New Year and Renewed Enthusiasm
I was feeling very motivated after returning from Singapore. Mainly because I thought I wasn’t going to be homesick anymore – but on hindsight I was fooling myself into thinking that wasn’t going to be the case.
I hadn’t replaced the washroom light for months and also recently when I came back I found that the hallway light blew. For the first time in a few months of having lived in the house I had to do 2 things which I told myself I never needed to do. To approach the back shed and open any of the vacant room doors which I closed shut on the day I moved in. I’ve never dared go near the back shed and I wanted to switch the burnt-out bulbs with the ones in the other rooms but there were no chairs in the house. So I thought I might find something to stand on from the shed, so at noon I switched on the light to the shed and found a small cobweb covered wooden bench. Brilliant. Half an hour later I had a well-lit washroom and hallway, but decided to continue sleeping in the hall by the kitchen as it was summer and the hall had a ceiling fan.
The day after Christmas I had a circuit practice booked in with my instructor. He said he was free and it was ideal to practice since no one had booked any slots to fly. To my surprise and much like my 1st solo, I was asked to taxi to one of the run-up bays to drop my instructor off after a couple of touch-and-go(s) and he signed me off for my 2nd solo. I thought this was happening all too quickly, but I demonstrated the competence he was looking for, I was confident, he was confident and just like that I flew my 2nd solo uneventfully – as it should be. I wanted to celebrate every solo flight I ever did and for my 2nd Solo I was craving my favorite food – Chicken Rice and I haven’t had a plate of chicken rice since I first came to Perth. There weren’t any places that I knew that was selling it so I thought I’d cook it myself. After pushing the aircraft back into its parking spot, I paid the fees and drove to an Asian grocery store. I asked my mum for the list of ingredients I needed to cook a very basic simple chicken rice dish. This is what I learned, ginger is very expensive in Australia - $23 for a small piece. I cooked my chicken rice without it and still savored every morsel.
The fireworks on New Year’s was very nice and intimate by the way. I was checking my social media feed where the fireworks display was going to be at and there were mainly 2 locations that was trending; one in the city harbor area and the other location was at Rockingham Beach further south from Kardinya, where I was staying at. I knew there was going to be traffic jam at the city so that wasn’t even going to be an option to consider, so I chose the latter. I could have easily stayed in and not bother bringing in the New Year, plus it’s very unlike me to put myself out there and not remain in my bubble. However what’s the point I thought, I was in another country, never knew what New Year’s in another country was like, so I encouraged myself to go out more an explore. I disarmed the house alarm, walking in and out the main door several times just to make sure it was indeed disarmed, because I was going to be coming back at about 1 a.m and I’m not a fan of that intruder alarm – literally a war like siren. Locked the house, opened the driveway wooden gate to the house, reversed my car, got out to close the wooden gate and drove down to Rockingham Beach. Google maps showed that it was a 25 minutes’ drive, I took an hour because Google maps decided to reroute on its own taking me through a pitch black industrial area with the only lights coming from my headlights.
I figured that I have reached the vicinity of the area although still a good 20 minutes walking distance to the beach, by all the cars that I saw parked up on the sidewalks and open grass fields – basically everyone just decided to park where they saw space. I parked mine in between a SUV and a tree.
The beach was packed. I was clearly a sore thumb but I didn’t bother. I got there at 9 p.m and there was a fireworks display (preview) already going off, lasted a good 15 minutes after which everyone dispersed to the carnival that was on the beach. I just wondered around for the next 3 hours though there was nothing that I could buy to eat. It was getting difficult to get a good spot as it was nearing to mid night for the main fireworks, luckily I managed to find a spot by 11:30 p.m but it was just right outside of a row of bars reeking of alcohol and urine.
New Year’s fireworks display went on for 30 minutes or so, saw the guys working the wires out on the dock, manually lighting each one. It was a unique sight. I sat on a bench outside a closed café after the display and people watched for an hour and after which I walked back to my car and drove back to my residence at Kardinya. It’s okay if you hit one It was January 02 and it was going to be the first flight of the year for me;
– My 3rd Solo.
