Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"One Last Time"...or..."New Years Flyin' Eve"

I took the last 2 days of 2014 as my last 2 vacation days for the year, mainly in hopes that somewhere in those 2 days I'd get some time in the air.  I texted Randy Tuesday morning asking if there was any chance of flying that day or the next, letting him know I was available the entirety of both days.  I didn't get a response by early evening and assumed he was away for the holidays.

Around 18:30 local I got a text asking if 15:00 local the next day would work.  Of course it will work (see reference to pizza in an earlier blog post).

The next day I didn't get in a hurry to do anything.  A little online gaming with a friend to pass the time, then a few warmup circuits in FSX Steam Edition, then ate some lunch.

About 2 hours before flight time I decided to get in the shower, but before I could even turn the water on, my phone rang.  It was Randy.  I'd just checked the METAR.  Solid VFR conditions, and TAF for a nearby airport was excellent all day.  "Great.  What's broken or getting installed on 34Q this time?" I thought.  I really shouldn't be so cynical, but it's been the status quo for this plane lately.  Plus it's been 5 weeks again since I've been up, and I'm a little depressed about it to be honest.

Surprisingly, it was good news, which I could tell immediately by the tone of his voice.  Turns out his previous cross country solo had returned early, and he was available any time.

Quickest.  Shower.  Ever.

45 minutes later we were shaking hands and heading to the hangar, a full hour earlier than planned.  I needed a good break like this for a change.  While 34Q was still in the (warm) hangar, I checked out my headset to see if the repairs I'd done had fixed it (last flight the microphone wasn't working so I had to use the passive reduction David Clark set in the plane).  I'd replaced the microphone and mic boom with parts I ordered from the manufacturer.  A quick test confirmed the headset was working better than before.  This was a relief - much better to have spent $80 USD on repairs than another $475 for a replacement of this model, which is the Pilot PA1779 recommended by my ENT doc.

I did my preflight, and missed one thing on the walkaround.  And, of course, it would be the one major thing that is flaky on 34Q right now - the nosewheel strut.  I'd noticed in my last flight on 11/25 that it was more compressed than it should have been - 2 fingers clearance instead of 3.  Apparently this was a prelude to needing rebuilt, which was supposed to have been done this morning, and I was the lucky student to get to taxi with it in this condition on what would end up being the last flight before it HAD to be rebuilt.

I get in, going through the rest of the pre and post-startup checklist, I notice even though we're facing 090 that the magnetic compass is 10° off.  Not the heading indicator, the magnetic compass.  Randy mentions he needs to get that fixed, so just turn the heading indicator to 090 and move on.  I'm a perfectionist.  I'm OCD.  This is driving me insane.  First point of frustration.

Taxiing down to 27, winds were 6-8 kts, almost straight down the runway, so naturally I want to push the yoke full forward to expose the top of the elevator control surface to the wind.  But I can't, because the nose is lower than usual, and we have to keep as much weight off it while taxiing as we can.  And it's popping with every bump.  Second frustration point.  "How many fingers was the clearance when you checked it."  Busted.  Third frustration point.

Runup was fine, magneto check was the smoothest I've ever had, set the GPS to KHNB, but someone had the range out to like 500 miles, so it took us both a bit to realize we needed to zoom way in.  More.  Frustration.

Takeoff was good, let the airspeed get away a little.  Midfield departure to the northwest to one of the practice areas, and up to 4500 feet.  Simple flight today.  Steep turns and slow flight.  Started with 30° turns as a warmup, then to 45°.  Nailed them all first try.  Slow flight was equally successful, with a twist.  He told me to take out 10° of flaps, and while he was correcting me for letting the nose fall, I forgot about the flaps and as a result took them all out.  So he had me still hold it in slow flight, at 50 kts.

I'm not physically strong by any respects, so holding the nose up at 50 kts with no flaps was quite a challenge for me, let a lone doing a turn 90 degrees heading to the left to roll out on a north heading, but I did it.  Then he told me to do a standard rate turn to the right, and roll out on South.  "There's no way I can hold this for 60 more seconds" I thought. I did, for the most part.  By now, my left arm was Jell-O.  I should probably reconsider a gym membership in 2015...

Time to practice landings.  The first attempt was a go-around.  Way too high and too fast.  Managing my energy and altitude during downwind, base, and final have been a big problem for me that I had actually overcome before I started having these long breaks between lessons.

The next two landings were not great, and to be honest, for almost all of them, I felt like I was behind the airplane.  I told him this during the debrief.  The wind was very choppy below 3,000 MSL, and I became aware on climbout of landing 2 that I didn't feel like my head was completely in the cockpit for some reason.  A quick re-focusing exercise and I was back where I needed to be.

Attempt at landing #3 saw ground effect taking us halfway down the runway.  Very very close to a dangerous stall, Randy took controls, and even he couldn't get her to settle down.  Another go-around.  Two more landings, the last of which was bouncy, to say the least.  After nearly nosing the prop into the ground thanks to the weak strut, I raised the nose a bit, slowed the plane down, and we exited the runway.

