Flying Training

Lesson 14: Cessna 172 familiarisation at Sharp Aviation, Hamilton

Wednesday 4 January 2006 at 7.00am with David Phillips in Cessna 172N VH-KPR

Weather: cool; cloud and smoke haze.

Sharp Aviation terminal at Hamilton. Click to enlarge

Since we were going to be in Hamilton for a week and I didn't want too long a break from flying, I poked around on the Internet and found Sharp Aviation, who run scheduled airline services using Chieftains as well as a training operation. I made a booking for a one-hour flight in one of their Cessna 172s and stuck to my normal early morning start. Yesterday I woke to drizzle and mist so the flight was cancelled, but I came down anyway to see the airport and check how long it took to drive there from the farm (about 45 minutes).

Polish-built PZL M18A Dromader. Click to enlarge Ted Smith Aerostar 600. Click to enlarge Ted Smith Aerostar 600 and PZL M18 Dromader water tanker. Click to enlarge Hamilton (YHML) is about 10km north-east of the town, and consists of two runways: 17/35 (bitumen, 1404m) and 10/28 (gravel, 1233m), the Sharp Aviation terminal (above left) and Hamilton Aero Club. The only two aircraft visible were a Ted Smith Aerostar 600 and a Polish-built PZL M18A Dromader water tanker (both right).

Today I woke again at 6am and dodged the kangaroos on the way out to the airport. Unfortunately the sky was completely overcast, and hazy, but there was no rain and no cloud at our level. I met my instructor, David Phillips, who was unfailingly cheerful throughout the session, despite obviously having been up since around 5am. When he's not instructing David flies Chieftains for the airline arm of Sharp Aviation.

We started with a short briefing in the classroom, where we decided to fly around the southern Grampians, try a couple of stalls and do some circuits. David also gave me a copy of Sharp Aviation's checklists and handling notes for the 172N. Then it was out to the hangar where I met VH-KPR. We did the preflight inspection, which was much like the Citabria, with a few additions. All control surfaces have mass balances inset into their leading edges, so part of the inspection is to ensure that these are all present. There's no need for a ladder to check the fuel because you can climb up the struts, and the dipstick for the oil is via a hatch on top of the cowling. There's also a fuel drain there, which you need to pull to expel some fuel from under the nose. David also drew my attention to the intake for the suction (on the left side of the nose, above the static vent), which drives the gyros for the artificial horizon, gyrocompass and direction finder.

Inside it's pretty different, with side by side seating, control yokes and a number of new instruments. In summary:

After the inspection we wheeled the aircraft out of the hangar and pointed her at an angle towards the apron (to direct the slipstream away from the hangar), then climbed in, buckled up (lap belts only) and ran through the prestart checks before turning the key and firing up the 140 hp engine. A quick check that oil temperature and pressure were in the green and the ammeter was reading positive, and I taxiied it round to the terminal building. So far so easy - it simply followed along where it was pointed - quite a novelty for someone getting used to the edgier ground handling characteristics of the Citabria.

David nipped into the terminal to get his earphones while I checked out the controls and instruments. When he came back we did the run-up checks. This was the same as the Citabria, but the left magneto sounded a little rough, so David took over and ran through the procedure for clearing the plugs which was to increase rpm to 2000 and lean the mixture for a couple of minutes, the idea being to burn off any gunk on the plugs. After this both magnetos sounded sweet so we were right to taxi to the take off point. I made a radio call on 124.2: ""Hamilton traffic, Kilo Papa Romeo, Cessna 172, lining up runway one zero for departure to the training area", and off we went. We needed only a little right rudder as I pushed the throttle forward and headed straight down the gravel strip, and with a little back pressure at around 55 knots we were airborne.

