Rowan Castle - Travel & Photography
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At Duxford airfield.

Florida 2005 - Gaining my Private Pilots Licence

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22nd February 2005 On Friday, all being well, I will set off for Ormond Beach in Florida to try to get my Private Pilot's Licence (PPL) in a 21 day intensive course. I thought it would be good to keep a diary that I could look back on in time. Over the course, I hope to be able to have time to keep up a commentary of the highs and lows of what is sure to be one of the biggest challenges I've ever undertaken! So, why do a PPL? Well, anyone who knows me will tell you that I love flying. I joined the air cadets when I was 13, and enjoyed a flight in a De Havilland Chipmunk (a two seat training aircraft) from RAF Hullavington. I've also had the privilege to experience a day of farm strip flying over the Forest of Dean, a tandem paraglide over the Italian Dolomites and, most recently, a fast jet flight in one of the Hawker Hunters based at Kemble Aerodrome. Flying is something I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember. If I complete the PPL course, I will be qualified to fly single engine piston (SEP) light aeroplanes solo, and will be able to join a club (for example the one at Kemble in Gloucestershire) and hire aircraft on an hourly basis. For most people thinking of doing their PPL, there is a difficult decision to face right at the beginning - do you do the training at home or abroad? Training abroad is often considerably cheaper, and fewer lessons are cancelled due to the weather, but it has the disadvantage that it does not fully prepare you to deal with the changeable UK climate and the differences of UK airspace / procedures. After a lot of thought I opted for a flying school in Florida. Although the course in Florida is approximately half the price you might expect to pay in the UK, money was not the only factor. An intensive course should mean that I don’t have to spend time re-learning things from previous flights.   However, choosing an intensive course presented another potential problem. To do a course as challenging as a PPL in just 21 days is a big ask. Quite apart from the flying, there are seven theory exams to sit. These exams are included in the course in Florida, but all the advice I received suggested it was best to try to do them all before leaving the UK (or at the very least, have done all the studying). So back in April 2004 (seems like such a long time ago now) I started the task of studying for the theory exams. The going was very slow at first, but as I got into it I found that there was a lot of overlap between the subjects. I was very fortunate that Aero School Kemble were happy for me to sit the exams with them, even though I wouldn't be doing my flying training at the school. At this point a big thank you is due to the Chief Flying Instructor Charles Auty, as well as Andrew, Carol, and everyone else at the club! Every one of my visits to the school has been memorable, from driving back along the taxiway after my first visit (to discuss taking the exams) when I had to give way to one of the Hunter jets, to the time when Charlie instructed me in how to taxi one of the club aircraft back to it's hangar! In between visits, there was much hard work though, and on average it took me two months to revise for each exam. I was due to take the final theory exam (Air Navigation & Radio Navigation) yesterday, just before setting off to Florida, but unfortunately it wasn't possible. However, I have completed all of the others, and the subjects and marks to date are as follows:   Air Law and Operational Procedures              12th July 2004                95% Meteorology                                                   9th September 2004      100% Human Performance & Limitations                 23rd September 2004     100% Aircraft (General) and Principles of Flight      22nd October 2004         98% Flight Performance & Planning                       5th November 2004       100% Radiotelephony                                              4th December 2004       100%   At the time of writing this, there are only a couple of days to go before I set off on what I know will be a big adventure. A lot of hard work is behind me, and there are even more challenges to come. Snow is falling outside right now, so it's hard to think of the Florida sunshine. Just like all of the big trips I've done, it seems an unreal prospect until I find myself actually boarding the plane to a new destination. Day Two - 27th February 2005 It’s now 8 am on day two, and this is the first chance I have had to get on the computer at the flying school. Unfortunately the weather has been lousy here ever since we arrived. It's completely overcast with rain. Yesterday (day one) was mainly taken up with admin and form filling. A couple of the other guys also had to go to the local police station to have their finger prints taken under the new Transport Security Administration rules. Fortunately for me, because I enrolled back in May last year the new requirements don't apply to me. While they were away at the police station, I met my instructor, Aaron. I had my first lesson, which was a 'pre-flight briefing' in which we climbed into one of the Cessna 150 aircraft and looked at the cockpit, the instruments and the documentation that has to be aboard for every flight. Next