Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Not Tonight

Chris just called. Less than 5 miles visibility means no solo tonight. In fact, it means there's nothing Chris and I can really spend our time on except just messing around. It was my call, but we cancelled.

Trying again tomorrow. Hope these thunderstorms avoid Connecticut.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cross Country & Rain

Well, the rain went away in time for the weekend! In fact, the weather forecast for Saturday was "calm winds, clear below 12,000' and visibility greater than 10 miles." In other words, perfect conditions. When I got to the airport though, Chris seemed skeptical. He showed me AviationWeather.gov and showed how everything was great -- except the dew point. You see, the closer the tempature and the dew point are, the more hazy the conditions are. Well, turns out they were pretty close on Saturday.

After telling me we weren't going to Groton (which has only 1 "T" in it, oops!), Chris said we could still go up and possibly divert somewhere else. So we went, using the flight plan I made the previous night.

The ride was smooth (except under one cloud), but hazy the whole way. I kept waiting for Chris to tell me to divert to another airport, but I kept finding my checkpoints en route and he seemed pleased with that. He showed me how to use the VOR, which I grasped the basics of, and we used that until Groton was in sight. I got ATIS and called the tower. The guy there was CRANKY! Chris warned me that all ATCs are like this, and that the guys at Oxford are just really cool. Great.

There was a lot of traffic at Groton, and the ATC's voice was speaking faster than I could listen. As soon as I finished talking to him, he'd already be on the radio again talking back to me -- so fast that I'd miss the "984" that he'd start his reply with to indicate he was talkign to me. I had to turn to Chris a few times and ask "was that directed to us?"

We did our landing and taxiied back, giving me a chance to see the airport a little. There are two runways (and a third that had been closed down) which cross each other to make an "X", runway 23/5 and 15/33. We landed -- and took off -- on runway 23, right over the water. After we climbed to 1000' we turned right and Chris made me fly back with no navigation tools: no flight plan, no map, no VOR and without the digital system (which basically acts like a digital VOR). All I could use was my eyes and memory. I made a mistake at one point of thinking Meriden was Waterbury, but corrected it as we got closer.

My big mistake of the flight actually took place within the traffic pattern. We were #2 to land, so I was extending my downwind before turning to base. Then I made a stupid mistake -- part out of stupid reasoning and partly out of just not thinking -- I extended my base. Here's a visual:

The problem is that the traffic patter isn't just flown to the left of the runway, but to the right of it too. Sure enough, I flew into the right side when I extended my base, while there was traffic there. I never saw any, so I couldn't have been about to hit it, but Chris took the controls and jerked the plane to the left. I don't know if it was really as dramatic as he made it seem, but you can be sure I won't forget a sudden 60 degree bank left just before landing. That's a mistake I'll be thinking about more when I'm in the pattern from now on.

We landed and Chris told me that (aside from that stupid mistake) my navigation was great. My radios with Groten could have been better (I called them "Oxford" before take-off, and told them we were North-East -- when we were really North West -- when entering their space, though I corrected myself on that one), but overall he was VERY impressed. He sincerely didn't expect us to make that flight, but I had done well. If the weather on Sunday was good, I'd be making the trip solo. I was nervous at the idea of that, but if Chris trusted me, I could too. He has pretty high expectations.

I left that afternoon praying for good weather.

That night I woke up between 4 and 5 am to pouring rain and sounds of thunder. "Shit," I thought. "Flying's off." When I woke up around 9:30 (what good's the weekend if you can't sleep in?) the rain and thunder had passed, but it was cloudy and wet outside. Chris called and we agreed to meet anyway, but not go flying unless it really cleared up. Thirty minutes later there was signs of the sun and Chris called again. We were flying. I called 1-800-WX-BRIEF to get a forecast to Groton, and they warned me of thunderstorms on my route. So we were flying, but I wasn't going to solo even if Chris let me.

I got to the airport and things were looking down again. Any signs of the sun had hidden behind the clouds. Chris and I sat down and he explained VORs to me in more detail -- how they work, how to read them, etc. Then he pulled out the "pre-cross-country solo exam." I wasn't prepared for this; I quit studying after I passed the written. I filled it out as best I could, certain I failed. After I handed it to Chris he informed me that the score didn't matter: I just had to go over it with him. In fact, he thought a few of the questions were wrong as he graded it, but it was done, and that was the important thing.

We checked the weather and he suggested a few touch-and-gos. I informed him I would not do them solo, but that if he was up for it, alright. So we went for "three landings" Chris said. When we got to pattern altitude (1700' at Oxford) visibility was 5 miles at best. I made a tighter turn from base to final to not repeat past mistakes and came in for the landing. Chris told me to perform a go-around, so I gave it full throttle, carb heat (I was thinking of the Goodspeed incident as I did it) and the first notch of flaps up. Chris radioed that we were doing the go around. Second and final notches of flaps, sequentially. I nailed it.

