Tag Archives: VFR

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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My first landing in Blagnac (LFBO)

I think this post is better understood just by watching the video (find referenced charts below):

Find the Visual Approach Chart of Toulouse Blagnac (LFBO) [PDF, 846KB] from the Service de l’Information Aeronautique (SIA). Main pages to follow the video are shown below:

Visual Approach to Blagnac. Special attention to route followed from Lasbordes, EN - EA - EB.

Visual Approach to Blagnac. Special attention to route followed from Lasbordes, EN – EA – EB.

Visual Landing in Blagnac. Special attention to waypoint EB (water tower) and clockwise aerodrome circuit to land on 32L.

Visual Landing in Blagnac. Special attention to waypoint EB (water tower) and clockwise aerodrome circuit to land on 32L.

Taxiing in Blagnac. Special attention to the crossing of 32R by way of M4 and N4. Note parking Golf. Departure from 32R by way of N1.

Taxiing in Blagnac. Special attention to the crossing of 32R by way of M4 and N4. Note parking Golf. Departure from 32R by way of N1.

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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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