Tuesday, 4 July 2017

How many Hours to complete or Why so long?

It took me 80 hours of flying time before I was ready to take and pass my flight test. Most students go into the program looking at the minimum requirements of 25 hours for RPL and 45 hours for PPL and they estimate their budgets based on these minimums. The word that misses most of us is that these are the prescribed "mandatory" minimums. The reality is that it is probably going to take you a good deal longer that this minimum for your licence. Heck, at 80 hours, I had even exceeded the requirements for the PPL!

So what follows in this post are some of the reasons it took so long (for me) and some ideas on how students and instructors can reduce the number of dual flight hours and bring costs down. After all the more money you save, the more flights you can take!

First off, let not the number of hours you take, make you feel inferior (or otherwise) as a pilot. It often has nothing to do with how good a pilot you are going to become. That is more a function of whether you have the attitude and the outlook to stay the course and keep learning, keep improving.

That being said, here are some reasons it took me longer than perhaps it should have, or longer than it took some other students in my flight school. By listing these reasons, I hope the solutions to them will become obvious.

Frequency: I was unable to take lessons at a regular schedule. Often, my work would require travel away from home, with a result that I would sometimes go one to three months between flight lessons. I began at a steady frequency of two flights a week, and then a combination of weather related cancellations, work travel, and other reasons made my schedule sporadic and irregular. This contributed to a number of flights spent in recalling previous exercises and getting back into practice.

Learning style: Perhaps I couldn't change my learning style but I could work with my instructor in a way that suits my learning style. I discovered this quite late in the learning process simply because the first few lessons went by so quickly and easily. Up until the circuit, I didn't really experience any trouble. The circuit was a different story altogether. So many things were being thrown at me at one time that I would often fall behind the aircraft; The pattern, the radio calls, downwind checks, turning base at the right time, configuring the aircraft for normal landing, lining up, airspeed checks, flaring and touch down. I believe I focussed too much on getting the touchdown right (for which you get a mere 10 seconds or so in each circuit) that I wasn't doing all the other things that made for a good landing. My instructor then started breaking things down into manageable chunks, getting the pattern right and radio calls in a couple of flights, mastering the approach over the next few, and the touch down was surprisingly not too far behind! Even after I could make a reasonably good landing, I very often touched down with a bit of side loading. After several hours of couch-flying, some video-recorded landings, and many you-tube views later, I found I was focussing on the nose for too long after the flare. I asked my instructor to yell at me "eyes to the end" at every flare, and that helped me a lot with my rudder work.

Solo practice: After I finally did my first solo, I restricted my solo flights to the bare minimum mandatory requirements. Each individual's situation will of course be different, but for me, this delayed my readiness for the flight test. Once I realized I needed more practice, I got in a few more solo hours and this contributed immensely to my readiness and confidence for the flight test.

These then above are the contributing factors that made it longer for me to get my licence than I would have liked. Student pilots would do well to work with their instructor to identify learning styles and other factors that might influence their learning path before the flight test.

After-thought: In conclusion I would also like to comment on lesson plans as a contributing factor. I'm not sure if lesson plans can be changed or if they are prescribed and are set in stone, but I believe it would have helped immensely if I could have learned the approach-look and practiced the approach, from the first few lessons. In fact I have found that the single-most important part of the landing (for me at least) is getting the approach right. Before you go into the circuit, you spend quite a few lessons going out into the training area and then coming back in at the end of the lesson, where your instructor does the approach and landing. I believe those times could be used to give the student a sense of the circuit pattern, and especially the turn to base, configuring the aircraft for landing, and flying a stable approach, while the instructor does the actual landing.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

To PPL or to RPL - that is the question

A big question many budding aviators would face is whether to opt for the Recreational Pilot Permit or the Private Pilot Licence; each of which has its advantages and sacrifices. Having faced that very question myself and vacillated between the two at various points in my training, I thought I'd write about my experience with the RPL and how it differs from the PPL in practical terms in the hope that it will contribute to an informed decision for some of you. Keep in mind that what follows is written in the context of the Canadian regulations and other countries may differ.

So here are some of the apparent differences and what they really transpired to be:

Number of hours required: RPL requires 25 hours flying (some solo) and PPL requires 45 hours (some solo). Is it possible to complete them in these times? Technically yes, but I've been told that hardly anyone does. Many of those who do come close to those numbers, usually have a family member who flies and have been around aircraft a lot (or so I've been told). And of course some may be unusually gifted pilots! A friend I know took 120 hours for his PPL and I took 80 hours for my RPL (neither of us will see 45 years again so that could be a factor!)