Just before turning to base some rain appeared on the windsheild. I asked Chris if we should land it, cause I wasn't looking to fly through rain. "Nope, we do one more," he said.

While on final it was raining more. I wanted to touch-down and stop. "You sure?" I asked.
"Positive," Chris said. So we did the touch-and-go.

Upon the final turn to downwind I found myself entering a cloud (which Chris called "fog"; I don't see a difference) at 1700'. We decended to 1600' to get clear of it, but I had had about enough. The visibility must have been down to 3 miles and it was still raining. We performed the final landing (worse than the previous one) and taxiied back.

Overall it wasn't too bad. Chris said I "freaked out", but I just don't think Chris has ever seen me freak out. I thought I was using good judgement to say "hey, let's not fly through rain." It wasn't until we finished that Chris said it was good practice in case I ever find myself in that situation. Good point. Thinking about it that way I wish we'd done more practice. He's always got a good reason for what he does -- I'm just a little to slow to pick up on it sometimes.

The next flight is schedule for 6pm on Tuesday. Weather pending, I'll solo to Groton then. Wish me luck.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rain Rain Rain

Just a short update. This week I was really hoping to have three lessons: the nights of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (today). Tuesday and Wednesday were both cancelled due to weather (rain, fog, etc.) and today's even worse. For now, Chris and I are playing it by ear. Hopefully this weekend will open up, since I really need to get some cross-countries and night flight done, and will be staying in town for a change.

On a side note, Chris told me he got locked in the airport bathroom last night. With no way out and no way to contact anyone for help, he BROKE THROUGH THE WALL to get to the other bathroom. So now there's a Chris-sized hole between the men's and women's bathrooms in the hanger. Poor guy was stuck in there for 90 minutes with no sense of time, no windows and no help. It's a good thing he's got the attitude he does.

Anyway, I'll make another post when I find out about the next lesson. Here's hoping to rain goes away...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Solo and a Treat

I got to the airport at about 6:10pm, earlier then normal. I preflighted the 152 (while Chris finished up with his prior student) and went inside. Matt (the student before me) was leaving as I sat down and Chris asked to see my logbook. I handed it to him, but was confused. I wondered if he was going to give me some sort of endorsement or sign-off, but he was just checking to make sure my math was correct, and to see if I was low on anything.

Turns out I was: I only had 2.1 hours of solo time, and I need something like 10 before I can take my test. Even if ALL I did from now until my check ride was solo flights I still couldn't do it in exactly 40 hours -- not that I was going to anyway. Some of that time will be done during my solo cross-country and solo long cross-country (a long cross-country is one in excess of 150 miles), but those together will be 5 hours, tops. I needed more.

"Go have fun. I'll be here when you land," Chris told me. No instruction on where to go, what to do, etc. Just, "if you have any problems, come back here." So I went!

I'm getting used to this whole "flying solo" thing, in that I can do it without thinking or worrying too much. I got into the plane and made a quick phone call to my friend Johnny before I took off: "I'm going flying. Be outside in 20 minutes and I'll fly over your house." Now I know that sounds bad, but I was at least 2000' AGL the whole time, and had wanted to explore over by where he lived for a while. Besides, I wanted to practice turns around a point, and his house seemed like as good a point as any.

Nothing unusual happened on the way up. I got cleared off runway 36 for a NE departure, and after a smooth run-up I did just that. The only spot worth mentioning was that once I completed my run-up and requested take-off from the tower, they said, "984 take-off runway 36 without delay." The "without delay" part was key. I had noticed he had just cleared another plane to come in for a landing, so I was expecting him to send me up after him. Nope, he let me go -- I just had to do it fast. So I did, without any problems. It was a little exciting though, seeing as it was something Chris and I hadn't really practiced before this.

So upon reaching 2700' I flew towards Waterbury and traced I-84. I passed by Johnny's house going East once before I saw it, so I turned around and went back, getting it in sight this time. I paged him on my phone, just to notify him I was overhead (but never spoke on it -- since I wouldn't be able to hear anything anyway).

I did three circles over his house (he told me later he did see me, though I wasn't sure if I saw him) before heading NW towards my practice area. I kept the radios tuned to 118.47, Oxford Tower's frequency, to listen for traffic. Supposedly there was another plane NE of the airport where I was, but I never found him, so clearly he wasn't too close. Flying from Waterbury to the practice area a lot more emergency fields showed up, and a lot less hills meant perfectly calm air. I continued West as I had in a previous solo, but with visibility better this time I opted to go further. More hills prompted me to fly higher -- up to 4500' the moment before I turned around (4500' is an East heading, while I was flying West, but I kept climbing until I decided to turn around just to be safe -- keeping a lookout for traffic the whole time). I saw one helicopter above me while I was still at about 3500', but we were never anywhere close.

