Monday, September 29, 2008

Solo Cross-Country 1: Back to Circleville

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-CYO-40I
Weather: Scattered to broken clouds, 79 degrees, wind 220 degrees at 6 knots

Many pilots say their first solo cross-country is the fondest memory they have from their flight training. Others say it is simply their first solo flight. There's just something about leaving familiar ground, flying off into the wild blue yonder, navigating to an airport far (50+ miles) away, and returning safely home that yields a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Well, I certainly do feel like I accomplished something after my first go at it. But I can't deny that the grin was much bigger after I made those first three solo takeoffs and landings in the Champ on August 3rd.

Sentimentality aside, today turned out to be an excellent day for my first solo cross-country. Why? A cold front was moving in, forcing me to make important calculations and decisions based on the weather. I flew straight into the setting sun on the way home, providing a great opportunity to take advantage of flight following over the radio. I had to file a flight plan over the radio - more on that later. And then there's that whole flying 53 nautical miles away from home base and returning safely thing!

Video from today's flight to Circleville and back

I flew to Circleville, the same airport Dave and I visited on my first dual cross-country. With me managing enough other firsts in the cockpit solo, I decided it was in my favor to fly a familiar route - even if it was only one flight three weeks ago. Having been there before, I dusted off the old flight plan and recalculated the correction angle and groundspeed based on today's winds aloft.

Flight Service indicated during my weather briefing that visibility would be greater than 6 miles and the ceiling was forecast to be around 6,000 agl over my route, leaving me plenty of room. Thunderstorms and showers were not expected until after 8pm and I would be on the ground before 7. My personal minimums right now are probably around 5-10 miles visibility and 3,000' ceilings so I felt comfortable with the weather. Plus, I knew I could call Flight Watch (122.0) on the radio for updated weather information in flight if I had any concerns.

Well have a look at that - I flew somewhere today!

After topping off the fuel tanks, setting the frequencies in the radios, running through all the checklists, and starting the engine, I departed Runway 26. Leaving the pattern, I switched from the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency - pilots at airports without control towers use it to tell each other where they are) to the frequency for the local Flight Service Station. I made a call for them to open my VFR Flight Plan, which I had filed online at earlier in the afternoon. The briefer who answered took my N-Number (60338) and said he had the flight plan on file. Then he mentioned something about thunderstorms North of the airport and advised against the flight - but this didn't sound right as I had just checked the radar and there was nothing in Central Ohio. I listened closely and realized he was looking at my flight plan from last week to Winchester, IN (I22) instead of today's.

I stated this over the radio and the briefer replied that this was the only plan on file. Somehow, the one I filed this afternoon (and I printed a confirmation receipt for) never got into the system. Not the end of the world, although it was a little peculiar as the flight plan he found (to I22) was one that I also filed online via DUAT. Anyway, with the situation cleared up for both me and the briefer I was able to provide the necessary information (route, altitude, time enroute, airspeed, etc.) and file/activate the plan over the radio. I consider that a good lesson and good practice all in one!

Proof that I did indeed land at Pickaway County Memorial Airport

Another photo of the airport in Circleville

Enroute to Circleville, I made my next call to Dayton Approach to request flight following. As I learned and discussed in Lesson 24, it's great to have another set of eyes watching out for you up there. Reaching the top of my climb at 3,500 feet, I realized that I had not leaned (reducing the amount of fuel going into the engine since the air density decreases with altitude) the engine. Dave told me he doesn't lean until the top of climb but I prefer to keep an eye on it while ascending. Of course, when you're only going up to 3,500 feet in the Midwest you barely have any leaning to do. But I digress.

My planning was right on track, passing by Clinton County Airport and over Washington Court House on top of the line on my Sectional chart. I was following the course via my VOR receiver as a backup, as Circleville has a VOR station right on the field. Using my stopwatch, I noted that my groundspeed was just about as planned as I crossed over my checkpoints enroute. Dayton Approach had me contact Columbus Approach as I got closer to Circleville and they canceled flight following when I had the airport in sight. I descended to pattern altitude (1,500) and entered the pattern over the Runway 1 numbers and landed on Runway 19. I got a tad low and it wasn't my smoothest landing ever, but I was safely in Circleville!

You can't see much when you fly into the sun on a hazy day

A Cessna Skylane passing about 500 feet above and 1 mile ahead of me

I took a couple photos (as you saw above) and quickly departed back towards Dayton. No reason to waste time on the ground when I knew weather was approaching, although I certainly left myself more than enough time to return home safely. I realized that I had forgotten to set the mixture to full rich (the opposite of leaning) on descent on the way into Circleville. From the relatively low altitude I was at it's not going to cause any serious consequences but it's something I have to remember in the future.

Heading into the sun - and with the associated visibility issues - I really appreciated flight following on the way home. Columbus Approach had me descend from 4,500 to 4,000 because there was a Cessna Skylane also at 4,500 and our paths were close to crossing. I snapped a photo of him that's posted above. Then, closer to home, Dayton Approach alerted me to a Piper about 1,000 feet above me and a few miles ahead. Thanks to ATC I was able to easily spot both aircraft and reported "traffic in sight" over the radio. Again, I really encourage all pilots to take advantage of flight following on all flights - it may just save your bacon some day.

Sun peeking through layers of clouds while flying back to 40I

More sunlight filtering through the clouds and into my eyes

The rest of the flight was uneventful and I contacted Dayton Approach to cancel flight following when I was over Caesar Creek Lake since I had the field in sight. I altered my course slightly to the right so I could enter the pattern by crossing over the approach end of Runway 8. My approach was pretty stable but I got a little low again on final and had to add some power. Seems that I am still not completely used to the descent rate of the 150, but I know it will come with some more solo time in the bird.