As usual I always booked the earliest possible slot in the morning so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the afternoon rising winds as the sun heats the ground – as much as possible I try and fly in the most ideal of conditions. First things first I didn’t know you could dislike a runway with such intensity like I did for Rwy 12/30. So listening to ATIS that morning prior to doing my pre-flight checks, fear just slowly started creeping over me when I heard that the active for circuits and regular departures was Rwy 12. I don’t know what it is about Rwy 12/30 but I just don’t feel confident with it nor am I comfortable with it. It’s just a bit too narrow and the way it’s built perpendicularly to the other two runways, and given that the threshold of Rwy 24L is very near the threshold of Rwy 12, not to mention that this is a runway incursion hot-spot which doesn’t help the fact that I’m sometimes not the best at navigating and worst case scenario I lose my bearings while taxiing towards Rwy 12 even before having left the ground. In the air, I would have to constantly be looking out for certain buildings which I used as reference points in relation to the ground to make a turn and it was always difficult for me to fly the circuit pattern when it came to Rwy 12 and my instructor even pointed it out to me. So bad it was that when anytime it came to using Rwy 12, he'd use 4 references to help me; a hospital, highway crossing, a highway intersection and a juvenile detention center.
So the day’s information was categorized as Alpha and with every change comes with a change in alphabet too. I was going through every step and movement in my head while doing my pre-flight checks. The aircraft already had 40 liters of fuel onboard and I ordered for another 15 liters to be in each wing, totaling 70 liters. The engine oil needed to be topped up too as it was below the recommended level, so I went ahead and did that too. I kept repeating to myself what I would say and do because Rwy 12 just doesn’t like me and so I don’t like it either.
It was summer at this point in time in W.A so the winds were changing rapidly. I was in the aircraft already approved for engine start but I was having difficulty tuning in to the frequency because I couldn’t seem to receive any transmission for me to listen to the AITS, one more time. I thought I was on the wrong frequency, panic sets in because I thought I had forgotten the ATIS frequency and now I’m sweating because my engine has been running on idle for longer than I would usually take to get ground clearance to taxi out to the active. I hold on to the breaks, and saw my instructor walking out to another aircraft. I was trying to wave and get his attention to come over because clearly I needed help and I couldn’t reach for my phone.
Took me a long time to get his attention, trying to out scream the spinning propellers and waving in all directions. Eventually he saw me waving and came over. He opened the door and I mouthed ‘I can’t get ATIS’. He helped me tune in and said that I just needed to wait a little longer as it seems that the control tower was changing the runway at that very moment, due to a change in wind direction and they were also going to verbally announce the change in information.
The runway was changed to Rwy 06L with information Bravo, my most beloved runway. I really love this runway. So I have with me the new information - information Bravo.
Rwy 06L - love this runway once again, because I’ve done most of my take-offs and landings on this runway which meant that I was very familiar with it and also the circuit pattern for this runway was fairly easy to fly. Plus it was parallel to Rwy 06R so it gave the 'international approach' feel.
Even though I got the runway I’m most familiar with, I would describe my 3rd solo to be very stressful. Throughout my 3rd solo, I was very pleased with all my landings except for what I faced while in the air – Birds.
On the 1st approach I radioed a Go-Around because my landing profile was just too high for me to do a touch-and-go. I continued flying on runway heading and leveled off at 1000 ft, flying the pattern as taught.
Coming in on my 2nd approach, ATC asked me to Go-Around and I complied although I didn’t really hear the reason for it as I was concentrating on what I’ve just be told to do – I wasn’t anticipating a Go-Around from ATC. This meant that I still haven’t been able to execute a touch-and-go on my 2nd try.
So I put in full power on the throttle, started climbing and did my upwind checks, climbed to 1000 ft and on the start of the downwind leg, all of a sudden out of nowhere I spotted a rather sizable bird that was flying at the same height as I was and was coming straight for my left wing. Instantly I banked right, my heart pounding, looking over my shoulder hoping that I had missed the bird. I was completely caught off-guard. I lost a couple hundred feet and ATC was telling me to maintain 1000 ft more than twice. It took me some time to regain composure as the downwind leg is the longest leg in the whole circuit and by which time I had over shot the point at which I should have turned on to base preparing for my next touch-and-go.