Debriefing the flight, Randy commended me on slow flight and steep turns, talked about the landings, and overall said the flight wasn't that bad.  I felt like the landings were some of my worst.  He did say again that whatever I'm doing with regards to simulation is definitely helping.

Scheduled to fly next Wednesday afternoon.  Clear skies are forecast, and the nosewheel strut should be fixed well before then.  I need it to be fixed before then.  There's no question these multi-week stretches between flights are holding me back.  Every break between flights I feel like I'm losing progress instead of making it.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 - When I Left The Earth

As the year winds down, friends and family (and CFIs) take time off to be with their families, and the weather begins to fit the season, I'm ok with the fact I may not fly anymore until next year.  I'll be jumping at the chance to get back in the cockpit as soon as possible though.

In spite of its ups and downs (no pun intended, seriously), this has been one of the best years of my life, in many ways.  Yes, a lot of that is due to the fact I've begun my journey toward my PPL, but a lot of other non-aviation things have gone on, both good and bad.

In the end, some of it made me stronger.  Some of it wore me down.  But all of it showed me what I, and those I hold dear, are really capable of achieving in spite of life's challenges.  Lessons I've learned before, but even more so this year I believe.  Take that, 2014.  You were such a lightweight.

One of my favorite things that happened this year is that I started this blog to share my journey, and my passion for aviation.  Actually, I started it on a forum dedicated to a spaceflight simulator.  But I wanted to share it with more friends and colleagues without them having to register for an account there.  So I made the jump to Blogger, sort of.  I'm duplicating posts there at this point.

Speaking of aviation-related things, I've been an avid flight-sim junkie for years (which helped me cover a LOT of ground in my early lessons in a hurry). I also in recent months began recording videos of Flight Simulator X with FRAPS just for fun.  Since I have a Google account, I decided to upload one to YouTube, unlisted, and share it over at to see what kind of reaction/advice I got.  The comments were all positive and constructive, so I took some suggestions, and made another video last week.

Here is the first.  Please forgive the poor audio quality.  I'm using a Rugged Radios headset with an adapter cable for PC and a Turtle Beach USB adapter.  It actually sounds like a low-end aircraft set because it pretty much is.

And my most recent.  Improved audio this time around thanks to a Logitech USB microphone, as well as improvements to the default KHNB scenery by yours truly.

For me personally, my flight sim setup has been invaluable during my training, especially with all the down time I've had due to weather, plane maintenance, sickness, etc.  I do still plan on uploading a video showing my hardware setup.  Perhaps I'll get to that over the holidays.  But maybe not.  I'm in the process of doing my own testing of the recently-released FSX: Steam Edition, which I picked up for a cool $5.  Expecting great updates from Dovetail going forward, but already performance is better than the original/CD version of the simulator.

That's about it for now.  I don't have a lesson scheduled next week, but I'm ready should the opportunity arise.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good flight!

Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Haven't Got Time For The Pane(s)

Yes, I spelled that p-a-n-e-s. As in windows. 34Q got new ones installed this afternoon. Got the text from Randy about 5 hours before flight time, said he'd just found out they were putting them in today. And as a result, you guessed it, no flight lesson for me this week. 

It's just as well. Here's the METAR for about the time I'd have been finishing my preflight walkaround:

KHNB 022115Z AUTO 23007KT 3SM OVC006 02/00 A3020 RMK AO1

In case you don't know how to read the METAR, in a nutshell, the clouds were too low. And it didn't end up getting much better. In fact, the ceiling dropped another 200 feet a few hours later, and is now back up to 600. 

We'll try again next Tuesday. Forecast at this point is upper 30s & partly cloudy. As long as they're 2,000 MSL or above, I don't care if it's overcast. As long as I can get some landing practice in, I'm content. 

Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

It had been 8 weeks since the last time I was up in 34Q, which is far, far too long.  During that time, she had some new goodies installed - Mainly, a Garmin 430 along with a new GPS-enabled Course Direction Indicator (CDI).  However, the scheduled engine change and interior refurbishing have yet to occur.  More on those later.

I hate cold weather.  When it comes to being out in it, I hate it even more.  But, you make sacrifices for the ones you love, especially when they have two wings, three wheels, and a prop.  Preflight felt like a day hadn't gone by, and I actually didn't notice the cold wind that much.  It was a fairly steady wind coming out of the northwest, so the tie-down chains were in place.

It was no time at all the two of us would shed these shackles and be free of this earth, even if only for a brief time.  I asked Randy if the new engine was in, he said no, not yet, but the new parts for the interior were in the hangar and we'd take a look at them later.

