Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lesson 20: Stupid pilots and another new airport

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-MGY-MWO-40I
Weather: Clear, 91 degrees, wind variable at 4 knots

There was no escaping the heat today, and along with the warmth came some bumpier air. I could not wait to get the engine started and feel the breeze off the prop through the open windows while we taxied. Departing from Runway 8, we turned towards Wright Brothers so I could get more experience at other airports. Dave had been telling me before the flight how an examiner who is based at Wright Brothers was just talking to him about some of the crazy (and by crazy I mean people who do stupid things in the air) pilots who fly there. So in a sequence we could not have scripted any better, we were treated to a full display of such wonderful piloting after we landed and departed again from MGY.

I had been calling out our position properly when we first entered the pattern, landed, and was again doing so on departure. Then in came two planes from the North and East who announced over the radio the thought the winds (which were variable and actually slightly favoring Runway 20, which we were using) favored Runway 2 so they were going to land in the opposite direction we just took off from. Of course, any pilot arriving at an airport is supposed to comply with the current traffic pattern and we had clearly "established" that Runway 20 was in use. Anyway, I turned crosswind and then downwind so we were out of their way. Then a third plane called their position on downwind as one of the original two was also on downwind for Runway 2. Dave and I looked to the West and watched these two guys nearly have a mid-air because they were clueless as to where the other was. Having seen enough of that dangerous nonsense, we decided to get the hell out of there and fly over to Middletown. When it comes to the craziness and/or stupidity of some of the folks flying out of MGY, umm, point taken.

Hook Field Municipal Airport (MWO) in Middletown has some history associated with it, as it is where the Aeronca Corporation (the folks who built the Champ, amongst other planes) was headquartered and manufactured aircraft for many years. Here we worked on takeoffs and landings, I did one touch and go, and I did short field takeoffs for the first time. To do a short field takeoff, you taxi as far to the end of the runway as possible, hold the brakes, apply full power, and then let the brakes off while maintaining neutral control pressure. When the plane's ready to fly, you just pull back and off you go into the air. We also had some fun on one landing where I landed just past the threshold and hit the breaks to get us stopped so we could take the first turnoff on to the taxiway, which you can see in the GPS track. Believe it or not, a Piper Cherokee even entered the pattern properly, made the right calls over the radio, and followed us in the pattern for a couple circuits - what a novel idea!

I'm starting to feel more comfortable with the Cessna so now I think that I'm at the stage where I need to focus more on the details. Paying attention to the turn coordinator, holding my airspeed through attitude on climb out, watching my airspeed on approach and final, rounding out and flaring at the right height above the runway... these are some of the main things I have noticed with my flying. There have been a few great landings but I can tell that I got too used to the sight picture (sitting slightly lower to the ground) in the Champ and I have had a tendency to not flare soon enough. Good thing Cessna installed some hefty landing gear to keep me from looking too stupid. My radio work is really feeling good and Dave kept saying I seem really comfortable talking over the airwaves. I can't tell you why, but it just feels natural so far.

Interesting and stupid pilot tricks aside, it was a great day to spend some more time in the old 150 and fly to another new airport. This whole flying thing's fun in itself, but it's a heckuva lot cooler when you end up somewhere other than where you started. Due to the business travel it will be too long until I'm up next, but when that day comes Dave said we'll work on getting me soloed in the trusty old Cessna. Until then, safe flying everyone!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.6 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 4.3 hours
Total Time: 28.3 hours

Friday, August 22, 2008

Lesson 19: Airplane therapy

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-MGY-40Il
Weather: Haze, 84 degrees, wind 090 degrees at 3 knots

This has pretty much been the week from hell at work - long hours, way too much stress, and finding out about a trip half way around the world on ridiculously short notice. But let me tell you that when I got back on the ground after tonight's lesson I was completely relaxed, happy, and my mind was clear. I've heard other pilots talk about escaping from everything up in the sky and it sure seems like I am able to do the same. And it's a wonderful thing.

