Monday, December 21, 2015

Almost there...

11/20  This was my last solo cross-country, destination KCUL.  The plan was simple, the flight straightforward - take off & fly to KCUL, getting flight following from KEVV & transitioning the Charlie airspace, and do the same on the way back to KHNB, which if the winds were as forecast and close to what DUATS was estimating, should put me just over the 1.9 hours of solo time I needed.

Well, I could make this a long post about every detail of the flight, but honestly it was pretty cut and dry.  I landed at KCUL and checked the Hobbs.  I was less than halfway, still needing 1.2 hours.  I made better ground speed than I'd estimated.  With a tail wind on the way back, I made even better time.  I did a couple touch-and-gos before my full-stop landing to get a little more time in, not knowing if anyone had the plane after me, but in the end I was 0.2 hours short.

The line worker directed me to park near the pumps so he could refuel her.  After shut down I gathered my things and headed inside to fill out the tach sheet.  I called my CFI and let him know I was a bit shy of the needed time.  He said no one had the plane, so I should just go back up and work on landings or whatever I wanted to.

So I went back out to the hangar & had the line worker pull her back out (he'd even closed the door).  After she was back out, he closed the door again and let me know he was heading to lunch.

I did another preflight, climbed back up in the seat, continued my checklist, and got ready to start.  I yelled, "clear," and turned the key.  I was greeted with silence.  I tried again, thinking maybe I didn't push the ignition in far enough, & verified I'd turned the Master switches on.  Nothing.  A third attempt, and I was greeted with a strange, high-pitched moan from under the cowling.  That was enough to tell me I wouldn't be getting my .2 hours in today.

I called my CFI back, and let him know I couldn't get it started.  He said he was afraid I might have trouble with it, they'd been having problems with it the last few days.  That would have been good information to have before I made my cross-country flight, I honestly might have called no-go.  But , at any rate, I was that much closer to being done with all of my requirements.

So, we made plans to meet the following week if the plane was repaired in time.  I would do a few minutes of solo flight then pick him up and we'd work on accuracy landings and stalls.

Oh and he called me back later in the evening. Turns out the starter was complete toast.  They had to order a new one, and it should be in by Tuesday.  Great, maybe the photon torpedoes will be on board by then as well.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Doing Some More Work

I've been ill the last couple weeks, so I'm going to include two flights in one quick post.  On 10/20 I went up with my CFI to knock out the .7 hours of hood work, starting with another instrument takeoff.  While in the air we also worked on stalls and slow flight - the first time I had worked on either in a year I believe.  I also got in 2 more night landings, and I exceeded the requirement for simulated instrument, getting an additional 1.1 hours in under the hood.

On 11/3 I got to the field as early as possible, around 16:45 local, and went up to do some solo work, practicing S-turns, rectangular courses and turns around a point.  The weekend prior was the end of daylight savings time, which meant the sun was setting an hour earlier.  I didn't have much sunlight left at all once I got in the air. I quickly climbed out and made for the practice area to find a tree, a road, and then later a field to fly around.

I had a good amount of wind, which forced me to remember the correct points at which to shallow and steepen my turns.  Rectangular courses came easily.  My S-turns really need work though.  I know it had been over a year since I'd practiced them, and it showed.  I didn't spend too much time on them though.  I was running out of daylight and had to get some rectangular course practice in.  I found a field and did 2 laps around in each direction.  I started to do a third to the right, but looked ad the sun just a few degrees above the horizon, the length of the shadows and the houses that in some cases were already completely covered with shadow, and decided to head back to the field.

I made it back just in time, but for safety I went ahead and activated the runway lights.  Not my best landing, but then again at this point that's probably going to be the case for most of them until I get some practice in again.

All in all, I logged another 0.9 solo time, leaving just 1.9 hours of solo flight to complete all of my flight requirements before my checkride.  The plan after this lesson was to do a quick solo cross-country to KCUL on Monday 11/9 to finish that up, followed by 1 or 2 flights with my CFI to polish up maneuvers and precision landings.

Details on that flight, which didn't happen on 11/9, in the next post

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Workin' on the Night Moves...

10/13/2015     This was a pretty laid-back, no-pressure flight for the most part.  I met my CFI at the airport around 19:30 local.  An hour later than I normally start, I was feeling tired from a hard day at work & couldn't wait to get in the air and engage my flying brain, letting the stress of the day fade into the distance.

I had 2 goals for this flight - fulfill the night cross-country requirement (100nm total distance), and complete the remaining number of night landings required.  CUL was our destination, with plans to get in a few landings there before heading back to HNB.

The flight was fairly calm & straightforward.  I picked up flight following from EVV & transitioned the Charlie airspace en route to our destination.  About 15 miles out of CUL I spotted the beacon & called it out to my CFI, just to let him know I had the field.  About 10 miles out EVV approach released me to the CTAF and VFR squawk.  I thanked them for their services, then tuned to 122.8 and called my position.

I entered the pattern and began working to convince my brain that even though it was night, and I had no visible peripheral references, this was still the same plane, so I needed to fly it exactly the same.  My brain unfortunately didn't agree.  Over the course of the next 20 minutes or so, I struggled through 5 landings with something that hasn't been a problem until now - airspeed.  I struggled to have enough of it on final.  On the last landing he suggested I only use 20 degrees of flaps.  This helped a bit, and the last approach and landing at CUL was much better.

We started back home, and I called EVV approach again, picked up flight following & proceeded back through the Class C.  Back in the pattern at HNB, I again started having this internal conversation with my brain, and determined to make this last landing the best one.  It wasn't bad by any means, but it could have been better, so we did another one.  The last approach and landing was the best one I've done at night, and the perfect landing to end the night.

After this flight, only .7 simulated instrument time and 2.8 solo time stand between me and scheduling my checkride (and a flight or two to polish up maneuvers).  If all goes to plan I'll have my PPL in my hand by the end of the year.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Three Towers Solitaire at Sundown

10/6/2015  This was a straightforward flight with one primary goal - satisfy the requirement for three solo takeoffs and landings at a towered airport - and one secondary goal - chip away at the rest of my simulated instrument time.

Preflight, runup, all normal.  Then, my CFI has me put on the hood as I taxi into takeoff position.  "I'm going to have you do an instrument takeoff."  Even though I've never done one, this actually sounded fun, which surprised me.  I'm usually anxious when trying new maneuvers or concepts in the plane, especially when I'm not expecting them.  But then again, I need to be prepared for when I'm not expecting to be flying in IMC and suddenly find myself in the situation, so I felt eager to face this challenge.

Except that it wasn't.  I have to admit, I actually found it fairly easy to keep the plane going straight down the runway relying only on the HSI as a point of reference.

Once we were in the air, still under the hood, I turned South to head toward OWB, and kept turning, and turning, until he asked me if we were staying in Huntingburg.  I corrected, then intercepted the outbound radial from OWB and proceeded inbound.

Once we were near OWB he had me take the hood off.  I called Owensboro Tower, advised of my intentions, then entered downwind for runway 36 as instructed & received landing clearance shortly after.  I flew the pattern, landed, then taxied back.  I did 2 more takeoffs and landings with him in the plane, communicating with the tower as my CFI coached me to stop talking so fast - an issue I still struggle with.  I then taxied to Mid-America Aviation & dropped him off.

It was getting dark.  I was racing the sunset to get these takeoffs & landings in legally, but I continued, making sure before each takeoff that the sun was still above the horizon, which it barely was as I completed my third and final landing at OWB.    I taxied back to Mid-America, picked up my CFI, then called up tower (which handles ground at this time of the evening) to obtain taxi clearance.  A quick runup and mag check at the hold short line for 36, then I called up tower to obtain takeoff clearance.  

After takeoff, he had me flip the hood back down & continue with more instrument work on the way back to HNB, tracking the VOR outbound & making changes/adjustments on the GPS along the way.  I struggled a little at first keeping on course as the lighting was less than ideal, making a couple gauges difficult to read, but I settled the needles down and trimmed for cruise.

"Boy it sure is beautiful up here tonight.  Too bad you can't see it!"  CFI humor.  Gotta love it.

Once we were closer to HNB, it was off with the hood, making my radio calls, then entering the pattern for another night landing.  Having only done 3 night landings before, this was still something new to me.  I tried to focus on flying the numbers and staying ahead of the airplane.  Key word there is try.  I came in high and a little slow.  After some reminders, I managed to get the plane down for a halfway decent approach & landing.  I taxied back, shut 34Q down, then we put her in the hangar & cleaned off the bugs before heading in to debrief the flight.

