Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 - What a Year!

Yes, I am still alive!  And yes, it's been over six months since my last blog post.  Between the project at work and everything else that's been happening, 2016 has kept me very, very busy.

I'll be as brief as possible catching up on things this time around.

First, the other "big thing" that I mentioned happening earlier this year is this:

She's a 1975 Cessna 150M, and on June 24, I made her mine.  Compared to the other 150s I was looking at online, she was practically in my back yard (KGEZ, Shelbyville, IN), and for the price I paid I practically stole her from the seller.  I've had to have some work done on her in the fall, including about $3000 worth to the ignition system, but she's running great and flies straight and true.  Best of all, I can go fly her anytime I want if the weather is good, and I'm saving $130/hour each time I fly her instead of renting the Skyhawk.  Yes, the last three numbers of her registration are 420.  And yes, I've already caught grief from fellow pilots online over that one.  At best when I abbreviate my callsign I'll say "Cessna four-two-zero, left downwind..."  I just can't bring myself to say, "Cessna four-twenty" haha.

Of course, having ready, quick access to my own plane led to another proud moment - I took my daughter up for her first flight.  It was one trip around the traffic pattern to see how she would respond, and she loved it!  (This pic was taken after I removed her pink headset (thanks PilotUSA for making a pink set!)

Secondly, the project I've been involved in at work went live in Mid-December, and there are only a few other components that I need to develop in the next month or so before my initial work wraps up and I move into a maintenance and monitoring mode for that project.  

Thirdly, my daughter has had some big challenges with her health this year, and as a result will be having surgery in January.  The ultimate result will be relief from the majority of her discomfort and pain, but will mean big changes to her care and changes in the challenges her mother and I will face as parents.  One of the biggest positives is that it could potentially eliminate the issues that pose the most concern with her comfort during flying, meaning she and I could be able to share many more father-daughter flights this year. :)

It's been a challenging year.  I won't water it down, there were times, some in the last few months, where I wondered if I would even make it through some of the difficulties, but my faith and determination kept me going, not to mention my daughter's smiles and laughter.  For all the challenges and setbacks this year threw at me, I'm still very, very blessed, and looking forward to an even more amazing year in 2017.

Happy New Year everyone!  Blue skies!

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven.

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Proudest Moment as a Pilot


It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon, and we had just finished our week-long kickoff meetings for the project that was ramping up at work.  I was caught up on other work items, so I checked with my other 3 team members to see if they needed help on anything.  None of them needed any help, so I requested the rest of the day off from my manager to do some flying.  Knowing this project was going to keep me extremely busy the next several months, she gladly approved.  

As I left, I opened ForeFlight on my phone to check the METAR at HNB, and called the AWOS to verify.  Winds were light, and the skies were clear.  I decided today would be the perfect day to take my father for his first flight.  He's 83 years old, retired US Army, but has never been on a plane of any kind.  He was deployed during the Korean War, but all his travels overseas were by ship.  I called DCFS to see if the Skyhawk was available to rent, which it was.  I reserved it for about an hour.

I arrived at the nursing home around 2 pm.  Dad was surprised to see me.  I asked him if he wanted to go flying today, and his eyes lit up & he eagerly said yes.  I spoke with the nurse to verify there weren't any medical concerns, signed him out, and we headed to the airport.  During the 25 minute drive, I started my pre-flight passenger briefing a little early to give dad time to process and to ask questions.  This proved to be a valuable decision, as he was very eager to understand some of the things that would happen, and it helped him understand better when I repeated some of the info in the plane.  I plan to do this with any passengers that end up riding with me to the field, especially those that have never been in a small plane before.

One thing I continually stressed was that if at any time after I start the engine that he gets nervous, scared, or changes his mind, to absolutely let me know immediately.  Likewise if we were airborne and he got queasy or scared, I'd bring us back down safely & we'd end the flight.

We arrived at the airport, and the DCFS guys had 34Q already pulled out & fueled.  I helped dad get in first, then proceeded with my preflight.  I finished my checklist flow on the exterior and climbed in to help dad get buckled in and helped him get his headset comfortable.  I put mine on as well, and decided that before getting busy with the rest of the checklist that this was a perfect photo op.