It felt like I hadn't been up in forever and I was expecting to be a bit rusty, especially having only flown the 150 one time. After adding 8 gallons of fuel (4 to each tank) and running through the takeoff checklists, we headed off to work on some maneuvers. The visibility was atrocious thanks to the hot and humid air. We heard 10 miles from the AWOS (that's an Automated Weather Observation System, which broadcasts weather information over the radio) at MGY but that seemed optimistic. And looking into the sun I'd just about dare you to make out anything that wasn't sitting on the cowling.

My steep turns were surprisingly smooth and I only lost about 50 feet of altitude. Take a look at the photo below and you can see where we really slowed down (bright green) while we did some slow flight. Then it was a sequence of stalls, both power-on and power-off. I did a much better job recovering than last time, but it's still crazy just how much the plane wants to drop the left wing (torque tendency) during a power-on stall.

Magenta is fastest (115 mph) and green is slowest (40 mph)
New things are fun and tonight (drum roll, please) we actually went somewhere! It may only be about 10 miles from Stewart but we flew over to Dayton Wright Brothers Airport (MGY) and I got to use the radio for the first time. It's an untowered airport so all you do on the radio is call out your position (called transmitting "in the blind") in the pattern and vicinity so other pilots know where you are. Having listened to ATC on the computer and my nice new handheld transciever I knew what to say, but I was still a little nervous the first time I hit the push-to-talk button. "Wright Brothers traffic, Cessna 60338 is 3 miles East, inbound for landing, Wright Brothers." All went well (aside from calling my base leg 'crosswind' one time - oops) and Dave thought I kicked that radio's butt.

Entering the pattern I turned downwind late so as you can see in the GPS track I ended up way to the right on final but managed to line us up and land. Oh sweet concrete, how different you feel after over 20 hours on the grass. Taking off was so smooth I had to look down a couple times to make sure we were off the ground. We made one more trip around the pattern (I still turned to final late) and then departed to the Southeast towards Waynesville. A quick jaunt to the other side of town is all it was, but it sure felt good. Landing back at Stewart I ended up incredibly high on final so I added full flaps and cut the power to idle and got us down safely.

All told, it was a surprisingly good lesson after a short break in my training. The maneuvers went very well and I had a good first time on the radio. It was great to get up and remember just how damn much I love to be flying. I parked us in front of the fuel pump and turned the key to Off, which made Dave yell out something that sounded like "Garaahgh!" since I should have pulled the Mixture to Lean to kill the engine. Darn it, I knew I was due to screw something up tonight!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 4.3 hours
Total Time: 26.7 hours

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm still here, albeit on the ground

Quick update since I've been abnormally quiet on here compared to my usual talkative (writeative?) self. I went on vacation with the family up in Traverse City last weekend so that nixed any flying chances. Tonight I had been scheduled to go up solo in the trusty old Champ but she decided it was time to be less trusty. Actually, I think it may have been scheduled overhaul time. Whatever the reason, N1798E is currently in the shop having a new engine installed.

I have lessons scheduled this weekend in the C150 so I will be airborne again in a few days. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the travel-loving side of me) I found out this morning that I'll be on a plane bound for Japan for work on Sunday, which means some of my upcoming lessons are getting canceled. Long story short, I should be back on my usual 2x or 3x a week flying schedule in about two weeks.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Solo Practice 3: When in doubt, go around!

Plane: Champ
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 77 degrees, wind 010 degrees variable from calm to 8 knots

Tonight was one of those deceiving evenings when it comes to the weather. It was almost completely calm when I took off and the sky was clearing. The intent was to work on some maneuvers but also to spend some time just enjoying the view from above. Takeoff was smooth and the calm winds made this one of those rare occasions when you can point the nose straight ahead and actually end up right where you've aimed.

Once over the lake I made four steep turns, going from a right turn directly into a left turn and then repeating the process. These were some of my best yet since I stayed within 50 feet of altitude throughout the entire 720 degree maneuver, kept my speed pegged at 60, and rolled out right on the original heading. Feeling good about those, I did a few power-on stalls. It's sometimes hard to get a feel for stalling the Champ since it wants to fly so ridiculously slow but I was not totally satisfied with my stalls tonight. I did not pull back to raise the nose fast enough to bleed off the airspeed quickly and get a nice, clean break at the moment of stall. As far as the recovery goes, I did an alright job lowering the nose and gaining back airspeed but it could have been smoother. Maneuvers complete, I decided to fly around for a little while.

