Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Book Review: CHICKENHAWK - Robert Mason

I have just finished this wonderful book by Bob Mason. Many people say it is the best book to come out of Vietnam and I can see why such claims are levelled at it. When you search for it on the Internet, it is clearly an aviators favourite.

I can't recommend this book enough to anybody interested in flying or in true life human war stories. This book will live with me for the rest of my life. It is stunning. It is upsetting.

For anybody unfamiliar with it, it chronicles Bob Masons experiences as a Huey (helicoptor) Pilot in Vietnam between August 1965 and July 1966. Incredibly, during this time, he flew over 1,000 assault missions.

For me, the prologue and epilogue are the best I've ever read. The former sadly speaks perhaps firstly to an innocent naivety in pursuing a passion (at all costs). The latter, to the sacrifice and tragic consequences of that innocence.

Bob Masons story is on the Internet of course and he has his own website with Photography from Vietnam. His wife Patience has a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Dissorder) blog. I've added links to both sites on my blog here under Chickenhawk. I stumbled upon his work while browsing for Aviation books. I'm so fortunate I did. It is a courageous book and a thought provoking sad journey. I finished it about hour ago. I still have the lump in my throat.

Thank you Bob Mason.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Lesson 38: Solo Cross Country - Hastings, Canterbury

Yesterday (Christmas Eve) saw me do a solo cross country following the same route as the week before. This is the one I did in the snow coming back with my instructor. This was South down to the coast (Hastings) and then NE up to Canterbury before heading home.

It was cold with a freezing point at 3,000 ft. Visibility was ok but nothing special. I flew at 2,100. I was in G-BNIV. Evertything was OK, the radio work was fine (Farnborough Radar spoke to me which was a change). I used Mode Alpha on the transponder as I noticed on the tech log there was a reference to it over reading the altitude by 2,400ft! I did not fancy an RAF Tornado escort by my popping up in restricted airspace.

I did had a rough landing coming back and elected to do a go around. They joked in the flying school they ducked as I went over the building which was funny afterwards. It wasnt that bad but I found the wind really quite blusting. I over compensated for this wind on my approach and was too fast. I was on runway 20 with a wind coming from (240 reported) but it felt much more of a cross wind and when I touched down I got pushed off to the left and gained height again. I didn't want to come off the runway and throttled in and did a go around. On the second landing, I was again a bit fast but I kept the ailerons into wind when I landed and this seemed to help in the directional stability.

When I did the first circuit with my instructor I noticed how badly choppy it was on climb out where it can get quite aweful however it seemed to be strong going right round the circuit although it was calmer at 1,000 ft. The drift was very noticeable and I noticed this right round my course actually.

I learnt a couple of good lessons today. 

Firstly, I learnt that since wind estimates can vary wildly (I used three different sources yesterday morning) it's important to have an accurate view of your track through proper frequent map reading. I could see how I was drifting away from my track and so this was easily corrected. I had plotted drift lines on my course and I used them in my heading corrections. Good tip from my instructor.

Secondly, I learnt that when in the circuit and getting knocked about in blusting wind it's important to not over compensate too much on the approach speed. When touching down and entering the ground run, keeping the ailerons slightly into wind can help!

I was dissapointed that my iPhone and motion-x tracker failed as I wanted to see the course over ground. Ho hum - At the end of all this I would love to treat myself to an Airbox or Sky Demon Mobile unit.

Next lesson will be much the same, a circuit with my instructor followed by some more solo. This will most likely be down to overhead Manston (if they allow me to route overhead) and then to Dover with some VOR tracking to Detling on the return leg.

After this I should have a dual down to Goodwood with my instructor as it will be part of the qualifying cross country.

My instructor told me the end is in sight now and I guess it is. It doesn't feel like it though because there is so much more I want to learn already.  I would like to learn to be a very safe and competent pilot, I would like to study instrument flying and a night rating, and maybe an aerobatic or glider trial flight. There is so much to learn, or continue to learn.

!!!!!!!! It's very addictive this flying thing !!!!!


38.24-12-11 C152 G-BNIV EGTO EGTO 09:55 10:05 0:10 1-1 EX12/13
*38.24-12-11 C152 G-BNIV EGTO EGTO 10:05 11:25 1:20 1-1 EX18A

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Lesson 37: Driving Snow ! Rochester, Hastings, Canterbury

A great day today, it was a dual cross country not a solo but that doesnt matter. It all clicked and it felt really great. And I flew in driving snow! Good experience.

The course was Rochester to Hastings, Hastings to Canterbury and then home again. The weather was marginal in the morning so when prompted by my instructor [in the face of Snow Shower warnings!] I said I would be happy for him to stay in the aircraft and pretend he wasnt there! How it turned out to be a good call!!!!

On the way back approaching Rochester we hit a bank of driving snow and very poor visibility. It was 50/50 (on wether to push on) but on talking to the airfield behind the dark clouds it seemed to be passing through. From here I flew around it until I got sight of the airfield again and then cut back.

