Saturday, November 29, 2008

Adding another plane to my resume

Plane: Cessna 172
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-I19-40I
Weather: Clear, 43 degrees, wind 100 degrees at 5 knots

I may be an official, certificated pilot now but that doesn't mean I don't have tons to learn. Heck, they say a good pilot is always learning and I totally subscribe to that theory. There are many different ratings and courses I plan on training towards as I move forward. First on the list was getting checked out in the Cessna 172 and I did that this afternoon.

The 172 is basically a 150 with four seats instead of two. Sure, it's got a bigger engine so it cruises faster. And some of the instruments and controls look a little different or are in new locations. But when it comes down to it, they fly about the same and it's one of the easiest transitions a pilot can make. Accordingly, I became a 172 pilot in about a half hour on the ground and an hour and a half in the sky today.

Dave walked through the preflight inspection with me, noting things like the fuel strainer handle (in the cockpit) and sumps (three instead of two) that differ from the 150. Then we started her up and I made a short field takeoff. Acceleration felt slower at first but I think we actually lifted off sooner than I'm used to, probably thanks to the light load in a larger aircraft. I climbed up to around 3,000 over the usual stomping grounds, a.k.a. Caesar Creek Lake. I made two very smooth and stable steep turns and then brought us into slow flight. With the larger engine and light load, it didn't take too many RPMs to maintain speed. You do have to watch out with the carb heat because the green arc (where carb heat isn't needed) is a much smaller range than I'm used to in the 150. We then did a few power-on and power-off stalls, which were all relatively tame and easy to control.

The only screw-up occurred next, as I forgot to raise the flaps after slow flight when I descended down to 1,800 feet to enter the pattern at Greene County Airport (I19). Stupid mistake but we never went too fast and they were only at 20 degrees so I'll call it lesson learned and move on. The flap indicator in our 172 is pretty crappy, especially compared to the one on the 150. On the 172, it's a tiny round gauge on the panel - honestly, it's easier to look out the window and see where the flaps are at. Anyway, I entered the pattern and made a normal landing. The sight picture is slightly different than I've grown accustomed to so I rounded out a couple feet too high and landed firmly. We made another complete lap around the patch in short field mode. Then after another takeoff and on the third downwind leg, Dave pulled the power and I made an engine-out approach. Again I rounded out slightly high and, without any engine power, dropped it in a little hard.

Here's the GPS that's installed in the 172

That was it for the checkout. We departed I19 and headed back to Stewart. The 172 has a GPS that's an older, single-color Bendix/King model. So it's not a fancy color moving-map display but it does show a map and it'll certainly get you there. We set it to direct 40I and I flew straight back home. Nothing like flying directly into the sun near sunset and trying to see any traffic. Into the pattern and on approach, I greased it in for an intentionally long landing so we rolled right to the end of the runway for a quick taxi to parking.

What's the verdict? Well it's a larger aircraft and definitely does feel a bit more docile (and stable) in terms of control. The 150's a fun bird and I love it for tooling around in the sky but I know the 172's going to be a great option for longer trips. It'll knock 20-30 minutes off the flight whenever I fly to Michigan to visit the family, for example. And the GPS will be a nice backup in addition to looking at my charts and landmarks out the window. Check one item off my training list!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.4 hours
Total Time: 76.7 hours

Sunday, November 23, 2008

First passenger!

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: Clear, 44 degrees, wind 210 degrees at 8 knots

I didn't waste any time in taking my first passenger up in the sky. My girlfriend, Gina, has been reminding me that she had to be the first person I flew and I was happy to oblige this afternoon. We could not have asked for a better day, with it being slightly warmer than the past few days with a clear blue sky. She took a bunch of photos, many of which I have included below.

Gina and me up in the 150

She was quite excited and I was probably overly cautious in reminding her a few times to let me know if she felt at all queasy or otherwise uncomfortable during the flight. It wasn't her first time in a small plane (as we took a ride early this summer) but I wanted to make sure she enjoyed it and felt great. Once we got buckled up and I explained a few more things I would be doing, I started 60338 and ran through my pre-takeoff checks. Then I asked if she was ready to go and heard an excited "yes" over the intercom. So I pushed in the throttle and made a smooth crosswind takeoff and climbed into the pattern over Stewart.

Checking the fuel during the preflight

I flew us out over Caesar Creek Lake and showed her some of the sites I've become quite familiar with from the air during my training. Then I flew us North and pointed out some other places she recognized. She had been hoping to see her apartment from above so I flew there next and circled above for her to take a photo.

