Thursday, June 26, 2008

Coming Soon: My Written Exam

So far, almost all of my posting has been about the practical flying side of things (which makes sense, since that's what I'm learning to do), but there is another side: the theory. In other words: ground school.

In case you don't know much about it, let me explain: ground school is basically the same thing as driving school, minus the few hours of driving you actually do. It's all the small, technical rules everyone forgets just a year or two after getting their license because they're not really as important as the tests pretend they are. (For example: did you remember that you "must" park at LEAST 18 inches away from the curb?) For flying, this translates to things like "how many feet should you be above clouds when in class G airspace at night?" The "correct" answer may be 1000', but the practical answer is "far enough away that they aren't a hazard to me."

So anyway, like with driving there isn't just a practical test when you learn to fly. There's a theory portion too. The difference between the two (besides content of the tests, of course) is that the FLYING written exam can be taken many months (I believe up to 24) before you pass your practical exam. So even though I still clock in with only 30.8 hours of flight time -- meaning I have AT LEAST 9.2 hours left, and more likely twice that -- I can take the written and have it apply to my PPL (private pilot's license).

So the only things stopping me from taking my written are (1) studying enough for it that I feel ready to pass (70% is passing) and (2) scheduling the exam. Well, (2) is officially done: I'm taking my written next Tuesday (July 1st) from 6:30pm to 9:00pm (you're allowed 2.5 hours, but I highly doubt it will take that long) at Oxford. There's a flight school right next to Chris's that is certified to let me take it through them.

To anyone reading this now (I'm looking at you, Grandma) or in the future (if anyone is looking to learn to fly themselves), I thought I'd detail a bit about the test itself:

  • The test is 60 questions long, at 2 and a half hours. That's 2.5 minutes per question if you average it out, which is plenty of time.
  • You're allowed to bring a simple calculator, your flight calculator (used for measuring winds and fuel usage) and your ruler/protractor combo (which I forget the formal name of) used for measuring distances and angles.
  • The test can either be done through Laser Grades or CATS (computer-aided testing systems), the latter of which I am using.
  • You need a sign-off from your instructor to take the test, need to schedule it with a testing facility (the school next to my school) and need to register it through the official testing facility (in my case CATS testing).
  • The types of questions that can be found on the test are in several practice test books, including "Jeppesen Private Pilot FAA Airmen Knowledge Test Guide" and "Gleim's Ninth Edition Private Pilot and Recreational Pilot FAA Written Exam" books, both of which I use.
  • [Final bullet] If you want to take practice tests, which I highly recommend, I found two websites which offer them for free:
  1. Multiple tests for everything from VFR, IFR, Commercial, etc. All tests are 60 questions and generated each time (so taking test twice won't give the same 60 questions). Live timer, and emails you your results. Can pause mid-test. Sometimes asks about visuals that the website doesn't provide. Sorts by question categories and gives you percentages by category too. Requires an account (which is free) to take tests. Website is a little slow for me.
  2. You type in how many questions you want so you don't need to dedicate 40 minutes at a time to take the test. Much faster to load with the questions on a single page (instead of 1 question per page like MWE) and also timed, but doesn't show you a count-down until you submit it for grading. No login required, but no pausing either. Some required visuals not provided, but there's an option to not use those in generating the test.

Well, that about covers it. If you're interested in seeing what I've been studying, I suggest taking a glance at the website.

Now it's time I hit the books and get ready for Tuesday! Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Back in the Sky!

Let's start from where I left off: the last lesson I was supposed to have in the Warrior never happened -- bad weather. Go figure. Luckily, since then the 152 has been cleared for flying, so Chris and I set up a lesson for this morning... pending weather.

I woke up to a clear blue sky, and was at the airport by 9:30 doing my preflight to calm winds and no clouds. I find Chris (still finishing up with his last student) so I go pre-flight the 152. The tool used to measure fuel was absent the plane, and Chris said it needed more. Of course, the fuel truck was out of service, so I was convinced this meant I wasn't going up. Turned out Chris had a tank of fuel in the hanger and a hand-crank pump. What luck!

As we got in the plane, Chris said "we'll do 0.5 of touch-and-gos, then maybe I'll send you up for some yourself." A chance of going solo? I wasn't expecting that, nor was I sure I wanted to yet. We got ATIS (which was basically perfect weather) and got ready to take off. Everything was great, though I was a little rusty, but not too bad at all. The new engine has a LOT more power. I kept finding myself giving it too much throttle, since that was the amount I USED to have to give it. Now the 152 flies more like the Warrior (though still not quite that nice). We did 3 landings (Chris wanted to do 4 prior to take-off, but we ran out of time for several reasons, none serious) and each one I did better with. We taxied back and Chris didn't send me solo (maybe because some of my rust was showing, maybe because he had another student coming, I'm not sure), but that was fine with me.

To sum it up: the flying was a nice "get back into it" lesson. Nothing new really learned, just cleaning the rust and getting used to the new power under the hood. Chris says we're just going to do 30 minutes of flying per lesson until I get my written done, when the excitement will really start again. I'm going to try to get that done within a week -- two tops. I'll post again later about that test.

Now, to hit the books!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Next Flight

Tomorrow will mark my 3-weeks-since-flying date. The 152 still hasn't been finished yet, so it was stating to look like it would be some time before I got to fly again. Then I remembered the Piper Warrior -- the larger of the two rental planes.

Chris hasn't had me flying that because (1) it's more expensive, about $20/hour more, and flying lessons are expensive enough and (2) I want to learn on the 152, since it's harder to fly -- that way I'm a better pilot by the time I get my license. At the point I'm at, Chris says, learning on the Warrior won't give me much experience towards completing my license on the 152. Because of all that, I've been waiting almost 3 weeks for the 152.

Well, I called Chris a few days ago and said I was tired of waiting. I want to go flying -- even if it's in the Warrior. So my next lesson is Saturday (either 10am or 2pm -- Chris will get back to me on that). Even if it's 1/2 hour of touch-and-go's, I'll be happy. I could use to practice landings, especially since I DO want to learn the Warrior.

It will be like doing my training a bit out of order: instead of finishing up my license on the 152, then learning how to fly the Warrior I'm going to start learning how to fly the Warrior, then finish up my license. Although as soon as the 152's back, I'll be right back to my license and finishing my Warrior training after that.

Now let's just hope Saturday has good weather. About time I get back up there...