I was shown how to do the pre-flight checks, which mainly involve checking the airframe for signs of damage, making sure that the control surfaces work properly, checking the oil in the engine etc. We also drained some fuel from the sumps in the wings to check for impurities, and then I had to climb up level with the top of the wing to pour the fuel back in the tanks. You are not allowed to throw fuel on the ground here after testing it - there is a 50,000 dollar fine if you do! Finally I was shown how to tie down the aircraft. Later in the afternoon I was due to have a flying lesson, but it was cancelled because the weather was so poor. So instead I sat my final written ground exam, Navigation and Radio Navigation, and I passed with a score of 88%. There was nothing more to do at the school, so Gary (one of my house mates also doing a PPL) and I went to Wal-Mart to stock up on food. In the evening I joined up with some of the other guys from different houses and we went out to a restaurant and then a bar in Ormond Beach. The food was great, and the bar was friendly. They had a live band playing last night, and they were a good act. So that brings me to this morning - I'm back at the school, but it is raining hard and overcast with a low cloud base. The weather forecast for this morning predicted thunderstorms and possibly tornadoes! So much for visiting at the 'best' time of year! We all need the weather to change - and quickly. Day Three - 28th February 2005 It's now 14:55 on day three (28th Feb) and I had my first two lessons today (1.9 hours to be exact). The weather is much better today, which is a good thing because yesterday was a write off. In fact the weather was so bad yesterday that a tornado touched down in Melbourne (just down the coast) and the 120 mph winds severely damaged quite a number of houses. For my first lesson my instructor, Aaron, just told me to go out and do the pre- flight checks on the aircraft. Then, once we were underway, he let me do the taxiing out to the holding point and then we took of on runway 26. It was bumpy today at low level, but we climbed to about 3000 ft, above some scattered clouds, where it was much smoother. He got me to do some shallow turns, and climbs and descents. I was also shown how to trim the aircraft. At one point we were out over the sea. There was a lot of information to take in and I also found that I was more nervous than I expected. Once we were back on the ground Aaron said he was happy with what I had done. I saw from the instructors logsheet that he graded me 'C' for the lesson (they have grades A-D to check your progress, apparently they never give an A, and a D is poor, so a B or a C is good). After the flight I was told to go and watch an instructional video on the basic procedures we had just flown. Almost as soon as I had done that we were ready for the next lesson. The start of the second lesson was a bit more frenetic. Once again, I did the pre-flight checks on my own. I spotted that the oil was approaching the minimum (4 Quarts) and that we had a loose screw on the left wing tip. The aircraft was a bit low on fuel so we had to go to fill it up. Unfortunately, after I filled the tanks and drained the fuel to test it I found a blig glob of water rolling around at the bottom of my fuel tester, so we had to go and get a container and drain lots of it off. Once we got going again, I was asked to do some more taxiing which I made rather a mess of. After take off, we did more turns onto headings, as well as slow flight and stalling (power on and power off). I was also shown a steep turn as well as a negative g dive (first time I've ever experienced a significant amount of negative g). I also had more practice trimming the aircraft and then had to descend and line up with runway. Aaron took the controls back once we were on short final. After we landed I got to taxi the aircraft back and park it. I made a much better job of it that time. At the end of the lesson Aaron said I had done well, and I was pleased to see that he graded the lesson a 'B'. As I write I am waiting to see if I get another lesson today. I am rostered for another one, but it looks unlikely. So I watched the next part of the video on flying training just now. I've also bought myself a knee board at Aarons request. He told me that from about the fourth flight I will be doing the radio calls, so I'm going to have to swot up on my radiotelephony. So there is more than enough to keep me busy, and I just hope that this improved weather is here to stay. Day Four - 1st March 2005 I had my third lesson earlier today. I made my first radio calls, and with Aaron shadowing the controls I did my first take-off! I was much better at trimming the aircraft out this time, but not so great at turning accurately onto the headings. We did more slow flight practice. I also got to stall the aircraft and recover. Aaron also demonstrated a practice engine failure. He asked me to pick a field - all I could see were trees and swamp! I did pick one, but there was a better field that was underneath us and out of view at the time, which Aaron used for the demonstration. Coming back I flew the descent and the turn onto final, and then Aaron said I would be doing as much of the landing as possible with him shadowing. In the event I was on the controls all the way to touch down, but doubtless my instructor was making a good few inputs. It was great, but very bumpy on final which