Heading towards the North at around 3,500 feet, it was getting a little cloudier and I started to feel some bumps that likely were downdrafts from the clouds. Then it started to drizzle ever so slightly and I decided it was time to descend and turn back where I came from. I could feel the winds picking up and could tell they were a little shifty because I felt the plane trying yawing. I flew over the road I drive to get to the airport from my apartment and then headed South past Stewart. It still felt gusty and there were certainly more pockets of rising and falling air than when I took off. Once sufficiently South of the airport and at 3,000 feet, I turned around and descended to 1,800 and made a 45 degree entrance to the downwind.

My approach was a little high and fast but I got her slowed down and made a soft landing, albeit a little long thanks to the extra speed. There was a slight crosswind now but it was still pretty light and variable and I decided to head back up for some more practice in the pattern. Oh how Mother Nature can throw us a curveball in an instant. Back around the pattern and on final, I was too fast and the crosswind had picked up to I'm guessing 8 knots or so and was blowing directly across the runway. Not that I haven't landed in that sort of weather before, but not by myself, and the weather hadn't switched like that in the middle of the flight.

Floating down the runway and using a side slip (right wing down into the wind) to keep her straight, things just didn't feel right. I had enough room to land but made the wise decision that it would be best to try again, so I applied full power and made my first-ever go around. Next time around I still wasn't perfect (still floated too much) but the approach was more stabilized and I made a soft landing on Runway 26. The windsock was blowing straight across the runway so I taxied back and called it an evening. All in all, some very valuable weather and on-the-fly decision-making experience makes this a great flight in my book.

I purchased a great little suction cup mount for my camera last weekend to help with taking videos in the plane. Hopefully this will aid me in not filling half the frame with the glareshield from now on. Check out some footage from tonight below, including - in this order - takeoff, flying around the pattern, steep turns, stalls, and landing. Oh yea, just for the record, I don't like how crappy and compressed Blogger's video uploader makes the videos look!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 4.3 hours
Total Time: 25.5 hours

Monday, August 11, 2008

2008 National Cherry Festival Airshow

Over the Fourth of July weekend, my good friend and old roommate Rob and I went up to Traverse City, Michigan to catch one heck of an awesome airshow. They only hold it every other year, but it's totally worth the 500 mile trek from Dayton. I have heard it's one of the best sites to see the Blue Angels perform, and I can't really argue to the contrary.

Although I have not written about it in quite a long time on here, photography is something I love so combining it with airplanes equals way too much fun in my mind. Rob and I have already been to Louisville and Traverse City this year and will be going to Cleveland and NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach before the 2008 airshow season is out. Not that you're probably surprised to hear of such an aviation obsession from me.

So long story short, we spent three entire days out in the Northern Michigan sun watching airplanes zoom around the sky making tons of noise. And as always, I took lots of photos and videos. The weather was perfect all weekend and the performers put on an excellent show. In particular, the F-15 demo by the Oregon ANG and the Blue Angels (who never disappoint) stood out.

I've posted some photos and videos below, and you can click on any of them to open up the higher-resolution versions over at Flickr. You can also see the entire airshow collection on my Flickr page. And while you're at it, check out Rob's photos too - he's an amazing photographer.

Such a tight diamond from the Blues

Fat Albert low over Grand Traverse Bay

Such precision at closure rates of 1000+ knots

There's just something I love about the A-10

The Aeroshell T-6 team puts on a pretty good show

Seriously, don't flinch...

USCG rescue demonstration

Oregon ANG F-15 with a killer performance

Video compilation of the Blue Angels' performances

Lesson 18: Transitioning to the Cessna 150

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Partly cloudy, 70 degrees, wind 010 degrees at 4 knots

Ahh, that new plane smell. Well it's not really a new plane - N60338 was built in 1969. Also known as the year we landed on the moon. But it's still 23 years newer than the Champ and, more importantly, new to me as a flying machine.

