Friday, May 30, 2008

Still Grounded

Weather's been GREAT this past week! Seriously - blue skies, calm winds, sunny and warm. So of course, this is the time that the 152 needs a new engine. Bummer.

To anyone afraid of flying: no, there was no problems with the current engine, it was just old. Pilots are VERY careful with things, and after a certain number of hours airplanes get whole new motors. So while it sucks that I still haven't flown since the Simsbury trip, when I do get flying again the plane will be faster, smoother and safer than I've ever seen it before - and that's saying something.

Just to add to the safety factor (and the delay in my flying again), Chris actually has to put in 10 hours of flight time on the new engine before he's allowed to teach me in it again, just to make sure everything's good. Extra safe, but not flying in this weather is still dissapointing.

The plan now is to meet with Chris tomorrow for ground work. I need to get my written wrapped up so we can focus on the flying from here out.

Hopefully I'll be up again soon... I'm getting tired of waiting.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Weather & Timing

Just a quick update: I haven't been up since the flight to Simsbury, though I'm craving it more and more. The weather in CT has been rainy, windy and cold. My next lesson is planned for Friday, assuming things can clear up a bit by then. (Couldn't fly last weekend, since Chris took it off, so I ended up going to the Muhlenberg 2008 graduation instead.)

Well, that's about it. Ironically enough I have to spend my time not flying (due to weather) studying for the written (mostly the weather part). Weather sucks.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Back-and-Forth to Simsbury

Despite the winds being "calm" yesterday afternoon, by the time I got to Oxford they were 180 at 10 (or, in English: coming from due South at 10 knots, or about 11mph). Ten knots isn't bad, but the fact that it was perfectly aligned with the runway made it even better. Chris and I took off only minutes after I arrived and finished preflight (normally we do some ground-work first, but we saved that for after this time).

Using my flight plan we started flying towards Simsbury (which is actually inside Bradley International's airspace). I made note of the checkpoints as we flew over them -- north of Waterbury, over Bristol, railroad tracks -- and we contacted Bradley Approach and requested flight following.

Chris had told me about flight following before, and it was just as he described. The ATC will give you a number to squawk and will tell you about other traffic in the area, if you're off course, etc. ("To squawk" means to set your transponder to a certain number so ATC can track your plane; normal VFR flight is done with a transponder code of 1200; if you have an emergency you tune in to 7700; if your radios fail you tune in to 7600; if your plane is hijacked: 7500 -- this way ATC knows that something's wrong and can help you accordingly.) On the way ATC spoke to us "984, Baron at 1 o'clock 2500, report visual." We were flying at 3500, so we were 1000' above the guy, who was a little to the right of us (hence "1 o'clock"). Once we saw him, we let ATC know. That was the only thing they said to us until we disconnected and squawked back to 1200 for our landing at Simsbury. (I said Simsbury was in Bradley airspace, but technically it's below... I won't get into the details here, but just know that airspace changes with altitude.)

Chris did 90% of the landing, but that was fine, since I was so nervous. The runway at Simsbury is only 2200' long, whereas Oxford is a whole 5800'. Also, Simsbury's is a lot more narrow. Even though I was nervous, Chris was very reassuring: we normally land fast in case of an emergency, but with a short runway that's not an option. Land slow. No problem. We taxied back (there's no taxi way at Simsbury, you have to taxi on the runway, which was strange) and took off. You have to hold the brakes when you first give throttle in a short field to maximize your speed before taking off. It's what I expected, but we still managed to take off in 1/2 the runway. I was feeling much better about short fields.

While at Simsbury we didn't see another plane (aside from the ones parked there). As we climbed out we decided to stay below Bradley's airspace (again: I'll save that for another time, when I have illustrations) so we didn't have to deal with talking to them on the way out -- that way I got some experience both ways.