made me a bit nervous. My lesson this afternoon was axed because I had to go and do my FAA medical - too bad they don't do them on Sundays or we could have got them done when it was throwing down with rain. The FAA medical  was very straightforward (no ECG or blood test). To have it done we went to Spruce Creek, which was fascinating. This is a fly-in community where many of the houses have hangars instead of garages and taxiways instead of drives - big money! The doctors surgery was in a hangar with a 1950's Cessna twin parked next to the waiting area. Day Six - 3rd March 2005 The day after the medical (yesterday) was a really tough day for me. I had three lessons, and the first was just awful. I kept messing up the stalls, especially the power on stall because I wasn't keeping the aircraft co-ordinated or doing the proper recovery and it was dropping the left wing violently and going into the first stage of a spin. I badly needed to revise the procedures and was due to have a gap while my housemate Hans went up (he has the same instructor). However, when we got down we found out that Hans had just begun one of the ground exams so I had to go up again immediately. Somewhat predictably I hadn't improved. On the second lesson I also nearly busted the Class C airspace at 1200 ft. When I got down I was really shaken up, and feeling very depressed about the whole situation. My third lesson was late in the afternoon, so I had time to go over the procedures and watch the videos on the ground. I did a bit better on the third lesson, but not much. We also had another unsettling incident. We were cruising at about 2000 ft when there was a creaking noise followed by a cracking sound from the aircraft. We both looked at each other in alarm! Aaron had a good look round and opened the window. He couldn't see anything wrong so we continued. My confidence was rocked a bit though. As the sun set I was tying down the plane and feeling like crap - really knackered and stressed. It was probably one of the hardest days I've ever had. So, last night, I hit the books, memorised the engine failure drill and talked through the procedures with Andy and Simon (both PPLs over here to do 100 hours building) which helped a great deal. First lesson today I did the take-off. The air was very smooth this morning which helped. I started badly again, but thankfully, I improved a lot. Aaron said he was a lot happier with my procedures and stall recovery, so we did some steep turns. He told me that for a 'newbie' my steep turns were very good. The weather deteriorated this afternoon with rain and a cloud base at may be 3500 ft (possibly a bit better). Visibility was not too good. To my great relief I did much better. We also did more steep turns and I made some new radio calls. Aaron has told me that at the moment I am 'ahead of the game' in terms of hours and that we will be doing circuits in the coming lessons. I'm still finding every lesson very stressful, but I'm not nearly as nervous. Who knows, I may even begin to enjoy it again! Day Nine - 6th March 2005 Today I did my first ever solo flight. On the first lesson of the day my instructor got me to do circuits with several different types of landing each time. At the end of that lesson he said he was very pleased because he couldn't find fault with anything I had done. I was amazed when he graded the lesson as an A, and said that was only the second A he had ever given out! For the second (dual to solo) lesson I was quite nervous, but we just did a few touch and goes concentrating on doing normal landings. On one of the landings Aaron told me a dog had just run across the runway, so I did a go-around. I said that I hadn't seen the dog, but he said he had made it up - it was just to check that I would actually go-around without being prompted. We taxiied back to the edge of the ramp, Aaron informed the tower that I was on my first solo and then he told me to go ahead and do one circuit on my own with a full stop landing at the end. When he got out and walked away I was feeling a bit nervous, and it took me a few seconds to get on the radio and request the taxi clearance. Then I was told to stay put and wait for a Sunrise Aviation Cessna to go past before I could move. Then I taxied up to the holding point of Runway 35, did the pre- take off checks and got the clearance to take off. I rotated at 55 kts and then climbed to about 700ft before starting the crosswind turn. Once on the downwind leg at 1000ft I throttled back as usual but soon found I got a little high, I reduced the power because I was worried about inadvertantly getting too close to the Class C airspace of Daytona International which was only about 100ft above me at that point. From then on the circuit went fairly smoothly. I turned a bit too early onto final, but it was not a huge problem. Luckily the air was smooth today which really helped a lot on the final approach. The nose was fairly straight on touch down, although I think I did bounce slightly. When I turned off onto the taxi way and made my call to Ground to taxi back to the ramp the controller said 'good job!'