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Joining sport and recreational aviation

Advanced flight training –
power-driven, 3-axis control aeroplanes

Revision 45 — page content was last updated 21 November 2014

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When an ab initio pilot graduates from a RA-Aus flight school, she or he has received a RA-Aus Pilot Certificate rated in a particular aircraft group (e.g. 3-axis aeroplanes, weight-shift control trikes or powered 'chutes) usually with cross country, passenger and radio operator endorsements added to their Pilot Certificate, and perhaps with a tailwheel endorsement. The newly-fledged pilot has developed some piloting techniques and has acquired some skills and some situational interpretation and judgement abilities, but possesses little aviation knowledge.

In short, she or he has concluded the first stage of training and moved a little way along the airmanship learning curve.

How far a new pilot, or any pilot, will advance along that learning curve is entirely in their own hands. However, all RAAOs are interested in, and concerned for, the advancement in airmanship of all their members and recommend that all pilots personally maintain that target of continuing learning and continuing advancement in their selected field within sport and recreational aviation. Some owners, on a large pastoral property, may wish to learn to use a suitable aircraft type as a work vehicle, in which case training to qualify for a low-level endorsement is vital.

Module content

  1. Post-certificate learning
  2. Self-training sequences
  3. Maximum performance sequences
  4. Tailwheel/tailskid/nosewheel experience
  5. Flap or flaperon-equipped aircraft
  6. Single-seater flying
  7. Low-inertia/high-drag aircraft
  8. General type flying
  9. Other Pilot Certificate endorsements; seaplanes and formation flying
  10. STOL — short take-off and landing aircraft
  11. Advanced navigation
  12. Instructor rating

1. Post-certificate learning

The airmanship learning curve follows two contiguous paths. One is the airworthiness path where knowledge is sought — and accumulated — of the engine, airframe, propeller, avionics and instruments for each aircraft type encountered plus the skills and procedures required to maintain and repair airframes, engines and componentry. Thus the pilot is always able to assure an aircraft she/he intends to fly is fit for the operation, without being totally reliant on the opinion of others. Many people find advancement along this path most satisfying because it may eventually lead to building — possibly designing — your own aircraft.

The other path is advanced flight training within the selected aircraft group, where knowledge should be sought about each aircraft's safe flight envelope and the safe handling practices required in various work and/or atmospheric and/or airfield environments. Some of this knowledge will be accumulated through ongoing experience and contact with others (via club membership, for example), much through self-instruction and experiment, but normally some has to be garnered through a fee-for-service provider. The providers are the Flight Training Facilities and the airworthiness training facilities that may be associated with an FTF.

Basically any pilot has three choices. One, continue to do much the same type of flying experienced at the ab initio training school, i.e. fair weather, light winds, familiar places, similar aircraft and gentle flight. There is no increase in the quality of experience or competency — just an increase in quantity of time spent in the air — until it becomes uninteresting. Enjoyment and challenge cease, the learned skills then slowly erode and you remain a novice in aviation.

The second choice is to perhaps expand your field of interest within the entire field of sport and recreational aviation. For example a 3-axis aeroplane pilot might opt for weight-shift control experience in trikes or powered hang gliders, or gain an understanding of rotorcraft by learning to fly ASRA gyroplanes. The only reasons for a newly-fledged pilot to do so at such an early stage of their development might be economic, or a realisation that you don't much like your current aircraft group, or you don't find the type of flying thrilling enough and would like to get into something more personally challenging, perhaps sport parachuting for example.

Developing professionalism. But if you, the newly-fledged pilot, recognise that, up to this point, an instructor was guiding a process of learning to fly safely and now, what you are really getting with the Flight Crew Certificate — having being judged that you can do it safely — is license to continue to learn by yourself. Then you can opt to become a responsible, professional pilot. 'Professional' is not meant to imply a commercial career, rather it implies that you set high personal standards of airmanship and competency in flight — and associated operations — and accept that improvement and training is never complete, no matter how many and what type of flight hours are in your log books. This professionalism entails broadening your knowledge base so that you can set appropriate personal standards, stepping up flight discipline, acquiring additional flight skills, honing techniques and accuracy, gaining new experience and sharpening judgemental skills; perhaps undertaking a program resulting in an instructor certificate.