En route back to Oxford Chris showed me his parents house (since we were flying over it). I pointed in the general direction of my house.
He asked, "do you know where Oxford is?"
"Over there somewhere, but I can't see it yet."
"Me neither, but you're right that it's over there. Want to show me your house?"
"Umm... ok!"

So we found the roads by my house, traced them there and I pointed it out to Chris. No one was home, or I would have called and told them to look up as we circled. Instead we flew back to Oxford with no problems.

The landing was great, which was nice, since I really wanted a good one. The whole trip the wind was smooth, though apparent (flying to Simsbury gave us a tailwind, so it took less time than on the way back). That was true of the landing as well.

Afterwards, Chris and I discussed our next steps. We're flying to Grotton soon, then "about a week later" I'll do my solo to it. (I'm a little skeptical of that estimate, but I'd happily be wrong, as long as I'm well prepared.) All we have left to study are weather, short & soft fields, cross countries and a few other minor things. We're actually starting to get closer and closer to finishing, which is weird. Soon I'm no longer going to just be "learning to fly" -- soon I'll be a pilot!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Navigation & Simsbury Airport

The plan was to fly from Oxford to Simsbury's short strip last Satuday (the only lesson I've had so far since my last post). When I got to the airport, it was too windy to land at such a small airport, Chris said. Of course, someday I'd like to be able to land anywhere under any conditions, but I need to take things one step at a time right now.

So instead of flying to Simsbury and landing (per the flight plan I made), we flew until we saw the airport, then practiced diversions. That is, we practiced changing course and going to another airport while flying. The idea is, if you're going from Airport A to B, and on the way you can no longer land at B (covered in fog, problem on the runway, etc.), you may want to go to C. So, you need to decide which airport C is, if you can make it (fuel and weather) and how to get there -- all while flying the plane.

Really, it's not that hard: just look at your sectional (a map for flying), find where you're going, make sure you have fuel, and turn the airplane towards it.

We did that a few times, Chris kept said "uh oh, can't land at Simsbury. Divert to Meriden," then "Meriden had an airplane land on the runway with the gear up -- runway's closed. Divert to Grotton," followed by "Grotton has bad weather, divert to New Haven." This went on for a few minutes, but I got the hang of it quickly. The fact that the air was bumpy was by far the hardest part of the flight.

On the way back to Oxford I "lost my motor" (which happens a lot, since Chris has a tendency to pull out all the power and tell me "you lost your motor"). I picked a field, trimmed for 65 knots and slowly started to descend. We didn't even get very low, but I thought it was the best "lost your motor" I've done yet; I'm quite certain I could have landed without so much as denting the airplane.

Overall it was a very simple trip. The bumpy air caused me to have a very bad landing, and the fact that I haven't had one I'm happy with in a while is starting to annoy me. I'll have to get some practice in soon.

My next flight is tonight; we're planning on heading back to Simsbury. I called ATIS at noon, and there was no wind and no clouds. Here's to hoping I can land on a 2200' runway...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Solo Video!

I almost forgot to post my solo video! Here it is:

I took a few still shots too (nothing you don't see in the video), but I'll post those later when I have that link. Expect an update to this post tonight (or tomorrow latest).

UPDATE: I ended up putting the photos into this post instead. Though if you want to see them, they can be found here.

My First Night Flight

The lesson I had planned for yesterday happened, which was good, because the next few days are calling for bad weather (in fact, I just spoke to my instructor -- we're not going today, and tomorrow's not looking good either).

Last night's lesson started later than planned. One of Chris's other students was flying the plane around a little when I got there, so we didn't really start until nearly 7pm. Even then, we started with ground school. He was teaching me navigation, which I understand the theory of already, but the actual practice of calculating your routes using pilot tools is a bit more technical than I'd expected. I think I picked up on it quickly, and I'm eager to practice filing out some flight plans myself, but I forgot to get the template (there's a standard flight plan chart Chris has) before I left. Maybe I'll scan one in for a future post -- navigation is going to be heavily involved for awhile.