. When I got back to the ramp I even managed to park the aircraft where it should have been too. The only problem I had came when I did the shut down checks. I did the dead-cut check, but when I went to turn the key back to 'BOTH' to keep the engine running, it stuck, and the engine conked out. So, I just pulled the mixture to Idle Cut Off and did the rest of the checklist. Aaron said that was fine when I saw him a few minutes later. So that was my first ever solo. It sure felt strange not to have anyone sitting next to me, but although I was nervous, it wasn't as terrifying as I thought it was going to be. Luckily, the timing of my return was spot on for lunch, so I was able to go and get a decent meal in the golf club. I was due to possibly go flying again today but there are no aircraft available so Aaron said I am done for now. This was actually a real relief to me, as I think I need a bit of time to calm down! The aircraft that I did my first solo flight in - N704MH. Day Eleven - 8th March 2005 The flying is off this morning due to thunderstorms and heavy rain, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to update the diary on what happened yesterday. The day got off to a bad start. When I had left the flying school the day before, the flying schedule had not been posted. Copies also normally get delivered to the house at about 9 pm, but we did not receive one. None of the other guys had a copy. The earliest slot I had ever had previously was 08:10. So yesterday I turned up at 07:00 thinking I would have plenty of time. To my horror, when I got into the school I found I had been booked to fly with my instructor at 06:55. At first I thought it would not necessarily be a drama, because Aaron does not normally arrive until later. So I went straight out and started to pre-flight the aircraft (704MH the same one I went solo in the day before). Unfortunately, ten minutes later I saw Aaron arriving. He asked me if I had overslept or something, but seemed less peeved when I explained that we had not had the flying schedule. Once we got up in the air, my circuits were not particularly good, as I was not correcting for the wind properly. Eventually it started to come together, and Aaron said 'give me one good landing now and the aircraft is yours'. We did a normal landing which went fine, and then Aaron got out once we were back at the ramp. He told me to re-fuel once I landed. After getting my ground clearance, I taxiied out to the active runway, flew one circuit and landed. Fortunately there was not much traffic in the circuit and virtually no turbulence on the final approach. I taxied over to the re-fuelling point, but it took me ages to get the aircraft filled up because there was something wrong with the pump and the fuel was coming out very slowly. I got the aircraft back to the ramp, parked it, and shut everything down. Just as I was getting out, Aaron came over and asked why I wasn't still in the circuit. I was puzzled, as I thought he just wanted me to do one circuit and land. He said that he had wanted me to go solo for an hour doing circuits and landings! It was a genuine mistake, and he didn't seem that bothered because he said we had plenty of time. The second 'Dual to Solo' lesson went much better, and Aaron soon stepped out at the ramp. He told me to keep an eye on the Hobbs meter and do an hour. It was very busy now with traffic, and when I got my clearance to taxi, I found that the runway had just changed to 26. When I got to the holding point, I had to hold short so that a Citation business jet could take off. I was a bit worried about wake turbulence, but there were two aircraft on final to land before I could take off. My first circuit was somewhat traumatic, because I was told to follow a Seminole that went way upwind. I had to go so far out that I nearly became disorientated, but managed to sort everything out by looking at the Direction Indicator. The second circuit and landing went generally OK, although I still found that I was having to go further downwind than I would have liked due to having to follow traffic up ahead. My third landing was a real stinker! The final approach was OK, when I was caught by a gust or turbulence fairly close to the ground. I had to correct that, but then my flare out was not good, and the aircraft bounced as I came down onto the runway. It was a very bumpy landing that left me quite shaken up! I taxied off the runway and did my after-landing checks. It was fortunate that I had done an hour by that point and was heading back to the ramp. That was also me done for the day, which I felt was just as well! Simon and I then went for lunch at the Golf club, which calmed me down somewhat. Simon said I was being a bit hard on myself and he thought I had done OK. As it is rained off this morning (8th March) it looks like we are about to have a briefing on cross-country flying. Day Twelve - 9th March 2005 Today was interesting but quite frustrating. I was booked to do 2 'Dual to Solo' flights and my first Dual Cross Country flight this afternoon. For the first flight, I went up with Aaron and we did a couple of take off and landings, then he got out and I was supposed to go up for an hour. Unfortunately, I got my timing a bit wrong and ended up back at the ramp about 12 minutes early. It was not a big deal though. The flight was also eventful because after one of my landings, the controler told me to 'turn left and expedite my exit from the runway' (it was very busy that day). I read the instruction back (because the usual turn offs are to the right, to go back to the active runway and the instruction seemed odd) and turned left onto the taxiway. Then he asked me where I was going! He then told me to do a 180 on the taxiway and that he would get me back across to