Back in the Hot Seat
Completing a navigation exercise after time away from the cockpit can be a daunting task, especially when the student needs to deal with a diversion and forced landing along the way. Derek Royal joined student Husain Abdul and instructor Chris Koort on a navigation exercise and came away impressed by the experience.
Student pilot Husain Abdul sits in a briefing room at Schofields Flying Club, studying flight plans, weather and NOTAMS for the day’s mission. As part of his CPL training, the 20-year-old from Bahrain is preparing for a dual navigation exercise with his instructor, Chris Koort; an exercise that will take them from Bankstown to Mudgee on the NSW north coast; then from Mudgee to Bathurst in the state’s west. Husain will then fly the final “home” leg across the Blue Mountains to Bankstown.
Husain has logged eighty hours’ flying time, including a few cross-country flights, but because he hasn’t flown for a couple of months, he realises the need to be extra diligent with his preparation. He goes through his flight plan with Chris and the duo discuss the flight in serious detail before he submits the completed document through the club’s computer system.
Paperwork completed, Husain walks to the flightline and pre-flights Foxtrot Tango Uniform, a Piper Warrior he has flown before. Walk-around done, Husain, Chris and yours truly climb into the aircraft and prepare for a departure to the north. Husain’s flightplan includes waypoints at Richmond and Kandos and because the Richmond Air Force Base is within controlled airspace (CTA) he requires an airways clearance before he can depart. As he waits for the green light, the 20-year-old student delivers a concise safety brief and after a short wait, the clearance is granted and Husain is cleared to takeoff. He manoeuvres the aircraft onto Runway 11 Left, eases the throttle forward and in seconds has Foxtrot Tango Uniform hurtling down the bitumen. At 60 knots Husain draws back the control column and raises the nose. In no time at all, the aeroplane is airborne, heading towards Richmond.
Husain has planned to cruise at 7,500 feet but because of the extra weight in the aircraft (me), the Warrior is slow in the climb so he radios a request to amend his planned altitude to 5,500 feet. The request is approved.
Chris watches his student carefully and puts him on the spot by asking him to locate Richmond. Husain doesn’t bat an eyelid and obliges before continuing on his heading of 319. Chris is impressed. Husain calculates that Mudgee is another 27 minutes away and, on track and meeting his estimates at each waypoint, he steers the Warrior towards the small township of Kandos.
After almost an hour in the air, Husain has Kandos in his sights; Mudgee is just a short hop away. But before he can completely relax, Chris throws him a curveball. “OK, let’s pretend the weather is closing in and we need to do a diversion,” Chris says. “We’re not going to Mudgee now … when we reach Kandos I want you to divert to Bathurst.”
Unfazed, Husain offers a wry smile and immediately gets to work. He draws a straight line on his map, connecting Kandos to Bathurst. The distance between the two towns is around 40 nautical miles and he uses his whizz wheel to calculate time, track, heading and distance. After a quick orientation, he points the Warrior’s nose on a heading of 180.
Husain has adapted to the diversion well and as we cruise towards Bathurst, Chris explains his passion for flying.
“I find flying such an amazing concept that you can hop onto an aeroplane and be on the other side of the world in just hours,” he says. “Every time I see an aeroplane take-off, I think to myself wow, how does that thing fly and become airborne with all the weight and passengers? I understand the concept of flight but it still blows my mind.”
As a youngster, Chris and his dad often watched planes take off and land at Sydney Airport. “I remember going home and flying my model aeroplanes and pretending I was the captain talking to air traffic control,” he says. “It would be funny to go back now and listen to what I was saying.
“Due to his work, my father travelled a lot. On his way home from duty free he used to bring me all sorts of model aeroplanes. This is when my fascination and obsession began. I used to think that one day it will be me flying. Now I’m just that one step closer to my dream.”
Chris’s ultimate goal is to work for a major airline as a check and training captain. “I like the culture, the lifestyle of travelling and the challenge of commanding a jet with up to 500 passengers,” he says. “The reason for becoming a check and training captain is that I like to teach, pass my knowledge onto others and to test people.”
Chris joined Schofields earlier this year as a Grade 3 instructor and he has accumulated around 620 hours. The next step in his career is to become a Grade 2 instructor with multi-engine approval.
