Tag Archives: ppl

Road to the PPL: Up into the sky and back down to Earth

During February and March I had four more flight training sessions at EBCI (Charleroi), bringing up my total flight time to 7 hours and 36 minutes (after 6 flights). (This sounds so little like this, it’s basically the amount of time I have to work on a single day, wow. No offence to my work, but I remember these hours slightly more vividly.) It happens that I flew with all the four different Sonaca 200 planes my flight school has, including the brand new OO-NCD (or for my non aviation inclined readers, this is pronounced as Oscar Oscar November Charlie Delta, which had only 22 hours of air time when I sat in it; unfortunately I can not report the presence of a new-plane-smell anymore). I also flew with three different instructors, which definitely helps in getting feedback from people with slightly different approaches (and yes, I have my favourites already, but in general I am very happy with everyone I have flown with so far).

There is way too much stuff in my flight bag already, so I am not carrying my Fujifilm X-T3 with me anymore (even though I would love to take better pictures here and there, but there is simply not enough space or time for it), but I have installed a GoPro camera in the cockpit for these flights. For Flight 3, I had my old GoPro 4 Silver as a test, to see how useful or interesting having a recording of my training is, but then I bought a new GoPro 8, which – thanks to the amazing image stabilisation features – provides a perfectly vibration-free result (in 4K – I don’t even own a 4K screen, but this is 2020, people). By Flight 6 I also had the tech to record the radio communication too, but I messed up the settings so instead of having the recording of me talking to the air traffic controllers of an international airport or listening to the great comments of my flight instructor, I got one and a half hour of video without sound. Anyway, I think I know where I made the mistake, and it should be all good the next time (whenever it will be – thanks Obama Covid-19!).

I have posted the most interesting parts of the flights online (edited in DaVinci Resolve 16) on my YouTube “Channel”, with timestamps and more detailed comments in the descriptions, so I will not go over everything here, just have a summary of what I learned (click to the videos for more). Flight 3 started with my first unassisted take-off, then we did climbing and descending turns.


During Flight 4 we did high-power low-speed climbing turns and low-power descending turns (to feel the different rudder input necessary for a balanced flight in these situations), then we experienced slow flight (flying at and around the speed associated with minimum drag). I had my first transmissions on the radio (talking to Ground and Tower until the take-off point as a start). [You can compare the quality of the first two videos, amazing how stable the new GoPro is, right?]


Flight 5 was mainly power-off stalls in various flap configurations (first clean, then take-off, and landing). At the end I finally got to make a full approach and landing on my own, it was great. Now I did all the radio communication except for the phase between returning to the CTR (the control zone of Charleroi) and landing.


Flight 6 was the best training so far. We headed over to EBNM (Namur) for my first circuits and touch-and-gos (meaning that a landing is immediately followed by a take-off, without stopping). EBNM has a 690 meter long and 25 m wide asphalt runway, which felt very different to the huge runway at EBCI (2405 m x 45 m), but it was a very good exercise. I did 7 landings and 2 (planned) go-arounds, so 9 circuits (or patterns), before heading back to EBCI where I had my 8th landing of the day. Here and there the wind was a bit gusty, and there was a light, but variable crosswind too, so some approaches were more challenging than others.

I did all the radio communication until the start of the touch-and-gos, but from then on I had enough to do with flying and navigating (so my instructor took over the radio there, until we were back on the ground at EBCI). This is completely normal at this point during the training. It was an extremely rewarding training with a very steep learning curve, and I managed some very good landings in the second half of it. By now I am also familiar with all the visual reference points that lie to the South of the runway (since we have never went to the North so far). It was also the most tiring flight of my training so far, not only because it was very long (almost two hours), but also because it was very active, there was barely any straight and level flying, there was always something to do. I loved it. (On a side note, EBNM was the first airport I modelled in detail for X-Plane 11, so it was great to finally visit it in real life too!)


Unfortunately Covid-19 screwed up everything, so no flying in the foreseeable future :( Normally I would have had my security briefing at Charleroi today to get a badge to the airport, and I had training flights booked for every week until the first Sunday of April… Time to proceed with studying the theory and flying in the simulator I guess.

Road to the PPL: The first flights of my training

Last month I had the first two flights of my PPL training at Charleroi (EBCI). I was supposed to have a third one too, but that was unfortunately cancelled due to Belgium being under a think layer of fog for almost a week… Currently I have three more flights booked for February, but of course winter weather can often be unsuitable for VFR (flying by visual flight rules), so having just two of these go through would probably be a big success already. I hope during the summer it will be easier to book lessons (with longer days, better instructor availability, and better weather chances).

Before the first flight I still had to buy some basic equipment, such as a headset, checklists, a VFR map of Belgium, and a kneeboard (and later I still got a nicer headset case, a fuel tester, a plotter, an E6-B flight computer, and a Leatherman multitool to complete my flight bag). And of course as a data-geek I also got a flight-planner/tracker app for my iPhone (SkyDemon) so I have a log of all my future flights at the same place.