the right hand side ASAP. I must have ended up waiting there for about 10 minutes! At least my landings were smoother today. As I was lagging a bit behind in my solo circuit time, on the next flight Aaron told me to go solo in the circuit for 1.6 hours minimum. However, the sky was overcast and he told me to watch out for a change in the weather, including heavy rain. I did a couple of circuits, and towards the end of the second one it was raining lightly. It seemed to improve as I was taxiing to the active runway to take off again, so I thought it would be OK. Then, just as I was holding short at the runway, the heavens opened and at that instant, another aircraft came onto the tower frequency reporting that they could see bad weather moving in. So, I called the tower on the radio and said I would like to terminate the flight. The guy in the tower was very helpful, and told me to taxi down the runway and back to the ramp. By the time I got back to the ramp it was raining very heavily indeed, and all the other students had come in at the same time. So I made the right decision. However, I had only done 0.8 of an hour so, I still have about 48 minutes to do solo in the circuit. We were still hoping to do my first dual cross country flight this afternoon, and Aaron got me to do the navigation plan for it in anticipation, but it was rained off. My instructor has now taken to jokingly calling me 'Slacker' because for whatever reason, I always end up coming back early from my circuit training! Day Thirteen - 10th March 2005 Today I had my first completely solo flight (i.e. solo from the ramp) to get my circuit time finished. It was first thing in the morning. I did 1.1 hours. Then I had a 1.3 hour lesson with Aaron doing the 'introduction to instrument flying exercise' where I had to wear the hood so I could only see the instruments. That went OK. Finally we did the first dual cross country flight, which involved taking off from Ormond, overflying Flagler airfield and then we went to Pierson, which is a grass strip surrounded by trees. Because it was a dual flight, we did two landings on the grass strip. I did the second short-field landing with Aaron shadowing the controls. Then I had to taxi back to the start of the strip and do a short-field take off. Day Fourteen - 11th March 2005 We did the second dual cross country which involved flying to (and landing at) Sanford International Airport! On the way in we overflew a lake which is apparently infested with alligators! We were cleared to land on Runway 27R which is massive, and an airliner had to hold short to let our Cessna 150 touch down. It was an amazing experience going to Sanford but it was rather overwhelming, especially the R/T. Aaron was saying that he thought it was a bit of a pointless exercise for students. Day Fifteen - 12th March 2005 We did the long dual cross country today (which will be my qualifying cross country flight when I get to do it solo). We flew from Ormond Beach, over Palatka airfield and landed at Gainesville. Then we flew to St Augustine via Palatka, and then back to Ormond Beach. It was very windy on this flight, so Aaron did the landings at St. Augustine and Ormond. I did badly on the first leg to Palatka, and was in danger of failing the exercise, but luckily I improved as we went along and at the end of the flight Aaron signed me off to do the solo cross country flights. Day Sixteen - 13th March 2005 I did my first solo cross country today, which was simply the reverse of the first dual. I took off from Ormond, overflew the grass strip at Pierson (you are not allowed to land there solo) then overflew Flagler and landed at Ormond. I really enjoyed the flight, except for the landing at Ormond, because the wind had picked up and it was very gusty. I had to do a flapless landing and there was a fair crosswind. I managed to remember what I had been taught, and touched down on the upwind main wheel. My second solo cross country which was due for today has now been scrubbed due to the increasingly strong winds. I am scheduled to do the two remaining solo cross countrys tomorrow if the weather allows. Day Seventeen - 14th March 2005 Having done my first solo cross-country on the 13th, I was naturally keen to complete the second cross-country today, as well as the vital qualifying cross- country. The qualifying cross country (QXC) flight requires that a student pilot completes a solo flight of at least 150 nautical miles, landing at two other aerodromes enroute. Sadly, neither flight was possible due to bad weather and worse still, this pattern continued for several days.   15th / 16th / 17th March 2005 All of these days were lost to bad weather. Generally from the 14th to the 17th we (myself and the other students at the same stage of training) seemed to slide into a routine of getting up early for our scheduled flying, finding that it was cancelled due to bad weather, but having to wait at the flying school just in case. Every morning we did our navigation calculations for the forecast winds and fuel requirements, only to rub it all out and start again at midday when the new wind forecast was issued. I was starting to become very concerned that I would not finish the course before my flight home. It was no comfort to learn that the current poor weather was very unseasonal and due to the Atlantic jetstream moving further south than usual. Day Twenty One - 18th March 2005 The flying drought was finally broken