Tag Archives: PPL

First “solo” flight!

My instructor had kept saying to me in the previous lessons “one of these days I’ll release you for the first solo flight” (but then in French). Today, August 30th 2013, the time has come.

I arrived today at the aéroclub René Barbaro, in the aerodrome Toulouse-Lasbordes (LFCL), at about 18:15 (16:15 UTC… to keep it #avgeek). When being asked what would be then plan for today, my instructor, Thierry, immediately answered “est-ce que ça te marche si on fait trois tour de piste et aprés je te lâche?.” To that question one can only answer: “oui, bien sûr!“.

Thus, we took the Robin DR-400-120 Petit Prince with matriculation number F-GNNI (Fox(trot) Golf November November India). A mainly wooden French plane which is quite popular in France. The aircraft has a piston engine which delivers 120 HP, cruises at about 200 km/h, has an empty weight of about 600kg (573kg as per the latest rapport de pessée)… you can see it below:

Robin DR-400 F-GNNI.

Robin DR-400 F-GNNI.

As Thierry proposed, we first made 3 tours de piste, that is 3 laps around he aerodrome circuit.

Despite of some comments on the landings, one take-off performed with flaps retracted (see #Jk5022), at the end of the third landing Thierry got off the aircraft, got his walkie-talkie to hear and intervene in the communications if needed (which was not needed) and went to aéroclub office.

Then, I was finally alone in the plane.

Message to the radio (the tower was not working by then, thus I sent a message to other aircraft in the frequency, 122.7): “Toulouse-Lasbordes, DR-400 au parking Airbus, je roule au point d’arrêt piste 34“. I then went through the different check lists, going through each step in a mixture of Spanish and French (I normally proceed with the list in French but then it felt strange to talk to myself in French thus: “giro al sur y la bille va a la derecha, el cap y el compas decrecen…”).

At about 17:35 UTC, I finally pronounced the words “Fox November India, je m’aligne et je decolle, piste 34“, and with that there I went! (I had to align and take off rather quickly as there was another airplane about to announce its entry in finale).

Aerial view of the aerodrome Toulouse-Lasbordes, LFCL (note that today evening the runway in use was the 34, thus, what you see closer is the end of the runway).

Aerial view of the aerodrome Toulouse-Lasbordes, LFCL (note that today evening the runway in use was the 34, thus, what you see closer is the end of the runway).

From then on, an easy flight around the aerodrome that did not take very long but meant a big step for me ensued; a big reassurance. Let’s go through it. Come on board with me…

Take-off: even if I could have taken off at a lower speed, due to the heat and as precaution, I was going to rotate at about 110km/h. Up until then I repeated “the runway is cleared, la vitesse monte, the runway is cleared, all parameters are green…“. I saw some birds flying low and crossing the runway, so I gave myself some seconds before pulling the stick backwards… “je décolle!“.

Climb: immediately after taking off, I had to push the right pedal to compensate the engine effects. During the first phase of the climb I ascended at about 130 km/h (a bit faster as I was alone in the plane) and at 760ft, or 300 pieds sol, I proceeded with the check list après décollage: “volets (flaps) de premier écran à rentrées, pompe électrique off and check that all parameters are still green“. Proceed with the climb now at 150km/h.

Integration in the aerodrome circuit: You can see in the pictures below the aerodrome circuit, both as it appears in the aeronautical chart [PDF, 644KB] and with a satellite image.

Toulouse Lasbordes (LFCL) carte of the aerodrome (Carte VAC).

Toulouse Lasbordes (LFCL) carte of the aerodrome (Carte VAC).

View of the "circuite de aérodrome".

View of the “circuite de aérodrome”.

As soon as I had passed the village of Balma I turned East still ascending (following the green line upwards and to the right as per the satellite image). Then, just between Balma and Pin-Balma (blue circles in the satellite image) there is a farm which serves as starting point for the aerodrome circuit.

There, I announced myself again: “Fox(trot) November India au début de vent arrière piste 34“. I then reduced the gas from 2,500rpm to 2,000rpm, switched on the electric pump, the carburetor heating and deployed the flaps to the first position (10º)… with those settings the speed should come to 150km/h. I then noticed that while performing these actions I had gained some 200ft (above the 2,000ft of the circuit), which I proceeded to lose quickly and, once corrected, I trimmed the aircraft for 150km/h at 2,000ft QNH.