I went as far as Candlelight Airport (untowered, but I called to warn any traffic I was in the area) which was surrounded by water. Chris said he'd be taking me here for short and soft fields, so this trip helped familiarize me with the area. After getting there I almost instantly turned around. I was doing a good job of checking instruments (is my heading indicator aligned properly? fuel shut-off valve still on? transponder set to Alt?). Oops! I forgot setting my transponder to Alt, so I switched it. It wasn't a big deal (and I told Chris after), but I should've caught it. Next time I'll be more mindful of it -- like my carb heat from the Goodspeed flight.

Flying back was a breeze. I got ATIS and called tower, who told me to enter left traffic and call mid-field down-wind. I was careful to lose altitude (by using less throttle, of course!) steadily on my flight back so as not to repeat the mistake I made with the bumpy landing on my last solo. Seeing as this landing was in the pattern it gave me more buffer room to get my altitude right so I'd be at 1700' by the time I called tower. Everything went fine, including my not-perfect-but-by-no-means-bad landing (started coming in high again, and touched down slightly bumpy). I was pleased.

When I got back to the airport I performed the "after landing" checklist and tied the plane down. I forgot to mention last time, but Chris warned me that if I pass my check ride, then don't tie down the plane properly I will FAIL! I NEED to remember to tie down the plane after my check ride. I went inside looking for Chris, but he was taxiing a plane over from the other side of the airport. (There are hangers and parking on both sides of Oxford.) When he got back, he asked me how things went and we talked for a few minutes. Next week (Tues, Wed, Thurs) we're hoping to go to Grotton, then have me solo to Grotton, plus one day of buffer time, if we need it.

Then Chris asked if I wanted to go for a ride. Him and his cousin Mike (he calls him Mikey) were taking a REALLY nice plane through the pattern once to test it out and see how it handled after Chris's uncle did some work on it. With a 300HP engine, 6 leather seats, GPS, retractable gear, one turbo prop, etc., this thing was a BEAST.

I climbed in the back for a joyride, and after having some trouble getting my door closed (this was the first time Chris was ever actually mean to me, remarking "you can fly the plane by yourself, but you need me to explain how to close the door") we were off. I wish I remembered what kind of plane it was -- some type of Piper, but it was so powerful that Chris was climbing at about 1500 feet per minute and it was going steady. It had so many technical bells and whistles that when he got close to another plane in the pattern a voice came on saying "traffic, traffic" and it appeared on one of the radars. So not just did this thing have the muscles to fly fast, it had the brains too.

Chris's landing was hard -- harder than the solo I'd had earlier. He taxied the three of us back in, then offered to take me up in the Bonanza, which was supposedly even faster. I wanted to, but it was after 8:30 and I had to finish laundry and get ready for my weekend (down in D.C.) so I left. Hopefully I'll get another chance to in the future sometime.

All-in-all it was a great night of flying! Next week should be even better!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Hood & One Wheel

Last night's lesson was mostly just Chris and I talking, but seeing as we weren't going for the cross country, that's fine. I've now got about 36.5 hours, so I'll definitely have the magic number of 40 soon. (For those who don't know, 40 is the legal minimum to take your test.)

When I first got there, Chris took me inside and pulled out a pile of papers. Each page was a lesson we were supposed to cover. He went through them one at a time: "steep turns, climbs, descents... done... practice area solo... done..." Twenty-two pages, and what we have left is: cross countries, night flight, foggle flight (more on this soon), a little more navigation and weather, and the respective solos. What caught most of my attention was Chris's comment: "You're almost done."

Today, Chris decided we were using the foggles. Foggles are these big sunglasses you wear that cover everything except the very bottom of your field of vision. When you're in a cockpit, the only thing you can see is the instruments, as if you'd flown into a cloud -- or fog. (Fog + goggles = foggles.) Chris doesn't like teaching this lesson since it makes you focus on flying "by the number," something he discourages for VFR flight. (After all, the V in VFR stands for Visual whereas the I in IFR stands for instrument.)

He also gave me tips on doing a checklist from memory: scan the panels in a clockwise fashion starting at 6 o'clock. this way you start by making sure the fuel switch is on (located on the floor between pilot seats), then make sure mixture and throttle are set properly (for whatever you're doing), carb heat, check the engine gauges to make sure there's no overheating or anything, then the key and master switch, the 6 main instruments, the radios, RPMs, circuit breakers and then flaps. All in all it looks like this:

[Click the image for full version.]

During take off he had me close my eyes and lean my head back to get a "tumbling sensation" so I could experience what it can feel like when you give it throttle through the clouds. I didn't get the sensation. "I never did either," Chris told me. Maybe it was a good sign.

After take off he had me put the foggles on and climb to 2500'. He'd keep an eye out for traffic. As soon as we got to almost that height I "lost my motor" (Chris pulled the throttle out).

"Uhh... can I take off the foggles?"
"Hahaha, yeah."
"That field."
"Ok, go for it."

