Core Phase – Complete!

Hello again,

At the end of last week, EZMP01 reached a pretty big milestone in the training programme; after four months in New Zealand and a further four weeks at Bournemouth, we have now completed the Core phase of the EasyJet MPL programme! This means that all of our VFR and IFR training flights are complete, and from now on any training flights will be completed in the Airbus A320 Level D Simulators (which are truly awesome) here at CTC Nursling. I’ll explain a bit more about the beginning of our Basic Phase later but first, I need to fill you in on how we ended our time in New Zealand!

The final weeks of our NZ adventure

Despite not writing a big update for a couple of months, I have put out a couple of videos showcasing our VFR solo navigation flights and, more recently, our IFR training flights which I hope you enjoyed. One of them has even been shown at the Farnborough airshow which is pretty overwhelming (if you haven’t seen them yet, they can be found here). When I last spoke to you, we had started our IFR phase in New Zealand a little later than planned as a result of our VFR phase overrunning slightly due to weather.  Although we had no serious delays, with our departure date looming it was decided that it would be best for us to complete a ‘flyaway’ to ensure we got the flights completed on time. The plan was to take three Cessnas (each with one instructor and three cadets) to Napier Airport where we would then complete the remaining five training flights whilst flying to a number of new destinations. We were absolutely overwhelmed by the prospect, so when it was confirmed we were obviously thrilled! We were soon assigned an instructor in groups of three and had the weekend to plan our flights (which included completing all flight logs, mass and balance, fuel and oil requirements) before arriving at the training centre very early on Monday morning with our luggage. CTC were fantastic and provided us with money to cover living expenses and taxis, and they booked us into a very nice motel in Napier.

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Passing Mt Taranaki
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Two of the aircraft parked at Napier after a hard days work

We loaded up our aircraft, ZK-ZAQ, and I flew the first leg from Hamilton to Napier via Rotorua before my instructor and coursemate flew the plane back to pick up our final crew member. The days were pretty long (especially for the instructors) and consisted of each of us having one or two flights as well as back seating others. This was fantastic, as it gave us the chance to see not only more of the incredible landscapes, but more importantly a number of new procedures and IFR techniques that we had not previously seen. Despite the long days, every evening we made time to go out and have a meal in Napier; one restaurant, called the Thirsty Whale, was a particular favourite! There were so many highlights over the four days, in particular flying the ILS approach and landing at Wellington along with A320s and 737s, and flying to the South Island and seeing the huge mountain ranges. When we returned to Hamilton on the fourth day it was all rather bittersweet because, although we were overwhelmed with what we had accomplished, it meant that our time in New Zealand had sadly come to an end. There were no more training flights for us to complete and so all that was left to do was to complete the sign out process, which included getting our logbooks signed and photocopied, and clean our rooms at Clearways. However, as a group we decided that we needed to finish off our time in NZ on a real high, so our course spent the weekend in Auckland watching England play the All Blacks at Eden Park, follwed by a well earnt night out afterwards! I’m not a big follower of Rugby, but the atmosphere at Eden Park was electric – it was a great match to watch and, even though the result wasn’t ideal for us, it is something I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. We then had four days to complete our sign-out process and finish packing before being shuttled to the airport on Thursday afternoon for our return flights to the UK. This time, we flew on the Emirates A380 all the way – first to Brisbane and then onto Dubai before making the final hop to London. New Zealand was, as you’ve guessed by my blabbering, incredible. It will remain an unforgettable adventure and, although I’m glad to be back in the UK, I will definitely miss NZ and cannot wait to go back! Huge thank you to all of the staff at CTC NZ!!

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This sunrise was incredible!