Today was my first time in a Cessna 150 and it will be my home in the sky for the rest of my training towards my Private Pilot Certificate. It has some useful features like electricity, lights, and radios that let me fly to larger airports with control towers and at night. I got to Stewart and headed out to do my preflight inspection and Dave pointed out the differences compared to what we look for on the Champ. The hinges on the ailerons are different and there are more places to drain the fuel to check for contamination. It's got a nosewheel so you have to check the strut for the proper amount of travel. Flaps are also on the plane so they get lowered and the hinges and attachment points are examined. Editorial note - flaps are surfaces that extend backward or downward (or sometimes both) from the trailing edge of the wing. They increase both lift and drag, which help to slow down the airplane and allow for steeper approaches.

After the preflight, I taxied her over by the runway and did the CIGAR checklist and the runup. It's different to taxi with a nosewheel and it took me most of the lesson to get a feel for using the rudder pedals on the ground. You can actually see out the front as opposed to the Champ, so that's nice too. On to Runway 26, extend flaps to 10 degrees, apply full power, and we're on our way. Bring the stick back slowly to lift the nose off the ground and this little Cessna's flying.

Off towards the lake we went to work on some basic maneuvers. First came steep turns and it was easier to reference the horizon in the 150 since there's rivets on the nose you can keep pegged in a certain spot. I wasn't using enough back pressure on the yoke at all times though. Then we worked on slow flight, bringing the flaps down to 20 degrees and pitching up to maintain around 35 knots. You're barely moving at that speed and Dave had me practice turns using only my rudder and keeping the wings level with the yoke. The controls definitely feel different at such slow speeds. Last we worked on stalls, both of which broke pretty smoothly without much of a dropping sensation. However, compared to the Champ, the Cessna really has a tendency to drop a wing during a power on stall. I incorrectly tried to level the wings with the yoke (it was an instinctive reaction almost) and Dave had to remind me to use only the rudder. A couple more times practicing and I was doing power on stalls with barely any loss in altitude.

Back in the traffic pattern, we saw the winds had shifted and were now out of the East so we set up to start using Runway 8. Abeam the numbers it's carb heat on, throttle to 1500 RPM, and flaps 10 degrees. Hold the speed between 60 and 70 knots, turn base, level the wings and set the flaps to 20 degrees. Turn final, bring in the last 10 degrees of flaps for 30 degrees total, and line her up with the runway centerline. Descend down to just above the runway, yoke back to round out the descent, and bring that nose up to touch down on the mains. Keep the stick back to hold the nose off the ground until it's ready to come down. Roll out on the runway, raise the flaps, carb heat back off, and taxi off. We did two more circuits of the pattern and called it a day. Let me note here that the landing gear must have a lot more cushion than those on the Champ, because I know at least one of my landings felt much softer than it should have.

There's a few differences of note between the 150 and the Champ or Cub, aside from the whole nosewheel/tailwheel thing. Having a yoke instead of a stick is a bit of a change but it did not really seem to affect me much in flight. It was a little more tempting to try to steer with the yoke on the ground like you would a car, which is odd since I've never tried that before. While the yoke was fine for control, it was more difficult for me to have the throttle in my right hand. I kept having to think to push forward for more power and pull back for less - it just wasn't feeling intuitive. All told though, it's just the kind of stuff you go through when switching to a new plane and within a couple more flights I'll be used to the differences. And for the record, the Cessna's comfy and has the equipment to get me to more places, but that Champ sure is a lot of fun!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 3.3 hours
Total Time: 24.5 hours

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Solo Practice 2: Having a little fun up there

Plane: Champ
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Few clouds, 73 degrees, wind 220 degrees at 6 knots

Summer mornings with a full blue sky and a light breeze only make me want to be one place - in the air. I got my wish today and went up for a little over an hour, starting off with two takeoffs and landings before venturing out. Then, along with practicing all the same maneuvers I worked on last night, I did a little bit of sightseeing. Instead of heading East over the lake where I usually practice I flew off to the West after working on S-Turns. On my way towards the water tower I used to practice turns around a point, I came across a field with a pretty cool maze or design cut into it.

It felt like most of my maneuvers were a little tighter this morning. Looking through the Google Earth track after the flight, it looked like I made some great S-Turns. They actually felt a little off up in the air but the track shows them being pretty darn symmetrical across the two roads over which I practiced. Same goes for one of the turns around the water tower.

