unexpectedly, and my examiner felt confident enough in my instrument flying to let me ad-lib the rest of the navigation exercises. Don't worry about the weather, just get on with it and GOOD LUCK!
    1. crezipp's Avatar
      crezipp -
      Congratulations! And -yeah -shure, thanks for sharing and please continue! We stand and cheer: "we want more, we want more....!"
      From Holland, Joost [EHMZ] Keep flying!
    1. azharhassan's Avatar
      azharhassan -
      Hey congratulations and thanks for sharing! Please do keep writing as you progress further with your training. As a flightsimmer and aviation enthusiast, getting a PPL has been a dream of mine for ages. Maybe one day.....
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