Back to Bournemouth

Our course were then scheduled for ten days leave which I spent at home catching up with family and friends before moving down to start the short four week phase at Bournemouth. The Bournemouth phase consisted of three upset recovery flights (which we completed in the the ‘Bulldog’ and the Diamond DA40), one DA42 simulator flight followed by an MEP familiarisation flight and three IFR route flights. It was a pretty relaxed phase with the aim of giving us an understanding and appreciation for flying in UK airspace, and more importantly for multi-engine aircraft control. Despite this, we of course gave the phase our maximum effort as we were required to learn a number of new skills such as asymmetric flight (one engine out). Bournemouth has a fleet of Twinstars that we used for our multi-engine training, and it’s safe to say that we all enjoyed the increased performance over the Cessna 172! DA42 Twinstars are powerful twin engined aircraft which are ideal for training due to their reliability and handling characteristics. As I briefly mentioned above, one of the new things we had to learn was the engine failure procedure which involves the instructor simulating an engine shutdown at a phase of flight (most notably after takeoff), leaving us to control and contain the resulting situation. As with any moment of flight, critical or not, control is the main goal. You have to control the aircraft, which in this case is made all the more difficult due to the huge yaw moment created from the failed engine. Once this is under control, you then simulate a full shut down of the affected engine and begin to look at performance, in particular feathering the propeller on the affected engine to reduce the drag. Of course, a vital component is of the whole procedure is to voice which engine has failed!! Not doing this has proved fatal: the pilots of British Midland Flight 92 incorrectly identified the malfunctioning powerplant on their Boeing 737-400, and subsequently shut down the working engine resulting in them crashing short of the runway and narrowly missing a busy motorway.

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The DA42 Twinstar
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Upset recovery was done in the Bulldog, as well as the Diamond DA40

The main aim of the phase was to take a look at asymmetric flight, but also for us to complete upset recovery training. This type of training has come to the forefront of ab-initio courses ever since the crash of Air France 447 back in 2009. The three flights built upon the unusual attitude training incorporated into many of the training flights in New Zealand, and looked specifically at how to recover from stalls, spiral dives and other unusual attitudes. All of this was backed up by the issue of a training manual which explains the principles of flight surrounding the stall and, crucially, the correct recovery process for a modern jet airliner. Aside from this, the other main goal was for us to get more practice at flying IFR routes in UK airspace so that we have some level of experience when we start with easyJet (in addition to the many IFR flights we flew in New Zealand of course). My last training flight was arguably the most enjoyable; a two hour route to Exeter and back, including two ILS  approaches (Instrument Landing System – a type of precision approach), engine failures after takeoff and in the cruise, as well as something called an ‘SRA’ approach. This is where the tower controller actually talks you down to the runway, giving you commands such as ‘turn left xx degrees’ and telling you the altitude you should be at when passing a specific DME distance from the runway.

Whilst living in Bournemouth, we also got the chance to see some of the local attractions (in particular the beach) whilst being spoilt with four weeks of almost wall to wall sunshine and, on our final weekend before starting the basic phase, we visited the Farnborough Airshow which was brilliant as usual.

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When the big fan stops spinning, the pilots get hot!! 😉
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Alasdair flying the ILS approach at Bournemouth

 The Basic Phase begins

Before long however, it was time to pack up and move house for the final time. The format changes from now on, as we are grouped into threes throughout this phase which not only gives us a huge amount of time in the simulator for each lesson, but also enables us to work on our multi-crew cooperation from day one. So, first things first, what is this basic phase? Basically, the MPL course is split into four sections: Core, Basic, Intermediate and Advanced. The core phase is the longest and consists of our ground school and VFR/IFR flight training. The basic and intermediate phases take place in the Airbus A320 simulator at CTC, and this is where the MPL really gets into its stride! The advanced phase includes a brief period at CTC followed by our move into EasyJet to begin base and line training.

The basic phase consists of a number of ground school days and a total of twenty nine training flights. We started last week with three days of introductory ground training which covered a number of subject areas found within our EasyJet trainee manual, which we have been each been issued along with wall posters of the A320 flight deck to help us practice our instrument scans and checklists at home. The training manual is our ‘bible’ for the basic phase, and contains all of our initial easyJet standard operating procedures and checklists, aircraft handling notes, lesson guides and system overviews. It really has become apparent just how airline orientated the MPL is, as even by the second day of ground school we were in one of CTCs ‘virtual flight deck’ trainers running through the start-up and various SOPs (standard operating procedures) and by day six, we all had our first Airbus A320 simulator lessons – by far one of the most exciting parts of the course to date and for all of us.

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Inside the simulator – the Airbus A320 flight deck

I cannot explain how fantastic it is to be in the simulator at last! Above is a picture of the flight deck of one of CTCs A320 simulators which we will be using for this phase: it is an exact replication of the real A320, and is one of the earlier simulators that was built by Airbus themselves. Although older than the other simulators CTC owns, the handling characteristcs on this sim are apparently the best and, thanks to the recently updated visuals, the simulator is just as high tech as its younger counterpart. As you can see in the picture above, the aircraft is very well designed and although they may look complicated to operate, the various systems are all very well laid out and intuitive to use. Each pilot has a PFD, or Primary Flight Display, showing important aircraft parameters like speed, altitude, vertical speed and attitude and an ND, or Navigation Display, which shows information on the route, nearby airports, nav-aids, and of course heading information. The two screens in middle consist of a display showing vital engine parameters and an ECAM screen which shows different messages and system parameters throughout the various stages of flight.

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Practicing checks on the ‘digi-bombers’

On the first day, my crew had an early start, with a 4:30am report time at the training centre for a ninety minute brief which was followed by the four hour simulator slot. The times aren’t always that brutal, but they exist for good reason as it gets us used to the times we’ll often have to get up for at EasyJet! The lessons are run in a  way that allows us all to get a lot of exposure to the aircraft and to the multi crew environment, as we each fly 1.3 hours as ‘Pilot Flying’, 1.3 hours as ‘Pilot Monitoring’ and 1.3 hours of ‘Pilot Observing’. As I write this, we have all had two simulator lessons and already we are able to follow the EasyJet SOPs, checklists and various memory items to get the Airbus started from it’s ‘cold and dark’ state right through to taxi, takeoff and cruise. In particular, the lessons have looked at taxiing, takeoff, general handling and approach and landing. We have also had a look at the A320s numerous safety features including a rather clever one called ‘Alpha Floor’ which, in essence, makes the aircraft near impossible to stall. If you have power at idle, and insist on pulling up the nose to an ever increasing pitch attitude, the airplane will force the nose down before reaching the critical angle of attack where the aircraft will stall. Even then, if you still fight against it, it will simply set maximum thrust to stop the aircraft stalling! Away from all of it’s incredible features though, the fact remains is that the A320 is just another aircraft and behaves, for the most part, as you would expect. The fly by wire controls and huge amounts of power took some getting used to, but it handles beautifully and although I obviously have no other jet experience to compare it to, it is proving a real joy to fly.

One interesting thing to note is that during the  basic phase of an MPL course, cadets are not actually required to train in aircraft that their specific airline operates. However, with CTC putting us straight into the A320 it allows us to complete the basic phase whilst learning about the actual aircraft we will be flying using the actual SOPs and procedures we will be using at EasyJet. Although not essential, we view this as a huge positive to the course as it means that we should become very confident with the aircraft and this will enable to hit the ground running when we get to the more complex Intermediate Phase.

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Building works under way for a new training suite and another A320 full motion simulator!

So, that’s about it from me. It’s sure to be another exciting few weeks as we get further and further into the basic phase and more confident at operating the A320 as a multi-crew. We also have three flights in the 737 coming up which carry on from our three upset recovery flights at Bournemouth and aim to teach us the same thing in a passenger aircraft. I’ll be uploading new pictures, and a fourth flight training video very soon. Once again, thank you for reading the blog and watching my videos.

Over and Out!

Goodbye VFR, hello IFR!

Hello all!

It’s fair to say that EZMP01 have been very busy since my last update. Since I last posted, we have completed all of our solo navigation flights as well as our Competency Assurance test flight. The solo navigation phase was fantastic, and it was great to see more of the North Island whilst developing our flying skills. My solo navigation flights have allowed me to see some amazing places, such as Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe (also known as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings films), Lake Taupo, Paunui Beach, Cathedral Cove and many more! The phase also has a number of dual flights known as ‘ops routes’ which often allow for two cadets to fly back to back, meaning we can fly further away from Hamilton than we would normally. For myself, this involved a flight through the Auckland Gap and up to Whangerai up towards the top of the North Island and back down to Hamilton via Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel. This has been a great opportunity to see new places and learn new procedures, all whilst being spoilt with some incredible NZ landscapes. For those who don’t know, the Auckland Gap is a thin piece of airspace over Auckland city centre where you can fly without needing a clearance. Below is a picture of us approaching the city which we later flew straight over before heading further north:

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Approaching the ‘Auckland Gap’

In total, we have five ‘ops route’ flights, and it is here where the essence of the MPL really starts to come into play. Essentially, in these lessons our instructors take on a variety of roles; they can be a passenger or client who needs to be at a certain airfield at a certain time, coming to us an hour before the off blocks time with their request. In flight, they can again be the passenger and request for us to divert to another aerodrome due to their changing plans. However, for a lot of the flights the instructors essentially became our co-pilots to get us to start thinking and flying like multi-crew pilots. For example, on my last ops route I flew the busy approach into Ardmore (NZ’s busiest uncontrolled aerodrome) whilst my instructor re-briefed the arrival and departure procedures and handled the radio calls in the circuit. On many of the flights, our instructors also gave us emergency situations en-route and made us initiate a suitable plan of action. Take, for example, a battery discharge: how much time do we have? What can we afford to switch off? When will we lose communications? What airfields can we divert to? It’s all very relevant, and it has been designed to get us thinking and flying like pilots in a commercial environment, as well as making us aware of the pressures and possible situations that we will face whilst at airlines such as EasyJet. It is a great advantage to the MPL course, as not only are we working on building our flying skills at this early phase, but also taking into account multi-crew operation, crew resource management,  flight management, commercial pressures and much more. It has definitely helped to increase my confidence in my ability as a pilot as well as my ability to deal with commercial pressures and emergencies.

For the solo navigation flights we were lucky to have two hours allocated for each flight (allowing us to fly further afield) and we were encouraged to challenge ourselves further on each flight by integrating new practices; be it flying into a new control zone for a touch and go, flying controlled VFR or using challenging waypoints. For me the solo nav flights really helped to pinpoint my ‘problem areas’ and improve not only my general flying skills, but my planning and flight management skills as well as my overall knowledge of the aircraft. We also practiced some general handling exercises on the solo routes, such as the various types of stalls as well as steep turns, practice forced landings, circuit emergencies and other in-flight emergencies.

Flying back to Hamilton after an Ops route to Rotorua and Te Kuiti
Flying back to Hamilton after an Ops route to Rotorua and Te Kuiti
One of my longer navigation flights with another cadet
One of my longer navigation flights with another cadet

There have definitely been some pretty memorable moments from my solo navigation flights. The first one, across to Raglan and up to the Firth of Thames, was a pretty straightforward route but the scenery was still incredible! At one point, I even saw one of my coursemates flying a few hundred feet below me on his flight – a very surreal feeling! However, by far my most enjoyable solo navigation flights were those which included other controlled airfields such as Rotorua and Tauranga. For these airfields, you often have to fly published departure and arrival routes which adds to the complexity (and enjoyment!) of the flight. The Coromandel Peninsula and Tongariro national park are definitely my favourite places to fly to, simply because of the breathtaking landscape which is scattered with huge mountain ranges and active volcanoes – a stark contrast to the UK that’s for sure! The VFR (visual flight rules) phase is finished off with the Competency Assurance flight, which is what we were essentially preparing for on all of our dual and solo navigation flights. This first CA is the MPL equivalent of the PT1 (or flying skills test) that the Wings cadets complete on their course, and it follows the basic outline of the ops route lessons whilst testing on the vast majority of the following:

Groundwork

  • NZ AIP  testing
  • Cessna 172 Flight Manual testing
  • Mass and Balance
  • Aircraft Performance (with EU-OPS)
  • Aircraft pre-flight and general knowledge
  • Passenger briefing
  • Weather and NOTAM briefing
  • Route planning and Fuel plan

Flight Test

  • Departure, passenger and emergency briefs
  • Departure and en-route navigation
  • Basic navigation techniques
  • Diversions
  • Circuit emergencies
  • Basic flight operation (i.e. radio, general aircraft handling, airspace, checks)
  • Stalls
  • Steep turns
  • Practice Forced Landing
  • Emergency ops (i.e. fire in flight, CO deteced, electrical problem)
  • Unusual attitude recovery
  • Instrument flight/Instrument failure
  • Compass turns