today, but not in the way that I had expected. There was no daytime flying, but I was scheduled to fly the 3 hours of dual instruction for the Night Qualification in the evening. With the bad weather and the pace of the instruction so far, I had almost forgotten that the Night Qualification was included in my course. I soon learnt that not only would I be flying at night, but with a different instructor too – Tony. I was slightly apprehensive about having a new instructor, but I also thought it might provide a new perspective. Carrying out the pre-flight inspection by torch-light was certainly novel, as was adjusting to the dim red cabin lighting of the Cessna 150. If I recall correctly, the lesson started with some circuits at Ormond Beach, to get me accustomed to flying at night. The strangest thing was turning away from the coastal strip that was brightly illuminated with streets and buildings, towards the swamp and forest out to the west where the darkness was almost total. The beam from our landing light shone out but was swallowed by the night sky. Tony warned me to be careful not to become disorientated in this kind of situation. Perhaps this is what it is like to be a moth, I thought to myself. After a series of circuits I was pleased and relieved when Tony said ‘Well, I’m not worried about your landings at all’. After that we moved on to Flagler airfield to practice joining the surprisingly busy circuit and some more landings, followed by a navigation exercise up the coast to St. Augustine. During this part of the flight I had first hand experience of a common nighttime optical illusion. I saw a bright white light out to sea that appeared to be moving towards us. It was actually a stationary boat; the apparent movement was a false impression. Returning to the Ormond Beach area, we entered the airspace of Daytona International airport and were given permission for a ‘touch and go’. As we overflew Daytona, Tony asked me to point to the airport. It was unexpectedly very difficult to pick out among the lights of the town. I couldn’t believe that an International Airport was so hard to spot, but I was told that most people have the same problem. Once we had landed back at Ormond Beach, Tony said that the lesson had gone well and he was happy to sign me off to do my solo night flying. I had really enjoyed the night lesson; the views of the lights of Daytona, Ormond Beach and the coastal strip north to St Augustine had been fantastic. My only concern was that the red internal lighting did not pick out the Airspeed Indicator very well, which made the circuits and landings difficult (and rather unnerving for a student!) I resolved to try to fix this somehow for my solo night flight. Now that the weather seemed to have taken a turn for the better, I wondered what the next day would bring.   Day Twenty Two - 19th March 2005 I left the bungalow in the morning with some trepidation, as the sky was overcast again. Fortunately, the conditions were good enough to be signed off to do my second solo cross-country flight that morning. I had been allocated N704ZW for this trip, but when I did the pre-flight inspection and lowered the flaps they seemed a bit sluggish, although it may have been my imagination. However, when I came to start the engine, there was hardly enough power to crank the propellor. The battery was flat, and Zulu Whiskey was pushed unceremoniously into the maintenance hangar. It was really bad luck. I was running out of flying days fast. My 21 day PPL course had technically finished, but due to the bad weather I was now relying on the two ‘days off’ that I had allowed myself to look around Florida before flying home. Now, I had just wasted 40 minutes preflighting an aircraft with a dud battery and it was uncertain if I would have a replacement. Fortunately, fate (or rather Bill the flying instructor) smiled on me and I was given N704FE for the flight up to St. Augustine and back. Without further ado I set about doing the pre-flight inspection and got underway. The flying conditions today were very different to anything I had seen (whilst airborne) so far in Florida, the sky was overcast with a fairly low cloud base, and the visibility was more restricted. Although the weather was safe and legal, it initially unnerved me because I had been used to blue skies and a slight haze at worst. Ormond Beach soon disappeared behind me, and I was flying up the intercoastal waterway with its series of inlets and mud flats, looking at the foaming crests of the waves breaking on the long golden sands of the coastline. Flying up the Florida coast to St. Augustine. After being instructed to join left base for runway 31 (over the coastal salt swamps that are, I was told, home to many alligators with big pointy teeth), I landed at St. Augustine. The trip back to Ormond Beach was a pleasant flight in rapidly improving weather. It was looking good for the QXC in the afternoon. After lunch, I was re-united with N704ZW, which now had a fresh battery and was ready for my QXC. The pre-flight inspection revealed that I needed to refuel and that is where my problems began. When I got to the fuel pumps, there was a light aircraft ahead of me in the queue in the process of re-fuelling. I had seen the pilot earlier in the office – he was visiting Ormond Beach. Unfortunately, after he had refuelled he decided to take a call on his mobile phone – a lengthy one. He did this whilst standing right next to