Justin Grey takes a trip up Bankstown Airport’s lane of entry while adding the final revision touches to his skills prior to having a crack at the long-awaited General Flying Progress Test (GFPT).

It’s January 25 and I arrive at Bankstown Airport’s Schofields Flying Club for my first flying lesson for the New Year. The hours have been gradually adding up in my logbook and friends and family are increasingly beginning to ask if I’ve, “got my pilot licence yet”, to which I still frustratingly have to reply “not yet”. But it’s with a reinvigorated sense of purpose that I return to Bankstown with hopes of making solid progress from the get-go in 2011.

As I greet my brave instructor, Schofield’s CFI/CP Bill Cooper, he proposes that for a welcome change today we head north up the Bankstown lane of entry and beyond instead of merely buzzing around the training area as per usual. Naturally this suited me to a tee and we saddle up in Piper Warrior VH-SFM and head for Runway 29R.

After going through the usual procedure of listening to the ATIS, doing the engine run-up checks and making the radio calls, we roll onto the centreline, bump the throttle to full power and sprint down 29R for a crosswind departure.

Turning onto crosswind, I climb our Warrior to 1000 feet and level off and maintain that altitude until we cross the train tracks that mark the three mile point at the edge Bankstown’s control zone. Once out of the control zone we again climb, this time to 1900ft as Bill advises to keep at least a 100ft buffer between us and the maximum permissible altitude at any given time.

As we set a heading to track towards Parramatta in Sydney’s west, where the Bankstown lane of entry starts, I get an aerial view of the suburb I live in and I swear I can almost spot my tatty VS Commodore parked in the car park adjacent to the train station.

As we continue to track north up the lane of entry over Pennant Hills, Hornsby, Berowra and beyond, Bill goes to great lengths to point out and make sure I identify the various reference features and beacons commonly used as navigational guides by pilots flying this route. There’s a T-shaped building here, a covered reservoir there, a railway shed, and that very conveniently located train track that traces a route more or less directly under the lane of entry.

As we track on a heading that fluctuates every so slightly between 020° and 030°, Bill explains the importance of accurately maintaining the correct heading in these parts and being sure to sight those reference features as the YSBK lane of entry can be quite narrow and part of it is bordered by military airspace at Richmond on one side. And Bill actually explains that it used to be even narrower, but pilots kept on inadvertently infringing on Richmond’s airspace upon their return to Bankstown, which forced it to be widened.

Somewhat incongruously for Sydney of late, conditions are stellar today and it’s an absolute joy flying this, for want of a better term, ‘pre-GFPT mini-Navex’. Of course, there isn’t all that much actual navigating involved, and the little that there is is made sizeably easier due to Bill having loaded our route into the GPS, which helps by giving me a clear, straight magenta line on the screen to follow. All I’ve got to do is guide the little aircraft icon along the line, which is great, and I make a mental note to try and figure out how to work the GPS in the near future.

As we come up on the Brooklyn Bridge over the Hawkesbury River and Patonga, which marks the northern end of the lane of entry, Bill suggests we make a day of it, so we continue on the same heading and in turn fly over Woy Woy, Gosford and Wyong.
As we approach Tuggerah Lake at Wyong, Bill inputs ‘392’, the NDB code for Calga to the southwest of Wyong, into the ADF and instructs me to make a gradual left turn until the little yellow ADF needle is pointing directly to the north and track towards it to head for home. As we re-enter the lane of entry on a 210° heading, Bill instructs me to keep an eye out in the distance off to the left of the nose for the flashing beacon at Berowra, and then the next beacon at Round Corner.

Within tolerance
As we work our way back down the lane of entry I’m doing what I consider a decent job of flying “within tolerance”, as Bill has previously drilled into me, for the most part. I’m within 100ft +/- of Bill’s requested altitude of 2300ft, and given that there’s that pesky military airspace off the right that I’d dearly not like to bust, I’m watching the directional gyro like a hawk with OCD to ensure I’m staying within +/- 10° of the instructed 210° heading.

However – and Bill informs me that this is a common mistake and I’m not the only one committing it – I’m finding that often when I’m examining the visual terminal chart (VTC) splayed out on my lap to better orient myself I have a tendency to unwittingly pull back on the control column. This means that by the time I’m done with my map-reading duties the aircraft has gained 150-odd feet on the sly and now that whole idea of tolerance has gone out the window.

Tracking beyond Berowra, we’re directly on a collision course with a decently wide wispy film of white cloud, so Bill instructs me to descend to and maintain 2000ft to duck under it.

Circuit re-joining blues
As we re-enter Bankstown’s control zone via Prospect Reservoir, our chosen inbound reporting point, all is set to smoothly re-join the circuit on downwind for Runway 29R and make a nice, accurate journey down through the base and final legs. I’d previously confessed to Bill my woes regarding my lack of ability to fly an accurate circuit upon returning from the training area, and he sat me down and devoted a non-too-modest chunk of his time to schooling me on how to set the aircraft up for a “stabilised approach”.

