Friday, 1 November 2013

Cross Country Qualifier and Movember

Cross Country Qualifier

On Tuesday I was able to squeeze in my cross-country qualifier when a schedule change unexpectedly freed up a day. There's a massive amount of planning required as it essentially counts as three separate trips, so I completed as much as I could the night before and caught the first bus at 4.30am to complete the rest at school.

Tuesday was far from a typical Arizona autumn day — in fact it was more like a typical UK autumn day. Temperatures were relatively low which is a good thing, but so was the cloud which is not so great. At times the cloud base was forecast down to 6000' or even 4000'.

But the interesting part was the winds, which at 6000' were forecast at 24 knots (about 28 mph) and the surface winds looked strong and gusty to the south. A few months ago I would have not attempted to fly. I knew it would be challenging, but I was (just) within my limits on all the forecasts and provided there were no delays, I would be technically good to go. All I had to do was persuade the duty instructor! I finally succeeded, but it took half an hour and put me even closer to the out-of-limits surface winds forecast at Ryan.

There was no chance of cruising at my planned 8500' on the way to Ryan due to the cloud, and even 6500' was close. I was using the flight following radar service as usual, but as I got near to Ryan, Tucson Approach started to direct me to different headings and altitudes (radar vectoring) rather than just monitoring me. That was new.

A Cessna landing at Ryan
As I approached to land, Ryan tower reported the wind at 21014KT20 which in English means 16 miles per hour gusting to 23 miles per hour and coming from the south-south-west.

The runways at Ryan point 240 degrees or south west — 30 degrees off the wind direction — meaning I had a 10 knot cross wind and a 20 knot head wind. Bang on my maximum. Happily though the landing went really well on the first attempt, and I quickly refuelled and got back into the air before the winds got any worse, fairly confident that conditions were better to the north.

The next leg out to the west was even more interesting. The strong cross winds meant I had to take some dramatic correction angles — up to 25 degrees — which looks very odd. You point the plane one way, and actually fly in an entirely different direction! As I approached the familiar Table Top Mountain, there was a series of text-book wave clouds, long parallel sausage shapes.

Unfortunately they were well below my altitude, forcing me to descend to about 4000' to get clear below. I radioed Albuquerque Centre to let them know I was descending, and they promptly terminated my radar service, which was not the outcome I was looking for! Not their fault though, below about 5000' they simply can't see us on their radar.

A TCAS (traffic collision avoidance system) similar
to the type not fitted in our aircraft.
As I turned north again towards Goodyear, the weather steadily improved and the winds dropped making the rest of the flight uneventful. I felt quite nostalgic to be back at the now quiet Goodyear. Time for a quick lunch break, more fuel, and back in the air for the final leg.

This too was a busy flight. The cloud had pushed everyone down to similar altitudes making the practice areas very busy. Without any technical wizardry to spot other aircraft in our vintage Warriors, we rely on look out and radio calls. 4500' was just so popular that in the end I chose to fly an unconventional 4300' just to give a bit of extra safety margin and was scanning like a crazed owl.

After 300 miles, landing at three airports and five hours in the air, I was back at Falcon, tired but happy. Job done. Strange to think that, professionally, that was my last ever solo. If I didn't fly privately I could work until I was 65 and pilot an aircraft alone again.


A Hair-O-Plane, yesterday.
This blog has had — amazingly — over 21,000 hits to date. Clearly there are a lot of people out there who enjoy reading it, not just friends and family. I'm hoping to persuade you all to part with just a little tiny bit of your hard earned cash for a very good cause; it's Movember!

Yes it's that time of year when we grow ludicrous facial hair in an attempt to raise some cash for vital research into key men's health issues including prostate and testicular cancer.

I know, growing a moustache hardly compares to running a marathon or doing a six-minute-mile in Death Valley in midsummer dressed as Darth Vader, but hey it's not as easy as it sounds.
  1. It's against the school uniform code
  2. I am going to look stupid for a whole month
  3. My wife hates the idea (she will be paying for me to shave it off)
  4. It will probably be ginger
So have a heart and bung me and my team a couple of pounds. For each £100 I raise I will release a photo of my progress. You have been warned.

Go on, it only takes a moment. Thank you!


  1. Okay wizz kid, we all get wind you know!
    Very well done indeed my moustachoed pilot cadet.
    As for Movember I've started mine and will put your fiver in too.

  2. Hi, I am planning to apply for the new BA FPP and found your very insightful blog - I am only up to February and am really enjoying the write ups! I have just read that you are 37, which I found a huge relief as I am 36 and was worried that I would be too old. What's the average age of your BA FPP colleagues?
    Thanks again, Simon

  3. We have cadets from 19 through to 40 on our intake. I would say the average is probably about 25, but don't let that put you off applying, they are looking for a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Good luck!


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