All-in-all it went well.  I have a tendency to chase the needle during hood work, but I'm improving.

For the next flight, I'll be tackling several remaining requirements at once with my CFI.  Plan is to complete the night cross-country requirement, heading back to CUL, where I'll also get in a few night landings before heading back to HNB to get in the remaining landings.  This should also take care of my remaining 3 hours of night flight.  If the flight goes as planned, I should then only have a few hours of solo time and .7 hours of simulated instrument left.  We'll also do a brush-up flight or two in between to polish up my maneuvers.

It's getting closer than I thought, and the push is on to cram for the oral exam.  I'm expecting to schedule my checkride sometime in early November, just in time for Winter weather to arrive...

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Long Trip Alone

"It's a short piece of time but just enough to find
A little peace of mind under the sun somewhere"

Life has been busy.  Work has been busy.  Blogging is back-burner these days, so apologies ahead of time for the delays between posts.  

Monday, 9/21/2015  The plan:  Depart at 1200Z from HNB for SIV.  Upon landing at SIV, shut down & take a break for a few minutes, get my things organized, then depart SIV for MVN.  Same plan at MVN, though originally I'd planned to eat at the restaurant on-field.  Since I knew a pilot needs to know 'all available information' regarding a flight, I checked their hours of operation.  Closed on Mondays.  So I planned to grab something from the FBO's vending, take a break, then again get organized and ready for the trip back to HNB (the longest leg of the flight).

I arrived at the airport around 7:30 am (11:30Z).  I'd gotten the full weather briefing on before leaving home.  I knew what was up.  VFR along my entire flight path, but HNB was socked in with fog, <1nm visibility.  CFI Randy arrived a few minutes later.  I had just started loading up my gear in 34Q when he came out to the hangar.  We talked it over, agreed we'd just wait until the fog burned off.   He had to head into work soon, but might be back in time for my arrival home.  I'd taken a full day off work, and the weather forecast was as awesome as it could be.  No way I'm not going to sit this fog out.

Only one possible catch was brought up.  34Q was just over 4 hours away from being due for her 100-hr inspection.  Enough for me to complete my trip, but not much wiggle room.  He and the mechanics discussed, and agreed, there was no reason to call a no-go just for the engine time.

About 40 minutes later he came upstairs to the lounge to let me know it looked like the field was clear regardless of what AWOS was saying, and the rest of the fields, or stations near them in SIV's case, were reporting solid VFR.  He wished me luck, shook my hand, and I headed out to where the line guys had pulled 34Q for me.  I did my preflight, got my things ready in the cockpit, then started her up.  I took a quick selfie (my first such in the cockpit) before I took off.

After a quick check of the ATIS, off I went taxiing to 27, noting the visible fog still at the west end of the runway.  

The flight to SIV was straightforward, just as it was on my solo cross-country there.  After I landed, I taxied up to the FBO and shut down.  I stopped and talked to the airport manager for much longer than I'd planned, taking him up on the offer for a cup of coffee after he signed my logbook.  It was great, very relaxing just sitting down and conversing with a fellow pilot.  Honestly, I was just enjoying the trip.  I wasn't in any hurry, and I was on my own time.  

After talking planes, and cars, and harrowing experiences in both, he wished me luck, then I shook his hand and got on my way, taxiing to 18.  Climbout was smooth, no wind, no bumps, just a nice relaxing departure up to 4,500 feet.  I started my timer and began checking off my waypoints & writing down my times one by one.  Hulman Approach handed me off to Kansas City Center, who followed me until I had MVN in sight.  Once I got down below 3,000, things were a little dicey.  I had my choice of runways coming in, but based on the wind I elected to take the big one, Runway 5.  It's a wider runway, and I wanted to push myself after my experience landing at KEVV, challenging myself to better judge the approach.  After floating for what seemed an eternity, I touched down a bit more firmly than I'd have liked to, taxied off, and headed for the FBO.  After being marshalled into a spot, I stopped, shut down, finished my checklist and recorded my time, then called Randy to let him know I was safely down.  

Per our discussion before my departure, I elected to have them go ahead and fill the tanks.  Better to have too much fuel than not enough (even though I'd calculated that I had at least an hour reserve, better to be prepared in case EVV approach had to route me around for some reason on the way back).
After grabbing a snack and a Mt. Dew, I paid for the fuel, thanked them for their great service, wished them a great day & headed out to the plane.  

Preflight went as usual, I visually verified full tanks, climbed in the white satin lady as I now call her and started home.  

I selected Runway 5 again for takeoff based on traffic arriving and departing all using it.  I did my runup then advanced to the hold short line. After waiting on landing traffic, I made my call, took the runway and eased the throttle to full.  

About 50 feet down the runway, I knew what the tone of the flight was going to be.  A substantial gust hit the plane from the right, pushing me about 10 feet left of center.  Thankful for the wider runway, I corrected, then continued my takeoff roll and climbed out, acknowledging departing heli traffic from the ramp as I was rolling, who also acknowleged me.  

I'd planned for 3,500 as my cruising altitude due to my near due East course.  I could tell right away however this wasn't the best choice.  From TOC on, I was getting bounced around like a pinball.  I called Kansas City Center for flight following, repeated and entered my squawk code, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.....all the while extremely glad I hadn't just filled my stomach with some huge meal.  And I have to admit, for a couple minutes, I let it rattle my cage.  I reigned in those thoughts and focused on flying the plane.   

After about 5 minutes of listening to the busy center controller handle other planes, I called him back up, asking him to 1)verify squawk code was correct and 2)verify he was receiving my squawk.  He replied that the code was correct, but he wasn't receving me, asked where I was.  I answered that I was about 15 to the east of MNV.  He said this far out from center, coverage was spotty below 4,500.  So I offered to go up to 5,500 to help us both out, mentioning that I had moderate turbulence at 3,500.  He agreed the higher the better, so up I went.   

As I climbed through 4,500, just as he had predicted, he acknowledged radar contact.  On up through 4,500 to 5,000, the air smoothed out and I settled in at 5,500 for the remaining 40 minutes home.  

As I crossed into Indiana, KC Center handed me off to Evansville Approach.  About 30 miles out of HNB, Approach advised me of a Skylane about 5 miles, 11 o'clock, just off HNB, climbing through 3,500.  I replied negative contact, and about 5 minutes later they advised traffic was no factor.  

About 15 miles out from HNB I let approach know I had the field.  Frequency and squawk change approved, we bid each other a good day and I switched to CTAF 122.8, then put 118.25 in standby then switched over to get the AWOS before my radio call to HNB.  It was about a 7 kt right-front quartering cross wind for runway niner.  I called when I was about 15 out, straight in for niner.  

When I started descending toward HNB, I knew the air would be choppy, no different than what was behind me.  I was more prepared for it now mentally, so it really didn't bother me.  Once I was on about a 3-mile final, I honestly don't remember the chop much at all.  

I brought her down gently on niner after a decent but slightly long landing.  I taxied back to the DCFS hangar, stopped at the pump as directed by the lineman, then shut down & started gathering my gear.  

Randy made it back just in time to greet me.  We talked briefly about the flight, finished up my paperwork & discussed where 34Q was as far as engine time.  After checking the tach, she had 1.1 hour left before being taken out of service.  There was actually someone standing there wanting to rent her to do some air work, so I quickly went to work wiping down the plane to remove the bugs I'd collected.  

When I was done, I wished the mechanics & line men and the other pilot a good afternoon & headed home.  

I spent the rest of the day pretty much just absorbing the reality of what I had just done, where I had gone, and the fact that I did it.  It was a high that I'm still sailing on weeks later, in addition to the flight I've had since.  

With 34Q offline, the next lesson would be spent on oral test prep, with Randy assigning me to study & know the available weather charts & what they depict, as well as VFR weather & cloud clearances inside & outside classes of airspace.  I'll skip that session in my next post and talk about the flight I had last week to OWB, and how very, very close I am to completing all of the pre-checkride requirements. 

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Looking for Some Guy Named Charlie

9/15 was scheduled to be my long solo cross-country.  Unfortunately, as they often do, day-job commitments got in the way.  Randy wouldn't be available to sign me off for the trip, so we elected to meet that evening and fly down to KEVV for work in the Charlie (Class C) airspace.

The flight down was uneventful. and as had been the case for many flights recently, it was very hazy - hazy enough in fact that neither one of us could see KEVV with certainty until we were about 7 nm out, already cleared to land.