After going in many circles doing steep turns (which felt alright, on par but not necessarily better than last night) I headed off over Caesar Creek Lake before returning to the traffic pattern. There were lots of boats out there and I flew a circle around the beach area to watch all the folks 1,000 feet below me enjoying the sunny day.

I brought my camera along again but took some video today in addition to the usual photos. It sat nicely on the glareshield (dash) so I decided it was safe and not distracting to leave it there. One of the results of flying coordinated is that you do not slip (slide to the inside) or skid (slide to the outside) around turns... so I must be flying well since the camera stayed in place the whole time! My first entire trip around the pattern is below along with my descent and flight around Caesar Creek Lake on the way back to the airport. I added a few captions for the non-pilot folks reading this too - enjoy!

A Trip Around The Pattern:

Over Caesar Creek Lake:

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.3 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 3.3 hours
Total Time: 23.4 hours

Friday, August 8, 2008

Solo Practice 1: Everything but the kitchen sink

Plane: Champ
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Partly cloudy becoming clear, 75 degrees, wind 340 degrees at 7 knots

Alllllll byyyy myyyyyseeeeeelf. Or so goes some song. But that was me today, truly going up solo for the first time since my official solo last Sunday. I had scheduled the Champ for last night but an unexpected line of thunderstorms moved through and it's best not to fly in those. Today the weather was gorgeous and became even nicer as the evening went on. So how'd it go? In a nutshell, quite good. Got her started and made a very smooth takeoff, stayed in the pattern until abeam the numbers on downwind, and then climbed out to around 3,000 feet to work on maneuvers.

Looking towards Caesar Creek Lake

Having been working towards soloing for most of July - and therefore staying in the traffic pattern - it had been a while since I had done some things up in the air. So today I decided it would be worthwhile to work on just about everything. Dutch Rolls were not my greatest strength last time I tried them so I did them for a couple minutes about three times today. Let's just say that I can definitely tell my coordinated aileron/rudder usage is vastly improved from before. I really kept the nose rolling nicely around the longitudinal axis (front to back) of the plane. Did stalls (both power off and power on) a few times as well, and it took me a couple to remember just how far you have to yank back on the stick to bring the nose up in the Champ to get it to stall.

Most of the other things I worked on related to turns in one way or another. I practiced turns around a point using a water tower by the lake (you'll see a bunch of lime green circles around the Western edge of the lake in the Google Earth track) and it's clear I still need some more practice on those. Chalk that up in tomorrow's "lesson" plan. I also spent a lot of time doing Steep Turns. Either I'm way more used to pulling some G's or I wasn't banked where I thought I was because they just didn't feel that forceful. And believe me, the horizon was quite angled - I think I pulled it closer to 50 or 60 degrees on some of the turns. So maybe I am just getting used to the G forces. Anyway, I held my altitude within test standards - although not as good as I would like - and was doing a great job of rolling out right on the desired heading.

Before heading back to the airport for some takeoffs and landings, I did a couple S-Turns using power lines as my reference. I did not fly evenly sized semi-circles but overall they were decent. Pat to self on back - check out the S-Turns in the Google Earth track, which are the most Northern part of the track. Pretty darn S-ey if I do say so myself! Also, you'll see the track starts kind of suddenly to the East of the airport. That would be due to the fact I forgot to turn the GPS on before takeoff. Lo siento.

One final note about why flying is awesome. After my first landing back at Stewart both of the Cubs along with a Cessna flew right over the field at a couple hundred feet in tight formation, which was beyond cool to see. Two pilots had the Cubs rented and I watched them fly in formation down low across the farmland and down in the valleys over the rivers and creeks nearby. Color me jealous. Looked like a great time and it's just one of those things you might only be able to do in a small plane.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.6 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 2.0 hours
Total Time: 22.1 hours

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lesson 17: Solo!

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave/Solo
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 82 degrees, wind 110 degrees at 4 knots

Yup, that's me in there taking off all by myself for the first time

Woo-hoo! And yes, I did yell that out once I was in the air after my first solo takeoff. But let's back up real quick and I'll give you a brief rundown of tonight's lesson. I could not have asked for better weather. It was absolutely gorgeous up there, clear blue skies and light winds. We were using Runway 8 tonight since the wind was out of the East. Got her started and made four takeoffs and landings with Dave sitting behind me. All were good and smooth, as was my maneuvering around the traffic pattern - other than getting a little high on downwind a few times.

