Hello all, apologies once again for the incredibly long delay between posts. The last month of course was strangely hectic and busy despite only having about 15 flights to complete. I finally completed my failed american cross country (see this post for details), and after finishing that I had less than ten flights remaining and was convinced I would finish in the next week and write a blog post then. Thanks to endless weather delays and other factors those ten flights took an additional two and a half weeks, so here we are. In this post I'll talk about some of the final flights in the course and my thoughts on being finished. Check back next week as I'll make one more post with my course video (chock full of flying footage from past year), but after that I'll be quiet until the new year when I start training on the Hawk (and I start going twice as fast as I was in the Harvard). For now, read below for stories from the past month, and plenty of pictures.
So as mentioned above I finally completed my failed cross country to the states. I had to complete four flights so the plan was made to go from Moose Jaw to Casper, WY and get gas there, and on to Denver, CO for the night. That part of the trip went relatively smoothly despite arriving in Denver well after sunset thanks to a late departure from Moose Jaw.
The next day we planned to fly from Denver to Billings, MT for gas, and on to Regina,SK (and drive from Regina to Moose Jaw since we can't land in MJ on weekends for various reasons). We made it to Billings without major issue, but then determined the icing conditions in the northern states and southern Canada was too severe to make it anywhere close to Regina that day. With that, we spent the afternoon wandering around Billings and planned to make a run for Regina in the morning.
Leaving Billings, MT in the morning the icing from the previous day had dissapeared, but instead large sections of southern Saskatchewan were covered in a layer of fog, bringing visibility and ceilings down to basically zero. The forecasts had that fog burning off and lifting in Regina by the time we were scheduled to arrive, so we set off to Regina with plans to divert if the fog didn't improve. Well, 45 minutes away from Regina we tuned into the latest ATIS (a recording of the latest weather conditions transmitted by radio) and found that Regina was still fogged in with 1/4 mile visibility. We decided to continue towards Regina for another twenty minutes until the next update to the weather, and after that twenty minutes discovered the weather had somehow gotten worse with 1/8 of a mile being reported in fog. We continued for a few more minutes while Air Canada shot an approach and after hearing them call the missed approach and go for a hold we decided it was time to give up on Regina. We diverted to Swift Current which lay perhaps 10 miles west of where the fog began and landed there. After a lunch in Swift Current and an update to the weather forecast it was determined the fog which was supposed to dissipate by lunch was going to stick around for most of the day. With that, my instructor spent the night in Swift Current and I once again aborted the cross country and called a friend to drive out and pick me up. Another long weekend filled with delays, but I got my four flights in and was ready to move on to the next part of course.
The next few days I completed an instrument sim mission and my pre-test for my final instrument test (FIT).Having passed both I went on to my test with confidence. The entire flight went very smoothly and no major issues arose except for a small hiccup on startup. Prior to starting the aircraft I run a series of checks to make sure everything is ready for start. One of these checks is to reset the parking brake by disengaging it, re-engaging it and pumping the brakes. When I performed this check I somehow managed to not fully engage the parking brake (it's a lever you pull out and twist clockwise to lock into place) and when I started the aircraft we began to roll forward. Ultimately nothing bad came of it as both I and the instructor jumped on the brakes and we moved a total of a few feet, but despite this it was determined that this was a safety issue and because of it my test was deemed a failure. This can be an incredibly frustrating experience when you fail an instrument test for something not related to the actual flying of the aircraft, but the test is ultimately judging all aspects of a flight, not a specific portion. Following my failed test there was some discussion as to what should occur in terms of a re-test. Normally when a student fails a test or a flight, they are given an extra dual (ED) flight to practice the maneuver they failed before they take the re-test. In my case this didn't make a whole lot of sense since I clearly knew how to set the parking brake, I had just failed to do so due to rushing/not paying attention. Furthermore, it wasn't clear if I should redo the entire test, or simply re-test the part I failed since it was ultimately a minor problem with an easy correction that has no impact on the rest of my flight. Fortunately the logical decision was made to waive my extra flight, and complete a partial re-test where I started the aircraft and taxi'd it to the runway where the testing officer would take it airborne for a lap of the airport before landing and handing control to me to park and shut down the aircraft. I'm happy to say I figured out how to set the parking brake and passed the re-test and put the whole frustrating experience behind me.
My formation partner and myself spent the next week trying to complete three formation navigation (TACNAV) flights since the weather continued to produce low lying cloud preventing us from conducting our low level navigation. We finally completed these three flights, as well as two more composite missions before completing our final test. This final test is a composite mission where you are tested on all aspects of flying we have been trained in (clearhood, formation, instrument flying, navigation etc). It's also referred to as a "wings" test since it is essentially determining if you meet the standard to receive your military pilot wings. It's not designed to be a particularly difficult test with each portion only requiring a level 3 to pass, but can be a stressful test nonetheless since it is the final test and is a very busy flight with a lot to accomplish in a short time period. It wasn't the best flight of my life, and I made a few mistakes but overall I passed the test with an Achieved Standard.
In three days I have my graduation parade and receive my wings. This has ultimately been a 5 year active goal since joining the military, but has been a goal of mine well before I joined the military. Following this weekend I get a couple weeks of vacation time at home with family before going to Toronto for the High G centrifuge training and starting Phase IV on the Hawk in January.
Thank you to everyone who has been following along, and to those that have emailed asking questions about my experience. As I mentioned at the start, next week I'll write a post about getting my wings and include my course video, but then it'll be mostly quiet until I begin training in January again.