Originally when I called approach, they advised me to expect left base for runway 18.  A few minutes later he asked if we could increase speed a little (there was a Mooney coming in behind us from the north, who had also been asked to slow a bit for spacing).  I responded yes, then added some throttle to bump the groundspeed up to about 115 kts.  A short time later, he advised that instead of left base on 18, he was going to have me come straight in on 22, which is the biggest runway on the field

At 150 ft, runway 4/22 is twice as wide as the runways at KHNB.  Naturally this messed with my depth perception and my peripheral vision, so I rounded out extremely high.  After several coachings from Randy to let it drop down a bit more, we touched down and I exited the runway.  I received taxi instructions and read them back, following them accordingly, with several stops before crossing runways as instructed, no help from Randy at all.  Even though this was my first time landing at a Class C airport, I'd done it numerous times at several airports in X-Plane on the PilotEdge network, so I was familiar and comfortable with the procedures.

After shutting down & heading inside to pay the ramp fee, we spent time talking with some other pilots, who were actually based at KHNB, flying a KingAir C90 up to Cleveland.   Then it was back out to 34Q to do preflight and get ready to head back home.  I took a moment to get a shot of 34Q on the ramp at Tri-State Aero.  The C172 in front of us departed while I was doing pre-flight.  The C90 can be seen in the background.

34Q at the Tri-State Aero ramp, 9/15/2015

After startup, I called clearance delivery, got my VFR clearance to the northeast, then called ground for taxi clearance to the active runway.  The one thing I'm not used to is actually writing the clearances down with pencil and paper, since I normally use the ScratchPad feature on ForeFlight when 'flying' at home.

It was dusk at this point, and by the time I finished my run-up, called tower for clearance, and took off for KHNB it was dark.  I followed the GPS back to the field & advised departure when I had it in sight.  I did 3 landings, leaving 7 to satisfy the pre-checkride requirement of 10 night landings.  These were my first 3 landings at night, and it was definitely challenging, though I became a little more comfortable by the third one.

After landing #3 we headed for the hangar to wipe down 34Q and debrief the flight.  The other instructor was there, asked how the flight went.  Randy commended my radio work, after which I explained the PilotEdge service to both of them and how beneficial I feel it has been, worth every penny of the $20/month.

At the end of the debrief we scheduled my long solo cross-country for Monday, 9/21.   Details of that flight (yes, it did happen :) ) in the next post.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

North and South

I've been so busy the last week blogging has moved to the back burner, even though sharing the excitement of my first solo cross-country has been the first thing on my mind.

I'd taken 1/2 day vacation and was up early that morning getting the latest weather and winds aloft.  The plan was to take off at 8 am, fly north to SIV, land, take a quick break, then fly back.  I ended up taking off about an hour later than planned due to SIV being socked in with 3-4 nm visibility due to fog.  Randy wanted to get me off the ground soon, because the wind at HNB was supposed to be kicking up not long after I was expecting to be landing.

Once the fog started to burn off, Randy and I went outside.  I'd already done my preflight before I called FSS, so I climbed into 34Q and started her up.

The flight went smoothly.  Once I was at cruise I called EVV approach and picked up flight following, taking the handoff to HUF approach once I was about 20 nm north of HNB.

Despite it being a bit of a hazy day, once I was in the cruise I just relaxed and enjoyed the moment.  This is what I'm working for.  Hopping in the plane and flying somewhere, anywhere, just enjoying the flight, the freedom, the surprising calmness.

I hit all my waypoints within 1-2 minutes of ETE, and was approaching SIV before I knew it.  I advised Hulman I had the field in sight, acknowledged the approved frequency change and squawked VFR.  Making my radio call as I entered the 45-degree for the left downwind for 18, I started going through the landing procedures, turning base, then final, adding flaps and adjusting power.

I bounced just a bit on the landing, but it was otherwise good, right down the middle.  I taxied to the FBO, shut down 34Q, and headed inside with my logbook to get it signed by the manager.

After leaving Randy a voicemail that I had landed and was preparing for the return leg, I headed back out, snapped a couple pictures of 34Q with the FBO and the hangars, did my preflight, and climbed in the cockpit to get ready to head home.

34Q has been 'quirky' ever since the new engine went in.  If you don't push the key in juuust the right way, the starter just spins.  I'm guessing this is normal, but I don't recall needing to push in with quite as much force.  She also takes a little convincing to start again after sitting for a few minutes.  It took me three tries to talk her into flying home, but she finally started.

Taxi and runup were smooth, and in no time I was in the air flying South.  Once trimmed in the cruise at 3,500, I called Hulman Approach to get flight following, then just relaxed, started timing my waypoints, and enjoying the view again.

I've been hesitant to take the time to snap any pictures while I'm flying, mainly because I don't want to take my focus off flying the plane.  However, I did feel comfortable enough with the cruise trim and workload to snap a picture of the town of Bicknell on the return leg.

Once I got back to HNB, Randy's intuition proved correct - the winds had kicked up.  At pattern altitude, I felt like a ping-pong ball.  The sock was almost straight across from the south but favoring 27, AWOS reporting 7 kts.  I entered the midfield crosswind for 27, turned downwind, then went to work configuring for landing & focusing on flying the plane in. This was my first cross-wind landing in months, and my first ever solo crosswind landing - the last several flights, the wind had been straight down the runway.  

The approach was bad, no other word for it.  I was high, unstable, bouncing around.  I put the flaps back up to 20°, added power, and called my go-around.  As I was climbing out, I heard a KingAir call that he was 10 miles to the south, inbound to land.  Ok, I thought.  He's faster than me, he'll be here in no time.  He'll just have to wait.  

I called my downwind leg.  Randy tried to raise me using the handheld to give me pointers, but he was unreadable.  Not long after I began my descent toward the end of downwind, KingAir called he was 5 miles out, asked where the Skyhawk was.  I told him I was getting ready to turn base, he said "Alright, we'll just come in behind you."  

I called my base & final turns, then set up for landing again.  30° flaps, 65 over the numbers, I put the left wing down, held her over the middle with right rudder, and brought it down for a slightly fast but good-enough-for-government-work landing.  Just missing the first midfield taxiway, I turned around and called back-taxi to get off the runway fast so the KingAir could land.  

I taxied back to the hangar, shut 34Q down, climbed out and did a quick debrief with Randy.  He commended me for the go-around, said the landing looked great, kept the wing down like I should & didn't go crazy with the pitch like I sometimes do.  

We talked about the flight, then planned my long solo cross-country for Tuesday 9/15.  HNB-SIV-MVN-HNB.  If the weather is bad that morning, we'll try flying in the evening instead, with plans to head down to EVV to do some work in the Class C. 

I don't want to minimize the joy and excitement of the flight, but I'm comfortable enough with cross-country flying now that the complexity actually underwhelmed me this time.  I believe the lap desk and the increased organization it offers significantly contributes to this. 

 This flight was a huge confidence boost, especially the crosswind landing.  I'm excited for the long cross-country, and to get started on the night cross-country work once that one's behind me.  I just have to remember to slow down and enjoy these flights.  I have that luxury now since the medical cert is no longer a 20-ton question mark hanging on my shoulders.   

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two Seven.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Cross-country - Working out the Kinks

My first cross-country after my medical flight test was to KCUL, Carmi, IL.  I won't go into too much detail, but the 'clumsy' version of Brian showed up in full force during this flight.

I blame a lot of it on my kneeboard.  On the way to my medical flight test I'd used the Sporty's tri-fold kneeboard, strapped to my leg, and it worked ok, but I found myself fumbling for a couple things and not really having enough room for everything I needed.  For the flight to KCUL, Randy suggested I leave it unstrapped and just unfold it across my lap.  This is where the clumsiness began. I will mention we were potentially racing some storms that were moving toward KCUL.  We had plenty of time, but due to an issue I had with DUATS the night before I didn't have the winds aloft, so my nav log was only partially complete when I arrived, meaning we lost a little time while I completed it.

8/18 - The flight to CUL was challenging.  For one it was extremely hazy, which made finding my landmarks difficult, but that was not the hardest part of the flight.  As I've mentioned before, I'm short, so when I put my legs on the rudder pedals, there's a definite downward slope to my lap.  On the way back it was downright comical.  I dropped my nav log (on the tri-fold kneeboard, there wasn't room to clip both my sectional and my nav log, so the latter was loosely sitting on my lap).   Added to the complexity was my first interaction with real ATC - Evansville Approach.  We'd be flying through the EVV Class C so I'd need to establish communication, and requested flight following as well.  It went pretty smoothly, though I abbreviated my callsign once,before ATC did.  Other than that hiccup the ATC portion was pretty routine to me(thanks to PilotEdge).