After the fourth landing, Dave told me to taxi off to the side and I knew what was coming. He unbuckled his belt, opened up the door, stepped out of the plane, said "give me three," and shook my hand. That was it. All on my own now. The feeling that washed over me was happiness and excitement - having been mentally prepared for soloing for a week or two now, I'd been anticipating this moment for some time. I taxied the Champ back to the end of the runway, checked for traffic in the pattern, and it was time to go.

First Takeoff/Landing:
Got her lined up on the runway and smoothly added power. Stick forward and wow did the tail come off the ground quickly. Slowly brought the stick back and before I knew it I was off the ground and climbing fast. No turning back now! You can hear a billion times how differently the plane is going to fly the first time the instructor steps out, but I was still blown away at the performance. That old Champ really can climb! (If you look at the GPS tracks - links at the bottom - you'll see how much shorter my climb before turning crosswind was when solo.) I had to adjust the trim towards "Nose Up" since I was going close to 70 mph and the standard climb speed is 60. Got to 1,500 feet faster than ever before and made a smooth turn to crosswind. Looking out the left, I was right on the extended runway centerline - excellent!

Turned downwind, throttled back, and maintained 1,800 feet until abeam the numbers. Then I added carb heat and brought the throttle back to about 1,400 RPM. I could not believe the difference in the weight and balance here. Normally, trim's about the same as takeoff (in the middle of the slide range) but I had to bring it nearly all the way back towards "Nose Up" to maintain 60 mph. Smoothly flew into my base leg and then on to final and was about on the glide path, I didn't even use a forward slip. Rounded out and started to flare and touched down, but I bounced two or three times. Not too hard, but the first time I did that all night. Probably was due to it being my first time landing without any extra weight behind me.

Second Takeoff/Landing:
Seeing as how the Champ wanted to climb like a rocket (well, for a Champ) last time I trimmed much more nose up this time around. Pushed in the throttle and again was rolling down the runway and off the ground in no time. Climbed smoothly out to 1,500 and flew around the pattern very well. I really felt sharp and on top of things up there. Took a few moments to look down at the ground and revel in the scenery too, since it's always awesome to remember how lucky I am to be up there above everything. Back to downwind, I throttled back and managed the descent better this time since I knew what to expect. I used a mild forward slip on final to bleed off a little extra altitude and airspeed and made an almost-three-point touchdown (just hit the two mains a split second before the tailwheel) right where I wanted to hit the grass.

Third Takeoff/Landing:
This entire circuit of the pattern was great. Takeoff once again was smooth and I quickly climbed up to 1,500 for the turn to crosswind and was at pattern altitude on downwind soon thereafter. My descent was right on target and again I used a very minor slip to hit the runway threshold at the right spot. The roundout and flare were right on target and I kept bringing the stick back, back, back for a perfect landing - total greaser! To be honest, I didn't want to taxi back and shut her down. With smooth air and clear skies I could have stayed up until sundown. Anyway, I taxied back towards the main hangar and Dave helped marshal me in to where I shut the engine off. First solo complete! :-D

Obviously, I was grinning and happy when I stepped out of N1798E. Dave shook my hand again, said great job, and we walked inside. Another pilot was standing out there with Dave and took some video and additional photos of me soloing and I'll get those online once they're emailed to me. Then it was time for the ageless tradition of cutting off the back of my shirt. I've heard it dates back to early flight training where instructors in open-cockpit biplanes (sitting behind the student) could only get the students' attention by tugging on their shirt tails. Once the students had soloed, the instructor no longer needed to tug on them so they cut them off. Well, add me to those long books as another successful, shirtless, and very happy solo aviator!

More photos from the first solo, courtesy of Dave...

Climbing out from Runway 8

Just before touching down on my first solo landing

Rolling down the runway after the first landing

Back inside with Dave, shortly before losing my shirt

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File - Dual | Solo
Today's Flight:
1.1 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 0.4 hours
Total Time: 20.5 hours

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Lesson 16: Crosswind fun

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Partly cloudy, 85 degrees, wind 340 degrees at 8 knots gusting to 16

With the winds blowing pretty much directly across the runway, conditions weren't exactly right for me to solo. However, it was great weather for practicing crosswind takeoffs and landings. Hopefully it's calm enough tomorrow night for me to take to the sky on my own!