The smile on our faces says it all.  He was so excited, and I was so proud to get to take him up.  I completed the checklist, shouted "Clear prop," turned the key, and 34Q roared to life.  Taxi, runup, and takeoff were smooth as ever, and we were departing midfield to the north in no time.  I didn't have a long flight planned, just enough to give dad a view of Jasper from about 2,500 feet, and anywhere else he wanted to go.  He didn't get nervous once, and was just amazed at how small everything looked even from that height.

It was a beautiful day for flying.  Clear blue skies and a few white puffy clouds were visible for miles.  It was a little bumpy at times, but he didn't mind at all.  I worried it might make him nervous, since he ironically shares the same fear of heights as me, but he was calm and relaxed the entire flight.

I knew that even though he wasn't nervous, it was probably an emotional moment for him.  Not wanting to wear him out too much, I asked him if he wanted to fly some more, or head back.  He decided it was probably time to head back, so I quickly checked the skies to the left then began a left turn back to the south.

AWOS was saying the wind was favoring niner, but I knew from takeoff that the wind was pretty much straight across, so I decided to overfly midfield and get a good look at the midfield sock as well as the one on the east end.  Wind was actually favoring two-seven, so I tear-dropped in from the south onto the 45 for left-downwind accordingly, making my radio calls.  Descent and landing were as smooth as takeoff, and I taxied us back to the hangar & shut down.

I completed the shutdown & parking checklist, then helped dad out of the plane.  He was still smiling from ear-to ear.  I filled out the tach sheet, thanked the DCFS guys for their help, then we headed inside & I dropped off the sheet at the desk before helping dad to the car.

All the way back I kept complimenting him on how calm he was.  He said he was just in awe, and was taking it all in the whole time, and told me how proud he was of me for getting my license.  We made it back to the nursing home just in time for dinner.  We sat and talked for a while, then I left and headed back south to spend time with my daughter.

This was by far one of the proudest moments of my life.  Only the day I became a father myself surpasses it.  I am very aware of how blessed I am to have had the opportunity to become a private pilot, and to exercise the privileges that accompany the title.  To be able to share this gift with my father will absolutely be one of the highlights of my entire life, and made all the time and effort to get here absolutely worth it.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Saga Ends; An Adventure Begins

Well, this has definitely turned out to be one of the best, and most challenging, years in my life.  As you may have guessed by my lack of blog entries, I've been busy.  And, although I'd like to say I haven't been blogging because I've been busy flying, I can't....yet.  Everything from starting a new relationship, and ending it, to buying a house, and another large purchase that I'm polishing up the details on (stay tuned to the blog - it's a doozy!).

I did have one more 'cleanup' flight before my checkride, but rather than bore you with the details of that mundane flight, I'm going to use this entry to round out the saga of my journey to become a Private Pilot.  After this post, this blog will shift from a record of training flights to a record of adventures...

January 4, 2016

The plan was to meet my CFI at the airport early, get a head-start on the ~1 hr flight to KMNV for my checkride at 0800 CDT, and put some last-minute polishes on my power-on and power-off stalls on the way.  The evening before he had put the Skyhawk in the front of the hangar so we could just pull her out, I could do my preflight, and we'd be on our way.  Best-laid plans...

I arrived at the hangar at 0630 local.  He arrived a few minutes later.  No one else was there.  When we walked out to the hangar, the KingAir and the Citation were both in front of the Skyhawk.  Frustration point.  We had to wait for the FBO crew to get in at 0700 to get them moved and pull the Skyhawk out.  This put us behind our plan by 30 minutes.  It was cold, around 30F.  I was wearing gloves when I could during my preflight, taking them off when necessary.  As a result of this on-off cycle, my preflight took longer.  Another frustration point.  Finally we were seated in 34Q and ready to get started.  Takeoff was uneventful, and we were shortly on our way westward.

There had been recent flooding in Southern Illinois, and the magnitude was very evident from the air.  I'd never seen flooding this extensive up close on the ground, let alone from this vantage point.  It was quite a sight.