I was already questioning myself at the downwind leg if I wanted to continue with the circuit, I could just ask permission to land and ATC would follow through with the next clearance, but I decided to just continue and make the most of the hour that I had promised myself that I would clock in. Landing was always my favorite part and despite almost having hit a bird I still managed to do a beautiful touch-and-go. Now turning left onto the downwind leg at 1000 ft on my 4th round, the same if not another bird decided to greet me head on almost hitting the nose of the aircraft. I immediately pulled the nose of the aircraft up and the bird flew underneath me.
While during circuit flying and when I’m on my downwind leg, I would do a series of checklists and speak to tower saying; “… at downwind 1000, request touch-and-go”.
That’s it I thought. I’m not flying anymore. I mean not going to continue with the rest of the circuit. ATC telling me to maintain 1000 ft yet again. Both my arms were shaking. The sequence that I would usually recite at downwind for touch-and-go now incoherent. I just radioed “… requesting full-stop landing”.
I was truly shaken. Coming back really quickly after only flying for 42 minutes and feeling very disappointed and unaccomplished with myself.
My instructor surprised, asking why I had come back so early. He then said very casually that it is okay if I hit a bird and that if I did hit a bird then I should just fly normally and return for landing. He did say that we should try and avoid it as best as one can but if it’s inevitable as it can be sometimes, then it’s okay and that we should just land normally.
I wasn’t satisfied with his explanation. I felt like I wasn’t forewarned or cautioned about all the possible encounters one might find themselves in during any stage of a solo flight. Especially for a student pilot. They are still learning and highly likely they wouldn’t know the technicalities or psychological aspects of dealing with everything that comes with flying let alone flying solo.
So by this point I was living in Australia for a couple months and had a routine going for myself and was knocking out my flight lessons one after another. Some day’s not so good but redeemed myself on subsequent flights. My landlord suddenly claimed that I owed him several hundred dollars in rent. $600 to be precise. He was saying that I owed him $600 in unpaid rent. I realized there was discrepancy in this claim as I have been paying rent on time and keeping tabs. This is weird I thought so I said that I would pay him in 3 weeks’ time as soon as I had the money. Over the next 21 days he started to come across as forceful and would pop by at night unannounced. Sometimes he would come knocking on the window really loudly.
It turned into harassment asking “where’s the money at?” and giving me inconsistent figures that he claimed I owed.
I realized this was nothing but extortion! I couldn’t fight him as he was much bigger in stature than I was. I convinced him that the money would be paid in 3 days’ time and after he left at 8 p.m that night, I started packing.
Eve of 4th Solo Check Ride
Morning came and it was all happening so fast, literally like a running away plot we see in movies except that this is not on celluloid. It’s happening to me in real life and my knees wouldn’t stop shaking. Trying to load up my car with everything I brought with me to Australia and had gathered during my time in W.A. My pots and pans, electric blanket, onions, potatoes, oyster and soy sauces, half used cabbage, half open rice bag, shoes, books, damp towel the list can go on, while being on the phone interchangeably with my mum and Brother Luqman. Luqman whom I came to know from frequenting the mosque had become a very close friend of mine in Australia. As frantic and uncoordinated as my mind was, I did my best to pack up the car in an orderly manner, separating perishables and things that needed to be aired because God knows where I’ll end up staying but at that moment I didn’t know where my next shelter was going to be nor did I know what I was going to do. What I knew was that I needed to get as far away from Kardinya as I possibly could.
I filmed the entire ordeal and myself for the record so that I could show it to the police if things did get ugly. I switched off all the electrical switches in the house, wiped down the kitchen and left the place exactly as I saw it the first day I moved in.
I wrote a letter to the landlord detailing the exact breakdown of the rental calculation and proved that I didn’t owe him any outstanding rent. I also mentioned that he might be using a predicament he’s found himself in to try and get more money out of me. Stuck the letter on the refrigerator, left the keys in the utility/circuit breaker box and I drove off at 13:00 hrs.
I went to meet Brother Luqman at the mosque which was 40 minutes away.
Parked my car at the rear of the mosque and he took me out for lunch in his car.
We then drove up to the highest point overlooking the city skyline. Sat there for hours and hours deliberating as to what I can do next and how I can find another roof over my head. I can’t stay with him because he’s already married with a kid. I didn’t want to impose. Dusk soon enveloped, it was getting dark and the temperature fell really quickly. We head to the other side of town for about 2 hours, at this point I was very hungry and just felt a huge knot in my stomach thinking about my 4th solo check-ride that was scheduled for in the morning.