Per the usual as of late, we did not leave the pattern during today's lesson. It had been a while since I landed in such strong crosswinds (back in Lesson 6, to be precise) so after last night's strong headwinds it was another day of good practice. My first couple takeoffs weren't the greatest as I did not let the plane weathercock into the wind as much as it needed to. After that, I properly used lots of right aileron to keep the right wing low and used the rudder to keep the plane tracking straight down the runway. My last two takeoffs were very smooth, with me lifting off very gently and allowing the plane to turn into the wind. It was interesting to notice how strongly the plane cocked into the wind at about 150 feet agl once we were past the "tree level" where the trees help to break the wind.

Being the middle of the afternoon with plenty of puffy cumulus clouds in the sky, the ride was somewhat bumpy. We hit a few good pockets of air that jolted us one way or the other and the heat also caused plenty of rising air that often pushed me a little too high on downwind. Landing-wise my approach path was generally quite good, but it always got more interesting right above the runway. There, the air tends to rise and fall due to some uneven heating along with winds that shift around thanks to the trees and terrain. On about the fifth landing, we hit a good gust that banked the plane pretty severely so I had to correct and continue my descent. Aside from the bumps, bounces, and crosswind my landings were good overall the entire afternoon. None were total greasers, but considering the wind situation they all ended up quite smooth.

It was also very weird to use a right forward slip (since you generally want to have the wing raised into the wind when slipping) to bleed off speed and altitude. I've realized that I am at the point where a left forward slip is a maneuver I just do automatically and don't even have to think about. But since ones to the right are not so common, I still found myself saying "right aileron, left rudder" in my head this afternoon. Dave had me intentionally come in quite high one time so I would have to slip it hard to the right and that helped. Since most slips are made to the left (left bank + right rudder) it was good practice.

I'm looking forward to flying again tomorrow!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Total Time: 19.4 hours

Friday, August 1, 2008

Lesson 15: Fatigue sucks

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 86 degrees, wind 250 degrees at 10 knots gusting to 18

You could certainly say I'm not a morning person - and probably never will be. So even though I work during usual business hours I am often awake much later than I should be. I'm just a night person. Up to this point in my training I have always done my best, however, to go to bed earlier any night before I have a lesson. Last night I did not, plus I just way more tired than normal all day long. What does that add up to? Less than ideal flying.

Clearly, my brain was not processing information as efficiently as usual today. I found myself doing strange things up there; things that I have never done before that were pretty much counterintuitive to what I was trying to accomplish. For example, when I was high on final I would go into a forward slip but did not bring the throttle all the way back to idle. That's pretty much like keeping your foot on the accelerator while slamming on the brakes... um yea, no logic in that. I also did not watch my speed on final nearly as well as I have in the past and just felt "behind the plane" for most if not all of the flight. It was a great lesson in aeromedical factors (one of the subjects on the FAA knowledge test I have to take soon, by the way) and an important reminder of the possible consequences of something as simple as being too tired.

I may have been better served to cancel today's lesson and rest since I do not really feel I got as much out of it as I should have due to the fatigue. On the other hand, it was great to go up when I had an instructor in the back seat and see how moderate fatigue would affect me in the air. It's not like I was totally incompetent up there; half my takeoffs were actually rather good. The strong, gusty headwinds made for a little trouble around the pattern - mainly when to turn base and keeping on the proper glide path. I was often too low or too high and had to either add power or throw the plane over into a bit of a forward slip, respectively. But seeing as how I do still struggle on landing with stronger winds it was good to go up and work on it. Plus, Dave actually said he would have climbed out of the plane if the winds weren't so gusty. With a lesson tomorrow and another on Sunday it looks like I might have flown around the Ohio sky on my own by the next time I'm sitting at my desk in the office!

Key learning experience from today - it's clear that fatigue has MUCH more of an impact on me in the sky than it does on the ground and I will make decisions accordingly for as long as I fly.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.3 hours
Total Time: 18.2 hours