Day 2 - Test Pilot!
Justin continues his quest to fly as many days as possible in the beautiful autumn weather during his Endless Summer Adventure of 2019
A happy test-pilot completes a successful mission
Having read a fascinating article by Sarah Fritts in the Sydney Flyer, proposing several suggestions for conquering anxiety in the cockpit, I have decided to act on one. This is to fly four days in a row, or at least as much as I can over a short period of time, taking advantage of some perfect flying conditions.
I am fortunate to be chosen as a test pilot for the new Vulcanair trainer which SFC is considering buying. This aircraft is approximately the equivalent of a Cessna 172, with full glass cockpit. The club has asked a number of members and staff to evaluate the aircraft and complete a survey; based on feedback the club will then make a decision on purchase.
So much glass!
The Vulcanair is a derivative of a 1960s Partenavia aircraft, the Oscar. It may be an update of an old design, but established GA thrives on developing designs which manage to have got it right in the first place. A music analogy might be a Gibson Les Paul or a Fender Stratocaster guitar, both of which emerged in the early 1950s. They have been modified over the years, and other makes have arguably surpassed them in playability with certain genres of music, but the basic designs have not changed. Similarly, aircraft from Cessna and Piper have stood the test of time; while their current offerings still look a lot like the originals which first flew in the mid 50s, more modern designs such as those from Cirrus and Diamond have not yet made the old faithfuls obsolete.
The beautiful Autumn weather continues, and armed with a new medical obtained this morning I arrive for my 2pm booking to meet Leanne, the instructor who will take me up. She has been flying all day…possibly all week…in the Vulcanair. She says she is happy for us to fly a Victor One, so we head out to pre-flight. Earlier I had looked up the numbers and found them to be similar to the Warriors I am used to.
The ‘mind your fingertip’ indicator
The rego is VOI, not too different to the model designation, V1.0. Access to the cockpit is excellent, with the interior very much like that of a new car, and the outside visibility looks superb. The controls pedestal is ergonomically well situated, with the Cessna style trim wheel to the immediate left of the throttle. The trim position indicator however is a bit of a trap – it is a pointed piece of metal which Leanne has thoughtfully blunted with a blob of blu-tac. I once had a Les Paul Custom guitar with a similar situation on its volume and tone pots. Happily I never took the tips of my fingers off, but came close…that beautiful guitar was eventually sold to fund more flying training!
My initial impression of the glass panel when lighting up is that it is very full-on. I am a bit familiar with the Avidyne glass cockpit in the Schoies Warrior 111s, but this panel seems more complex, possibly due to the complete absence of steam gauges – even the standby is glass. Since the club is considering the Vulcanair for training, I wonder how an ab initio student will go. Then again, contemporary students who are aiming for an airline gig will probably never fly anything but full glass, so perhaps my reaction is generational. Another first for me is the Constant Speed Propeller. I understand the basics but have never flown with one. Leanne gives me a thorough briefing, and assures me that she will coach me in its use as we go.
Leanne reckons this beats working for a living!
Startup is simple and quick. The engine is fuel injected, so there is no carby…and no carby heat. Taxiing to the 11L runup bay I test the brakes and find them very responsive, with the toe application position quite high off the floor compared to the Cherokees. For takeoff, Leanne instructs me to push prop lever fully forward, set 14deg of flap, hold the nose down till 60kts, relax, and the bird will fly herself off at 65kts. This happens, and it’s an exhilarating takeoff and climbout.
A Vic of Black Hawks enjoying themselves
The aircraft is very steady, and easy to trim. The co-pilot reminds me to retract the flaps, and we turn north. At 1500’ we level off and she says bring the power back to 24” of manifold pressure and 2400rpm. After a bit of juggling I achieve this. Clear of the Bankstown zone we start our climb to 2000’, instructions are prop forward then throttle. Wondering how to remember the sequence, I decide to think of it as a manual car…when climbing a hill change down a gear before applying power, and when levelling out at the top of the hill back off the accelerator before changing up a gear. We’ll see if this works for me!
What a privilege
We head up the lane at 2500’ past the San and Thornleigh reservoir, and Flight Engineer leans the mixture with an instrument on the right hand Multi Function Display (MFD). She then pulls up the moving map, and we describe a careful arc to the north-east just outside the 700’ and 1000’ steps. At Long Reef we fire up all available LEDS and descend to 500’, turning south into Victor One…I marvel at how many V1s are on this flight; Vulcanair V1.0, rego VOI, and Victor 1. If my daughter Minnie was on board the cycle of aviation V1s would be complete; she is a VI (Virgin International) flight attendant, and often crews Sydney-LA, flight number VA1.
It is a beautiful, calm Autumn afternoon, and VOI is rock steady. Very easy to trim at 500’ +/- 20’, although I find the altitude tape initially a bit harder to nail than a steam gauge. Out to sea on our left a Vic (V again!) of Army Black Hawks is enjoying the balmy weather at what looks like zero feet… a fair bit lower than our 500’ anyway. We float past Sydney Heads and Botany Bay. It’s interesting that back in 1770 Captain Cook chose what was then an extremely inhospitable Botany Bay as the focal point for the future colony of NSW. It was left to Arthur Philip leading the First Fleet in 1788 to discover the potential of Sydney Harbour. This apparently he did only by chance en route to Broken Bay while looking for an alternative place to establish the colony, having decided that Cook had given him a bum steer on Botany Bay. Still, neither of those intrepid gentlemen had the seagull’s eye view that we are enjoying today. Cape Banks and Cape Solander, the eastern and western entrances to Botany Bay over which we now fly, bear the names of two botanists from Cook’s 1770 voyage, Sir Joseph Banks and the Swede Daniel Solander. Another legacy of that period is in the name of our home airport, Bankstown, the area having been named by Governor Hunter to honour Joseph Banks.
Spectacular Illawarra coast
At Sydney Airport runways 16L and 16R are in use, and heavy metal is passing well overhead. After a contour flight past Cronulla, Instructor suggests I try a couple of gentle turns. The Vulcan turns very precisely and steadily, and easily returns to level flight. My flight engineer sets mixture to full rich, I change down, and in low gear we climb the steps. At top of climb near the Sea Cliff Bridge I change up, FE leans the mixture and we turn west. I am getting the hang of this I think. The afternoon western sun is blasting so I pull my cap down and put on my sunnies; however, not being able to read the Primary Flight Display (PFD) clearly, I take them off and squint, which is tolerable.
Passing Wedderburn my navigator punches in 2RN and we track inbound. Only traffic is a police chopper outbound to our right, and we are cleared a visual approach to runway 11L, #1. FE says stay in high gear until final, and I change down at 500’ feeling the engine braking effect, just like in my manual Honda Jazz. Approach profile seems quite normal, but the nose has to be held up a bit higher than I am used to. Touchdown is acceptable, and VOI is still serviceable and ready for more evaluating. I log 1.2 hours of fun and new experiences, and complete the survey in the club. Leanne is ready to head home after a flying day of about 6 hours, but happy to go again with new test pilots tomorrow, while I look forward to continuing my intensive flying schedule.