After a mediocre landing we debriefed.  My pilotage was great, radio comms were great, but my cockpit management needed some 'polish.'  He needed to see that before he turned me loose for a solo cross-country.  Randy suggested a different kneeboard, actually a lap desk.  I read the reviews when I got home, then ordered it.

The night before my next scheduled flight, I completed my nav log based on the winds aloft forecast, with plans to monitor DUATS throughout the day and adjust as needed.  The next morning I knew I wouldn't be flying.  I'd been fighting a sore throat (4th one this year) for a few days and it finally caught up with me.  I texted Randy, and we rescheduled for Tuesday 9/1, 6 pm.

9/1 - After pre-flighting 34Q I headed inside to call FSS and file the VFR flight plan to SIV.  The briefer advised me that VFR flight wasn't recommended due to developing isolated storms that were going to be arriving at the destination shortly before we landed, but he advised that we could deviate north a bit then come back and likely be able to miss them.  After a quick look at the radar we headed out to 34Q and prepared for departure.

It was another very hazy afternoon/evening, but not quite as bad as the previous flight.  Waypoints were a little easier to see, and I was much more comfortable and much, much more organized with the folding lap desk.  I called EVV approach and picked up flight following for the trip.

After about 20 minutes we left EVV airspace and were handed off to Hulman approach.  About 10 minutes later I had the field in sight, advised approach and was released to VFR squawk and freqs.  Landing was average but better than my previous flight.  We taxied up to the FBO to get a look at the weather & talk to the manager.  He came out to see 34Q's new paint job, then told a story about a Piper Lance he was working on and the cost of parts, and a couple other pilot stories followed as we went inside.  

After a quick look at the now-dissipating line of rain, we headed back out, I did my preflight, and proceeded with startup.  On climbout I realized something was up with the HSI setting, as I was heading due East toward the town.  Quick check of the GPS confirmed, and I turned back South to continue toward top of climb where I then corrected the HSI in level flight.  After obtaining flight following from Hulman, I continued scanning the sky and looking for my waypoints on the ground, most of which were the same as the first leg.    About 15 minutes out Hulman handed me off to Evansville.

About 7 miles out from Huntingburg I advised EVV approach I had the field in sight and acknowledged the VFR squawk and approved frequency change,   I entered the 45° for the left downwind for runway niner.  It was darker than I'd ever landed before.  The cities of Jasper and Huntingburg looked beautiful from the air as the sun was getting ready to set and the two cities' lights came to life.  I clicked the mic button 7 times to activate the runway lights, called my downwind entry, turned base, then final.

I came in a little high, and I left the power in just a bit too long, but after some extensive floating, for which the Skyhawk is famous, I set her down for a decent landing, just a little right of center, taxied off and made my 'clear of niner' radio call.  Taxied back for shutdown and parking portions of the checklist.  Randy asked me if I'd feel comfortable making this trip by myself, to which I answered, yes, completely comfortable.  Then we got out and pushed 34Q into the hangar & cleaned the bugs off of the leading edges before heading into the FBO lobby for debrief.

Debrief was short and sweet.  My cockpit management was much better.  The lap desk made a huge difference in this area.  Pilotage was good, radio comms were good but I tended to rush my communications at times.  All in all a good flight.

Next up is my first solo cross-country, which will be a repeat of this flight, but this time it will be a morning/daytime flight.  If all goes well, the flight after that will be my long solo cross-country to KMVN.

Planning the solo flight to SIV for Tuesday morning 9/8, weather permitting.  I can't wait.  This is what it's all about.  Climbing into the cockpit of a plane and going somewhere.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven

Thursday, August 13, 2015

SODA Story Goes...

This was one of the biggest milestones I've been wanting to get behind me since I started flying - my Medical Flight Test.  The day has arrived.  We're flying to KJVY to meet the FAA Airman Safety Inspector (ASI) who will be evaluating my performance to ensure my visual deficit is not a factor in my abilities.  There are two possible outcomes:  Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory.

This will be a slightly long post as it is really three flights in one.

I arrived at the airport Thursday morning just a few minutes earlier than planned, and ahead of Randy.  After the DCFS rampie buzzed me in, I proceeded to set up my headset and The Equalizer, then grabbed the checklist and completed as much of the preflight as I could while she was still inside.  I looked out the open hangar door and noted the patchy fog surrounding the field.  This doesn't bode well for my VFR cross-country, but it's an hour before takeoff so I make a mental note & keep going.

As I finished up Randy came in & we headed upstairs to complete the flight plan & nav log with the latest weather.  Once we finished filling out both, I called FSS to file the flight plan & get a standard weather briefing.  Conditions were forecast to be IFR for part of my route, but PIREPS were reporting VFR across the board except in the area around KHNB.

We headed out to the ramp where I completed my preflight, climbed in, and started setting up for the trip.  With my kneeboard in place, I dialed in the various COM & NAV frequencies I would need.  Once complete, we checked the AWOS, which was reporting 5nm visibility - enough to get out of here VFR.  We checked the brakes and I quickly made my radio call (5 min past filed departure time, we need to move) and taxied to 27.

Once off, I began trying to focus on flying airspeeds and headings while adjusting to having my information strapped to my leg.  I've done this hundreds of times in a simulator, but I always had everything laid out on my desk or on my iPad, so it was a huge adjustment & quite frankly I felt completely uncoordinated & out of my element.

 Once I got somewhat adjusted and relaxed in the cockpit, the flight was pretty straightforward.  About 35 min in the air and we were descending on KJVY.  There was some airliner traffic ahead, inbound to KSDF about 10 miles to the south.  I made note of the traffic and prepared for possible wake turbulence about the time we arrived at the airport.  There was some, it was mild, but very manageable.

Once we landed at KJVY we taxied to Honaker Aviation, shut down, parked, and I took my gear in.  We greeted the ASE who was waiting for us just inside, then headed to the pilot lounge to brief the flight and verify my information.

After some nervous tension regarding the aircraft registration, all our information was confirmed & it was time to fly.  Randy remained in the lobby, and the ASI walked with me to the plane. I did my standard pre-flight walk-around while he asked me a few questions.  I gave my best passenger briefing then proceeded with startup, followed by taxi to 18.

After run-up I pulled to the hold short and waited for a Mooney doing pattern work to climb out and turn, then made my takeoff call.  We climbed out and joined the downwind leg, then exited to the North, climbing to 3,500.

After tuning a few frequencies on NAV & COM, he asked me what the CTAF was for a certain airport he named & pointed out on the sectional, which was 123.0.  He then had me do a turn to the right and check ATIS for another field at the same time.  Then the moment of truth came.  "Ok, I'm going to simulate an engine out.  I'll gradually pull the power back."  I gave the trim wheel a couple spins up-aileron, pitched for 65 kts, then began finding us a field to make an emergency landing.  I found one at our 9 o-clock, but a little close.  I slipped to lose a little altitude, explaining as I did, and that I didn't want to lose too much.

As we got closer to the field, I noticed power lines across the middle (one of the things I needed to demonstrate, the ability to see obstructions in my chosen field if they were present).  I looked to the left and saw a better field almost immediately and announced the change.  Still a little high, I adjusted and added flaps slowly, then began my final descent to the field.

About 700 ft from the ground, he called, "Ok, go around."  Carb heat in, flaps 20, full power, airspeed returning, flaps up.  "Ok, great.  Climb us up to 1500ft, then head back to Clark County.  We'll join the 45° left downwind, runway 18."

About 2 miles from the field we heard another plane call they were entering the 45 and agreed we'd need to keep an eye out for him.  ASI saw it first, asked me if I did.  At first I couldn't.  Then he gave me visual cues where to look and I spotted him, about 4 miles away from us, passing diagonal left to right.

I flew about a mile further, checked for traffic, then made my turn toward the 45, making my radio call.  I entered downwind, then left base, making my radio calls & adding flaps accordingly.  After visually clearing the final approach, I made my turn and my radio call.  I added the last 10° of flaps just before short final and pitched for 65 knots.   I rounded out, let her settle down, flared, and put it down, a little firmly, but right on the center line.  I turned off the first available taxiway, stopped past the hold short, and called clear of the active.  I finished the post-landing section of the checklist, then began taxiing back to Honaker.

"That was a 'Satisfactory' by the way."

"Excellent, thanks!"