Watching the time the entire flight, it became very evident we were going to be pushed to get there on time.  Another frustration point.  With this realization it became clear there would be no time to practice anything on the way.  ANOTHER frustration point.  

We landed at KMNV with around 5 minutes to get in the door and get started.  Of all the times he and I have gotten in and out of this plane, during this time, he got his headset cord tangled.  He had no choice but to untangle it so the DPE could use his.  So I had to stand there, flight bag in hand, and wait.  Frustration level: Volcano.  

After we finally made it in the door, completed introductions, and sorted out the payment for the exam, it was time to get started with the oral portion of the practical exam.  

90 minutes of nervousness, queasiness, and a few stick-to-my guns answers later, I was done with the oral portion.  Result: Satisfactory.  Now, the fun begins. 

Take a look at the picture above.  See those clouds?  They aren't supposed to be there . And most of them had cleared to the East when we got to MNV, but more were just to the West, heading our way, at the same altitude as those in the picture, about 4,500 MSL.  That'll come into play later.  

I could go into detail about every maneuver, and I'd honestly like to, but I'll stick to the ones that gave me the most cause to think I wasn't going to get a satisfactory result (even though he made it clear that if at any time he wasn't satisfied with a maneuver, he'd call the checkride then and there).

The most rattling and frustrating maneuver, which should have been easy on any given day for me, was diverting to another airport during the first leg of the cross-country flight.  Here's where the clouds come into play.  I'd planned for a 6,500 MSL cruising altitude to the airport he'd instructed me to plan for, M71, on the other side of the STL Class B.  The clouds were at 4,500, so he told me no need to re-plan since we're not flying the whole route, we'll just level off at 2,500.  This put me at top-of-climb in, give-or-take, half the time and distance I'd planned for.  

Once we were at cruise, he told me, "Ok, now I want you to get me to a different airport nearby.  I don't care if it's the closest one, just get me there."  Easy, right?  Well, it is, if you know where you are.  I started looking at my sectional and determining general direction of flight based on top of climb - my *planned* top of climb - and calculating roughly how long it would take to get there and how much fuel we'd burn, telling him once the calculations were complete.  Then I flew as planned, but couldn't find the airport.  I was getting nervous, and more frustrated.  Thinking I was farther West than I was.  Then I realized, there should be a 4-lane highway to my left, but it wasn't there.  So I turned back West until I found it, followed it to the town near the airport...but couldn't find the airport.  I advised him I was going to turn back around to the South and see if I'd overflown it.  It was at that moment I caught a glimpse of a taxiway just at the bottom right corner of the windshield.  I said, "Standby on that turn I just said I was making," rocked the right wing down a bit and there was the airport, with very, very poorly-marked runways, right below me.  

He then instructed me to descend, and had me proceed with ground reference maneuvers before telling me to get him back to the airport.  I started to look at the sectional, and he said in a frustrated tone, "No, I want you to look out the window and figure out where you are before you try to figure out where to go."  Embarrassingly, I looked up, and there was MVN about 6 miles off my nose.  I made a location call and started descending to pattern altitude.  

He had me do a short-field landing, and then, since the wind was straight down the main runway, after takeoff, had me change runways to the crosswind runway.  But, he told me the wrong runway - I was landing with a 7-kt left quartering tailwind.  Once I started my roundout, he noticed the wind sock and said, "Oh no, I told you the wrong runway.  I immediately pushed the carb heat in and started to apply power.   "No, no, you're ok go ahead and land, it won't count against you."  I looked at the fact that we were already 1/4 of the way down the runway, retracted flaps to 20 and applied full power, then called my go-around, which I knew was a necessary maneuver to demonstrate, but that's not why I did it.  I didn't feel safe with the landing.  I went straight out, did a right teardop per his instructions, then came in for the crosswind landing.  It wasn't my best, by far, but I put it down & then taxied off on the main runway then the first taxiway to the ramp.  Just before I made it to the hold short line, he blurts out, "Well, you passed!"  



Did he just....?

"Thanks," was my dumbfounded reply.  I didn't take time to process it.  I completed my after-landing checklist, taxied to the FAA office, then completed the parking checklist.  We got out of the plane and headed in for the debrief.  My CFI greeted me as I came in the door.  "Well?"  