I didn't set up my landing very well because Chris wanted me to do the "all around the cockpit" checklist. I managed to pick my field and perform that checklist while only losing 500' though. Even though I was too high coming in for my landing, Chris was happy with my efficiency. I probably could have landed in any of the fields surrounding the one I picked with my excess altitude, but "you never change fields." Makes sense, though in a real emergency if I found myself too high for one, you can bet I wouldn't nose-dive into it instead of just going for a better one.

We climbed back to altitude, then Chris had me put the foggles back on. "Give me an altitude of 2700' and a heading of 200." I did, though it was a little sloppy. "Ok, get down to 2500' and a heading of 270." Less sloppy. I asked Chris if I could turn the to heading, then lose altitude, but he said I should be doing both at the same time, then demonstrated:

He chose a heading (360) and an altitude (2300) and instead of simply banking and diving, he gave it a slight turn and pulled some power, using trim as needed. I didn't think about controlling climb/decent via power (which I should know by now), but the next two headings he gave me after that were much better.

"Ok, now close your eyes completely. We're going to do unusual attitudes."

This is the fun part. I close my eyes and Chris turns the plane into a roller-coaster for a few seconds, then had me open my eyes (this time seeing only the instrument panel) and correct any problems. The first time we were in a very steep right bank pitched way too high. I corrected it and leveled the plane. The attitude indicator has a little orange airplane in it, with a blue sky and brown ground, which helps a LOT for this exercise. Chris performed one more (shallow left bank, diving towards the ground). I fixed this one even better, and Chris was satisfied.

Chris made me fly back with the foggles on, giving me altitudes and headings while he did radios and looked for traffic. It was easy enough, and I probably could have done radios myself, but I wasn't going to object. (There's an instrument by the radios in our 152 that tells you how many miles and at what heading you are from any airport you tune into, which would make it easy to tell the tower how far out you are while wearing foggles.) Upon entering the traffic pattern he had me remove the foggles and proposed a new game for us to play, and compete against each other. No matter what it was, I knew I was going to lose.

"I'm going to do the first landing, then you're going to do exactly what I do, OK?"
"I'll do my best."

Chris comes in for the landing, gentle and smooth, but VERY fast and touches down on JUST the right wheel, rolling most of the way before the left and finally nose-wheel also touched down. He handed me the controls to complete the touch-and-go. I was impressed, but confused.

"I don't have to land on one wheel, do I?" I asked. Stupid question.
"Of course! I said you had to do it exactly how I did."
"Well, I'll try. Just save us if you need to."

We flew the pattern (Chris still on radios) and were coming in for a full-stop. I started high, but Chris had me pitch the nose down. I would have liked to keep the altitude until I was closer to the runway, but Chris is the boss. Coming in to land I was much slower than Chris -- about normal landing speed. I banked shallow to the right (not as steep as his) and felt the right wheel touch. I held it for maybe a second before the left wheel touched-down too. I tried to get it back up so I was just on the one, but I didn't have the speed. Finally, at the last second, I let the nose-wheel touch.

Chris told me what I already knew: "you weren't going fast enough to ride the one wheel."
"I did get the right wheel down first though." It was a small victory, but I was glad to take it.
"Yeah, but I did it longer, so that one's my point."

When we got back Chris and I talked more about what we had left. He said we'd continue that game, eventually getting to hop from one wheel to the other -- back and forth -- until we landed. At first I wasn't sure I liked that idea, but then I realized how good that would make me at landings. If I can make the plane dance on my landings, touching down two-wheels when I'm solo (or with passengers) would be a walk in the park.

It was nearly 9, and we'd only flown for 0.8 hours, but it was good to lay out what we had left. My next lesson is tonight (Thursday), then hopefully next week we're going to finally go to Grotton, then I'll go solo.

I can't wait!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Flying Free

As of my last post I didn't think I'd be flying again until this week. I was wrong. I got to go back up on Saturday for what Chris thought would be a short lesson, since he had stuff to do. I got there a little early, but as soon as I was done pre-flighting Chris was ready to climb in and take off. There was a HUGE Gulfstream starting up right next to us, and that thing was LOUD. Chris was climbing into the airplane to get away from the noise, which I completely understood. Chris pointed out these "noise reducers" attached to the back of each engine. "A million dollars a side," he said. Damn, for a million dollars they sure didn't sound like they worked.

We taxiied out, took off and just stayed in the pattern. Everything was normal, including my normal mistakes (slowing my climb at around 1300'-1500' and creeping my nose in towards the airport on my downwind). Chris reminded me of these and I fixed them. Two more things to fix.

We had to extend out downwind for traffic that was ahead of us, but everything went fine. Coming in for our touch-and-go my landing was GREAT! Chris started saying "if you land like that again--" but got cut off when I started flailing on my taxi and made him jump. Once I got back in the air I asked what he was saying. "I was going to say that if you land like that again I'd send you solo," which he'd suggested prior to starting this lesson, "but not after that taxi." Damn, cost myself the chance to solo today!