It all made for a very busy flight, but as we had a lot of practice (both solo and dual) of the above exercises it was something that we were all well prepared for, so everyone on EZMP01 passed the test without a problem. For me, the day started with my instructor giving me a route to plan from Hamilton up to Great Barrier Island just one hour before we were due to be off blocks. En-route, I completed a navigation leg before being asked to divert to Pauanui beach over the Coromandel mountains which turned out to be quite tricky with a fair amount of low cloud. I flew an overhead join and a few circuits at Pauanui before flying a divert to Matamata and completing stalls, steep turns, a practice forced landing and a number of simulated emergencies en-route. After just over two hours, we touched down back at Hamilton and I was told that I’d passed the test! It felt amazing to have the flight completed and although I’ll miss the VFR navigation phase, I’m already enjoying the new challenges of IFR flying (instrument flight rules). We also have two night flights coming up which will give us an appreciation of aircraft operation at night, which I for one am really looking forward to. One of the flights is solely spent in the Hamilton circuit, whereas the other looks at the differences of navigation when the sun has gone! The IFR phase is quite short for our course as so much of it will be done in the A320 simulators, but we have already covered a number of critical techniques which we will take forward and use throughout our careers. We have had a number of mass briefs covering everything from how to read the Jeppesen IFR plates to flying manoeuvres such as procedural turns, holding patterns and of course the ILS. The phase consists of eight simulator flights, five Cessna flights (including our second competency assurance flight), five DA42 Twinstar flights and three upset recovery flights in the Bulldog (these last two phases are completed in Bournemouth).

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All of the fleet are now sporting the new CTC brand image
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Charlie Tango Yankee, one of the newest in the fleet

To date, I have completed four of the IFR simulator lessons and I’m really enjoying the challenge of getting to grips with this different style of flying. So far, we have looked at VOR and NDB holds as well as GPS routing with the Garmin G1000. Holding looks pretty complex, but once you have flown a few they are actually quite straight-forward and intuitive to fly. In the simulator we are currently focusing on briefing the plates, flying a SID (standard instrument departure) and then carrying out a procedural turn to fly back to the hold where we practice flying the different types of entries, before joining a STAR (standard terminal arrival route) to land back at the airfield. In short, there are three types of hold entries that you can fly; direct, parallel and offset, and the hold you do depends on which direction you are approaching from. Each entry has a different joining method, but each one gets you to the fix from which you begin the holding pattern which itself consists of timed legs and monitored turns, as shown below. The whole thing gets a little more complicated with wind where you have to apply single, double or triple drift for the different sections depending on factors such as the wind strength and direction relative to the hold. Practice makes perfect as they say!

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As we’ve been extremely busy with the training programme over the past six weeks, we haven’t had as much time off as we did when we started. Despite this, we’ve still managed to have some day trips, including one to Rotorua for a day of mountain biking which was awesome. Hamilton was also paid a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge whilst on their tour of New Zealand and Australia. The airport was a hive of activity with two New Zealand Air Force 757s arriving in quick succession and a fleet of cars, a lot media and of course lots of the general public coming to get a glimpse! Prince William stayed on site for the morning to have a  look around Pacific Aerospace, an aircraft manufacturer based at the airport who produce STOL (short take off and landing) aircraft. We were even treated to a flight display by one of the aircraft which, despite it’s boxy proportions, gave a very impressive performance! CTC has also been very busy over the past few weeks, with the rebrand now in full swing and a number of new CPs starting which include Wings, Qatar and British Airways FPP cadets. The fleet is now re-painted in the brand new livery and all of the signage in the training centre and Clearways being removed and replaced.

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Prince William leaving Pacific Aerospace
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Will and Kate boarding the 757

So, whats next? Currently, I have just four simulator flights and seven Cessna flights left here in New Zealand and in just three weeks time I will be back at home in the UK before starting the Bournemouth phase. It’s bound to be a busy few weeks, with the possibility of a weekend flyaway which will be fantastic if we get the chance to do it. We’ve also got a few things planned away from flying including a trip to Auckland to watch England play All Blacks at Eden Park!

That’s all for now! Here are some of the amazing views I’ve been lucky enough to see over the past few weeks. I’ll upload some new pictures to my Flickr page soon, but for now I have pieced together a second ‘film’ showcasing some of our solo navigation flights. I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed flying it!!

Speak soon,

Chris

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Great Barrier Island (the runway threshold can be seen on the green patch under the wing flap)
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South Pacific Ocean
An amazing view whilst doing the morning pre-flight!
An amazing view whilst doing the morning pre-flight!