Tag Archives: PPL

ACAT aviation rally (rallye aérien) 2018

Last June 23rd, together with my friend Asier, we took part for the first time in an aviation rally (rallye aérien) organised by my aero-club, ACAT.

ACAT_Collage

For starters, an aviation rally, following (more or less closely) the rules of the Aviation French Federation (FFA), is not like the sport cars’ rallies that we may be used to see. It is not about who is the fastest in a given circuit. It is rather about precision, and the purpose of organizing such rallies is to improve as pilots and increase the safety of flight, along with the competition side of it.

The rally in itself included the following parts:

  • A theoretical part.
  • An observation part
  • A navigation part.

In order to rank the teams, a series of penalties are introduced in each of the parts, as described below:

Rally_ACAT_penalties

In order to discover the route of the flights, even if not subject to penalties, the different teams received a questionnaire. By correctly guessing the answers to the questions we would be able to find the route that we had to fly. For this we had a map, a ruler and pens. From that moment the flight preparation started.

We made two flights of about 1h20’ each. In each of the flights, a part of it would be the subject of the competition, defined by a “starting” and “finishing” points that we had to closely over fly. In between those points a few turns had to be made. We had to estimate at what time we would fly over each of the points with a precision of plus or minus 15 seconds. A greater deviation than that was penalized.

To correctly track the route followed and measure the time in which we flew above each of the points, we carried 2 GPS recording devices provided by the organization. With them, the organization was able to print the track of the flights as below.

Rally_ACAT_trajectory

The image above corresponds to the first of the two flights. In the image you can see that we missed the Final Point, in red. But in the table below you can see how we passed the different turning points. We over flew the starting point (10 minutes after take off) 23 seconds behind schedule, which carried a 9 points penalty. The following turning point (PT1) was passed in 6 seconds above schedule…

Rally_ACAT_score

Along each of the flights we had to spot on the ground a series of images (16 per flight). For that we had some papers with small photographs taken in advance by the rally organization. When we saw an image, we had to identify where we had seen it in the map we had been given. The photographs for each of the flights were not in order, so we had to pay attention to see them. The more you saw, the less you were penalized. However, if you placed the landmarks corresponding to the photographs in wrong locations in your map, you were penalized as well.

Rally_ACAT_photos

Before the flights we had to estimate the overall fuel consumption of the aircraft for the two flights. After the flight we refueled to see how good or bad our estimate had been. In our case we had estimated 69 liters and needed 67. Not bad. But those 2 liters of deviation, carried the corresponding penalty.

As part of the theoretical side of the rally, we also completed a multiple choice questionnaire, similar to the PPL exam but shorter.

The experience was great. We had much fun and even if we did not place well in the rally, we learn quite a bit out of it: (1) to select a slower target speed to allow for wind variations and then set your speed to the targeted one instead of compensating at turning points, (2) to better prepare the reaching of the Starting Point of the circuit, (3) the lower fuel consumption to be employed when flying in with a lighter take-off weight.

I guess we will take part in more aviation rallies in the future.

Rally_ACAT_selfie

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Flight excursion to San Sebastian

One of the goals that I had for this year as a recently qualified private pilot was to make a flight crossing the French border. For this purpose, last July I approached a colleague, Asier, who had obtained his license years ago and already had the experience of having flown to San Sebastian, the destination chosen for the flight.

We took a day off at the office to have time enough to make the return flight on a day and avoid constraints with the availability of airplanes. The weather was very good early in the morning all the way from Toulouse to San Sebastian, with only some wind, and a few gusts by the coast.

On the way to San Sebastian we would make a short stop over by Pau. On the way back we had planned another one by Tarbes, but in the end we skipped it. The outgoing flight took us 2h28′ (engine running time, including the stop over) for over 176 nautical miles; the return one, 2h04′.

The navigation went rather well even if we didn’t make use of the GPS and just navigated using the charts, compass and VOR… It basically consisted in departing from Toulouse Lasbordes and flying around the CTR of Toulouse via the southern itinerary. Once arrived at the SN way point we took a west heading towards the VOR of Tarbes (TBO) and from there we sought the integration in the CTR of Pau. At Pau we simply went to the general aviation parking, drank some water, refreshed ourselves, rearranged some papers, visualized the second part of the flight and got ready for departure. While at the holding point we had to wait for an airliner and a French Air Force CN-235, a nice view considering that both Asier and I used to work for Airbus Military.

chart-route-ss

Navigation log.

Navigation log.

It was when flying around Pau that we noticed that the temperature of the oil was rather high, almost in the red zone of the arc. As the pressure was OK we decided to simply reduce the rpm. The action was succesful in lowering the oil temperature back to the green area of the arc, but we were forced to fly for the rest of a very hot day at a somewhat slower speed (between 150-170 km/h vs. the planned 180-200).

Final approach at Pau airport.

Final approach at Pau airport.

From Pau we followed the transit towards Biarritz via Orthez and Dax that follows more or less the high speed way and river Gave de Pau. We flew around Biarritz by the North and coastal transits. The bay and beach of Biarritz are wonderful on the ground, even more so from the air. In general it is a very recommendable experience to fly from Biarritz to San Sebastian, as despite of the turbulence that you may encounter the views are breathtaking. See the pictures and video below.

Atlantic coast.

Atlantic coast.

Biarritz

Biarritz

St Jean de Luz

St Jean de Luz

Leaving St Jean de Luz,the French air traffic controller bid us farewell in Spanish. Those were the first words in Spanish I ever exchanged in the radio as I obtained my license in France and the FCL055 to be qualified to speak in English when flying abroad, but I had never flown by myself to Spain. We then contacted the air traffic control at San Sebastian, who were waiting for us. While talking to the controller I felt very awkward, as despite of being a native Spanish and having reviewed aviation phraseology in Spanish the previous days, the terms and sentences didn’t come natural. I am sure that I used plenty of expressions that are either not correct or not in use. I noticed a couple of them by myself (“back track” the runway was employed by the controller in English, rather than a Spanish form I used or “Responde” for the transponder); there ought to be many more.

Air space around San Sebastian was very quiet. We demanded a clearance to make a detour by the bay of San Sebastian and come back to the airport in neighboring Fuenterrabia and it was granted without hesitation. Basically we could do as we pleased, we just needed to report when approaching the airport. After taking some pictures of the bay we headed back to the airport and we flew through the port of Pasajes, which I had visited on ground a few months before.

San Sebastian

San Sebastian

San Sebastian

San Sebastian

Entering Pasajes.

Entering Pasajes.

It took me a while to spot the runway in long final but the landing went smoothly.

Final approach to San Sebastian airport Fuenterrabia.

Final approach to San Sebastian airport at Fuenterrabia.

We then went to have lunch with a relative of Asier at a close by restaurant and later had a walk through the village centre (Fuenterrabia).

dsc_0130

About 3 hours later we came back to the airport. Just in time to take-off and leave before the weather deteriorated. Clouds were approaching the airport from Pasajes, thus we took off heading North (runway 04), with heavy cross wind (310 degrees, 15-20 kt) in what was the most difficult take-off I have experienced so far. Once on air, at Biarritz the controller adviced us (and any other aircraft around) to either land or fly inland as soon as possible as a front was approaching from the sea. So we did, turned east, inland, and continued our flight towards Toulouse.

Biarritz

Biarritz

The rest of the flight went very smoothly, even though we skipped flying over Tarbes after having slightly diverted from our planned route as demanded by controllers.

To conclude this post, find below:

  • a video we made during the flight. Despite having played with the camera for most of the flights, of having collected over 1 hour of footage, most of it is about flying in the countryside, not that interesting to watch. However, I rescued the approach and landing at Pau and the flying along the coast in the way back, which are worth seeing (~10′).
  • the navigation log as it was after using it during the flight.

Used navigation log.

Used navigation log.

If you liked this post, find in the page Flight excursions of this same blog, a list of posts describing similar experiences to other destinations.

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Compétences linguistiques langue anglaise (FCL.055)

La semaine dernière j’ai passé le contrôle de compétences linguistiques langue anglaise (FCL.055) VFR (1). Je m’avais mis cet objectif au début de l’année et au moment de démarrer avec la préparation j’avais un peu de difficulté à voir comment préparer l’examen. C’est la raison d’écrire ce petit article, pour partager les quatre ressources que j’ai utilisé.

VolfictifLe site du « Ministère de l’environnement, de l’énergie et de la mer » (2) offre quelques bonnes exemples de comme le contrôle se déroulera (un exemple de vol fictif et deux exemples de écoute de bande). Je conseille de les reviser, surtout celui du vol fictif pour voir comme le scénario va être présenté au candidat.

Autres exemples d’écoute de bande. Le magazine de la Fédération Française d’Aviation, Info Pilote, a depuis des années une page dédiée à l’utilisation de l’anglais dans les communications aéronautiques.

  • La compilation des enregistrements de ces bandes se trouvent sur le site « Anglais pour voler ».
  • Des versions PDF de chaque page dédiées aux communications en anglais des différents numéros d’ Info Pilote pendant des années peuvent se trouver ici.  (c’est utile si tu n’étais pas abonné au magazine il y a 10 années ou si tu ne gardes pas les vieux magazines).

Avec ces deux dernières ressources tu peux bien préparer l’exercice d’écoute de bande et voir des différents niveaux de difficulté.

Finalement, pour voir des exemples des situations inhabituelles avec des traductions proposées de français à anglais, cette autre site, Cockpitseeker, a un bonne répertoire (+300 situations).

Effort. Je m’étais mis des horaires pour étudier rigoureusement. Finalement, je n’ai pas suivi ces horaires que dans la moitié de la moitié des jours avant l’épreuve, mais j’ai bien étudié entre 12-15 heures de lecture et écoute de bande, avec un bon résultat à l’examen.

(1) Ancienne FCL1.028.

(2) Le nom du ministère peut changer assez suivent, je suggère de cliquer sur les liens ou faire un petit recherche sur l’internet.

(3) Pour l’inscription à l’examen, toute est bien expliqué sur le site du ministère, et la mise en œuvre d’un site internet dédié, OCEAN.

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My path to the private pilot licence (PPL)

Provisional attestation and log book.

Provisional attestation and log book.

A week ago, on Friday 27th of November, I finally took and passed the practical exam towards obtaining the private pilot licence (PPL).

I have written several posts along these years of different experiences during the learning process: the start of the flight lessons, the first take off at the controls, about weight and balance calculations, the preparation of a flight to Corsica, the flying experience to Corsica, the first solo flight, about refuelling or not, the flying experience to the Loire Valley, and the grand navigation solo

In this post, I just wanted to share some figures of my educational path that may help readers form an idea if they are interested in pursuing the licence:

  • I arrived to the exam with 62.4 flight hours (FH) (1),
    • thereof 51.92 FH accompanied by an instructor.
    • thereof 10.48 FH flying solo (2), a 17% of the total amount,
      • thereof 6.31 FH flying solo in navigation flights (3).
  • To complete those flying hours I performed 71 flights,
    • thereof 14 flights flying solo, a 20% of the total amount.
  • In those flights I performed 123 landings (4)
    • thereof the first ~17 were performed by the instructor (4).
    • thereof 29 landings flying solo, a 24% of the total amount.

I didn’t fly often, therefore even if it has not taken many hours above the minimum requirement to obtain the licence it has taken a long time. Exactly 1503 days since the first flight, or 4 years, a month and 11 days.

Chronologically some dates to remember and as reference:

  • First flight: October 16, 2011.
  • First take off at the controls: December 17, 2011 (on the 5th flight).
  • First landing at the controls: not sure, about June / July 2012 (16-17th flight and about 14-15 FH).
  • First solo flight: August 30, 2013 (the 33th flight and after having completed almost 30FH).
  • First solo navigation flight (from A to B): May 16, 2014 (the 50th flight and after having completed almost 42 FH, of which almost 3 solo in the aerodrome circuit).
  • First solo navigation  flight (from A to B to A): August 19, 2014 (the 55th flight and after having completed 47 FH, of which 3.5 solo).
  • Grand navigation solo: July 23rd, 2015 (65th flight and after having completed 56 FH, of which almost 8 solo (3.6 in navigation)).
Flying in November 2015.

Flying in November 2015.

(1) Minimum requirement: 45 FH.

(2) Minimum requirement: 10 FH.

(3) Minimum requirement: 5 FH.

(4) Thus, about 106 landings, as I started doing the landings when I had cumulated about 14 FH.

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My grand navigation solo

When talking about flying lessons and my progress (or the lack of it :-)) I am often posed the following question or comment: “but if you are taking lessons… then you always fly with an instructor, right?”

The answer is no. Unlike car driving lessons, part of the requirements to become a private pilot is to have completed a given amount of flying hours having flown solo (i.e. without instructor), part of them “navigation” flying hours (1).

Flight Crew Licence formation requirements.

Flight Crew Licence formation requirements.

The first flight solo is typically a marking moment in the flying life of a pilot. See here a post with my experience then. The first flights solo are typically around your home aerodrome, where you are used to all geographical accidents, the aerodrome circuit, radio frequencies and you may feel less stressed. A friendly scenario where to push the bird to fly.

There are many other marking moments in the flying life of a student pilot: the first take off or landing that you do at the controls, or the first navigation solo. The word navigation is used to describe flights going from one aerodrome to another, hence some navigation skills are required and employed to reach the destination.

Then, another big marking moment is what in France is called the “Grande Nav solo”. As its name points out, it is a solo flight implying navigation, but then a big one, a rather long flight. Specifically, as required by the FCL 1.125 (b) (1) “done au moins un vol en campagne d’au moins 270 kilometres (150NM), au course duquel deux aterrisages complets doivent etre effectues sur deux aerodromes differents de celui de depart” (see requirements above).

I completed such grande nav solo flight back on July 23rd. I had been after it for months, trying to find a slot with good meteorological conditions and having accumulated some flight hours in the prior weeks to feel at ease. It was big moment that I wanted to share here.

For that navigation we selected the route Toulouse Lasbordes – Rodez (2) – Cahors and back to Lasbordes. The route had over 160 nautical miles (over 300 kilometres) and would take me over 2 hours, including the two complete landings. You can see below the route in a screenshot from the 1/500.000 aeronautical chart available at the website carte aero fr.(3)

Route planned for my grand navigation solo.

Route planned for my grand navigation solo.

The experience during the flight.

The flight went remarkably well, even if I started a bit pressured because of the time.

I arrived at the aerodrome at about 18:00. With the flight preparation, finding out last information about weather, points of contact for special zones, pre-flight check list, etc., I only managed to start the engine at 18:36 local time. At that point I started to have some doubts of whether if anything went wrong I might not be able to return back after the complete flight… would I have to shorten it? I decided to take a look at the timing at Rodez parking.

After the take off, and en-route to Rodez, right after quitting Lasbordes’ radio, I passed with Toulouse Info and demanded a flight tracking, which is reassuring at the beginning. I couldn’t start climbing up to 4,000ft right after flying over Gaillac as there was some Airbus traffic coming from Blagnac. Reaching Camaux, close to Albi, I had to turn left (033) and then I could start the climb.

The week before I had got lost while navigating towards Rodez (I was then with my instructor, and we found ourselves with the help of a GPS). Not this time. I paid much detail to the navigation, finding the villages that marked the different way points of the approach to Rodez, and cross-checking with the tower that I was indeed at those points.

Curiously enough, when I was at the parking in Rodez there was a helicopter coming in, which followed the same descent path, runway, taxi way, etc., as if it was an airplane.

At the parking, I quickly made the numbers and thought I would have enough margin to complete the whole flight so I decided to go.

On the way to Cahors I continued being followed by Rodez Info (same controller than Rodez tower). When I mentioned that I was quitting to pass with Toulouse Info frequency he noted that I could continue with him all the way to Cahors, so I did. Having the sun setting in front of me and not wearing sun glasses that afternoon it was difficult to locate the terrain. I was seeing some cleared land about 10nm ahead, thus, I again asked the controller. He confirmed that it was Cahors aerodrome and that the distance was 8nm. Good. Second leg almost done.

I passed to Cahors frequency. As there was no controller it operated only for communication between airplanes… and parachute jumpers, as there were many jumping at that moment. The pilot of the plane from which they jumped proved quite helpful there. Even if I had studied the aerodrome chart, he provided all kind of explanations via the radio at my arrival:

“as there is parachuting activity, don’t fly over the vertical, integrate yourself directly into the circuit. There are no more airplanes at the moment, report in base leg (the circuit is a right hand for runway 31, the one in service). There are two exits to the runway, take the second one as in the first one there is a plane waiting for departure: me…”.

While parked at the tarmac, I drank some water and listened to some message for me. They offered to sign something for me. I wasn’t not understanding it fully. What did I need to get signed? Nothing. So I asked them about that. Apparently they offered to sign some paper as a souvenir of having flown to that aerodrome and visited the aeroclub. I thanked them and told that I wanted to go quickly back to Toulouse. “So, you’re doing your Grande Nav Solo, aren’t you?”. “Yes, I am” (all radio exchanges in French, though). “Good luck then!”. After a couple of minutes, I proceeded with the check lists to depart.

On the way back to Toulouse I passed again with Toulouse Info. I passed by the East of Montauban, Villemur-sur-Tarn… and then I was already in an area I knew well, thus I was rather calm.

Arriving to the way points EN and AE there was some traffic (informed by TLS Info), and as soon as I got a visual of them and they flew away I passed to Lasbordes frequency (no controller anymore due to the time of arrival). I proceeded with the integration, landing and parking at my aeroclub’s tarmac. Done!

Finally, find below a copy of the navigation log I used during the flight, with remarks for changes of heading, comments for the route, annotations during the flight, ATIS information, and the sum made at Rodez to estimate the remaining duration of the flight to decided whether to continue or not.

Navigation Log for the Grande NAV solo (2015.07.23).

Navigation Log for the Grande NAV solo (2015.07.23).


(1) The extract is taken from the French ministry for sustainable development [PDF] which oversees Flight Crew Licence requirements.
(2) Coincidentally, just a few days before that flight I had flown with my instructor and a colleague to Rodez and got lost at the destination.
(3) A tip from my colleague Rapha and a good resource to quickly start preparing a navigation flight.

 

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Theoretical exam for PPL(A) under Part FCL in France

Certificat d'aptitude.

Certificat d’aptitude.

Today I received the letter informing me that I had passed the épreuve spécifique of the exam for obtaining the PPL(A) under Part FCL.

It was the second attempt I took for this part. I got 68 multiple-choice questions right out of 72; the minimum required to pass being 54 (75%), whereas in the previous attempt I had gotten right 51, short of 3. Sure, this time I studied a bit more and practiced more with tests. However, I wanted to share in this post, as a tip, what I understand it was the key difference: Chez Gigli.

For the first exams I took, back in November I based my study in the manual edited by Cepadues and a book including 700 exam questions with the explanations of the correct responses. This worked relatively well. However, the version of the book I had dated from before Part FCL was introduced (replacing JAR FCL) and thus the topics are organized in 5 exams (vs. the current two).

PPL exam questions book by Cepadues.

PPL exam questions book by Cepadues.

For the second attempt I bought a 1-month access to Chez Gigli as my instructor had recommended years ago and my friend Rapha had mentioned, too. The cost of the book from Cepadues is ~25€, whereas the 1-month access to Chez Gigli costs 20€, for longer time more, though there are discounts (life-long access being 90€).

However, the way Chez Gigli is organized is terrific. You can record your previous results, focus on and review the questions you got wrong, practice only among questions you never saw before, focus on actual exam questions, last year questions, etc. You can see the progress of your scores per topic. Your tests are timed. Explanations of the correct answers are very good and there is a forum per each question so students can ask doubts or further clarifications. It is way more powerful than a book. And you notice it as long as you get to see all the questions, focus on your mistakes and correct them. You get in a matter of days from scores of 70% to 95-100%.

Scores' dashboard in Chez Gigli website.

Scores’ dashboard in Chez Gigli website.

While I was doing the last exam I felt way more comfortable. In most of the questions I didn’t even need to think. Just in a few of them I had some doubts between a couple of answers. I completed the exam way faster than needed, more relaxed and the result, 94.4%, was a success, as the practice had gone. Thus, if you are in France preparing to get your PPL, do not give it a thought: sign for a subscription to the website.

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Refuelling or not refuelling?

Last week, I took my brother and sister onboard of one of my flight lessons. Ahead of the flight I reminded my instructor that I would bring them along and asked what flight route should I prepare. His response: “prepare the weight and balance report, the destination will be a surprise”. And so I did.

For those not initiated, each aircraft has a defined maximum take off weight (MTOW). Before the flight, the pilot needs to ensure that the aircraft will be below that weight. On top of that, the centre of gravity must be within certain limits. That is the weight and balance (1).

For a small simple aircraft like the Robin DR-44 we flew, it is a rather easy calculation that can be done with a pencil. See in the image below two ways of calculating it: making the numbers or using the graphic at the bottom of the image.

Weight and balance report for Robin DR-44.

Weight and balance report for Robin DR-44.

Let’s review the numbers. We flew the DR-44 with immatriculation F-GSRR, which empty weight is 616kg. I estimated that the instructor and I, fully dressed and with headsets would weight ~160kg. My brother and sister behind, another 160kg. Baggages: I almost emptied mine and weighted it, 2.5kg. My instructor’s one is rather heavy, I assumed that together they would be 10kg. Principal fuel deposit: 110L of Avgas, with a density of 0.72kg/L, 79.2kg. Another 50L for the reserve deposit, 36kg.

Summing up: 1,061kg.

You can read in the image that the maximum take off weight for the plane is 1,000kg…

What to do then? Clearly, the aircraft is a given, so weight shall be reduced from somewhere else. But, from where? Either we left someone on ground or reduced baggage weight (my instructor left his and brought along only a book with aerodrome charts). However, baggage weight contributed only 10kg to the initial calculation. I then calculated: what is the maximum fuel we can carry?

Forget the reserve deposit: 36kg less. Let’s go with the principal deposit. What is the maximum fuel volume that would enable us to be within the 1,000kg limit? It would be somewhere about 80L (vs. the capacity of 110L of the deposit).

When I arrived to the aerodrome, I came with the message to my instructor: “Thierry, we can only carry 80L, if the plane is filled up with fuel, is there a way to purge it?” “No.” I then explained the numbers I had made and we went through them together.

Next step: check the fuel indicator of the plane… ~3/4… or about 80L, with the reserve deposit empty. We would be just within the limit!

We then proceeded with the preparation of the route, the pre-flight check, etc., and had good time with the flight (see report of the experience by my sister, in Spanish).

From this experience I learned a take away for future flights: when finishing your flight, it is normal etiquette towards the next pilot to refuel the aircraft if you see that the deposit is almost empty, however, it can be counter productive to fill it up completely if the next pilot is going to fly with passengers and close to the MTOW. I would then suggest that it is better to just fill it up to the volume where you know that the next pilot can have all choices open. For our DR-44 that would be filling it up to 3/4 of the main deposit (leaving reserve empty) (2). If the next pilot wants to travel along to a far distance needing more fuel he can always fill up more litres. This target weight will be different for each aircraft.

(1) See here another post I wrote two years ago about weight and balance calculations in the same plane model.

(2) Bear in mind that I found the airplane with precisely ~80L: coincidence or the previous pilot had come to the same conclusion at some point?

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