Wednesday 16th Feb 2011.

Well today was to be my first day flying, and its RAINING! This wasn’t in the script; one of the reasons I came to Florida to learn to fly was because of the mythical good weather. Anyway, a quick check of the METAR for KMNO (Ormond Beach), told me that the forecast was for rain early on, then clearing in the afternoon. As I wasn’t scheduled to fly until 13:15, no problem (I thought).

I had already loaded a METAR & TAF utility to my phone, so by entering the Airport ICAO Code (KMNO), I was able to quickly get the latest forecast.  However, this only gives the standard abbreviated meteorological conditions, and these are still a bit daunting to a novice like me. So I searched the Net, and found a handy little program from Flight Utilities (Metar Reader) that not only retrieves the Forecast for an area, but also decodes it into readable English. Another program for the Desktop of my PC.

Not having eaten very well the day before, I decided that I should really try to get something better today. As my wife will testify, I am not the world’s greatest cook, being too lazy really, so I decide to visit the ‘Slip & Turn’ Inn for some lunch. However, I had arranged with my daughter Sarah that we would try to establish a Skype call, when she was visiting my home, so that I could chat to her and my wife Carole. As she was due at my house at 5PM’ish UK Time, this was going to leave me little time to do this, then get to the Airport for lunch. To save time, I had previously taken control of my Home PC from the laptop I had with me in Florida (through the wonders of modern technology), so I was able to set-up Skype as both the sender and receiver, from my laptop. This saved a lot of time, as when Sarah called to say she was ready, we quickly initiated the Skype call, and I was able to give Carole and Sarah a virtual tour of my accommodation, using the webcam on my laptop.

Once the call was over, I was ready to head off to the Airport. During the morning, there had been some fairly heavy rain showers, but these had stopped by the time I headed off, so the mile or so walk to the Airport was dry, until about 500 yards short of the EASA Office, when it started to rain again. Anyway, Bartha (the Polish Lady in the Inn), had some more good, home-made soup to warm me up, followed by a Ham & Cheese Toasty with chips, which set me up nicely for the afternoon flight.

About 15 minutes prior to my flight time, I headed out to the aircraft, to carry out the pre-flight checks. By now it was raining again, and as I am still quite slow as I get used to the checklist, I was pretty wet by the time I had finished. Part of the pre-flight check is to check the fuel in the two wing tanks, and under the engine. There was a small amount of water present in the wing tank checks, so I had to repeat the checks, and second time, the samples were clear. Did I mention that I had purchased a Fuel Tester the previous day? This consists of a clear test tube like vessel that is used to push up against the drain cocks under the tanks, so that a small measure of fuel is collected. The fuel is then visually checked for colour (blue), contaminants (sediment), and water. If water is present, this is shown by a ‘bubble’ of water at the bottom of the tube (water is heavier than fuel). If the sample is OK, it is poured back into the tank through the filler cap on the top of the wing, if it is contaminated it is discarded.

I had read somewhere that the usual procedure in the UK is to throw the contaminated fuel onto the grass, but apparently in Florida, spilling fuel can attract a $50000 fine, so I was careful to dispose of the contaminated sample in the bucket provided by the EASA Office, even though this meant several trips through the rain, getting wetter all the time.

Anyway, all pre-flight checks completed, we were ready to get. Except that a final check on the weather with Daytona Air Traffic Control (ATC), informed us that IFR (Instrument Flying Rules) were now in operation, due to deteriorating cloud cover and visibility. This meant we couldn’t fly; as a Student, I am restricted to VFR (Visual Flying Rules) only, further training/examinations are required to become IFR cleared.

We re-scheduled the flight for later in the afternoon, in the hope that the weather would clear, and I decided to make use of the excellent self-study facilities at EASA, to brush up on the knowledge I will require for the remaining examinations I need to take. Definitely not as much fun as flying! The Self Study area consists of half a dozen or so PC’s that the Students can use to research the subjects required by various means, including on-line and local presentations.

The first ‘window’ for the re-scheduled flight came and went: IFR was still in operation, so it was back to the studying. However, half an hour later, Mike (my Instructor that day), came into the Study Center to let me know the weather had cleared enough for our flight, so it was out to the aircraft, some further pre-flight checks, and we were quickly ready to taxi to the runway.

On my first flight from Gamston in a PA-28, a couple of months ago, my  Instructor  Kevin, asked if I would like to try to make the radio call to request permission to taxi, and I had readily agreed, He told me exactly what to say, I practiced it, then keyed the mike to make the call. What I then said was a load of rubbish, getting the procedure totally wrong! Kevin explained that this was quite usual, apparently stage-fright affects most Students the first time they make a real call, and I had been no exception.

However, as this is a skill I will need to pass my Skills Test, I asked Mike if I could make some of the radio calls, to become familiar with the procedure, and he readily agreed. I still think I got some phrases wrong, but I hope that practice will make perfect.

We carried out our pre-take-off checks just before joining the runway; soon we were ready to go. My first flight in control (albeit under Instruction) in Florida, just what I had come to the USA for! We headed off to the coast, and I spent a most enjoyable hour or so under Mike’s expert instruction, carrying out some basic exercises to instruct me in the effects of the various aircraft controls. All too quickly, it was time to return. However, by now, IFR conditions had returned, so Mike made the flight back to the landing at Ormond Beach. This at least gave me some experience of flying through cloud, a no-no for a VFR pilot like me.  As there were now a few aircraft under IFR instructions for landing, we joined a queue, meaning we got back a bit later than usual. When we went to check back into the office, everyone except us had left for the night!

On the walk back to the House, I called into the Golf Club next door to the Airport, to try out the restaurant, and find out if I could hire some clubs one day for a round, whilst I am here. I was too late for a meal, although I did manage to buy a sandwich to take home for dinner, and get a beer. I also learnt that the club does hire out equipment, so time permitting I will try to get a game in before I leave.