Gina's apartment from 1,500 feet above (the U in the middle)

The air was very smooth, to the point I trimmed and we held steady at 2,500 for a good 15 minutes without having to touch the elevator. Gina was still totally comfortable and said she wanted to do something fun, so I asked if she wanted to do a steep turn. I wouldn't do this with any other passenger on their first flight but knowing her I expected she would do just fine. So I climbed up to 3,000 and made one turn to the left. She said that was enough for now, but she felt alright. (Pilot geekiness: it was a great steep turn, I maintained speed and altitude spot on). I think she did what I did as an early student and looked more out the sides than the front, which can be a little disorienting. Anyway, she said it was fun and wants to do more in the future. It's great to know there's a non-pilot I can fly with and still practice my maneuvers to stay proficient!

Doing the pilot thing - note my GPS logger velcroed to the handle
Maneuvering complete, I descended and flew us over to Wright Brothers and made a normal landing. Not my greatest, as a gust caught me at the last second so the plane cocked left and the left wheel came down a little hard. But she didn't mind and I taxied back to depart. I asked if she wanted me to do a different sort of takeoff and my description of a short field (must be something about holding the brakes) made her ask for one of those. I was happy to oblige and made nice smooth liftoff as soon as the plane was ready to fly and sped up in ground effect until about halfway down the runway.

She had asked if she would be able to fly so I figured it would be a good time on our way back to Stewart. I flew up to 2,500 feet and let her take the controls to make some gentle turns. At first I told her to just use the ailerons and I worked the rudder. She didn't always finish off level and climbed or descended slightly at times but it was fun and I kept my eyes scanning for traffic while constantly cross-checking the airspeed indicator and altimeter. Then I had her try and make a few coordinated turns after I demonstrated adverse yaw and what happens when you use ailerons without the rudder. It took her a few tries but she got the hang of it and actually made some really smooth turns!

She made some turns with quite the death grip

Turning base on approach to Stewart
Our fun for my first passenger-toting flight complete, I took the controls and descended to enter the pattern at Stewart. I brought it in for a nice smooth landing on the grass. Gina was thoroughly amused that I just pushed down on the tail to turn the plane around and back it into the tiedown. Walking into the office, she was still smiling when everyone asked how it went.

Putting 60338 back in her tiedown

It's still kind of hard to believe I'm allowed to do what we did today. I can take anyone over to the airport, hop in a plane, and fly wherever we want to. Pure craziness and awesome freedom. Maybe you'll have (or have had) a similar feeling when you pass your checkride. I'm really glad things went so well and hopefully I can keep improving my skills and explanations so future passengers are even more comfortable up there with me.

Next weekend I'm going to get checked out in the 172 with Dave. It will be nice to have that as an option for longer cross-country flights, since it's faster and has a GPS. Then the following weekend I have 60338 reserved for a short flight down to Cincinnati Blue Ash where there's a seminar through the FAA Wings program. Gotta start making use of my certificate!

Thanks again to everyone for all the kind words and comments on me passing my checkride, too!

Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Total Time: 75.3 hours

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Checkride, Part 2: I'm a Private Pilot!

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: (40I-) MGY-I19-MGY
Weather: Overcast, 28 degrees, wind 200 degrees at 6 knots

With 269 landings, five months of training, nearly 75 flight hours, plenty of frustration, tons of fun, at least $6000 spent, and so many great memories behind me... I'm a Private Pilot! The weather cooperated and I went up with the examiner to complete the flying portion of my checkride, following last weekend's oral exam. Everything went well and I didn't feel any nerves aside from a little hope that I wouldn't make any boneheaded mistakes. Luckily, I did not. I am now the proud holder of a Temporary Airman Certificate, good until my plastic FAA certificate arrives in the mail.

