Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I Wear My Sunglasses at Night...

So I can...so 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