We taxied back & shut down, then headed back into the FBO.  He advised Randy immediately of my result, then we headed back into the lounge to debrief.  He had a few words of advice regarding operations in a multi-runway environment, as well as using a checklist during an emergency, but otherwise complimented my piloting skills and my professional demeanor on the radio (thanks PilotEdge).  He assured me the paperwork would be complete on his end by end of day and submitted to CAMI, who will then mail me the Statement of Demonstrated Ability (SODA) waiver.

We finished the debrief, then had some general discussion & casual conversation about flying between the three of us.  He then left, and it was time for Randy and I to finish planning the trip back to KHNB.

With planning complete, we headed back to 34Q and began the checklist.  The wind had kicked up a little, and traffic was now using runway 36.  Preflight, runup, and takeoff were good.  We departed the pattern to the Southwest, then began timing our waypoints.

The flight back was good, though choppy pretty much the whole way home.   Scattered clouds at 4500 AGL, which was 500 above our flight altitude, were the main factor in the turbulence.  I hit all the waypoints within 1-2 minutes of plan, then began my descent to KHNB.  I'd noted about 30 miles out that the radio calls indicated pilots were landing on 27 and planned to enter the pattern accordingly.

I entered a midfield crosswind for 27, joined the downwind, then base & final with flaps accordingly.  Then I apparently checked out & went somewhere else for a few seconds.  About the time I should have been rounding out, I hear Randy say, "Whoah!"  He pulled the yoke, after which I did as well, causing a little ballooning.

"Just let her settle down.  Man, you just about hit.  Wow.  Glad that happened while I was in here with you."  I salvaged a decent landing out of it, taxied clear & made my radio call.  I still do not know what happened, but I will be sure it doesn't again.

We parked by the pumps so the rampie could refuel her, got out & collected our gear.  After refueling was complete we pushed her back in the hangar, then grabbed some towels & proceeded to wipe off the bugs we collected.  After that it was upstairs for the debrief.

The dominant item of the debrief was naturally the test.  I filled Randy in on the details of what ASI had me do.  But mostly, I knew this had been weighing on me since I started flying, but I had no idea how much.  It's like ten tons of weight has come off my shoulders.  I've been more relaxed the past few days than I have been in years.  The cross-country portion of the flight didn't stress me nearly as much as I expected it to.  All-in-all, I logged 1.9 hours cross-country, and an additional 0.6 as PIC during the test.

We finished debrief, then scheduled my next flight, a cross-country to KCUL, for Tuesday.  Initial forecasts were for 50% rain chances, but the outlook has changed to VFR for the route.  We're meeting at 1800 local, so we should have plenty of sunlight right in our eyes as KCUL is WSW at a heading of 262.  Sunglasses will definitely be on the checklist.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two Seven.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

("Old dog" referring to my age, not my time as a pilot here)

It's been a busy week for me as far as flying goes - for the first time in almost a year I got two flights in.  Monday was the first.  Already different from the norm in that I usually fly on Tuesdays, this would be a flight that would stretch me, and also teach me some valuable skills with regards to landing an airplane.

Monday, 8/3  I'll skip the uneventful account of preflight & run-up and go straight to saying that my first landing was a little flat.  On climbout, Randy informed me that, "We're going to break you of that.  I'm going to teach you something new tonight - we're going to work on soft field takeoffs and landings."

"Cool," I thought.  Something new.  I should point out, with the way my flying hours have shaken out this year (that's my positive way of saying "thanks to all the horrendous delays"), it's been several months since I've done any maneuvers that have required full elevator deflection.  I'm not muscular in any sense, and I don't work out, well, except when I'm in the cockpit.  

We taxied straight back to good ol' Two-Seven, and as we approach the run-up area, he pulls the yoke back full and says, "The maneuver begins now."  We don't stop at the hold short, rather just make our takeoff radio call and taxi straight out.  I have hands on the controls but Randy has the plane, and I advance the power to full.

Now, let me tell you, if you've never experienced a soft field takeoff before, and I hadn't, it really throws you.  The idea is that you're taking off from a soft runway, let's say by deduction it's a grass strip, and it's recently rained.  You want to transfer the weight of the airplane off the landing gear as quickly as possible, beginning with the nose gear, so it doesn't sink into the ground and dig in, resulting in what John King would describe as "a bad day."  Adding full back yoke, the nose comes up almost immediately, but you have to keep it just a little off the runway, you don't want to let it to continue rising.  To accomplish this, you must gradually relax back pressure on the yoke.  The entire process basically results in the aircraft doing a wheelie down the runway, which is strange yet incredibly fun.  Steering with the rudder pedals and holding the nose at a certain height requires intense concentration and coordination between your brain, hands, and feet.  I love it.

At around 40 kts, the main gear then leaves the runway, thanks to ground effect, which I'll let you research for yourself on Google/etc., but in short it's caused by the air coming around the end of the wingtips.  This lifts the plane in the air below stall speed.  If you come out of ground effect before you have enough airspeed, the wings will stall, and the plane will dive nose-first into the runway.  So, you have to continue to hold the yoke forward a bit to keep the plane in level flight, about 10-15 feet above the runway, until airspeed is sufficient to leave ground effect.  This part threw me, because it feels unnatural at first.

Once we were in the air and on downwind, Randy began briefing me on the soft field landing technique, which is really the same as a regular landing, but upon touchdown, you again hold the nose gear a few inches off the runway, until all the airspeed bleeds off.  This forces you to come in at a more precise angle in your approach, and more importantly ensures you  time your round out and flare such that you are able to hold the nose off on landing.

We did 7 soft field takeoffs and landings.  I had one really good one, the rest were not so great, but I understood the concept and was picking it up.  We taxied back after the seventh landing and I handed 34Q over to the next student in line, who was waiting at the ramp to work on night flights with Randy.  A quick debrief, and then planning the next flight.  Weather for Wednesday was supposed to be 50/50 rain chances, thunderstorms possible, but we scheduled for 6:30 PM with the hopes of getting a few landings in anyway.

Wednesday, 8/5   I was still at the office around 4:50, discussing an issue with our lead developer, when my cell phone rang.  It was Randy, and I assumed he was calling to cancel due to the weather looking questionable.  However, he advised we might have a window to get some landings in if I could get to the airport soon.  So, I finished up my conversation, grabbed my headset from beside my desk, and headed for the door.  I always keep my gear - My flight bag, my headset, and "The Equalizer," in my car on flight day rather than having to head home to get them after work, for just this reason.  I then bring my headset into my office to keep it out of the heat/cold.

I arrived at KHNB around 5:20.  On the way in I was looking at the sky & calling the AWOS on my phone.  Conditions were VFR currently, but I wasn't so sure it would stay that way long enough.  We discussed it, looked at the radar, and decided we had time for at least 5 or 6 landings, which actually turned into 10.

Skipping the run-up/etc again, tonight's agenda was again soft field landings.  Wind was favoring Niner I did much better with almost all of them, though I had a couple unstable approaches that resulted in touch-and-gos and go-arounds.

After about 5 landings, as we were abeam touchdown for the sixth, he pulls the power and says, "Alright, you just lost your engine.  Get us back to the airport, soft field landing.  This is what you'd do if you were putting it down in a field during an emergency."

I flew my airspeeds just as I would in a normal pattern,  but turning the plane back towards the end of Niner instead of flying a standard base leg.  Once I knew we had the runway, I began adding flaps.  I added them a little late, which resulted in rounding out just little far down the runway, but I then continued with a normal landing as I held it off, flared, then touched down and held the nose off the runway.  "Excellent job.  Let's keep going, full power."

After the 8th landing, as we taxied back to Niner, he advised this would be the last one.  He wanted to show me one more new thing - short field takeoffs and landings.

We taxied to the end of the runway, ensuring we used every available inch.  I held the brakes, advanced the power to full, checked engine instruments, and released the brakes.  At 60 knots I rotated, and then held the airspeed at Vx of 64 knots until we were at least 50 feet off the ground, then rotated to Vy of 78 kts for a normal climb during the remainder of the climbout

On downwind we briefed the short field landing.  We'd be coming in a little high, my aiming point would be the 500' markers, and my touchdown point would be the 1,000' markers, landing no further than 200' past the beginning of the marker.  I set up the approach, brought it in, rounded out, and touched down just beyond the end of the 1,000' mark.  "Great job, excellent!  That was so good, let's do another.  Full power."  On climbout he changed his mind.  "You know what?  This time, you land the plane however you want.  If you want to do a normal landing, go ahead."  I didn't hesitate.  "I'll do a soft field."  "Ok, great!"