As I did with the oral exam, I'll share the details of the checkride below. And make sure you read the end of the post, as I got to deal with some serious craziness when I went to leave Wright Brothers.
  • I arrived at Stewart early in order to get a weather briefing, compute my weight and balance, and make sure I had all the paperwork in order. Then I had some help in starting the plane (it takes some extra work when it's 15 degrees out at night - brr!) and I let it warm up for a couple minutes. Fuel full, I left around 12:15 and got in a few practice landings at Wright Brothers before my scheduled 1:00 appointment with the examiner. Having not practiced a no-flap landing, I made one there and it was incredibly smooth. My landings felt great last night and today, hopefully a good sign for today.
  • After a quick look through my papers, we walked out to the plane and he asked me to do a preflight as if it were the first flight of the day. I walked around the plane and made my usual inspection, mentioning what I was doing on a couple occasions but for the most part not saying much. It looked like the examiner was just looking over to make sure I checked everything important. He told me he was going to get into the little 150 when I was about 2/3 of the way through the inspection. Both in the plane, I went through the pre-start checklist and got the engine running. He told me that I was PIC (Pilot in Command) so I would be responsible for the flight and should call out all traffic to him. I ran through the CIGAR checklist on the ramp (minus the runup) and then taxied down to the runup area at the end of the runway. During the runup I called out as I checked the suction (which I do even when I fly solo) and mags "left, drop, both, right, drop, both..." and declared us ready to fly.
  • He asked me to make a normal takeoff and then proceed on course, which was about due East to our destination in Clarksburg, WV. The takeoff was very smooth and I got to pattern altitude and turned downwind. He asked what the heck I was doing. Crap, stupid move there. I should have departed on a 45 degree heading from the takeoff runway and instead flew downwind for some stupid reason. We do use that departure at Stewart sometimes, but honestly I just totally didn't have my brain connected. No big deal, he just explained to me the reasons for specific departures and I overflew the airport and then departed on the proper 155 degree heading. Phwew.
  • Leveling off at 3,500 feet, he said I should pitch over and build up speed before pulling back the throttle. I don't know if I was taught to throttle back while leveling off or if I just invented the habit on my own, but a good idea that I'll use in the future. We were about due South of Xenia at this point (meaning we had traveled all of 10ish miles) and he had me descend to 2,500 feet and divert to Green County Airport (I19). I know you never fly much of the cross-country you plan for the checkride, but that sure was short.
  • Using my sectional, I found the frequency for I19 and entered the pattern on a 45 degree entry. He asked for a normal landing so I set up for that, starting the descent abeam the numbers on downwind. I've heard from local pilots the winds are interesting on Runway 25 because it's at the edge of a 100 foot slope down to a road and gravel pit. I anticipated that on short final but I didn't feel much. The landing was smooth but as soon as I touched down he jerked the yoke and said to get the ailerons into the wind, which was about 4 knots and 20 degrees off the nose. Doesn't seem like much but he said a lot of pilots have had the wing get under their wings because they don't think a light crosswind can do anything. Point noted sir.
  • Short field takeoffs and landings were next. The takeoff went great and I set up for an extended downwind for the landing. He told me to name my point and I said I'd touch down on the numbers. I ended up landing within a few feet of the numbers, although it was not the smoothest touchdown in my piloting career. But I landed slow and short as required, so all was well. I departed Greene County with a soft field takeoff (went well) and we turned to the South.
  • I was instructed to pick a point to turn around and said I'd use a barn in a field below. He asked what the most important thing in starting a ground reference maneuver is. "Enter on the downwind side?" "No!" "Uh, avoid populated areas?" "No!" And so it went for a couple more things I muttered out, not sure what he wanted to hear. "To have an available emergency landing area!" Oh, duh. Although I guess it's never been something that was specifically discussed. Not that the first barn was in rough terrain or anything but there were other houses nearby. So I picked out a barn surrounded on all four sides by large fields and made a very smooth and otherwise uneventful turn around it. That was it for ground reference maneuvers.
  • "Your engine just died." Pitch to best glide... "What are you doing?" "Pitching to best glide." "No! You ALWAYS PULL THE CARB HEAT FIRST!!!" Alrighty then. I swear I was taught to always pitch down first, but his point was that the carb heat will cool down in 3-5 seconds so if you don't get it on right away there will be no heat left to help. He then proceeded to pull the power on me about 3 more times in a row to make sure I yanked that carb heat out instantly. Then he left the throttle out for good and had me descend to a field, drop the flaps to 40 degrees when clear of the barn/trees, and get down to maybe 50 feet above the ground. That's the lowest I have ever gone in a practice engine-out situation and I know I would have made a survivable landing if necessary. At this point, he took control of the plane and got us out of there while I put the hood on for instrument work.
  • The hood work seemed to go by very quickly. I climbed and turned to headings he assigned, pretty basic stuff. Then came brain disconnect number two. He had me punch in a frequency and fly directly to the VOR. The needle was centered on a 125 degree heading TO and asked if I was flying to the station. "Yes." "Uh, are you sure?" Took me a second to take my brain out of neutral and I looked at the heading indicator and saw we were heading 280. So obviously I had to turn to track the radial to the station. Again, a random stupid mistake that he thankfully gave me a second to think about and correctly answer. Then my head went down and he had me do two unusual attitude recoveries. I was surprised at how he put us into the unusual attitudes, as it was way smoother than with Joe or Dave. Both of them really threw the plane all over the place to screw me up before handing the controls back over. The first recovery was from nose-high and the second was from a pretty steep downward spiral. I quickly recovered on both and that was it for the hood work.
  • Able to look out the window again, I climbed up to 3,000 for steep turns and stalls. The turns went great, with a 360 to the left followed immediately by a 360 to the right. He covered up the altimeter but I saw I was within about 25-50 feet of my starting point when I finished the whole maneuver. I saw a plane about 500 feet above us during the turns and I called that out as I kept moving along, probably a mark in my favor since I was obviously keeping my eyes scanning. He then asked for a power on stall in a takeoff configuration so I slowed to 60 knots, added full power, and pulled back to induce the stall and recovered. However, he said I was looking too much at the sky out the front and not enough to the sides and consequently added in a little aileron without realizing. We went thru a series of power-on stalls as he demonstrated some different things and I did a few more. Then I went into the landing configuration with 40 degrees of flaps and made a couple power-off stalls. All the stalls went relatively well but he was really harping on me to make sure I only used the rudder to avoid a spin or steep spiral.
  • Hard to believe, but he told me to fly us back to Wright Brothers and make a soft field landing. We were out over Caesar Creek Lake at this point, so in flying the 5-10 minutes back we talked about random flying stuff for a bit. I spotted some planes over Stewart as I was descending. Then I entered the pattern at MGY and made an interesting soft field landing. I did touch town softly but I was drifting (not enough crosswind correction with the aileron) and floated a bit before finally getting the thing down. I didn't like it, but he obviously was satisfied as he told me to taxi back to parking. Once I shut 60338 shut down he hopped out and told me to meet him back inside, where he printed up my temporary certificate. We only flew for 1.3 hours (including probably 0.4 in taxi time on the ground) but I did enough to earn my wings!
Talking with some other pilots after the checkride, they were surprised how easy the examiner went on me. Easy, you ask? It didn't sound that way! Well maybe so, but even if he sounded gruff at times it was all to teach me more about flying and some points were of the nit-picky variety. I can absolutely always improve and I greatly appreciate all he taught me, but even Dave said it sounded like I did a great job flying. There's a few things I could have done better (like when my brain shorted out on the departure from MGY) but I do feel that I flew quite well.