Even though the first flight itself was more of a familiarisation flight (procedures, checklists, all the pre-flight paperwork, primary and secondary effects of the controls, important visual navigation points around Charleroi, straight and level flight, use of the trim), I went very well prepared (I studied all the relevant theory modules), so we did some basic manoeuvres too (a few turns, nothing special), and I had no problem maintaining course and altitude. Of course the landing, take-off, and radio communication was done by my instructor, as a demonstration.

I fly a Sonaca 200, a low-wing cantilever monoplane made from aluminium alloy (in Belgium). It has an enclosed cabin with two side-by-side seats, it is powered by a 115 hp Rotax 914 engine (a turbo-charged, four-stroke, four-cylinder, horizontally opposed aircraft engine with air-cooled cylinders and water-cooled cylinder heads), and has a fixed tricycle landing gear. It has a propeller made out of three composite blades and a cruise speed of 213 km/h. Air Academy New CAG has currently three of them (with one more coming soon), OO-NCA, OO-NCB, and OO-NCC. They have an analogue instrument panel except for the digital engine monitoring system (EMS) display. All in all a very basic, but reliable, safe, and comfortable general aviation (training) plane.

After the first flight I have made a Google Sheet for the weight and balance calculations, so I just need to pick the aircraft, fill in the fuel, passenger and luggage weights, and I get all the values (plus load limit checks) that need to be filled into the pre-flight documents. (In the example below input fields are marked with a blue background, there is a red warning that the take-off mass and moment combination would be outside of the safety limits – in this case the centre of gravity would be just a bit too forward and moving the luggage to the rear bag area would solve the issue -, and a green confirmation that the baggage is within the limits.) Nice and convenient. I also added each aircraft to the database of SkyDemon, with not only weight and balance, but proper flight performance data too, so I could also use that for the weight and balance calculations and flight planning in the future (when we get to the point of cross-country and navigation flights).

The second flight (see log on the map below) was much more proactive, I did the full pre-flight checklist (including external checks), taxiing (movement on the ground), and even the take-off by myself. Then I did again some straight and level flying out of the control zone, followed by climbing and descending (attitude-power-trim and power-attitude-trim procedure) sandwiched between various turn exercises. The landing was still 50% demonstration, but my instructor said that next time I would have full control, since I am doing so well :)

I wanted to install a GoPro for the third flight, but winter got in the way, so this will have to wait, but soon I will give some insight to the cockpit too. Looking forward to my next flights!

The rest of 2019 (Part 2 – A summer of mostly flying)

As a result of biking less I suddenly got quite some extra free time, which meant that I could do things that I could not do before. First, I fixed the long-standing problem of not being able to give the home monitoring system’s sensors – and most importantly the central RPi a fixed IP (because it is not possible on the router of our internet provider – Telenet -, meaning that after a power-cut, or simply the restart of the router, sometimes the RPi did not get its preferred IP address, which screwed up the communication between the wireless sensors and the RPi, so I had to manually look for the conflicting device and kick it off the network, making sure that the then rebooted RPi got the IP it wanted, then restart the wireless sensors, etc. – even just writing this down took more time than what I would want to spend on such issues). As a solution I simply bought an extra wireless router (TP-Link Archer C2300) with all the necessary features, connected it to the Telenet router via an Ethernet cable, and migrated all our devices to using the new router (giving fixed IPs to the ones that would benefit from it). Since then everything works flawlessly. (Of course as we have literally dozens of WiFi enabled devices, this migration took more than two seconds, which might explain why I had not done this earlier already.) Recently I also switched to reading the data of our outside sensor cluster from its local JSON output instead of using the luftdaten database (which has been often unresponsive lately) – this was also made possible by the fixed IP addresses.

Then I bought a quite powerful gaming PC (Lenovo Legion T530, Intel Core i7 9700 processor, 32 GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 with 8 GB VRAM, 1 TB SSD + 2 TB HDD) with the primary goal of getting back to the world of flight simulators (the only unrelated software I have installed is the Zwift client for my training workouts). I got X-Plane 11, rudder pedals (Logitech G Pro Flight Rudder Pedals), a joystick and a throttle quadrant and (initially a Logitech G X52 Pro but then I replaced them with a Thrustmaster T16000M FCS and a Virtual Fly TQ3+, both of which are using magnetic Hall-sensors which makes their use much more precise), a radio and a switch panel (also Logitech, and while these are definitely fun to use, they are the least necessary components of the setup, as everything they do could be done in the virtual cockpit with a mouse too). I also got a new screen (Asus PG279Q, replacing my 10 year old Dell U2410 which I now use as a 3rd display at work) when I was sure that I would not give up on this hobby after a few weeks.