We climbed better this time, but still not as smooth as I would have liked. I kept looking back at the altimiter and noticing I still wasn't at 1700'. I also kept myself from creeping in as much, but since Chris and I were talking I forgot to set up for landing and started extending my downwind leg of the pattern like last time. Chris had to point it out. Eventually I would have realized, but who knows how far north I would have been by then!

Coming down Chris radio'd "984, request full stop, taxi to Classic Air." Seeing as it had been only a half-hour, I suspected my solo was coming. After I executed another perfect landing (and this time I stayed straight on the runway) Chris had me go back to Classic Air and he got out. "Show me your stuff for a solo," so I did. Driver's license, medical, with sign off and date and logbook endorsement with date. Chris had the plane refueled so I had plenty, then told me to "go have fun." He suggested I fly up to the practice area (about 15 miles due north), then head west (since I've never been out there) and scope it out. Before I got back in the plane after the refueling was done, Chris shook my hand and told me he wouldn't be here when I got back. That felt strange, knowing he was just sending me up free, but also really really good knowing he had that much confidence in me.

I got in, did radios and taxiied just fine. Did my run-up, including emergeny preperation. I got cleared for take-off and stayed in the pattern until I was to break north. For a 152 that thing climbed FAST with Chris out of it! I was at 1700' before I had to turn cross-wind (the first turn of the flight pattern). I departed north, and once I was beyond 5 miles of the airport I requested frequency change, but ended up leaving it alone since Oxford was the closest traffic I really wanted to hear about.

By the time I go to Bantam Lake it started getting hazy. I could still make out the shoreline and Oxford, which was plenty, but I noticed the change. I went due west over two small lakes and another big one (and found a lone airplane flying east, about 800' below me to the left) before I decided the haze was getting too thick to fly over this hillym unfamiliar area. I found the last landmark I wanted to (a river to my 10 o'clock) before I did a 180 and flew back towards Bantam Lake. On the way I sent Alli (my girlfriend) a text saying I was soloing. I considered flying over Waterbury and calling my friend Johnny to have him look up to see me, but I couldn't hear my phone well enough, so I decided to save that for another time. Instead I just turned right and head towards Oxford. I got ATIS, then called up to let them know I was coming in and they cleared me for a straight-in landing, my favorite kind.

At 3 miles I called them back to let them know, and got clearance to land. This was when I realized I was only 3 miles out and still at 2000'. Oops. I pulled my power and pointed the nose down. I had a lot of altitude to lose and not a lot of distance to do it in. I knew this landing was not going to be as smooth as the two prior with Chris, but since it was only me, I was OK with a few bumps. If Chris, or any other passangers, had been aboard, I would have done a go-around and set up for a more comfortable landing. Instead I came in high and fast. This resulted in a long flair, which is difficult. I bounced slightly on the runway, but it wasn't too bad considering what I'd expected. I taxiied back, shut off the plane, updated the logs, pushed it back to it's spot and tied it down. I felt like a real pilot. Great lesson!

It looks like my next lesson will be Wednesday night, so hopefully I'll have a post shortly after that. Until then!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Learning from Mistakes

So my lesson last night was great. The tempature drop, the clear sky and the lack of humidity made for a much smoother time in the air. I got to the airport, preflighted, then talked with Chris about cross countries, the flgiht plan to Grotton I made, etc. Then, we got to the good stuff.

Taxi out, run up and take-off were all just fine. I wasn't perfect on the radios but I wasn't too bad, and the climb out was also iffy. I should have lowered the nose after I got off the ground to gain some airspeed instead of going straight into a 10 degree climb, but at Oxford the runway's so long it wasn't a serious mistake.

While we were in the air, Chris started asking me questions, like "where are we?" and "how long should it have taken us to get here?" and "how long did it take us to get here?" and "write down notes about your mistakes on your flight plan to correct for them later." It was overwhelming, but he got the message across with his next question: "did you see that plane we almost hit?" THAT will get your attention! What plane where? Sure enough, 500' under my left wing there was a plane heading in the opposite direction. Shit! Of course, 500' is no where near hitting, but that's something I should have caught. Chris asked me "what does this teach you?" I replied "there's a lot of stuff to focus on during a cross country and most of it is pretty important." I was right. Somehow I missed another plane which flew over our left wing by about 700'. I was spending too much time looking at the ground: mistake #1.

Flying East towards Grotton at 7pm the sun is setting behind me and giving a clear visual of the rivers and cities up ahead. Chris had warned me that he'd probably be doing diversions to New Haven and Danbury (south and southwest of Oxford; both towered airports), but almost as soon as Grotton was in sight he told me to divert to Goodspeed. I checked my sectional: southeast of my current position, right along the east side of the river. Very small. Shouldn't be too hard, I thought. I'll just fly along the river and look below me. After a while of guessing (wrong) as to where the airport was I did a 180 and finally saw it. I flew right over it! Not a serious mistake, since I was clearly well above it (Chris did radio "Goodspeed traffic, Cessna in the area, Goodspeed traffic"), but still kind of stupid. The runway (2100' on the sectional, but 1700' usable, per Chris) was so small it hid behind the trees.