Happy and excited to return to Stewart as a Private Pilot, I quickly preflighted the plane and started her up. I taxied down to Runway 20, did my runup, and announced my takeoff on the CTAF. "Cessna departing Wright Brothers, runway is closed!" Uhh, what? Somewhere in the couple of minutes between engine start and now a Cessna 210 landed gear-up and they closed the airport. First things first, everyone in the plane was fine unless you're counting bruised egos. I never heard them call in the traffic pattern, so I must have been looking down or checking the AWOS at just the right moment to miss them fly by. Obviously I would have yelled out "gear up, gear up!" on the radio if I had seen them. The runway has slight hump in it, so I couldn't even see the plane sitting down there until I taxied down the runway and back to the ramp.

Even though I would have been long airborne before passing the plane (it was 3,500 feet down the runway) the airport was now legally closed. I didn't think it would be wise to get my certificate revoked all of 30 minutes after receiving it by knowingly departing from a closed airport. It ended up taking a couple hours to get the proper FAA/NTSB approval for a crane to lift the plane up so they could flick the switch to lower the gear and tow the plane off the runway. By the time that was complete, it was dark out. I can legally fly at night, but Stewart doesn't allow landings at night except by CFIs. So Dave ended up driving over to pick me up and they'll send someone over in the morning to fly the plane back. Not the triumphant return flight I had hoped for post-checkride but it was quite the interesting thing to witness. Plus, I was able to talk to a few other stranded pilots while we sat around for a couple hours waiting.

I'll close with a quick thanks to all of you who have been reading this blog over the past five months and sharing in the experience with me. All your comments, thoughts, suggestions and friendship has meant a lot to me and I feel lucky to have had all your support. Now it's time for us all to hop in our planes and meet up somewhere. And just for the record, I'm going to keep writing about my flying adventures on here - now with passengers! :)

Today's Flight: 1.3 hours (+ 1.0 for flying to MGY)
Solo/PIC Time: 28.8 hours
Total Time: 74.1 hours

Friday, November 21, 2008

Solo Practice 15: Last solo flight as a student pilot (I hope!)

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Partly cloudy, 29 degrees, wind 290 degrees at 9 knots

Once again, I'll be brief since I'm about to head to bed early to get lots of rest prior to the checkride tomorrow. The weather is forecast to be quite beautiful (aside from frigid temperatures) so I should be able to go up and fly with the examiner and finish this thing!

I decided to leave work a bit early this afternoon and headed down to Waynesville for a short flight. It was certainly cold out and I had some trouble getting 60338 started, even with six shots of primer. After a short discussion with some folks, a mechanic came out and suggested I feed in more fuel through the primer as soon as the engine started to fire. Voila. Due to the extreme cold, I let the engine run for about 5-10 minutes until the oil had warmed up enough for the temperature gauge to be in the green arc.