No Ground school required for RPL: The truth is that you still have to pass a written exam for RPL which contains less questions but the same topics as the PPL. It might have been different earlier, but as of 2016, the RPL written test includes all the topics that the PPL has although the questions may be a bit less severe - I don't know. Navigation is included. You may find material on the Internet that excludes Navigation but as of 2016 it is definitely a part of the exam for RPL. Which means knowing how to use an E6B as well. Should you go to ground school then anyway? It depends on whether you can study the material on your own. I have a background in science studies, so some of the calculations were not new to me and that helped a lot. Ask your instructor or flying school to recommend a good book. I studied from Sandy MacDonald's "From the Ground Up" and a book by Michael Culhane that I could borrow.

No solo cross-country flight required for RPL: That is correct but a minimum of two hours of cross-country flight are required - they just don't have to be solo. This means learning about navigation and filing flight plans.

Tolerances and the flight test: Tolerances for the RPL are a bit less exacting than for the PPL but as of 2016 many have been tightened up to be close to or the same as the PPL. For example the test exercise slow flight has the same (or almost) as PPL standards with specified heading control. Transport Canada publishes the flight test guide for various permits which you can download and view. Try and take a look at the PDF version as well as the HTML version because these are constantly being updated and sometimes one version has the latest standards before the other.

There are some maneuvers that RPL pilots are not expected to do on the flight test but PPL pilots are. Navigation is one of them, Steep turns are another. Take a look at the flight test guide to see exactly which ones differ from the RPL and PPL.

Instrument flying is not required for RPL: PPL pilots have to complete some exercises of instrument flying while RPL pilots are not required to do so.

Medical examination: The requirements for medical examination are different and RPL pilots can get their medical exam done by a family physician (Category 4 Medical required as of this writing). Even if you are aiming to get your RPL, I believe it's a good idea to do a CAT3 from an Aviation Medical Examiner anyway should you at any point in your lessons decide to go in for the PPL.

Privileges of the RPL versus the PPL - here are some (please keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of differences and your flight school will be able to give you more information) of the ones that I felt were important to me.

RPL can carry one passenger only: This certainly is a limitation if you are planning on doing some sight-seeing flights for your friends. To me this was not a big issue as I fly mostly for my own enjoyment and practice.

Canadian RPL pilots can fly within Canada only: Again this was not a big issue for me as I don't plan to fly when on overseas vacations. For those occasions that I would want to fly when on vacation, I'll find an instructor and go on a dual.

Ratings: RPL pilots can fly single engine four-place aircraft on Day VFR only while PPL pilots can proceed to get their instrument rating, night rating, and more.

So why RPL for me? 

A big factor in my decision was the frequency with which I could take classes. I was able to go for lessons only about once every week and sometimes once every two-weeks. I figured, I would get my RPL, begin flying as PIC, and then decide whether to proceed for the PPL or not. Turns out it was not a bad decision at all, as I am continuing my lessons on Instrument flying, navigation, steep turns etc with an Instructor and can opt to do the PPL test anytime I feel ready. And in the meantime, I can still take a relative up for a joyride and stay current with my licence.

In conclusion: 

When you do your RPL you end up doing almost all of the stuff you would do for your PPL anyway. So your decision should be driven by what you plan on doing after you are licenced. Whether you plan on getting additional ratings, getting your commercial or instructor's licence, or just flying for fun. I hope this post has given you some idea of the practical differences between the two licences and their requirements and arm you with relevant information as you proceed to make your decision.

In a subsequent post I will address why it took me just over 80 hours to complete an RPL requirement which minimum is expected to be 25 hours, and some ideas on how students and instructors can reduce this time to a more economical one.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Welcome to Cruise Attitude

Thanks for stopping by this blog. I love flying, and I began this blog to share my journey into the world of aviation; how it all began, and how I became a pilot with a Canadian Recreational Pilot Permit.

Cruise Attitude: When I began thinking about the blog, I was hard-pressed to find a suitable URL, the more common terms were already taken and using various aviation related terms I narrowed it down to two available dotcom names.
a) the first major flight exercise my instructor and I did - establishing the look for Cruise Attitude
b) the thing I heard most often in the learning process:  "Aviate First".  "First fly the airplane"  is a term that all students get drilled into them more or less at all stages in the learning process.

After asking around a bit, I finally settled on "Cruise Attitude" as the name. Hope you like it!

In the spirit of keeping this post short, I've refrained from adding details about how I began this incredible journey into aviation; a journey that began as schoolboy fantasies. Read all about it on this page- About this blog and where it all began.

This is my first post and I will add more about my experiences as I can. Check back whenever you can and feel free to contribute your knowledge as well.  Enjoy!