Some darker clouds rolling in as I approached Waynesville

You would think that the issues I had activating the flight plan were enough for one day, but you would be wrong. After landing and shutting down, I called Flight Service from my phone to close my flight plan. If you don't close your plan and about a half hour elapses, they start calling the phone number(s) you provided. And if nobody can be reached, it's not long before a search party is sent out to find you and your aircraft. Not a good use of our tax dollars when you're safely sitting on your couch at home.

But back to tonight, I did indeed call and the briefer confirmed I was back at 40I and closed the flight plan - or so I thought. Driving home about a half hour later, I see Flight Service pop up on my Caller ID. Apparently the plan was never closed and they (coincidentally, the briefer on the phone was the same guy I spoke to over the radio earlier) wanted to know where I was. A quick explanation that I had indeed called to close it and he officially closed my flight plan this time, saying that he wasn't really sure what happened.

Trusty old 60338, tied down back home in Waynesville

So I know I've written a lot but there turned out to be many good lessons and observations during my first solo cross-country. Maybe they'll help another student pilot along the way or remind other pilots what they went through long ago. I really enjoyed every aspect of tonight's flight, from planning and preparing to flying as the sun shined brightly through the clouds. Check off one more major milestone on my quest towards my certificate!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.7 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 10.5 hours
Total Time: 41.0 hours

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Solo Practice 7: Some solo time in the 150

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 75 degrees, wind 030 degrees at 5 knots

Went up tonight for an hour in the 150 for a little solo practice. Other than when Dave soloed me in it, I had not been up alone. I wanted to spend some time working on the basics before I venture off tomorrow on my first solo cross-country.

Sunset while on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern at Stewart

I made four takeoffs and landings and flew North of the field and over the lake to practice turns around a point and steep turns. The takeoffs all felt good and the landings were decent, other than getting a little low on one. I made my last approach a practice engine-out, but ended up way high and dumped all 40 degrees of flaps to land about 300 feet past the threshold. After getting stabilized, my turns around a point felt coordinated and within test standards. Steep turns still need some more work and I think Dave and I will work on those during our next lesson together. My main concern right now is talking with Dave to make sure I know all the exact speeds I want to be aiming for in my maneuvers in the Cessna. Once I have those firmly in my head, I think everything will come into place.

Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 8.8 hours
Total Time: 39.3 hours

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lesson 24: That flight following is a handy thing

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-I22-40I
Weather: Clear, 80 degrees, wind 100 degrees at 8 knots

Today I made my second dual cross-country, flying from Stewart up to Winchester, IN (Randolph County, I22) and back. I planned the flight last night, called Flight Service for a weather briefing this afternoon, and Dave checked it out and said everything looked good when I got to the airport. Preflight complete and tanks topped off, we departed to the Northwest at 4,500 feet. Winds aloft were about 18 knots on our tail and we clipped along and made it there (it's 54 nautical miles away) in about 35 minutes.

I called Dayton Flight Service over the radio for the first time and activated my VFR flight plan. They're incredibly nice and, as Dave likes to tell me, it's just a regular person on the other end so it's nothing to get nervous about. I have found that I'm slightly apprehensive the first time I try something completely new on the radio. After I have done it one time, however, there hasn't been any real nervousness and I've felt comfortable talking. Dave told me he thinks I'll do great on my checkride as I'm doing awesome with the radios for having no experience and in general with multitasking in the air.

En route, I hit all the checkpoints just about right on time and was following along noting references off the sectional chart to pinpoint our location. Dave loves taking students to Randolph Co. because it can be extremely hard to find - in daylight, at least. There's a drive-in theater right next door that helps out a little bit at night. Anyway, as we got close neither of us saw it until all of a sudden it was right in front of us about 3 miles out. I entered the pattern and brought us down softly on the very narrow (to me) runway. There's no taxiway so I made a radio call to announce my intentions and then proceeded to back-taxi down the runway. On takeoff, Dave had my camera and managed to snap a few photos of the place.

Taking off from Runway 7 at Randolph County

Silos to the East of the airport (good future visual reference!)

Now on the return leg, I called Dayton Approach control for Flight Following for the first time. The idea with flight following is that as a VFR aircraft, air traffic control assigns you a unique code on your transponder so their radar can see you and know exactly who you are. Then they are able to provide you vectors along with advisories about other traffic in the air. More on that in a second.

I deviated slightly to the West about halfway home but figured out where I was and managed to get us back on course. Crossing to the West of downtown Dayton we continued towards the river and Wright Brothers airport. We were cruising at 3,500 feet as Eastbound flights are supposed to fly odd thousands plus five hundred feet (3,500/5,500/7,500/etc.) and Westbound pilots the even ones plus five hundred - hence the reason we flew to I22 at 4,500 feet. A couple miles away from Wright Brothers, we got a call from ATC that is sure to make any pilot move quickly...
Dayton Approach: "Cessna 60338, Traffic Alert, Traffic Alert! Traffic is 12 o'clock, three miles, 3,500 feet, climb immediately to 4,000!"

(Shove throttle all the way in, pull back, up we go!)

Me: "Climbing 4,000, negative contact, 60338."
We looked and looked and I kept flying and climbing. The sun was behind us and close to setting so it's not like we were blinded by light in our eyes. Finally, Dave spotted the plane behind us and not too far below and we let ATC know the traffic was in sight. Since we were nearly home, they canceled flight following at that point and I thanked the controller for the help. But it wasn't totally over, as that other plane started turning towards our way and descending right alongside us. Neither Dave nor I had a clue what the other pilot was doing but he kept tabs on the traffic while I flew. Finally, the other guy turned away and we entered the pattern and landed behind a Cub.

The traffic, flying parallel to us (in the center of the photo)

The other plane, now turning away from us

So as the title of this post states and my experience clearly illustrates, flight following is a great service... USE IT! The odd/even thousands rule doesn't apply until you are more than 3,000 feet above the ground, so the other pilot was flying legally at 3,500 feet (2,500 feet above the ground). Nonetheless, this shows why it's a very good reason to obey the hemispherical rules whenever possible as it helps reduce traffic conflicts. And let me just say one more time that flight following is a very good thing.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File (It didn't record correctly, as you will see)
Today's Flight: 1.8 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 7.8 hours
Total Time: 38.3 hours

2008 NAS Oceana Airshow

Ahhh, there's nothing like the smell of JP-5 in the morning. Add to that three days of airplanes flying overhead and you have a very good vacation. Rob and I went to Virginia Beach for three days last weekend to catch NAS Oceana's Golden Anniversary Airshow and take tons of photos. Being the headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet, there were plenty of F-18s and other aircraft around.

Two F-18 Super Hornets lifting off from the runway

Checking the ramp for FOD in the morning

Friday we couldn't get on base for the practice so we watched from across the road at the end of the runway. It turned out to be a great spot for some shots, as the Blue Angels went directly overhead at about 200 feet on takeoff. We got on base for the night show and got to shoot some great photos of planes with a nice sunset in the background. We also picked up our Media Passes that we received as part of a group of members from the airshow website Fence Check. They got us preferred parking, the ability to bring backpacks in, and seating in the Media pit - good deal.

Climbing into a P-51 and preparing for takeof

The Geico Skytypers fly during the evening show

We discovered a great spot on the grass north of the main seating area that most people ignored. Too bad for them. The F-22 Raptor went directly overhead on a few passes and words can't describe how ridiculously awesome it was to be right there. Check the video at the end of this post and you'll see what I mean. Other planes also came real close to that spot as they banked towards the crowd line and airshow center.

F-18s and an E-2C made up the Fleet Flyby

F-22 and P-51 during the Heritage Flight

Being a Naval Base, there are some additional things compared to your run-of-the-mill airshow. Namely, lots and lots of military jets. There were tons of F-18 Hornets and Super Hornets at Oceana this year and none disappointed. The weather did keep the entire fleet from flying by on Saturday, but they were able to go up on Sunday and do the full Tactical Air Power Demonstration. Jets raced in for simulated bombing and gun runs, complete with pyrotechnics. The only thing we missed was the F-18 tanker demo, as the tanking aircraft had a mechanical problem and couldn't go up on Sunday.

The Blue Angels' aircraft lined up on the ramp

All in all, it was a kick-ass trip full of jet noise and the opportunity to get up close with many amazing aircraft. This was my first trip to Oceana but I have a feeling I'll be returning soon. It's been a lot of fun traveling around the country to watch planes dart around the sky this summer. But after five total airshows this year - Louisville, Traverse City, Waynesville, Cleveland, and now Oceana - I'm done until next season rolls around.

Video highlights from the show

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Solo Practice 6: Serious crosswind practice

Plane: Champ
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 74 degrees, wind 030 degrees at 9 knots

Before heading off to Virginia Beach for a weekend of jet noise, I took my friend Rob with me to check out the airport. I've linked to some of his awesome aviation photos before and figured he would enjoy the chance to shoot some classic old planes at Stewart, which he indeed did. While he shot some film, I took the Champ up for a little takeoff and landing practice.

The winds started off down the runway but quickly shifted to an almost direct crosswind. It wasn't blowing too strong and I knew it was in my limits, so I decided it would be good practice. I had two of each that were great, smoothly lifting off or setting down on the ground, cocking right into the wind on liftoff and landing lightly on the left wheel on touchdown. Unfortunately, I also had one really bad takeoff where a gust got under the left wing and I had to quickly react. Everything else was pretty much average, where I safely took off or landed but they weren't perfectly smooth or greasers.

Rob had my digital camera and took some videos of me and another pilot who was flying the Stearman. As with our usual airshow videos, they just aren't complete without all Rob's commentary. You'll see what I mean...

Today's Flight: 0.7 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 7.8 hours
Total Time: 36.5 hours

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lesson 23: Taking the 150 up by myself

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Overcast, 63 degrees, wind 280 degrees at 5 knots

In spite of yesterday's insane weather, today was a remarkably decent day to go flying. The ceilings were between 2,500 and 3,000 feet and the overcast layer kept it quite cool. Most importantly, it was good enough that I knew I would finally be able to get the 150 solo endorsement knocked out. But first we had a couple other things to take care of.

Last lesson we stopped short of practicing Short Field landings, so that was the first order of business this afternoon. Dave demonstrated the maneuver to me one time and then I made three approaches myself. You want to extend your downwind and not cut power abeam the numbers like we do for normal landings. Instead, you continue flying (I'll call it roughly one mile) and wait to cut power until turning base. Then you bring in about 20 degrees of flaps, turn final, bring the flaps down to 30 degrees, bleed off more airspeed, and then bring in the rest of the full 40 degrees of flaps.

Once you're established on glide path at 50-55 knots, you use the yoke (elevator) to control the airspeed and the throttle to control the descent rate. The idea is to come in low and slow and touch down as soon as possible on the runway. Once clear of any obstacles, you cut the power, flare, and step on the brakes (lightly on the grass, fully if on asphalt) once the wheels are down to bring the plane to a stop. We have the trees on the end of Runway 26 so our approaches have to be made a little higher than usual for a Short Field landing.

My first approach was decent, the second ended up high, and the third one was right on the money. It's amazing how little runway you are able to use to bring that tiny Cessna to a stop. We honestly used less than 500 feet from the time I touched down to the time we were turning off on that last approach. A normal landing is still short when compared to larger planes, but it easily takes 1,000 feet or more of runway. It's a fun maneuver and I'm looking forward to practicing it at an airport with a paved runway next lesson to really lay on the brakes and test out how well I can get the plane down in a short distance.

After the Short Field practice, I made a couple normal takeoffs and landings. On the final trip around the pattern, Dave took the favorite instructor trick out of his bag and pulled the throttle on me to simulate an engine failure. I ran through the checks (pitch for best glide speed, check the magnetos, carb heat, mixture rich, throttle open) as I turned for the airport. We were actually high so I ended up bringing in all 40 degrees of flaps and landing a little way down the runway but with plenty of room to spare. There's just something about engine-out approaches that's fun, at least if you ask me.

Finally, the long-awaited moment of truth. It's not nearly as monumental as your first solo, but nonetheless rewarding to know you're about to take plane up on your own the first time. Dave hopped out of the trusty old 150 and told me to make three takeoffs and landings and meet him in the office. I happily obliged and made three uneventful circuits of the pattern. Just as with the Champ, it does climb quite a bit better with one less body on board and you should be able to easily pick out the three solo takeoffs on the GPS track. Back inside, Dave endorsed my logbook and that was that. I can now officially fly the Champ or the 150 on my own as I continue on my quest towards the almighty Private Pilot Certificate!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.8 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 7.1 hours
Total Time: 35.8 hours

Those crazy Ohio hurricanes

Following the news and track of Hurricane Ike last week, I expected to be watching it on CNN over this past weekend. I certainly did not expect to be watching it out my windows in Ohio. No, it wasn't officially a hurricane by any true definition of the word. But we did get treated to one hell of a destructive storm yesterday afternoon and evening.

Winds lifting shingles from the roof in my apartment complex

The remnants of Ike combined with a cold front made for quite a rare and nasty day. Sustained winds grew throughout the day and at one point were steady at 55 miles per hour, gusting to 84 in a nearby town. That's hurricane-force gusts, folks. We might get strong winds like that in front of severe thunderstorms on occasion, but nothing like we saw yesterday. The winds started to pick up around noon and remained that strong until six in the evening. As you can imagine, buildings and trees and pretty much everything down here is not built to withstand those kind of forces.

Winds blew this tree down on the house and peeled the paint right off

With the winds calm again, there is now a ridiculous amount of cleanup that has to take place. Power is out pretty much everywhere - except the office, of course. I literally live less than a mile away from work and can see the building from my apartment and it was (quite sadly) glowing like a Christmas Tree last night. I, on the other hand, have been without power for over 24 hours now and they're saying it could take until this coming weekend (5+ days) to restore it to everyone. The county and city declared a State of Emergency this morning, followed by the Governor doing so for the entire state this afternoon. I read that only 1/3 of the traffic lights in the state of Ohio are working right now.

Metal siding that was ripped from a pole barn next door

Trees two to three feet in diameter are snapped in half and collapsed on top of power lines all over the place. I know of at least a couple people at work who have had (or have family members who have had) trees fall on their houses and cause major damage. Shingles and siding were ripped right off in my apartment complex. It's not a pretty sight down here and there are very few restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, and other useful businesses open right now. So if you don't see much from me or have trouble reaching me this week, now you know why!

Video from the wind storm

1000 Words: Catching Up

A new post went up on the Kodablog today, which pretty much discusses what I've been blogging about on here all summer long.
Long time, no blog from me here. The last time you heard from me, I had just returned from Germany and said my next blog would go into more detail about my travels in Bavaria and Austria. Well, you're still going to have to wait on that one but I do intend to talk about some of what I did all summer in this post.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Lesson 22: Dodging the clouds in Class G

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Low ceilings, overcast, light rain, 71 degrees, wind 240 degrees at 8 knots

After another long week at work where I worked some insane hours, it was looking like the weather wasn't going to let me fly on my day off today. I still got up and went to the airport at 9 this morning, figuring that it might clear up enough to fly at some point during the three hours I had scheduled. The forecast is rain and thunderstorms every day through the middle of next week so VFR conditions will be dicey at best. At least we aren't getting pummeled by a hurricane, and my thoughts go out to everyone (including some friends) down in the Houston area with Hurricane Ike coming ashore.

Not exactly ideal conditions for the VFR pilot

Dave arrived and after we talked for a short while he said it looked like conditions were marginal but good enough for us to head up and stick around the pattern. I certainly would never fly in such weather on my own without an Instrument Rating but I'm quite thankful to have the chance to go up in marginal weather with a CFI on board. The airspace around Stewart is Class G meaning we only need one mile visibility and to remain clear of clouds during the day to legally fly VFR. You pilots out there can see from the METARs (Aviation Weather Reports) below that the conditions gradually improved during the flight.
KILN 121316Z AUTO 23008KT 5SM -RA BR FEW007 BKN013 22/21 A3009
KILN 121331Z AUTO 22008KT 5SM -RA BR BKN007 OVC013 22/21 A3008
KILN 121354Z AUTO 21009KT 5SM -RA BR OVC007 22/21 A3008
KILN 121419Z AUTO 22010KT 8SM -RA SCT007 SCT011 22/21 A3008
KILN 121454Z AUTO 22010KT 10SM FEW007 22/21 A3008
KILN 121526Z AUTO 22012KT 10SM BKN009 BKN013 23/21 A3009
Preflight complete and fuel topped off, I taxied to the runway and made a standard takeoff. The ceiling was about 2,500 feet but there was a scattered layer around 600-800 and I maneuvered around the occasional cloud. As we flew during the hour and a half, the ceiling went up and down and we flew a couple circuits around the pattern at 1,500 to 1,600 feet instead of the usual 1,800 to remain clear of clouds. Again, not something I would do on my own and the conditions were nearly IFR but it's great to actually get up in the air to experience that kind of weather.

Some pattern circuits were flown lower (light blue vs. magenta)

Along with standard takeoffs and landings, we worked on some other variations that Dave originally introduced when we flew a couple weeks ago. Soft Field takeoffs are used mainly on turf runways (like we have at Stewart) and the goal is to get the weight off the ground as fast as possible. Accordingly, you keep the yoke full back to lift the nose wheel off and then allow the airplane to fly off the ground as soon as it is ready. Then you lower the nose to allow speed to build in ground effect (where the plane is very close to the ground, reducing drag and permitting flight at a lower speed than normal) before climbing away. Soft Field landings are done for the same reasons, so when you touch down you add a touch of power to hold the nose wheel off the ground as long as possible. When taxiing, the plane should never stop as it could end up stuck in the mud or otherwise caught in the turf.

Short Field takeoffs are done when you (this is rocket science, I know) have a short runway and want to leave the ground in the shortest distance possible. You hold the brakes while applying full power, then release them and use minimal back pressure as you roll down the runway. As soon as the plane is ready to fly, you raise the nose and fly away at Vx. This is the name for the best angle of climb airspeed, meaning the airplane will gain the greatest altitude per a given distance over the ground - exactly what you want to do when climbing out of a short strip. Dave also had me make one approach to landing using the full 40 degrees of flaps. I had to add a good 300 RPM when I kicked in the flaps since the plane wants to sink like a brick. It's hard to believe the difference between 30 and 40 degrees of flaps in terms of the sink rate and amount of power needed for a stabilized approach.

Given the weather, today was not the best time for Dave to solo me in the Cessna. Instead, we worked on the takeoffs and landings and getting me ready for the solo. Next lesson we will practice emergency procedures, work on Short Field landings, and hopefully get me signed off to fly the trusty old 150 all by my lonesome. I scheduled a few more lessons throughout the rest of the month where we will do our second dual cross country and (fingers crossed) I will make my first solo cross country as well. Dave also signed me off to take the FAA Knowledge Exam so I hope to do that next week sometime before I head off to Virginia Beach. Considering the weather, my crazy work hours, and upcoming travel plans, I really can't complain about flying progress right now!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.5 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 6.7 hours
Total Time: 34.0 hours

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Rolling around in a Pitts

Eric, my Project Pilot mentor through the AOPA, has been trying to take me for a ride in his plane for quite a while. Our schedules have been at odds and we both have been traveling for work, so it was not until today that I finally got to go up with him. He doesn't own any run-of-the-mill plane, you see. He and a partner own a 1993 Pitts S-2B Special, a very impressive, very fast, and very cool aerobatic bird. Eric even flies in aerobatic competitions, which he has written about on his blog.

Eric's Pitts - she's a beautiful plane

We walked over to the plane and Eric helped me get into my parachute and strap into the plane. Per the FAA regulations, anyone performing aerobatics (pitching the nose in excess of 30 degrees, etc.) has to wear a parachute. And due to the fact that the Pitts can fly inverted, there are about 300 belts (ok, it's actually like 4 or 5) to hold you in place. All strapped in and preflight checks completed, Eric taxied on to the runway and put in full throttle. Oh did we accelerate and, before long, oh did we climb. Those 260 HP sure put the Champ to shame in about 0.0067 seconds.

For whatever reason, I was not feeling 100% healthy this afternoon. Maybe it was all the bumpier air from my hour and a half in the Champ. Either way, I told Eric that it was probably best that we didn't do any loops or spins this afternoon. I still wanted to have a little fun and said we should try some rolls. Up around 2,500 feet he went into a shallow dive to build up airspeed, then a quick pull back on the stick (the G Meter read about 2.5 to 3 Gs) to about 35 degrees nose-up and around we went. Those big ailerons sure can move the wings around in a hurry. You're upside down for such a short period of time that you never feel any negative Gs, which would pull you out of the seat. We turned around and did another and then Eric asked if I wanted to fly the plane for a bit.

I didn't do anything fancy, just made some shallow turns and learned how much rudder you need to use to stay coordinated in the Pitts. After a few turns, I began to get a better feel for things although I was never great at "keeping the ball centered" during my time at the controls. I also tried a couple S-Turns and if you look at the GPS track you can see them over on the West side of the flight path. We putzed around for a little longer and then decided to head back to Stewart. Eric took back over and we went buzzing around the pattern faster than I've ever gone before, since the approach speed in the Pitts is about 100 mph - it's 60 in the Champ. Another plane was landing so we made another lap around the airport (in record time, I might add) and came in to land. That thing sure drops like a rock once you cut the power and we quickly lost altitude and came zooming low over the trees and touched down on Runway 26.

What a fun time in the sky, even if I was feeling a little nauseous. I don't know if the rolls had anything to do with it, but I'll get up there again and try some other aerobatic stuff and will know for sure how much my body likes it. Writing this a few hours later, I still don't feel great so I might just have a minor case of something. No matter how I felt, it was a great experience and I can't thank Eric enough (thanks again, Eric!) for taking me up in his awesome plane.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File

Solo Practice 5: Back to the basics

Plane: Champ
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 74 degrees, wind 270 degrees at 8 knots

So much for the forecast of clear skies today. It ended up being quite cloudy, bumpy, and cool. Not that it kept me out of the air, so no harm done in the grand scheme of things. I decided to do a little sightseeing again in addition to working on most of my basic flight maneuvers. As has become somewhat of my norm for solo flying, I took off and stayed in the pattern to practice a landing before venturing off. The air was somewhat bumpy and was rising quite thoroughly on downwind and base, so the Champ just didn't want to descend even with the throttle at idle. I ended up going into a monster forward slip on final and bringing her down for a total greaser of a landing. Not a bad way to start off the day.

My first trip around the pattern this afternoon

I took back off and headed off to the North past Waynesville and followed Bellbrook Road (which I drive on my way to the airport) up to Bellbrook. There was another plane close by so you can see in the GPS track that I sort of turned around up there a couple times and flew back to the South while I waited for him to clear the area. Then I started in on some S-Turns, going back up Bellbrook Road. They all felt great in the air and the track appears to agree with me. I feel quite confident that I am doing them to Practical Test Standards, maintaining airspeed and altitude very well.

S-Turns (middle) and Turns Around A Point (top left)

After that, I did Turns Around A Point by circling around two different water towers. These felt a little off as I tend to get a little too close to the "point" (i.e. the water towers) on the upwind side of the circle. However, when you look at the GPS track it looks like I'm doing a pretty good job flying an even circle so maybe I'm over-analyzing up in the air. I finished up the day by doing a few Dutch Rolls, eight Steep Turns, and a few more takeoffs and landings. There was still lots of extra lift so I extended my downwind and was able to fly a more stabilized approach. In my opinion, I still have to work on my Turns Around A Point and also at maintaining altitude a little better during my Steep Turns. Just about everything feels very solid up there, but I can always find some room for improvement.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.4 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 6.7 hours
Total Time: 32.5 hours

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Lesson 21: First dual cross-country

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-CYO-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 79 degrees, wind 340 degrees at 10 knots

Flying somewhere sure does beat staying in the pattern. Flying somewhere far sure beats bouncing around to a couple local airports. So if you caught last night's post about the flight planning, you'll know I actually went somewhere far-ish today. Officially, it was my first dual cross-country flight and it was a very fun experience.

I called Flight Service (1-800-WX-Brief) this morning for the first time ever and got a standard weather briefing. The forecast called for lower clouds and ceilings over towards the East, but they were lifting and would not be a concern by the time we got to Circleville. Winds aloft were about 12-15 knots from 340 degrees at 3,000 and 6,000 feet, a crosswind on both legs of the flight. The only really interesting thing was a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) for rocket launches about 20 miles NE of Cincinnati (CVG 043 radial at 20 nm, for the pilots out there) below 5,000 feet. Not on our flight path but interesting to hear and something to avoid - probably a model rocketry event of some sort, we figured.

Once at the airport, Dave looked over the flight plan and my calculations (distance and time between checkpoints) all looked good. Off we went to N60338 to preflight and fill her up with fuel. Preparations and checklists complete, we took off from Runway 26 and departed the pattern to the East while climbing to 3,500 feet. Upon reaching the first checkpoint, the middle of Caesar Creek Lake, the stopwatch was started and I flew the calculated heading of 088 degrees. About four and a half minutes later we passed just to the left of Clinton County Airport (I66) which was exactly as planned. All the way to Circleville and back the time calculations were just about spot on, rarely deviating by more then 45 seconds. Looks like the winds aloft forecasters did a good job this morning.

There's really not much to look at between 40I and CYO

All along the flight I was able to identify where we were from my checkpoints and other features on the Sectional chart. The navigation went smoothly and before long we were descending to pattern altitude a few miles West of Circleville. Calling on the radio, "Circleville Traffic, Cessna 60338 is 5 miles to the East, inbound for landing, Circleville," I announced our position. Except we were to the West. I called on the radio to make the correction and, brain happily connected now, flew us into and around the pattern and set up for landing.

My downwind was a little long and the down-the-runway winds had shifted to an almost direct crosswind so I kept the speed up and only used 20 degrees of flaps until close to the runway. Banking to the left into the wind and using the rudder in a sideslip to keep us aligned with the runway, we touched down comfortably on the pavement. I took off again for one more try at landing. This time I flew the pattern better but the gusty crosswinds tossed me around on short final and Dave had to help out a little. That's all she wrote for Circleville and we took back off for Stewart. Although my landings were only decent, both my crosswind takeoffs out of there were excellent. The route home was just a reversal of the route there, other than flying at 2,500 feet, and the checkpoints were the same. Arriving back at Stewart I ended up way too high on base so all 40 degrees of flaps went in and we quickly sunk down to the runway for another decent, but not great, crosswind landing.

Flying back to 40I just Southeast of Washington Court House

If you recall me being curious as to whether the powerlines would be a good checkpoint, the answer is indeed no. In wooded areas they would be a good reference due to the trees cut out of the right-of-way where they are located. In plains, farms, and flatlands they might as well be invisible much of the time. On the same note, I learned that checkpoints can be further away from my plotted course on the chart than I had realized when planning the flight. Even at only a couple thousand feet, you can see a long way. Looking back at the chart with my flight track from yesterday, there is a lake North and slightly West of my final checkpoint (the power lines) before Circleville. It might look far away but it was very easy to spot from the air and using the "abeam the lake" point would be a much better choice than the power lines. Lesson learned!

It sure is fun to actually go places and I had a great time seeing how, as crude as it seems, drawing a line on a chart and calculating times and distances really can get you somewhere. I did tune the VOR (VHF Omnidirectional Range) station at Circleville and used that as a reference in navigating to and from the airport there. For the non-pilots out there, a VOR is basically a radio aid that we can tune to via a receiver in the cockpit. You set the radial (magnetic compass direction to or from the VOR) you want to fly and there is an indicator that will show you which direction to fly to intercept and follow the radial. On today's flight it was just a backup to cross-check with what I saw out the windows, as I was able to fly right to the airport via pilotage and the Sectional chart.

Flights and lessons for me are still somewhat sporadic in the coming weeks due to travel, vacations, and work schedules. So depending on what I am able to fit in with instructors, I may be doing a bit of solo flight this month to stay fresh. Tomorrow afternoon I'm going up in the Champ and hopefully Dave can get me soloed in the Cessna during our lesson next Friday. Delays sure do suck but as long as I'm still flying one way or another I can't really complain, now can I?

Flight Track: Batteries died - no track today
Today's Flight: 1.8 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 5.3 hours
Total Time: 31.1 hours

Friday, September 5, 2008

Preparing for my first cross-country

I was really hoping to be able to make up for some of the lost flight time due to the Japan trip. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not in any mood to allow me into the sky today. I can't be too upset since we desperately needed the rain here, but it's no fun as a VFR pilot to look out the window all day and see low clouds, low visibility, and plenty of precip. Instead of going up, Dave and I sat down to discuss airspace in a session of ground school.

My airspace knowledge is pretty solid after lots of reading and studying of the regulations so we quickly moved on to cross-country flight planning. Technically speaking, any time you fly away from the immediate area of your departure airport you are flying cross-country. For many training requirements, however, the definition includes a clause that one point of landing must be greater than 50 nautical miles straight-line from the point of departure. So to keep things simple, any time I talk about cross-country flying it means I'm headed off 50 miles or more.

Discussion complete, Dave decided that we're going to use tomorrow's lesson for my first cross-country flight. We're going to head East and fly to Pickaway County Memorial Airport (CYO) in Circleville, OH. It's roughly 55 nautical miles away and is pretty much due South of Columbus for those looking at a map. I left with the homework to complete my flight plan and call Flight Service (pilots call these folks for weather, notices to airmen, and other important information used in planning a flight) to get the weather and winds.

My flight plan on a Sectional chart - image from
If you click on the above image to see it full-size, you can see my route in red with my checkpoints marked with squares. You need checkpoints to confirm your route and check your groundspeed. This form of navigation, where you look out the window and reference objects on the ground, is called Pilotage. As you can imagine, selecting proper objects is rather important. Things like lakes, airports, intersections, railroad tracks, and highways can be great checkpoints. I'm not entirely sure that my last checkpoint before CYO (high-tension power lines) is going to be easy to spot from the air but I figure it will be a good learning experience one way or the other.

Once you have the route, you measure the distance between the points and based on your known airspeed and reported winds aloft you are able to determine the time in transit. In calculating compass headings you have to make corrections for variation in the Earth's magnetic field (corrections are printed right on navigation charts) and your own compass' magnetic deviation. Using a flight computer, winds are plotted and the correction angle (turning into or away from the wind to stay on your desired course across the ground) and headwind or tailwind can be determined. Add all this up and you will have your total trip length, both in terms of distance and time, and necessary headings to fly.

I'm really excited to truly go somewhere and hopefully I can learn a lot tomorrow afternoon. As always, I'll have a post on here about the lesson and I'll be reporting back on just how well my first try at flight planning worked out up in the sky!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Solo Practice 4: What a difference a new engine makes

Plane: Champ
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Haze, 84 degrees, wind 110 degrees at 4 knots

Back from Japan and unable to get in with an instructor until this coming weekend, I scheduled a solo flight this evening to keep myself from getting too rusty. Last time I mentioned the Champ she was in the hangar getting a new engine installed. The prior engine had over 4,000 hours on it - that's a testament to the reliability of aircraft engines right there! Given the new engine, I was extra careful to check every detail during my preflight inspection and watched the gauges in the cockpit a little more than usual. Everything looked perfect so I decided it was time to take to the sky.

Today was very hot (it was 93 when I left work) and humid so I did not expect much performance from the airplane. Pushing the throttle forward I could not believe just how fast the plane picked up speed, lifted off the ground, and climbed away. If you had sat me in the back seat, I may have mistaken the Champ for the 85 hp Cub! Seriously, any reputation the Champ has as the dog of the fleet is going to have to be thrown out the window. New performance found and enjoyed, I adjusted the trim and settled in for some pattern work.

I just worked on takeoffs and landings for the most part, because the temperature was dropping and that means it was getting closer and closer to the dew point. Visibility was slowly degrading as a consequence of all the moisture just waiting to condense out of the air and probably dropped from 10 to 5 miles during the hour I was flying. My takeoffs were all straight and smooth and even though I didn't grease a single landing all had minimal bounce.

Along with the standard practice, I had a little fun with some other maneuvering in the pattern. On two of my takeoffs I lifted off and then accelerated level above the runway to around 80 mph, then pulled back into a steep climb until I hit 60 mph and lowered the nose. Gotta enjoy yourself up there sometimes, right? :) I also practiced a go-around on one approach, applying full power at about 50 feet agl and sliding over to the right of the runway while climbing. And on my final approach, I pulled the power to idle abeam the numbers and made a simulated engine-out approach and landing. Nothing too fancy tonight, but it's always good to get up and should tide me over until my next lesson on Friday.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 5.3 hours
Total Time: 29.3 hours

2008 Cleveland National Air Show

Cleveland is always a great airshow site with its location right on the shore of Lake Erie. The city is behind you and the crowd is seated on one of the parallel runways at Burke Lakefront Airport so you are right next to the action. It had actually been probably a decade since I last went to the Cleveland airshow and I'm glad I finally was able to return. You could not have ordered the weather any better as it was in the mid 80s with a clear sky and just enough humidity to help the jets pull some nice vapor. There was a 5-10 knot breeze off the lake as well that helped to keep us cool all day long.

F4U Corsair gently lifting off the runway

The Blue Angels converge from all directions with minimal separation

I went with Rob as always and got Gina to come along too. It was her first real airshow other than Stewart the night before and certainly her first with all the military jets, so I was excited for her to come partake in my obsession. There was more than enough wonderful jet noise to go around - check out the videos down below for some of the action. Given the weather, the location, and the great pilots flying, it turned out to be an excellent airshow and a Labor Day well spent in Cleveland.

USAF Heritage Flight - 60 Years of History

Blue Angels 1 and 2 taxiing back after their performance

Up next is NAS Oceana in about two weeks and let's just say I'm more than a little excited for all the air power that will be on display courtesy of our US Navy!

F/A-18F Super Hornet Demo

F-15C, F-16C, and P-51D

Blue Angels & Fat Albert

2008 Red Stewart Airshow

Deafening jet noise is a wonderful thing and there's a reason I go to plenty of airshows to get my fix. But those shows also tend to be heavily commercialized and (pardon me while I sound a but pompous here) packed with people who are quite uninformed about aviation. Don't get me wrong, I know that one of the ways we introduce aviation to new people is through shows like that... so what point am I trying to get to? Well basically that it's nice to have a break from all the usual airshow action and go to a show with a real hometown, classic, friendly aviation atmosphere.

People and planes lined up along the runway at Stewart Airfield

In yet another reminder of how lucky I am to have the great airport I fly out of so close to home, they put on an annual airshow that is free to the public. No there aren't any F-18s rocketing overhead, but there are tons of people with a genuine interest in aviation and many excellent civilian performers. They host a fly-in and I certainly saw many planes and pilots that had come in and parked for the weekend, some of whom unloaded tents and gear and camped out next to our grass strip. It was just a wonderfully cozy place to spend an evening (or entire weekend) soaking in aviation.

John Black performs aerobatics in his Super Decathlon

Bill Leff performs in his T-6 Texan

Brett Hunter performs Unlimited category aerobatics in his Pitts

Bill Leff heads away from the crowd in a steep turn

Tales from Japan

This was definitely the longest short trip I have ever taken. Confused already? Two full days of traveling, three days in a new country working long hours, and a 13 hour time difference can really tire you out. That said, it was my first trip to Japan and I am glad I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Asia.

Passing through the Japenese countryside on the train to Tokyo

Taking a taxi from the office to the train station
We had tons of work to get done in our short time there, so every day was long and busy. The commute to the office took nearly two hours - one on the train and a half hour by taxi, plus any waiting time. We could have stayed closer but then we would likely have been in a hotel where almost nobody spoke English, so we stayed in the city of Fukuoka and made the trek. It did afford the opportunity to relax and watch the country pass by, plus I was able to get some aviation reading and studying done on the train. On Thursday, we took the N700 Shinkansen bullet train to Tokyo and stayed the night there. It's the fastest in Japan and reaches 300 km/h (186 mph) while still managing to ride very smoothly along the rails.

Rice paddies are everywhere!

The N700 Shinkansen pulling into Fukuoka Station

All the food was excellent and I ate plenty of things I'm sure I would have never tried here in the US. I had true sushi for the first time (tuna, halibut, and one other) and it was delicious with a special sauce that the restaurant was supposedly well-known for. We went out for Shabu Shabu one night, which is where you have a pot of boiling water on the table in front of you and cook meats and vegetables in it. They served Kobe beef at that restaurant and the meal was again absolutely delicious. Over the course of the short week I also ate duck liver, sea urchin, prawns, possibly some octopus, and who knows what else. One night they also bought sake that had a slight anise (black licorice) taste to it that I really liked.

Riding on the Shinkansen to Tokyo

Looking out over Tokyo

The safety video on the Japan Airlines 737 I took from Osaka to Fukuoka was the kind they play on the LCD screens instead of the flight attendants speaking over the intercom. Except it was animated in a sort of anime, but really more like a Nintendo character style. The people looked very similar to Miis, to be honest. When they did the part about an emergency evacuation all these people were shown jumping down the slides and then frantically running away from the plane with their arms in the air. Good stuff right there. Or maybe I'm just easily amused.

Tokyo at night from my hotel room

Culturally, the country is indeed about as close to another planet as you can find on Earth - this being a statement I have heard from others who have traveled to Japan in the past. I really liked the country and the people were all extremely friendly and accommodating. But it was hard to not feel a little awkward at how male-dominated the society felt at times. It's just not normal for us Americans (or Westerners, for that matter) to watch a tiny woman struggle to push a heavy cart loaded with 8 suitcases and unload them in your hotel room. Yet that is normal and accepted and it would actually be rude to try to help out. So a few interesting cultural differences aside, I'd say that Japan is a really neat place and hopefully I have a chance to spend some time sightseeing there in the future.

A video I took of the ride on the N700 Shinkansen