Self criticism. You must evaluate your performance after each flight and identify the most poorly performed phases, determine how to improve them and then concentrate on those phases during subsequent flights until you have achieved your current required standard in that aspect of flight operation.

In short, developing professionalism implies disciplined, continually advancing flight training, mostly personally planned and conducted but with occasional input at appropriate times from a Senior Instructor, CFI or Pilot Examiner. It does not imply that you have to become highly skilled in all aspects of flight; rather, you should be comfortably skilled in most applicable aspects and you keep raising your performance standards. We will discuss it a little more in the airmanship, flight discipline and human factors module of this guide.

Flying, like driving a car on the public roads, is inherently risky and most unforgiving of poor discipline. One can avoid the risks by not venturing on the roads or in the sky, but if you choose to do so, then best reduce the risk by utilising defensive driving or risk management piloting techniques. The latter is integral to advanced flight training. The advanced training programs that you might undertake at a Flight Training Facility will ensure that you achieve that school's minimum requirement for safe flight, but the programs will not bring you up to your full potential — that is entirely up to you.

Remember that in all fields of aviation, some 80% of accidents and incidents are attributed to human error. And usually not just a single act of stupidity or gross indiscipline, where both regulations and commonsense are flouted, but a series of small errors or misjudgements — not individually critical — often made by more than one person and often attributable to the applicable system.

2. Self-training sequences

All humankind's accumulated knowledge is published somewhere in print or electronic form so read everything that you can lay hands on that appears pertinent and authoritative — remembering, however, that your aircraft hasn't read them (nor has the atmosphere in which we fly) and responses may not be according to a particular book or an internet document – such as this one.

There are many learning sequences that can be undertaken without assistance. Here are just a few associated with flight at slow speed, but if you are contemplating doing the following in a home-built aircraft make sure it has been through its full flight test program.

  • Arm yourself with a pad and a pencil, fly to an adequate height and appropriate location and do 20 stalls in straight and level flight with varying pitch, roll and yaw attitudes and with varying power settings — remembering that stall recovery must be completed by 1500 feet agl. Note the pre-stall warning behaviour of the aircraft. What minimum easing of stick back pressure will unstall the wings? Which wing drops? How long before the nose drops? How many degrees does it drop? Can you stall it and recover without losing measurable height? What happens when you take your hands and feet off the controls?

  • Ensure that your situational awareness is maintained at all times.

  • Repeat the same observations with the aircraft in a balanced level turn, at varying degrees of bank, and in balanced climbing and descending turns.

    Rule of thumb: with your arm fully extended in front, the width of a finger is about two degrees, that of your palm is about 10 degrees and it is about 20 degrees between the thumb tip and the little finger tip of a spread hand.

  • Repeat the same observations, at a safe height — at least 4000 feet agl — with the aircraft in a simulated descending turn to final approach and in a simulated departure climb with varying degrees of slip and skid. Gain an understanding of arrival and departure stalls.

  • Repeat all the prior exercises with varying weights and cg position.

  • Chart all your observations and produce a summarised reference table.

3. Maximum performance sequences

There are other learning sequences whose aim is to make you aware of your aircraft's capability and to help you fly accurately and smoothly. Some take you to the outer limits of the aircraft's certificated safe manoeuvring flight envelope. It is advisable that these manoeuvres are first demonstrated to you by a person skilled in their execution who can then point out to you the inaccuracies of your initial attempts. For example:
  • steep power turns
  • accurate chandelles
  • lazy eights
  • steep spirals.
In addition, there are some ground reference manoeuvres designed to enhance ability to fly the aircraft safely and precisely while attention is divided between possible traffic, the flight path and a ground reference point — and at the same time analysing and correcting for the effect of wind:
  • constant altitude/constant radius turns around a ground reference
  • pivotal altitude turns — pylon turns and eights on pylons

4. Tailwheel/tailskid/nosewheel endorsements

If you learned to fly in a nosewheel configuration aircraft and you want to expand the aircraft types you can fly safely, then learning to handle tailwheel and tailskid-equipped aircraft is essential. Taildraggers can be a lot of fun but a few hours tuition in landing and ground handling technique is essential — even then you will find some taildraggers may be much more touchy than others. Conversely, a taildragger experienced pilot should get a little tuition in handling a tricycle undercarriage aircraft, but the transition in this direction is said to be easier.

