Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Long overdue part 2

Following the aborted attempt previous, the testing officer and I tried again. The testing officer was a very cool guy who made me feel not like I was being tested at all, but that I was flying with a very experienced acquaintance. A common problem with this arrangement is the tendency to defer to the more experienced crew member. This would be a problem for the test as I was supposed to act as if I was in command so the ATO (authorised testing officer) could test my flying and command abilities. The ATO never made me feel as if anyone other than I were in charge, and all decisions were mine to make.

We departed in tired old LSG again. This aeroplane and I have a long history of not getting along. I had booked SFJ but a serious landing gear problem meant it was unavailable and was out for maintenance for at least six weeks. So it was that I took LSG, a T-tailed Arrow IV out for my most important flight test to date.

We departed on the same flight plan as before, bound for Mittagong, Goulburn, Crookwell and The Oaks and back to Bankstown. The weather was glorious as only an Autumn Sydney day can be, a strong high pressure system over NSW bringing calm winds and a cloudless sky. I couldn't have asked for a better day to do this test. We step climbed south from Sydney underneath the class C airspace of Kingsford-Smith International and levelled off at 6500 feet. Approaching Mittagong low cloud thickened until it was a solid undercast stretching off into the distance. Early fog in the valleys was warming and lifting. I suggested to the ATO that Goulburn was not going to be possible unless we got under the cloud. Dropped the gear and flaps and circled down through a likely looking hole in the cloud. Underneath the cloud there was no defined ceiling as different patches of fog had risen at different rates, leaving long tendrils of cloud hanging from the sky. Getting through that would be hard going indeed, if it was even possible. The ATO suggested we divert to Bathurst so I turned toward the north-west, cleaned up and started to climb up to 5500 feet.

The leg was a good 60 nm, or 30 mins flying time and the ATO chose this moment to pull out a magazine. I don't know if this was an affectation to put me at ease but it certainly helped reduce my workload. We started descending into Bathurst and joined a couple of other aeroplanes in the circuit for a normal landing. Good circuit, good approach and rounded out on final, where I struggled to pull the yoke back to round out and flare. We ballooned and put down for an ugly landing.

The T-tailed design was more a fashion statement by Piper than an aerodynamic improvement, T-tails being fashionable in the seventies along with flared trousers and skivvies. The problem is that the tail is high out of the prop stream, which reduces elevator control authority and makes weight and balance more critical. Coupled to which this particular Arrow has a history of elevator problems and was due for 100 hourly maintenance within the next 5 hours. Does this make me sound like I'm a ham-fisted plumber blaming the aeroplane for my shortcomings? I definitely felt that way after that landing, wondering if I was finding excuses for my own deficiencies. Most pilots flying LSG hold on the electric trim in the flare to help reduce the control pressures but even this didn't seem to help.

We took off again and round for another landing. Same result. My confidence was really getting a battering. A couple more just as bad and I complained to the ATO of the awful condition of the elevator. He took pity on me and asked me to fly to Katoomba ALA. I cleaned up and found the small X of orange dirt on top of the Blue Mountains with steep cliffs at every edge. I demonstrated a precautionary search and landing, fighting the downdraught off the edge of the mountains. We left Katoomba and the ATO put a hood on me to simulate instrument flight. We flew to The Oaks under hood with various instruments covered to simulate a vacuum pump failure. The ATO then took off the hood and asked me to demonstrate stall recovery, unusual attitude recovery and steep turns. He then pulled the throttle back and asked to see a practice forced landing. All this stuff went perfectly. Back to Bankstown we go.

Entered the Bankstown class D and joined the circuit with a Chieftain racing in behind us. For a while it was going to be neck and neck but somehow the controllers sorted it out and we lined up for a landing. Again an awful landing. I was thoroughly pissed off by this stage and once on the ground I showed the ATO what I was talking about. The yoke is attached to a tube which slides in and out of the control panel, pushing the elevator up or down via a series of pulleys, wires and rods. This tube should slide smoothly in and out all the way from fully forward to fully back. This was not the case with LSG. About 3/4 of the way out the tube stuck requiring a good hard pull to free it, at which point it flew all the way back. The ATO agreed this should not be the case. Some combination of worn components, slack adjustment and dry grease was giving me the equivalent of a stuck steering wheel at exactly the point where I needed to hold the elevator to land. The added combination of the T-tail and a forward CG made things worse. We taxied back and I was so gutted I could barely speak.

The ATO was frank and said there was no way he could pass me given what I'd showed him and I couldn't argue. The landings were borderline dangerous. He told me that everything else I had done was perfect, no problems at all and said that if I could show him some good landings some other day he would pass me. He told me he was testing another CPL candidate the following day in a different Arrow. I raced round to find the school with the other non T-tail Arrow and arranged to hire the aircraft from them the following day and that the ATO would test me then.


Post a Comment

<< Home