Having lost some time while figuring out how to bring the engine to life, I elected to stay around Stewart. I alternated between normal, soft field, and short field takeoffs and all went very well including my crosswind correction. Landings also all felt (drum roll, given my performance as of late) great for the first time in forever. The strong headwind didn't hurt, but my normal and soft field landings were very smooth and I held the nose up well on rollout. The headwind really made for fun short field landings too, as I (and I measured) landed the little Cessna in under 400 feet from touchdown to turning off the runway! Gotta love a 150 with 40 degrees of flaps and a moderate headwind, it really is fun in a nerdy pilot sort of way.

Tomorrow's the (second) big day. If all goes as planned, I'll have me a temporary certificate in 24 hours. Expect a fully detailed write-up as soon as I can get all my thoughts down.

Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 26.5 hours
Total Time: 71.8 hours

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Checkride, Part 1: Well, I'm half a pilot now

Mother Nature apparently decided today was not the proper time for me to become a Private Pilot. Thankfully half of the test is an oral exam, which I was able to complete with the examiner over the course of about two hours. Unfortunately, the flying part had to be rescheduled for next Saturday. So it'll be at least another week until I'm fully certificated. Until then you'll have to amuse and entertain yourself with my (long) play-by-play of today's oral.

Umm, yea...

KMGY 151953Z AUTO 30014G18KT 5SM -RA BR OVC007 02/02 A2969 RMK AO2 RAE17B49UPB17E28SNB1855E1859B28E49 CIG 005V011 SLP056 P0007 T00220017
At 2:53pm the winds were from 300 degrees at 14 knots, gusting to 18. Visibility was 5 statute miles. There was light rain and mist, with an overcast layer at 700 feet above the ground. The temperature was 2 degrees C and the dewpoint was 2 degrees C with the atmospheric pressure at 29.69 inches of Mercury. Rain ended at 2:17pm and began at 2:49pm, unknown precipitation began at 2:17pm and ended at 2:29pm, snow began at 1:55pm and ended at 1:59pm, and snow began at 2:28pm and ended at 2:49pm...
I made it to Wright Brothers - by car - on time, although the delightful weather resulted in a nice big accident at a major intersection I had to drive through on the way. Good thing I left early or I would have been late to my appointment and that's not the best way to start a checkride. Upon entering the building, I walked over to the front desk and the examiner saw me, came out and introduced himself, and then we walked over to his office.

The first thing he did was ask for my paperwork, consisting of the FAA application form (8710-1) and the printed report I received for passing the knowledge exam, and photo ID. He spent some time reviewing these and entering his information where required. Then he asked to see my logbook and went over some of the flights and endorsements with me. We talked about where I flew on my cross-country flights and my experience using ATC, and also some of the maneuvers I have practiced, namely spins. I'll come back to that in a bit. The whole process was very relaxing and it felt like he spent half the time telling me flying stories and other useful tidbits of information. Dave had told me he was likely to spend a lot of the time teaching me things since I know all the regulations and other information so well and that is exactly how it went.