Once I had it in view for some reason I totally forgot about traffic patterns and decided to decend. Chris pointed out that I was a dumbass (kindly) and I got further away from the airport before losing more altitude. There wasn't another plane in sight, so I wasn't too concerned, but that I messed up something that simple wasn't something I was proud of. Mistake #2.

Once the altitude was at 1000' (Goodspeed's elevation is 9' -- yes, nine feet) I entered the pattern and set up for landing. Chris told me what to say on the radios, since I have minimal experience at non-towered airports, but considering my lack of experience I wasn't too bad. I came in very high for the landing, but lost my altitude (and airspeed) at a good rate. I was quite confident I would be able to land without problem and I'd do it smoothly. My flair was looking great when Chris said "go around."

Now normally "go around" is a simple procedure: full throttle, carb heat in, 1 notch of flaps up (2nd and 3rd notch after the previous ones have cleared to make it smooth). I, however, fucked this up wildly. First, let me divert with a description of Goodspeed...

Goodspeed is right on the water. I mean RIGHT on the water. In fact, it's got water on both ends of the lone runway. Runway 32 (the one I opted to land on) starts just over a pond and ends just before the Connecticut River. Runway 14 is of course the opposite. But the water isn't the scarey part - oh no. That would be saved for the draw-bridge about 1000' up the river front Goodspeed. So if you were to take off (or, say, do a go-around) from Runway 32, you now have a bridge to clear. A big white one. And another 2000' north of that bridge? Power lines. Because obviously water and a bridge wouldn't be enough excitement, nevermind the fact that the Connecticut River flows through a valley, so you have hills on both sides. It's a fantastic sight and a very beautiful area (complete with a large white opera house on the river and wonderful ships of all sizes), but quite tricky as a student pilot.

Anyway, back to my story. Now that you know what Goodspeed looks like, you can probably guess what happened. Chris said "go around" so I gave it full throttle, pulled it back and put up one notch of flaps. I didn't like how close the bridge was getting, but we cleared it comfortably. "Another notch." So I did, still climbing, although unusually slowly. "Last notch." I did again. I don't think I would have without the reminders though, which was a fault: mistake #3.

Then came the scarey part. "Do you see those?" Chris asked. I saw the water below us covered in boats, hills off to the sides covered in trees... wait, except for that one part where a large powerline was going through. I wonder why they put a power line so close to the water if it didn't extend... OVER THE WATER!

Shit, I was too low for this. I looked out my left window and saw the faint powerlines. They were at best 50' below us; close enough that a gust of wind, mechanical problem, or a student pilot unstable with the controls could make us hit them. "My bird" said Chris. He turned a steep right and we climbed out towards the south-west. He gave me back the controls and told me to take him home. Once I got some altitude (2700', to be exact) he asked me what I did wrong back there.

"Well, I couldn't find the airport."
"Yeah, but not that." Clearly he was looking for something specific.
"I didn't consider the pattern when I started trying to lose altitude to land."
"Yeah, what else?"
"My radios weren't good."
"But what did you forget?"
"Flaps up? Angle of approach? Climb out? Too close to the bridge? Too close to the power lines?"
"No, what else?"
I just shrugged. I don't know. Did I mess up something else? Chris put his hand down and turned off the carb heat. Our engine jumped 250RPMs. It was like someone installed a turbo into the car.
"You forgot carb heat. We would've cleared everything just fine if you'd turned it off."
"Ah crap."
Mistake #4. That was the big one of the day.

The flight back was fine. My altitude kept creeping up and down on me, but that was wind, mostly. The sun got most of my attention, since it was directly in front of my face. Chris explained that he wears hats to avoid the sun, whereas my sunglasses just dim it. Keeping a visor or baseball cap in my headset bag sounds like a good idea.

On our, Chris paid me a nice compliment after testing where I would land in an emergency ("that field" pointing): "most of my students I worry about in an emergency. Not you. You always seem like you'd be just fine." That felt good.

Coming in for landing everything was fine. I was perfect for talking to tower, set up the landing just fine (regardless of the sun) and came in at a fine angle. My flair, however, sucked. I touched down hard. I'm still not even sure why it was so bad. I think I flaired too late and didn't bleed off my airspeed in ground effect as well as I should have. Even though I know I can normally land better than that, landings are one of the things I want to be GREAT at. That one wasn't. Mistake #5.

Nothing exciting happened after that. Chris and I talked a bit. He explained that I did really good. Now, based off this post you wouldn't think that was the case, but I focus on the mistakes to learn from them so I can avoid them in the future. Chris had nothing to say about my navigation because it was fine (even if I couldn't find Goodspeed at first) so it didn't get much mention here. He didn't have anything to say about my flight plan, my turns, etc. because they were all good. All-in-all it was a great flight. But I made some mistakes and need to learn from those. Part of the reason I'm focusing on them here is to remind myself "put the carb heat in (in=off) for your next go around."