The approach was good, right on glide slope, rounded it out, corrected for a slight balloon, held it off & flared it.  Touchdown was smooth, on center, and I just held the nose up, slowly applying more back pressure on the yoke until it was all the way back & the stall horn was singing.  "Yes, you got it!    That's what I want to see."  

We taxied back & put 34Q away for the evening, went into the office & debriefed.  I advised I'd made the decision to do my medical flight test separately, ahead of the checkride, just to get it done so it wouldn't be a factor in the rest of my training, or my checkride itself.  If they want to do the MFT at Bowman Field in Louisville or at Clark County airport, we'll just schedule that to be a cross country flight and nail two birds with one stone & get the most for my money on the flight.

The CFI from the FSDO that I was planning to fly with on the checkride/flight test is out of the office for a couple weeks, so I have a call in & waiting on a call back from his supervisor to begin scheduling the test (have to coordinate with my CFI & ensure the plane is available).  No plans to fly next week pending the callback from the FSDO.  I'll post details here as I get them.

Until then, Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two Seven.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28, 2015 - A Day I Will Never Forget

"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...."
- John Gillespie Magee, Jr., "High Flight"

There was something in the air this day, I felt it from the moment I woke up.  I knew, and even told a coworker when he asked if this would be "the flight," "Yes, I'm saying it.  Today is the day."

It was hot.  Africa hot.  Tarzan couldn't stand this kind of hot.  As I drove to the airport, I watched a roadside digital sign tick from 94 to 95°F.  With the humidity, the heat index was 105°F according to the Yahoo! Weather App before I left .

I did my pre-flight walkaround, noting the weak piece of plastic around the fuel drain on the right wing was starting to split to the aft.  Other than that, N9634Q looked more beautiful than she ever did.  Randy and I talked a little about other pilots' mistakes, discussing the scenario first & what I would do, followed by the pilot's choice and the very unfavorable outcome.  We finished our discussion as the KingAir taxied to the runway, then climbed in the cockpit and started the rest of the checklist.

About halfway through my briefing, etc, he advised me to go ahead and get it started. "I know you know how to do the briefing.  You've done it since your second flight.  Not trying to rush you, let's just get it started.  No need to set up the GPS, we're just going to work on landings."

AWOS said winds were straight down the runway at 5, but all three wind socks said otherwise, which wasn't really a concern since they felt lighter than 5 knots.

Startup, taxi, runup were all normal, though whether or not the landing light was working is still up in the air.  I called my takeoff, then brought 34Q around through the pattern and set up on final, calling that it would be a full stop. It was one of my better landings.  We taxied clear of the runway then headed back out.  "Alright, you give me two more landings like that and we're going to solo you tonight."

Landing 2 wasn't as good.  I carried too much speed, even after touchdown.  "Alright let's just go around, full power."  Cleaned it up, started climbout, then called that I was touch-and-go for Two Seven.

Landing 3 was as good as the first.  As I exited the runway I was expecting him to want one more good one.  "Alright, take me back to the hangar, and I need to see your logbook and your medical."

An RV8 getting ready to depart asked over the radio if we were done.  Randy advised I was getting ready to solo, and the RV pilot (same one I met after an earlier lesson) said he'd go flying to the north to give me plenty of time.

We taxied off to the side of the ramp away from the pumps.  He reached into the back seat and got my flight bag.  I handed him my logbook, then my medical for the appropriate endorsements.  We had to move toward the taxiway to make way for N177JE (Citation), then he finished writing, I put everything back in my flight bag, and he climbed out.

I expected this moment to be filled with nervousness, anxiety, and tension.  But it wasn't.  I'd done this hundreds of times by myself at home, both in X-Plane and FSX/P3D.  The one thing that did concern me was the storm clouds that appeared to be building to the Northeast.  I couldn't tell if they were getting closer or moving away.

I taxied to Two Seven just as I had done dozens of times with Randy, stopped at the hold short, checked final approach, then made my radio call.  Deep breath.  "Moment of truth, right here" I said out loud to myself.  I taxied out onto the centerline, then advanced the throttle to full,

With less weight in the plane, and a new engine, she accelerated quickly, and was ready to fly in no time.  I lifted off and began my climbout.  The first solo trip around the pattern was uneventful to be honest.  That's not to say it was boring, but it was cut-and-dry.  I lined up on final, made my full-stop radio call, and set her down for one of my best landings so far.   As before, the plan was to do three full-stop landings.  I taxied back, and repeated the pattern.

Landing #2 was much less graceful, but I thought I had it under control.  I bounced.  Not hard, but high (looking back I suspect I had help from a wind gust); high enough that I didn't feel comfortable continuing the landing, so I added some power to stay up, retracted the flaps, then added full power and called my go-around.  I did everything else as usual and didn't even worry about not getting a good landing.

Landing #3 was back on-point.  As I taxied off the runway Randy called over the radio and asked how the weather looked to the East.  I responded that it was very cloudy.  He'd been watching the weather and the radar, and said I should have time for one more if I felt like it.  "Sure, I'm up for one more."  I taxied back to Two-Seven, made my call, and started down the runway.

As soon as I got in the air, I was questioning my decision for a few moments.  Due South of the airport, about 10-15 miles, was a dark bank of clouds and what appeared to be rain.  I looked for a second, also glancing back to the Southeast, then continued my climbout, just as I had done over a hundred times before.  I visually checked the clouds on downwind, but otherwise did everything just as I always had, no rushing, no pressure, just fly the plane.  As I made my call on final, the RV8 called that he'd be entering midfield crosswind.

The fourth and final landing of the evening was probably the best.  Everything I did looked and felt better than it had the other six times to me.  I taxied off the runway, past the hold short, and called that 34Q was "clear of Two-Seven for the evening."  The RV8 pilot offered his congrats over the radio, I thanked him, completed the post-landing part of the checklist, and started taxiing back to the hangar.

It was at this very moment it sank in what I had just done.  The minute I started rolling after post-landing, I could not control the huge grin that came across my face.

I'd finally arrived.  After years of dreaming, hoping, waiting, wondering if it would ever happen, I just flew, and landed, myself, with no one else in the plane.

I taxied 34Q back to the DCFS hangar.  Randy and his wife were there - she had been taking pictures.  He pretended to marshal me in, then I turned her around and set her up so we could push back into the hangar.  I proceeded with shutdown, took off my headset & seat belts, climbed out and shook Randy's hand.  I had to give him a hard time.  "Randy, no offense, but she flies a lot better without you in there."  We had a good laugh, then took some pics with the plane before putting it in the hangar.

The RV8 owner taxied over to get fuel, and to congratulate me.  "You've just opened up a whole new world of possibilities," he said as he shook my hand.  "Welcome, it's great to have you."

We went upstairs to the classroom for the ceremonial cutting of my shirt tail.  Unfortunately due to the heat, my shirt was too soaked to write on, so he will write all the details this week and have it ready by my next lesson.

As he cut my shirt, I couldn't help but think about the last year, and how I felt after that first flight, knowing this was the time to do this.  All the delays, all the frustrations, every setback was gone in that moment, not even on my mind anymore.  Afterward I also got the joy of adding my first entry into my logbook for PIC/solo time, 0.8 hrs worth.

"You've just done something that very few people ever get the chance to do.  You left the earth, in a machine, by yourself.  There's only 300,000 or so of us in the world right now, out of how many billion?  That's something special."  Indeed it is.  It's all I've been able to think about the last two days.

Next Monday will be another supervised solo, two landings with Randy, two or three by myself.  Then after we put the plane away, it's upstairs to plan the first cross country flight, with the intention of flying the cross country during the following lesson.

I expect to have my checkride scheduled by the end of August, though I have contingencies planned for the Medical Flight Test portion if it looks like I won't get it in before my authorization runs out.  I'm no longer stressed about that part, I'll just take care of it separately if it comes down to it.

It's happening, and it's happening quickly.   If all goes as it appears it will, I should be getting ready for my checkride this time next month.  No doubt I'll be FULL of anxiety and nervousness for that flight.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two Seven.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Over the River

After another, long, multi-week delay, I finally got back in the air Tuesday evening.  Yes, the engine was back in the plane two weeks ago.  However, contrary to what my CFI and I understood, it was a brand new engine that had to be broken in.  The first 4 hours on the engine have to be cross-country flight.  Not that big a deal, right?  If everything goes right, it's not.  Since when has anything about these delays gone as expected though?  Long story short, on the evening of 7/13 during the cross country the alternator gave up the ghost.  Yes, the same alternator that failed on me last fall, supposedly due to a loose wire on the inside.