When I spotted the Château de Pechestier (see carte VAC above), I turned right following the ligne à haute tenstion, reduced the power from 2,000rpm to 1,500rpm (keeping the speed at 150km/h) while losing altitude from 2,000ft to about 1,100ft when over flying the commercial centre at the turn between the sectors étape de basse and finale.

Final approach: “Fox(trot) November India en finale pour un complet“. I then deployed the flaps to the landing configuration (60º) and fixed my sight on the number 34: “vitesse (> 120km/h) – le plan (3.5%) – vitesse – l’axe – …“.

Landing: I believe that one has been the best landing I have performed so far. I guess I was so concentrated that I definitely did my best… I slowed down, exited the runway, “Fox(trot) November India la piste est dégagée, je roule au parking et quite la radio“. I then proceeded with the different check lists, went to the parking of the aeroclub, turned off the airplane… and that was it!

Thierry: “Well, How does it feel the first solo flight?”… the first solo flight.

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Radial engine

I found myself thinking back in the National Air & Space Museum recently. Firstly, because a friend announced that she had just visited it and secondly because yesterday we oversaw  reciprocating engines at the class of the theoretical course for the private pilot licence.

The class itself was not telling nothing completely new, but it reminded me that I had a video of a demo of a radial engine recorded last year at the NASM in Dulles. I filmed it in order to upload it at some point… here it is:

For those not initiated, you may find how reciprocating engines work here, and more specifically how radial reciprocating engines work here.

I’ll never get tired of praising the Smithsonian institution.

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Landing at a car racing circuit

Albi is small city close to Toulouse. It is mainly famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Site Cathedral Sainte Cécile and the museum of the painter Toulouse-Lautrec. I had been there twice, but I hadn’t yet written a post about the city. Today I’ll write about another special feature it has.

In Albi there is a car racing circuit. I have a colleague who likes cars, motor-bikes and has been already using that circuit in one of its open days.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the stall exercises we performed in last Saturday’s flight lesson.

Let me connect the dots. On Saturday, while having lunch, our colleague told us that the circuit in Albi was having an open day that precise day. He encouraged us to propose to our instructor to fly to Albi. And here comes the catch: “Why?” Because the aerodrome of Albi, our colleague explained to us, is embedded in the car racing circuit!

We gave it a try, demanded our instructor to go to Albi and succeeded. See below the flight path recorded with my Garmin:

Flight route Toulouse Lasbordes (LFCL) - Albi (LFCI).

In the following screenshot of the Visual Approach Chart (carte VAC) you may see how when the circuit IS active the runway of the aerodrome is shortened as the circuit crosses the runway! (You may download the chart here, PDF, 360KB).

Visual Approach Chart (VAC) for Albi aerodrome when the car racing circuit is active.

You may see it better below, in the Google maps view, how the circuit intersects the runway:

Albi car racing circuit and aerdrome.

Finally, enjoy the video of the final approach of our flight. If you pay attention to it, you’ll notice the cars racing in the circuit while we are approaching and how we are in fact touching down only within the allowable space when the circuit is active:

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Stall exercise

Yesterday, I wrote about a documentary on the AF447 accident. Within the video, a flight instructor performs a real stall exercises and he mentions that this is taught in the first lectures of flight instruction.

As I mentioned in the post, I learnt about the documentary while having lunch with 2 colleagues. I was telling them “I’d like to perform those stall exercises to see what feeling does your body have and how you instinctively react to it and how you have to consciously correct that reaction”.  As the old adage goes “be careful what you wish for ’cause you might get it”.

After lunch, we headed to the aeroclub to have our class. Thierry, our instructor, opened by asking whether we had seen that documentary we had been talking about. Then, he mentioned “let’s do today stall exercises!” 🙂

Shortly, from the Wikipedia:

[…] a stall is a reduction in the lift coefficient generated by a foil as angle of attack increases. This occurs when the critical angle of attack of the foil is exceeded. […]
Stalls in fixed-wing flight are often experienced as a sudden reduction in lift as the pilot increases angle of attack and exceeds the critical angle of attack […].

The theory of the exercise was easy: fly up to 3,000 ft, reduce the power of the engine down to idle, try to keep the altitude by pulling the stick backwards (nosing up), keep pulling the stick backwards when the stall alarm sounds off, wait until the aircraft starts buffeting, cannot maintain altitude and falls off… then push a little the stick (nose down), recover speed (above stall speed), start nosing up again while increasing power up to max rpm, get to 3,000 ft again. Easy.

