Friday, February 19, 2010

A new school ???

I revisited an idea today that I had previously dismissed and that was to go to a large commercial school to continue my flight training towards my Instrument Rating. I had dismissed the idea before, in particular the idea of a Cessna school, because when I very first started my training in Scotland a fair few years ago I wasn't too keen on Cessna aircraft, as I found the older 152 and 172 very small and not too comfortable for long trips and I am not exactly the smallest guy in the world. I often felt as though , when sat along side my instructor, it was like having 2 rugby players in a mini cooper.
But this morning I got up and sat with my computer to have a surf around to look at the options for flight schools once again, and the Cessna school at Opa Locka airport Miami kept googling itself onto my laptop so I thought I would give it a look.
I jumped into the car and headed out to Opa Locka which is only 15 minutes from home and thought I would knock on the door and see what happened.
I was greeted by the owner of the establishment, Freddie, a really nice guy, but very professional and straight talking. He explains that he is also a corporate pilot for a US based company as well as being a fully qualified instructor. There are about a dozen instructors working at the facility and its a family affair as well as Freddie's wife is the financial controller. There was a good atmosphere at the school, and a got to speak with a few current students who were also on the instrument course.
One thing I liked is the way the theory course work is evaluated, its all computer based from a dvd set which you can study anywhere and at your own pace, and there are regular study tests and check ups, which when you have done them automatically link up with Cessna central study school and the flight school in Opa Locka.
Next I was shown around the fleet of aircraft they have, Cessna 172SP's annd 182T's. All of which are less than 2 years old and all of which have the best thing I have ever seen in a aircraft, The Glass cockpit.
So I was invited to sit in the 172SP SkyHawk, Freddie, hit a switch and it was like starting up the Starship Enterprise, 2 huge screens sparked into life in front of me, instead of having the usual speed indicators, temp and press. gauges dials all of the usual instrumentation is in flat screen format. The huge one on the right was a massive GPS screen and was so cool I felt like Capt. James T Kirk.
You can zoom around the map, choose an airport and click on it, at that point you get to see all approach proceedures, ground layout of taxi ways, all frequencies, every piece of information needed for any arrival. No need for any maps. Well at least they can stay in the bag as back up. A far cleaner cockpit I imagine.
Anyway I was pretty impressed with the set up, so I have started to go through the security process once again, and once again parted with $135 for the pleasure.
Once the clearance comes through I will get to try out the SkyHawk, sit in the left hand seat and say "Engage".....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Training day 1, Mmmm a little worrying.

I had my first flight today here in Miami , a bit of a refresher as I haven't flown since I passed my skills test back at the end of September, and I can say so far is that flying over here is a whole
different ball game. I also have to say not for the better.
As I have written before I did a lot of checking before signing up to a school here and found a school that I felt comfortable with to continue my training with to go on and do my IR and then commercial hopefully.
I was introduced to my new steed, N143ND, a PA28-161, she seems like a sturdy beast and couldn't wait to get in and get going.
I started the pre flight checks, all seemed ok except I couldn't get the stall warner to sound and one of the strobe lights weren't working, I was doing the pre-flight alone, so thought maybe I was doing something wrong and would question the instructor when we were in the plane together.
When I asked the question about the stall warner, the response was "don't worry about that we wont be needing it, and for the strobe light its only required to have 2 out of the 3 anyway legally speaking".......
I know what you are thinking, thats the point where you should turn around and say thanks but no thanks. But I didn't.

So we start her up and taxi away from the school, there are 3 runways at this airport and its huge so there is ground/taxi radio initially then when you have completed power checks you move onto tower radio.
What struck me was there is no handing over on the radio between stations, you don't report leaving a frequency. So I can't imagine how many missed calls there must be.
I dealt with tower radio for permission to depart and then came up against another small but significant difference here, after power checks its : "ready for take off" not "departure" as we have all been taught.
So full power on and heading down the runway, lift off and then tower comes on to direct me to " N143ND traffic left" when i was at about 700ft. The look on my face must have told the story as the instructor spoke with tower to copy that.... " left traffic = Left hand circuit" oh by the way its not "circuit" here either, its " Pattern".
I so as I start to level off at "pattern elevation" (Circuit height) I put my hand on the throttle to throttle back a bit and the throttle lever comes off in my hand !!!!!
Fortunately leaving a small piece of metal sticking out so that I could still control the throttle so that I can control the plane....... The instructor is not vexed by this at all and wants to continue onto the training area to do some slow flight and general handing, where once again I realized there is no handing over on the radio at all, you leave a frequency at will and move onto the next without signing off on the previous one, a very uncomfortable feeling, so I asked about it and the instructor informed me its their job for them them to monitor us not the other way around.
One thing that peeved me most and I am not sure if its right to be peeved, but the instructor spent a fair part of the lesson texting on his iPhone.......Yes I am a fully qualified pilot so he doesn't need to watch my every move but still.
The general handling of the aircraft (minus throttle lever) was really nice, it was quite heavy almost like a 4x4 car, and once you put in on a path it stuck to it like glue, it was a little strange to fly with a yoke and the PA 28 is a heavy beast so you are flying a lot with 2 hands instead of the 2 fingers in the Robin DR400. A few landings after flying around the pattern and the lesson was over.
A few things have dawned on me after having just one lesson.
Firstly I wouldn't recommend any first time pilot who wants to do their PPL and to fly in Europe to start their training over here, I know its cheaper but I don't think the general standards are high enough for the basic training, in particular the communications side of things are not at the same standard as the European side of things, if you qualify here you wont know whats hit you in the UK or mainland Europe.
Secondly if someone is going to do further training in the US I would only suggest doing so from a school you have been recommended to by someone you know
I have decided to give the school one further chance with a lesson tomorrow, as I am hoping this was just a bad day. Plus if I change schools I have to go through all of the security checks with another school and wait an eternity.
All in all a little disappointed with day
Lets just hope its a blip.

Pointy Pyramids and a windy Nile, back in Africa and a room with a view

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