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.