The final weeks at Orlando Flight Training

Just five days before leaving Florida for good, I tagged along on this flight down to Venice

It has been some months since the last update to the site, and the lack of new posts has been mostly down to my workload. Whilst I do enjoy writing about my flying experiences, my spare time has been used up focusing on other things, which, since January, has including my FAA instrument rating, my JAA commercial, a multi-engine rating and a JAA instrument rating. So, to say it has been a ‘busy year’ would be an understatement!

After returning to Orlando early in January, I got straight back into the flying again, picking up where I left off with the instrument rating. It took a couple of hours to refresh myself on the holds and approaches required for the check-ride and then even more hours to perfect them and get them to a test standard.

I was ready for my instrument rating check-ride in early February and decided to ease off on the flying as I felt I was no longer benefiting from the extra hours I was putting in. With flying, it’s nice to have the extra time and practice, but time is money, and we all know that flying is not cheap! Unfortunately, the examiner was not available for a week or so, so it was not until 17 February that I eventually got to take the test. Looking outside on the morning of the test, it looked like a great day for flying. The sun was shining and the sky was clear, but there was an almighty wind blowing outside, so I couldn’t help but feel even more nervous about the flight. A quick check of the TAF told me to expect gusts in excess of 25kts. Larger general aviation aircraft can deal with this wind without problems, but I always found that the high-winged Cessna 172 didn’t cope too well in gusty conditions.

After a 30-minute session of questions with the examiner, we headed to the aircraft, but I had no idea of where I would be going, so I had no time to look at any approach charts for any of the dozen or so airports in the vicinity. It was only after my power checks that the examiner told me which airports to expect; the GPS at Merritt Island, the ILS at Titusville and the VOR at Orlando Executive. I was a regular visitor to one of these three airports, I had been once or twice to another, but I had never visited Titusville before, so I felt a little apprehensive!

Eventually, we were airborne, and we were being thrown all over the place by the wind. In order to avoid entering the Orlando class B airspace, we spent a good portion of the flight at just 1,000ft. The 40-something mile trip to Merritt Island was over in no time at all and I soon found myself preparing for the approach. The examiner was quite specific and he wanted me to fly the GPS for runway 11. Listening to the AWOS at the airport, the wind was a strong one, and it was out of the west, so there was no chance I could land on runway 11. At 1.3nm out, I began to circle to the south for a landing on runway 28. I was quite surprised when he told me that we had broken out of the imaginary clouds, so we landed and taxied back, allowing a minute or two more to look at the plate for the next approach at Titusville.

The winds, again out of the west, meant that runway 27 was more suitable for landing, and not runway 36, so I again had to circle. The VOR approach at Orlando Executive was a little easier – this time on runway 25. I descended to my minimum descent altitude and waited patiently for the aircraft to reach the missed approach point before going around. We flew straight back to Kissimmee for a visual landing and I waited nervously to find out how I had done. The flight was far from perfect – not helped by the weather – but I had no idea what to expect.

It was a huge relief to find out that I had passed the instrument rating, so, after a couple of days of relaxing in the sun, I started on my commercial pilot training, which, in comparison to the instrument rating, was much more enjoyable. It also felt a lot more relaxed. The aim of the skills test was simply to plan and fly a route chosen by the examiner – Fly’n R in my case – and then to divert to an alternative airport (again chosen by the examiner). The name of the alternate airport was not given until approximately 10 miles before reaching the destination, so there wasn’t much time to plan for the diversion; a wind corrected heading to fly, a time en-route and a distance. Using the nearest VOR, it was also necessary to work out the radial and the distance of the half way point and the destination, just so that it was easier to determine whether or not we were on track during the diversion. After diverting – but having not landed – a few manoeuvres were required, along with emergency drills, an engine failure after takeoff (EFATO), which was simulated in the air, and we finished we some landings. The landings consist of short field, flapless and glide approach (landing without power).

The commercial skills test was also passed first time, which I was really pleased with, so I made plans to return home as soon as possible. But before I could go anywhere, I needed to total up my hours in the logbook. For a commercial licence to be issued, 100 hours of PIC time was required, but my total was at 99.6 – 24 minutes short! I jumped into an available PA-28 and did some pattern work at Kissimmee. It was an exciting time for me, but also quite sad. After all, this was my last flight in Florida and I was about to say goodbye to the city that had been home for the past 15 months – Orlando.

Getting out of Orlando wasn’t cheap though – especially not at the last minute! The cheapest fare was $700 one way, and, even though it was more than I liked, I had no choice but to proceed with the booking. The airline website showed a seat map of some very full flights and the only spare seats were sandwiched in the middle of the aircraft. This, along with the complicated routing (Orlando – Philadelphia – Dublin – London) put me off of the flight and I decided to look into ‘Reward Flights’ with American Airlines.

I flew with American Airlines in November 2007 and again in July 2009, both times on long-haul services across the Atlantic. I collected frequent flyer points on both flights using the airline’s AAdvantage scheme and was excited to discover that these two flights had earned me enough miles for a free flight home. In order to get the free flight, I had to stick around for two extra days, but it was worth it in order to make such a saving. Redeeming these miles did mean I had to pay $100 in administration fees, but it was still a massive saving on the flight I was so close to booking the day before, and an even bigger saving on the £790.00 the airline was selling a one-way seat for.

I eventually landed in London on 7 May 2010, just a couple of days after my parents returned from 6 weeks in Thailand (thanks to the volcanic eruption). I spent a couple of weeks taking it easy and catching up with people, but then had to find a European school to help me convert my instrument rating.

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