the fuel pump. Of course, his aircraft was still parked at the pump so I just had to wait. When he finished his call he must have seen me pacing up and down and said he would be out of the way in a minute. I actually wasn’t too concerned and was just a bit stressed because of the flight ahead. Also, I thought it best not to upset one of the locals. However, more delays followed. He got into the aircraft, but couldn’t close the door properly. Then he did his start up checks, and started the engine but must have realised (at the same time that I suddenly did) that he had left the refuelling hose blocking the path of his nosewheel. So, he had to shut down the engine, get out, move the hose etc. Then came further problems shutting the door! I recall that I lost more than half an hour with this delay and the refuelling.   Finally, with suitably full fuel tanks, I took off from Ormond Beach, heading for Palatka. It wasn’t long before I could see the cooling towers that are just outside the town (I heard various explanations as to what this landmark was, ranging from a nuclear power plant to a waste incinerator). As I neared Palatka, I encountered an unexpected problem. I had requested ‘flight following’ from Jacksonville Approach and they gave me a squawk code to set on my transponder. I read the squawk code back to them, and all seemed to be well. However, it soon became obvious that they had not heard my response. I tried to read it back again, but Jacksonville could not hear me and said: ‘704ZW squawk 1200, radar service terminated, proceed enroute’. It appeared that my radio could either not transmit or at least was not being received by Jacksonville. This was not yet a big problem, as I was not obliged to talk to anybody on this particular route (other than the airfields I was to land at). It did cause one moment of concern though. One of the other students, Neil, was doing the exact same route as me for his QXC. He had gone out to his Piper Warrior at the same time that I started up my Cessna 150. He had not had any refuelling delays and the Warrior cruised faster than the Cessna. The result was that after I overflew Palatka and was looking for my next waypoint (a grass strip that was difficult to spot), he was en-route from Gainesville to St. Augustine on a reciprocal track. I was still monitoring Jacksonville and heard them notify Neil of ‘unknown traffic’ (me!) and my level (I had Mode C selected on the transponder). The strange thing was that although I could hear Jacksonville, I could not hear Neil’s responses. I kept a very good look out, and sure enough I soon spotted him and watched as he passed by harmlessly at a lower level and to my left.   I was relieved when I spoke to Gainesville and it became apparent that my radio was working fine. The landing at Gainesville was uneventful, and I was marshalled into a parking space near the University building where my all- important paperwork was stamped. Soon I was airborne again, retracing my journey back to the Palatka overhead, and crossing the wide, blue waters of the St. Johns River. It wasn’t long before I could make out the hangars at St. Augustine and the sea beyond. Crossing the St. John’s River. After landing at St. Augustine, I got the second stamp on my paperwork and got back in the aircraft for the final leg back to Ormond Beach. I had a scare when I could not find the aircraft key. It wasn’t in my pockets, on the adjustment knob for the altimeter, on the coaming or under the seats. Just as I was starting to get rather worried, I found the keys in my back pocket! Having left St. Augustine I was on the home straight, and a familiar route. The weather was much better than it had been this morning. My QXC seemed to have taken an eternity and I was relieved when I saw the Tomoka Basin come into view, and then Ormond Beach airport. At last I pulled up outside the flying school and shut down. My QXC was finished! Me, flying N704ZW. As darkness fell, I was back at the flying school for my 2 hour solo night flight, to complete the Night Qualification. I was apprehensive about flying solo at night, but at least I found a solution to the problem of not being able to read the ASI. I had a small torch with a red filter, purchased from the local Wal Mart. I found that by wedging this torch in the pocket of my kneeboard it shone directly onto the airspeed indicator – result! Fortunately, there were no problems with the aircraft when I did the pre-flight inspection.   Unexpectedly, I really quite enjoyed the solo night flight. I did circuits at both Ormond Beach and Flagler and savoured the great views of the lights of the coast. It could not have been a better night weather wise, with a clear starry sky and not a breath of wind. At the back of my mind though was always the concern about where I would head for in the event of an engine failure. Tony had advised that a beach, a highway, or even a very large car park were the best options, but none sounded like a good prospect in the dark. The other worry was the trees on the final approach to the runway at Ormond. Tony instructed me to always come in a little high. My approach to the final landing of the flight was more than a little high, but it was fine. After I had walked back to the accommodation and had something to eat and drink it was late, and I was shattered!   