Enough about the delays.  They're behind me (us - there are 5 of us 'leftovers' from last summer that still need to finish up).  I do my walk-around while he fuels her up, explaining the extra weight will add a little stability in the 9-15kt winds.

First order of business after the runup is setting the OWB VOR.  I'm to track a radial to it once we get airborne and fly to it, or toward it at least.  I do so, adjusting along the way for the wind & relatively close proximity of the VOR - it's about a 20 minute trip to KOWB from KHNB.  I used to be proficient in this back in my early flight simming days, but I don't do it much anymore since most of the planes in-sim, especially X-Plane, contain a G430 or comparable GPS simulation.  I also need to work on identifying the VOR code, which will be easier when I have the chart in-hand during an actual cross-country (I'll use ForeFlight once I get my PPL, but the same applies).

Once we get close to the river, he tunes COM1 and has me turn east, toward KY8, which is Hancock County.  Terrible name for an airport anyway.  When you're used to doing radio calls for Huntingburg Airport it's even worse.  I make calls for many other airports while flying on the PilotEdge network, but apparently my speech muscle memory from doing so didn't come along for this flight.  Each time I called "Hancock County traffic...." it was a struggle just to enunciate clearly.

I turned right onto the 45° left downwind for runway 5.  Pattern altitude at KY8 is 1400'.  Good.  I have to put the altimeter needle somewhere else and need to use my brain, even if just a little, to know when I'm 500' above to start my turn to final and crosswind turn on climbout.  This was my first landing in 2 months, and my first at any other airport.  I set it down right on center, no ballooning, no awkward over-correcting, just a good landing.  "Alright, let's do another one."  The second looked about the same as the first, and we were off again.

"Alright, fly a heading of 280, put 019 in the OBS, intercept that radial, and take me back to Huntingburg."   I got us on the radial, and he made sure the GPS wasn't showing me where KHNB was.  It was a hazy day, so it took me a bit to see the field, probably 15 miles out, but I could make out the airport clearly.    I was set up perfectly to enter the 45° left downwind for 27.  Made the radio call, then started my descent from pattern altitude once I was abeam touchdown.

I won't sugar coat it.  The first approach to 27 was a flat-out ugly, over-correcting, bumbling mess, and as a result, the landing was terrible.  We talked it through on climb-out & laughed about it. "Randy, I can do way better than that."  "I know you can."  "Yeah but let me prove it to you."  "Well, you did land the airplane though."  "True, but it wasn't pretty."

He checked the crosswinds again.  7 kts, straight across the runway.  I said, "Good, I need that."  As we approached abeam, I loosened up & got relaxed, and half-jokingly said "Randy, let me show you how I do this at home.  Which is really the same way I would do it here, but let me just translate it into the real thing."  I did.  And it was great.  A little flat, but I was loose, calm, inputting small corrections, right down the middle.  I did one other landing just as good, and he said, "Alright, let's stop there.  I don't want to beat it to death," meaning I had a good thing going and was on point, and he wanted to end the flight on a good note.

As we taxied back to the hangar, he complimented that it was the best I'd ever flown with him, and he honestly couldn't tell the difference between me and any of his friends who have been certificated pilots for years.  I was humbled to say the least, and replied with appreciation for the encouragement.

As we put 34Q away I noticed some nearly-evaporated wet spots on the ramp near the pumps.  "Looks like we had some traffic while we were gone.  Looks like they stopped for some fuel"  He agreed, & said we'd probably have a lot this week with folks heading up to Oshkosh.

Then he told me he and his wife had planned on going this year for their vacation, but he just didn't have the heart to make me and the other four guys wait another week to fly.  So, they were leaving later this week for an extended weekend vacation elsewhere.  I told him I'd have understood if he'd have gone.  I'd have been sick knowing where he was - before all the delays, I was planning to go as my first big thing to do after getting my PPL - but I'd have understood.

Plans are to fly again next Tuesday, weather permitting of course.  Solo is back on the agenda, and it'll be happening soon.  Very soon.

The next day I went back across the river into Kentucky.  This time was by car, and my destination was KLOU - Bowman Field, where there is a CATS testing center.  I took and subsequently passed the written knowledge test.  I missed 13 out of the 60, but fortunately the printed report tells me exactly where in the regs I can find the ones that I missed.  I'll definitely review them before the oral test/checkride, in case the CFI testing me happens to bring them up.

It's getting closer, and I can almost see the finish line.  I'm getting excited again, the way I was when I first started flying.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two Seven.

Friday, June 26, 2015

This Old "Thing"

"No. I, um... I can't go in this. It's, uh... It's broken..."

"No, it's not broken, it's being maintained."
- Six Days, Seven Nights

Got a call from my CFI Monday morning. You guessed it. The plane is still down. Or, well, actually, down again. Seems the new engine was installed, everything was looking good. Then they recalled the engine, something related to the cylinders. DCFS had to pull the engine and ship it back. According to him they were expecting it back at KHNB by this Thursday. 

So, we decided to meet at the airport Tuesday evening anyway and work on prepping for the oral exam portion of my checkride. Yes, it's actually that close. Just have to finish up solo, cross-country, nail down all the flight requirements. 

Well, we both had a pleasant surprise - the new engine was already back, hanging on the hoist, supported by a dolly, with seemingly everything necessary attached. This means it will only be a day or so and 34Q will be flying again. This should be the last major delay from a plane standpoint. 

We spent about 2 hours doing a mock exam & discussing my incorrect answers. There were a few things I admittedly didn't remember, but he explained them well, to the point I'm confident I'll know them when the time comes. All-in-all, from a knowledge standpoint, his general remark was, "You're ready for your checkride." I'd agree about 85-90% with that statement. I'm not doubting myself, but I do know where I need to focus my remaining study time. 

Current plan is to fly Tuesday evening, weather permitting. Absolutely no reason the plane shouldn't be ready by then. Not exactly holding my breath on that one, but I'm giving the benefit of the doubt this time. No sense holding onto any anger or frustration over past delays. 

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bring Me Solo

Seriously.  Forget the Wookie, I just want to solo.

Last week's lesson (Tuesday, 6/9) was strictly focused on landings.  With a 9-knot direct crosswind, chances of soloing were slim, but I still had hope.  However, I went into the lesson disregarding the idea of soloing, just wanting to make up for my previous lesson that proved how bad an idea it is for me to fly when I haven't slept much.

I felt rushed.  For some reason I felt rushed for most of the lesson.  Maybe it was the Piper Warrior in the pattern with me, also working on landings.  Maybe it was the pressure to get 3 good landings in, with hopes that my CFI would send me out to do 3 more on my own.  But after the 9th landing, we both agreed.  He commented that I was "right there.  I have no doubt if I got out of the airplane that you could land it safely, I'm just not seeing the consistency I need to."  I felt the same, and responded that I'm not seeing it out of myself either.  So the idea of solo was off the table for the evening.  "So we agree.  Alright, so let's just fly, and have fun landing the plane."

And I did.  Even though I went into the lesson with solo being a distant possibility rather than the goal of the evening, apparently, on some subconscious level, I was still letting it pressure me.  Once we verbalized that solo wasn't going to happen tonight, apparently that unrealized pressure was gone, and 2 greasers followed.

"Now, if you had done two or three like that before, I might have had you pull off the runway and we'd talk about it."

After shutdown and putting 34Q to bed, we debriefed, echoing what we'd discussed earlier.  Then came the discussion about the next flight.

"Ok, here's the thing.  The engine has one hour left on it."  He proceeded to tell me that the new engine had arrived, and even though they've assured him it would only take a couple days (the engine, though new, has been bought already broken-in), something will undoubtedly happen, this part, that part, need to order something, and it may end up taking a week or two.  I agreed, as this has been par for the course.  He's frustrated as well, says it's been the hardest year he's ever had to get students through to their checkride because of the delays.

"So, what I can do is check the schedule, see if anyone has it tomorrow evening.  If not, would you want to try tomorrow evening to solo, or would you rather wait?  I'll leave it up to you."

Well, naturally, based on what we'd both just witnessed from my sub-optimal performance with a subconscious distraction, I naturally responded, without hesitation, "No, absolutely not.  I don't want to put myself in that situation."  My reason was simple. The 1-hour limit, though trivial, would be on my mind, just as the rushed feeling was this flight, and I wouldn't be at my best.  Plus, if I went into the flight with solo being the actual goal, and ended up not getting there, I'd be even more disappointed and frustrated for having spent an hour of time (and money) knowing full well it wasn't the ideal situation.