Didn't miss a beat when it came to the preflight passenger briefing, even added a little extra personal touch as always.  Startup was a little rough.  You see, 34Q and I, we're both the same age.  We're getting older, and neither one of us are a big fan of this 'Winter' business.  But, after 4 tries, the engine fired, and on with the checklist.  Randy showed me the ins and outs of working the radio now with the 430 (I was familiar with the GPS side of things since that portion of the Garmin units has been in Microsoft's Flight Simulators for years).  Dialed in the AWOS and picked up that we had a 3,000 ceiling (that's in AGL - above ground level for those that don't know), and we'd have a 7 kt crosswind, right front quartering for runway two-seven, but the sock was nearly straight across at times.

I taxied to runway two-seven, did my runup, then made my takeoff call.  We departed to the Southwest, with the intent of climbing to 3,000 MSL, which is about 2,500 AGL, the required 500 ft below the clouds.  But the clouds were much lower than AWOS reported, so we leveled off at 2,500 MSL.  Slow flight and steep turns were the short menu tonight, just to get me used to flying again.  Slow flight felt easy for me, seemed to come naturally.  Steep turns took a bit of getting used to again, but I was nailing them after a few.  Comfortable I was back in the groove, we headed back to practice landings.  I ended up getting 6 total landings in.  Over the course of those the crosswind gradually increased to 8, then 9 by the time we parked.  Number 2 was by far the best landing, but even though the others weren't as good, I still felt good about them overall, and Randy did as well.

As we're locking the hangar doors, Randy complimented me on how well I flew tonight in spite of not having flown for two months.  I told him I owe a lot of that to my flight sim setup, and additionally the C172 Trainer from A2A Simulations.  I briefly mentioned that its flight profile is almost spot-on with 34Q and that the approach speeds are amazingly realistic, which makes practicing landings actually beneficial and applicable in the real world.  The only real difference I can see is that the A2A is a C172R and is fuel-injected, so no carb heat.  Other than that, it 'feels' like I'm flying the real thing.

On the way back to the office after putting 34Q in the hangar, Randy showed me the new parts that were going in.  We're not talking just some new leather and new seat covers.  Oh no.  The old girl is getting the entire interior replaced.  ALL the paneling - side posts, ceiling, instrument panel, carpet - the works.    They're doing a full restoration, nose-to-tail, new paint job included.  They plan to do it sometime in February, when the weather's less favorable for flying and it's less of an inconvenience for her to be down for a few weeks again.  I can't wait to see what she looks like when they're done.

Back in the office, we debriefed the flight, where he again complimented me on very little loss of skill over the two months I'd been out of the cockpit.  I later pulled up a picture on my phone of my current flight sim hardware/setup, and he said it explained a lot.  He didn't want to say anything while I was flying, but he could tell I'd been doing 'something' during those two months.

It felt good to know that the painstaking hours I've spent getting everything setup to where it feels 'right' and realistic have been absolutely worth it.  Perhaps I'll post a pic or two in the coming days to show exactly what I've been using so others can benefit, or even offer pointers or suggestions for improvement.

Since the time has changed, and it's now dark an hour before my normal lesson time, we're now scheduling my lessons tentatively on Tuesday afternoons provided the weather cooperates.  I have some vacation days left, so I'm going to use most of them for flying since I don't have any real travel plans the rest of the year.  It actually works out very well.  Next Tuesday is looking good.  Mid 40'sF and mostly sunny.  I need some back-to-back weeks of flying.  Here's hoping I get them.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.

ASEL: 19.4
68 Landings
Landings - Touch-and-Go: 51
Simulated Instrument: 1.1
Dual:  19.4  Total: 19.4

Sunday, November 2, 2014

If you love something, set it free.

If it comes back to you, it was meant to be.

It's been 5 weeks since I saw her, but 34Q and I have a date Tuesday evening.  My instructor texted me last night letting me know they had the plane back, wondering if I'd want to fly Tuesday evening. That's like asking me if I want pizza. The answer will always be yes. 

There's just this one small problem called the weather...

Really hoping the rain is gone by 5:30.  Guess we'll see. 

Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Thank you, Tom Petty.  Truer words were never spoken, especially when it's been over 3 weeks between flights.

34Q is still at the avionics shop in Henderson, getting all fancied up with a G430 & some other goodies (I know a new engine was expected at some point, possibly a new interior, but the most I've heard confirmed during this downtime is the Garmin gear so far).  IF I get to fly next Tuesday, it will have been 4 weeks since I've been in the cockpit.  That ties the longest stretch between flights since I started lessons back in May.

I've been spending lots of time in FSX, doing lots of pattern work in the Carenado C172N and the A2A Accusim C172R Trainer just to keep up on the basics, but there's just no comparison to the real thing.  I think I've said it before, but I'll repeat, flying the real plane is so much easier.

I keep reminding myself it could be worse, and that it will all come together.  Patience is something I've learned a lot about in recent years.  But now, I have that same feeling I get when I'm going somewhere with someone, we're on a tight schedule, and I'm waiting on them because they're running behind, and we're running out of time.

2VU clear of the active

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Old Shall Be Made New

Er, replaced with new that is.

