“PNR?! What the hell does PNR mean?” I grab the scribble paper that has been left on my desk. I make a quick estimation of questions that could be wrong. If I submit now, that’ll be a 70-75% grade. Dammit, I wanted to do better this time. Still, if I submit now, provided I’m not oblivious to other questions I answered wrong, that should be enough to pass. Barely though…
“into the realm of fail proof”
The last week was spent on studying AGK (Aircraft General Knowledge). Piston engines, super charging, pitot tubes, and static ports. All kinds of dials and instruments, and all the errors they suffer from. At least I’m familiar with piston engines. Whoever says you never learn anything from gaming, needs to play more simulators. Anyway, there was still lots and lots left to learn.
For instance a lot of acronyms, that didn’t always make sense. R.P.e.E.M, S.U.C, S.O.D, O.N.U.S, P.U.C, to name a few. Most of which had to do with all the different errors that plague the flight instruments. You would think the instruments that are deemed necessary for safe flight, would have evolved into the realm of fail proof after more than a century of aviation. You would also be wrong. The only instrument that will “always” work correctly is the compass, provided you are flying at the equator. Otherwise the needle needs to be weighed down to stop it pointing up (northern hemisphere) or down (southern hemisphere), which then influences the compass heading, depending on whether you are accelerating, decelerating, or turning (i.e. flying).
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying flying isn’t safe or anything. And obviously the instruments in big airliner jumbo jets will be of a different level than those found in basic helicopters. Probably. It just surprised me how wary you need to be of your instruments, at least in theory. A lot of theory focuses on all the things that can go wrong, and what to do to prevent it, or which countermeasures you need to take. But how often does something really go catastrophically wrong? Sure some crash every now and then, but considering there are roughly 56,000 helicopters out there (civilian and military combined), the odds aren’t exactly staked against you. And even if they crash, there’s still a good chance of walking away, and that’s what counts.
“Alright, settle down…”
Besides training, I had something else to learn at Rotorvation this week. Mastering my new
cannon lens! It’s a Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG Sport, and let me tell you, it’s huge! It weighs roughly 3.5 kilograms (that’s “get-with-the-program” pounds for the people still stuck in the imperial system), and yes, you do notice that sooner than you’d like to admit. The thing I was most concerned about was how much light it would need. It’s much smaller cousin, the 18-250mm contemporary from Sigma, quickly runs out of ambient light and can always use a little more. Thankfully that is not the case with this beast, and even if you have to drop shutter speeds, the Optical Stabiliser is crazy good. I got sharp handheld shots at 600mm, with a shutter speed of just 1/160. It is a big thing to take with you, since it doesn’t even fit in my camera backpack, but the range, ease of use, and quality you get for that is well worth it. For those wondering why I bought the much more expensive Sport version instead of the cheaper Contemporary, if I’m spending that kind of money, I want a lens that is dust and weather sealed, and is built to last.
Studying at an airport makes it easy to spot all kinds of helicopters. The difficulty with taking pictures of them is the shutter speed. Most main rotors rotate at around 500 RPM, depending on power settings, so any shutter speed from 1/250 and up will (nearly) freeze the blades, which, in my opinion, looks silly. Getting a nice sense of motion in the rotor blades also depends on disc solidity, so it’ll be easier with fatter blades, or simply more blades, but you still need to go slow on the shutter. Trying to keep the shutter speed low comes with its challenges all in itself, the biggest one being able to still get a crispy clear shot. Which, with moving helicopters, is not as easy as one would want.
After getting some beaut shots standing on the apron at Rotorvation on Wednesday, I decided to quickly swing by the viewing area next to the Jandakot tower. There was a group of mentally disabled teenagers there too, having a little day out I guess. As I was practising with my new gear, trying to keep track of a helicopter doing low-level flying at the far end of runway 12/30, one of the disabled boys was pacing around saying “there’s a helicopter, there’s a helicopter, there’s a helicopter” over and over again. After a while, the grumpy old man in me thought “Alright, settle down…”, only to follow-up with the thought “Oh who am I kidding, we’re all thinking it!”
“a hypothetical question”
However, all the lessons learned about my new lens during the past week, weren’t helping me out one bit this arvo. Same as last time, I was there a bit early, and going over my notes one last time in the car, I realised I hadn’t focused on the instruments as much as I could/should have. According to the Civil Aviation Act 1988 I am not at liberty to discuss any questions I was asked during my exam, so I won’t. If, however, there would have been a hypothetical question, concerning PNR (which stands for Point of No Return, by the way), all kinds of altitudes, and a blockage of some port, I would have very likely struggled with that question, because I didn’t focus hard enough on how a certain instrument works. Doing my little estimation of uncertain answers, I went over all of them a third time. I decided there was nothing more that could be done, and finalised my exam. The nice thing about Aspeq exams, is they show you your score right away, and I got a healthy 77%! That’s 2 percent more than last time, so I guess I still made good on my resolution to do better. Next up; meteorology, and seeing as Dutch people can’t stop talking about the weather, I should be able to crack this one too.