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Joining sport and recreational aviation

Learning to fly: the air experience flight

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The following text was written in 2004 by the late Tony Hayes (1943–2009) — the inaugural holder of the RA-Aus Meritorious Service Award. Tony had a long career in gliding, initially in the UK and then in Victoria and S.E. Queensland. He was deeply involved in the initial concept and subsequent development of the little-used Watts Bridge airfield into a recreational aviation centre. Tony established the Brisbane Valley Leisure Aviation Centre at Watts Bridge for training glider pilots but added the training of ultralight pilots in the mid-90s. The content is still valid in 2014 though the Light Sport Aircraft group was later added to the RA-Aus aeroplane range.

Module content

  1. What is an air experience or trial instructional flight?
  2. How does the TIF work?
  3. How do I get best value from a TIF?
  4. RA-Aus aircraft types
  5. How do I arrange a TIF?

1. What is an air experience or trial instructional flight?

In essence, an air experience flight is a trial instructional flight [TIF], a way of sampling flight training without making any commitment to joining the movement or continuing with sport and recreational flying. Please be aware that a TIF is not a so-called 'joy flight' — although you will enjoy it. Our world of sport and recreational aviation is not permitted to fly for hire or reward, except payment in return for flying training services; therefore 'joy flights' are strictly a no-no! To obtain maximum benefit from a trial instructional flight, invest a few minutes reading the following.

RA-Aus flying training can only be provided by an approved flight training facility [FTF], which has to meet certain operating standards at regular inspections. The flying is provided in a certified and registered, fully dual-controlled, approved training aircraft — 3-axis control aeroplane, weight-shift control trike or a powered parachute — maintained by the holder of a level 2 maintenance authority. The training is given by authorised flying instructors, who themselves are checked regularly.

Do not be put off by all the approvals and controls — they are there to ensure safety and quality of participation. You are not heading for something that seems like a QANTAS appraisal for new staff. What comes out the other end in our environment is a friendly, maybe even apparently 'laid-back', recreational flying ambience you will easily fit into and become part of. Sure, the backbone is there, but it remains under the surface.

So if we cannot give you a 'joy flight' we can give you something better, from which you will obtain a much greater insight and enjoyment — the TIF.

2. How does the TIF work?

You do have to be an RA-Aus member to participate but this can be at no initial cost to yourself. The FTFs have a book of simple dockets that can be filled out on the spot — you are then an RA-Aus member for a 28-day trial period.

There are a number of components to a good quality TIF — it is not a simple case of just hop in and have a go! The objective is to give you a good and fair sampling of what recreational flying feels like, plus an insight into the flight training process.

The TIF follows the same sequence as a normal instructional flight:

Pre-flight briefing
You will usually spend a little time in a classroom being convinced, in simple non-technical terms, that you do not have to be some kind of supernatural being to be a pilot and that an RA-Aus aircraft is much the same as any other flying machine. The aircraft essentially works all by itself and you are there to control it — make it take you where you want to go. It is just another vehicle to learn to control; like a push bike, car or boat.

Aircraft pre-flight inspection
You will be shown around the aircraft and while it will be clear that the machine is inspected prior to flight, you will not be involved in any technicality at this stage. You will be shown how to get in, adjust the seat so you are in optimum control position and how to strap in. The cockpit equipment will be briefly outlined to you, as well as the actions to be taken in an in-flight emergency. Much like the pre-flight briefing by the cabin crew when flying as a QANTAS passenger.

Flight procedures
Your flight will be in the vicinity of the airfield and for usually about 25 minutes total. During the flight you will be exposed to the sensation of being both in a very light aircraft and aloft in a very personal form of aircraft. You will be shown the airfield from the air, the local scenery and points to orientate yourself by. You will spend more than 50% of the time with control of the aircraft in your hands, under the guidance of the instructor.

No need to be alarmed about this — it is a simple matter of being shown how to raise and lower the nose, plus bank and level the wings. This will give you a 'feel' for the machine in its natural environment and you will find it surprisingly easy. You will only be asked to do things the instructor knows you can easily accomplish and absorb.

Nothing odd or abrupt will happen. Your instructor will give you advance notice if the engine note is going to change or if the aircraft is going to change attitude, plus what it will be doing. You will not be subjected to aerobatics or unusual attitudes — you are primarily orientated to a two-dimensional world and we make the transition into the three-dimensional world of flight understandable, progressive and comfortable.

Post-flight debriefing
Your instructor will answer any questions you have and underline a few of the main points of the exercise in which you have just participated. Your options on where you go from there will be explained to you, partly verbally and partly with literature the FTF provides for new members. Then it is your decision. There is very little 'hard selling' in Recreational Aviation — nobody should be pressured into learning to fly — you should WANT to, deep down within yourself.