5. Flap or flaperon-equipped aircraft

Pilots who have had no formal flap training should never attempt to operate a flap-equipped aircraft before receiving professional instruction in the use of flaps — in an aircraft having similar characteristics to the aircraft you intend to fly. The act of lowering or raising flaps results in substantial changes in aircraft attitude, trim, lift and drag — perhaps even stability. During familiarisation the aircraft is first flown flapless (if possible and practical) for a few take-off and landing circuits. Exposure to flap operation is then explored at height, with particular reference to the consequent change in attitude/airspeed combinations and the change in stalling speed, for approach speed calculations. Then take-offs, landings and go-arounds are conducted at various flap settings, wind conditions and airfield conditions. Experience in the degrees of flap and the airspeed to be used, in strong crosswind conditions, is vital.

Some training in other systems, such as carburettor anti-icing and variable-pitch propellers, will expand competence and experience. You may find some light aircraft fitted with retractable undercarriage in which case a retractable endorsement is required.

6. Single-seater flying

There are many types of single-place aircraft included in the RA-Aus CAO 95.10 register. In many cases there will be just a single copy of an owner-designed and built aircraft. Flying such an aircraft is a big moment for any pilot, if only because you cannot be shown how to fly it, only be told how to fly it, and trusted to do so. However, flight in a particular aircraft should not be undertaken lightly. Most likely there will be no aircraft flight manual or pilot's operating handbook and you, personally, must ensure the aircraft is airworthy. First flights should only be undertaken from airstrips and in conditions that offer a completely adequate safety margin.

Take heed of the placard in the cockpit that states:

If you have not flown a single-seat ultralight with similar flight characteristics to the type you contemplate flying then it is advisable to get your first experiences under the supervision of a flight school.

7. Low-inertia/high-drag aircraft

Although many ultralight types would be classed as 'low-momentum' aircraft because of their high parasite drag profile and low mass, there is a significant variation in drag characteristics throughout the range. A newly certificated pilot, whose experience has been in the slippery end of the sport and recreational aircraft spectrum — the aircraft made from fibre-reinforced polymer materials — will find that the energy management characteristics of a 'fabric and tube' aircraft are substantially different. It is advisable to receive some demonstration of flight characteristics and handling techniques. This is one reason why experienced pilots with a GA licence are required to accumulate 5 RA-Aus hours, preferably in a 'draggy' aircraft, before the RA-Aus pilot certificate is approved.

Similarly, a pilot experienced only in draggy aircraft should receive dual instruction in the flight characteristics of the more slippery aircraft before acting as pilot-in-command. This particularly applies to single-seaters constructed in fibre-reinforced polymer materials with quite high aspect ratio wings, where the closest two-seat equivalent is a sailplane.

8. General type flying

This adds significantly to your experience base, to the number of types in your logbooks and acts as a buffer against encroaching boredom. Before undertaking a flight in a new type, there are a few key points that should be scrupulously followed, remembering that you can't know too much about any aircraft you intend to fly:
  • carefully read the pilot's operating handbook for that aircraft
  • if there is no pilot's operating handbook, aircraft flight manual or owner's manual, ensure you receive a thorough pre-flight briefing from a competent person familiar with the aircraft
  • ensure that valid cockpit check-lists are available for the new type, take them with you and use them
  • completely familiarise yourself with the cockpit layout before you start the engine.

