Flying Training

Lesson 53: First Passenger

Sunday 16 December 2007, 8.00am in Citabria VH-RRW. Passenger: Brendan.

Weather: Scattered cloud at 1000 feet - tops at 2000 feet. Broken cloud above. Wind calm.

After the check flight with Craig, when I was looking for volunteers, Brendan said, "I'll come!" Those two words led to an 6am start this morning (I'd booked RRW for 8 till 9.30). The forecast wasn't great, with scattered cloud at 1000 feet and broken cloud at 2500 feet. Showers were forecast from 11am, with intermittent storms, but I expected to be be safely back on the ground before it became too interesting.

And so it turned out. We arrived at Camden just before 8, after a pleasant drive down (Brendan's many questions on all subjects under the sun made the 50-minute drive pass quickly), to find it very hazy, and completely overcast. I checked the forecast with Steve, who said we'd be fine in the training area, then filled out the paperwork and went to find RRW, which was being refuelled. Rod (?) told me it contained 100 litres, and Brendan sensibly asked if we should check. We did, of course, and it was spot on.

We moved the aircraft by hand away from the refuelling area to allow the Pitts in, but I wasn't clear on the best way to turn it [A: push the tail using the handle until the castoring kicks in], so we carried out the preflight then called for help in turning it to face the taxiway. After completing the paperwork, and collecting headsets, licence and chart, I installed Brendan in the back seat, plugged in his headset, buckled him in and checked the waist straps were tight. I got in and ran through the pre-start checks, called, "Clear prop!" and started up. I heard Brendan make a comment from the back. It always seems to passengers that there's an awful lot of faffing about before flying, but it all has a purpose. I'd already told Brendan on the way down that we couldn't just turn up, hop in and blast off. "Why not?" he had asked.

As I taxiied up to the run-up bay my seat moved back one notch, then another. I realised that Brendan's feet were probably involved, and he confirmed it, so I asked him to keep them clear of my seat (the adjustment lock is lower right, and his foot was between that and the rudder pedal). I was imagining what would happen if the seat shot back during the flare.

Runup checks complete (and fresh air vents opened), I had a last look for aircraft on base or final, and made a departure call, "Camden traffic, Citabria Romeo Romeo Whisky entering and rolling on runway zero-six for a crosswind departure to the training area.". Turning onto the runway, I lined up and opened the throttle steadily to full power. We rapidly gathered pace, keeping nice and straight (no crosswind, in fact the windsock was completely limp). Pretty quickly the tail was up, and soon after we were off the ground and climbing. I turned crosswind at 800 feet and set course just to the left of the house on the hill that Jim pointed out as a useful landmark. As we passed it I explained to Brendan that we had to keep to 1300 feet until clear of the circuit area, and then we could climb higher.

On this flight we couldn't climb much higher because of the cloud above us, so we levelled off at 2000 feet and set course north of the Mayfield inbound track, while looking for inbound traffic. Nothing. Transponder to Alt and changed frequency to Sydney Radar (124.55) - still nothing much.

We passed the prominent racetrack and Brendan, who was closely observing everything on the ground, asked what the circular object was by a set of pig pens. I didn't know (it looked like a feeding arrangement), but I like his sense of curiousity.

Click to enlarge Keeping the gorge on our left we flew north to Warragamba, and Brendan took a couple of pictures of the dam. He commented that it wasn't really a good day for photos, which was true, but in retrospect I should have at least taken a picture of him, as my first passenger. In fact we should have kept the camera out and taken some pictures of the clouds as the conditions were rather unusual in my limited experience.

Click to enlarge From the dam I flew up to the pipeline, and followed it east, keeping a careful eye (and ear) open for other traffic, as this is an inbound track to Bankstown. Sydney Radar was advising an IFR aircraft at 4000 feet of traffic - "One VFR aircraft in your 3 o'clock at 1700 feet" - and that was me, still staying below the cloud. Ahead of us in the direction of Sydney the horizon was an unbroken blanket of cloud tops, and after showing Brendan the airstrip where he and Cameron had their Zonta flight all those years ago, I had to abandon thoughts of flying out to the M7 because it was just too cloudy. I couldn't even see the motorway, or Hoxton Park aerodrome.

Brendan was taking a great interest in the ground below. There were so many dams, all full, that Brendan commented that it looked "like a swamp". I was more interested in the cloud, which seemed to be unbroken to the east and becoming thicker over the mountains. We flew over Bringelly, and the brick pit, where I'd been planning to make my inbound call, and I changed my plan as it was somewhat clearer towards Mayfield. In fact we had a short spell where I flew through a patch of sunlight, illuminating the clouds around us, which was quite pretty (where was that camera?). I flew directly west, then north again to Warragamba, turned left before the dam and flew down to Mayfield where I checked the ATIS for runway in use, QNH and code. It was now after 9 o'clock, so the tower was operating. I made my inbound call, "Camden Tower, Citabria Romeo Romeo Whisky, Mayfield one thousand niner hundred, inbound with Alpha." The tower responded, "Romeo Romeo Whisky, good morning. Join base for zero six and report at two miles."

The challenge now was to find the airfield. The cloud base was 2000 feet and it was hazy below, but I picked up the retirement units which mark the base turn and called two miles. The tower told me I was number one, and I throttled back for a descent. Brendan commented on this, so he was paying close attention [It's probably a good idea to inform the passenger before changing throttle settings].

Unfortunately I completely muffed this approach and was way too high. I put in a couple of stages of flap but it was making no difference so I raised them again, throttled up, established a positive rate of climb and called, "Romeo Romeo Whisky, going around."

Back in the circuit I called downwind for a full stop and got number one again, cleared to land. This approach was better. I nailed the final turn at 800 feet, but I was still a little high and fast at the threshold. Still, it's a long runway, so it was simply a matter of waiting patiently until the stall warning went off, then settling onto the runway in a nice three-pointer. We ended up turning off at the last taxiway, which felt rather unprofessional, but better than making an abrupt turn at too high a speed. I'm sure passengers are more interested in whether it's a smooth landing than which taxiway you use.

Click to enlarge While taxiing back I opened the window for some fresh air, switched off the transponder and asked Brendan how it went. "I really enjoyed it." was his answer, and I believe him because he told all his brothers how good it was when we got home. I'm only sorry that I didn't take a picture of him by the aircraft, and I couldn't persuade him to go back, so here he is at the car instead.

We had the best part of the day, because the rain started later as expected, and became quite heavy, as the graphs below show.


Temperature and rainfall
Temperature and rainfall

Wind and pressure
Wind and pressure