“Look at that!”
‘That’ was a Diamond DA-40 making a sharpish climbing turn about 50 metres in front of our windshield. It’s as close as I want to be to an oncoming aircraft in mid-air.
I know the local Diamond fleet has TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) installed and we had our transponder on, so I imagine one future ATPL just got an impromptu lesson in obeying the Resolution Advisory.
Still, I didn’t think TCAS let encounters get quite so cosy…
If you haven’t guessed, I’ve been busy with a few other things recently. I’ve come to realise that I can’t possibly do all the things I need / want to get done at the same time, so I operate a sort of revolving attention system (although ‘system’ is probably an exaggeration) and try to give each project some time in the sun.
Most recent visitor to the top of the pile was a flight review to revalidate my PPL, which I did last Thursday morning. (And passed, so technically I’m rated again. Yay.)
Class D for a change
I booked the review and flight with Parafield Flying Centre, a friendly independent school at Parafield YPPF, my local Class D airport. That in itself is a far cry from the bucolic set-up at Aldinga, where you might remember I’ve been flying a Sport Cub.
With a major flight training operator based at YPPF, it is easily the busiest airport I’ve flown at. It certainly felt a lot busier than Bankstown (YSBK) in Sydney, even though that’s the GA airport for a city with four times the population.
To put you in the picture, we sat at the runway hold point with four aircraft behind us and waited through five landings before getting clearance to line up. And for added fun, it was 34C on the ground.
When the call came to take off, I was as keen to get going as the tower was to have me clear their strip.
We were flying a 1970 Rheims Cessna 150L ‘Aerobat’, VH-MQP, which wasn’t quite so enthusiastic about climbing in those conditions. It did manage – even if the oil temperature kept climbing with the aircraft – but seemed a lot happier once we got into some cooler air above 2000 feet.
If Mr Bean drove a plane
I haven’t been in a Cessna since I did my ab initio training in a C152 back in 2002. Not only was it like getting into a new type, but I was struck that Cessna managed to make and market something so diminutive. If Mr. Bean drove a plane…
I remember how proudly I took my girlfriend for a flight in that 152 when I’d first qualified. I didn’t see any of those tiny, rattly, door slammy, lightly powered shortcomings – all that mattered to me was it was an aeroplane I could fly! As a non-pilot, she was a lot braver than I gave her credit for.
I feel like I’m starting to malign the Cessna now, which isn’t really fair. The seats on a budget carrier’s A320 may seem wide by comparison, but being a pilot comes with more legroom and a much better view.
And, as fifty(!) years of service indicated we would, we both fit into the cockpit without having to link arms or rub shoulders.
Before long we had started up and I was picking my way through the radio traffic, taxi ways and other aircraft to the run-up bay.
Keeping a lookout
As part of the flight review, we’d pre-briefed on likely threats and counter-measures, and I’d specifically mentioned traffic in the training area and my unfamiliarity with the aircraft as risk factors for the flight. We were primed to be alert and vigilant.
And yet, I’d only glanced down at the panel long enough to find the flap lever and check the Oil Temp (which wasn’t enjoying the hot weather) after doing some stalls, and looked back up to see a whole lot of other airplane.
But what really made an impression was the ‘Look at that!”
There wasn’t even time to rally enough emotion for ‘Look out! or ‘Oh shit!’ Just ‘Look at that!’ and the whole situation was gone.
Fate really is the hunter
Parafield’s designated training area is a narrow wedge set in a club sandwich of Restricted, Prohibited and Class C airspace. It’s busy. That’s why it’s a designated Danger Area. But even with preparedness, a good lookout and (as far as we know) a TCAS system, collision avoidance most likely came down to luck.
I’m not sure if there’s any other valid out-take. Obviously it’s not counting on luck at all – but realising that you probably do anyway. Because if those guys weren’t using their TCAS, they still wouldn’t know how close we came.
Over and gone
What was also interesting is that we didn’t dwell on nearly dying at all. The moment passed as quickly as it came, and we just went back to flying the Review.
I pulled the appropriate controls for a practice engine failure and got on with that.
There was no point in making the Aerobat claw its way back up to altitude afterward, so we followed the glide approach with some low level flying and turns – practice scud-running, just in case – before heading back to the airport for a few circuits.
As expected, the Class D reporting point was busy but the radio calls and controllers made things a lot less Wild West than the training area. We were vectored overhead the airport to join downwind for runway 03R on the eastern side of the field.
Some idiosyncrasy in the flap selector meant my first landing was flapless – something about trying to tweak the flap setting makes the system reset to Flaps 0. It didn’t really matter. In the hot crosswind, the cleaner wing and extra speed probably helped.
We went around twice more, with me re-learning that a city circuit means you have to descend with power to follow everyone else’s pattern, rather than flying the power off approaches I do at Aldinga. I didn’t really nail it, and my final landing was too fast which meant the nose wheel landed several hundred meters after I’d bundled the mains down. It’s always that last landing of the day, isn’t it?
I think I prefer the extra options you get with a tailwheel…!
P for Pilot
In all, it was 1.6 hours of an almost retro return to my early training. Flying the Sport Cub to get back my stick and rudder skills certainly took the edge off: I think a combination of flying, Class D airspace and high traffic levels would have delivered an overwhelming learning curve otherwise.
As it was, the flying part has become fairly instinctive, leaving me more brain space to manage the unfamiliar environment – which is what I’d gone to Parafield for. And I’ll be going back.
For now though, once again, I’m entitled to put letters after my name.
They may only be ‘PPL’ (for now) but that first P still stands for ‘Proud’.