9. Other Pilot Certificate endorsements; seaplanes and formation flying

There are other advanced flying techniques that can only be learned from a school and instructor approved by the RAAO for these operations; for example, waterborne operations and formation flying. The former is undoubtedly the most pleasant way to operate a light aeroplane, combining flight and 'mucking around in boats' but be warned, the ground and water handling techniques for amphibious floatplanes differ substantially to those for the same aircraft equipped with a normal wheeled, shock-absorbing undercarriage; and, of course, you must also obtain the recreational boat operator licence applicable in your home State. The schedule for the floats or floating hull endorsements can be found in section 2.07 items 23 and 24 of the RA-Aus Operations Manual issue 7.

The Seaplane Pilots Association Australia has about 450 members around Australia; membership is free. Website is www.seaplanes.org.au, download their Code of Operation.

squadron formationFormation flying means that two or more aircraft fly so close to each other that, in all manoeuvres, much the same relative position is maintained and the aircraft are seen to be in complete unison. Unless the pilots involved hold the formation endorsement, no RA-Aus aircraft can fly closer than 100 feet to another aircraft. 'Close proximity' flying is not formation flying. The photo is a formation of 16 Sea Furies with a lone Firebrand behind them, three Seafires 15s on the left and two Sea Hornets on the right. Your author remembers he was relegated to the Firebrand that day — probably thought safer for all. The schedule for the formation endorsement can be found in section 2.07 item 12 of the RA-Aus Operations Manual issue 7.

10. STOL — short take-off and landing aircraft

True STOL light aircraft, like the Slepcev Storch or the Zenith CH701 STOL, are excellent work vehicles and great fun to fly. However, to exploit their STOL ability these aircraft often need to be flown at the 'back end' of the power curve; i.e. very high lift coefficient (thus very high angle of attack), low velocity and high power to counter induced drag. Power is increased to fly slower, rather than decreased as in normal flight at the 'front end' of the power curve. STOL aircraft are provided with flap settings and high-lift devices that can provide a big increase in CLmax with a comparatively low increase in drag. They have a propeller that is efficient at low forward speed, a low design wing loading, and feature good stability and control at very low speeds. They can maintain steeper angles of climb and descent.

Pilots have to be aware of those control characteristics particularly at slow speeds in turbulence. This is an area only for the trained STOL pilot, attuned to the operating environment and an individual aircraft's foibles. STOL capability may additionally be defined by the runway length needed to take-off and to land over a 15-metre high obstacle or the length of the ground roll. Utilising a very small area on the top of a hill for take-off and landing is not a capability of the average pilot. STOL techniques are not applicable to non-STOL aircraft. The photo below indicates a one-way landing area that is definitely only for experienced STOL pilots flying a tough taildragger STOL aeroplane.

vanzella_sny_pln  Snowy Plain strip

Denis Vanzella: "My first flight into Snowy Plain was a leg shaker but I've got it pretty pat now — touch wood. The one-way 'strip' is about 70 metres long with 20% slope at an elevation around 4850 feet. Best conditions are in southerly winds below 10 knots. West to north-west winds around 10 knots become vicious with a big roll off the main range that not even the Slepcev Storch can outclimb at low levels."

Apart from STOL, there are various 'short field' and 'soft field' take-off and landing techniques applicable to every aircraft and airstrip condition, which are touched upon in Pilot Certificate training. Such techniques can be refined with advanced training.

11. Advanced navigation

Navigation provides an excellent field for self-instructed professionalism, particularly with the advent of low-cost global positioning system [GPS] receivers, airfield and airspace data-bases, flight planning software, moving map software, Electronic Flight Bags and online meteorological information. Prudent airmanship dictates that these advanced techniques are always regarded only as an additional aid to the basic VFR navigation techniques of pilotage and dead-reckoning.

12. Instructor rating

Once a recreational pilot has accumulated 100 hours of experience as pilot-in-command, a training course for the instructor rating may be undertaken. There are different requirements for persons with experience in aircraft other than ultralights. Refer to section 2.08 of the RA-Aus Operations Manual issue 7 for information about the instructor rating.

The next module in this 'Joining sport and recreational aviation' series defines 'airmanship' and considers flight discipline and human factors training.

The 'Joining sport and recreational aviation' series

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