Decision made.  So I suggested, since the plane may be down yet the next week, let's just get my practice knowledge test and endorsement out of the way.  Then once that's done, if the plane is ready, maybe try flying later in the week.  We agreed on Tuesday night for the practice exam.

Which brings us to last night (6/16) and my practice exam.  But, before we went upstairs to the classroom, he says,"You want to see your airplane?  The engine is off."  We walked to the maintenance hangar and there she was, engine on a dolly on the floor, nose completely gone.  Kind of sickening to see even though I know it's just a machine.  I could sense the frustration in his voice as we talked about the engine.  A couple short looks, then upstairs we went.

I finished the 60-question exam, which he assured me he had made more difficult than the actual FAA test,  in just over an hour.  There were some questions I knew I had missed, but after reviewing several sections over lunch and just prior to the exam, there was much that was fresh in my mind, and I actually answered some correctly that I felt might have been wrong when answering.  As we reviewed the answers, there were some (about half actually) that I missed just because of plain old stupid mistakes or not carefully reading the answers (which the King's course repeatedly and adamantly stresses you to do as some answers are just designed to trip you up).

All-in-all, I missed 12 of the 60, which comes out to an 80%, good enough for his endorsement, and good enough for me considering I'd only had 5.5 hours of sleep the night before (seriously, going to talk to my fam doc about finding a better solution for a sleep aid, starting to affect all areas of my life).  I'd like to have done better, and I probably would have with more sleep, which might have helped me be more careful with reading the answers, but I'll take it.  Once I get my PPL this score won't really matter.  It's not like I'm gunning for an airline job and a prospective employer will use this in deciding between me and another candidate.  The actual FAA Knowledge Test (which I will be scheduling in the next few weeks) carries more responsibility, and I'll continue studying for it, particularly the areas in which  I fell short.  But I want to know the material, not just memorize it for the test.  I need to know it, and it will help me be a safer, more confident pilot.

We ended the evening with plans to fly next Tuesday, unless the plane is still down for the engine installation.  Here's hoping for better weather next week, and no crosswinds.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Quick Update - Crazy Week

Last week was one of those crazy ones.  It started with me only getting 4 1/2 hours of sleep Sunday night.  Sleep issues continued through the week and this past weekend.  With a flight lesson (and hopefully a solo) scheduled for last Tuesday evening, I was hoping Monday night's sleep would be better.  It might have been, but it ended up not mattering.

Monday morning (6/1) my CFI texted me he'd be out of town due to a change in his work schedule, asking if I wanted to fly that evening instead.

Fly.  On 4.5 hours of sleep.  Sure, why not?

Knowing with the ceiling being low I'd only be working on landings, I accepted the offer.

I'll just say that it wasn't one of my worst lessons, but it was far from my best.  9 kt direct crosswind, doing pattern work on runway niner.  In short, some were ok, but none were greasers.  After the lesson we debriefed as usual.  I let him know that I knew coming into this lesson I was going to be off my game, and I'd accepted the fact that all my approaches wouldn't be perfect, and my landings the same.

He assured me he didn't feel unsafe at any time during the lesson, and that I'm still ready to solo.  Regardless, I'm not sure it was the best decision to fly.   All-in-all, I did learn a personal limit:  If I've only had 4.5 hours of sleep, being PIC of a plane, although not dangerous by any means, isn't the best idea.

Next lesson scheduled for Tuesday 6/9, with plans to solo if I'm "on" this week.

Two Victor Uniform clear of the active.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Back in the Saddle

It's been a while since I posted anything, mainly because it's been a while since I've done any flying.  Ironically, I'm writing this post on the one year anniversary of my first post to this blog.  The things I didn't know then...but I digress.

This past Tuesday, it had been 71 days since I had last been in the cockpit of an airplane.  That's by far the longest stretch since I started flying.  In that time, 34Q had been gone for 4 weeks to Mena, Arkansas for a repaint.  I joked with a friend the week I knew she was back that "knowing my luck, she'll get back and it'll be just about time for her 100-hr inspection."  I reeeally need to learn to keep my mouth shut on such things, because that's exactly what happened.

After waiting for the 100-hr to complete, I finally had a lesson scheduled for this past Tuesday.  There was just one thing that might have stood in the way.  Yep.  The weather.   Forecast called for thunderstorms the first three days this week.  Cynical doesn't begin to describe my attitude going into work on Tuesday.  But as the day progressed, I could see potential light at the end of the tunnel.  Most of the weather was to the east, tracking NNE.  Winds were pretty significant, 15G21 straight across, and the ceiling was sufficient that I could at least get some crosswind landings in.  No way I'm going to shy away from wind.  I want need to know how to handle it.  CFI called me on the way to the airport, asked if we were still on.  I said yes, it's a little cloudy and gusty, but at the least we can get some crosswind landings in.  He agreed.

I walked out onto the ramp to see Randy fueling the old girl up.  And her new paint job is very, very sharp.

I'll get a better pic of it next flight and post it - I was so excited to get started on my preflight I completely forgot about getting a shot of the new livery.

I completed my walkaround, Randy and I added a quart of oil (was just over 6 on the stick when I checked).

We climbed in, I did my pre-flight passenger briefing, then proceeded with the checklist items.  We both heard the unmistakable sound of dual turboprops approaching the airport just as I was starting the engine.  The King Air was coming in.  I love turboprops, by the way.  Fired up the G430, listened to AWOS, then pulled forward, tested my brakes, made my taxi call, and waited for the KingAir to taxi past before I  headed out, amid his lingering prop wash, to 27 to do my run-up.

Takeoff was good.  It felt so, so great to be back in the air.  After a midfield departure to the north, Randy asked me how it felt to be back up here.  I answered honestly.  It felt like coming home after being away for a few years.  It was like I was supposed to be there.  I can't explain it, but the whole flight felt like that.

Slow flight was good, although I thought I was a little sloppy in my turns.  We then did 5 power-off stalls.  I had trouble with the first three, and honestly didn't get too down on myself because realistically it had been months since I was up, so I'm going to be a little rusty.  After the last stall, it was back to the field to work on landings.

I hit the freq swap button on the 430 to get AWOS again.  Winds were 210 at 17, peak gust 26.  Nice.  This is going to be a challenge to say the least.  It actually calmed down a bit by the time we got back, which took longer because we had gone a bit east during maneuvers to avoid the towns (and an RV that took off from KHNB that was flying over to KDCY), so I was flying against an almost direct headwind of 17 kts, knocking my ground speed down to 79.

I was surprised and satisfied with my first approach.  I rounded out a little high, but with verbal cues from Randy corrected and set it down gently for a touch-and-go.  The second landing went much better, with him cueing when 'not' to start the round-out.  After the third landing, he commented, "Wow.  That was really good, well done.  You fly like this the next time we fly, I'm going to solo you."  After the fourth, during which the RV had entered the pattern midfield crosswind, he continued the encouragement, saying, "Man.  If it wasn't for this wind, I'd dang near solo you tonight. I mean, for not flying for 71 days, you're going great....I mean...damn, excuse my French."

I never know how to respond, so I simply said "Thanks.  I felt really good about that landing."  I called touch and go for 27 to let the RV know we were off the runway, then back into the pattern one last time for the evening.  Landing #5 was just like the other 4.  The wind had died down a bit, but was gusting again as I got to the runway.  I held it off and let the upwind wheel down first, the best I've ever done in a crosswind, then let the right main down followed by the nose.  Then, for some reason....I checked out somewhere.  I started veering left.  Randy was like, "What are you doing?  Where you going?  Let's get it back over to the center."  I still don't know what I was thinking, maybe was taking in the way that landing went and forgot to keep controlling the plane, I really don't know.

Taxied back to the hangar, shut down, and we started talking about the flight as we were getting 34Q ready to be put away.

The RV pilot came up on a golf cart, apparently his receipt from the fuel farm had blown away earlier, and he'd come over to let Randy know, only to find it blowing around.  Randy introduced us, and he told me he was part of a group that meets every Saturday morning and goes flying to get breakfast, and invited me to join them once I get my PPL.

As he started lowering the hangar door, he again said that he actually would solo me tonight, if the wind had calmed down just a little more.  "You're ready."

That's when I remembered I wanted to take a picture of the new paint.  I'll get a better one next week.

So, we went into the office and debriefed, which was surprisingly short.  Next lesson is scheduled for Tuesday.  In a nutshell, the next time we fly, as long as the weather is good, and I'm "on" like I was this flight, I'll be doing my first solo.  So far the weather is looking good.  Here's hoping it stays that way.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.