Below are some of the more interesting points we discussed, and pretty much everything I can remember from this afternoon...
  • The first thing we did was review the cross-country flight I had planned to Clarksburg, WV. I didn't feel great when his first reaction was, "whoah that's a lot of checkpoints!" In training, I have been placing them about every 10-15 miles and he said that's likely because instructors want to keep you looking out the windows. But a consequence of that is more time spent looking inside writing things down on the chart. Plus, a 30 second difference in time enroute over a short distance can result in large errors when extrapolated out as ground speed. He said to use points closer to 40 miles apart for calculations (so errors will be averaged out) and simply use intermediate points as visual references - don't write them down on the nav log. Not a big deal in the end, and I'll adjust my plan accordingly for next weekend.
  • I didn't call for a weather briefing today since it was clearly not a day to fly, so he pulled up a standard briefing on the computer and we discussed the elements. He asked what type of system I would expect with the weather we're having today (low pressure, which pulls air inward and upward to produce precipitation) and we looked through the METARs and TAFs. Friendly reminder to other pilots: don't forget that TAFs recently increased to a 30-hour forecast and now include the date in with the time codes, i.e. 150400 meaning the 15th day of the month at 0400Z. We didn't discuss NOTAMs much and he also didn't have me spend any time going through the antiquated weather charts we have to learn for the knowledge test. We did, however, look at some color frontal depiction charts and radar pictures on the computer.
  • On to maneuvers, he said he's not really a fan of taking initial students up for spins like we do at Stewart and was very surprised I have spun the 150. The reasoning being that it's not representative of how they usually occur in accidents. Statistics have shown the FAA's spin recognition and avoidance training have resulted in a marked decrease of such accidents. In Canada, where they still require spin entry and recovery training, their accident rate (for all pilots, not just students) as a result of spins is actually 5 times higher than here in the U.S. So the statistics point to avoidance training being much more effective, something I did not know before today. The most interesting part to me was that he said spins result from three conditions (when stalled, as you have to be stalled to spin) that occur in this order: 1) adverse yaw from aileron deflection, 2) p-factor from the propeller, and 3) rudder. We practice them by kicking in a ton of rudder, yet that's the least likely scenario in which they occur. Now, I still think they're fun and useful to have practiced but it was a very good lesson in what really causes most stall/spin accidents in the U.S.
  • On the topic of stalls, I know all the book (read: FAA) definitions about how they work, angle of attack, chord line, and other technical terminology. The examiner said that's all nice but really wanted the practical answer. Thus, he was happy when he (after some hinting) got me to say that, "in order to stall you have to pull the stick back." He went on to teach me that studies have shown most stalls actually occur when the airplane is pitched nose DOWN, which is contrary to how we usually practice them. It's easy to see how you can be in what looks to be a stable descent with plenty of airspeed and keep slowly pulling back and all of a sudden be stalled. As always, if you pull back to stall then you push forward to get out!
  • We got into airspace and weather minimums and sort of covered the entire gamut while discussing the cross-country flight plan plotted on the sectional chart. Dave had correctly cautioned me the way to answer was that there are two kinds of airspace - controlled and uncontrolled. Yes, there are different classes of controlled airspace but the important distinction is between the two types. The examiner asked if I could fly the cross-country on a day like today (legally, not safely mind you) and I said that since it's uncontrolled (Class G) up to 700 feet agl we could putz along since the ceiling was about 700 feet and the minimums are 1 mile visibility and clear of clouds. Not a smart thing to do, and it would be tricky as we would have to avoid any densely populated areas since those require that you be 1,000 feet above the nearest structure. But this is how it went overall, talking more through scenarios than a direct question-and-answer format.
  • Continuing with the visibility requirements, we talked about flights above 10,000 feet. The legal minimums are 5 miles visibility, 1 mile horizontal from clouds, and 1,000 feet above/below clouds. Why is this? I answered that it's due to faster traffic, which is the correct response. But he went further to explain that it's particularly due to the closure rates at high speeds. At 210 mph (roughly two Cessna 172s flying at each other) and 5 miles visibility you have 85 seconds to see each other and react. Speed things up to 600 mph closure (think a 150 and a jet) and you are down to 30 seconds. If the visibility drops to 3 miles, you have 18 seconds. One mile away and it's 6 seconds, barely enough time to flinch let alone avoid a collision. Quite simply, you need all that visibility to have a chance of avoiding other aircraft at such speeds.
  • Transponder usage was an intriguing part of our airspace discussion as well. He asked where we had to use them (Class B, C, above 10,000 feet, under Class B shell) and why, to which I responded, "so ATC can see us." Wrong. The reason we squawk 1200 when we're up there sightseeing is so they can click a button and REMOVE us from their radar screens. Otherwise, it would be a cluttered mess and they would have trouble working all their IFR traffic. Hence the reason we need to squawk a discrete code when on flight following; so they can actually see us! They have no responsibility to deal with VFR aircraft and don't even have to inform IFR traffic when we're close by, he told me.