10 p.m came around and Brother Luqman told me that everyone at the mosque should have left by now, so we drove back to my car, as we approached the mosque he switched off his headlights and gave me the keys to the mosque together with the security access code. Slipped me a $100 and said that I could sleep in the mosque but to wake up at 4 a.m before people started coming for the early morning prayers.
I thanked him for his help and generosity and he drove off.
I sat in my car with a blank stare.
Tried going into the mosque to see where I can sleep, but it was too dark. Decided to just sleep in my car that night. Anxiety was definitely on the high. Literally had to slap myself out of zoning out and tried to get my head together. I hyped myself up and got into the mindset of just focusing on doing my 4th solo check-ride well. I just needed to try and get a goodnight’s sleep and I’ll be all wide awake in the morning for my check-ride. Moved a couple of things from the rear seat to the front and padded down my towel, blanket and a couple of jackets. Used the aircraft seat cushion as my pillow against the door and stretched out. Constantly shifted around trying to get comfortable until I gave up, opened the door by my head ajar and let my neck drop a little, facing the night sky.
I could clearly map out part of the Milky Way.
Fell asleep while running the circuit procedure in my mind. What must have been only a 2 hour sleep, I got up upon hearing a car roll in, my hands by the door handle keeping it slightly ajar. Soon people started streaming into the mosque for the early morning dawn prayers. Only a handful knew the access code. I was trying to bury myself under my things for some unreasonable fear of being found out. I didn’t join because I just felt nasty and haven’t had a shower in more than 12 hours now. The water in the mosque felt like it was directly piped to the South Pole.
It was about 5 a.m and about 20 minutes later everyone had left and the sky was now gradually getting brighter. I thought it wouldn’t be so bad to seek refuge in the mosque and get a few more hours of proper sleep, so I sneaked into the mosque again, locked the main door from the inside and slept on the floor for a good 4 hours. It was the most peaceful sleep I’ve ever had.
By 10 a.m I was on my way to the airport for my 11 a.m slot. Not even caring about my appearance, no doubt it was a rough night but all I was thinking was that I’m getting closer to finishing my circuit solos which meant that I would soon be doing my Training Area Solo which meant that I can then get on with my Navigational Flights and then not long after I would have my PPL in hand.
So all these hurdles and difficulties was going to be worth it.
Nobody at school knew the situation, I walked in normally. Flew my 4th circuit solo in my stinky and sweaty clothes without incident. After landing, I went to one of the study rooms and used the Wi-Fi to search for accommodations. My hunt starting again from scratch. Went to a couple houses, ended up putting down a $200 deposit for one that was 50 minutes away from the airport and said that I would move in by the evening and needed to run some errands first.
In actual fact I had no errands to run. I couldn’t think if I was making the right choice and needed to make a more decisive decision. I drove to a library and started searching for more options.
I don’t know if I was being difficult with myself or just plain picky but I didn’t feel comfortable with the house that I had just put down a deposit for, thought that I might just camp out in my car for another night in front of the mosque and take a shower at one of the mall’s fancy handicapped washrooms that I saw.
Here’s where things got even crazier and I cannot make this up. When I asked for the refund of my $200, the guy that I thought was the owner was actually not the owner but was just another tenant that was made to be the in-charge of that house by the actual owner who lived somewhere else. There was already 4 other individuals plus a couple living in that house and the guy said he had to use my $200. – I couldn’t even bother asking for an explanation except that I kept calling him and asking how I can get my $200. He said he would call the actual owner to explain the situation and that I could arrange to get my refund from them.
5 p.m comes around and the library was about to close. I received a call from an elderly lady. She identified herself to be the actual owner and that she was renting out that house as a side income while living at her own house in Farrington.
Farrington – sounded familiar, thought I might have seen this street somewhere. She invited me over to her place to talk and to return my $200 as well. The address was sent to me and I was genuinely shocked.
It was 5 minutes from the airport and I drive pass this road every time I was headed to the airport.
Something about the house on Farrington Rd
First things first, wow. Fully furnished like an Asian household. As I was scanning I thought how nice would it be if I could stay here.