Anyway, by the time we were done with navigation it was getting dark. Chris hadn't planned on it taking that long, but I got into it and had a lot of questions. We went outside and Chris called to get the plane fueled up (at Oxford, the fuel is delivered by truck, though at many other airports fueling up is like it is with a car where you taxi up to pumps). That took awhile too.

We finally got in the plane by around 8:30 and taxied out to the runway. Everything was fine in the run-up, so we called for clearance to take-off. Even though not a single plane had taken off or landed since we stepped outside, 6 in a row suddenly came in to land. After the 5th one, ATC let us slip in. The ride was surprisingly bumpy, thanks to the incoming storm the brought rain all last night. The worst part though was landing.

Landing at night SUCKS. Taking off is fine; flying around is fine -- it's just like at daytime (though navigating without being able to see as well will become a future challenge, I can tell). Landing at night, however, makes it tough to tell how far off the runway you are when you start your flair. If you level-off too early, you're flairing high and the plane will fall -- from whatever height you're at -- onto the runway when you lose your speed. It's like jumping off a ledge thinking it's 2' when it's really more like 7' and landing with a forceful THUD! If you don't level-off early enough though, you land smack-down on the runway with the nose wheel (or, best case: on all three). Even going 45nmph on an angle into the ground is still quite unpleasant.

In fact, had I started this blog a while back, these would probably be exactly the descriptions I would have used for daytime landings. The difference is: I'm half-decent at those now ("half-decent" not "really good" -- you never want to get too cocky when flying or you'll make bad choices). Landing at night is like learning to land all over again. I'll just have to practice, but I want to get good... or at least half-decent.

Tonight: back to studying for my written exam, maybe another practice test and trying to see if I can find the flight plan template online so I can try some of those. I'm looking forward to getting up again: we're flying to Simsbury Airport which is supposed to be frighteningly short!

Hopefully the weather clears up soon...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Solo'd Again!

Wow, it's been a while since I've updated this, sorry. To be honest, I've forgotten about it with everything else I've been up to.

Anyway, an update is in order...

So after my first solo, I didn't fly again for about 3 weeks. Just between being busy on the weekends and weather, I had a hard time getting in the air again. Chris decided I needed a "non-training lesson" where we flew up in the Warrior through the valleys of North Western Connecticut -- literally below the hills on either side. It was such a wonderful flight, and gave me just one more reason to want to fly!

After that flight, I had another short stint without getting up much. Once Chris and I figured out that I had plenty of time to come directly after work (without leaving early), I was able to get up flying more often again. Last week into last weekend I flew 3 times in 4 days, soloing on last of those 3. I'll cover the solo in more detail in a minute.

Since that solo (now 9 days ago) I haven't been up again. Work, softball and Alli have kept me busy enough that, with some pretty bad weather last week, I've spent the week on the ground. Next flight will hopefully be a "lunch flight" tomorrow, or an after work one on Wednesday. Chris said I was 3/4ths of the way through my license the Wednesdsay before my last solo, but seeing as I STILL have less than 30 hours under my belt, I've got a lot of flying left, even if some of it is just bombing around to rack up the hours. Either way, it's going to be fun!

As for that solo, here's how it went...

Chris and I went up, as usual, on Saturday. The two previous days we'd been up (Wed. & Thur.) were GREAT! Chris had told me he would have sent me for my solo after Wednesday's lesson had it not gotten too late (the sun was going down fast), which tipped me off that it was coming soon. Thursday came and went, but he didn't send me solo. I wasn't surprised, since he was talking most of that flight. When he's considering sending me solo, he stops talking and starts watching me. That's what happened Saturday.

"Use your sectional (fancy word for 'flying map') and navigate to the practice area," he instructed me. That was easy: we've gone to the practice area (which is due north of the airport) for almost every lesson. I could find it blindfolded, nevermind with the help of a map. We got there quickly and I pointed out where things on the map were on the ground.