The practice… well, my colleague was doing his exercises first while I was sitting at the back. I went from being warm due to the sunny weather to feeling uneasy to experiencing this cold sweat…

You may see the video below with one of the stall exercises performed by my colleague. You’ll notice the stall alarm (in this case it is just an alarm, not a voice saying “stall”):

Apologies for 1) bad quality of the video performed by my not-so-smartphone and 2) for not having recorded a video of my own stall exercises… I was too stressed with them 🙂

Note: For the record, in the documentary it is mentioned that pupils get to practice stall in their first lessons. Yesterday’s was my 10th flight in order to obtain the PPL (private pilot licence), up to then I had completed just slightly above 6 flight hours.

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Weight and balance

As part of the preparation of a flight, the pilot shall make sure that the total weight of the aircraft (including fuel and passengers) is at or below the limits, and that the center of gravity is within a certain area. This is what is called weight and balance.

Some months ago, in our private pilot licence course we had a class where we reviewed this. I remember that one pupil asked “is it possible that the aircraft gets knocked over backwards on ground?” (imagine the aircraft “sitting” on its tail).

This question led me to make the numbers to see whether this was possible with the aircraft we are using for our lessons, a Robin DR 400.

Centrogram for a DR400-120.

For this purpose we use a centrogram, which is nothing but a small “map” where the different possible weights that can be loaded into the aircraft and its momentum are already drawn so the center of gravity can be easily calculated and checked whether it falls or not in the allowed area. This centrogram is included in the flight manual of the aircraft.

I found that, carrying 2 pilots (~154kg) plus 2 passengers (~154kg), you could never load much weight into the rear compartment reserved for baggage. As that area is the one behind the main landing gear, you wouldn’t knock over the aircraft on ground.

If instead of 2 pilots and 2 passengers, you had only 1 pilot and you would load the same weight (~231kg) as baggage, the aircraft would be unbalanced but still wouldn’t fall backwards and sit on its tail. Even if the center of gravity of the baggage compartment is behind the landing gear, the weight of the empty aircraft with a center of gravity between the nose and main landing gear over compensates our trick.

Once I had calculated this, I went one step further: in which cases being under the maximum take-off weight (MTOW, 1,000 kg for a DR400-140) given by the designer could the aircraft be unbalanced? That is, what is required to get the centre of gravity out of the allowable range?

I found that to get the aircraft unbalanced basically you would need to load it in two different ways that at first seemed quite bizarre to me:

  1. You would need to carry only 1 pilot and 2 passengers (plus at least 25 kg of baggage and bearing in mind not to exceed the MTOW), but instead of two of them occupying the front positions and one sitting at the back, you would have a single adult piloting the aircraft and the other two at the back. I’ve never seen that.
  2. You would need to have 1 or 2 adults piloting the aircraft, no passenger at the back plus at least 100 kg of baggage at the back. Why would one person carry so much baggage for a short trip with a Robin DR 400? Here I would add that the designer of the aircraft placed a small plaque indicating that no more than 40kg should be loaded in the baggage compartment.

Well, the two cases can be referred respectively to the following situations:

  1. A couple formed by future groom and bride flying alone with a pilot. Maybe that flight was used by the man to propose the marriage. Well, now you know it, that’s not a good idea, it could make the aircraft unstable (takeaway: no proposals in small aircraft).
  2. Drug-trafficking. I can imagine such small aircraft being used to carry as many drugs as possible… well, apart from being illegal, if someone would carry too much (that is over 100kg), even when below the maximum allowed weight, would make it unstable.

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First Take-Off

The 17th of December will always be an important day in the history of aviation for the following 2 reasons:

  1. The 17th of December 1903, Orville Wright performed the first flight aboard their Flyer I,
  2. Today, 17th December 2011, I made my first take-off aboard a Robin DR-400-120 :-).

As part of my training towards obtaining the PPL licence, today we performed the 5th flight, the first in which I was fully at the controls during take-off.

My colleague, Miguel, took the following video:

You may see the route we followed from Graulhet (LFCQ) to Toulouse-Lasbordes (LFCL) aboard the Robin DR-42 (F-GORM), as I recorded it with my Garmin GPS:

Flight route: LFCQ - LFCL

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