Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Duty Pilot after an absence

Sunday 8 May 2011

Looking at my log book, I haven’t flown for almost 7 months! Starting a new job, with quite a bit of travel, as well as the usual complex family things that come with an elderly parent having to go into care, along with terrible weather in the Sydney Basin for much of the preceding period combined to ground me.

I had planned to celebrate my 50th birthday in wave over Omarama NZ, but my birthday has come and gone and I’m still earthbound.

ASK-21 with Spin Kit Fitted
The duty pilot roster had me on duty on Mother’s Day this year. I didn’t realise the date when I had my chance to request date changes, so I had to do some grovelling before leaving my family early on Sunday morning.

It is getting colder in Sydney and as I approached the airfield a bit after 7.00 am, an alarm went off in my car to alert me to the possibility of ice outside – it was 3 degrees Celsius!

Well, it wouldn’t be a duty pilot day for me without complications and today there were a few. I was expecting a quiet day, being Mother’s Day, but it was pretty busy. In addition, one of the single-seaters – the Junior – had a flat tire and the tire on the tail dolly used for both of our ASK-21 two-seaters was also flat, even after a repair. This would make it difficult to handle our main training aircraft, especially on the hill down from the hangars to the strip. As well, both the tractor and Daihatsu towing vehicles were running poorly.

As aircraft were being pulled out, washed and DI’d, a few folk got to work on the dolly tire. None of our pumps would fit the difficult valve location, so in the end the whole wheel assembly was swapped out for a spare.

The Junior tire wasn’t able to be repaired until later, so that ship was left at the hangars for the day.

The day also started with an end change (the pie cart was at the end of runway 06, but operations for the day started from runway 24) so there was a bit of extra time needed to get set up. But, we were finally ready to go around 10.30 am and luckily our two Air Experience Flight (AEF) bookings arrived a half hour early and together, so I took the opportunity to get them both in the air as the first two flights. While this meant they didn’t have very long flights (there was some extensive cirrus so it was cool and no lift), they did get smooth flights and while there was a lowish inversion, the air was otherwise clear, so they got some good views.

Lovely privately-owned Libelle
As usual when I’m at the helm there was an end change before noon, despite there being almost no breeze at all, so another half hour was lost in shuttling gliders and the pie cart from one end of the strip to the other. It was funny to see the Sydney Gliding self-launching ASK-21 easily taxi down the strip under its own power and quickly get airborne from zero-six. Luxury.

Once established on zero-six we got operating again. Initially all the flights were short ones due to the lack of any lift, including one member who took a tow to 7,000 feet (!) hoping to get away, or contact some wave he suspects lurks out to the west. However, after lunch the cirrus had contracted north-east and thermals quickly began to pop, with some small cus forming south-west of the strip.

Flights got longer and a workmate, Nick, who had come out for an AEF on “mates rates” decided to take a 4,000 foot tow and got a nice 46 minute flight including some aerobatics.

One of the unwritten jobs of the duty pilot is to make sure everyone gets to fly (except himself or herself as it usually happens) and for some young students who have been driven by their dads great distances for hopefully more than a 30 minute flight in a 9 hour day, so towards the end of the day, when some students were hoping to get a second flight and other members had turned up late hoping to get one flight, I was running around like a mad thing trying to satisfy everyone’s desires – racing to retrieve gliders. This resulted in the last landing of one of our K21s being at last light!

This was the first time I’ve had to put gliders away in the dark and it meant a late return home on Mother’s Day. And of course, in common with almost all my duty pilot gigs, after all that aviation-related activity I was the only one who missed out on a flight!

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