It is not prohibited to fly in rain
This morning, the weather looks a bit better than the last few days but is still not really great. There is almost no wind but the clouds are hanging really low. However, the visibility is good enough to fly this navigation flight and the decision is made quickly. In one hour we leave.
During the last three mornings, I had been practicing planning navigation always based on this same flight. Each time, I found something I could really improve on, and the speed at which I consulted the weather & wind reports to calculate the headings, etc. had more than tripled since my first attempt. I knew all the dangerous areas to avoid, the frequencies we needed, etc.
At 11 am I inform the tower, we lift & hover taxi to the triangle and it starts to rain.
I am so focused on flying and familiarizing myself with these new accessories – chart and kneeboard – that I don’t really care about the rain. I take off and climb out through the circuit but, as we leave the aerodrome, I ask my instructor if he is really sure that this weather is good enough?
“It is not prohibited to fly in rain – as long as the VFR on visibility is ok. Don’t you feel ok?” – “Oh no, I am fine, just wondered.”
Don’t look so long – Where are we now?
I fly towards the departing point of the first navigation leg in the hills beside Goodwood and as I want to have a look on the chart to compare the pictures – it already starts: “Don’t look for so long.” I had not even found my line on the chart yet.
I continue to scan the horizon and try to recognize anything, but it’s really difficult. The visibility to the ground is not bad, we are very low anyway, but all the rest is a structureless soup in an area with not more than fields and woods.
On my second attempt at looking at the chart, I have the impression that his remark, “Don’t look so long”, starts before I even start to look. After only 4 minutes of the flight he asks, “Where are we now?” I find him quite exhausting right now.
Navigating in poor visibility is mandatory
I am not sure if I have already missed the departing point in this visibility and over this area (woods & fields) as it all looks pretty much the same.
It is absolutely impossible for me to check the chart in that short a time (2-3 secs) and I realize that my “Departing Point” is not really smart. The smallest and last village, before it starts to reach the hillside, is too close to the aerodrome anyway, not a clear outstanding feature, etc. It looked way better on the chart though.
Right now, my thought is that navigation is actually really difficult and I am on my way to getting lost during departure.
Even though I am quite concerned that this is just really not a very good start to this new kind of exercise, I can’t help but laugh as the whole situation has a very close similarity to my absurd virgin call on the radio.
Telling this to my instructor he just jokes back: “Navigating in poor visibility is mandatory-you will have completed this task straight from the beginning.”
Reading the Chart in the Air
From here, he helps a lot and we fly the full route. I don’t give up on finding our path on the chart but still had to listen to his remark “Don’t look so long” at least another 20 times during the flight. It’s actually a really funny and memorable flight. We joke a lot and see many small things you normally wouldn’t see in better visibility.
I realize how difficult navigation in poor visibility is. It goes through my mind that his visibility is not any better than mine and he hasn’t known the area for much longer than me. But, he always finds something to clearly identify where we are. So, it must be possible to learn somehow – I am definitely far away from this point.
My introduction to reading the chart whilst flying and why good planning is so important could not have been more figural. I never questioned the importance of planning again.
During the next navigation flight and in subsequent flight planning this flight comes back again and again in different forms of funny jokes. Up until my PPL(H) we did 4 more navigation exercises in all different directions. Each time, they were combined with more workload – radio & airspaces, airports to transit, on the edge of London Heathrow air zone, etc.
These were always by reading the chart, without any GPS navigation help, just as I am supposed to fly in all the exams (PPL & CPL). Again, the learning curve was amazing. I developed the awareness of being ahead of the situation every time & read the chart much more quickly than I expected after that first flight.
One more flight?
As we sit there during de-briefing, I am thinking about this flight (again hundreds of impressions, trying to imagine how I’ll fly alone, read the chart and not get lost, etc.), the other instructor enters the classroom:
“Are you still ready to fly a bit more?” – before I even say anything, he continues “obviously you are ready and the conditions would be perfect for your first solo flight. This surprise is perfect, it comes completely out of the blue.