Day Twenty Three - 20th March 2005 Today I had a skills test preparation lesson with another instructor – Steve, which was really useful. I had explained the difficulty I had earlier in the course getting to grips with stalling, so during our lesson we did quite a bit of practice on these exercises. At the power-on stall he kicked the rudder to cause a wing drop, but I recovered it OK and he said I had done fine. That helped my confidence a lot. Day Twenty Four - 21st March 2005 Not only was this the day I was due to fly home, but it was also the day of my skills test! When we had lost so many days to the bad weather I had pretty much given up hoping that I would make it to this point whilst in Florida. Even now, my main concern was leaving for the airport on time at around mid-day, rather than the test itself. Also, if I am completely honest, the hectic pace of regaining the lost ground had eroded my enthusiasm and enjoyment. I also don’t like doing things at the last minute. I had made up my mind to look at the skills test as another lesson with an instructor, nothing more. I actually think that this attitude helped me a great deal.   I had been told to be at the flying school very early in the morning. I had only had time to pack half of my belongings for the flight home. It was still dark when I set off on the walk to the airport, and when I arrived the school was locked and deserted. I began to worry that nobody would turn up until later, but suddenly Bill appeared, and without delay he set me the flight planning part of the skills test. I found it hard working against the clock, but I finished in time. When I saw the aircraft I had been allocated, my heart sank – it was the school’s Cessna 150 Aerobat. I had not yet flown it, and the other students and hour builders didn’t have too many kind words for it. They said the extra strengthening of the airframe made it heavy and a poor performer, but the main gripe was that the flap indicator was mounted inside the forward part of the doorframe, making it difficult to see. As it was, I needn’t have worried. When Ken (my examiner) arrived and we got underway, I didn’t notice too much difference in the flying characteristics. We flew part of the route that I had planned earlier, out past Deland. I wasn’t too nervous and my navigation was ok. Then Ken diverted me off the route back towards an airfield on the coast (New Smyrna Beach). I made a good estimate of the bearing and distance to go, which turned out to be almost spot on when measured from the chart. The airfield was quite difficult to spot at first, but I was identifying other features that we passed so I knew we were on track. After successfully reaching the airfield’s overhead and flying out over a less inhabited area, we did the handling exercises. I was most worried about the stalls, but these went well. Now I started to get a little nervous, because I began to think that I might well pass, as long as I didn’t make any really bad foul ups. By this stage there were just some circuits to do back at Ormond between me and the licence!   Ormond was soon in sight and the circuits began. The flap indicator proved less of a problem than feared. I could actually see it travelling up and down in the doorframe, probably because I am not very tall and have to have the seat all the way forward. The landings all went well, including the glide in from the downwind leg. I think the last was a flapless landing, and I was glad when Ken told me it would be the full stop.   Back on the taxi-way and just after the post-landing checks, Ken announced that I had passed the skills test! He asked me to taxi to the pumps and re-fuel, where he got out and walked the short distance back to the school. I think that the taxi and re-fuel was perhaps the most nerve jangling part, because I was so pleased to have passed that I made myself concentrate extra hard in case I made a stupid mistake! After filling the tanks, I pulled up outside the school, parked the aircraft and shut down for the final time in Florida.   All the other students congratulated me, although it hadn’t really sunk in yet. I was very pleased to have passed, but I didn’t want to celebrate too much because I knew that many of them were struggling to complete the course because of all the bad weather we had had, so it didn’t seem right. I waited quietly in the bar area until Ken had finished all my paperwork. Then I said my goodbyes, was given a hurried lift back to the house (thanks to Ian) and just had time to throw the rest of my belongings together.   It wasn’t until I was waiting for the taxi outside the front door of the accommodation with my bags that it really dawned on me that I had passed and I was going home. I hadn’t realised how tired I had been either – I slept all the way to Orlando in the taxi, and I was fast asleep for most of the flights home to the UK!   When I got back, I made back up photocopies of my logbook and all the paperwork and posted all the originals off to the CAA. I think it was a couple of weeks later before the package landed on my doormat containing my shiny new licence.   So, that was how I eventually got my Private Pilots Licence in Florida. At this point I would like to thank all at Ormond Beach Aviation for really pulling out all the stops to help me and ensuring that I got the flying done despite the unseasonal weather.
Cessna 150 N704MH at Ormond Beach Municipal Airport. Flying up the Florida coast to St. Augustine. Flying over the St. John's River, Florida Rowan Castle flying Cessna 150 N704ZW over Florida, USA.