  • On to navigation, we talked a bit about pilotage and dead reckoning. Pilotage is where you look out the window and use landmarks, dead reckoning is where you calculate a course factoring in the winds and fly that compass heading. Basically, he told me that dead reckoning is kind of useless since winds aloft forecasts are mostly unreliable and inaccurate and we have to make continued corrections (by referencing landmarks on the ground) to stay on course. Plus, a magnetic compass is a very imprecise instrument and is easily swayed by magnetic fields induced by electrical equipment and the magnetos in the engine. He said that the main reason for holding a compass heading is knowing what heading has kept you on course and then maintaining that heading when flying over a long stretch of relatively featureless terrain.
  • While we're on the subject of the magnetic compass, there were a couple other good points made that I hadn't ever thought of before. We were discussing instrumentation and emergencies and what would happen if the alternator died and the battery ran out. Obviously we'd lose radios, electric flaps, and the turn coordinator, I said. Right, and wrong. The magnetic compass would indicate differently now because magnetic fields from the electrical system would disappear. He also said that when flying IFR approaches, switching on the landing light has caused enough compass variation to force him off course such that he had to go missed. The remedy was to set the directional gyro (heading indicator) before turning the landing light on and then use that to fly the approach. Crazy interesting, at least to me.
  • Back to flight planning and navigation, we had a somewhat theoretical chat about wind effects. Many pilots presume it takes the same amount of time to fly a round trip on a day with no wind (which admittedly happens as often as you or I win the lottery) as it does on a day where you have a headwind one way and a tailwind the other. Not true. Say it's 100 nautical miles one-way, it takes you 2 hours total, and you land with 30 minutes of fuel remaining. That makes for 100 knots ground speed. Now assume a 40 knot wind parallel to your route. You're going 60 knots with the headwind on the way there, which is 1 hour and 40 minutes. On the way back your speed is 140 knots with the tailwind and it takes 43 minutes. Total time is 2 hours and 23 minutes, meaning you have 7 minutes of fuel remaining. Apparently many pilots have run out of gas as a result of such false assumptions so I consider this a great lesson for everyone out there!
  • So what are the required VFR minimum fuel reserves? 30 minutes for daytime and 45 minutes for night. Why longer at night? My answer was that it's harder to find a safe place to land should something happen. The examiner told me nearly everyone answers it that way, but that's not entirely accurate. We looked at the sectional chart (see the map below) and he said to assume it's nighttime and you realize near Nelsonville, the black marker on the chart, that you don't have enough fuel to reach the destination with the required reserve. Where do you divert to? Well the closest airport is Ohio University to the south but a better choice is Parkersburg to the east. Why? Well it's a busier airport, has a tower, and fuel is likely to be available 24 hours a day. And therein lies the distinction - at night, it's going to be a lot harder to find an airport that's open (we're discounting self-service pumps here) for you to refuel so you need a longer reserve. Never knew that before, but makes complete sense to me.
A portion of my route for the cross-country
  • Engine systems were another topic we spent a few minutes on and most questions related to the carburetor. I was asked the expected questions on carb ice (what it is, how to remedy it) but he also taught me some things here. He said that, contrary to what we're taught in the books, an RPM drop is not usually the first sign of carb ice. It happens gradually and the usual pilot response is to think the throttle slid out a little (as it's prone to do, especially in Cessnas) and push it in to maintain the RPM. You keep doing this until it's in all the way and still not developing full power. So what you really notice is a decrease in airspeed, as less power (throttle/RPM) results in a slower airspeed if you're maintaining altitude. He also said that it's not the venturi action that's responsible for most of the decrease in temperature in the carburetor. Instead, it's really the vaporization of the fuel. Just as alcohol on your hands evaporates quickly and feels very cold, fuel vaporizing in the carb can cool the air temperature by 50 degrees or more.
  • Lastly, and I'm sure I've butchered the order of all this by now, we talked about aeromedical factors. It's cold out now so he asked what to do if it's chilly in the plane. Turn on the cabin heat, of course. But what is one of the dangers? Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, since the heat is taken from air flowing around the exhaust manifold. While we can buy devices that monitor CO levels, he wanted me to be very clear on the actual symptoms you would notice if getting CO poisoning. Specifically headache, drowsiness, and dizziness - in that order. He pointed out that things in the AIM are listed like ingredients in food, the most important first and the rest in order. Good to know. See AIM 8-1-2 and 8-1-4 for reference on the symptoms. My favorite part was his description of CO poisoning vs. hypoxia, which was a comparison to a night of drinking. As he said, hypoxia is like the night of the party (feelings of euphoria, belligerence, lack of judgement) and CO poisoning is like the hangover the day after. Funny, surprisingly accurate, and an easy way to keep the two straight.
I know this post was ridiculously lengthy, but I know a bunch of fellow pilots read this and are getting ready for their own checkrides so I hope it will be useful. If nothing else, it's a record of all the things I learned today that should serve me well into the future. The examiner was great and the entire time really did feel like a conversation. Even if I slipped up here or there, he seemed to realize I knew the material and would give a hint or say "are you sure that's all?" and allow me to give the complete answer. So for those of you stressing over the oral - don't! I know all examiners are different, but I think it should be a good experience for anyone who's prepared.

