Friday, June 12, 2009

Picking up the PTR

The Pilot Training Record is the document that has to be maintained as a student pilot - it records every flight, what you did on every flight, where you went, what you flew -- everything.

It belongs to the student, not the flying club or school. Alas, when you apply for your "real" license then it is sent in to Transport Canada, never to be seen again.

This morning, after dropping off my wife at the airport for her week-long vacation, I stopped in at the flying school and picked up my PTR. I'm changing schools. I had a brief chat with the Assistant CFI over the service counter, discussing the reasons. But ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I am going to commit a lot of time and money to finishing my PPL, and I am going to be happy doing it. And I didn't think I was going to be happy here.

My reasons:

  • They do not have an online booking system. I expect a web-based booking system, which is much faster when it comes to being opportunistic about making last-minute bookings. And I have had inconsistent results with them answering the phone, and even worse results in returning messages, so the absence of an online system is even more problematic.
  • They fly the Katana - which is a great little aircraft, easy to handle, but the useful load is minimal. With two adults (one of which is me!) and a full tank of gas, we're over-weight.
  • It will be more expensive - a good slice of the flying time is spent getting from the airfield to the practice area. It's a 20-minute flight (at least), not a 5-minute hop. And the Katana flies slowly because of the low power output of the engine.
  • The atmosphere - they are a business, operating on the GA apron at a major airport. The atmosphere is a bit sterile. I'm after a rather an additional factor, a casual, social, relaxed dimension to the environment, which a club-style organization can provide. In addition, I need to get my wife engaged in flying (starting with the social dimension), which I can get at Rockcliffe.
  • I was really pleased with my first lesson (with the ACFI) - we got along well, he's quit a cheerful guy, and in addition to being a good pilot he is also a good instructor. My second lesson - not so jolly.

So I picked up the PTR, and I'm switching. I'll write a thank-you email to the CFI, describing my reasons for changing.

Time to phone Rockcliffe.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquistion

Date: Saturday May 30
Time: 1.5 Dual
Landings: 1

I showed up at the flight school 20 minutes before my lesson, my instructor was not there. I picked up the bag for the aircraft and went out and did the preflight. After one visit, I learned that checking the oil on the Rotax engine is a pain - it has a dry sump so you need to hand-prop the engine to pump out the oil which has seeped into the sump and then check the oil level. It was, of course, low so I asked a ramper to fill the oil (nobody but staff is supposed to add oil), and went inside and waited for my instructor.

At 2 minutes to lesson the instructor breezes in, introduces himself, and we go sit down and he proceeds to give me an inquisition for an hour, checking me on all the Gate 4 items. Ummmmm, OK. I wasn't expecting this, and because I download and read manuals I could handle more questions than I expected. But how much oil does the engine hold? Coolant? Hell, I dunno -- but I should (the answer is between 3.2 and 3.4 US quarts). I knew all of the v-speeds cold. I discovered I was rusty on other things I should know, such as aircraft documents.

Because the Katana is low-powered and very different from the Eclipse, or because this instructor insists on molding everyone to his way of doing things, he got quite pedantic about the exact right way to do everything. I believe it was well-intentioned (to get me up to a level-4 crispness), but no context was provided by either this instructor or by the previous one. Hence the title for this posting.

We went outside, did a pre-flight, pointed at all the parts and asked dozens of questions. There are five holes on the front of the Katana, which let in air for the oil cooler, coolant cooler (for the cylinder heads), cooling air for the cylinders, air to the carbs, and a little one-inch hole which lets in cooling air for the generator. Plus two more on each side, for the air vents for the human cargo.

We loaded up, worked the checklist, worked the radios, and went flying.

The Katana flies like a pregnant goose. We were getting maybe 300-400fpm, and we were climbing to 3,000'. ATC was patient.

My altitude holding sucked. The feedback from the elevator to the stick was minimal, so you need to watch the attitude and the altimeter like a hawk to maintain constant altitude, and setting the trim was guesswork.

My confidence sucked. The inquisition took it out of me.

The only specific exercise we flew was steep turns, 45 degrees of bank while maintaining altitude. In this aircraft you need to do it right, because if you lose 200 feet of altitude it took forever to get it back, and an eternity to get it back if banked at 45 degrees.

The practice area was stupid busy - there must have been 5-6 aircraft in there, and most of us were doing upper-air work. More distractions.

Finally we started flying home, doing a descending 360 degree turn down to 2,000 ft and flying under the area where another aircraft was practicing. Flying west over the river we coordinated with another aircraft who was headed north, and another aircraft from the same school came barrelling through with no radio calls.

We reconnected with Ottawa Terminal then Tower, flew a right base, and landed. My landing sucked - no bounces etc, but I didn't maintain airspeed through final approach. And I succombed to the desire to put in right yaw.

There was no post-flight debriefing. My instructor said I did well (huh?), and then set about chewing a new one for the pilot that came barrelling through unannounced.

While all of the actions of this school are well-intentioned - and I can see how they would be effective - the packging leaves something to be desired.

The other factor is that the Katana just doesn't have much MTOW (1609 pounds), and it is easily at maximum weight, or over, with two adult males aboard.

I left. I'm not sure I'll go back.

In all, the lesson was worthwhile. I learned that I need to pick up my game. I am admittedly rusty in my flying technique, and switching aircraft has been a learning experience. I have been doing lots of reading in the past 4 months. But if I want to be a pilot, I need a lot more crispness.

Appointment at RFC

I went flying again last Saturday... I'm not sure if I liked it or not (different instructor, different technique). I definitely learned that I am rusty on my finer techniques and that I will have to pick up my game.

However, I am also not the little lithe guy I was in my early teenage years, and so weight is a concern when flying the Katana especially with another (male) instructor and a full tank of gas.

So, I have an appointment with the CFI over at Rockland Flying Club at 3:30 this afternoon. Aside from flying different aircraft (172's and 152's), they are a club rather than a business, and so there apparently is a different culture around the place.

I don't know if I am going to switch, or not -- but my mind is open.