Getting a Canadian pilot’s licence [Part 5: The Flying]

This is another installment in my guide to Getting a Canadian pilot’s licence series. Make sure to read the previous posts to get the whole picture:

You’re finally at the good stuff: the flying! Here’s a picture of me taking off on my first solo back in September 2008.

Me, taking off on my first solo

Me, taking off on my first solo

After a few lessons this will be you!

The Lessons

Each flight lesson will consist of a ground briefing (also called a pre-flight ground instruction aka PGI or a pre-flight briefing aka PFB), the actual inflight practice and a debrief. Depending on your lesson the PFB and the debrief may be skipped. All lessons are based on the flight training manual (TP1002) which is a Transport Canada publication used by all schools in Canada. It lists all the exercises you are expected to be able to perform on a flight test. The first few lessons will concentrate on a single exercise however, as you progress, you will be expected to perform all the previous exercises. If you think about it, it makes sense: the first exercise is straight and level flight then climbs and descents and then turns and so on.

Flight 0

Assuming you have not already done so, your first flight will be a familiarization flight. This is a half hour flight giving you the chance to see what it’s like to be in a plane and decide if you really want to do this. Some people figure out that it’s not for them and stop their training there. Of course if you think this could happen to you (as in if you have even the slightest doubt about being in a small civil aircraft) I would recommend you do this before you begin ground school.

During the familiarization flight you will get the chance to control the aircraft and get used to the view from up there.

Naticoke Power plant from 3000 feet ASL

Nanticoke Power plant from 3000 feet ASL

During my flight I was allowed to control the aircraft from start-up to short final. It was an amazing experience and it sealed my conviction that I want a pilot’s licence.

Important Flights

First Solo

Taxiing back after my first solo

Taxiing back after my first solo

Your first solo is a flight you will remember for the rest of your life. The flight itself will consist of taxiing to the runway, taking off, doing one circuit then landing and taxiing back to the apron. Sounds simple enough but there is a lot training that must be covered before hand.

To be cleared for a solo, you need to be able to take off and land safely. You also need to safely recover from a possible engine failure in the circuit. Your instructor will go through the procedures, demonstrate it a few times then have you perform it. Once your instructor is satisfied you can safely recover, you’re good to go.

You can read about my first solo to get an idea of what happens during one.

First Solo to the Practice Area
Following your first solo, you will spend some time (usually about 5 hours) practicing circuits on your own. In my case, I had the chance to practice quite a few ballooning and bouncing recoveries. Your instructor will then rejoin you in the plane and you will practice forced approaches which are the en-route equivalent of engine failures in a circuit. Basically your instructor will cut the throttle on you and you have to simulate the emergency situation and procedures. I’ll dedicate a later post to forced approaches, but suffice it to say that while there are a lot of steps to be followed, you’ll get the hang of them by the third or fourth one. The same deal applies to going solo to the practice area: once your instructor is satisfied that you know what you are doing and can do it safely, you’ll be released to go.

When I went I decided to practice pilotage (ground to map) for navigation. I had had trouble finding significant features from the ground on the map so I took this opportunity to practice that.

Cross-Countries
A cross-country is a flight more than 25 NM in length with multiple stopovers. Each school has its own approved routes which you will have to take. They usually include one or two controlled airports and at least one uncontrolled airport. At Peninsulair, my former school, the “short” cross country was from Hamilton (CYHM), to Waterloo (CYKF), to London (CYXU), to St. Thomas (CYQS) and back to Hamilton.

My short cross country route

My short cross country route

The cross country gives you a chance to practice all the skills you have learned so far: climbs and descents, turns, straight and level flight, takeoffs, landings and those pesky radio calls. The first time you go you’ll be joined by your instructor who will ensure you do all those things right and are aware of emergency procedures.

Solo Cross-Country
Your first solo cross-country will be along the same route as your dual one. The second one will be along a different route so you have to get it right the first time, no security blanket. During all your cross countries you will be expected to demonstrate the skills you have been taught. I would take this time to also get acquainted to the radio navigation aids you have available to you.

A road makes a great landmark to follow

A road makes a great landmark to follow