Weather- and work-pending, I might try and take the flying portion of the checkride on Thursday or Friday. The examiner said to give him a call if the weather looks good any afternoon next week, but I'm out of town until Wednesday. Otherwise I'll be back at MGY next Saturday to hopefully conclude the long road towards my certificate.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Solo Practice 14: Run through

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-MGY-MWO-40I
Weather: Overcast, 61 degrees, wind 220 degrees at 8 knots

I'm going to be brief here because I need to get to bed and rest up before the checkride tomorrow! Well, if it happens - there's a ton of rain expected so I might have to do the flying portion on Sunday. Anyway, I took the afternoon off work again and went up for a quite a while to go over everything one last time. Dave and I sat down to review some oral exam questions and the aircraft logbooks when I got to the airport and then I went out to preflight 60338.

Departing Stewart, I headed out over Caesar Creek Lake and practiced slow flight, power-on and power-off stalls, and steep turns. All went well and I'm confident that I can do all the above well within Practical Test Standards. I also got to see Dave and another student spinning the Cub a couple miles away from me, which was a cool sight from the air.

Maneuvering complete, I went over to Wright Brothers and knocked out takeoffs and landings of all sorts. Short field, soft field, and normal in all configurations. None were greasers and I dropped it in hard a couple times still, so I might have to hope for a sudden strike of luck on the checkride when it comes to wheels meeting pavement. I did manage a great soft field landing (minus the soft touchdown) where I was able to hold the nose off the pavement for a long time. Aside from those last two feet, my approaches are all spot on and stabilized and Dave even told me my flares look great. Funny how much smoother things can look from outside the airplane.

Wanting to really run the gamut, I then headed over to Middletown for more takeoff and landing work. There they have right traffic and, having not flown such a pattern in a while, I thought I should practice that in preparation as well. My landings were generally better here than at Wright Brothers but I still hit the ground too flat a few times. One one downwind leg I pulled the power for a simulated engine-out approach and made it back to the runway with plenty of room to spare. I actually had to dump in all 40 degrees of flaps on short final and still landed a few hundred feet past the threshold.

Heading back to Stewart as the sky was getting darker, I went around the patch a few more times. Here, all the landings were pretty darn good and the last was possibly the best I've had in a 150 in a month or more. Knowing by now that it's always good to end on a high note, I called it a day and tied her up. The moment's finally here and I'm honestly not feeling worried or apprehensive at all. I guess we'll see how true that rings in the morning.

Flight Track: Dead battery - sorry!
Today's Flight: 2.6 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 25.6 hours
Total Time: 70.9 hours

Monday, November 10, 2008

1000 Words: German & Austrian Adventures

Call me a bit behind if you'd like, but a post about my post-drupa trip in June just went up on the Kodablog.
Time sure flies, as it has been nearly six months since I traveled to Germany for drupa. After the trade show I took some vacation time solo and hopped a train to Munich to immerse myself in Bavaria. Although this was my fourth time to Europe, it was my first time in both Germany and Austria. For those of you who aren't much into reading I'll sum it up succinctly - beautiful country, wonderful people, and delicious beer!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Solo Practice 13: Still not a lucky number

Plane: Cessna 150 / Champ
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Overcast, 56 degrees, wind 190 degrees at 7 knots

Writing this after the lesson, I now see that I was doomed from the start. Although technically the flight in the Cessna was #13 (which went well) and not-so-good Champ experience was #14. Today I took a half-day of vacation so I could go up flying during the afternoon before catching my flight to Portland where I’ll be spending the next five days.

I had 60338 scheduled but they were working on the engine and I had been switched to 3718J. This was bad for me on two levels, as it has the screwy radio (thus scratching my plans to go over to MGY) and they also had to juggle the schedule so I lost a half hour of time. So once again I just stayed local and worked around the pattern at Stewart.

There was a decent crosswind so I practiced the usual slew of takeoffs and landings. While I might not list them all in the “very good” category, my landings for the most part were soft-ish and felt stable. One time around I came in too fast and ballooned so I jammed in the throttle and went around. I brought the flaps up too quickly, however, and started to sink and lightly bounced off the grass. Gotta be more careful with my procedures! Altogether it was a good practice session but I would have preferred 60338 and more time so I could have landed on pavement and worked on stalls and steep turns.

Time up in the Cessna, I decided to take the Champ up since I was at the airport and using a half-day of vacation to be there. It’s a few weeks since I last flew the taildragger and actually had to have Dave re-endorse my logbook as solo endorsements are only good for 90 days. Judging by my performance on the first landing, I’m not so sure Dave should have signed his name. The airspeed indicator was placarded (covered up) but the Champ is pretty simple to fly by reference to the wing on the horizon, so that should not have been an issue.

Back to the landing, I’m pretty sure it was the best job I’ve done scaring the hell out of myself thus far in flying. I came in fast but without the airspeed indicator it’s hard to say just how fast. It was probably about 10 extra mph but in the Champ that means a good deal of extra lift. I held her off but touched down and bounced and ballooned, then hit again, veered a little, bounced more… it was thoroughly scary. I knew what to do (GO AROUND!) and did just that but I struggled for what felt like a long time (and was likely all of 2 seconds) to get the plane under control and safely climbing. It really felt like I was about to lose control and ground loop the thing, or worse. Words probably don’t illustrate how bad it looked and I’m quite glad it wasn’t a nice sunny day with a lot of people watching. On the flip side, I walked away unscathed and didn’t break the plane either.

That whole experience did turn out to be an aberration on the day, as I came in the next time and set her down pretty softly. And then I made a bunch more laps around the pattern with each landing certainly at least belonging in the “acceptable” category. The crosswind picked up and varied but I adjusted properly and felt back at home in the Champ. Certainly today reminded me how quickly things can get out of control, but it also showed that all this training has at least given me enough instinct and knowledge to handle a precarious landing situation.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.6 hours / 0.9 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 23.0 hours
Total Time: 68.3 hours