PPL(H) – Skill Test Exam Flight

PPL(H) – Skill Test Exam Flight

Planning & Briefing

All steps up to this stage built one huge adventure with many unforgettable memories. And now the final day has arrived.

The Exam Flight, so called Skill Test Filght:  Briefing / Navigation / Exercises.

First, I get some waypoints for the navigation flight – based on this I have to prepare the Full MATED Brief.

Afterwards, I explain all the different parts of it in a briefing to the examiner. He acts like a passenger during the whole exam. You treat him like a total novice and he pretends to have no idea of flying helicopters at all.

This situation is a bit strange, but similar to other verbal exams at college or university. During the flight this will remain the same. He won’t say much – as long as you do a good job. That’s why it was very important, we had always trained to talk and verbalise all the different steps. The examiner has never flown with you before and he can’t look into your head.

The more you comment on what you are doing, verbalise your position, checks etc., the better he can judge your skills and will not start to distract you with questions. As for planning & flying in general: Always be upfront in the situation, lead it. It’s appreciated, good airmenship and makes everything way easier & relaxed and prevents any bad surprises.

Finally, I have to take the decision if the weather is good enough to go and fly the exam. It’s quite windy. And I know I do not do myself a favour but I have trained everything in even more wind and decide to go. He checks back almost five times and asks me, if I am really happy. “Yes. I am happy  – let’s go & fly!”

Part I – Navigation Flight

Leg One  & Two – Track Hold  & Track Crawl –  The Navigation Flight consists of all parts we trained during the training. Nothing is new but everything occurs. First we fly a Track Hold, straight into the edge of Gatwick‘s CTR.

The Radio shouldn’t be an issue any more and flying accurately is key at this point. Before arriving to the CTR area we are aiming for, I have to descend below a certain height to keep legal. And, I should not miss the field we are looking for – only a few miles behind is the CTR Airspace that goes all the way to the ground.

I had flown in this direction once before, but not exactly the same route. Of course, the moment arrives in which I am not exactly sure if I am really on track. Trying hard to find ourselves on the chart I simply continue to comment on what I see, pretending we are totally on track and hope to get there soon. Just trusting my heading – as learned & trained.

From here, we switch to a Track Crawl. Its direction is straight into wind and I have to really concentrate on flying accurately in these conditions. This leg takes more than twenty minutes and the examiner will just keep completely quiet.

It was really good that in previous flights I had continued to talk with my ghost instructor under the seat and later with Heclicopter Lady G. But I did not mention any sheeps this time and mentioned the amazing view only once!

Farm Spotting / OS Map  & VOR Flight – when we arrived we switched to the OS map and looked for a property on the hill. It is quite huge, but behind a forest. Here we talk about approaches to confined areas and start to follow a VOR radial.

I had no problems to tune into the VOR but afterwards the radial did not arrive for quite a long time. Again – know what you do and don’t get confused. It finally came in and we flew all the way back to the south to the area where we would start part II of the skill test.

Part II – Manoeuvres & Exercises

From here the examiner gets way more active, talks a lot on the radio, regularly takes control and it feels more like another really fun training session. First, he hands me over the foggles and we start instrument flying – 360° degree turns and then recovery back to normal flight from unusual positions. Straight from here we go for a practice forced landing.

On the way back to Goodwood he asks me about specific warning lights etc. Back down on the airfield we fly backwards and do different variations of spot turns. He does not have to test all the exercises from my training but a siginificant part of them. Of course we don’t waste time with the easiest ones.

From here he cruises the magic carpet over the field in a stunning way and lines me up for a nice Quick Stop, afterwards we land on the slope, take off again, fly a circuit and finalise the Skill Test Flight with an Engine Off Landing.


I had really enjoyed the training so far and I was almost a little sad to be finished now, it was such a great time. But of course I was proud too that it all went so well. It feels very strange walking back to the academy building, thinking that now the next step will be “hours building” – flying wherever I want to …

The training was not just fun, it was very straightforward. We never wasted time on unnecessary repetitions. We continously built up the skills until we started to fine-tune. We did all the steps so faithfully that after the mock flight I had absolutely no concerns about passing this exam.

The only thing I was afraid of was accuracy – flying out of the limitations (speed & altitude) happens so quickly – but we had also trained to continuously improve from flight to flight. During the whole exam flight I flew even better than before and could avoid some of the minor “fails” I did in the prior mock flight.

Still being a “newbie” the skill test flight feels really long, very long. All navigations on that level, then so many exercises etc. in just one flight. It is a major milestone to pass and is a major act of concentration. But, it feels absolutely great.

I have no idea why, and it sounds quite ridiculous, but the following night I had an intense dream about this (not very good) movie with George Clooney – Gravity – where he acts as an outer space cab driver. He is constantly listening to a radio station with some hillbilly music (which is not my preferred music really).

But also, he constantly talks on the radio like a “chef” and whirls around in space in an absolutely fantastic way.

Somehow, I had the impression that our exam flight just took place in space. And my examiner talked on the radio even fancier than Goerge Clooney does.

It was again: simply a fantastic flight!

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PPL(H) – All Checks

PPL(H) – All Checks





“Just one page? To fly a helicopter – seriously?”

Yes. Seriously. No joke. That’s it.

All Checks needed to properly fly the R22 on PPL(H) Level.

BUT, you have to be able to reproduce them at a rate of knots in a handstand, taking a selfie of yourself and your neighbour shouting at you over the fence that your house is burning down – or …

… during flying, listening & talking to crackling radio talks and experiencing any kind of disrupting challenge.

Instantly, Sovereign & Smiling



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PPL(H) – Fine-Tuning the Puzzle

PPL(H) – Fine-Tuning the Puzzle

The Repetition Summary Briefing

Again, it all starts on the ground. Today, my instructor starts with a whiteboard full of shortcuts. Every abbreviation stands for one exercise. It’s the full PPL(H) Training – the same as the Skill Test Programm – without navigation. During training I rarely took any notes, usually I tried to directly memorise what he explained to me or just took pictures of his drawings.

During this brush-up we briefly talk about every exercise – I quickly tell him what I have to do. Most things I remember correctly but sometimes I miss a part. It is possibly one of the most intense briefings, 4hrs of full concentration.

So this time, I take notes about everything that does not spontaneously come to mind. Afterwards, I merge those details and create my final notes to “pimp” the pictures in my brain. It’s not many, but from here I mentally rehearse them once a day until the Exam Flight. They accomplish the remaining 20% needed to fly all of the exercises really smoothly.




The next day we start to fly again. It’s more or less all about improving the accuracy and speed of completing the tasks.

 – All exercises on the ground – spot turns, landing cross wind, flying backwards, slope landings, quick stops etc.

 – All types of Autorotations from positive airspeed to extended range, including 360+ turn etc.

 – All types of limited power take-off & landings, especially running take-off & landing

 – Power check, approaches & landing in confined areas , engine-off Landing etc.

 – Practice forced landing incl. 5s, mayday call, pax-brief, touchdrills.

 – Instrument flying – Rate 1 turns in climb, 30° angle of bank turns, recovering from unusual flight position etc.

Of course, we focus on the more difficult ones or the ones I did not fly for a while. But it’s basically everything. All together in two flights. Including a special eye on verbalising everything correctly and not forgetting anything.

Exam-Mockup-Flight with Chief Instructor

Now we come to the last flight before I will fly the final PPL Skill Test. It is split into two parts.

1st Navigation then 2nd different exercises. Same as the real exam flight.

It’s actually quite funny as my very first flight (the trial lesson) was with him, Captain Toby Chamberlain. We did not fly together until my first solo flight. Here, we flew some circuits before he would climb out & clear me to fly alone.

And now we are sitting here and fly into the sky for the mock flight exam. What a milestone. We have a good flight, talk a lot and I am really happy about my progression. There is always something of course but no major failure and remarkable improvements in accuracy thanks to the final fine-tuning flights with my instructor.

Toby gives me some further tips but is happy too and thinks I am ready. He finishes the debrief with the quote.

“We cannot expect perfection but we want to make sure that you are safe to learn to fly afterwards”.


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PPL(H) – Cross Country Qualiflying Flight

PPL(H) – Cross Country Qualiflying Flight

Well prepared & Simply great Fun

The Cross Country Flight combines all the learning about proper planning and experiences built during the previous navigation flights. During those exercises I have approached and landed at both foreign aerodromes twice before.

There is one leg – or better one flight – the one between Stop N° 1 and N° 2 from Blackbush to Thruxton – that I will fly for the first time.  So there is gap on the route I never saw before, but I am confident that this won’t be a problem.



It’s been only a few months since I had no clue how to start the engine and looking at this chart produced an immediate headache. On the other hand, this all seemed like daily business. I have studied the route in detail and prepared my chart, all frequencies & radio talks, also the circuits at the destinations etc. Everything is mentally ready and written down on my knee board. When I arrive at the Helicopter Academy, the only remaining task is:

Checking weather & winds, calculate headings, times, fuel and complete the Full MATED Briefing – my Flight.



First day out with Lady G. – Enjoy!

When I returned from Switzerland after my break over Christmas, the Helicopter Academy just got a “new” helicopter. It was not new from the factory, but had come back from a complete overhaul. They rebuild the helicopter from scratch so it‘s like “new” – it even smells like a new car inside.

However, the helicopter had pink stripes before and they used to call her a lady. I was the first student flying “her” when she came back and I did all my solo navigation flights with her. And, as mentioned in Daily A-Check, you start to build a relationship with the helicopters and there are some you like more than others. Obviously Lady G. was my darling.

Before leaving, my instructor reminds me to enjoy my trip with her – “We will – I am sure!!”

3x “Take-Off, Navigating & Landing”


Flight #1  – The Black Box finally gets a Face

The first flight leads away from the sea view, over the hills towards the more closed-in area of the London Airspace Jungle. I know this route quite well. There is an airport to transit overhead, so some radio, but that’s not an any issue any more.

But, it’s the first time after landing that I‘ve walked up to the tower in order to get my signature on the X-Country Qualifying form. Besides the fact that they have an amazing view up there, it was good to finally have a look at a tower. I should have done this before but always forgot during training. If you get a chance, do it. It explains a lot.

It is interesting to see how they work. Every flight they “handle” is handwritten on to a small plate, including the information you passed over to them over the radio. They manually move the plates around from “approach” to “circuit” and finally to “landed”. This gives them an overview of what is going on in their airspace, very old fashioned but efficient.



Flight #2 – Landing in the middle of an ongoing car race

During the X-Country flight one new duty comes along. It is to call up to the tower of the destination by phone and announce our arrival. Doing this, they tell me not to park to close to the car circuit surrounding Thruxton Aerodrome as there is a car race going on.

Even though I acknowledge the information I am not really aware what awaits me. In Goodwood there are always some cars driving around and after a while I stopped noticing them.

The flight itself follows a route through a beautiful countryside and the closer I get I forget about this car race. I am so focused on reading the chart, listening to what‘s happening on the radio and, of course, enjoying the trip with Lady G.

But, as soon as I approach Thruxton it starts. Firstly, with a Royal Airforce Super Puma Helicopter that crosses my path quite closely and makes me feel like an absolute bee in the air, a great bee though! Next, the Air Ambulance Helicopter crosses my path, lands in front of me and then a Lear Jet takes off. It’s really great and the word circuit feels more like a circus.

During my own “final” I suddenly see TV camera teams standing in all turns of the race track. “What the heck … – ah right, he told me there was a race …” Quite amazing – the prior feeling of being just a bee only two minutes ago directly turns into a full grown kingsized eagle!






Flight #3 – Suddenly Clouds and 15kn Wind on the Ground

Up in the tower I have a longer chat with the “Black Box Face” and continue watching the race from here, while he signs the paper etc. Until I can hear him talking to another plane on approach “Surface wind 15 knots …” This really shakes me up, as we are not supposed to fly in winds stronger than 15 Knots. I really don’t want to get stuck in Thruxton and jump off.

It’s nothing special that the weather changes – this has happened almost every day since I started the training and those changes are even quicker in Switzerland. But, during flying back I am still surprised that only a few hours ago I started in blue sky and now I am sneaking back home just below cloud base. One of those little reminders for future flights.

But it feels great, back to the beloved sea view & its shining lights, a warm voice that welcomes me back home to Goodwood. Fantastsic. In the meantime, I had started to talk with Lady G. as no one else was around. Congratulating her during our approach“Well done – Lady G.”. We instantly agree that we will continue common journeys during the next following steps – Constructive Hours Building for CPL.



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5 Years Phoenix Helicopters in Goodwood

5 Years Phoenix Helicopters in Goodwood

Happy Birthday

Today is a big day for the Academy I am attending to get Helicopter Pilot “From_Zero_To-Pro.

It’s only fives years ago they started with one instructor and one leased Helicopter.

In the meantime they have two branches and it does not need any more words to explain that their approach, advantages and pricing to train new pilots is obviously very successful – “Why learn to fly in UK and at Phoenix Helicopter Academy”.

Today everyone on this pictures works for the company.

Some as flight instructors, others as apprentice to get commercial helicopter pilot and perhaps future instructor themselves. Of course there is also an efficient administration back office that makes all this possible.


But – Pictures say more than thousand words.







PPL(H) – Flight to Maintenance Company

PPL(H) – Flight to Maintenance Company

First flight to the edge of the “Jungle” of London’s Airspace

This flight is the first full day trip during PPL training. It is the navigation flight that “puzzles” together all the parts trained towards the upcoming X-Country Qualifying Flight. Many radio stations to contact, constant chart reading, airports & airfields to cross and accurate flying to navigate legally around London‘s controlled airspace.


As for every navigation flight, it all starts with detailed planning. The Destination Aerodrome in Denham is situated inside the CTR of London‘s, just on the edge to be correct. So we do not really fly around in the CTR of London for long, but we have to sneek inside the airspace under a given altitude to be legal and approach Denham from there.

A trip to “Disney Land” – HQ Aviation Ltd in Denham

Flying into Denham does not feel like being in the most congested airspace of the globe at all – it looks like a totally remote place flying over some lakes in a beautiful landscape.  But also, it does not look anything like a helicopter‘s paradise – I do not see a single helicopter on approach – just a few closed hangars.

My expectations are completely slammed, until the doors open just wide enough to let us get in with our Lady Helicopter.

From here, I am walking around bright-eyed for the next few hours and can’t stop wondering where we just entered.

I have never seen so many helicopters before and I am surprised how close you can squeeze them into such a small space.

It’s also the first time I realise how small the R22 actually is. Smaller than the original Mini Cooper. It looks like a bee standing next to it’s bigger brother, the R44.



Look inside Helicopters & inside parts of Helicopters

For a novice helicopter pilot this place is absolutely stunning. To see opened and ripped apart helicopters and, to see even deeper inside opened parts for maintenance, is really interesting. The mechanics are very proud of their job and are happy to explain what they are working on. My personal respect for their amazing work and the fantastic engineering that lets us fly those birds increases even further.




The Turbine Helicopter in the Robinson Family – R66

We are happy enough to arrive on the day that the company gets back its first R66 helicopter to maintain, the turbine of the Robinson family. An impressive machine. Perhaps one day? The mechanic tells us that it has an additional fuel tank and the owner flew it over from Frankfurt in Germany on a non-stop flight. Really? I am bluffed … But not enough …


World Record – Around the globe in R44 Helicopter

Before we fly back, we talk about the flight in the maintenance company’s office. Again, a fantastic place with pictures of impressive helicopter trips they did from here. I can literally smell the groove & spirit of true adventurers.


All of a sudden, the owner of the company walks in – Mr. Quentin Smith aka “Captain Q”. He is a famous helicopter pilot who flies really weird manoeuvres like a ballet dancer – Example Video – and constantly travels to amazing places. He also holds the world record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe in a piston engine, in a R44. “What – really – around the world??” Well, he did it more than once …

My original questions – after the first trip to another airfield –  about where I could fly to with the R22 gets completely pulverised. Perhaps I should plan to fly a newbie‘s record during hours building – maybe from Goodwood back home to Switzerland and land on the Matterhorn?



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