If you are still unsure then you can obtain three hours actual flying training from the school, within the 28-day trial period, before committing yourself to full membership of RA-Aus and applying for the RA-Aus Student Pilot Certificate. If you wish, you can download the "Application for membership — Student Pilot" form from the RA-Aus applications page.

3. How do I get best value from a TIF?

TIFs are not expensive but you can get additional value from them if you plan your TIF and you know what to look for. The apparent quality of the flight school, the instructors and the airfield will figure in your decision on where you want to fly, what you want to fly, and who you want to fly with. The TIF gives you a look at all of these and assists your decision.

Start asking yourself questions. The TIF will give you a flight, but what do you want to do with your intended future flying? Just 'fly a recreational aircraft' is not a sufficient answer — that is easy enough to arrange — but there are some things of which you need to be aware.

4. RA-Aus aircraft types

We have a number of quite different aircraft categories (which we touched on in the previous module) and you may already have a preconceived idea of what a recreational aircraft is supposed to be. Make sure you go for a TIF in a type that matches your personal goals — even if they are not yet fully formed.

Some of your considerations are not just what you want the aircraft to do, but also the initial and on-going costs of possession and maintenance (in Recreational Aviation you will be able to service your own machine for personal use — will the complexity be too much for you?); and will your goals outgrow the machine? Although we have looked at the types of RA-Aus aircraft in the preceding module, it may help to reiterate a little.
Three-axis control aeroplanes
For fixed-wing aircraft with conventional flight controls, refer to the relevant groundschool flight theory section. The three-axis aircraft have two landing gear configurations — nosewheel or tailwheel. The latter is a little harder to learn on but far more suited for rougher operating strips. The nosewheel aircraft are easier to take-off and land, but if you gain your RA-Aus Pilot Certificate solely in such aircraft then you will need a further five hours or so training to then convert to the tailwheel layout.

Traditional ultralights. These mainly have a tubular metal main structure and fabric covering with three-axis control. They are often with open or semi-open cockpits. The usual operating range is up to 200 nautical miles (360 km) and cruising speeds of 55 to 65 knots (100 to 120 km/h). Usually they have two-stroke motors, but four-strokes are being increasingly introduced.

Newer types. These are heavier, faster and more expensive than the traditional low-momentum ultralights. Often they can be optionally registered with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority as a general aviation aircraft, or with RA-Aus as a sport and recreational aviation aircraft. They usually have fully enclosed cockpits. Range is around 250 to 500 nm and cruising speeds are 70 to 120 knots. Generally they have 80–100 hp, four-cylinder, four-stroke Jabiru or Rotax engines. (Cheetah, Jabiru J120, Lightwing.)

Weight-shift control
This means an aircraft controlled primarily by shifting the pilot's weight in relation to the wing attachment point — these include RA-Aus trikes and some powered parachutes and also the HGFA hang gliders. See 'Hang glider and 'trike' wings and carriages' in the groundschool flight theory section.

Trikes. These look like a large 'powered hang glider' but are now in a class of their own. They comprise an open cockpit pod suspended below a 'Dickenson' wing (no tail unit) and are controlled by a 'trapeze bar' in front of the pilot. Range is up to 300 nm and cruising speeds are around 50 to 70 knots. They have two-stroke and Rotax 912 four-stroke engines, see the Airborne website.
Parawing control
Powered parachutes. This is a large, steerable parachute canopy with an open, two-place, 3-wheel carriage below it, suspended by shroud lines and steered by control lines. Power is usually a Rotax 65 hp two-stroke engine. Range is about 60 nm and they have a constant speed around 25–30 knots. Refer to the relevant groundschool flight theory section and see the Aerochute website.

There is another version of the powered parachute, the Group F foot-launched, powered parachute or powered paraglider. The power pack is strapped to the pilot's back. Obviously this has to be a single-person vehicle and no dual control instruction can be given; such vehicles are only suitable for an experienced powered parachutist.

5. How do I arrange a TIF?

Having made a decision (no matter how broad) on where you think you want to go in flying, then study the complete list of FTFs. Pick a school and give them a bell. It is better to book rather than just turn up. If you are unsure of whether you want to progress with a particular school, or on a particular type of ultralight, then take a few TIFs at different places and/or on different types — you are not wasting money, you are probably saving it — plus broadening your experience base.

The most important person in the world of aviation is not the most experienced instructor — it is the rawest beginner, because the future of aviation will be partly in your hands. Unfortunately the beginner is by definition the least equipped to make decisions on what to do. We trust the words above will help you make those decisions.

... Tony Hayes — inaugural holder of the
RA-Aus Meritorious Service Award.

The next module in this 'Joining sport and recreational aviation' series is another article authored by the late Tony Hayes about getting flying training underway.

The 'Joining sport and recreational aviation' series

Copyright © 2004 Tony Hayes