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