Mt Sturgeon and Dunkeld. Click to enlarge Turning over Mt Sturgeon. Click to enlarge Mt Abrupt and Mt Sturgeon. Click to enlarge We levelled off at 3000 feet and trimmed for level flight (a full turn forwards on the trim wheel). We were already on course for the southern end of the Grampians so there was really nothing to do but keep the wings level, but I tried a few gentle turns to get the feel of it (which is unsurprisingly less twitchy than the Citabria). As you can see from the pictures the conditions were by no means a photographer's delight, but it was interesting to fly over Mount Sturgeon, which Cameron, Brendan and I climbed back in 2004. The visibility was especially poor ahead, largely due to the fire at Stawell on New Year's Day. From Mount Abrupt I could tell Mt William was dead ahead to the north, but I certainly couldn't make it out clearly.

The west side of the Grampians. Click to enlarge At David's suggestion we crossed the mountains (which are not high) at a saddle, without needing to climb further. Once on the western side the conditions changed noticeably. The air was a little clearer, but there was quite a bit of turbulence, not surprising since the wind was blowing quite strongly east to west. It was a good illustration of why the training manual cautions against flying close to the lee side of a hill.

The west side of the Grampians. Click to enlarge In the pictures you can see that growing olives is a popular industry around Horsham - the blue-green trees stand out clearly against the dark green of the gum trees. Everywhere else other than the Grampians was a flat, brown tapestry of fields and trees, and Hamilton was invisible. You can see how the unwary pilot could get himself lost over this country. On the other hand a forced landing wouldn't be a major problem.

Flying south down the west side of the Grampians. Click to enlarge We set course for Hamilton Airport, taking our bearings from a couple of large dams, and confirming with the Automatic Direction Finder (ADF). Once we were in calm air David demonstrated a stall, reducing power and raising the nose while keeping the wings level. The stall occurred at the documented 43 knots and was very gentle, with only a very slight dip of the left wing. The recovery procedure was to lower the nose till the speed increased, then to raise it back to level flight and add add full throttle. This differs from the procedure Kerry showed me in the Citabria, which is to decisively increase to full throttle as the nose is lowered. Even so, when I tried it myself we only lost 200 feet and there was no wing drop at all. Obviously it's a very forgiving aeroplane. David told me that if the wing did drop you need to correct with rudder, not stick, which is per the book, the reason being that the dropped wing is already stalled.

Keeping the circular dam to the left we descended to circuit height (1800 feet) and flew a circuit at that height, overflying the gravel runway. We then did three full circuits and landings, with the last being a full stop. I made the downwind calls as per the new procedures, but not base or final. Actually there was nothing else in the air. We did hear one radio call but it was a pilot making an approach to Albury, which shares the same frequency but is hundreds of kilometres to the north east.

My first touch and go was OK (by carefully following David's instructions, including the need to look out for road traffic on final approach to runway 10!), the second a little low and slow on the final turn. I had to add a little power on final to intercept the glide slope.

The third approach was fine, with a nice smooth touchdown. The 172 certainly doesn't want to go floating down the runway the way the Citabria does - it's just a flare and that's it, you're down. The flare is necessary to lose speed and keep the weight off the nosewheel until the speed is down, but it's not as critical as when trying to three-point a taildragger.

Cessna 172N VH-KPR outside Sharp Aviation. Click to enlarge David Phillips, my instructor on this flight. Click to enlarge Cessna 172N VH-KPR. Click to enlarge All that remained was a U-turn on the runway and a taxi back to the refulling area. I paid for the flight, took a few pictures of KPR, and arranged with David to do the same thing again on each visit to Hamilton. Hopefully within a year I can be taking Cathy and the boys for a look around the Grampians, and maybe some aerial photos of the farm. (However I'll need to bear in mind that the maximum fuel load with 4 on board is a rather modest 60 litres.)

Now it's back to the Citabria, but with a bit of perspective. Kerry's back from the Northern Territory (she witnessed my attempted ground loop last week) so I'll book a lesson with her to see if I can do better than that.

Photos: Tuesday 3 Jan Wednesday 4 Jan