“Being able to teach my students how to fly and seeing them successfully achieving their goals is the most satisfying part of the job,” he says. “Just being able to see their smiles, happiness and body language coming back from a first solo or a flight test is a priceless moment. Any success my students achieve is a success for me and this is the most satisfying part of my job.”
Reaching top of descent around 10 miles to the northeast of Bathurst, Husain makes a radio call, advising all traffic in the area of his location and that he’s inbound for a “full stop” landing on Runway 17. A Regional Express Airlines Saab 340 is on long finals so Foxtrot Tango Uniform will be Number 2 in the circuit. As the airliner touches down, Husain completes his BUMFISCH checks on downwind. “Brakes off, undercarriage down … mixture is rich,” he starts. “Fuel pump is on … temperatures and pressures are in the green … switches are on … carby heat is on and hatches and harnesses are secure.” He then turns onto base and in a moment is on short finals, where he uses flap to slow the aircraft down.
With a light westerly blowing, Husain brings the Warrior onto the bitumen without a hitch and taxis to a parking area near the terminal. He then shuts down the engine and lets out a contented sigh before alighting from the aircraft.
As we stretch our legs, Chris compliments Husain on his efforts and encourages him to start focusing on the return leg to Bankstown.
Husain does a quick pre-flight of the Warrior before settling back into the left-hand seat. He makes a radio call to announce his intentions and with the runway clear, manoeuvres the aircraft down the strip and into the sky. He completes the relevant checks, takes a heading of 070 and climbs to 6,500 feet. Climb performance has improved because of fuel burn and before too long Husain locates the small township of Lithgow, which is just a few miles to the north. But while he has located Lithgow, Husain realises he is slightly off-track and makes a correction. Chris nods his head in approval and voices a “well done”.
Husain then locates Katoomba – his top of descent point – and listens to the ATIS as he overflies Sydney’s outer western suburbs. He looks in the distance and tells Chris he has located Prospect Reservoir, where he is required to make an inbound radio call to Bankstown Tower. Chris challenges him and asks: “Are you sure that’s Prospect? Husain responds in the affirmative. “But how do you know?” Chris asks. “Don’t guess, I want you to look for ground features. Would you put a million dollars on that location being Prospect?” Husain pauses for a moment and thinks … Realising he’s not 100 per cent certain, he uses map to ground references to confirm his hunch. “Good,” Chris says. “I don’t want you guessing. You need to use map and ground references to determine exactly where you are at all times. Well, done, you just saved yourself a million dollars.”
Feeling pleased with himself, Husain continues towards Bankstown and just as he’s becoming comfortable, Chris throws yet another spanner in the works. “OK, engine failure,” he announces as he pulls back the throttle. “I want you to find a paddock where, in the event of a forced landing we could land safely. I want you to go to around 800 feet off the ground. And then we’ll head for home.” Husain goes through the appropriate checks for an engine failure and selects a field in which to land. He then glides the Warrior to within 800 feet of the ground and while he has completed the task well, Chris asks him why he didn’t use flap. “You should have used flap Husain, that’s one of the keys to making a forced landing. You need to be flying a slow, safe airspeed. Other than that, well done; let’s head for Bankstown.”
After touching down on Runway 11 Left, Husain is feeling good. On this mission he has successfully negotiated a diversion and a forced landing and has managed to get his passengers home safely without any drama.
After tying down the aircraft on the flightline, Chris delivers a de-brief at Schofields. He then tells me how he rated his student’s performance.
“First of all, Husain hadn’t flown for two months and this reflected in certain aspects of his performance for the first half of the flight,” Chris says. “However, Husain managed to take on the challenges I set and most of the time was able to execute these tasks. There were some small points such as checklist use which was done poorly and radio calls which needed my full assistance, but overall the nav was a good learning exercise and I am looking forward to see how Husain goes on the next flight were I will simulate I am a passenger. I believe he will achieve this as long as he does his homework and considers the points to improve and points he did well.
“Overall, after he got into his comfort zone and with me teaching him new concepts of navigation, his performance increased exponentially. I would give him a seven out of 10 on the Nav, general handling I would give him an eight out of 10; airmanship a six out of 10 and execution seven out of 10.”
Overall, a decent performance on a challenging nav. Under Chris Koort’s guidance it appears Husain Abdul is well on his way to achieving his CPL.