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.