Command building flight for three PPL pilots.

Almost any pilot you talk to that has gone from zero hours to Private Pilot’s Licence in an integrated course would tell you that the learning curve is steep. Ours was an 8am until 5pm course, with flights or theory in the morning, and the other in the afternoon. Even though we have a Bachelor of Aviation, there is still a lot of content that you need to actually understand and not just have memorised, and a lot of stress that comes along the way.

But after you pass the flight test and the stress goes away, the fun stuff comes along – command building. The aim of command building is simple. Fly yourself to as many places outside of your comfort zone as you can within the hours that you have and test the skills and techniques you have learnt along the way. It is made even more fun by that fact that you can take your peers and go further together, seeing how each other fly and working together as a team.

In September, I went on my first of these flights with Monica and Abby, my two closest girlfriends from flight school. We were very excited to go to the beach on our “girls trip” as we called it. We had lunches packed with heaps of snacks and the plane booked for the whole day out. The route was Archerfield – Goondiwindi – Inverell – Ballina – Archerfield and Monica was the PIC (pilot in command).

Three female student pilots outside a Piper Seminole at Archerfield Airport, Brisbane.
Abby Toten, myself and Monica Gradwell (PIC of the flight).

However we woke up that morning to a sky full of clouds and scattered showers of rain throughout the whole route. The cloud base was at 3000ft – which is fine to make it along a coastal route, except the terrain we wanted to pass was at 2500ft.  After doing a comprehensive risk analysis within the group and with a couple of the instructors, Monica decided we would go, and Abby and I both supported her in this decision.

We took off and departed south west. We already had to hold 2500ft due to cloud, lucky that we were in less restricted airspace that meant we only legally had to be clear of cloud. The closer to the ranges we got, the lower the cloud seemed to be getting, much lower than it was forecast. By the time we were 40nm out of Archerfield with the terrain beginning a sharp climb upwards and the top of the mountains no longer visible, we decided it was time to make a diversion.

Looking back on the flight, I think the diversion went really well. It was the first time we had had to do one in a group environment without instructors, let alone in a real life situation. We worked as a team. Monica focused on the flying in the poor conditions and ensuring we were abiding by all air laws. Sitting in the back, I was able to look through the maps and charts for more suitable options for us to divert via and propose routes that we could take, whilst assisting looking for traffic. Abby then got accurate tracks to follow and sorted out all the smaller details like ETA’s and radio frequencies. We chose to divert straight to Ballina as that was already on our route and there was a break in the mountains we were able to make it through.

Student pilots completing command building in a Piper Archer enroute to the Gold Coast Airport.
The view from VH-BKM inbound to Coolangatta for a touch and go.

We landed at Ballina without any problems and then caught an Uber to the beach. At the beach we had our picnic, hung out and had a good time. Monica chose to fly home via the Gold Coast and do a touch and go. Miraculously, the weather cleared up and it became a beautiful day to fly.

The flight was very eventful at the beginning when the weather was unfavourable, but we figured out how to work as a team and not let it ruin the day. It was very cool to see how everything we have learnt comes together in real life. Only months ago, we really didn’t know how to fly at all. Now, we can fly ourselves down to the beach to have a girls day and then just fly ourselves home again. I think that’s pretty cool.

2 thoughts on “Command building flight for three PPL pilots.

Add yours

  1. That is a pretty awesome experience and story of team work and skills building! I think the “$100 hamburger” just became the beach trip for future pilots’random days out! So good!! Also having read too many “close calls” stories it was good/refreshing to see level heads not getting into trouble!


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