I'm proud of my flight overall, but these mistakes were real. I need to keep getting better.

My next lesson is up in the air. It sounds like it won't be until sometime next week since Chris's schedule this weekend is too full. I'll keep updated once I know.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Back Flying

It's been a little while since my last update, I apologize. Between working, visiting people on weekends and other random tasks after work I simply haven't had the time. Let's remedy that now:

Ok, so the lesson I was supposed to have right after my test never happened: weather. Last week I was back at the airport on Thursday night with bad weather coming in. Chris and I decided to try to squeeze in two landings before the weather hit.

We get into the 152 and I call up ground: "Oxford ground this is Cessna 48984 with information Whiskey, request taxi to runway 18 for closed pattern." Then comes the call "984, I suggest you wait this out a few minutes." Chris seemed to have mixed emotions about it but we turned the plane around and taxied back. We got out and walked back inside when he got a call on his cell phone. It was Ben, the lone ATC in the tower apologizing. Apparently ATC isn't supposed to tell you not to fly -- it's your call as the pilot in command, which is why Chris was a little annoyed.

About 60 seconds after the phone call the clouds opened and it started POURING. That explained Chris's other emotion: appreciation. "I think Ben just did us a favor," he said. That was shortly followed by a strong gust of wind and, "let's go tie up the plane!" We ran outside and did just that. I'm sure we would have been able to land the plane in that weather, but I would have let Chris do it (though knowing him he'd have made me land and just saved us from any potential mistakes). I told him before we even decided to taxi out that I wouldn't go up in that without him or Melanie, my original flight instructor.

The rain passed fast, but ominous clouds lingered on so we didn't go up then either. My last lesson was on Tuesday, and that's where I'll continue...

Tuesday morning I call Chris from work. The visibility looks bad, and I'm almost certain Chris is going to cancel. I call ATIS and hear that visibility is 10 miles. "Bullshit" I thought. I check www.aviationweather.gov (a great weather site for pilots!). It tells me visibility is 7 miles. I'm still not buying it. When Chris calls me back he says we're still on for 6:30. Alright!

When I get to the airport visibility isn't any better, but I see Chris taking off with someone for a quick trip in the 152. He better not say we can't fly today after all this! Sure enough, when he gets back down he says "we can't go anywhere, but we'll practice landings in the pattern." Sounds great to me! I always enjoy working on my landings; I'd like to make them so smooth that a sleeping baby wouldn't wake up -- it's not easy in a plane this small.

When we taxi out Chris comes up with a new plan:

"I've got a better idea. I want you to land short and do an entire touch-and-go without letting your nose-wheel touch down."
"Uhh... what?"
"You can do it! Just don't let the nose-wheel touch the runway."
"At all?"

Chris really liked this idea. I wasn't so sure. Normally I touch-down with my mains (the two wheels under the wings are referred to as the "mains") first, as you're supposed to and hold the nose off as long as I can until the plane slows down to a nice taxi speed. But holding it off that long, then giving it power as I balance holding the nose off... I told him "I'll do my best."

When we got up the visibility was HORRIBLE. I could see the airport alright, but Waterbury (which was only a few miles to the East) was hard to see and fading fast. It wasn't bad enough to effect my landings though, so the terrible first landing was my fault. I started landing sideways on the gear. Chris jammed the rudder in and saved it. We wouldn't have crashed, but it wouldn't have been comfy on the plane -- or us.

After that the landings just got better -- slowly. The 2nd to last landing I didn't let the nose touch at all, and both the landing and take-off were smooth. I nailed it! The final landing (full-stop, not a touch-and-go) Chris told me to "do a regular landing." I wasn't sure how well I'd be able to after practicing so many of those, but I responded the same "I'll do my best."

Coming in everything looked good. I thought I flaired a little too late and a little too hard, but was surprised when I felt the mains touch down in one of the smoothest landings I'd ever had. Chris told me that I would have passed my check ride with that one. I was pleased.

"Well, that was short and soft fields" Chris commented when we got back inside. "I wanted to surprise you." Apparently we practiced the skills of short and soft fields and Chris didn't want to waste too much time repeated it.

"I'd still like to land and take off on a short soft field at least once, to see how the landing gear feels on grass," I pointed out.

"Oh yeah, we'll still do some of that."

Chris and I planned for lessons the rest of the week, but yesterday's got cancelled (weather). Today the sky is blue, the humidity and haze have finally broken and the temps dropped a good 10 degrees and the wind seems to have died down. PERFECT flying weather! Hopefully tonight we make a cross country -- or at least start it and practice diversions. Tonight should be fun!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Written Passed!

I finished my written exam last night in about 90 minutes (leaving 60 extra) and scored a 55 out of 60, or 92% -- well over the 70% needed to pass. I admit I think I got really lucky on a number of those guesses, but as Chris says: just pass the test. Thankfully it's now over and I can move on to flying. Now, let me detail exactly what it was like in case any future pilots want some heads-up...

