December 21st, 2014
Total Hours: 124.7
This week has been every bit as interesting as last week was uneventful. I had a fair bit of flying and I’m feeling pretty good about getting in the hours needed for my checkrides. Right now I need another 25.3 hours to meet the minimums for the commercial certificate. The only requirement for my CFI checkride is the commercial certificate, so that should fall into place naturally enough after the commercial checkride. Of course there are a variety of things that could keep me from completing these certificates in early January. One never knows how schedules will work out with examiners, machines, maintenance, and even weather. But I know that the school will try as hard as they can to help me meet my goal. And I know I’ll be trying every bit as hard as well!
What made this week interesting? The first part came with a flight over to Honolulu to do some flying in the class Bravo airspace that surrounds the international airport there. Airspace is divided into various categories depending on the distance from the surface and the amount of traffic in it. That’s a pretty simplistic explanation, but it will do for now. Our airport here in Kona, even though it is an international airport, is class Delta because it isn’t too busy. Honolulu is class Bravo because it’s busy. B is for busy, that’s what we learned in ground school! I thought flying in class Bravo would be rewarding because of the extra radio work and ATC procedures but it was flying in such a busy environment that made the experience. Because there is so much traffic the protocols are a bit different and all it really comes down to is the fact that air traffic control has to keep tabs on everyone in the airspace. They accomplish this by telling everyone where to go and what to do. It was a challenge to try and follow the various radio calls and instructions during my flights but overall it wasn’t too complicated. I could easily see getting comfortable there with a few more days flying. As I mentioned even though the intention of my trip was to get some experience in class Bravo airspace that wasn’t what made the trip worthwhile. Once we departed the Bravo airspace the flying environment in Honolulu proved quite different from the Big Island. The main difference is that there is air traffic everywhere. Military, small airlines, helicopter tours, and even general aviation. Flying in the area requires a lot of situational awareness and I could see that any pilot flying there on a regular basis would need to develop a picture in their mind based off the radio calls that are constantly coming through.
In addition to the liveliness of air traffic in the area the topography on Oahu is quite different as well. Here on the Big Island everything is big, including our mountains. They are so big that they are off the scale in that they hardly even seem like mountains. And because of this we don’t get exposed to some normal parts of mountain flying, like mountain turbulence. Instead we have wind shear turbulence, which is simply a change of wind direction. Wind shear can be tricky though, for example when you are flying to an off airport location and you think you’ve got the wind pegged only to discover it has shifted directions around the corner. In Oahu the mountains are steep and rugged and this leads to real mountain turbulence. I had a theory that helicopters aren’t prone to the same bumpiness as fixed wing aircraft. However over in Oahu the bumpiness factor was much higher than I’d ever experienced and while still not up to par with fixed wing I am reconsidering my theory! The steep mountains and the turbulence made for challenging flying, more similar to the way I had always imagined mountain flying. The mountains of Oahu also offer far more off airport locations for shooting approaches. It was like a candy land of off airport options! I wish that I could do more flying on Oahu but the cost of housing for a week makes it difficult to justify. The added expense of trying to live in Honolulu for that long is unfortunate, but perhaps I will find a way to squeeze in some more days over on that side of the islands. I sure hope so.
While the flying in Oahu was the highlight of the week I have also been flying quite a bit with the assistant chief pilot in preparation for my checkrides. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed flying with him because he has so much experience compared to the other instructors. His experience allows him to show me some new maneuvers, but more importantly he has great insight into how I am flying. In the end that is what makes the experienced instructors so much better, their insight. The chief pilot laid out a wonderful example for me this week. He said that students finish training with about 200 hours and over the course of the 800 they will gain as instructors perhaps only 100 will be on the controls. So at 1000 hours they have only 300 hours manipulating the controls. But do they fly like 300 hour pilots? Of course not. And this is largely because of the insight and understanding they have developed into how the helicopter flies and what is needed to perform maneuvers. In the chief pilot’s opinion we develop all the muscle memory and coordination we’ll every get in the first few months of flying. After that all development comes through better understanding. So, needless to say, flying with someone who has such understanding is eye opening! Overall it is fun to have such useful critique of my flying and I think these next few weeks will continue to be very rewarding as I crank away in preparation for my checkrides.