Leaving Rochester was via Runway 20 Relief (the runway behind the PAPIs - Precision Approach Path Indicators). The taxiways were being saved so it was a "backtrack" situation. The ground was wet and frosty and so there was no braking on the grass and gentle taxing turns were the order of the day.

So then.... the flight, just going to ramble here for my own note taking benefit!

...Firstly I took my wind forecasts from the Metform Low Level wind charts and also the Sky Demon Flight Planing Software however they were slightly different to the ones for the South East Air Met forecast. In speaking to my instructor he relies on the latter so going forward I will check these as well and see what the average is between all of them.

Taking off on Runway 20 relief there was a 70 degree crosswind at 15 knots but it was ok, climbing out I called Rochester to request an overhead departure at 2100 ft heading south to hastings. I was told to call overhead which when I climbed round and circled back over the airfield I did. Heading down south on a 183 degree bearing from a 174 true track I got just past Maidstone and requested a frequency change to Farnborough Radar. I got the OK for this and then after a short delay checking my heading was still OK I called Farnbourough Radar and requested a basic service. They told me to Standby so I shut up and carried on flying the aeroplane! They came back to me and asked me to contact London Information who cover the whole south of England. I acknowledged and contacted London requesting a basic service informing them of my callsign, aircraft type, people on board, route, turning points and altitude. London gave me a squawk code for the transponder, acknowledged the basic service and told me to report turning Hastings. I went to acknowledge but he got very busy so I left it. He didn give me a QNH either. He later got back to me and reminded me to report turning Hastings which I acknowledged.

I got down to Hastings fine on track and on time, passing Bewl Reservoir on the right (which you can see for miles!) and turned NE heading up towards Canterbury. Time Turn Talk, meaning recording the time of the turn, turning onto the new heading and talking to London.

At this point my instructor told me to do some VOR and DME tracking by getting a position fix. I tuned a VOR into the DETLING VOR and got the bearing, and then did the same with the LYDD VOR. I went to measure the track (as if doing a detour) and my instructor reminded me to just use the compass rose around the VOR which makes it very easy of course! Where the two lines intercepted was where we were, and where I expected us to be. I remembered to think about a sensible heading before swinging the needle. My instructor recommended using the FROM not the TO as it was easier to read (good tip).

Next one was tuning into the DME and getting the distance from the beacon and then tuning into a VOR to get the radial. Where the curve and the line intercepted was where the position would be. We looked at the ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) but its not a very accurate instrument and we were also not getting a proper signal.

Passing Ashford I called London and requested a frequency change to Manston Radar. I then called Manston Radar giving them my full message when prompted... G-CEPX, Cessna 152, From Rochester to Rochester on a Nav Ex via Turning points of Hastings and Canterbury, Presently south of Ashford at 2,100 ft on QNH 1015 request basic service please...

I was given a squawk code and told to report turning Canterbury. I repeated back the squawk code, QNH and acknowledged the request to turn at Canterbury.

My instructor got me to do a call to the emergency and distress frequency for a mock pan pan position fix.

It went something like this ...

Firstly I informed Manston I was temporarily leaving their frequency to do a training fix. They told me to confirm back when on their frequency

Setting 121.5 on the radio and listening to see there was no real emergency. I called "Training Fix, Training Fix, Training Fix, G-CEPX, Training Fix".

After a short delay somebody got back to me with a position asking if there was any other assistance required. The position was wrong as I was east of Ashford not West of it. Upon my second transmission to ask them to confirm the position they corrected their reading.

So wow, that was simple - if ever lost thats a darn easy way to get help! Coming back onto Manstan Radar frequency I confirmed "G-PX back on Frequency".

Turning at Canterbury then, I was pretty much on track and time and headed home to Rochester. Calling Manstan Radar (Time, Turn, Talk) they asked me to confirm passing Faversham.

Passing Faversham I called Manston Radar to inform them of this and to request Frequency Change to Rochester Information.

From here on in I was half way home, the Ground Speed was slow as I was in a headwind and there was some bad weather ahead. It started to get darker and I called Rochester for joining instructions. After this the snow started coming horizontally and I had to come down to 1,500 feet on the QNH. My instructor called Rochester and asked about the weather. He also got permission to ask to speak to another pilot who he knew to be in the area. After a short dialogue it was agreed we would push on as it was passing through. I headed left towards Maidstone and avoided the worst of the squall. Snow and ice started to form on the wheels but nowhere on the wing leading edges or struts. My instructor told me to carrying on with the frequent carb heat checks but not to leave on for too long a period. Engine RPM was kept just shy of maximum. The outside temperature throughout the flight was zero.

When I regained sight of the airfield I called Rochester to inform them of this and that I would enter the circuit via an overhead join. "G-PX Airfield in sight, will join overhead". They told me to report downwind in the circuit which is the standard join. I acknowledged.

The landing went well (albeit with a slight skid I felt) and I let her run the length of the runway, vacated gently and did the shutdown checks.