I was met by Ms. Juliet and her Husband. They are an elderly Malaysian Chinese couple. Sat me down and served me some water. How empathetic towards me they are I thought. Asking me about my plight and after narrating my ordeal, Ms. Juliet pitched her proposal.
Their kids had all grown up and moved out, hence now to earn some extra side income, they have signed up with various schools to host international students and have been doing that for the past few years. What’s more heartwarming was that Ms. Juliet and her husband - Uncle (never learnt his name) told me that they are very picky with whom they choose to host, and convinced me to rent a room with them and that I could pay a lesser rental rate instead of the rate they usually charge but still have all the facilities and amenities that I would need and convinced me no one was going to come looking for me nor should I go looking for any other place to stay at.
A cozy room with a bed and a portable heater, my own desk and chair, access to my own fridge and my own bathroom while the elderly parents (the owners) lived on the other side of the house. The airport was just a 5 minutes’ drive from this place on Farrington Rd. $120 per week plus free unlimited Wi-Fi. I had found my place of accommodation and I was ready for this 48 hour nightmare to come to an end. I slowly started unpacking my car. Uncle gave me a set of keys for myself. I sheepishly threw the cabbage away – it went bad obviously. The next morning he made me tea and handed me a headset saying they hosted a few student pilots themselves before and one guy left his headset behind.
And just like that my fate changed.
The last of the Circuit Solos
My 4th solo is understandably the least documented of all my other flights. I was still dealing with the fear of being followed even after 6 days. Fearful he might show up at my school even though he didn’t exactly know which flight school I was training at or that he would falsely get the police to track me down or that I would run into him at a grocery store or pull up beside me at a traffic light.
Thankfully I only needed another 30 minutes of circuit solo time before being able to go on to the next phase which is Basic Instrument Flying and familiarization for Training Area Solo.
The weather was relatively windy on that day. My instructor had reservations about it too and asked if I think I could handle the crosswind element. I said that I should be able to handle it. It was a 12 knot crosswind component the entire time I was flying, even at take-off and landing. An added challenge was that the airspace was crowded. There were a few aircraft in front and a couple more behind me, thus the circuit became quite tight and I was gradually pushed out of my comfort zone. Took me a lot to not bail out on my 4th solo. I was also very sure my instructor didn’t go over what I should do if I ever find myself in a tight circuit pattern with other aircraft(s). At one point after my touch-and-go on my departure climb, there was still an aircraft on the crosswind leg and I almost radioed tower for help as to how I should maintain separation, at what power setting should my throttle be, questions to which I thought I needed to know the answers to by now, otherwise I’m going to embarrass myself and disappoint my instructor and all my training was about to go out the window because I panicked for a slight moment.
Took a deep breath and reasoned with myself that what I thought would be a safe separation may not necessarily be needed nor viable for the controllers to cater because there was another aircraft immediately behind me about to touch-and-go as well. So I just maintained visual separation and started talking myself through the next few steps that I thought would make me feel safe. I continued maintaining visual separation, slowed down for flying leveled at a 1000 ft, extended my downwind leg, which meant that the aircraft behind me had to extend his downwind leg too and can’t cut me – Oh yes cutting off is a thing just like someone cutting you off on the road and it happened to me more than once, smoothly turned on to base, by which time I had enough room to prepare myself for my final approach instead of following everyone else’s speed and pattern, I learned that the aircraft behind me was not a solo flight when the instructor complained over radio to tower about me extending my downwind leg as I was on finals – I didn’t care and was content with my landing.
I ensured a safe landing not only for myself but for everyone around me.
Since this is a small aircraft everything is 10 times more sensitive to the wind element than say if you were flying a bigger aircraft, that’s just my observation but now I can say hey I flew solo in a 12 knot crosswind element.
Next week in the 2nd last installment of ‘IF NOTHING WORKS AT LEAST YOU KNOW YOU KNOW YOU HAVE YOUR INSTRUCTOR’ I’ll be talking about my road trip to the very southern tip of W.A with Brother Luqman, the lack of a proper mentor, my new routine while at Farrington, introduction to flying into cloud and chauffeuring in exchange for food.
p.s: I know I mentioned in last week’s blog that I’ll be detailing about my close call with a head on collision in this week’s blog, but I didn’t include it. I’ll be including this very briefly into next week’s narration as well. I sincerely hope you’re enjoying this read.