"Good, now turn 090 and tell me what you see."

"Due east? Hartford. Just to the right are the two blinking towers near Robertson (Airport)."

"Good, what side of the towers is Robertson on?"

"The side closer to us."

"Good. Use your sectional to find Waterbury (the grass-strip airport)."

"Umm... ok...."

That took me a minute, since it's a bit harder to find, but since I knew where it was from experience, and with the help of the map, I was able to find it. Once I did, Chris instructed me to head back to Oxford. At this point, we hadn't been flying for very long, and Chris was doing his "quieter than usual" routine. I was expecting to solo.

On the flight back, I stayed well north of the airport (instead of heading directly toward it) until I got ATIS (the weather briefing) and called up the tower to let them know I was 10nm north. Chris told me that if I'm 10nm out and don't have ATIS yet, turn around and get it before breaking the 10 mile range. We flew back and I landed, but it wasn't a good landing, I thought. The crosswind was strong. I taxied back to the terminal and we got out.

Chris told me I was ready as I was getting out of the plane. He signed off my logbook outside and told me to not take too long, since bad weather was supposed to come in.

"If it gets bad and you don't think you can land here, fly to Robertson (it's less windy there) and call my cell."
"If you need to reach me, I'll be on radio, channel 122.9"

I got in the plane and did everything I needed to. I was nervous, but more-so about the poor take-off and landing than the solo part. As I was performing my engine run-up, the left magneto (part of what keeps the engine spinning) was irregular. Running the engine on it gave a 300rpm drop, when only 100 is expected. I tried it again. Same thing.

I took a moment to decide what to do. I thought I knew how to clean the magneto (run the engine rich on high rpms for a minute or two), but I wanted to make sure by talking to Chris. I tuned in to 122.5 and called for him. No answer. Crap. Ok, I'm on my own. Now what? I knew what to do: try to clean the magneto the way I'd seen Chris do it before. If that didn't fix it, I'd call ground control and taxi back. There's no need to take off if you're not 100% comfortable with the situation, and I wasn't.

Running the engine mixture rich (that means: a high fuel-to-air ratio for the engine) on high rpms for a minute and the magneto was fine. I was still a little shaken, but I was ready to go. The tower gave me clearance and I took off. That take off sucked too: I veered to the left of the runway before taking off, and pulled a little too much back on the yoke. I was plenty fast that it was alright, but it still wasn't the right way to fly. Chris saw my take-off with his uncle (also a great pilot) and he said my climb looked very nice. Apparently he couldn't see the botched take-off, but that's fine.

I flew north to Bantam Lake, about 12nm due north of Oxford. On the way I took a few photos and a video to prove I was flying alone. I tried going weightless (0 G's), but I didn't feel safe descending that fast. I should've pulled up, then pushed the nose over, but didn't think of it. Maybe next time. On the way back from the lake I realized I was 10nm out and hadn't gotten ATIS, so I did a 360 and got the weather information. Strong crosswind. As I expected, but still unpleasant news. I called the tower and got cleared to land.

As I came in, the landing again sucked. The crosswind made me nervous and I ended up letting the nose down too early. I know better than that, and practice will be my best solution. I did it though! Solo'd away from the airport! I taxied back, thanked the ATC and saw Chris. He commented on my nice climb, asked how it was (I told him about forgetting ATIS and doing the 360) and he laughed.

"Well good job."

I told him about the problem with the magneto and asked why he wasn't on 122.5 like he said.

"I said 122.9!"
"Well, you fixed it yourself?"
"Yeah. Just remembered what you've done."
"Good. That's all there is to you."

Overall, it was a great flight, even if I was nervous. It showed me I can overcome the small problems, and I came fix my mistakes. A little bit of the unexpected now will better prepare me for it should I ever encounter it later.

Now I can't wait to get back up again.