A few weeks back I learned that when 34Q was down for her next 100-hour, she'd be getting a new engine and new avionics.  That time has come - my instructor texted me this morning with the 'unfortunate' news.  Unfortunate, because this means I won't be flying next week.  At all.  And, although I'm discouraged about the fact that this will mean another three week stretch between flying, I'm excited to see her with the new hardware and hear the roar of the new engine.

Honestly, the weather early next week isn't looking that great anyway.  Mid-70s during the day and 40s and 50s for the lows.  This is setting up the perfect conditions for an unstable atmosphere, and the forecast shows it.  Rain and storms for the next five days, with an 80% chance of T-storms Monday (when I was scheduled to fly),  I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and I've found a surprising patience in all of the delays and lesson cancellations throughout the summer.  Timing is everything, and it does seem everything is setting up to fall into place at the perfect time.  Until then, I'll continue with ground school studies and practicing with FSX and X-Plane.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I wasn't SAFE

Yep.  It's true.  This time I cancelled my lesson based on my own self-check.  I'd been fighting a stomach bug all day, and it wasn't getting better.  Two hours before my lesson, I texted my instructor and cancelled.  I hated to do it, but at the same time, if I had gone ahead, I really don't think it would have been a productive flight.

Beside my illness, at the time I cancelled, there was about a 13 kt left front quartering crosswind down runway 27.  I've flown in those conditions once before, and I really wasn't up to doing it again this evening.  13 kts is toward the upper limit of the Skyhawk's abilities, and the upper limits of my nerves.  On a good day.

I started to beat myself up today for cancelling, but quickly reigned that thinking in and snapped back at myself that I'd made the right choice, and besides, that was yesterday and can't be changed.  This is today.

Next lesson is scheduled for Monday of next week, which is a deviation from my usual Tuesday.  My daughter loves The Veggietales, and they're coming to town Tuesday evening, so I'm taking her.  Seeing her laugh and smile as she enjoys the music is about the only thing on Earth that trumps flying for me.  Flying is in my soul, but she has my heart, hands down.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I Wear My Sunglasses at Night...

So I I can...not see the gauges.

More on that in a few.

Tonight was a good flight all the way around (well, there was one hiccup), and it actually started with my lunch break at work.  Let me set this up:  As I noted last week, I'd purchased a used headset with ANR (Active Noise Reduction) on eBay last Friday.  I had gone home for lunch today, about 30 minutes later than usual, to fire up FSX and/or X-Plane (ended up being FSX) to practice landings.  In the middle of my first pattern, the doorbell rings.  I open it, and there's Dan Dan the FedEx man (long story, have known him for years) with a package for me.  Cool.  It's my headset.  Unboxed it and plugged it in to charge.  On with landing practice, then back to work.

Came home from work, practiced a few more landings, then gathered my headset up and put it in my flight bag.  Off to KHNB!

Side note - I was curious whether I'd even get to fly tonight, as the POTUS is going to be in Chicago tomorrrow, and two counties west of KHNB on Friday.  TFR is already in place for Chicago (just what ATC needs up there right now!), one expected for this area soon.  It just so happened one of the 'Marine' helicopters landed at KHNB this afternoon (I'm told it's only Marine 'One' when POTUS is on board).

Thankfully, it didn't stick around and was long gone by the time I arrived for my lesson.  No TFR necessary apparently.  

I arrived at the airport, and my instructor told me to go ahead and preflight, he'd be out in a moment, 34Q is already out, still chocked.  

I walk out, and a Skylane is fueling nearby.  Cool.  Waved to the other pilots, then proceeded to install my 'equalizer' (read: foam padded substitute for a phone book) as well as connect my new headset.  

Now, I should mention, this time of year, the sun is getting pretty low in the sky this time of the evening (around 2230Z), and as a result, it's right in my face during preflight.  So, to mitigate this, I have a pair of clip-on sunglasses.  I debated, then decided to go ahead and equip them.  I debated because when I'm flying into the sun at all, I can barely see the instruments with them on.  Usually better to leave them off and deal with the sun glare.  This time I didn't.  Again, more on that in a bit. 

Going through startup checklist, avionics on, tried out my headset first thing.  No joy.  No sound from the intercom, he couldn't hear me either.  I was disappointed considering I did still spend a significant amount on them.  I began to unhook them and ask Randy to hand me the flight school's set I'd placed in the back seat, when I realized the 5-pin connector on my cable had come loose.  So I quickly re-attached it & plugged both cables back into the intercom.  LOUD and clear on both ends, had to turn down the inline volume knobs right away.  Activated the ANR - very, very nice!  On with taxiing to the runway...

I won't go into all the details, just let me say, two planes taxied ahead of us (the Skylane being one), both using runway 27.  AWOS clearly saying wind is 030 at 6, and the sock is confirming.  Runway niner should have been the active.  But we followed the Skylane.  He took off, then just as we're finishing runup, hear a jet coming in, on downwind for, you guessed it, runway niner.  Perfect.  We're in his way.  But, because we advised him where we were while he was in the pattern, he did something Randy said he'd never seen.  After he landed on niner, he turned it around in the middle of the runway and back-taxied so we wouldn't have to go back to the other end of the runway.  That's class, and mutual respect.

Uneventful takeoff, out to the practice area.  Plan was to do slow flight, steep turns, then come back and work on landings.  But once we got to 3,000 feet, it was clear steep turns were out.  It was so hazy, we couldn't see the horizon.  So, slow flight, then 5 power-off stalls.  First two were kind of rough.  Somewhere, somehow, I've picked up a fear of spinning the plane.  I put that out of my mind and just started executing them step-by-step, nothing else, and pulled off 3 top-notch power-off stalls.  Then, headed back to the airport.  4 landings with a 6 kt direct crosswind, all greasers, with the first and third preceded by go-arounds.  The first go-around was initiated by Randy, the second go-around was my call.  He couldn't have been happier with the landings (and my decision-making on the second go-around), and neither could I.  The last two were by far the best, and they felt awesome.  However, by the time we were on downwind for landing #3, it was getting dark.  So dark in the cockpit in fact, I couldn't see the instruments.  "We have panel lights in this thing," I asked.  He fiddles with them, turns them up, & says, "That's about all we've got."  I soldiered on, doing my best even though I could barely see the instruments.  I'd also been barely able to see traffic entering the pattern on the other side of the runway when I was on the previous downwind.  

Made landing #4 a full stop, cleared the active, on with the checklist (which I could also BARELY see), then taxied to parking just in front of the hangar, turned her around so we could push her in.  Shutdown, quick 'preliminary' debrief.  

It wasn't until he hopped out and headed to open the hangar door, and I finished removing my equalizer, bagged up my headset, and stepped toward the hangar that I realized.  "You idiot."  I still had my clip-on sunglasses attached.  "Moron," I muttered to myself.  Told Randy about it, we had a pretty good laugh, then he says "THAT explains why you could hardly see that traffic!"  Yep.  Real genius here.  

As we're putting 34Q in the hangar, he tells me, by far, this was absolutely the best flight I've had since we started flying.  Said he could tell right away I was in control of the aircraft, that I just had a confidence and a comfort level & that he could tell I was in command of the plane.  Not that I hadn't been before, but I had a boldness and a confidence that wasn't there before.  "This is my reward," he said.  "When I see a pilot get here, when it all comes together at once, when this happens, I get so excited, I won't be able to sleep tonight."  

We went in, debriefed the flight, mentioned soloing sometime soon, and also discussed status and questions regarding my third-class medical and eventual medical flight test to get my S.O.D.A. waiver for my vision deficit.  He's going to call FSDO tomorrow and clarify a couple things.  In the meantime, lesson scheduled for next Tuesday.  Probably work on landings at the very least, with some steep turns practice if it's not too hazy again.  

I probably won't sleep much tonight either.  I'm still riding the emotional high of how good those last two landings felt.  

Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.  

ASEL:  18.2
62 Landings
Landings - Touch and Go:  46
Simulated Instrument:  1.1
Dual:  18.2    Total Time:  18.2

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I'm sensing a pattern here...

A traffic pattern that is. 

This one was pretty straightforward, mostly touch and gos all evening, but lots of traffic in the pattern. At one point, including me, there were two C172s and a C182 (the 182 had been doing maneuvers to the north earlier) in the pattern, with an Air Tractor taking off. It was during this time, after a few circuits with most of the traffic, that we went a few miles east, did a couple quick steep turns while the traffic cleared out, then headed back. 

I'm still working on getting back into the groove with landings. Still not back to where I was a couple months ago when I did 9 solid landings, but I'm getting there. Still struggling with determining, without being prodded, that I'm too high on base leg and begin correcting then rather than on final. 

All in all a good flight. We didn't discuss solo plans, so I'm assuming based on his comments he wants to practice landings some more before we make those plans.

Back in the air next Tuesday, more landings on the agenda.

Additionally, I felt it worth mentioning here that I've been bugged for the last year by a semi-constant ringing in my right ear. After an examination 2 weeks ago by my ENT (also a pilot) and some blood tests to rule out auto-immune causes, he scheduled me for a hearing test. I passed the test with flying colors, displaying only a marginal difference in the right, in a frequency considered outside the 'normal' range. He did advise me to purchase my own headset with active noise reduction to protect my hearing as I fly more, and even suggested the model, which he owns himself. Found the exact model used on Ebay for about $100 less than what he paid. Should be here the day before my next lesson.  Will give a quick review of their performance in my next post. 

Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Flight 13 - Turn, Turn, Turn

Flight 13 was a really good, back-in-the-saddle, firing on all cylinders lesson. And I needed it. 

But it didn't start out that way. Long story short, my headset was the only one that worked, so for one thing, communication between my instructor and I was challenging. And, of all nights, there was more than the usual traffic (read: more than none) at KHNB for this time of evening. 

Just as I finished my walkaround, we heard a turboprop coming in. Turned out to be the King Air owned by a local business. No biggie, he wasn't headed our way on the ramp, and we hadn't discovered the radio issue yet. 

We were originally going to do falling leaf stalls from around 5,000 ft, but a lower ceiling put the brakes on that. 

Wind was 081 at 6. Taxied to Runway 09 and off we went, departing to the northwest. S-turns and turns around a point were the order of the evening. Actually, he made it my call. There was talk of wanting to solo me soon, and knowing I had some rough landings last week, he left it up to me. S-turns, or work on landings. I opted for S-turns, because I'd only done them once, and although I did them well, I wanted to see if I could repeat my past success. I had some success, but I still need some work. 

I did several S-turns, followed by turns around a point, both directions, which I did well according to him. The lack of radios really hadn't become an issue until we headed back to the airport. 

Citation called over unicom, said he was 20 miles out from the west as I'm entering the 45 degree left downwind for 09. Called out our position after each turn, and called clear of the active. We made it a "full-stop landing," then taxied to the runup for 09 again and waited for him to come in. And waited. And waited. 

We both saw his landing lights, but based on his time to get to the airport, he had to be more than 20 out when he first called over unicom. Then, when he was about 5 miles out, he called on short final. Instructor and I looked at each other and said at the same time, "Short final?!?" 

Took off again, after he finally cleared the active, for a couple touch and gos. First wasn't bad, though I started my roundout just a tad too high. Then we heard another Citation inbound as we were lifting bacl off. Made the call on unicom advising him when we were turning downwind.

As I'm just turning final, he calls out his position, 5 miles north, planning to enter left base for 09, and says "any traffic in the area, please advise." Instructor and I are both pretty much thinking "Oh great, he can't hear us." So I called out "Skyhawk 34Q for radio check," and he replied he had me loud and clear. Advised I was on final for full stop. Set her down, a little better this time, turned it off the runway, did post-landing checklist steps, headed back to the hangar, and proceeded with shutdown. 

After we got it in the hangar, we tried to solve the headset and radio mystery (there's more to it, but I don't want to share those details because it involves previous renters of the plane, and missing property). We, with the help of the other instructor who had stopped by, did discover that the intercom had been switched to ISOLATE mode. 

Afterward, we went in the office and debriefed the flight, talked about what I need to work on with my S-turns, then discussed next week, and again, his plans for soloing me in the plane. 

Next week will be straightforward working on landings. Nothing else. If he's comfortable after that lesson, and the following week the weather is calm, we'll have a conversation before the flight, determine if we're mutually confident I'm ready. Then we'll do 6-7 landings, taxi back to the ramp, and then the moment of truth. 

To say I'm excited would be an understatement. As long as the weather is good, I believe I'll be ready. The wait, however, is going to be agonizing.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Flight 12

Flight 12 wasn't much to write home about. It was my first flight back after being away from reality for the past 2 weeks as I stayed with my daughter in the hospital, and it had been 3 weeks since I was last in the cockpit. 

I am still recovering from the physical and mental fatigue of the hospital stay, but am able to fully function for the most part, so after a quick self-assessment and a last-minute check of the weather, I made the go-call for flying and headed to the airport. I just needed to get up in the air and get focused on something else for a while. 

AWOS reported wind was calm, but the sock was pointed West, so we taxied to Runway 09. Just as I finished my runup checklist, call came over unicom from a Citation inbound on 5 mile left base for 27. We'd be in his way on the taxiway, so per my instructor, I turned around and taxied us down to 27. 

Watching the Citation come in on final was very, very cool. As it proceeded down the runway, I realized it was actually one of my company's planes, so what little frustration I felt for getting preempted by his landing was overshadowed just by getting to see it land. 

Despite storms to the west (the remnants of the system that soaked Arizona, I believe), the air was absolutely the calmest I've experienced so far during a lesson. 

Slow flight went great, instructor said it was spot-on. Power-off stalls were good. Then we worked on power-on stalls. I'd done these before with great success, but for some reason I just could not get them. My instructor kept pushing me, which he later said he did intentionally as he wanted me to feel a little pressure. After 5 unsuccessful attempts by me at recoveries from these, we headed back to practice a few landings. 

Already frustrated from my lack of success with the power-on stalls, I did what I know is the least-safe thing you can do in that situation in an airplane. I let it dominate my thinking, discourage me, and keep me from flying the airplane the way I know I can. 

2 rough touch-and-gos, one of which was very 'bouncy,' and one full-stop landing later, we taxied back, shut down, and talked about the flight before putting the plane away. 

He could tell I was pretty down on myself, kept telling me it wasn't a bad flight. Assured me that every pilot has been where I am, and reminded me that I've only got 14 hours in. Also told me later as we fully debriefed that even though I felt it was a rough flight, he could tell I was getting something out of it, even if I couldn't tell it myself. 

Even texted me this morning to reinforce his encouragement. Glad to have his support, and looking forward to next week's lesson. One item on next week's menu: Falling leaf stalls. 

Current tally:
Hours - ASEL: 14.4
Landings: 45
Touch-and-Go Landings: 33

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Flight 11 - It was touch and go for a bit

No, really, it was. 

Despite some menacing storms and winds to the west that were headed this way most of the afternoon, I was able to get another 1.1 in the logbook. The storms dissipated or went north/south of us, and by the time we put 34Q in the hangar, the sky was mostly clear to the west with a few clouds that ended up creating a beautiful sunset. 

The order of the evening was practicing landings, with the expectations set that we might have to cut it short if the weather moved in. Winds were out of the Southwest (left front quartering crosswind on RWY 27) at around 6 kts, which was just about right if you ask me. 

All-in-all, I did 9 landings. Just a little assistance from my instructor on the first (got a little squirrely after I put full throttle back in, fishtailed a few times), but the other 8, he was completely hands (and feet) off. Anyone who knows me will tell you I do NOT like to toot my own horn, but I will tonight. He was so pleased by the third touch-and-go he was actually clapping on the climbout. 

One landing, I porpoised just a bit, and he was about to step in, but didn't. I actually goosed the throttle a bit on the way back down to flare then brought it immediately back, to minimize the vertical speed of the porpoise effect. He was talking me through what I was doing wrong, "No don't put more power in. You need to..." stopped mid sentence, watched me land, and said, "Whoah, that was a good landing though." On climbout, almost sounding intentionally bewildered, he said, "Man, that turned out to be a great landing. How the heck did that happen," he chuckled. I realized he was more wanting me to explain what I did rather than actually being unsure how I salvaged the approach into a good landing. 

The last three landings, I was challenged with "I'm not here. I'm not even in the cockpit." For all intents and purposes, he wasn't. In addition to being hands-off as he had been, he was totally silent for most of the remainder of the lesson.

It's weird. He told me 2 flights ago "Don't ask me why, but the next time we do this, It'll click, you'll get it. I don't understand why, but it always happens that way." 

I don't count last week's landing into that equation due to the emergency, so I apply that to tonight's lesson and say, well, he was right. It just clicked. 

Obligatory Skyhawk Selfie:

Oh, and that alternator failure from last week? Turned out to only be a loose wire. 34Q was back in the air the next day. 

G'night friends. 

Two Victor Uniform is clear of the active.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Flight 10 - The IFR conditions are simulated, but the failures are real

Flight 10 started as a pretty typical lesson. Preflight, runup, takeoff were uneventful, considering the 9-kt right quartering crosswind. 

Out to the practice area, about 15-20 miles out, and on with 'the hood.' I'd done this before, but only for about 20 minutes. Plan was to get around a full hour in. We came in just shy at 0.8, leveled out at 3500, then descended to 2500 (still under the hood) and headed for the airport via GPS. 

About 5 miles from the runway, my instructor and I hear a strange 'noise' through our headsets. Our mutual reaction was "Huh. That was weird - what the heck was that?" On to the approach. I called out over the radio my 45-degree entry to left downwind for runway two-seven. About 3/4 the length of the runway, I hear my instructor say "Oh , we lost our radio." I look and COM1/NAV1 is completely dark. He quickly switched to COM2, immediately after which I followed my gut and put out the radio call announcing we were on left downwind in case the radio was actually gone before we entered at 45. 

He took the airplane on the base leg. I called final on the radio as we turned. About 50 ft from the runway we heard a Stationair call that he was overflying the airport at 2200. At the end of his call COM2 faded, and the entire radio stack went dark. Once we got down, we had no radio, so we quickly taxied off the runway and headed straight for the hangar. Just after shutting down, tried to start it again. The battery was completely dead. 

We believed the alternator had failed, and so far I have not heard differently. My instructor let me know that they'd had problems with it before, and it must have finally given up the ghost. I could easily be bitter about it, since they've known it was a problem in the past. However, knowing that in less than 100 hrs, the entire engine is due to be replaced, it's understandable (not excusable, but understandable).

All-in-all, it was a good flight. I'm pleasantly surprised at the fact I remained calm during the situation. I did have a few days of personal reflection as to whether this was enough to deter me, but it didn't take much thought to decide that there was no way this was going to stop or discourage me.

Monday, August 4, 2014

One Step Closer

I'm a little closer to being medically cleared for obtaining my PPL. My Class III Medical Certificate arrived today, but with the expected restrictions. Obviously I must wear my glasses while flying, and it is also limited to Student Pilot Use Only. 

Accompanying the certificate was the expected explanation that in order to remove the student pilot restriction, I am authorized to undergo a Medical Flight Test at a Flight Standards District Office of my choosing, and that my instructor could assist in choosing the appropriate location. Nothing unexpected here, and my instructor stated that he did this for another student once before, nothing major, they'll expect me to taxi, takeoff, fly around a bit, and land, making sure I don't damage any property, or the plane, in the process. 

My next flight lesson is scheduled for tomorrow, and I'm desperate to get in the air. It's been four weeks since I've been up, and I'm having major withdrawals. Weeks 1 and 2 were due to weather. Week 3 was due to my instructor getting slammed with a ton of required docs needed for his Instrument Instructor checkride. Last week, the plane was down for its 100 hr maintenance. My lesson for tomorrow is scheduled an hour earlier than usual, and this may prove to be for my benefit - starting about the time I will be doing my full stop landing, there begins a 10% chance of showers in the area.  

Little by little, it's coming together, albeit more slowly than I had hoped. Still, I've waited 39 years for this. I can be patient through these challenges. 

But for now, going to Bravo Echo Delta. 

Cessna Three Four Quebec.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Flight 7 - Doin' Some Work

I ain't gonna lie. This old boy's feelin' whooped tonight. 

Flying was very challenging tonight from the moment I took off, thanks to a 13 kt left crosswind that was almost straight across RWY 27. Did another session of flying rectangular courses, followed by my first crack at S-turns. After about 30 min of maneuvers, my instructor reassured me I had done well and told me both maneuvers would have passed during a checkride. Good to know, but trying not to get over-confident. After the last S-turn, we headed back to the airport for crosswind landing practice. This, my friends, is where it got very, VERY challenging for me. We did 4 landings, the first of which was preceeded by a go-around. It was a bad approach all the way back to the downwind that was too close to the runway, and it was no time at all that I was almost at upwind leg distance by the time I finished my turn to final. Expected the go-around, but was reassured when I heard him say it. 

Here's the METAR from 6:35 PM local time, about the time we made it back to the airport:

KHNB 302235Z AUTO 24012G18KT 10SM FEW 044 32/23 RMK A01

Now, it says 240 wind heading on the METAR, but the sock on both ends was blowing straight across the runway the whole time, and the 18KT gusts were very, very evident, particularly coming off the trees left of the runway, about 2-300 FT prior to the end of 27. 

On my second of the four landings, I caught a gust off said trees on my final approach, and it rattled my cage a bit. But I soldiered on. Try 3 of 4 was better, even though I was slightly high, I felt more confident about the aim and speed of the approach. However, the wind had apparently let up just a bit (3-4 kts by the time we checked AWOS again), so naturally I held the left wing down too much and drifted way left of center. Instructor got me back on track then gave me a "let's do one more." Carb heat in, full power, flaps up. 

Next approach was a little better, but I floated too much, and the instructor took the plane and we executed another go-around. The last attempt was the best in my opinion as far as pattern distance & shape, approach was a little better, but still just couldn't quite get there. With little input nudges from the instructor, got her down but was a bit fast. Missed the intended taxiway (we had a Citation inbound and were trying for the first available so we could be clear of the runway). Taxied past hold-short, stopped and announced clear of the active, then proceeded back to the hangar & closed out shutdown/parking procedures. 

During the debrief, he tried to reassure me not to beat myself up too badly, which of course I was doing. Also agreed to better communicate with him what I was thinking (was nervous after second attempt, said I should have let him know, we'd have stopped). 

He does an excellent job of explaining the why and how, and encouraging me that I'm doing well. Still, even knowing that this one of the most challenging parts, I feel like I'm behind the curve, especially landings, but he keeps reassuring me I'm far ahead of it. I know the confidence will come with time and practice, and I know I'll get the hang of it. I just need to be patient with myself. 

Hrs To-date: 8.3
Landings: 20
Gallons of sweat absorbed by shirts: 15

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Who took the Cessna from the Cessna Jar?

Didn't get to fly last evening. 

I was worried the weather would be too dicey, but it actually turned out to be nearly perfect. There was just one pretty big thing missing...

Instructor and I walk out to the hangar.

Instructor: Huh. Where's the plane? Hmm. Maybe it's in the maintenance hangar...
We step through the doorway to the maintenance hangar. It's not there.
Instructor: What the...? Well, maybe it's outside.
We step out the door to the ramp. No plane in sight. We walk back inside so he can check the schedule (after all, we were 15 min early, wanting to go ahead and go up in case the nearby storms headed our way). Both of us think we just heard a plane coming in, so we step back outside. Still no plane in sight. He opens his iPad and checks the schedule. I was the only one that had it booked that evening. 
Instructor: Where the hell is the damn plane?
Back inside we go...

He calls the other instructor, whose first words are "Did you have the plane tonight?" Turns out yesterday was the bi-annual inspection of the pitot system. The other instructor flew down for inspection and expected to fly right back, but the altimeter didn't pass. So the old girl is stuck at the other airport getting a new altimeter installed.

Such is life. I would much rather fly safely next week with a new altimeter than have flown with a questionable one yesterday.