I entered the test center at about 6:28pm (my exam was scheduled for 6:30pm). Raj, the proctor, had me come in and set up the computer for me. (Because I took a CATS exam it was on a computer.) He told me what I was allowed to use: pencil/pen, scrap paper, calculator, plotter and flight calculator/computer. I brought my scientific calculator, which he said was fine to use, but I ended up not needing the calculator at all anyway. I was also required to bring my logbook with the endorsement from my flight instructor saying that I was allowed to take the test, but Raj never asked to see it -- probably since he knows Chris and spoke to him about me coming. The final thing I was required to bring was the two forms of ID, at least one of which had to have a picture of me on it. I used three, to be safe: my work ID (name and photo, nothing else), my driver's license (name, photo, address, etc.) and my boating license (name, some basic info, no photo, no address).

Of course, knowing me I brought way too much stuff: extra writing tools (he supplied me with two pencils, and all I ever did was draw a picture of an airplane once), my study book (which I wasn't allowed to use, of course), a bottle of water (which I didn't open)... It was a bit much, but it was better that I erred on the side of caution; it would have sucked to have needed an extra pen and not had one.

Once the computer was set up time started ticking down. He showed me how to navigate the test (which I'll get to in a minute) and made sure everything was OK before he left the room. I was the only one in it. Strangely he didn't take my cell phone (which he told me had to be off) or my test prep book (though it was across the room). I was amazed at how trust-worthy the whole situation was. Raj did walk in at one point during the test (and scared the crap out of me, since I was focused on a question), but it wasn't a formal check-up, just getting something in the room...or so it seemed. One of the questions on the test even had the answer written on the wall: how should you position your wings while taxiing with a left-tail quarter-wind? I didn't even notice it until I answered that question (correctly, I might add), but I was amazed at the lack of security. It felt nice though, to not have someone staring at me while I worked. Just know that if you're taking the test, it's a very calm environment -- at least based off my experiences.

The test itself was mixed. Some of the questions were really easy, while others made me do double-takes. The test books I used and the websites I used had many of the EXACT QUESTIONS used on the test. I cannot stress this enough; the test questions are not secrets! Even if you don't know what a plane looks like, if you memorized just one of the test books, you could pass. I also found a website since my last post that gives the questions along with the answers: http://coryat.com/faa-pp-written/

I was thinking about detailing the questions I got and writing as many of them as I could remember, but I think that would be useless; the best thing you can do is memorize (and if you understand the "why" that's even better, but passing a test and knowing how to fly are two totally different things). If you're taking this test: memorize!

Now, the CATS test I took looked like the following:

[Click the image for full version.]

Pretty self-explanatory, but I'll review:
  • The Questions area on the left tells you which questions you've answered, which you've "marked" (by clicking the Mark button at the bottom of the screen), which you've marked and answered and which you've done neither to. There's a key below to remind you which symbol is which. You can also click any question to jump to it; they do not have to be done in any order. (Remember, there's 60 questions, so the scroll bar really was there.)
  • The question at the top of the main area with 3 radio buttons with possible answers below (in my picture, answer A is correct). When you click one it just checks that circle (my example shows no checked answer yet).
  • There are 5 buttons below the question. They are:
    1. Mark: marks the question so you can remind yourself to return to it or for whatever reason you may want. If you want to un-mark a question, simply click "Mark" again.
    2. Previous: takes you to the question before the one you're at. So if you're at question 10, it takes you to question 9.
    3. Next: takes you to the question after the one you're at. So if you're at question 10, it takes you to question 11.
    4. Calc: brings a pop-up calculator onto the screen. This basically eliminates the need for bringing your own calculator, as this one has the arithmetic functions and a few more (I think exponential and trig).
    5. Finish: click when you're finished with your exam. Don't worry if you accidentally click it -- it double-confirms that you're done before you exit.
  • MISSING FROM THE FIGURE: There's two things that I didn't put on the image: (1) a clock telling you how much time you have left (h:mm:ss) is located right above the Questions list on the left and (2) if the question says to refer to a figure, an image will be listed below the A/B/C choices that you can click on to see a pop-up of that figure/diagram/etc. Sometimes the image is of text which reads "YOU MUST REFER TO YOUR BOOK FOR THIS FIGURE". (The proctor will give you a book of these figures for your exam.)
  • Finally: I noticed an error when I took my test: whenever you try to move a pop-up (the calculator or a figure) it becomes transparent and you have to exit it (by clicking the X in the top-right) to exit. My advice: either don't move the pop-ups, or use the calculator you brought and the figures in the book (they're better than their simulated versions anyway).
Well, that about covers the exam. Sorry for the long, technical post. I just wanted to get this up ASAP and didn't spend much time worrying about grammar or logical flow, so accept my apologies for that.

My next lesson is for tomorrow night, assuming the weather stays fair before I leave town for the weekend. Until then!