His instructions included such wise pointers as making the “joining downwind” radio call and doing the pre-landing checks as soon as possible, within reason of course, and bringing the throttle back to around 1800RPM to reduce height and speed and settle on a steady sink rate of between 600-800ft for downwind and base.

As we near the Bankstown ATC tower, I’m ready to kick into action to ensure I’m on the above described stabilised approach and ahead of the aircraft. I’ve got my thumb primed and ready to pounce on the push-to-talk button to make the radio call, but as luck would have it just as I’m about to do so the frequency lights up with a continuous stream of radio chatter between ATC and other pilots and I’m forced to wait. By the time I finally get my turn on the airwaves we’re not far off mid-downwind – clearly behind the eight ball, which inevitably bites me in the arse.

Having to wait until gaining clearance from the tower to descend to circuit height, I only just manage to bring the aircraft back to 1000ft by the end of our downwind leg. A quick flick of my noggin over my right shoulder tells me we’ve already passed the 45° position that marks the point to set the aircraft up for the approach and turn onto base.

Figuring I’d best get this show on the road, in haste I flick the carby heat on, wrench the throttle back to 1600RPM, yank on two stages of flap and roll into the turn onto base as per usual. As I snatch up the flap handle I notice it’s a bit more stubborn than usual and I have to use a little more elbow grease to force it into position – the reason for which, as Bill coldly and immediately informs me, is I’ve just pulled on flap before the airspeed had come back to within the acceptable white arc on the ASI. Instead of being at or below the maximum flap speed for the Warrior of 100 knots, we were at around 108 knots – bugger!

Bill’s reaction, or lack thereof, is eerily calm. Usually he’s pretty animated in his admonishing when I screw up, but this time he unnervingly just stares at me and deadpans, “You pulled the flap before the white arc”. Nonetheless, I still felt like a muppet, particularly as we land – with no further calamities, praise the Lord – and Bill warns me of just what can happen to the aircraft in such circumstances.

Once more, with feeling
Following yet another revision lesson towards the end of March, Bill sits me down in his office and I watch as, via the CASA website, he books my GFPT test for Tuesday March 29 the following week. Excited yet a little nervous that the date has finally been set and is just around the corner, I devote extra time over the coming week to re-reading my PA-28 Cherokee Pilot Operating Handbook, my Bob Tait BAK theory text book as well as all the notes I’ve jotted down in recent weeks to ensure I’m ready come the big day.

I awake that morning actually feeling rather confident, and on the drive out to Bankstown Airport I’m actually already sketching out in my head how I’ll describe my passing of the GFPT in this very column. However, as Bill emerges from his office he informs me that he’s actually booked the test for the following week, and the morning turns into something of a non-event.

Nonetheless, with the weather fine but forecast to get mucky after midday Bill says we’ll instead go for another quick run up the Bankstown lane of entry and back, followed by a solo flight out to the training area. Given that I haven’t actually done any since my training area solo six months ago, I’m very much in need of some more solo flying to get my confidence up.

We jump in VH-SFA and more or less retrace the flight mentioned at the top of this feature. With the weather having fouled up a bit earlier than anticipated, as we track over Pennant Hills towards Prospect Reservoir Bill pulls the pin on the training area solo flight idea and instead instructs me to track back to the YSBK control zone and request two circuits when I make my inbound radio call to ATC.

I join the circuit on downwind for Runway 29R and fly an uneventful circuit. But as I land the aircraft, retract the flaps and start pushing the throttle back to full power for another circuit Bill hits the roof. “No, no, no,” he suddenly yells while grabbing the throttle from my hand and returning it to low power, “you didn’t request circuits, so that’s that”. And it’s then I realise that I’d completely forgotten to do so – my embarrassment was palpable. As with the incident I described earlier about pulling up two stages of flap on late downwind before letting the airspeed decay to the white arc, it’s amazing how easily important actions are forgotten, even when things are seemingly going according to plan.

With my face still furiously red with embarrassment, we park the aircraft, shut down and for some reason Bill decides to conduct the debrief right there in the cockpit. I would’ve thought he’d be itching to get out after what I’d put him through.

Back in the Schoies’ clubhouse, perhaps to get a jump on next week, Bill puts me through the ground component of the GFPT – a quick half dozen theory questions that are normally asked on the day a student does their GFPT. With a little prodding from Bill, I verbally answer his questions regarding PA-28 airspeeds, the limitations of the GFPT, how to refuel the aircraft safely, how to react when the engine starts running rough in flight and so on to an acceptable standard.

That was a few days prior to this issue of Australian Flying going to the printers, so here’s hoping that by the time you read this I’ll have the rest of the GFPT in the can.

Subscribe to Australian Flying to read more.

comments powered by Disqus