My instructor did the debrief and said it all went very well. He said it was a pass today! He said he couldnt find fault in anything. A slight altitude loss on the second leg he said but he wasnt too fussed about this. This trip did wonders for my confidence because it had so many different things. Lots of radio work, some VOR tracking, a position fix on 121.5 and of course some horrible weather between me and my home airfield. I loved it, it was great.


37.18-12-11 C152 G-CEPX EGTO EGTO 10:55 12:20 0:15 1-1 EX18 VORX, 121.5

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Lesson 36: My First Solo Cross Country

What a fab day for me today. I got up very early (it was still dark) and did my preparation for my lesson. I wasn't sure we would fly or even what we would do so I plotted a course down to Shoreham [on the south cost] as I thought that would be on the agenda at some point. 

Imagine my shock when I got to the flight school and my instructor said "Right Paul, we'll get you out solo today! I think something easy like Ashford, Sheerness and back to Rochester" 

I didn't have a PLog (Pilots Log) calculated for that obviously so we jumped into a room and plotted the course. I had forgot how to use the flight computer to manually calculate the drift so my instructor was on hand to advise. The wind today at 2000-3000 ft was forecast to be 275/30.

Before long I was out performing my checks on G-BNIV which is the "flagship" of the fleet (it has nice clean blue upholstery) and I was asked to taxi to the fuel pumps for a fill up while my instructor was busy getting another student ready.

As my instructor was out with another student, I walked down to the airfield and watched a couple of take-offs. The ground was very soft and wet so it was a case of being kind to the grass (no sharp turns or breaking) and using the eastern taxi way. The runway in use was Runway 20 relief. 

I went back to the fuel pumps and checked the tanks were full and tested a sample of the fuel from each wing. Everything was good and so I sat in the aircraft and awaited my instructor.

It wasn't long before my instructor had joined me and we were taxing down the eastern side, holding at point Bravo briefly to allow one aircraft to take off and free up some room down at the threshold area. It felt cold again similar to last week. The visibility was good though. Before long, power checks were complete and the vital last checks before take off were completed.

"Golf India Victor ready for Departure" ... After a short pause, I received the "G-IV - Take off at your discretion, surface wind 210/10 knots.."

After a good visual check I announced "Taking Off G-IV" and moved away applying full throttle. It had been some time since I had flown in India Victor but she went down the runway just fine and following rotation we were climbing well. Flaps up at 300 ft and a 15 degree climbing turn to the right at 500 ft saw me up to 1000ft above ground level in no time. Turning downwind I had to point to the left to keep the track parallel to the runway as there was quite a strong wind blowing me in to the circuit. After calling downwind (prompted by my instructor!) it wasn't long before I turned right onto base, applied carb heat and pulled back the power, as soon as the airspeed had washed off I put in two stages of flap and trimmed keeping a watchful eye on the runway.

Coming on to final I had to crab into the wind coming from my right until I was down to a couple of hundred feet where it seemed I could straighten up fine. Straight over the PAPIs (Precision Approach Path Indicators) onto the relief runway. The landing was very good and so after taxing right down to the bottom of the runway I vacated it and my instructor got out telling me in the process to enjoy myself. I smiled. It was probably possible to see my heart beating through my chest.

Well, I repeated the taxi request (this time for a local flight) and got myself down into the departure area. Then a strange thing happened. My nerves vanished. I felt really calm.

In no time I was off and climbing to the overhead at an altitude of 2000 ft. Heading 148 against a True Track of 131 . I reset the timer on my knee board and calculated my ETA at my first turning point Ashford.

The first leg was relaxed and flight wise very smooth at 2000 ft and the visibility was great. I passed Leeds Castle on my right and thought to myself how beautiful it must have been hundred of years ago, right there in the middle of the Kent countryside. Arriving at Ashford I was about a minute out on my timings (10.5 minutes not 9.5) but on track in terms of course over ground. I was feeling great. "Time -Turn-Talk" later I was headed up to Sheerness on a heading of 327 against a True Track 348. This was the slower leg of 13 minutes as there was more of a headwind. This well went and I was bang on time and track when I did my next "Time-Turn-Talk" and headed back to Rochester. Obviously at this point I was in very familiar ground and kept to the heading knowing exactly where I was. This was a 256 heading against a True Track of 244.

I called in to Rochester Information for circuit joining instructions (still runway 20 relief right hand circuit) and within no time was joining overhead at 1000 ft above ground level. The circuit went well (I called downwind!) and the landing was fine. It's different when its just you in the aircraft because it floats more but I managed to just ease down after going slightly aloft again with the help of a little throttle. The landing run was straight.

I was delighted and really so happy with how it all went. At the end, I got asked to move my aircraft for parking in the wrong spot but hey ho. It was no problem taxing again - I didn't want the time to stop!

This added an hour to my solo time making 5 hours 15 minutes but it was the first time away from the vicinity of the aerodrome. For this reason it will be a day I remember for the rest of my life.


36.04-12-11 C152 G-BNIV EGTO EGTO 09:45 10:00 0:15 1-1 EX12/13
*36.04-12-11 C152 G-BNIV EGTO EGTO 10:00 11:00 1:00 1-1 EX18A