Virtual flying was not completely new to me, since I had already gotten into it during my university years for a short while, so it did not take me long before I joined IVAO to fly online (so I had to buy a new headset too: SteelSeries Arctis 7) with other pilots and virtual air traffic controllers.

In the second half of the year I flew almost 200 hours online (and probably 100 more offline), using mainly study-level aircraft (planes that are modeled as close to reality as possible, meaning realistic flight model, systems, and procedures), such as the Cessna 172 with the REP package, the SIAI Marchetti SF 260D, the TBM 900, and the A319 from Toliss. In the beginning I flew only GA planes (and VFR), and only after the first ~100 hours did I start mixing in some commercial flights (and IFR) too.

I took part in a few online events, e.g. two real flight events (RFE, simulating the actual traffic on a selected airport – in my case Munich and Budapest -, aiming at reproducing the real-life arriving and departing traffic at that airport, providing a complete coverage of the various air traffic controllers and high traffic levels, which results in a very busy and realistic – and in the beginning stressful, but rewarding – experience altogether), and also the annual crowded skies event (where the goal is having the most people connected to the IVAO network at the same time – during the peak period there were more than 2000 people connected to the network this year, resulting in a lot of radio chatter and a complete coverage of the European airspace by various levels of ATC).

It is a quite serious hobby, I follow real-life checklists, real-life procedures, I fly according to actual flight rules (instrumental or visual), and communicate with air traffic controllers using the real life phraseology. (This means that just setting up the A319 before getting ready for push-back already takes almost a half hour…) Besides flying, I also enjoy designing airports (it’s basically drawing “maps” – layouts based on official charts or satellite pictures – and doing some 3D modelling), so far I have completed EBGB and EBNM (two small airports in Belgium), and now I am working on EBCI (Charleroi). It’s like an advanced version of colouring books for me, lately I have spent more time working on EBCI than I spent flying… (But you will see the significance of this specific airport later.)

Some more tidbits again: this summer all previous temperature records were broken again in Belgium (and all over Europe), and sadly this is becoming a recurring news item every year… On the 25th of July the temperature reached 39.7°C in Brussels (Ukkel), which is 3.1°C more than the past record, and 41.8°C in Begijnendijk (not far from Leuven). To put things into perspective, this is only 0.1°C less than the maximum temperature record in Hungary, while in theory Hungary has significantly warmer summers… I became 2nd on the annual Tour de France prognosis competition at work, which was definitely necessary to restore my honor after finishing almost last during the spring classics… Not much later there was a fire in the student apartments just in front and above our offices, which luckily resulted in no injuries, but forced us to work from home for a week, as the electricity could not be turned back on before all the water damage was cleaned up by the team of the insurance company, etc.

The annual meet-up with my parents this year brought us to the Trier and Luxembourg (and Saarburg), and while both of these cities were nice to walk around in, the best part of the long weekend was still the elevated wooden path that led to the lookout tower built just above a sharp bend of the river Saar (Treetop path Saarschleife).

Around this time I had a serious lack of sleep because I kept staying up until completely unreasonable hours, being busy with the flight simulator… (Since then this has improved, but I am still finding it very difficult to go to sleep in time, as I just want to keep doing stuff even when I am tired…)

During the autumn we spent one day in Breda with Clio (staying in the Hotel Nassau, with a fancy dinner, and breakfast served in a former church), and I also made it to Bilbao for work for two busy days. We also tried a few new restaurants in Leuven, actively seeking new experiences, leading to the discovery of a couple of really nice places (even though ordering food from the couch is just so easy), we should continue this when the weather becomes good enough to sit outside again.

While I got deeper and deeper into training on the flight simulator, I also got to fly in a small GA aircraft for the first time, thanks to Clio’s cousin, who invited me to join him for a flight at the end of August. We flew a Cessna 172S (with a G1000 glass cockpit) from Grimbergen to Brasschaat and back, and most importantly, on the way back I got to do everything from take-off (with a bit of assistance in that phase) to just before the landing. I did climbs, descents, and various turns, following instructions.

By then I had more than 50 hours on the exact same plane (with the exact same instrument panel) in the simulator, so everything felt very familiar (but of course the actual movement of the aircraft can not be replicated, so that was very new). It was definitely the best one-day thing I did in 2019 (I could not stop smiling the whole evening), and it motivated me so much that I decided to sign up for an actual PPL (private pilot license) training. I started with having my medical certificate arranged (EKG, blood test, and a general checkup lasting more than an hour at a certified doctor), then after a face-to-face meeting in Charleroi, I enrolled at the New CAG Air Academy. I am using a distance learning platform to study the theory (this is really well done and very convenient too), and if everything goes well (weather – just confirmed OK!) then tomorrow afternoon I will have my first practical lesson too (booking this was not that easy even though there is a good online tool for it, but as a newcomer I had way too many practical difficulties in the beginning). I am really looking forward to flying (and at the same time I wish that I could make things happen a bit faster, but that is just how I am), and I am sure I will write more about the training later on…