"He passed!  But let's sit down and talk this through, I do have some things I really want you to work on."  

We proceeded with the debrief.  Biggest item on the list - turn coordination.  I haven't mentioned it yet, but the turbulence I encountered on this flight was about the worst I'd ever seen, the same as I saw in this area during my long cross-country.  That had me struggling to keep the ball centered almost the entire time.  I know he was taking that into consideration.  In addition, some of the wind gusts were so strong during my maneuvers that we were losing and gaining 500 ft of altitude at a time in about a second, so he gave me some leniency on my altitude margins.  

Then came the talk about the diversion.  "You were just about out of time."  5 minutes is the allotted time to find the airport.  I was at just about 4:50 when I found the field.  "If you had turned that airplane around, I was going to end the checkride there.  You can't just be looking way out in front of you, you have to look right below and in front of the plane as well."   

I agreed with all his assessments, he was right about every single one.  Then we completed the paperwork, and he handed me my temporary certificate.  As of that moment, I was, and am, a certificated private pilot.  The flight back to HNB was surreal.  My CFI, well, former CFI since he was now my first official passenger, and I debriefed the flight along the way, and also talked a little more after we landed.  After we finished talking, we shook hands.  He congratulated me, and I thanked him for everything he taught me.  I got choked up as I pulled out of the parking lot, collected myself, then went to go see my daughter.  

It took about 2 1/2 months for my official certification card to arrive, as the FAA was several weeks behind and backlogged.  

Even then, it took many, many more weeks to really sink in.  I'd done it.  Something I've wanted since my childhood.  A dream I've always had, but never thought I'd be able to fulfill.  After all the delays,  the stops and starts, months at a time between flights due to all the setbacks with 34Q, the weather, illnesses, it finally happened.  I am a pilot.  

As I said at the start of this post, there has been a lot more that has happened this year.  Not all of it is related to aviation, but I'll share the parts that are.  This is just the beginning.  

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven

Friday, January 29, 2016

Short and Sweet


This was a quick flight (two flights in one here since that's how it sits in my logbook).  The plan was for me to fly solo for a couple landings (I needed 0.2 hours solo time) then pick my CFI up and work on stalls & more landings.

The specific plan was to do a soft-field takeoff, then one short field and one soft-field landing solo.  My first landing, which was supposed to be a short-field landing, ended up being a normal landing because I blew my target touchdown point by more than 200 ft.  I taxied back and did a short-field takeoff, then came back in and did a soft-field landing.  I logged 0.5 solo time, nailing down the last requirement once and for all.

It was almost night by the time I picked my CFI up, so we decided to forget stalls and just work on landings.  I did another soft-field takeoff and 2 soft-field landings.  We were both satisfied with my performance and called it a night.

After debrief we scheduled for the following Tuesday with plans to work on brushing up my skills on absolutely everything we could fit in, with my biggest concern being S-turns.  It's finally coming together, and it's looking like I just might get this done before the end of the year after all.

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven

Practice Makes Perfect

I'm struggling to be motivated to go back and blog about the flights leading up to my checkride, but my OCD will not let this go unfinished, so I'm going to do the best I can to recall what each flight consisted of.  Compared to past entries, there won't be much to some of the posts, and for that I apologize.  There were quite a few in the month of December to get me ready, and they're all jumbled in my memory so I'll have to go by my logbook to try and recall them all.  


This was the first flight after the new starter was installed.  They made the call to install a heavy-duty starter, with the logic being if you're going to spend so much money upgrading everything else, you might as well put the best starter on so it won't be an issue down the road.  Let me just tell you, this starter is a beast.  Barely two cranks now and 34Q fires right up.  

This was a dual-instruction flight.  We worked mainly on short-field takeoffs & landings/accuracy landings, and soft-field takeoffs and landings.  6 landings total, 3 of which were night landings.  During debrief we discussed the small amount of solo time I had left after my cross-country to CUL, and decided to knock it out the next evening, with me flying solo for a few landings, then picking him up to go work on stalls and then back for more landing practice.  More on that in the next post, but I'll just mention it didn't quite go as planned.  

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven