Friday, October 31, 2008

Checkride Scheduled

November 15th - mark it down. I really was hoping to get it over with next week, but the examiner isn't available and then I'm going to be in Oregon for five days. The good thing is that I'll have more time to prepare by reading some books, going through the handbook for the 150, and making sure I've crossed all the t's. The bad thing is due to the time change this weekend (i.e. no more after-work flights) and the travel, I won't be flying with much regularity. I'm taking half-days of vacation the next two Fridays so I can go up to stay fresh before the big day.

I should have posted this a long time ago...

So what's the official plan? I'm going to fly over to Dayton Wright-Brothers to meet the examiner, since he has an office there. The oral should last about 2 1/2 hours and then we'll follow that with about 1 1/2 in the air. He told me to plan a XC to North Central West Virginia Airport (CKB) in Clarksburg, WV. Apparently they wanted to try and use every cardinal direction in naming the place. On a checkride you usually only fly the very beginning of the route and then the examiner starts having you demonstrate other maneuvers. The whole exercise is more to evaluate your planning and decision-making. Anyway, if all goes as planned the FAA will allow me to carry passengers in just over two weeks!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Solo Practice 12: Best. Ground Reference Maneuvers. Ever.

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: Clear, 53 degrees, wind 190 degrees at 4 knots

I'm still trying to figure out what day I will be taking my checkride, so I went up to try and nail down my maneuvers tonight. As you can read in the title of today's post, my ground reference maneuvers all felt pretty kick-ass. Not to get too boastful or anything, but you can see from the GPS track that I flew an awesome circle around a water tower (turns around a point) and the S-Turns looked very consistent as well. I'd put these in the ready-for-the-checkride pile and probably won't practice them much more as I prep for the ride with the examiner.

Now those are some turns around a point if I do say so myself

Steep turns weren't perfect when I was up with Dave last weekend so I did a couple sets of them over top of Caesar Creek Lake. I didn't hold my altitude perfectly but they felt coordinated and generally smooth. I still could do a better job maintaining my bank angle so a little bit more practice is in order here. There was a plane that looked to be 1,000 feet below me doing aerobatics when I was working on the steep turns too, so I was somewhat occupied with watching out to avoid any close surprises.

It was another gorgeous fall day over Caesar Creek Lake

On to my nemisis as of late, landings of every shape and form. Inbound to Wright Brothers another plane was on crosswind so I did a 360 for spacing and then he announced he was doing a 360 and would follow me in. That got me a little off kilter and I (this is something I should not have done) decided to speed and steepen up my approach in for a normal landing. He just extended his downwind so the proper thing to do would have been for me to fly a standard patern and not worry about putzing around in the slow 150 in front of him. All that aside, it was a relatively smooth landing aside from being slightly too flat in my flare when I touched down. I took off again (great short field takeoff) and came back in for a decent soft field landing - still need more practice there too. Finally, I departed with an equally great soft field takeoff and headed back to Stewart as the sun was nearly below the horizon. Landing into a setting sun is never fun and it makes the trees harder to spot, so I came in a little high but set it down for a soft landing.

Overall, things feel really good right now. I can probably use another 1-2 hours in the air to finesse my landings and practice stalls but I definitely feel that I am ready to pass my checkride. Exciting times, folks!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 21.5 hours
Total Time: 66.8 hours

Monday, October 27, 2008

Knowledge Exam - Passed!

Went in tonight and fiiiiiiinally got the written taken care of. My procrastination skills are top-notch when I put my mind to it. Anyway, I did very well. While I didn't get the 100% that I was aiming for (because I would have had half the $80 fee refunded - nice little incentive there) I only missed a couple questions.

I got to the airport and realized I had forgotten my logbook (inside which was the endorsement from Dave for me to take the exam) and had to drive back home to get it... so from the start it didn't seem like I had any extra luck on my side. However, I really did luck out when it came to the test questions. In every online practice test I took (which uses the exact same randomly-selected questions from the FAA test bank) there were quite a few weight and balance and navigational calculation problems. By the grace of something, I did not get a single one on the exam tonight. Most of the questions ended up being about the FARs and there were a lot that referenced sectional charts and VOR navigation. What that added up to was a very quick test - it took me about 45 minutes in total.

My only real beef is that the FAA doesn't allow you to see the exact questions you missed. Instead you are given codes for the subject areas in which you answered a question wrong. The problem with this is that they can be ridiculously vague. Mine were to do with airspace and aircraft performance, which are two areas that contain a huuuuge amount of information. I'd much prefer to see if I just made a stupid mistake in answering a question wrong - especially since I am quite confident in my knowledge in those areas. Griping aside, it went well and I got a very good score so all that's left is a little more solo practice (I just want to go over some things on my own) and then the checkride.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Lesson 32: Running through everything pre-checkride

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: Broken clouds, 53 degrees, wind 230 degrees at 8 knots gusting to 15

More general practice today, as I've been a lazy ass in getting scheduled to take my written exam. I know I can pass the damn thing and Dave signed me off for it like two months ago. I've just been putting it off because I'm a perfectionist and wanted to read every book I bought on aeronautical knowledge. Now it's the only barrier between me and scheduling the checkride so I've gotta get myself in gear. Hopefully I'll be able to go take care of it on Monday.

We went up and ran through a bunch of things like I did with Joe last weekend. Steep turns, slow flight, power on and off stalls, unusual attitudes, hood work, and every type of takeoff and landing. My power on stalls did not go nearly as smooth as last time and I ended up doing three or four until they felt good. Steep turns went very good and I held my altitude at 3,500 the whole time - I just need to keep the bank angle at 45 degrees, as I tend to let it become shallower. The door randomly popped open when Dave was throwing the plane around during unusual attitudes, but it just means you feel some wind and it gets a little more noisy. I recovered the plane and then shut the door, easy enough.

Landings are still the bane of my existence, and it's frustrating to be able to grease in the Champ and feel like I'm getting worse with the 150. I smacked it in pretty good a couple times at Wright Brothers. The winds were strong and gusty but that's not an excuse, just something I should have handled better. Dave said I should add a few more knots to my approach speed as I'm getting a little too slow on final. Nothing new here, just more for me to go up and smooth out solo before the checkride. My mind's kind of been all over the place this week, so that probably didn't help matters either. Wish me no more procrastination on taking the written!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.8 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 20.3 hours
Total Time: 65.6 hours

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Solo Practice 11: Landings make Steve angry

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: Clear, 52 degrees, wind 010 degrees at 9 knots gusting to 14

Alright, so I can fly the plane just fine - Dave tells me this all the time. I can take off, fly around wherever, and land safely back home without incident. But the perfectionist in me is coming out and I'm getting really finicky with my landings. I know what I'm doing wrong, but I have not yet figured out the perfect combination of actions to grease it in every time. Oh, this only applies to the Cessna - I've made quite a few great landings in the Champ. Whoda thunk the taildragger would be easier to fly?

Primary issues:
  • When I transition to the roundout after cutting power to idle at the end of the runway, I pull back too quickly and balloon. I need to be more gentle and slow in moving the yoke back to bleed off the remaining airspeed and let the plane settle slowly as I flare.
  • During the flare, I rarely get the yoke back all the way before the wheels hit. Sight-wise the nose should be on the horizon when the wheels touch and I am not doing that consistently.
  • Watching my yaw - it's not that often but occasionally when correcting for a crosswind with aileron I do not properly straighten out the plane so it touches pointing straight down the runway.
If I can list these things I should be able to go out and fix them, right? Not so far. And tonight was no different. One landing was quite nice but most of them resulted in the all-too-common balloon and one ended up a little crooked. Heck, I didn't even fly a good pattern tonight!

My patterns around Dayton Wright Brothers (MGY) tonight

I'll stop piling on myself, as not everything was bad. Some of the funky patterns at Wright Brothers were due to other traffic in the pattern flying farther out from the airport... I had to extend my legs to avoid cutting anyone off or following too close behind. My landing back at Stewart with a nearly direct crosswind was smooth and well done too. Overall, landing that darn 150 is still nagging on me but I'm sure it will all come together sometime soon!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 20.3 hours
Total Time: 63.8 hours

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lesson 31: Checkride prep

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Joe
Route: 40I-I73-40I
Weather: Clear, 58 degrees, wind 110 degrees at 4 knots

Seems like forever since I was last up with Joe. Indeed, it has been over two months as I last flew with him before my first solo. Nearing the end of my training towards the Private it's important that I go up with another instructor or two as a check to ensure I am ready for the checkride.

We talked for a couple minutes before going up, discussing what I had left to do and what maneuvers I had been taught and practiced solo. To my delight, I'd done everything he brought up. While starting up and taxiing, Joe asked me some questions about weather and procedures similar to those I will be asked on the oral portion of my exam with the FAA examiner. Then we departed Stewart and headed off to the West for a rundown of many of the maneuvers on the Practical Test Standards (PTS).

First were two steep turns, one to the left and then an immediate entry into one to the right. Having admittedly not practiced them in a while, my entry into the first turn left much to be desired but I recovered and made a nice one to the right. Then I did power on and power off stalls, including while in a turn. I'd never practiced stalls while turning before but I made a smooth recovery each time.

Joe then asked if I had spun the 150 and I told him Dave didn't have me practice them in the 150 since it can mess up the gyros. Well, apparently a smooth entry and exit from a one-revolution spin doesn't do much to them so he had me spin 18J. I made two but didn't hold the elevator all the way back and maintain rudder pressure so I only got about half a revolution before exiting. Then, with some advice from Joe, I got into a third spin and made a smooth recovery after one revolution while losing only 200 feet in altitude. It's been a while since I did them in the Champ, but I do still love spins! :)

The three spins were at the purple/pink points on the GPS track

Then I descended and did some S-Turns and turns around a point. But Joe changed it up on me because he pointed out a car accident at a four-way intersection and told me to get a closer look. To get a good look, you essentially have to make a turn around a point in order to keep the plane banked enough to get a good view. As Joe said, we're usually doing ground reference maneuvers (GRMs) because we want to get a good look at something on the ground - a very good point. There were some tall radio towers in the area so I didn't make the best GRMs because I was trying to stay safely away from the obstacles. No excuses, though - I need more solo practice on these before the checkride.

Joe pulled the power on me and thus it was time to make a simulated emergency landing. Establish pitch attitude for best glide speed, carb heat on, mixture rich, throttle open, mags to both... I still need to run through that sequence faster. You want to land into the wind (from the East today) if possible and I started to set up for that but decided last-minute to aim for a field pointed due South that looked more forgiving. We got down to 100-200 feet above the ground before Joe had me bring the power back in and get out of there. You can never look out the window enough to have emergency landing spots in the back of your head just in case, and I can still do a better job with that too.

After that, on went the hood and I spent a half hour doing all sorts of things. Turns, climbs, descents, intercepting a VOR radio to fly directly to the station, and recovery from unusual attitudes. Unusual attitudes are where you put yourself in a very nose-high or nose-low turn and recover solely by reference to the instruments. I did this four times, with the last two recoveries going very well.

Having had the hood on for a half hour, Joe had me remove it and immediately told me to divert to the nearest airport. I saw Wright Brothers in front of me about 8 miles out and then looked to my left and saw Moraine (I73) about a mile off the wing. Pull out the sectional, dial in the CTAF frequency, and descend to pattern altitude. The airport's elevation is about 700 feet so a standard pattern (1,000 feet above ground level) made for 1,700 MSL. I descended from 2,500 and entered a left downwind for Runway 8 since the wind was from the East. Arrivals into Moraine are fun because a river wraps right around three sides of the field and a 15 foot tall levee sits right in the approach path. Also, in the river next to the airport is the site of the first seaplane base in the world - courtesy of the Wright Brothers. Your trivia for the day!

Joe asked for a soft field landing and while the approach was nice and stabilized, I touched down a tad firmly and did not add in enough power to keep the nose wheel off the runway for long. It was still a decent landing but I know there was plenty of room for improvement. I departed with a soft field takeoff and stayed in the pattern. Due to the airport's proximity to the city, the river, and lots of very tall radio towers, there really aren't many good landing areas should your engine quit on takeoff... just something to keep in mind. The next landing was a short field and while the touchdown was firmer than I would have liked, I had the wheels on the ground within 5 feet of the threshold line. Nice! We departed back to Stewart with a short field landing and I climbed up to 2,500 for the short flight home.

The Champ was in the pattern ahead of me so I extended the downwind slightly and set up for a short field landing since I was already on an extended downwind. Flaps down to 40 degrees and speed at 50-55 knots on final, it looked nice and stable. Then at the last minute Joe told me to land on the other side of the hump in the runway so I added power and held the plane off the ground. The wheels touched right on top of the hump, so obviously I should have put in a little more power. Otherwise it was a nice landing and we taxied back and shut her down. Joe really made a lot of good points about how the examiner likes to keep you thinking on your feet all the time and throw changes at you. It's important to be able to handle these things as a pilot, so it was great practice. I left feeling like I had done pretty well overall, learned a lot, and figured out where my deficiencies are.

I'll be up Tuesday night and will likely work on GRMs along with takeoffs and landings on a paved runway, either at Wright Brothers or Middletown. Then it's a little more checkride prep with Dave next Friday and Saturday. After that, I hope to finish up the required paperwortk and schedule my checkride for sometime the next week.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.6 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 19.3 hours
Total Time: 62.8 hours

Solo Practice 10: Take off, land, rinse and repeat

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 53 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 5 knots

Seems my lesson was at 2:00 today instead of noon. No worries though, I just decided to go up solo for an hour. The usual bird (60338) was out, as Dave was flying back from Kentucky on a XC, so I took the other 150 up, 3718J. They're very similar planes, only a year apart in manufacture. A pull starter, only one VOR receiver, and pull knobs instead of switches are the main differences from what I have become familiar with. Oh, and it has a well-known but yet-to-be fixed issue with the radio. Whenever you key the PTT switch to transmit, an insanely loud hiss comes screaming through the headset. Due to that, I nixed the plan to practice at Wright Brothers and instead stayed in the pattern at Stewart so I wouldn't need to worry about using the radio.

The winds were much calmer than yesterday and right down the runway instead of a direct crosswind but it was still quite bumpy at pattern altitude. I made seven circuits around the pattern and brought 18J in for landing six times. On one approach the Decathlon was still on the runway so I went around and came back in. To me the landings all felt better than my average as of late but still somewhat firm. However, back on the ground a few pilots who had been launching the glider in the grass next to the runway said my landings looked great. It's nice to hear that for sure, although I know I could have been a little smoother when I flared and allowed the wheels to touch back down.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 19.3 hours
Total Time: 61.2 hours

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lesson 30: Hood work on a gusty, bumpy day

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Few clouds, 56 degrees, wind 030 degrees at 15 gusting to 20 knots

Holy windy day. The wind picked up even more than forecast this afternoon, resulting in a hefty crosswind. Some pilots might not fly in weather like this but I consider it a great chance to put your skills to the test and get in some serious practice. I also had some more hood work to knock out and the very bouncy air made it plenty challenging. But again, it was a great opportunity to practice in real-world conditions.

I spent an hour under the hood, double what I had done up to this point. Combined with the bumps in the sky that were rolling the plane left and right, it kept me disoriented enough to have to really focus on the instruments. Dave had me change altitudes and headings, make constant speed and rate climbs and descents, and intercept a radial off the Richmond VOR. Altogether, I kept us on course quite well throughout the maneuvering. The altitude fluctuated within about 200 feet up or down while flying through updrafts and downdrafts. I held the heading within plus or minus 5 or 10 degrees as well, good considering how much we were being tossed around.

It's fun to look at the GPS track and see where the heck Dave had me fly

Looking back over my minimal hours so far under the hood, I have definitely improved in my ability to scan the instruments and manage all the information and maneuver the plane. I also see many areas for improvement. My scan can still be much better and I often focus on one instrument longer than I should. When we hit a downdraft I did not catch that the RPMs were increasing towards red line very quickly and Dave had to remind me to pull back on the power. I also find it very interesting how much my focus increases when I have that hood on. There's no conversation or other thoughts in my head; all I do is scan the instruments and fly the plane.

Moving on to the crosswind practice, oh what a day it was. I'm feeling very good with my takeoffs and I held aileron into the wind and let the plane weathervane into a crab smoothly nearly every time we left the runway. At one point we had what seemed like a 30 degree crab angle - that's how windy it was. Landing-wise, Dave made an observation that I think will help me achieve smoother touchdowns. He said when I pull the power to idle near the end of the runway I keep the nose too high. If I lower the nose and lose more altitude to drop into ground effect before I round out and flare, it results in a softer landing. Unfortunately it was so gusty today with the crosswind that I was just happy to use a sideslip and bring it in for a solid but safe touchdown. I'll definitely heed Dave's advice and watch my nose attitude on short final next time I fly.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.0 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 18.4 hours
Total Time: 60.3 hours

Lesson 29: Into the dark night sky (again!)

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-VNW-40I
Weather: Broken clouds, 47 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 4 knots

As far as the FAA is concerned, I have fulfilled all the training requirements for night flight. But I wanted to go up again because a) the sky is like glass and it's beautiful and b) it seems like a good idea to have more practice with a CFI before I try it solo or with passengers. After discussing exactly where to go, we settled on Van Wert County Airport (VNW) in Van Wert, OH. I drive past the place all the time when I drive to Kalamazoo from Dayton so I know the route and I liked the idea of a night flight along a route close to one I will likely be flying in the future.

In order to maximize the training potential, I planned the route using VORs like last week's night cross-country. We flew direct from Stewart to the Dayton VOR (identifier DQN) and from there direct to Van Wert. The visibility was once again ridiculously unrestricted, and we could see Columbus when we were flying West of downtown Dayton. he moon also came up over the horizon about 10 minutes after we took off and it was a spectacular reddish-orange glow as it rose up into the clouds. We got to fly perpendicular to the approach end of Runway 6L at the Dayton International Airport as well so some airliner traffic came in underneath us on final approach. I was able to spot the airport from a good 30 miles out and it was very easy to see the cities I had picked as checkpoints in addition to referencing others on the sectional chart. The entire outbound flight was flown VFR. T

Dave said again how much he's impressed with my radio calls. I know the radio really gets to some students, especially when they fly out of untowered fields. But I think my comfort is probably due to a combination of listening to ATC online and with my handheld radio and reading books like Say Again Please, which I highly recommend. I called up and got us flight following all the way to VNW and that communication with Dayton Approach also allowed us to transit Dayton's Class C airspace. Coming into Van Wert we were handed off to Fort Wayne Approach and then I made all the normal blind position calls on the CTAF when we had the airport in sight.

On the return leg, I stuck the hood on my head and logged a half hour of instrument time that I spent tracking the VOR back towards Dayton. I've definitely noticed and felt an improbement in my skills in the three lessons I've been on instruments. That work complete, Dave had me do my first diversion. He told me to not use the VOR at all but turn us to Richmond, IN. I glanced at the chart and estimated it would be a 235 heading. I turned that way and could tell it was the right general direction because the lights of Richmond were visible. Then I checked the chart and saw the airport was South of town and then looked out the window and identified the rotating beacon and headed straight for it. Another pilot landing at Richmond turned the lights on and that confirmed I had us pointed the right way - success! It seemed easy enough but I know it would be way different if I was diverting due to bad weather and poor visibility, for example. I've really been spoiled up there lately.

We descended and were clear of the Class C so I turned and we flew right over top of Wright Brothers (MGY) and between Moraine (I73) and Middletown (MWO) airports. Once almost to Waynesville I made a right turn to the South and we spotted the field and entered a left pattern for Runway 26. The whole approach was very stable and Dave brought the flaps to 40 from 30 degrees after we cleared the trees on short final to add drag. Considering there was a slight tailwind I got her stopped very quickly - the best night landing I have made at Stewart by far. I really hope there's more upcoming weather like this because I hope to be able to take someone flying after sunset once I get my certificate!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File (It ends over Middletown - the batteries died)
Today's Flight: 2.3 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 18.3 hours
Total Time: 58.3 hours

Solo Practice 9: Just some pattern work

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Broken clouds, 56 degrees, wind 050 degrees at 5 knots

After work, I headed right to the airport in hopes of finding a plane to take up before my scheduled night lesson. I was really hoping the Champ would be available so I could take a relaxing flight like I did last Friday. Alas, it was scheduled for a lesson so I took 60338 up for some takeoff and landing practice - probably the best decision anyway.

I made normal and short field takeoffs and all went quite well. It is a little different to do a short field using Runway 8 at Stewart since it slopes downhill. When you lift off and need to stay in ground effect (flying low over the runway while building up airspeed) the ground drops out from beneath you and it changes things around slightly. That aside, takeoffs have been a strength of mine for a while and I feel confident and in control all the time.

Let's just say I know I need more landing practice. For whatever reason, the issues are still happening mainly when I land on pavement. So going around the pattern this evening I made some regular landings along with one short field landing. They felt better than other recent flights, although the slope up at the beginning of Runway 8 has an effect on things as it does during takeoff. When landing, the ground is coming up to meet you and it results in landings that feel flatter than I want even though the nose is up and the plane is in a good stall when the wheels touch. Overall it was good practice and I even went around on my next-to-last landing because it just didn't feel stabilized at all. Still more work to do though...

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 18.4 hours
Total Time: 55.7 hours

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Solo Cross-Country 3: Going the long way around Ohio

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-1G0-TZR-40I
Weather: Clear, 83 degrees, wind 150 degrees at 7 knots

Now I have really been places. After flying from Waynesville to Bowling Green to Columbus and back by myself, 260 nautical miles altogether, there's no doubt I accomplished something today. Per FAA regulations, a student pilot going for their Private certificate must fly one cross-country where the total distance is at least 150 nautical miles with one point at least 50 nautical miles from the point of departure with landings at two or more airports, not counting where you're starting from. The short cross-country flights were a lot of fun but today I had to do some serious planning and navigation and it all went off without a hitch.

I drew a nice big triangle over top of Ohio today

Seeing as how I'm likely to be flying to Michigan a bit with my parents and sister living up there, I wanted to fly a good ways North to get a feel for the route. I decided on Wood County Airport (1G0) in Bowling Green, 116 miles from Stewart. My mom and Gina drove down to meet me there too, so it was cool to see them for about a half hour and show them the airplane. From there, I decided to head down to Bolton Field in Columbus so I could visit a towered airport as part of the XC. Seemed like a nice, large triangle to fly over the Western half of Ohio. Dave told me he liked that I was challenging myself to do more than the minimum requirement (over 100 miles further) for this flight. I felt like it would be a good learning experience and realistic to the sort of cross-country distances I'll often be flying once I have my certificate.

The gorgeous weather we've had lately was no different today. High pressure from Illinois to New York meant more clear skies and great visibility. Winds would be out of the South or Southeast all day long, resulting in a tailwind up to Bowling Green and a headwind on the way down to Columbus. If you look at the GPS track for the flight you can see the differences in groundspeed. Once above 3,000 feet or so the rising air from the sun beating down on the ground stopped and it was a smooth ride. I cruised at 5,500 all afternoon except the final Columbus to Waynesville leg where I was down at 4,500.

Enroute to Toledo near Christiansburg

I flew right over top of my apartment and the office and got a great view of Dayton on the way to Bowling Green. Then the route took me over top of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base with all the C-5s sitting on the tarmac below and the Air Force Museum was just out my left side as well. You'll see from the pictures in this post that I did some sightseeing throughout the trip. What really stuck out to me was the ridiculous visibility. I spotted the Davis-Besse nuclear plant from 40 nautical miles away, Grand Lake St. Marys from 50, and the Columbus skyline from 40-50 too. It almost made navigating harder at times because you could see so much stuff I had to focus on the chart to make sure I was looking at the right town.

Flying over Ohio Northern University

Due to the fact I planned to be on flight following for the entire trip, I did not file a VFR flight plan today. Shortly after lifting off, I contacted Dayton Approach and they kept me on their scopes for a while. They terminated service near Lima but I just looked in my A/FD for the frequency and contacted Indianpolis Center and picked it back up all the way to Bowling Green, with a handoff to Toledo Approach. Enroute to Bolton, I talked to Toledo and then Mansfield Approach for a while before going over to Columbus Approach. On the final leg, I never called because I could see Caesar Creek Lake (again, 40 miles away - it was crazy) after I took off from Bolton so just flew straight at it and kept my eyes outside the cockpit while enjoying the radio silence. I never did spot any traffic, though.

Passing by Shaughnessy Reservoir enroute to Bolton

The only real negatives to today's long XC were my landings. I didn't make a single good one, at least if we define good as smooth. Every approach was stable, if a little high on occasion, but things always fell apart right when I rounded out and flared. The sight picture in the Cessna coupled with warm, rising air off the paved runways pushed me higher than expected and I dropped in on every single landing. None rattled anything too terribly much but I know I can do a lot better. I think I'll go up sometime this week and just do a bunch of landings so I can try and nail down my technique and get more consistent in the 150.

Downtown Columbus in the distance with OSU Airport to the left

Landings aside, I could not have scripted a better day for this trip. Perfect weather, light traffic, and good navigation made for a very smooth and stress-free 3.0 hours in the air. I really felt "pilotey" today flying at a higher altitude for a long time and going somewhere well away from the general vicinity of Dayton/Cincinnati. Hard to believe, but just a few more lessons to finish up my instrument work and I'll be preparing for the checkride. My goal right now is to have a freshly printed certificate in my pocket by the end of the month, so we'll see if I can make it happen.

And so ends one hell of a weekend of flying - 7.4 hours, 5.3 hours XC, and 4.0 night since I left work on Friday. And it's 9.4 in four days if you count the solo XC on Thursday. I might prefer to not look at the balance of my bank account any time soon but it's more than worth it. You can't possibly have this much fun and do anything this cool for free, right?

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 3.0 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 17.6 hours
Total Time: 54.9 hours

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Lesson 28: Night cross-country

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-AID-40I
Weather: Clear, 59 degrees, wind calm

Alright, so I know I have been spoiled with pretty much the best weather you'll ever find for flying at night. Dave has made that quite clear to me. But even taking that into account, I still think that night flying is completely awesome. I'm sure I would not enjoy it so much if it was hazy and I couldn't see much, but on a night like tonight it's beautiful.

I wanted to go a fair distance away and Anderson, IN turned out to be a reasonable destination. They have a control tower and it's an easy route to and from the VOR in Richmond, IN. During my flight planning I noted the radials (magnetic course) off the VOR so I would be able to get some more instrument time during the flight. It's always nice to work on two requirements at the same time.

Once we got up to altitude, you could see for miles - like fifty or more. We could see beacons from quite a few airports and clicked on the lights as we flew along because a) it's fun and b) it helps you positively identify the airport. With a nearly full moon and the city lights below, it's a wonderful sight out the windows.

Ten miles out from Anderson we called the tower and got no response. We tried again a couple times and then another guy came on the radio also trying to reach the tower. Apparently the decided to go home early - the Airport/Facility Directory said they should have been there for at least another hour. No big deal though, ad I simply made my calls over the tower frequency and announced a 5 mile final for Runway 30 since we were heading straight towards it. On short final it became quite obvious that the runway had a good slope to it, dipping down a bit in the middle. A quick taxi down to the other and and we took back off on Runway 12 (opposite direction on the same piece of pavement we landed on) and departed to the East.

Once off the ground, Dave had me put the hood on and I flew a little over a half hour tracking the VOR just using the instruments. If you look at the GPS track you'll see it looks more like a bunch of S-curves on the way back home. I did a lot better than my first time on instruments but I definitely still chase the instruments and end up not flying a straight line. But I did track the VOR radials and climbed up to 5,500 from 3,500 while staying on course. Let's just say I can already tell my Instrument rating is going to be a lot of work.

Hood off and halfway home, we picked out the beacon from Lebanon-Warren County Airport from a solid 40 miles away. Funny how things seem close when you have that kind of visibility and then it takes you a half hour to get there. We flew right over Middletown and then just South of Wright Brothers Airport as I followed Ohio Route 73 over to Waynesville. Almost to Waynesville and with the airport in sight, I entered the pattern for a landing on Runway 26. We had a slight tailwind (the only runway approved for night landings is 26) so I made more of a short field approach with all 40 degrees of flaps. It went much better than last night and I turned base later so we got the plane down and stopped right at the last set of lanterns.

I certainly lucked out with the weather this weekend, but getting up in the sky at night is a whole new perspective on the world. I've already got enough night hours to make the FAA happy but I scheduled another night flight with Dave for next weekend. Seems like a good thing to have more experience and practice with, plus it's just a lot of fun! And how often do you get to land at night on a grass strip lit by oil lanterns?

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.3 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 14.6 hours
Total Time: 51.9 hours

Lesson 27: Talkin with the tower

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-TZR-40I
Weather: Clear, 77 degrees, wind 030 degrees at 8 knots

While I've talked with ATC a good deal now on my cross-country flights, one specific requirement set out by the FAA is that I make three solo takeoffs and landings at an airport with a control tower. So Dave and I set out to get that taken care of this afternoon. We would have gone to Springfield-Beckley Airport since it's only about 20 miles away, but their tower wasn't open today. Instead we flew over to Columbus' Bolton Field, identifier TZR.

One of the nice things about landing at a towered field is that they are sequencing traffic and you often don't have to fly into a pattern like we do at untowered fields. With the winds out of the Northeast today they were landing Runway 4 at Bolton. I called the tower when we were about 10 miles out...
Me: "Bolton Tower, Cessna 60338, 10 miles to the West, inbound for landing."

Bolton: "Cessna 60338, Bolton Tower, report 2 mile left base for Runway 4."

Me: "Will report 2 mile left base for Runway 4, 338."
Well actually he first cleared us for a right base and I asked him to clarify since we were coming from the West and he changed it to left. Anyway, that meant we essentially flew right to the airport, called the tower 2 miles out, and were cleared to land. Then it was an easy turn about 30 degrees to the left and were on final approach. A mile or so out on went the carb heat, throttle back, slow down, and flaps extended just like any other landing. Nothing special other than talking to the guy up in the tower.

Obviously satisfied with my radio work on the first try, Dave had me taxi over to the ramp and he hopped out. He told me to go make three laps around the pattern on my own. To save some time, I made two touch-and-gos (where you keep rolling after landing and take off again) and one full stop landing. Then I picked Dave back up and we headed back to Stewart.

Being a game day at OSU there were a lot of banner planes in the air, including some based out of Bolton. It's fun to watch because they swoop down to just above the ground and grab the tow line for the banner from some poles that can't be more than 6 feet apart. Quite impressive piloting when you think about it. Other than that and passing by some other traffic (beautiful day = lots of people flying) enroute, it was an uneventful but enjoyable flight. I'll actually be back at Bolton tomorrow as it's one of the stops on my long solo cross-country.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.9 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 14.6 hours
Total Time: 49.6 hours

Friday, October 10, 2008

Lesson 26: The moon above and the city lights below

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 63 degrees, wind 080 degrees at 5 knots

Night flight - finally! I've been excited for this moment and all the anticipation was warranted. It's a beautiful sight, the air is crystal clear and smooth, and it's almost like you have the whole place to yourself up there. You do have to be more careful to watch your altitude and instruments and look out for things like towers, but it's a great time to fly. Plus, I got to take off from our little grass strip that we mark with oil lanterns and there's just something cool and nostalgic about that.

I lifted off and headed West and it took me a few minutes to pick out Wright Brothers' rotating beacon (white flash, green flash) that let me know an airport was over there. Clicking the microphone button to turn on the lights, I brought them to full intensity. Dave said I wouldn't believe how bright they were - and he was right. They're somewhat directional so you can't tell until you're on final and it's like you're landing into the sun. Ok, slight exaggeration but it's much more light than necessary. I clicked them down to low and used that setting for the remainder of the flying.

I made normal takeoffs and landings, along with a bunch of short field takeoffs. My first couple weren't great but I made some awesome ones in Middletown, where we flew after practicing at MGY. I tried a couple landings with the landing light off, as that's what I would see if my bulb ever burned out. Your depth perception gets a little screwed up and you feel higher, so I smacked into the ground a little harder than gently. But even the light-out landings were decent.

We had a little fun in the absence of any traffic, making what Dave likes to call the F-150 departure. After lifting off you accelerate down the runway about 10 feet up until you're at 80 or 90 knots, then pull back and make a steep climb. He did it once and then I did the same on our final departure before heading home. Good times.

Flying back to Waynesville, it takes a good eye to find a field that's being lit by 18 little lanterns. Yet it did suddenly appear in front of me (I knew where I was from a lot of the local stadium lights - yay for Friday night high school football) and I entered the pattern. Dave cautioned me not to turn base early and I began the turn where I normally do, or so I thought. With the full moon, I could see the tree lines on the ground and even our shadow. Still, I ended up way high on final so all 40 degrees of flaps got dumped in and we landed long but with runway to spare.

I'm definitely addicted to night flying already and am really looking forward to our night cross-country tomorrow. The plan is to fly up North towards Wapakoneta (best name for a town ever, by the way) and land at Lakefield Airport (CQA). I was fortunate to have a more than half-full moon tonight so I could see features on the ground, which certainly helps. Hopefully I'm able to take advantage and put it to use tomorrow as I navigate to a new airport in the dark!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.7 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 14.6 hours
Total Time: 47.7 hours

Why flying is the greatest thing on (off) Earth

Plane: Champ
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 75 degrees, wind 080 degrees at 5 knots

The air is crisp, the sky is blue, and I'm at the airport with time to spare. With a day like today you just can't pass by a chance to lift off into the Fall sky. So I get the keys to the Champ and pull her out of the hangar. Taxiing across the green grass I can't wait to get airborne to enjoy aviation in its pure and simplest form.

Window wide open, no headset or mike, I open the throttle and watch the ground quickly roll past - oh what a sight. Climbing up over the fall colors and trees down below, I turn north towards Waynesville where (I do not kid here, my friends) they are having a sauerkraut festival and the street's filled with tents. Now off to the East where I can see Caesar Creek Lake. I fly closer and closer as I level the plane. The air is smooth and still and I trim the plane just right such that I don't even gain 5 feet as I motor around here tonight.

Now I'm over the dam and I follow the creek, twisting and turning over the valley below and loving what I see. I continue to the South towards I-71 where a beautiful bridge spans the gorge in front of the quickly setting sun. I turn back towards home now and descend slightly further, to again follow the valley carved out by years upon years of running water. Into the pattern I turn, feeling one with the Champ and the controls. Abeam the numbers now, I throttle back and lower the nose.

Downwind, base leg, and now it's short final. My descent is smooth and I'm almost in denial. Days like this are when you have to pinch yourself to realize how lucky you are. The ground rushes up as I round out and flare and I make one of those landings that only happen when no one is there. A total greaser, smooth as silk, my best ever I think. I taxi back and shut her down, pull out my logbook and enter point five. This is just one of those days where you feel blessed to have experienced something you'll remember the rest of your life.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.5 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 14.6 hours
Total Time: 46.0 hours

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Solo Cross-Country 2: Over the rivers and over the woods

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-I34-40I (via OXD)
Weather: Clear, 72 degrees, wind light and variable

Autumn in this part of the country is certainly gorgeous weather-wise. After a cold front moved through last night it turned into a pilot's dream day - CAVU, meaning ceiling and visibility unlimited. It was one of those flights when I kept thinking to myself, "there's no better place to be right now." I chose to fly off to the West to Greensburg, IN and route myself via Oxford, OH (home of Miami University) to avoid Cincinnati's Class Bravo airspace - that's where the big jets fly.

Today's route of flight, courtesy of my GPS logger

Everything went well and I'll say that this cross-country felt better than my first one on the "now I feel like a pilot" scale. That's because it was a completely new place, in a direction I had never even flown before. And I made it there safely, stayed on course, and hit the checkpoints right on schedule. Having a CAVU day with light winds aloft does help with all of the above, for sure. I'll keep it brief and sum up the key things from this evening's flight bullet-style.

Pilotey Stuff:
  • Talked with ATC to get Flight Following both ways. I got a handoff (one control facility passing me on to the next - Dayton to Cincinnati in this case) on the outbound leg but had my Flight Following canceled by Cincy and had to call Dayton to resume it on the way back.
  • Opened my VFR Flight Plan with Dayton FSS in the air and had no issues with the online submission, unlike last time. Closed it by calling 1-800-WX-BRIEF when I landed and it was properly closed, also unlike last time.
  • Did a better job following checklists, hitting airspeeds, and maintaining altitude (I was spot on at 4,500 and 3,500 all the way there and back, respectively) throughout the flight. I did again forget to go full rich with the Mixture when beginning my first descent, but I was still high and pushed it in before I hit 3,000 feet. Gotta focus more on remembering this!
  • My planning was right on target. I predicted 50 mins on the way out and it took 55. On the way back, it was 56 planned and 55 actual. Sure beats the 1 hour, 45 minute drive - one way.
  • The landing at Greensburg was smooth-ish, but I flared too late and landed flat. More practice is still in order on pavement. Back at Stewart, I made a real smooth touchdown on Runway 8's slight upslope.
I stepped out of 60338 for a couple minutes in Greensburg

Touristey Stuff:
  • Seriously, what a beautiful day. I could have flown in circles for two hours and have been happy.
  • Visibility was ridiculous - I'm pretty sure I picked out CVG (Cincinnati International) from over 35 miles away.
  • Having seen plenty of the Dayton area's flat nothingness, it was fun to fly where there's actually enough change in elevation to call the ground terrain. They're just small rolling hills, but with the leaves starting to change it was nice to look at.
  • Went over the Brookville Resevoir and some other lakes that looked incredible reflecting the deep blue sky.
  • In flying over Oxford, I got a nice view of Miami's campus and their football stadium.
  • A traffic helicopter from Indianapolis was at I34 when I landed there, then departed and hovered a few miles to the West. Not sure if he was refueling or just taking a break.
  • On my way back into Dayton I saw a C-5 departing Wright-Patterson AFB. Let me tell you that they still look huge, even from 10 miles away in the air. Coming straight at me with the landing lights on, it was rather intimidating. He turned away and I got a great view, although the photos I tried to take didn't come out.
Today was one of those days where I felt incredibly lucky to be allowed up in the sky. I successfully navigated somewhere new and did enough things right to make it there and back in one piece without any excitement. There will always be areas for improvement, no matter how long I fly, but sometimes it's just nice to appreciate everything and enjoy the ride.

Flying toward Brookville Resevoir on the way home

On the ground in Indiana - she's a good old bird

I'll be up a ton this weekend with Dave to knock out my night flying (way excited for that) along with landings at a towered airport. Then on Sunday it's the long solo cross-country! As of right now, the plan is to fly up to Bowling Green, down to Bolton Field near Columbus, and back to Stewart - about 260 nautical miles in total. Onward and upward!

Flight Track:
Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.0 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 14.1 hours
Total Time: 45.5 hours

1000 Words: Photographing Airshows

Some thoughts and tips I wrote about taking photos and videos at airshows went up on the Kodablog today.
Combining things I love is definitely a recipe for an awesome time. More than just watching the planes rumble around me, I enjoy going after the "perfect shot" of a maneuver and also taking videos to truly capture the experience. You have to develop a feel for your camera and know exactly when to press the shutter to catch the subject perfectly in the frame. Videos also take practice since panning and following airplanes going over 600 miles per hour and passing right in front of you is harder than it sounds.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Solo Practice 8: Closed airport = takeoff and landing practice

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: High overcast, 72 degrees, wind 130 degrees at 5 knots

Well I had been planning to make my second solo cross-country down to Fleming-Mason Airport (FGX) in Kentucky tonight. But in checking the NOTAMs while flight planning, I realized the runway was closed for construction. Add to that incoming storms from the South and I decided it was better to stay local than plan a last-minute cross-country. Plus, I feel like my landings have been slipping lately and wanted some practice on pavement. So with all that in mind I did some work at Stewart and then headed over to Dayton Wright Brothers.

After eight takeoffs and landings between the two airports, I could sense some improvement. I'll get straight to the point and say I can still make vast improvements. The fundamentals are there, but I'm at a stage where I want to be more precise in all aspects of my flying. I need to watch my speed better on approach. I need to improve my multitasking to anticipate actions so I don't get behind the plane with radio calls, lowering the flaps, and establishing my approach. I also want to focus more on nailing down the proper speeds and trim settings to aid in stabilizing my climbs, descents, and approaches.

Video of some of my takeoffs and landings

Other than the laundry list of things that are bugging me, I did enjoy today's flight. Even with the incoming weather and associated clouds it was a comfortable, smooth day in the sky. The leaves are starting to change too so the views out the window are very nice. It was fun to just work on landings and I always enjoy a smooth liftoff from a paved runway. My final approach and landing at MGY was stable and almost smooth. I'm still not rounding out and flaring perfectly and it's getting annoying at this point. Thankfully, I nailed a really smooth landing on my return to Stewart and it felt great.

In related news, today's cross-country is now Thursday's cross-country. Not totally sure where I'm going yet, but likely candidates are to the North of Columbus or off to the West towards Indianapolis. This whole weekend will be a flying extravaganza with the solo XC Thursday, a night lesson Friday, a day and night lesson Saturday, and my long solo XC on Sunday. Hooray for aviating!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.6 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 12.1 hours
Total Time: 43.5 hours

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lesson 25: Under the hood

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Broken clouds, 56 degrees, wind 260 degrees at 11 knots

I'll be brief about today's lesson. As we check off the remaining requirements in my training, Instrument work is one thing we had not yet practiced. While an Instrument Rating is a whole separate certification (including training, a knowledge test, and another checkride) I plan to work on in a year or two, the FAA requires anyone training for a Private Pilot Certificate to have at least 3 hours of Instrument training. Basically enough so you won't kill yourself if you accidentally end up inside a cloud. So today that's what we worked on.

As soon as I had taken off, Dave took the plane and had me put on the hood. It's just a view-limiting device that only lets you see the instrument panel and blocks the view out the windows. Unless you're actually in the clouds, you need to have your visual references (i.e. the horizon) blocked to really learn and use the instruments. Today turned out to be a great day weather-wise for practice as it was really bumpy with lots of updrafts and downdrafts underneath the cloud deck. Having to try to fly instruments while the weather tossed me around was good, realistic practice for if I ever accidentally get caught in some clouds.

This looks like the hood I was wearing

The main instruments Dave had me focus on were the Airspeed Indicator, Altimeter, Artificial Horizon, and Directional Gyro. When flying instruments, you have to keep your eyes moving in a constant scan of all the instruments. Fixate on any one and you can quickly get out of control. Having never flown instruments before, I started off fixating too much and also making bigger corrections than necessary. Over the course of the lesson, Dave said he could see me really improve to where I was making much smaller corrections and flying smoother. Similar to early training, I just made the basic maneuvers - climbs, turns, descents, and combinations of them.

Before flying home, Dave introduced me to what he says is one of his favorite thing to do to students. He had me close my eyes, put my head down to my chest, and then kicked the plane around quickly in a series of climbs, descents, and turns. Then he had me take the controls and, without opening my eyes, try to recover to what "feels" like level flight. The first time I ended up in a slow right-turning climb. The second I ended up in a rather steep right-turning dive. It was a great illustration of how you absolutely cannot trust your senses when you lose visual references. Use your instruments!

I'm off for the weekend, but will be back for my second short solo cross-country flight next Tuesday. The plan is to fly down to Kentucky and hopefully enjoy the scenic rolling hills.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 10.5 hours
Total Time: 41.9 hours